Monday, July 09, 2007

Write Articles, Not Blog Postings

Writing posts that are of value to the reader ...

"To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.

I recently served as a "consultant's consultant," advising a world leader in his field on what to do about his website. In particular, this expert asked me whether he should start a weblog. I said no.

You probably already know my own Internet strategy, so it might not surprise you that I recommended that he should instead invest his time in writing thorough articles that he published on a regular schedule. Given limited time, this means not spending the effort to post numerous short comments on ongoing blogosphere discussions.

Weblogs have their role in business, particularly as project blogs, as exemplified on several award-winning intranets. Blogs are also fine for websites that sell cheap products. On these sites, visitors can often be easily converted and the main challenge is to raise awareness. For example, a site that sells pistachio nuts should post as much content about pistachios as possible in the hope of attracting quick hits by people searching for that information. Some percentage of these visitors will buy the nuts while visiting the site.

Avoid Commodity Status
For many B2B sites with long sales cycles, quick hits to commodity-level content are insufficient. Instead, these sites need to build up long-term customer relationships based on respect.
Take my own business, for example. When I talk with people at my usability conferences, they often say that they've wanted to attend for ages, and only recently secured their boss's approval to come. To address this issue, we added a "convince your boss" section to our conference sites, explaining the benefits of spending money on usability training. Still, realistically, I expect to wait 3-5 years before meeting new readers of my site in person.

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there's a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else's comments. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they're definitely easy to write. But they don't build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you're searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

Demonstrate Leadership
For the sake of argument, let's say that you're the world leader in your field. We'll quantify that as being the #1 expert among the 1,000 people with websites in your field. In other words, you are in the 99.9th percentile.
(Although you might think you have many more than 1,000 competitors, the Web thrives on specialized content, so it's better to conceptualize yourself as leading a smaller subdiscipline, unless you're so good that you're #1 out of millions of people.)

We can measure expertise as some combination of intelligence, education, experience, correct methodology, professionalism (say, avoiding profanities and politics), and willingness to be frank. The exact metric doesn't matter here; let's just assume there's a way to quantify how good people are within their field. The metric probably follows a normal distribution, meaning that the 1,000 people have the following levels of expertise: (below)

Assuming that you're this good, you have to show it to gain customers. And blogs aren't the way, as we'll see once we plot the distribution of postings as opposed to writers."    (Continued via Alertbox)    [Usability Resources]

Histogram of expertise scores for 1,000 authors. - Usability, User Interface Design

Histogram of expertise scores for 1,000 authors.

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