Social Media Explorer is approaching its four-year-anniversary in the blogosphere. Our doors opened with post No. 1 on September 14, 2007 with a post by not me, but Doe-Anderson CEO Todd Spencer. The blog was originally penned in my role as Director of Social Media for the agency, though I retained ownership of the platform.

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In the course of the four years, I’ve broken every “rule” of blogging that I was taught by the circuit speakers and social media purists in an attempt to learn, test and grow. I’ve never focused on winning search, though I do rank well for many high-volume terms. In the beginning, I wasn’t concerned about good design. After growing the audience and my clientele, I had to stop responding to every comment. Probably the only thing I’ve done “right” according to the original blog know-it-alls is that I’m consistent.

Looking over my analytics last week, I noticed something neat about the top all-time posts on SME. I thought it might be interesting to share. Here are the top 10 most trafficked posts in the short history of this blog:

  1. The Top 25 Tumblr.com Blogs
  2. Five Social Media Trends For 2011
  3. Determining The Top Education Blogs
  4. Social Media Monitoring Grudge Match: Radian6 vs. Scout Labs
  5. Facebook Group and Brand Page Best Practices
  6. Hiring A Social Media Agency? Read This First!
  7. 101 Social Media Stats To Make Your Spirits Bright And Your Head Spin
  8. What Is The ROI For Social Media
  9. The Key To Developing A Social Media Strategy
  10. A First-Ever Look At The Top Blogger.com, WordPress.com & Typepad.com Blogs

While we could add data to the above like the dates of publication, authors (three of the posts aren’t authored by me) and more and chew on each for hours, here are some insights I pulled out of looking at this list:

  • Lists and rankings serve as great nods to other blogs, but also great link bait. Of the Top 10 posts all-time on SME, four are focused on rankings of blogs, one is a list of statistics and a sixth is a list of trends.
  • The Top 24 Tumblr.com Blogs post is not only the all-time traffic leader on the blog, but measuring since it first appeared (June 2, 2010) it has more unique visits than the site’s index page. I invited Tumblr users to leave their links in the comments and Tumblr is a “follow me and I’ll follow back” platform. The page continues to draw over 40,000 page views each month.
  • The more time your blog has to build traffic, the more traffic each post will get. Kind of a no-brainer, but it’s interesting that three of the top 10 (No.s 2, 6 and 7) were published this year. Interesting to note, and no offense to any of the authors of those posts, but average posts on SME today get 10X the traffic of great posts in the early days. That’s just a result of building an audience over time.
  • Capturing a trend on the front end goes a long way. The Social Media Monitoring Grudge Match: Radian6 vs. Scout Labs was one of the first posts that ever really compared two monitoring services. It was posted in early 2009 about the time monitoring was becoming a super-hot topic in the blogosphere. For the longest time, that post was ranked in the top 3-4 in a search for “Social Media Monitoring.” It’s still on page 2 with nothing done to continue to drive activity around it.
  • Sticky content is sticky content. Only the Top Educations Blogs post (No. 3) had less than 4:00 of average time on the page, but was still 2:39 — far more than the site average of 0:58. This might lead you to believe that the longer, more involved posts are more successful (I’m guessing that makes Brian Solis happy. Heh.) Of the non-list posts, which beckon a different time on page since many people click, study, etc., only one was less than 1,000 words. (The Key To Developing A Social Media Strategy came in at 562.)

I gave a talk at Blog Indiana in 2009 called “The Rules Are There Are No Rules.” It was probably the first official foray into the thinking that would become No Bullshit Social Media, my new book due out in October and co-authored by Erik Deckers. In it, I tried to call bullshit on the blogging advisors and consultants of the day who were saying, “This is the ‘RIGHT’ way to blog.”

In the talk, I threw out the rules of the day:

  • Design matters – At the time Scobleizer was in the default Thesis Theme on WordPress with only the masthead changed out. While Thesis is designed well, Robert’s blog that summer looked like 25,000 other blogs out there. Design doesn’t matter. Especially when the content is good.
  • You must engage your readership – Dooce, Seth Godin, Daring Fireball … all great and wildly successful blogs with zero interaction from the other in the comments, if there are comments allowed at all. Engagement doesn’t matter. Especially when the content is good.
  • You must blog consistently – God love them, but Deb Schultz, Jeremy Pepper and Dave Weiner, among many others, blog very infrequently (or did then) and still had successful blogs with good traffic. Consistency doesn’t matter. Especially when the content is good.
  • Blog posts should be short – See Brian Solis. Length doesn’t matter. Especially when the content is good.
  • You must be nice and respectful to others – Loren Feldman, Strumpette … controversy drives eyeballs. You don’t need to be nice. Especially when the content is good.
  • You shouldn’t advertise on your blog – Do I need to dive into this. Advertising doesn’t matter. Especially when the content is good.
  • You must focus on SEO – I reach No. 1 on the Advertising Age Power 150 list at one point. And up to that point, I had never optimized my site, wrote copy for SEO or tried to game the system with non-sense link bait to drive false signals to the search engines. You don’t need SEO. Especially when the content is good.

The rules I talked about that day were bullshit then. I still believe most of them to be bullshit now, so long as you have that common quality: good content. Sure, Chris Baggott has convinced me that good SEO drives a lot more traffic, which drives a lot more business (if that’s your goal). Yes, I have an appreciation and desire for good design. (User experience über-talent David Yeiser is currently working on a new SME, by the way.) But, for the most part, the rules only apply if you want them to. Sure, some folks will see benefit from following the rules. Others will see success without doing so, particularly if they produce good content.

My rules for blogging then are my rules for blogging now:

  • Be Bold
  • Be Fair
  • Follow The Rules … Sometimes
  • Be Loyal To Your Audience
  • Write Good Shit

They aren’t your rules. And they don’t have to be. You should make rules of  your own that fit your business, your needs and your style. But you’re welcome to follow them if you want.

Jason Falls and Erik Deckers call more bullshit on the “rules” of social media in their upcoming book No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing. It will be published in mid-September and is available for pre-order not on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million and Que Publishing. The Kindle and other electronic editions are available for pre-order now as well. Buy the book … it’s no bullshit!

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://twitter.com/MarketingProfs Ann Handley

    Also: Be True to Yourself. All those blogs succeed because the author isn’t trying to be anything but his- or herself.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Only you would comment and leave a 60′s doo-wop song in my head. “Be true to your school now …” Heh. Thanks, Ann.

  • http://twitter.com/webby2001 Tom Webster

    Brilliant post, Jason. I’d emphasize, too, know your goals! As I know we’ve talked about before, traffic doesn’t put food on my table. There’s room in this world for many, many approaches. And HELLZ yeah, Ann Handley.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Amen, brotha Tom.

  • http://twitter.com/noyesjesse Jesse Noyes

    Good stuff, Jason. I’m on board with nearly all your points. But I wonder if design really doesn’t matter if you haven’t built an audience yet. I mean, sure, Robert Scoble has a simple design theme, but he’s built a huge audience over the years. Blogging, and social media, sometimes feels like high school: the seniors rule and the freshmen beg for their attention.

    My point is if you’re just starting out in blogging, and thus need advice, perhaps design does play an important role. Otherwise you may look like a content farm or some other half-hearted copycat out there. At least until you build a solid, sustainable audience.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good points, Jesse. I would only disagree to say that if the content is good, and people are led to it, design won’t have much effect on how good they think the content it. Does it have an effect? Sure. (And Robert’s blog is now well designed but at times has not been.) For early bloggers, many very good ones, they were stuck in the Blogger.com themes. I would argue comparatively speaking, those designs sucked. But many have grown nice audiences over the years using them. The content has to be good. Everything else is just … well, window dressing.

      • http://twitter.com/noyesjesse Jesse Noyes

        Absolutely. Good quality and actually having something to say is priority number 1, 2 & 3. I just think it might be worth sprucing up your look if you’re new to the game. Don’t let it distract you from producing good writing, but if you have the time, it’s worth it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/MorganBarnhart Morgan Barnhart

    It’s funny, I just finished a post titled, “11 Rules of Blogging” and I commented, “Well, these are great, but I wouldn’t call them ‘rules’, I’d call them more guidelines or considerations.” While everyone else who commented was all over this person saying, “Yes yes! Love rules!” 

    It’s weird how we can cling to so called ‘rules’ so quickly but when it comes to thinking for ourselves, we’re lost. 

    Excellent post!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks Morgan. The “rules” posts get attention and links. So that’s not bad. But you’re right … everyone has their own rules and should consider everyone else’s just ideas to consider.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephen-Horton/100002641224262 Stephen Horton

    Great stuff Jason. Nothing beats advice born of experience!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, Stephen. I guess I’ve got a little of that.

  • http://www.theskooloflife.com Srinivas Rao

    Jason, 

    This is really interesting. I’ve interviewed over 180 bloggers for my podcast ranging from a-list rockstars and published authors to people who started their blog two weeks ago. The only conclusion I drew from all of that is that there is no formula for social media or blogging success. It’s an ongoing experiment and everybody will get different results doing different things. I’ve built a brand doing interviews, but I don’t think that will translate for everybody else because it might not be their core strength. I think we have to embrace experimentation across the social web. There’s really no guarantees of anything.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Amen to that, Srinivas. My answer to almost every question of how to do something is, “It depends.” As flippant as that answer sounds, it’s true.

      • http://www.theskooloflife.com Srinivas Rao

        Funny that you say that. My marketing professor in bschool had said that the one answer to any marketing question is “It depends.” I’ll reach out to you this week about getting our chat scheduled. I’m back on the ground in the USA with a fully functional computer

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your Blog Story. I still just think that it is neat when someone reads my blog. Therefore, I can relate to your desire to write quality material rather than ruthless SEO. You have found your ‘netiquette balance’. 

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the comment. I also just get a kick out of the fact people read my blog. Appreciate you doing so.

  • http://newmediainfluence.com Chris Collins

    I really enjoyed this, Jason. As someone who just recently launched a blog, you’ve inspired me to write more in depth content with 1,000+ words. This goes hand in hand with another interesting article I read today: http://engage.tmgcustommedia.com/2011/03/what-top-10-blogs-are-doing-that-you-arent/ 

    I’ve always been a believer that you should learn the rules in order to break them, but even more so that you should break them. In an attention driven ecosystem like social media it doesn’t make sense to fall in line and do what everyone else is doing. (Though I do think that unless you’re Godin or Daring Fireball you probably need to reach out online through comments, Twitter, etc., in order to start building an audience.)

    You’re spot-on with your rules, #1,4 & 5. Now if I could just learn to write good shit… Thanks for the insightful post!

  • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

    Jason, congrats on all the cool stuff that’s been happening to you. I can’t even keep up with all the announcements. Anyhow, I’ve noticed a huge rift as well between people who build a business on a blog (examples: socialmediaexaminer.com, copyblogger.com, etc.) vs. brick and mortar businesses that blog occasionally as a way to get some SEO and help customers out etc., but don’t view is as THE place where the bulk of their business is coming from. Too often these groups are lumped together so much that it blurs the advice. While some tactics certainly work for both groups, a blog with a national audience is a far different animal than the blog targeted just for community members as a tool for the local bike shop.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      PLEASE turn that into a blog post. I’ll run it as a guest post here or you can use it and I’ll link like a mo-fo. Probably the biggest gap we need to close in the social media advice category is that one … just because Copyblogger did it, doesn’t mean you can too. Completely different markets, audiences, etc. Well said sir.

      • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

        This issue has been a thorn in my side for quite some time, so I’ll gladly write something up for you on it.  

  • http://www.convinceandconvert.com jaybaer

    The more mediocre the content, the more critical best practices become. Because then you’re forced to hook readers with frosting rather than cake. That’s the corollary. Well said my man. 

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, bro.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10618874 Chase Sherman

    Great post, Jason.

    I heard Tim Ferris recently mention, “Dig an inch-wide hole a mile deep rather than a mile-wide hole an inch deep.”  I think this plays into Chris Anderson’s Long-Tail theory and Seth Godin’s Tribe theory in that you don’t need to appeal to the masses anymore.

    The only criteria for building a great blog is to pursue something you’re passionate enough about and are willing to invest deep thought into.  As long as you have a reason to be speaking, you have a strong chance of being heard by the right audience.

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    These tips are extremely beneficial. These are things that anyone can easily do to improve a blog. It seems self-evident to write what you love, to direct your content toward your community, etc. but these simple goals can often be pushed to the side in pursuit of sheer number of readers.

    Online Business
    Virtual Assistant
     

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  • Anonymous

    “You don’t need SEO” … “Search Engine Optimization”‘s meaning went two directions in the mid-2000s.  For one group of people it evolved with the search algorithms where content and social signals became more important.  Here, “producing great content” is a bullet point beneath the “SEO” heading just as surely as keyword research, title tags, or link building. 

    Another, gigantic group clasped 1990′s tactical reality of SEO and never let go.  They don’t want to hear the “ready-set-publish” plan when they’d hoped for some magical techie-magic in the back room.  A few try half-baked efforts that fail, and become fodder for political skirmishes in Marketing and PR departments.  It’s painful to watch.

    Great content requires thrashing – the digital equivalent to a trashcan full of crumpled papers in the novelist’s study.  A notebook in the hip pocket to capture inspiration.  An awareness of the conversations taking place already.  To many decision makers, this is waste.  I heard the word “Piddling” recently to describe it.  There must be a shortcut, they think, and we’re paying you good money to make it happen, Mr. SEO consultant.   I am longing for the day when an enlightened generation of web savvy decision makers will have the a-ha moment you elude to in your post.  They and the web will be better for it.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Awesome perspective Scott. Thanks for sharing it!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Awesome perspective Scott. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Redneck Mommy

    Write good shit. And that right there sums up my blog mantra. 

    Of course, not all my shit is good, but I keep trying.

  • Redneck Mommy

    Write good shit. And that right there sums up my blog mantra. 

    Of course, not all my shit is good, but I keep trying.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Your shit is better than most people’s. Heh.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Your shit is better than most people’s. Heh.

  • http://www.wiese.us Sean Wiese

    I think one thing that I have noticed over the past few years is that while “Top XX of XYZ” list rank great and are great for traffic and links. I find that the majority of them are out of date in a few months, and the sites or blogs listed may not always be the “best” anymore. 

  • http://www.wiese.us Sean Wiese

    I think one thing that I have noticed over the past few years is that while “Top XX of XYZ” list rank great and are great for traffic and links. I find that the majority of them are out of date in a few months, and the sites or blogs listed may not always be the “best” anymore. 

  • Shane Snider

    Great Stuff, as always.

    -minor edit: “Erik Deckers” above is spelled “Eric Deckers” below

  • http://twitter.com/BCultureMedia B Culture Media

    Loving this. I’m starting a blog and I’m finding it difficult to really attain any momentum with it. The rules you “threw out” are a good place to start for most people I think, but they aren’t required if the content is good like you said. Your rules of blogging now are fantastic though. I’m obsessed with their simplicity and truth. Be BoldBe FairFollow The Rules … SometimesBe Loyal To Your AudienceWrite Good Shit
    I think the toughest of these, as many would agree, is writing good shit. I’m just going to dig into my talent reservoirs and hope that my readers dig my content as much as I do! 

  • http://www.ventureneer.com/vblog/recent Geri Stengel

    Absolutely! Following the rules leads to formulaic, boring content and loss of interest by readers, especially if the rules include writing for crawling algorithms instead of people.

  • http://www.ramseymohsen.com Ramsey Mohsen

    killer post. love that you went for it on this one. and you’re right!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thank you, muchly!

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

    If you follow the same rules as 25,000 other people, you can expect to get roughly the same results as 25,000 people.

    And try as I might, Google won’t let me expand my first page of results to 25,000 entries.

    Be good.
    Be daring.
    Be yourself.

    And you’ll attract the people you wanted anyway.

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    What Ann said. And Tom. And Jay. And the 20+ others who commented. 

    I’d add, Write About Stuff You Are Passionate About.

  • http://www.jodyreinbooks.com/blog Jody Rein

    Hello Jason,  
    You write good sh&t.  Many thanks from a neophyte.
    Jody

  • http://www.jodyreinbooks.com/blog Jody Rein

    Hello Jason,  
    You write good sh&t.  Many thanks from a neophyte.
    Jody

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      You’re welcome. And we were all neophytes at some point! ;-) Some days, I still am. Heh.

      • http://sylvanmedia.com/blog Michael

        HAHAHA that’s funny.

  • http://jasonkallsen.com Jason Kallsen

    Amazing post, especially when addressing the ‘rules’ that bloggers are told to live by.

  • Roberta

    Great article with good shit.

  • Rhonda_erb

    Good shit. :)

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