Are Blog Best Practices Bullshit?

by Jason Falls |

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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Image by Jason Falls via Flickr

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 the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls 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 Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).