I’ve been thinking long and hard about blogs and return on investment for the writers, publishers and brands that commit to producing them. Given that blogs in almost every case are free to read, and that online advertising is a joke, you have to wonder what kind of return blogs provide, and why there are so many of them.
As someone who has chosen to go deep and spend nearly a decade pursuing the promise of push button publishing, I have many of my own tales to tell, and I intend to share, but first let’s look at some critical responses to the medium.
Kathleen Taylor is a freelance science writer and researcher affiliated with Oxford University. She stopped blogging on Psychology Today’s site, because the immediacy of it all didn’t fit her needs.
Blogging competes for our overwhelmed attentional resources. What attracts attention? Not slow thought, for sure. Fast responses, short statements, eye-catching titles and images, personal statements, provocative claims and moral judgements.
Yes. If we consider ad blogs for a moment, we’ll see that the sites that cram a bunch of content into their pages each day like Agency Spy and The Denver Egotist, or sites that use snarky commentary like Copyranter and AdScam are considered successful. “Provocative claims and moral judgements” have never much interested me, but I have in the past felt the need to race to complete X number of stories by end of business, a.k.a. bedtime. Thankfully, I no longer feel that pressure to produce. Not because I haven’t succeeded. Rather, because I have succeeded and found the rewards of said success lacking.
I’m pretty sure that I brought unreasonable expectations to the practice, like the ability to profit financially from my industry analysis. I also thought the community around the content would grow exponentially, that readers would stick around and actively engage. You live. You learn.
One thing I haven’t considered is how the format itself may in part be responsible for the things that haven’t quite worked as planned. Earlier today, I read If HTML5 Kills the Blog Format, I Won’t Shed a Tear by Scott M. Fulton. He rejects the limitations of the traditional time-based structure, while extending a degree of hope that HTML5 might help.
Not all articles should be created equal. Blogs are singular conveyor belts of nuggets of text. But a major news story, a feature on how to build a private cloud in your office, an interview with a mobile app developer, and some guy ranting about the stupidity of the blog format, are different beasts with varying life spans. Longer-living articles should be allowed to live longer, rather than being hurled off the conveyor belt into the void of invisibility when more replacements come along. HTML5 offers the possibility of componentized, two-dimensional layout where the Table of Contents can live and breathe again.
In another ReadWriteWeb piece Fulton argues that “news must be bundled with a service.” To which I say, absolutely. On AdPulp, the news we produce or reproduce is the “sugar coating” and the services offered for sale are copywriting, design, coding and so on. Yet, we’ve failed to make that perfectly clear. People see us as an industry news site, not a site run by ad guys available for hire. That’s a problem in need of a solution. Yet, there is no easy solve for this riddle, primarily because readers don’t visit AdPulp to be pitched, they visit for our unique take on the industry. Only rarely do readers connect the dots and say to themselves, these guys know their shit; hence, I want them on my next project or on my staff.
What I must reckon with, as co-founder and editor of AdPulp, is what if any marketplace value our unique take has. The site has always made a small amount of money each year, so there’s that. AdPulp also opens doors, but there’s a catch. The doors open so we can report on the host’s doings, not because they want to meet the guys behind AdPulp and work with us. As a professional brand builder, I can no longer tolerate that kind of marketplace confusion. While it’s easy for me to see that I’m an ad guy first, and an ad critic second, that’s asking a lot of other people.
Here, on this particular Web page the necessary balance, and clarity, is built in. This isn’t an ad blog, it’s a company Web site with a blog that covers important developments in content and marketing. Here, you know what’s behind the curtain — you know that the “news” is a loss leader, and that we’re sharing it with you to showcase our thinking, which can be rented by the hour/day/week. In other words, blogging makes sense here. I can’t say the same for AdPulp, and that pains me to some degree, but I’ve also had 7.5 years to adjust myself to the idea, so it’s not too painful.
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