Just as there are different styles of investing, there are different approaches to traffic generation. Aside from the occasional, reclusive J.D.Salingers, most writers want to be read as widely as possible. Some bloggers literally will do anything to gain audience, others have defined boundaries. Site traffic is a subject close to bloggers' hearts, and is front-of-mind right now, thanks in part to the misadventures of Pajamas Media.
Not every blogger practicing these distinct styles gets as much traffic as they might like. However, each style has the potential to drive traffic. Other styles of blogging, such as the let's-discuss-what-I-ate-for-lunch style, aren't suited for driving traffic, unless of course you're talking about what Madonna had for lunch. As a rule, navel-gazing gains an audience of one.
Many blogs employ a combination of styles. As noted below, Mister Snitch! does this.
Blogging resembles investment in that the blogger invests time and energy in hopes of a return. Bloggers' return on investment is readers. Like most investors, most bloggers go belly-up. Here are the blogger types, as we see them, compared with different investment styles.
1) Meme-du-jour bloggers comment on the high-profile ideas of the moment. This requires more or less constant research, and results in posts that are often less than polished or complete (because they have to be composed quickly, and also because these stories are after all, developing). This type of blogger is usually focused on political issues.
High-traffic bloggers working in this style develop an entourage of lesser-trafficked bloggers. This forms an ecosystem: One big blog drives big traffic to many small blogs, and many small blogs return a modest traffic streams back to the source. Michelle Malkin is the epitome of this blogging style in its purest incarnation. This type of blogging reminds us of a hedge fund investor: At its best, it offers outsized, quick returns. However, it's not always in the best interests of the companies being bought and sold, nor is it necessarily good for the general public. Likewise, this style of blogging does not always serve the issues well. Posts in this style are too often long on POV, short on insight. This style also skews toward links to other high-trafficked bloggers at the expense of lesser bloggers offering more insight (although this is a problem with most bloggers in general).
(We do a certain amount of this style of blogging, as there are fleeting memes that interest us, and also because it is a way to introduce ourselves to new audiences. Most blogs are at least somewhat 'meme', keeping up with current events and fashions.)
2) Caterers determine what an audience segment wants to hear, and pursue that theme aggressively. This style is distinguished from our next group by a core cynicism, or at best a lack of real conviction. Caterers' content is determined by readers' tastes more than by a central guiding force. Most caterers play in the political sandbox, while many others offer porn or sensationalism. Fark offers the two latter, while Kos does very well with leftist political feelgood. (Kos's success also stems from his empowerment of others who don't wish to start their own blogs. That site, like Fark, is mainly a conglomeration of carefully chosen editors and submissions.)
The surest sign of catering is the demonization of some person or group outside their readership. Many leftist sites flagrantly demonize the center ('moderate'), libertarian, and right-wing constituencies (usually lumped together as "the right"). Some right-wing sites attack the left, as do some libertarian or centrist sites. Fark is an exception in that it does not demonize, but rather sets a high bar for submissions, which must top other posts in outrageousness to gain entry.
This style reminds us of Enron-style investment. Numbers dictate content. This is a bad long-term investment option. Likewise, it makes for disposable site content- sensationalistic and ephemeral, containing nothing profound or memorable.
(We are concerned about serving our readers, but we don't cater as such. Our philosophy is to write to suit ourselves, hoping to either attract like minds, or those willing to disagree yet return despite disagreeing. This approach requires patience to find an audience. Our focus is on content that we believe is compelling, or offers a POV as unique as we can hope to achieve - the antithesis of catering.)
3) Nichebloggers, aka localbloggers. We've posted on local blogging before. Local bloggers focus on their locality, but we also consider someone focused on any particular subject a "local" blogger (that subject being the 'locality'). The subject is usually something the writer is passionate about, or has special expertise in. Econbrowser is a great niche blogger, specializing in macroeconomics. Some 'niche' bloggers switch their 'locality' from time to time. Dan Riehl is an important 'local' blogger whose 'locality' for some time has been Natalee Holloway. When another story of size comes along, he may switch to a new 'locale'.
Like a caterer, the niche blogger writes according to what his audience is coming to read. Unlike the caterer, the niche blogger pursues his/her chosen subject regardless of traffic stats. Generally, niche bloggers sacrifice quick stats in order to pursue their subject.
(We do a fair amount of local blogging in terms of writing about Hoboken and Jersey. We also nicheblog on favorite subjects, such as blogmarketing.)
This style of blogging reminds us of investors who specialize in finding opportunity within a particular industry.
4) Internet guides, such as Instapundit, create little original material. Their strength is that they are trusted link finders/filters. MetaFilter and BoingBoing are other Internet guides. This is not to say that these sites don't add value to the posts they link. Rather, it means that their posts are determined by the stories they link to (contrast with determining a concept and then researching material that supports that concept). This style of blogging reminds us of "star" stockpickers, such as the famed Peter Lynch.
(Many of our posts are of this style. In fact, often our links either were or will soon be on the larger Internet guides.)
5) The celebrity-blogger is someone whose site traffic comes from fame achieved outside of blogging. While some bloggers achieve notoriety because of blogging, that has not become much of a factor. We're referring to a Huffington blog, whose traffic came about because her name was already known. Other celebs, such as Barbra Streisand, are guaranteed site traffic to their blogs, even though they post on subjects well beyond their range of actual expertise (politics, in Ms. Streisand's case). Usually these blogs are ghost-written (and usually this is a poorly-kept secret).
This style of blogger reminds us of the investment gurus whose infomercials occasionally appear on wee-hours TV. We're inclined to keep channel-surfing when we see such commercials, and we likewise bypass celebrity blogs.
(Obviously, there's little or no celebrity-blogging being done here.)
6) The service blogger performs a service, often to the 'Meme' blogger (see 1). The Political Teen drives its high traffic numbers by providing video clips to 'Meme' bloggers. The Truth Laid Bear does well by providing at-a-glance traffic stats and other group services. Memeorandum shows how 'Meme' bloggers are clustering around currently popular topics. This style of blogging reminds us of Spyder funds, in which the strengths and weaknesses of many assets (blogs in this case) drive the conglomerate whole.
(Likewise, Mister Snitch does not fit into the service-blogging category.)
7) The long-tail blogger is the rarest of successful breeds. This style requires consistent blogging over a long period of time (hence the rarity in a fairly new medium). As we have noted in previous posts, blogging is heavily favored by search engines in the current Internet cultural environment. A classic long-tail blogger such as Dustbury gets a very respectable audience (currently approaching 1,000 unique visits a day) because the site has been commenting on popular culture, steadily and succinctly, for over nine and a half years. A look at Charles' site stats tells the story: Out of every 1,000 hits, about 70% come to the site's front page or a current post. The remainder are links that trickle in - one, two, three at a time - for archived posts. Charles rarely enters trackback festivals or Carnivals. (Although he was the very first person to send an entry to the very first Carnival of the Vanities, he now submits an entry about once every other week to Outside the Beltway or Wizbang.) His site gets found because the search engines reward authoritative blog posts - and longevity.
We haven't been doing this anywhere near as long as Charles. But it's encouraging to see that simply by writing decently and adding value to links, a blog can, over time, find its audience. Of all the blogging styles (and many blogs, like this one, are a melange of several styles), this seems to be the most natural and satisfying for blogger and reader alike. Fausta is another long-tail blogger whose traffic will grow as she continues to post. Charles, James Lileks (who has some 'outside celebrity' backing - see 5, above - but whose 9-year online background suggests he belongs in this category), and Fausta Weiss are the Warren Buffets of blogging.
This category is very much related to nicheblogging (3). Long-tail posts tend to drill deep into 'local' or 'niche' areas of expertise.
(Our overall approach to blogging is most closely aligned with the long-tail style. The majority of our daily traffic comes from 'older' posts. It stands to reason that any blog that has, for example, 800 posts capable of generating a single 'hit' every other day, is guaranteed 400 hits per day with no promotion or new work on posts. The challenge, of course, is in creating those 'evergreen' posts which become authoritative and rank high in 'net searches on a particular subject. Here's an example of one such 'evergreen' post on our own site.)
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Shortly before we posted this piece, ProBlogger posted "20 Types of Blog Posts - Battling Bloggers Block". It's in a related category to this post, which is why we're including it here. Also semi-related: How to create a blogging network (and hang on to your pajamas), and types of postings (three) by Joi Ito.
Shortly after we posted this piece, we were linked by Instapundit. When we get linked by a mega-blogger such as Prof. Reynolds, our 'long-tail' site stats (understandably) go out the window for a few days.
Also shortly after we posted, we began hearing suggestions of other distinct blogging styles. (We did say "at least" seven, not precluding the possibility of more.) One that occurred to us is the "relationship blogger" who builds tight relationships with other blogs. (We're not that familiar with the mechanics of the style, but we have seen some blogs which seem to fit into this category. We suspect it works better in dense urban areas such as New York City.) Charles at Dustbury alluded to (but did not detail) other possible styles. Therefore, we may develop a followup to this post, based on reader feedback.
The Long Tail blog, by Wired magazine editor-in-chief and author Chris Anderson, recently posted standing out in the commodity crowd. The post speaks to the subject of how any blog stands out in a crowd - and blogging clearly is a crowded field. The blogs the Long-tail author reads stand out in at least one of three main ways - they: (1) Add value with a unique perspective or analysis. (2) Add value with unique information. (3) Add value by providing a unique filter/lens on content available elsewhere. Here are the blogs which fit this criteria for this author.
Ed Brenegar extends the Long Tail conversation.