Monday, January 09, 2006

blogger your competition is...



Blogger, your competition, is not another blog, as much as it is: paid sponsor link search engines.

EDIT UPDATE: This is causing some blogo-buzz.

Here's my reply to Heather Green at Business Week Blogspotting blog, "Search Engines Leeches?":



http://blogs.businessweek.com/
the_thread/blogspotting/
archives/2006/01/
search_engine_l.html

to her siding with Jakob Nielsen on this matter (comments are moderated with delayed posting, so my comment is not appearing there as of this writing, but I always Copy all my comments at other blogs, PRIOR TO posting or submitting them for moderation):


[QUOTE]

I agree mostly with what Jakob says, since he is my mentor and teacher, via his books and Use It dot com site.

I have not fully digested his latest Alertbox, though I've responded in a post and commented on it.

What I got most out of his new proclamation is that "stickiness" is outdated. An online entity, like a blog, should generally seek to increase visit frequency of readers, rather than visit duration.

What matters is not necessarily how much time any blog visitor spends, nor how many page views. Rather, the most important consideration, to build into your business model, is how to keep them coming back, over and over, loyally.

This fits in with my idea about the Blog Portal.

You ultimately want to get people to use your site as a starting point, a portal to other web locations. Not as a default home page, but as a site that contains not only great content, but links to great destinations for further web surfing.

[END QUOTE]


Here's why, according to Jakob Nielsen.

You as a blogger publish content to the web.

You as a blogger are:

* thinker

* researcher

* writer

* hyperlinker

* editor

* publisher

* critical reviewer

* promoter

* blogosphere interactor (meaning: you have to spend time with your colleagues, other bloggers, posting comments on their blog to say "hello", and to contribute to conversations beyond what's happening at your own blog).

* blog consultant (every time you explain what a blog is to clueless friends and business people, you act as a blog consultant)

Now, you do all these things, and more, to dream up, create, assemble content for the web via your spot on it, your blog.

And you also do some of these things to protect, defend, and publicize your content, your blog or web site.

Who is your biggest competitor in content?

Jakob Nielsen, leading usability specialist and a very large influence on my thought, says Search Engines are your main content competitor.

His point, I think, is this: you want your readers, visitors, customers to *not* linger for a long time at your site or blog, but to *return frequently*.

Blogs especially are all about fast everything. Fast thinking. Fast typing. Fast reaction to reader comments. Fast surfing of other blogs and fast posting of relevant, enriching comments at other blogs.

Design your blog for fast information access, fast functionality, or fast entertainment offerings.

Nielsen says "stickiness", getting users to spend more time during each visit, is outdated thinking.

He says the new, emerging trend is what I call "returnity": the qualities residing in your blog that entices readers to keep coming back.

Practical value, with accurate or intelligent substance, good writing, and unexpected surprises: how to keep 'em coming back again and again. Plus, kind and considerate interaction with readers via email and comments.

From his latest Alertbox, (which you really must get smart and subscribe to today):

"Search Engines as Leeches on the Web"


http://www.useit.com/alertbox/search_engines.html


[QUOTE]

...[due to the content competition with search engine portals] you must foster customer loyalty so that users go straight to your site instead of clicking through from search ads [in the search engine results lists].

I predict that liberation from search engines will be one of the biggest strategic issues for websites in the coming years.

The question is:

How can websites devote more of their budgets to keeping customers, rather than simply advertising for new visitors?

Here are some ideas, ranging from the proven (newsletters) to the speculative (mobile services):

* Email newsletters. Getting people to sign up for regular newsletters remains the ultimate way to maintain a relationship. As usability studies show, a newsletter has much more of an emotional impact on people than a brief visit to a website.

* Request marketing. Have users tell you want they want, and then alert them when you have it.

* Discussion groups and other community features. Find ways to recognize particularly active members and thus further connect them to your site. Such recognition might be as simple as placing gold stars on their profiles or might include more substantial loyal-user benefits.

* Affiliate programs. These are alliances with other sites that promote your services to their users in return for a referral fee if their users do business with you. The program works best if the referring site can honestly recommend the destination site to its own target audience. So, even though you have to pay them a cut, the cost isn't boundless the way it is on search engines because you're not competing with all other sites in the world for the right to be listed. If you're the best match for the referring site's audience, they'll want you -- rather than simply whoever offers the highest fee -- because your conversion rate will be better. (In an earlier column, I offer an example in which sales differed drastically depending on which affiliate partner a site chose to link to.)

* Newsfeeds. RSS might work, but I don't know yet as we're not starting our user research into RSS until next week. (We'll present findings about RSS usability at our upcoming conference.)

* Stick your URL onto any physical product you sell in the hope that customers will see it when they need supplies or a replacement.

* A hardware component that's hardwired to connect to your site's service. Without the iPod, the iTunes music store wouldn't be nearly as successful.

* Mobile features. Search engines' back-and-forth interaction style is clumsier on mobile devices. Conversely, mobile provides added value for services that know their users and understand sufficient context to give them exactly what they need, when they need it -- perhaps without their having to ask. Thus, users are more likely to actually subscribe to mobile services than to seek them out every time they feel the need. Being an icon on somebody's BlackBerry gives you top-of-mind presence and significantly increases the likelihood that that they'll visit your website when they want to do business. (You might even get paid for the mobile service -- but even without payment, it's worth it in search-liberation points.)

In the dot-com bubble days, it was fashionable to discuss website stickiness. Now, stickiness must be reconceptualized for the real world rather than the bubble. It's not a goal to make users spend hours on your site. Let them go about their business.

The real goal is to make users come back, and to have them come directly to your site instead of clicking on expensive ads. The ideas above are just a few ways to encourage repeat business.

Further in-depth studies of user behaviors and customer needs should reveal many new ways of keeping users loyal.

[END QUOTE]


Follow the link to go to Use It dot com and read the beginning of Nielsen's new article on why Search Engines, with paid sponsored results, can be "leeches" of web content.

This also shames me into remembering how I still need to fix my blog's more horrible problem: worthless archive categories.

See, when one of my blog readers, to use myself as an example, has a question about blogs, blogging, blogosphere, etc., I'd like it if they visited my blog first, to see what I might have written about the topic.

I like to think that what I've written on any blogological or web usability topic is practical, true, authoritative, referenced to reputable sources, complete, easy to understand, and even a bit funny now and then.

But how can they see what Vaspers the Grate wrote on CEO blogs, unless I have an archive category entitled CEO Blogs or maybe Business Blogging? Oh sure, they can type in "CEO blogs" in my blog's search engine, and probably come up with most of what I've written. Let's hope. I'll check this search term later.

Site search engines need to be greatly improved. After intuitive navigation, site search should probably be the next major avenue for a user to find specific content, including comments they themselves have posted on your blog, within your blog.

A fantastic way to keep readers coming back is to enable them to Subscribe to Replies to Your Comment, whenever a reader posts a comment to your blog.

Chances are, if the post topic is hot, or the reader posted a good comment, there will be subsequent, further comments posted, thus an email alert will arrive the reader's inbox. Then the reader can follow the link provided, to see what others, including hopefully the blog author, replied to his comment, or to the topic in general.

Jakob Nielsen is the author I turned to when I first got on the web and was both delighted and confused with the web sites I visited. The first web dysfunctionalities I stumbled upon were sites that disabled the Back button on your browser ("mouse traps", "orphan pages", or "hall of mirrors" I think we call them). Where you are trapped on a web page, cannot even return to a previous page in the web site, nor the home page, nor is there any exit to anywhere available.

Other early web usability problems I noticed were design confusion, poor site navigation, valueless site maps, lack of welcome/user orientation to site, static/impersonal feel, broken forms, frequent lack of bios, credentials, affiliations--bordering on anonymous, or "fly-by-night" appearance, dense paragraphs, lack of hypertext links to verify source material quoted (still extremely common, especially, ironically, on "business" web sites), and corporate fluff "we-oriented" braggadocio super-hype wastelands.

Nielsen's book, "Designing Web Usability", and "Homepage Usability", are two of my guiding lights in most matters in this field.

Remember: subscribe to his Alertbox updates, so you can know more about smart web usability principles and user observation testing insights. Not "random opinion and arbitrary rules" as some anti-usability web designers whine, but observed characteristics of computer users interacting with actual web sites.

[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate

:^)

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned, "usability" boils down to simplicity and there's no trick to that.

Because I hate figureheads and "authorities" of any kind, and because I think we are overmarketed to as a culture, people like Jakob Nielsen and Faith Popcorn rub me the wrong way (although I grant they may be very smart).

Whatever happened to David Siegel -- he of the "single clear pixel" trick and the "killer website" concept? I heard he had a nervous breakdown of some sort. It's tough being a seer -- just look at poor Cassandra in the Iliad.

Actually, the latest news on Mr Siegel is that he's blogging and advocating wikidom.

We are all the architects of this thing we call the Internet. For all of the brilliance of any Jakob Nielsen or David Siegel, the future of the Internet points toward collectivism -- as it should, given its inherent collective/additive nature. Just look at blogging, the free software movement (which has spawned valuable innovations too numerous to name here), and yes, "wiki"-ing, etc. etc. etc.

I pity the fool conglomerate who thinks in terms of "market shares" and "customer loyalty" against the ever morphing giant that is The Web.

Disgruntled Car Salesman said...

Vaspers, do me a favor. Go to my blog if you could and check out the MKE online blog of the week post. Please check the link and vote for me for MKE online blog of the week.

Thank you.

steven edward streight said...

Disgrunt: okay will do.

Anon: Interesting perspective, quite different from my own.

While I don't think many bloggers think in terms of "market share" or "customer loyalty", any online entity, blog, web site, wiki, exists to communicate with and, hopefully, aims to benefit others.

So a desire to increase the usability, performance, practical value, relevance, user satisfaction, and other vital aspects of a blog is a good desire. There are those who can help us with tips and accumulated observations.

I abandoned my JotSpot wiki, due to not knowing what to do with it. wikis are good for collab, not solo.

zafu said...

What the¿! That was my post, not anonymous´!

wikis are good for collab, not solo.

Exactly!

steven edward streight said...

An intranet wiki, with administrative restrictions like edit moderation, so wrong info does not accidentally appear when an employee attempts to publish an update, would be ideal for any internal project.

steven edward streight said...

Here's my reply to a comment that was posted in response to my comment posted at Business Week Blogspotting:

[QUOTE]

I am against online porn, sir, and am refering instead to increasing the practical value of a site. I am not advocating hypnosis, addiction, nor any craving, other than for immaterialistic perfection.

One thing we see, as usability analysts, is the proclivity toward blog bashing, often from within the blogosphere itself.

Off the cuff dismissals, clever comments, and zany scenarios, like the recent Washington Post article on Wal-Mart and bloggers, allegations of racism.

When anti-bloggers wish to attack the blogosphere, we see "the dark side of blogging" and the "dangers of echo-chamber web sites and blogs".

Buzz Word Watch: "echo-chamber blogs" = blogs that say things you don't like.

[END QUOTE]

steven edward streight said...

What I was responding to was someone named Jim Dermitt, who posts comments at blogs, but never embeds a URL for his site, which I guess does not exist.

I think "Jim Dermitt" is a spam bot.

He posted at Business Week Blogspotting a reply to my comment there. He states "porn" as "bodcasting" and implies it conforms to my statements on increasing blog visit frequency.

When I Googled this person's name, all I got was one page of results, just his "comments" at certain blogs.

Check out a sample, 5 spam type comments, meaningless drivel, nonsense at Jeff Jarvis' blog Buzz Machine:

http://www.buzzmachine.com/
index.php/2005/08/10/
blogging-god/

zafu said...

I voted for you, Grunty. I've been to Milwaukee. I think I know what's best for that town.

steven edward streight said...

Zaffy: you just made my day.

This is how the blogosphere is supposed to work. Each blog has a readership family, conjoined with other blog readership families at other blogs, mult-family in action, cross-family interventions, assistance, kindnesses.

I love it when a reader posts a comment to, not me, but to another comment poster.

For comment posters to interact with each other is perhaps the highest honor a blog can receive.

Thanks for helping DCS.

zafu said...

Steven,

I apologize for my off-the-cuff dismissal of usability guru-o-sity ("there's no trick to that).

I return here time after time because I am a fan of your particular genius. I don't know exactly how you parlay your brilliance into real-life work, but I do feel that you're smart as a whip and I enjoy your unique take on stuff.

Having said that, let me explain that what I was shooting for in my comments was to propose that we all have it in us to contribute a little brilliance to the betterment of humankind, as it were. I am not comfortable with grandiloquence or with (often self-professed) apotheoses of whatever ilk; and while Jakob Nielsen is a great thinker, I also find him a bit of a whore and too willing to play Pied Piper of Hamlin to the willing masses (with the MSM and the design/development community leading the droves onward).

Yet any dictum of a Jakob Nielsen on usability, say, must take a backseat to any usability solution that grows organically "from the hands" -- so to speak -- of users themselves.

Sorry, I wish I had the time to engage in a more productive conversation on this (i.e. with relevant examples to back up my point, etc.) I guess I will just have to wait 'til I amass my fortune and retire early. AS it is, I am usually too tired to even have thoughts anymore.

Keep on trucking though. I am still your #1 fan.

zafu said...

Steven,

I apologize for my off-the-cuff dismissal of usability guru-o-sity ("there's no trick to that).

I return here time after time because I am a fan of your particular genius. I don't know exactly how you parlay your brilliance into real-life work, but I do feel that you're smart as a whip and I enjoy your unique take on stuff.

Having said that, let me explain that what I was shooting for in my comments was to propose that we all have it in us to contribute a little brilliance to the betterment of humankind, as it were. I am not comfortable with grandiloquence or with (often self-professed) apotheoses of whatever ilk; and while Jakob Nielsen is a great thinker, I also find him a bit of a whore and too willing to play Pied Piper of Hamlin to the willing masses (with the MSM and the design/development community leading the droves onward).

Yet any dictum of a Jakob Nielsen on usability, say, must take a backseat to any usability solution that grows organically "from the hands" -- so to speak -- of users themselves.

Sorry, I wish I had the time to engage in a more productive conversation on this (i.e. with relevant examples to back up my point, etc.) I guess I will just have to wait 'til I amass my fortune and retire early. AS it is, I am usually too tired to even have thoughts anymore.

Keep on trucking though. I am still your #1 fan.