It took three years but I finally got it: Page views are a diagnostic tool, not the Holy Grail of blogging. Unless we're intending to make a bundle attracting/keeping advertisers or preparing our blog for sale, the only reason to pay attention to page views is to derive intelligence about what subjects in what packaging are getting attention and what aren't.
That's exactly what I did during live-blogging the Rhode Island lead paint public nuisance trial from November 1, 2005 until February 22, 2006. Every 10 minutes while posting I would review the page view numbers to discern what kinds of headlines, topics and organization of content were the most likely to be read. I learned:
- Catchy headlines were a must. Given the seriousness of and the high stakes involved in the litigation, humor and satire wouldn't get clicked on. The all-time bust was my post about the Letterman-like list of the 10 things the jurors, who were frequently sent to the jury room several times a court session, could do while waiting.
- Simplification of content was a downright pull force. The more I veered from legalese and the more non-legal analogies I used to describe what went on in the court room, the heavier the traffic. Clearly, erudite was out, taking the pains to drill down to the essence and explain it in plain-speak were in.
- Gossip, particularly about mundane things like the women's hairdos and who was in the peanut gallery, was totally hot. The most clicked post was on a state female witness' sensible shoes.
- Readers loved exclusive interviews with experts and not only legal ones. The most popular was the commentary, all off the record, from security analysts.
- Detailed reporting and analysis came to be expected. Since so much shareholder money was tied up in the verdict and most of them couldn't take off work to attend the trial, the more I presented about each bit of testimony, each motion argument [even when court wasn't officially in session] and each objection, the more readers came to build relationships with me. E-mail and phone calls started and kept increasing.
- Post before, during, and after court. That communicated to readers that I was as emotionally committed as they were, only for different reasons. [I didn't own stock in any of the defendants' companies]. Frequent postings during the day are rewarded by search engines in better rankings.
- Use keywords such as brandnames, celebrities, and breaking news. When I discussed the nanny state and cited brandnames such as Kellogg and Kraft, there was heavier pick-up on the search engines.
My goal then, I realize now, was primarily to create a sphere of influence with the right people. That had nothing to do with numbers per se. At the time, the "right" people were the media, security analysts, legal experts and corporate leaders who were central in the conversation about this kind of litigation.
Since this is my business - persuasion of public opinion - I wanted to learn how to do this digitally. I had a hunch, and I was right, that by copying, pasting and emailing seminal blog postings I could get the attention of these constituencies - and bypass mainstream media. The gatekeepers of MSM have become harder and harder to successfully pitch. The statistic floating around is that one out of 30-something pitches results in coverage. I still use this and my other blog to experiment with tactics for influence with the influentials.
My second goal was to get down cold how to leverage a blog as a new-business development tool. My hunch was that this would be a more cost-efficient way to present myself to prospects. Attending professional meetings, direct mail, offering finders' fees had long ago reached the point of diminishing returns. This too has paid off. Currently about 98 percent of new business comes through my posts on the Internet. It also has built my branding as a digital communicator. Digital is finally becoming mainstream in communications so this is exactly where I want to be positioned.
Yes, the greater number of page views, the better the odds for influence and new business. And, yes, I become concerned when the page views begin declining. But, I have concluded that I shape headlines, tone, and content to bring in the readership which will help my boutiques. I could be having the traffic of DailyKos.com and still not be connecting with a readership that's necessary for me to keep growing my two communications boutiques.