Eyeballs or brains?

by James Duthie on September 18, 2008

Ok… so a few days ago I published a post poking fun at the dysfunctional nature of the Sphinn family. It was far from the most intellectual piece I’ve ever written. In fact, it’s probably one of the dumbest posts I’ve ever put my name to. So why publish it? Here’s the thing… I knew it was going to be a social media hit (particularly within Sphinn). The ranting nature combined with a touch of humour meant it was always likely to resonate with social media crowd, even a professional one such as Sphinn. It was a classic case of chasing eyeballs (ie. a traffic spike). Which ain’t such a bad thing every now and then…

You see, for the last few months I haven’t been chasing eyeballs. At all. In fact, I’ve spent most of my time sending eyeballs to fellow industry bloggers. During my guest blogging world tour, I have effectively donated traffic to my hosts. Almost all of my guest posts hit the front page Sphinn, which generally equates to at least a couple of hundred visitors. Combine that with a handful of Stumbles and I’d estimate most of my guest posts generated at least 500 pairs of eyeballs. Hell… I even helped Tad lift his subscriber count by 100 overnight.

And what did I get out of the whole exercise…? Not a hell of a lot. At least if you measure in terms of eyeballs… In each case I would have been lucky to generate one tenth the number of the eyeballs that my host received. But that’s cool. Because I wasn’t chasing eyeballs. I was chasing brains. Rather than targeting the generic social media user, I was targeting the readers of respected industry blogs (aka the brains). Quality over quantity. Because I suspected that they were far more likely to turn into loyal readers of my work.

And you know what? I was right. Even when traffic to my blog plateaued (due to reduced publishing frequency), my subscriber base continued to steadily grow… because I was targeting the right people… the brains.

But… losing traffic is never a good thing if you can avoid it. In particular, the social proof attached to my blog started to decline. Sure… people claim that that Alexa Rank, Compete Rank & Technorati Rank are a crock. But at the end of the day, if you’re not Darren Rowse or Seth Godin, people look for signals to judge the strength of your blog (and your authority). And one of the primary measures is your traffic rank. And as you can see… mine was nosediving.

So… I did what any normal online marketing blogger would do in this situation. I wrote some Sphinn bait. I got some eyeballs back. And I started to reinvigorate my traffic rankings and social proof. Because at the end of the day, it’s a fine balancing act. Getting yourself in front of the right audience is a great first step. But it doesn’t seal the deal. Just ask Miss South Carolina. There’s no point nailing the swimsuit competition if you botch up the judge’s question (if anyone can tell me what she’s trying to say I’d like to hear it by the way…).

So I went chasing some eyeballs. Because sometimes they come in handy too…

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tad Chef September 18, 2008 at 12:24 pm

You can’t really measure reputation. Even though, by now you are one of the most sough after writers in the industry. I doubt that a few more visitors to your blog would have the same effect.

James Duthie September 18, 2008 at 9:36 pm

You’re certainly right Tad. What I missed in traffic during the guest blogging tour, I gained in reputation. And that was the whole point. I’ll still continue to guest blog, but for now I’ll scale it back a bit to continue to grow this blog.

Steven Bradley September 19, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Your rep has definitely grown during your guest posting tour, which is so much more important than a few eyeballs. Of course you’re welcome to send more eyeballs my way with another guest post any time you want.

Your post generated the most Sphinns of any post that’s now on my blog. And it generated a follow up idea for me that generated a godo number of Sphinns and links too.

James Duthie September 21, 2008 at 9:44 pm

Glad I could help out Steven. And I’ll be back for a little more guest posting fun at some point in the future. Just want to spend a little bit more time on my blog for the time being.

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