If you’re interested in marketing or economics (or blogging) and you haven’t read Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, do it as soon as you can. It’s a brilliant book which explains that although a few market leaders account for the majority of sales in pretty much any industry, in any sales graph there is a ‘long tail’ of less popular items which don’t sell anywhere near as many as the most popular, but when you add them all up together, it still makes up for a lot of sales. For example, in the music business the number one album of the week might sell 100,000 copies, whilst ‘Pipe Organ Classics’ and 100,000 other obscure albums might only sell 1 copy each. If you have a store in a shopping mall (or even a warehouse near an airport) you don’t have enough space to stock 100,000 albums, but if your retail space is a website, you can afford to do that because there are no restrictions on what you can put on the shelves.
A typical ‘long tail’ sales graph might look something like this:
I could have grabbed that graphic from any number of websites which discuss long-tail theory, but I didn’t need to, because it’s actually the graph of popularity of articles in this blog. The most-popular one is about how mobile phone networks powered by Australian telecommunications provider Optus went down for a day. It racked-up a huge amound of hits on that particular day and has been largely ignored since (much like a cheesy hit song: think Crazy Frog Ringtone, if you even remember what that is). The least-popular article is a little thought-piece I wrote last week about imagining if every product you bought came with a photo of the factory worker who made it. I really like that piece, but nobody else seemed to (think art-school poetry, if you’ve ever read any).
But the major hits and the massive misses aren’t the key to success or failure in any business (or any blog). Scoring one big hit is down to a lot of luck and even in pop music, there’s no longer any tried and true recipe to make it happen. The most popular articles (and products) over time are ones your core audience connects with, blogs about and tells their friends about. Here at Zakazukha Zoo, the most popular articles over time are a post about how to promote your company in Wikipedia, and a couple of different case-studies with practical examples of real-life applications of online marketing strategy.
Whilst it’s fun to write little thought pieces, and it’s tempting to jump on the band wagon and yap about the most popular topic of the day, neither of those is the best strategy for building long-term relationships with readers. If you’re trying to decide what to blog about, follow these rules:
- Have a list somewhere of things you want to blog about, don’t rely on just coming up with something insightful every day. Unless you’re The Buddha, you won’t.
- Ask your audience what they want to read about.
- Keep an eye on your most popular articles and follow suit.
- Don’t just follow the bandwagon, if you want respect (and readers), be a leader.
- Whinging can be fun and it’s good to get things off your chest, but before you hit the publish button, ask yourself whether your motivation is really to make the blog world a better place.
- If you treat your blog like a soapbox, your readers will expect suds.
- Before you write anything, ask yourself ‘would I still write this even if I knew no-one was listening?’
- If you wouldn’t be proud of it in ten years time, don’t write it.
- If you don’t want your grandchildren to read it, don’t write it.
- If you don’t want your mother to read it, don’t write it.
- Check you’re speling and grammar if you want people to take you seriously.
- Don’t blog when you’re angry.
- Every blog post is a job interview.
- Think about what people who disagree with your point of view will say, because they will.
- Anything you say will end up somewhere on that long tail graph, but aim for the left.
- You don’t have to blog.