The Nieman Lab has a fantastic post on Joel Kramer, the founder of MinnPost.com.
The parts that really stand out to me are the parts about building traffic and creating content on the Web. In general, Kramer recommends more, shorter posts. The days of piecing together several pieces of information into one summary may be over:
Even for our serious audience, we’ve learned that $600 spent on one long story produces a lot less traffic than $600 spent generating six to 12 shorter items. We still do longer stories every day, including many that combine in-depth reporting and analysis with personal voice.
But a careful reader of our site over the past year will note that we have a great many more short, quick hits, published all day long. So while we are spending less on news today than a year ago, our traffic has more than doubled during that time. On a three-month rolling average, we now have more than 200,000 unique monthly visitors and more than 700,000 page views — and in mid-February we enjoyed our first 31-day period with more than one million page views.
We are confident we can keep this number growing and keep quality high. Even short-form work can involve outstanding reporting and analysis — for evidence, check out David Brauer’s Braublog any day. But it does mean that we do a lot fewer ambitious investigative reports than I would like us to publish.
Tony Pierce gave us similar advice a few weeks ago. He recommends:
- He recommends posting more than once daily. If you post once a day or less, people usually don’t come to your site daily. They’ll just come once or twice a week to catch up. Not only do you want people coming to your site daily, you want them coming multiple times a day. Having someone come to your Web site twice daily is a big difference over twice weekly.
- Pierce also recommends group blogs, based around topics. Having multiple authors on one blog helps to ensure that there is a consistent stream of content. That consistent stream is vital to building traffic.
Kramer also talks about the delicate balance between generating page views and just producing content to get page views. Kramer and MinnPost.com seek to maximize page views by tracking what people like, while always keeping their mission in mind:
Google Analytics tells us exactly how many times each item we publish gets read. This has a powerful effect. It makes us want to do more of what gets read, and less of what doesn’t, while remaining true to our mission.
What does this mean? A glance at MinnPost lets a visitor know that it’s for serious newsreaders. Our brochure proudly declares, “NO Britney. NO Paris. NO Lindsay.” MinnPost is not a place to visit for stories about entertainment celebrities, or sex, crime, and advice for the lovelorn — even though we know that such content would bulk up our page views.
Back to Pierce for a second here. Pierce has a very simple formula for success:
Consistent content + links to the blog from other sources + SEO = increased page views.
I would combine that advice with what Kramer said, and you’ll be able to start building traffic in no time.
Check out part one of our profile on Tony Pierce.
Tony Pierce, Blog Editor at The Los Angeles Times, is a master of reader-blogger interaction.
Take, for example, the means by which he was able to afford a Caribbean vacation several years ago. After discovering that readers of his popular personal blog would donate money to a good cause, such as Pierce’s desire for an iPod (which he successfully procured via reader donations), he set his sights a bit higher.
“One day I said, ‘Let’s see how fast you guys can get me a thousand bucks,’” Pierce recalled. “Only about three weeks later, I got that, and I went to Aruba.”
Through such monetary “experiments”, as he refers to them, Pierce realized the importance of interacting with readers and the possibilities available to bloggers who effectively utilize their audience.
“I just kind of showed people that you don’t have to be a beautiful young woman,” he said. “You just have to have interesting content and have a good-sized audience. If they liked you and trusted you, and you’re being honest with them, they would probably give you anything you want. The car I just parked right now was from donations from my readers.”
So, how does one blogger’s ability to obtain reader donations relate to journalists with beatblogs? Simple. At the LA Times, Pierce understands the value of reader feedback.
He uses the expertise he developed as a solo blogger who engaged directly with his audience in order to further the readers’ participation at the Times’ blogs. In addition to ensuring that every blog comment at the Times is approved prior to posting, Pierce has also created the Comments Blog, the subheading of which is: “because sometimes the comments are the best part.”
The Comments Blog is an aggregation of the most insightful or interesting reader comments posted to the blogs at the Times. As a result, the Comments Blog attracts its own readers and furthers the conversations occurring on other Times blogs.
The Comments Blog is similar to news-compiling sites like Metafilter and LAist (of which Pierce is a former editor), in that it assembles the most noteworthy comments into a single locale.
“Aggregating is definitely popular because we’re too busy to read everything,” he said. “So we need a computer or a human to tell us what the important stuff is out there.”
He warned, however, that some readers who leave comments have their own agendas. For instance, when congressman Ron Paul ran for the Republican presidential nomination, the LA Times blogs received many comments from readers voicing strong support of Paul. This trend, said Pierce, could have been easily misinterpreted, possibly leading people to believe that Paul had more constituents than he actually did simply because his campaign’s online organization was better than that of his competitors.
A barrage of biased comments can give a false impression that readers feel strongly about a particular side of an argument, when, in some cases, only the readers who hold a certain opinion are commenting.
“You have to be skeptical, especially when you see huge trends going one way or the other,” he said.
To weed out readers who use blog comments to further their own agendas, Pierce recommends being aware of where the comments are posted from.
“Sometimes they out themselves just based off their IP address,” he said. “If multiple comments are posted from the IP address of a business affiliated in some way with the topic of the blog post, it becomes clear that a small group of readers are dominating the comment conversation and do not represent the public at large.
On the other hand, Pierce noted, paying attention to what readers are saying in blog comments can provide journalists with additional sources or a new angle for a story. He suggested that journalists read not only the comments on their own blogs but also the comments at blogs with similar topics at other publications.
“When you get millions and millions of people all talking at the same time,” Pierce said, “you’re going to get an expert that will come out of that bunch.”
While a subject-matter-expert may not have a blog, he/she may offer comments that are informative and potentially useful to the blogging journalist — even if these comments appear on the blog of a competing publication.
Pierce advises that journalists value their readers’ comments and consider them — with an appropriately-sized grain of salt.
“Just take readers as one of the many sources that determine what gets blogged and what goes into print,” he said. “Like many major newspapers, the LA Times is evolving its online components, and connecting with readers is a key factor in the process. I think you’ll see that the LA Times is more open to reader feedback today than it’s ever been.”
Tony Pierce, Blog Editor at The Los Angeles Times, may have the most unconventional how-I-got-this-job story that the publication has ever seen. To use his phrase, Pierce is a “blogger-turned-pro.”
Formerly a successful independent blogger and later the editor of LAist, Pierce wrote the LA Times in 2007 after an internal Times email had leaked to the public. The email boasted that the top blog at the Times had surpassed 300,000 page views for the month. Pierce’s written response was congratulatory, but added, “LAist did four times more than that last month, and I never really had anybody paid on staff…I don’t know what the word is after quadruple, but I’m going to have to learn it — unless you hire me.”
Three weeks later, the Times hired him. Pierce admits that even he was surprised to have landed the job.
“It shocked people when the LA Times hired me because often time I was the strongest voice criticizing them, but it was mostly criticizing them because I felt like they had an opportunity that they were missing,” he said. “They had the ear of all the movers and shakers out there, and I didn’t feel like they were using that in a way that they best could.”
Since signing on at the LA Times in late 2007, Pierce has helped increase traffic to all the paper’s blogs by five fold. The two most popular Times’ blogs, L.A. Now and The Dish Rag, have seen increases of 10 and 15 times over the last year, respectively.
Pierce said generating consistent blog content is the most important key to increasing the size of the readership. Shortly after Pierce started at the Times, Kareem Abul-Jabar began blogging there about once a day.
“Unfortunately when you do that,” Pierce explained, “the readers might not come to your blog every day. They might just come once a week to catch up, whereas a blogger who is blogging multiple times per day and who is kind of obsessed with his platform will see people returning to his blog several times a day.”
Despite its author’s celebrity, Abdul-Jabar’s blog did not do well because of the relatively few updates posted to it. Due to his work at LAist, Pierce is a proponent of using multiple bloggers to supply the content of a single blog.
“By far I believe that the group blog is the best way to blog,” he said. “And I say that as somebody who was a Technorati top 300 blogger as an individual blogger. My eyes opened up when I started working for LAist when I saw the power of a group blog.”
He observed that, in order to generate a greater number of posts and to pool more information, a group blog is preferable.
“Collectively they can tell a story far better than any individual writer,” Pierce said.
Pierce said that getting other prominent blogs to link to your blog is essential to gaining a following. He suggested emailing blog post links to competitors and to like-minded bloggers to direct them to what you’ve written.
“As a blogger, I loved knowing through my email inbox what was happening,” Pierce recalled. “That way, it was easier for me to put together my next blog post. I loved getting story ideas from other bloggers out there. I loved being outraged in my e-mail inbox.”
He also recommends writing headlines in ways that distinguish them from what already exists on the web so that Google searches will pick up on them. For example, when the Chris Brown/Rihanna scandal broke recently, the Times received numerous blog comments from readers who believed Brown to be innocent. Pierce aggregated these comments for a subsequent post “Readers Defend Chris Brown.” Simply having the word “defend” in the headline, in addition to “Chris Brown,” attracted even more readers to the post.
Pierce’s formula for blog success is simple: consistent content + links to the blog from other sources + SEO = increased page views. And, in his case, the formula also landed him a full-time job as an editor at the LA Times.
Stay tuned for part two of BeatBlogging.org’s interview with Tony Pierce and learn how to use blogging to take a trip to Aruba or buy a car.