In August TechCrunch UK published a post discussing why blog publishing is “failing” in the UK. Below are my somewhat belated thoughts on the issue, you can read more in a BBC interview I did recently.
For years I’ve wondered why the people running UK blog networks just don’t seem to “get it” when it comes to online publishing. Every day we see major US blogs such as Engadget, Ars Technica and Gizmodo growing in readership and increasing their lead over UK blogs who just don’t seem to be able to move to the next level.
In the past I always assumed the UK networks were doing well enough not to bother with online marketing but the TechCrunch post seems to indicate they would love to be bigger but just can’t figure out how to do it.
This post might seem like I’m picking on Shiny Media but that isn’t the case. Shiny are just a good example of a large UK blog network that seems to be missing all the tricks that the major US networks are using.
In order to build a successful blog the key thing you need is content that nobody else in the world has written about. Engadget and Gizmodo might be able to get away with re-publishing news that smaller blogs have already broken but that’s because they are the biggest. Anybody else has to make the news rather than just report on it.
UK bloggers need to ask themselves when was the last time they broke a news story that was a world exclusive?
Taking a look at how Shiny has embraced social media wasn’t a pleasant experience. Here we have a whole network of tech and gadget blogs that have had only a handful of articles to ever have made the Digg front page. I couldn’t find a single post that had been popular on Digg in the last 18 months.
How can a blog grow if it isn’t being promoted? Millions of people on Digg are in love with the iPhone and will consume as much content as the blogosphere can throw at them. The bloggers at iPhonic.tv have amassed a grand total of about 10 votes on digg in the past year. Most blog networks (even TechCrunch & Gawker) at least make an effort to promote their own stories internally but Shiny isn’t even bothering to do this.
A number of the worlds top 100 blogs have hired social media consultants (full disclosure: myself included) to make sure their articles reach the front page of major social news websites. UK blogs don’t seem to bother with these sorts of services and suffer greatly as a result.
Once a “digg culture” has been established at a particular site you find that top social media users rush to submit articles to various places as soon as they are published (try to find an article from engadget or Ars Technica that isn’t submitted within 2 hours and you will struggle).
Digg might not be able to send millions of users every month but being featured on these sites means more links, more citations from other popular blogs, more RSS readers and a general growth in the number of influential early adoptors who love your site.
Paying writers on a CPM basis
In general people who write blogs are fairly well connected guys. They can quite easily IM a top digg user and make sure that the post they have just written makes the front page. If they were paid on a flat rate per post do you think they would bother to do this?
Most blogs in the Shiny Media network are hosted in the UK and rank very well in the google.co.uk search results. This straight away means that they don’t rank as well in google.com search results.
When you consider that the US market is 5 times the size of the UK market the amount of traffic being left on the table by targeting UK users is huge. Of course it might be easier to monetize UK traffic but is it 5 times more lucrative? Coolest Gadgets and Mashable are both on US servers and have .com urls but they are highly successful UK blogs. Being a successful UK blog network doesn’t mean you have to target UK users.
The second failing with blogs in the Shiny Media Network is the lack of content they are offering. In general the more pages of content a website has the more chance it has of attracting long tail search traffic. Increasing the amount of content on a site needs to be done carefully, unless you have lots of incoming links then adding content can actually do more harm than good. However in general for a gadget blog with hundreds of thousands of incoming links the more content you have the more traffic you will get.
When it comes to tech blogs and Google it’s a simple numbers game. More links + more pages = more search traffic.
The solution is simple although actually doing it is going to be difficult. UK blogs need to break exclusive stories and create a social media culture so ensure that the stories are spread around the world as fast as possible. US blogs are so well engrained into sites like Digg that others struggle to be heard but this problem is only going to get bigger over time.
By ignoring social media for so long UK blogs have almost missed the boat – in 12 months the boat will have well and truly sailed.