Why UK Blog Networks Are Really Failing

  • 0
  • October 8, 2008

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.

UK Blogs

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?

Social media

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.

The Numbers

When it comes to tech blogs and Google it’s a simple numbers game. More links + more pages = more search traffic.

Can you see the pattern from the numbers below?
Number of times on Digg front page: about once per day
2.2 million pages
14,839,822 incoming links

Number of times on Digg front page: about once per day
388,000 pages
8,504,564 incoming links

Number of times on Digg front page: 5 (none in last 18 months)
21,800 pages
151,610 incoming links

Number of times on Digg front page: zero
13,900 pages
545,945 incoming links

Number of times on Digg front page: zero
2940 pages
161,158 incoming links

Number of times on Digg front page: zero
1380 pages
138,000 incoming links

The Solution

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.

Photo credit: James Cridland

Patrick Altoft

About Patrick Altoft

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events.

  • http://www.qualitynonsense.com Quality Nonsense

    I think the problem is two-fold.

    1. Poverty of ambition. Compared to their US cousins, many of the UK network blogs look low-rent and read like a parochial local paper.

    The Gawker Media or the big Weblogs Inc titles can hold their own against ‘big media’. They are entertaining, compelling, outspoken and at times set the news agenda in their niche. The content would work in any context, but is perfectly suited to blog publishing.

    I’ve not seen any UK blog network sites that pull this off. And I’ve seen a fair number that miss by a country mile.

    I simply cannot imagine friends in America making the effort to read the UK competition the way I do with Gawker’s blogs. They are not in the same league.

    2. No commercial nouse. You don’t need to be Donald Trump to realise you ain’t going to get rich running a blog about Coronation Street. Alas, no one told Shiny Media.

  • http://www.sitevisibility.co.uk/blog/ kelvin newman

    I think the UK blogs network properties suffer generally from one of two problems. first being just a UK version of a successful US blog, imitation is only going to get you so far.

    Or they go the other way and be too UK-centric. No harm in that explicitly but it is going to limit the growth of the blog and ultimately the network too

  • http://blog.use-ip.co.uk/ use-IP

    Does your avearge Brit (even your web-focused business-owning Brit) know how to follow a blog in an RSS Reader?

    I came across this just last night, a business owner in a UK business forum with 32,000+ members, asked in the SEO sub-forum about learning more about SEO to improve his website; two themes to the response; do a course or read a book.

    Nobody suggested he monitor some blogs (like this one of course, all flattery aside he would learn loads).

    I have read that book, it gives a good grounding, but many of the tips and links went out of date so quickly. Blogs are live, today, and therefore the perfect source of now News.

    Therefore, my hypothesis would be that it’s not too late, that we won’t miss the boat all together, but that the UK mass market (the public) is simply lagging behind (ask your non-techie friends & family if they know what Google Reader is). Of course they might never get it if we don’t explain the benefits …

    I recently introduced some business associates who write blogs to using Google Reader – they hadn’t known about that, they didn’t understand RSS, they just thought it was a neat way of producing jounal entry web pages …

    Maybe the concept of Really Simple Syndication passed by the British public without them noticing it …

    Maybe we need to explain it in our blogs …

    Maybe the British Blog Networks would then see more action???

  • http://www.blogstorm.co.uk Patrick Altoft

    I’m reading one of the most respected books on SEO at the moment, it was updated 3 months ago. The first concrete tip it gave? Keyword density should be 7%.

    Utter rubbish.

  • http://Some Andy

    “keyword density should be 7%. Utter rubbish.”

    It should be 5%.

    : )

  • http://www.juretic.com Vinay

    I completely agree with Quality Nonsense’s “1. Poverty of ambition. Compared to their US cousins, many of the UK network blogs look low-rent and read like a parochial local paper.”

    Being like a parochial local paper, you only feed UK audience but not tech-savvy or global audience. The reason they don’t rank on Google.com better than other sites do are not because they have a .co.uk or hosted in UK its just the way they use the language which most of global population tries to search for (Optimisation vs Optimization) .. if you know what I mean.

    Engagement with local users, I really hope a large network of UK blogs miss this.. I haven’t seen much UK blogs which receive comments to their Blog Posts including TechCrunch UK. SEO & SEM blogs are different, most of the time the comment and engagement they receive from users are due to the fact they belong to the same industry.

    A typical UK visitor notices a Blog as just an other Portal/Site with loaded information… they really miss the part of RSS & Social Media is play as the other commenters have explained here.

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  • http://www.ablognetwork.com A Blog Network

    With Gawker media, they are written by top journalists not just the every day blogger. They’ve been around since day 1 too, Weblogs inc…. I have a lot of respect for Jason Calacanis from what he did with these guys, especially the fact it was picked up by the likes of AOL although I’m not too fond of what he did with Netscape and currently what he’s doing with Mahalo. B5media also, I think 3 of the biggest none UK blog networks right now, B5media have a lot of niche blogs, where as Gawker media have a handfull of well written masterpieces that are well known and well read. We have to understand as people in the UK, our infrastructure just isn’t big enough. Were a smaller market and just don’t have the capacity of readers in the country that can be turned into RSS subscribers to challenge the likes of Gizmodo, Engadget, Techcrunch ect..

    One of the biggest tech blogs from the UK is obviously Cash’s Mashable, I know Pete well and I know he puts all his time possible into the site and with working with him in the past I know he only chooses the best people to involve with the project and the best topics/story’s are generated in the blog.

    Blog’s are now mainstream media, for sure… Blogs + Social media is the best place to break or.. read a breaking story right now.

    Good luck to every other UK blog network specially ShinyShiny… Allthough I guess other notable mentions are.. Splashpress media too, based in London, I think ShinyShiny are based in London too… So’s Mike Butcher from TCUK, although sadly UK Blog networks now have a bad name from themselves… Thanks, Sam Sethi.. Cough cough…

    See, Creative-weblogging, there a US, China and German based blog network, there doing pretty well, have some good niche blogs, but sadly no UK based blogs right now. I see the guys from PopSugar there slowly starting to open UK blogs. All major UK blog networks are based in London it seems, only us who are located in Leeds, up north.. Although there are many bloggers and readers located all over the UK. Remember as well though:

    A) Gawker, Popsugar, B5media ect.. All have had big VC/Angel investment
    B) There located in the US/Canada ect.. They get the best storys right on there doorstep
    C) As Vinay says above, UK web users are pretty clueless about what the hell social media / RSS ect.. is
    D) UK Blog networks are only fresh, there new… ready to grow

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