Traffic Or Topical Community – What Comes First?

I have been discussing various kinds of blogging community widgets as a core topic for close to 10 months now, first Mybloglog, then Bumpzee, and shortly after Blogcatalog.

From every single one of those communities I have possibly gained more traffic than I have given them in return, though it is very difficult to judge exactly when you start gaining traffic, and maybe that isn’t really the point. You can’t easily track RSS clicks to a site unless you destroy the SEO advantages of syndication by having nice clean links and ultimately you hope for people to discover you once, and then subscribe.
As you send people to a particular site, just like when you send people to a useful blog post, you don’t lose them as readers, and more often than not you get traffic back in return.

I posted these traffic numbers over on Tinu’s blog in a comment, but thought I would share them here as well.

  • MyBlogLog – I have received 2600 visits directly from MyBlogLog since November, and that increased a fair amount once I hit the top50 communities which only happened fairly recently. I would also gain a small surge each time I was included as a hot member. I have never used their broadcast facility, and only rarely send messages to other users.
  • Bumpzee – I am very active on Bumpzee running one of the largest communities (No Nofollow), and it really is only since I started investing time in building that community that I saw a major benefit other than for networking and discovery. Bumpzee has delivered … 3700 visitors in total.
    Remember that is over less time – I joined Bumpzee in January, and it was not until April that I started my community there.
  • Blogcatalog is another community that I have been actively involved with for a number of months, and I even do a little consulting with them. The biggest driving force of traffic for Blogcatalog is without doubt being highly active on their forums, and I don’t have that much time for forums, but I have received a healthy 985 visitors in total, though many of those visits are from people who use Blogcatalog for bookmarking their favorite blogs. This is traffic since April, so half the time compared to MyBlogLog.

It is strange how communities develop from different directions

Blogcatalog Solving Problems – Adding Features

One of the biggest requests Blogcatalog received was that people were looking for more categories on the main discussion forums, or for a place where they could have a more focused discussion regarding a specific niche topic. Blogcatalog are now beta testing group discussions.

Currently you can only start a group if you are a contributor, but soon that restriction will be lifted. Any member of Blogcatalog can however participate in groups.

Bumpzee No Nofollow Community & Lack Of Bumps

A recent discussion on Bumpzee highlighted a problem, but I am not yet sure of the answer.
The NoNofollow community is fairly cohesive but people are not necessarily bumping stories even if they appreciate them.
It only sometimes takes 2 or 3 bumps to appear on the widgets, so just you and the author is enough, yet people don’t bump, but they might stumble or sphinn instead.

Note: in the following example I selected to randomly choose niches just to aid understanding, not to single anyone out because

The problem is that whilst the community is strong as a horizontal market with many shared beliefs and goals in building a community, only a fraction of the members are going to be interested in a vertical niche such as parenting or fiction writing.

The community on Bumpzee really needs to grow larger to gain sufficient members in a niche, followed or nofollowed blogs, for the niche sites to stand out.

Bumpzee grew from the original Affiliate Marketing community and there is plenty of overlap with the Dofollow cummunity. This frequently results in affiliate marketing articles appearing on parenting blogs which have joined bumpzee for the dofollow community.

The solution is to grow the number of parenting blogs in the dofollow community, or to grow the number of members in a dedicated community for parenting blogs.

Who is responsible to grow the number of parenting blogs to improve relevance?

In my mind it is a shared responsibility, Bumpzee need to maintain a stable and inviting platform, and parenting blogs need to promote Bumpzee to their topical neighbours.

MyBlogLog Decline In Usage?

It seems like eons ago, but around December/January when this blog had less than 100 subscribers, a full 7% of my traffic was coming from MyBlogLog, and the community was very active. I established many new relationships during that time with other bloggers who remain some of my hardcore readers, and who I can frequently count on for the occasional link, Stumble, Digg or Sphinn.
Some bloggers still use MyBlogLog for browsing occasionally, in fact many do and I even take the occasional stroll, and it may be that you grow beyond the biggest benefit or have problems with the way they make changes.
Once you have found your place within the blogging community and have an established readership, and a bulging feed reader, you end up going increasingly directly to the source.
You still see the same familiar faces on the widgets, but you know who they are, and quite often they are visiting because you have just visited them, and left a comment, but they might not visit you through the MyBlogLog interface.

This blog isn’t extremely high traffic – whilst feed subscriptions grow, that doesn’t necessarily increase page views a huge amount. I don’t have any front page Diggs to totally destroy any stats I might have. I can still remember the people who sent 10 or 20 visitors to me, and gave me a few new subscribers.

With total page views (counted in Google Analytics not the totally unreliable AWStats that reports 6x as many) of 192,000 over the last 10 months, and discounting a lot of clicks I have made from Mybloglog to some of my articles from the stats (I can’t use IP blocking), MyBlogLog accounts for slightly more than 1% of my direct traffic.

However I have only had 897 MyBlogLog clicks leaving the site, some of which are mine as well, so it might be that only 1/3 of the traffic is what I would regard as “browsing” traffic, people actively using the MyBlogLog widget for discovery, which takes new traffic down to 0.3%

The more you get involved with the communities the more you get in return, but that takes time, just like many forum communities.

If you are the only knitting blog using Blogrush, you will get poor traffic, but you will probably get some. There needs to be enough blogs in a category to achieve adequate distribution.

There might be a slight decline among people who have moved on to other blog networking communities for one reason or another, but overall MyBlogLog is still growing. What has declined is my own activity, and the amount that active involvement affects my total traffic.

Parallels With Blogrush?

I have sent far more traffic to Blogrush currently than they have sent to me? I am not worried about that in the slightest, it is very early days.

If you are the only one with a parenting blog using Blogrush, you are going to get very little targeted traffic.

You have a few choices:-

  • Rip it off your blog and declare it as a load of junk
  • Not put it on your blog and just sit back and do nothing
  • Place it on your blog and suffer in silence
  • Place it on your blog, give constructive feedback, and try to build your topical community.

One of the good things with Blogrush is that there is a relatively low time commitment in using it. You can just place it on your blog and do nothing, you might get a few visitors.

Can you imagine Stumbleupon if no one hit the “Stumble” button?

Can you imagine the “qualified traffic” you would receive if you were the only web design site currently listed?

Whilst you might not think of Blogrush as “community building” because there are no faces, and you click directly through to the article on the site, if there isn’t currently a topical community for your niche blog, you are not going to receive as much targeted traffic.

Are You The Hub Or The Spoke?

Discovery is a pretty powerful thing when you use it to leverage other networks. Being the first to discover a blog that happens to be created by one of your readers, and then stumbling it can bring about some strange reactions.

Andy Beard - Stumbleupon
The story is up on Sphinn and on Andrews local search blog. I didn’t realise it at the time but Andrew is actually one of those less vocal regular readers of my blog, and even signed up to Blogrush under me.

  • Do you think I am likely to stumble his content a little more?
  • Do you think Andrew will remember to stumble my posts occasionally?
  • Will we find an occasional way to link to each other when topics cross over?

Now I am sure I might have come across Andrew’s blog sometime in the future, if someone else had come across it, or maybe he had submitted an article to Sphinn or gone on a linking spree, but Blogrush in this particular case provided a bridge that might otherwise not have existed.

The Value of Blogging Communities

This is just a clinical look for those sterile types that are just crunching numbers rather than looking at relationships.

  • Conversational Bloggers are linkerati
  • Conversational Bloggers are often sophisticated users likely (but not always, bribery helps lots) to subscribe without paying them with free gifts
  • Bloggers typically leave useful content in comments, and might return to carry on the conversation

To the sterile number crunchers I would point out that whilst those seemingly horrible figures such as 1% of traffic from MyBlogLog might seem meaningless, I would estimate that I have gained 70% of my subscribers from my involvement in these communities, either directly or through the relationships I have built.

Might I have gained that traffic regardless? It is possible, if you are really a believer in destiny. I am more a believer in hard work.

I do know I could set up a squeeze page and pay for traffic, and have 2000 email subscribers for less than $1000, but they wouldn’t be the same.

It is much easier to launch a new blog or a whole business if you already have the attention of a reasonably sized audience.

Update

Adding a Grazr widget to aid in the discussion. With Grazr you can import and OPML file to display feeds. There are lots of other widgets that do something similar.

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Comments

  1. says

    Nice write up Andy, just to pick up on a general community thing, as you so succinctly say, much of this stuff is about activity and making the effort to get involved. This is where it’s at, just like it is in the real bricks and mortar world. Relationship building and back scratching are as alive in todays online world as it is in the offline world, if not more so. It takes time and effort. Unlike the SEO of days gone by it’s seldom an instant reward game, if you want the traffic then you’ve got to do the legwork.One can’t just expect oneself to code ones way into a big stream of revenue, at least not without the consent and help of those within ones online social networks.

  2. says

    BlogCatalog at its heart is a community.

    Our litmus test for new features has been whether the feature will strengthen the community. Any feature that increases connections, communication and sharing among BlogCatalog members results in stronger relationships and more blog quality traffic for involved members.

    The BlogCatlog community is strong and we are at a point now where our focus is starting to shift from the single test of building a strong community to how can we drive traffic to bloggers and at the same time strengthen the community. My sense is that the best vehicle for doing this will be a widget that drives traffic between blogs, simiilar to what BlogRush has, yet adds community elements to the widget such as blogger bios, recent visitors, neighbors, etc.

  3. says

    I’m not sure that Blog Rush can really be discussed along side the others here in a meaningful way. There isn’t the opportunity for the social interaction at Blog Rush, and the clicks are completely driven by ‘ad’ displays on other blogs.

    Lacking a central traffic “clearing house” such as MBL, BC and Bz have, the opportunity to send the same user to multiple blogs from an off blog source would also tend to leave BlogRush closer to a zero sum game in which some Blogs almost have to send more traffic than they receive for others to receive more than they send.

    This is possibly mitigated to some extent by the opening of a new window for the clicks, but I wonder how many clicks are lost to MSIE/WinXP pop up suppression and whether this attenuates the possible (though probably slight) mitigating effect.

    These thoughts are really all pre-publish thinking. I have the basics of what I’ve said here stored for a post, but I’m not quite done thinking it through.

    The concept that a traffic exchange device needs a central distribution center separate from the participants to be able to send more (new) traffic than is received on a sustainable basis, seems to make sense to me, but I have a feeling there might be factors I haven’t sussed out and accounted for quite yet.

    If you can poke any holes in this thought, please let me know.

  4. says

    Dane..

    Interesting thoughts. You raise the question how can a traffic distrubtion system “be able to send more (new) traffic than is received on a sustainable basis”?

    If a blog generates a credit for each display of widget then there are always going to be more credits than displays unless somehow there is a way that a blogger uses up more than one credit. This is similar to an idea that RobWatts has mentioned in the BlogCatalog widget group, where he suggests that if you receive a visitor from a widget and that visitor leaves a comment or signs up for your feed, then that series of events should count for more than 1 credit.

    Another option is for the widget to display more than one blog at a time. This way the blog displaying the widget gains one credit for a view and 2 credits are used.

    The beauty of Robb’s suggestion seems to be that it (i) adds currency to meaningful visitor events & (ii) provides a way to mitigate the problem of surplus credits.

    • says

      I’m headed over to find and join that group after I post this ;)

      I like these ideas. But I still think that adding the element of the central distribution point is necessary. BUMPzee handles this idea well with it’s on blog discussion section, it’s recent posts sections for each community (I’d love to see community specific recent on blog discussion sections added), and it’s widget shows popular discussions based on calculations that include user bumps.

      This removes the straight traffic for traffic inequities, though it does not remove traffic completely as a factor.

      Since Bz can track comments (as can co.comments) it’s not a big leap to mix in the elements you are describing either.

      Thanks for the thoughts (yes I know this isn’t my blog but still, thanks for the thoughts).

  5. says

    I think these systems there is always going to be some imbalance, but ultimately I think the smaller blogs whose screen real estate is worth less end up doing better in percentage terms than the larger blogs.

    With Blogrush this is compounded by the credit distribution.

    If some of the larger blogs and those with huge email lists signed up with 10 tiers above them a week ago, to drive more traffic to some of their friends or blog networks things light balance out slightly differently, but my understanding is that there are a lot of people who were not referred.

    For a while I was also running Siteneighbors but I couldn’t track the clicks and spicypage.
    They just weren’t really adding anything especially as my immediate neighbors weren’t running the widget for very long.
    Actually Maki was my no.1 neighbors so it was really a none issue.

    I think at the end of the day, if you go for fully targeted you end up always having an imbalance.

    Take an extreme example, just Problogger, Blogstrokes and Myself as the only blogs about blogging in the network.

    To even out the traffic Darren would have to run a widget that alternates between showing one RSS items for me, and one for Blogstrokes, probably showing my feed items more of the time.

    I would have to have a widget showing maybe 15 or 20 of Darren’s feed items, and one of Blogstrokes.

    How big would the Blogstrokes widget have to be so that the traffic distribution was totally even?

    One alternative is for Problogger to show some untargeted traffic from other categories.

    Now Darren isn’t showing the widget on Problogger, but he does have it on his LivingRoom camera site. That is actually a “money blog” for him.

    So there is a relevance problem that is always going to be a problem for the larger blogs, and in many ways the referral system of Blogrush is smart because it pulls credits out of the system allowing slightly more relevance, and people have the option of applying those referral credits to whichever site they like, hopefully the one they feel is getting the best relevance performance.

    There are also still plenty of credits left over in the system to give away as free traffic though it might not be very targeted, it is still free.

    Unfortunately there is also the issue of positioning and CTR – you need to have a way to encourage prominent position for CTR and even give incentives for the clicks.

    There can be problems measuring actions because of compatibility, people using tabs and then closing them (thus giving no time on site or misleading time on site), and you can’t measure subscribing with a bookmark button with current tracking in any way at all, let alone a Stumble and review.

    Thus you have to build your own incentive system such as a rating system for posts that you can reliably measure.

    I am sure some people don’t realise that they can already list feeds from their community on their blogs, using existing widgets such as Grazr.

    • says

      This is what I mean by approaching a zero sum game. It’s unlikely that any workable solution could provide equity between Blog Strokes and problogger.

      Possibly valuing credits on a currency exchange system could bring Andy Beard and Blog Strokes into some parity. Something on the order of 50-60 Blog Strokes credits to and Andy Beard credit. But then the other variables enter into play. Your readers might be more likely to visit a WordPress blog than Mine to visit a Niche Marketing Blog.

      I suspect that even fiddling with the credits we would see a disparity develop that would cheat you and rape Darren and leave me sitting like a thief.

      Now, I don’t have a major problem with this when it’s applied to a blogger to blogger situation. You know when you link to me I’m going to take more traffic than I give and you make the decision to do so anyways. And probably don’t lose much in the process because most of the traffic you send me is not one off visitors. It’s regular readers following a recommended link.

      That dynamic is altered when it’s part of a larger traffic distribution network.

      My thinking is that the simple addition of a central exchange location can alter this effect by normalizing exposure between all of the blogs in the network.

      Your blog is going to receive more exposure on Bz, for example than mine because by virtue of more frequent comments and posts you are going to show up more frequently in the discussion area. Also you will receive more bumps (as few as that may be) and show up more often in the widget.

      In this way it is the readers directly driving the distribution somewhat democratically. I guess what I’m saying is that incentivizing user interaction on a central distribution point should serve to direct not only a more realistic distribution, but can serve as a perpetual motion machine returning more energy (views/clicks) than the sum of the input. While I perceive the straight widget to widget model as a standard loss involved energy transfer. not only will there be less output than the sum of the input, but because of the nature of the variable, it will be in-equably distributed.

      Even if this inequity does favor the smaller participants, and I agree with you that this is the case, how many people signing up understand everything in play here? Even among the bigger players?

  6. says

    Hello Andy!
    Great info. Indeed it takes many registrations at different community sites, a lot of action and time (“legwork”) before you find out what works best for your site AND which community (people and tools) you like. So far StumbleUpon does not work too bad for me (but it’s not really blog centric), I dropped Digg, because I just did not like their handling, and I might register with Sphinn, BumpZee next to give it a try. But I need to limit my engagement (time) to no more than two or probably three communities, bookmarking sites. Quality before quantity.

    When you wrote about your traffic from MyBlogLog, you mentioned that you had your own page request in the Analytics stats. (no IP blocking). If this is still a problem, you can block yourself from the stats with cookies. Let me know and I can post the trick. — Adios John

    • says

      That cookie blocking trick for MBL would be really useful, they don’t provide any details on MBL on how to do it.

      With some of these communities there are ways to build things faster, such as Andy Beal giving away a Zune for MBL many moons ago, but as he is not running any of their tracking these days I believe his signups with their automatic method stopped.

      My community is now larger than Marketing Pilgrim without any proactive attempts to grow it more than what is on the front page, and one meme I started which fizzled.

      I didn’t game the system in any way and didn’t go around thanking people for visiting (I get hose messages all the time, some are even genuine)

      I think one of the ideal ways to make a widget is to in some way make it into some kind of Stumbleupon widget.

      • says

        I am not sure, if Cookie blocking in G.Analytics is what you need/want. You put a Cookie in your browser for a specific domain and no matter how you click through to your site, it won’t show up in the stats. It’s browser dependent not IP or network dependent. Great solution for dynamic IPs. I got it from support in May, but its online in English (not German!) on the Help site now.

        All you need to do is to create a new page for setting the cookie, and request it. Then you need to set up a filter as well.

        https://adwords.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=55481&ctx=sibling
        “How do I exclude my internal traffic from reports?”

  7. says

    Grazr has a great idea with the feeds but to me I think that they will have to have a greater selection of themes for people to really start using them. Because no matter what, the look of the page is still very important.

    With BUMPzee, I guess just not that many people are in the community as compared to Sphinn and StumbleUpon and with StumbleUpon, stumbling is just so easy for people to do. Frankly, I’m also more likely to stumble or add to delicious then all the other sites where you would have to log in to [social network/bookmark] it.

    Which do you think is more popular now? MyBlogLog or BlogCatalog? I still see many people with MyBlogLog widgets on their site more than BlogCatalog, maybe its just the sites that i visit but that has been what I’ve observed.

  8. says

    Andy S/U Widget?

    Are you suggesting something like the following:

    Let widget community members submit url’s into the network. Submitted urls/blogs and their feeds are then displayed on all widgets in the network based on categories the widget subscriber selects. The widget subscribers is receives display credits based on click throughs from the her widget.

    • says

      You want the widget displayed prominently to increase clicks, there has to be a real incentive to do so.
      If votes are somehow used to display a rating, that would help clicks.

      Alternatively votes could actually be used to totally control display frequency within their category and that is the option I would go for.

      It still wouldn’t be perfect, larger blogs might get more votes but maybe not in proportion to their real traffic, plus you would have to have membership enforced to prevent cheating.

      Stumbleupon you go to a random item in a group or tag, with the widget you have a choice of 5 items.

      You could probably also have a button which switches the widget from displaying related category items, and displaying items from your favorites etc.

      You could also probably in some way use the Delicious API to do a little content matching, or base things around the tagging used in the blog post itself to help.

  9. says

    I wished there was some sort of filtering system on BumpZee that would allow the users to prevent post from being included in certain communities.

    I have recently removed my blog from a few communities at BumpZee simply because I seldom write on the subject. I have also suggested in the past that it would be nice to have control on what community posts would appear on your widget. I guess for the bloggers that joined multiple communities there should be a choice of what is their “primary” community and thus only top posts from that community would appear on your widget.

    Just throwing some ideas, not even sure such things are possible to accomplish.

      • says

        That is good to know. Reading this article made me realize that BumpZee is the best community on many levels and of course the traffic being one of them. BumpZee sent me over 5600 visitors (two blogs) since January.

  10. says

    I second Vlad’s opinion. Great write-up Andy I have realized the value of Bumpzee now because I was primarily dependent on blog directories like blogarama and blogcatalog so yeah this is helpful.

  11. says

    It might seem like a lot of traffic from Bumpzee, but in many ways it isn’t.

    Since January I have written close to 400 articles
    Whilst my content is fairly relevant to the core affiliate marketing community hardly any are as active as Vlad other than the founders.

    Pure Affiliate Marketing articles based around affiliates using CPA networks such as CJ and Linkshare certainly seem the most popular in the affiliate community.

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