The following is the transcript of a discussion between Avinash Kaushik and Eric Enge about what it takes to be successful as a blogger. Avinash Kaushik is a Web Analytics expert and well known for his Occam’s Razor blog. He is also the author of a book on Web Analytics called Web Analytics: An Hour A Day being published by Wiley in May 2007.
Eric Enge: Let’s start by talking about what it means to be successful with a blog.
Avinash Kaushik: I think the answer depends on what each person is trying to accomplish. For me personally, I think to be successful with the blog is to build an audience around the topic that I write about, and create this place, a destination, a water cooler, where I can present the ideas and get the opportunity to change peoples’ minds or help influence their thinking, or teach about some of the new ways of thinking about web research and analytics, which is my topic of choice on my blog.
To be successful to me is simply to have that conversation, and that’s why when I measure my own success that’s what I use. It’s less important to me to be on the front page of Digg; it’s less important for me to know that I am having 150 thousand visits a month. It’s less important to me that some site is ranking me this or that way. I really care less about it.
What I care most about it is, am I able to find the right audience, and is my blog helping influence people to think differently then how people have thought in the last few years. I want to help shape the conversation and am I able to do that? Essentially to me that’s just success. I think the number of comments that come back, which to me is one measure of success; means people are having a conversation.
Also, I get at least 3 emails for each comment. My last post had 55 comments, and that means that I got at least 150 emails about that post. That to me is a measure of success to have all these people from around the world, have a conversation with me. The amount of traffic, I don’t care as much; the sales of the book, I don’t care as much. If they deserve it, then those things will come too.
Eric Enge: Sure, but you do get some underlying commercial benefits in terms of personal visibility, and therefore getting pulled into other business ventures or opportunities I suspect, right?
Avinash Kaushik: I think it does happen. I was telling my wife the other day that I think that I have gotten two speaking engagements in the last 19 months of blogging that were as a result of the blog which seems very little. Also, on my blog I don’t advertise that I’m an independent consultant and I am looking for gigs. It doesn’t say that anywhere, in the about it just says I am consultant, but it doesn’t push my services quite as much.
I don’t think I have consciously tried to extract other benefits from the blog and in some sense I think looking back in hindsight, it has worked very effectively in terms of morphing the blog to be the destination that it is today. I don’t sell anything. My publisher had to gently encourage / force me to put the book on the side bar, because it wasn’t there on the side bar for the longest time.
Other than that I really don’t advertise much. I have definitely gotten two speaking engagements as a result of the blog. I think what it definitely helps with a lot more is putting you in front of a lot of people. It doesn’t matter if I get speaking engagements, or consulting engagements.
That’s not my primary purpose. It definitely has evolved into this voice in the industry. If you have a table where there are 500 voices speaking, you get a seat at the table. I think more than anything, what the blog has done is it has widened the audience that can hear some of the things that I have to say. They encourage me through comments, emails and things like that. So, in that sense it’s a success, and I don’t really use it for the business side of things.
Eric Enge: I think it’s a matter of perspective perhaps, because in terms of the various places that I blog, which is multiple places, everything that’s written is noncommercial and very much about trying to stimulate conversation much the same as you. But, it basically, plays a role in bringing in consulting engagements that we get along the way or speaking engagements and these sorts of things.
Avinash Kaushik: Absolutely. I completely agree with you. In fact, I have peers of mine who have successfully transitioned away from having full time jobs at companies to only doing the blog fulltime, and then using the blog as a way to funnel leads and attract more business for their companies. I have many peers who have done that extremely well. I have always said if you have a business, it doesn’t matter if you are a mom and pop selling candies on the internet or you are big Microsoft or Walmart, if you don’t have an effective blogging strategy for your company, then you are leaving way too much money on the table. By that I don’t mean directly attributable revenue, that’s not what I mean.
What I mean is this platform allows you to have an honest conversation with hundreds and thousands, if not millions of people in ways that you can control the conversation. You can be honest, you can put your point of view out there; and you can do marketing. To me, the marketing that has been done so far; TV ads such as Super Bowl ads, and white papers and booths at trade shows are going to become pass.
They are the key way now to find your relevant audience and have a conversation with them, and not just a one way conversation. Blogging adds value in so many ways; not just saving money on white papers, booths, and PR, but, actually doing marketing in a very honest way using the blog.
Seth Godin; you have interviewed Seth Godin a couple of times I think, Eric?
Eric Enge: Yes.
Avinash Kaushik: He just stands out as a fantastic example. I think for him blogging is definitely a key component of his strategy in terms of what he does and is tremendously successful at it. I am a big Seth Godin fan. Seth talks all the time about how marketing is evolving. This conversation methodology is one that I’m a big fan of.
Eric Enge: Right. This is one of the great things about blogging. If you are a small business; and you can’t imagine how you can compete with larger businesses and get visibility for yourself, blogging can be a great answer for that, because you can get a viewpoint out there. You maybe a small business, but you probably have some unique things to say and some unique data.
If you can write reasonably well, and are willing to interact with people, it can be a great tool that almost any business can use to get their voice out there.
Avinash Kaushik: Exactly. I’ll give you my own example of that. When I started blogging 18 months ago, there were already 60 million blogs out there. I think there must be more than a 100 million blogs now.
When I started, my worry was that there were at least 50 web analytics blogs at that time. Some of them were by industry leaders very well established, lots of traffic; and I was worried was whether the world needed another blog on web analytics.
But, my friend Andy Beal convinced me to start blogging.
It turns out that as long as you put out an honest unique point of view out there, anyone can have a blog. Even if there are a 100 million blogs out there, you can create a space for yourself or your business. I am just stunned at how many people read my blog and subscribe to it, even though there were many existing destinations for analytics before it
The thing to worry about is the things you stressed like two minutes ago, which is do you have something unique to contribute; and do you have something of value to contribute? You can’t expect to be yet another blog that aggregates links and expect to be a massive success.
Do you have something unique; do you have something of value? To use the oft quoted phrase by Seth Godin, are you remarkable. Or, are you writing something worth remarking about.
Eric Enge: Right. I am also someone who reads most everything that Seth puts out there, because he does bring a lot of great ideas to the table. This whole notion of being remarkable is critical. When I think about that, I think about helping others to understand information they already have. If it’s too complicated for people to understand, perhaps you can help them, and pull that data out, and that by itself could be interesting.
Or, through your own research, generate new data and add new information to the picture that the people didn’t previously have. For a business it could be as simple as a statistical breakdown that shows the most popular products in their portfolio extended to the broader notion of, what that might say about the domain and the industry as a whole. These kinds of things are the kinds of things you need to do it seems to me.
Avinash Kaushik: I agree with you. People should not be fearful. People should not think that it’s overwhelming. Just try it, its fun; get out on WordPress and start putting something out there of unique value, and the audience will find you.
Eric Enge: Indeed. But, there are things of course you can do to help yourself promotionally, right? And, one of the things that I always advise people on is that a blog is about developing relationships. There is no question about that.
Avinash Kaushik: Absolutely.
Eric Enge: On the other hand, there is a certain amount of advantage to developing relationships with the major influencers in the space that are already there.
Avinash Kaushik: Yes, I agree. One of the interesting things, Eric is how amazingly accessible the bloggers are. I don’t know that in any environment I could have reached out and had conversations with people I truly admire so easily. For example, if you email Guy Kawasaki, he’ll reply to you usually within 24 hours, which is stunning, right? Here is somebody you admire, you watch in videos; and he is so generous with his time.
Seth Godin is the same way as you know, Eric, you have interviewed him several times. The fact that you can reach out and have a conversation or exchange emails with some of the key influencers in the world today is amazing to me. But definitely, the things that I found very interesting in my experience is, just participating is very important. You have a blog, and there are probably in an ecosystem of blogs that surround yours in the same ecosystem.
Participate, talk to those people and comment on their blogs and things like that; and reach out to them about something unique you might have written for example. That’s very, very important; also when people comment on your blog and say something interesting, reach out to them using email. I pretty much write an email back to every single person who writes a comment on my blog, even if the blog gets 50 comments, 60 comments, 70 comments, I’ll make sure I reply to every single person.
I don’t write to just say, thank you for writing. I’ll probably read their comment and reply back to what they said. It is not just an auto reply thank you, it’s more that I read what they wrote and I appreciated it, and sometimes I agree, sometimes I disagree. But, I reply back, and people always express an appreciation to the fact that you reach out like that. That’s to your point, Eric, of having a conversation and developing a community around what you are doing.
Eric Enge: I think the whole notion of emailing everyone who gives you a comment is a brilliant thing to do. It’s so smart in terms of developing those relationships, getting in real communication with people, because they are more likely to come back and leave more comments when they read the blog later. That just feeds the conversation, and that’s an idea that I actually didn’t have before until I read one of your posts on this topic. Now it’s a basic part of what I do with my blog.
Avinash Kaushik: It really is a fantastic way to build the community, because the interesting thing is everybody is in this to have a conversation. Everybody likes to be listened to, and sometimes I will write something and people write in; or I will comment on somebody’s blog and they write back to me, and it makes me feel special. It feels so great. One mistake people make is that they think that blogging is like old school publishing.
You put out a magazine, a newsletter; a lot of people think it’s a newsletter. It’s not, it’s social; never ever forget the word social, right? How would you behave if you were at a dinner party? How would you behave if you were sitting across from your friend? Relying back to comments with an email is one tiny small way of showing that you have a social conversation, and it’s a social medium. That’s why it works I think very effectively.
Eric Enge: Right. The other mistake people make is that when they start interacting with another blogger, they approach it in a commercial fashion. They go to someone else’s blog and they shove their link in and say whatever they say. You have to view it like you are building a relationship, or in a business context, the way that you would handle business development.
Avinash Kaushik: That is exactly right. One of my best tips for everybody is make sure your email address is easily available on the blog, because if I am reading it, I may want to write to you directly. Even if you spell it out in English (e.g. yourname at yourdomain dot com), that’s quite okay. I do get a lot of PR releases and all that. It’s like people who just don’t get it; just simply don’t get it.
For example, last week on Wednesday I got an email from somebody at TechSmith, which is a company that makes SnagIt and Camtasia. I am a big fan of Camtasia. They said that they really liked the images I have on your blog. Another great tip by the way for a budding blogger is use images. I use a ton of images; it takes me three times the amount of minutes to actually create images for my post, then it takes me to write the post.
This person was a Product Manager for TechSmith’s SnagIt and he wrote me an email asking is I use SnagIt. I said I’m sorry, I don’t use SnagIt, because I found it hard to use, and I use ScreenHunter Pro. This person actually went back and created a short video; a 2 minute and 51 second video, that actually shows me how I could do some of the things that I do with ScreenHunter, but with SnagIt.
The person actually showed me how I could do some things cooler, and the video starts off by saying Avinash, I want to show you this. It’s like a deeply personalized video to show me exactly the things that this person wanted me to see. I’m telling you I could not be more impressed; and I am now going to go get SnagIt. This is effective marketing.
Eric Enge: Yes. One of my favorite tips when I talk to people is when you are trying to build a relationship with someone, a great way to do that is see some need that they mention in their blog, and help them solve the need. Or, get into a discussion about what that need is, because that’s something that’s interesting to them. They want to talk about that, and if you could help them or add some value to that, you are making a bigger impression then with a generic comment.
Avinash Kaushik: Exactly. You are right; and in this case it clearly worked what this person did. It clearly works for me, because I noticed that they gave me something unique. They made a video for me, it was of value; because they actually went into the trouble of understanding what I needed, and gave me precisely, exactly what I needed to see in 2.51 seconds.
Eric Enge: Right. It is amazing when somebody goes to that level of effort, but it was very smart.
Avinash Kaushik: He was very smart, and the other tip I definitely want to share with the audience we have here is, try to liven up what you write. It’s not just that you will have to be great at English. Lord knows I am not, but one of my rules is a blogger is against globs of text (“BAGOT”).
Nobody likes to read globs of text; so use images, use video. Every post I have; every few paragraphs, every couple two paragraphs, three paragraphs, four paragraphs, there will be an image just to break things up, make things more visual.
Also write at a sixth grade level. Somebody gave me that tip a long time ago, and I thought nothing of it. But, I write about a very complex topic, web analytics, and statistics, and regressions, and all these things. But, I really try to write at a level where most number of people will find value from it, and you don’t have to talk down to people in order to make them understand complex topics, but making things simple actually helps people understand the points that you are trying to make.
You can write about nuclear fusion. Just make sure that I can understand it, then I am going to get back and read it and comment on it.
Eric Enge: Yes. You can be dealing with the most brilliant people in your industry, but they’ve got thousands of things they are probably going to try to do in a single day. By the time they get to reading your post, it doesn’t matter how smart they are, they want it simple and easy to understand. They don’t want to sit there and have to analyze what you put in front of them.
So, when you talk about writing at a sixth grade level, as you said it’s not a matter of talking down the people, it’s a matter of making it easy for people. It’s not a comment on their intelligence, you just want to get your information into their brain with the least level of effort on their part.
Avinash Kaushik: Right.
Eric Enge: I have seen that advice in the past to write at the sixth grade level, and I think it’s another thing that is just very very smart thing in terms of helping you make your content more accessible.
Avinash Kaushik: Right. In the past you have talked about this, and I definitely talked about it as a blogging tip, which is be nice. Don’t be a jerk, I know it kind of sounds rude. Don’t be a jerk or a jerk ass; it is okay to disagree. Its okay to put contrary points of view, but every single thing you write on the web is permanent. You can never take anything back, which means think carefully about what you write and be nice.
Eric, you and I had been on panels and we disagree with each other, and yet we can do so without being a jerk. You can actually be nice and respectful. I would say treat your audience with the dignity and respect that they deserve, because they do deserve dignity and respect. I have written posts that are very counter to the prevailing wisdom in the industry. But, I always make sure that it’s very respectful because it’s a social medium.
You want to be a participant in a social medium. You can disagree vehemently, but do so with dignity and respect. I encourage that, because in my feed reader I think I have 150 blogs now. As I read through the blogs, which ones I like, which ones I don’t, I definitely gravitate towards people who can be thoughtful, who can put out contrary opinions; who can do this, but do so with dignity and respect. I highly recommend that.
Eric Enge: Absolutely. There is another point from your Ten More Blogging Tips from a Novice Blogger post that I want to highlight a little bit, because I thought it was really interesting. You talked about StumbleUpon, Twitter, and Google from an SEO perspective.
I think the underlining point in what you wrote is that you should focus on relevant traffic. For example, one thing that’s well known about Digg is you can work hard, you get an article get on the front page of Digg, and get lots of traffic, but the traffic you get will bring you little or no business. It’s just not what you should be shooting for. You want to be in a dialogue with people where the dialogue is going to persist.
Avinash Kaushik: You are very right. That’s exactly what I was alluding to, because, I do think that people get a bit too wrapped up in getting on the homepage of Digg, and they try to game systems and try to get all their friends to Digg their post. There are cabals of people now, who are like, “I’ll Digg yours and you’ll Digg mine”. I found, having been on the homepage of Digg at least twice now, that definitely it is great for bringing traffic. You will get more traffic then you would get in a couple of months just by being in the homepage of the Digg.
And, it’s a great site. But, the interesting thing as I think about it is, what is the objective of what I am trying to do? I only want relevant traffic. In someway I have been inspired by Google. I do believe that the one big difference between Google and the other search engines is that Google is incessantly focused on relevance. I have seen it from the inside, I have seen it from the outside; and it has worked so fantastically for them to just focus on providing relevant results.
Somebody will click on those ads on the site, right? But, the prime driver is SEO and relevant, relevant results. Even in Adwords Google has relevant results, and so that inspired me to want a ton of traffic on my blog, but I would like it to be relevant traffic. What I found with StumbleUpon and Twitter is that they have communities of folks who are interested in numbers, and who are interested in metrics. And, they may not be deep read analysts, but they care about numbers.
They want to learn about numbers, and this community then submits some of my posts to StumbleUpon. When other people see it, those are people who are also interested in numbers, and it’s exactly the kind of traffic I want. I find that they come back and they will stay a longer time.
They will subscribe to my feed, they will take all these actions that are my own success criteria; but it’s because there is that community. Same thing with Twitter and SEO, Eric, you know more about SEO than a lot of people. SEO is so important, I make sure that I install in WordPress all of the SEO plugins to make sure the website is crawlable. I don’t do anything shady. You can go to some blogs where every third word is bolded, and you’ll see weird keywords and key phrases show up bolded, pointing back to their own blog, and trying to game the system with search engines.
I don’t recommend that, but I definitely recommend making sure that you write good relevant content. There is nice text, your images have the right Alt Tags; make sure your URL’s on the top of your pages use words from your post and not ?P=39, or ?ID=46. Do those things, because a ton of traffic on the web starts browsing in a search engine, and if you are not showing up in the search engine, when people are looking for relevant things, then you might as well not exist in some sense.
For Google, Yahoo, MSN, and ASK; it’s very important that your website is crawlable, and it’s clean, and you will benefit tremendously. I haven’t checked the numbers in the last few days, but almost 35% to 40% of the traffic for my blog comes from search engines, people just looking for keywords. I have a very long tail of keywords that drive traffic. I also realized last month when I was looking in my stats that in the last six months or so, about 50% of the traffic on my blog is International. This surprised me completely, because I did not realize that. But, then I ended up finding out that it’s the search engines are the primary driver of that traffic.
These people are from South Africa, Peru, the Ukraine, and all over the world. SEO is very important, because people who rank highly in the search engines just dominate the world. It’s important to SEO your blog, do simple things; and that will help you find the right relevant traffic for your blog and grow your audience.
Eric Enge: I agree. I really enjoy it when I have time to twiddle a bit with the blog. I am not talking about bolding keywords or stuffing things all over the place, but using plugins or tweaking the source code to make it more crawlable. To me that’s fun time. So, what would you say the biggest mistake you’ve made with your blog is?
Avinash Kaushik: In the first or second month of my blogging some, I wrote a post and somebody wrote a post attacking me, and attacking a post that I had written. It was very nasty what they had written, and it was taken out of context and things like that. But nonetheless, I was new at this thing and it made me feel like this is terrible; this person is misrepresenting what I am saying. I reacted to it, which I think was a big mistake.
I wrote a long comment on their post, outlining why this person was being imprecise in their attack. Then I took that comment and posted it on my own blog to say look, this person wrote this. And, I think this is not fair, and here is what I wrote and you guys let me know what you think. Of course the readers on my blog said you are right and things like that, but I should not have reacted.
Basically, if you wrestle with the pig, the pig enjoys it and you get dirty from the mud. I remember that now, and I have never done that again. The more successful you are the more it will happen. People will beat you, and they will say things about you, but it’s very important not to get carried away.
Eric Enge: I understand. My biggest mistake is at the same time very wrapped up in what may have been my smartest move; so I have to explain that obviously. In 2006, when I was at SES Chicago, I knew that Danny Sullivan and his team were moving on to create Search Engine Land.
So I went out of my way to seek out Elizabeth Osmelolski and Rebecca Lieb, and introduced myself. I volunteered to write for them.
That actually led to my becoming a writer for them, and developing a lot of visibility really very, very quickly that I would have spent a long time building up on my own blog. But, the reason why this may also have been my biggest mistake is that I didn’t put all that content on my own blog.
I didn’t centralize the content, and it’s still the case that I am decentralized; and I think there was a cost for that. So, was it a good move or not, I still don’t know.
Avinash Kaushik: Yes. You have to make those kinds of choices very carefully. But, the nice thing is, it’s one of the things that has absolutely been killer for me when it comes to blogging, is just having it become this amazing powerful source for learning. I am just flabbergasted at that how much I learn from what I publish on my blog, and people write back on my blog. Or, reading the 150 blogs I have on my feed subscriber. I am just astounded at the amount of knowledge there is, and how much personal growth there is for you, if you undertake this.
In my own field of course I care about metrics, and numbers, and decision making, and things like that. I just reflect back on the amount of learning I have had; just having my own blog and trying to measure things. Eric, you and I talked about the other post I had written about how do you Six Recommendations For Measuring Your Success.
That has six metrics that I have come up with to measure blog success. They came because I blog, and I write, and I am learning; and I am living in this environment. It’s proven to be this unbelievable source of learning for me. I think people will find that it’s not just that you can go out and state your point of view, and teach people about it obviously. But, the fact that the learning continues for such a long time, and you will get so much benefit from that; it’s just unbelievable.
Eric Enge: Well, the thing that I liked about your post on measuring blogs, and the right metrics for that is, you start off basically with describing how to measure yourself, measuring your own output. Making sure that you are putting out enough content. You also point out that you do not have to be posting every day, but, you do need to be putting enough quality content out there that will draw people at the same time.
Avinash Kaushik: Exactly. That’s my number one tip. You may think that you deserve to get thousands of visitors a day, but its tough competition out there. When I measure success, I want to pull myself up to accountability and determine if I deserve to be successful.
That’s why the number one recommendation is the metric that I call Raw Author Contribution. Do you deserve to be successful? My friend Joost de Valk has created a plugin based on that post which is based on the metrics that I recommended; he calls it Blog Metrics. If you have a WordPress blog, definitely download Joost’s plugin, because it will automatically compute Raw Author Contribution as well as conversation rate, which is great.
This is the power of blogosphere. I wrote a post, proposed a new set of metrics; and somebody I did not even know in Holland actually took the time to go ahead and create a new plugin that would help you measure these things. That’s not six degrees of separation, its six pixels of separation.
Eric Enge: Right. When you put this plugin, where within WordPress do you get the stats?
Avinash Kaushik: You put the plugin in your plugin folder, and activate it; that’s really all you have to do. Then, when you login to WordPress, on your dashboard you will see a new menu entry called Blog Metrics. If you click on it, boom you have all your data, and essentially what Joost has done is he has computed the two most important metrics I recommended in that post.
One is Raw Author Contribution, which is posts per month and words per post. So, for the last 30 days for me it’s 5 posts in that 30 days, and 2266 words per post, so that’s contribution. It also computes conversation. So, for me for the last 30 days, it shows an average of 22 user comments per post.
It’s very important to not count your own comments back. You can count them if you want, but it’s the comments from the user that matter. Definitely check out that plugin if you have WordPress; it’s a great way to measure your success overtime.
Eric Enge: I am already a user of it. It’s a great tool.
Another thing that intrigued me is the notion of competitive measurement. It’s funny because your so called competitors aren’t really your competitors in the blogosphere, because of the social conversational mentality. But you talked about using a couple of Technorati tools to help give you a view of where you stand in the blogosphere at large.
Avinash Kaushik: Exactly. Throughout the conversation today we’ve talked about how this is the most social of social environments that we have today. You definitely are a part of ecosystem, and you are having a conversation with your readers. They are having conversations with you; you are having conversations with other bloggers, who then write about you and track back, and things like that.
So, I created this new metric called Ripple Index, and it’s just like a drop of water falling into a lake of still water, and the ripple that it creates, right? You write a post and you want to measure how big your ripple is; and it’s a measure of influence, it’s a measure of your progress, and things like that. And, one of the things I use to measure that is Technorati rank, because Technorati was, and to some extent still is a pretty good blog indexing engine that measures a couple of important metrics.
When I started the blog in May 2006, my Technorati rank was 1,200,100,157; that was my Technorati rank. Today I think it’s around 1,052. It’s a measure of how much progress you’ve made. But, I recommend that you don’t get too hung up about it. The important thing to measure is that you have a space at the table, right?
You are creating something that is remarkable, and other people are remarking about it, and writing about it. For me, Ripple Index is simply about making sure that when I write or when I interact in the social conversation, it creates a ripple. It creates a ripple in terms of what other people write or what other people get in terms of value and things like that.
I look less at the authority number in Technorati; I look more at the rank number, which is the number that actually tells you how you are ranking. For a while I used to think like that, and now my thinking is that actually authority is a great way to measure your success. First, it’s not really authority, ignore that word, it’s more the number of unique blogs in the last six months that linked to you.
In that sense if you are creating good content that creates a conversation, and causes a ripple, then other people talk about it and link back to you. That’s a vote of confidence or a vote in your favor. When a lot of people write about you some may disagree with you, then that’s okay. You are just creating conversation, so I tend to look more at the authority number, which is the number of unique blogs that link back to you. It’s not perfect, it’s about 90% accurate, but it’s good enough; and overtime if you look at the trend, you get a real sense of how you are doing.
Eric Enge: Another thing that I think is interesting is that if you do really want to understand how you are progressing with respect to the other people; your peers in the industry, is using feed readers like Bloglines or Google feed reader, to subscribe to your own blog and those of your peers. Then you can see how your subscriber numbers compare to your peers.
To your point earlier, you don’t want to obsess on this, but it is a useful way to see if you have earned yourself a seat at the table.
Avinash Kaushik: Absolutely. I think feed subscribers are very important. I included that in my calculation of holistic audience growth. The great thing about feed subscribers is that these are people who took an extra step to sign up. They are giving you permission to push content to them.
That gives you a precious opportunity to push your point of view out to other people. To me it’s a vote of confidence in what value you are delivering. I measure feed subscribers growth overtime, and again remember everything I recommend overtime, right? It’s not like you got on Digg, you have 50.000 visitors today, and you can sing happy birthday and go home. No, that’s not what I am talking about.
It’s a very, very important metric. Much more important than visitors to your blog. I think feed subscribers are a true measure of the audience that you are able to grow.
Eric Enge: Right. You talked about the various Technorati tools, but I also like to look at Google Webmaster Tools, and use that to see how many total links there are to the blog; not just from other bloggers as a measure of where the blog is and its progress.
With Webmaster Tools you can download all the links Google sees to your site, stick them in a spreadsheet, and analyze them. For example, you can see which individual posts have received the most links. It gives you a measure of post quality.
Avinash Kaushik: Absolutely. I completely agree. You definitely want to measure that, because unlike Technorati the search engines will index a much broader swath of content. In fact I am convinced that soon there will be even more opportunities for us to get this data, especially the competitive part of the data.
We are going to get a lot more options in terms of tools that you are allow us to pull that data. There is a web site called aideRSS where you enter the URL of a blog, and it will report to you the number of comments that each post on that person’s blog has received, how many feed subscribers they have, and a bunch of other really interesting metrics that otherwise you might not have been able to get.
It counts Deli.cio.us tags, Diggs, and more. It’s really interesting in terms of a new tool for us to analyze. Overtime there are going to be a ton of these tools that are going to allow you to do that.
Eric Enge: And, once again, you can look at progress overtime.
Avinash Kaushik: Exactly. People might think that Eric and Avinash are just obsessed about metrics. But to the readers of this interview one of the best tips I can give is to have a sense of discipline about what you blog about. When I started blogging, I actually created goals for myself before I had even written the first post. I had created goals for myself about what I wanted to accomplish; and I published the goals on the blog.
Then I measured myself against those goals to see if I was doing the right thing. It’s just a way of creating a sense of discipline; it doesn’t matter what kind of blog you have. Create some goals, and then measure your progress overtime. It is a way of creating discipline for yourself, and it really does help you become successful in the long term.
Eric Enge: Right, absolutely. So, let’s talk about measuring the benefits.
Avinash Kaushik: Yes, definitely. Well, that’s one of the key things that I recommend measuring for any blog, both the cost of blogging and the benefit. Blogging does come at a price, and I break those down into a few different pieces. One is the number of hours I put in times the rate per hour I could charge. Then the cost of the hardware and the software, which is a relatively minimal cost. Lastly there is the opportunity cost.
As you said, you also definitely should measure the benefit. The benefits will depend on the kind of blogger you are and what you are trying to accomplish, whether you are a for profit business or a nonprofit. I recommend that you measure three, or four interesting things when you measure benefits of your blog. One quick tool is the tool that tells you what your blog is worth. It’s like a toy thing, and don’t take it too seriously, but in a way it takes your Technorati ripple, the unique blogs linking back to you, and, it uses some monetization models from the past to account a value to it.
For example back in November I looked at this and it told me that. Again, don’t take it seriously; nobody is going to cut me a check for that. But again, overtime it tells you if you are creating an asset of value. I don’t put any ads on my blog, but also there are tools out there depending on your traffic and feed subscribers, that will tell you, if you showed one ad or two ads and where you show it, how much click through, and conversion, and other things you could have. So, you could make money from it; so measure comparative value of your blog as well as measure direct value.
If you have ads, such as AdSense, every time somebody reads your post and clicks on your link, you will get some money. That’s direct value. The other thing that I recommend is measuring nontraditional value. I talk about this concept that Hugh MacLeod had, that you and I chatted about. He has this idea of social objects; creating social objects and it creates conversation. It’s a marketing vehicle for you; it’s a way for you to put your point of view.
To your point, it’s a way for you to get some leads and things like that. You might have to work less hard on doing other things. Sun’s CEO, Jonathan Scwartz, has a very good blog, and his blog has an amazing nontraditional value. He gets written about and quoted all the time.
That’s the kind of advertising and marketing you cannot buy; and again Jonathan is not writing silly stuff. He is actually writing stuff of value, and as a result of it, his company benefits from this nontraditional value. So, compute the benefits that you get from that.
Avinash Kaushik: The amount of cost savings or amount of benefit you can get from these nontraditional kinds of benefits are really tremendous. The last benefit to talk about is the unquantifiable value that you get from the blog. I am writing until late in the night. Last night I wrote a post about ten insights from eleven months of working at Google. I was writing it until almost 2 o’clock in the night.
Eric Enge: So, a loss of sleep is one of the benefits?
Avinash Kaushik: No, the moral of the story there is I write because it makes me happy. Happiness has some value. For example, somebody sent me an email, and they said “you don’t know me, but I love your blog and your book. I want to write and thank you, today I was offered a job that I wanted for a long time. And, your passion and writing of fun analytics helped me gain the insights and understanding that helped me secure this job”. I never met this person, and I don’t know who they are. But, the fact that they sent me that email, made me very happy.
So, measure the unquantifiable value. I don’t know what kind of dollar number you can put on it, but happiness is a very good thing in terms of a benefit. And, put some value on it, and measure it. For me, there is also one other unquantifiable benefit, because when I decided to write my book; I decided that I am going to donate all of the money I make from the book to charity. I get nothing from the book. The book has sold enough copies in 5 months that I have been able to donate 25,000 dollars to the two charities.
Eric Enge: Thank you. It’s always great to talk with you Avinash.
Avinash Kaushik: Same here; thanks!