Sunday, September 12, 2010

In online publishing, yesterday is not history

Almost every successful publisher and blogger I've met says this:

"Search referrals drive 50-70% of my traffic."

Though this does not raise eye brows anymore, publishers have mostly done nothing different for these search referrals. Direct traffic (from home page hits, RSS readers, Twitter and Facebook) differs from search engine referrals in visitor patterns - all very visible in your favorite analytics platform. But publishers do almost nothing to treat these visitors differently.

  1. Direct referrals:
    • readers loyal to your website.
    • readers hooked onto RSS feeds.
    • readers tracking you on Twitter or Facebook.
  2. Search referrals:
    • readers coming from search engines, with specific query-intent
    • readers coming from news and blogs aggregators - like Google News, Digg etc.
If you are a publisher or a blogger, look out for the following differences in your analytics dashboard between these two: Direct traffic:
  • Traffic pattern: Direct traffic starts arriving seconds after your new post is written (or posted on Twitter, Facebook etc.). The traffic for a page peaks a few minutes, hours or days after writing. It dies a fast death thereon. Yesterday's news is history.
  • Visitor type: Most of your visitors are already known to you. They've been to your site earlier.
Search referral traffic:
  • Traffic pattern: Search referral traffic takes a while to build up. You often dont know why some pages get more search traffic than others. Traffic does not peak based on your posting time, but is often leveled out over a larger period of time. Bumps in traffic are dependent on macro-scale patterns of querying.
  • Visitor type: Most visitors from search are visiting your site for the first time.
Your direct traffic is newsy. Your search referral traffic is looking for information. Why are you being newsy to your search visitor? Blogging was invented as a simple way for people to publish articles. We saw a tool that could surface the journalist in us. We expected the same publishing lifecycle to hold. We wrote new articles, and pushed the older ones into a stack - making them harder to find. This was fine until search engines found a way to unearth those buried six feet under, and show them as search results. With search engines around (and they are going to be around for a long time), the half life of an article you write has been extended much longer than you think. We should not serve visitors old and dated content for their current queries. We have to keep it refreshed.

Let me exemplify the problem and potential solutions:
  • android phone price india: An extremely popular query. Look at the first result from Its kept super updated, and the page monetizes the user intent extremely well!
  • iphone price india: Another extremely popular query. Look at the first result from The article is dated June 30, 2008. There are no updates, but for a link to a newer article. Visitors lose the link. This is a lost opportunity to harvest user intent.
  • deal flow: Another query popular in the VC circles. Looks like a site has been dedicated to this. The wikipedia page on the topic has been kept refreshed and up to date. The third result, from Bill's blog is an excellent article, but has no updates since 2005. It has failed to harvest user intent here, and engage him.
I think you are getting the picture. Publishers can easily track the leading queries that bring search referral traffic to a page, and satisfy that user intent, by converting that page into a wikipedia-like reference page. Blogs, and content sites must have a two-fold approach. They must publish new content to stay ahead of the curve and influence opinion. They must also keep their best intent-satisfying pages up to date. Publishing sites must be a mix of blogging and wikipedia. How do you do this? Let me shamelessly promote our product Nuggetize can be useful in two ways to keep older pages current and reference-like.

  1. Our Landing Lights widget: You can nuggetize your blog, and install our Landing Lights widget. It fires up only for search engine referrals, especially when you have several closely matching articles for your visitors' intent. Your visitor is matched better early on, and you present nuggets from across the site matching the user intent. This is like generating a hub page pointing to relevant information - on demand. This widget takes away some burden from the publisher for maintaining his search engine-popular pages, and automatically picks up other relevant content from across articles for the visitor.
  2. Size up your real competition, and update your page: A page like Bill's Deal Flow Is Dead, Long Live Thesis Driven Investing gets traffic from many different search queries. "Deal flow", "Thesis driven investing", "Thesis driven investment" are all relevant. This page is competing with all the other peers in the search engine results - especially the ones above it. Its long been suggested that entire blogs are to be considered as competition. Eg: may be considered competition to Bill's blog. However, in the search engine world, the competition is mostly between pages - Bill's article does not have to have worry about everything else writes about - to keep visitors happy on this page. How does Bill improve his content? He has to size up his competition fast, see what areas they cover that he does nt, and what areas he covers that they dont. is an excellent tool for this. Try nuggetizing the topics deal flow and thesis driven investment. Nuggetize organizes the facts hidden away in all the competitors along side relevant categories, that helps you survey the breadth and depth fast. Nuggets your competition has covered but you have nt - are indicators of the direction in which you have to update your blog.

Moving away from self-promotion, Integrating analytics data, the publishing tool, and web research will assist publishers keep their old gold mine relevant!


  1. Bharat - Another excellent post. I really like your line of thinking and agree with what you are trying to do. That being said, I wasn't 100% clear on how the landing lights widget was working on Bill's Blog. Tried it a few times.

    I am sure you are refining your thinking around monetization as well. We should connect sometime, to discuss in more detail.


  2. Ravi, try the google search

    Now click on the third result from Bill Burnham's blog. You should see our "Landing Lights" widget show up at the top, as "Suggested for...". This widget shows relevant nuggets from "Deal Flow" from that article, and also provide good options from other articles. You'll also see categories relevant to the category show up.

  3. Have you looked at what Perfect Markets does?

    Danny Sullivan does a decent review here:

    I have worked with a couple publishers here in New York who have given PerfectMarket complete control over their 'archive' data.