The other day, Jon and I were talking about different types of articles that are posted on many blogs and sketching out a tentative schedule for my contributions here at SpyreStudios. During that discussion, Jon raised a very interesting point, suggesting that some types of content affect traffic in different ways.
Some are more like a sugar rush – you put them out there, do a bit of promotion, and see the traffic come in fast and furious. Others have a more sustained effect – they may not have the same immediate traffic results (though they might do that too), but they do tend to bring in more traffic over the long run, through things like search engines.
Today, we’re going to look at six common types of blog articles and look at the benefits and drawbacks of each. At the end, we’re going to look at some things that you might want to consider when planning and/or creating content! So, let’s get started!
Lists & Roundups
Probably all of us know about these kinds of posts, which are actually quite hotly contested in the community – with questions of whether or not they have any real value. Some people are very vocal about their opinions and state that much of the content is just recycled and has no original thought or value. On the other hand, these kinds of posts do tend to prove incredibly popular and many readers enjoy the “inspiration.”
Lists and roundups are known for their ability to bring in a lot of traffic. As mentioned, they have become a very popular type of post, and many readers have continued to respond favourably to them. I’ve also found that, with some solid promotion through various social media channels, they can actually do quite well and bring in quite a surge of traffic over the course of a few days.
They also have the added benefit of being somewhat quicker to put together. I’m not saying (like some people have), that lists take no work – a good roundup takes time, both through searching and collecting screenshots – but they can take less time than some other forms of posts. That’s always a bonus for all of us with busy schedules.
As I’ve already mentioned, not everyone is a fan of lists and roundups, and probably with good reason. They are great resources for brainstorming and research purposes, but in the vast majority of cases, there is little (if any) additional content. This has lead some people to reject these kinds of posts on the premise of being unoriginal.
For the purposes of this article, though, the trend of having very little original content has an entirely different kind of drawback. Because these roundups are comprised primarily images and links, there is not a ton of content to be indexed by search engines! Thus, potential readers are less likely to find these kind of posts several weeks (or months, or years) later, when the influence of social media has fallen off.
Everyone loves freebies, and there are thousands and thousands of different freebies out there on the internet. There’s even Tweevil the Dark Twitter Bird, here on SpyreStudios! Freebies are always great for designers working on a tight budget, so many readers respond quite favourably to them.
Providing freebies is a great way of showing your appreciation to your readership or for showcasing your skills as a creator (of vectors, textures, brushes and so on). For companies like GoMedia, ArtBox7 or the upcoming MediaLoot, who actually sell premium design elements, it’s also a great way to sample their product and whet people’s appetites!
If the freebie you provide is also of a high enough quality (and if it’s promoted enough), there’s always a chance that it could get picked up in some sort of resource roundup (or possibly even multiple roundups). Depending on what site the freebie gets featured on, you could see huge increases in long-term traffic.
From a traffic perspective, I’ve traditionally found that freebies don’t tend to provide a huge or immediate surge, at least not compared to some of the other types of posts. I’m not entirely sure as to why this is, though I surmise that not everyone is actively looking for freebie resources as much as they are looking for inspiration and instruction
Freebies can also take a significant investment. It’s always best to release quality resources rather than something that is just thrown together quickly, so creating freebies can take a real investment in time and energy. As such, they are not always the easiest things to release on a regular basis, especially if you’re a one person show.
There’s nothing like a good giveaway or contest to get people excited! I’ve won some goodies from online contests myself, and it’s always a great feeling when you find that you’ve won! They are also a great way to celebrate a certain milestone, such as the launch of a new blog, site “birthdays” or hitting key marks like 10,000 subscribers or followers on Twitter.
A good contest can help draw new readers to your blog and, depending on the way that the contest itself is set up, you could potentially really increase your overall readership. Most contests require that a entrant comment on the blog post. Others require that the entrant follow the contest host on Twitter. It could even be possible to set up a system where readers need to subscribe to your RSS feed in order to enter.
It’s important to note, however, that positive impact of contests does tend to be less direct. As you build your overall readership, you are increasing the exposure of your blog and articles, and should thus see an increase in overall traffic (though, unless your contest is incredible, don’t expect to see anything huge). The benefits, then, are likely more long term. You establish contact with new readers, who will hopefully translate into a general increase in traffic over the long haul.
Unless you are giving away something totally awesome (like an iMac or something), you may not see huge volumes of traffic stemming directly from the post itself. A lot of people probably can’t be bothered with another contest. Others may be wary of commiting to a relationship with you (either over Twitter or your RSS feed) just for the unlikely chance of winning whatever it is you’re offering.
Also, pretty much all contest posts have a static life span. With a time limit on the eligibility of the contest (meaning you have to enter before a certain date), these posts definitely have an expiration date and become pretty useless after that date has passed. There is virtually no long term benefit for traffic to the post itself.
Another popular type of post is the interview, in which the author will ask a series of questions to a designer and post them as an article to his or her blog.
It’s always great to get some insight into the practices of other designers, and interviews can be a great way to do that.
Another benefit is that you’re not on the hook for all of the work! Typically, you will come up with a variety of questions and email them to the interviewee, who will then email back with the answers. This makes for content that is relatively easy to produce, especially if you do multiple interviews and reuse some of the same questions. This may sound lazy, but most design bloggers are also designers too, trying to juggle the tasks of creating new content and working on client projects. An interview post can often provide a much needed and well deserved break.
You may also benefit from the networking opportunities associated with conducting interviews. You will establish a relationship with the interviewee, which can have many long term benefits. The individual may be willing to promote your posts on various social media sites such as Twitter or many of the design voting sites (DesignFloat, DesignBump or DesignMoo). Depending on who it is that you are interviewing, this can have a huge impact on your traffic!
A word to the wise, though: be courteous. Don’t expect to conduct an interview and then have the interviewee bending over backwards to promote all of your content.
That could very well just annoy them. Work on building relationships.
Interviews don’t always get the highest levels of traffic, at least in my experience. I think that a lot of people who are actively involved in the design community are interested in reading about their peers and the people they respect. That being said, many of your potential readers may not be active members of the community, and so may not know the name of the person you are interviewing. They may also be more interested in some of the other forms of content.
Whatever the actual reason, though, interview posts will probably not net you a huge amount of direct traffic, though the indirect effects can certainly be very advantageous.
Tutorials are definitely one of the staples of the blog posts in the design community. There are tons of sites that are dedicated exclusively to producing and publishing high quality tutorial resources, many written by some of the community’s top designers. For many of us, these tutorials provide an invaluable knowledge base and a means of keeping our skills sharp and honed.
A good tutorial can do wonders for your blog traffic, especially over the long term. When you first post and start promoting through typical channels, you may not see quite the response that you would from say a list post (though, if you have an interesting title, chances are you will still a good amount of initial traffic). However, people are always looking for this technique or that technique and, as long as your site is readily accessible to the search engines, you will very likely find more traffic coming in over the long term, as people search for the technique you outline in your tutorial. So, they tend to have the benefit of higher sustained traffic.
Of course, they also do wonders at demonstrating your own ability and aptitude. An in-depth and step by step explanation can go a long way towards branding yourself as an expert in a particular field, or at least lend you a bit of credibility. That, in turn, can foster a greater appreciation for your work at large and could make some readers more likely to subscribe to your blog. That’s always a plus.
Is there a drawback to writing and posting tutorials? There are two that I can think of. First, you’d better be sure of your subject. There is nothing worse than working through an inaccurate tutorial, or one where it’s clear that the author doesn’t know their subject matter as well as they probably should. If a good tutorial can help establish credibility, a bad tutorial can destroy it just as quickly.
The other drawback is probably just the time commitment. Not only do you have to actually sit down and write the steps of the tutorial, you need to actually work through the technique, just to make sure you have all the steps down. You’ll also need to create screenshots for the various steps. All of this can take a lot of time and energy, which makes tutorials one of the more intensive types of articles to produce.
Fortunately, the benefits usually outweigh the drawbacks.
This particular category is much more general and includes various bits of editorial, where an author may discuss a particular issue, outline the history of a particular website or service, breakdown the best practices for a given field of design (or something else entirely), or even just a rant about something that has gotten under their skin! I suppose that, in many ways, these kinds of posts have the potential to be the closest thing to legitimate journalism that we’ll find on most blogs.
Of course, they can end up being being useless and mindless drivel, too, but I’m sure there’s nothing like that on your site!
In-depth articles are great because they give you the opportunity to really sink your teeth into a given topic and hash it out. You can write a comparison and contrast article like this one, an essay on some of the finer points of design or an analysis of trends in a particular niche. It’s really wide open, which is one of the biggest benefits.
The other (and probably greater) benefit is similar to that which you would see from tutorials. Because in-depth articles are primarily text, you have a lot more words and a lot more searchability. This can mean more long term traffic coming in via search engines!
I’m going to go out here on a limb and say there is basically only one, tiny drawback to the writing of in-depth articles, that being the occasional difficulty of coming up with new ideas for in-depth articles on a regular basis. Fortunately, that’s where some of the other types of posts can be extremely beneficial, giving you another avenue for creating content and a little time to clear your head.
Beyond that, in-depth articles are great. You can see incredible short term traffic and incredible long term traffic. Posts can be as long or as short as you want (though they do need some substance to be of much benefit). There may be some drawbacks on a post by post basis, but ultimately, I think that in-depth articles are probably the cream of the crop when it comes to online content.
Mixing it All Up
So what does it all mean? What kind of mixture of post types should you use on your blog? I’m sure you can guess the answer – it all depends on your site. Isn’t that always the answer?
Seriously though, there are all kinds of successful blogs that post different forms of content in different ratios, so there really is no magic formula or recipe. Still, here are some things to consider:
- Try to avoid too many lists, especially if they are not supported with some strong exposition.
- If you’re going to post tutorials, try to be as diverse as possible (without getting too far off topic). Readers don’t want to read the same technique rehashed over and over.
- Think long term. Short term traffic spikes are great, but try not to focus all your attention on today and tomorrow. Create at least some content that will have enduring value.
- Mix it up. Different content will appeal to different readers. Creating a good variety will help establish a broader readership base.
- The one exception might be in-depth articles. There are a lot of blogs that do exceptionally well posting nothing but articles.
- Focus on reader retention as much as gaining new readers. Contests and freebies are really great for this. Your readers want to feel that you appreciate them, so be sure to share some love once in a while!
Your Turn to Talk
Well that’s a lot of information to digest. I hope you found some of it useful for looking at and planning your own content! Now let’s hear your views. What kind of posts do you favour? Does your experience differ from what I outlined above? Do you have other drawbacks or benefits that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them!