Last week, Microsoft held their huge annual Worldwide Partner Conference. Despite hordes of official media reporters and partner press releases at the event, independent blogger Paul Mooney's postings dominated online search results for it.
In fact, he told me that he's one of more than 200 independent bloggers -- employed neither by the company nor by the media -- who routinely get high rankings and readership for news and views about Microsoft.
"How many readers do you have?" I asked. Turns out that was the *wrong* question. Paul said that if you're considering sponsoring an independent blogger, determining their reach requires at least six separate calculations:
#1. Traffic (don't trust it alone)
Media buyers usually ask, "How much traffic is there and how much is unique?" and leave it at that. Paul notes the problem with traffic stats for blogs is that so much may come from search engines and other sites linking to one particular posting.
So, a blogger who is otherwise unread may get insanely high traffic to a single posting that's not even likely to be a current one. And, given the meandering nature of many blogs, that posting may not even be about the key topic the blog generally focuses on.
If you look at monthly traffic figures, one particular posting that may have little to do with the main subject of the blog could be pulling in the lion's share of traffic. (Note: I've definitely seen plenty of evidence of this phenomenon elsewhere.)
#2. RSS feeds
In some markets, especially the high-tech field, RSS feeds may represent as much or more of the traffic of the blog than Web traffic does. However, as Paul noted to me, RSS feeds are a *much* bigger deal than this. Why?
Hundreds of thousands of sites -- ranging from automated splogs to high-profile online media -- use RSS feeds from good independent bloggers as part of their content. Paul noted that his own posting headlines often show up on places, such as O'Reilly media. That's pretty impressive reach.
#3. Inbound hotlinks
As with other media, traffic volume can be far less important than traffic quality. In the blog world, quality usually equates with influence. A blog read by a tiny group of people can have gargantuan influence if they are the right people.
For measurement's sake, you can often figure this out by tracking back hotlinks. Key: it's not just how many other bloggers hotlink to a blog, but how many blogs hotlink in turn to them. One single hotlink from an influential blog (someone with 50 or more incoming hotlinks of his/her own) is worth way more than 50 hotlinks from bloggers no one links to.
And don't forget hotlinks from key social networking sites. If a blog is highly linked to from Digg, StumbleUpon, etc. (or the current Holy Grail, Wikipedia) then that blog may be far more influential than it appears to be at first glance.
#4. Search position, part one
You can research a blog's search position in two ways -- first, does that blog appear for key terms related to your business or brand? Paul sometimes gets first page rankings for keyword related to Microsoft. This, in turn, means press, customers, investors, prospects, etc., all see his postings positioned in such a way that they appear to be highly influential and even somewhat "officially" sanctioned by the search engine itself.
(Remember, it's not just the click, it's the general visibility and what words are near your brand's official postings. If, heaven forbid, a blog post dissing your brand appears on page one of search results for your brand, your CEO will not be happy.)
#5. Search position, part two
Separately, also review a bloggers' general search ranking under keywords associated with his or her own "brand," such as their personal name, their blog's name, their tagline, etc. This tells you how much search engines notice them in general -- so if they were to post about you, how much attention such a posting might get.
For example, as Paul pointed out, if you search for him by first name alone, his blog is more than likely to show up in the first two pages of listings … despite the millions of competing Pauls (including McCartney and the Apostle.)
Last, as with any other media, read the blog to discover if the brand voice feels influential, sounds like they know what they are talking about, feels even-handed and trustworthy. If you're considering a media buy (even via Google AdWords), you may not want your message appearing on an angry rant site or even on one filled with irreverent humor.
That said, a media buy on a blog that doesn't always spout your company line can be a benefit. You can appear to be strong, considerate, above-the-fray, even concerned about the "little guy's concerns." You're not limiting your ads to yes-men only. That's advertorial, and few people trust it wholeheartedly.
It's just that you want to allay your brand with the type of voice that you feel your audience (investors, press, customers, etc.) would respect.
Plus, has your company sponsored, influenced or worked a partnership of some sort with an independent blogger? Let me know if you have some lessons learned (especially how to measure results more accurately) so I can share them with MarketingSherpa readers. Click on the comments link below -- thanks.
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