A couple of weeks ago I wrote a thing for Palate Press offering unsolicited advice to wine bloggers. One of my more controversial assertions was that depending on wine reviews for traffic was a loser’s game, since search engine traffic is flighty and less valuable than loyal readers.
Here’s digital media Yoda/respected journalist Felix Salmon making the same point about economics blogs:
But in an era of essentially unlimited (content) inventory, creating vast amounts of new inventory in order to increase CPM-based revenues is not an obvious road to riches — I’ve called it “a junk-mail paradigm which benefits no one”, and no, that’s not just the view of a naive editorial-side person without business-side experience: it’s also the view of Jim Spanfeller. If your pageviews become less valuable, falling (revenues per thousand page views) can mean lower revenues even on higher traffic.
Jim Spanfeller is the former CEO of Forbes.com, chairman emeritus of the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Treasurer of the Online Publishers Association. He knows a thing or two about squeezing value out of websites. And he’s no big fan of random traffic:
We now know that 16% of web users generate 80% of clicks and that this 16% represents the lower income and education segments of the total user base. Do we really want to be held accountable as an industry by metrics generated by the lowest common denominator and a minority of users to boot? I can’t think of too many successful models using these types of metrics…These metrics drive the conversation and the core objectives of online advertising away from demand creation (which is basically the definition of advertising) to demand fulfillment or, put another way, direct response.
That’s why so many wine blogs are tilting toward a review it/sell it model of monetization. That’s the model that drives Gary Vaynerchuck on Wine Library TV and dozen’s of other retailer-driven blogs, and it’s creeping more and more into “independent” blogs. It is unfortunately a model that calls into question the honesty of every single wine review offered. Is the review truthful, or is it just offered because there’s money to be made moving inventory?
Assuming the goal is to create a sustainable, content-driven blog, the name of the game is readership, not traffic. That means producing content that is inherently interesting and will attract a regular audience (Vaynerchuck got that part right) instead of just search engine traffic.
It is, of course, every blogger’s right to publish whatever they like, and every blogger has a different goal. But we would do well to remember the evolution of email advertising, once thought to be a key driver of future Internet profits. Page views in blogging are the equivalent of open rates in email, and in the last decade opens rates have dropped from 3% to 1% to 0.02% to almost nothing, as spam filters grow more adept at keeping advertisements out of our mailboxes. Email marketing has become a game of numbers so large the only people who can play it are off-shore spammers one step ahead of the law.
Page views is going the same way, and chasing them is a game in which the vast majority of wine bloggers can realize no value for their work.