The Sphere of Influence And The Small Online Publisher
Sphere of influence over unduplicated reach. Online publishing businesses are most concerned with the metrics that allow them to drive the greatest advertising revenues--those that create the greatest number of ad impressions at the highest perceived value. Small publishers publish, in most cases, simply to be heard. Their end-game is not the media kit, but growing their sphere of influence. How many page views they generate, or the demographics of their readers, can't accurately measure the volume and clarity of their individual voices. The metrics small publishers should pay more attention to are those that reflect the depth of their influence.
Traffic out over traffic in. Well-placed trackbacks and reciprocal links help drive traffic, but do little to measure influence. A better gauge is where small publishers are directing their own traffic, and how much of it they are able to direct. If a blog on local shopping and dining gets 20 percent of its daily traffic from Google, that's a testament to Google. But if that same blog features a handbag sale at a nearby merchant, the percentage of its audience that clicks through to the merchant's site is a clearer indication of the site's influence on, and understanding of, its audience.
Small publishers should also pay attention to entry and exit referrers to see what other sites are serving a similar purpose, and where their own site fits into the choice set. If a local restaurant review site sees users bouncing in from CitySearch or Zagat, it has entered the game. Once its publishers see traffic exiting to CitySearch or Zagat, they'll know they have the upper hand, and are viewed as a resource even before these well-established authorities.
EgoSurfing is justified. It's easy for small publishers, employing search campaigns, e-mail newsletters or RSS feeds to drive traffic, to get caught up in the direct response metrics these campaigns generate. They are important as a means to understand the tactics of driving traffic, but are inadequate when trying to measure influence. A better measure is through brand recognition initiatives. Buying a search ad on the blog's or writer's name as keywords will allow the publisher to see how often the search term occurs--a measure of unaided brand awareness not captured by click-throughs on targeted campaigns. And en route to building that brand, publishers should pay just as much attention to how many people are served an ad with their brand as they do to the number who click on it. While a day of five clicks on 30,000 AdWords impressions might be deflating, it also means that 29,995 prospective readers were exposed to the brand--perhaps for the first time.
Blog links in are NOT (usually) a measure of authority. Technorati and other blog search engines use links from other blogs as a measure of authority. This only reflects the actual influence of the publisher's voice if the target audience is the blogerati. In the case of Micro Persuasion or Gaping Void, for example, bloggers themselves ARE a target audience. But for most other small publishers, while people who do blog may be within the target audience, the fact of their blogging is not what makes them a target. Small publishers shouldn't lose sight of the prize here, despite how gratifying an increasing ranking may be. Links in are a means to an end, not an end.
Inside the mind of "irrational competitors." Understanding how, why and at what rate small publishers grow in influence is even more important to the large publishers that are faced with e-reams of competing content. Small publishers do not seek revenue; they are not creating or contributing to a long-term franchise. Their only stakeholders are themselves. This makes them "irrational competitors."
And all these small guys are after--each one of the millions now self-publishing out there--is 50 or 100 of your loyal readers. But monitoring them in the same way traditional competitors are kept in check won't work. These small publishers will not show up in Comscore Ratings or executive overview reports from your analytics package. By the time they do, with audience sizes to match the strength of their authentic voices, they will be more than a mere distraction. They will have evolved into a full-scale disruption.