Blogging Case Study: Vox Popoli

Sam Scott examines the blog from a professional perspective:

Despite the lack of traditional Internet-marketing practices, Day’s success seems to result from a focus — perhaps unintentionally — on what could be called the two big Cs: content and community.

Since anyone can now start a website or blog, a lot of Internet content is, as a popular SlideShare notes, crap:

Whether Day is discussing the Trinity in Christian theology, the latest economic news, U.S. foreign policy, or changes in the publishing industry, it is obvious that he is a well-informed authority on the issue at hand in addition to being an engaging writer in general. The posts and resulting discussions are in-depth, complex, and often at an academic level — a fact that attracts readers with similar interests and intelligences who likely avoid websites such as BuzzFeed. In short, it is a site that focuses on the quality of the content rather than the quantity. Very few people agree with Day all of the time — a fact that he has told me he acknowledges and likes — but it is the content and discussion that the visitors seem to value.

As a result (perhaps indirectly and even unintentionally), Day has fostered a niche online community of readers and what is termed “brand advocates.” The regular commenters know each other by handle, and their resulting discussions on Day’s original posts routinely lead to hundreds of comments on each one. (In addition, Vox Popoli hosts, among other things, an annual fantasy-football league.) In keeping with the high-level tone of the blog, Day does not hesitate to delete the posts of so-called “trolls” and then ban them.

In the end, Vox Popoli is an example of the primacy of content and community over direct marketing in terms of blogging. Quality marketing will not help a blog whose content is trite, superficial, unoriginal, or poorly written and whose managers do not take the time to foster a community over the long term.

As part of his case study, he also conducted an interview with me.

SS: You discuss various topics including economics, science fiction and fantasy, religion and theology, the publishing industry, and politics. How has such a variety of topics affected the popularity of your blog? Would you generally recommend that a blogger focus on a specific, niche topic or on many different topics? In your experience, what are the positives and negatives of focusing on a single, niche topic and audience versus being a more “general interest” blogger?

VD: I think the unpredictability of it, and the way the discourse is constantly flowing from one topic into another, has helped maintain interest in it. The variety of topics means that more people have a reason to swing by, even if every post isn’t of interest to them. Some are there for the econ, some for the fiction discussions and book reviews, and some for the intellectual community. I think the question of focus has to depend upon the blogger. If you’re a legal expert, that should be your anchor. I’m a dilettante, so I know a little about a lot. That works for an eclectic blog. It probably won’t work so well for specialists who know a lot about a little.

The positives of going deeper is that you can get more substantial. And, obviously, if it’s in an area of intense interest to a lot of people, you can build a very large blog, like Mike Shedlock or the Calculated Risk guy. But the downside is that you can’t fake it. If you don’t really want to focus on one thing to that extent, you will fail. And if your one topic is not of interest to a lot of people, you’ll never build much of an audience.

SS: Have you ever focused on trying to generate advertising revenue? If so, what were the results? If a blogger would want to maximize advertising revenue, would you recommend aiming for this goal in general — and if so, what tactics would you recommend specifically? If not, why is advertising revenue not a realistic goal for bloggers?

VD: No. I get a modest amount of ad revenue, but I’ve never actively pursued it. I’m too controversial for most advertisers anyhow. If you want ad revenue, be a mommy blogger. They seem to be the most in demand.