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Slow Down And Write Great Articles - Jakob Nielsen

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#1 bwelford


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 10:28 AM

I know Jakob Nielsen is old school but how can he advise you to Write Articles, Not Blog Postings. To coin a phrase, I suggest he really is locked into a Pre-Internet mindset. The new Internet is about making connections not just beavering away in the forest on your perfect mouse-trap.

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 10:32 AM

Yeah, I'm going to go with you on this one, Barry.

The fundamental value of a blog is author-initiated. If you want to create a great informational resource, then your primary goal should be to write timeless articles, etc. If, however, you want to create a connection to your audience you need to think personal and author your posts naturally.

I thought this was a very interesting comment:

Weblogs have their role in business, particularly as project blogs, as exemplified on several award-winning intranets. Blogs are also fine for websites that sell cheap products. On these sites, visitors can often be easily converted and the main challenge is to raise awareness. For example, a site that sells pistachio nuts should post as much content about pistachios as possible in the hope of attracting quick hits by people searching for that information. Some percentage of these visitors will buy the nuts while visiting the site.

I'd frankly go almost entirely the opposite way - I think blogs are more valuable for websites selling high-end products where a personal connection to the firm is important. Articles are also valuable, but I don't see ANY reason why a site can't offer both!

#3 khalidh


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 10:42 AM

Although articles and blogs are both content you add to your site, they serve completely different targets. Most successful online marketing should contain a mix of both.

Blogs help you connect with your audience. It provides a mix between personal and professional information. Articles on the other hand are more knowledge focused and less personal.

#4 BillSlawski


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 10:45 AM

Blog posts and articles are different kinds of writings, for different purposes. (think of the difference between magazine articles and newspaper articles for an offline example of different types of writings.)

There's nothing wrong with writing long and detailed blog posts of a timeless nature, or spitting out half a sentence that is more twitter than treatise.

Interesting that this is pure opinion and speculation on the part of Dr. Nielsen, without a hypothesis or point. He's comparing apples to oranges.

A little secret here - you can write a number of blog posts, and take the things that you learned from them as the foundation of a great article. The false dilemma that Dr. Nielsen inserts in his article is that you can only do one or the other.

#5 Black_Knight


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 11:46 AM

Agreed - apples and oranges.

A blog post is generally more like conversation, off the cuff, while an article is more like a prepared speech. In fact, I often see blogging as like a distributed forum, with no central location. A P2P forum if you like.

It is certainly possible to create articles on a blog, just as one can in a forum, but if that article is too self-sufficient and it doesn't engage response it kind of misses the point of a blog, just like posting articles to a forum is pointless unless it engages response and feedback.




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Posted 09 July 2007 - 11:54 AM

I always like studies that are backed up with analytics. How did these articles rank in the SERPs compared to blog posts? How did visitors respond to them?

In general, my personal opinion is that blogs are overrated and I agree with his suggestion to write articles.

Articles can be SEOed with greater precision. I would be more impressed with a website that had 10 great articles rather than 10 great blog posts.

#7 bwelford


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 12:04 PM

As Todd Malicoat has pointed out, it's always good to add a Top Posts box to the 'front' of the blog. Then it's just as easy to find those 10 best posts as it would be to find the 10 best articles.

At that point the only difference is that the blog probably has a RSS news feed and the article website may not. So the blog can pick up all that extra traffic via news feed aggregators and the various blog searches and databases.

#8 Ruud


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 02:18 PM

It's funny that the search articles versus blogs has a top 3 consisting of article, blog post, forum post...

I think Jakob treats the article/blog post difference with the same level of quality confusion as we've discussed here in link bait vs. link worthy.

Writing an article doesn't inherently mean writing an expert high-quality one. Writing a blog post doesn't mean writing low quality blurbs.

Assuming that you're this good, you have to show it to gain customers.

Agreed. And a consistent stream of quality blog postings can make you The Expert (Problogger, SEO by the Sea).

But oddly enough Jakob is drawing another conclusion based on some very odd reasoning:

And blogs aren't the way, as we'll see once we plot the distribution of postings as opposed to writers. [...]

Even if you're the world's top expert, your worst posting will be below average, which will negatively impact on your brand equity.

The argument goes something like; "A majority of blog postings will be average, according to a Monte Carlo simulation, so therefore most of yours will be too."

Makes no sense.

The beauty of the blogosphere is that it's a self-organizing system. Whenever something good appears, other blogs link to it and it gets promoted in the system and gains higher visibility. Thus, the 24 postings that are better than our expert's very best attempt will gain higher prominence, even though they're written by people with lower overall expertise.

That's how Google works too. Your single expert article from 2006 has the same chance to rank #1 as that off the sleeve blog post from last week...

The funny thing is that he almost gets it:

If you're an expert who wants to live from adding to the world's knowledge, you must go beyond the mainstream Web model of single page visits driven by search traffic.

A book doesn't make you an expert, not does an article. A steady stream of familiarity, insight and knowledge of your subject, that makes people see you as an expert.

In-Depth Content Is Value-Add Content


Why try to give an absolute answer to an issue which starts with a variable: what does the user want?

An academic discussion on length and depth of specific content might be well served with mister Nielsen's article. The quick search "optimal content length google" is looking for something else.

As more and more people are using the Internet, are using Google, as an answer machine, often people will be looking for one answer to one question. How is your content best presented then?

What content does and what its quality level is cannot be determined by length or delivery. A book is not necessarily better written than an article, an article not better than a blog post. Some single lines (quotes) are better and say more than mountains of paper can achieve.

As a usability expert Jakob should now you have to think user-centric. And because we do and have to in SEO and SEM we can confidently say: it all depends.

#9 yannis


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 02:24 PM

In my view articles reflect what you write about but blog posts are what you speak about. The two are and should be different.

However, the two can happily go hand in hand. You can have a website full of carefully edited and valuable articles with static pages outlining the main theme of your website and an adjunct blog through which you talk to your audience and they have an easy way to talk back to you.

The problem with most blogs is that they tend to 'bury' information, whereas a website more focused on articles tends to have a better navigational structure. One also tends to view blog posts as being of an ephemeral nature so some news about your company should be in your blog but a detailed thesis as how your widgets work should be in your articles.

From a SEO point of view it is obvious that it is easier to optimize a handful of good pages than a blog with daily short posts. Personally I dislike arriving at a blog from Google only to find out that the post is one paragraph long and there are some very shallow comments at the bottom of it and in addition, I have to register to have my say! (Give me a forum any time!). The one major advantage of blogs and perhaps the reason for them being so successful, is the proliferation of an easy way out to website design with the added benefits of RSS feeds, pings and the like.

To come back to the original point of the post, I will opt to be in the middle with a suggestion to write articles with comments enabled at the bottom. (A good model for my suggestion is A List Apart). A website needs to naturally grow and this can only be achieved through user generated content.

As Todd Malicoat has pointed out, it's always good to add a Top Posts box to the 'front' of the blog. Then it's just as easy to find those 10 best posts as it would be to find the 10 best articles.

It's absolutely necessary to advertize what is inside your website through blocks at the front page! Don't expect your users to click on your calendar (a terrible idea in my mind) to find your posts and great pictures of the Himalayas taken in 2003!


#10 cre8pc


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 02:35 PM

Mr. Nielson lost me at the very start when he summarized:

To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.

I sometimes spend hours on a blog post, depending on the topic. It's never made a difference to me whether what I'm writing is an article or blog post. Both can contain research, links, and valuable content.

He seemed to be writing from the perspective of products conversions and the limitations blogs may bring when applied to online stores. I disagree with him because conversions can come from customer feedback on products, product reviews, products in use, and any number of creative ways to showcase them. Articles about products are found where? A blog on the product site reaches everybody who visits the site.

Blogs are perfect for companies that offer services. I know I'm not the only person who judges a business by the content they produce.

#11 EGOL



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Posted 09 July 2007 - 03:18 PM

Good point about RSS, Barry. Blogs do that easily and well.

Many of the articles that I write require several days of work and have art and/or statistics on top of the writing. I can't imagine spending that much time on a blog post or having it as a daily entry. It should be a whitepaper or an article.

I think that a good site should have both blogs and articles. They are two different things. The best approach to the premium content might be to post it as an article and use the blog/RSS to call attention to it and enable commenting and send it out via RSS feeds.

Edited by EGOL, 09 July 2007 - 03:18 PM.

#12 SEOigloo


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 03:52 PM

Good find, Barry!

Just to throw a further monkey wrench into the works, in regards to Nielsen seeming old-school coming from this position, I read 3 articles last week about so-called A-listers seeing their blogging traffic go down in recent months. They attribute this to the rise of SM. Apparently, there is a crop of Internet users that doesn't want a blogger determining the conversation. Rather, they want to be contributing equally and starting their own topics. SM enables this.

I was rather taken aback by this. Blogs are a relatively 'new' thing. Can even they already be becoming old-school, as was indicated by what I was reading?


#13 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 05:13 PM

I certainly won't quibble with the recommendation to write "articles." A thoroughly researched and well thought out article is great site content. It's just that the recommendation NOT to write "blog posts" which rubs me the wrong way. And it sounds like that's fairly generally true with most of you, as well.

This is a problem of perception: Nielsen says "don't start a weblog" because he perceives a "weblog" as a lower form of content. But a weblog is just a method of publishing; not a content type. Weblogs are frequently poorly organized, giving inadequate access to articles: but they don't have to be. Why should we use as a model a low denominator of what a blog is? Why shouldn't we model our identification of the format on the best blogs out there?

(I don't say "lowest denominator," since I don't think anybody really identifies splogs with blogs... ;) )

I read 3 articles last week about so-called A-listers seeing their blogging traffic go down in recent months. They attribute this to the rise of SM.

Your post hadn't displayed yet when I started...

I'd be interested in seeing those articles, Miriam. Links?

Without having read them, I'm still inclined to say that seeing A-listers blog traffic going down is really no surprise. One of the reasons many of the A-listers have the traffic they do is that they were early adopters: they have huge archives of articles, they've been around for a long time, and, most importantly, they were around when there wasn't a lot of competition.

Now, however, there's a huge amount of competition: the league's of "B-listers" and "C-listers," not even approaching the "hardly-anybody-reading-listers" have developed their own followings; their large archives, and are competing with the A-listers effectively.

It's the "big fish in a small pond" adage: maybe they used to be the only bloggers around; but the pool has grown enormously. You dump a shark in a swimming pool, it's gonna be pretty powerful. You throw it into the ocean, the perspective changes pretty substantially.

#14 iamlost


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 07:31 PM

Dr. Nielsen's article is absolutely spot on.

From the final section (bold emphasis is mine):

Recommending in-depth content flies in the face of all guidelines for Web writing, which call for fewer words and scannable information.

The content usability guidelines are correct: they are indeed the way to make a site easier for most people...

For most sites, the content is not the point. Instead, you want to answer customers' questions as rapidly as possible so that they'll advance in the sales cycle...

Elite, expertise-driven sites are the exception to the rule. For these sites, you don't care about 90% of users, because they want a lower level of quality than you provide and they'll never pay for your services...

Right from his initial example, of a world class expert with limited time to invest, the point of reference is a very specific sub-niche: content that best displays one's in-depth expertise, qualifies visitors, and returns the greatest ROI.

He does not say blogs are 'bad', rather that they are not a universal answer. That they are topical (as are all conversations) and so come with implicit expiry dates (as do all commodities).

That individual blog posts by their nature are short and simplistic, that it is difficult to incorporate depth in a shallow medium, that it is difficult to consistantly differentiate one blog in an ocean of blogs, that search (the only extant practical method of locating individual blog posts) is also simplistic and popularity driven.

That in the limited context of expertise display blog entries do not convert as well as 'thorough, value-added content'. Note: True in actual blog use if not blog CMS capability. Mr. Slawski and seobythesea are exceptional exceptions. ;) Depending on their ROI of course. :)

He ends by saying that web usability best practices still apply:

Still, even if you run an expertise-driven site, you should follow the bulk of content usability guidelines: be as brief as you can; use bulleted lists and highlighted keywords; chunk the material; and use descriptive headings, subheads, and hyperlinks. The small percentage of users who are qualified prospects still read in an F-pattern, so a headline's first words are more important than its last words, just as they are for normal sites.

Extrapolating from the specific to the general stretches reality out of recognition. As does debating points outside the author's context. But you do it very well.

However, I did enjoy the prior posts and generally agree with everyone - once I remove references to Dr. Nielsen's article.

#15 Ron Carnell

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Posted 09 July 2007 - 07:52 PM

In a strange sort of way, this actually works for me. Per his recommendations, I don't read Nielsen's blog. ;)

Uh, then again, I don't read his articles either.

#16 SEOigloo


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Posted 09 July 2007 - 10:35 PM

I really had to go on a mental hunt to remember where I read these articles. I found one!

Then, there was an article by Brian Clark, sort of refuting this,

And, I know I read several other things on this, but my poor brain will not yield up the sources to me again. Sorry, Joe.


#17 Guest_joedolson_*

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Posted 10 July 2007 - 09:55 AM

Thanks for those, Miriam - they did pretty much say what I expected!

(And they contained links leading me to others, so I got enough of a sampling to get the idea.)

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