Choosing your audience

For every blog post I write, I pick an audience.

For me, it boils down to two options: the first is to write for my RSS subscribers, my loyal readers, my friends, my community.  The second option is to write for strangers, random people searching Google, the people who stumble upon my blog every day because of something I wrote that matches what they were seeking.

TechCrunch writes for the community. Mashable writes for Google.

I realize that’s a pretty broad generalization, but just look at the data.  The three featured posts on TechCrunch right now are No User Updates?, Location and Comparisons.  They may be catchy titles, but probably not anything that would rank well in Google.  Mashable, in comparison, has an entire How-to series permalinked from their top navigation.  This series contains posts like HOW TO: Retweet on Twitter and HOW TO: Download YouTube Videos to Your Desktop.  Guess what?  Almost every post in Mashable’s How-to section is the top result for its title phrase in Google.  Mashable is obviously milking the Google traffic for all it’s worth.  Meanwhile, TechCrunch doesn’t seem to even consider the SEO implications of their posts.

I think it’s obvious that both strategies can work.  What I find interesting is how hard it is to write for both audiences at the same time.

If you decide to start writing for Google, the first thing you should do is turn your title into something that looks more like a search query.  If you’re really thorough, you will Google the title you want to use and check the PageRank of the existing results to make sure you can dominate that phrase.  It’s amazing how well this simple strategy can work.  Sure, your newly devised titles aren’t as engaging as they used to be, but you’ll start seeing far more traffic from Google.  Best of all, the traffic shows up regardless of whether you create new content or not.  The danger of course is that you’ll start alienating your core audience.  This happens when you give in to the temptation to write broader and broader content.  There are far more beginners than intermediates, so the fastest way to get more traffic is to dumb things down.  After all, the top “how to” result on Google isn’t “how to implement pubsubhubbub” it’s “how to tie a tie”.  Traffic is addictive.  If you’re not careful, you’ll soon find yourself writing at the intermediate level instead of expert.  You’ll slowly lose your original audience which is now getting content it didn’t sign up for, but don’t worry – you’ll more than make up for the pageviews you lose.  Heck, the new audience is much better at clicking on ads anyway.  Everyone has to decide for themselves whether it is worth the trade.

When I write on this blog, I’m usually torn about which audience to pick.  50% of my traffic comes from Google, and my posts are pretty evenly split between the two audiences.  A lot of times when I solve a tricky problem with some code I want to share my solution to help someone out there from wasting hours of their life like I did.  It’s my way of giving back to the countless strangers that have helped me out by documenting their solutions along the way.  Posts written for Google send along a good bit of traffic, but I also enjoy writing posts that will never be found via Google.  The protocols powering the real-time web doesn’t get much traffic from Google, but the discussion that post generated was amazing.  My goal for this blog is simply to share what I am learning, and that holds true regardless of who reads it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is one audience inherently better than the other?  Do you think it’s possible to maintain both?