Blogging: Signal-to-Noise Ratio

Signal to Noise RSS Icon Ratio Image

I use an RSS news reader application to browse stories from blogs and websites that I am interested in following. To stay in my news reader for more than a few weeks, a website must do two things:

  1. Consistently offer 'meaty' and well-written posts.
  2. Not 'spam' me with posts (i.e. no more than 2 posts a day, unless the content is really good or really interesting).

If you'll notice, none of my criteria include "Have many, many posts a day." The reason for this is simple: My time is valuable, and I don't want to waste it browsing through mushy, meaningless content—even if that time is only a second or two. A lot of people think they should post early and post often, sometimes re-blogging what others have already said, but this is not a good strategy for retaining site subscribers and readers, even if it helps your search-engine rankings a little. Signal / Noise ratio is probably the single determining factor in whether a site will succeed in gaining loyal followers or not.

There are so many, many thousands of blogs and websites that have an article or two worth reading. But the number of blogs and sites that have many articles, produced on a consistent basis, that I deem worthy of my oh-so-precious reading time is quite reduced. I imagine that a lot of the people caught in the 'social media craze' will, if they have not already, find themselves losing more and more of their personal time to 'social networking time,' and will eventually decide they need to axe some of their site subscriptions and Twitter/Plurk/other follows and friends.

If your website is producing more than one or two new items a day, or if your Twitter stream is loaded with more than five or ten updates a day, and they are not some of the best and most interesting pieces of content on the web, then don't expect to be a skyrocketing powerhouse of fame! Sites like Ars Technica, Lifehacker, and MacRumors (which I follow) can produce more than one or two articles a day and still be relevant and timely, but this is only because of the fact that they have multiple staff members posting items throughout a normal week.

On a personal website or blog, or on a small business website, don't—I repeat, DON'T—expect to be able to post quality content as frequently as the 'big name' blogs and sites! If you do, you won't be able to either (a) have a life, or (b) maintain the quality you need to remain relevant to site subscribers. Believe me, you'll have to pick one or the other at some point (the point at which you get burned out, and choose option (c), which is stop blogging altogether!).

On Proofreading, Editing, and Brevity

Another problem plaguing many blogs and possibly booting them from my subscription list is the lack of proofreading and editing in the postings. On a Twitter account, I'll accept a few blatant spelling errors and abbreviations—after all, what are you going to do with 140 characters?—but on a website, where a publisher has plenty of room for verbiage, I expect the text to be written in easy to read, understandable English.

Paragraphs should be 5-6 sentences long, on average. Pictures, graphics, or textual images should be added sporadically to break up 'seas' of text. Proper English language use should be respected. These rules of thumb help a website appeal to the broadest possible audience.

Keeping things short and to the point means making sure there's a lot of meat in a small space—but not at the expense of understandability! The Cake Wrecks blog, for instance, packs a lot of information in each post, but rarely goes over one screen's worth of scrolling in any post:

That Poe Bird - Cake Wrecks Blog Posting

Some websites can consistently pull off longer articles, but only if the content merits it. If your blogging a book, then go ahead and regularly write 1000+ word articles. However, since most people's attention spans when browsing the web allow for about one sentence before they decide whether they'll read a story or not, you should stick to the KISS principle—Keep It Simple, Stupid!

Simple Rules

So, here are a four simple rules I try to follow, and would suggest others to follow:

  1. KISS – Keep it Simple, Stupid!
  2. Post once a day, maximum, unless your content can compete with the 'big' blogs
    (There are a few exceptions to this, such as when you're at a major event and do more 'live' blogging).
  3. Proofread. Then proofread again.
  4. Beautify your posts; text layout and images matter!

For the sake of illustration, here are a few smaller blogs that I subscribe to, which follow the basic guidelines above:

  • A List Apart – Website dedicated to web designers.
  • Lullabot – Drupal-centric online organization.
  • Ascendant Justice – A blog about the 'Halo' game for Xbox 360; their posts are long, but very meaty, and not posted too often as to be annoying.
  • Joe McNally's Blog – A professional photographer with a penchant for writing concise blog posts.
  • Logic+Emotion – Blog about many web-centric technologies and ideas.
  • – Simple blog about Drupal, content is sparse, but very stimulating!
  • SEOmoz Daily SEO – A good blog about all things SEO.
  • Chase Jarvis Blog – A professional photographer who 'gets' the web.
  • Strobist – Only one post a day, on average, but followed and lived by thousands of photographers.