Listen To Me, Not Jakob Nielsen

I am really hoping Jakob Nielsen’s recent Alertbox article, Write Articles, Not Blog Postings is written entirely tongue-in-cheek. My hopes don’t matter though because there’s a large contingent of people around the world, people who make decisions about what goes on a web site, the eat up each and every word he says.

Here’s the summary to Jakob’s article:

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

The first sentence is wrong. You should avoid always writing quick, shallow posts. But you shouldn’t avoid them altogether. The second sentence is just plain arrogant. HTF do you know who will be a paying customer? You might score a big contract because you engaged with someone directly on your blog. Someone giving you money isn’t the only way to find enrichment in life. You may make a connection that sparks a partnership or even *gasp* friendship! And I strongly question why a blog posting can’t be filled with “through, value-added content.”

To the “world leader in his field” that Jakob consulted to not start a blog, I’d suggest really questioning this advice. I’ll be happy to talk to you (not you, the world leader I mean) free of charge as to how a blog can be beneficial to you. Sure, you may still choose to not go with it, but don’t do it based on Jakob’s reasonings as stated in the article.

Jakob’s article is also chock-full of bad information. Why bad? Because most of it is made up. The length of the article requires you to really read it. You can’t scan it. The problem is, most people scan online. They’ll scan his article and look over the fact that the first two charts are completely made up. How can you tell? Phrases like, “For the sake of argument, let’s say…” and “Let’s assume that…” Each of those phrases precedes a chart.

He should have been more explicit explaining it’s made up data. Why? Because, again, people eat up what he says as true. Bad guru.

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. It’s easy enough to build a website that freeloaders will use, but that shouldn’t be your approach. You must change the game and create content that’s so valuable that business users are willing to pay for it.

Absolutely not. If you really want to be an expert in your field you better get your ass in gear and work even harder than you are now. You need to be blogging, podcasting, writing for-sale-only reports, writing books, speaking at conferences, organizing your own conferences, blogging and providing for-sale-only video of those conferences. Jakob’s right in that you are competing with “millions of people who are willing to work for free.” You have to offer multi-channel access to you because in the end, as an expert you are primarily selling yourself not your work.

I know a lot about usability, but I don’t pull down the money like Jakob does. Jakob’s had a lot of time to make a name for himself. People know his name. Knowing it makes them think they need to pay for good usability advice, and pay a lot. It’s their budget so that’s fine. But in my mind they are paying for reputation, not for what he produces.

I think what gets me the most is you have to read all the way to the last section of the article to get decent advice. Not new advice by any means. But the last graph states:

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.

This is good advice. Be as brief as you can. Why use 2000 words (or 2257) when 300 would suffice? But if you need 2000 words, by all means use them. What drives me up the wall though is just before this decent advice we get decidedly not decent advice:

People looking for the quick hit and free advice are not your customers. Let them eat cake; let them read Wikipedia.

This is so far from being good advice, on different levels, that I urge you to erase it from your memory. People appreciate quick hits and free advice. If it isn’t a good idea to offer quick hits and free advice, why does Jakob keep writing Alertbox?

Learn More

Read through my archives (for free). Heck, hire me to come help you sort out how you should communicate better. Go read some books on blogging to help you decide. Ask other experts in your field (because you aren’t the only one) who have blogs how it’s helped and/or hindered them.

BTW, the title of this post is tongue-in-cheek. You should always question what Jakob says, just as you should question what I say.

It’s important to be an informed consumer even if you aren’t buying anything.

9 replies on “Listen To Me, Not Jakob Nielsen”

  1. Here, here, Matto!

    It really bothers me when anyone tries to tell me the ONE way to do anything. There are just as many ways to build a productive and informative weblog as there are people on this planet.

    Jakob Nielsen cannot be an expert in blogging because it is such a varied art. It’s like being an expert in oil canvases.

  2. If you really want to be an expert in your field you better get your ass in gear and work even harder than you are now. You need to be blogging, podcasting, writing for-sale-only reports, writing books, speaking at conferences, organizing your own conferences, blogging and providing for-sale-only video of those conferences.

    This is why I bought my fiance a domain name and hosting for his birthday. I think that he’s finally seen enough economics blogs that he realizes they’re a great way to promote yourself alongside your hardcore research. And they’re a great way to promote your research by tying it to the latest news, no matter what your industry.

  3. Nice one, Matthew, and in reference to you comment on Molly, you’re absolutely, she didn’t use nearly enough words (and no big ones)! ;) I used some words, but less than you.

    As an addition to Abi’s comment, I’ve done the same for my wife – she’s now one of just two HR bloggers we can find in Australia. She’s adding value and contributing to the conversation.

  4. Hi Matthew,

    I’m not surprised by Nielsen’s polemic wrt blogging. I went to the NN/G Usability Conference last November in London; in the B2B Websites session (led by Hoa Loranger and Chris Nodder), someone asked “what about blogging?” The reply: “I wouldn’t bother unless you’re already in that market/space”. I had to make a dash, or else I would have challenged that piece of advice.

    There’s a culture clash between digital immigrants like Nielsen and those (younger than I) who are growing up with this stuff. It’s Enterprisey vs Enterprise 2.0.

  5. The “To be or not to be” soliloquy in Hamlet is about choosing between two worlds, so to speak. For businesses in this era, perhaps a choice between Enterprisey and Enterprise 2.0 as Tim says above. :)

    “And thus the native hue of resolution
    Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
    And enterprises of great pith and moment
    With this regard their currents turn awry,
    And lose the name of action.”

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. :)

  6. “Jakob’s article is also chock-full of bad information. Why bad? Because most of it is made up. The length of the article requires you to really read it. You can’t scan it. The problem is, most people scan online. They’ll scan his article and look over the fact that the first two charts are completely made up. How can you tell? Phrases like, “For the sake of argument, let’s say…” and “Let’s assume that…” Each of those phrases precedes a chart.”

    I 100% agree. Those graphs were CRAP.

    ‘Nuff said.

    ~ John

  7. I started a blog (www.lucidweb.ca) a year ago targeted to business people about the value of having a quality website. I am a usability professional, but because there are so many quality blogs written by my peers (such as this one), I didn’t feel like I had anything worth adding at that level.

    So I decided to give business people and non-usability-conscious designers some web advice, and, without my realizing it, my blog ended up being a collection of rather long articles instead of dynamic, shorter posts.

    I read them now and I still think they do add value, but I no longer call this site my blog, because I feel it doesn’t qualify. Should I just take it offline and sell the articles? I really want to provide useful content, but I wonder if online articles are the right medium.

    The Nielsen article made me question this because I realize now that I never really blogged in the first place.

    I welcome your advice!

    Thanks,

    Eve

  8. Hi Eve.

    There’s plenty of churn online about long vs. short posts for blogs. Yes, you should understand what your audience can handle, and yes it’s probably better to provide a mix of long and short.

    But to me that isn’t the issue.

    One thing that sets articles apart from blog posts is the invitation to communicate and collaborate with people. Articles don’t invite that. If it’s important to you to create a space for dialog based on your work then I highly suggest you stick with the blog. But if that doesn’t matter to you (and it’s very okay if it doesn’t) you might want to switch to a broadcast only style.

    Whether you sell your articles of not is another thing.

    Look at 37signals. The guts of their Getting Real book is their blog posts over the years. And look how well they were able to parley that into sellable material.

    I’ve had similar questions as you. And even when I don’t get a lot of comments on the things I write I’d still rather live in a space that provides the opportunity for conversation and debate. But that’s me.

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