— 10 July 2007 —

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.

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