This has been a sad week for the blogging world. KnowMoreMedia, a major blog network with over 100 blogs focused on the business world, effectively went out of business as of Thursday.
Well, they laid off all their employees anyway. I suppose technically that’s not exactly the same thing as going out of business.
But it might as well be for the folks who are no longer being paid.
I can’t imagine autopsies being fun. Nor do I understand we’re so prone to slow way down when passing a highway accident to be sure we get a good look.
Yet we do slow down to get that good look. And I can’t help asking some questions as I look at the apparent downfall of one of the larger niche blogging networks out there.
And as an aside let me say that I completely admire what KnowMoreMedia did for blogging as a medium and for bloggers individually. I consider Easton Ellsworth, their now former Senior Editor and longtime author of BusinessBlogWire, a good friend.
I take no pleasure in their demise. But I do have lots of questions.
Too Many Questions
With the crazy way my mind works the questions that cross my brain are all over the map. For example,
Is the paid writer supported exclusively by advertising (often generated nearly overwhelmingly from Google’s AdSense) the best business online business model? Is it even a sustainable business model?
David Bullock pointed out a while back that a single marketing channel makes for bad business. I don’t know what KnowMoreMedia’s business model was. But any company that relies on revenue from Google’s AdSense while at the same time also depending on Google to send them tons of search traffic is looking for disaster.
One little algorithm change or policy modification and you’re sunk.
Wendy Piersall experienced exactly that in her early days as CEO of Sparkplugging. Fortunately Wendy was able to adapt her business model and Sparkplugging survived. But I know it sure wasn’t easy for her.
Is MovableType really that much worse a platform for SEO than WordPress? Was theirs just set up poorly? Or was the Google penalty they got really that severe?
I ask because if you search for their business name, KnowMoreMedia, their domain , KnowMoreMedia.com is burried on the 4th page of Google results. Now granted that may not be their primary keyword. But it’s not like they show up prominently for business blogging, business blogs, or blogs about business either.
They don’t even show up prominently for Business News, which is one of the things they said their site is/was primarily about. “Know More Media is an online publisher of business information and news.”
Couple that with the talk of many of the bloggers moving their blogs to WordPress and it makes me wonder how much of a factor MovableType was in all this.
The general consensus is that KMM was heavily penalized by Google when the Big G decided they didn’t like sites using things like text link ads and paid reviews. In the eyes of the Goog those sites skewed search results inappropriately and therefore needed to be penalized.
KnowMoreMedia.com was far from the only site affected by this change in policy. Affected sites either adapted, or didn’t. From what all I can see KMM was in the latter category.
A huge debate has raged throughout the bloggosphere about whether it was a justified change or just a move by Google to stifle competition from other advertising sources.
Regardless, building your business on a single income source is asking for trouble should market changes ever dry up that source.
Will blog networks have to take on some of the characteristics of traditional media companies to survive long term?
Jeremy Wright, the CEO of b5 Media (one of the most successful blog networks around) wrote a long post last week about what it takes to build a successful blog network. That post should be required reading for anyone looking to start a blog network today.
In it Jeremy explains the complexities of managing a network of bloggers. Many of the issues he mentions require structure, organization and resources along the lines of traditional media companies. Bloggers are a notoriously independent bunch. That independence makes many bloggers dislike and distrust many of the structures needed to make a blog network successful.
Jeremy also gives some tips on getting started right. First one?
Don’t rely on one type of revenue: It is sometimes very easy to become dependent on one “circle of life”: more google pagerank means more text links which means more revenue, etc. As soon as Google says “selling text links are evil”, though, things get… hard. And that sucks.
Becoming more like a traditional media company while retaining the things that make blogs so appealing is the highwire act that blog netoworks must walk. No one’s saying that it is easy. But failure to walk that fine line has disasterous consequences.
Even More Questions
I’ve got even more questions on topics ranging from the implications for a non-profit network like HighCallingBlogs.com (a client of mine) to the long term survivablilty of advertising supported social media sites.
I’m working on a post exploring the non-profit implications that will be published over on HighCallingBlogs tomorrow. I’ll update this post with a link.
The bottom line is blogging is still a remarkably new arena. I think many blog networks will succeeed long term for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they will be able to achieve economies of scale that are simply impossible for individual bloggers.
UPDATE: As promised, here is the post on HighCallingBlogs.com about Blog Network Sustainability. Go check it out to see the discussion over there.