Findability is a Legitimate Concern for Bloggers

On Saturday, I posted a review of my session at WordCamp on Search and Findability. It was hard to gauge at that time how effective the session was at the time I wrote that. Beside my normal annual attendance at WordCamp as a subject matter expert, and several sessions at different WordCamps around the country over the past few years, I was there on behalf of Lijit.

In fact, when I pitched the session on search to Matt (as a core interest of Lijit), I was firmly instructed (as I suspected I would be) that hard pitching the company was off limits. From my perspective as a member of the WordPress community, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was the same approach that we took at b5media. The company was represented. The company was known as a WordPress shop. We shared war stories with other WordPress shops. But no one on stage at any point pitched b5. It’s non-standard, I think, for any company to pitch their wares at any *Camp.

Instead, my session was about findability. Findability is the concept that content can be “found” by readers. This is a common problem that many bloggers wrestle with, and many have tried a wide variety of techniques to make their blogs more findable. This is not the same as SEO, though. SEO is a subset of findability. It’s findability for machines. Findability is as much about the data structure as the content or theme structure or the device compatibility (is it mobile compatible, for instance?)

Our product at Lijit tries to address a lot of the issues of findability. Re-search provides relevant search data to readers coming from the search engines (think landing pages). It makes all the bloggers content findable by indexing not just the site, but all the other related content associated with the user.

What I found interesting, and that I did not know when I wrote my post, was that the rest of the day would reinforce the core principles of my session. Tantek Çelik expounded on Microformats. There was an SEO session. Numerous bloggers talked to me throughout the day explaining solutions that they have come up with for making a blog more findable. Solutions ranged from content practices, to theme structures to custom homegrown plugins that do various things. It was fascinating.

I realize now what I thought I realized then, but didn’t really realize until now. All bloggers are faced with the same core challenges. The challenges manifest themselves in different ways, but at the end of the day findability is on the forefront of everyones minds.

  1. All bloggers want to drive traffic. Whether the traffic is internal, a key interest of those in the SEO/SEM/Ad space, or within their sphere of influence, an interest of bloggers looking to build their personal brand.
  2. All bloggers want to provide value to readers. No blogger wants search engine traffic to go away. Everyone wants to find a way to keep that traffic and convert it into value, whether ad-driven or otherwise, for their blog
  3. Bloggers are grappling with ways to break apart from the pack. 99.999% of blogs (a totally random number) really look the same at the end of the day. I don’t mean the user interface, but I do mean the theme structure. Structures are built in expected way, and modules/widgets are expected to behave similar ways, regardless of the blog
  4. WordPress cannot solve all the problems of all the blogs. Keep in mind that WordPress is a tool, not a lifestyle. (And I’d say the same thing to social media aficionados). WordPress is evolving into something, but much of the value that bloggers can add, allowing themselves to be different or drive more traffic (see point 1 or 2), are created by smart people trying to bring a solution to a problem.
  5. At the end of the day, every bloggers wants a kickass community of readers and commenters that reinforce their worth in the world. Kathy Sierra talks about creating passionate users, and she’s talking about principles of an engaged community. Findability helps the community engage.

Doing a 9am session is hard. Everyone is still sleepy, and/or hung over, jetlagged, etc. At the end of my session, I felt like I said what I needed to say. However, by the end of the weekend, I realized that much of WordCamp reinforced exactly the concerns that I brought up to kick off the opening session. That’s encouraging to me as a WordPress user and as someone who tries to understand the dynamics of the greater community. Of course, it encourages me as a Lijit guy as I see that our product can directly address many of the challenges that I heard repeated throughout the weekend.