More Important Than Attention – Reputation

Everyone knows the Internet economy is measured not in dollars, but in attention. Eyeballs (and mouse-clicks) = dollars anyway, and the ad-supported model is working for plenty of people who have learned how to properly monetize their site traffic. Some niches do better than others at converting, but I’ll leave that to you to figure out.

Attention not only equals traffic monetization for ad-supported sites, it also equals more sales for an online store, more new business for someone offering their services online, and more readers for a blog.

What I’d like to get into is something that is even more vital than purely lots of attention online: reputation. Whether it is for a product, a brand, a blogger, or a nonprofit, positive reputation is something that goes beyond attention and monetization; in fact it holds the keys to sustainable amounts of both of them.

But lots of attention is great, right? Sure, we all would love to have something we’ve created online get to the front page of Digg or Reddit. No arguments here. However, when you do hit the front page and get sent 100,000 visitors or more, an overwhelming majority of those visitors will view the piece of content that made it to page 1 and be done with you. You’ll get a few new subscribers, sure, but Diggers are generally looking for the next new or hot thing online. Getting to page one of social networking news sites can’t build you sustainable traffic in the same way that an exceptional reputation can.

Bloggers with a great reputation get linked to constantly, not just by a few monolithic sites like Digg, but by thousands of niche sites with specific, key traffic of just a few people who are highly interested in that genre of content. That traffic will lead to more subscribers and loyal readers simply because it is all coming from a direct, personal referral. Whereas Digg and Reddit bring you stuff that has been brought to the front by a hive mind, sites, products or blogs you’re linked to by personal connections are always a more intimate find, and something you’re more likely to analyze deeper. Getting all those niche links is vital to building your reputation, perhaps more so than the large site hits.

Let’s go through just a few key ways to building the kind of positive reputation that brings you sustained, relevant and loyal attention:

Your content must be exceptional, just a little better is not better at all when you consider that thousands of other people are creating similar offerings. You must also write or produce only what you’re passionate and knowledgeable about, and clearly define your niche – whether you’re an online store, social network or a blogger, you have to be seen as the source on something specific to develop a reputation as the best. You can’t be all things to all people; you need to be associated with something specific to build a reputation.

Also, you must write with authority, source everything, use examples, and prove your point. Blendtec does this through video. DailyBlogTips does this through engaging top bloggers (amongst other creative things such as a resource section more comprehensive, useful and personal than most blogging sites). Both of these examples demonstrate people with passion – and both of these are wins in terms of creating a fantastic reputation for the best in their niches (blenders and blogging tips).

While there are more popular blender manufacturers than Blendtec (I’m sure Wal-Mart sells more generic-brand blenders than Blendtec) and there are sites with tips for bloggers with more readers than DailyBlogTips, the fact is that these are niche offerings for passionate people, who will spread that brand’s story to other passionate people. Neither is for everyone, but that’s why they standout.

If you water down an idea to the point where you think it will appeal to everyone, you’ll end up appealing to no one. Watering down an idea is much more risky than doing something specific and targeted – whether you’re talking about a marketing campaign blog, or product launch. When you water down an idea, you ruin any chance it has of developing a reputation as the best of something.

Think of what defines the superlatives in any genre of product, magazine, blog, organization or really anything in life. It’s mostly things that are bold, seemed crazy the first go around, challenged the status quo, were engaging, were unique, or even predicted to fail. Google’s idea of having purely a search box and not various other pieces of content on their portal was a novel, simple idea, yet they dominated everyone and now have the authoritative reputation as the best search engine. That isn’t by mistake.

The fact is that most people shoot for the middle and do things just like everyone else, and that is a terrible place to aim. If you aim here, you’ll never build any sort of standout reputation for yourself, your brand or your products. You’ll see mediocre results at best, and end up merely blending in.

Build a strong reputation, appeal to a niche, engage your user’s intellect, give them something that is exceptional and not flattened out for mass appeal, and you win.