Friday Rant: Forget Traffic, Think About Influence

I was recently pulling together some updated traffic stats that I plan to share on Spend Matters next week. The news is all good and will certainly raise some eye brows, but it also got me thinking -- does traffic even matter when it comes to influence? I'd say perhaps it's a worthwhile gauge on some level, but when it comes down to it from a commercial perspective -- approaching this as a potential advertiser or sponsor would -- I'd rather have 500 of the right people reading a site than 50,000. So far, it's been possible in the tech arena to build a viable business model for sites / blogs like this because there are enough forward thinkers who embraced the model of Spend Matters and others like Sourcing Innovation before our actual traffic reached or surpassed that of traditional destinations. They -- perhaps, you, in particular -- got the influence bit.

For example, it certainly matters to reach practitioners -- ideally senior practitioners (so few of which spend anytime reading anything online, let alone print). In fact, based on log files, it appears practitioners make up between 55-60% of the traffic on Spend Matters, as a rough estimate (note, this percentage has gone up considerably over the years and continues to climb). But it also matters when it comes to influencing others in the overall ecosystem (here, think the right set of eyeballs reading content and logos, not just clicking on links).

Consider the impact of consultants or analysts recommending solutions who come to a site like this to see what others have to say before making their own set of recommendations. And what about the media looking for an angle or opinion -- you know where they come first, at least when it comes to certain issues (since analyst sites aren't free, we're the only opinion angle they've got). Moreover, it matters that other vendors read the site as well. For they could become partners or even potential acquirers of sponsoring a site as well. Incidentally, three former Spend Matters sponsors were acquired -- a very interesting number I might add given that we've had so few sponsors over time. In fact, of sponsors we've lost so far, nearly 50% ended up being acquired or exiting the sector. Interesting.

Clearly, influence matters. This is nothing new. I saw Bruce Richardson speak earlier this week at the Endeca Manufacturing Summit. I don't know Bruce well, but even when I was a twenty-five year old kid going to AMR's events, he paid me the time of day (I think he even recalled my name). Granted, I couldn't stay up at the bar as late as some, but he never showed any sense of being too high level to approach, even before happy hour. That says something. My point on Bruce -- besides being a good guy at heart -- is that his perceived influence on the overall software applications sector has as much to do with who he knows on the vendor/consultant/investor sides of the market as on the practitioner one. Moreover, it's the critical and influential 100 people he knows that really matter -- not the 1,000.

People follow the cult of Bruce because of this -- not because of how many people actually read every word he writes or because of every hand he shakes. He's influential, not just impressionable (to borrow a web traffic metaphor). And I believe more and more folks are beginning to follow influential independent sites and their authors in the same way, using them as connectors to the rest of the world from a customer acquisition, partnership, exit strategy and overall influence perspective.

Still, I fear the tech industry -- and the procurement and supply chain world -- is ahead of its time when it comes to investing in sites like Spend Matters, Supply Chain Matters (congrats, Bob, for also building a viable business model) and Sourcing Innovation. In comparison, consider the case of Spend Matters sister-site, Metal Miner (which covers the Metals Markets), which while metals focused, is the second or third largest blog in the spend/supply sector overall by traffic.

Moreover, based on all comparative metrics from third-party ranking engines, Metal Miner is among the top four news/analysis sites in the global metals market. Yet it's not yet made a penny on sponsorship/advertising compared with similar size or smaller incumbents who make millions annually, many of whom are decades old. I know this will change. And it will probably begin to change in the next few months, if not sooner. But for a site that not only has thousands of metals buyers reading it but also CEOs of some of the largest metals companies digesting its opinions -- and sometimes taking issue with them -- I would have thought the industry would have been more forward thinking in terms of wanting to get involved from a marketing perspective given both its influence (not to mention traffic). Still, I suppose when the sector does come around, it will receive an avalanche of support. The question is where is tipping point? And when will the market learn to value influence as much -- or more -- than just traffic?

The answer lies in quantitative vs. qualitative measures. When corporate operatives and top executives have enough gumption and faith in their -- and their team's -- gut sense of the market to allow their assessments to eschew the need to measure all their initiatives by hard and fast numbers over a near-term horizon, they'll find the results they were looking for all along. Clearly, sometimes the art of management creates the very best results.

Jason Busch

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