Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Madison Park Blogger builds readership in India

This is the city of Madurai in the teeming state of Tamil Nadu, Southern India (or at least we assume it’s teeming). Tamil Nadu is one of several Indian locales—Uttar Pradesh being another—that a savvy new crop of Madison Park Blogger readers (and commentators) call home. In a minute we’ll get to how our blog achieved this surprising (if unlooked for) market penetration on the Subcontinent. First, however, a few words about our success closer to home.

We’re pleased to report that we recently passed the 200-subscriber mark, something of a milestone. We’re now tracking at about 230 subscribers, which means we’ve been averaging a bit more than ten new email and feed subscriptions per month since we began the blog in April 2009. In addition, there are about 200 visitors to the website on average each day. Most MPB postings are read by 300-350 people, though many blog pieces that are also of interest to readers outside Madison Park gain much-higher viewership (our memorial to Madison Park realtor Jan Sewell, for example, has had over 1,600 readers).

There’s a limit, however, to the penetration of the market that can be achieved by any hyperlocal blog such as Madison Park Blogger. In the blogging community, it’s generally believed that the upper limit is probably 20% or so of the population base. For Madison Park, with its 5,000 not-necessarily-internet-ready residents, this would mean a maximum potential readership for the blog of about 1,000. The City’s most-established neighborhood blogs (those covering West Seattle, Ballard and Capitol Hill), have only been able to penetrate to a few thousand regular readers (at best), so we feel gratified that at not-quite 20-months old we seem to be about a third of the way to readership nirvana here in the Park. Just to put things into perspective, the blog for West Seattle, which has a population base of about 53,000, would need to have readership of about 11,000 to be at its likely potential penetration level. Since that would be a pretty sizeable audience to deliver to advertisers, there’s probably enough “critical mass” for West Seattle Blog’s business model to ultimately succeed.

The for-profit-blog model, however, would not work in tiny Madison Park, which is one of the reasons why this is an “Art not Ads” website. The other, more important, reason is that this blog is the part-time effort of someone who has a day job. Madison Park Blogger will therefore remain an ad-free public service medium. Although the author sometimes gets asked “Is your blog paying for itself yet?”, no money is being made off of this blog.

Or at least not by us. And that brings the discussion back to those intellectually curious and enterprising new Indian readers of ours.
The reason we’re aware of our visitors from India is that we get a report which tracks such things. For example, we know that, for whatever reason, we have regular readers in Puyallup, Kirkland, Mount Vernon, Bellingham and Spokane. And as a result of Google or Bing searches, we often have visitors to the site from other American states. But it’s pretty unusual to get visitors to MPB from overseas. When this happens, we generally assume it’s the result of Madison Parkers travelling abroad. But how many of us are regularly spending time in India?

Traffic from India is particularly noticeable because it occurs in the middle of the night (say 3:10 am), which is daytime there. We first noticed the report of an Indian reader on the site several months ago and saw that he’d left a comment in response to one of our blog postings. When we looked at his comment, we were surprised to see that it made little sense. Although the posting was about Madison Park real estate, the Indian’s commentary read something like this: “Yes, property is nice buying for Orlando Real Estate.” What?

Later, when other Indian visitors started putting comments on the blog, it became apparent that there must be a method to this madness. As we discovered after a little internet research, Madison Park Blogger has become an indirect vehicle for some people to make money—and those people just happen be living in India.

It turns out that there’s an insidious little industry that’s grown up to help website owners gin up the Google search results for their sites. These businesses are called “blog commenting services” and they exist to take advantage of the well-known fact that Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) reports results in order of site popularity. One of the ways Google determines popularity is by looking at how many other websites have links to a particular site.

So, if you can get other websites to include a hyperlink to your own site, it will increase your site’s ranking in SERP and potentially increase traffic. One underhanded way to accomplish this is by paying someone in India (or elsewhere) to place a link to your website on other sites. This can easily be done on many blogs, where reader comments may not be monitored. In our example above “Orlando Real Estate” was a hyperlink to a site selling (you guessed it) real estate in Orlando, Florida.

Here’s what one of these “blog commenting services” has to say about its efforts: “We have successfully completed more than 100,000 blog comments in the last three years. Our writers are trained to search for niche related blog posts and leave a 10 word minimum blog comment with proper spelling, capitalization, and grammar.” Obviously, not every company in the business has such exacting standards (the Orlando comment providing strong evidence). “Abdul” did a good job, however, when he left this reader comment on Madison Park Blogger earlier this month: “It is important for you to clean your floor coverings regularly so as to avoid diseases and dirt accumulation in the home. Vacuum cleaning just isn’t enough for your rugs.” A hyperlink to a rug-cleaner website was then inserted. We don’t know what Abdul was paid for his little contribution to our blog, but the going rate for posting a comment like this is twenty cents. That, at least, is what the owner of the rug-cleaner website probably paid the “blog commenting service” for the honor of having his link added to the Madison Park Blogger website.

It’s only natural for us to feel abused by Abdul and his Indian employer. Of course, the questionable business they are engaged in wouldn’t even exist but for website owners who want to scam the Google system by artificially inflating the popularity of their websites.

We are not trying to grow our readership in India, and we almost always delete reader comments left on this blog that include a hyperlink to another site. Occasionally, however, some local blogger may make a relevant and insightful comment on a MPB blog posting that includes a hyperlink to his site. Here’s an example on one such comment that appeared on Madison Park Blogger this summer (we’re paraphrasing):

“Your analysis of the local real estate market is the best in the business. I look forward each month to reading your insights and seeing your charts showing the activity in Madison Park. This is another fine posting. Keep up the good work! Sam Smith at”

That’s one comment we didn’t delete.


  1. Wow! That's crazy. I have a blog too and get random comments in Chinese and delete them as soon as possible. I didn't know there was a business for this!

    Well done on increasing your readership!

  2. Hi. Don't know where you came up with numbers for us, but we have a much higher readership than you cited, and certainly more than 20 percent market penetration. Of our three analytics services, Quantcast is the only one publicly viewable, so while it's a bit lower than the gold standard, Google Analytics, nonetheless you can check it for yourself if you are interested:

    While they give us credit for 23,000 weekly readers, Google Analytics puts it at 27,000. (Your population estimate for West Seattle is a little low, too. It's at least 70,000, and when the Census comes in, we won't be surprised to see something notably higher.)

    The business model - simple old-fashioned display advertising - is a success already. We've now been selling ads for three years and have the revenue to support two fulltime staffers and multiple paid freelancers.

    As for MPB, if you don't want to do it full time, great, but you COULD. I have been lucky enough to have been brought in to multiple conferences over the past two years because of our success, and I have met people making a go of online neighborhood news in communities smaller than MP.

    As for the comment spammers, luckily Akismet catches them all! Once in a while somebody breaks through in the forum, but our 'readers' call them out fast. - Tracy at WSB

  3. W@W!!!!! Bryan is everywhere!!!! He is better than 60 minutes!!!! What a swell fellow, and he is a great journalist. We in Madison Park and Washington Park are very fortunate to have all the continuing great journalism from Bryan. Harvey G - MP

  4. I have visited this place.I haven't seen so interesting, cultural and beautiful place like this.


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