Are You Stupid? Why Your Readers Might Be Dumber Than You Think

120 Intelligent Opinions

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Photo credit: bark

“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” H.L. Mencken

Are your readers all stupid? What a thing to ask! Its the type of claim that could lose me loyal readers because by questioning the intelligence of your readers I’m also indirectly questioning the intelligence of mine. So perhaps its time to announce a controversial rant and warn that this post might upset a few people.

That being said, I think it is an important discussion to have from a marketing, blogging and online business point of view. Why? Because if you believe the logic of the opening quote you might be losing money by overestimating how smart your readers are.

In this article I am going to talk about why your readers might be dumber than you think. Stay with me on this one. I even touch on why it is me that is stupid.

Why am I calling people stupid?

Last week I was reminded of a mobile phone marketing phenomena that went absolutely nuts a few years ago. It was called the Crazy Frog Ringtone; a tone that you put on your phone so that every time it rings you get the horribly annoying sound of a frog gone mental.

The issue? It cost a fortune.

The bigger issue? Everyone loved it. It went viral and then spread all over the world and eventually inspired a song that did extremely well on the charts.

I’ll never forget sitting with my friend one day watching television when the advert came on. We both groaned out a loud and scrambled for the remote control in order to mute the pain. It was at that point that my friend uttered the Mencken quote above that he had heard in a marketing lecture. Although perhaps a little bit mean spirited, I had to agree. Here we were, in the middle of an economic downturn where people were worried about putting food on the table but more than happy to pay $10 a week for a frog ringtone.

So, as I was searching Google for the source of the Mencken quote I came across a wonderful article by an academic called Thomas Benton which discussed why some Americans dislike intellectuals and why he thinks social media is making people stupid.

How this applies to blogging and online business

The quote and the article inspired me to write this article because I wanted to talk about how all of this applies to the blogging and online marketing world. And its not as nasty as you might think. I actually don’t think any of you are stupid. In fact, I know for certain that most of you are a lot smarter than me.

But sometimes, due to a myriad of reasons, you need to treat people as if they were beginners. And that is what this article is about.

1. Most of your readers are beginners
Something that a lot of bloggers and online marketers forget is that 80% to 90% of your readers are straight up beginners. Darren Rowse has talked about this before; most of the people coming to his site are people who are about to start blogging or have only just set up a new blog. He realized that a lot of his more advanced articles were falling on deaf ears.

Now, this does not mean that you should stop writing for experts if you have expert knowledge. You will always have a portion of your readers who have been following what you have been saying for a number of months or years and now want to do something more advanced. But for the most part you will find that the majority of the people coming to read your stuff are new to the area.

entry pages

Take a look at this graphic as an example of how people find your site. Lets say the dark red arrows represent Google searches that land on one of your posts. The purple arrow is a Google search that lands on your homepage and the two grey arrows are people who click through from one of your posts to your homepage.

This highlights that your site entry pages are usually not your homepage. Only a small percentage finds your homepage first. Most people arrive at your site after making a search on Google for the answer to a specific question. For example, a lot of moms now find my article on how stay at home moms can make money by looking for it on Google. They didn’t find Blog Tyrant first and then search for the information. At the time of reading that post most of them will be beginners and therefore looking for beginner material.

2. Most readers have limited online experience
Something that took me a long time to realize was the fact that as a blogger and online businessman I take for granted how well I know the internet. When I was helping my mom set up an email account a few months ago I told her to enter in her password and was shocked when she said that she didn’t know how.

Similarly, I constantly get emails from people asking for clarification when I say something like “just install this plugin” or “just add this to your root directory“.

The ironic thing here is that by assuming that my readers and customers know as much as me I am actually proving that I am the stupid one. If I assume that you know how to download my eBook I am making the mistake, not you. Its like getting upset with your preschool son for not knowing how to do algebra – you just don’t because you know that he is too little to understand yet. Its not that he’s stupid.

The same goes for your readers. They aren’t dumb or stupid, they just don’t have the same level of experience yet. It is your job to make your writing, instructions and website design clear enough so that anyone of any experience can follow and make progress.

3. Most readers are new to your site
Quite closely related to point number one is the fact that most websites have a stream of traffic made up of mostly new readers. If you head over to your Google Analytics and look under Returning vs New Readers you will see that the portion of the pie chart representing New Visitors looks like Pacman devouring the Returning Visitors.

This means several things for you and your site:

  • Your navigation is foreign
    It is important to understand that not everyone knows how to navigate your site. Do they use the sidebar like on my site or the top like Mashable? Do they use tags or categories? That is why I advocate just one main method of navigation in this video.
  • Your community is scary
    Sometimes when I go to a new forum or active website I get a little bit intimidated by the amount of knowledge and inside jokes that are floating around. People sometimes seem to be talking in riddles. It is often good to remember that you should answer even advanced questions as if you were talking to a new student. And make them welcome.
  • Your mess is not organized
    When I look at my desk in my office I see the organized filing of a genius. My girlfriend sees the crap of a lazy, work-from-home, eat-over-the-keyboard slob. The same is true of all that rubbish in your sidebar. All that stuff that looks organized to you often appears as clutter and distraction for your 80% of new readers.

Take care of those new readers if you want to turn them in to returning visitors.

What are your thoughts?

Please leave this article knowing that I don’t think any of you are stupid. I don’t care whether you are a newbie or an expert online marketer; I am here to do whatever I can to help you. That is why I started Blog Tyrant and that is what I will keep doing. Until you are dominating your blog and your niche I will be here for you.

Do you treat your readers like they are beginners? Are you pitching over people’s heads? Do you think there is a balance between not talking down to people and not writing in riddles? Finally, do you agree with the opening quote and can you think of any other examples? Please leave a comment. I’d love you know your thoughts.

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120 Comments... Leave yours.

  • Diggy February 26, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Hey Tyrant,
    It’s good to point out that most blog readers are in the category of beginners of the field. They have an interest and want to learn more.

    Then there is a portion of readers who are bloggers in your niche trying to learn from your blogging style to implement on their own blogs.

    I actually think there is a very small percentage of a blog’s audience who are genuine experts on the topic.

    I’m a big fan of complete tutorials on topics, right from the very beginning. The more complete it is, the better. Even better is to make various stages, like beginner, intermediate and expert so that you cater for all people. But as a rule like you say, keep the beginner in mind. You’re very good at that!

    Keep it up buddy
    Peace out

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 26, 2011 at 10:55 am

      Love your work Diggy.

      Thanks for stopping by and the RT.

      BT

  • Shkumbin Llullaku February 26, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Hey BT,
    Some good point you make here. Like you when my parents ask me something easy about the web I find that frustrating.
    Also I’m redesigning the site and am trying to make the navigation as simple as possible, there was a time when on my sidebar there were calendars, archives, unnecessary widgets that I thought were cool, without realizing that I’m just confusing my readers.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 26, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Hi Shkumbin.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Where abouts is your name from? It is very interesting!

      1. Shkumbin Llullaku February 26, 2011 at 11:26 am

        My parents named me after a river in Albania. But, it’s not as interesting as “tyrant” :)

        1. the Blog Tyrant February 26, 2011 at 11:29 am

          Ha ha! Being named after a river is beautiful.

          Actually, I read that my real name means “sword of the people” or “goat of the people”. My friends think its the latter. Ha ha.

  • Wendy Mason February 26, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Hi BT
    So you really pulled me in with this heading – great stuff! When I got here I was so pleased I’d arrived! I’m not exactly a newbie. I’m at that dangerous stage where I know a bit but don’t know enough to keep myself out of trouble. I am so glad that the blogger community is so generous with ideas and expertise. Hope to pay it back one day!
    Thank you
    Wendy

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 26, 2011 at 11:16 am

      Hi Wendy.

      Glad the title didn’t put you off! I was worried it might do that to a few people.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Shaun February 26, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Hey Tyrant,

    I really liked this post as it is something I have given a lot of thought to lately. It certainly helps to start at a very basic level when explaining a process, but I think this extends to explaining concepts as well. Many people lack creativity or the imagination to take an idea and run with it, perhaps that’s why some people succeed where others fail?

    Cheers,

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:28 am

      Hey Shaun. Imagination, perhaps. Or just discipline to find out how.

      1. Shaun February 27, 2011 at 10:46 am

        That’s a fair point. There are a lot of people that want the result, but don’t want to put in the work.

  • Juuso Palander February 26, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    On scale 0 to 10, this post is 10, especially for the more advanced bloggers. When you’ve blogged for a while you become blind to your own site. Thanks for taking me back to basics Tyrant :)

    Some time ago I told you about a WP-plugin we’re developing, which by the way fits quite perfectly to this post’s subject! It’s not ready yet but we’re closing the early beta stage.

    I’m not sure if I already asked, but would you like to test it as soon as we get to that point? If the answer is yes, where can I reach you later? :)

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:29 am

      Thanks for the good review!

      Absolutely, shoot me an email at tyrant at blogtyrant dot com when you are ready.

  • Jamie O'Donoghue February 26, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Absolutely spot on. As someone who does public speaking, I am constantly battling the urge to not go over the heads of my audience. As a young blogger, I am learning that it is no different in this field too.

    A rule I strive to live by in speaking that I am translating over to blogging is to: study so much that even a child can understand when I explain.

    Obviously it isn’t a hard fast rule but you get the principle behind it.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:30 am

      Hi Jamie.

      Do you ever worry that you are talking too simply for people though? That is my fear.

      1. Jamie O'Donoghue February 27, 2011 at 1:28 am

        Yes I do, there is a balance. Though I have found that the majority of an audience that is listening to me don’t know as much as I think they do.

        One thing I generally try to do early on is to gauge where I think they are by giving them a little more meat instead of milk. If I get a blank stare then I know to tone it down.

        I’m not entirely sure how to translate that over to blogging yet. One way I’m trying to judge it, is to use the comments of the readers. It’s a little trickier though.

        How do you best gauge where your audience is?

        1. the Blog Tyrant February 28, 2011 at 12:02 am

          I have no idea. Probably a mix of how many comments, subscribers and complaints you are getting.

  • Heather@Family Friendly Frugality February 26, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    It’s funny because essentially this is what I went to school to learn. I have a degree in early childhood education and it was always stressed to us that we weren’t teaching to the smartest kid in the classroom. We weren’t necessarily teaching to the “dumbest” either…we just had to assume that we needed to begin with the most basic building blocks of education and build on it from there.

    It’s how I handle educating my own children as a mother as well. You can’t assume that they have any concept of what you are trying to teach them until they have proven otherwise. If you do, it’s like trying to potty train without teaching them how to pull their pants down first. It’s not going to work (of course you could pull their pants down for them, but let’s face it…I have enough work everyday!) and it’s just going to frustrate both mother and child.

    I actually feel like this is a spot where I get it *right*. Maybe because I only really learned a lot of the info I give out to my readers not long ago. So the feeling of being a newbie, and getting caught up by simple abbreviations is still fresh in my mind. I do serve the beginner reader/frugal couponer, because that is specifically who I started my blog for.

    I needed someone to teach me the absolute basics of saving money and stretching my dollar. I had to teach myself by navigating confusing forums and over the top overwhelming blogs. Not everyone has the patience/time or let’s face it the ability to wade through that kind of information overload and come out the other side an expert. So that’s what I strive for on my blog. I want to be the gateway for the newbie to frugal living. Eventually I might attempt some more advanced info (investing, retirement, etc), but for right now I don’t feel like I have the educational background to support giving out that kind of financial advice (you’d be surprised how many blogs in my niche give out that info without even thinking that they just might not be qualified!). Besides, by that point you should probably be talking to a financial advisor or at the very least self educating with texts written by guys with degrees much more robust than mine.

    The thing is, I think this is in fact where a lot of bloggers get it wrong. They want to blog to the elite of their niche. Not realizing the elite of their niche probably have a blog, or have no need for any of the info that they are providing. Maybe it’s the education degree but I am an educator on my blog. Planting the seeds and supplies to help my readers flourish and grow (and hopefully save money and get out of debt!).

    Thanks for this article. It earned a book worthy comment from me once again ;)

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:32 am

      Oh Heather I do love your comments! Thank you for sharing that. Your kids sound very lucky.

      1. Heather@Family Friendly Frugality February 27, 2011 at 12:57 am

        I like to think that they are very lucky. My husband and I are (hopefully) giving them a really fantastic childhood.

        This article inspired me to FINALLY tackle #34764 on my to do list and pare down my navigation bar. It’s just one bar now and I’ve omitted a lot of options.

        Yey!

        1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 1:06 am

          Nice work on the nav bar Heather!

  • Shkumbin Llullaku February 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Hi, I found this quote that might be relevant:

    “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

    — Albert Einstein

    1. Lisa Chiodo February 26, 2011 at 9:27 pm

      Very true!!
      Try explaining to a six year old who has Autism and takes everyting literally.

      ciao lisa

  • Rick LaPoint @ Internet Marketing February 26, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    This is my first time commenting, and I almost wanted to do so anonymously ;-)

    I have always found it frustrating when I devote a lot of time to an in-depth, intelligent, highly informative article, and no one is interested, regardless of how much promotion I try to give it.

    Then I see something like, “Should the the box around your comments be Black, or Grey?” and the post goes viral.

    My wife reminds me that when I write, I can never forget to take my Stupid Pill :-)

    Rick

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:34 am

      Hey Rick. Thanks for commenting.

      Do you ever worry about treating your more experienced users as beginners?

  • Kim @ Work At Home Mafia February 26, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    I have to agree 100% that most writers assume that all readers understand what we are trying to convey. But my audience is really not well versed in technology, seo or work at home jargon so I am saying something, “Hey grab my RSS feed” and they are staring at the screen with this totally bewildered look since they have no idea what RSS means and want to be spoon fed the basics.

    1. Lisa Chiodo February 26, 2011 at 9:25 pm

      hey Kim, when I was a Newbie 4 months ago I had no idea what RSS was, when I tried to subscribe that way it was all a bit confusing. I ended up only subscribing to sites where I could enter my email.
      ciao Lisa

      1. Virginia Ripple February 26, 2011 at 11:32 pm

        That was me when I first started reading blogs. I even tried reading about what RSS was and came away even more confused. Somewhere along the way, and I wish I knew who to give credit to, I figured it out. Now I only subscribe by email if I can’t get the RSS feed to work. I’ve even gotten to where I can read my subs on my smartphone. Guess that proves we aren’t stupud, just beginners.:)

    2. Rick LaPoint @ Internet Marketing February 27, 2011 at 12:15 am

      Hi Kim,

      Yes,it’s really easy to take things for granted.

      I have went back to edit a few of my articles, based on reader feedback to ensure I cover everything they “expect” to be there.

      There comes a point though, were you must decide who your audience is. I originally was trying for one demographic but ended up building a different one entirely.

      It’s not always so easy to put yourself into the heart, soul, knowledge—and shoes—of the people who are genuinely interested in what you have to offer.

      We can’t be all things to everyone, so it comes down to whether we want the largest audience, and if we’re willing to be what that audience wants us to be.

      But when I see some the things that are wildly popular, I scratch my head in disbelief, as I have no idea how to create something like that myself. I don’t think that way.

      And as polite as this article here is trying to be, polite only takes you so far.

      If you really want to understand the intelligence level of the average American, just watch TV for a week, or listen to the Top 40 on radio.

      I’m sorry, but there IS a line.

      Rick

  • Leigh February 26, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Catchy headline :)

    The opening quote is insulting.

    How about this one?
    “No one likes feeling stupider than the next person. The trick, then, is to make your victims feel smart–and not just smart, but smarter than you are. Once convinced of this, they will never suspect that you have ulterior motives.” – Greene

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:36 am

      Hey Leigh.

      Good to see you again!

      Do you find the opening quote insulting from a marketing point of view? As in, if he were giving a sales strategy?

      Sorry if it offends.

  • Carolee a.ka. Blogging Biz Mom February 26, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Since I work with mostly newbies (that’s beginner for those who aren’t “in the know”) I try to write in layman’s terms.

    I know I’ve been to some blogs with instructions that you would have to have a PHD in computers to understand.

    It doesn’t make you look smart to these people, they just click off your site and move on…..

    Have a great day!

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:39 am

      Very true Carolee.

  • Dimitri February 26, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    It drives me crazy when I think of my parents and other folks who don’t even know how to use Google efficiently — they’re afraid to add extra keywords but they’re happy to add pluses and double quotes around phrases; they don’t know how to scan search results to immediately determine whether the information is relevant to them, etc.

    And then people call your blog posts “blogs”… as in, “I’ve been reading your blogs for a while.”

    I find the problem with writing blog posts geared towards everyone is that, oftentimes, if I start at the very beginning for the sake of beginners, I lose interest in writing it. It seems natural for me to only find appealing those things I am learning about myself, those things that make me grow and discover new things. There’s no growth or interest for me on teaching others what I already know by heart.

    May I ask you why you have so many levels of nested comments?

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:41 am

      Hi Dimitri.

      I think its important to develop some sort of compassion and patience for people and your parents, etc. Remember, not everyone has the opportunity to spend as much time online as us.

      Good point about getting bored though. I hadn’t considered that.

      There are only 5 levels of nested comments. Do you think that’s too much?

      Thanks for commenting!

      1. Dimitri February 27, 2011 at 8:01 am

        I believe two levels is optimal. When readers have the freedom of three or more levels, guess what? They’ll use the last level available to them, because it’s just easier to click on the reply button near the very end, thus creating comments that look like this:

        Comment 1
        -Comment 1.1
        –Comment 1.1.1
        —Comment 1.1.1.1

        Does this mean that commentator 1.1.1.1 is only talking to commentator 1.1.1? Of course not! 1.1.1.1 may be talking about a specific tidbit that 1.1.1 mentioned, but don’t you think he or she would’ve taken the comments above that into account as well? In most cases, newer replies are referring to the whole thread of comments already there. It would not confuse anyone or change the meaning of who’s replying to who, if the thread above looked like this:

        Comment 1
        –Comment 1.1
        –Comment 1.2
        –Comment 1.3
        –Comment 1.4

        First, this looks much more organized. You can easily follow the thread of comments in chronological order. When there’s more than two levels, you risk something like this:

        Comment posted at 12pm
        -comment posted at 1pm
        –comment posted at 2pm
        —comment posted at 3pm
        —comment posted at 6pm
        -comment posted at 4pm
        –comment posted at 5pm
        –comment posted at 7pm

        Initially folks just replied one after the other, going one level deeper each time. Then someone decided to reply to the original comment directly (the one posted at 4pm). Someone else decided to continue replying to the thread before (6pm). And so on.

        Two levels deep also gives people some space to breathe. Often the comments on level 5 are very squished, in a tight narrow column, because of course, the deeper the level, the more the indent is there.

        And again, five levels deep is only helpful when people need to reply to one specific comment. Which clearly is not the case when all you see is this:

        Comment 1
        -Comment 1.1
        –Comment 1.1.1
        —Comment 1.1.1.1
        —-Comment 1.1.1.1
        —-Comment 1.1.1.2
        —-Comment 1.1.1.3

        I can just imagine what commentator 1.1.1.2 is thinking: “What do you mean there’s no sixth level?”.

        All the best! =D

      2. Dimitri February 27, 2011 at 8:07 am

        Ahhh, I am sorry for not following my own philosophy and taking up level three! =D That’s just the thing, isn’t it? With five levels, it becomes automatic for people (including me) to click on the Reply button closest to them, instead of go up to the previous comment and find the Reply link there.

        1. the Blog Tyrant February 28, 2011 at 12:05 am

          That is super interesting. I’m not sure I totally grasp how people have linear conversations with only two levels though?

          1. Dimitri March 1, 2011 at 4:52 am

            I think people can have linear conversations within two levels very well. All the replies in the second level would be chronologically ordered, so it would be very easy to follow the conversation.

            Would you say that if this comment thread was completely in the second level it would be harder to comprehend or for others to add their own opinion to?

  • Erika February 26, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    @Dmitri: re: your Google comment, I think you will LOVE this video.

    “The Scrollwheel”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa9DLxDtPtc&feature=player_embedded

    BT: This is a great example of further refining the target you/anyone writes for. It just makes for better, more relevant content. Esp. when you look at your stats – maybe some people have more return readers than new, but 80% of mine are new, and I expect that they are not experts.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:42 am

      Thanks Erika! Will check it out.

    2. Dimitri February 27, 2011 at 8:05 am

      Loved it! :) Thanks Erika.

  • Lisa Chiodo February 26, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Hallelujah, at last! BT you hit that nail on the head! I am a newbie, it drives me nuts when I am looking for information on things like “just install this plug in”…WHAT??? Now I am learning and forget that others have no clue what I am raving on about when I tell them about my blog.

    My husband has also been telling me this since we set up Renovating Italy, (he has a marketing degree) I really get it now!! If my 77 year old mother who can’t even work out where to turn on the computer can’t look at our home page and easily figure out what to do then it’s all pointless!

    I close so many sites when they make it difficult to navigate, there is no way I will go looking for the subscribe button…on some blogs there isn’t one???

    Also when looking for info on how to set something up on my blog the video clips are far more useful than the written info (usually in geek talk). If someone set up a site that gives newbie info I would be hooked. (Your site is the only place I come when I want to get some info that I can understand) and no you never make me feel stupid.

    The point is set up your site for me and people like me, make it easy, make it logical, and make it fun!

    ciao for now
    great article!!!!
    Lisa

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:42 am

      Thanks Lisa! Another great comment.

  • Mary February 26, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    This may come as a surprise, but not everyone is American. And not everyone speaks English either!

    In some cases, it’s not that readers aren’t “smart”, it’s just that that their technical vocabulary in the topic you’re writing about, or their understanding of your phrases, may be limited.

    So others way that you can help are:
    - putting definitions / explanations into posts (eg “gadget is just another word for widget”),
    - using short words and simple sentences,
    - repeating things several times, in slightly different words
    - (if possible) being aware of particular cultural gaps.

    Re the last point, it would be fascinating to compile a list of things for English-language bloggers to watch for. I’ll start with a suggestion to assume that Americans don’t know words with a “q” in them: they do not know how to join a queue to buy a bus ticket, or how to go for a walk along the quay.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:44 am

      Hi Mary.

      That’s a good point – I actually thought about putting language barriers in the post but then didn’t because, in all honesty, I don’t really provide for anyone other than English speakers. Maybe I need to look in to that.

      1. Mary February 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm

        In your niche, you probably don’t need to consider folks with English as a second or other language. If they want to learn to dominate blogging in an area, it’s probably their own area in a language and culture they’re familiar with. The principles to follow to dominate elsewhere are not necessarily the same as the ones that apply in the USA.

        In two of mine (especially in the Blogger tutorials blog), I absolutely do: I can see in the visitor stats that a lot of visitors some from NESB places.

  • Joe Hage February 26, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Tyrant, you’re really f’n smart, save the two typos I caught in this post!

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:20 am

      Damn you Hage!

      ;-)

      1. Joe Hage February 27, 2011 at 10:27 pm

        Funny!!

        “Myriad” never takes an “of.” The other one was an its/it’s mistake.

        1. Richard G. Crockett February 28, 2011 at 3:59 am

          Huh? “A Myriad” followed by “of” introduces a partitive genitive—out of the sum of reasons, there is a myriad. Now whether that was intended, is another matter. :)

  • leon Noone February 26, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    G’Day BT,

    My favourite comment on this issue comes from David Ogilvy: “The customer is not a moron. She is your wife.”

    As with so much of what he said, this quote means much more than it seems to say.

    At a general level, the biggest problem with web marketers is that they don’t seem to know much about marketing but think that they do.

    The whole purpose of communication is to convey meaning. The words themselves are merely carriages for meaning. This is further complicated because it aint what we, as writers mean: it’s what readers think we mean.

    Make sure you have fun.

    Regards,

    Leon

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:46 am

      Great quote Leon. I love it. Much less dismissive than the one I used.

      1. Joe Hage February 27, 2011 at 10:28 pm

        There’s an easy punchline in there. Alas, though, I love my wife and she is not, in fact, a moron.

  • Brandon Yanofsky February 26, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    I actually completely agree with you. Most people I deal with are beginners, and I can easily forget they might not know what I know. There’s that knowledge gap that we all forget about.

    On a side note, I think even experts like posts for beginners. I love to read someones interpretation on something I already know. It helps to reinforce the basics that we sometimes can forget.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:48 am

      Good point Brandon. Not that I consider myself an expert but I often am surprised at how often I read beginner level articles.

  • Glynis Jolly February 27, 2011 at 12:10 am

    Many blogger don’t put a lot of thought into the design of they blog and then wonder why visitors can’t find anything. I know that my blog still needs work in this area and am slowly working on it.

    Yes, more visitors are newbies only knowing how to play the online games for the most part. Us as bloggers are self-appointed instructors.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:50 am

      Hi Glynis.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Good to hear you are constantly working on your site. We all need to keep doing that.

  • Dave Starr February 27, 2011 at 12:36 am

    One of the most important ‘take-aways’ from this post is still unanswered, and boy is there a business opportunity out there for someone who comes up with an easy solution.

    Websites in general and blogs in particular (built around a rigid series of posts, usually date-oriented) are hard to find things on … even for the bog owner who ‘knows’ s/he wrote something on a particular subject a few years back … where or where can it be?

    The graphic above looks slightly reminiscent of Google’s Wonder Wheel search aid. I want a plug-in or blog them that will show my articles in a ‘Wonder Wheel’ format … dynamically, based on what a new user types in.

    Wouldn’t that make things easier to find?

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:50 am

      Dave this sounds really freaken cool. I can’t quite grasp what your final product would look like though. Can you elaborate further?

      Love it.

      1. Rachelle February 27, 2011 at 12:58 am

        Good point, I get it, I currently have almost 300 posts and it’s so hard to interlink my posts I wish there was an easier way to do this. I put search up on my site and it sucks…I hate going throught the wordpress menu, 20 posts at a time by title to try to find the one I wrote about that certain subject.

      2. Dave Starr February 27, 2011 at 1:46 am

        Glen, my thought is pretty much illustrated by your graphic in this article. people come to a blog from all sorts of keyword searches. What is they landed on a simple diagram like the one you made, so they would see 15 or 20 ‘start pages’ all related to the search that got them there in the first place.

        Then each ‘start page’ would expand into it’s own wheel if there were more articles under it. The best explanation I can think of is, just go to Google’s Wonder Wheel and explore how they do things.

        Example, at the time I wrote this, the article we are commenting on comes up number one for the phrase, ‘are your readers stupid’. Surrounding thta article are a dozen other people’s pages on that theme. But think of how your readers would be served if they were taken instead to a ‘wonder wheel’ with all the articles you have written about your readers, how to ‘care and feed them’, how to call them to action, etc.

        Instead of yet another ‘how to link to Social networks’ type plug-in, some developer would acquaint him/herself with just how darn hard it is to find information already on a blog.

        1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 1:49 am

          I’m going to have a big think about this Dave but, firstly, why do you keep calling me Glen?

          Ha ha…

          1. Dave Starr February 27, 2011 at 2:24 am

            Umm becuase I thought that was your name?

            I guess that I just proved a point (or two) LoL (I needed a good laugh this am, guess I just provided myself one). Meanwhile I’m going out to study how it is my dog does find those bones ;-).

        2. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 2:37 am

          Made me laugh too! :-)

          You might be thinking of Glen from Viper Chill?

          1. Dave Starr February 27, 2011 at 2:48 am

            D’oh! Probably that is it. From now on I better stick to BT … and maybe stop reading so many blogs and actually do more on mine. “Chilling” thought, that. You mean you only get rich if you actually produce something aside from blog comments? ;-)

            Meanwhile, I think I’ll go watch ‘The Simpsons’ for some tips to interact with people and provide value … after all, 22 seasons now, what does that say about what’s intelligent and what’s not? ;-)

  • Rachelle February 27, 2011 at 12:53 am

    It might be better to assume that our readers are idiot savants, that is they may be very smart but they may have no idea how to navigate sites.

    When ever I get a spike in traffic, I examine the results and try to reproduce them. Unfortunately I often have no idea why that post is popular.

    I have learned that most of my readers tend to be very technologically unsavvy, several people actually complained that they could not find my contact information or phone number. It’s on almost every single page so I put it on the front page.

    Just be that act of blogging it probably puts us in the 80th percentile of computer literacy. Personally thought I still consider myself to be an idiot because I don’t understand how to do many things on my blog. Or it takes me so long, I go do something else.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 12:57 am

      Ha ha. Love the contact information thing.

      I totally agree with your suggestion though – smart readers, low level internet skills.

      I hope you don’t think I ever thought you guys were stupid…

      1. Rachelle February 27, 2011 at 1:24 am

        It’s a statistical fact that a full 50% of people are of below average intelligence. :)

        However, there are many types of intelligence or gifts. For instance my dog is very gifted when it comes to finding old bones to eat at the park. I completely lack that skill.

        Or that we actually have more than 5 senses, one of these proprioperception is the ability to tell where your body parts are at all times. It’s fair to assume that any gifted athlete has this skill in spades, where many intellectuals can manage to trip over their own feet because they don’t know where their feet are. Who’s smarter?

        It depends on context, if you’re being chased by a lion, the ability to tell where your feet are is essential, so the athlete is smarter. If you’re doing algebra, the other guy is the hero.

        I am like most people an interesting contradiction because I am very skilled at certain tasks and useless at others.

        1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 1:48 am

          This is a very interesting topic and brings up the old natural ability (genetics) vs hard work and practice debate.

          The whole point for me is that we have to try our best to use tools like patience and compassion to help people; especially when they are having a hard time understanding.

          1. Rachelle February 27, 2011 at 2:54 pm

            The answer to that age old question of genetics vs. hard work is both!

            You need an inherent natural ability and you also need to hone your skills and work on your weakness to get to the highest levels.

            What I have found as a supposed gifted person is that you have intuitive leaps of logic. This can actually work against you in business. For example someone asks a question and you provide the answer…the next question is invariably, How do you know this? and your answer is…Not sure, I must have read something, but I don’t remember where. So even though you have the correct answer, the teachers still wants to see your work. :)

            It follows that many people with inherent skills & ability find it very difficult to explain to other people because we stand on the shoulders of giants, without even realizing it.

            This is even a problem with time travel novels where the hero goes back into time and creates future technology. We’re all pretty smart here, imagine yourself back in the 1400′s inventing a computer so you can invent “the blog” Well first you have to invent silicon, and improve metallurgy, and plastics, and probably 100 more things you never thought of to make your computer. Consider the massive changes of the last century. I knew a 96 year old lady who was convinced that microwaves were witchcraft. No wonder she went from a world where she cooked on a wood stove, to electric ovens, to a box where you put your food in and push a button and invisible forces heat your food.

            Compassion is definitely necessary :)

    2. Dave Starr February 27, 2011 at 2:17 am

      A very good point, Rachelle. But I do believe Mencken was not as far off the mark as some think.

      Remember, the ‘rank and file’ of the American public will not be offended by his comment, becuase they will never read it. (I’m American, BTW, and a product of the US school systems, do I’m not a foreigner casting stones from the outside here).

      For more than 20 years part of my job entailed teaching technical subjects to new personnel in many disciplines. Many of these folks were graduates of highly-ranked universities. But in technical terms, many of them had trouble tying their own shoelaces.

      I believe Mencken was too kind. Bloggers and blog readers are a cut above, IMO.

      One should also never underestimate the prurience of the average reader. On a site of mine that is pretty boring … about retirement, mainly … I once posted an article that mentioned Katie Couric’s legs. I didn’t even show a picture.

      Years later it is still one of my most searched terms. I only recently fell out of Google’s top 100 for that term.

      Do a search on that term today and tell me what you think the average American is looking for these days of hard economic times, fiscal challenges, overseas competition, etc., etc..

      A lot of people with way too much time (and voyeurism) on their minds …

      1. Rachelle February 27, 2011 at 3:18 pm

        Maybe the best solution is to learn from Children’s Movies.

        See, the producers of such films had a problem, they had to appeal to children but their unfortunate parents have to accompany them.

        What you find is that the best films have different levels, one for the children, but interspersed throughout they have jokes and references that only the adults “get” so that both audiences are happy. Crafting your blog posts to appeal to the widest possible audience would be a challenge.

        Another interesting fact is that when there is a problem, it’s usually basic. For example when the space shuttle blew up it wasn’t nuclear physics equations that did them in, but rather a simple O-ring.

        One of my favourite quotes is… Just when you think you’ve built something idiot proof, they build a better idiot. Just look at Youtube if you doubt this. I mean who would have thought that rollerblading off your roof could produce massive injuries?

        1. Heather@Family Friendly Frugality February 27, 2011 at 3:40 pm

          Love it Rachelle.

  • Justin February 27, 2011 at 1:14 am

    Hi BT,

    Thanks for all your great articles. I found you from one of your guest postings (They’re working :). I’ve spent the weekend reading all of your articles and of course signed up for your email list. awesome tips.

    I have a question about product launches, which seem to be a big topic in IM. Do you know of a few good blog postings on what it takes or the formula to succesfully launch a new ebook or product?

    Thanks in advance!

    JB

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 1:17 am

      Two words: Jeff Walker.

    2. Brandon Yanofsky February 27, 2011 at 1:22 am

      Agreed. Check out product launch formula. Also check out Dave Navarro

    3. Justin February 27, 2011 at 1:34 am

      any free articles that are decent?

      1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 1:44 am

        He’s giving away a free report and video as we speak. Only does it once in a while. Its good stuff: http://www.launches.net/funnel_events/7949?affiliate_number=18414

  • Martyn Chamberlin February 27, 2011 at 1:34 am

    Man I hate you! You’re so good at what you do. I’m filthy envious. This is something Brian Clark would kill to have on Copyblogger. Why oh why don’t you monetize this thing??

    And you’re absolutely correct. I’m the biggest fattest idiot that ever ate a monkey’s uncle, because I’m constantly assuming a bunch of stuff that nobody has the tinniest squattest clue about.

    And your girlfriend’s right about it being a mess.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 1:46 am

      Ha ha. Always good for a laugh Martyn. Thanks for the feedback.

      I hope this post helps some people make some changes to include more beginners on their sites.

      You’re all wrong about the mess.

      ;-)

      1. Martyn Chamberlin February 27, 2011 at 2:04 am

        I’ve been afraid that folks will leave if I get down to the basics. But it’s funny – the posts that do the best are the ones that are extremely simple and straight forward.

        I mean, good grief. Look at Robert Bruce writing that “a writer writes.” That article has over 100 comments less than a week later. From an intellectual standpoint, the simplest idiot can understand it, which is why it did so well.

        So Blog Tyrant. You’re immaculate about stripping out clutter around here. So why on earth do you have that “By: the Blog Tyrant” on each post when we know for a fact you’re not accepting guest posts? Kindu ironic. Guess you just like to see your own name a lot.

        Blog Tyrant’s your real name, right? :p

        1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 2:24 am

          Ah, touché. But do new readers know that I don’t take guest posts?

          1. martyn February 27, 2011 at 3:10 am

            Nope, they don’t.

            But new readers are stupid. They’re not smart enough to wonder who wrote the post. They’re like, “Duh, this is Blog Tyrant. Of course he wrote it.”

            Readers are dumber than you think. I’m going to have to write a post called that some time, just to straighten you out. Goodness.

            Ok, my humor’s getting so dry you can hear it crack mid air. I’m gonna put this under my pillow and go to sleep.

  • Leigh February 27, 2011 at 1:52 am

    Cool tool if you want to test your text for readability:

    Most casual audiences are reading at the 6th-8th grade level.

    It’s also important to note that the average online reading level is between 6th and 8th grade level. Here is a handy dandy free online document readability tester:

    http://www.online-utility.org/englis/readability_test_and_improve.jsp

    I’ve tested this post and it comes out to a 9th grade level of reading. Not too bad.

    Also,if your readers are low-literacy users know that they read and process online information differently than your typical F pattern scan.
    http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20050314.html

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 2:34 am

      That is an incredible tool! Thank you.

      Leigh, do you think people should write to those lower reading levels or does doing so negate the usefulness of your content?

      1. Leigh February 27, 2011 at 3:23 am

        BT, I think it really depends on your readership. If you have a group the enjoys thinking and reads for pleasure then you should aim high to keep them satisfied.

        I wrote a bit about this on my blog earlier this week. I see readability as an extension of UI/UX.

        Pacing is important. To include new readers you can organize your content by level of expertise, as in creating a “New to Blog Tyrant? Start Here” section.

        Oh, also when developing a new project bloggers can create “personas.” These help you figure out who might be visiting your site — and let you speculate on how will they parse the information they find.

        I look for creative, divergent thinking so your “Science,SARS,Blogging” article hooked me in :)

        1. Brandon Yanofsky February 27, 2011 at 3:49 am

          I actually disagree with ever writing at a high level. Rarely is it needed. Back in college, I read a book by a sociologist who took entire paragraphs from academic dissertations and reduced them to one sentence so anyone could understand. And it kept the meaning.

          The most famous writers are ones with simple writing styles (jd Salinger for instance). Writing at a higher level limits you to certain people.

          Writing at a lower level makes your ideas available to everyone.

          1. Leigh February 27, 2011 at 4:31 am

            Perhaps, but there is more to higher levels than sentence length and structure. Linguistic subtly and cultural references help define your cohort and allows for greater creative expression.

            You like Salinger, I like Pynchon. You read your recluse I’ll read mine.

            That aside, I agree though that it is ideal to have a piece work on many levels. When I go to a kiddie movie I sooooooo appreciate they include jokes for the adults.

  • Ande Waggener February 27, 2011 at 2:18 am

    This is something I’ve had conversations with fellow marketers about, but it’s something I tend to forget in the day to day grind. So I appreciate the reminder. Not only does it help me choose topics and slants on those topics but it also gives me confidence on the days when I have those moments of doubt about what I’m offering. So thanks!!

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 27, 2011 at 2:25 am

      No worries Ande. Glad it helped.

  • Trishan February 27, 2011 at 6:03 am

    I agree with you BT. Another proof that most readers are new is that I keep getting the same queries in the comments.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 28, 2011 at 12:20 am

      Good point Trishan.

    2. Dave Starr February 28, 2011 at 1:11 am

      Exactly on point … I get questions, I write blog posts in answer to those questions. I get the same exact question, I write more answers, I get the same questions … obviously, a big part of the problem lies in my communication skills .. always an issue … explaining concepts takes talent, and work, and maybe varying techniques.

      But a large part of the problem has to be that people can’t find/don’t see those answers. And the standard linear layout of blogs are a horrible place to ‘find’ information. Plenty of opportunity out there for ‘something different’ in the design world … becuase blogs with high levels of content become very hard to navigate.

  • Sergie Motiev February 27, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    The rules you quote generally apply to many aspects of life and business, communication and relations.

    People who understand what you say are for sure very intelligent gentlemen per se.

    I greatly appreciate reading your blog, although I’d say I’m not “in the market”. It’s all about more depth and interest in life.

    Stopped by just to thank you. Go on, please.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 28, 2011 at 12:07 am

      Thanks Sergie.

  • Stuart February 27, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    There are some points here I agree with, yet I don’t agree with others. And the points I agree with, I’d word them differently.

    I agree with you about Point 3, most readers are new, and they don’t know the ins and outs of your site. But I wouldn’t say they’re stupid. I try and make things simple for any new visitor, make sure that all pages are linked to from the homepage. But this is what I’d expect from any site, it’s helpful and friendly and invites the readers to come back again.

    What I don’t agree with is Point 1, most of the readers aren’t technically ‘beginners’. My website is personal development, about life, and only babies are beginners at life. I agree about Darren Rowse’s statement, yet just because we’re beginners in one niche, doesn’t mean we’re beginners in all niches.

    I also don’t agree with Crazy Frog. I thought that was ‘epic shit’ marketing, even though I couldn’t care less about the actual tune :-)

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 28, 2011 at 12:11 am

      Hey Stuart. Thanks for the comment. Just regarding point 3 I don’t think I ever said they were stupid.

      Regards to point 1, on a personal development site wouldn’t you agree that people are beginners in relation to the information they are searching for?

      For example, if I Google “how to beat a coffee addiction” doesn’t that mean I’m a beginner in that?

  • PSD Posters February 27, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    The ‘Crazy Frog’ was really really annoying but I’m sure they made a mint from it and I reckon I’d be able to sacrifice some of my morals (and tastes) if it made me that much money ;)

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 28, 2011 at 12:12 am

      Tastes, maybe. Morals, I don’t think so. Crazy Frog was annoying but he wasn’t hurting anyone. I think that’s probably the border for me.

  • Dahlia Valentine February 28, 2011 at 1:43 am

    Hey Blog Tyrant!

    Last year I did a lot of ghostwriting as a guest blogger for my clients. Before I wrote my articles I always did a lot of research on the targeted blog, which included checking out its popular posts. I also kept a pulse on the popular posts of competing blogs.

    It was always so amazing to see how the most basic of topics were being ranked as popular posts. For example, GigaOM is a top technology blog, that I believe is geared towards early adopters and people ‘in the technology loop.’ Yet in 2010, one of their top blog posts was “10 Simple Google Search Tips.” It’s a basic tutorial on how to search Google.

    I think it’s always worth throwing some beginners material out there, even if you think your blog is for more advanced users. It doesn’t have to be an everyday thing. Just enough to give beginners an incentive to be there.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 28, 2011 at 1:52 am

      Great insight Dahlia. I’ve noticed that on a few blogs as well.

      Now I’ve got my thinking cap on!

  • Richard G. Crockett February 28, 2011 at 3:51 am

    I’m doubt the Mencken quote is literally true. Certainly, many people have gone broke thinking people are stupid enough to buy what they are selling, but what Menchen was really saying was that overestimating intelligence was catastrophic.

    I notice you and your commenters did differentiate between intelligence and ignorance, and that was good to see.

    My own experience tells me to craft things n the simple terms. Here’s an example, try and write a story that has a protagonist, an antagonist, a plot with a story arc, and a resolution—in six words.

    Here’s an Ernest Hemingway one: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

    This is like writing good ad copy. You tease the smart ones yet please the, er, not smart ones.

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 28, 2011 at 4:44 am

      Brilliant.

  • Rachelle February 28, 2011 at 4:40 am

    Oh, I have another one with only five words, even better than Hemmingway.

    Esoteric grammar: blog, goodbye :)

    1. the Blog Tyrant February 28, 2011 at 4:43 am

      You guys are too much.

  • chris February 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Your article is a great reminder that any time we have a mental block about “what do I write today” then a new method of brainstorming is asking the question;

    “What process can I walk a visitor through so they will find the process easy to perform?”

    Examples;
    How to install a wordpress plugin (site dev blog)
    How to properly sharpen a knife (cooking blog)
    How to write an author block in 5 simple steps (copyrighting blog)

    1. the Blog Tyrant March 2, 2011 at 12:12 am

      Perfect.

  • Daniel February 28, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I’ve been on the internet for so long I had forgotten that a lot of people still just check their email and log off. Some people are even still on dial-up! Thanks for bringing me back to reality. I have just started my own blog a couple weeks ago and didn’t really give the navigation much thought.

    I appreciate everything you do here, I’ve read quite a few articles and they are all great. I found you from problogger, by the way. Keep it up, I had subscribed and look forward to reading your new posts.

    1. the Blog Tyrant March 2, 2011 at 12:13 am

      Thanks Daniel. Glad you like it.

  • mike February 28, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    i like the points about navigation. i’m feeling inspired to take a new look at my navigation and rework the items that I have in my header navigation and then maybe clean up my sidebar.

    very good post. i’ll probably reread this to motivate myself to write some simpler “how to” type articles as @chris mentioned above. good brainstorming exercise.

    1. the Blog Tyrant March 2, 2011 at 12:12 am

      Thanks Mike. Appreciate it.

  • Simon March 2, 2011 at 12:07 am

    Mmmm a rather eye opening thought here. I do my best to make my site “newbie friendly”. It hurts to think of my sidebar as a cluttered mess lol. But you are totally right.

    I created a page on my blog with a series of videos showing people how they can be involved. I showed them how to submit comments, sign up to RSS & newsletter, sign up to face book and the reteet / digg / SU buttons. Will see how this makes an impact – if any.

    I had also toyed with the idea of a fixed homepage, and in light of your diagram of where people come from, I am going to give it a try. I will use that static page as a directory of everything going on in my blog.

    Has anybody tried this? I would be interested to know if it has a history of success or failure.

    1. the Blog Tyrant March 2, 2011 at 12:11 am

      I use static pages on a bunch of my smaller niche sites and they work pretty well as long as they serve to direct people to helpful articles, etc.

      1. Simon March 2, 2011 at 12:53 am

        Yes that is what I intend to do. It will actually take a fair amount of work to get this up and running properly so that is why I would like to know if it is worth it. Cheers

  • knowledgenotebook March 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    “Its like getting upset with your preschool son for not knowing how to do algebra”, are most of the web users just like that? At that level?

    A problem I see is, “Equal Attention”, that is, many treat every website with equal attention, and that’s not wise, and here’s the reason why. One needs to differetiate what is Important and what is Not That Important, and allocate more attention to the Important ones and less atentions to the lesser.

    1. the Blog Tyrant March 4, 2011 at 12:08 am

      How do you determine who is less important?

  • Tom March 3, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    You are completely right here. I think that many readers are much dumber than we think and that in itself makes us dumb.

    1. the Blog Tyrant March 4, 2011 at 12:08 am

      Just means we are still learning I think…

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