Nielsen and Nuts

For the uninitiated, Jakob Nielsen is a usability guru who made his name in the early 90s by criticizing the poor usability of many websites. His voice helped shape the web and is generally respected by just about all in the interactive field and simultaneously despised by designers who consider pushing the envelope a part of their jobs. It must also be said that in the early 90s, it wasn’t that hard to pick apart many websites with regard to usability because the entire industry was just getting started.

On to the topic at hand.

I’m not sure if he just had a bad, long 4th of July weekend, but his most recent “alertbox” posting on his website regarding blogs is screaming out for a rebuttal and is uncharacteristically scatterbrained. It is important to discuss this article because many Marketing VPs and IT Directors who search out advice on any web related subject will eventually come across Mr. Nielsen’s opinion and give it considerable weight.

His summary of the post is this:

“To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.”

That’s a perfectly acceptable concept if your name is Jakob Nielsen and make your living partly through writing thorough, value-added articles for your website.

And it’s applicable for his first example — a top level consultant whose job is to expound on his expertise in person, not for free elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Mr. Nielsen then heads straight into the weeds where he tries to apply that same logic to corporations.

“Weblogs have their role in business, particularly as project blogs, as exemplified on several award-winning intranets. Blogs are also fine for websites that sell cheap products. On these sites, visitors can often be easily converted and the main challenge is to raise awareness. For example, a site that sells pistachio nuts should post as much content about pistachios as possible in the hope of attracting quick hits by people searching for that information. Some percentage of these visitors will buy the nuts while visiting the site.”

That quote has two points I’d like to address:

1. Blogs are fine for websites that sell cheap products?

Mr. Nielsen really should familiarize himself with Granted it’s not a B2C level blog, yet it still makes an impact on consumers via the media. This blog is regularly quoted by many outlets (on and offline) and its importance to the Chrysler Group’s overall communication strategy is vital.

For example. When the Chrysler Group’s VP of Communications, Jason Vines, took big oil to task on a blog post, the media ran with it immediately:

The Detroit News:

USA Today:

And Jalopnik (an auto trade blog that speaks to consumers):

2. “On these sites, visitors can often be easily converted and the main challenge is to raise awareness.”

If Mr. Nielsen could expound on how blog readers can be easily converted, I’m sure every single marketer on the planet would kill for that secret recipe.

Unfortunately, blasting inbound search engine visitors with pages upon pages of detail on your product isn’t likely to be the best way to “easily convert” hits into sales. Those who stay long enough to read it may become slightly more informed but that’s it.

The question is this: Are people really shopping when reading your company’s blog? No. Probably not. They’re getting a feel for your company’s personality, for your commitment to your customers, products and future. That’s what you’re communicating.