StateImpacters, you are making us so proud with all your quality content and great attitudes. Now that our first three sites have been live for more than a month, it’s time for a progress report to see where we are at and where we can improve. Newer states — it’s never too early to get into good habits.
I thought the best way to do this was for you to have a list of questions framed as challenges for your site. I broke them down in various vectors — production, promotion, particulars and habits:
Are you posting more than the bare minimum?
As the manager in Office Space said about wearing pieces of flair, “Now, if you feel that the bare minimum is enough, then okay. But some people choose to wear more and we encourage that. Okay?” Three posts a day is the bare minimum. Be aiming for five to seven posts a day.
A lot of them are easy because they are curatorial, in that they are something on your beat that you introduce with one line, highlight a block quote from it, link back, and bam, you’re done. Once you begin to develop a community, call-outs to that community will be key as well. At least one of your daily posts should reflect your enterprise reporting or analysis, and that should be your feature of the day. And that is the defining type of content for our journalism brand, and leads to my next challenge…
Is your daily feature original and unique?
Solid analysis will trump even breaking news, both as a hook for an audience and as a way to keep them engaged. If you don’t want to take my word for it, take Nick Denton’s:
We can take ownership of a story even if it isn’t a strict exclusive. In case of both Tiger and Peaches, other sites (the porn star’s site and Reddit, respectively) carried the original material. But we added context and packaged the stories up. […]
When remotely possible turn news into explanation. Straight how-to and why stories — such as Kotaku’s excellent Farmville guide — obviously resonate. But you can turn a news story into an explainer, as Lux did with the sexting scandals.
Are your headlines written in a way to attract audiences?
What makes for a good headline – focus on implications, not events; numbering is narrative. Matt Thompson even has a list of words that can make for particularly compelling headlines.
Are your posts visually compelling and different from one another?
You have Getty images at your fingertips, and your own camera to take original photos. Take advantage of those and the deliberate design of the sites to help promote visual variety. You’ll find an emphasis on imagery in most of the highest-trafficked corners of the Web, and it’s no coincidence. Make sure your posts almost always have compelling featured art. If you think your topic is tough to illustrate, consider the plight of Lifehacker, which has to routinely come up with images to enliven subjects like productivity-boosting and time management, or Mint, whose blog features an image alongside every single post on personal finance.
Are you tagging each post with the most relevant, specific entities, names, and organizations mentioned in the post?
Tags are how your posts are classified. They power the Mega Menus across the top of your sites, and every topic buildout knows which posts to show based on what those posts were tagged. Classification/strong tagging also enables a number of methods to promote related content. Modules on post pages might serve up popular or recent content around the post’s category. The Huffington Post goes bonkers over topically related content, presenting a flurry of classification-driven headlines and images at the top and bottom of each article page. You see related posts under every post page of yours, which is powered by tags.
Are you building out all the tags you use the most and the new tags for developing stories?
The topic pages should reflect the thought we’ve put into creating collections of content that will be valuable to users. And they should hook users coming from search engines into serendipitous streams of relevant related content. “Every time a Web surfer runs across a topic page that’s essentially a gussied-up Google search, an angel loses her wings,” my Argo partner Matt says. So don’t let that happen. Some of you are great at this, creating multiple new buildouts a week. Some of you are less aggressive about buildouts. Go for broke on this. These topic buildouts are going to be THE place where random searchers land on your page, so give those new eyes an experience worth sticking around for.
Are you changing out your featured tag buildouts on your home page?
Readers get bored and start ignoring things that stay static too long. So even if you arent changing the topics you feature in a given week, change out the art for them, or the headlines. But ideally, you are in a constant rhythm of changing out your featured topics on the homepage so that those topics reflect the posts you’re writing about in a given time period.
Beyond all the Twitter and Facebook promotion that should be a built in part of your workflow, there are also miscellaneous ways you can be promoting your work. Some suggestions from our Argo partners:
How well are you building promotion into content-planning?
I’m looking for evidence that you’ve thought in specific terms about who should know about particular posts, reflected in your Facebook updates and tweets about posts, and in call-outs in the post itself.
What sort of spontaneous, miscellaneous promotion have you done?
Emails, meetups, appearances at conferences, conversations with other folks on your beat, and other things you do to discuss your work with others who’d find it interesting. There’s no formula for this.
What’s been your outreach to and interaction with other overlapping web communities?
For every site, there are other sites – typically numerous – delivering interesting information on related issues. Are you a participant in these communities? Is there a sub-Reddit or a HuffPo section for your beat? Other places on the web where your crowd gathers? And do they know you exist?
Is your copy clean and typo-free?
Clean copy is key in establishing our credibility out of the gate. Quality matters for people. Take pride in it.
Have you had a peer or editor read through your banner posts to check for errors?
Elise, Matt and your station editors are around if you need us.