Forget about controlling a corner of the web; put your stuff where the readers are
I have long thought that the best way to build a web presence was to embrace reality rather than compete with it. YouTube is better at video serving than I am. Blogger, Tumblr, and WordPress make consistent pages on a more stable platform than a series of HTML pages that I can build in Dream Weaver. iTunes can distribute a home made radio or TV show for me. Flickr and Picasa will host my photos and give me slideshows. And why would I try to build a forum community, when there are already communities at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter?
If you can’t beat them, join them
And there are bazillions of other third-party sites that can solve problems for you right now for zero investment. SmugMug allows you to open a professional photography store. Google allows you to
serve text ads (with ad sense) and even nice looking display ads (with ad exchange).
I’d have to be crazy to think I could outsmart, or out build, any of those platforms. I am an editor, not a developer. Besides, when people are looking for videos, do they go to YouTube, or do they go to (and then search around in) whatever site I am managing? (Hint: they go to YouTube).
A presence on the aforementioned sites, with a consistent look, and a single home page at the center, is a fast, easy, and effective way to build a professional presence at very little cost.
I used to believe all of this stuff, but I forgot about it–or gave up talking about it–because publishers with websites focus on traffic to the domain name — it is all about page views and uniques. Ancillary traffic to sites that are not owned by the publisher are wasted effort — nice marketing maybe, but not something that makes money.
I used to believe all of that stuff, then I forgot about it. But now I think it again.
People in publishing have to stop being control freaks
Editors, web developers, publishers, producers, and others in the publishing world too often get hung up on trying to control, categorize, and assign rules to types of content (and everything else). I understand that I am a ‘big-picture’ guy who is willing to make a little bit of a mess that will need to be cleaned up later in order to get something done. I am not just recreationally lobbing insults at colleagues who behave differently than I do. And I fully understand that I need at least some of my ducks in a row in order to make stuff happen. I also know that things are changing rapidly, and If we sit on our hands because we cannot control everything, we are totally screwed.
In print, everything needs to be buttoned up tight so you can ship a magazine every month. Magazines NEED to have templates that deliver both predictability and surprise to readers so that there is a snappy consistency to the brand. It is the whole point of magazines.
A magazine is a snappy little companion (best friend?) that people carry into the living room, flop down on the couch, and dive into. Hopefully, they surf, snorkel, and dive into the magazine, because that is how much care WE put into making those magazines…
Dude, she’s just not that into you anymore
But a funny thing happened on the way to the living room. The phone ‘plooped’ when someone posted to Facebook.
When the phone went ‘ploop’ the magazine went ‘plap’ onto the coffee table. If the magazine were fatter with ads (like the old days) it would have ‘plopped,’ but because magazines are so thin, they ‘plap’.
For those keeping score, it is Ploop: 1; Plap: 0.
Your old (best?) friend just found a new one. Even if she says she still likes you when you send her surveys. She’s just being kind and softening the blow.
Pretty soon, she clicks from Facebook to Buzzfeed. Next, she hits Google News to see if the Supreme Court overturned gay marriage (it did). Too bad the awesome news on your website isn’t in Google News… Next, she’ll go to email where LinkedIn will ask her to approve a new connection. When she does, her old pals will show up looking for endorsements, she will endorse them, hoping for some in return. Pretty soon, all of your time is used up, and she hasn’t even read your cover lines.
The water is boiling in the kitchen now. Your magazine stays on the coffee table, and the phone goes in her back pocket as she heads for the pasta in the pantry. Pretty soon a plate of spaghetti sits on top of the magazine, the TV is on, and she’s surfing her phone again. Man, sucks to be you, Mr. Magazine*. You are at the bottom of the pile.
A newsletter is in her inbox now — hopefully it is yours, but realistically, it is someone else’s — let’s pretend it is yours. She scans the headlines. She clicks through to the stories, and then backs out to the newsletter again to look for more stories—because it is a hassle to navigate around your site, and she is just looking for new stuff anyway. She can’t be sure that if she clicks around in the old site, she’ll get new stuff, and she hates reading articles only to find out that they’re three years (or three months) old. So she goes back to the newsletter for good stuff to click.
You’re doing it all wrong
She has no idea that she is messing up the bounce rate of the ‘website’ when she does this. And if she did, she’d think you’re nuts for measuring something as stupid as whether she navigated the articles the way YOU THINK she should navigate them. Articles are articles. If there’s a newsletter hitting her mailbox when she wants it to, then why does the ‘home page’ of the ‘website’ matter? The newsletter IS the home page of that particular day, or week.
Your magazine is toast and your website is not being used the way YOU think it should be. Your competition is not whatever the clone of your magazine is, your competition is Amazon, Facebook, Linked In, Google News, Buzzfeed, and every other thing that competes for her time.
After you come to realize all of this stuff, you wonder: “What if web sites were really just piles of articles that fed information to readers through a vast web of sites — Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buzzfeed (if you’re lucky), YouTube, iTunes, RSS feeds, Pinterest, newsletters?”
Now you’re thinking like a pirate, Cap’n WebHook.
Considering that home pages account for a meager percentage of traffic, is it really such a wise investment in your time to spend piles of effort on them? If 93% of site visits are through pages other than your home page, does it make sense to work on standardizing those pages to be great reader experiences rather than trying to keep tweaking the home page into being a storefront for all of the stuff we publish? In other words, if you have 2,000 side doors, why are you painting the front door?
*Not you, Samir