Online content development often becomes focused on what drives the most clicks to an article, but too much of a focus on clicks becomes pandering.
Pandering undermines the credibility of a Web site. Visitors start to lose confidence in the quality of the site as a result. The practice is not much different than the old bait and switch technique.
Traditional media newsrooms at newspapers and TV stations debate every day what stories should appear on page one or at the top of the news program.
They sometimes erupt into fierce debates about what stories to play at the top and how to present them. The headline, the photos and any adjacent stories become subject to debate.
A common content development strategy has developed for many of them that combines interesting stories with important ones.
Interesting stories tend to emphasize human nature such as personality profiles, quirky behavior, great achievements and the link.
Important stories don’t always attract much viewership or readership. One example is a city council or board of education that passes an annual budget.
But some important stories do attract high readership and viewership such as a presidential election.
Important stories aren’t necessarily interesting, but they serve a good purpose. The readers of these stories are fewer in number. But they are intelligent, well-informed and influential.
Interesting stories arouse curiosity, generate laughter or sorrow and are likely to get passed around via email, social media or just word of mouth.
Content Development Mix
This leads to the concept of mix in content development, which is especially useful for any Web site. A political Web site may find it is best for a long-term strategy to mix interesting with important articles.
The interesting articles draw the clicks, while the important ones serve a higher purpose: the need to know.
That mix broadens the appeal of the site to a wider audience, which in the long run may drive a larger number of visitors who visit more frequently and consume more pages.
Imagine going to a site that has nothing but serious topics, a second site with nothing but light topics and a third site with both serious and light. The third site has a superior content mix.
The end result is a home page that appeals to multiple people, backgrounds and interests.
It’s easy in the online world to determine what stories are interesting. They are the ones that get the clicks. It isn’t so easy to define the ones that are important.
Trust and authority are important site qualities for search engines. Imagine writing a 1,000-word article that cites sources and contains high-quality, original content.
Then imagine it ranks 30th in Google.
But maybe it ranks 30th because of competition. That doesn’t mean that Google thinks badly of it. The article can still develop trust and authority. The links within the article to other pages on the site will carry that authority with them.
An important online article is one that provides depth, accuracy, objectiveness, credible sources, interaction and visual appeal.
It is written by someone with a well-established reputation. This individual also has some level of expertise on the subject or expertise as a generalist who is highly skilled at writing on various topics.
The resulting story will be both important and interesting. What remains is a question about the size of the audience that will find it interesting.
If that audience is large, the site benefits from the number of visitors, advertising revenue or other valuable results. If that audience is small, the article at least adds credibility and authority to the site as a whole.
Putting the Two Together
One story may be highly interesting and drive the maximum number of clicks. A second story may not be as interesting, but if nothing else it signals to the visitor that this site is more than about one topic.
It is not simply trying to become another lightweight media outlet that cares only about ratings (or clicks in this case).
Traditional media still has valuable lessons to teach online media. Develop a content strategy that has a mix of topics, some of which are interesting while others are useful and important.
Maintain the broadest possible appeal. Don’t pander for the sake of clicks.