Something I Learned Today.
One of the rather enjoyable parts of my job (and I should know, I’ve written about it before) is that I get to spend a lot of time thinking about why people consume the media that they consume. Part of doing that in a way you can actually manage means building up systems that make it easier to sort through massive amounts of information.
One of the first tricks I learned when I started out working with smaller teams was that while every founder wants to run a brand with national reach, the truth is getting to that threshold is expensive. I think because it’s so great to celebrate the successes of others, there’s a lot more attention paid to the wins — makes them seem more common than they are.
It takes time. It takes an investment of resources. It takes persistence.
The truth is, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense for a lot of businesses to bother with it.
So, I pulled a window of traffic recently, and I spent the better part of this afternoon updating our lists of media sources out of those offices.
That was a journey and a half.
I think the first thing that stood out was just how much great work gets produced by people who have no discernable internet presence. It’s really a shame, because articles like those are really bad candidates for aggregators. They’re like dead-ends for traffic.
The next big thing that stood out to me was just how cluttered some of these sites have gotten. Taking a walk through the landscape of traditional publishers and smaller regional outfits is like going on a tour of the last 20 years of ad tech.
If you’re really trying to load 20+ tracking widgets, the time has long come to look at tag managers. If I’m having trouble loading a site on a desktop with 16gb of RAM, I can’t help but wonder how bad it’d have been trying to get the news on my phone.
All told, I’m finding that it takes me about an hour to collect a state’s relevant sources. I’m averaging some things out. Smaller states and states with very consolidated media markets are much faster, intricate markets much slower, but the truth is that’s not unsustainable. That’s a good clip.
While I might like to think that everyone could take a day a month, I had one real advantage doing this I hadn’t thought about for today.
I spend most of my time maneuvering around media. I know where to look to find who wrote something and where to look to find out why. I know how to browse without a layer of adtech and how to zero in my search on what I’m looking for — but if I were just looking up a random thing, like say, what I needed to know about which infrastructure initiatives were getting prioritized or changes to a school board election process…I might not think to bring that context with me.
Nor would I think to go back and cite those events were I to conduct the search in reverse when I say, wanted to know why a certain candidate won and another lost…(to pick on that school board example.)
You can still spot places where someone is working hard (like say, C Jones Voiklis) and just hasn’t quite captured the attention it’s bound to. (I say ‘it,’ because I know exactly what % of each class at each grade school I went to across the country read “A Wrinkle In Time” and it’s a lot higher than this follower count would suggest.) But being truly “undiscovered,” really isn’t the problem for as many people as you’d think it might be.
If you’re producing great, local, relevant content you’ve got to think a little more broadly about how you put it out there. I picked a little on that school board race, but the truth is if you find yourself saying “no one cares about this,” you’re probably right about where you want to be and instead need to take a step back and look at how you’re distributing content.
I can find scores of readers online fired up about the race, and they’re just as frustrated that “no one is covering” the stories they care about.
It’s a shame really.
This really made me think a lot about something that happens with clients that ask for “SEO.” Many times, they’ve hacked together a collection of articles about a whole slew of keywords that they heard were important or related to their topic. Over time, the searches for those keywords have slowed down and traffic has suffered.
The trouble is, this happens with ‘real,’ words, too.
If you’ve ever called an “attorney” a ‘lawyer,’ or a “physician” a “doctor” (or even more tasteless or “ambulance chaser” or “sawbones”) just to watch the cringe you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The words people use in everyday speech are just different from the words they use in other contexts.
When you need information to cross those contexts, I think that means that somewhere, there’s a little bit of extra work for someone to figure out where a bit of information like an article might be most relevant.