Media companies are publishing too many stories
There’s too much content on the web. Every day, millions of blogs, videos, podcasts and other content are published by creators all over the world. Online readers simply can’t consume everything, and they don’t want to. This overload of stories is inevitably making people more critical of what they consume. Google is their friend. They’ll search for anything they’re interested in and then move on to the next thing, hopping from story to story – not caring who wrote it.
Now that reader revenue is becoming a more valuable business model, getting readers to notice you and become returning (and hopefully loyal) visitors is especially important. This will cause some publishers to adopt the following strategy: just keep on churning out more and more stories, hoping that the sheer volume of what they offer will help them to stand out.
Allow us to keep you from wasting your time: that is probably the worst thing you could do. It’ll just make you spend valuable time and resources on stories that no-one is going to read. And yes, we have data to back this up.
Not all news stories are equally valuable, or popular
Hold on, this may hurt: the majority of readers are only interested in a small percentage of your content. About 20%, on average. This means that the other 80% of the news stories you’ve put time and effort into are just sitting there, mostly unread.
Why is this? Well, there are many possible reasons. In some cases, the content is not unique enough, leaving stories to compete with similar ones from hundreds of other publishers. It may not match the interests of the target audience. Or the SEO is not up to par, which means that people searching via Google simply can’t find the stories. In addition, there could be an issue with
- Story perspective
- (lack of) video/audio/images
To make the most of your online presence, you need a more balanced output.
Save your writing efforts for the stories that are worth it
The journalism industry is changing, and your priorities should shift with it. Let’s go against the grain and write less to achieve more. If your goal is actual audience engagement, be more selective of the stories you want to write. Choose only those topics that match your brand or the interests of your audience. Part of this means literally writing less. But it also means limiting the amount of subjects you cover. As Jeff Jarvis says: “cover what you do best. Link to the rest.”
This prioritisation will free up time on your hands to do some things really well, creating value that your readers will appreciate, instead of doing many things without focus which will lead to bland, identity stripped content.
Limiting your efforts to a selection of stories is especially worth it if:
- You don’t have enough journalists to cover everything
- You’re working to establish a strong brand identity that potential subscribers can connect with
- You want to create relevant content for multiple platforms through an omnichannel approach – and do it well
- Your goal is to increase the loyalty and engagement of your audience by writing more articles that they care about.
In other words: if you want to do things right and offer real value with every story, give yourself permission to do less and focus.
Ask yourself this – is it more important to write about absolutely everything that is going on, or to produce quality content?
Ultimately, the decision should be linked to your business goals. What type of content do you need to achieve it and how much time does that require?
Have a brainstorm in your newsroom to come up with the 5 topics you believe are the most important to ‘own’ and cover. What truly belongs with your brand? Where do you want to make a difference? Once you have these 5, drill down and determine what sub-topics and areas of interest belong to them.
Let’s say Art & Culture is one of the 5 main topics that you want to get recognised for by your audience. Drilling deeper will get you ‘street art’ or ‘pop music’ or ‘subsidies for art projects’ etc.
As a final step, list the ingredients of your brand’s ‘special sauce’: the distinct characteristics that your brand or news coverage brings to the digital stage. What makes your audience decide to ‘consume’ the news articles on your platforms? It could be the interesting perspectives you choose for your stories. Or maybe you always add humour, or smashing graphs. These are the things that your audience recognise and will grow to love. Whenever you cover one of those most important topics, always ask yourself: ‘How can I add my special sauce to this topic for my audience’? That will help you create more relevant, and better valued, articles.
Writing more relevant content
Now, let’s move over to those stories that do get pageviews. Your most popular content. The stuff that readers come back for, that drives loyalty, engagement and subscriptions. What if you could write more of that, or do it even better?
Go deeper with follow-ups
You know what happens when you keep tapping into new topics, discussing something briefly and then moving on to the next? You create story orphans: stand-alone articles on topics that are just touched upon briefly and then let go. They aren’t explored any further or followed up over time.
Articles that dive deeper can actually be pretty valuable for your readers. People may want to know about the backstory of a certain event, read an explainer for context or learn how similar events unfolded in a different, comparable situation. The trick is to create follow-ups with different perspectives on the same subject. The best part is that you can link these together with tags to keep people on your site and engaged for longer.
Explore different story perspectives
So, instead of giving the same breaking news updates as every other outlet, you could explore the topic further. Is there a unique angle in which you can cover this news fact? If so, exploit it by creating interesting follow-ups from a different perspective through the news user needs approach. We’ve discussed this in great detail in other places on this website, and we highly recommend you take a look!
What the user needs model offers news publishers is six different perspectives to cover the news – five complementary approaches to sit alongside the usual ‘update me’ articles. By focusing on covering one topic in multiple ways, you can create a nice comprehensive content piece that invites people to click through, thus heightening attention time on your website. Choose your subjects wisely, and always make sure that the subjects you’re choosing to cover matches your brand identity.
This does not mean you should stop covering breaking news, or unpopular stories, altogether. Maybe you have an important public task as a local broadcaster. Your job is to report and inform – not just on the interesting subjects, but also the important ones that are very much related to your brand or region.
After all, if you’re a news organisation, your job is to publish news – especially if it’s breaking.
Your reporting should be original and valuable, but also comprehensive. (And remember to always make it more valuable for your audience by asking yourself questions like: ‘what makes this news relevant for them?’, ‘how will it affect their lives?’, ‘why is it important they know this?’ etc.)
Provide value on multiple channels
Online publishers should meet their audience where they are. Not just on your own platforms, such as your website, app and newsletter, but also other channels that your target audience is active on. This could be social media, but also forums and other platforms.
The trick is to not treat all these channels as different silos, but attempt to create synergy between them. This does not mean you should use them all to drive traffic to your website. See them as additional opportunities to engage your online audience and provide value to them. Be smart about this though: there’s no need to come up with something new to talk about on every channel. The idea is to do less, so think of ways to reuse content.
Choose a format that matches the channel you’re using, such as video for Facebook, images on Instagram and short explainers on TikTok, for example. Once you’ve found what formats work best for each channel, transforming news stories into omnichannel gems will be a breeze.
Stories that match your brand – and your audience
- To divide your pageviews more evenly over the articles you publish, it’s important to be smart about what stories you do and don’t write, and treat every story with the attention it deserves. Don’t leave your topics hanging after one story, but see if you can explore different perspectives in follow-ups and create a story around that story.
- Always be mindful of the fact that your readers expect you to provide value in every publication, no matter the channel. They want to read more about the topics that are relevant to them.
- The best way to produce valuable and relevant content is when you prioritise the stories that match your brand.
Make sure you understand your brand DNA, as well as your audience, and you’re more likely to publish stories that hit the mark. How do you want your visitors to recognise you? Giving your stories a distinct character that reminds the reader of you will take more work, but ultimately it’s worth it because readers will feel more connected. And that has all sorts of other benefits, such as loyalty and engagement. Give yourself that time.
Republished with kind permission of smartocto, the world’s most actionable editorial analytics system offering a bird’s-eye view on The Story Life Cycle©.