Make Your Site Known For Signal, Kill The Noise


image credit: cormacphelan

If you’re already publishing on the web, skip the first three points and go to the next heading. But for those just starting out, there are three main types of web publishing:

1) News

Sites focused on news churn out brief snippets of what is happening right now – they’re all in a rush to be first with the big news of the day, as the first to the party gets all the links, attention and focus of search engines and social media. Lots of noise, intermittent signal.

To purely publish news is a race you probably can’t win. Acting as part of the ever-expanding news echo chamber seems like a losing battle, unless you have an incredibly novel approach, ultra-sharp opinions or sources no one else has. Even then it is pretty rough to compete.

2) Personal

These are sites focused on people’s lives or anything they find interesting. Not much focus – it is only signal if you know the publisher personally, if they are a celebrity or they happen to snare your attention with something compelling or out outside-the-box.

Personal blogs are all well and good but most of you reading this aren’t interested in that.

3) Niche/professional

Industry-focused, niche sites digging deep into specific topics: from science to marketing to aviation and all in between. They are focused. The best ones purely have signal and zero noise, because they are targeting an audience specifically interested in those topics. To their readers, it is all signal. News is mixed in but it is purely niche-focused news, and is analyzed in useful and compelling ways by the author. Personal experience is mixed in, but it is all very targeted and specific to the topics and themes presented.

A lot of you reading here don’t just read professional blogs, you keep your own too. You probably also find them more useful than pure news and personal blogs. I’m with you. But you’ll notice a good degree of professional blogs are still not well read and can’t seem to break through to the next level. The problem is a dearth of signal and too much noise.

Your opportunity:

There is far too much noise on the web – we are literally drowning in oceans of information. Assuming you’re in category 3, if you want return traffic, links and recognition, you must relentlessly kill off the noise and focus on signal. Make your site known for it. Eventually people will come to your domain expecting a certain level of content, and you’ll fulfill that expectation. With each visit from a returning user, your reputation will be reinforced. Eventually you’ll go beyond having influence and become an authority on a niche.

There are too many sites that are all over the place when it comes to what they publish. I see no problem with that, but they are potentially ruining their chances of building a referential brand of niche media on the web, especially as the environment continues to mature. Into the future, the noise is going to increase and things will only get busier. An effective strategy for success in an overcrowded environment is to ignore quantity and focus on quality.

Strategies to maximize signal and minimize noise:

Publish only that which is worthwhile

Have a purpose and goal with the overall themes you present and what you want to teach readers in mind at all times. Make sure every post supports your site’s main thesis.

Differentiate

You should already be reading what other web publishers in your niche are writing. Don’t write the same things they are covering on any given day – or if you must, take it from a different angle. Be more useful, more detailed and more organized than them. If you’re the same as everyone else, you’re part of the noise.

Keep the personal stuff on Twitter, FriendFeed, Tumblr or a place you create just for that purpose

Resist the urge to use an audience you have built up in a niche to share personal thoughts. It’s tempting sometimes but they didn’t subscribe to receieve that unless it is truly tied to what you’re writing on. If you’ve got links on your site to other areas of the web you publish at, the people that want to know personal details about you will opt in.

Solve real problems, answer specific questions

Scour forums, blog comments and microblogging sites to find unanswered questions or topics missed by the big guys. You’ll stumble upon a wealth of topics people are actually interested in this way. There is a great amount of power in solving specific problems.

Consistent quality over sheer quantity

Competing with the big sites that focus on quantity is a losing strategy. I would say at most one post a day is what you should focus on to become known for ultra-high signal, especially if you have a day job and writing for the web is not what you spend your 9-5 working on. You probably can’t do more than this realistically and keep up the pace. Consistency matters too, people come to expect new posts from you at the rate which you define. Don’t create expectations you can’t fulfill.

Relentlessly edit yourself

Yes web publishing is raw and conversational – but that doesn’t mean typos are okay. Take time and take pride in your writing, go back and proofread. If you want to be quotable and referenced, your content should be clean.

Link to other beacons (sites with a high degree of signal)

They will see it and eventually link back to you. Sites of similar caliber content create informal networks by linking to each other. Becoming a part of the informal networks in your niche is important to get trust in Google to begin getting search traffic and drawing subscribers. Network with successful sites, make yourself known to them.

Keep your site as simple as possible

There are a few people with complex sites that are successful. I am convinced that their unstoppable persistence won out though. Overly complicated sites with lots of banners and ads are a turn off and don’t convert subscribers. If you have too many actions for users to take, you not only come off looking disorganized but people will shut down and not take any of the actions you want them to. Keeping things simple communicates a high degree of signal and low noise.

Go against popular sites/the echo chamber when they’re wrong

This is a great strategy for producing something with signal – there is a misconception that just because a site is popular, it is always right. That’s not the case, everyone gets things wrong once in awhile. When a big player is wrong, explain why they are. Also don’t blindly follow the hive mentality of the social web. I see no value in echoing opinions which have already been stated. If you don’t have something unique to add, skip it.

Conclusion

The goal with all of this is to make your site a beacon, a blinding light that shines brighter than the rest. In a world where attention is becoming an ever-scarce resource and the volume is increasing, sites with less volume but maximum impact will stand out.

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