Have you ever submitted your well-written, thoroughly-researched article through to an aggregate site and watched it flounder as endless top-tens and ridiculous controversy soars to the top of people’s reading lists? I can identify with you if you’re one of the many suffering from what I’d like to call “aggregate aggravation syndrome.” It’s a tough disorder to crack, but with the right content and the right attitude to summarising and pitching your content to a global, news-hungry audience, this can all change easily enough.
Realistically, it’s just a case of making sure your article looks more interesting than all the others, and I’m sure we’d all love to think it was as simple as that. Unfortunately, it’s not. Your article remains a needle in a haystack, and it’s your job to make sure it reaches the eyes and ears of every single industry-related party and all the genre-disinterested browsers it can. It’s a tough gig but there are possibilities you may have overlooked, and of course, contraversial strategies you may be using that are, much to your shock, having the opposite effect.
Bigger than Elvis
So, say you’ve written a long, sprawling article on SEO, and it encompasses research, interviews, and a level of writing rarely seen since The Guardian was released that morning. You’re happy with the work, MS Word is letting it go without so much as a single squiggly red or green line, and you’re so into your own work that sharing it with the world seems like the only viable option. So where to go from here? Why, to an aggregate site, of course!
Let me explain this logic with a sobering fact. If you’re blogging, right now, on a WordPress.com account, there are over 300’000 new posts today alone. That’s somewhere in the region of thirty new books full of articles, and you know at least one of them is likely to be similar to yours over the course of the week. Three hundred thousand. Let that sink in for a moment. What chance does yours have, even with tags and that awesome graph you made in Excel? Not many. In fact, one of my highest-traffic articles of all time on my personal blog was a random rant about a LEGO version of a Harry Potter videogame. A year or more later, and it’s ranked thousands of hits, and it was never submitted.
The point I’m making is that the internet is a seriously fickle thing. Take a look at the front page of Digg and tell me what you see. Today, for example, there are a range of articles, but most of them focus on three key elements of global-appeal news: danger, drama and pictures. If we drift into the technology section, as this is where you’re far more likely to turn up (or browse – all news bar the exclusive is, to some degree, regurgitation), then we begin to see a different pattern: humour, heated debate, and leaked intel on new tech. The reason the pattens change is because as news and articles become more specialist, more niche, readers are absorbing writing whose mindset, tone and texture more closely reflect their target audience.
I’d just like to say a few words
Every time you write a new article, think of how you’d pitch it as a freelance piece. I’m serious. I know no one wants to voluntarily pitch freelance pieces ever again if they can avoid it, as it’s something of a humiliating, degrading, grinding process that kills the soul and maims the ego. But it’s also a brilliant acid test – if you could pitch your article to me in ten words, using as much or as little jargon as possible, I can tell you whether or not it’ll work. Let’s take a look at a few high-ranking examples of more opinion-based pieces.
Now, to start with, I found an article that I think is relevant to anyone who works on websites that use Adobe’s wonder-project, Flash. The title is “Is Flash Dead? The Future of Adobe’s Plug-In.” Now, this is a fairly controversial thing to say, but what’s clever is the question mark placed after the opening statement itself. This is key – if you’re debating something about social media, and you had the choice between “Twitter is Pointless” and “Is Twitter Pointless?”, choose the second option. The reason for this is you’re posing as a neutral party, even if this isn’t the case. The decision as to whether or not to invest ten minutes reading an article of considerable depth and debate, and then responding in the comments thread, is often one made in the opening few moments of reading an article’s title and subtitle. By phrasing the controversial statement as a question, it invites debate without inviting wrath or apathy and zero click-throughs from offended parties who see you as a prejudiced commentator.
The second example I’d like to give as a great example of effective aggregate-site-management is “Fortune 100 Companies Leveraging Social Media (Infographic)“. Now, this may seem a tad deep and a little too serious, but this is currently the top Digg article on a search for “social media”. Social media’s a relaxed sport, at best, and not something you can cover without being a little relaxed. This is also a graph site, which suits that industry perfectly – anyone using FaceBook and Twitter is going to want new-age ways of communicating information, and nothing does this better than indicating to them that all they’re in for is a slick diagram rather than 1000 words of prosaic musing on the subject.
It also has stick figures.
Seriously, though, it’s a great way of dragging people in. Entertain them. Tempt them. Make them curious or make them mad, and let them click through to shower you with praise or hatred. One of the most irritating sites in the universe, in my games journalism days, was also one of the most successful, because it kept encouraging heated, angry debate between Sony loyalists and Microsoft fan-soldiers. With social media, why not talk about the advantages of Twitter over Facebook, or why Bebo’s a lost, pointless art? Tempt them in with your tag-line the same way you would if you were designing a film poster, and watch your Diggs soar.