If everyone is following a rule, doing the opposite will do at least as well – podcast

on August 28, 2008

Episode nine of the “Be the Voice” podcast stars Harry McCracken, editor and founder of Technologizer and former editor in chief of PCWorld magazine.

Summary (Harry McCracken):

  • Want comments on your blog? Lead off with an opinion than straight reporting.
  • All websites need to be works in progress forever. Adjust to what people read and don’t read.
  • PCWorld realization: Almost any story can be done as a list. And if it’s done as a list, people will read it.
  • There’s an abundance of “news” out there. It’s a commodity. Get seen by offering your take on the story.
  • Very few tech sites do really good reviews of Web services.
  • Often if everyone is following a rule doing the opposite will do at least as well.
  • Don’t assume if you build something people will come. You need to start the conversation, prod people, and invite people in.

Full article:

Harry McCracken by Brian SolisHow to quickly launch a brand new tech blog

Harry McCracken, former editor in chief of PCWorld, left the magazine to launch a brand new tech blog called Technologizer. Launching a brand new tech blog for money is a scary proposition given the abundance of competition in the tech blogging space and the audience you need to amass before you can start reaping a decent income.

But McCracken wasn’t starting from point zero. Having decades of tech journalism experience under his belt, thirteen of which were at PCWorld running the mothership, McCracken already knew his audience of tech enthusiasts. He also knew how to write compelling articles and eye-catching headlines. And he also knew what did and didn’t work online. Even though “Technologizer” is a new brand, “McCracken” isn’t. Thanks to his years at PCWorld, Harry McCracken is well known and well respected in tech circles.

When I spoke to McCracken, he was only seven weeks into production of Technologizer and already he was drawing thousands of readers a day and his posts are commonly featured on Techmeme, Gabe Rivera’s metablog that finds hotly discussed stories for the day.

Technologizer is more tightly focused than the editorial of PCWorld, said McCracken, concentrating more on personal technology. But as McCracken realizes, “All websites need to be works in progress forever…I will adjust what I do based on what people read. And I will do more of the stuff people care about and less of the stuff people don’t care about.”

Revenue for Technologizer comes through advertising which is being handled by Federated Media who also manages advertising for top tech blogs like TechCrunch and GigaOm.

When I asked what it took to get that much attention so quickly, the initial advice was obvious. You have to look at the news sites (e.g. Google News, Digg, Techmeme) and see what are the topics that are attracting people, said McCracken. He then picks hot stories that fall under his ever-evolving editorial mandate and adds his spin. There’s a lot of “McCracken-style” opinion on Technologizer and that’s what defines the brand. Technologizer is not a news site. That’s a commodity, believes McCracken.

“I never want to be generic. I always want to have my take on things. And by doing so I want to invite my readers to share their take on things,” said McCracken. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that on a lot of my posts I’ll get dozens of people responding. And some of them will agree with me. And some of them will disagree with me. But I’m starting a conversation and that’s far easier to do when you lead people off with an opinion rather than straight reporting.”

Dealing with the competitive overabundance of tech blogs

McCracken’s goal is to reach out to a much broader audience of tech enthusiast. Even though sites like TechCrunch and Scobleizer are extremely well known with the tech elite, they don’t have that same general audience penetration as did computer magazines (e.g. PCWorld, PCMagazine, and PCComputing) did in the 80s and 90s. McCracken is hoping to achieve that kind of recognition with Technologizer’s opinion and writing. He knows he’s never going to compete with sites like Gizmodo and Engadget in sheer volume of content. Those sites can crank out 40 to 50 posts a day. Even more during CES.

Brewing the editorial for Technologizer

While McCracken doesn’t think he’s going to be developing year long investigative or reader survey articles like he did at PCWorld, he does spend time developing his posts taking as long as a day for a single post. Most successful tech blogs have a team of journalists and McCracken knows that Technologizer will need to extend just beyond himself. He does plan on bringing on more talented journalists to write in the style of the blog. In addition, McCracken plans to more tightly tie in his community section (powered by Ning) with his content.

Almost any story can be done as a list

McCracken and I got to talking stylistically about how he writes posts to draw traffic. McCracken admitted to the PCWorld tactic of always putting a number on the cover of the magazine when his editorial team realized that “almost any story can be done as a list,” said McCracken, “And if it’s done as a list, people will read it.”

Headlines and stories should be clear, quirky, funny, and/or a little off beat. “Because if Intel announces something, there will be fifty stories with a really boring straightforward headline, if yours is a little more fun, people will read on,” said McCracken as he wants the site to be less formal and he’s willing to be silly from time to time. I mentioned the blog Good Morning Silicon Valley for which I think is the model for funny tech headlines.

Very few tech sites do really good reviews of Web services

While there are many sites that will play with a new Web service for five minutes and write a “review” there are actually very few that will do an in depth analysis. It’s one of the editorial mandates at PCWorld that they had to do solid tech reviews for their audience. McCracken feels that reviews will be a differentiating factor that makes his site more successful because in a lot of tech categories you simply can’t find them.

From zero to thousands of readers a day in just seven weeks

Here’s Harry McCracken’s advice on how to grow your blog audience quickly:

  • Start with content your audience would care about.
  • Dive in and don’t stress out. Get over your fears about negative feedback. The Web is an informal medium and typos can be fixed unlike his days working in print.
  • Don’t get entranced initially by search engine optimization. “If people don’t care about the content, none of that stuff matters,” said McCracken.
  • Ping people who do other blogs that might care about the content. Often they will link to your content.
  • Use social bookmarking tools and community sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Yahoo! Buzz, and Slashdot
  • Don’t assume if you build something people will come. You need to start the conversation, prod people, and invite people in. Robert Scoble with Scobleizer is very successful this way in that he’s always engaged in the comments. It’s an area McCracken knows he needs to spend more time.
  • Don’t get hung up on the “rules” of success on the Web. It’s possible to break every single rule on the Web and still do well and you can follow every rule and be an abject failure. McCracken points to the “rule” of posting on Monday and Tuesday and only post in the morning. McCracken has actually had his greatest success on a Sunday and he’ll often post in the afternoon because that’s when people are often NOT posting so he’s not cluttered by all the other “noise” online. “Often if everyone is following a rule doing the opposite will do at least as well,” said McCracken.
  • Add a lot of opinion, ask for feedback, and don’t require people to register to comment.
  • Don’t be afraid to promote your own stuff, as long as you’re above board about it.

Technologizer set to launch

Technologizer is still in soft launch phase now, but McCracken plans on making a more public announcement in September where he’ll bring on more journalists plus offer a rating system for his reviews.

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