John Frost asks:
"In this post-frontpage era of digital journalism, what should the homepage look like? What are the absolute essentials?"
This question made me immediately think about the way that I develop content for this blog, and find myself incredibly embarrassed. It's funny, you can see "best practices" not being utilized in content elsewhere and be completely oblivious to it when it comes to your own regurgitation.
Nevertheless, let me try to answer the question. It is my belief that that users digest information for different reasons. I don't think this is a demographic issue, but more of a, "how am I wired to digest media?" issue. Persona development works in some cases, but I don't think it is a ubiquitous standard.
First and foremost: A magnetic headline that will additionally act as a supporter to your SEO is ESSENTIAL! Think of your headlines like concentrated orange juice — just a little goes a long way.
Next you need to understand that different audiences digest content in different ways. Here are some examples:
The skimmer is the individual that wants to compartmentalize information and get a summary of the post as quickly as possible. This is the new-world equivalent of the "Cliff's Notes" seeker. More often than not, they do not want to take the time to read the entire post. I also see this behavior in digital commerce. I would refer to this type of buyer as "the hunter."
Next we find an interesting type of content participant. One that intends to distribute or share messaging from sites. This type of individual may be cultivating content to redistribute for multiple reasons, including but not limited to:
- Category expert, or obsessive (see: "Cats" on the internet).
- A perception play of establishing thought leadership by aligning themselves with a particular topic. This is most often an attempt to establish credibility/notoriety in a specific vertical These types of individuals might dive into actions such as, creating large interest boards about a particular topic, or writing many blog posts about one specific attribute or position.
- If a topic has limited deployment, the content could be a campaign transition, or entry point into a creative story arc.
- But most often, you will find yourself as a re-distributor. We, by our very nature, are attracted to friends, fans and followers that are aligned with our likes and viewpoints. Therefore, those individuals will share content that we will simply redistribute to our own followers. It's not sexy, but were all just links in the content chain. When was the last time you posted something for the first time? No, I'm not talking about your trips to Utah, nor your last child's birthday.
Last but not least on our trifecta of readers we find ourselves face-to-face with people that actually want to learn, research or fully digest the directive of the author. As fucking crazy as it may sound, they are actually interested in what you have to say. I say that with all the honesty in the world, thinking right now that someone might be reading this. Nevertheless, do your very best to construct an environment where your audience will take away "a complete circle."
What is a complete circle?
Complete circle is simply to properly explain, elucidate or educate an individual about your particular topic in a thorough enough manner that the content becomes encapsulated. I'm certainly not saying that you can't have a multi-part blog post, as I often do. Nor am I saying that you cannot leave your content open ended for purposes of creating discussion. But what is important for the modern-day journalist is to have constructed a complete voice, tone and consistent manner that your audience will want to participate in return to.
CNN article page example:
So now that we have a better understanding of these three types of audience members, let's break each one down quickly and go over some essential guidelines on how better to construct content for them.
For the skimmer, do your very best to construct an opening that will provide a foundation for the remainder of the article. Now you may be asking yourself, "but what if they don't like the topic?" Trust me when I tell you the skimmer will respond by eagerly skimming for more content within your blog if it is presented this way. This will increase dwell time, and often give aging content a refreshed look provided that it doesn't take long for this individual to find what they want. The skimmer also likes quick graphics that are easily understood. Large photography that correlates directly to the content at hand, and basic metrics that summarize the article, as well as resources for them to further their knowledge if they choose to do so.
As you would suspect, the sharer wants something to share. This individual craves things like infographics, videos, and links to additional resources. It is also in your best interest to deep-link to previous posts within your own content if there is a direct corollary. Stuff – they want stuff! Give them videos, photo galleries, links to your other social resources, slideshares, whitepapers and so on — making it easy for them to redistribute to their own channels.
Do your very best to construct content for the learner, because this reader is the most likely to engage. Someone that is sincerely trying to learn/research a particular category will more often than not post comments or seek you out in alternative social channels to further that engagement. Create open doors within the content for further conversation. Other topics, additional resources and ways that the learner can further their pursuit of the given topic. Ask questions of this audience, but do so in a way that allows them to be their own expert and give you valid feedback in return.
Think of the learner as the sharer on steroids. Not only do they want things to share, but they want a lot of it. This type of reader does not mind long articles as long as they stay on point and create the full circle. Prioritize your content in such a way that the most important points are still at the top of the page. Then as they work their way down into the content, present them with deeper information more rich granularity of the topic at hand.
So what should the homepage of a digital journalist look like? It is my opinion that in a perfect world, content should be constructed in a multifaceted approach. Different types of quadrants would engage the point of your content in the ways they are most willing to connect with. Think of things like automotive manuals. Some people want to see a photo of how something is accomplished, while others want a step-by-step approach.
Are you creating multiple ways for people to interact with your content? If so, or if not, I would love to know why. Please feel free to reach out. I look forward to engaging with you in the future.