McCracken: Experimentation Vital to Web-Launch Success

Photo: Katy TomasuloBy Katy Tomasulo
President, Washington, D.C. Chapter

In 2008, Harry McCracken left his long-time role as editor-in-chief of PC World magazine to launch Technologizer, a Web site devoted to technology news and reviews. McCracken admits he didn’t know whether Technologizer would take off. But he got his answer pretty quickly: Within a few months of launching the site, readership climbed from zero to 500,000 unique visitors.

At the ASBPE Digital Symposium Nov. 6, he offered up some of the tips and lessons he’s learned so far:

  • Informality reigns on the Web. Treat it like a conversation by utilizing opinion and analysis, addressing the reader directly, and encouraging visitors to chime in with commentary.
  • The smaller your site, the louder you need to be to be heard. If a hundred other sites are covering a story, you won’t get the clicks unless you are either first or are offering a fresher take/analysis.
  • Don’t overthink SEO (search engine optimization). McCracken uses common sense for headlines and URLs by thinking about what people will type into Google when looking for information. For example, by using the headline “Firefox 3.5 Review,” his article on the release of the latest version of the Firefox Internet browser landed at the top of Google searches.
  • Don’t write for Google, particularly the idea of putting a keyword in the article dozens of times. “If you use the word ‘laptop’ [repeatedly] in a 400-word story, people are going to know you’re not writing for them.”
  • But don’t neglect Google, either. McCracken stressed that it’s not as complicated as some make it out to be. Avoid industry jargon and use words that real people use (e.g., use “laptop” instead of “notebook”), a task the Google Trends tool can help you figure out. Read Google’s own advice on making your content Google-friendly and apply to have your magazine’s articles indexed by Google News.
  • Practice “Link Love,” a golden rule principle of linking unto others as you would have them link unto you.
  • Reject the notion that only short articles work on the Web. While attention spans are shorter, “Content should be as long as the content justifies,” McCracken said. Technologizer features both long and short items, as appropriate. Short chunks are ideal for getting stuff up fast, for example, but he still has pieces that take longer to develop, just as in print.
  • Experiment. Experiment. Experiment. Pay attention to metrics to see what topics are of interest, and see what people are commenting on and asking for. “The best way for you to learn is to give it a try.”

Note: An expanded version of this article will appear in the November/December 2009 ASBPE Editor’s Notes member newsletter.

Katy Tomasulo, president of the Washington, D.C., chapter of ASBPE, is deputy editor for EcoHome, Building Products, and ebuild.com.

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