What you can learn from Demand Media

November 15, 2009

Thanks to D.B. Scott and Graham Scott for pointing me to a recent Wired article on Demand Media, a company using proprietary search analytics to create article and video ideas/titles – then corresponding content – to overpower the internet (and Google) with the answers to people’s very specific questions.

Demand is focusing on quantity over quality, and I’m not suggesting you go that way. And focusing on SEO at the expense of other traffic sources is in my opinion shortsighted. But there are a few thing that branded media sites can learn from Demand:

Give your readers what they want
There’s no room online for the pet projects that no one actually reads. Even if you think an article/series is the best thing ever written, that’s not worth much if it gets a fraction of the traffic of the rest of your site. It’s simple math: with limited resources, put what you have toward what has the most impact.

Don’t be afraid of going niche
People search for the oddest things – and it’s information they really want. So don’t think you have to regurgitate the same old mass-audience content year after year online. That’s why we have archives. Build a good base of evergreen content, then branch out into the more specific and esoteric. Demand, for instance, claims to have done well with the search phrase “Where can I donate a car in Dallas?” Think of (and research) what similar keyword phrases are a good fit with your brand and site.

Don’t put in more effort than you need to
I’m not saying you should sacrifice quality – far from it. I’m a strong believer in having your website meet the print product’s standards. But only to a point. You don’t need to spend hours tweaking every word on the screen. Make it good and then move on to the next project. And this is especially true of video – web video doesn’t have to even come close to TV production standards. Why waste the time and money?

Aim for trust
It may seem like Demand is spewing out content with little care for how good it is (and I’m sure that’s sometimes true), but there’s still a lot of trust inherent in their brand. Take YouTube, for example:

[Google] has struggled to make money from the 19 billion videos on YouTube, only about 10 percent of which carry ads. Advertisers don’t want to pay to appear next to videos that hijack copyrighted material or that contain swear words, but YouTube doesn’t have the personnel to comb through every user-generated clip. Last year, though, YouTube executives noticed that Demand was uploading hundreds of videos every day — pre-scrubbed by Demand’s own editors, explicitly designed to appeal to advertisers, and cheap enough to benefit from Google’s revenue-sharing business model. YouTube executives approached Demand, asked the company to join its revenue-sharing program, and encouraged it to produce as many videos as possible.

The bottom line? Demand knows what it does and does it well. Can you say the same for your site?

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