Really, who ARE you talking to?
Arguably, this post covers material that you should consider before starting your web site or blog. Can I just say “site” from now on? Thanks. Of course, you can rebrand or reinvent your site as you reimagine it. (I’ll use some more content free buzzwords later.) All sites rebrand and reinvent, or they become – or remain – irrelevant. It isn’t necessary to tell people you are doing that, just move forward with it.
There is an interesting intersection between what you want to say and who you are talking to. And the third factor is delivering on your readers expectations.
A quick note – since I have food sites, many of my examples will revolve around food sites, mine, others, real and imaginary. If you are into other topics, you’ll have to think of your own examples.
So, getting back to the theme – who are you talking to? If you’re just talking to yourself, that’s OK. But it is a bit like.. ahhh… . other forms of self-gratification. You can do it far less expensively if you just type into your editor and either save or don’t save the files. You can even use a pencil and paper and spare yourself the cost of a computer, as well as the cost of a web host. That will save you a lot of money and aggravation. No matter what the vendors claim, all computers and all web hosting services are sources of aggravation.
If you want to talk to other people, you have to deliver something they want to read. And that’s not always easy. And it helps if you’re not just a “me too” site, echoing the viewpoints of other sites with a similar focus. If you’re the same as the other sites, why would people go to your site? I’m not suggesting that you be different just for the sake of being different – then you’re just a grumpy old man site. And that’s MY schtick.
Social media gurus, web design gurus and writing coaches have long suggested you imagine your typical reader or fan. They suggest actually making, or finding, drawings or photos of these people and writing their biographies. Name them. Them? Yeah, you DO hope to have more than one fan, don’t you?
Think about where your imaginary fans are in their lives. If you’re running a food site, here are some possibilities. Sally, the young professional who is short on time, but loves to cook and eat well.
Martha, a working mother who is worried about feeding her family well, but has time and money constraints.
Phil who recently retired and has enough time, and money, to enjoy cooking anything he wants, and what he wants is what other people think of as “off the wall.”
Sandy and George, a middle aged couple who enjoy cooking and entertaining and are always looking for new food ideas to wow their guests.
LaToya is a young Black woman who’s trying to get back in touch with her culinary heritage.
Inge, is a German exchange student visiting the United States. She never cooked much at home, but now she is trying to cook foods for host family that remind her of home and to also delve into the different foods she is finding in the States.
Wolfgang is a professional chef who is looking for inspiration and wants to keep an eye on what the competition is doing. Maybe you’d like to work for Wolfie? Probably not.
Albert is into eating bugs and thinks we should all eat bugs – they are the most efficient converters of plant material into animal protein, They’re crunchy and he says they taste good.
These are the barest of skeletons, but you can, and should, fill out more details and imagine what will appeal to your imaginary fans. You may decide that you can’t really reach out to all these people. Maybe you don’t have the background. Maybe you don’t have the interest. You need to decide what your beat is. As your site gains followers, you can test your ideas in different ways. We’ll talk about how to test your ideas in future articles..
So, what are your typical fans into? What appeals to them? Are they “just the facts, ma’am” types who would prefer you explain everything in 140 characters or less? Or do they love flowing prose, content to read the afternoon away? When you have an idea of who your fans are, you can answer that question a bit better. I get lots of complaints that my articles are too long. However, I also get at as many comments thanking me for taking the time to really explain things. In my page on “Starting a Starter My Way“, I have 4 tabs. The express instructions for people who don’t like to read, detailed instructions for people who want to understand what they are doing, a photo essay for people who want more pictures, and a starter troubleshooting tab. Probably overkill. I should check my web statistics to see which tab gets the most hits.
So… what are you saying? Is the site about your bragging? Like pictures of me and my beautiful girlfriend? If people come to that web site, chances are pretty good that they really aren’t looking at you man. The hint here is that, even if your girlfriend is amazing, chances are the page won’t hold people’s interest for long. And that’s true if the page is you and your hot car, or you and your new airplane, or you and great dishes you have prepared. There isn’t enough depth there, by and large, to keep people coming back.
My wife gave me a book done by an early food blogger. It was a picture of everything he ate for a year. BIG YAWN! Who cares? Well, the book sold, but in the end it was remaindered in factory mall book stores, so while someone must have cared, it wasn’t evidently enough people – and I wasn’t among the group that cared. Like most people going to a food site, I want to know how the foods were made. Give me recipes and techniques, or I won’t be back. A professional chef, like Wolfgang (see above) might look at the food an immediately know how it was made and have some great ideas about how to replicate – and improve – on what he saw. I’m not sure that there are enough Wolfgang’s out there to support a web site. However, as I often say, it doesn’t matter what I think, or what you think, when it comes to social media. What matters is what your audience thinks.
The good thing about the “brag” sites, from the point of view of their creators, is that they are easy to update. Your girlfriend strikes a great pose, you take a picture, and voila! you have an update! You and your hot car is harder to update. So, yeah, you’re burning rubber and making clouds of smoke – but you’re IN THE CAR so it’s hard to get a picture of the event. Maybe your hot girlfriend can take the picture? Of course, you can put a dashcam in the car and show you as you break your old quarter mile record, and what the track looks like when you do. Still… not all that exciting for most people. Your mileage may, of course, vary.
Is your site an autobiographical thing where you share anecdotes? “While trekking in the Himalayas, I happened upon a small village. One of the families of the villagers saw I was hungry and invited me to dinner and let me spend the night with them. They spoke no English and I spoke no Pahiri, but smiles and gestures can go a long way. The dinner was the most amazing goat meat stew. I worked for three months after I got home trying to duplicate the dish. I think I’ve nailed it….” If you have some cool stories, people will be interested. Especially if you share the recipes..
Is it a how-to page? Whether you’re talking about overhauling a carburetor (almost a lost art), how to debone a turkey, how to make cornmeal pancakes, or bake a loaf of bread, people are interested. Pictures really help. As does a good description. While this is very popular, it is also hard to write. It takes a lot of work to photograph the how to and describe in ways that people will understand and be able to replicate. And if you are focused on one sort of food, like bread, you will have a lot of overlap between recipes which can be tedious both for the reader and the writer. How many times to you want to explain how to knead dough? (Hint – one of the strengths of the web is the link. You might only have to explain things well once.) Still, while popular, this sort of site can be hard to do.
Is it a simple recipe site? I have to admit having little interest in such sites. All too often, you find hundreds of copies of the same recipes on each site, and the same recipes on other sites. People who have obviously never made the recipes comment upon them, panning them or praising them outrageously. It can be hard to know if an ethnic recipe is authentic if you aren’t of that ethnicity, or don’t cook that style. I recently saw a :San Francisco Sourdough Bread” that used yeast in the starter and baking soda in the bread. The bread was hideously underbaked. I’ve gotten questions from my readers about the other web site asking, “why is the bread so bad?”. *sigh* The real reason to not do one of these sites, other than there are already so many of them, is that they all stink. Well, maybe not all of them, but most of them. It’s a tough market to get into, and I’m not at all sure these sites help people.
Or what are you saying? You need to think about what you want to say, how you want to say it and who will be interested. Looking online for similar sites isn’t a bad place to start. However, part of the process should be to think about “what can I bring to the table that no one else is doing? What can I do so much better than the other guys that it will seem like a new thing?”
The sites I’m talking about in these notes are what are often called “vanity” sites. You’re doing it because you think you’re wonderful enough that people will want to follow you, or what you’re doing is wonderful enough that people will want to follow you. While you have to have some vanity to want to put yourself out on the web, sadly, most of the time, you’re not really all that. So, who do you think is interested in what you have to say? What will make people say, “oh yeah!”? Looking at what’s already out there will let you know if someone else is doing it already, what they are doing you could do demonstrably better, and who their target audience is. Lots of reality checks there.
Vincent Flanders, at Web Sites That Suck, calls what you need “Heroin Content”. What makes your site so awesome that people will keep coming back again and again and again and again? Ted and PostSecret have Heroin Content for many people. So, the closing question for today is, what’s your site’s Heroin COntent?