22 June 2010

Good Read: TV's Dead-End Web Linking

I always get great advice from Graeme Newell on his Ideanet Newsletter, and here's another one geared specifically for web producers and reporters filing their web content. You can find this article and so much more TV marketing advice on Graeme's website, www.602communications.com

TV's Dead-End Web Linking
by Graeme Newell

How can an encyclopedia be so damned entertaining?  I am an avid user of Wikipedia but I have to be careful because looking up a simple definition can cause me to blow through a whole afternoon. Those little magical blue links take me on adventures I never planned to take.  Wikipedia is the alpha standard for web linking.  Each entry typically has dozens of links that allow the user to traipse through the world of information unfettered by form or structure.   Each journey is as individual as the interest of the user.

This ability to link is one of the most valuable characteristics of sticky web sites.  It just makes sense.  The user has already shown interest in a topic and satisfying their need for related information is the best way to keep them on a site.  One of the ways YouTube achieved its incredible popularity was by mastering linking.  It uses sophisticated database techniques to showcase videos that the user finds irresistible.  For example, check out "The World Series of Uno" on YouTube.  An obscure entry, to be sure.  The stickiness voodoo comes from the video list on the side.  Using correlation science, YouTube has mathematically calculated the most irresistible videos for someone who is weird enough to watch a four minute video on Uno.

TV web sites rarely incorporate this kind of linking and typically ignore it altogether.  Dead-ending readers is the norm.  Most articles and videos are "one click and out."  A great web site will take users on a meandering path with a long string of links that dig ever deeper into the site.  The user will rarely return to a central navigation page.  Their search will cross multiple content classes and have a curious structure.  Just like an underground cave system, they just keep turning down another corridor, enjoying a fascinating odyssey with little worry about where they will end up.

Most TV web site journeys rarely go past three or four clicks.  Far too many sites have a majority of visitors who stay for thirty seconds or less.  People zip in, get the info and are off again.  People come to the site for specific information, get what they need, then leave.

The problem is a lack of effective promotion on the page - a disregard of enticing links.  On TV, we put promos inside of Oprah because the flow opportunities are very high.  On web sites, most video content tends to be sorted by media type, not by related content.  We put all the text content together.  We put all the video clips together.  Under the "video" tab you'll find sports, consumer news and drug killings, all right next to each other - three completely unrelated topics that torpedo the chance of linking.

Content should be sorted by demo usability not by media type.  Your printed parenting stories should be right next to the parenting video clips, not banished to the "video" tab.  Next to these clips should be related topics that appeal to women in their 30's and early 40's. For example, what-to-wear weather.  These moms will need this information to send their kids outside.  Next to that, stories on crackdowns at local daycare centers.  Most television weather is dutifully exiled to the official weather page, never to be seen outside its licensed classification. 

Look at this article from the Washington Post.  It was created by someone with a newsprint mentality.  They just slapped unlinked text on the website as an afterthought.  There are no links in the body copy and no help finding related stories.

The problem is most TV web content creators follow the TV workflow when building pages.  Just like a TV show, they put one story after another and expect readers to follow the same linear timeline TV has been serving up for years.  The beauty of the web is its three-dimensionality.  It defies the concept of time because every click has the potential of taking you instantly to any point on the globe.  You can change topics on a dime.  "Six degrees of separation" is reduced to a single click.

Here are some tips for increasing clickability:

1) Have tons of links inside the body of every article.
Writing the article is just the beginning.  Every piece of web content should have many linkable friends.  Set goals for your staff.  Shoot for at least four or five links in every article.

2) Collect research links as you write.
Writers often say they don't have time to find all these links and include them in their web story.  In most cases, there isn't a need to find a lot of new links, but simply to index the links you've already discovered while doing research on the piece.  Use bookmark cataloging services like Delicious to keep track of the specific web site locations used to create the story.  Remember, try to link to information on your own site as much as possible.

2) Use fewer linear tags to index your content.
Most tags follow strict content parameters.  We sort the stories by subject, not by mindset - news, sports, health, consumer, gardening, etc.  Add additional tags that speak to lifestyle, attitude and interests.  For example: rebellion, hope, intolerance, sarcasm and comeuppance.  Expand your list of tags to reflect human interest, not just efficient categorization.

3) Post-roll suggestions
If a viewer takes the time to watch the full duration of a video clip, they are probably fairly involved and ready for more.  Make sure you have numerous suggestions for them as soon as the clip ends.  Just as YouTube does, put links to related clips right inside the video window.

4) Use tag clouds to invite exploration.
Tag clouds show users other categories that might be of interest.  They showcase links they might not have thought of on their own, and help them find related stories.  They are a simple way to suggest related content on your site.

Graeme Newell is a broadcast and cable marketing consultant who specializes in relationship branding using core emotional drivers.  He guarantees that his teasing seminar will immediately increase your news ratings or his workshop is free.  Find out more here.
Graeme Newell
Twitter: gnewell
Facebook: facebook.com/gnewell

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