How Techmeme could fuel growth of regional tech blogs (like this one)
On Thursday, our story on Dwolla's new feature, "Instant," yielded our highest traffic day ever, an important accomplishment to cap off a major year of growth for Silicon Prairie News. By itself, the traffic was cause for celebration, but more important to our team was how the traffic came about. It was the result of carrying out the core of what we do, covering a company in the Silicon Prairie startup community.
We have the tech news aggregation site, Techmeme, to thank for the high traffic. And over these past few days I've been noodling on how we, a regional tech blog, can aim to have Techmeme to thank more often.
The right ingredients
Following our Silicon Prairie News Holiday Meetup on Wednesday, I returned home around 9 p.m. to get back to work on a story that promised to be the biggest yet for Dwolla, the "tiny Des Moines startup" we first covered in November 2009, a month before its initial launch.
To craft my story, I had plenty of ingredients: two lengthy phone interviews, two embargoed press releases, two graphics, two headshots and, of course, an unreleased icon for Dwolla Instant, the feature Dwolla was introducing on its blog at 10:30 the next morning.
When that next morning came around, I was running on little sleep, so my memory is a little blurry. But I remember one thing clearly: when the clock hit 10:30 we published our story, tweeted it to our followers and posted it to our Facebook wall.
Twitter's search results for "Dwolla" feature a "Top Tweet" of The Next Web's story. Screenshot from twitter.com.
At 10:31, I searched Twitter for "Dwolla." One retweet of our tweet… another one, nice… a tweet with The Next Web's story, then TechCrunch's story and then Business Insider's story… OK… another retweet of our tweet, score!
As the news of Instant was reported across tech blogs and other media outlets – more then 10 initially picked it up – our story was getting dominated by major tech blogs.
A regular reader of Techmeme, I began checking the site around 11 a.m. to see if a Dwolla Instant story had been posted. No story yet.
For those unfamiliar with Techmeme, it's a news aggregator that posts the most recent and important tech stories. The site is continually updated by a staff of editors, and each news item has one featured headline with bundle of other stories or tweets, called "Discussion," below it. Sometimes a headline is flanked by more stories and discussion, called "Related."
Techmeme bills itself as the "web's technology news site of record," and it was recently called "the best voice of the tech industry" by Robert Scoble. For tech news nerds like myself, it's a daily staple.
To our chagrin, Silicon Prairie News (SPN) has barely made an appearance on the site.
Thanks to a recent behind the scenes blog post from the site's founder, Gabe Rivera, I gained a better understanding of how its editors find and select the headlines it posts and, best of all, features. One medium of discovery is Twitter, and Techmeme recommends sending a tip by ending a tweet with "Tip @Techmeme." So, at 11:56, I tipped my own story.
At 1:11 p.m. it hit Techmeme. Best of all, it was a featured headline.
Screenshot from techmeme.com
Our traffic instantly jumped, my Twitter mentions went crazy (Techmeme includes the Twitter handle of the author in its tweet) and I received a text from Dwolla's director of communication: "Techmeme!!!!"
It was both out first featured headline on Techmeme and Dwolla's first appearance on the site.
In Rivera's blog post, "Revealed: Why Techmeme links to them instead of you!", he gives a short intro and then provides a long list of "Dos" and "Don'ts" to land a story on Techmeme. "We want the stories we link to be satisfying for our busy readers," Rivera wrote, "and therefore clear, well-written, correct in any factual claims, succinct where possible, and supported by links where appropriate."
Here was our advantage as a regional tech blog site covering a local startup: we established a strong relationship with its co-founder even before it launched, and since it launched, we've covered it closely. For our story on Instant, we were the only tech blog to present interviews with Dwolla's CEO and a representative from its partner financial institution that ultimately made the feature release a reality.
To use an analogy from the sports world, think of a regional tech blog as a beat writer – a reporter assigned to cover a particular team – who should tell the best story following a game because that beat writer follows the team day-in and day-out and can provide better insight about the game in the context of the season as a whole.
It's regional tech blogs' game to lose
Granted, there are not a dozen Dwolla Instant-type stories we have the opportunity to cover each week. But there is an increasing amount of startup and funding activity taking place in the region we cover, the Silicon Prairie, and in other emerging startup scenes.
More and more, I'm seeing us cover startups that have a higher level of national interest, such as early funding, notable founders or, best of all, a disruptive technology.
For example, it was thanks to an existing relationship in February that we were the first to cover a startup that was co-founded by an employee of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City. By early March, that employee, Bo Fishback, had quit his job and raised $1 million for his startup, Zaarly.
When Zaarly launched two months later, we hit Techmeme for our first time as part of the "Discussion" section. The first time Zaarly appeared on Techmeme, two months prior, was after it was first covered by TechCrunch, which was more than a week after our initial coverage. Looking back, with our relationships and understanding of Zaarly, we should have been the Techmeme featured headline the day Zaarly launched. The headline was ours to lose, and we lost it.
'Techmeme's a meritocracy'
"We try to show what's, like, the most relevant, the most essential stuff you need to know," Rivera said in a This Week in Tech interview on December 9 (left, screenshot from ustream.com). "And because some sites get more scoops than others, because they're more connected to what's happening and they have better sources or whatever, some show up more than others. And that's fine, there's never been, you know, there's never been equality in any kind of media space."
The show's host, Leo Laporte, replied: "It's a meritocracy."
"I'd say Techmeme's a meritocracy," Rivera said, "given what our goals are and how we want to appeal to readers in the way that they need. I think our standards are fair."
GeekWire is setting the example
A new regional tech news site based in Seattle came onto the scene in March and quickly climbed its way up the Techmeme Leaderboard, a coveted top 100 list generated by the number and presence of featured headlines an outlet gets on Techmeme. The site, GeekWire, was founded by two veteran tech journalists to, as one of them wrote on launch day, feature "the personalities, innovations and companies that matter to the Pacific Northwest technology community."
With its knowledge and relationship of the region it covers, GeekWire churns out an impressive number of posts each day. With frequent posts on Seattle-based companies Microsoft and Amazon, along with coverage of other companies, GeekWire currently stands at a notable No. 35 on the Techmeme Leaderboard. The only other regional tech news site that makes the top 100 is No. 87 TechAU, an Australian tech blog.
What this all means
When Silicon Prairie News launched in July 2008, Twitter was our main distribution channel outside of our RSS and email subscribers. We've since added Facebook and LinkedIn (although we don't manually post each LinkedIn story like we do on Facebook), to our distribution list. These are the places online that we look daily to share our important stories and, ideally, gain new regular site visitors, RSS or email subscribes.
But I'll be honest, our content isn't always important to a large audience and these channels, as others outlets have covered, are beginning to be cluttered with noise.
That's where the value of Techmeme lies. When we published our Dwolla Instant story, we felt it provided a clear picture of the feature. But when we shared it in the social media sphere, it was quickly trumped by the others. Three hours later, however, it became a featured headline on Techmeme. Within 24 hours, it became our most-read story of all time.
It's interesting to compare our Dwolla Instant page views with those of Business Insider, which makes its numbers public on each story. As of today, Business Insiders' story has recorded nearly 9,500 page views, and ours has received 5,300 page views. By comparison, that's a strong showing for us. Business Insider's first interview with Milne received nearly 780,000 page views. All our past Milne interview and stories' page views combined are a fraction of that figure.
Though our traffic will ultimately be less than that of Business Insider, TechCrunch or other major tech blogs, there are four things that motivate us and I hope are motivating the other regional tech blogs:
- We're dedicated to building a startup community in the region. Consistently covering individuals within it rapidly accelerates connections, idea generation and encouragement to take the leap to entrepreneurship.
- Our regular traffic, though smaller, represents our targeted audience. It's good to remember the cities we cover have a smaller population than the cities in which major blogs have their headquarters.
- More Dwollas are on their way. Many startups will fail, but some will gain traction and some will ultimately succeed. Having the relationship with these companies pays dividends when news breaks.
- Sites like Techmeme are picking up more of our content and delivering it to a mass audience. I look at Techmeme as the best syndication deal ever: write quality content that brings clarity and context to an important news story, and you're likely to end up on Techmeme.
There's one more item to motivate: thanks to the factors mentioned above – a supportive community, local site traffic and startups to cover – we're generating revenue and building a business, like the startups we cover. Hopefully, we'll stick around long enough to make the Techmeme Leaderboard.
In March, I'll be joined by three other regional tech blogs on a South by Southwest panel, "Think Global, Blog Local: The Regional Tech Blog," to discuss this topic and others relevant to our niche. If you have feedback or comments, please share them in the comment section below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you're a content creator, I encourage you to read Rivera's blog post: "Revealed: Why Techmeme links to them instead of you!"