Three Common Failures in Online News: Are You At Fault?

Howard RauchFor most B2B publishers, electronically delivered news content is becoming an increasingly important part of their output. The potential rewards are substantial. In theory, any B2B e-news package consistently delivering relevant, high-enterprise, fast-paced, exclusive content should dominate its competitive space. But the evidence suggests that few if any e-news staffs are up to this challenge.

I’ve come to this conclusion over the past two years as a result of two studies I’ve conducted of 100 sites and more than 1,000 e-news articles. The studies focused on B2B e-news from well-known trade publishers and included totally staff-written content as well as mixes of aggregated and staff-written material.  Early results from my third 50-site study of e-news delivery confirm that high quality remains in short supply.

What accounts for this poor showing? Of the eight common factors I’ve identified, three in particular stand out:

1. Lack of enterprise.  Most industry bloggers insist that content generated should be exclusive—information unavailable elsewhere.  This distinction, which should seem obvious, is a key to way to score points in marketing presentations involving competitive match-ups. But in the 1,000 articles I reviewed, 65% of them showed no evidence of enterprise. That is, I found no indication in the article that an actual telephone or e-mail exchange occurred between editor and source.

2. Longwinded sentences. A key to readability, especially online, is to keep sentences short and to the point. But in many stories I’ve reviewed, the authors show a fondness for verbose and wandering sentences. In too many cases, parades of 35- and 40-word specimens were the rule rather than the exception.

3. Insufficient links. The internet is by its nature an interactive medium. That makes it all the more perplexing how rarely B2B e-news includes embedded links. The typical usage when links do appear is on the short side—three to five words.  Higher-scoring sites in my studies use longer links—sometimes full sentences—to reflect a value that encourages visitors to click through.

If you’re responsible for e-news, how does your site rate in these areas? And, perhaps more importantly, how does it compare with that of your competitors?

For a better-informed handle on whether your content is best of show, try a “Like-Item Analysis.” This exercise involves a comparison of articles posted by you and the opposition that cover the same or similar events. In many cases, the results may reveal that neither you nor your competitors can claim bragging rights.

You may not be pleased with this outcome. But an honest assessment of how your e-news ranks is the first step to improving it.

Howard Rauch is president of Editorial Solutions, Inc., a consulting firm serving B2B publishers.  He recently completed Get Serious About Competitive Editorial Analysis, a 50-page manual.  It offers a detailed, quantitative system for assessing the competitiveness of editorial content. Three hours of consulting are included in the purchase price. For more details, e-mail or call (201) 569-7714.

The Fix-It Alert: Eight Keys to Better Online News Writing

Howard Rauch

Any Internet search for advice on “writing for the Web” will produce thousands of advisories.  All of them are useful, but to judge from my recently concluded study of 50 B2B Web sites, their advice is widely ignored by e-news writers and editors

How does the news writing on your B2B site measure up? Using a simple “fix-it alert” scoring system can help you answer that question.

For the study, I analyzed 446 articles on the basis of eight factors I’ve found to be essential to effective e-news writing:

  1. Impact. How important is the subject of the article to target readers? Is it of urgent interest, or is it just filler?
  2. Enterprise. How much digging does the story represent? Is the article just a warmed-over press release, or did the writer seek out fresh information?
  3. Direct quotes. Does the article include original, direct quotes from key news sources?
  4. Fast-paced lead. How many words does it take to get to the key point of the story? Better leads get there in fewer words.
  5. Readability. To assess this factor, I recommend the Fog Index. A Fog Index grade level is derived via a calculation involving average sentence length and words of three or more syllables. To ensure readability, the Fog Index grade level should not exceed 12.
  6. Average sentence length. Although average sentence length is a component of the Fog Index, I’ve isolated it here because so many e-news writers thrive on endless sentences.
  7. Article word count. In general, successful e-news stories are short, though the ideal length will vary from one Web site to another. My study is based on a preferred maximum length of 750 words.
  8. Embedded links. Hyperlinks are what the Internet is all about. If your writer doesn’t work at least one link into the text of the story, it’s not a true e-news article.

These factors are fairly obvious and should not be subject to argument.  But for some reason, these editorial basics—particularly readability and average sentence length—seem to be a foreign language for the low-scoring sites I reviewed.

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