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Five trends among top tech websites

The increasing power and pervasiveness of technology ensures that major news outlets like CNN and Forbes now place tech news right alongside their political and economic coverage. So for a website that focuses only on technology, it’s a daunting task to face off against larger news outlets with dedicated tech sections. Although methods may differ from site to site, here are some approaches tech websites have developed to keep them from being lost in the white noise:

1. Cult of personality

One of the first trends of a lively tech website is that the writing staff is front and center, with photo and voice ringing clearly throughout the piece. Andrew Nusca, associate editor of ZDNet, says they were actually surprised by how much their readers were drawn to writers with clear personalities, opinions and styles. “That’s why we put the pictures of our writers right at the top of each blog and story – people seem to care more about who wrote it than what they wrote about,” he said in an email interview. “By focusing on our voice and not scoops, we prevented our content from becoming a commodity and instead helped it become an asset you can’t replicate.”

2. Relying on their readership’s social media skills

A social media savvy reading community helps to promote content and spread tech sites’ reach even further. Given that people who regularly read tech sites are Internet-savvy to begin with, they easily and frequently comment on articles and repost them to social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. This goes hand in hand with clearly identifiable writers, because they encourage readers to become more invested in pieces and spread the site’s content to their own networks.

3. Offering mainstream news

The content of articles is also important. Of the successful websites sampled, most covered a variety of topics ranging from professional to casual tech news. Even sites like Network Computing, which focuses heavily on the professional IT industry, occasionally dabbles in more mainstream or consumer-focused tech topics that touch on BlackBerrys, iPads and more.

4. Authority, not just headlines

Both Mike Fratto, editor of Network Computing, and Nusca of ZDnet point out that any site can cover newsworthy topics. But a rapport and sense of trust with the audience is established by providing analysis and opinion from experts and professionals. “We go beyond covering news and press releases, which anyone can read, and find out what is interesting and write about it,” Fratto said in an email interview. Nusca takes a similar view: “Long-term publications rest on authority and voice, not topic.”

5. Know Thy Audience

Successful tech sites are also keenly aware of what their audience is looking for when it comes to their site. Not being focused enough or having rapid changes in tone can turn readers off, which is part of the risk and reward of treading new ground. “We’ve experimented with green and emerging technology and a few other topics,” said Nusca. “But we’ve spun many of those into a new brand, SmartPlanet, that accommodates that viewpoint (optimistic, futuristic) a bit better than ZDNet’s authoritative, analytical approach.”

So while larger outlets may hit the highlights of the broader technology industry, smaller tech websites are discovering the flexibility they need for the long haul by finding an audience and speaking to them through a strong staff that has authority and produces unique content.

— Nicholas Testa


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