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Publishing: changing realities (IV)

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How does a writing agency market itself effectively in a cyber reality that's bursting with free content? Writers these days are having a tough time competing for business. The game is complicated and the rules are changing.

The mini culture of ezine publishing is quite representative of the wider internet; if you write an article about your very own writing boutique, you generally are expected to submit it in the category labeled 'writing'. But the difference between this and other categories is that writers selling their skills as a product are virtually talking into empty space. Where other categories have a tangible target market directly at hand, writers submit articles about writing.

Writing about writing in order to purposefully market yourself is okay if you want to give advice to newcomers to the trade, but you don't attract any immediate clients this way.

In contrast to all the other categories that have real, often tangible, goods to sell to people who need them, writers market themselves to website developers by directly addressing the issues that concern them, and tend to just ramble on and on about the art of writing instead. A rather pointless exercise unless you've already missed your vocation and confuse sound writing with teaching.

A writer likes just to write about reality in all its facets and I can hardly imagine there's anything more tedious than to write about writing. Unless you have a psychological defect which forces you to continue to talk in metacommunicative terms ad infinitum, but there are not many such people around. I wonder what the defect is and am already itching to research the topic, and write something about it and ? yes, what? Publish it for free, hoping someone will read the byline and say; 'one more please', or, in a wilder dream: 'We'll put you on a monthly retainer if you write a few?' It happens this way, but you have to be lucky. Yet, our traffic numbers simply dictate we flush the 'net with more free articles we believe is an illogical waste-your-brain exercise.

What is the right path for someone to still sell writing skills?

These are the options:

a- Create RSS, XML feeds and syndicate to news services;

b- Prop up the output by including extra resources on existing topics that get good traffic;

c- Regard incoming links as search engine rank boosters rather than direct mega traffic generators;

d- Expand the online presence to include direct marketing, job bulletin boards, forums;

e- Invent something ludicrously insane to get attention and then capitalise on it like crazy.

Ad a- In the time frame of the last six months, I have cringed, bit my teeth and published articles for free on real topics including politics, culture, features, health. They have been posted in a host of freebie ezines, a few highly reputable professional special interest publications and our own ezine which is already RSS compatible. We also publish a ranting and raving blog which is a highly contrarian piece of mostly political fabric that is truly optimised for all outlets in the blogosphere too. It's worked miracles for our traffic.

Ad b- The output is however still too low to attract continuous traffic. It makes sense to see what the most popular topics have been and expand the coverage by including RSS feeds from other sources and create boutique style news packages out of them that are so specialised they beat the news aggregators. Read our other article The Grassroots of Publishing ? And the Beyond.

Ad c- Targeting the market for content writing by producing solid examples honing the trade remains key, especially because it creates incoming backlinks. These are the so-called non reciprical backlinks which are famous for propping up your rankings in search engines.

Ad d- Small agencies can mimick the news industry without too much trouble and provide better, tailormade, products. They have to ride a fine line however by not abandoning their natural target market (for tailor made hand crafted content, someone's gotta do it) or by excluding the outside world that's exploiting the same turf.

Ad e- Instead, making your weak point your strongest is best. If in the jungle, the life saving maxim is 'if you are not strong, be quick', in today's internet jungle the writer's should be 'if you are not big, be different'. Strong conceptual thinking is key in getting visitors to come back. Casting a human eye over aggregator news output and including extra sources as well as some home made articles are the ingredients to create content that's different and better.

Angelique van Engelen is a freelance writer based in Amsterdam the Netherlands. She runs and writes tailormade articles and content.

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