How to Know What’s Worth it When it Comes to Website, Content and Ad Trends

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There are thousands of news outlets producing millions of news stories, republishing press releases, even recycling old content to try and win the eyeball war. Pick any topic and there are hundreds of channels you could be tracking to stay up on industry news, the latest research, and hot rumors and products. Whether you’re running one website or a dozen, it can feel impossible to keep up with trends.

I’ve been on the web since the beginning (my first website came online in 1995!) and have been trying to keep track of various verticals ever since. While my sites aren’t news sites, I’ve found that it’s still critical to keep up to ensure that your content — be it funny how-to videos, helpful user tutorials, buying guides, or even a reviews site — is up-to-the-minute!

Furthermore, since so many websites are dormant or even moribund, keeping your sites at least somewhat updated gives you an edge; users are always coming up with new searches. To manage this for my sites, I have a couple of tricks…

Google Alerts

This is going to sound old school, but it’s the truth: there are few free tools online as valuable as Google Alerts. Go to www.google.com/alerts and sign up to have it scour thousands of news sites for whatever words or phrases you like. It uses the rich Google search language so if you want to track what’s new with the popular Ford Mustang, you could use a search like (ford|ford mustang) -horse or be even more specific by adding (EV|electric) to get news on the Mustang electric vehicle too. 

Google News

google news trends

Similar to Google Alerts, Google News offers a way to keep track of updates and breaking news in hundreds of categories, all aggregated from hundreds of newswires and other news sources. For example, if I want to see what’s happening with headphones, I could just search for “headphones” or even click on the “Technology” category and read through all the many stories presented. Much less biased than reading a single news channel, it also helps relevant channels surface in your segment that you might otherwise never find.

Facebook, Reddit, or LinkedIn Groups

Another way to keep up on the trends and gain insight into what’s catching the attention in your industry is by joining topical groups on any of the major social media sites. Have a website about visiting different colleges? Join the social groups for the top colleges. Insider tip: I recommend against interacting much in these groups.  Keep a low profile, don’t be a spammy poster, and you can lurk and gain daily insight.

How To Track RSS Feeds

Here’s another secret weapon of mine; feedly.com. Quite a high percentage of the websites you peruse have what’s known as a Really Simple Syndication or “RSS” feed that means you can see what the site is publishing without having to actually visit the site. You can pay for a premium Feedly account, but it turns out that the free service works great and is quite easy to use. I track over 100 websites and news services this way, in addition to all the other methods outlined. 

Ad Trends? Do Searches 

So far, these suggestions have been all about content, but what if you want to keep track of your competitors? One obvious step is to sign up for their email lists, but beyond that, install a few extra web browsers and leave them logged out of your Google, Microsoft, or other accounts. Now when you go to google.com or bing.com and do searches, the ads you’ll see are generic category ads.

Track these ads. Ask yourself:  who’s advertising? What’s their pitch? What size is their ad (and what does that imply in terms of their ad spend)? If you see an ad repeatedly, it’s probably doing pretty well, and remember that ads travel with you, so compare search results ads to content site ads (your competitors sites or your own) to social media ads. 

What To Do With This Data

Without a game plan, all of this is just a lot of data. If you really don’t want to do the work to become an expert in a specific field, then consider hiring someone, from a VA to an intern, to become your subject matter expert. 

If, like me, your goal is to produce evergreen content that will yield traffic and revenue for years to come, you’ll want to become trend skeptical too. Just because everyone’s talking about something today doesn’t mean they’ll still be interested next week, let alone next month or in a year. By reading about your verticals just a bit each day, you’ll be able to recognize the difference between the beginning of a long-term trend, a short term trend that’ll die down again soon enough, and something that’ll be out of the collective consciousness in 48 hours.

Obviously, this approach can have a large time commitment. But try these various news and information strategies with your most profitable vertical, then gradually winnow it down to the few that work best for you and how you process information. Once you’ve mastered one category, you’ll be able to add more with ease, and pretty soon you’ll be a subject matter expert. Eventually, your site’s credibility — and timeliness — will reflect it.

By Dave Taylor

Colorado-based Dave Taylor is the publisher of AskDaveTaylor.com and has a popular YouTube channel AskDaveTaylor. Both focus on making complex technical concepts simple and understandable, whether he's looking at consumer gadgets or helping visitors get the most out of their Android phone, iPad or Facebook account. You can also find him on Twitter as @DaveTaylor