A typical conversation with a local publisher always includes a discussion about their strong commitment to delivering real news to their readers. It’s one of the reasons they are so beloved, because their stories are authentic. You are never misled by a title. These are honorable qualities, but conventional wisdom says that these publishers are getting crushed by clickbait machines that push out attention grabbing headlines with little valuable content to go along with the title.

A recent blog post regarding clickbait I read focused on Marketers, but had a ton of relevance for publishers. What I found interesting was that the article was firmly against clickbait and showed top quality Marketers focused on providing value to their audience.

Yet, these marketers were still quite focused on how to make their content easily found via search engines. They seemed to know that good content alone is not enough, it still needs to stand out and be visible. The difference is that the “right way” takes time, whereas clickbait is addicting because it can “work” so quickly. But we all know that great things take time, and there are no quick wins, right?

One of the headlines in the article above is “Your Customer Map is the Path Forward.” It says the best way to create content is to understand what your customer is looking to do and make sure you give them easy ways to find what they are looking for. When it comes to local publishers, there are several obvious customer maps that your readers have:

  1. What happened in my community today that is newsworthy?
  2. What is going on right now?
  3. Where can I find <product/service>
  4. What’s going on in town that interests me (e.g. police blotter, school board news, obituaries)
  5. What businesses are coming in (or going out) of town?
  6. What businesses have specials/promotions that may interest me?
  7. What are other folks doing in town today?
  8. Where can I get quick, good and reliable answers to my questions about things local?

How many of these can you consistently answer for your readers? And for the ones you can answer, do you have a customer map? Can you track and trace readers and make sure they are getting what they need from you? I don’t mean the people who see you in town and tell you that you’re doing a great job. Love is great, but it doesn’t scale!

We suggest two things. First, if you don’t have ways to easily address all eight of these questions, think about how you can. Second, if you have more questions you can answer, please share in the comments. For the questions above that your site cannot answer, you should be thinking about how you can address them. We are well past the “if you build it, they will come” aspect of local journalism. The focus must be on doing the awesome job of storytelling that you already do, but also on answering questions and building a reliable and engaged community that will never see or expect clickbait from you, but will still be wildly and passionately engaged.