Publishers take heed: If you don't have the content, the readers won't come.
As a publisher of developer-related content, I spend a significant amount of time researching technical topics, and I also spend time evaluating how others reach the content we publish. It turns out that an overwhelming percentage of our audience reaches our content via search.
Not by browsing to a site directly and seeing what's new.
Not by clicking links in newsletters.
Not by clicking links on other sites.
Not by clicking links in RSS feeds.
Because this is DevX, you can be pretty sure that the searchers who land here are developers looking for specific pertinent developer-related content—in other words, they use search the same way and for the same reasons I do: It's the fastest way to find what you need.
But for publishers what this means is that the old adage "Content is King" is more relevant today than ever. It also means that branding is becoming increasingly irrelevant. For example, despite the presence of search boxes on most modern sites, people rarely use them; unless they know the information they need was published on a particular site, they gravitate toward one of the major search engines instead. That's because it's usually a waste of time to search a specific site when you're interested in information rather than presentation; the information might be anywhere on the web, and you're far more likely to find it quickly by searching the entire web rather than a single site. I do browse—but only when I'm not looking for something specific.
Reaching content through search also means that site organization isn't particularly important. I rarely care, notice, or even see whether publishers arrange their material by language, technology, publish date, author, or whatever other categories they might think readers want. Browsing is slow and inefficient. Searching is fast and—with the right search string—produces near-instant results.
However, while organization isn't usually pertinent, presentation is. Because the goal is to find and absorb material as fast as possible, I tend to avoid sites that hinder my searching by being unusually slow, prefaced with popup ads, or that use any other marketing technique that's intended to get my attention, but usually just results in my looking elsewhere. Again, content is king. If the only site with the information I want has irritating marketing, I might suffer through it to get to the content. However, if there are multiple sites with the information, I'll find one that's less intrusive. With the size of the web today, most information appears in multiple locations, so I rarely have to endure in-your-face marketing or poor presentation. The result is that I don't much care where the information is, just that I find it.
The cold hard fact is that for the past few years, I've rarely even given the URL in search engine hits more than a cursory glance—I'm interested only in the content. Sure, for technical content the combination of the search hit text and the URL usually tells you whether you're about to view a blog or a tech site, but frankly, I rarely care. If a link looks like it has the content I'm after, and it's not on my list of sites with poor presentation or bad marketing, I'll hit it, regardless of the branding.
I suspect I'm not alone.
search, RSS, branding