Revealed: Why Techmeme links to them instead of you!

Monday, October 31, 2011 4:33PM ET
by Gabe Rivera (@gaberivera)     Permalink

Over time, nearly every major tech news publisher has asked us a variant of "Why do you always post them and not us?" or "Why did you pick them over us for that story when we posted first?" So it's probably time to address this issue in a general way. If you don't write tech news for a living, be thankful that you can skip the following post. For the rest of you, my apologies, now please get comfortable and read on.

Understanding why Techmeme does what it does starts with understanding our mission. Which is: to highlight the essential tech news and commentary of the moment on a single page. The must-reads for anyone who needs to know where the industry is heading, whether they're an investor, engineer, entrepreneur, executive, or enthusiast. We aim broader than most tech news sites, covering both hardware and software, both people and products, and beyond: events, trends, ideas, companies, policy, and culture. But not too broad: "tech" for us doesn't include biotech or cleantech, and we usually steer clear of content only developers would understand or hardcore gamers would appreciate. We also avoid evergreen how-tos or advice pieces, instead focusing on what's changed, or shifting, or different, i.e. "news". We try to be comprehensive: it irks us when we miss a major story. We also aim to be fast: the big stories need to appear in minutes, not hours. We also try to be highly scannable, which requires lucid, detail-rich headlines. Finally, we want the stories we link to be satisfying for our busy readers, and therefore clear, well-written, correct in any factual claims, succinct where possible, and supported by links where appropriate.

What does this mean for publishers? To start, common routes to landing a headline on Techmeme, include:

1. The huge exclusive story, well-conveyed: A story of obviously major import, reported before everyone else, presented succinctly yet with no major omissions, open for all readers, and capped with a clear and detail-rich headline. These stories almost always hit Techmeme, and nobody's surprised when they do.
2. The huge non-exclusive story, exceptionally conveyed: Sometimes big stories quickly appear on multiple news sites, for instance when companies blast out a press release, or orchestrate a news "embargo". Techmeme will usually feature only one take, so that take needs to be the best. Offering the clearest headline and the most complete exposition are key. Useful context, analysis, figures, and images are helpful too. Being early or first is important: we want to quickly post important stories, so if you wait too long, you'll miss out. But firstness is not an overriding consideration. As it turns out, we take a lot of heat from people who post early but inferior posts. Please don't be one of those people.
3. The interesting, yet not so (obviously) huge story: Even if your story isn't undeniably amazing, if it's interesting enough, it may hit Techmeme. If it fits our mission (see above), and it's discoverable by our automation and/or our editors, the odds improve greatly. How can you improve discoverability? First, encourage tech blogs to link to your post, particularly the tech blogs Techmeme frequently links to. Second, send a tip to Techmeme by including "Tip @Techmeme" when linking to your post on Twitter. Both tactics can help Techmeme discover a blog or site it has never linked to or even crawled before. Links and Twitter tips also help in the obviously huge story cases (1. and 2. above), but have a greater impact here.

With all of that now said, it's time to fire off some quick "dos and don'ts":

To appear on Techmeme, do this:

- Break a major story.
- Report/summarize/write up a big, developing story. Be early, or better: first (mindful that this doesn't trump other considerations).
- Got a press release or non-exclusive briefing? Write the very best take. Highlight what's important, what's fascinating. Be lucid and critical.
- Make sure your headline is clear and contains all major details (proper names, dollar amounts, dates, etc.) If you're posting on Google+, make sure the first line of your post functions as a headline.
- Link generously to stories on other sites to establish context and cite sources. Sometimes including a Techmeme permalink is the best way to do this. (Self-serving but true!)
- Articulate something lots of people are thinking, but not putting into words.
- Write the kind of story an Apple or Google exec would share with their fellow execs.
- Write the kind of story people will talk about at an industry cocktail party.
- Write the killer analysis piece that tech pundits can't help but to link to. Yes, be a "thought leader". If your post is linked enough, the automation behind Techmeme will notice and attempt to surface it.
- Tip Techmeme on Twitter. (Include "Tip @Techmeme" when you tweet your link.)
- Summarize a major story that's behind a paywall. Techmeme rarely features paywalled stories, but may link to you. Link prominently to the source story, of course.
- Say what you're going to say early in your post. The reader wants to know soon whether there's a payoff to reading, not 8 paragraphs in.
- Include relevant images, videos, or figures in your post.
- Time some analytical pieces for weekends and other slow times when they're easier for Techmeme to discover.

To not appear on Techmeme, do this:

- Write enigmatic headlines. Omit key details in your headline.
- Bury the most important part of your story near the end of the piece.
- Paywall your story.
- Omit links to stories previously appearing on other news sites that you're clearly referencing or using as source material.
- Fail to update your story if the facts are rapidly developing.
- Write a 10% more thoughtful post on a story, but 8 hours later than everyone else.
- Post something crappier than everyone else's take 90 seconds before everyone else.
- Intelligently and exhaustively report on something that's entirely old news and well-understood to Techmeme readers.
- Write about something arcane without illuminating its greater significance.
- Have factual errors, egregious spelling or grammar mistakes.

Sorry, these (alone) won't help your post get on Techmeme:

- Being first to a story. Yes, being first or early helps, but we will go with a post that better fits Techmeme's mission if we need to.
- How hard you worked on your latest post.
- How long it's been since you were last on Techmeme.
- How terribly neglected the company you reported on has been to date (maybe there's a reason for that).
- How expensive your editorial operations are.
- How many people write for your site.

I should conclude by noting that many of the best writers in tech have figured all of this out already. Over time, they've watched Techmeme enough to have essentially reversed-engineered it, inferring and applying the above lessons with much success. Their success extends beyond Techmeme of course; the very same practices can lead to more retweets and more pickup beyond the world attuned to Techmeme. With this post, I'm hoping the remaining talents can better understand the way Techmeme thinks, which will ultimately benefit both Techmeme's readers and the readers of the many publications we depend on.

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