Why portals are dead

Recently somebody asked me why his portal isn’t working. He has heaps of content, the technology to make it and the means to promote it… but it’s failing. Why?

‘Though I don’t believe in the demise of portal sites there’s a difference between the businessmodel of sites like Yahoo! or MSN and what he’s trying to do. It’s too easy to think that having the content, the technology and the means to promote it adds up to enough visitors to make a profit out of it. Big portals like Yahoo! Or MSN already have plenty of visitors. The information they give is extra value, a means to keep them coming more often than usual, and by doing so creating extra value for possible advertisers.

What’s wrong?
Information overload. Everybody generates content. Seemingly limitless and foolproof possibilities to publish your content makes everybody an author, editor and publisher in one.

Too much choice. When everybody generates loads of content, people find it hard to choose. They want a one stop shop where they can find all the information they need, on the other hand, they’re turned off by the fact that they get too much useless information. If I’m interested in sports I don’t want to receive regular updates about the weather or the latest fashion trends. Too much useless information and I’m going somewhere else.

Less time. Try to find the logic in this one: Too much information about too many subjects and less time to browse through it all.

The answer?
Niche information. A result of above mentioned problems is the demand for more specialized content. If you want to know everything there is to know about the natural habitat of the Siskiyou chipmunk than you should be able to find a place with only information about this rodent. (a quite interesting little creature by the way, listed as a threatened species)

Umbrella branding. You’ve got the content and you want to use it all? Creating and maintaining different brands is an extra effort, maybe the need for additional funds, but you’ll create a loyal following and more possibilities for advertisers to target a specific demographic. Either create different brands for it or…

Gather information. Try to find out as much as you can about your visitor and give him what he needs, not what you think he needs. Let him decide what information he wants. That way you can still push out all the content you can, but you have the possibility to target the content. Not only is this kind of information usefull short-term, it’ll give you the knowledge and flexibility to easier identify upcoming trends and shifting interests.

Follow up?
Listen. The web is interactive, it’s not a one way street and it hasn’t been in a long time. Listen to what your visitors have to say. Let them comment, read twitterfeeds,…

Create. Follow up on what you’ve learned by listening to your visitors. Create the content they need and don’t be afraid to change. If the interest shifts… try to go with the flow.
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