Niche Media is Dead, Long Live Niche Media!

Google Updates Continue, Niche Media Path, Reddit Exploration

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Alright, let’s get into the topics for this week.

Massive Google Updates Continue…

Google continues to roll out their seismic March update, supposedly taking aim at spam.

This is clearly a good example we can all get behind, but there’s lots of collateral damage. As has been the case lately, Google doesn’t appear to be using a scalpel here.

Worst of all, many publishers are getting totally de-indexed with and marked as SPAM in their Search Console, with no explanation for specifically why or how to remedy the situation.

Most other small publications are being effectively de-indexed and de-platformed like OutdoorOnly above…

For most indie media brands that rely in any significant way on Google traffic…. times are tough right now.

But, I see opportunity behind the storm clouds…

A Contrarian Bullish Niche Media Take

Niche media is getting absolutely hosed by Google right now.

This started back with the “HCU” update in September, but seems to be continuing with the latest announced Google updates in March. It’s still early & I’d love to be wrong at the end of March…

I’ve long been a believer in niche, topically focused media assets. Some of the most interesting media brands I’ve found are incredibly focused.

My mistake was believing Google would align with this reality.

The “winners” of recent updates continue to be larger, legacy publications and platform companies that leverage UGC (Reddit, Quora). Google is effectively (intentionally or not) consolidating media, narrowing the lane for indie media voices and varied perspectives.

It’s easy to feel despondent about these first order effects.

But looking deeper, this may have created an even wider lane for niche media. Just not inside of Google’s ecosystem.

The resurgence of newsletters and micro influencers on other platforms could be foreshadowing this trend.

Can you imagine the current iterations of Forbes.com as a newsletter? What about CNET? Healthline? TripAdvisor? Good Housekeeping?

What about as a forum? A Slack community? Facebook group?

If you removed Google from the equation, what would you be left with?

Nobody wants to be a member of a content farm. 

There’s no USP.

And pleasing Google doesn’t count. Even if it works now and you have the existing budget to do their limbo.

These massive content sites have become superficially really good at checking every single one of Google’s boxes, which is foundationally based on the circular logic of brand recognition.

Take an old legacy magazine like “Good Housekeeping” that people vaguely recognize (and therefore will click on in contrast to an unknown - but higher quality “new voice”), add thousands of articles that pass the smell test, and voila!

Regardless of how these content-blobbing Search landgrabs started, they are now built for Google’s impressive, but narrow dimensional (click data?) signal machine.

And it seems like Google is “cool” with this for now.

Google isn’t the vibrant pioneer of the open web that it once was. It’s more reminiscent of a late stage Ottoman Empire, over-extended, surrounded by threats, unfocused, floundering, and hollowed at the core:

My historical tangent aside, there’s an incredible opportunity if we remove the “Google glasses” for a moment.

With the rise of AI, media consolidation, and the great homogenization of thought (both programmatically with AI and algorithmically by Google), I’m betting people are yearning for the inverse!

A credible voice. A coherent community. Something bespoke & authentic.

My new test for a niche media concept is: would this be a useful and cohesive email newsletter or community? If the answer is no, it’s a hard pass.

Despite the short term pain and disruption (and there’s a lot of it), I’m eager to meet this challenge.

Removing Google as the intermediary (somewhat ironically - this is what google says they want…but can’t or won’t incentivize properly) leads to closer audience alignment and a better content “product”.

This is a service company we run, reach out if you need content wizards!

Time to Launch Your Branded Sub-reddit?

Reddit announced their Reddit Pro toolset for brands to better leverage their platform.

I’m starting to see a LOT of brands creating their own branded sub-reddits. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this go mainstream for brands of all types, just like having a Facebook page is table stakes.

Reddit may not be Google’s Queen forever, but for now it’s one of the primary growth channels. And for as much spam as Reddit has currently, I’m not seeing much difference between branded “white hat” pages ranking versus spam.

Interesting News Below the Fold

These are some other interesting things I read recently. Didn’t quite make the main feature, but worth reading.

  • Mediavine Cracks Down on AI: And some publishers are looking for a witch hunt…. probably not a great thing for the publisher community.

  • Google Changes Spam Polices: Links are “just” a factor now as they’ve removed the word "important.”. Who knows if this is just signaling versus actually representative in the algo…

  • TikTok May Not Divest: I wasn’t considering this as a realistic option, but then again, this is a Chinese company and may not behave in a rational (capitalist) fashion. Talk about platform risk if this happens!

Other Newsletters Worth Following

Here are some other publications I subscribe to, author, or co-sign.

If you are operating a newsletter (or even just interested), this next one is one of my “must opens” every week:

If you leverage affiliate relationships in your media business, Affiliate Insider is where I share my in-the-field experience.

Our COO (Amy), publishes an incredibly detailed and thoughtful newsletter for content marketers here:

Content Forward: Thoughts from the Front LinesWeekly deep dives & insights from a real operator, for creators seeking an edge. New insights every Friday evening!

We also cover the latest MarTech trends and deep dives with a monthly (soon to be weekly) newsletter for B2B operators:

MarTech ToolkitDiscover & Implement marketing tech in your business.

OK, that's it for this week...

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