Friday, May 16, 2014


Last year, when I started my new career as a desk jockey at boring corporate institutions, my first "challenge" was to write a blog post. Easy enough, I figured. The goal was for the three of us on the copywriting team to write and publish a piece about the Internet. Broad enough topic, right? One person wrote about keywords, one wrote about customer reach and I took a page from HIGH FIDELITY and wrote about turning your website into a kick-ass mixtape.

The goal was to see who got the most page views over the course of a month and the winner got $500 (well, $377 after taxes. God damn government). I used every trick I knew and called in every favor I could and eventually won. I posted a HIGH FIDELITY meme on Tumblr with a link to the piece embedded in the image and I still get "reblog" and "like" notifications about it to this day. It has almost 4,000 notes and is definitely the most popular thing I've ever posted. It's pretty stupid what works on that site.

It's been a year since the contest ended, so I figured I'd post my entry up here since I no longer work for that company, and that company doesn't really exist anymore anyway. If you helped me out by sharing it, I still appreciate it, and to show my thanks, I compiled all the songs that I listed into a cool playlist at the bottom. Using a Spotify embed flies against everything I wrote about in this piece, but it's just so much easier, right?


Your Website as Your Personal Mixtape

The Internet is a weird, wild place. There are so many different avenues and alleyways to explore that you’ll never see it all. But getting there is half the fun, right?

When you have your own website—whether it’s a site for a small business, your writing, or just your personal blog—it can be hard to get noticed and it won’t just happen overnight. Building up a website requires building up a web presence. You need to be active all over the place and have your hands in a few different social pies for your website to grow. But beyond that, first and foremost, your site content has to be better than the rest.

In order for someone to choose your site out the endless abyss that is the Internet, you need to have a voice of your own. The content has to be interesting and informative, sure, but you need to stick out from the pack. You need to be a unique voice that rises to the surface.

The best way to do that is to approach your blog or website the same way you’d put together a mixtape.

You remember those, right?

Back before Spotify and YouTube playlists were shared and available at the click of a mouse, you had to physically hand someone a cassette tape. A tape that you put together through hard work of pouring through every song in your collection and figuring out how to delicately express your own feelings through someone else’s poetry. It meant sitting in front of your stereo, listening to the radio, waiting for that one perfect song to come back on. You’d have a blank tape in the deck, cued up and ready to start as soon as you heard the opening notes. Then you’d spend the rest of the night timing the start of each song just right so as not to lose valuable space and making the most of those 30 minutes on each side.

It took a lot more effort than a simple drag and drop.

That’s kind of what building a website is like, too.

Getting that perfect website takes a lot of careful planning and lot of work goes into it. It’s a lot like crafting a mixtape, only you’re not giving it to one special person. Instead, you’re trying to separate yourself from, literally, millions of others. You’re trying to make your website that special thing that people want more of.

In order to do this, it’s always helpful to think back to one of the best movies (and books before it) ever made about music—HIGH FIDELITY.

In the movie, the venerable hero, Rob, played by John Cusack, spends a lot of time making mixtapes for the girls that he likes. He waxes intellectual about song choices and Top 5 lists and eventually reveals the ever-important rules.

“The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem.” 

The concept is pretty simple, but you do have to put some thought into it. If you apply these same rules to your website, you’ll have a pretty great place that people are going to want to visit. You’ve got to get them there, make them stick around, and then ask them to spend a little bit of their day with you.

“You gotta kick off with a killer. Grab their attention.” 

This same formula has to be applied to websites and blogs. You get one chance to hook them before they hit that ‘back’ button and go looking for something else. It doesn’t necessarily have to be controversial or anything like that, but you need to have something at the top of the page that gets people to stop. They clicked the link and your site loaded; now you have to get them to stay there. That means you need to have an interesting headline or a unique idea that will pique someone’s curiosity and encourage them to read on. Your personality should be on full display from the first line of that site.

Suggested tracks: “All My Life” by Foo Fighters, “Bed For The Scraping” by Fugazi, “The Great Pan is Dead” by Cold Cave.

“Then you gotta take it up a notch…” 

Your biggest goal when building a website is to make it a place that people want to visit. You want them to remember it, bookmark it and keep coming back to it. The best way to do that is to have not only consistent content, but consistently good content. Once they’ve lingered on the page for a minute, reading that first headline, they need to be given a reason to stay a bit longer. That’s why headlines and first paragraphs are so important—those are the first things that people will see and read. You need to keep them engaged.

 It’s a little bit like when you get sucked into a STORAGE WARS marathon on TV. They run the credits over the final scene and dive right in to the next episode without a single break. It gets you every single time (or me, anyway). That’s what your website (and mixtape) need to master—get them in, but more importantly, keep them there.

Suggested tracks: “Trusty Chords” by Hot Water Music, “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, “Gimmie Shelter” by The Rolling Stones.

 “…then you’ve gotta cool it off a notch.” 

This is about the time that people are going to get comfortable with your site and start looking around a little more in depth. It’s at about this spot that you can put in an old favorite or in the case of a blog, a recurring topic or a recurring feature. Maybe you have a certain topic that you spotlight once a week or so. This is about where it should go. You can’t try to constantly one-up yourself, because that’s when you start to overwhelm people. You need to let them settle in and get into a rhythm.

Suggested tracks: “Karma Police” by Radiohead, “Disintegration” by The Cure, “Avoiding Catatonic Surrender” by Tim Barry. 

You can’t get complacent though. Just because someone chose your website over the vast millions of others out there, it doesn’t mean they’re going to keep coming back just out of habit. This is where it gets tricky. You want to be able to attract new readers and new visitors as much as possible, but you don’t want to alienate the ones you’ve already got. This is the point on your blog/site/mixtape where you need to have confidence that your words and ideas are enough to keep people interested. You can write with confidence, and still take a few risks here and there. You’ve kept them around and coming back, they must agree with your taste so. At this point, you can afford to play around a little bit.

Suggested tracks: “Young Americans” by David Bowie, “Funny Little Frog” by Belle & Sebastian, “Rill Rill” by Sleigh Bells. 

“There are a lot of rules.” 

Since blogs and websites tend to be endless, there’s no need to build to that final closing track that brings the house down. But once you get into a rhythm of regular posting, recurring features and returning visitors, it will feel just like that, a rhythm. You’ll feel the ebb and flow of what people like, what they’re commenting on, what kind of interaction you’re getting and all that good stuff that keeps a site thriving. Once you’re there, it’ll start to feel a lot like your perfect mixtape will never have to end. As long as you keep posting, keeping things interesting and inviting a dialogue—whether through comments or emails—you’ll never need to end. But in the spirit of the topic, you need a closer. You need something that’s going to stick with them. It’s got to be a song that hits them right in the chest, makes them remember why they were so happy to get the tape from you in the first place.

Suggested tracks: “Love Spreads” by The Stone Roses, “Sweet Avenue” by Jets to Brazil, “Girls Like You” by The Naked and Famous, or the classic “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds.

There you have it. That’s how you build your online profile and get people to decide that you and your site are worthy enough to be added to their bookmarks bar.

I’ve also given you a pretty great playlist to get you through your day. I can’t decorate it with a ballpoint pen, but this is close enough.

You’re welcome.

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