How to Anticipate a Flood

by JC Hewitt on September 8, 2010

You don't need a crystal ball to predict the future. But if it makes you feel more authentic, you might as well keep one handy.

There are two main approaches to attracting traffic. You can follow existing trends in keywords and the social web and create content to fit it. That’s the analytical, objective approach. You can see exactly how many people are interested in a set of terms through the Google Keyword Tool.

Or you can anticipate future trends and position your content to absorb that interest.

There’s already enough literature written on how to research keyword chains. So, I’m going to talk about the art of anticipating the herd.

Most people only think about the short term. They’re constantly reacting to news, announcements, and new releases. When you jump onto an already-popular trend, you can hope to scrape off some of the commercial activity in that already-crowded space. It’s a profitable strategy. But it’s also a common one.

Positioning Yourself for the Hits

Not all popular trends are easy to anticipate. However, you can make educated guesses as to what will be popular.

When Starcraft 2 was still in beta testing, hundreds of thousands of people were searching for information about it every month. The membership was restricted, but not by much.

Bloggers and service providers who positioned themselves as experts on the product reaped traffic benefits as the game grew closer to release. Here are two examples of Starcraft-devoted Youtube channels with over 60 million views.

That’s for a product that’s only been released for a few months.

How did they know that the game would be popular?

Blizzard Entertainment, the developer and publisher, has a record of producing the largest hits in the gaming industry for over a decade. People who positioned themselves for traffic didn’t need magical powers of prediction – they just anticipated the interest in the product and created content to suck up the future attention.

Before the Kindle came out, blogs erupted to anticipate its growth. There’s an element of speculation in all this, of course – the Kindle might have flopped on the market. But in part thanks to the grass-roots support from marketers of all stripes, e-readers have become a healthy niche with plenty of competition.

Look for trends with high growth potential. The most popular products and keywords are usually already saturated. The profit margins are lower.

What’s Happening Next in Your Niche?

Running your own hype machine allows you to build intent to purchase for your readers. If you release a product to a cold market, it will probably bounce off the frozen barrier of resistance. You have to spend months warming them up. Get your readers slavering for a future purchase.

You won’t be able to anticipate anything by reacting to trends. There’s no objective method to do this. You need to rely on your gut judgment of the market.

It doesn’t really matter what your market is, if you’re looking to do this. If you’re building some new accounting software, it never hurts to release previews explaining why it’s better than the existing competitor. If you run a blog covering the folk music scene in Philadelphia, build anticipation for future acts over a period of months.

Your readers want to know what’s happening next.

[Photo credit: krystalchu]

  • http://www.marcana.com Mark Brimm

    Great post and interesting example. It’s very true about upcoming trends. Existing data does little more than show where trends may emerge next, not what they will look like or what form will be most popular. One critique: Couldn’t examining the past year’s worth of monthly keyword search volume from Google for certain keywords forseeably spot a trend in interest via the existing searches for that item?

    • http://twitter.com/jckhewitt JC Hewitt

      It certainly can, but not always. You need to use your judgment to discern between emerging trends and stagnant niches.Search volume data alone can’t tell you that. For example, before Windows 7 came out, discussion about the beta wasn’t exactly a mass phenomenon. But influential workers in IT were provided with the beta many months in advance, and chattered about it frequently amongst themselves.That’s still a form of market research – it’s basically focus-testing – but it’s more based on qualitative than quantitative methods of thinking.The volume of talk was relatively low, but you could use that information to gauge whether or not the OS was likely to be a hit on the marketplace or not.This was more aimed at the people out there who rigidly follow the crowd and are afraid to make educated guesses under-supported by the data.

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