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You want to start a content site? Don’t micro optimize.

A friend emailed me with a fairly common problem: she wanted to build a site and an audience, but was getting bogged down in the details: she wanted to build a great site that people want to visit, she wanted to be able to follow SEO optimization tips, she wanted to place the newsletter signup box in the best place on the page, and to do that she needed to customize her theme, install plugins, etc, and she was getting frustrated.

Although I’m more of a technologist than a content creator, I know the dilemma well. I also encounter it every day at my job, in one form or another. The one piece of advice I’d give is: focus on creating content, the tech and details don’t matter.

In engineering, there are two important concepts that good coders end up learning as they gain experience: don’t prematurely optimize, and don’t micro optimize. By and large, many articles and advice about building a brand or site focus on micro optimizations. It’s easy to see why: they’re bite-sized things that you can do that do show measurable improvement. You can really feel like you’re doing something and see the effect. But those are primarily for existing brands.

If you look at HollywoodLife.com, there’s a ton of things that don’t follow the book: it’s loud, it’s hard to see what content on the page is important, hard to see what content is available on the site, and while we promote newsletter signups and social media, they’re buried on the page. In other words, to those focused on self-marketing and usability, it does just about everything wrong. Yet the site has grown massively year over year, has amassed a large social media following, a large number of newsletter subscribers, and a ton of people comment on it.

There’s one simple reason: content. The story is the same across all our brands at PMC. Focus on content. Build a relationship with your readers (through your branding and tone, and/or directly through discussions — find your voice). You’ll want a design that reflects the brand or personality of your content, but it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to fit. And then write.

That’s it. Everything else only matters once you’ve already built your audience and want to grow it further.

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