As I sit here writing this new mission statement for today’s relaunch of The New Potato, a track from Nina Simone is playing in the background. I’ve listened to it many times over the course of my life, but each time it’s different, each time it seems to tell me something new. The same goes for watching Casablanca for the 30th time, or going to a favorite restaurant time and time again, or visiting an exhibit at the Met too many times to count, or coming back to an article in Porter once I’ve had some time to mull it over, or consuming a season of Stranger Things while analyzing every nuance in plotline at dinner with friends on weekends.
After four years as editor of an online magazine, I’ve realized one important thing: Good content is not a one-stop shop. Good content is something you want to come back to time and time again.
There comes a point in every entrepreneur’s career path that you become sick of what you do. Oftentimes, this can mean you need to slightly switch directions, or find it within you to risk raising money then spending money to expand more because you’ve reached a plateau.
It took Danielle and I around a year and a half to realize that rather than continue to play the game of chess we were playing, we would instead switch the board.
When we started The New Potato, we aimed to be to food what Vogue is to fashion, Rolling Stone is to music, Vanity Fair is to entertainment: It’s something you’ve probably heard us say many times in interviews before. To us, the world of food was a show, the world of food was entertainment, the world of food was art – so food embodied everything.
In the beginning, when we posted just one story a day, we knew we were delivering something to readers that filled a void in the world of food. We were producing long-form quality photography, editorial and video content that all shed new light on the industry, and had a unique perspective. People were excited, we were getting press, and we knew we were doing something different.
Around two years in, we were getting asked more and more by advertisers about website traffic. They didn’t inquire about sessions (sessions count the amount of times you visit a site, so if you visit The New Potato 10 times in a month, that’s 10 sessions), instead what they cared about were Unique Visitors per Month. A Unique Visitor per Month only counts an individual reader one time per month. If they visit that site twenty times over the course of one month (20 sessions), they are still only counted once.
We never really understood why UVM was the most important barometer people were going by. Surely, sessions were also a great indication of engagement and shopping habits. The person who came back twenty times in a month was a more valuable customer, a customer more likely to shop, than someone who came to a site for a millisecond because a random pop-up had led them there.
Aren’t many of the best customers at retail stores the ones who come repeatedly to shop, rather than the ones who accidentally wander in?
The industry wasn’t seeing it this way though, so we began to play the traffic game everyone seemed to be playing.
We upped our content to posting 4 times a day, and started using a Search Engine Optimization Forecast, going off this trends schedule that many publishers live and die by. It breaks down what readers are searching for month to month, allowing publishers to analyze how to get more traffic and win terms on Google.
Winning terms can be a combination of posting a lot on a certain topic and tagging things the way the SEO forecast and report tell you. So if you publish enough content on the Paleo Diet with grabby headlines, long lists, and slideshows, you’ll perhaps get more traffic and show up higher on Google when people search “Paleo.”
Introductory meetings we went to with others in the industry usually led to us getting the same sort of advice: We should post a ton more content (forget what that content was about), behemoth lists were king (the more stories like ‘200 places to go to get the most decadent burger ever’ the more we’d see a traffic uptick) and be more concerned about patterns on Google Trends than content and topics that excited us, and were on brand for The New Potato.
Initially, the strategy worked perfectly. Traffic grew 100% over the course of a year. Much of our content became formulaic; something we overlooked at first as we basked in the glory of doubling the amount of readers we had. You’d be surprised at the immediate, temporary high one can get from an exponential increase in a number.
That’s exactly what the result was though: A temporary high.
As traffic started to plateau, we started wondering what “media company” – the phrase we so often used when asked “what do you want to be in 10 years?” – even meant to us anymore.
What did it mean to be a media company in this new digital world? If it meant posting even more content than we already were – much of which had become less meaningful to us – why did we want to be one?
More importantly though, we started hating our jobs. Danielle and I would go out to dinner and have conversation after conversation about where this all was going. We felt guilty giving up on a formula that was bearing results, but how meaningful were those results? Our content felt like a machine, not a brand.
We couldn’t pinpoint our reader as well anymore, and what’s worse, our site’s content had started to mirror every other site’s in the industry. It started becoming clear to us that so many websites were going off of that same Search Engine Optimization forecast, and because of that they were losing their unique perspective and voice.
We decided we weren’t going to let that happen.
We aimed to do something that’s essentially unheard of in terms of having a website in 2017: We’d dial it back to just one post a day; not because we don’t think content is important, but because we respect good content and the time it takes to digest it.
We decided to be something you’re going to look forward to each day, not simply something to scroll through.
Rather than thinking of our website as a platform to get as high a volume of content out as possible, we’d now think of it – and our social accounts – as a way to communicate one incredible piece of content each day in a variety of different, unique ways.
If you’ve gotten this far along in the mission statement you may be wondering, “Ok, that all sounds great, but what is The New Potato now? What will be their perspective going forward?”
Good question, Potatoheads.
We are content creators who believe – like Shakespeare – that “all the world’s a stage,” and for us, that stage is the world through the lens of food. Since most of us live at least 50% of our lives on the internet and on social media in the present day, there needs to be a destination that treats it as such on those platforms. We are that destination.
We are now not only a publisher, but also a full-on creative agency. There’s The New Potato, and now – its sister restaurant – The New Potato Studios.
We’ll approach and present entertainment, fashion, design and lifestyle cinematically, through the lens of food, and always as a production. Our original ethos has always been quality content, where multiple viewings are required.
A famous restaurateur can serve the same dish for many years, tweaking it and perfecting it for both new and repeat customers who come over and over again, and the same goes for the old Hollywood studios who have produced films that all of us still watch nostalgically growing up, or the old TV networks who produced shows whose reruns we consume time and time again. How can you say no one has an attention span when Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows on television?
Why is it that content-creating websites – the equivalent of Hollywood studios or TV networks in the present day – can’t create that quality content? Why can’t they produce just one piece of content daily that’s consumed multiple times in multiple ways across multiple platforms, rather than scrolled through absentmindedly until the next piece of meaningless content pops up?
When we produce one Feature Presentation each day, we see ourselves as a studio like Warner Brothers, a television network like TCM, a restaurateur like Thomas Keller. We’ll promise to present something you’ll consume every which way and then eventually – after scrolling through some other website – be dying to come back to and revisit.
We hope this promise excites you, and if it doesn’t yet, let us prove it to you. Because from this day on, we’re putting you, and us, first.