There is a new sheriff in town and he is angry. Digital Scale has two six guns and he can shoot. If you manage web sites, want to create a web site or market online you need to understand the Internet’s new scale laws:
Digital Scale Law 1: Speed
Recently our blog started outranking our site. Blogs are easy to update. Adding content is self-reinforcing. Its fun. Even more important, blogs present information in search engine spider friendly ways. Search engine “spiders” are pieces of code sent out to catalog and index web sites. You want your site in search engines such as Google and Bing. Search engine presence is tantamount to being in business or not. If your site is not in search engines it becomes a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it. Your site is invisible UNTIL it is in a search engine.
When our blog started outranking our site a friend said, “Martin unless you can update your site as often as your blog you are killing yourself.” Web sites can be easy to update. Ours isn’t. As web sites become more complicated and large databases are used to help manage and display content. When I created my first site databases weren’t needed. It took a year before we had 300 individual pages. The site I manage now has 14,000 individual pages and needs 5x as many. You can’t manage 20,000+ web pages without a database.
Databases can create spider problems. Spider traps are traps search engine spiders go in but they can’t get out. We created a trap once because we wanted to allow customers without cookies to see our site. Less than 2% of our customers shop with cookies off. The trap we created slowly killed search engine listings eventually costing over $500,000 in lost listings / sales. All orders from the “shop with no cookies” crowd couldn’t pay for a tenth of the cost of our trap.
It is possible to train a spider. You train spiders with content changes. If your site changes weekly search engine spiders will visit weekly. News sites change frequently. Google doesn’t want to be left out of what is happening now, so their spider knows to check news sites every hour on the hour. Training spiders with frequent content changes is a good idea and a perfect database application.
My company is used to planning for monthly printed catalogs, so we change much of our site monthly. Monthly is too slow. Daily gets a site in this emerging web scale game, but hourly is better. Setting up business rules to control databases is the Best way to accomplish hourly updates. Best Sellers, New Products, New Articles and New Reviews are excellent fodder for automatic frequent updates. Build a business rule such as “grab the most recent 5 products and feed them to the home page every hour” and get out of the way. Best to let computers do ALL this work. Humans only slow things down. Humans are out. Business rules, databases and dynamic zones (areas where feeds play or “fire” on your site) are in. Now is better than later. Now and messy is better than later and perfect.
Digital Scale Law 2: Long Tail (of everything)
The Internet changes everything. Chris Anderson’s influential book The Long Tail explained how. Remove shelf space limitations; take advantage of digital economics (more power for less money every year also called Moore’s Law) and it makes economic sense to “sell” every X widget on the planet (where X is whatever business you are in). “Sell” is in quotes because selling every widget may NOT require physical inventory. Many sites only write about products. When it comes time to ship a product they move content traffic to a partner.
Web marketers are starting to realize The Long Tail concept applies to everything. There is a Long Tail of Search (keywords extending toward infinity). There is a Long Tail of Content (articles extending out to infinity).
The Long Tail of Content may seem different than music. Music is loaded on servers and served to searchers turning pennies, the cost of serving thanks to Moore’s Law, into dollars. Sitting in a presentation by Barnes and Noble I realized inventory, in this post long tail world, is a new form of advertising. Inventory creates listings. Listings generate traffic. Traffic converts to dollars.
Content is advertising too. Content generates search listings and listings turn into dollars. The Long Tail of Content requires new processes, processes that create content for pennies. Cheap content may become dollars just as one more tune on iTunes costs Apple almost nothing to load but may generate thousands. I’ve paid some writers $1.00 a word for articles. Can’t afford to pay such a princely sum in an infinite content world – no one can afford it. The need is too great.
The Long Tail of Content requires new ways to create content such as User Generated Content UGC (same as it sounds) and Content Mash Ups. Content mash ups develop unique combinations from existing content. Mashing up content is a computer thing too operating much like speed’s business rule based process. Your programmers write rules breaking your content apart and then recombine it in unique ways. Uniqueness is critical. Search engines will penalize your site if you just duplicate existing content to stuff pages into their index. You don’t want to fight with search engines. It is like fighting with God. You aren’t going to win and pain will be great.
Digital Scale Law 3: Purple-ness
Some site are winning with boring, wrong, frequently updated content. These sites are betting Google’s frequency algorithm trumps its reputation (judged by links) algorithm. Short term they may be right. Long term they are wrong. Long term Google wants the BEST and MOST RELEVANT content. Best is determined by update frequency and how current content is to THIS MOMENT. Bad content fresher than old content may win a short-term race.
If no one links to new bad content its search engine displacement, the rank of its listing, decays (falls in rank order). Best way to prevent decay is write content so purple it creates buzz. Purple is a term from Seth Godin’s excellent The Purple Cow. Seth explains, in one of my top 5 web marketing books, all boring things are done better already than you will ever be able to do them. Exceptional fun, cool shit is the only thing worth doing. If you aren’t making exceptional cool shit, you better be able to write purple content. Purple content may delay the inevitable. People will flock to your site based on cool purple content, buy your thing and then discover it is the same old thing with cool purple content falsely written about it. BIG PROBLEM.
Better to create a cool purple thing AND write about it in cool purple ways. The right question to ask any new product is, “Is it purple enough.” If your product won’t spark rounds and waves of word-of-mouth support, links and chatter don’t do it. Don’t use your most valuable assets, time, to do non-purple things. Another way of saying this is ONLY DO PURPLE THINGS.