First of all, I can’t take credit for all of these ideas. Lot’s of them have been borrowed from guys like Steve Pavlina who are basically saying the same thing I am.
One of the more important points Steve makes is that your content should be timeless. What he means by this is that if your content is only pertinent only to what is going on today, there’s not much reason for people to want to look at it tomorrow. This is especially important as you try to build momentum for your site traffic over time.
Early on, your site will not be highly listed on any engines. With Google, you’ll be stuck in the “sandbox” for quite a while. While you may be providing great content that is extremely relevant for the day, week, or month it is published, your potential readers will never find it, at least from a search engine. Down the road, you may be lucky enough to be bumped up to a high ranking for the search terms, but it’s likely that no one will be searching for it.
Of course, there are exceptions. For instance, I maintain a site for my rugby club (www.knoxvillerugby.com) that contains scores and information about the club for the last few years. While the score of last Saturday’s match will get the majority of its traffic in the week following the match, there is a good chance that old guys who want to relive the glory days will one day come back to our site, possibly through a search engine, and read about what happened way back when. But, like I said, the majority of the traffic is going to come in the first week. This traffic is not search engine driven. It is driven by the fact that the site is reliable and updated in a timely manner. Not only do members of our club check our site regularly, but members of other clubs whose place in the league standings are tied to the results of our match check it as well.
So what do I mean by “build for change”? One could take that statement as a call to build in scalability and flexibility. While these are certainly important attributes to consider for your site, this actually isn’t what I’m talking about at all. The basic idea of what I’m saying is, don’t focus your efforts on search engines. Don’t focus on trying to get people to link to you. Don’t focus your energy on driving loads of traffic to your site today.
Focus on providing your customers with exactly what they want–good content that they want to come back for. All the rest will follow.
The biggest problem with relying on technology to drive your traffic is that technology is always changing. In 1999-2000, the .com boom, I was doing some work for a company who was selling its services to European companies to boost their rankings on search engines. Back then, Yahoo! ruled the roost, but they didn’t have nearly the market share that Google has now. People weren’t focused just on getting ranked highly on Yahoo!, but every search engine. We were monitoring rankings on over 100 different search engines as well as checking for links on the highest traffic sites on the web. Our goal was to get our customers rated highly on ALL of these engines. In much the same way that Google’s Page Rank system works now, each customer was assigned an indexed ranking based on their listing in the engines and the number of links to them that existed on high traffic sites.
Not exactly rocket surgery, but useful at the time. What wasn’t foreseen by my employer was the fact that one company was going to come in and basically take over the search industry. I was constantly asking, “what do we do when the situation changes?” I’ve long since parted ways with them, but I can imagine that their customers aren’t very thrilled with their Ask Jeeves rankings being in the top ten if their Google ranking is 97. I’m sure they’ve adjusted their product to account for this, but there are factors they didn’t see coming that I’m not sure they’ve dealt with. I would guess the most difficult problem they had to addres is that not only did the dominant players in the game change, but the technology changed as well.
The way search engines worked has drastically changed since 2000. Search engines are smarter (especially Google). Search engines are better equiped to handle rapidly changing sites. Most importantly, search engines are constantly changing and improving going forward.
Ironically, one of the tasks assigned to me way back then was to develop a “keyword generator”. Literally, those were the specifications I was given–“develop a keyword generator”. Now, my idea of a keyword generator and my boss’s were completely different, and frankly, my idea was a little ahead of its time.
My boss was very disappointed when I proudly showed him my software. He was expecting a tool that prompted the user enter a few keywords, then spat back these same keywords with the <meta> tags around them.
He was actually a little angry when I demonstrated my app that spidered three layers into a site and returned suggestions for keywords based on frequently occurring words and weighted based on the page on which they occurred and their placement on the page.
Which sounds like it more accurately addresses how search engines work nowadays?
The point isn’t that he wanted me to write a tool with very little functionality (and there were a million of these already available). The problem was that he had no inkling that search engines could ever change or evolve and refused to consider it when confronted.
We are facing a movement today that I predict will drastically change the game again. Social networking sites are becoming more popular by the minute as a way to find information. “Rankings” on sites like Digg, Del.icio.us, Reddit, etc. are driven completely by the users. Relevance and quality aren’t being decided by algorithms at all, but by actual people. So when 1,000 people “digg” your site, you better believe that there are thousands of others who are going to sit up and take notice of it.
As more and more people discover these sites and see the value in them, high rankings on these sites will become more and more important. Some people are well aware of this situation and are already coming up with ways to try to “game” these sites by falsifying user recommendations, and they are responding by banning domains that try to beat the system. I think a better approach is to focus on providing good, original content. You will not only increase your chances of finding good, loyal users, but you’ll also have built for the future.
We don’t know for sure what tomorrow will bring in search, social networking, or technologies that are still in their infancy. What we know for sure is that the goal of these technologies is always going to be finding and categorizing the best content out there.
Build quality into your site, and you can rest easy that you’ve also built for change.