What I think about the web

In the late 90's / early 2000's everyone was asking "should I have a website?". Nowadays there isn't even a question, and it's a great time to be programming.

"The internet allows companies to reach thousands of users for pennies"

The internet allows companies to reach thousands of users for pennies.

But there are two sides to this seemingly endless availability. It's cheap for you to reach tons of viewers, but it's also cheap for everyone else.

Internet users have heightened garbage filtering, which means you had better provide something immediately. And if you ask for something, even something small like their name and email address, then you had better provide something good.

Most things on the internet need to be free, but don't get me wrong, there are countless examples of paid services that succeed. Netflix, iTunes, Skype and Match.com are all examples of services internet users are willing to pay for. What separates these from the pack? Although only one of these provides a truly 'tangible' product (Netflix), they all provide a real tangible benefit to their users.

More money, more problems

"Websites need to be more creative with their monetization techniques"

Right now you might be thinking "I'm not going to build a website for free"...and more power to you! Just because users are rarely willing to pay for online services DOES NOT mean that websites can't make any money. It just means that websites need to be more creative with their monetization tecchniques.

Top of this list and most obvious is advertising. Web advertising is great for all the same reasons as the internet: in the face of largely insignificant printing costs, it's just incredibly cheap to reach people. But monetizing a website doesn't necessarily mean advertising; one extremely successful technique is offering "pro" memberships. The concept here is simple: provide free accounts to average Joes to increase brand awareness, then hit any professional users with a membership fee for a small increase in functionality. This model works extremely well for any professional tool, and I strongly suggest considering it over strictly paid memberships.

Shut up already

In this piece, I'm breaking the first cardinal rule of web copy: shut the f*ck up. Nobody cares. Honestly, nobody.

"The web has done amazing things for mankind, but it comes at the cost of our attention spans"

The web has done amazing things for mankind, but it comes at the cost of our attention spans. The internet is such an amazing informational tool, that we have all learned how to use it efficiently. The low printing costs described above lead to information overload for an unprepared user. Thus we have all picked up an amazing knack for filtering BS.

But what is BS? That's a pretty vague concept, and one that is also pretty idiosyncratic: every internet user has different needs.

But regardless of our individual goals on the web, our methods for filtering garbage are surprisingly similar.

Garbage filtering is the new rocket science

When a user hits a website, a series of split second decisions are made. The web is a rough and cruel place: if your site doesn't pass the test, your potential customer will leave in less than a second.

"If your site doesn't pass the test, your potential customer will leave in less than a second"

The first in this series of decisions almost always about the site copy. Think about the first thing you do when you hit a site: you read a bit of text (usually the main headline) and decide immediately whether this site is what you're looking for.

This first battle has two parts to it. Although well-written and engaging copy is an important piece, first and foremost you need to have what they're looking for.

Good fits vs. undelivered promises

So often, issues on the internet boil down to a poor fit or an undelivered promise. Users are always looking for something specific but are forced to use imperfect tools such as search engines. Search engines have come a long way, but will always provide a certain amount of dubious results (despite their best intentions).

A good result means that the user is taken to the information they are looking for, hence a good fit. An undelivered promise occurs when the user clicks on a search result and arrives at a page they didn't expect. In 99.9% of cases this will be a lose-lose situation.

What can you do for a better fit? Better SEO. And this doesn't mean optimize for every keyword under the sun, in fact it means the opposite. You need to figure out the keywords that your potential clients are searching for, and optimize for those.

And then make sure that you are delivering on all your promises. You'll need good text in all your search engine results, which means your site needs better meta description text and title tags.


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