Archive for July, 2008

Competition

I believe that there are two mistakes people make in coming up with ideas about websites. First, they find the most searched for topic on Google and think that building a website about it is going to make them a small fortune. The fact is, rehashing old information on a subject about which there are already a million websites probably is not going to do well, especially if some of the established sites out there are well-positioned.

Then there are those that shy away from building a website just because there are a million other websites on the topic and its prominence in Google means that plenty of those other websites are dominating and domineering. Now, this sounds like a contradiction from paragraph one. However, a passionate, well-done website with a fresh perspective on an old topic, with just a little bit of public relations, will take off.

When writing for InDepthInfo, I am always looking for those nuances that make a subject interesting. What was it that drew my attention to it in the first place? How does it connect with stuff on which I have already written an article? This was what drew me to my most recent site on InDepthInfo, Composting. There are plenty of composting sites out there, but many of them seemed passionless. Being an avid composter myself, I have had my hands deep in decayed matter. Also, as a gardener, I frequently write about plants that I have grown, especially herbs, carrots, and leeks. All this ties together.

Never try to write about stuff that does not interest just because it is popular. I would never put fingers to keyboard for the sake of soap operas, or rap music, or anime. Why bother putting together something you would never get pleasure in reading yourself? Often, I have occasion to return to something that I wrote several years back. Most of the time I find it is still fresh and interesting (at least to me). When I cringe at something I wrote long ago, it is usually because I did not care about the subject in the first place.

So, it all comes around to: don’t write about something because it is popular, but then again don’t shy away from it because you fear the competition.

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Website Makeover Redux

Sure there are times when a website should be made over. My problem is that I get grand visions and think I should revamp my flagship InDepthInfo. And indeed, I do it. I just recently did it again. You can see the results of my new “definitive” format on the series of articles I just did on carrots. I like it, but I am not sure that it is a great advance over my previous formulations.

The problem with redoing my behemoth InDepthInfo’s hundreds of pages, is that this site is not on mysequel or a database of any kind. It is all hard coded. To make things easier I long ago added an SSI capability, but this will not allow me to easily make radical changes. To switch over the entire website to the new format would take me several months of solid work. So I end up just keeping the old look, and the look before that and the look before that, ad infinitum.

All this leaves me vaguely dissatisfied with the lack of continuity. I am sure that eventually I will get up the gumption to do a redo that covers the entire site and puts all the content in a database (so I don’t have to change the code on EVERY page). When will that be? Probably not very soon in spite of the advantages of doing so. InDepthInfo is not very well branded. In fact that is a legacy of my original intentions. In 1998-99 I thought I would make a series of sites all on the same domain about different subjects in which I was interested. At the time it was $30.00 to register a domain and the remuneration, even for significant traffic was not, well…significant. Each part of InDepthInfo would stand on its own but benefit from the connections to the other sites. This actually worked, and still has some effect today. But now branding has become far more important and unifying the disparate parts of the website makes business sense.

If I have any advice for anyone creating a new large website, make use of databases. Truthfully, I don’t think it matters much for a site that only consumes ten or twenty pages. In fact, in those cases it can be better to be a bit more free-wheeling. But when you start getting into the hundreds of pages, it is almost, almost a must.

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Amazon Code and Validation

Don’t ask me why I am so obsessed lately with W3C validation of my webpages. Maybe I just think that validation is a way to keep the code clean and avoid future problems. Besides, it is kind of a badge of honor.

I have been speculating on how to get the Amazon and other code to validate. It bugged me so much that I finally decided to fire off a note to Amazon to find out how other people handle the problem.

Before I let you read the Amazon.com response, I should let you know that I like Amazon and include them as much as possible on my website. However, I found the note a bit cavalier. Then again, they probably are not the only ones. I seldom find a big name website that will actually validate.

Hello and thanks for writing to the Associates Program.

Please know that the coding in the Build Links tool is the only coding
we provide.

I would not be too concerned that the coding we provide does not pass
through the W3 validator. The W3 validator is very strict and
constructing an HTML page which passes through it without any errors
is quite a difficult task.

As long as you use the coding we provide, we will be able to track any
activity via your Associates links.

If you would like for us to test the functionality of your Amazon.com
links once they are built, please use the link below to contact us,
and send us the URL for the page on which these links are stored. We
will be happy to assist you.

http://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/contact/

Thank you for choosing the Associates Program.

I might toy around a bit with Amazon code to try to get it to validate, but eventually, I can see myself slowly erradicating it from my websites.

,

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When to Reformat a Website

I just spent two days coming up with a new design for DrywallHowTo. It is always tough knowing when to go through the gruelling task. In truth, by the time you create a new layout, and transfer the pages to the new format, you could have done the research for, and have half-written a new website.

As many of you already know, I am a fan of underdogs, and have a tendency to try to help out my lagging websites. But a major rewrite is too much to do for a laggard. For a laggard you might write a few emails to attempt a few link swaps. But to buy photos, create an entirely new stylesheet, and meticulously test and rewrite the code there needs to be some possibility of a return on the time invested.

DryWallHowto is one of my more popular sites, but truth be known I was never happy with the way it looked, and I felt that the structure of the page was not the best mix of content and ads. Besides, it just looked rather plain. What I had done right in the first place, however, was to create some in-depth, well-written, articles, that anyone looking to do some drywalling would find useful. This was why the site took off in the first place in spite of the feeble job I did on the initial design.

The already good information needed a better design to make the site look more professional. People link naturally to good material that is well-presented. Sure, they will link to good material, but who wants to link to something that looks like h-e-double-thoothpicks? What you are willing to link to is a reflection of who you are, and most people would rather look good than be right.

I must confess that another reason that I redesigned the website was that I have a site on another, similar topic - Cottage Style Decorating – that does far better with regard to revenue. I can’t give you click through ratios, that would be unprofessional and violate you-know-who’s terms of service. Nevertheless, the difference was marked. So I took the general idea of one website and applied it to the other.

(Yet there is often a great difference in click-through-ratios based on the nature of the information presented. I often get fewer clickthroughs, but more links from informational websites that emphasize “how to”.)

So when does a web publisher (the term “webmaster” is now passe’ for those of you who don’t know it yet) embark on a rewrite, redesign, reformat, do-over? I would say that it must have moderately good traffic and be on the brink of breaking out. The redesign must have potential to increase links-in or revenue or both.

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