#TBT: You Can Tell When Something’s Alive and When It’s Not

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim

You Can Tell When Something’s Alive and When It’s Not

The other day, we were evaluating a long list of websites as potential Goldstar partners. Not a thrilling conversation, but something came out of it that I thought I’d share.

On this list were the names of sites, the number of visits those sites get every month and their traffic rank. Pretty standard stuff. When you make a list like that, though, it biases your thinking: Bigger traffic is better, right? The smaller traffic stuff gets deprioritized. If a site has a billion visitors, there’s opportunity, right?

But as we were going through the list, another dimension appeared: Some sites are alive and some sites are dead. I don’t mean you get a 404 error when you try to go there. I just mean that when you go to the site, you get the immediate feeling that the thing has not been interacted with, not loved by any user. Or even hated by any user. In short, it’s not “alive.”

At a glance the facade of these “dead” sites is OK, but scratch the surface, and …

How can a site with tons of traffic be “dead?” It’s pretty straightforward, really: You create an index of content that you update using as much automation and canned feeds of things like lists of businesses, restaurants, tourist destinations, etc. and let that program run, with occasional intervention to make sure it’s working. Then, you either buy search ads or just spend time and energy optimizing your site for search to the point where somebody searching for, let’s say, Hollywood Boulevard (for some reason) finds you in search. They come to your canned page about Hollywood Boulevard, find little or no helpful information, but might click on a link you’ve provided (which is actually an ad)  to somewhere else that might actually be useful.  Of course, it could also be another useless site like yours, but them’s the breaks.

So you’ve got a stampede of people being tricked into coming to your site (OK, “tricked” is too strong a word), who don’t like it, never stick around, but generate on average a tiny, tiny sliver of advertising revenue for you. And that’s the business.

By contrast, we saw sites as we explored the list that were clearly “alive.” You could tell that users were there and that care was being put into them. Content was original and useful. Comments, reviews and such were being made. In fact, without even really taking a close look, you could tell. Almost at a glance. The “dead” sites were too clean, too orderly and tended to look like they’d been made from a template provided by Microsoft. The other ones, which weren’t all small, but ranged from small to giant, just radiated with the presence of a human being.

I can tell you from our experience working with sites that even if a “dead” site has big traffic numbers, its traffic is much less valuable on a per-person basis for live entertainment marketers, and probably everybody. A powerful online community could be hiding behind relatively small traffic numbers because those numbers don’t convey the power of the care and human presence that’s contained there.

It’s always tempting to think that if you have a marketing partnership with a “big” source of traffic, you’ll get big results, but low-quality traffic translates down to zero or close to zero revenue really quickly. For me, traffic and user numbers tell just one part of the story, but more importantly, it’s those sites that are alive that are the ones we really want to work with.

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