Web Development

Using the Web2.0 Bandwagon to Jumpstart a Real Business

I was reading this story about a new “web2.0” site called WineLog this morning, and had several thoughts on it that I’d like to share with you. Frankly I was a bit surprised at myself. Pre- seven cups of coffee and shower I’m not generally this thoughtful, but I think there’s food for thought, and fodder for discussion here…

When I saw the headline in my reader, my first thoughts ran a bit like this:

  • How much did they pay to get that mention?
  • Is 53k partially targetted web2.0ers enough to kick this off?
  • Wonder if they built that using Drupal?

In the course of reading the article, and taking a look at the site, I managed to answer those questions and draw some conclusions. It’s those conclusions I want to talk to you about.

Using the Web2.0 Bandwagon to Jumpstart a Real Site

The first question was easy to answer: I simply don’t know, and really don’t care too much, I just wondered why such a mediocre idea had gotten a full write-up on TechCrunch — And the answer to that, is probably as simple as “they put a few web2.0ish things like comments (gasp, horror…) and RSS on the site and made a good pitch to Arrington.” Which led to the second question, and some thoughts on web2.0, Search engines and bandwagons.

There’s no doubt that dumb as we may find some of the web2.0 “oooh, i made a website!” silliness out there, if you pitch it right, and get a kick start from blogs like TC and others where the blog/web2.0 crowd is dense (pun not entirely unintended) you can get an awful lot of link love. And I’m thinking that if you’re smart, and build your site with Search in mind, you may just be able to jump the “tech gap” (the gap between your first 25k users and real users.)

If you’re a bit lost, go check out Om’s summary of the 53k meme that was doing the rounds a couple of weeks back.

Using Search to Reach Real Users

So, you have your idea for a web2.0 site like WineLog — You want to get users submitting wines and commenting on them, and build a community of passionate wine buffs that will add content, buy wine and recruit thier friends. You don’t want much huh? Here’s how you do it:

  1. Build the site, put all the web2.0 crap you can think of on it (whilst not making it entirely useless to real people),
  2. Season with AJAX, but be careful not to overdo it, as you’ll want people to be able to actually link to individual pages
  3. Pay very close attention to the way your urls work, and make it easy for people to share pages by linking to them from their own sites using your preferred link text.
  4. Do everything you can to bill it as “web2.0”, really, these folks will link to anything. and pay particular attention to the A-listers in this category and delicious tags. Do all of the normal things you would to promote a site, but do it “web2.0 style”.
  5. Every couple of weeks, launch a new feature (an AJAX gimmick will usually do) and repeat step 4
  6. Rinse and repeat for 6mts.

If you do a good job on every step, chances are that you’ll be getting some serious Google love by the end of your first six months, and that should be enough to take you to phase 2 – Real Users.

Make it Easy for Real People

By the time you start getting real users in though the front door(s) you’ve created using Search, — every page is your front door — you’ll need to start thinking about them in terms of revenue. Real users don’t want gimicks, they want simple things like:

  • To find what they want without having to think
  • To know where they are and what they can do

Im not saying take useful features away, particularly not sharing features, but do go easy on the real gimmicks. At this point it’s all about usability, and ease of transaction. Think about the original web2.0 site: Amazon

Where WineLog have Gone Wrong

Ok, so we’ve been talking thusfar about using the web2.0 bandwagon, and the link frenzy anything with a few AJAXy widgets on it can incite, but you do need to get the Search engine bit right in order to jump the tech gap in this manner.

There are other ways of jumping that gap im sure, but tech folks tend to share with tech folks, and though making it easy to email a friend etc etc are all things you should do, they’re not going ot get you real users (the non web2.0 crowd) half as quickly as using Search, and you dont want to be paying for your users or doing the PR dance with traditional media if you can help it.

If you go look at WineLog, the Search savvy among you may notice a few fundamental mistakes:

1. Page Titles

The biggest, and most obvious, aswell as damaging mistake is this: Individual wines DO NOT have individual titles. Eeek! In Search terms that’s a cardinal sin, and it’ll cost them big time unless they correct it.

The correct title for that page is: 3 Rivers Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 with possibly a ‘| WineLog’ at the end for branding. Titles matter a lot!

2. Coding

Oh boy, as a proponent of clean, standards compliant code, and a recovering SEO™ I was rendered near apoplectic by doing a “view source” on their pages….

Lets do this one by one:

  1. Check out all the code in the of the page. Completely unnecessary, and serves only to push the real content farther down the page. Not a huge sin in Search terms, but it’s not good for sure.
  2. Outdated, bloated code: They’re using a hybrid div/table layout that pushes the real content down even further (again) and makes little or no sense bearing in mind recent browser shares.
  3. What should be both title and headline of this page, actually looks like this: 3 Rivers Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
    — it’s a tag that has no place in modern web standards, but worse, it should be an

    as close to the top of the page body as possible, not a million miles down. Useless.

3. URLS

Hmm.. well there’s nothing wrong with not having your keywords in your url. The benefit from such things is small, but when you’re making a bid for Search traffic, even small benefits are well, benefits right? urls like http://www.winelog.net/wines/Red are great, but http://www.winelog.net/wines/wine/963 is just a missed opportunity.

Tip: The reason keywords in urls DO make a difference, is not that Search engines think those urls are particularly more important than others, its becuase poeple paste whole urls on message boards and blogs that get turned into live links — those live links are gold, as they link to you with good link text.

I could probably go on, but im getting high blood pressure just looking at it heh…

By looking at where WineLog have gone wrong, you can (and so can they I hope) see what you need to do to get this stuff right. It’s not rocket science, there’s no seo-magic, (no seo is magic, its mostly either common sense or spam), just plain simple things you can do to increase your chances of coming up in the top 5 for 4/5 word key phrases on a community driven site like WineLog — which is, as this whole article has been about, the point.

Im sure the people from WineLog will read this, and I hope they correct these things and take the criticism as constructive and helpful.

Doing it On a Shoe String

The last thing I want to look at, is how you can do all of the above, every bit if ot, with almost no budget whatsover.

Remember my third question? “Wonder if they built that using Drupal?” Well, they didn’t. If they had, they could have avoided a lot of those Search mistakes without having to even think about them.

Having read some of their site, and Mikes review, the only thing they’re doing (planning on..) that may need some investment, is the “send to mobile” functionality. Even for that though there are relatively cheap web services that a drupal module could be built from easily. Everything else they’ve done Drupal can do pretty much out of the box.

Build a new module for the “wine” content type, and away you go, easy.

Nothing New

The funny thing, and it’s something that amuses me on a daily basis whilst reading about web2.0 startups, is that there is absolutely nothing new about this. It is NOT innovative to put comments and RSS on a site where people can submit reviews and send them to their friends — Amazon have been doing it for years.

But, this really is web2.0 — we’re doing a lot of the things we’ve already done, again. And this time, we’re doing it with new buzz words, and better communications (blogs) — it’s simply easier to spread ideas, and those ideas can spread very, very fast if you get the buzz right, and successfully hop on the web2.0 juggernaught as it motors by.

If savvy webmasters, bloggers and developers can weave a little Search mojo into their applications, then they may well be able to jump the web2.0 tech gap and actually make money.

Wouldn’t that be a shocker?

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Author: nickw

15 thoughts on “Using the Web2.0 Bandwagon to Jumpstart a Real Business

  1. Quick research at Alexa proves your point about the Web2.0 jumpstart with no long-term lasting value…

    1.) Goto:

    http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?url=www.corkd.com

    2.) Then compare it to http://www.winelog.net (just below the traffic graph

    NOTE: I know Alexa.com is far from being THE source for online traffic data but it’s a good reference point. Plus whether you think its metrics are right or wrong it always does it the same each time so you can compare one site against another and know it’s a relative picture of their performance.

    In both cases you’ll notice a large (in relative terms) spike as they launch the sites.

    In fact you’ll notice WineLog’s initial spike is larger than Corkd’s spike.

    However, in both cases you notice that the traffic patterns spiral downward.

    The KEY is the “real” visitors and the ability to provide something of value they want to return for – or something they want to post on their site that gives you credit for traffic.

    I agree that correct SEO practices would Definitely benefit the long-term value of any site.

    But in this era of IPO or sellouts… do you believe that SEO truly is more valuable in the long run that having a million dollar VC bankroll to fund your marketing machine?

    By the way – Great Post – thanks for your insights!

    Scott M. Britner
    $10,000 Dad on a $250,000 Mission
    (email me if you’d like to know more)

  2. guppywon – in terms of the application framework you missed Nick’s point. As someone who has “drank the koolaid” I say: they could have been first to market with more functionality had they chosen the right tool…

  3. I think one point is neglected here. I work for a real estate search engine, and we always have too much work to do in not enough time. The mottos is often it’s better to get 3 features done quickly and improve the features that users like most, than perfect one feature that is new. This philosophy can be dangerous if quick also means sloppy, but it also has it’s applications.

    WineLog is being developed by two people (disclaimer: close friends of mine) who are both working day jobs, and wanted to get a body of functionality complete and out the door. Sure there are issues with the site, but you know what, they were also the second to market by a matter of days.

    They will eventually work through their issues and have a great site, but in the mean time they’re getting lots of early-to-market benefits such as inbound links. Titles can be updated, but inbounds and hoards of traffic are money in the bank.

  4. Yeah Nick, the part the Valley misses is *exactly* the part about moving beyond the TechCrunch 53K!

  5. If you start to look below the carpet some web 2.0 hypes look funny …

    On the other hand if the obvious functionality is given, well then people might buy it (I did not say Apple or Windows or Unix (or Drupal or WordPress), did I?). I just don’t understand why being geeky always means to give away support for free …

    BTW, that copyright thing sounds too funny but I am sure it’s true … somebody has to try it 🙂

  6. I prefer the Cork’d site, a better example of a web 2.0 wine community with technorati-esque illustrations, and a good pedigree behind it.

    For me, I just pop down to my local Sainsburys and pick up the quality wines that have been reduced by 50% – I can’t be arsed discussing them on a website, that’s all too fancy for me. That said, the Cork’d site looks better than winelog and the urls are better from a Search perspective. They seem to on the money there and with the individuals behind it, it should fare better I guess. It’s often more about presentation these days rather than anything else (it seems that way to me at least)

    I’m tempted to sign up and add some fine wines such as Mad Dog 20/20 and Night Train etc.

  7. yes, making some of these features understandable to non geeks can be the challenge — my thinking in broad terms, is that if making web2.0 understandable to non-geeks is tough, it’s probably the wrong way to go about it.

    Meaning, making functionality and features understandable and usable should be the key task, NOT educating the masses to geek trends and fads

  8. Nick, that’s a great article!

    As redeye says:

    As I evaluate new startups these days I’m finding it harder and harder to see the big ideas that will appeal to a large, non-geek consumer audience. Thoughts?

    I think this is definitely the point. Beside that you need for sure to be on the save side with all the ‘easy’ details you’ve listed above. To try it the ‘bad’ way and to promise a ‘clean’ update for later is pretty silly.

    One addition about getting real people to easy to understand landing pages: In my long thread about the sense of ‘tag clouds’ Intuitive Navigation with Tag Clouds I have mentioned somewhere at the end that by now every article on my new site gets ‘tags/keywords’ and every tag is a clean URL leading to a local tag search result page. Now 25 days later I can say that Google is loving the tag result pages and many people (30% to 40%) get a nearly 100% relevant tag search result page as a landing page on my site which gives them an immediate overview about where they are and where they are able to go from that page.

    The first time readers from the search engines get on my tag search result pages:

    1. A first paragraph telling them in two short sentences what they see. This morning I have added additional links to a fulltext search with the same tag/keyword and links to the archive and the bookmark page (these links were in the header navigation before but now they are directly available while skimming the first paragraph).
    2. The excerpts listed by date for all found articles for that tag/keyword. Every excerpt has a very graphic link telling people ‘to click here to read the whole article’. Many friends seeing my page the first time told me that this link must be big and intuitive!
    3. A tag cloud with all the available tags/keywords
    4. I am still thinking about highlightening the searchwords if it’s a SE referrer. This might eat up some performance.

    People coming to these landing pages stay longer and read more pages (on my site)! Oh, and that result was realized with standard software plus one additional plug-in … hardly any know how necessary!

  9. Brian, it may have been tongue in cheek in parts, but really, i think that could work well for certain types of businesses.

    Better than relying purely on the web2.0 tech crowd who ALSO happen to be [insert real target here] anyway.

    Web2.0 businesses must break out into the larger, more mainstream audiences. Preaching to the choir is all good fun and that, but it’s not going to make a great business if you’re doing something like wine…

    I

  10. All I can say is you nailed the effective Web 2.0 promotional strategy. While you are toungue in cheek about it, I bet there are marketing plans floating around the Valley that are less on the money.

  11. Yeh, chris and I are doing some great stuff with Drupal at the moment, I can’t wait to get some of it live on Performancing.

    We’re doing everything from a full blown front end ot the upcoming ad network, to simple content modules to make this place more fun and useful — Drupal is a very versatile platform from which to build “web2.0 apps”.

    Thanks for the mention here greggles..

  12. Trisha Drupal is no harder than most blogs to setup and is certainly easier than coding everything yourself for this kind of thing but on the other hand not exactly something “everyone” could get working right away. I reviewed drupal a while back and from the great experience I had with it then (now with 4.7 it’s even better) haven’t looked back.

  13. You got me laughing, Nick.

    As I read your story I kept thinking “when is he going to answer the third question?!?!?!”

    I knew the answer, but when you did answer it you pointed out all of the stuff that a Drupal fanatic would have pointed out…it’s shame when good people use weaker tools to get their job done 😉

  14. Great post Nick!

    Drupal can really do all that? I’ve never used it, is it hard to install or set up?

    I guess I’m a bit slow at times too – I didn’t realize the real advantage of having keywords in the url:

    …’its becuase poeple paste whole urls on message boards and blogs that get turned into live links’

    I don’t set up blogs with the post title in the url because I always just thought it made the url too long and messy.

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