Thursday, April 10, 2008

If you build it, they might not come

Did you read this great comment from my good friend Paul at Last Great Road Trip (I think the comment actually referenced the content in this post, but hey, it's the thought that counts). If you are teaching web design and/or marketing - it better be "and" - you need to pay attention to Paul's comments. Heck, if you are a fellow advisory board member you should be paying attention.

From the business perspective, the web is about driving traffic your way and there is no guarantee that people will show up just because you have a blog or web site. We focus our educational resources on the mechanics of web design (and we completely forget the marketing aspect of the site) but that isn't the really critical component. Have you setup a blog at - it takes like 3 minutes, max. Hey, my dog's got her own blog, so how difficult can it be.

Now I don't want to dis' web design or e-commerce education, and I certainly don't want to downplay the important role that informatics and information architecture play in developing a highly usable site. I do, however, want to echo Paul's point that there is a lot of noise on the internet and it takes real work to get people you don't know to stop and look at your site. We need to teach that in school too.

Paul's lesson plan is simple. Have students create a web site (he suggests on any topic and then use the free Google Analytics to monitor how certain activities help to build traffic. The next steps are meant to build links from supporting sites to the primary site, which in turns builds rank among the various search and linking tools (Google, Technorati, etc). The specific tools he lists are not important, he even suggests non-web 2.0 tools like the good ole' fashioned press release. The point of the exercise is that students are: thinking strategically and tactically about the role of the web site, using linkages to build site traffic and analyzing the results from Google Analytics to determine if their actions lead to the desirable outcome. If fact there is a profession emerging around this called search engine optimization or SEO. A little web design, a little marketing, a little math and you got yourself a new profession.

To drive my point home, let me give you three examples to look at:
  • The MedicCast is produced by paramedic Jamie Davis. Here is is collection of useful content aimed at a particular audience. He assembles content from other sources as well as creating original content and bundles it up in a blog, a podcast and a live show. Notice the blogroll in the left-hand column and the "share and enjoy" icons at the end of each post. Both encourage linking, which build credibility. Does all this work payoff? Try Googling podcast and medic to see who gets first page ranking.
  • Think of The Wood Whisperer as Norm 2.0. Marc Spagnuolo has a woodworking business and is a contributor to Fine Woodworking magazine, along with the videocast and blog. He has less of the shared linking than on the MedicCast, but notice the various other social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc) that he uses.
  • Last, but certainly not least, than man who started this whole rant: The Last Great Road Trip. Who knew Paul's mid-life crisis was going to be so interesting (oh, he's going get me for that comment). Again you see a aggregated and original content that keeps the reader interested and coming back. He uses the linking to improve traffic flow. Less obvious from the site is his use of old media, like the press releases, articles in specialty magazines or interviews on radio to drive additional links.
A lot of us, young and old, create content for the web - a blog, uploading pictures to Flickr or My Space page - but these are for an audience we already know. The challenge for a business or professional site is to drive traffic from people who don't know us, or Kevin Bacon. This is marketing challenge not a technology challenge. And it's not guesswork. Your students have tools available to them for free in which they can demonstrate the effectiveness of any given marketing campaign.

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