In the previous article I looked at the issues with the centralisation of the Internet regarding Facebook and how Facebook is, for better or for worse, finally turning into a pure advertising vehicle now that it has a virtually unassailable position in the marketplace. In this article I want to suggest an idea which might help webmasters of smaller sites avoid the future of 0% organic reach.
We all know that running a smaller site is a labour of love. Covering your costs is normally a major milestone for any smaller site so having an audience is hugely important. After all shouting down a telephone when nobody else is on the other end loses its appeal after a short while. Please be aware that nothing I say here is a guaranteed traffic generation method, I don't claim to have the midas touch at these things otherwise you'd notice the steam coming off the server my little site is sat on. This is merely a suggestion as to how we could perhaps do the unthinkable and work just a little smarter by using all the resources we already have.
First thing, how many small / niche sites do you visit on a daily or weekly basis? Be honest now, how many pages have you liked on Facebook belonging to such sites that you've almost never visited? Yeah, not cool is it? We all do it though so don't worry, this is the easiest thing to fix. It might not have a direct benefit but start visiting those sites, start having a look about and if there's a means of interacting off Facebook then do that too. This is getting a network going, it's pretty damn important. Now, how many people are on your friends list / page likes list that are webmasters themselves? I'll imagine you've got a couple on there, right? Start chatting with them, ask them how they're getting on, what they're doing to drive traffic. It could be you already do this, if so...top marks!
Okay, you've started hanging out on sites. Sure, it cuts into your daily Facebook trawl but it's so cool! You've started chatting with the people who own the sites and you all get on well and occasionally sit and have a damn good bitch about how tough it is to get folks to your site now. Then it's time to look to the past for a couple of ideas we can make relevant to our current situation.
The webring! Now don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting you hook up with ten sites with identical content to yours and then add a hideous banner saying you're a member of the "Jean Paul Satre and Velvet" webring. That would suck and that, in conjunction with the rising popularity of search engines, is what spelled the death knell for the webring. What I'm suggesting is the formation of what I guess you could call a webring, or an organisation, or a team...pick your favourite term. Don't look for sites which cover the same niche as you, focus more on sites that might enjoy a complementary audience. If you run a site dedicated to Italian horror films of the 1980's it's a dead cert a good percentage of your audience will enjoy a site dedicated to Slasher movies, that is obvious, but what about spaghetti westerns? History of cinema, music from the 80's, or even politics given the age demographic you're likely to find. You get my drift.
From there you are in a great position to pool your resources. The most attractive proposition at first will be passive methods of sharing traffic because we all love doing nothing. You know, sharing links on each other's site, perhaps occasionally linking or re-posting content your audience might find interesting. Obvious stuff. But that's not increasing the overall traffic to any great degree, rather it's moving it around. It might not be generating extra but it's certainly building a more solid bond between the sites on the "ring" and that's a good thing.
But what about less passive means of advertising? Well, there's Twitter and you can certainly retweet each others posts but that's akin to sharing links really. That means we have to tackle Facebook. However things are panning out it's still a great way of reaching out to a chosen demographic, it's just that doing that isn't really financially sensible as an individual, but as a group it makes perfect sense in quite a few ways. How would it work though? I thought you'd never ask.
Create a new page, think of this as your holding company. It is a page for your ring, it's the hub your sites are attached to. Currently $1.00 per day on Facebook will get you out to an average of 4,000 feeds. I would say people but I can't verify that. That equates to $7.00 per week or $28.00 per month. Given your hosting is probably less than $10.00 per month that's not sounding like a bargain. Split that up between 4 people though and it's a lot more appealing. $7.00 a month to reach thousands? It's a better deal than any other form of advertising can possibly match.
On your holding page assume the responsibility of splitting the month between you. Each week one of you will spend $10.00 publicising posts on the hub page. These can be your own or other member's posts. It doesn't matter because you're paying into the co-operative here and as you're already sharing traffic by linking and cross posting content where applicable it's a win for everyone.
Naturally there are always complications, some months someone won't pay or someone will complain they paid but went on holiday for a fortnight. Thing is it's only $10 a month so catching up shouldn't be hard and even if you're away traffic is being generated for the whole in one way or another. The hardest part of this is always going to be the people involved so choose carefully and even draw up a simple agreement if you're unsure. Better still, if you're unsure pick some different people!
Nothing I've shared here is groundbreaking or massively original, it's actually incredibly obvious. Sadly in the age of "social networking" many of us have forgotten how to connect socially AND network. Centralisation has happened but it can be used to break away from the dependency by using the very thing that traps us. Use it as a tool, use it smartly, hone your demographic and set all of your egos aside when choosing what to promote and you'll see results. You won't suddenly become a top 10 website but that's not why you did this in the first place.
Just $10 a month, some time, and probably a lot of fun shooting the shit with other webmasters. Doesn't sound like such a terrible chore to me, in fact it sounds like a damn good start.