I received an interesting email from an aspiring publisher this weekend who laid out all of the steps he planned to take in publishing his first book. It looked like he covered all of the basic points I've written about, and his question was whether he had left anything out. The one thing missing from his plan was the time line. If you're going to follow the Internet centric approach, creating a website to establish a marketing platform while carrying out market research and drawing feedback on your work in progress, you have to start publishing online BEFORE you print the book.
The correspondence reminded me that it's time to post another progress report for my new website, which is now three months old. Last month I used data from YouTube Insight to contrast the success of the simple car repair videos I've made for the IFITJAMS.COM website with the relative obscurity of my short publishing talks that take much more time to produce. That gap has continued to expand, as those simple repair videos now draw more than three times as many viewers a day as the publishing talks.
If we extrapolate from the rising slope of the curve, it can be proved that within a couple years, all YouTube visitors will be watching my car repair videos 24 hours a day. I should get a job on Wall Street:-) Over that same period of time, the number of direct visitors to the website (a mix of robots and human visitors who arrive by typing the website URL directly into the browser) has tripled as well. While those numbers aren't huge, at around 5% of overall traffic, it shows that there's some value to mentioning the website in the videos and displaying the address in a video annotation, even though YouTube doesn't allow it to be directly linked.
But search is by far the most important source website visitors unless you're running a site that's already a destination, such as a bank, government agency or a newspaper. Search is, perhaps, the most important publishing technology to come along since the printing press. I've written extensively about building a website with compelling text content and presenting it in a search engine friendly format (simple HTML), but the greatest challenge for most new publishers is attracting quality incoming links. Without those incoming links, the website won't appear high in any searches, unless the material being sought is so obscure that your site happens to be the only source.
The graph below shows the total number of search visitors per day over the first three months of life for the new website. While the number of pages on the website has increased somewhat over the three months, the pages that draw the most visitors were published within the first few weeks. Those pages, troubleshooting flowcharts for some basic car problems, each required several days of work just to publish in draft form, say two weeks of full time effort. Creating a time intensive resource for your website that isn't available anywhere else helps establish the website as a serious effort, rather than some fly-by-night blog thrown together by a keyword writer looking to make a few pennies from advertising.
I employed a two phased approach for launching this new website, starting with the initial resource content, then slowly adding photo and video illustrated car repair procedures as work on my project car progressed. This gave the initial content a chance to age in place a little longer, which doesn't hurt since some search engines treat websites like wine, preferring those that have a few cobwebs on the cork. After adding a new page that I thought would be particularly useful to people facing the same car repair challenge, I'd go out and search the web for open discussions on the topic and try to find a thread where a link to my new page would be both appreciated and contextually useful in helping the search engines figure out where the new page fit in their ecosystem. Going out and joining discussions to tell people about a new web page is exactly like cold calling - you can expect a lot of rejection to make a single sale. But unless you're already a somebody in that community, blowing your own horn is the only way you're going to get any attention.
I thought it would be a challenge to get some quality inbound links for the new site, and it has been, but it's been a useful exercise for the sake of being able to write about it in the context of the new publishing ecosystem. The Internet has changed quite a bit since I first started publishing online in 1995, and from the standpoint of attracting quality links, I'd say the two biggest changes have been blogs and social networks. In the past, people spent serious time mining the internet for useful links to add to their hobby site or to a resources page of a school, library or business. Today, the majority of organic links end up posted on social networks or blogs, where their aggregate value is quite low, due to the large number of often unrelated links getting published on those sites. And the individual blog posts or pages on the social networking site usually have a low search profile themselves, once they age out of the spotlight.
Essentially all of the search visitors to the new website, over 95%, are coming from Google. Aside from demonstrating Google's superior taste in content, it says something about how Yahoo! and Microsoft struggle to match search queries with relevant websites. From my own search activity, it appears to me that both Yahoo! and Microsoft give tremendous weight to the keywords in the domain name, path and file name, which are all easily faked by software applications that build websites from scraped content.
I'm just getting to the point where I think there's enough quality content on the new website to begin asking individuals who still maintain links pages for automotive or related DIY resources to take a look. One of the most common mistakes enthusiastic new publishers make is to go pestering everybody who maintains a links page to visit their brand new website. It may be pretty, but it's almost always devoid of content when it's new. Nobody is going to give you a quality link because the site navigation includes plans for a forum that doesn't have any members, or placeholders for content that you haven't gotten around to writing yet. Building a new website is like building a house on spec. It's rare to find a buyer until the house is substantially finished, unless the market is so hot that people are willing to buy a promise.
I'm happy to be getting some positive e-mail feedback and over a hundred visitors a day from search already, with some visitors staying on the site fifteen minutes or longer. I'm not planning any books on the auto repair subject, but it's a highly competitive area in the online world, so it shows that the Internet remains open for business to publishers who have the patience to follow the organic approach to growing a website. I don't know if search traffic will reach 200 visitors a day by the end of the year, an arbitrary goal for success that I chose as being out of reach, but it gives me an excuse for this early video rerun: