Why Websites Fail

Cole Wiebe
March 17, 2014
Read time: 4 minutes

I love the movie, There Will Be Blood, and watched it again a few days ago. The story is set in California, early in the 20th century. The American oil boom was on, and by 1903 California had become the leading oil producing state. Derricks as far as the eye could see — hastily erected out of wood — dotted the landscape. The strategy was simple: drill a bunch of holes and hope one hit. Many would-be oil men went bust, while a few lucky ones struck it rich, bringing in one gusher after another.

In the 1920's, the oil industry discovered directional drilling. Instead of punching holes all across the landscape of the lease, on a whim and a prayer, and erecting fields of derricks; the new breed of driller worked closely with a geologist to carefully target oil deposits. Directional drilling provided the ability to accurately steer the well in directions and angles that departed from the vertical.

The location of the drill site was determined by geological research. Drill samples were collected and analyzed every few hours and corrections to the path of the drill were made as required. Drilling for oil had become far less hit and miss, and a single tilt-up steel rig began to replace the former wooden derricks.

Even with a far more scientific approach, not every well hit. Short of funds, many small oil companies lost the faith and would revert to the old ways, replacing geologists with carpenters. Instead of drilling deep and singularly focused, the old approach was all over the map and fairly shallow. If the new approach was a sniper rifle with a high velocity shell, the old way was a blunderbuss.

The Internet has seen its own boom, with a dot-com speculative bubble that lasted from 1997 through 2000. Many venture companies would invest in dozens of start-ups, hoping one would come in. And, like the oil industry, all online marketers now have knowledgeable advisers and sophisticated tools available to them, to minimize wasted effort and maximize resources.

A targeted approach, with course corrections along the way, makes sense on the white board. Many small business owners will secure quality advice, and with the help of a SEO/content marketing/social media professional, study their target market, create customer personas, determine the best keywords and topics, map out a strategy to reach their audience, and forge ahead with considerable enthusiasm. But if they don't hit a gusher in two or three months, they're ready to cancel the analytics service, kill the content creation and social media budget, and fire their adviser, proclaiming, "This new content marketing stuff doesn't work!"

But it used to work...

Predictably, they'll go back to the old ways. They may get their new "more flexible and obedient" SEO to buy a bunch of links or send out an email blast. "Hell, those used to work like a hot damn." Instead of focusing their content, so Google can determine a subject for their website, they'll try to "cover all the bases" by adding pages and posts for a broader range of topics.

Website owners stop creating extremely valuable content and revert to pounding out product offers through their blog and social posts. It's pure spam, but it used to get an occasional reply. Instead of increasing focus and relevance they dilute themselves in an effort to become all things to all people.

If they're an ecommerce site, instead of pruning all the obscure products that don't fit in the primary theme, they'll begin feverishly adding new categories. Going wide, lest any potential customer or reader be missed, seems to make sense to a frightened business owner, tired of waiting for traffic to build more organically. If distilling their marketing focus didn't bring results quickly enough, dilution must surely be the way to go.

In frustration, organic search on Google, Bing and Yahoo! may be abandoned entirely in favor of just buying dozens of pay per click ads, and targeting a very broad range of keywords. Blogging and social media may be ditched, or take a very different direction. Instead of "attracting" visitors to the site, with helpful content, old school aggressive sales offers tend to appear again in every post.

Going back to the familiar can be comforting. It's just like comfort food. It calms the anxiety on the short term, but is generally very unhealthy, and wholly unsustainable over the long term.

Learning new and more effective ways of doing things involves a learning curve. There's time and money involved. Results may come slower than with the old methods you were familiar with, at least initially. When you don't see immediate results, it may even occur to you that the thousands of authoritative writers on the web, promoting content marketing and social media, may be lying, and that they may have a sinister profit agenda. Change can be scary and emotionally painful. You will have to trust and commit to a strategy you have not proven personally. There may be new people and companies to trust. And it's essentially impossible to micromanage a process you don't fully understand.

The only constant is constant change. Once a better way has been demonstrated, it's not usually possible to go back in time. Covering dozens of acres with wooden derricks had ceased to be the way things were done. Lease holders weren't going to allow their properties to be torn up that way any more, considering the alternative. In the same way, Google isn't going to be rolling back to a pre-Panda/Penguin era any time soon. What worked back in 2010, is never going to work again. Mobile devices are also here to stay, and we need to design our websites and develop marketing strategies to take advantage of that trend, not fight it. We either evolve, or we perish.

Final thoughts

Do you find yourself hesitant to get fully behind content marketing, blogging or social media? Do you mistrust that line of advice? Is it confusing? Do you have a success story to share? I welcome your questions and comments below.

Cole Wiebe, content marketing expert, Vancouver, BCCole Wiebe helps brands and professionals grow their influence and value online; so they can “out content”™ their competition. Cole is a content strategist, content writer, conversion copywriter and online marketing coach.

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18 comments on “Why Websites Fail”

  1. Hi Cole,

    Though I haven't seen the movie you mentioned, but I can well relate to what you shared in today's post 🙂

    Yes, change is constant. What worked yesterday or years ago isn't going to work now and that's just how progress is made also - in most of the cases. Speaking of Google, SO much has changed within these 3 years that I've been blogging. I wonder if it was the same before that too, and how it will all be in the years to follow. Yes - that confuses me for sure, but I think it would be the case with all the bloggers.

    After the animal updates, things have changed where the SEO is concerned and so much more. You try to work with your old posts, and when you start with them, there comes another update and you start reworking on them again! (not that I've worked on any of my old ones due to lack of time, but I know of a few friends who faced this) - So, where does all of this start and end - that's confusing!

    I guess being bloggers, we just carry on writing and blogging to the best of our abilities without really caring about these frequent updates. At least I've stopped caring, except for the basic SEO I might do with my posts. Just write useful posts that help the readers in some way and give value. Build your relationships with fellow bloggers because they are the ones who'd always be by your side - whether Google changes or not, isn't it? That's just the easy and simple way I've started taking now 🙂

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice week ahead 🙂

    1. Hi Harleena,

      In addition to updating old posts, to comply with changes in Google's algorithms, we have found that it's important to give blog posts a good pruning at least once a year.

      I just updated my site to a responsive design, so it will be mobile friendly. That should make it the grounds appear greener to a large segment of potential visitors. But it is overdue for a good pruning. Google values a focused theme, so it can determine where a site should be listed. Catchy headlines, and exciting topics, certainly do bring in traffic from blog comments and social channels on the short term, but if they don't contribute to the primary theme of the site, they may dilute the site's relevance over time. And companies evolve. Some of the services we used to offer, and target with our content, we no longer provide. Keeping those old posts, simply because of the time and 'love' invested into them, doesn't help our ranking (unless a lot of quality backlinks point to particular posts).

      You're right, reworking our old posts is a lot of work. I think I'll put on the coveralls...

      - Cole

  2. Hi Cole,

    I think it has a lot do with a lack of motivation that is due to the fact that people get into the field with the expectation that ruining a site is easy and fruitful from the get go. When they think that, and then discover that it actually takes a lot of work a lack of motivation to learn leads to dead websites.

    1. Hi Amiti,

      Sadly, many infopreneurs are telling would-be marketers just how easy it's going to be. It's a welcome message that's very hard to resist.

      And then along come a couple of realists, like you and me, to throw a web blanket on the party :-).

      - Cole

  3. Hey Cole,

    I don't believe I've seen that movie either but glad it sparked a post.

    People are just impatient creatures for the most part. I can only imagine when companies hire someone to do a job in most instances you get some good immediate results where others it's a process. Obviously they don't know enough about the internet to know that this is definitely a process.

    I know when I started this particular journey I'm on right now it took me four months to get some good traction. Maybe in the past if they've done paid advertising then they would have seen immediate results and assumed they would get the same. Boy, if it only worked that way right.

    Things just take time and so many people aren't willing to invest that time which is why they never reach where they want. They aren't letting things take their natural course but that just means more for those of us that do have patience or know this can work but it just needs more time.

    Wake up people, great things don't happen over night.


    1. Hi Adrienne,

      You're right; people don't know enough about the internet to understand why it's a process, not a quick fix. A combination of entirely too many "get rich quick" offers, and lack of experience in the business world, I believe are behind most of the unrealistic expectations new online marketers have. Granted, humans are impatient and lazy.

      When internet marketing is compared with other business models, like franchise opportunities, a realistic time frame should be easier to accept. In fact, that model is actually quite similar to a new built-for-profit website. To shorten the road to success, and minimize risk, a proven system is adopted. A professional adviser is brought in, the target market market is evaluated and a strategy is mapped out to reach those people. With a turnkey franchise, the franchisor will usually help choose a good location, train the franchisee, and help implement proven systems. Costly mistakes can thereby be avoided. It takes time to either build, or make the required improvements to leased space. The franchisor makes sure they fully understand the time frame going in. Franchise applicants will often be turned down unless they can demonstrate that they have secured enough funding to cover working at a loss for the first 2 or 3 years. Expecting profits within two or three months, with a brand new online business, is just as unrealistic, and that's with a proven method. Going it alone, and learning through the school of hard knocks, will generally extend the process significantly.

      Our small business clients are a different group. They understand business, but most have unfortunately been brought up with traditional advertising and sales methods. Ad spots were purchased on media other companies developed. If they bought ads this month, returns could be expected within weeks. But they were harnessing the many years media companies invested in developing their audience. Switching to a content marketing model, where they become the media company, is a big stretch. Building an audience, before results can be expected, is a hard concept for a small business owner to embrace. I do understand why many business owners become frustrated, and even panic, when the new way of doing things doesn't generate results as quickly as renting ad space on established media. But as one major media company after another closes the doors, and busy consumers avoid traditional advertising, change is becoming more difficult to put off. My hope is that people that are considering abandoning a content strategy, or those that already have, will recommit to the process.

      - Cole

  4. Cole I have been on the internet selling promotional products in the early 90's. I have seen companies come and go. What I have learned if I didn't stay up with the times, social media and stay on top of what is new I would be gone also. I am constantly tweaking my website but still staying true to content. Social media is playing a larger role as the new buyers today are young and are into any gadget that they can get their hands on. For social media is working, who knows that will be in Vogue in the next 20 years.

    1. You've been at this longer than I have. This is my 18th year, helping small business clients market products and services online. Monthly site submissions were what passed for SEO back then, and banner ads were the way to promote our stuff online. I first read about a blog around 1999, and then Zuckerberg put that huge dent into the universe in 2004. A lot has changed, and I wouldn't hazard a guess as to where we'll be in another decade. I think we can safely say that mobile will continue to grab market share. Interesting ride...

      - Cole

  5. They say it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I don't know exactly how long I have been working with various online projects, but somewhere in the 18-20 year ish range.

    It's difficult for me to keep up with new trends and changes. I swear it was much easier years ago because it wasn't changing so fast. Now, I constantly hear how we should be doing this or that, and tomorrow it's something new again. Maybe not quite, but it sure seems like it.

    It kind of reminds me of technology in general. When I was a younger it seemed like it took many years before something really new and different came along, and when it did they were few. Then, they just kept coming at a faster pace to where we are today.

    Maybe I the younger generation will be so used to change that it will be like second nature to them. I know as I get older I am going to have a heck of a time everything. Whether it's SEO, social media, or technology in general.

    1. Hi Ray,

      For quite a few years, every year or two we had to buy a new computer, with sufficient hardware resources to run the latest operating systems and software. Consumers were becoming tired of it, choosing to stick with their old software, and we've seen a leveling off at about the 3GHz level for desktops. Software developers simply had to write more efficient code.

      Many people got caught up in catching up with the latest "tactics" for securing Google rankings. Customers drove us, as SEOs, to find shortcuts for them. What Google has always been looking for is great content to make available to their users. Their algorithms had to evolve to the place where cheating was pretty much impossible. I believe we'll see a leveling off now, as people accept the reality that they're going to have to commit to producing content worth listing in the search engines.

      I'm hoping we'll be able to relax a bit, and that the internet will become a more stable to conduct business. Time will tell...

      - Cole

  6. Hi Cole,

    I haven't seen that movie, but that's a great example for the point you're making here.

    Sorry for being late in the game, just had such a rough month 🙂

    Almost as soon as I started my online career did I notice how fast things changed online, and that really annoyed the hell out of me, but I quickly understood that there's no way around it. We've got to play our game with it and accept it.

    Thank you for this post. I enjoyed it!

    1. Hi Sylviane,

      I believe we're going to see a lot more stability in internet marketing going forward. Instead of scheming to come up with ways to cheat the system, website owners will gradually accept that they're going to have to give Google what they've wanted all along: great content worth placing in the first page of the search results. Google's "animal" algorithm upgrades have simplified things.

      - Cole

    1. Hi Sahith,

      Thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment. True enough... some categories generally have to go. Not many of us can afford to take the Walmart approach, casting an ever broader net, with more categories, products and services every week.

      For the small business, focusing on the one or two things we can do exceptionally well helps us provide more value to our readers, our customers and ultimately search engines. This month I've been practicing what I preach, removing more than half of the service web pages from the site. And I'm not finished cleaning out the tackle box yet. Many of the lures were for species I no longer want to target. So I'm clearing space for the lures that will hook the one or two species I'd like to focus on.

      - Cole

  7. Interesting article, Cole.

    I think the key to what you suggest here is to accept change and move on.

    That's always been sound business advice, but it's particularly apropos for online business. The very nature of the internet is fluidity and keeping atop the trends.

    SEO is not a thing of the past, it's just done a bit of shape-shifting. Instead of stockpiling keywords in any haphazard fashion, we actually have to craft content that has value and relevance to our readers. What a pain in the neck 🙂

    All these changes should be taken as an opportunity to improve our game. After all, that's what the big money interests (Google, Facebook etc) are begging us to do... and to the extent they do, they are challenging us to get better at what we're trying to accomplish.

    The only people this should really upset are keyword hacks, article spinners and social media spammers.

    1. Hi Donna,

      You're so right. I see Google's animal algorithm updates as positive change, long overdue. When clients insist that we apply the latest "SEO tricks," I can now respond with, "Sorry, we're just going to have to create some useful content to improve your authority, rankings, and traffic. :-)" The madness had to end some time.

      We saw a similar leveling off in the PC market. Every year or two we were expected to upgrade our computers so they would work with the latest operating system and software. Consumers became sick of the "speed wars", and responded by no longer upgrading their software. Computer speeds essentially capped at a little over 2Ghz for laptops and 3 for desktops. Wow! I can actually use the same computer for 5 years or more... love it!

      I believe that business owners will come to see that the shift towards creating great content brings stability and sustainability to their marketing strategies.

      - Cole

  8. I have been blogging for last 3 years now.I can say with confidence that to succeed in blogging you need to be very patient...You need to put in lot of hard work..Those who are for quick gains and short cuts will take their websites to the grave....

    1. Hi Karnal,

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. You're right, it's a process, it takes time, there's a learning curve, and patient bloggers have a fighting chance at becoming successful. It's unfortunate that so many internet marketing "gurus" convince would-be professional bloggers that there is a shortcut to riches.

      - Cole

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