Tag Archives: Joel Spolsky

Is Search-Driven Entrepreneurship Obsolete?

Remember that dream we all had together, not so long ago, where a well-thought-out startup with a good understanding of the Web could grow on merit alone? Isn’t that sort of what Google did? And many others? I fear that’s not happening anymore.

For a good, short summary of the SEO problem, from a brilliant software entrepreneur, watch the two-minute video here: Joel Spolsky on how SEO makes the Internet worse.


I’m not an SEO expert, but how telling that Vivek Wadwha posted Why We Desperately Need a New (and Better) Google on exactly Jan. 1, 2011.

The problem is that content on the Internet is growing exponentially and the vast majority of this content is spam. This is created by unscrupulous companies that know how to manipulate Google’s page-ranking systems to get their websites listed at the top of your search results … Content creation is big business, and there are big players involved. For example, Associated Content, which produces 10,000 new articles per month, was purchased by Yahoo! for $100 million, in 2010. Demand Media has 8,000 writers who produce 180,000 new articles each month … This content is what ends up as the landfill in the garbage websites that you find all over the Web. And these are the first links that show up in your Google search results

Don’t think for a minute that Google isn’t working on it. In another January post, Google search quality czar Matt Cutts wrote a blog post promising a major effort to revise Google search to deal better with spam. And that’s been happening. Google is in fact shaking things up, which is good news for the long term, but, well, Google is shaking things up. The Los Angeles Times’ reported recently

Google won plaudits for promoting original research and analysis and banishing pages littered with second-rate content or overloaded with advertising. But the revision to its secret mathematical formula that determines the best answers to a searcher’s query also caused an uproar as hundreds of sites complained to Google that they had been unfairly lumped in with “content farms,” which churn out articles with little useful information to drive more traffic to their sites.

Chris Dixon, co-founder of Hunch.com and startup celebrity, recently posted SEO is no longer a viable marketing strategy for startups on his blog. Here’s his conclusion:

Google seems to be doing everything it can to improve its algorithms so that the best content rises to the top (the recent “panda” update seems to be a step forward). But there are many billions of dollars and tens of thousands of people working to game SEO. And for now, at least, high-quality content seems to be losing. Until that changes, startups – who generally have small teams, small budgets, and the scruples to avoid black-hat tactics – should no longer consider SEO a viable marketing strategy.

Tim Cohn posted The SEO is Dead Debate the following day. He doesn’t reference Chris Dixon specifically, but he has an eloquently short post, saying that SEO isn’t dead because ….

… the SEO is Dead author never offers an equal let alone superior alternative.

That one bothers me. Since when does nothing die without offering a superior alternative?

What do you think? Is SEO dead to startups?

Say it Ain’t So Joel

This is disturbing on several levels. No, I don’t know Joel Spolsky but I feel like I do because I’ve been reading his work for years. He’s not just an expert on software development, he’s a very good writer and thinker. I’ve quoted him a lot.

So what’s disturbing? In Let’s Take This Offline Joel’s saying he’s going to stop blogging. That’s bad enough, because there aren’t that many thoughtful eloquent software developers around. But what’s worse is his reason (quoting):

The truth is, as much as I’ve enjoyed it, blogging has become increasingly impossible to do the way I want to as Fog Creek has become a larger company. We now have 32 employees and at least six substantial product lines. We have so many customers that I can’t always write freely without inadvertently insulting one of them. And my daily duties now take so much time that it has become a major effort to post something thoughtful even once or twice a month.

The best evidence also suggests that there are many other effective ways to market Fog Creek’s products — and that our historical overreliance on blogging as a marketing channel has meant that we’ve ignored them. I realize now that blogging made me, and Fog Creek, a big fish in a very small pond. As a result, we have the undisputed No. 1 product among the 5 percent to 10 percent of programmers who regularly read blogs about programming. Meanwhile, we’re almost unknown in every other demographic.

I think that’s a real business mistake. As I write this and as you read it, of course, we should both recognize that I know absolutely nothing about the specific business of Fog Creek software, so I’m probably way off base here. But then, in defense of what I’m about to say, I am relying on Joel’s own words. I’m taking him at his word.

The mistake here is related to one of my favorite quotes: “I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everybody.”

I think every company needs to recognize its strengths and weaknesses. Sure, you try to bolster the weaknesses over time, but never give up a strength. Here’s my message to Joel:

Joel, your blogging is your stronghold. It’s all about focus. You can’t do everything. Having a clear and well-identified strength is really important. Keep it. Use it to defend your business while you expand elsewhere. You don’t have to give that up in order to broaden channels. You’ve got a business going, you have revenue, you can hire people to do those other things, open those other channels. If you look, you’ll find people who know how to do that, and can do it better than you will. Keep your writing and build on it.