Tag Archives: Los Angeles Times

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?

Beware of What Used to Work But Doesn’t Anymore

This is a great example of how quickly business assumptions change, and how badly we can screw up just by assuming the status quo. I just read Coffee Shops are Taking Wireless Off the Menu. News StoryIt reports how coffee shops are turning away from free wireless. It’s an interesting commentary on changing times, but, much more important, a really good business reminder. The LA Times reports:

Coffee shops were the retail pioneers of Wi-Fi, flipping the switch to lure customers. But now some owners are pulling the plug. They’re finding that Wi-Fi freeloaders who camp out all day nursing a single cup of coffee are a drain on the bottom line. Others want to preserve a friendly vibe and keep their establishments from turning into “Matrix”-like zombie shacks where people type and don’t talk.

That shift could gather steam now that free Wi-Fi is less of a perk after coffee giant Starbucks stopped charging for it last month.

Put yourself in the place of coffee shop owners. Just yesterday, free wireless was a feature, a sign on the outside window, a customer lure. You just blink, and now it’s no wireless instead. Business climates, competitive environments, customer loyalties, and customer preferences changed in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, what worked isn’t working anymore.

Think about the rise and fall of direct mail marketing, Web banner ads, V8 engines, artificial sweeteners, TV dinners … we’ve all seen that happen so many times. In business, you keep your mind open. Revisit your assumptions as often as you can.

Because something similar is about to happen in your business. Or maybe it already did. Maybe what you think works, what used to work, isn’t working anymore.