Getting a Web 2.0 Beta Rolling

ML Jun 7, 2006

So, I’m doing a little bit of online outreach. The launch of the HitTail is very revealing into the momentum-building challenge of the natural search hit component of marketing. I talk about the snowball effect, and it is quite literally true. A snowball is born with very little mass. Every bit of snow it picks up near the beginning is an effort. You have to pack it with your hands. You have to keep sticking on more snow as you begin to roll it. It’s a very manual effort. It can be disheartening for anyone trying get a snowball rolling or a website started from scratch.

Virtually all of HitTail’s publicity at this point is coming in through the occasional link. The initial pop came from my very first mention of the beta on John Battelle’s Search Blog, when he asked for a recommended SEO/SEM firm. Next, we were fortunate enough to be added to the Museum of Modern Betas by Saurier Duval (thanks!). About the same time, Donna from SEO-Scoop recognized what we were building and was very kind with her coverage (thanks to you!).

And then the search hits started dribbling in. First, on the site name “hittail”, and next on “snapbot” because I publish every non-browser user agent that hits this site. Then, “MSWC.IISLog”, the tool I use to do that. And finally, a smattering of hits that were actually coming from my blog posts. Strange terms that have high-interest and low supply, like “ambigram” and long tail keywords. I was really excited, because this begins to validate the concept on a from-scratch site with no history. Now, I’m in full-swing, practicing what this site preaches, and I expect with the next round of Google updates, we’ll see quite a pop from my deluge of recent posts… just in time for the name change.

I also went around to a few SEO forums, announcing what we’re building here. This is always an interesting proposition, because on the one hand, dropping links is bad etiquette (everyone has something they want to promote). On the other hand, it’s absolutely necessary when launching a beta like this and needing good beta testers. So, I took a gamble and tapped some old connections at the granddaddy search engine forum of them all: Search Engine Forums, where I got started in 1999 and later become an active participant and moderator.

Unfortunately, I all but stopped posting around 2001, so I was absolutely delighted that I was remembered. In fact, it seems that SEF was ground zero for SEOs going off and doing their own things around the Internet, because everywhere I went, people were warm and inviting. Doug Heil of “ihelpyou.com” very flatteringly said he was surprised I hadn’t stopped by sooner. This basically occurred everywhere I went, including the high profile Search Engine Watch, and relative newcomers like SEORefugee, where I was actually proactively asked to stop by. I had friends at Cre8aSite and SEOChat. All this wonderful activity was after I finished telling my team at Connors that it looked like I WOULDN’T be able to tap my old connections in the SEO world after, after a few failed attempts to soft launch with announcements at the site that I thought was the heir to the SEF throne. So, for all the support I received, whether I knew you back in the days or not, THANK YOU!

But back to the original point. All this is quite effort-intensive–not at all the value proposition of natural search! This is what is known as online outreach, or online public relations. There’s much talk of this in PR circles, and is generally thought of as “engaging in the discussion”. It takes a certain nimbleness, intense motivation, and the balls to stand up to anyone else in your company that’s going to nitpick over liabilities and tactical blunders. Pishaw! If you speak with a genuine voice, have a genuine message that speaks to the needs and desires of your audience, then let it happen. Posts like this are much more interesting than marketing brochures, for the very reason that they are gritty. Yet still, it is labor-intensive and ultimately unsustainable and unprofitable.

The incremental efficiencies of natural search HAVE TO kick in. The snowball effect MUST start to happen. And a magic very similar to that of compounding interest needs occur. But just as compounding interest won’t make you rich if you start too late and put too little money in, HitTailing won’t make you successful in natural search unless you continue to deposit new savings. The magic of saving must combine with the magic of compounding to achieve the magic of the long tail of search. And we’ve bottled that very process!

Well, I’m getting tired of swinging by websites and posting in comment fields. I don’t want to email people cold, because that’s spam. And I’ve already gone to all my friends (the SEO forum community). The next step will be up to the beta testers to spread the word (if they want to reveal the “secret”), and tapping the PR capabilities of Connors Communications where I work. I’m sure we’ll have a formal launch after the beta process refines the product a bit. We will have better messaging, press releases, and maybe some media event. Certainly, we’ll be tapping Connie’s powerful connections, and maybe chatting with Chris Anderson to see what he thinks.

There are a host of others out there in the opinion-setting “technorati” that I’d like to reach. But I’m not going to pester them with email. The snowball is building some mass now, and it is much better and more credible if THEY discover HitTail on their own. As a NY PR firm with some very big accomplishments, Connors has street cred, and when folks like Michael Arrington and Tim O’Reilly start discovering this on their own, all the better. The need to mainstream SEO in an easily packaged, easily understood way fashion for mainstream marketing is so palpable, you can walk on it. And so begins the second phase of the soft-launch and HitTail beta program, where people start finding us. The tiny snowball is just starting to roll.

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