The Future of Media & Business / What HitTail’s REALLY About

ML Mar 2, 2007

There is so much I’d like to talk about, I hardly know where to begin. Ironically, I’m someone who doesn’t need HitTail, because my stream of consciousness provides me with an unlimited number of writing topics on which I’m fairly confident that search traffic exists to be intercepted. In this way, I plan on building myself into sort of an Aaron Wall of SEOBook, whom I respect immensely. So, I’m following my instincts right now, instead of the HitTail suggestions. However, that doesn’t stop me from smattering some blatant hittailing through this blog. I would like to add traffic to my site after all. Ahemm, but let me move on…

I’m not done seeding “core content” of this site that fuels the hittailing workflow, allows me to engage in the circular process that leads to the self-fueling and self-sustaining snowball effect. Previously, Connors Communications, the brilliant PR firm that I work for, would have charged a client at least $5000/month for an SEO engagement consisting of this sort of advice. But with HitTail, we’re really going to change the world again, the way we did once by helping the quintessential long tail business, Amazon.com, and later overhauled the very field of marketing by aiding GoTo.com clear the way for pay-per-click search results, which in turn illuminated the way for Google AdWords and changed the world. And if we’re going to change the world again, then we’ve got to be a little less tight-fisted with our advice.

HitTailers are our marketing disciples, and the process of HitTailing is our gospel. The lessons are difficult, and we find ourselves continually having to re-explain many aspects of business, economics, programming, and even history and human nature. People hardly even understand the 3-parties that are ALWAYS involved if you’re trying to make money on the web: the buyer, the seller and the middleman. And unless you’re publishing for complete altruistic or vanity reasons, then you’re a middleman. It’s hard to imagine that publishers who attract readers and sell advertising don’t always get the idea that they’re middlemen. But this up-for-grabs ad revenue being divvied out by companies that control traffic is quickly transforming our world into one where the only necessary seller is the manufacturer, and the only necessary buyer is the end user. Cutting out the middleman is a process called disintermediation. We can see disintermediation everywhere, and the occasional reversal of disintermediation with support companies such as RedHat, where the middleman’s justification is completely support. Why that’s still a direct buyer/seller relationship is a separate story. Finally, certain goods and services that are hard to order and deliver online will always be immune to disintermediation, such as restaurants. But nearly everything else is vulnerable and being bullied by a new breed of online middleman–ones that can arbitrate Internet traffic.

So the boyz of Wired Magazine make it much easier to explain HitTailing. First, John Battelle, spelled out how this middleman works in his description of arbitrage in The Search. Without understanding the lines that connect buyers and sellers, and how companies like Google insert themselves in the middle, then get out of the game. You’ll never control the flow of traffic and thereby be an effective middleman. Later, Chris Anderson, had his turn in the spotlight spelling out how the difference between finite shelf space in your local store is different from infinite shelf space on the Web, and how this enables new business, the pursuit of more personalized tastes, and basically changes everything forever. Of course, that’s The Long Tail. Yep, these two guys kick sand in the face of the digirati who love the irony of saying Wired is Tired. It’s not. These guys are as fundamental to educating tomorrow’s businessmen as my heros, Demmings and Drucker were in the past– um… OK, maybe not THAT important, but important none-the-less.

With all that foundational educational crap out of the way, HitTail is instantly understandable and even obvious in hindsight. But it divides the world into two groups: those who get it, and those who don’t. You can also frame this discussion by dividing the world into the “who-you-know” folks vs. the “what-you-know” folks. It’s an eternal battle, like between cats and dogs. The what-you-know folks have a tough time with the long tail and the notion that people can come up through the trenches, eat their lunch, and change the world forever. Although Bill, Sergey and Larry all came up through what-you-know channels (it’s the double-whammy advantage of door-opener-schools like Harvard and MIT), they embraced what-you-know methodologies. And the world’s a different place. Who-you-knower’s tend to fortify, while what-you-knowers tend to change the game into something where they can more easily win (did I mention Steve?).

Anyway, these battles sometimes sound like a clash of the titans, in which us little guys could never compete. Not so! Lately, the MySpace couple jumped over. And you see it happening with Web 2.0 startups all the time. VC money helps, but is not necessary–it’s really just an attempt of what-you-know people trying to insert themselves into a who-you-know success by providing something that really anyone can provide–the simplest and most pure of all commodities, money. The process can even be turned into an idea-farm, like Y Combinator or Idea Lab. A lot of good can come from these things, but if your ambitions are not quite changing the world, and all you want to do is what you love, then HitTail is all you need.

OK, so that really hits this post home. HitTail is not only a practical alternative to paying for your search hits. It’s a practical alternative to raising VC money, because if you’ve got something to sell, and development isn’t an issue anymore (thanks to rapid and agile development methodologies), then all you really need is low-cost exposure and publicity. And HitTail provides that for the great unwashed masses of bloggers. We’ve built a ladder that anyone can climb to the top. But like a video game, each level is not actually easy. There’s a hunt/solve problem/reward, and repeat pattern in HitTailing that also characterizes the most addictive and successful of videogames. But all this addiction and energy that gets wasted on video games can just as easily be sunk into your passion.

Hunt for a problem that needs to be solved that no one has tackled yet. Tackle it, and let people know about it on your blog. See the traffic start to come in through Google and the occasional links constructed to you. Learn from these hits (and link), and repeat the process. Like a video game, this addictive process where you keep bringing to yourself to the next plateau, leads to amazing levels of achievement, which when viewed in the context of Office Space America, you appear to be nothing less than your own little Steve Jobs. OK, maybe just Guy Kawasaki. But the point is, you have purpose and habit-forming systems to keep you focused and on-track.

Again, you see that we are not merely building yet-another-analytics-tool with HitTail. We’ve got mission and purpose–which is to enable our users to pursue their own mission and purpose.

5 comments
  1. Jeff James

    Mike,

    I’ve linked back to you with a reply. You’re right about disintermediation. Technology not only allows for a “democractic” distribution of content, but HitTail lets you run to be elected for nearly any keyword someone types. Since the short tail is too tough to win, why not play the longer one?

  2. Justin

    What do you think of wordze, the next generation keyword tool?

    Also, if hittail hosts its site itself, how is the blog on the same domain hosted on blogger? Do you use xml-rpc?

  3. Mike Levin

    Hi Justin. I can’t speak of other peoples’ tools, but what I can say is that with HitTail, our goal was to create something that requires virtually no learning or research. Once you have that key insight about how longtail keywords work, we sort of put you on automatic, or as TechCrunch put it, just start acting as your muse.

    As far as how we’re doing Blogger here, well a key feature of blogger is that you can host it literally anywhere that you can FTP or secure FTP files. It’s completely host technology independent. In addition to being free and providing a fast-track into Google results, this make Blogger a fine choice for HitTailing.

  4. Justin

    You guys are really on the ball. I never realized that blogger had that feature.

  5. Tom

    Wondering out loud – Does the mylongtail site plan on accumulating all the data from the searches? I love the tool and spend time watching the people click into my site and see the benefit for individual site use but it seems to me all the data from all the sites using the tool could be used to tell where the search originated, search term used and of course the search engine that was used. Is it possible to be able to query in the future how many people from London searched a specific term – would be good for local companies.

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