Lessons from the Millions of Useless Websites Across History

Today, I design databases, ERP solutions, and applications for inventory controls while transforming legacy software into web apps fit for the cloud. My heart and soul is custom software development.

It wasn't always that way. In the mid-1990s, I was developing websites.

It wasn't exactly by choice. I love the deep end of sophisticated software, but I am also the head of a company. If there is a feeding frenzy for a particular product, I have a duty to my family, my employees, and myself to serve my market.

How often should you redesign your website?  We need to make sure the web site will not be useless.

It was 1996. So many people were using this new invention called the internet, my phone starting ringing off the hook. I just completed work on my own website.

Some of the projects were the ones I love, a new database,  an application to manage inventory levels and expenses, or a new ERP platform.

The late 90s were like a 20th century gold rush. Most projects were about making new websites. A few early entrants struck it rich, like Jeff Bezos, who launched Amazon from his garage and made $20,000 a month in his first 30 days online. A year later, he gets $8 million in funding, and two years later, his company does an IPO.

Every day, someone was making millions on another .com release. By 1999, pets store had a super bowl commercial, and priceline was worth $1 billion.

Everybody wanted to create a website. It was their pick axe and shovel. But just like San Francisco would be littered with holes come 1855, by 2001, the internet would be flooded with useless websites.

I learned some of the most powerful lessons in high tech that resonate even more today.

They All Thought The Same Things:

I made scores of sites for hundreds of startups, venture capital-funded entrepreneurs, nine-to-fivers trying to find their lottery ticket, and even giddy homemakers trying to buy a McMansion.

Everyone made the same miscalculations:

  1. They thought their idea would sell itself. They took brick-and-mortar industries and gave them their first taste of digital transformation. In theory, the idea could be worth millions, if not billions. But everyone thought the idea would do all the work. Nobody was willing to market their idea with the same vigor that they developed it.
  2. The internet was something new. The hype behind it was maddening. The world we take for granted today, where everything is behind a screen, didn't exist back then. People believed that any idea would gain 100 million followers and a $5 billion exit.
  3. Ultimately, the internet, at least the 1.0 version, is one big marketing tool. Its primary purpose is for you to tell the world who you are, what you do, and how anyone can find you if they're interested. We didn’t figure it out until it was too late.
  4. Google Analytics wasn't released until 2005. There was little to no analytics back them. You didn't know how you were doing. To know how to get traffic, you had to be savvy and call up Yahoo! and ask them how I get my site in front of more eyeballs. Too many of us were flying blind.
  5. Then, there was the biggest problem. Millions of people were becoming overnight millionaires through the internet. There was a famous story about how the people at Deutsch Bank, which handled the IPO for Amazon, told so many co-workers to buy the stock that two years after Amazon started trading, half the janitorial staff took early retirement. Why clean toilets when you have a net worth of seven figures?

    To everybody, it all looked so easy.

    Nobody understood that while creating a website was work, the real toil was in getting the world interested in it. You had to put up the right content, have the right idea, set up a marketing budget and work, work, work, until people saw your site.

It broke my heart when the crash came in 2000. Almost everyone who invested in their site didn't survive the carnage. They just added to the growing junk pile of useless websites.

Getting too excited over the hype, thinking your product will sell itself, and underestimating the challenge of marketing your product once it's ready are why 90% of startups don't make it.

I saw it with my own eyes.

Fortunately, I took notes along the way. Back then developers were limited in what they could do in the development stage to make a website popular.

Today, the right programmer can complete a good third of what is required to make a website popular.

The Programming Marketer:

 To this day, a site is a marketing tool. It's a way to get people to know who you are and what you can do for them. It's how you get the people in the market to show due respect to your hard work, along with that nice 5-star vacation to Abu Dhabi.

Every site can attract traffic using Search Engine Optimization. This is how google, which controls 90% of all internet searches, drives that traffic to your site.

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, comes in three types:

  1. OnPage optimization. This is finding the right keywords and putting them where Google can see what you are trying to do with your page.
  1. Backlinks and engagement. Who is linking to your site, and what metrics is google analytics saying about you. Are people staying on your site long? When they get to your site, do they leave right away or click to other pages in your site.
  2. Technical optimization. This is where I come in. 

How Often Should You Redesign Your Website?

The key to SEO is knowing you can control two-thirds of how well your site will drive traffic and business. The other third is heavily influenced by these two.

A developer's role is to make sure pages are google friendly from a technical end. That's 1/3 of your SEO score. It's also essential. If you don't have certain tech features, your site will not rank.

How often should you redesign your website to meet google technical SEO standards? Whenever you aren't scoring high for what google is looking for:

📱 You need responsive design. A site must adapt to all screens and sizes.

📱 Your site must perform fast. The performance must be fast if a mobile phone in Southern Ecuador or riding in a tunnel in Dallas, TX wants to see your site.

📱 Text fonts and images must have optimal memory usage.

📱 Your site must be easily readable by voice technology so people with limited sight or blind individuals can access your pages.

📱 Even buttons on your page have to have different ids.

The key to a technically optimized site is that it's great earthquake insurance for when google changes its algorithm without telling you, and the only way you find out is when traffic drops overnight.

A third of what makes an online effort successful comes from the work of the technical staff. We must take full advantage of this: You can optimize your website for SEO on the tech end even before a single word is written on your page.

Whenever I hear a client talk about how his business isn't getting the attention it deserves, I ask him about these issues so he doesn’t get haunted by the ghost of pets store or wind up adding to the pile of useless websites.

Making your custom web application perform amazing feats like these with a modern data platform is what I do . I am happy to talk with you about it at your conveniences.

Doron Farber - The Farber Consulting Group

I started to develop custom software since 1985 while using dBase III from Aston Tate. From there I moved to FoxBase and to FoxPro and ended up working with Visual FoxPro until Microsoft stopped supporting that great engine. With the Visual FoxPro, I developed the VisualRep which is Report and Query Engine. We are also a dot net development company, and one of our projects is a web scrapping from different web sites. We are Alpha AnyWhere developers, and the Avis Car Rental company trusted us with their contract management software that we developed with the Alpha Five software Engine.


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