I remember when I first started dabbling in the Internet. The studio I worked in first got a working dial-up connection in 1995. We’d heard so much about the World Wide Web / Information Superhighway and the world it was opening up that the tension in our little New Forest Garage-Conversion Studio was palpable.
I think we were using one of the early incarnations of Netscape Navigator in conjunction with an Apple Powermac 6100/66 (I still have it), and suddenly (or more accurately: gradually) a page appeared before our amazed faces.
I can’t really remember what the page contained (it was largely grey I think) I just remember the excitement of the moment. Our hunger for Internet-delivered information reached fever pitch when we typed “star wars” into Yahoo and actually got a page with Darth Vader back.
So what was so exciting about the rather drab-looking pages that were returned? Not much – but it was the possibilities and promise of huge things to come that I found so enthralling. The fact that there was now the potential to communicate by a means other than phone or letter to someone on the other side of the world was nothing short of historic – and the potential for businesses to make those people clients by publishing their company brochure online was intriguing.
Fourteen years later I’ve lost none of my enthusiasm for dabbling in new trends and technologies on the Internet, which now presents me with a very different landscape. I sometimes have the feeling that I’ve ‘missed the boat’. There are millions of people trying to achieve the same thing online now – which mainly consists of getting to the top of Google – but then I look at some of their content and feel heartened that I can do better. Richard Branson’s concept of taking a good idea that’s been executed badly, and doing it better (and therefore more successfully) has always struck me as a simple, common sense approach.
Internet users today have become much more savvy, jaded and cynical with much of the content they come across, which makes it more important than ever to present them with something of use. And in a nutshell, that’s what Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is all about (or more accurately: website optimization for search engines) – creating something of use that people can learn from. People like getting something for nothing, and that’s how companies today need to gain their trust.
Of course, there’s a little more to it than that – but not much. The hard part is creating something of worth – which is why there are so many people attempting to pull the wool over Google’s eyes to get their sites to the top – because they have nothing of worth to offer. This is where to get ahead of the competition.
In theory, if you have useful, original content, the easy part is tweaking the structure of a web page to help Google (and other search engines) read and understand what the page is about. Specifically, using the primary keyword or phrase in the page title, meta description, meta keywords, H1 tag, body text and navigation. Then it’s a case of getting other worthwhile sites to link to yours, and Bob’s your uncle!
Well, OK, there’s a little more to think about… but it’s a good start.
We’ve come a long way from the blocky grey pages of Netscape and Internet Explorer with their clumsily animated icons which kick in when an Internet connection is made. Websites today can be breathtakingly beautiful, uniquely educational, humorous or even physically destructive to your PC if you’re unlucky enough to come across a Malware site. However, the big difference between the Internet today and the Internet of old is the rise and rise of social networking.
The phrase ‘Web 2.0‘ was coined in order to demonstrate that it’s the users that have taken over from the companies. With Google’s help, the users drive the Internet today using the evolving systems of Facebook, WordPress, Blogger, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube and even Twitter, the latter of which has been responsible for an astonishing and unprecedented exchange of information and ideas in the turbulent Iran.
So the sooner that businesses realize that they are ‘guests’ in the users’ kingdom, the sooner they’ll start having more success getting their message across. And it’s a brave, new altruistic world out there – so they need to stop trying to take… and start giving.