Lesson #4 - Where do visitors come from? Resonance.
As we discussed in Lesson #3, it is possible to make money with web sites these days. The amount of money you can make depends on the number of visitors who come to your site.
Obviously your question then becomes, "How do I attract visitors to my web site?"
If you think about it, you realize that there are a number of ways that visitors can find their way to you:
- They can search for your site in Google and other search engines. (The success of this technique has a lot to do with the "Google footprint" of your site -- something we will be talking about extensively in the weeks to come.)
- They can get to your site through a link on someone else's site.
- They can get to your site because of an ad you have placed either online or offline.
- They can return to your site every day because you are publishing daily content. This technique represents a majority of the traffic on places like CNN.com, DrudgeReport.com, Slashdot.org and YarnHarlot.com.
- And, perhaps most importantly, there is something called resonance, also known as buzz and word-of-mouth. Resonance can be especially important when you are starting out.
Resonance is very simple -- it is the tendency of people who visit your site to tell their friends about your site. If you have a highly resonant site, then people who visit your site will have a high tendency to talk about your site. They will tell everyone they know. If your site has low resonance, then they won't. It is as simple as that.
Resonance is something that has been at work in our society for centuries. Resonance is what controls the success or failure of many new books, movies, magazines, restaurants, etc. For example, right now I am reading a book called Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I heard about it from a friend of mine. I have told several of my friends. This book is highly resonant, in other words. So, when I look at it today on Amazon, Blink is ranked #7 out of all the books that Amazon is selling. This is the nature of resonance.
It works the same way on the Web, and resonance is an especially powerful force when it comes to Web sites. Here is how it works:
- You create your web site.
- On any given day, your web site is going to get a certain amount of traffic -- say 10 or 20 people will spontaneously arrive at your site. I call this the "osmotic pressure of the web" -- there are so many people moving around in so many random ways on the web that a few of them will make their way to your site each day. You could create a Completely random page on the web, and every day it will get a few visitors because of this osmotic pressure.
- Once those visitors arrive at your web site, they will experience your creation. And they will have some sort of reaction to it.
- If it is a strong positive reaction, then they will tell their friends about your site, and tomorrow you will have a little more traffic than you had today. That process will cause your traffic to grow over time, and you will find yourself to be the proud owner of a successful web site.
What is the most resonant web site ever created in the history of the Web? I believe that it was Napster. Napster began as the work of one teenager named Shawn Fanning. He put it out on the web, told some of his friends about it, and what occurred next can only be called "extreme resonance". It is hard to get exact numbers, but the gist of the story is that Napster went from zero to tens of millions of visitors per month in less than a year. And it is easy to understand why. Anyone who visited Napster immediately realized that it was a place to get an unlimited amount of free music. As soon as anyone figured that out, they immediately told 20 of their friends about it. Napster was a highly resonant idea.
Resonance can happen immediately, or resonance can take a period of time to materialize. As I mentioned above, HowStuffWorks did not start to resonate in a noticeable way until it had a dozen or so articles. Then it was quite apparent that the traffic was steadily growing. The Seinfeld Show was a late resonator. It was not until its fourth season that it took off to become a major blockbuster. Most ideas, however, tend to show their resonance fairly early.
The Web accelerates the resonance process because there are so many different ways on the web to talk about a cool Web site. If you find a cool web site, you can send email to your friends about the site. You can talk about the site in a chat room. You can post something about the site in a forum. You can mention the site in your blog. Because it is a Web site that you are talking about, people can immediately go and check it out. It is not like a book (where you have to buy it and wait for it to arrive) or a restaurant (where you have to get in your car and drive). With a web site, the time between your saying something about it and your friends reacting is often measured in seconds. So resonance can happen a lot faster.
Now here is the funny thing about resonance. It is nearly impossible to predict what will resonate and what will not. You won't know anything about the resonance or non-resonance of your web site until you put something up and see how people react to it. Not a thing. Look at all the products, movies, books, etc. that fail to resonate even though they have millions of dollars in backing. Look at the thousands of web sites that started up prior to 2000. They had billions of venture capital dollars invested in them. But look at how many of them failed. They failed because they did not resonate.
This "failure to resonate" is something you should be aware of. Most ideas tend not to resonate. This is why nine out of ten small businesses fail. This is why thousands of garage bands start every year, but only a few of them reach national prominence. This is why so many new restaurants go out of business in their first year or two. Resonance is a fairly rare property. The great thing about the Web is that you can try out new web ideas fairly quickly and inexpensively until you find something that resonates. Then, once you find a resonant property, you can grow it into something big.
In the weeks and months to come, we will be spending a great deal of time returning to this idea of resonance. It is a core concept that determines the success of your Web site, and something that is worth studying in detail. If you have questions about resonance, please add them to the comments.