Online ‘permanence’

Imagine a world where you could actively sell advertising on archived content. Well, it’s here

Content on a website should never die. Never, ever. To delete content on a website is a waste. Online articles and their links should be permanent.

In the world of the dead tree, articles have limited lifespans. You read your paper, then it’s used to wrap fish and chips, is thrown in the rubbish bin, or lives a lonely life of obscurity in some dusty library archive.

In contrast, content in the online world does not die that easily. An article may drop off a homepage, but it continues to live in a website’s archive, easily accessible via a quick search and click.

Online archives are repeatedly accessed via a site’s internal search or external search engines. Archived articles are constantly linked to and visited via links from other websites and blogs – and those links live on to be clicked again and again. In short, online archives are far livelier places than their library counterparts.

It’s a phenomenon that hasn’t escaped many online publishers. What it means is that publishers are now starting to master the evil art of selling advertising on their archives. Even if an article is old news, a publisher can still sell relevant, related and even recent advertising on it.

Some advertisers approach publishers to indiscriminately “buy out” big portions of their archives at a discount, because those archives are still being accessed by a substantial readership. This is often on a hit-and-miss basis that works on buying volume to get the clicks.

But some publishers also slap Adsense by Google or a similar advertising model on their archived articles. For example, if I were accessing an article about an old rugby match, an advert selling tickets for tomorrow’s game could show. Chances are that ad would get a click from me because I am a loyal rugby buff who accesses old, archived articles on the subject.

Google has been doing it for years by putting ads on its search results. In fact, Google is becoming increasingly good at selling advertising on just about everything, from archived content, to other publishers’ content, to your personal emails via Gmail – and probably eventually on your personal documents and then your own desktop.

So, the golden rule is: never throw anything away and keep links permanent. It also happens to be Google’s philosophy. The search behemoth actively encourages its Gmail users not to delete emails by providing massive storage space. After all, a deleted email is one less email on which to sell advertising.

From a publisher’s point of view the same applies. You just never know how many times that now-old article will be accessed and re-accessed.

This trend also speaks of the decline in importance of the homepage. With the arrival of powerful search engines, the blogosphere and RSS syndication, homepages are often by-passed these days via “deep links” directly to articles on a website.

It means homepages are no longer the main gateways into websites – users are increasingly visiting websites via many link trapdoors and burrows. It means that if you have a big website, the secret of its success is a vast webbed network of links pointing to different articles and your homepage.

The key is to keep it permanent. If you delete an article or change a link, you break that web and attract fewer readers. It’s that simple.

From NetSavvy — my monthly column