By the way, that's Dr. Spock, the baby expert, not Mr. Spock, the Star Trek Vulcan. See, it occurred to me recently that our websites are often very much like our children. (I know I've sometimes referred to my sites as "my babies".) The issues we face with our children and our "web babies" are often more pretty similar -- and so are the solutions. So what's the best way to deal with an unpopularity problem?

The Popularity Issue

What if your child never talks about any friends at school and never gets invited to birthday parties, play dates or camp-overs? Or your teen always comes straight home after school, never spends any time on the phone or texting with a “BFF” and never hangs out with other kids?

What if your website has been around for ages, but has few inbound links, terrible search engine rankings and much less traffic than you'd like?

If any of that sounds familiar, you might be facing an unpopularity problem! What to do?

Ignore, Deny, Excuse

Some parents don't want to admit their child is unpopular, so they ignore, deny or try to explain away the situation. Similarly, some site owners don't want to admit their website isn't performing up to par, so they try to pretend there's no issue or make excuses.

And they convince themselves all they need to do is wait and the problem will eventually solve itself. Or better yet, there is no problem in the first place.

Oookay. Well, ya know, sometimes wait-and-see does take care of things. On the other hand, sometimes it simply delays taking the necessary actions to sort things out. The major downside to wait-and-see is that it involves, well, waiting. Often a lot of waiting. There are no guarantees simply waiting it out will work, and it can be painful in the meantime.

Maybe your child will “bloom”... eventually... but maybe she won't, and in the meantime, you haven't done anything to help. Maybe your website will become popular on its own... eventually... but without your intervention it's likely nothing will happen any time soon. So how long are you prepared to wait-and-see before you step in with a more proactive approach?

Invest In “Popularity”

Crazy as it may seem to most of us, some parents decide to “incentivize” other kids to be their kid's friend (a nice way of saying you're bribing them). It's seldom as blatant as handing them cash, but still, the other kids are rewarded in some way for spending time with the parents' unpopular offspring. Likewise, some website owners pay for links to try to increase their apparent popularity.

Of course, there are some obvious downsides to this tactic, whether it's friends for your offspring or links for your site.

  • No matter how many friends (or links) you buy, it won't make your child or site truly popular in Real Life. True friends, like genuine link popularity, are not for sale.

  • These bought-and-paid-for “friends” only stick around as long as you keep paying. Once you stop, there goes all the so-called “popularity.”

  • The consequences of being found out could be dire. Your child humiliated, branded a loser and ashamed to show her face in public (and blaming you). Your website's inbound links discounted, its search engine rankings non-existent, your competitors eating your lunch.

The potential for this scheme to backfire is pretty high. And it doesn't actually address the root problem. So maybe there's a better way?

Take Constructive Action

Here are a few ideas that may actually help resolve the problem:

  • Work from the inside out.

    People who do interesting things are more attractive than those who simply vegetate on the sofa all day. Encourage your child to pursue hobbies, take up a craft or get involved in extracurricular activities.

    Online, give people a reason to link to your site. Try offering useful tools, informative videos, and/or relevant white papers, reports and research. Put on the proverbial thinking cap and get creative!

  • You don't make friends by staying home all day.

    So your kid is the most interesting person in town. If he spends all day every day holed up in your living room, it's unlikely anyone will find out about his excellent qualities, much less become his friend.

    Likewise, you need to get “out and about” with your site. Make contact with other people in your industry or niche. Post intelligent, thoughtful comments on related blogs. Become an active member of industry discussion forums. Submit useful articles to appropriate venues. People can't link to a site if they don't know it exists.

  • Remember, it's not all about you.

    Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone who wanted to “network” with you — not out of any genuine interest in you, but only because of what they think you can do for them? They strike up a conversation with you, but you can clearly see they're not listening to your answers — they're busy working out how they're going to launch into their sales pitch.

    If every time you run across this person, the same thing happens, do you consider them your friend? Are you going to invite them to your next birthday celebration or dinner party?

    In the online world, sometimes I get link requests where it's clear the person asking for the link has never even visited my site. It's just an impersonal mass mailing going out to hundreds, maybe thousands of sites. To them, I'm just a name on a list (if I'm even that much). I usually give those requests all the respect they deserve... directly from my inbox to the trash.

    Your child needs to learn: in order to make a friend, you have to first be a friend. When ask someone to link to you, keep in mind you're asking them to do you a favor. The least you can do is make the request in some way other than a mass-mailed form letter.

Unpopularity can be dealt with. Social skills can be learned. And many of the same rules apply online that apply in real life. Just as you can teach your real-life child how to get along with others, you can make sure your website attracts the kind of high-quality inbound links that lead to lasting online popularity.


September 16, 2007





Learn more about the ways Diane can help improve the performance and profitability of your business web site, or request a no-obligation personal consultation, by visiting www.NineYards.com.






Comments(8)

Great advice.
My problem is I am very popular in real life, but I don't know how to set up a website or get links from friends to that website.
Can you help?

Great thoughts Diane. Thanks for the tips.

Hi Diane,

I love the analogy of websites as kids. When thought of that way, it really becomes clear that building popularity requires effort. Thanks!

Vanessa

Wow, this hits me home..the way I should be thinking on my own blog's 'unpopularity', LOL..

Thanks for these helpful tips, Diane.

lol... I was one that thought Mr. Spock when I first read that!! Good post Di.

@ Cheryle: it can be intimidating to get started with website development. If you're really interested in starting your own website, many hosting companies offer website builders as part of their hosting packages, or you can start a blog at somewhere like Wordpress.com or Blogger. The important thing is to have an idea and just jump on in. It might not be perfect at first, but it will be *yours*! Best of luck!

@ John, Vanessa & Jocelyn: Thank you all for taking the time to read and comment!

@ Debra: Oh, no, I wouldn't *dare* use a Star Trek analogy! I think Matt Bailey has an exclusive on those. ;)

Great article Diane! :) I love your analogy. It makes the concept of building popularity as clear as a bell.

Lovely article. I`m always amazed at how many people talk exclusively about themselves and are convinced of their own popularity.
Diane, you`ve disproven the old addage that "The internet is where poeple with nothing to say, go to prove it". Well done. John

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