3 lessons from the world’s most successful website

world's most successful websiteIt’s been called the ugliest website ever created. And it’s changed little since the mid 90′s when it was created.

Yet, it is arguably the most successful website on the planet.

Can you guess what site I’m talking about? If you said, “Drudge Report,” pat yourself on the back.

I’ve mentioned this throwback site before when talking about ugly design. But a recent report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism prompts me to mention it again.

According to the report, Drudge is not only a highly visited site with millions of unique visitors a month, it drives twice as much traffic to top news sites as Facebook and seven times as much as Twitter. Not bad for basically a one-man operation.

Though best known as a direct mail guy, I’ve recently been doing quite a bit of website work for my clients. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes websites work.

Given the astonishing success of Drudge, I think it’s smart to consider why this website is such as standout. Yes, it’s a news site, not a business site, however the lessons we can learn are universal.

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How to grow a nonprofit website with a simple “traffic portfolio”

By day, I’m a copywriter and direct marketing consultant. By night, I help run a nonprofit political action committee (PAC).

Since I prefer to keep politics off this blog, I’ll forgo mentioning the name of the PAC.

In my last post, I talked about driving web traffic with direct mail. However, direct mail has its limitations, especially for small nonprofit organizations with tight budgets. Our PAC budget is less than $50,000 a year. So from the beginning, I’ve put an emphasis on highly cost-effective tactics.

As a result, the organization has no brick and mortar presence and operates almost exclusively online with a website and a variety of online “outposts,” including a forum as well as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

While we run a variety of real-world events, such as political rallies, dinners, and meetings, online tools and social media drive the marketing, enabling the website and organization to grow rapidly with minimal cost.

I decided to look at the numbers recently and found confirmation that these tactics have worked spectacularly well.

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How to use direct mail to drive website traffic

direct mail drives website trafficIf you want to drive traffic to your website, which media should you use?

Email delivers traffic quickly and at low cost, though open rates can be low. Social marketing shows great potential, but it takes effort to make it work.

Then there’s PPC, banner ads, and other online strategies which deliver varying results. But what about traditional direct mail?

Too many people suffer from an “oil and water” mentality when it comes to mixing online and offline media. But the fact is, they work well together. And when you need to drive online traffic, an integrated approach can often work wonders.

According to the 2009 Channel Preference Study by ExactTarget, direct mail influences 76% of Internet users to buy a product or service online. Better still, direct mail remains the one medium that gives you direct and reliable access to nearly everyone in your target market.

How do you drive web traffic with direct mail? Here are some pointers:

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5 simple SEO tips to boost your search traffic

SEO for searchWhat’s the point of having a website if no one ever finds it?

This website, for example, is responsible for the bulk of my own business. I get calls every week from prospects who say, “I found your site. The information is great. I wanted to ask about a project …”

This is not by accident. Like any carefully constructed website, mine is easy to find because of a few basic principles of SEO or “search engine optimization.”

SEO has become a deep and complex area of expertise, but there are a few basics that are responsible for most of the results you get.

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Eye tracking study reveals 12 website tactics

Eye Tracking StudiesEye tracking studies have revealed valuable information about how people read and interact with websites. One study, Eyetrack III, published a summary of their eye tracking results for news sites.

While this is just one eye tracking study focused on a particular type of site, I think there are instructive nuggets here for any informational website.

In no particular order, here are 12 results I found particularly interesting.

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Content theft and other dastardly deeds

Everyone understands the idea of theft. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, it’s stealing. This includes intellectual property, such as written content. If you didn’t write it, it doesn’t belong to you and you can’t use it without permission.

Easy, right? Well, apparently, it’s not such a clear idea any longer.

The Internet has made content theft simple and pervasive.  From taking music and artwork to the wholesale heisting of entire Web sites, theft happens all the time.

One of the most common forms of content theft is the stealing of blog content through a technique known as “feed scraping.”

Every blog, including this one, publishes a “feed.” The idea behind feeds is to syndicate your content so that it gets wider circulation. You can, for example, subscribe to the Direct Creative feed here. When I publish a new item, you either get it e-mailed to you or it shows up in whatever feedreading program you choose, including many popular browsers.

But what some people do is take this feed and republish it on their own site, usually as a fast, easy way to add content that attracts traffic for their own ads and affiliate links.

Why am I talking about this? Because my content is stolen frequently. At least one site I’ve seen is made up of nothing but my articles and a bunch of Google AdSense ads. Recently, I found a site purportedly on direct mail that had republished about a dozen of my blog posts with no permission, no byline, and no links to my original posts. Read more

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SEO Copywriting: How important is it to you?

For copywriters, every advertising medium has its unique requirements.

Direct mail requires you to know postal specifications. Radio advertising requires you to write exceptionally lean. E-mail marketing requires you to deal with the eccentricities of spam and e-mail design.

Then there’s the Web. And one of the requirements these days, according to many gurus, is SEO, search engine optimization. The idea seems pretty simple: to rank well, a Web page must use the keywords people are searching for. Of course, in practice it’s a bit more difficult. In fact, it can be an arcane art that seems to change almost daily.

There are varying points of view on SEO. Many copywriters embrace it. But some think it’s overblown. I have my own ideas, but I’m curious …

What do YOU think? Is SEO important to you? Do you think a copywriter should make SEO a priority when writing for the Web? Or should it be secondary to good on-page copy? How far have you gone to teach yourself SEO?

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Call Guinness. Here’s the dumbest Web site design on Earth!

I know you’ve seen stupid Web site design before. But you’ve never seen anything this absurd.

Take a look at the site for the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency. If you dare. I can’t even describe it. You have to see it for yourself.

What the blue freakin’ blazes were they thinking?

I challenge you … no … I DARE you to find a site that is less user friendly or more self-indulgent.

Okay, the pencil thingy is fun to play with. But c’mon. This is the main site for a major worldwide ad agency? Really?

If this is how they advertise their own agency, what can clients expect for their millions of dollars? And if this was their best idea for a Web site, what sort of ideas did they reject???

The boobs who designed this site couldn’t learn a thing from my article on killing Web site traffic. Maybe you could, though.

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