From SEO to owning 404

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has always been my prime pillar to build traffic to my websites. If search engines love your site, you’ll bump competitors in the search results aside, and traffic that flows from the search engines to your website will increase almost exponential with every jump to the top. Finally at the top for your relevant search keywords, after weeks, months or even years you relax… but I’ve learned that at that time, the fight just begun. Being at the top isn’t the endpoint:

  • Competition in the search engine listing is huge and always on your tail. With a very good reason: real money is being earned from the traffic. Thousands of dollars a day could be the difference between being #1 or #2. If you find a great way to out rank your competitor, you can count on them imitating your strategy. And not much stands in their way, because it’s hard to hide your SEO strategy with tools like Yahoo! SiteExplorer or Technorati that reveal your (in-)linking strategy. Or notepad that shows your complete page markup (HTML) . While page markup and content are important, my experience shows in-links are the main ingredient to success (note: that’s not a secret). All these success factors can be revealed and adopted by the competition.
  • Search engines are always tweaking their ranking algorithms. Your strategy that got you to the top, could as easily bring you back to the bottom again. If you are #1 yesterday, and #1 today, doesn’t mean you will be #1 tomorrow. I’ve learned that the hard way by now…

You end up with a constant craze of tweaking your markup, adding content, revising changes based on a possible relation between your edit and rankings, expand your site with functions, restyle to minimalism, focusing on high traffic keywords, focusing on niche keywords, link exchanges, no-following, etc. Whatever your personal fad is.
But in the end, the search engines are a blackbox, and you can only hope that you’re lucky enough to come out on top.
My thoughts went out to search for another way to make money with online traffic without search engines as middlemen who determine my online and offline faith. I don’t want to invest in (ad-) campaigns, or do low margin arbitrage on buying and selling traffic, nor do I want to game the system since that wouldn’t be a long term strategy either. I need a strategy that is low maintenance, fully automated, little competition, providing quality ad views/leads and viable as a respectable long term business. It maybe sounds lazy, but that’s not my intention, these qualities will make a scalable business with low operating costs.
And there the answer is: 404. File not found. Dead links. Expired domains. Misspellings. Typos. Dead ends. All traffic that goes to waste and ends on a blank page. I might be able to come up with a variation of what businesses are already doing with dead-end traffic:

  • Millions of people mistype domains. Even a small percentage of 0.01%, could lead to billions of pageviews on the wrong place. Instead of focusing on the first part of a domain name (e.g. googgle.com) by buying all these misspellings (typo squatting is a well known ‘business’ practice) for a few dollars each, this company made a deal with the country of Cameroon – owner of the .cm extension – to handle all typos in the last three characters of the domain name: (“domain.cm”). This deal leads any domain + .cm to their ad page.
  • Instead of getting the standard not found page, or could not connect from your browser, internet provider Verisign hijacks the user and redirects them to a related ad page instead. A nice traffic flow leading to a good revenue bonus for an internet provider. But they are not unique: browser toolbars are also in the game with a ‘service’ of fetching a dead link, and redirecting a search results/ad page to the browser. Google, Adobe, Yahoo, Microsoft are all forwarding dead end traffic to their businesses. Google’s new browser chrome has it started turned on.

So my brain brainstormed on my next possible project that didn’t need Google, or any other search engine: Own 404! Spider the internet in a smart way, get loads of data from browsers and webpages. See how internet traffic moves from click to click, and focusing on dead ends: a page that isn’t there anymore. When logged, get control of the page (yes, legally), push to a relevant ad page. When no owner of the dead end (domain) exists get the domain. Instead of the dead end 404 page, people get my ads!
With the internet getting older and bigger by the day, more dead ends pop up, and I’ll be happy to take them over. No more high traffic website with content, but a high traffic end-point with ads:
5 visitors per page/day, control 200,000 previously dead-end pages, gives 1 million page views/day, CPM 3 dollar, $3000/day * 365 = 1,095,000 a year.
While the project might be viable… my current and upcoming projects are still bound by the search engines and their judgments and I’ll have to accept it... for now.

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