Let’s admit one thing. We all started this web thing honestly, naively.
Our first site was designed to help people, to fill a gaping void we saw in the online world.
We wanted to do so much good.
Where, then, did it go so wrong? And why? Why did we end up with a website like “www.how-to-earn-money-online.com” that we can barely mention across the dinner table without blushing?
In this post, I’m going to target the psychology behind our seemingly harmless paths to web domination. I’ve been curious for a while about why a few of us start the Zygna.coms and Digg.coms while others go a, well, different path. It all dates back to the mid 1970s, when a man name Albert Bandura, the guy behind Social Cognitive Theory, examined how we seek to replicate success we see in our surroundings and in media, often at all costs. It gets a bit creepy.
Day 1: A new beginnning
It all began with GoDaddy.
“What is GoDaddy?” we ask Google. And Google responds with a full tutorial on GoDaddy.
“Thank you, Google. Now I’ve got my first domain and I have no idea how to use it.”
Well at some point, no thanks to GoDaddy, we find Blogger or WordPress. Your first domain name most-likely had a .blogspot or .wordpress in it. Hello, new blog.
“Wow, this is so interesting,” we think. “I can write posts, post images, create links, and put things in my side bar. And what exactly is a sidebar? I’m going to grow this blog to be huge! I’m getting 100 views a day! Wait, I was tracking my own views. Shut that off. So this actually is difficult … okay, I can handle that.”
We set up our first Google Analytics profile and hardly use it. We’re too focused positioning Adsense ads and garnering Facebook likes.
“Suggest to friends? I think so. Why did he not like it? Not my friend anymore! Write posts, write posts, write posts. Write even more. How am I ever going to have as many posts as that other site? Three a week, that’s it. Must happen. Three great posts of 500 words at least. More coffee. You can do this! Backlinks. Backlins! Need more. Alexa tells me I don’t have enough. Must network. Got one! Got a tweet too! Oh my dear god prepare yourself for traffic! Traffic didn’t come…why not? More posts … more domination!”
At some fateful point after much deliberation we decide to hack off the .blogger/.wordpress and basically think the world will rejoice over our decision.
“Sigh, they don’t. People don’t care. They’re focused on their own websites. Oh well, more networking, more Facebook marketing! Backlinks!”
Day 2: Day 1 got old
At some point in blogging, we become jaded. It just isn’t like it was on Day 1. Our community blog, our niche review site, and our Google Adsense landing page just didn’t work as planned. It wasn’t all we were told it would be, but we did learn in the process.
So, we start a new blog. We suck up our pride. We hobble back over to the computer. We probably woke up later that day because we were up late making it big the night before.
This is where it gets interesting.
The day we start up a second website defines us in our blogging careers.
Why? Because (in case you didn’t realize yet) everyone starts a semi-successful-yet-pretty-mediocre website at first, then moves on to another project. It’s in that second project that we either:
- show the world we’ve learned from our mistakes and are ready to build something useful, or
- totally sell out and continue down the path to eventual existential failure.
I’m sorry, but it’s one or the other. Which path are you on?
Maybe you’re on a different path?! If so, let’s hear about it in the comments.
Day 3: Pick a new domain
It may not be on actual day 3 of blogging, but the “third day” in your blogging career is the day you choose your next domain name. On Day 1 you made your first website, on Day 2 you decided to build another one, and on Day 3 you picked this new domain. And on Day 7 s/he rested.
So what did you pick?
The brandable domain
If you picked a brandable domain then I’d like to buy you a beer. I’m proud of you. A brandable domain is something like “Twitter.com”. It’s something like “Coursehero.com” or “Koofers.com”. It’s a brother of “Problogger.net” and a cousin of “Alexa.com”. Its recognizable. It stands out.
It holds its own in a conversation across the dinner table. (Should that be the new standard?)
People learn not just from trying and failing, but from observing, sometimes subconsciously, sometimes for means of survival, what works for our peers.—Albert Bandura
The importance of a brandable domain is five-fold:
- Unique: It stands out.
- Recognizable: People remember it.
- Bizarre: It’s weird enough to generate some intrigue the first time someone hears it.
- Worth mentioning: People want to talk about weird things.
- Worth putting on a t-shirt: Yes, you would consider wearing that logo with it’s branded image on a t-shirt.
If you picked a brandable domain I commend you because, while you won’t get immediate “direct match” traffic from Google, you will get many more returning visits because you have a pretty cool concept.
These websites are more likely to get blog comments and will inevitably build larger email followings. They may not be the best at making a quick buck, but they do have a long-term trajectory to success. Props to you for choosing this option!
The keyword-rich domain
If you picked this type of domain, you may want to watch this short video as Matt Cutts talks about how Google is changing the algorithm.
Short summary: A lot of noise and competition exists among keyword-rich domains. Google is altering the algorithm so websites with keyword-rich domains won’t get as much an advantage over similar websites with less keyword friendly domains.
If you picked a keyword-rich domain, this is my advice for you.
- Check out onlineprofits.com: It’s a successful community that makes online profits.
- Check howtomakemyblog.com: It’s actually an awesome how-to site by Marko Saric.
- Check out onlinecolleges.com and literally every other domain name with some variation of the phrase “online colleges” in it. You’ll begin to see just how competitive things are getting.
- Learn some on-page SEO: It’ll help you immensely against the waves of others like you.
- Get used to being #2: Hey, look at how well Monster does in the shadow of Redbull.
It’s okay, as a few of these examples will show you. With your keyword-rich domain your blog might actually make that six-figure annual income you dreamed about on Day 2.
However, as time passes I can’t help but think keyword-rich domains will become a dime a dozen, and will get sifted out to the bottom of the blogosphere while unique, original concepts rise to the top. It’s a process that may be happening as you read this.
Why did we choose one option or the other?
We’re human. We don’t want the things we do to eventually lead to failure.
We want to succeed, sometimes badly, and will often consider every means necessary to do so. Sometimes this means selecting a domain we at first would have scoffed at.
Albert Bandura was a renowned Canadian psychologist. He examined the characteristics we learn in our adolescence that leads us to success or failure. From the existing Social Learning Theory, it was known four key factors affect how we learn new behavior: drives, cues, responses, and rewards.
What Bandura found, in plain words, was that those of us who are more aggressive often skip a couple steps to get to the “rewards.”
This can be dangerous.
When our aggression outweighs our engrained moral compass, we exhibit “lapses in judgement,” as Bandura called them, where we totally avoid “cues” and “responses.”
It’s these tendencies which lead us to choose a certain domain and make larger, more long-term business decisions. It’s pretty hard to say a domain doesn’t hold vibes and messages that follow our website throughout its entire existence. So next time you’re sitting at GoDaddy about to make a purchase, remember Bandura and think about the long-term implications of your choice.
Bandura became the endowed chair of social psychology at Standford University in 1974 and is believed to be the fourth most cited pyschologist of all time. Go find more of his related work on Wikipedia.
The Blogger is a 25 year old guy from Manhattan who answers 150 blog questions before breakfast and holds a world record for comment response time. Sign up to his email club if you haven’t already (jeez) and find him on the Twitter.