The Field of Dreams Fallacy

When I am talking to people about their marketing plans and what we can do together to grow their business, the topic of websites frequently comes up.  With the amount of sales estimated to take place online (see "US Web retail sales to reach $249 bln by '14-study" on Reuters) it should come up.  Even the potential residual benefit to brick-and-mortar retailers, though less quantifiable, should be reason enough for most businesses to have some kind of presence on the internet.  However, there is one problem.  I call it the Field of Dreams Fallacy, which is the idea that "If you build it they will come."  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but just putting up a website is not going to automatically entitle you to a slice of the quarter-trillion dollar pie.  There are a couple big reasons why:

1) You're building a website and that is awesome except... so is everyone else.  According to VeriSign an average of 90,000 domain names were registered every day in 2007 (see BizReport).  Those are just names, not sites, but you get the idea of the growth the internet is undergoing daily.

2) Your site is up and running, but... it's not showing up on Google.  Unfortunately most new websites are not going to have both key attributes to getting ranked at the top of searches, which are relevance and popularity.

So should you take your ball and go home?  No!  But better be realistic about your expectations and have a plan for building your online presence.  Here are a couple tips to deal with these two challenges:

1) Find your online niche.  It is so tempting to be everything to everyone, but as far as the internet is concerned, someone already is everything for everyone--and it's not you.  Unless you have the millions to buy your ranking among the top brands, just get it out of your mind that you're going to be able to compete head-to-head right away.  Focus on the people you most want to attract to your site and offer them something different the big guys can't offer.  This is not just a good idea for your website, but a good idea in general, and it will bring your site more relevance and help it stand out in the crowd of lackluster sites.

2) Don't forget there is an "offline" world too.  No, they have not yet found a way to completely substitute the physical world with a digital existence.  Until they do there may be a number of opportunities to connect with your target customers in the real-world as well.  Think about the traditional channels for advertising (e.g. trade magazines, newspapers, radio, television, outdoor, etc.), especially when you can do so in a targeted manner.  Network with businesses and individuals.  If you already have customers, let them know about your online presence and give them a real reason to visit your website.  Often the impression is given that internet marketing is sufficient in and of itself, but for us little guys it is not--at least not until we generate enough traffic that Google does start giving us those top positions in the rankings.

"If you build it they will come," may not be the correct assumption about starting a new website, but some thoughtful evaluation and planning can get you on the path to a thriving online presence.  With the amount of growth that is taking place and the billions of dollars of potential revenue to be earned, there is no time to waste getting started!


  1. Another really good article, Ryan. With the website that my brother and I run for fun, I have about 50 visitors per day now. When we first started out, we were basically the only ones reading it. From what I've learned, if I had to do it over again, I would do these three things differently.

    1. Publish more: When I first started out, I was publishing far too little, something like once per week. I've cured myself of that now. The top 100 blogs (as measured by Technorati) all publish at least once per day, with many of them publishing up to 10 times per day! The more you publish, the more chance you have of having content someone will like.

    2. Social Media: If you're not using Facebook and Twitter to spread the message about your blog, you're missing out on potentially dozens or even hundreds of additional visitors to your website per day. I didn't realize this until very recently, and I missed out on having probably hundreds of additional visitors each day to my blog.

    As a test of just how powerful this idea is, try the following experiment. Create a Twitter account, using whichever email you typically use to sign up for "spammy" type offers. Go to twitter, go to a popular "Tweeter" (Ashton Kutcher, for example), and click through until you see his followers. Then, click through and follow all of his followers, up to about 100-200 per day. Out of these followers, about 10-30% will "refollow" you. Out of the ones who "refollow", about 10-30% of those will become readers of your blog, especially if you set your blogspot posts to automatically "tweet out" to Twitter (which is easy to do). So, long story short,every time that you do this, you get about 1-6 readers for your blog. Cool, huh?

    Note: Don't follow more than about 200 people per day, or you will be banned by Twitter. Guess how I found that one out . . .

    3. Put your link out everywhere: Your page rank in Google depends on, among other things, how many links you have coming in from other websites to your website. So, you should get every website you can (but don't use link spamming sites) to link to your website or blog. It will have a dramatic impact on how high your page ranks in the Google search engine.

    There are other tips and tricks (way too many of them for a single comment or blog post in fact), but that's enough for the avid blogger or small business owner to get started. Following my own advice, I'll leave my web address.


    Also, I liked this comment so much that I'm going to repost it to my blog.

  2. Also, I agree with the concept that there is a lot of competition out there for blogs, and it's one that a lot of people don't realize.

    Google "feedjit blogspot" and go look at the typical visitor statistics for a blogspot blog. Most of them (measured from their Feedjit feeds) are lucky if they get 10 visitors per day. Some of them only get 10 visitors per month!

    Sorry, I just felt particularly loquacious today.