Sunday, December 28, 2008

Content is still king

One of the phrases that was coined during the early years of the web was 'content is king'. The basic idea was that content drives traffic to your site. This is clearly correct for the simple case - if you have no content at all you'll get no visitors and when you add some content you'll hopefully get more than zero visitors.

But that was in the days of not so clever search engines. These days search engines don't just take notice of the content on your site, they look at all kinds of other things so there's much more emphasis on using search engine optimisation to optimise content to get as many hits as possible. I don't think there's anything wrong with using SEO and fiddling around with keywords, layouts, titles, URLs and reciprocal linking can certainly help (although it's quite possible to get it wrong as well and lose traffic) but it seems to miss the point. The absolute simplest way to increase traffic to your site is to add more content.

To illustrate, lets take a look at some real data. I've used and data from Google Analytics to produce this graph for the Random Pub Finder.

RPF stats

What does this show? I've taken the number of monthly visitors to the site and divided them by the number of pubs reviews on the website. This doesn't give the complete picture of the amount of content on site but I'm not sure how I can work out the number of unique URLs historically. Note, using page views instead of visitors produces a pretty similar graph.

So does it prove anything? I guess if content was the only thing affecting the number of visitors then we'd expect the trend line to be horizontal so there are clearly other factors at work. We've got more inbound links than we used to have (that big spike is when we got linked from another site). I also think age of content helps search engine rankings, although I don't have any proof for this theory. But given that I've done very little SEO work on the site, it does suggest increasing content increases visitors above and beyond a direct linear increase.

As a comparison, looking at the number of visitors to, where the amount of content has not increased very much, shows visitor numbers haven't increased as dramatically.

To look at it another way, every new page you add to your site will add X new visitors to your site, where X can be anything from zero to a very large number. Adding a new page will probably increase the number of visitors to your site, however small.

So in conclusion, don't waste your time and money on snake oil SEO 'experts', just add some more content to your site if you want to get more visitors.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Windows Search now slows down Internet Explorer as well

One of the things that caused bad initial experiences of Windows Vista was Windows Search. As soon as you'd installed Vista, off it went indexing files on your hard disk. This could take some time and although it runs as a background task it still seems to impact the performance of your PC. Lots of people just turned off the service, although if they'd left it on for a while they'd have discovered that once the initial scan had been finished, it generally had a pretty low impact on system performance.

I left it on but I've never been overly happy with it. Fact is I don't do much searching on my PC and when I do I'm not too bothered if it takes a while. So having a constant tax on my performance (however small) seems a waste. Not only that, but it doesn't seem to index the files that are important to me. So when I do do a search I invariably have to switch to the 'search everything' mode which is really slow meaning the whole indexing palaver is completely wasted. I guess I should have set it up to index everything but never bothered, thinking it would cause the indexer to use up even more processor time.

But along comes IE8 and Microsoft have decided to use Windows Search technology to power the drop down list of suggested sites. Previously I'd used this a lot, type the first few letters of a site that I visit frequently and it would appear in the drop down list and I could select it rather than having to type the full URL. In theory that still works, but Windows Search always takes several seconds to decide what to show in the list, so it's as quick just to type in the full URL. I guess the list of suggested sites is better but the delay means it's completely useless. And typing another letter causes the search to start again from scratch...

But there is a solution to this. Disable the Windows Search service and the drop down works just like it used to do and I'm happy again. I guess this is a classic unintended consequence of powering IE8 with Windows Search, that even more people disable it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Revenue models for free software

I have no ideological belief that software should be free, but it certainly seems to be an increasingly prevalent model for software.  Since I don't run my own software company the code I produce doesn't have pay the bills. But although I enjoy writing it, in an ideal world I'd still like to make some kind of income from my work. Probably my biggest piece of code that I've given away has been the FreeFlow library and Administrator, that can be used with Metastorm's BPM product. I've tried out a few different revenue generation techniques with varying degrees of success.

Sell the source - This was the initial model, let anyone download the binaries but charge for the source. It worked reasonably well for the FreeFlow library, which is used by developers to talk to the Metastorm engine. I guess developers are keen to get hold of the source for libraries they are using, to modify for their own needs and reduce the risk if the developer disappears. Unfortunately Metastorm introduced their own .NET library and as time has gone on there's been a lot more interest in the standalone FreeFlow Administrator application. With this, I suspect less people care about the code since if I disappear it won't actually affect their own applications, so sales of the source code have dropped off.

Website advertising - There's been advertising on the FreeFlow website for a long while and I've made a bit of spending money from it, but that's all. One positive of writing software for a BPM product is that most of the ads are for competing BPM products which seem to earn a good amount of money. The downside is that Metastorm is just one of many BPM companies and BPM is still a fairly niche area so I don't get a massive number of visitors to the site.

Donations - This is my latest attempt at earning a bit of cash. The website and the FreeFlow Administrator now have 'Donation' buttons. So far I've not earned anything from this at all. I'm not hugely surprised. If I'm using a free piece of software I very rarely donate any money. If it's shareware, I'm unlikely to pay for the full version even if it has nag screens (WinZip anyone?). The exception to this is SmartFTP, which I paid for because it needed re-installing every few months and it's actually a nice bit of software.

Ads in the application - I haven't tried this yet and I'm not even sure how ads can be added to a desktop application but it seems to be the path FeedDemon is going down. I may wait and see how well it goes for that software and my own donations before going down the same route. One of the nice advantages of not needing to earn any money from my software is I can try out different models for as long as I want before trying out something else.

A buy out - There has been interest from people wishing to buy FreeFlow off me but there have been no concrete offers as yet. I'd definitely consider a serious offer. Even though I have some emotional attachment to the code I've written I'm not dumb enough to refuse a reasonable amount of money if somebody offered it. Unfortunately as this is a niche product, I can't really see there being a huge number of suitors... 

In conclusion, I think if I was starting from scratch I'd probably try writing software with a potentially wider audience. Something like TimeSnapper, which is of use to almost anybody. And I'd probably try a similar pricing model to their software, a basic free version and a more feature-rich professional version. Or an ad-sponsored free version and a paid-for non-ads version. Now I just have to figure out what that software would be...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Free controls for .NET

I've come across a couple of free controls for .NET recently which look pretty cool.

DevExpress - I've always loved DevExpress. Their Delphi controls rocked (and probably still do), their .NET controls rock and their pricing has always been pretty reasonable ($2000* for every .NET control they produce for a year). Now you can get some of them for free. The download is a bit large since it includes trial versions of everything they do but some of them look pretty useful. I haven't looked too closely but from a cursory look it seems like the ASP.NET controls are more useful than the WinForms controls, which are mostly just some edit controls.

Chart control - Microsoft bought the Dundas chart controls and now you can use the Microsoft updated versions in your ASP.NET and WinForms applications for free. I assume at some point these will get rolled into the .NET Framework meaning it will be possible to add charting to apps with no extra installation woes to worry about. It will be interesting to see what now happens to Dundas (and ChartFX and any other chart control companies for that matter). I guess they have products for other platforms and more specialised charting controls that will keep them in business. If not, they may live to regret the decision to sell their code...

* Actually $1999.99 but it's quite close to $2000 - does the .99 cent/pence ruse actually still work?