Thursday, July 12, 2007

Where's the Beef?

A long time ago, a national hamburger chain made a big impact on pop culture when they made a commercial that starred two old grandmothers. They stood in line at a generic burger house, bought their burgers, and opened the bun searching for the patty. One of them looks up with an ornery scowl and says, “Where’s the Beef?!”

Lately, as I’ve been surfing the ‘net, looking for things on my own, I’ve been led to ask myself that same question. I mean, I’m looking for something, and I’m not finding it. I do a search, and it takes me to a site that’s sort of about that subject, but all it has is links, none of which are really close to what I’m looking for. Or it takes me to a forum posting or a blog, where someone comments on what I’m looking for, but I still can’t find anything that really IS what I’m looking for.

Where’s the Beef?

It all starts with a person, wanting to know something. He’s the “Seeker”. And somewhere in the great ‘net “out there” is the information that he’s looking for. That’s the “Destination”. In between the seeker and the destination, there are layers and layers of intercessory sites. Some of them are there, presumably, to help the seeker find his destination. Others, it seem, are there to distract him from it, or to hide it from him entirely.

Let’s look at some of the layers of intercessory sites, and see what they’re all about

  1. Search Engines/Portals

Back in the day, when the ‘net was young, finding things was very difficult. True, with the newly established World Wide Web, you could click from one document to another, and that was cool, but finding the right document in the first place was tricky. Enter Yahoo. It began simply as a system for cataloging websites into a directory tree of categories and subcategories. Search functionality was added soon after.

As search engines grew and became more commercial, they had to have more connections, and so they became true portals. Their main purpose is to help you get somewhere else. Like a doorway, you weren’t expected to stay there, you just passed through. Along the way, they tried to advertise to you.

Generally, we can all accept that the search engines and portals are of value. We all use them to find things, we all use them to help our own sites to be found.

  1. Secondary links and content

These are sites that might provide some content, but whose primary purpose might be to provide linking to other sites. Some specialized directories might fit into this category, as well as sites that are pretty much just made up of reciprocal links. If this kind of page is specific enough, and it matches your searching well enough, it might help you to find something you’re looking for.

However, this also includes the myriad of articles pages and blogs that are full of ineffective content. By that I mean, they were written primarily to count for another site’s link popularity, and they have no real content value of their own. Yes, it’s an article, but if it only overviews an idea and doesn’t help me implement it, how much value is it? Well, it is valuable as a link-getter, but not for someone looking to learn anything.

  1. Social networking sites

Social networking communities like MySpace, and sites for the open sharing of favorites and bookmarks, like and other similar sites have some value. Not so much in the content they contain, but rather for the way they filter other sites for us. Let’s face it. There are too many websites, and too many blogs and opinions to sort through. You’ll never see them all. So, if you discover someone whose opinion you can trust, then you’ll find that his/her website recommendations are probably going to better suit you.

As a webmaster, you want to get your site involved in the social networking thing, and get more (albeit relevant) sites to mark you, so that more of your target audience can find you.

Still, this is yet another layer in between the seeker and the destination. Is it a valuable layer? That depends mostly on the social net the site is listed in. If the site is relevant to the audience in the network, it will be of value to both the seekers and the site. On the other hand, if not, it will simply be more clutter.

  1. Blogs/forums/opinions

“Opinions are like diapers. Every baby’s got one, and they’re usually pretty stinky.”

The ‘net, in particular, is full of opinions. I remember a time about a year ago, I had been hearing about the concept of web 2.0, but I didn’t fully understand it. So, I decided to google it and learn. Normally, that’s a good idea. This time, not so much. I did get lots of results, and as I began checking them out, one at a time, I realized that they were almost all comments on web 2.0. One said that it was the best thing to happen to the web since hyperlinks. Another said it was a myth that only the crazy pursue. But through all the opinion and commentary, nobody told me what it was.

Finally I arrived at a site that gave me the info that I wanted. The lesson to me was while opinions can often be helpful in guiding me to where I want to be, they can also very often be a dark cloud of nothing obscuring that goal from view.

Plus, opinions are opinions, and not facts, and so to really get anything useful out of them, you have to sort through them with a critical ear. Often, readers don’t have time for that.

  1. Affiliate sites

Affiliate programs have lately taken off as a wonderfully powerful way to monetize a content-driven site.

Wow. That’s a lot of buzzwords in one sentence. Let’s restate that. If you have a website that’s full of good, usable information, you can make money off of it by affiliate linking to other sites that have tangible products.

However, what if this site with all the affiliate links doesn’t have any good content, or worse, no content at all, good or bad? What if it’s nothing but affiliate links? Once again, it’s not adding any value, and it simply becomes yet another obstacle in between me and what I’m looking for.

  1. Paid linking sites

I think these are the worst offenders. Here’s the scenario. I sit down at Google because I want to learn about “Underwater Basket Weaving”. I type that in, and hit the search button. It comes back to me with a list of results. One of them attracts my eye, because it says it’s all about Underwater Basket Weaving. I click on it.

What I find, however, isn’t a well-written, well-assembled site about Underwater Basket Weaving, but is instead a list of links to other sites, which may or may not be completely unrelated to Underwater Basket Weaving. These sites are listed here, not so much because the relate to my interest, or because they are of value to me, but more because their owners paid to be there. The sites are chosen to be displayed because a computer algorithm decided they were what I was searching form.

Not only is this site in the way of my quest, but it’s also trying to distract me into areas unconnected with my search. Very frustrating.

So Here’s the Beef:

My point in this rant is that the ‘net is chocked full of stuff. Some stuff gives you value, some stuff helps you find the stuff that’s valued, and other stuff just gets in the way. And I’m seeing more and more of the stuff that gets in the way. When I order a burger, I want the beef. And I don’t want to have to search too deep for it. I think I’m not alone in this.

So, as webmasters, it’s our job to provide it. The real stuff. The Beef. The valued information and products. The point is to be one of two things: Either the destination where people arrive and stay, or the transition that is actually valuable and helpful. These are the sites that, in the long run, will be the most successful.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

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