Monday, June 09, 2014

The Independent Web is Failing

I've been building independent community directories since 1999. To my dismay, I've seen the vast majority of small independent web sites fail.

The failure is not limited to poorly designed, content free sites. Well designed and content rich sites are failing as fast as other sites.

The reason for this high fail rate is simple:: No-one links to small independently owned sites.

The web is all about links. If no-one links to you, then you fail.

For some odd reason, people simply are not willing to link to small independent sites.

I want people to succeed.

I figured that the best solution to this problem of rapidly failing sites is for people like me to create and maintain dedicated local directories. I created a selection of directories for the Mountain West with town centric sites that cover Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

My site for Grand Junction is My site for Moab is These directories actively seek out local sites. The open directories list every site I can find (with the exception of pornography and hate sites). The directories include free links to small businesses, blogs, churches, and campaign sites from all parties. I list a ton of independent photo sites, artist web sites and more.

The idea behind an independent directory is that people who want to support locally focused web development can link to the directory without all of the hassles involved in maintaining a directory.

Maintaining a links page is a big hassle. As mentioned, sites have a high fail rate. Through the years, I've listed 10,000 links on Salt Lake Sites. I've pulled out 4000 broken links so far. There are still several hundred broken links among the 6000 links listed on the directory.

Unfortunately, independent local directories are bound to the same fate as all independent sites. If no-one links to the directory, then the directory fails.

That said, I still think that small, independent, locally focused community directories are still the best hope for maintain a vibrant web full of diverse ideas.

By linking to an independent directory, one supports the local community with a minimal amount of effort.

I think I've done a fairly good job of linking to a rich selection of sites in the Community Color directories.  These directories focus on the Mountain West. I fund the site by linking to affiliate programs by the big chain stores. I have links to My Walmart affiliate links have pulled in $130 in revenue which helps me cover my webhosting fees. I clearly mark all the affiliate links..

Because the links go through the affiliate program, the links to the chains are seen by search engines as advertisements and not as organic links. The revenue does not detract from the local focus as much as one imagines.

Many pundits are predicting the demise of locally focused directories and geodomains. But, I believe that, in the long run, such sites are still the best hope for maintaining a robust independent local web. I would encourage anyone reading this post to search out and support independent local directories in their community.

It is very simple exercise. Google your town and the word "directory." I Googled "Salt Lake Directory." Not surprisingly, my site (Salt Lake Sites) no longer shows up in Google's listing. What really disappoints me is that, in 20 pages of listings, I found only one inclusive local directory.

I found multiple cookie cutter sites that reprint the Yellow Pages and White pages. There are a few associations that show only links to members of the association, but the search term "Salt Lake Directory" no long pulls up any independent inclusive directories.

There used to be 20 or more good locally owned geodomains for the valley. They locally focused geodomains have all been systematically purged by Google. The fact that my site was purged just tells me that I haven't done a good job. The fact that all independent geodomains have been purged tells me something is wrong with Google.

The last few years have been hard on small business. If you happen to be a supporter of small independent businesses, a positive step that you can take is to drop links on your blog or web site to geodomains that link to small businesses and independent sites.

The heart of HTML is the hyper-link. Linking to independent sites is something that we can all do to help encourage independent web development and small business.

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