It's 10:00 p.m. Three people are reading their favorite business information online:
- John in Alabama opens up Bloglines to catch up on reading the latest RSS headlines from his favorite blogs and news sites.
- Maria heads over to Inc.com to read the latest articles online. BlogRovr, a free application she uses, retrieves and displays the latest blog articles linking to the Inc articles she is reading. That extends the conversation surrounding the articles she is reading, as she can now see what her favorite bloggers have to say about the articles, right while she is reading them.
- Marcus fires up iGoogle to the start page he has set up containing a dozen and half gadgets containing bits of information, such as RSS headlines or interactive applications, from his favorite sites. For instance, he uses iGoogle to monitor activity on his profiles on social media sites, such as Facebook, as well as the latest 'twitters' of the people he is following on Twitter.
John, Maria and Marcus are each reading and interacting with their favorite sites and Web applications. They may be reading YOUR blog articles or pulling in information from the application they use from YOUR site.
But you'll notice one important fact: none of them actually visited your Web URL that evening. In fact, they haven't been to your site in weeks, maybe months.
Welcome to the cut-and-paste Web, as it has been dubbed by blogger and PR executive Steve Rubel. The cut-and-paste Web is where the Web reader (user) is in control. It's where the reader can decide to move content around. Today's Web consumer chooses what he or she wants to see and where.
What's more, most of the activity involving your site may be happening off your site.
I've had personal experience with this. Just in the past three months on three separate days, the number of article views via RSS feeds from one of my own websites exceeded the number of on-site page views that day. Think about that a moment. On three different days more people consumed my content off of my site, than on it. At present growth rates, I project that within a year, more people regularly will be viewing my site's content off-site than on-page.
The thought is staggering. It changes everything about how I view what I am doing, from my site's business model, to how I define a 'community,' to how I go about adding new features.
Portability of content has profound implications for Web publishers and site owners:
Make it embeddable. Content wants to be free. Set up your site so that chunks of it are portable and easy for users to embed into other websites, such as start pages like iGoogle or RSS readers. Better yet, have your development team create widgets or gadgets and submit them to widget directories or start-pages sites, for users. Another important step is to create an 'app' or application for Facebook, so that users can use it there. This will extend the reach of your site and broaden your community base. Learn how to leverage sites and tools such as: WidgetBox, iGoogle, Netvibes, PageFlakes, FreeWebs.
Think desktop widgets. Widgets are not only embeddable in other Web pages, but increasingly users are placing them on their computer desktops. You can't get much more visible than that, when users see your widget every time they boot their computer up and see their desktop screen. Try these sites for desktop widget building tools and directories of places to submit your widget: Yahoo Widgets; SpringWidgets.
Use other measurements besides pageviews. If people don't actually visit your URL, then you cannot very fully measure your site's reach using traditional metrics of visits and page views. So you will need to start tracking alternative measurements. One of the easiest to track is RSS subscribers and RSS item use. For this, the hands-down best solution today is FeedBurner.
Rethink advertising-based sites. If your business model is advertising based, calculated on CPM rates (i.e., number of page impressions), start now offering alternative ad placements and rate structures. One option is ads in your RSS feeds. Today advertisers still are not willing to pay the same advertising rates in RSS feeds as for on-site or even newsletter placements. But in the future as RSS becomes more accepted, that could change. FeedBurner offers a feed-based ad network for publishers to monetize their feeds, as does Pheedo.
You will no longer control what people see. Get over the idea that you can control what the user sees. That may be true if users come to your website (and plenty of people still do today). But in the future, as increasing numbers of consumers come only once to your site to check it out or set up an account, thereafter they may not only display your content where they want it, but even start changing how it looks. For instance, some widgets allow users to change background colors and other display features.
The bottom line: Embrace the portability of content as a kind of roving ambassador for your website and your business. Your content and your site's applications can be working for you around the Web in dozens, hundreds, thousands of places.
Anita Campbell is a writer, speaker and radio talk show host who closely follows trends in the small business market at her site, Small Business Trends.