In 2005, one of the most intriguing advertising stunts of the internet age was hatched. Alex Tew launched the The Million Dollar Homepage, where anyone could “own a piece of internet history” by purchasing pixels-plots (minimum of 10×10) on a massive digital canvas. At the price of just one dollar per pixel, everyone from individual internet users to well-known companies like Yahoo! raced to claim a space on the giant digital canvas.
Today, The Million Dollar Homepage lives on as a perfect record of that wacky time in internet history – or so it seems. However, the reality is that many of the hyperlinks on the canvas are now redirects that send incoming users to other sites, while over 20% of them are simply dead.
Here are the links that still work on the Million Dollar Homepage today:
The revealing graphic above raises the question – how do hyperlinks disappear, and what implications does this “digital decay” have?
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There’s been plenty written about how to create smart digital marketing content. But less attention gets paid to what happens after you click “publish” and whether your videos, infographics, social media posts, and other pieces of content are actually reaching the right people. Only a quarter of content marketers actually invest in distribution, even though more than half recognize that it’s a critical need. Having a smart distribution model is just as important as developing good content in the first place — it’s how you bring in more business.
The internet is stitched together by an incalculable number of hyperlinks, but much like cells in an organism, the sources and destinations have a finite lifespan. Essentially, links can and do die.
Most “link rot” is the result of website restructuring, or entities going out of business and pulling their website offline.
A high-impact example of this is when Yahoo! pulled the plug on GeoCities, one of the first popular web hosting services. In one fell swoop, roughly 7 million websites (containing a plethora of animated gifs, auto-playing midi files, and traffic counters) went dark forever.
Links can also die because of more deliberate reasons, as well. In 2015, the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, Ben Smith, came under fire for deleting thousands of posts from the site (including content that was critical of Buzzfeed advertisers). Journalism has traditionally acted as a public record, so this type of “decay” has serious implications on the credibility of media brands.
Optimize for search and for mobile. This step is essential. Search contributes about a third of the traffic that websites receive. The principles of good search-engine optimization (SEO) must be applied to every piece of content as you create it, not just after-the-fact, in the metadata. Who is your audience? What answers are people looking for? What keywords will they use to find those answers? That’s what you need to know on the front end. You can certainly extend your reach by crafting sharp headlines, managing the on-page SEO, and building a diverse but relevant link portfolio — but you extend it all the more when the content itself follows best SEO practices. Also create content with mobile in mind. Think carefully about how the length of your message, the formatting, visual elements, and links will shape user experience. The better the experience, the more likely customers are to stick around and absorb the message.
Design a modular but cohesive content plan. You can increase your impact by creating content modules — small bits of content, each with a targeted purpose, that can be used in a variety of ways. For example, a blog post in https://venitism.wordpress.com can be excerpted to provide social media status updates, included in your e-mail newsletter, syndicated on LinkedIn, and more. But each module should also plug into a clear narrative arc. In a screenplay or a novel, that arc follows the hero’s journey; in content marketing, you use it to guide the buyer’s journey. The typical arc goes from broad (for instance, who we are and why our brands can help solve people’s most urgent problems) to narrow (the differences that define a superior product or service). To build a cohesive user experience, map out how you’ll use these modules to tell your story from beginning to end.
This idea of a public record is at the heart of why digital decay is an issue worth addressing. Once millions of links simply burn out, what will people in the future know about society in the early-ish days of the internet? What record will remain of people’s thoughts and feelings in that era?
I worry that the twenty-first century will become an informational black hole.
– Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer
Perhaps more urgent are public records that live in the digital realm. Supreme Court decisions and academia lean heavily on citations to build their arguments. What happens when those citations simply vanish? 49% of the hyperlinks in Supreme Court decisions are now broken.
Even that ubiquitous resource, Wikipedia, has serious issues caused by digital decay. Over 130,000 entries link to dead pages – a troubling development, as linked citations are what lend entries their credibility.
Create relationships with branded publications and sites. The term “brand journalism” is a controversial one, but it nicely encapsulates where content creation has gone: using good writing and storytelling techniques to create high-quality marketing messages. As customers are exposed to your content — particularly through publications and websites they respect, such as https://venitism.wordpress.com — they’ll learn more about your brand and begin to trust your authority in whatever space you’re playing in. To build relationships with other sites, try writing guest posts for niche or industry sites, again with a clear focus on relevance. These often have a relatively open contributor policy, in that you apply and are able to blog there, but each piece undergoes editorial vetting.
Backing Up The Internet
A handful of people are taking steps to archive the internet.
The most well-known solution is Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which has archived hundreds of billions webpages over the past 20 years. Even the The Library of Congress – which is well known for archiving digital information such as tweets – contracts Internet Archive to do its web crawling.
The academia-focused Perma is another example of a company looking to create permanent records of the web sources (particularly citations).
Many of the weird and wonderful forums and hand-coded homepages of early internet lore may be gone, but we’re finally taking steps to combat digital decay. As awareness grows, avoiding an “informational black hole” may be possible.
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Sponsored posts in https://venitism.wordpress.com can be the means by which a brand shapes and impacts business and consumer landscapes. Sponsored posts can be a thoughtful investment in a company’s legacy. Armed with quality sponsored posts, corporations can become thought leaders, change agents, and experts. They can, in fact, become enlightened. Branded content is a powerful movement, and for good reason. In an always-on digital world, netizens have places to go and destinies to meet. To get their attention, you have to offer something valuable in return with no more than a couple links. Great stories persuade by uniting an idea with an emotion. Weave a story with information that makes your audience’s heart beat faster, and you have a good chance of winning them over.
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