Web Application / Software Development & the various ways of making money as a freelancer online have changed dramatically over the last 2 decades. Let us take a moment to reflect in the nostalgia of “how it all began”.
I recall using my old AMD-based 700Mhz Slot A PC & my very first domain name using DynDNS.org to host a website to share device drivers for computer hardware that I sold to clients. It was from my first attempt at starting a business directly out of college. The market for cheap computer systems was RED HOT. Dell & Gateway were battling it out to see who would emerge the “ready-made, cookie cutter” household PC nominator in the industry. Meanwhile, I was selling a few dozen computer systems & making minimal gains on the large amounts of overhead I had invested in to supply more modest, yet growing list of clientele.
But I lost the computer hardware re-seller battle against the titan that is Dell Computers, & the slew of brick-&-mortar “Mom & Pop” computer repair shops offering on-site tech support that began to sprout up all over the country. Shocker, right?
That said, it wasn’t a total loss. I learned a lot from the experience, & when my clients would notice me downloading the device drivers from my personal “side project” website I would often get asked the question:
Do You Do Websites too?
I felt the honest answer at the time was, “sort of”. I had never taken any “formal” web development courses, & I wasn’t a “web guru”. I was actually a proud recipient of an Associate of Science Degree “in” Electronics Engineer. Yet, without any more experience than what I earned from the labs while attending classes, & the circuits I designed with my bread boards.
I just figured it all out as I went along.
In reality, most people do NOT host a website out of their one bedroom apartment that gets roughly 12,000 page views a day while accepting donations for the same device drivers I was downloading from my site for clients’ computer hardware. So, I actually WAS qualified to “do websites too”, only I thought there was some bigger piece of the puzzle that I was missing.
So… I slowly started to realize my self-taught education on how to administer web servers & create web pages was good enough to call myself a “Web Developer”, “Application Developer”, “Web Application Developer” or (my favorite) “Software Engineer”. I still am, to this day.
12,000 Page Views a DAY?!
Did I stutter?
What Kind of Money Did You Make With a Website Getting That Much Traffic?!
I was pulling in a whooping $75 a month from my online advertising, & anywhere between $0 to $100 a month in “donations” through PayPal to get access to the “ad-free, faster download connection” version of my device driver download website. On my best month, it paid the Cable & Water Bill.
Yes. That’s it.
In hindsight I realized I could have done a better job monetizing my apparently popular website, but I was green to the arena of online marketing. I also did not exactly have a physical product of my own. It is actually a bit of a marvel that I accomplished what I did with what I was working with, considering I never intended to monetized it in the first place. I was simply making a web space for my clients & I to download the device drivers of the computer hardware I was selling them in the event that I ever got a support phone call & they needed to get things works as quickly as possible. It wasn’t until I decided to try troubleshooting why my internet was PAINFULLY slow all week-long that I realized:
“WHOA! I have 800 active connections to Port 80 on my PC right now?!”
So, Mister Non Web Application / Software Developer Person With So Much Site Traffic… How did You Do It?
How Google, Yahoo, Alta-vista, Dogpile, 37.com & all the other long forgotten search engines discovered my little personal device driver website project, I will never know. Usually a Web Application Developer DREAMS of having their websites ranking highly by every search engine out there, yet I did not submit a single request for a Search Engine Bot to crawl my site & index my pages before I was getting 1,000’s of page views on a daily basis. It was a happy accident, to say the least.
So, what happened? Did your content get even MORE popular over the years, give Search Engine Ranking Algorithms?
Funny you ask (you know you want to), actually the exact opposite happened. In the early 2000’s a server with enough resource allotment would have cost me twice the amount of what I was actually taking in from ad venues and donations. So… I did the best I could with what I could make money with. The saddest thing about the whole configuration was the I ultimately moved to a location where it was no longer cost effective for me to keep the site up and running as the traffic began to sharply decline as the drivers I made available through the home server were slowly being provided directly from the manufacturers website. What took them so long? Great question. What I was noticing in my website traffic patterns from AWStats was that I was ranked extremely high for a few handfuls of “long-tail search queries” and the majority of the traffic was going to pages with device driver files that virtually no other websites made available. It seems I found that “crease” of temporary opportunity to drive traffic to device drivers of popular (mostly cheap) devices with little to non-existent product support.
Another major factor in the extreme decline of the 10k+ daily page view averages (and monthly donations that kept the site worthwhile to barely over break-even on expenses) was that the term “SEO” and all of its “sub-culture industry” spawned concepts like “white hat” and “black hat” SEO methodologies. Apparently, it was no longer acceptable to attempt to appeal to search engine spiders and ranking algorithms “by any means necessary” via “keyword stuffing”, “hidden text” by matching the background color to font color and/or reducing the font sizes with CSS. Obviously, Google won the search engine wars some time ago, and Google began “setting the bar” for SEO standards right about the time the Google Adsense product became wildly popular. I confess to being INCREDIBLY “black-hat”, but not intending to be “shady”, but with the intentions of actually allowing people to find what they were looking for, as I honestly believed my content yielded ACTUAL files as large as 800 MB (the max size a device driver data CD could hold) that were the originally supplied driver files that search engine users were most likely searching for.
Ok, sure, Mister “Hipster”. You were doing it “before it was cool”. We get it. But why does that matter now?
It was the entire experience of being on the forefront of Search Engine Optimization and the Frontier of S.E. Ranking governance. I completely understand the thought behind setting the standard, and I somewhat admire Google for trying to make the internet a better place through good intentions. It is only my opinion, but I do think it took Google far too long to “come around” to start ranking more relevant sites to the more “technical” search terms in a “post Google Florida Update” world.It’s come a VERY long way since then, especially considering the impact that Suggested Auto-Complete of Search Engine terms has become the norm. What makes this a blog-worthy topic, to me, is the knowlege gained from “riding the wave” of industry changes and “getting the feel” of how and why to internet evolves. Hopefully readers get some of this benefit by interpreting the various “markers” and major trends of Search Engine Optimization Standards