The Open Directory Portal: Has It Closed?
Updated February 21, 2009 | GET A PDF OF THIS NEWS LETTER | THIS IS AN ARCHIVE FILE
That question has been on my mind for the last 30 seconds. I had not really given much thought to the open directory portal in recent years. For those who do not know what it is, here is a quick review of the history of the search process on the Internet.
Once upon a time, not long after Al Gore invented the internet, search engine companies began crawling around cyber space looking at meta tags and some of the copy on a website's index page to determine how to rank the site. The algorithms used at the time were rather elementary, and it posed an inconvenient truth for the open directory portal system, which was easily fooled into ranking a helicopter site as the top porn listing on Tuesday. A couple of weeks later, using hidden <div> tags with text, or using text colors to match the background, clever little web designers would embed tags and keywords that had little or nothing to do with the site's real content. Now the porn site could be ranked as the top educational institute in Dallas, which seems to me to represent some measure of poetic justice.
Sometimes a site really didn't have content, but by hiding keywords to fool the Open Directory Portal, the first domains were able to find themselves ranked very well, leading enhanced traffic that would bring value to a site. Some banner ads would show up, PPC began to take shape because, if you are getting clicks, you should be making sales, right?
Of course, we all know what happened. An irrational exuberance followed as sites would come, “fully rendered” as it was called, replete with bells, whistles, smoke and mirrors, bringing unsophisticated, neophyte web users to the domain. Because this heavy-duty traffic was coming, it followed that people would decide a product advertised on a page would also be seen as “cutting edge”, part of the “tech world”, and something somebody “had to have”. The great boom of the late 1990's was in full swing. I am not sure what we were swinging at then.
My first experience with the Internet came in the mid 1980's, although I really did not know it at the time. I was learning to program a Sperry Univac V77, the 800 series, using COBOL. Our school was hooked up, of course, and the data flowed at the rate of about one line of text per second. It was cool watching the cursor fly across the screen. Then we would have to delete the printer spooler or the next guy on terminal 23 would not be able to send his report through the mainframe.
My next experience with the internet came in 1991 when, as a reporter, I was sending my stories from the field back to the “home office” via an outmoded TRS 80 (we called them “Trash 80's") laptop that was really little more than a glorified word processor with an LCD and a telephone hookup. But I was one of the few people on the planet with a laptop that was online, a cellular telephone (an old transportable) and a company car. I was the shit.
My experience with the Internet evolved in 1997 when I finally broke down and acquired my first email address. I think this would have been around the time Rick Schwartz was already gobbling up domains and making huge profits on targeted redirects. My forward-thinking mind was focused only on my news career, which was about to reach a zenith when I was able to break the story on the Metro Source News Wire that Gianni Versace was dead. I beat the Associated Press by six minutes! That is an eternity in broadcast journalism.
By 2000, I was seeing things differently, and as I learned how to build and maintain a website I finally reserved my own domain name. You could reserve them and pay for them later at the time. I used a service called DomainValet.com, which was tied to Network Solutions.
Finally I went into business for myself, opening a little company called Rodan Media Group in January 2001. The man I had worked with at Metro Networks, which is now a subsidiary of Westwood One Radio Network, had also begun to dabble in the online world, and he was reselling hosting packages. You could get away ith selling a miniscule package for hundreds of dollars per year, then. And we did.
It was no problem to take our first big client, a South Florida helicopter company, and plug in the right keywords in the right place, and hide irrelevant keywords in other places, to get his site ranked well. By late 2001, if you wanted to catch an airline flight to Disney World, call Pompano Helicopters. Like that stylish new VW? Call Pompano Helicopters and take an aerial tour of the dealerships in South Florida. Using Open Directory Portal was ridiculously easy. With ODP we could sell snow to Eskimos.
Then the bubble burst. The economy soured in the wake of 911, and about nine months later we were struggling to pay the rent. I went into debt, lost a great deal, and Google and Yahoo started a tug-of-war that has supplanted, but not replaced, the ODP.
Today the ODP is called “organic search”. I am not sure whether this organic is certified for sale at your local Whole Foods Market. Of course, since the late 1990's and early 2000's we have seen a veritable explosion of domain names registered on the Internet. The list of domains coming up for aftermarket sale or pending deletion is incredible, and some of the names are more incredible. Who the *bleep* bought this crap?
Open Directory Portal can still work, to a degree. It takes a very, very long time. Once it would take two to four weeks for delivery of your traffic results. Now it can take nine months to a year. But users are far more sophisticated, and the search engines will not tolerate those old, hidden <div> layers, white text or multiple alt tags for the same image, as pasted across multiple pages. Use those tricks and you get black-listed. Some domainers online today are working like the Dickens to overcome previous domain owners' gaffes. But as they say in the online world, it is a melancholy truth that even great domains have their poor search results.
As T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Silicon Valley begins to take shape, the domain world will once more be, for one week, neighbors with Google and Yahoo. It is the first time in three years the domain industry has returned in such force to the heart of the online world. The difference between now and 2006 is the economic circumstances surrounding the conference have turned downright ugly.
Search is also about to change once more. Google's decision last year to enter the world of the domains and promote the Ad Sense for Domains plan is only the first of several cans of paint to spray the wall before us.
The passing of the days of keyword legerdemain are but a whisper of what may come as search giants take a more Orwellian approach to the world of online. As an industry, we in the domain world will have to find a new cohesion or perish. There is no room for us to continue to adapt for mere survival in the coming age when ODP is relegated to the history books.
ODP will continue to exist, but its significance will wane further in an age when “google” has now been added to the Merriam Webster dictionary. I offer no suggestion of how to proceed, other than to quote another famous man of history, Benjamin Franklin. He said, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
And what ever happened to The Domain Valet? He was fired. Park your own site.
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