Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control – A Viable Strategy for Developing Websites
It sounds like an answer line from Johnny Carson’s Karnac routine, but Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control was the title of a documentary film made a decade ago. Erol Morris, the director, pointed his camera on four unusual subjects. The title comes from a paper written by one of the men profiled, robot scientist Rodney Brooks. The idea was that a viable engineering design strategy for complex systems is to produce a lot of trial solutions, float a lot of balloons and see what works.
Take for instance, NASA, which is charged with launching space probes to other planets or to orbit Earth. These are expensive and risky projects. One way to increase the odds of success might be to opt for a bunch of inexpensive probes rather than one expensive probe.
Say that NASA could design and launch a “gold standard” space probe for $50 million and that such a probe is expected to have an 80% chance of making it. The gold standard probe has redundant systems and state-of-the-art everything and is made with the most expensive and durable materials. Still, space probes are a risky venture, there is a 20% chance that the probe will fail and NASA’s $50 million will go down the drain.
Alternative No. 2 for NASA for the same $50 million is to build and launch 10 probes at $5 million each. Let’s say each of these cheapy probes has only a 30% chance of success. Most probably won’t make it. But the chances of ALL of them failing is only about 3%. And most likely, more than one will survive, giving NASA additional options such as rediverting one of the probes to a different flight path and getting even more out of the overall program.
Both alternatives cost $50 million, but the second alternative – a large number of cheap space probes – increases the overall chances of success.
Is this strategy viable for Internet marketing? I think so. Websites are risky propositions, too. Even if you put a lot of effort and money into one, it might not perform well. (however you define “performing well”: showing up in search results, generating clicks, resulting in sales). A possibly better way would be to build and launch a number of sites, without putting too much into any one of them. The chances of each one succeeding is low, but the chances of at least one succeeding could be higher.
Where the analogy breaks down
There is an objection to the Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control strategy, and it is a good objection. NASA probes don’t face competition from other probes the way websites compete for placement in the SERPs. Each NASA probe can succeed, and its success or failure is not influenced by competition. In a competitive search market (and they are all competitive these days), only 10 websites can be on the first page of SERPs. Only one website can be in the first position. The winner is much more likely to be a “gold standard” site than a fast cheap one. Competitors’ successes mean your failure in a way that it doesn’t with space probes. Each competitor is better off putting all their resources in building one Gold Standard site.
Which approach to use
Both methods can be followed, and to some extent both can be followed by the same organization.
If you are competing in a market where success depends on placing well for one or a few keywords and you know what those keywords are, your best bet is to develop a Gold Standard site. Put resources into building up the site with killer content and graphics and put resources into building links to the site – all the regular SEO activities directed to your Gold Standard site. Try to become the authority website in your industry.
If you are in a more fluid, fast-changing, or undefined market, and you don’t really know what keywords will bring success, a portfolio of Fast and Cheap sites may be the way to go. Serendipity is on your side if you have a bunch of sites, while if you build a Gold Standard you could either hit a home run or strike out. In this type of market, some small inexpensive sites with little investment may pay off.
If budget is sufficient, I like to recommend clients do both. Build the best site in your industry, put in the money and manpower to make it the best. At the same time, launch a few trial balloon sites on the cheap. Even if they fail, you may learn something about the market and your customers from those small sites. And every once in a while, one will succeed.
The worst place to be is somewhere in the middle: neither Fast and Cheap nor a Gold Standard. This strategy leaves you with a middling site – not good enough to succeed when your competitors are building gold standards, but too narrow to benefit from the serendipity and luck that help you out when you have a bunch of sites.