How Websites Work

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If you read Friday’s post about winning a free T-shirt by “liking” Money Talks News on Facebook or following us on Twitter, you might appreciate the following email I got from a regular reader…

I wanted to enter for the free t-shirt; however, I do not have a Facebook account and I do not intend to open one. Nor do I have a Twitter account. I find it slightly irritating that the only way to enter for a free T-shirt were those two options. Therefore, my only choice was to spend my hard earned money to purchase one. If I had had to pay for shipping, I can assure you that I would not have bitten the bullet to buy one. I continue to get annoyed at newsletters and websites that offer ways to enter a contest for ‘free’ merchandise, but then you have to join another service – even a free one – that you may not want to. Just wanted to share a loyal reader’s opinion as to why I have never entered any of your contests, sweepstakes or any other opportunity you offer in your newsletter or on your website.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to receiving my T-shirt – sent with free shipping.

I was going to answer this email with a personal reply, but thought since our contest irritated this reader, it might be irritating others as well. And since irritating readers is pretty much the opposite of our intent, I thought maybe I should use this as an opportunity to explain why we do irritating things like try to get you to “like” us, follow us, or subscribe to us. If you don’t care, then don’t read on – it’s not important. But you might find it interesting.

Why we want you to like us

The main reason we want to engage you with social media is that our ultimate vision is a thriving community of like-minded people offering each other information and encouragement. Facebook isn’t the final solution, but because it allows you to interact with us and each other, it’s a step in that direction. If you don’t want to join, that’s cool. My goals don’t include putting another dollar in Mark Zuckerberg’s swollen pockets, just to establish a simple way for us to communicate with each other.

There’s also another reason to have a bunch of Facebook followers. It makes our site more credible to search engines, which is super-important for websites – at least ones that want to stay in business.

Why we care about search results

When you type something into a search engine, you probably know that the top results you get back are the ones that the search engine thinks are most likely to satisfy your query. What you may not know, however, is that big sites have entire teams of people whose job is making sure all the articles they publish have words that match what people are searching for: It’s called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Smaller sites like ours write stuff and hope for the best.

So, as with many things in the world of business, it’s the little guys against the big guys. The bigger the site, the easier it is to show up at the top of search results, which ultimately serves to make big sites bigger and small ones smaller. So smaller sites like ours do whatever they can to improve their search results. And that includes having lots of Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

A word about ads

It will probably come as no surprise that operating a website costs money: not much relative to a brick-and-mortar business, but it’s not nothing. The servers to handle our amount of traffic, along with some online tools to measure and analyze that traffic, run a couple of grand a month. The big expense? The talented team of people who write, edit, manage the site, and produce Money Talks News videos.

Also no surprise is that most of our revenue comes from the ads you see displayed all over the site. While companies do approach us directly to advertise here, a lot of our ads come from Google. They’re not advertisers we picked, or even control, except in the most general terms (e.g., no porn.) We don’t get a dime for displaying Google’s ads – we only make money if people actually click on them.

Something else interesting about ads: The ads you’re seeing right now around this story are most likely different than those someone else might be seeing elsewhere at the exact same instant. Unless you opt out, Google serves you ads based on what it knows about you – for instance, other sites you’ve been visiting, or other ads you’ve clicked on elsewhere. I mention this becasue I’ve gotten complaints in the past from people who hate this, that, or the other advertiser and want me to remove them from the site. Ironically, you probably have more influence on the ads you’re seeing than we do.

I probably just told you more than you wanted to know about how a website works, but I want you to know why we do some of the things we do. The last thing we want to do is annoy anyone. The first thing we want to do is be the best personal finance site you’ll ever visit.

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