Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bad experience with 99Designs -- my takeaways

I'm coming off an unhappy website redesign with -- only 2 or 3 of the 13 designers submitted designs that seemed worthy of iterating on. This contrasted sharply with my previous experience having a logo designed at 99Designs when I had nearly 350 designs submitted (compared to 37), and 4 of them were very good. This time around I have 1 design that I'm pretty happy with (and the overall hit to my wallet is twice as high).

Part of the explanation appears to be that many more designers submit designs for logos -- they're probably much less work -- and payouts tend to be about half the payout for a website design, so designers opt for the logo projects.

One approach to designing a successful project:
If you sort the webpage designs by the number of designs that were submitted, you can find projects that received more designs than projects that offered to pay more. Sometimes these high-marketing / low-cost projects beat out projects offering to pay nearly 3x as much! These disproportionately successful projects suggest a few takeaways:

  • Tell designers that there's a possibility of ongoing work in the 2nd line of the project description

  • Projects that get lots of designs often offer a high payout but don't guarantee the project. Some of the projects that do guarantee a payout didn't get many designs. There doesn't seem to be a clear association between guaranteeing a project payout and the number of designs submitted.

  • Making the project "blind" -- ie designers can't see what other designers have submitted -- doesn't appear to be correlated with the number of design submissions.

Here's what I'm going to do in the future:

  1. Make an effort to "sell" the project, both by describing how tricky a project it is, and by approaching designers directly and asking them to take a crack at it (see the tips in the links at the bottom of this post).

  2. Don't buy separate logo and webpage design projects for the same website.

  3. Give feedback to everyone, even if you only give personalized feedback to the folks whose designs you like. My guess is that designers look at whether or not a contest-buyer gives feedback to everyone before they decide which sites to design

  4. Avoid the "blind contest" option like the plague. I understand that designers love it, because it prevents less talented designers from stealing their best ideas. However, as the buyer, I kind of like designers riffing on other peoples designs. You probably get more designs overall, and more of them are going to be appealing. Plus, (granted with only two data points) I had about 1/10th the number of designs submitted in my "blind" contest.

Other tips for 99Designs Contests:

  1. 10 Tips for Obtaining a Stellar Graphic Design via

  2. tips: crowdsourcing a design project

  3. 4 tips to hosting a fun design competition

Monday, November 02, 2009

Using "Outposts" in your SEO Strategy

I attended the Cambridge SEO Meetup again tonight, and was once again reminded why I go: there are some great people that attend. Props to Derek Edmond for giving me a great link-building idea, and thanks to for bringing food!

Tonight's speaker was Stuart Foster. He has an interesting resume and it sounds like he's done some genuine legwork to create a meaningful following on Twitter. However, I'm iffy on his SEO recommendations, and I disagree pretty strongly with one of them. He recommended that people follow a strategy that he credited to Chris Brogan: that you "syndicate" the articles that you write to 5 or 6 "outposts", like Facebook, a blog, etc, and that you then funnel links from those "outposts" back to your main money-making site.

Now, I first heard the name "Chris Brogan" about two or three years ago when he came to speak at one of the Cambridge SEO meetups. I later heard him speak at Affiliate Summit in Boston after his star had ascended a bit, and I have to say that he came across as a genuinely decent human being. And further, he does appear to have written a post titled: "Using Outposts in Your Media Strategy" which uses a lot of the same words and concepts that Stuart used. But, for Chris' sake, I'm going to assume that this strategy makes more sense for personal branding than it does for SEO -- because it's a really bad idea for SEO.

Here's the idea behind using "outposts": if you set up 5 or 6 mini-sites on different hosts (maybe a Facebook page, a MySpace page, your LinkedIn account, etc) then you can point all of those sites to your main (money-making) site, and Presto! -- instant inbound links | PageRank | link juice. You'll have the magic of Facebook's PageRank 11 site to push your money-making site up in Google's rankings.

Here's the problem: If you want this to actually work, you now have 5 mini-sites plus your money-making site that you need to update. Let me say that differently: instead of simplifying the work it takes to get inbound links, you have multiplied it six-fold!

Let's say that your brand-spanking new Facebook page has exactly one article on it, plus a link to your money-making site. Guess how many visitors it will get per month if you don't promote it? 3,000? 1,200? 8? Nope. Zero. The only way to get people to visit your Facebook page is to go out and promote the page.

Make no mistake -- getting editorially chosen links is really, really hard. Why in the world would you want to increase your link-building workload by a factor of six? Especially when the link juice passed from 5 of those 6 sites doesn't flow directly to your money-making site? Insanity!

Take all that hard-earned content and publish it on your money-making site. Spend all the time you would tell your friends and acquaintances about your MySpace page, and tell them about your money-making site instead. Stop tweeting. Stop retweeting. Write more content; promote that content. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.