Why Freezenet Can Easily Withstand the Impending Bill C-18 Link Tax Apocalypse

If you are a smaller Canadian media outlet freaking out about Bill C-18, maybe you can learn some survival tips.

Let’s face it, the threats staring down many Canadian media outlets is downright scary. All of this is thanks to Bill C-18. Whether its the potential that Facebook could simply opt to block all news links entirely or media outlets getting a permanent market advantage, many smaller outlets have every reason to be terrified right now about the future.

As of this writing, Bill C-18 is in the beginning stages of the Senate processes. Signals from Canadian Senators suggest that there will be an open committee process meant to hear from witnesses. This means that this law won’t exactly sail through the Senate overnight. If you are concerned about the bill, consider making a submission with the Canadian senate or volunteering to appear before Senators if you feel you have the courage to do so when the time comes that such a process is opened up.

As for Freezenet, well, I have very little to worry about on this front. I know, this sounds like a very bold freaking statement considering what I do know about the legislation. In fact, it seems like an impossible thing to say if you are someone devoted entirely to feeding that social media feed all day long and hinging your success on user engagement after. However, I actually have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I say this.

Now, there are two ways I can handle what I’ve learned about web development that is going to benefit me greatly. The first way is to keep it to myself, let many other platforms die out, and be content with being a sort of “last man standing”. The other way I can handle this is share what I know to anyone interested in keeping their own respective news sites alive. For those who actually know me, those people know that I’m not a complete and total selfish jerk. Some might also know that I very often err on the side of the public good. In this instance, I would say “united we stand, divided we fall” which is why I chose to write this article.

Some Basic Ideas on How to Move Away from Social Media Dependency

First, I’m going to share with you a statistic about this website that I’m sure will completely shock most social media marketers: roughly 3% of all traffic currently going to Freezenet is from social media. In fact, this number is actually up in recent months as I normally see that number hover around 1-2% at most. Is this a failure on my part to promote Freezenet on social media? Is this a blip in the radar? Actually, Freezenet does have a presence on a lot of platforms (the sidebar should be a dead giveaway on that), but the development focus has been primarily focused elsewhere.

Yet, despite this low number, Freezenet has gotten a pretty reasonable amount of traffic flowing to the site anyway. How does a news website get traffic without social media? Search traffic and referrals.

While social media gets all the attention for where people are “at”, the largest website on the planet is still Google. In fact, many search engines pull in huge amounts of traffic to this day. The reason for this is that people still have questions. In fact, many people look at the internet as this all knowing thing that can answer pretty much anything. The question is, if someone searches for information, what website out there is answering that question? It may as well be you answering those questions.

What do people ask? Anything and everything. So, the idea is that maybe you want to offer up some basic information that people might find useful. This can come in the form of guides, but other forms of information can prove useful. Another possibility is a local events calendar or information on a show that’s coming up. Maybe someone is looking up information on some local businesses from a third party source. Why not make it your website that provides this information?

Of course, all of this hinges on what is a good fit for your website. If you are operating in a small city in Alberta, it may make less sense to be talking about businesses in Quebec (unless you can somehow make it work). What your website offers for information should make some sort of sense to the overall offerings or else you risk confusing most of the audience you have worked hard to attract in the first place.

News Still Matters!

For many websites, this requires an entire re-think about what the website’s content should be, not to mention overall strategy. What content will work for a given situation will clearly vary depending on the website. Still, does this mean that news articles are no longer valuable? Absolutely not! In fact, even with this strategy, news is a hugely important component for a news website. In this regard, think of the overall strategy as “users came for the advice on choosing a mechanic, but stayed because of the awesome news coverage.” It’s about giving users reason to regularly return to your website. In web development circles, this is known as direct traffic which is a huge achievement to get when you get a lot of it.

Another way to look at it is that you are diversifying your portfolio. However, instead of investing money, you are investing time into your content. You have some of that investment go to news, some go to SEO management and web development, and some go into what is considered “non-time-sensitive content”. A posting about a concert a week from now is not urgently needed to be posted about that day like a news article. However, getting some basic information up early on helps and the content will still be relevant in 4 days time anyway. It can be updated as needed. Other content, like a list of local restaurants, will still be relevant a year from now. All it requires is a few minor updates here and there if a business goes under or a new business starts up.

Wait, How Did Freezenet Do It?

A lot of my planning often confuses others. Some of it seems a little off the wall and maybe not even worth it. Some of it involved a bit of luck as well. Chances are, you have never heard of Freezenet between 2013-2018. What the heck was I doing all that time? Simply put, I was writing a couple of guides on tech related things as well as writing endless reams of reviews about music and video games. Given that this is a tech website, all of the above makes sense. In 2018, I expanded the website to include a Wiki so I could reasonably write even larger amounts of data in a way that makes sense. Yes, I incorporated a whole additional Content Management System (CMS) because one was not sufficient for Freezenet’s needs.

After that, everything was purely experimentation. Some guides I wrote get absolutely no traffic at all. Other guides I wrote get considerable amounts of traffic. There is absolutely no way of knowing what will become a hit and what will just fly on the radar. Just write what you know and hope for the best in that regard. It was always going to be a cr**chute if any of it is going to prove to be a hit, but you never know.

As for reviews for music and video games, the traffic for this is actually even more unpredictable. A lot of conventional wisdom that I knew about games and music went straight out the window for this one. As a result, I was relegated to pure experimentation to find out what worked and what doesn’t. To some degree, the same could be said for the Freezenet Youtube channel. Even for the first impression video posts, what is popular on YouTube and what is popular here, amazingly, typically garner completely different results with very little overlap. Why is that? Even I can’t really comprehend this as my theory of age restrictions never held up. Exact same content, two totally different results. I know, it’s weird.

Of course, this is also an important thing. I did diversify the content to include general non-news platforms like YouTube. The plan is to expand on that in the future. While some news sites see value in utilizing in-house or private sharing services that tie exclusively to the website and nowhere else, general media sharing websites and platforms open exposure to your news website in ways that just a video does not. Thanks to the current last-minute change to Bill C-11, this option is actually remotely viable to diversify your news website content in the absence of platform links to news articles.

In the end, I spent several years building up the content portfolio of the website to become a much more well rounded service rather than relying solely on news articles as a method of getting people to click. This is with the aid of the scheduler built into WordPress. Trust me, the back end of the interface looks downright broken because of all the scheduled posts, but this isn’t about making the back-end look pretty, but rather, the front end. Plus, I have a steady flow of content flowing out every week thanks to all the advanced work. As a matter of fact, I set the content to being up to 5 years in advance because, by that point, the return on investment diminishes at that point, though I did actively consider pushing it to a whole decade worth of content in advance.

What is the End Result and Is It Better Than Just Relying on Social Media Traffic?

The end result so far is a general flow of traffic. The ebbs and flows can’t very easily be explained, however, there is one constant: different kinds of content will suddenly get interest before it drops off. Meanwhile, others simply lay dormant for years before suddenly get interest years later. Ultimately, though, everything eventually starts averaging out in the end, so you get a nice ambient level of traffic overall. Sometimes, you get spikes in traffic that can’t really be explained, but it’s hard to complain that you are suddenly getting interest one day.

Really, I could have started this website, wrote a few guides, then went straight into news writing and social media marketing like most new websites in my position. However, my thinking was to shoot for long term self-sustainability first and treat social media as an extra bonus on the side, rather than making it my main focus. I could very easily have gone the other way and gotten the website more popular sooner, however, this, in my view, put the site at risk of constantly running a content treadmill and being strictly dependent on content hungry users wanting strictly news articles. This so often ends badly for the owner, the website, or both.

Plus, I had worries that my efforts would get short-circuited by a jealous “competitor” who wants to retain their monopoly as well. So, I really had multiple reasons to do this. It’s much harder to convince someone at Google to not link to a website in general search then it is to convince a couple of power users ($$$) to keep downvoting and leaving negative comments in submissions to ensure a competitor like myself gets suppressed regardless of content quality.

Ultimately, the strategy is far more of a content grind rather than a high pressure situation for constantly fresh news articles. While there are occasional dips in traffic to be sure, the traffic is always at a loyal level. It will feel like you are writing hundreds of pages to bump up the traffic by another average 20 views per day, but you eventually can rely on that average traffic level regardless rather than feeling like you have to make something “go viral” (which, as many know, can always unexpectedly flop).

The real question is, do you want a slightly lower level of traffic that is constant or do you want those 100,000 view spikes that immediately drop off afterwards? For me, I’d rather have users come to the site and feel like they can play around and constantly find gems all day long rather than have users come for one quick article before quickly leaving again after 15 seconds.

There are already numerous instances where users stick around this website for more than a half an hour straight here just going through the content that’s offered here and I’m very happy that these users have grown that accustomed to playing around with content like that. I can tell you from experience that this is an unheard of statistic to hear about in the world of web development and as more content gets posted, I wouldn’t be surprised if this hard to obtain retention rate grows.

In an open market, is it better to go this rout? I’m pretty sure you can get a bigger, quicker fix of traffic by relying on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and hardcore focusing on that. Most people don’t like the idea of getting almost no traffic after 5 years of operation because they believe that the only way to succeed is to be an overnight success story (which is basically a “winning the lottery” thing to seek). However, there are benefits to playing the long game as well.

In this situation in Canada, however, the situation had changed. For those who rely heavily on Facebook, the idea of suddenly losing some 90% of all your traffic because of an idiotic decision from the government suddenly makes this long term, slower growth strategy feel like a brilliant one. To be clear, I had no idea when I started that the Canadian government was going to do this. However, I’m certain that with enough manpower, the initial “content investment” period can be shortened. After all, it was only me working on this whole project in the first place.

Is This Strategy Right for Me?

Does this mean you should borrow from my strategy? Maybe, maybe not. Every website is different and not every website could possibly be able to adapt to such a content strategy. Another thing to think about is the very real possibility that Bill C-18 may not pass. It’s entirely possible that Facebook doesn’t block all news links. It’s possible that you can stick with focusing on Facebook and Twitter marketing and you can come out relatively unscathed. Maybe Bill C-18 can get fixed at the Senate level, averting this whole crisis altogether. Nothing is a sure thing here, after all.

The thing I want to impress upon you, if you are from another small news website, is that if you suddenly get cut off from Facebook, all hope is not lost. There are ways for news websites to survive without relying on platforms like Facebook and Twitter (or Reddit for that matter).

At the same time, this is not to say that the process won’t be painless by any means. If Facebook bans all links to news, Freezenet can stand to lose a bit of traffic. It will hurt like a mild scrape. However, the only reason why I’m in this situation is because of the unusual strategies I employed to build this website in the first place with the very VERY limited resources I had at my fingertips. Losing access to Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and others will hurt no matter how well prepared you are. Your potential growth will get knee-capped here.

Who knows? Maybe your best strategy is to simply move to decentralized social media platforms. Maybe you want to set up a Discord or Telegram channel. Every website is going to be different and you, as a news website developer, will know what’s best for your site. After all, if you started up on the internet, you probably have a reasonable grasp of how things work in the first place (or you might at least know someone who does and you can ask that other person for advice). Maybe you can ask your audience what they want to see directly (doesn’t always work, but it’s an idea). What worked for me specifically probably won’t work for you. After all, this is a very specific and customized setup that has been in the works for nearly a decade.

So, hopefully, you got some ideas out of this and are able to look at this otherwise seemingly grim situation in a more positive light. We’re probably going to be in for a world of suck, but the situation may not be as hopeless as you might think.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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