Secrets of
Online Resources and Content Guidelines

Date: 7 July 2008; Length: 6:36 creator Dr. Todd Curtis discussed some of the key Internet resources that have made it possible to build and maintain an audience, and how those resources have changed over the years. In addition, he'll also talk about the criteria and guidelines that determine what kind of information shows up in the site.

Audio: MP3


Welcome to the Conversation at, with your host Dr. Todd Curtis.

This is show #53 - Secrets of Online Resources and Content Guidelines

In this show, the second of the "Secrets of" series, I'll discuss some of the key Internet resources that have made it possible to build and maintain an audience, and how those resources have changed over the years. I'll also talk about the criteria and guidelines that determine what kind of information shows up in the site.

The secret I discussed in the last show, the systematic use of basic marketing techniques, would have been much more difficult without using available online and offline resources. The most important resource, and the one that I've used consistently since the site started in 1996, is email.

In the early days of the site, email was my primary method for contacting media members and influential individuals in the aviation community, and these contacts were scattered all over the world.

While it was possible to phone some of them, it was either impractical or relatively expensive to phone most of them. Buy using email, I could ignore the time zone differences, and it was also much, much cheaper than any other communications option.

To make email even more effective, I adopted a few basic rules to make it more likely that the recipient would receive the email, read it, and act on it. Among those rules was always use a subject line that clearly described what was in the email. Another was to treat emails like regular letters, and use the same rules for grammar, punctuation, and style commonly used in the business world.

If you want to get a better idea of the what email rules worked for, visit, you can download a PDF file with all of that information.

Email was just one of the key resources I used to make potential audience members and partners aware of the site. Two online resources that were very important in the early days of the site were search engines and directories. Then as now, search engines and directories made it easy for people who are interested in airline safety to find

There were two things that I had to do if I wanted directories and search engines to help the site. One was to ensure that it was included, and the second was to figure out how to make the site easy to find.

The first task was relatively easy. In the mid-1990s, many of the search engines and directories relied on individuals to submit information about web sites. In the days before Google, there were many search engines, with a handful of them dominating the market. Rather than just making sure that the site was on the biggest search engines, I made sure that the site showed up in as many search engines as possible.

The advantage of having the site in these search engines and directories was that when events such as plane crashes were featured in the media, it was easy people to find the site. For some events, the site's traffic would increase tremendously over a short period, with some events causing the traffic to increase sometimes by a factor of 20 or more. Whenever this happened, the traffic always stabilized at a higher level than before.

The second task of making easy to find has been largely driven by the technology behind search engines. Search engines use sophisticated algorithms that often take into account a combination of factors such as the words used in a site, the way the site links to information, the way that other sites link to it, and the traffic patterns on the site. Ranking high on a search result is very important for traffic, since most people who search for information typically don't go beyond the first or second page.

Over the years, the web site was redesigned, often in subtle ways, to make the site more visible in searches. One of those early redesigns included changing the code on all the pages so that they all contained information that search engines use to rank a site, information that is mostly not visible to the average user.

Another early design decision was to arrange the information on the site so that each page contained enough information to do something useful for the audience. For many of the pages, that means that the information on the page answers a specific question. Other design elements included putting the URL on any page with significant content. That way, if the page were printed out, it would be easy to figure out the source of the information later on.

Another consistent policy was the use of dates. With rare exceptions, all dates are given in the DAY MONTH YEAR format with the month spelled out in full. This avoids the kind of confusion that sometimes happens with abbreviated date formats like 7/4/76, which depending on how you look at it could mean July 4th, 1776, or even April, 7, 2076. This was one of the many style rules that allowed a consistent look and feel from page to page.

My goal with designing the site to be search engine friendly was to make it easy for search engines to recognize the content of each page. The goal of having a consistent presentation of names, dates, and factual information was to encourage visitors to come to the site again and again.

These style rules were based on what I called the Keys to Success, which were a list of general criteria that I applied to all aspects of the site. With respect to the shaping the experience a visitor had while at the site, some of the key criteria included the following:

- Never insult a visitor's intelligence or beliefs.
- Don't waste a visitor's time.
- Say it well, and say it in as few words as possible.
- Most content should be no more than three clicks from the home page
- Individual pages should either answer a specific question or link to pages that answer a related group of questions.
- Visitors to the site are smart enough to draw their own conclusions or to develop their own opinions.
- Clearly identify any content that represents speculation or opinion.
- And perhaps the most important criteria, Give the audience what it wants, and a just a little bit of what I think they need.

The next episode in the Secrets of series will focus on the behavior of site visitors, and how that behavior shapes what gets included in the site.

For more information about this show, and about other podcasts, please visit There you'll find links to related resources, as well as contact information.

Thanks for listening, and I'll see you next time.

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Secrets of Online Resources and Content Guidelines -- Revised: 7 July 2008