Did you know that the Macy’s on 34th Street in New York is still, 107 years after it opened, the world’s largest department store?
(Note: Korea’s Shinsegae Centum City, opened in Spring 2009, is frequently reported to be bigger, but that’s misleading because Centum City’s twin towers contain all sorts of non-retail facilities such as ice skating rinks, golf ranges, multiplex theaters, gymnasiums, and art galleries. Shinsegae’s actual retail department store occupies eight floors in one of the towers and, while mammoth, is not quite as large, in square footage, as Macy’s 11 floors.)
OK, Macy’s original structure has been enlarged several times in the intervening century and has not always encompassed the 2,150,000 square feet of selling space it does today. (The main entrance, however, is, as it has always been, “supported” by the same four lovely caryatids sculptor John Massey created for its grand opening in 1902.)
The point is that the 34th St. (aka Herald Square) edifice has long been the bedrock upon which the entire Macy’s (now Federated Stores) empire stands. The basic building block for all the other hundreds of stores and untold billions of sales.
Why is Macy’s still standing while so many once equally famous chains have either disappeared completely or are now sporting Macy’s logo above their doors? Because the stores that aren’t around anymore — Montgomery Ward, Bullock’s, W.T. Grant, etc., etc., etc.– failed at or below ground zero.
Their foundations — comprised of the buyers who selected their merchandise, the advertising specialists who promoted the products, the people in charge of shipping and stocking and, most of all, the folks responsible for training employees how to deal with the public in a responsive, respectful manner — crumbled, rotted and eventually caused the meltdown of the visible, money-making part of the businesses, the selling floors.
Macy’s took care of the basics, the chains that failed did not.
This parable has an interesting parallel (bet you can’t say that real fast ten times) in a recent development regarding the responses we get when we ask new LinksManager subscribers why they signed up. Historically, the most common answers were saving time, driving traffic or improving search engine rankings.
Hardly anyone ever mentioned the word “basics” even though hyperlinks are about as basic as the web gets, since without them — links, that is — there would be no web.
None. Without links you would be in some other business, like pushing shopping carts at people and snarling “Welcome to Target.” (But don’t feel bad, without links Serge Brin, Matt Cutts, Steve Case and Jeff Bezos would be toiling at Target — or some similar place — next to you.)
Without links no one could connect to anyone else’s site. Not via a search engine, all those returns, relevant and non, are links. Not via a bit of underlined type (usually colored blue) on another site, that too is a link. Not by clicking on an ad, “clickthroughs” are merely links by another name. Not even by typing a URL into a browser address bar. All you’re doing there is manually invoking a link instead of clicking on it.
So, about six months ago when many new subscribers started telling us they intended to use LinksManager as a tool to get back to webmastering basics and improve their traffic, sales and profits through a more aggressive natural linking program we were not only impressed, we were downright delighted.
Not because this seeming change in focus benefits our bottomline in some invisible way. (LinksManager’s nominal subscription fee is the same regardless of a user’s motivation, so we really don’t care whether you sign up because you want more links, better links, the same amount of links with less work, or for any other legitimate reason.)
What really delights us about the “back-to-basics” answer to our stock “welcome aboard” survey query is that it reflects our belief that building and operating websites that emphasize sound fundamentals in all aspects of e-commerce is essential if the virtual economy is going to recovery at a faster rate than, say, the car making or $4.5 million condo-sales economy.
We also believe that many of us webmasters have deviated from the basics by allowing — even encouraging — our medium to become our message. Which is a dreadful thing because nobody on the web makes much money selling the “message” with the exception of service providers like Google and the few ISPs that are still in profit. Everyone else in cyber-business should be using the medium as a tool to deliver a message about what they have to sell. Even if your site exists solely to promote a product used exclusively for web-related tasks — say a download manager or an e-mail spam-fighting application — the medium is only a carrier for the message about how great your product is.
That’s fundamental. Getting people to your site to buy your product is also fundamental and the best “back-to-basics” way to do that is via “word of link,” the 21st Century equivalent of the word-of-mouth advertising that has helped keep Macy’s on top of its game — and firmly on its Herald Square foundation — for more than 150 years.