Project Urchin


Author: Daniel Cuttridge

Aristotle, besides philosophy, found himself fascinated by Urchins. He wrote about them in 'The History of Animals', describing their teeth as similar in form to a 'horn lantern'. This is why the teeth of urchins are now referred to as 'Aristotle's lantern'. Look into urchins and you will find references to lanterns and to Aristotle.

I have always wanted to codename a project as urchin, for two reasons.

  1. Aristotle was all about discovery, shining his metaphorical lantern on many issues.
  2. Urchins are SO dope!
An urchin
What is not to like about urchins?

I had to explain it, had to.

Aims:

Project Urchin is the codename for a website/organization I have started. Where the ultimate goal is to make accurate information free and accessible to all who need it.

While I will not divulge the domain or the exact niche of 'urchin', I can say that it deals with medical nutrition. It should go without saying, but I will say it. Yes, I am taking steps to get the content's information verified by a professional.

The ultimate goal is to have the site reach around 200,000 UVs a month. This is a modest number but could be the upper limit, based on the small amount of competitor data available.

With the case-study, I plan to update it once a month. Successes, failures, and controversial opinions included.

Why:

The information is of vital importance to a growing number of people. At present this information is unavailable to those who cannot pay for it. Without access to this information, people are suffering. Unfortunately, those in low-income demographics suffer from health issues at a disproportionate rate. This information needs to be free.

The organizations that have made the information available for a fee have other 'sins'. They also appear to be obfuscating and omitting information. Doing this allows them to keep people reliant on them for management of symptoms.

The Shirky Principle: 'Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution'.

I believe that access to free and accurate information is of the utmost importance to all. This project and others like it, to me, seem vital. Those of us with specialist skills should all feel a degree of responsibility to help improve the web, and not be complacent about doing so.

With my background, I know I can make a huge impact by undertaking this challenge. Also, I will enjoy giving the 'bad actors' a headache. There should be no place on the web for those of their sort.

My main reason for making project urchin into a public case-study is to help others. It will help others learn, and I hope that it encourages them to take more responsibility online. Monopolies are not a good thing, but make no mistake about it... This situation is the EXACT outcome that many operating in the online space wish to achieve.

Project Facts:

  • The website went live on 5th October 2020 on a brand new domain that I registered.
  • At the time of writing, I have a total number of 52 pages on the site.
  • For ease-of-use of potential future team members, I have chosen WordPress as the site's CMS.
  • Due to my other commitments I can only spend 3 hours per week working on the site.
  • Besides my time, I will attempt to spend as little as possible on the project.
  • Per the last two points, my initial focus is publishing only.
  • I have already optimized / setup the website as intended.

October Performance:

The site only received 49 visits in October, which is around average performance for a brand new domain where I only had 20 posts indexed for most of the month.

That being said it has already got a dozen top 10 positions for some of the lowest competition terms, which also have very low search volume.

SEO Approach:

To future-proof the website against updates, and reduce costs, I am avoiding the traditional SEO approach. Instead, I am using a 'things not strings' approach, which is a fancy way of saying that I am focused on entities and objects.

The 'things' approach is different because of the way you utilize anchor text, content, internal linking, schema, and site structure. This often takes longer, but it is the best route for long-term success. In the last two years, I have seen a vast difference between my sites in performance, stability, and ROI where I took this approach from the beginning.

I have always tested as much as possible, as often as possible. I will be running various tests throughout the project to help me get closer to optimal. I will do this as there is a big difference between an optimized site and one which has identified the optimal approach for any given area.

Oh, and did I mention that I won't be actively building any links?

Website Approach:

The website is on a default WordPress theme. I have made a few minor modifications where I have stripped out unwanted features. Effective web design is about looking at requirements, not features. So I do not plan to change themes any time soon.

I have optimized the site for speed and performance. This is to help ensure a good experience for the users who, in some cases, require information many times per day. This includes a premium DNS via namecheap. For hosting, I put the site on a $10/mo DigitalOcean VPS. If I need more resources I can select a new plan which allocates more resources without needing to move the site to a new server, which keeps things efficient. The only other thing I have done is setup the LiteSpeed Cache plugin on the site.

Speed according to web.dev/measure
Not a bad score for a site with less than 5 minutes spent on speed optimization. Screenshot from web.dev/measure

I am using Fathom Analytics and Google Search Console for identifying important information about organic traffic.

Content Approach:

My keyword research has been centered around subjects and topics. Not search volume. Take into account knowledge graphs and vectors; this is the future of keyword research.

Content priority is based on intent and keyword clusters. This means that not all of the 52 published pages are selected based on opportunity or search volume. Sometimes there is fortuitous overlap here, though it is not the goal. The approach I have taken is based on establishing high amounts of topical relevance as soon as possible. This means covering a single subject at a time. If this is hard to imagine then understand I am only talking about a single category at a time. I then go deeper and focus on a single sub-category at a time. This will be repeated until the main category has been covered in-depth.

I am personally creating the content, though I am not writing it... I am creating what I call "hybrid content", which is database-driven. This allows you to create content without needing to write it conventionally. You use a database to store large amounts of information about pre-defined data points. Each data point is then used as a variable to create content with a custom script. You can create many scripts for different types of content, on this project I am using the same content template across the site, so I only need a single script per subject.

The main benefit of this approach is that it allows you to reduce the amount of time it takes to create content. When this approach is implemented the way it should be, which is with a lot of care, you will also be able to create accurate, quality content. The main downside to this approach is that you do need solid research procedures, and you need to spend a lot of time doing that research. In this case, that is more of a positive than a negative. This is exactly the right fit for this project, it is not the approach I take on every site or even most sites. Also, as with any content, you still need to do editing and reviews.

If you want to hear my general thoughts on creating high-quality content, check out episode 8 on the podcast.

Monetization Approach:

I believe that the site can be self-sufficient through donations and non-intrusive display ads. In the future, the income the site generates will allow me to outsource the areas which utilize my time. I estimate that even if the site receives no donations at all, that I will be able to reach this goal with around 100,000 page views per month. This is possible thanks to the non-traditional approaches being taken with the site which saves money.

As of the time of writing the site is not yet monetized.

Goals for this month:

  1. Publish at least 20 new pages
  2. Add custom schema

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Questions?
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