Millions of people every month search online to help solve their very own life quandaries, which I think is a wonderful thing. Years ago, I too started my journey the same way. The problem is, when you are in that vulnerable dark place and haven’t really started to open up to others quite yet about your thoughts and feelings, let alone go to a doctor for guidance, you are stuck sorting through a lot of horse-shit type solutions online. Eventually you stumble across the likes of a “Top 10 Best Self Help Websites/Blogs” list and figure this to be a great place to invest some of your energy and time. For those of you who like to do a little background check up, you might type that exact headline into Google and check what other sites offer as their Top 10 Personal Development Websites, and chances are there is a lot of overlap in other sites’ recommendations.
Having little experience in SEO or social clout online, it starts to be taken as fact that whoever makes these Top 10 lists really must be accurate because so many other sites seem to cover the same things in their lists. This assumption is completely wrong. The sad reality is that, one or two people make these lists every year, and then other bloggers copy those lists (with their own spice added in of course) but it is basically an exact copy of the list.
And how are these lists formed you ask? Would it be through scrutinized research and proper evaluation of their content? Wrong! The lists are primarily, if not exclusively, drawn up according to a sites’ Alexa ranking. The lower the ranking you have on Alexa, the higher you will rank in their Top 10 lists. If you are to research you will find out that Alexa draws their data from an installed toolbar people have in their browsers all around the world. The quick question I have for you is, do you have it installed in your browser? The answer is a rather outstanding NO for most people. That means they are drawing a lot of their data from a very limited sample of daily internet users, and not a fair and true representation of website data. It’s not like Alexa has access to your actual webpage traffic numbers while their algorithm is doing its number crunching. It’s almost like when someone is playing golf and they want to take into account the wind when choosing which club to tee off with. They reach down and rip off a few blades of grass and then toss it in the air. From this quick estimation they select their club according to how the grass reacts to the wind. I’m no atmospheric scientist, but I’m fairly certain this sort of test wouldn’t be advised as the best method for determining wind characteristics. It kind of reminds me of the times when I watched Tom Tucker deliver the news and quickly turn to the likes of Ollie Williams for the conclusive weather report and all he states is “It’s Gon’ Rain!”.
If you were to go through the majority of the posts produced by the Top 10 winners and say you were on the 50th most trafficked self help site you would notice that the quality of the content is almost identical. Like many things in life, the difference does not come down to actual talent or uniqueness in their message, but rather a marketing budget that allows for their material to reach more eyes and ears. If there is one thing I have learned over the last five years of working online is that no matter how incredible your work is, if people don’t see and feel your expression it’s already dead in the water before you even press that Publish button.
By no means do I discourage people from reading the content from the likes of those posts, but I just want people to have a little bit of background information of how these lists all come about. And hopefully it will help you be a little bit more mindful while reading their work. In reality most of these bloggers (including myself) are saying the same thing, but write with a slightly different tone and for some reason their message resonates with you more than others. That is completely normal! We all carry bias and unconscious filters when it comes to communication, and that’s OK. So next time you find yourself skimming through a Top 10 list, you might first consider the merit of how list came about to begin with!