The title is to be read in one of those scary voices.
The Pit of Despair is a term that comes from a very cruel animal experiment that was designed to make a model of clinical depression.
In the jargon of World Wide Web start-ups it refers to the period just after a successful launch.
When you launch, for a very brief moment, sometimes only a few hours, if you’re lucky a few days or even weeks you are ‘newsworthy’. This will create a brief but quite impressive spike of traffic to your website that will temporarily lift you up to heights of euphoria rarely experienced.
That’s really just to soften you up though, because right after that you will be thrown in to the Pit of Despair.
The reason why is simple, your ‘newsworthiness’ is brief, and after the media coverage goes away again the only way you could possible go is down, you can’t sustain your traffic of that first brief moment unless your application goes viral by itself or you were exceptionally good in holding on to your visitors (stickyness).
So a typical launch of a successful website with good media coverage might look something like this:
Which looks truly horrible. After a few days or weeks in the pit of despair you are probably wondering if it will ever end.
Those turnover predictions from the first couple of days have evaporated like so much snow in May, and it looks as though the project, though initially well received is now dead in the water.
That’s deceptive though. Especially because you were initially well received by the press and end users alike you’ve burned through a bunch of visitors in a very short time that would have otherwise found you, but over a longer period of time. It’s as though a whole pile of potential visitors got telescoped in to the first couple of days after launch. Some of them will be back, but not right away, and some of them will pass the message about your website to friends. Some of them will write about your site on their blogs and place links. Search engines haven’t picked up on you yet (though this is actually getting better and better, especially for stuff that has seen good media coverage) and still need to update their indexes.
So even though the situation looks terribly bleak, under water there is a slow but steady movement of a number of forces that will help you in the longer term. It may be a while though, patience really pays off here, do not kill your site in the first couple of weeks after launch because you think it is a dud.
Meanwhile, you are of course improving on your MVP, hopefully you see a couple of sales, perhaps another article will be written and so on. The world did not stop turning and slowly, ever so slowly you will notice the traffic to go up.
And then, after a lot of time has passed, suddenly you realize that you are ‘out of the pit’, your traffic is at the launch level, or even above it. Even though apparently nobody is writing about you, your website seems to have ‘found’ its own traffic, tools like google analytics will help you in seeing where your traffic is coming from and may suggest ways to improve it even further.
So, what happened to the website above? How did it look after another few months had passed?
That doesn’t look half bad now, does it. Even so, there is lots of room for improvement and in time it will be a solid site that will not have to rely on continuous press moments to drive traffic. Nothing beats backlinks and happy users, press will only get you in to the pit, not out of it.
If this looks like it could be your website, don’t despair, hang in there and keep going, what got you to the launch date (working on your product, making users happy) will get you out of the pit.
contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/jmattheij