This week I want to tell you about my biggest barter.
First, a little background. In 1991 my well-established animation studio ARG! went digital and we started drawing everything exclusively on computers rather than filming traditional artwork. By 1993 I realized that in a growing digital world, animated clip art could be a profitable product for our studio, and I started assigning artists short cartoon gags to animate. Each artist created a clip or two each day.
In December 1995 we built our first website on AOL, and the following April registered artie.com. In those days our profit center was animation for TV commercials, but when business was slow, I kept the artists busy animating short GIF cartoons to go into our clip art collection and on artie.com. People could use our website's animations at no charge on their non-commercial website if they gave us a link back to our site. As insurance, we added a small ARTIE.COM watermark on each animation.
By 1997, we had enough traffic to profit from the placement of banner ads on our pages. That revenue stream gave us another reason to keep producing short GIF animations, since we could have more page views, and thus more ad views, if we created a new page for each animation.
Each month I assigned my staff to work on clips for upcoming holidays, sports seasons and other categories of cartoons such as cars, dogs, cats, real estate and so forth, so that we would have a fresh supply of original content on the ARG! website every week. I set a goal for our website of 20,000 hits a week, which adds up to over 1 million a year. I thought this was a reasonable goal.
To this end, we developed a script that allowed other websites to automatically display a new ARG! cartoon daily, called "Cartoon of the Day." The catch was that the animated GIF we served linked back to our website. Also, as anti-theft insurance, we added a tiny ARTIE.COM watermark on each GIF.
In 1998, animator Don Mangan and I created a complete alphabet of dancing letters that could be strung together to create dancing words, names and logos. In April, our site got 1.2 million hits, so we had far surpassed our original traffic goal. The dancing alphabet finally gave us enough material to assemble and manufacture our first animation product, ARG! Kartoon Klips, with 5,000 images and animations. The CD ROMs sold for about $20 plus shipping.
By 1999, more than 17,000 websites included ARG! cartoons and linked back to artie.com. We stayed busy doing commercial work and producing animated clips. The ARG! site got 1.2 million to 3 million hits each month, and we had several Fortune 500 clients.
But all of our hard work paid off in June, 2000, when Google became the default search engine on Yahoo! I was shocked when I reviewed our server traffic reports. Somehow our monthly hits had jumped to 20 million. Reviewing the referrer report, I saw a new, dominant source of traffic called Google. Say what?
For many in the 1990s, Yahoo! was the internet. In 1999 Yahoo was the biggest internet company on the planet, at one time worth $125 billion. But the company's management made so many mistakes in their business acquisitions and development that it was finally sold to Verizon for a mere $5 billion in 2015.
Their biggest blunders involved Google. In 1998, Yahoo had a chance to license an innovative new search technology for $1 million. It had been created by Stanford grad students Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the future founders of Google. Instead of taking that deal, Yahoo co-founder David Filo introduced them to Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital, who became one of Google's earliest investors.
And in a spectacular error of judgement, Yahoo! made Google its search provider. However, because Google ranked sites according to their link popularity, in other words by the number and quality of inbound links each site had, artie.com's massive number of backlinks caused it to rank #1 on Google for almost every cartoon and animation-related keyword search!
In 20 months spanning 2005-2006, artie.com got a total of more than 1 billion hits. Most of that traffic, up to 70 million hits a month, came from Google.
We owe it all to a simple barter, the offer to trade our animations for links back to our website. I can only guess how much that trade was worth, so I'll just say - it was huge!