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Tips for solo coronavirus contributors to help your websites and apps stand out

shiraazm profile image Shiraaz Moollatjie ・4 min read

Intro

This article has rants and some lessons. If you're facing a similar struggle, please comment on this post. I'm not aware of others going through the same kind of pain.

When the world took the coronavirus pandemic seriously, I wanted to contribute as an engineer. Inspired by https://ncov2019.live/, I released two projects:

Coronawatcher.live

A website that lets you compare coronavirus statistics between countries. It also lets you compare the bitcoin price to the coronavirus statistics.

Aunty Rona

A website for South Africa that makes it easier to interpret the lockdown rules.

Things that work for you, now all of a sudden work against you

For my projects, I targeted a mix of web and mobile. There are some huge obstacles that you encounter along the way.

SEO woes

One of the activities you do when developing a web app is to optimize the content for search engines. Typically, a keyword planner is one of the tools used for SEO optimization so that a web app can rank better on search engines.

The lead time for SEO optimizations to reflect on a new site is around six months. However, I noticed something during keyword planning.
Google does not allow keyword plans for anything related to the coronavirus. This meant that Google was not allowing ads for "coronavirus" keywords.

It may also mean that Google was censoring themed coronavirus web apps in their search engine. The implications for this are:

  • A new web app will not be able to rank on the first page after six months
  • Websites/web apps currently on the first page are biased in some way

What annoys me is the possibility of censorship. Web sites in this case will rank because of their timeliness and not because of the quality of content. Even though there are many fake news sites, a website is associated with fake news when it starts. This creates the impression that you are guilty until proven innocent.

Play and app store woes

Mobile app stores will not publish a coronavirus themed application unless it is supported by another organization. As proof, this is an excerpt of one of my appeals for the Aunty Rona mobile app:

For example, your app currently contains references to Covid-19.
If you are one of the following, Please submit valid proof to verify the identity of your organization.

  • Official government entities or public health organizations who developed this app.
  • A developer commissioned to build this app by official government entities or public health organizations.
  • An app supported/acknowledged by official government entities or public health organizations.

The situation looks bleak. Is there a way out?

My situation looked bleak, but there was still hope. Here are a few more ideas that I had to try to get noticed.

If mobile stores are not willing to publish your app, consider turning your native app into a progressive web app (PWA)

A progressive web app is a solution for apps that cannot get published. This allows your app to be installable like a mobile app and depending on your implementation it can behave like a mobile app as well. The disadvantage is that a progressive web app will not benefit from being published on a mobile app store where users can "search" for your app.

Using associative content to take advantage of keywords

One of the ways to take advantage of keywords is to combine your content with other themes. You can't get ranked with coronavirus keywords. However, if you associated the coronavirus statistics with the toilet paper price, could you then rank better with "toilet paper" instead?

We were desperate and we did this to coronawatcher. We started associating the coronavirus statistics to the bitcoin price. I found the results interesting. As a teaser, there is one country that showed an inverse trend between the bitcoin price and coronavirus infections.

While I am not ranking on the first page for bitcoin, website traffic did see an improvement. Additionally, the bitcoin price did increase ever since I implemented the feature. It's most likely a coincidence, but is it?

Hashtags

Instead of relying on keywords for the website, I used hashtags on other social media platforms. These ranked better on search engines for whatever reason.

As an example, I used the "#coronawatcher" hashtag for coronawatcher. These hashtags appear on the first page when you search for "coronawatcher".

Get social media handles early and post on them

Create and own the Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts for your website. These will help in featuring on the first page in search engines. It will also help with occupying more space on the first page.

As an example, the coronawatcher Facebook page features on the first page for "coronawatcher".

There are other platforms that you can use like dev.to and hackernews. I did not focus on these platforms. However, DO NOT bother with posting on Reddit. Reddit does not allow users to advertise their content.

Paying for ads on places other than Google

My coworker on the coronawatcher project also experimented with paid advertising. We ran a campaign against Facebook users. It resulted in a significant traffic spike. I was blown away with the results. I did not know that advertising was that effective.

Conclusion

The projects were not as successful as I wanted it to be, but I learned a lot of things. I kept the ranting to a minimum. Sometimes I feel that too much ranting is petty. So I keep it to a minimum. In the end, I hope you enjoyed this post.

References

Official progressive web app site

Posted on Oct 28 '19 by:

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