I thought I had treehouses pretty well figured out. Kind of like a cubby house except up in a tree, right?! Bart Simpson’s got one. Perhaps your Dad made you one as a kid too, right? Whatever. This is a whole different thing, baby!
When I first heard about this I figured it was a gift from the Sultan of Brunei to his 5 year-old kid for Christmas. I mean, wasn’t he the bloke that gave his 18 year-old daughter, like, an Airbus for her birthday?!
But no, the deep-pocketed client for these amazing treehouse builders is in fact some funky old peer called Lord Northumberland. Taking over four years from conception to construction, his piece-de-resistance – the TreeHouse – has full disabled access and provides full facilities for its 120-seat restaurant(!), along with three separate resource rooms – all suspended between 16 Lime trees!
Says one commentator:
Located on the grounds of Alnwick Gardens just 95 miles south of Edinburgh (and next to the Alnwick Castle, the very one used in the Harry Potter films), this 6,000-square-foot tree house leviathan soars 56 feet above the ground and is connected with 4,000-square-feet of suspended walkways. It has a restaurant that seats 120 people as well as classrooms, cafes, turrets, wobbly bridges, and imported wood from all over the world.
Oh, and it cost $7 million.
John Harris and TreeHouse Company
So who’s behind this amazing achievement? A fella called John Harris and his crazy crew called TreeHouse Company. He’s been passionately building these things most his life and he’s even got two coffee-table books in print.
John’s website explains:
TreeHouse Company founder, John Andrew Harris has had a fascination with tree houses since he was a child. His first one built by his father from a pallet and packing case is still fondly remembered. This passion has continued into his adult life, even honeymooning in a tree house in Malaysia.
Seeing the enormous potential in the market, the amateur turned professional with the creation of TreeHouse Company and has now been involved with over 600 TreeHouse projects across the globe. John has now a growing staff including craftsmen, tree surveyors, and designers, all as equally dedicated and passionate about the TreeHouses they create as John himself.
There’s obviously no room here to show you more than a handful of the projects TreeHouse Company have done, but I’ve included some of the bigger ones here. And I gotta tell ya, if the carpenter in you is not salivating at these pictures, then put the hammer and nails down now… you’re a danger to yourself!
So what’s this got to do with blogging?
Well, go over and take a look at their website. It’s at http://www.treehouse-company.com:
Now, nice as this site is visually (I’d give it a 5/10 for that), you’d figure that a company making the most amazing treehouses in the world was always going to have it easy on the eye-candy factor… I mean they’re amazing pictures, any way you look at it. So the visuals were always going to be important (hey, we want to see these puppies!) but fairly easy, with a killer product like this.
But to me, the absence of a blog on a site like this is a tragedy. We’re talking massive lost opportunity. Think about this: the story I am publishing here is old news. I mean, the Guardian in the UK ran their review piece back in January 2005. And yet, the TreeHouse company website languishes on page 2 in Google, with a paltry 46 backlinks that Google knows about, on a keyword they should own.
So here’s what I’d do right now, if I was Mr Harris:
Setup a flickr.com account.
Upload as many high-quality images as possible for as many treehouse projects as possible. Create sets for each project; geocode everything, add descriptions to everything; tag them all carefully. If there are other treehouse images on Flickr, politely and constructively comment on them, and link back to your own sets to make comparisons. If there are enough treehouse images on Flickr but no group, start one.
Why stick the images on Flickr, and not just your own site? Because Flickr is the Grand Central Station of amateur protography (and a lot more besides), and your photos on Flickr will drive a lot of traffic to your site. Hint: make your username the same as your domain name.
(I could go into a long explanation about why any image-intensive site should host their images on Flickr, or possibly Picasaweb, for the promotion-value and traffic-generation potential inherent in that approach, but that’s for a later post.)
Rebuild the site in WordPress.
A good developer can make WordPress look like just about anything you want, and failing that there’s Drupal or Typepad, or lots of other lovely open-source CMS/blog goodies to choose from.
A blogging platform like WordPress will plug you into the magic of RSS, which provides the power to broadcast website updates to the furthest reaches of cyperspace. I assume my readers already understand this much!
Sign up for, and hook into Feedburner and Technorati.
At this moment in time, these two services get my vote as the two most valuable promotions mechanisms for bloggers (other than maybe ping services and bookmarking sites). Feedburner takes your RSS feed and tricks it up with some very nice “bells and whistles” like email subscription (see my sidebar), multi-format feeds, HTML conversion and so forth. Technorati adds a blog search engine and directory-of-sorts, and tagging (see below).
Make it easy for people to subscribe to your blog, bookmark your pages, and “digg” your posts.
At the bottom of each of my posts are two AddThis buttons, one for subscribing and one for posting. Further, a number of my (more major) posts, like this one, have a digg button at the top of the post. Why do I have these? Because the overall success and popularity of my blog has so much to do with how easily I make it for people to “connect” to me, in one way or another.
Retrospectively post on completed projects.
For TreeHouse Company, I would want to see more than just moving existing content across into WordPress (or whatever CMS is used). I’d want to see them embrace a different approach to content entirely, that takes greater advantage of the blogging platform and what RSS can do to drive traffic. For a start, I’d want to see series of posts related to each treehouse project, detailing the steps in construction… with loads of pictures and anecdotal detail. I want – as a reader – to be sucked into the life of the project. I want to get as close to the experience of a TreeHouse Company client as possible. So give me that experience as I read a succession of blog posts!
Tag your posts.
Technorati, delicious and other blog indexing/search/bookmarking sites are typically build on a taxonomy, popularly called tagging. Tagging is a way to explicitly identify the keywords and concept terms of your blog posts (and site content) so that these other sites can index it accordingly. It’s simple, but again, this discipline of tagging exposes and promotes your website more fully and accurately around the web. So do it!
There are a number of plugins and mechanisms to make tagging easy. WordPress users tend to favour a plugin called Ultimate Tag Warrior.
Continue posting in a disciplined, and occasionally intriguing fashion.
No-one likes a dead blog. Google certainly doesn’t like a dead blog (or site). So consider including blog posting (read: site content updating) in the job description of your marketing/PR staff, or better still, your own role. Have fun with it. Keep taking lots of photos. Maintain a conversational tone. Tell lots of stories. And often enough, find an intriguing angle that gives your posts a compelling title.
For example, any “architectural” challenge or problem with a given treehouse project is a great opportunity to make a bid deal about the way the solution came about.
It’s bushfire season here in Australia, so my thoughts are in that direction. I can imagine a post titled: Fire-proofing your treehouse when everything is made of wood. That at least sounds like a fun read!
Track visitor stats and study the search terms for blogging subject-matter.
There are few hosting companies that don’t include traffic stats for free, but failing that there’s Google Analytics, which is great (and free), and a new service I’m currently testing called 103bees.com. What is cool about the latter is that their service specifically helps you look at the “long tail” of your incoming search engine traffic: the hundreds (maybe thousands) of variations of search engine phrases that land people on your website in the ones and twos. It’s often these permutations and combinations that give you ideas for future posts.
In general then, you need to regularly and diligently study the search terms that people used that got them to your site, for clues on what to blog about next. Your goal is to have blog posts with titles that match all the different subject areas people care about, related to treehouses (ergo, your site).
Ok. I’m going to stop there. But I’d love to hear reader comments on what I may have missed. And of course I’ve missed stuff. Consider this post just the start of a “site review” for our amazing treehouse builder, Mr Harris. By the way, he didn’t ask for this review, it’s just that his site was weak and his world-record-sized treehouse was the linkbait I couldn’t resist!
So over to you, dear blogger friends. What else should Mr Harris do?
I got in trouble with the CEO of the Treehouse Company and rightly, so… I didn’t ask for permission to republish all these images on my site here. I should know better. He has asked me to include the following statement here, which I am pleased to do; and I do ask that — unlike me — you abide by it:
All images are the property of TreeHouse Company and are subject to copyright, © 2001 â€“ 2007. Images are also subject to the design rights vested in them. The images above are displayed with the express permission of TreeHouse Company and must not be reproduced in any way, manner or form without written permission from TreeHouse Company. Permission may be obtained in the first instance by writing to jharris [at] treehouse-company [dot] com.