How to use the Wayback Machine to learn how other sites evolved over time

  • Walt 

It’s really inspiring to study other business’ positioning. In this article I want to show you a technique that you can use to see how a website’s positioning evolved over time.


I’ve learned that businesses take little steps that eventually lead to success.

It’s easy to forget that most businesses started with a tiny products and un-focused messaging. It’s only after countless tweaks to landing pages, adjustments to their audience and fixes to their product MVP that the businesses start to take off.

When we see a “finished” business, we’re usually seeing the results of all this hard work and those results look daunting. How did the business come up with such tight copy? How did they decide what pain points to emphasize?

Last week I came up with a method which lets you see the little steps other website owners took on their path to success.

Here’s how it works.

Step 1. Identify a website owner you admire

Flavio Copes writes a new JavaScript tutorial every day. I came across his work because he and I both guest post on the freeCodeCamp medium publication. I knew Flavio was a pretty savvy internet marketer, but it wasn’t until I looked at his traffic that I really saw just how good he is.

Flavio built his traffic to almost a million monthly visits in under a year.

Flavio's traffic built to almost a million visitors per month in under a year.
SEMRush estimates he had about 942.6K visitors in Jan of ’19

How do I know this? I used SEMRush, which provides you with free limited access to their data, to get traffic and backlink estimates.

This step is really important! Lots of seemingly successful websites aren’t actually that successful. You want to be copying someone who is using a winning strategy and SEMRush can help you figure out who’s doing well.

Step 2. Use the Wayback machine to study the sites’ positioning

The Wayback Machine is a free service provided by archive.org that lets you look at previous versions of web pages.

Now that we know that Flavio is successful let’s try to see what he’s doing that’s working.

Here is a snapshot of Flavio’s blog from the end of 2017.

Flavio's original positioning
flavioCopes.com circa late 2017

We see “Flavio Copes, Random tidbits about software development”. The positioning is not very focused and neither are his blog posts. They’re about various software topics probably aimed at more senior developers.

Let us zoom forward a bit to Jan of 2018. Flavio wrote a book and posted it to his blog! He also updated his positioning… he simplified. His blog is now the blog of “A Software Developer.”

When he spent time trying to sell an ebook
Flavio tries to sell a book

I think his book launch didn’t go well. He didn’t have much traffic at the time and I would imagine that posting a ‘Get it Now’ button probably wasn’t super effective. In Mar he pulled the book from his website and in May he relaunched with different positioning.

His positioning starts to get more focused. Here he focuses on front end developers.
He updates his positioning

His copy is not that tight but you can see him getting more focused. Now he’s focused on frontend development and tutorials and he’s promising a new tutorial every day.

I think the book still didn’t sell well. Towards the end of May you can see him launch a Patreon campaign… then in June he updates his positioning again.

Now he's added 'Get my new tutorials in your inbox'

His messaging is getting more precise… but he still hasn’t found his niche yet. Also, he still hasn’t figured out what to do with that book.

In august he adds a lead magnet. He also adds some social proof. You can actually see how big his email list is at this point.

Now he's added social proof. He also moves the lead capture system up.

By the end of September he’s figured out how to create a couple of freebies and his growth has really accelerated.

He adds freebies to his strategy.

In December he shifts his positioning back towards Frontend Developers. His calls to action have also improved.

Eventually he evolves to Tutorials for JavaScript Developers. Short and sweet.

He gets even more specific. Tutorials for JavaScript developers.

You can really see the power of the Wayback Machine. Flavio tried all sorts of things and we got to see them all.

I personally loved seeing Flavio’s positioning evolve over time… from Random Tidbits About Software Development to Tutorials for JavaScript Developers. I learned a TON by seeing him try things and learn.

Is there a website you admire? The early versions of most sites looked VERY different than they do today. Give this technique a try and see how it works for you.

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