|Help an old spammer|
I feel a stinging cold wind hitting me on the back, the skies are greying and the once brilliant life-giving light is fading away to a dim cold shadow.
So we are now dangerously into the realm of all Google all the time, which is better than the alternative of a pure money extraction landscape. However, in another couple of blinks, one more IPO and the SEO game of old is basically over.
Oh, there will still be rank, and you will be free to buy it, and yadayadayada... the ROI game. "Hey look, I could sell some diet pills, or herbal Viagra. I could buy this three word phrase for 35 cents, and I have a 1/30 buy ratio. I could spend $15 and make $23 if I watch it carefully and I don't get out bidded." Sorry, not my speed.
So what is my alternative?
Err ...community building.
So, fine brethren, teach me the how's, when's, and why's of building a site that people come to and stay at.
Some modest suggestions.
daily changing content, topical, maybe controversial
regular email newsletter with original content
columnists with personal style
interactive content such as polls, user contributed content
email a friend with this page
breaking news from RSS files or moreover
highly targeted to a specific group. If you want to target another group, start another web domain (but dont cross link too much!)
editorial copy style which adresses your community as equals, avoids marketing-speak and treats them as valued members.
Writing to visitors personally, especially those who are contributing a lot
Community Web log with commenting system
If you have ads, make them highly targeted, original and served from your own site
Hey littleman, why don't you just buy WmW?
Solid suggestions, Chiyo.
Nah, I could never do as good a job as Brett.
So, you folks who are fostering communities please post about your experience.
I have a few specialty .com sites. They do OK, but they are still highly Dependant on SE traffic for sales. So, I am going to set up a .org, and try to build a user base. Hopefully, I'll be able to use the org for branding, and sponsor my org site with my .com sites.
One thing I keep thinking about is how it is important to be up front about the advertising. Most of the best members are wise enough to spot infomercial posts and pseudo-commercial articles, so I want to avoid them at all costs.
I figure newsletter sponsorship, and banner ads ( or maybe test based ads) would be about as far as I'd push it.
I have a few of questions for you folks with well established community sites:
1 What percentage of traffic to your sites is sticky?
2 What type of SE to bookmark ratio do you have?
3 Are newsletters a powerful tool to bring people back to your site.
4 How labor intensive is your site now that it is established? How does that compare to when you first launched it?
Hopefully not too much off topic, but...
The reason that clients (and we) got into SEO is that is brought information directly to those who are in 'information search' mode.
The end result should be:
Shorter sales cycles, because visitors are qualified etc. etc.
Another big advantage was the 'cost'. It was possible to achieve this at a relatively low cost when compared to similar 'conventional', offline options.
So, as the landscape is/has changed, I believe that we have to look for and find other ways to achieve what SEO was achieving 2+ years ago. It requires inventiveness on our part and possibly a change in our approach to providing 'SEO' as a standalone service to 'SEO' as one part of a 'new media promotional mix' which may include email campaigns, banners (the dreaded but much maligned word), SMS messaging campaigns etc.
I also feel we need to lower the expectations of what SEO can do for clients, in favour of what can be achieved with a more integrated approach.
As usual, it's the clients objectives that are king, but I am having difficulty saying to an SME that spending upwards of £3-5k on a pure comprehensive SEO/PFP/PFC campaign with give them greater return on investment than other more 'conventional', or a less ambitous, more focused 'mix', of new media promotional options.
I WILL NOT be conned by the LS fiasco, simply because this will reflect badly on my credibility as a 'serious' adivsor as I can't say hand on my heart that ROI will be forthcoming. Same could be said for Yahoo, AV PFP and to a lesser extent Ink (which I do still find the best of the bunch).
I do feel the 'Google infatuation' is a bit of a 'kings new clothes' situation - it wouldn't be so bad if Google's 'relevance' didn't disadvantage the small player. Are Google and Overture so much different: Overtures 'currency' is cash, Google's is 'link pop' which is a huge benefit to the big boys (who have the throwaway budget to spend on every option)but not to those who cannot summon links from large, popular and 'relvant' sites. How is this playing field any more equal than PFC?
Maybe it's time we all became a bit more 'creative', and thought beyond SEO as a starting point for a clients' promotional efforts?
Surely the most Google would ever stretch to in terms of pressure from IPO's would be PFI.
Even on a price of £20 per URL per year, their traffic levels are enough to make it viable (profitable) for us - and we make money mainly from affiliate schemes.
I have spent too much time worrying about this happening, and only now have come to the conclusion that there's nothing to owrry about even if it does happen.
Am I being short sighted?
I run a community site.
Make SURE the niche market you target actually wants to talk about stuff, not just collect information. It is super hard for me to get people to contribute. There is also a minimum base that you must have so the community is supporting itself with topics.
I am always envious of Brett because his community supports itself, i.e. has enough messages that it generates more discussion topics. This is not the case in mine. I am in the process of hiring professional seeders (Why not try that first, instead of running your community, gives you insight of many communities).
The rest is gravy. Make something the core of the community. In my case and in WebmasterWorld's case it's the discussion board. Make sure you pick the right tools. Having several thousand message posted, then discovering there is some sort of a limitation, and no easy way to port can be devastating to a forum based community. I would bet Brett would get a heart-attack if he found out say - a major sec. hole with no fix of it (I don't know of one so don't start rumors).
My goals with the community is altruistic, so I can wait for supporting income. IF you are in for the money, make sure you target your advertisement properpy. i.e. the right books for the right topic with amazon affil. links. THAT makes money. Tossing a generic link up won't bring you as much.
That is it. It's the three m's - members - members - members. Once you reach the critical mass, you are set, as long as you do not screw up.
IMO your instincts are right. Now is the time to establish your market share and establish contacts in your vertical niche.
The strongest communities that I have seen have grown up and expanded organically over several years. They are a lot of work to get established.
>I have a few of questions for you folks with well established community sites:
>3 Are newsletters a powerful tool to bring people back to your site.
Yes. Short and frequent with useful information, seems to work best. It reminds people about your site. People like to be a part of someting dynamic so the newsletter tells them of new plans and wonders to be had at your community. I switched from monthly to twice monthly and it seems to have helped.
>4 How labor intensive is your site now that it is established? How does that compare to when you first launched it?
It is labor intensive. Not as much as when I started but it still takes work.
A lot depends on your topic niche. Especially in the B2C markets it is hard to cover costs with affiliate programs. You have to really have some good traffic and page views to even begin selling advertising and that takes time.
That's always the sticking point is actually making money.
On the rest, chiyo has pretty well nailed it.
Now is the time to pay more attention to regional search engines. I agree that the thought of all our eggs being in the one basket is way too scary, but look at the logic. Large search engines for large business. Small search engines for small business. I would bet the bulk of the companies (web sites) that are looking for traffic are more interested in local results (their city or town) than they are in wide spread results. What needs to happen is that these regional search engines / portals get better support so that they in turn can draw even more regional traffic.
Getting top ranking for a local business on a large engine is not only difficult but produces irrelevant results a lot of the time.
If the seo consultant spent the time to identify local traffic opportunities and became an expert in regional demographics then we could see richer(content-wise) communities (sites)being developed. This would make it possible for search engines that look for authorities on a subject to become more relevant.
>So, fine brethren, teach me the how's, when's, and why's of building a site that people come to and stay at.
What's the subject/theme, ol' spammer? It's awful hard to build a community around the latest-and-greatest Scented Candle Gift Pak.
Spend a lot of time there, eh, Mackin? Funny, you didn't seem like one of those rough-and-tumble candlers at BarCon.
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|Make SURE the niche market you target actually wants to talk about stuff, not just collect information. It is super hard for me to get people to contribute. There is also a minimum base that you must have so the community is supporting itself with topics. |
I've managed forums on and off since the mid-1990s, and I can attest that different audiences have different levels of interest in community.
On MSN, I managed the Writing Forum for 4-1/2 years (this was when MSN had "managed communities" with paid forum managers). The typical aspiring writer was just looking for answers to specific questions such as "How do I format my manuscript?" or "Are multiple submissions okay?" They'd ask their questions, get answers, and--for the most part--disappear until the next time they had questions to ask. Poets, on the other hand, had a very strong community focus. They'd share poems and feedback constantly, to the tune of thousands of posts every month.
The same phenomenon exists with travel. It's hard to get community going on a forum devoted to European travel, because most Americans, Canadians, and Australians visit Europe only rarely (in many cases, only once in a lifetime). The cruise audience, OTOH, is very social; when cruisers aren't cruising, they love to talk about cruising, and they'll happily spend hours in online discussions about Holland-America Line's bathrooms or whether a dark suit is an acceptable substitute for a tuxedo.
Even if you have a topic that lends itself to community, you face the question of whether your forum or chat room is a potential source of revenue or just an expense. From what I've observed over the years, community participants don't buy much and don't pay much attention to ads. The idea that community will somehow keep people coming back to read content pages is wishful thinking, IMHO. Still, community might help to sell products in niches where people are interested in talking about purchases (beauty, weight loss, software) and where vendor representatives are frequent participants in the forums or chats.
For me this is the First Commandment:
Build and honor your opt-in email list with a passion. Give each opt-in member something on a regular basis that is valuable to them.
You asked about SE traffic versus bookmark traffic. For the one community I work with, an important number is traffic from email links. That includes both Newsletters and Viral stuff. March numbers:
Email links - 38%
No referer - 21%
SE traffic - 15%
Ads/PPC - 11%
Other links - 8%
Type-in from print - 7% (dedicated URLs)
I'm on contract to help with their SE traffic, which certainly could be better. But the email link traffic is essential to this community. Retention marketing for existing members is much easier (and cheaper) than acquisition of new members.
The basic principle is this: in a world of information overload, you need to remind interested people about your site regularly - and pleasurably.
Along these lines, let me recommend a book - Nick Usborne's "Net Words". After reading it, I'll never again just toss off any piece of web copy, not even a simple email notice.
He's got a real flair for explaining why and how to develop a unique and personable "voice" for you business. This book is so good that we've made it required reading for the entire content creation team on the site, including the 1-on-1 email correspondence folk.
There was a thread about alternative traffic generation a while back that had some good ideas.
Mostly Viral Top Traffic Alternatives to Search Engine [webmasterworld.com]
Another vote for "networds", a great book and a really nice guy.
Whether the scale tips to PPC or Google lures in more competitors that compete on quality and relevancy, copy will be one area that continues to drive conversions, repeats, and word of mouth marketing.
I am in the process of hiring professional seeders (Why not try that first, instead of running your community, gives you insight of many communities).
Ooh - you've sparked my interest with "professional seeders." Tell me more - how do you plan to use them, how will you measure their success, etc ... Please!
>I feel a stinging cold wind hitting me on the back, the skies are greying and the once brilliant life-giving light is fading away to a dim cold shadow.
....I hear THAT. Between a sluggish economy, seasonal change, and an ever increasingly competitive environment, I am not making the phat cash I did a few years back... some of it just has to do with me, but SEO traffic acquisition is tough these days... I'm either running with sharks, or against the giants.
Basically, this is some of what I'm doing right now (in no particular order)
-going back over my old (poorly-converting) sites that are still ranking and updating them...switching out companies, new designs, new back ends .....whatever it takes to make them convert better. Then, after a good looking over, Iím going to leave them alone, and watch them...while Iím pro active elsewhere.
-getting ready to start making use of all the emails I have collected for the first time.... not sure how, but I am looking at different ways.
- trying to build a few new killer $ sites.... and nail pole position while I still can. carefully selected. carefully planned. carefully executed... sniper rifle style:)
-I had Steven Edwards to make me a server script that redirects a visitor who goes to a 404, back to the index page of whatever domain they are on. I donít know exactly how many domains I have on that server, but I feel better about not wasting that traffic.
......anyway, you get the idea.... diversity and focus, reconditioning and recycling... ultimately, itís all about efficiency.... the more focus and understanding you have, the more efficient you can be.
...or you could just go for broke, and spam the hell out of them....hehehehe:)
Keep the faith.... you have a lot going for you... strong foundation. Once you get the right plan, I think you'll shift gears...
Heheh, current top 2 most recently updated threads in "Webmaster General":
1. Help an old spammer
2. Legal action against spammers
Littleman, two examples: One: the Paul Oakenfold Forum I frequent. It is highly addictive, yet full of idiots. Lately, people have been dropping away like flies since the introduction of moderators.
Two: My Dave Clarke forum. Only a few members at the moment, but as soon as someone arrives they stay. We never have any problems, there is no childish attitude. My friend and I are admins whereas we picked the most knowledgable and sane person as Moderator. We only have about 40 members of which most are Dutch or British. One or two Americans. People stay...Why? Because we have new issues everyday. We keep centred around news and reviews, but at the same time have our own friendly discussion.
Why is it WebmasterWorld is so popular? Brett? Nope. Mods? Nope. The system? Yep. The system of fresh news and technology issues, put together with a friendly environment, where people are free to express themselves. The fact that people are ready to have a laugh is what makes this board inviting. Other boards simply say 'stick to the issue' which is not inviting. I have no interest in going to a board which is not going to put up with me for who I am. And trust me, they do put up with me...just ask the mods. :)