I wrote this article in 1997 for a publication that never saw the light of day. As a result, I am now making it available to people who are interested in running online content sites. Interestingly, those rules still hold true.
For years people have claimed that “content is king.” If so, there are many things that go into the king’s proper care. Since 1992, I’ve been working on profitable online content models, and, while a few failed, eventually struck gold with iWORLD (now internet.com) in 1996. In the process, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. Here they are for your use.
The first rule — and hardest –is building a great staff. People who believe in what you’re doing make for the best workers.
If people believe in the basic idea, they’ll work harder to make sure that it succeeds. This is why zealots make for the best workers. They want the thing to succeed above anything else, even if it means putting in 20 hours days from time to time.
Create a Good Environment
On a content site, intellectual capital is the most important thing, so your most valuable asset is people (no, this isn’t just an empty phrase). As a result, you need to create a fun working environment. Allow flexible hours and atmosphere– as long as the work gets done!
When it comes down to it, the office should be a place workers don’t really want to quit. Foster creativity and try to encourage making the office a more pleasant place to work in. The more pleasant it is, the longer your employees will stay. The longer they stay, the more they’ll get used to the company. The more they get used to the company, the least they’ll want to leave.
Watch the Bottom Line
Many content sites fail because they spend too much money. This is a business. Find the lowest costs everywhere and instill this discipline in everyone working with you. A few dollars saved here and there add up to a lot.
However, do not be a pinch penny when it comes to your employees. Make sure that those who go above and beyond the call of duty get rewarded for it. While the wild parties thrown by companies on Silicon Alley and Silicon Valley only last one night, the bonuses you put in employees pockets get more recognition (and usually end up costing you less).
As part of your fiscal consciousness, always try to automate. This will allow you to use your staff to its fullest instead of forcing them to do repetitive menial tasks.
Nowadays, with tools like Active Server Pages, Cold Fusion, PHP or Story Server, you can easily create web interfaces that allow you to dynamically generate your pages from the web itself. Instead of trying to create every single page by hand, make sure you templatize.
Quality AND Quantity
People scoffed when Alan Meckler said we had acquired more sites than anyone in the world. We had the last laugh. Smart consolidation of content created higher traffic that we could spread across our other properties. For every site we acquired we would look at two things: the value of the content as an add-on to our offerings and the traffic numbers. Often, after acquisition the original creator created content for us while we sold advertising as part of a network package.
Interestingly, this strategy seems to have become more popular nowadays, with everyone wanting to become a portal. While we didn’t call it “portal,” Internet.com really became the first vertical portal about the net on the net.
Grassroots Marketing is Important
Many people were surprised at how much time we spent in newsgroups, on mailing lists and on talking to people who linked to our sites. This allowed us to develop a strong presence on the Internet at a very low cost. We treated every partner, from large corporations to one-man operations, in the same way and in turn got a lot of loyalty.
Partner, Partner, Partner
Money follows from traffic, and the way to get traffic is through partnering. We considered anything that would bring even a single extra user as beneficial. However, don’t spend too much time on contracts minutiae: they’ll lengthen the partnership process and you’ll miss certain opportunities.
Be There First or Don’t Jump
By the time the two largest players have been established in one arena, there is little room for anyone else. Know your field inside out and jump on new opportunities. Some may fail, but jumping in early means you won’t miss out on potentially huge rewards. If an area fails (a six-month reevaluation cycle works), pull out.
Creating newsgroups and email lists related to your site get readers to come back again and again. Develop a sense of community around your site and you will see your traffic constantly increasing.
Trust YOUR Instincts
Lists like this are great but don’t tell the whole story. Only you know how your site should be built. Don’t take anything for granted, dare defying common conceptions and change often. After all, the commercial Internet is still in its inception.