Ed Zuckerman of PolicyNewsLinks.com recently contacted us through our “Ask an Expert” feature, and he writes: I am contemplating the merger of my webpage and my blog into a free service (currently webpage is paid subscriptions). I have very little knowledge about what I must have to attract advertising; how many readers I need to make it profitable; how to find advertisers; etc. Also, any pointers on how my page should be formatted to accommodate ads.
[After some exchange of emails and further details provided by Ed]
Andrew’s response: Definitely not the simplest situation awaiting you, Ed. Here are my two cents. Take them for what they are worth:
1. You definitely do provide a valuable service
2. Your target audience (the group that would readily acknowledge that such a site is of great value) is very specific though the site can still be valuable to a broader audience; the key is informing the broader audience that such an information portal exists and demonstrating its value for them.
3. It requires an immense amount of ongoing work & talent in order to have a website generate a reasonable profit through advertising; it is difficult for small websites to be profitable through advertising alone.
4. It requires a lot of SEO work and strategic website design alongside of constant creative article generation in order to generate the unique visits & pageviews that advertisers are looking for
5. Many fee based websites exist, and some of these do very well (there are many fee based websites in my particular business which could only provide the information & services they currently offer if they were fee based)
1. It will be very difficult to attract advertisers. Until your readership dramatically increases and the reader demographics become broader, it will be difficult attracting advertisers who pay enough to make having the ads worthwhile for you. Even with regular advertisers and a hundred thousand viewers per month, it would still be very difficult to make more than $1000/month from advertising (and even this assumes significant changes in your website’s setup).
2. If you plan to open up the site publicly and desire to have archived pages easily searched through by visitors and readily accessed by search engines, I would recommend looking into a content management system. With the right designer, you could even rely on WordPress, though it would have to be a designer who was a whiz at turning the blog platform into a more standard content management system. Joomla and Drupal are other options (and there are many other Open Source CMSs that are also viable). You could continue to rely on Frontpage, of course, though a content management system would be easier long term, especially as the archive begins to grow.
3. If you continued with Frontpage, I would strongly recommend developing some monthly index pages where you linked directly to each month’s daily posting; these monthly index pages should be quickly found from the home page (perhaps on the home page, you have a link that takes you to a master link page with the years listed; under each year is a link to each month’s index). The way it is currently setup would make it very difficult for a search engine bot to ever find, and with a free site you’ll want all your old pages to work overtime for you pulling in traffic organically from search engines.
4. I would recommend to keep the current day link accessible only by paying subscribers and perhaps even (a) the past day or (b) past couple of days or (c) even the past week accessible only by paying subscribers. The remainder of the site could be accessible publicly by anyone, search engines, visitors browsing by, etc. With this suggestion, you’d keep your subscription platform but open up the bulk of the site to the public. This would also help maintain the current flow of subscription income while you attempt to build up organic and referral traffic for the archived sections of the site and experiment with advertising.
5. Add Google Analytics as well as the advertiser Quantcast.com code snippet to each page on the site (including the archived as well as the new pages). It’s not too difficult to add these codes as long as you access the HTML code of each site. The Google Analytics is merely a copy and paste into the section of the HTML right at the bottom of the page before the tag. In WordPress there are some plugins that you can add to the site which will easily let you add Analytics to your blog (or just have your designer add it).
6. Speaking of your blog, if it’s not too late, your blog would be best right under the policynewslinks.com domain (i.e. policynewslinks.com/blog would be a great location). That way, with each new article, you’d be strengthening your domain and your website overall. If you have to have your blog on the new domain name, that’s fine too, but under your policynewslinks.com domain name is a far better location in terms of SEO.
7. When the archived sections of the site are opened up to search engines, don’t expect miracles in terms of new visitors. Hopefully existing customers will tell their coworkers who will tell others and the word of mouth machine will begin to take its effect. But don’t expect a miracle at all. It will take work. You will have to regularly add pages of text (in contrast with your daily page of links) to the site in order to strengthen your presence in search engine result pages. You will have to find other, similar websites who are willing to either feature an article written by you (which will include a link pointing back to your site) or just link back to you. You will have to spend long hours reworking the structure of your site. Organic traffic doesn’t come easy, but lots of careful, diligent work is many times rewarded.
I know my thinking out loud isn’t the pep talk, but I tend to be painfully blunt when it comes to things like these. I would strongly recommend to keep the subscriber model but to modify it so the freshest, most valuable information (the latest day’s page as well as perhaps the most recent 7 days) are accessible only to subscribers while the archived sections of the site are accessible to the public.
You mentioned other monetization methods such as building a list for rent; perhaps if you had full names, company names, positions, mailing addresses, this could be a valuable list. Emails, however, have minimal value in terms of renting now due to spam.
Providing some form of consulting work based on your long history and promoting that on the site may also provide some occasional revenue. It’s definitely worth a try. You never know. If the publicly accessible portion of the site really took off, you might find yourself in demand for speaking, consulting, writing. Just don’t rush forward in a hasty transition from purely fee based to relying on the whims of advertising. Keep the subscribers happy with the fresh monetizable content while feeding the crowd with what is left.