I have built and ran a successful content site on volunteering abroad
for three years and while I might not be an expert at web
publishing, I do have some experience. In preparation for
launching a new site on technology in the
developing world I wrote the following fourteen tips for
creating a great content site:
Tip One: Go Girly!
First thing you should do is go to supermarket and buy every
girl/teen magazine you can find. This might be embarrassing for
50% (or more) of you, but it will be one of the best investments
These magazines are the bible on how to write online content.
They are overflowing with catchy titles, “10 best ways to…”
style articles, great teasers, and upbeat writing style. Study
these articles intently, you won’t regret it. Supermarket
magazines spend enormous sums of money every year studying the
best way to pique passing grocery-store shoppers’ interest,
learn from their example.
Check out these great teasers on the cover of a popular
1. Your Period, What’s Normal, What’s Not
2. Sexy Summer Hairstyles
3. 7 Surprising Keys to Happiness
4. How to Turn Him On In 10 Words of Less
5. Dangerous Love: 3 Times a Boyfriend Can Become Violent
6. Do You Make Men MELT? Take our Quiz!
These pull the reader in by teasing a person’s sexual drive (2,
4), personal health and safety (1, 5), personal happiness (3),
and self image (6). They scream at the passer-by: “Read me! This
can change your life!”
Let us take these titles and apply them to apples.
1. Ripe Apples, What’s Normal, What’s Not
2. Great Summer Apple Recipes
3. 7 Surprising Keys to a Great Apple Pie.
4. How to Make a Great Crust in 10 Minutes or Less
5. Forbidden Fruit: 3 Times You Should Never Eat Apples
6. Do Your Apple Pies Make People MELT? Take our Quiz!
Obviously I don’t know too much about apples, but this is just
an example of how universally powerful these teasers are.
Tip Two: Keyword Centric Entries
Keep each article around 500-750 words and centered on one
keyword. For example, don’t write about “The Best Apples and
Oranges” but instead split it up “The Best Apples”, “The Best
Oranges”, and “Apples vs. Oranges”. Each entry is a doorway to
your site, the more doorways you have the more people will
Although this method has been branded by many as spam, when done
correctly it helps the visitor tremendously. The point is not to
grind out as many entries of mindless dribble as possible but
rather to produce highly focused content to increase the chances
a visitor will find an entry closely matching their specific
interests or needs.
Tip Three: Soft Launch First
Write 10-15 entries and bring your site online, but do not
advertise or promote it except submitting to the big search
engines. This will let any sandbox timer start while you write
the rest of your content. When you have around 50-100 entries
then you can officially launch and start promoting your
Why? Because, one of the most important things for your site is
link exchanges and you only have one chance to make a first
impression. For this reason I recommend only hard launching when
you have a “full” site.
Tip Four: Link Exchanges
Do not spam requests link exchanges and do not use link exchange
I have found there are two ways to get great links.
1) Interviews. Find other webmasters/companies in your field and
ask them to do an interview. Interviews are excellent because
(1) you get some free content and (2) because you begin the
build a personal relationship.
After they have completed the interview ask them kindly for a
link to your site. They will be much more likely to accept now
that you are not an email address and unknown website but a
fellow in their industry.
2) Case Studies. The small software/script companies generally
have great page rank. Buy one of their cheaper products and
after a month offer to write them a case study. Almost always
they will say yes and will include a link to your site. I have
gained many great backlinks this way.
Tip Five: Site Design
Speed! Speed! Speed! Brett Tabke is right; speed is everything
for a content site. Use CSS and small background images to
provide great speed while adding a graphic feel to your
Remember to use color! Most sites sadly restrict themselves to
one or two colors in the layout. We live in living color; use it
to your advantage! For example: make the front page blue, the
forum green, the site news pages purple etc… Your users will
quickly learn to use colors to help situate themselves on your
Tip Six: Know Your Visitors
Every three months write a questionnaire for site visitors and
have a $100 sweepstakes for those that fill it out. This will be
the best $100 you’ll ever spend.
Knowing your visitors can be the difference between $5 a day and
$50 a day. Use the questionnaire to tweak the subjects of your
future entries and the types of advertising you display. You
might think your site is for middle aged businessmen when it
turns out 60% of your visitors are young housewives dreaming of
starting a home business.
Tip Seven: Intertwine Advertising with Content
For a long time I had a 3 column layout. The first column was
for site navigation, the second for content, and the third for
advertising. This layout was very logical to me, but it became
apparent after a few months that my CTR was much lower than it
I conducted a visitor survey and asked specifically about the
layout. From the responses one fact stood out: the visitors
never looked at the third column. After a few times viewing the
site, the visitors consciously or sub-consciously learned that
the third column was only advertising and ignored it completely.
To correct the situation I took an idea from TheKnot.com and
merged my first and third column. An example:
The result was a jump from 0.2 CTR to almost 4.0 CTR. The
viewers were drawn to the new merged column by the related
entries, author biography, and other content. There was a much
greater chance their eyes would move over the ad blocks and one
or more would attract their interest.
Tip Eight: Blueprints of Entries
Create a blueprint of your site. Imagine you have a staff of 100
writers, what entries would you want them to write? Organize the
entries in a hierarchy. Example:
* Best Apples in Maine
* Best Apples in Florida
* Apples Stop Cancer?
* Apples Can Help You Live Longer!
As you find what types of entries your visitors want, expand
those areas in your blue-print.
Remember to split up article topics as much as possible. In
general, three 500 word entries are better than one 1500 word
Tip Nine: Evergreen
This should go without saying. Make sure your entries are on
topics which never lose relevancy and appeal.
Tip Ten: Domain Names
Follow Brett Tabke’s 26 steps and choose something generic. Your
site’s overall topic will drift as you learn which topics pay
and which don’t. You might launch thinking your site is going to
be about apples and oranges, but after a few months you realize
the real money is in mangos. This is why your domain should be
Fruonia.com not ApplesAndOranges.com.
Tip Eleven: The Scratch book
I carry a small scratch book around everywhere with me. When I
have a few minutes I outline an article or write a blurb for a
link. Just by working on your site during your free moments
throughout the day (lunch breaks, coffee breaks, subway home
etc…), you will be amazed how much you can get done before
ever sitting down at the computer.
Tip Twelve: The Logs
Study your logs intently. Find out the cause of any special
variation. Does your traffic dip on the 31st of every month?
Why? How can you use this information in the future?
Just like the visitor surveys, the logs are the key to
understanding your visitors. From this goldmine you will begin
to understand exactly who is visiting your site, what they want,
and how they try to find it. Exploit this for fun and
Tip Thirteen: Push Forward
The site should be as low maintenance as possible. Every minute
you spend maintaining your site is a minute you do not spend
making new content and growing. Make sure to not get bogged down
answering emails and tweaking your layout. Content is king and
the more content you have the more money you will earn.
I believe many people spend too much time trying to SEO their
current content instead of writing new content. If an entry is
horrible don’t update it, instead write “version two” of the
article and publish it alongside the first. Content = money.
Tip Fourteen: Directing Your Visitor
You want your visitor to hang out at your site as long as
possible, never tell them “the end” but instead use lists of
related entries and crossing link to say “Done? This is what you
should read next!”
I’d like to end this article with a quote I have taped my
monitor by Rob Malda, the creator of Slashdot. This is pretty
much everything you need to know about being successful on the
internet (and life).
“Slashdot is successful for the same reasons anything else
is. We provided something that was needed before anyone else
did, and we worked (and continue to work) our butts off to make
it as good as it could be”