On my way in to work yesterday morning, I jotted down the following list I titled “Things We’ve Learned About Doing Websites”. (Like usual, it was bumper-to-bumper traffic. And you know me… I’ve always got a pen and a pad of paper on hand! So I put the time to good use.)
I was thinking that some bloggers or other website owners might find some value in hearing from someone who’s been there, tried that.
We are by no means an expert on this topic, but we have definitely learned a lot in the 8 years that we’ve been blogging.
Without a doubt, the most valuable tidbits have been learned by experimenting & trying new things with this very blog that you’re reading: The Fun Times Guide. But it’s not the only one.
Here are a few of our other sites:
- The Fun Times Guide To Dogs
- 4Wheeldrive & Offroading
- The Nashville Fun Times Guide
- The Fun Times Guide to Log Homes
- Hoosier Thunder Motorsports
- The Natchez Trace Fun Times Guide
- The Fun Times Guide to Household Tips
Without further ado…
14.5 Things We’ve Learned About Doing Websites
1. People don’t read — even when it’s something they’re interested in.
Based on the large quantity of e-mails we receive (usually from people with AOL email addresses, by the way) many people SKIM rather than actually read the content at websites.
That, or they check briefly what the article is about… quickly think of something related to that article they’d like to know about… and zip out an email to us asking for information about so and so.
It’s quite comical, because if they’d only read the article (which, I admit, many of my articles are too long and are not easy to read “quickly”), they would have found the answer to their question!
On a related note, I’m also surprised how many people don’t use CTL+F to find something on a page.
2. Pictures (yes, even poor quality ones) make a good article great.
The good part: Pictures also increase the amount of time readers stay at your site, and how much they click around to see other things on your website.
3. Don’t be afraid to try new things.
When it comes to websites, I’m more conservative than Jim. When we find something that works, I like to stay within my comfort zone and just keep doing what we’re doing. Jim, on the other hand, prefers to push the envelope. “Yeah, it’s working great, but if we did this, it could work even better!”
I (reluctantly) would have to agree. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.
It is only by taking chances that we’ve discovered new (read: more fun, more interesting) ways to do things and boost our readership at the same time.
4. The more “evergreen” you write, the better.
By that I mean, the more your content is all-purpose rather than date-specific, the greater staying power it has on the Net and the more likely that article will be read for years to come.
That’s huge when it comes to a site’s popularity and ranking in search engines.
5. Content is king. Period.
Wait, I mean quality content is king.
- Honesty is the best policy. If you’re writing about something you’ve experienced firsthand, then it’s likely to be quite valuable to others who may be in your same boat somewhere down the line. (Keep in mind, there’s a big difference between writing something negative for the purpose of bashing someone or something, and writing something negative with the intention of informing others and offering constructive criticism.)
- Less opinion, more fact. The more you can validate what you’ve written — with supporting research, stats, or others’ experiences — the better. Even your own opinions appear more credible when similar opinions have also been expressed elsewhere.
- Short and to the point. (As you can tell, I struggle with this one.) If you can say the same thing in fewer words… do it! Why? Because, most people don’t want to plug through lengthy articles — despite how “interesting” they may be — to find the point (or many points!) within your article. Most visitors are not interested in reading novellas online. Many of our shorter articles are far more popular than our lengthier (better) articles.
6. Allow comments.Way back when, when we first started this blog, we turned the comments off because most of what we received was just Comment Spam at that time. I’d guess that’s what it’s like for most sites when they’re just starting out.
It’s not until people start seeing others commenting that they realize it’s a respected site with content that’s worth commenting about. Plus, comments are infectious… people love to see their name and their $.02 in print.
7. Post at least one new article daily. (Easier said than done.)
Want even more traffic? Then post 2 or 3 or more articles each day! It increases your reach out there on the Net, and as a result, your audience increases too. Plus, you get more repeat visitors when they know they can count on seeing a fresh article each time they visit.
8. Give your readers a reason to want to stick around.
Make it easy for your readers to find other articles on your site that are similiar to the one they just read.
The easier you make it to navigate around your site, the better. That means: Spell out as much as you can for your readers. Put things right before their eyes. Don’t expect that they’ll find something relevant or related on their own.
TIP: Dropdown lists (for categories, for example) don’t work nearly as well as simply displaying a list (categories down one column of your page, for example). Unfortuantely, if you’re limited on space, then you have to ask yourself which is more important?… Readers seeing the category names, or readers seeing the titles of recent posts (or something else more timely than a list of categories).
9. Link to as many related (and credible) sources as possible — even if some of those sources are your own.
To give your articles credibility and higher page rank (no matter how slight) in search engines, linking to yourself is just as important in my mind as linking to other sites (and having them link back to you). Especially if you have several websites on various topics. Link relevant content together to build traffic and credibility.
Try it. You’ll be amazed how many people stick around on your site longer and how many repeat visitors you’ll acquire!
10. Reply to your readers’ questions right away.
No matter how mundane some of the questions (or personal requests) might be from the readers of your site, if you take the time to reply back to each one of them in a timely manner, you’ll build loyalty.
However!… Don’t expect a “Thank You” in return, because you rarely get one. (I know, I was surprised by this too.)
11. Old-fashioned hyperlinks (underlined) work best.
While different colored links, flashing links, cool designs around links and such are hip & cool and may look nice to you, there are a fair amount of people who just don’t notice them!
People (especially novice computer users) are looking for traditional underlined links. And they’re not likely to click on anything but.
12. A surprisingly large number of visitors actually click on the ads!
It’s true. So long as the ads are relevant to the content within that particular article.
For the record, I click on ads at other websites, too. If it’s a product I’m genuinely interested in, then I don’t hesitate to click on an ad. I’ve found that the majority of ads are from reputable companies, and we’ve actually purchased a great deal of items through ads and other sites online.
13. The more “bloggy” your content is… the better.
I think this goes hand-in-hand with numbers 1 and 5 above. People are on the Internet looking for quick answers to their pressing questions.
At the same time, they tend to place a higher value on articles which describe people who’ve been in the same situation as them; people who have similar (or different) opinions as them, and people who are interested in hearing what others think about a given topic.
That’s why the whole blog thing has taken off so well. The Internet is now filled with short and to-the-point content about anything and everything. Firsthand accounts about everything under the sun!
Things that make a site look “bloggy”:
- a date
- an author’s name
- a casual & fun writing style
- supporting photographs (they don’t have to be professional quality)
- a different headline in the lead position each day
For the record, our websites are more content-rich and niche-based than traditional blogs are. Maybe that has something to do with why we’ve managed to stick around longer than most ‘traditional’ bloggers have.
14. And (drum roll, please)… Social networking isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be!
I’m not saying that it doesn’t have its good points, I’m just saying I wouldn’t spend a lot of time spinning your wheels trying to “do what everyone else is doing”.
We don’t. Yet, surprise… our site is doing quite well. In fact, several of our sites are doing quite well.
Granted, social networking sites make it easy to plug various websites and content, and they’re a great way to get your website noticed by people who never would have found your site on their own. But when it comes right down to it — in my mind anyway — a quality site really should be able to stand on its own as a credible and reliable source of information. I’m proud of the fact that many of our websites have acquired audiences in the tens of thousands each day, primarily by virtue of having good quality content alone. Period.
Few, if any, referrals and increases in traffic have ever come from the handful of social networking sites we’ve experimented with. On the other hand, linking to your “competitors” and talking-up anyone who does a site like yours is worth its weight in gold. On the Internet, there is no competition… instead we all learn from each other. Right?
14.5. You don’t always have to do things “by the book”.
Be different! Case in point: Include 14.5 things in a list, rather than ending with a number that makes sense, like 15.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
Overall, we’ve been fortunate to enjoy huge amounts of success with our FUN little websites.
Who knows, maybe we could’ve gotten to where we are a bit quicker had we incorporated some of the practices that bloggers typically use to boost their traffic (like huge amounts of social networking… massive commenting to others’ sites… and boatloads of linky love for no reason). But it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun — or as fulfilling — as plotting our own course on the World Wide Web.
Our Personal Rewards:
- We’ve managed to stick around a lot longer than most “traditional” bloggers. (We attribute that mostly to our content.)
- We still enjoy writing copy, taking pictures, and sharing ideas on each of our blogs day in and day out. (That’s because we’re passionate about what we do.)
- And, the future definitely looks bright for this blog, in particular, and all of our other websites in general. (We’re going to keep doing whatever it is that we do… because it works. And, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!)
To our many readers: THANK YOU!
This article happens to go hand-in-hand with something Seth Godin wrote the other day (The 8 Free Things Every Site Should Have)… Oddly enough, I wrote this before I read Seth’s post. Both Jim and I are long-time admirers of Seth and have been reading his Blog for some time. (I think it’s the bald head thing.) But I was a few days behind on reading Seth’s Blog, so I found it funny that I had written something very similar… yet different.
I found this list of 66 Successful Bloggers & What They Can Teach You. Check it out for some tips that are priceless!