1.1. The Taxonomy of Success
There's a great deal of variation in goodsuccessfulcontent web sites. The gist of these sites varies from humor to practical to editorial opinions and beyond. It's hard to generalize. But successful content sites typically do tend to fall into at least one (maybe more than one) of the following categories:
The only thing these kinds of sites have in commonand there are undoubtedly other ways successful sites can be categorizedis that they draw traffic (either focused or broad). Therefore, they are good sites and are excellent venues for web advertising. In short, they use web content to make moneyand making money with your web site content is the topic of the first part of this book (and likely a subject you care about!).
In this section, I'll drill down further on the categorization, or taxonomy, of successful sites without spending too much time on the issue. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stewart once commented about obscenity, it's hard to define good content, but one knows it when one sees it.
1.1.1. Funny Web Destinations
Humor itself, as is well known, is in the eye of the beholder (and by itself as a category has infinite variety), but an example of a humorous site that is popular and makes money from contextual advertising is Googlefight , http://www.googlefight.com, a site that compares the Google rankings of two terms such as "God" and "Satan."
Humorous sites tend to have short half-lives. Like stars going nova, they can draw tons of traffic for a short while and then fade from view. For example, when Christo's Gates, an elaborate and well-publicized art installation, were up in Central Park, New York, a number of parody sitesCrackers Gates, Nicky's Gates, the Somerville Gatessprang up. These sites were quite popular for a week or two, but when the Christo art installation was taken down and the media publicity surrounding the installation faded, so did interest in the parody sites.
Today, everyone is bombarded with content in a variety of mediums. Things come and go quickly. For the most part, humor sites that are static , meaning that the content doesn't change, publish content that can be expected to fade from public interestwhich means that to make money from this content you must be prepared to strike while the iron is hot, because it will only be popular for a short while.
1.1.2. Useful Free Services and Software
TinyURL , http://tinyurl.com, provides a practical and very useful (but simple) service: it allows you to convert long, unwieldy URLsfor example, like those you often see from Amazon.com when you select an inventory itemto short, convenient URLs that are easy to use in HTML code (and easy to enter in a browser). Astoundingly, this service is free. Last time I looked, TinyURL had more than 185 million hits a month. Talk about traffic!
In part, a service like TinyURL works to generate ad revenue because it is so targeted. If you go to the site, you'll find Google AdSense content ads for things like DNS (Domain Name Server) services and software that fixes technology problems with browsers. In other words, technology that addresses the problems of reasonably savvy web users is likely to be contextually relevant to the concerns of visitors to TinyURL. Enough users click these ads to more than justify the startup cost and ongoing costs of maintaining the URL conversion service.
It's splitting hairs to try to decide whether sites that provide access to free downloadable software are providing a service or information. Whatever the case, a site that provides information, links, resources, and downloadable software covering a particular technology can draw a great deal of traffic.
For example, if you want to learn about RSS and Atom syndication softwaretools for reading and writing feedsand to download this software (and find easy one-stop links for the location of the download sites), a good site to visit is the RSS Compendium , http://allrss.com. Because of their usefulness, one-stop technology sites such as RSS Compendium (whether or not they provide access to downloads) can draw considerable traffic and content-based ad revenue.
If you are going to publish a site whose main draw is access to software, and then make money off the site with content advertising, it is worth bearing in mind that software that runs on the Web typically generates multiple page views for a single user running the software. (In other words, the user spends time on the web site.) This makes it better for the purpose of generating content revenue than a site that merely publishes information about software with download links.
With a download link, once the user downloads the software, there is probably going to be no more interest in the web content.
1.1.3. Magazines and Newspapers
The business of Salon , http://www.salon.com, is to provide informed editorial content. This business is profitable because of the advertising that appears on the Salon site. The business model of Salon, and other online magazines , is pretty much like that of a brick-and-mortar newspaper or magazine: subsidize the distribution of your articles and editorials, and make your revenue with sponsored ads. This works pretty well on the Web, even though it is essentially old-fashioned.
Although it is harder to get subscription revenue for content on the Web than off-Web, profit margins for online advertising are higher, and ads can be more reliably targeted to the context of the content. (This last point is important, because it is the unique selling proposition for web advertising as opposed to advertising in other mediums.)
Opinions differ at even the most successful online venues whether charging a subscription fee for access to content makes sense, or not. (This is a debate that is almost as old as the Web, and yet to be fully resolved.)
For example, the Wall Street Journal does, but the New York Times does not charge for most access. The New York Times online site has a far greater revenue base from online advertising and certain pay-for-access premium services than the Wall Street Journal with its entirely subscription-based model. Probably either model can work. But at this point, the advertising model seems to be winning the race.
1.1.4. The Blogosphere
You probably read one or more blogs , at least from time to time. A blog, also called a weblog or web log, is a diary of entries, usually presented on the Web in reverse chronological order. You may even write your own blog. The subject matter of blogs varies wildly, from general rants and raves, to blogs about relationships, to blogs more-or-less devoted to specific technologies, such as my Googleplex Blog (when I don't get too carried away with tangents, my blog is about Google's technology, searching, and research on the Web).
If you think that blogs about a specific subject are an ideal (although narrow) venue for targeted advertising content, you are quite right. Unlike opinion sites that are basically online magazines, blogs are a specifically web phenomenon (sometimes collectively referred to as the blogosphere ). A variety of software mechanismssuch as the ability to automatically collect trackback links in a blog entry, meaning links to sites or blogs that discuss the original entrymake blogging an extremely effective and versatile mechanism for publishing content on the Web. Syndication built into most blog content management software such as MovableType or WordPress allows easy distribution of the content.
All is not perfect in paradise, though, and there are some problems with blogging as a vehicle for making money from your content. First, there are so many blogs. It's easy to create a blog using hosted services such as Google's Blogger or Six Apart Software 's community sites TypePad and LiveJournal. (Six Apart is the publisher of MovableType blogging software.)
But it's hard to stand out from the mass of blogs and generate notice and traffic. See Chapter 2 for some ideas about how to drive traffic to a blog and Chapter 10 for information about how to purchase traffic for a blog using Google's AdWords contextual advertising program.
Next, the fact that blogs are essentially unvetted and unedited makes some advertisers leery about placing ads on these sites. If you do expect to make money from advertising on your blog, it's a good idea to be careful with spelling, punctuation, and the overall presentation issues involved with writing.
Finally, most bloggers use hosted blogging services such as Blogger, so they don't have to worry about configuring or maintaining their own blogging software. Installing software like MovableType is tricky enough that Six Apart, the company that wrote the software, will get it going for you on your own web serverfor a fee.
But the problem with having a hosted blog is that generally it's not up to you to place advertising on it. If there is contextual advertising, the revenue may go to the blog host. So if you plan to make money from blogging content, you need to either set up your own blogging server software or work with a specialized web hosting organization that handles the technical end of things but still lets you profit from advertising.
1.1.5. Practical Information: Content Sites and Niches
The O'Reilly site (http://www.oreilly.com) provides a great deal of practical information, such as code from the O'Reilly books. O'Reilly is also a source of (usually) well-informed opinions, mostly about topics related to technology: for example, the O'Reilly author blogs, articles, and other quality content.
Many people turn to the Web as their first line of approach for finding information: about technology, relationships, travel destinations, and much more. These content niches are probably the most dependable road to advertising riches on the Web.
Niches don't necessarily have to be big niches. For example, my site Mechanista , http://www.mechanista.com, features antique machinery such as typewriters and adding machines. Mechanista makes slow but steady AdSense revenue (from companies selling things like typewriter ribbons).
Don't forget the old saw that it's better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond. Sites that feature a niche that is of interest only to a small group of people (but very interesting to those people) are likely to achieve high search engine rankings for the relevant terms, draw traffic through the search engines, and become well known among aficionados of the niche.
If you are the publisher of this kind of niche site, you may not get rich off contextual advertising (you simply cannot draw the eyeballs necessary for getting rich), but you are likely to make a nice revenue return in relation to the effort involved.
1.1.6. E-Commerce Sites
Many of the most successful web businesses make their money as e-commerce sites : by selling goods or services. Advertising on these sites is a by-product (you might say, a product by-product). To name just a few examples:
The only thing these sites really have in common is that they make money by selling something and that they draw traffic (in some cases, such as eBay and Amazon, lots and lots of traffic).
Making money from advertising is not really the business of this kind of site. These sites are big businesses and are likely to be advertisers on other sites themselves. In fact, if you work on behalf of a large e-commerce site, you may be interested in using the AdWords APIs to create custom advertising applications as explained in Part IV of this book.
Still, it's natural to look for additional revenue sources, and many e-commerce sites do sell advertising, although they all try toor should try totake care not to let the advertising interfere with their primary goalselling products or services onlineor with their brand. For example, you can buy placement for a book or other product on Amazon. These ads show up as similar items when you are checking out (or considering a purchase). It works pretty similarly on eBay. You can purchase contextual advertising on eBay, but only for your products or "store" on eBay itself.
E-commerce sites besides Amazon and eBay may sell ads based on impressions (also called CPM, or Cost Per Thousand, advertising) such as banners used for branding purposes. They are very unlikely to sell ads on a pay-for-click basis (also called CPC, which stands for Cost Per Click) because they want to keep traffic on their sites. Even CPM ads intended for branding purposes will be scrutinized carefully to make sure that the branding message is in keeping with the goal of the e-commerce site.
1.1.7. Great Communities
From its very earliest beginnings, the Web has largely been about community. From a practical standpoint, involving a worthwhile community is a great way to create content. You don't need to create the content yourself: your users do, for example by contributing to discussion threads or by making syndication feeds available.
Site owners can use community to leverage their content and to create sites that are valuable to users because of the involvement of the community.
Community has made eBay great: essentially all the content comes from users of the eBay auction system. Amazon makes extensive use of community to fill out its content with reviews of books and other products.
Even if your site is essentially not a community site, you can use contributions from visitors to extend and round out your own content. Successful examples include comments on blogs and reader reviews on a site. Another idea for obtaining content that some webmasters have used successfully is to run contests ("Best story in pictures and words about a diving trip" for a scuba diving site is one example).
Mechanisms you can use to build community on a site include providing:
You probably wouldn't want to program an application that enabled much of this community functionality from the ground up, but the fact is that your web host may provide this software for free, versions may be available from the open source community that are also free, or you may be able to inexpensively outsource the application.