Thursday, January 25, 2007

Internet Real Estate

The reason people visit any site on the world wide web is for content. They're looking for entertainment, information, or both.

Creating sticky Internet real estate is hard. You must have an idea of what people want, and have the talent to give it to them. But it doesn't end there.

For sites to be visited frequently, you have to keep up a steady supply of new content. That's the reason most blogs fail. That's the reason most author websites get updated once a year. Coming up with new, interesting, and different information and entertainment on a regular basis makes most authors dizzy.

But don't worry; you can work around this dilemma. If you look closely at successful Internet sites, you'll see there are some secrets to providing regular new content.

1. Aggregate the content. The web has become so overwhelmingly huge, you can't possibly look at everything you find interesting. Neither can anyone else. This is a good thing, because once you find something interesting, you can share it.

Providing links to interesting sites, excerpts from interesting sites, or even media form interesting sites, has become easier than ever. You can share things with your fans that you didn't have to create yourself, because it already exists on the net.

This saves you time, and can bring fans back day after day, to see what you've compiled.

2. Help from friends. No one said your site had to be a solo effort. The multi-author blog means less individual posts for you, but higher overall traffic because each author has her own fan base.

You can also interview people, which creates content. Or have guest bloggers. When a stranger is on your blog, he'll point people in your direction. Some of those people will like what they see and come back on their own.

3. Let the surfers do the work. When I came up with a workable concept for Vent Club I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. (And thanks to author Melanie Lynne Hauser for her input and brainstorming on that idea.) The problem was, I don't have the time to devote to another blog.

So I set it up in a way where I don't need to devote much time to it. The visitors are the bloggers. They're the ones who write the posts, not me. All I do is make sure the queue keeps going, which is only a minute or two of work every day.

If you host a message board or a forum, you can keep people coming back to your site with minimal effort on your part. Plus, when people have input in something, they develop a sense of ownership and community, which accounts for longer surfing times and multiple daily visits.

4. Analyzing feedback. I'm guessing you use or a similar program to see where your visitors are coming from, what they look at, and how long they stay. This information should be used for more than just ego stroking. If you have pages on your site that aren't sticky (few visits, short views) then you need to replace them with something better. That's like buying land and not developing it.

You should also listen to personal feedback in the form of email, messages, and comments. People will tell you what they like, and they're even more anxious to tell you what they don't like. Listen to their comments. It's a poor performer who ignores his audience. Make sure your audience is heard.

5. Size matters. Every page on your website has the potential to last forever. Google and the other search engines crawl these pages, looking for content. The bigger you are, the more roads that lead to you. I still get hits on pages I wrote years ago, because people are finding them. The more hits, the better.

That's why it's also a good idea to exchange links with similar sites. First, because it leads people to you, and second because the more links you have going in/coming out, the higher you're ranked on the search engines. The first few dozen links will be the result of you emailing site owners, asking to trade. But when you get big enough, you'll have people asking to link to you.

6. Being innovative. Don't be afraid to try something new or different. Innovation is what spearheads Internet success, not copying what was done last week. Experiment. Get crazy. Analyze what works on you, then try to make that work for other people on your site. If it flops, you can always delete it with no residual effects. In this age of uber technology, you're only limited by your imagination. Think big.