In my many years as a website publisher and working with publishers, I’ve noticed a set of common traits that lead to success whether you’re building a blog, a content web site, an ecommerce site, or a Web 2.0 application.
While you can achieve success with some of these traits, if you can instill all of them you’re definitely headed to make money with your web project.
It’s not really that much about having the best unique idea, VC funding, a great design, or a kick ass team, although those things can help. It’s about possessing these ten common traits:
1. Passion for your topic
You don’t necessarily need to be the world’s foremost expert on the topic of your website, but if you have passion you can do what it takes. In order to spend time working on a web project every day and be in it for the long haul, you have to love or really enjoy the subject matter you’re dealing with. This is why people’s hobby sites often work out well, or you see a company like 37Signals who’s passion is maximizing time and simplifying their work, so naturally they succeed at building web applications that help people in their areas of passion.
2. Relentless networking
A successful web publisher often has a great feel and great connections in their industry. Being involved in conferences, having people sending you important news and advice, being able to get links from industry-specific sites, finding joint marketing partners, sharing resources, and getting feedback from your peers are all reasons it pays off to be a relentless networker when it comes to your website.
3. Focus on goals and prioritize
There are so many directions you can take a website it’s easy to get lost in features and communications that don’t really add money to the bottom line. Focusing on the goals that will really help you achieve success and making sure you’re working hardest on those goals is the key. As a web publisher I often foung myself doing the easy things like responding to emails, reading industry news, or doing minor content updates when really I could have been making more money by tackling some larger projects related to my site that would really drive revenue. It never seemed like a big deal at the time, but when I think back and realize I spent the majority of time working on things that didn’t matter much, I realize how much more successful some of my sites could have been.
4. Time and dedication
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to build a great website without working hard and spending time at it. It definitely IS possible to achieve success without killing yourself, but the majority of the time it can take a lot of long hours, or extra hours at home at night if it’s not your fulltime job to make a website a success. It’s also common for it to take a year or two before a site really starts going for a publisher. If you know you can’t find the time and dedication to really give it the effort, don’t bother starting your site.
5. Master Search Engine Marketing
For as much hype as getting great links is, getting the right blogs to write about you, or buying from the hot advertising sources, plain old natural search engine marketing is a huge key to success for most great web publishers. It would always amaze me to see that I had gotten prominent links, or a mentioning in an offline publication, but still the huge majority of my traffic came from search engines. It’s free, it really isn’t that complicated, and it’s bound to always be important even though search engines will evolve.
6. Attention to detail
The difference from a great site to a bad site isn’t always a big difference. Often it can be a small detail in implementation of a feature, a link that isn’t named well, a broken contact form, or some other small detail that can keep your website from being truly great and successful. If you’re not a detail-person, hire a friend for cheap to edit/test your website and help you realize the details are important.
7. Listening to users
Don’t do everything your users tell you, but they are your customers. You’d be surprised that people use your site in ways you might not expect, and often users can change around a site for the better by providing great feedback or choosing to use it a certain way. Riya launched as a facial recognition photo application, but the team soon noticed that the majority of their users were simply searching photos. This has led to a reorganization of the Riya site and business model. Is it the right move? Tough to say right now, but it’s what their users are doing on the site, why not cater to them?
8. Use of web analytics
Very little can tell you how to improve your website and make more money than a web analytics application. Getting into the habit of viewing your stats and working hard to get insights from them and work to improve them is a common trait of successful publishers. If you’re ever stuck on figuring out how to take your website to the next level of success, analyze your web analytics hard and you’ll notice things to improve that can make a major difference, if not tell you things you need to know to adapt what your site is and how it works.
9. Communication and writing
Whether it’s a blog, content site, or a web application, communicating well is important. Writing on your site should be good, communications with partners and customers must be good, and you must want to communicate with your audience. It’s the best way to earn their loyalty as well as help them use the site successfully.
10. Luck and timing
Sometimes there is a little dumb luck in making your website a success. Starting a site about the right topic at the right time is hard to predict, but it can achieve magic if it works out right. This usually means it helps to be ahead of the curve, but in some cases, it means taking an old idea and making it new and better, and just doing that at the right time can provide some luck and momentum that’s hard to recreate otherwise.