Most successful website ideas

tips on building a successful website and elements of a successful website and how to build a successful website
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ErrolFord,France,Professional
Published Date:03-08-2017
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Creating Successful Websites “Build it and they will come” is a wonderful line in the movies. Too bad it’s usually not quite so easy in real life True, good web content is occasionally—not always—dis- covered surprisingly quickly. More often, it requires a great deal of disciplined work to draw traffic to a website, no matter how good the content of the site is. And what is a good site and good web content, anyhow? “Good” does not mean a site with a halo The way I use the word good in this chapter is perhaps self-referential: a site, and its content, are good if the site and its content draws traffic (or can draw traffic when suitably promoted). The topic is important because having good content is the single most important de- terminant in where a site stands in search rankings and whether the site draws traffic. A site that draws traffic is a potential money maker, or can help you fulfill your business goals even if these don’t include direct revenue creation. Obviously, other factors besides content do come into play in determining search rankings, but there is no substitute for quality content. Having well-formed and properly tagged content on a site is nice, but it’s not nearly as important as the site content itself. Keeping content fresh and making sure there are good links into your site help—but nothing beats good content. Inbound links, explained in Chapter 4, are at the heart of Google’s PageRank system. But the rationale for making these links important is that they are an “objective” way of discovering, and ranking, good content. So let’s take a closer look at how web content can be categorized. If your site has a great deal of traffic, then the site’s traffic is broad. Google itself is a prime example of a broad-traffic site; people use Google to search for a myriad of different things. But narrow, or focused, traffic can be more useful to advertisers than broad, unfocused traffic. For example, a site discussing complex ophthalmological 3 conditions might be very successful with targeted advertising even if it only draws a few hundred users a day. Google’s traffic becomes more focused, and less broad, when a keyword search is initiated. All the targeting in the world won’t help unless you get some eyeballs. As I’ve suggested, to make money with your website content, it’s a necessary (but not sufficient) condition that you have good content—either broad or targeted at a specific niche. Content can mean information, but it also can mean other things—for example, software applications or jokes. From a technical viewpoint, there are some issues with setting up a content website so that you can be flexible as you go along. Flexibility is good—to make money with advertising, you need to do a great deal of tweaking. I’ll explain how to set up sites so that you can easily modify advertising as you go along without having to rewrite your entire site. The Taxonomy of Success There’s a great deal of variation in good—successful—content websites. 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 site is humorous and makes visitors laugh. • The site provides a useful free service. • The site is an online magazine or newspaper. • The site provides opinions in the form of a blog or blogs. • The site provides practical information. • The site sells a popular product or service. • The site services a community and provides communication tools for that community. The only thing these kinds of sites have in common—and there are undoubtedly other ways successful sites can be categorized—is that they draw traffic (either focused or broad). Therefore, they are “good” sites, using my self-referential definition, and are excellent venues for web advertising. In short, they use web content to make money— and making money with your website content is the topic of the first part of this book. Even if you don’t care about making money from content on your website—perhaps because you are an online retailer with the primary goal of increasing prospects rather than selling ad space—the issues are the same: you need good content to attract the search rankings (and therefore the traffic) that you desire. 4 Chapter 1: Creating Successful Websites 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 you know it when you see it. The section “How Much Content Is Enough?” on page 17 provides information about the mechanics of content creation—in other words, how many pages of content do you need, how frequently should it be updated, and so on. Entertainment Obviously, entertainment is huge on the Web. Many of us spend too much time surfing, and sites primarily aimed at entertainment can be great traffic draws. The best enter- tainment destinations typically involve community participation (see “The Power of Community” on page 29). Other common properties of good entertainment sites is that they involve humor, and even though entertainment is the primary thrust of the site, often there is an important educational or communicative component as well. YouTube, owned by Google and shown in Figure 1-1, is a good example of a broad site that combines entertainment with other forms of communication. Many people visit YouTube simply for its entertainment value. In addition, it’s not uncommon to find software training material posted as YouTube videos and other kinds of material that are not necessarily entertaining (although they may be edifying). Some successful entertainment web content sites fill relatively smaller niches. For ex- ample, CollegeHumor, shown in Figure 1-2, is at the time of this writing the top search result in Google for the term “humor.” CollegeHumor hosts content of a type and tone that you’d expect considering its target demographic, and it’s very successful in its role as a niche entertainment site. There’s a final category of entertainment site that tends to show specific content based on a current trend or news item. I hesitate to give specific examples in this category because these sites, which are mostly parodies or humorous in some other way, 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. Today everyone is bombarded with content in a variety of mediums. Things come and go quickly. For the most part, topical humor sites that are static, meaning that the content doesn’t change, publish content that can be expected to fade from public interest—which 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. The Taxonomy of Success 5Figure 1-1. YouTube lets users share videos and has become an immensely popular destination site Useful Free Services and Software TinyURL provides a practical and very useful (but simple) service: it allows you to convert long, unwieldy URLs—for example, like those you often see on Amazon.com when you select an inventory item—into 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 (Do- main 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 main- taining the URL conversion service. 6 Chapter 1: Creating Successful Websites Figure 1-2. CollegeHumor features content that interests its target audience, which is, well, college kids, mostly male 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 tech- nology can draw a great deal of traffic. For example, if you want to learn about RSS and Atom syndication software—tools for reading and writing feeds—and to download this software (and find easy one-stop links The Taxonomy of Success 7 for the location of the download sites), a good site to visit is the RSS Compendium. Because of their usefulness, one-stop technology sites such as the 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, bear 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 website.) This makes it better for the purpose of generating content revenue than a site that merely publishes information about soft- ware with download links. The difference I’ve described is between software that runs on the Web and software that you download from the Web in order to run locally. With a download link, once the user downloads the software, there is probably going to be no more interest in the web content. Magazines and Newspapers The business of Salon.com, shown in Figure 1-3, is to provide informed editorial con- tent. This business is profitable because of the advertising that appears on the Salon site. The business model of Salon, and other online magazines such as Slate, is pretty much like that of a brick-and-mortar newspaper or magazine: subsidize the distribution of articles and editorials, and make revenue with sponsored ads. This works fairly well on the Web, even though it is essentially old fashioned. While it is harder to get subscription revenue on the Web than off-web for content, 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 about whether charging a subscription fee for access to content makes sense differ at even the most successful online venues. This is a debate that is almost as old as the Web, and yet to be fully resolved. For example, as of this writing, 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. If you include the New York Times-owned About.com in the comparison, the New York Times is probably making more money than the Journal. 8 Chapter 1: Creating Successful Websites Figure 1-3. Salon presents topical and interesting articles in the same general fashion as a hardcopy magazine There’s evidence that both subscription and advertising newspaper and magazine models can work on the Web. But at this point, the advertising model seems to be winning the race. 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 chro- nological 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 subjects, such as my photography blog. If you think that a blog about a specific subject is 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 mechanisms—such as the ability to automatically collect trackback links in a blog entry, meaning links to sites or blogs that discuss the original entry—make blogging an extremely effective and versatile mechanism for publishing content on the Web. Syndication built into most blog The Taxonomy of Success 9 content management software—such as Movable Type 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 Movable Type 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 of 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 soft- ware like Movable Type is tricky enough that Six Apart, the company that wrote the software, will get it going for you on your own web server—for a fee. But a problem with having a hosted blog may be that it’s not up to you to place adver- tising on it—if there is contextual advertising, the revenue may go to the blog host. You should check with specific blog hosts and blog hosting software to determine the rules. 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. The problem of losing control of the revenue potential of hosted sites can be present in contexts other than blogging. For example, many smaller e-commerce websites outsource order processing and shopping cart functionality. This often makes practical sense, but it may mean that these pages are no longer available for advertising—or that the ad- vertising and profits are controlled by the host rather than the site creator. Practical Information: Content Sites and Niches The O’Reilly site 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. 10 Chapter 1: Creating Successful WebsitesMany 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. The smaller the niche, the more targeted you can be. For example, quality content aimed at answering questions about specific medical conditions is likely to be in high demand, even if the population with the condition in question isn’t huge. Good content positioned in a very narrow niche can be very profitable indeed—but you need to make sure that there are advertisers willing to pay for target words related to the niche. A good technique for quickly assessing what advertisers are willing to pay for specific keywords is to use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool, explained in Chapter 10. (You don’t need to actually place an ad to use this tool for research purposes.) 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 only of interest 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. See Chapters 2 and 3 for more information about drawing traffic and search engine rankings. If you are the publisher of this kind of niche site, you are likely to make a nice revenue return in relation to the effort involved. 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: • Amazon.com is the department store of the Web, selling either on its own account or for affiliates everything you can imagine. • eBay is the world’s greatest flea market and auction community, with a great busi- ness model because it doesn’t need to take an inventory position in the items sold on its site. • ETrade, Schwab, and other online trading and investing sites are among the great- est revenue generators on the Web. • Gambling sites successfully part players from their funds. The only things these sites really have in common are they make money by selling something that people want and they draw traffic (in some cases, such as eBay and Amazon, lots and lots of traffic). The Taxonomy of Success 11 www.itbooksh Making money from advertising is not the primary business of this kind of site. Still, it’s natural to look for additional revenue sources, and many e-commerce sites do sell advertising, although they all try (or should try) not to let the advertising interfere with their primary goal—selling products or services online—or with their brand. For ex- ample, you can buy ad 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). This 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. These sites are very unlikely to sell ads on a pay-per-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 ensure that the branding message is in line with the goal of the e-commerce site. Tools for Measuring Popularity The metrics of website traffic is a huge topic by itself, with a number of books just about web metrics, and quite a bit of software designed simply to help webmasters gather and understand the metrics of their sites. You’ll find more information about this sub- ject in Chapter 13, but for now, to get started, it’s important to learn how to quickly get a feel for a site’s popularity. Website metrics is a very important topic because to optimize your site you need to have baseline information as well as feedback so that you can understand whether changes improve site traffic or not—and also which elements in your site draw traffic. This topic is also important because the fees you can expect to get from advertisers largely depend on the metrics of your site. Of course, your web server’s logs contain a great deal of traffic information that can provide you with useful metrics. But, no doubt, the best metric of all is money in your pocket from goods and services sold on your site and from fees paid by advertisers—through the AdSense program or some other mechanism—for publication on your site. Using the Google Toolbar The Google Toolbar can be installed in the Internet Explorer web browser. Go to http: //toolbar.google.com/ to download the toolbar. 12 Chapter 1: Creating Successful Websites With the Google Toolbar in place, a button (shown at the very top in Figure 1-4) that can optionally be added to the Toolbar will give an indication of the PageRank, on a 0 to 10 scale, of a web page that is open in your browser. PageRank is a pretty good proxy for popularity, and as you might expect of an indicator created by Google, the Google home page is a perfect 10. Figure 1-4. When you move your mouse over the PageRank button in the Google Toolbar, the relative popularity of the open web page is indicated on a scale from 0 to 10 The PageRank indication given by the Google Toolbar is not a precise tool. For one thing, the 0 to 10 scale is a different metric from the PageRank used in Google’s internal calculations. But as a quick and easy way to gauge PageRank, and therefore popularity, it is hard to beat this widget. Let the Google Search Engine Be Your Guide Since Google is the most popular of all search engines, why not use the search tools provided by Google itself to get a relative feel for the popularity of websites? I’d suggest a couple of ways to go about this. The point here is to regularly use the Google search engine on a variety of sites to get a feeling for how search rankings correspond to traffic. Thelink: operator, when used in a Google search query, returns the pages that link to the specified URL (website address). For example, link:www.wikipedia.org returns all the pages that link to Wikipedia.org, as you can see in Figure 1-5. While it should be noted that many inbound links will in fact be internal site links— also called cross links—quantifying the pages that link to a given site is an easy way to get a sense of Google’s assessment of a site’s popularity and, therefore, its traffic. (For more about the various kinds of linking, see Chapter 4.) An alternative approach involves a bit of keyword analysis. You’ll need to understand what the most common keywords used to search for the site you are interested in are. Tools for Measuring Popularity 13 Figure 1-5. Checking inbound links, like those shown here to Wikipedia, helps show the popularity of a site This kind of keyword analysis, of course, is something you should do in any case if you are interested in promoting a site. As a simple example, if you were trying to find out how a site with a directory of dentists fared in search rankings, you could enter the word dentist in Google search and see where the site is returned in the results. Armed with the search terms, you can run searches yourself. Over time, this will disclose whether a given site is moving up or down in the search rankings, and, as a snapshot, should give you an idea of whether a site is popular at all. A site should be in the top 30 search return results (the first three pages) to be considered a successful search result for a given term. In other words, you need to be on the first three pages to have a shot at getting decent traffic from a search engine. 14 Chapter 1: Creating Successful WebsitesFinding Popularity with Alexa I’ve already mentioned Google as an example of a site with broad traffic. There are, of course, many others. If you are curious, you can go to Alexa, which monitors how much traffic a site gets and the relative increase (or decrease) in site popularity. Alexa is owned by Amazon.com. On the Alexa site, click on the Top Sites tab to see an ordered list of the most highly trafficked sites, updated daily. The most trafficked sites (at the time of this writing) according to Alexa are shown in Figure 1-6. Figure 1-6. You can find the current most popular websites using Alexa Alexa’s Movers and Shakers, shown in Figure 1-7, is also interesting. This snapshot of the “right here and now” Web is useful for seeing if there are any web-wide trends in action—and also for learning about the kinds of exogenous events that move large- scale websites up and down the chutes and ladders of popularity. Tools for Measuring Popularity 15 Figure 1-7. Alexa’s Movers and Shakers can help with your education about what moves sites up and down the popularity ladder While it is probably unrealistic to expect that you or I will be piloting sites that are at the top of Alexa’s list, it is worth spending time learning about popularity on the Web if you want to build successful sites. Alexa provides the tools you can use to see for yourself what is trafficked and what is gaining or losing among top-ranked sites. You can also use Alexa to see traffic statistics for sites that are not in the top 500. For almost any site that has been around a while, Alexa will give you an idea of traffic statistics and whether it is gaining or losing traffic. Alexa lets you enter descriptive information about your website, which others can see if they check your site traffic using Alexa. You can also make sure that Alexa provides a snapshot of your home page along with its statistics. Since this service is free, it is certainly worth entering a site description. Alexa works by collating results from users throughout the Web who have installed the special Alexa Toolbar. (If you’d like, you too can install the Alexa Toolbar and help with popularity statistics.) There’s some question about the statistical validity of Alexa for less trafficked sites because of this method of gathering data—that is, Alexa’s results are probably skewed toward users who are already web savvy and heavy users. 16 Chapter 1: Creating Successful Websites Just as the Google Toolbar can provide you with information about the popularity of sites as you surf the Web, the Alexa Toolbar can give you helpful data about the relative popularity of sites. The Alexa Toolbar is particularly helpful in finding and comparing similar sites. Most likely, Alexa’s results are not very meaningful for sites that are ranked below 100,000 in popularity (very roughly, with fewer than 10,000 visitors per week). The Alexa ranking of 100,000 or lower is also a great divide: if your site is in the top 100,000, you have content that many advertisers will consider worthwhile. Being in the top Alexa results is a pretty good goal for your website or sites. You can make real money from a top 100,000 site; it is an ambitious goal, but attainable. Ranking.com provides a popularity ranking service comparable to Alexa’s. How Much Content Is Enough? Suppose you create 1 web page every 100 days that generates 100 in ad revenue. Alternatively, you create 1 page per day for 100 days. Each page generates 1 in ad revenue. Either way, you end up with 100 at the end of 100 days. The point is that there are different ways to go about deciding how much content to create—it significantly depends on the quality of the content. A single content page might make sense if it contained a valuable application like TinyURL (see “Useful Free Services and Software” on page 6). If your pages are low-value content, you will need a great many of them to make significant revenue from advertising. Between the two extremes—a single page of valuable content and many pages of low- value content—lies a happy medium that will work for most content-based sites by creating enough critical mass to draw both traffic and advertisers. If you are just starting out, this happy medium is a goal to which you can reasonably aspire. Here’s what you need, at a minimum, to have a site drawing respectable numbers at the end of one year: • 100 pages of quality content “in the can” to start with • On average, one new page of quality content every day for a year (each page con- taining about 300 words) How Much Content Is Enough? 17Presenting Content Content is king. Content is certainly king if your business model is to publish content on the Web and make money from advertising with traffic drawn by the content. Your first rule should be: don’t “dis” the king. In other words, don’t do anything to distract from the content, make it harder for surfers to find content they need, or make the graphics that frame the content too jazzy. In particular, if the graphics seem too important, they will distract from the content. A particularly annoying sin on content-based websites is the use of an animated splash page (such as Flash) to open the site. If you do use an animation to open your site, users should easily be able to bypass it if they desire. At the same time, you should work to keep unnecessary navigation down. In other words, don’t make people click an extra link to get to a destination (unless the extra click is a well-thought-out part of the user experience). Page and Site Design These rules of content presentation can be positive (rather than negative): It should be obvious that the purpose of the site is to clearly present content Choose a name for the site, and titles and headers for the pages, that make it abun- dantly clear that the purpose of the site is to present content, and (as a general matter) what that content is. The design of the site should serve the purpose of presenting content Site design should be intended to facilitate navigation and frame the content— nothing more and nothing less. Specific content items and subject areas should be easy to find Provide multiple mechanisms for finding things: index pages, search boxes, site maps, subject areas, and so on. Type should be legible Be careful to choose a readable font, in a large enough size, and background and foreground color combinations that are easy on the eyes. It’s hard to go wrong with black type on a white background. The reverse—white on black—is hard on the eyes, and some combinations (for example, dark blue on lighter blue) are essentially unreadable. Keep graphics simple For example, avoid animations and other splashy images. As it happens, following the rules of content presentation I’ve outlined will serve you well with search engine placement (see Chapter 4). But that’s not the point of these suggestions here. The point is usefulness and transparency to site users. If viable content is presented in an accessible fashion, then indeed “they will come.” 18 Chapter 1: Creating Successful Websites If you are targeting your content specifically for Google’s AdSense program (or a com- petitive contextual engine), you should also bear in mind the following: • AdSense can’t interpret images (except using captions, the value ofalt attributed in theimg tag, the name of the image file, and surrounding text), so keep images to a minimum. • You are likely to get more relevant ads if you keep each page to a single subject (and move tangential subject matters to different pages). • Key concepts, words, and phrases should be clear by glancing at a page. (See Chapter 3 for information about how to use these keywords and phrases to opti- mize your pages for AdSense, Google, and other search engines.) Page Size How much content should go on each site page? Like Goldilocks and the three bears, the answer is not too much and not too little—just the right amount of content. It’s in the interest of the site publisher to keep pages short, because the same amount of content spread over shorter pages makes for more pages. And more pages on a site means more places for advertising, which in theory might mean more revenue. In addition, more pages may mean more page views, implying better metrics to adver- tisers who don’t look too carefully. However, if you break an article up into many short pages that a user has to click through, users will find it irritating—and vote with their time by frequenting the site less often. For an example of a site that has chosen to maximize pages it can place ads on at the cost of potentially alienating readers by dividing articles up into many small pages that must be clicked through, see The Street.com. The happy medium is to be natural about page length. The natural length for a content page is the content that will reasonably fit into a maximized browser window without having to scroll. Obviously this is a rough, rather than a precise, guideline, as different browsers on different systems will show different size pages. Don’t gratuitously break an article into multiple pages unless the article really is longer than a few browser-sized pages. Also, don’t break an article (even if it is long) unless there are natural breaks in the content. Anytime there is a new Level 1 header in an article, it’s a good sign that you could break to a new content page without the break feeling forced. Presenting Content 19 A related issue is to be careful about the width of your content pages. People will be looking at your web pages using a variety of hardware, operating systems, and browsers—the most important variable being the monitor size. You don’t want your readers to have to scroll to the right because part of a content web page is off the screen. This is very bad form and may also obscure content advertising if it is positioned along the right border of the page. The answer is to design pages for lowest common denominator displays. In practice, content pages should be no wider than 800 pixels. Pages 800 pixels wide (or less) should display without scrolling on most (although not all) computers—some displays are still only 640 pixels wide. (For more on this, see “Positioning Ads” on page 21.) In other parts of the world, and depending on the display devices used by your target audience, you may want to consider going even smaller than these sizes. Images, Video, and Podcasting As previously noted, visual (and audio) content cannot be as readily indexed by search engines as straight text. That said, a picture is worth a thousand words, and there’s no arguing with the popularity of podcasts and video sites like YouTube. So, it’s a trade- off. Content-based websites need some content in media that is splashier than plain text, like the aforementioned images, video, and podcasting. On the other hand, this kind of content doesn’t necessarily help search rankings, and may not provide a hosting environment for advertisement within the media that is available to any but the largest content providers. Keeping Content Fresh Have you ever tried to keep fresh-caught fish fresh? It isn’t easy. Neither is keeping site content fresh. But sites, and their content, need to stay fresh. It’s not a big deal to change the overall look of a site by changing the graphic used as a navigation bar every month or so—that is, if you’ve set the site up with server-side includes, so that editing one file changes the site globally. But keeping content fresh is a trickier issue. Since search engines appreciate new content, some sites go to great lengths to provide content that appears new—for example, by displaying syndication feeds on the site’s home page. This may help with search engines (I have more to say on this point in Chapter 3), but it doesn’t do much at all for your primary audience—real people. Quality content sites need to strike a balance. You need to have a core of worthwhile reference material that doesn’t change much. You also need to keep content sites fresh. As you plan your successful site, you should consider what strategy you will use to keep people coming back for the latest and greatest. For example, do you plan to keep up with the latest events in a technology niche, such as a programming language? Will you feature articles about current cultural events (which are constantly changing by defi- nition)? Or will your site present interesting blogs with frequently added entries? 20 Chapter 1: Creating Successful WebsitesPositioning Ads Studies have shown that ad positioning is crucial to content revenue generation. Posi- tioning means the physical position of an ad on a web page, the size of the ad, and also which page(s) on a site carry an ad. As I explain in Chapter 8, when using a program like Google’s AdSense, you’ll want to use AdSense to generate code that displays ads sized to your site, and also in colors that work with your site. Although there are some general guidelines for what works best with advertising po- sitioning, it is far more art than science. You should expect to spend a fair amount of time tweaking ad position to see what works best—another good reason for having a site mechanism in place that allows you to change ad settings globally by editing one include file. Tweaking ads is good for another reason: you don’t want ad fatigue to set in. Ad fatigue is a term used by webmasters to describe the phenomenon in which visitors to your site are so used to the ad display on your site that they ignore it. Experimenting with new ad positioning (and colors) is a good way to combat that “same old, same old” feeling—and avoid ad fatigue. Most studies show that ads positioned above the fold do better than ads lower on a page. Above the fold means visible without scrolling. The smaller the monitor, and the lower its resolution, the less screen real estate there is above the fold. In other words, a monitor running at 640 × 480 pixels screen resolution has a lot less available real estate above the fold than a monitor running at 800 × 600, which in turn has much less area above the fold than a monitor running at higher resolution. If you want the maximum eyeballs—and you should, because more eyeballs means more advertising revenue—you should try to place ads so that they will be above the fold on lower resolution monitors. It certainly makes sense to target 800 × 600 monitor resolution, because this is widely in use. Don’t finalize your ad positioning (and website and page design) without checking it out on an 800 × 600 monitor. Some research has shown that vertical ad blocks—the kind Google calls skyscrapers— work better than horizontal ads. However, from the viewpoint of basic geometry, it is easier to fit a horizontal ad block above the fold than a vertical skyscraper—the lower part of the skyscraper is likely to be below the fold. If you decide to go with vertical ad blocks, make sure they are positioned as high as possible, and that at least one ad (assuming the skyscraper contains multiple contextual ads) is positioned above the fold. One other major positioning issue is context. From the viewpoint of a content publisher, you’d like to position ads so that they are not only contextually relevant, but also so that they lead to a high click-through rate. Presenting Content 21 www.itbooksh With programs like Google’s AdSense, context is important because you want a high click-through rate. With affiliate advertising, context is even more important because you don’t make any money without a conver- sion, which means turning someone into a customer. You may, perhaps, care less about context when you are paid by the impression—in that case, all you really care about is that the ad gets seen on your site. Google’s AdSense attempts to place only contextually relevant ads. With some notable lapses, AdSense is pretty successful at this. In any case, you can’t exercise a great deal of control over the ads that AdSense displays on your site—you have to trust that Google gets this right. You can forbid your competitor’s ads from appearing on your site by using the AdSense option that allows you to ban specific IP addresses. The ability to ban IP addresses can be used to a limited degree to also keep out advertisers you find offensive. For example, an animal rights information site might want to ban ads from prominent furriers. There are some important aspects of context that you can control, although there is no reliable analytic research about what works best. Some sites use graphics and posi- tioning to make contextual ads blend in with the site and appear almost part of the editorial content. Other sites feel that keeping the appearance of editorial integrity is vitally important, and use color and position to instantly indicate that the ads are sep- arate from the body of the content. Overloading pages with ads generally does not work because viewers tend to ignore pages that have too many ads. If you’re working with multiple ad programs and kinds of ads to generate a revenue stream, you can make an important contribution to ad context by deciding what kinds of ads should go with what content. For example, it might make sense to advertise books on Amazon on a page of book reviews. There’s also a school of thought that believes ads should only be placed on boring pages—for example, registration pages, login pages, resource pages, and exit pages. (An exit page is a page designed to launch a visitor onward following a visit—for ex- ample, an order confirmation.) One reason for placing click-through ads on resource and exit pages is that visitors will be leaving your site from these pages anyhow. You won’t be losing traffic by providing click-through opportunities. The more general logic for placing ads only on boring pages is that it gives the rest of your site a clean, inviting, ad-free look—and that visitors are more likely to click on ads in the context of boredom than in the context of exciting content. Whatever strategy you decide to try, if you will be varying ad programs depending on context, you should attempt to implement this programmatically rather than by man- ually adding and deleting advertising code from individual HTML pages. 22 Chapter 1: Creating Successful Websites