Since 1999 I have been an Internet entrepreneur, and a full time Internet entrepreneur since 2005. Perhaps I had some kind of head start when the blogging phenomenon started to explode, with IPWatchdog.com having been continuously on the Internet since 1999. I had been through so many different website designs, most of which were static pages requiring any change to be made in literally hundreds of places. There had to be a better way, right? As I started to become acquainted with blogging it became readily apparent that many of the popular blogging platforms could be used as content management systems that would support a website, making it easy to grow a website, integrate a blog and facilitate the propagation of changes across your entire website with just a few changes in a couple files. That being the case there is no reason why those who write cannot have hundreds or even thousands of webpages to make up a website. Of course, you don’t get there instantly, but a little today and a little tomorrow and before you know it you have many hundreds of pages, at least if you count category pages, tag pages and content pages.
As IPWatchdog.com has been growing and our traffic continues to grow and now certain recognition is being bestowed upon me and us (e.g., making the ABA Top 100 and getting sued by InventHelp), more and more people are asking me about how to get started writing, how to build a website and how I do it. While I cannot claim to have the wisdom to turn everyone into Super Blogger or Blogger Extraordinaire, I do think I might be able to provide some insights and perhaps some inspiration. So with that being said, moving from time to time I will write about blogging, the Internet, e-Business and putting your head down and moving forward.
I still remember when I was a Sophomore at Rutgers University and I wondered if I really had what it took to be an electrical engineer. I went to see Dr. Richard Mammone, who was my Professor for Electrical Engineering Principles 1. He told me that 90% of being an engineer was determination and 10% was talent. I remember him saying “if you want to be an electrical engineer, you can become one.” That has always kept with me and to some extent may explain my stubbornness. There is no doubt a genetic component as well, but I have always been determined, and I think determination, perseverance and dedication can get you to where you want to be in life. Of course, a little tutoring and guidance never hurts either.
So with that, allow me to offer somewhat of a tutorial for would-be bloggers and others who might be interested in using the Internet to assist them in achieving their business dreams.
There are essentially five distinct business models currently operating on the Web. Most successful websites do not follow any single business model, but incorporate aspects of each. These models are:
1. Internet presence model – A pure Internet presence model involves no direct sales or advertising but is used by a business to raise customer awareness of the name and products of the Web site operator and drive consumers to a brick and mortar store. This is frequently used by manufacturers who are not interested in direct sales but rather point you to a retailer or wholesaler where you can obtain the product. Another example of slightly different implementation might be a law firm website that provides you basic information about the law firm and the professionals that work for the firm. Essentially, with an Internet presence model your website is a 24/7 advertisement and you will likely direct people to your website to learn more about your business, products or services.
2. Advertiser supported or sponsored model – Under a purse advertiser supported model nothing is for sale, content is provided for free, and advertising on the site is the source of all revenue. Many newspapers and online magazines employ this model. Frequently you will also see pure advertisement websites use a variation of this as well. For example, if you notice that a domain name has been abandoned there is likely some amount of traffic that will continue to the site as a result of the former owners initiatives. Some will buy up those websites and then simply place Google advertising or other similar advertising on the site in hopes of making money when people click on the ads.
3. Fee based or subscription model – Under this model users are charged a fee before accessing content. The fee based or subscription model is the least popular and least effective on the Web, although there are some high profile examples of successful application, with success being defined loosely. Lets say that a few high profile implementations that must be successful enough to continue to warrant walling off access and keeping the information exclusive for subscribers. One such example is the Wall Street Journal, but even the Journal only walls off articles for a brief period of time (about 1 day) before it is available for free to everyone. This model is not successful by and large, and should not be implemented by anyone who seriously wants to grow a website because most web users are not interested in paying to access information. Years ago I had over 2,500 people on my newsletter list and was doing an extremely detailed weekly newsletter where I summarized every intellectual property (patent, copyright, trademark) decision from every court in the United States. It got to the point where it was so time consuming, and I wasn’t getting any credit at the schools I taught at for doing it, so I decided I had to either make money doing it or scale way back. I decided to try and charge $10 a month, and 9 people subscribed. It wasn’t worth doing any more, needless to say. Multiple people told me they would just get the information free from somewhere else. I knew that wasn’t true because I knew what else was available, but perceptions were (and still are) that people can get information for free anywhere, so they simply will not pay for information. Only those sites that have tremendous name recognition in the real world can even consider charging for online subscriptions online, at least for now. Perhaps as multiple news outlets go under (a real possibility) that will change in years to come, but with the rise of citizen journalists I wouldn’t count on it.
4. Efficiency or effective gains model – In this model a company uses the Web to decrease operating costs. Frequently this is used by companies who need to provide significant amounts of customer support, such as software or other high tech companies. You will see significant website resources used for Frequently Asked Questions, which are every growing, indexed and searchable. You will also see companies use online forums where end users can communicate with each other. A user has a problem and the community helps provide solutions, with a handful of moderators watching and then jumping in to assist as necessary.
5. Online storefront – Consumers buy products or services directly over the Web.
In reality, almost all websites employ multiple of these models, and particularly when they are creating an online community, which is frequently what bloggers and new-media types will try and do. I have always referred to this as the “build it and they will come” model, after the popular line often repeated in the movie Field of Dreams. Building an online storefront can be quite difficult, time consuming and expensive, at least if all you are going to do is sell products. But if you are writing original content, building a community and then have items to sell those that arrive now you have a multi-faceted strategy.
The likely success of any e-Business (and that includes the business of blogging) is evaluated by the amount of traffic a website will generate. Generally speaking, there are two important components of traffic: (1) the number of visitors that can be expected to be attracted to a site; and (2) the number of users that can be expected to return to the site over time. Traffic is the most critical factor for determining the potential success for a website. At present and for the foreseeable future, the most effective mechanism for attracting and retaining visitors is to develop a compelling online environment and to offer content for free. This is true regardless of the business model being employed. This is also true regardless of whether the website represents a new, small business enterprise or a Fortune 500 multinational corporation. Recently with the growth of blogging many businesses are trying to get in on the action, including large law firms. Even USPTO Director David Kappos started blogging in November 2009. It is a great way to communicate and engage those who you are trying to reach.
Most people that use the Web are surfing for information and are not inclined to provide personally identifying information in exchange for information, and most are simply annoyed by pop-up ads and interstitial ads that appear before you are allowed to proceed to the content. You will notice these by the “Skip this ad and go to the website” link typically found somewhere on the page. Does anyone watch them and wait the 15 or 20 seconds? I doubt it.
If free information is provided people begin to become comfortable with a trusted online source. This results in visitors becoming willing to return and purchase products and services. The phenomenon that best describes this is the car buying transaction. Many people dread the hard sell and will go out of their way to do all kinds of research without ever setting foot on a car lot because they do not want the hassle. This is true even though the best information can be obtained through a visit to the lot and a test drive. Websites want to be low key and laid back and resist the temptation to be like a car salesman. The model simply does not work on the Web. It turns people away. Most individuals return to trusted sources on the Web and do not engage in comparison shopping, or don’t comparison shop nearly as much as you would think. This is probably true because once you trust a source the guess work is removed. Given that the Internet is a faceless world, trust is paramount to success. If you alienate a customer on the Internet they will not give you a second chance.
What you want to do is figure out who your target audience is and provide that group of people everything they could need or want from a website. Most folks continually refer to only a handful of sites on the Internet on a repeated basis. You want to identify your target and then figure out what could they want and provide them as much of that as possible so you will make their short list of websites that they refer to frequently. Repeat visitors for websites, like for any business, are critically important for growth. People who come back and find your site useful are more likely to purchase products and services, and they are more likely to tell their friends. They are also more likely to link to you from their own website, which will reward you in the eyes of search engines.