Thursday, June 30, 2005

Lesson #13 - Tuning a realtor website

In a comment to Lesson #12, Pat said, "I'm always amazed at the degree to which realtors are willing to buy a stock website with essentially no personalization at all." And this is true.

So what could a realtor do if he/she wants to create a great web site? As with the dental sites discussed in Lesson #9 - Creating a custom web site, the first thing I would do is a survey of the best realtor sites. I would pick the best features from them. That would be a great way to create a list of site ideas.

I would also put myself in the customer's shoes -- what things would really help a customer who is arriving at my site for the first time? I am not a realtor, nor am I looking for a new home, but here are some thoughts:
  1. I would assemble a list of tools that would help a home buyer. A list like this might be a good starting point: Web Guide: Real Estate: "Whether you're looking for your first home--or second, or third--or trying to unload while the market is still hot, these web resources can help answer your real estate questions."

  2. I would create a list of frequently asked questions that I am asked as a realtor. I would make the answers friendly, helpful and inviting.

  3. I might also created a highly-tuned guide, or a specialty FAQ, for my local area. For example, where in the local area are the areas/subdivisions to focus on for starter homes, new homes, investment homes, large homes, etc.? Where are the areas to avoid? Which areas have especially heavy or light traffic? Whatever. Answers to these questions could be especially helpful to people who are new to the area.

  4. I might create a blog where I tell little success stories, talk about local trends, discuss new developments, list especially good deals, etc.

  5. I might create little features like home-of-the-day/home-of-the-week. (The magazine called The Week has an especially interesting page like this every week (although they don't seem to echo it on their website, so you'll have to find a paper copy to see it).

  6. And so on...
In other words, I would give both local residents and newcomers a reason to visit my Web site. I might try to create the best realtor web site for my local area. I would also refer clients to specific areas of the site when appropriate.

A realtor site does not necessarily need to get high traffic to be effective. A realtor, generally, is actively working with a only handful of people at any given time. If the site is highly effective for that handful of people and makes their lives significantly easier/better during the process, then it is a great Web site. The clients who touch the website will have a better impression of the realtor, and that will translate into more return customers and more word-of-mouth referrals.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Lesson #12 - Where do visitors come from? Advertising.

Of all the ways to attract visitors to your web site, advertising may be the most interesting. The advantage of advertising is the fact that you can directly control it. Unlike resonance and (to a lesser extent) links, advertising is completely under your control.

Unfortunately, advertising may also be the least interesting because it can be expensive.

There are many, many cases, however, where the "expense" of advertising is acceptable, and that is what can make the use of advertising a key feature of your web strategy. If you have a web site that is making money, and if you can control your advertising costs precisely, you can ramp your traffic up quickly with an advertising campaign. For example, if you know that you make, on average, 20 cents in profit every time someone visits your site, and if you can attract a new visitor to your site for a dime through advertising, then you may be willing to advertise extensively. More on this approach in a moment.

One of the splashiest ad campaigns for a Web site in recent memory is the ad that ran in the last Super Bowl (see the ad here). If you go look at Alexa's traffic statistics for GoDaddy in the February 2005 timeframe, you can see the spike in traffic that came from the ad, along with the fact that the ad created a new traffic plateau for the site. Obviously ads can drive traffic to a web site.

There are a number of different ways to use ads with a web site, depending on the type of site:
  • If you are running a retail site, you use ads to attract visitors who you hope will buy things. The key here is to make sure that you can track the traffic coming in from the ad precisely, so you know exactly what the visitors from the ad do and how much money you make from each one. If you spend money on an ad but the visitors from the ad don't buy anything, then you are wasting money.

  • If you are running a business brochure site, you will generally piggyback your URL in your normal advertising campaigns. As we will discuss in a moment, you want to make sure that your ads and the web site are synchronized.

  • If you are running a content web site of some sort, you can quickly bring new visitors to your site with ads. This can be especially important in the early days of a site because these visitors can accelerate the resonance and linking processes. With an ad campaign like this, you want to track the visitors who arrive from the ad. If they look at one page and leave 10 seconds later, then either your site is not resonant or the landing page is wrong for those visitors. In either case, you want to stop the campaign and figure out what you are doing wrong.
Several weeks ago, a realtor's ad campaign in California made the news (click here or here for stories). Wendy Heath created a billboard ad for her agency that featured a picture of her in a bikini. She got a tremendous amount of (probably unexpected) publicity when the story of her billboard became a news event. You can also see a spike in the "reach" graph for her site ( in Alexa.

However, she did not have her ad campaign synchronized with her web site. If you are going to run billboard ads like that, then your web site should help people who arrive from the billboard to feel comfortable. You also want to help visitors easily find the information they are looking for. Something as simple as, "Seen the billboard??? Learn more!" (along with a photo of the billboard) is better than nothing. My feeling is that Wendy could have also had some fun with the media coverage, for example by listing every story that reported on her billboard. The coverage of her billboard made her a mini-celebrity (her 15 minutes of fame). She might as well take advantage of it.

But it can go much further than that. For example, the colors, images, icons and feeling of the ad campaign and the web site can match each other. In that way, visitors coming in from the ad know that they have definitely arrived in the right place. You can also direct visitors and show them where to look to answer questions that the ad generated. Obviously, if the visitor has arrived at your site from an ad (whether it be an ad on TV, in the paper, in a magazine, on the web, in a brochure or wherever), the visitor is curious enough about your product or service to type in your URL. Your job is to help that visitor in every way that you can. By synching the ad campaign and your site, and by tracking visitors who come in from the ad, you can make the most of every ad-generated visit.

I mentioned above that content web sites can benefit from ads, especially in the early stages. You can use ads in at least two different ways: 1) to test resonance quickly, and 2) to fuel resonance. Here's how.

Let's say you have created a new web site. You think the site is perfect, but, because it is new, it has no visitors. In that case, what I would do is go to Google AdWords and/or Yahoo Search Marketing and buy some ads (this article offers a comparison). Both systems are easy to use -- you pick keywords that are appropriate to what you are advertising. You create an ad. Then the ad starts running and you pay per click (in other words, per visitor who clicks on your ad and arrives on your web site).

Different keywords have different costs and they will also deliver different amounts of traffic per day. I would tend toward keywords where I could place my ad for a nickel or a dime, and I would run the campaign long enough to deliver 200 or 500 or 1,000 visitors to my site (depending on my budget). I would then analyse what happened with those visitors. Do they leave after the first page, or do they go deeper into the site? Do they go where you want them to go in your site? How long do they stay? How many page views do they see, on average? On what pages are they exiting your site? What is a typical path that they take through your site? With this information, tune your site.

Also, after running the campaign for several days, pause the campaign. Do you see any sort of uptick in visitors when you compare "before the ad" with "after the ad"? If so, then that is a sign of resonance. If you find that your site is resonant, you may want to invest in an ad campaign early on to help the site's traffic grow more quickly. In essence, you are fueling the resonance cycle.

There are certain cases where an ad campaign reaches a perfection point. You know when this happens because suddenly the ads are EVERYWHERE. For example, several years ago you may remember seeing ads for X10 cameras all over the web. Right now you see a lot of "IQ Test" ads from Tickle. What is happening here is nirvana.

Let's say you can create a web site where, for each visitor in the door, you make $1.00 in profit on average. And let's say that you create some type of ad campaign (e.g. banner ads, popup ads, AdWord ads or whatever) where you pay 40 cents on average to attract one new visitor to your site. In that case, what are you going to do? You would probably be inclined to run those ads everywhere you possibly can. That's when you see the web blanketed with ads from a certain company. Of course that can only last so long in most cases. There comes a point where the market is saturated, so either your cost per visitor goes up (fewer people click on your ads, on average) or your profit per visitor goes down (people who do click on the ad are less likely to buy -- you've finished picking the low-hanging fruit). At that point, the ads go away.

Here are some tips if you are planning to use ads to drive visitors to your web site:
  • Start small. Don't start with a blow-out ad campaign costing thousands of dollars on your first foray. Run small test campaigns and see how the visitors react to you site. Tune the site before scaling up the ads.

  • Tune the ads as well. You may be amazed to find that, especially with web campaigns, very subtle things like fonts, colors and arrangement can change the click-thru rate on an ad dramatically.

  • Track visitors through your site. Make sure they are going where you want them to go, and doing what you want them to do. Tune the site accordingly.

  • Synchronize your site with your ad campaign.
If your goal is to bring new visitors to your site, and if you can afford to advertise, then advertising may be the easiest way to get the new visitors to arrive.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

An example of resonance -

Toothpaste for Dinner - A slide-show tour of the most addictive comic on the Web.

Further proving that there is no way to tell what will resonate on the Web, we have Slate is calling it "the most addictive comic on the Web," which means that it is pretty resonant. Alexa seems to concur, giving it a rank today of 25,000 or so.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Take a look at Wikis

Wiki Targets How-To Buffs

If you are thinking about starting a new site, one thing to consider is the Wiki model. From the article:
    Hannah launched the wiki in February as an extension of, another website that he bought last year. EHow had once been a promising internet startup, but the site fell into disrepair following the collapse of the dot-com bubble four years ago. Its database contains close to 100,000 pages of assorted how-to instructions, but without regular updating, entries were looking stale.

    By launching a volunteer-supported site for how-to directions, Hannah saw a way out of the staleness problem. Because anyone can edit or add information on a wiki, an active group of volunteers ought to ensure that postings are up-to-date.
It is fairly easy to set a Wiki up using open source software (e.g. TikiWiki, phpWiki). Then it is just a matter of attracting an audience that is willing to get involved.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Creating online stores - Threatening eBay's Dominance, More Online Sellers Go It Alone

From the article:
    In 2002, John Wieber started worrying about his business, which sold refurbished computers through Internet auctioneer eBay Inc. Although he was earning $1 million a year in revenue, profits had started to slip as competitors flocked to the site. EBay also raised its fees, further cutting margins, and fraud was becoming a problem.

    So Mr. Wieber revamped his Web site and began selling through other online companies, such as Inc. and Yahoo Inc. Last year, his sales neared $5 million, but his eBay revenue grew at a much slower pace, making up only a quarter of the total. It will likely fall still lower. Of the auction site, where he got his start, Mr. Wieber says: "Too many sellers, not enough buyers."
The article walks through several examples like that, showing how small one-person and two-person companies are making lots of money by operating their own retail web sites. It is definitely worth your time to read the article.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Where to go to get web services

If you are building a Web site and you need things like web site design, icons, graphics, animation, Flash graphics, etc., here are three places where you can find people who work on a freelance or contract basis:

12 Months to Startup

Wanting to get your own business off the ground? This article shows you the steps:The steps are:
  1. Understand yourself
  2. Research and Evaluate Your Idea
  3. Choose a Business, a Location and its Structure, and Name It
  4. Calculate the Costs
  5. Write Your Business Plan
  6. Identify Sources of Startup Financing
  7. Work Through the Startup Paperwork Maze
  8. Develop Your Marketing and Customer Service Plan
  9. Court Your First Customers
  10. Create Your Support Team
  11. Execute Your Marketing Plan
  12. Hang Out Your Shingle
Several of these steps can be simplified or eliminated if the company you are building is a small Web company. For example, you generally do need financing if you are opening a retail store, but you do not need financing to build a simple retail site on the web.

However, if you come to a point where want your small company to turn into a bigger one, you will probably find yourself going through most of these steps in one way or another. Therefore, it is good to know about the steps ahead of time.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Tools and resources

Tools and resources

Readers have been sending in different tools and articles that they have found useful for various reasons. Here's a collection of links. If you have other favorites, please add them in the comments or send them in. That ought to keep you busy for a little while...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Lesson #11 - Where do visitors come from? Links.

In Lesson #4 we talked about resonance as being one way that visitors use to find their way to your site. Resonance expresses itself in a number of different ways. For example, people might talk about your site while "standing around the water cooler" at work. They might email your site to several friends. If someone likes your site and they have a website of their own, they may also link to your site.

Links are a powerful force in the Web world for two important reasons:
  1. You can get direct traffic from a link. This is especially true if the site that links to you has a lot of traffic.

  2. A link is a signal to search engines that you have built a valuable site. A site that has a large number of inbound links is generally considered, by most search engines, to be "more valuable" or "more important" than other sites on the same topic that have fewer links*.
For these two reasons, it is helpful for you to track incoming links. You track them so that you can see whether or not the number is growing, and you track them to see why people are linking to you. If you understand why they are linking, you may be able to accentuate that part of your site.

I set up the WebKEW site in a way that would make it particularly easy to track links. First of all, I invented a word ("WebKEW") that was completely unique in Google. Prior to creating this site, the word "WebKEW" brought up zero results in Google. Second, on all pages where I, personally, have linked to WebKEW, I have not used the word WebKEW. (e.g. if you go to, you will find that the page does not use the word WebKEW. Instead, it says, "Making money with Web sites" when it links to WebKEW.)

What this means is that you can go to Google, type in the word "WebKEW" and get a very easy read on how many people are linking to this site. Let me give you an example of how this works.

If you had gone to Google on April 15, 2005 and typed in the word "WebKEW" as the search term, Google would have told you that the word did not exist. By April 19, the first link to WebKEW showed up:

[Click for larger image]

This shows that my profile page on Blogger contained the first link to WebKEW that Google found. Once Google finds one link like this, it is able to start spidering the site, and you are on your way to getting indexed by Google.

Two days later, on April 21, Google had actually indexed the home page of WebKEW:

[Click for larger image]

Now here we are exactly two months later, on June 19, 2005. At this point, there are 383 pages in Google that use the word WebKEW:

[Click for larger image]

42 of those pages are the actual WebKEW pages themselves. That is a good thing -- it shows that Google has indexed the site. The other 341 pages are all pages on the Web that have used the word WebKEW somewhere in the text of the Web site.

If you create a site, build it to a reasonable size, and three months later there are only one or two inbound links to your site from other sites, then that tells you something. The lack of links is an indicator. In general, what a lack of links means in that the site is not resonating. Either you need to fix the resonance problem, or you will have to drive traffic to the site through some means like advertising. Advertising may be OK is your site is a business brochure site or a retail site, but is probably not OK if you have created a content site.

If you have created a content site and the number of inbound links is low, you may want to:
  • rethink the way the site is designed
  • rethink the kinds of things you are talking about in the site
  • rethink the way you are speaking.
If you have created a content site and no one is linking to it, that generally means that no one is reading your site either.

You can see the process of link resonance at work in this lesson: Tracking the word Googlezon. Like "WebKEW", the word "Googlezon" is an invented word. That makes it easy to track. On May 17, 2005, the word Googlezon appeared in Google 17,400 times. Today it appears in Google 21,800 times. That is really good resonance, fueled in part by the fact that the "mainstream media" is reporting on the topic. That kind of coverage, generally, is the gold standard of resonance.

In some cases, links can create a chicken-and-egg problem. If there are no links coming into your site, you will usually have very few readers. If no one reads your site, then obviously they will not link to you. If you feel you are in this kind of negative feedback loop, there are steps you can take to try to break the logjam. Here are five possibilities:
  1. Large sites like Fark and Slashdot actively solicit submissions. Submit your best, most interesting pages to sites like these. Or, find sites like these in subject areas related to your web site.

  2. Another possibility is You can do your own submissions here. Spend at least two weeks playing with this site so that you understand how it works before you submit your site. Try submitting other articles, try digging a number of articles, watch the home page to see what is resonating, etc. Then submit something from your site. If it makes it onto the Digg home page, that tells you something. If people completely ignore your submission, that tells you something else.

  3. Fark and Slashdot also have forums. Submit comments to the forums, and include your site in your signature.

  4. When reading other blogs and web sites that offer comments, submit comments and make sure a link your site is in the signature. You might also link specifically to pages in your site if they are relevant.

  5. Get into DMOZ
In this way, you will build up links to your site, making it easier for search engines to find and spider your site.

Let's say that you try all of these different things over the course of several months. If people are not linking to your site and you have no traffic coming in thru search engines (we will discuss this in Lesson 14), then that is probably your signal to try a new idea. Unless, of course, you are writing strictly for your own enjoyment. In that case, you can write happily for years...

[* - The "quality" of the sites that link to your site also plays a role in the ranking you get in search engines. If you only have one or two inbound links, but they are coming from very large, well-know, popular sites with lots of links themselves, that fact will usually be more important to search engines than 20 links from 20 little sites that no one has ever heard of.]

Saturday, June 18, 2005

If you get mentioned in Wired

What happens if you get mentioned in a major web site like Wired? Last week we had the chance to see. Wired published this article:The article talks about this web site:On the day that the article appeared, the Web site was totally unranked in Alexa (all rank columns had "--" marks in them). Its one-day rank stats rose to about 50,000 two days after the article appeared on the Wired web site. That rank number had no staying power in Alexa's rank graph. However, a week later, what you can see is that the site now has respectable daily reach at about 20, and it has held onto that traffic rather than seeing a two-day spike. [One thing that Alexa tells the creator of this site is that the "page views per visitor" is 1.0. That means that people are arriving and immediately leaving, and generally that is something that you want to fix.]

Shortly after that, this article appeared in Wired:It mentioned This site has followed a more interesting path because it has started to take on a life of its own. For example, appeared on the front page of my local newspaper yesterday. In other words, the "mainstream media" has picked up on it, and that will tend to propel it at a faster pace.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

15,000 page views per day

26 steps to 15k a Day offers 26 tips and promises the following:
    Do those 26 things, and I guarantee you that in one years time you will call your site a success. It will be drawing between 500 and 2000 referrals a day from search engines. If you build a good site with an average of 4 to 5 pages per user, you should be in the 10-15k page views per day range in one years time. What you do with that traffic is up to you, but that is more than enough to "do something" with.
That implies about 3,000 visitors per day -- something on the order of 100,000 visitors per month. From Calibrating Alexa we know that 3,000 visitors a day would put you firmly into the top 100,000 sites on Alexa. We also know from How much money can you make with a web site? that you could be making something on the order of $5 CPM, or perhaps $2,000 per month.

Let's assume that you follow the author's advice to the letter and produce one new page of content per day. Let's assume that you spend two hours per day working on your site, or a total 730 hours in a year, and you achieve the results that the author promises. $2,000 per month translates into $24,000 per year, so:
    $24,000 per year / 730 hours = $32 per hour
It's something to think about...

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Lesson #10 - Getting yourself in motion

A WebKEW reader, age 23, wrote me a letter this week to say, approximately, "I have book ideas and I am having trouble getting started. I have business ideas, but they need money to get started or they seem too big for me to start with. What can I do to get moving?" It was a very good letter actually, so I wrote back and asked him to call me.

If you have read How to make a million dollars, you know that "getting in motion" is one of the most important keys to success. If you simply think about making a million dollars, nothing will happen. You have to actually do something.

We talked on the phone for about 15 minutes. During the first five minutes we talked about where he is at. Then we talked about several simple, concrete things he can do to get moving. Here are some of the things I suggested:
  1. As far as the book writing goes, I understand that writing a book can be hard. The problem with writing a book is that you have to write the whole, entire book before you can publish it. It is a year or more of work before you see any results. And there is no guarantee (unless you are someone like J.K. Rowling or Tom Clancy) that anyone will read your book once it is published.

    My suggestion: Start writing your book on the web. There are several benefits to doing it this way. First, it is easier. Saying to yourself, "I am going to write a little bit each day or each week" is somehow easier that saying, "I am going to spend a year writing an entire book." Second, you get instant gratification -- what you write is up on the web immediately. Third, you get feedback. You can look at your web statistics and see if anyone cares, and people will write comments or send you email. In that way, you find out what people think. Fourth, you can make adjustments based on the stats and feedback. If there is something people seem to find really interesting, you can focus on it.

    What is WebKEW? It is a book that I am writing on the web. I work on it a little bit each day or each week. See The introduction to WebKEW for details.

    The knee-jerk reaction to this suggestion by some people is, "but... if I put it on the web then who will read my book?" That is backwards thinking. It is far easier to publish a book if you already have an established audience. See the YarnHarlot case study for an example.

  2. Find someone to talk to. I suggested that he look for a mentor. In his case, I suggested that he look for someone who has accomplished what he hopes to accomplish or is moving down the path, and ask that person to be his mentor.

    How do you ask? You simply ask. You write the person a letter or call the person and you tell the person what you are trying to accomplish. You ask if you can take him/her to lunch (or schedule a call) to learn more about what he/she has accomplished. What you are asking for, initially, is 30 minutes to an hour of the person's time to ask questions.

    What is the person going to say? The person will say, "yes" or, "no". If the person says, "no", you look for someone else. If the person says "yes", you create a list of questions and you ask them. The book Never Eat Alone can be very helpful if you follow this path.

    After you have lunch, and if it goes well, you ask if you could do it again sometime. The person will say, "yes" or, "no". If you have three or four lunches and they go well, you ask the person if he/she would consider being your "mentor." Or you never ask -- you simply continue getting together every so often. In that case, the person is your de facto mentor.

  3. As an alternative to finding a mentor, try to find two or three people who are trying to accomplish the same kind of thing you are trying to accomplish. Agree to have lunch or get together once every week to share ideas, compare notes, talk about progress, etc. You will be amazed at what a little peer pressure can do!

  4. Look in your area and see if there is an "entrepreneurial organization." In my area this organization is called the CED. There you will find a couple hundred like-minded people that you can talk to. An organization like this often also has classes, a helpful staff, etc. (if you find no such organization, consider starting one yourself).

  5. Take a business-plan-writing class. In a class like this you will be in a room with 10 to 20 other people who are trying to write business plans. While taking the class, you normally write a business plan, and both the instructor and class members will critique it. The "entrepreneurial organization" in your area will normally offer classes like these, but if not try calling the business school at a local college or talking to the chamber of commerce.
By taking any of these steps, you help get yourself in motion. See also How to make a million dollars.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

An example of resonance:

'43 Things': The world's to-do list

From the article:
    Officially launched last December, 43 Things is, at its most fundamental, a shared and public 'goals blog.' And with people in more than 2500 cities currently posting their desires, the site would seem to have tapped a significant demand for global self-disclosure.
If you look at it in Alexa, you can see that it gained traction very quickly.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Creating a billion-dollar idea

Forget about making a million dollars. What if you want to make a billion? This article points the way:

The Midas Formula - How to create a billion-dollar movie franchise

From the article:
    The franchises that have raked in over a billion dollars from all markets (including world DVD, television, and toy licensing)—The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Spider-Man, Finding Nemo, Star Wars, Shrek, The Lion King, Toy Story, and Pirates of the Caribbean —- share most, if not all, of the nine common elements of the Midas formula...
The author is nice enough to list the nine elements -- you should read them and ponder them deeply.

Notice that several of these franchises start as books. The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter both started as books. Spider-Man started as a comic book. There are many other franchises that have not reached the billion dollar level but have made quite a bit of money -- Thomas the Train, the Grinch, Winnie the Pooh and so on. All of them started as books too.

The question to ponder is this: Is there a new franchise that you could start and publish on the Web? HowStuffWorks started on the Web and then moved into books, magazines, toys, etc. -- this kind of stuff happens all the time. The Midas Formula makes me wonder about starting fictional story-based franchises on the Web and seeing how far they can go.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Advice from the founder of

"Robert, they can't eat you!" My rules for survival

From the article:
    Over a year ago, I was asked by BizAz Magazine (a local Phoenix magazine) to speak at one of its "Business Beneath The Surface" breakfast meetings. As part of the event, participants have the option of submitting questions to the speakers, which are then answered during the breakfast.

    One of the questions directed towards me was, "What advice do you have for someone who is just starting a business?"
This article is his answer to that question.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

An example of resonance - MySpace was a pure resonance play when it started -- it achieved a massive audience in a short time through resonance and very favorable media attention. The article Why MySpace Is the Hot Place talks about a successor to Friendster called The article states, "Only 20 months old, it already has 14 million unique visitors a month." That's pretty resonant.

The Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs

In the How to make a million dollars vein, this resource from the Wall Street Journal contains articles and ideas for people starting businesses:I first learned about it when a friend sent me a link to this article on, which is an online book retailer. The article is interesting to us because it talks about how one company is making money (about $2 million per year) selling books on the Web.