The Questions You Need to Ask Yourself Before Starting a New Website
I have created dozens of websites over the last few years and I have worked on many more. The questions I ask myself prior to each project are the same questions I put to clients undertaking projects of their own. These need to be answered before you buy the domain, before you choose your web hosting and, if possible, before you even plot your content. If your focus is on maximum exposure in Google, then taking the time to answer these questions could be the difference between success and failure.
Do I Need a Brand?
Branding is very important, but so are keywords and the two worlds rarely collide. A domain name no longer plays as big of a role as it used to and you’re not going to rank for a keyword just because it’s in your domain. However, it still plays a major role in your success and it’s very important to get at least 1 major keyword in there.
At the same time, if you’re starting a business then you will also want to focus on branding, a name that sounds good, will look good on products and will instantly connect readers to your business.
I tend to favor the keyword domains where possible and will always look to build the brand around this, as opposed to starting with the brand and then trying to squeeze keywords in. There’s usually a way to make this strategy work, even if it means resigning yourself to a single major keyword.
There are a few examples to show you what I mean. Take Tea Pigs as one. it’s currently the biggest online tea retailer in the UK and it’s a great brand, but also one that gets that “tea” keyword in there and keeps things short, which means there’s a lot they can go with parent/child pages. VinylVintage.net is another great example. As a brand, it works brilliantly, but it’s also making use of some very strong and relevant keywords.
If you want to create the next big business site, take your lead from the likes of business.com, Business Insider and Business Week as opposed to Forbes and Motley Fool. They may be great brands, but they’re great brands with big budgets and if you don’t have that budget and need to rely on SEO, then a keyword is essential.
What’s my Budget/Ability?
There are several additional questions that will influences this one, mostly revolving around whether or not you or your team can design, write or market the site. Because if you can do all of this yourself then you don’t really need a budget you just need time. If you can’t do any of it yourself, then you’re going to need to have a lot of money behind you.
I have created many successful sites and a few less than successful ones. All of those in the former category have had a lot of content and a lot of work, while the work I did on the less successful sites was minimal. In my experience, a content site needs at least 20 to 40 articles at launch and should have at least 5 a week beyond that, otherwise you’ll never get enough visitors to make a profit.
There’s no point in launching a site with minimal content and minimal off-page work. At best it will start earning a trickle income in a few years, at worst it will earn nothing and waste whatever little time/money you did invest. You need to go all out with this and if you’re not doing any of the work yourself, you will need a decent budget.
At cheap rates, well written content that keeps your site full for a year could cost you $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the writer. Add off-page SEO, developers and designers to the mix, and this could push you above $25,000. You will likely get a profitable site at the end of it, but it’s going to take a lot of work and/or money to get there.
Am I Authoritative in my Niche?
The more you know about the niche you’re in, the easier life will be for you and the more successful you will be. This is true of online businesses and content websites. The former is obvious, after all you’re trying to sell a product or service and inexperience will shine through. As for the latter, it all comes down to you as a writer.
I have covered all kinds of unconnected niches in my time as a webmaster, but I come from a freelancing background. I used to take on all available jobs and don’t mind writing on weird and wonderful topics. If you’re not a writer by trade, it’s not as easy and even if you are, you will produce content quicker if you know what you’re writing about.
It’s also easier to get backlinks if it’s in a niche you’re familiar with. As an example, there are two recent projects of mine that are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The first, a food site, was a client who drafted me in to do all the work. It’s a cooking site, and that’s a niche I have written about extensively. As s result, not only was the content easy for me to write, getting through an article every 30 to 45 minutes, but my previous clients in this industry meant I had good contacts for backlinks and marketing.
On the flip side, I recently started a legal site that turned out to be a nightmare. I was going up against well-informed blogs written by lawyers. I was trying to blag my way through content I knew little about and I didn’t really have any connections. If both were contracted jobs, the pay would have been the same and if both were my own projects the profit would have been the same. But the former would have resulted in me writing 2 to 3 times as many articles, getting way more hits with guest posts and generally having an easier time.
You might think that you can do everything and to an extent you might be right, but trust me, it’s always best to stick with what you know.
Can I Effectively Monetize It?
I have seen sites that get 200 hits a day make more money than ones that get 2,000. It seems counterintuitive, but it happens time and time again. You need to make sure that the site you’e creating is conducive to affiliate advertising, is of interest to sponsors and makes good money on Adsense.
There are financial sites that can make $10 to $30 a click, but entertainment sites that make $0.01. Then you have sites that are more popular in big-paying countries like the US and UK, and others that are only successful in countries where ads are cheap, like India. I’ve had many successful sites that were created based on what I knew were wide-open niches and great keyword plans, but the ones that have made the most money are the ones where I have focused on the financials first and not the hits.
For instance, one site all about popular jokes in foreign languages like Bengali gets a huge number of hits, but many are from cheaper advertising countries and most users who search for these terms are not clicking links or buying products. In fact, I ended up removing all links completely and am now looking at other avenues. On the flip side, there is a site that gets a fraction of the hits and is all about Greek food and superfood nutrition, but is showing considerably more promise when it comes to cookbook affiliates and meal delivery services.
So, stop and ask yourself if your idea will generate targeted visitors as opposed to just visitors. There’s no point going to all that effort to bring people into your site if they don’t buy or click anything, or if you get very little when they do.