Designing or Redesigning a “Website”?

Content Marketing – Content, Community and Commerce: 5 documents special- interest online media businesses need to consider before launching or relaunching a “website”

Over the past 15 years, I’ve helped start more than 100 successful online businesses. Without exception, all of them have properly addressed three principles that were laid out in the mid 90s as strategic components needed in launching a website. They include content, community and commerce.

It’s amazing how undeveloped the vocabulary is around this process. People tell me they are launching or re-launching a website, but if you are a media company – which is exclusively who we work with – when you say you’re launching a website, you’re really saying, “I’m launching an online business.”

It’s important to remember that all the normal rules of launching a business apply, online or otherwise.

Some businesses I’ve helped launch, while I participated with others as a consultant. In other cases, I’ve been an architect charged with making sure the system we built included web, email, analytics, fulfillment, and payment processing to support the economics infrastructure required. In other cases still, I’ve been an investor to back and advise the organization.

Three businesses, three roles

For Vida y Salud, the world’s largest Spanish-language source for health and wellness information, I was charged with designing and building

Men’s Health, the premier provider of men’s health and lifestyle information, asked me to provide consulting services for their website strategy.

At Interweave, a major provider of arts and crafts content, I’ve been an investor that works strictly in an advisory capacity.

All three, Men’s Health, Vida and the Interweave network have been incredibly successful from a financial standpoint by utilizing content, community and commerce strategies. Interweave has generated more than 80% of their revenue by selling their own products. Men’s Health is a leader in their industry by selling robust sponsorships and products. Vida is totally sponsor-driven, and features deals with companies like Proctor & Gamble and General Mills to provide a commerce structure.


Five documents needed for successful content marketing

There are five documents that I have been involved with that dramatically increase the chances for success when launching or re-launching a website, or more accurately, an online business.

Document #1 – Systems Needs Analysis: A systems needs analysis involves answering the basic questions of commerce, community and content. I’ve performed hundreds of needs days with people I have met thru this blog or industry events, and colleagues  I’ve known for years – from Clay Hall of Interweave to Jeff Lapin of Farm Progress – to discuss the opportunities they have to help their online business grow and be successful or more successful.

During these sessions I help them answer questions like:

Who’s your audience and how do they use the Internet?

What content do you generate for them and on which platforms?  How does your content and community improve the lives of your audience?  How do you intend to build a self-aware community?  How will you bind them together and put your organization at the center?

On the commerce side of things, how are you going to make money? Will you be looking for sponsors to underwrite your mission in exchange for supporting your content and community? Will you generate hundreds or thousands of products from magazines and books to videos and live events? Will you be using your online business to market those products? Or like many successful publishers will you have something in between; focusing on both sponsorships and products? What’s the mix, and the profitability? Are there mentor sites pursuing this mix of revenues that are successful?

Once we’ve answered these questions, and a multitude of others I ask, we can begin putting together a systems plan for you.

Document #2 – System Project Plan: This plan deciphers which website modules you are going to need. For instance, a content website is a destination site on whatever subject you cover. A comprehensive system project plan will include details on a potential forum or community, with one or more stores where one-shot products and event tickets can be purchased. While creating this, you will have to consider how much free content you will offer; will there be a premium wall with databases, magazines, downloads or newsletters behind it?

Document #3 – Keyword Benchmark Study: To maximize organic traffic, your website must be built around its keyword universe and then your content producers must use that keyword universe everyday to guide content development.  In addition to guiding website and content development efforts, the keyword universe becomes a key management report when it is formatted into a Google Visibility Report.  When regularly up dated, the GVR reveals how, when and why you are being successful attracting keyword traffic.  Your Google Visibility Index becomes the key driver to planning, measuring and managing all your organic audience development efforts.

Document #4 – Five-Year Financial Model: After collecting all that data, it’s necessary to use a spreadsheet to create the five-year plan. Here, you will fill a document (five columns wide, and 60 deep) with assumptions about the marketplace, including searches, direct traffic, referring traffic and email traffic.  You will hypothesize the kind of revenue per thousand page views that can be generated, the revenue per thousand emails sent and retention factor of subscriptions over a five-year period.  Most importantly, you will determine what the cost is going to be to build and operate the system that’s going to support this plan, with the minimum amount of manpower possible.

Document #5 – Business Plan: The business plan, usually done in PowerPoint, is used to codify your vision and show potential investors the complete picture.  The systems we develop are heavily automated and often times sell products that are web-based. Others sell existing books, events, software, video, magazines or newsletters, which requires no creation of new content.  And still others rely heavily on sponsors for revenue generation.  If you’re planning on having a premium digital component, you’re not only using the web to build community and market legacy products, you’re also branching out to new products.

Launching or relaunching a online business?

When clients say they want to redesign their website with my help, I hear, “I’m going to re-launch my business.” When publishers don’t look at it as re-launching their business, they diminish, underplay and fail to communicate the real significance of the situation.


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