Vida y Salud – One Million Unique Users in Under 10 Months

A story of health, wellness and success

I recently had the opportunity to supply questions to Carl Kravetz, the publisher behind Vida y Salud. The successful website is still in its infancy, but experiencing a tremendous amount of popularity as the largest source of health information and wellness tools in Spanish on the internet.

Mequoda – Please tell us a little background about Vida y Salud’s history.

Carl Kravetz – My wife and business partner, Dr. Aliza Lifshitz (known as la Doctora Aliza), has been the health expert for the Univision Television network for 22 years. She also has a national radio program and writes for the Spanish-language editions of People and Parents magazines. I was in Hispanic advertising for over 20 years, starting two agencies and, ultimately, serving as Chairman of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies (AHAA).

During the first tech boom, we were approached by an investor group that wanted to give us money to start a Spanish-language health information website, using Dra. Aliza’s reputation as the draw. We did some homework and estimated that it would cost us between $6 and 8 million to build what we envisioned.  Everything would have to be designed and coded from scratch. We also felt that it was premature – that there weren’t enough Spanish-speakers online yet. And, finally, we weren’t thrilled about the idea of giving up control to a group of money men. So we passed. It may be the best decision we ever made, considering the tech bust that followed. Today we would be known as the people who started a Spanish-language health site and failed!

Fast forward to 2008. I was getting burned out on the ad business and wanted to do something that would take advantage of my knowledge, talents and connections. I thought it was time to look at the idea of the website again. The number of Hispanics online had grown dramatically and, with open source software availability, the cost of launching was down to something that we could do ourselves without outside money. I heard about Mequoda from a friend and colleague at Editorial Televisa and enrolled in the 2008 Napa Valley Summit. That made my decision.

We began planning the site and writing content in the fall of 2008. Soft launched on May 11th, 2009 and went live on June 1st, 2009 with about 240 posts in a dozen health categories. Today we have nearly 900 posts in 21 health categories. We also publish 12 biweekly email newsletters and one weekly free email newsletter on subjects like diabetes, diet and nutrition, women’s health, sexual health, etc.

Mequoda – Is it true you went from 0 to 300,000 website visitors in under a year? How were you able to achieve this?

Carl Kravetz – Almost. According to Google Analytics, in the last 30 days we have had 285,000 visits and 692,000 pageviews from 254,000 unique users. And we’re only 9 ½ months old. We served our 1,000,000th unique user last Saturday…

How did we do this? Well, first, let’s not discount luck. We were extremely lucky that no one (like WebMD) entered our chosen space in the 10 years between our first look and our eventual entry. We found an open niche.

Second, we had a brand name. Dra. Aliza is demonstrably the best-known name in Hispanic health.

Third, we focused on developing quality content and adding it daily. And we were very aggressive with keywords and phrases to make sure we could be found. We track in the neighborhood of 3,500 keywords/phrases.

Fourth, we followed the Mequoda system. It never would have occurred to us to do newsletters or free reports on our own.

Fifth, we advertised. We have pay-per-click campaigns on Google search and content networks and on Facebook. We also have links to AOL, People en Español, Meredith Publishing and Univision Radio.

Sixth, we reacted to our metrics. When we realized that much of our traffic was from Latin America and Spain, we embraced it and changed our advertising strategy to encourage even more.

Mequoda – Who is your target audience?

Carl Kravetz – When we started, the target was the U.S. Hispanic market. It is now Spanish-speaking consumers throughout the world. Our users are about 75% female, between the ages of 18-49.

Mequoda – Which CMS (ie: WordPress, Typo, etc.) are you using?

Carl Kravetz – WordPress with all the Mequoda goodies.

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Mequoda – What are you doing to grow your audience and to create customer loyalty?

Carl Kravetz – I’ve already mentioned the newsletters and free reports. We also do community service events. We gave away over 2,400 flu shots at clinics and retailers in partnership with the Clorox Company. We donated a library of Spanish-language books to a Hispanic charter school in East Los Angeles in partnership with Transitions Optical. We have started a foundation that will give medical and nursing school scholarships to Latino students. We are partnering with the Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic to broaden our content. In response to user comments, we are opening a healthy recipe and meal plan section of our Diet and Nutrition channel in partnership with General Mills.

Mequoda – How are you using social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin) to promote for the site?

Carl Kravetz – We have “Follow us on Twitter” and “Become a fan on Facebook” buttons on all our pages.  We tweet links to every new story on Twitter and post them on Facebook. We let followers know where they can meet Dra. Aliza in person, and about our flu shot and other health clinics. We also have a modest Spanish-language ad campaign on Facebook which has netted 11 million impressions and 3,800 clicks.

Mequoda – What is your main source of revenue: ads, sponsor, products sales, donations?

Carl Kravetz – Our main source of revenue is sponsorship. We sell full- or half- channel sponsorships. Sponsors to date have included Procter & Gamble, Clorox, Crest, Transitions Optical, General Electric and Rodan & Fields cosmetics.  General Mills, Ford and Tylenol are scheduled.

Mequoda – What is your main source of referrals?

Carl Kravetz – Hands down, Google – both search and pay-per-click.

Mequoda – What key metrics do you monitor to analyze the health of your business?

Carl Kravetz – Total pageviews, U.S. pageviews, unique users, newsletter subscriptions, # of outside links, Google visibility and sponsorship dollars.

Mequoda – Do you link to other sites? If so, how many have you linked to in the last 30 days?

Carl Kravetz – We currently have about 1,600 live links. We regularly link to AOL, Ser Padres (Parents, in Spanish). We are about to take over the diseases and conditions section of AOL Latino’s health page (Powered by VidaySalud.com). We have a new content/link partnership with Que Rica Vida, General Mills’ web initiative. We are beginning to take off with Spanish-speaking bloggers.

Mequoda – What changes have you seen in your market since Vida y Salud started?
Carl Kravetz – A number of the large Spanish-language portals are beefing up their health content.  Fortunately, most of them are talking to us about partnering. Hispanic web access and broadband penetration continue to increase.

Mequoda – What advice would you give a new publisher?

Carl Kravetz – Put 90% of your energy on developing unique, high-quality content that makes a difference in peoples’ lives.

Be very clear on your business model. If your target is willing to pay for content, don’t be afraid to charge for it. If it isn’t, find a unique way to build bridges between them and potential sponsors. Ad sales alone are not enough.

If you’re targeting consumers, consider an aggressive AdWord presence, but watch your cost-per-click like a hawk!

Mequoda – What is your digital publishing strategy for 2010?

Carl Kravetz – We will continue to grow quality content  — both originally developed and through partnerships with Harvard, Mayo Clinic, etc. We will look to add similar content partners. We will develop new content channels in partnership with sponsors (would love to build Asthma & Allergies, Healthy World/Environmental Health, Digestive Health). We will add diet plans for Diabetes, Heart Health and Weight Loss. We will launch a monthly “Ask Dra. Aliza” online event (beginning with live chat, maybe going audio or video later). We will grow our capability to provide health content/links to others. In partnership with several medical boards/associations, we will launch a physician outreach program with info products that they can use with their Spanish-speaking patients.

Mequoda – What digital initiatives do you believe are critical for your future success?

Carl Kravetz – Our users want to be able to ask questions and get answers. We need to find a way to deliver on this need without practicing medicine on line. We also need to become a resource for physicians to communicate better with their Latino patients. We will need to create online and mobile tools to improve the doctor/patient dialogue.

Mequoda – What changes do you think will occur in the online publishing industry within the next 5 years?

Carl Kravetz – Continuing growth at the expense of print. More integration of text and video. New profit models. More pay-for-content. Some kind of quality rating methodology (from Google?) to distinguish between high- and low-value content. More demanding advertisers. Better metrics. A better mobile experience.

Mequoda – Any interesting business experience you’d like to share?

Carl Kravetz – The last year and a half has been the most interesting business experience of my life!

For more information, visit Vida y Salud, Vida y Salud on Facebook, and Vida y Salud on Twitter.

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