Mequoda has waited a long time to pin down our good friend Jerry Minchey for an in-depth interview about his online businesses. Jerry has a number of successful Internet enterprises that he wisely chooses not to discuss in a public forum. But fortunately for Mequoda members, he is very candid here about his very popular and successful subscription website, SearchEngineU.com.
MEQUODA By way of background, what is your educational and professional background?
JM I have a B.S. in electrical engineering and computer design, (but I am so out of date on that subject that no one would want a computer that I designed today). I also have an MBA from USC and an OPM degree from Harvard.
I have owned my own businesses for the last 20+ years. Back in 1983 I developed and marketed one of the first modems for the home computer market. It was a modem and software package for the old $99 Timex Sinclair home computer. (You young guys won’t even know what that is.) With that computer and my modem anyone could get online and search databases around the world. It was the “Internet” in a previous life.
Now I mostly do writing, speaking, marketing and selling. My engineering skills are too out of date to be useful. Maybe I use those skills for analyzing. I have five patents in a variety of fields.
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MEQUODA What best describes your position with www.searchengineu.com? Was this website your creation?
JM Bill and Sonya Myers did the original layout and site design and then I took it over and added the content. I am the editor and my son Brent, is the owner.
MEQUODA What other online businesses or membership websites do you operate?
JM I have two other subscription websites in the making, but I am in the process of totally redesigning them and changing the subjects. I learned (and saw proof) at a recent seminar that the biggest difference between the successful and non-successful subscription websites was the topic.
As the old story goes, “If you don’t have a starving crowd in front of your restaurant, the best food, chef or service can’t make it successful.”
MEQUODA How did you come to start SearchEngineU.com?
JM I have several other websites selling products, e-books and information. I had been spending a lot of time doing research on search engine optimization for my own use. It was taking a lot of time, but I felt that I couldn’t afford not to do it if I wanted to keep making money on the Internet.
When the opportunity came along to put what I had learned (and what I was studying every day) into use in a subscription website, I knew there was a market for it.
I decided to focus on teaching non-gurus how to get high rankings with minimum effort. I wanted to use the old 80-20 rule. How to get 80 percent of the benefit with 20 percent of the effort? I think now it’s getting closer to 90-10.
There is never an ending point when you can say that I am all done with optimizing my website. You just have to draw the line and say that this is all of the time I can put into it.
I want to show people how to get the highest search engine ranking possible with the limited time they have available to put into it.
MEQUODA How long has your site been active and what is your subscription fee structure? What is included with a subscription?
JM The site has been up for a year now. The subscription fee is $24.95 for a three-month subscription and $84.95 for a full year.
MEQUODA Now to the technical details. To build your site, what tools did you use, and how long did it take?
JM I used the MemberGate software to build the site. The software made putting the website together almost a no-brainer. I was able to concentrate on writing articles and selecting headlines. It took a little over a month to write all of the initial articles.
I think I started out with about 15 articles. There are over 50 feature articles now. I cram a lot into every article. I would probably have been better off with 100 shorter articles. They would have been easier to read and comprehend.
MEQUODA Can members subscribe online through a secure server, and is the process built into your site or outsourced?
JM The subscription process is all handled online through a secure server built into the site. It has worked flawlessly.
MEQUODA How easy, time-consuming, etc. is the process of adding new content?
JM Actually adding the content is extremely easy. What I find to be time consuming is that I tend to do too much research on many of the articles. I will start to do some testing and/or research on a subject and hours later I am still doing it or off looking at information on related subjects. Sometimes I will write two or three articles while I am at it.
Since I enjoy the subject, some of the research I could call entertainment. I would rather be doing the reading, testing and studying than watching TV. I would hate to think about having to write articles every week about a subject I wasn’t deeply interested in and didn’t really enjoy learning about.
I’m sure I could write the articles much quicker if I was just looking at the site as a way to make money and didn’t care about the subject.
I like to take the facts that are available to everyone (who has hours to spend) and then come up with a conclusion and/or a technique that is easy to implement and one that will provide higher rankings in the search engines.
I write most of the articles myself. I do have guest writers from time to time when I find one of their articles that I think is really good. I don’t use articles from guest writers just to fill up space.
I write a Tip of the Week article every week and one Feature article a week. Sometimes I will include two Feature articles a week. These articles tend to get too long. I am going to be changing the format and put out two shorter articles a week—maybe break some of the articles into Part 1 and Part 2.
MEQUODA Has your site changed significantly since you launched it?
JM The format has not changed. There has been a lot more content added.
It took awhile to get the discussion forum up to a critical mass. Now I think the members find the discussion forum lively and interesting. I answer the questions and try to add new facts, information and techniques about every other day. This is information that is not included in the articles.
Some new members seem wait a long time before they visit the discussion forum, but when they do, they get hooked. It’s a great way to learn how to get high rankings in the search engines.
One unexpected thing is that over half of my subscribers are from outside the US. Now I try not to use as much American slang, sayings and examples that might not make sense to someone from outside the US as I used to. I try not to use phrases such as, “The whole nine yards” or “The 4th of July” and others.
MEQUODA What’s the single greatest tool that helps you get your new content out every week?
JM I visit a lot of discussion groups and subscription websites to see what questions people have. I have found that there are search engine questions being posted a lot of websites that have nothing to do with search engines. This helps me to know what types of articles to write.
Of course, the MemberGate software makes entering the articles and managing the website almost no work at all. Maybe it’s because I use it all the time, but the software is like typing. I don’t even think about it.
MEQUODA Marketing and promotion seem to be a great challenge for most subscription website publishers. How have you approached this task, and what kind of results have you experienced?
JM Probably we are all guilty of not doing as much as we know how to when it comes to marketing and promotion. I plan to spend more time on this. Most of my new subscribers come from my Tip of the Week subscribers. Of course, the next question is, “Where do these people come from?”
Search engines and writing guest articles for other publications are my two biggest sources of new subscribers.
I also do press releases a lot and these turn into articles. I have not done any pay-per-click advertising for the site. I use this successfully for my other sites.
Also, I have not implemented an affiliate program (which I plan to do soon). I have not done any banner ads on other sites.
I get a lot of my subscribers from being found by the search engines. There are two problems with this.
First, I am competing with thousands of search engine gurus for keywords and phrases about search engines. I wouldn’t have this problem with any other topic.
Second, we all have a problem with a subscription website because our content is continually changing. I can have a high ranking on the search engines one day for a great search engine related keyword phrase and then I add two or three more articles on different subjects and find that my high ranking for that phrase is gone. So my search engine traffic goes up and down.
MEQUODA Do you have any advertising on your site?
JM I haven’t placed any ads on the site. I don’t have any plans to do that. I might in the future with the right products. I may start having a few clearly marked affiliate links for products or services that I truly believe in. So far I haven’t done that either.
MEQUODA For Mequoda members who are devising premium content strategies for their online properties, any advice you would offer?
JM Here’s a case of do what I say and not what I do. I haven’t been offering any signup bonuses. I have a book about ready that I will be offering soon. I also think free reports are great. “The 7 ways . . .” or “The 5 techniques, etc.” type of reports are good. They help sell me at times.
Another thing that I think adds value to a subscription website is to have a download library with a lot of forms, charts, etc. that people really want. Again, I haven’t done this and adding some valuable downloads is high on my to-do list.
MEQUODA What’s your best advice to Mequoda members who are seeking to develop additional revenue streams outside of advertising for their online business?
JM I think the best advice is to concentrate on adding value to your site so your subscription signup rate will be higher. I think this adds more long-term value than anything you can do.
Of course, getting more visitors in the first place is important also. I plan on working harder in these two areas rather than finding other sources of revenue from the site.
MEQUODA What has been your greatest challenge to date, doing business online?
JM The greatest challenge was to get the site up to a critical mass. In the early days I found it hard to write articles knowing that not many people would be reading them—at least not anytime soon. Now that I have met a lot of my subscribers at seminars and workshops and I have faces to go with names, it’s much easier to write the articles.
MEQUODA What tips would you pass on to aspiring publishers who want to start a subscription-based website?
JM No doubt the most important thing to do is to pick the right topic. You have to have a topic that you would rather be researching and writing about than watching TV. And you need a topic that has “a starving crowd” waiting to pay you money for your information. You have to have both of these to be successful.
MEQUODA What’s the best or smartest thing you’ve done? What’s the worst?
JM The best thing was to use MemberGate software for the site. The worst thing was to not put enough promotional effort into the site. It’s hard to do that in the early days because you have so much writing to do. It’s a Catch-22.
MEQUODA What subscription-based websites do you subscribe to and/or recommend?
JM Maybe I’m a newsletter and subscription website junkie. I subscribe to and read several. Here are the ones I get the most information from:
- www.Mequoda.com. I’m not just saying this. I get a lot of information and ideas from this site.
- www.SmallBusinessWebsite.com. Tim Kerber has a great knack for breaking things down and showing step-by-step pictures of how to do things.
- www.BMyers.com and www.MemberGate.com.
There are several others, but these are the ones I find myself visiting at least every other day, if not more often.
MEQUODA Which of the above is “doing it right” (marketing their product, building a subscriber base, providing value, etc.)?
JM I think they are all doing a great job of providing value, which is a back-door form of marketing in the long run. Obviously, it’s working very well for them. I don’t know much about what marketing techniques they are doing and what’s working.
Of course, no amount of marketing would make a successful site without the value. I see a lot of sites that are, as they say in Texas, “all hat and no cattle.” Hype will only get you so far.
MEQUODA What question have I neglected to ask you that you want to answer?
JM One thing that I find very valuable to me is attending seminars and workshops. I always get as much from what’s not on the program as I do from the speakers. The new ideas I get plus, I find that getting to meeting old and new friends that I can later bounce ideas off of, and get opinions that I can trust, are worth more to me than the costs of the seminars.
I like it when the subscription websites I read can condense information and get to the point. After all, if I wanted to know everything about the subject, I would have done the research myself.
Knowing this, I plan to do more condensing of the information on my site and “get to the point” for my readers.