The Three Legged Stool of Web Development
Programming Note: Unfortunately our guest author for WordPress Wednesdays, studioJMC, has thrown our his back and hasn’t been able to post this week. We wish him well and expect him back next week. In the mean time, filling in this week is the Solo Programmer. He’s a dot com millionaire and aspiring serial entrepreneur. You can follow his thoughts on web development, entrepreneurship and the state of the internet on his blog or by subscribing to his feed.
credit: bookgrlHave you ever seen a three legged stool? Unlike a chair a three legged stool will never wobble – even if the floor is uneven. Mathematicians will explain that three points define a plane which is just a fancy way of saying that a three legged stool won’t wobble. As long as the legs are reasonably close to the same length a three legged stool will always be a good stable base.
Websites are built on a a three legged base of their own. If any leg is lacking, the site won’t have a stable base for building traffic. What are the three legs of your website stool?
The saying “content is king”, has always been and always will be true. Good unique content in an accessible form is the first thing you need when building a website. Before you launch a site, create content. When you think you have enough, build more. If you’re launching a blog, consider writing a bunch of posts that you can save for the future when you’re focusing on some of those other legs.
What about a site that allows for user generated content – a Flickr or Twitter or MySpace? If you’re launching a site like this, the software is your contribution to the content. If at all possible you’ll want friends and others you can convince to be early adopters to build some content before you move on to the next step. And while I’m a big believer that content rules over design, the look and feel of your site is also part of what I call content in this context. Good looking is great if you can do it, but easy to use is absolutely necessary.
“If you build it, they will come.” Trust me, it only applies in the movies. A beautiful, easy to use website with the greatest content in the world will draw no traffic if you don’t promote it. Promotion is a huge umbrella term that encompasses a bunch of tasks from optimizing your site for search engines, building back links, purchasing advertising and otherwise driving traffic to your site. There are so many sites out there that you really need to have a plan for promoting yours. Luckily there are thousands of sites and blogs that talk about how to promote your site. For bloggers, guest blogging is great. For almost any site participating in social bookmarking sites and getting your name out and about (commenting on blogs, posting on forums) are all great. Be careful though to always promote within the terms of the service your using – some social bookmarking sites allow you to promote your own content while on others it will get you shunned. And if you’re promoting via blog comments or forum posts, be sure that you’re contributing to the conversation and not just dropping your link.
If you’ve built that great content and done your promotion you’ll start getting that traffic that all web developers crave. Unfortunately you can’t take unique visits to the bank and visitors won’t just hand you money either. If you’re going to make any money off of this venture you need to monetize your site. Again there are a lot of different ways to monetize your site and lots of resources out there to help you. For most people monetizing their site will come through some for of advertising – display ads through a network, affiliate offers, paid links or reviews are all forms of advertising. The key with monetizing your site is to find that point where you can extract as much as possible from your audience without driving them away. What’s available to you, what your visitors will tolerate and what will work best is very highly dependent on your individual site. The key is constant testing and measuring. And to make it more fun what works today will often not work tomorrow.
Don’t Sit on Your Stool!
If you’ve created the content, driven the traffic, and monetized your site you may think it’s time to sit back and enjoy yourself. It’s not. It’s time to go back to the beginning and start all over again. Create more content, do more promotion, monitor and optimize your monetization techniques. You’ll find that this is a repetitive loop that is never done. You’ll need to address whichever leg of your stool seems to be the shortest to ensure that your site retains that stable base that you’re building upon. Initially you may spend weeks or months at a time focusing on just one aspect but as time goes on you should be cycling through the various legs on a much shorter period. If your site is well established you may find that you need to focus on each of the legs more than once each week.
You won’t find many guarantees in entrepreneurship. Building that solid three legged base for your project doesn’t guarantee you’ll be raking in millions. The one guarantee I can give you however is that without that three legged base your project will fail.