After Launching 300 Content Websites These Are My Observations

It has been a busy year at SubHub. We have launched hundreds of websites and the pace continues to accelerate.


The recession is driving more entrepreneurs and small businesses online … and with good reason. The setup costs are falling, the audiences are growing and the opportunities for making money continue to increase.

So to help those people who are considering going online and to offer some thoughts to those who already have a website here are 10 observations I’ve made over the last few months.


Observation #1 - Free is unsustainable, but you’ve got to give something away for free


It may sound like a statement of the obvious, but no company can survive by giving everything they create away for free. Unfortunately advertising alone will not provide a big enough income for 90% of content websites. They need multiple revenue streams.

However all content websites need to give away some content for free to drive traffic, demonstrate their knowledge and build authority. The judgement you need to make is how much should be free and how much should be paid.


Observation #2 – Subscription revenues are the best income, but you need authority


Subscription revenues provide website owners with a regular and sustainable income, but no one will pay for content unless it is from a credible and trusted source.

All paid content website owners must focus on building their reputation with their target audience.


Observation #3 – Brands will win


The internet is becoming a breeding ground for false information. This will lead internet users to seek out names and brands they trust. This does not mean they will always going to the New York Times or BBC websites. Indeed many traditional media channels are less trusted than the leading bloggers and independent content sites.

However you must become a trusted brand to build a loyal audience. To achieve this you have to regularly publish unique, accurate and timely information that is highly relevant to your audience. Quality finds its way to the surface.  


Observation #4 – Most ad-based content websites get worse not better


The best ad-driven content websites offer consistently great content.

However the majority of ad-driven websites often start with great content, but when advertising goals are not achieved the quality of the content deteriorates. The vast majority of websites publish complete rubbish.

If you publish bad or average content your website will fail.


Observation #5 – Registration barriers for free content rarely work


Marketers continually tell me: “Visitors to my website understand that the price of getting access to our free content is giving us their contact details”.

Trust me, most visitors don’t understand this.

Typically only 10% of visitors will bother giving you their details for access to free information.


Observation #6 – Online success always takes longer than expected


Whatever timescales you build into your business plan, double them. Websites are easy to launch, but audiences are slow to grow.

Like with most start-ups persistence will pay off when setting up an online business.


Observation #6 – Anyone can build a profitable online content business


Having been involved with the launch of over 300 content websites for people all around the world I can say with confidence there are no typical characteristics of successful online publishers.

I’ve seen Ivy League MBA’s crash and burn, whilst watching a bankrupt astrologer living in a caravan make $20,000 a month.

The only common traits are focus, determination and the desire to learn what works.


Observation #7 – Content publishing for profit is in its infancy


Because there is so much information on the internet, people assume that online publishing is a mature industry.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

This industry is only just starting. All content that can be digitised will move online; books, reports, magazines, newspapers, courses, images, videos, films, directories, instruction manuals, etc.

As Bacchman Turner Overdrive said in their famous song of the same name “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”


Observation #8 – Multimedia is no longer the exception


Most of the best content websites have multimedia content; video clips, audio streaming and downloadable podcasts. Users are coming to expect this type of content.

The good news is it is continually getting easier and cheaper to create video and audio content.


Observation #9 – Publishers have to go to where their audience are


I used to say to content owners focus all your effort on creating one really excellent website. The search engines would do the rest.

My advice has fundamentally changed. Creating a great website is still critical, however it is now also very important for website owners to spend a good deal of their time hanging out in the places their target audience go including forums, blogs, social networks and bookmarking sites.

Being part of your community is essential.


Observation #10 – There is no better business in the world


Talk to any successful online publisher and they will tell you there is no better business in the world. Work from anywhere in the world, decide your own hours and get paid doing something you love.

Its hard work, but worth every minute.