10,000 problems to 10,000 likes – lessons from a publishing start-up
When we first launched MBA News 12 months ago it was the publishing equivalent of teaching yourself to swim by jumping off a bridge. We knew exactly what we wanted to do, we knew there was an unserviced niche and we knew we had the content skills to make it a success. We also knew what we didn’t know. More than a year down the track and we have just clocked over 10,000 Likes on Facebook, we attract more than 13,000 unique visitors a month and deliver more than 40,000 page views a month for advertisers. It is a small start, but a big result in a niche market. We are continuing to grow every month. As technology evolves more and more brands and individuals have the opportunity to become publishers. The well worn saying goes that every company is now a media company. Regardless of whether you are a jobless journo with illusions of publishing greatness or a brand considering taking the leap into the world of content marketing here are some of the most important lessons for a publishing start-up. Get the right CMS, get WordPress When I first conceived the idea of MBA News I never imagined we had the capacity to build and manage the site ourselves. Content was our expertise, not coding. After going to the market looking for a tech partner it quickly dawned on me that nobody wanted to sell me a solution, but everybody had a very expensive proprietary CMS that they were sure would do the job. Someone suggested I try WordPress, you could learn it in a weekend they said. Always game for a new challenge I locked myself away for a weekend and learnt WordPress. I am now a disciple and couldn’t fathom why anybody would use anything else. As an open source platform it just gets better with every update and adapts almost seamlessly to new technology. It is flexible, secure, adaptive, user-friendly and incredibly intuitive. SEM is the short game Attracting an audience in the early days was tough. Champagne corks were popping when we had our first 100 page views in a day. I spread my small marketing budget pretty thin across multiple platforms with little effectiveness. Slowly my traffic started to pick up, almost exclusively from Facebook. In August last year I gambled and tipped my whole budget into Facebook. Traffic took off. It might not be the same for every audience, but my audience lives on Facebook. The lesson is to assume nothing, try everything, and learn something. SEO is the long game. Instant SEO results are modern-day snake oil because the people at Google will always be smarter than you; that’s why they work at Google. Initially, we had high ambitions of taking over key search terms overnight. Thankfully, the height of our naivety was only matched by the depth of our persistence and slowly we began to climb. More than 80% of our site’s traffic is now generated from organic search and we have been able to significantly wind back the investment in SEM. Try searching “QUT MBA” or “AGSM MBA” or any other MBA course in Australia and chances are MBA News is in the top five results. But the lesson we learned is if you are expecting SEO to deliver instant gratification, think again. Focus on creating great relevant content, be consistent and share widely and often. Google will do the rest. Fixed or floating? When we conceived MBA News we assumed the floating content (news, events and other content with limited lifespan) would be far more popular than the fixed content (MBA profiles and other content that remains relatively static and timeless). We were very wrong. The fixed content on the site is consistently the most visited and highly ranked. However, the floating content still plays an important role in driving visitation through social channels. Many of our visitors will be driven to the site by an interesting article that catches their attention in the social sphere. Once in the front door, nearly every visitor will take some time to navigate through the fixed content, extending average visitation times and page views. Make sure you stay close to your analytics to understand your readers. While we still have a lot to learn we have built the foundation for a lasting publishing venture and avoided drowning in the process.