There are only two kinds of sites on the Internet:
Of course, that is a gross exaggeration and over generalizes
the landscape of the Internet, but it will be useful for this
article. We want to talk about how you can take any site you
have and create a sister site of the other type in order to
improve your traffic, sales and mission. First, let’s define
these types of sites a little more and give some examples.
This is the classic content or free information site. It
includes hobby sites, huge communities like Yahoo, search
engines, discussion forums, news sites, how-to sites and a
vast majority of the Internet in general.
This can be a classic e-commerce site sells something
directly. It can describe a product/service and provide a
way to provide payment directly on the site. The famous sites
in this category include Amazon, Orbitz, and Ebay. The less
famous sites sell a vast variety of the kind of merchandise
that used to be sold via direct postal mail campaigns,
It can also include a more subtle type of sales site.
Everyone was warned in the last decade that you had better be
“on the net” or you would be out of business. Most
organizations have taken that advice. Almost every
corporation, non-profit organization, government agency,
church and school now have a website. When many of these
organizations created their website, they realized they had
nothing to sell directly, nor did their true mission include
providing a lot of free information content about their topic.
Most of these sites provide information about their
organization, press releases, methods to contact various
departments, information about upcoming events, and
product/service information (albeit, not for the purpose of
direct sales). The end result is that these sites are there
to promote the organization’s mission. They are really sales
sites in that way.
Now that we’ve over generalized these two categories of
websites, let’s admit that almost every website has some
element of each. I’ve owned sites that have completely
morphed from one type to another with lots of hybrid during
the morphing process. I’ve come to discover though that it is
often not a good idea to mix these up. Let’s talk about why.
Let’s say you have a pure information site. You are really
into widgets as a hobby and you create a massive site with a
popular discussion forum, lots of articles, pictures,
how-to information, a massive resource directory of other
widget sites, product reviews, etc. Your site is the #1 place
people go to find out about anything to do with widgets. In
fact, your site is so popular that your hosting bill is now
way over your hobby budget, but this is a labor of love;
right? Many of us have been here. The obvious answer is to
mix in a bit of e-commerce to offset the bills. Maybe you add
some widget banners or text links. Maybe you put an affiliate
link to Amazon after your review of a book about Widgets.
Maybe you even install a shopping cart and start buying widgets
wholesale and selling them directly on your site. You even
dream of someday making a living doing what you love:
maintaining your site about widgets.
What happens? First of all, your traffic starts to decrease.
Inevitably you turn some people off by your new emphasis on
e-commerce. Second, your focus on what made your site great
starts to suffer. You now have two competing forces pulling
you in separate directions. One side of you wants to create
great free content; the other wants to maximize profits.
Some people find a good balance and press forward. Many
others start a downward spiral. How many great search engines
have we seen come and go because they lost their focus in
exactly this way?
Let’s start from another direction. Let’s say you sell
widgets offline and followed the advice last decade and
registered www.widgets.com. If a widget can be described
easily on a web-site and costs less than $1,000, you probably
sell them directly on your web-site. If not, you probably
have press releases, contact information for your various
departments, descriptions of your various widget
products/services, etc. You sell your widgets off-line, but
your site supports that process.
Every site in this category would like more traffic. More
traffic means more sales means more profits. Isn’t that odd?
The guy with the information site had the opposite problem.
had too much traffic. Let’s say you realize that and try to
increase your traffic by adding some free content. You start
writing articles about widgets, start a discussion forum, etc.
What happens? Your traffic increases dramatically, but your
sales barely increase at all. In fact, you might notice that
your sales go down. The new distraction of free content on
your site is pulling away the attention of those who might
otherwise be buying. You find yourself with the same problems
as the above guy who runs a content site. Your focus has been
split and the core mission of your site (selling widgets)
There must be a way. Of course, if you sell widgets, you can
purchase advertising on widget information sites. And if you
have a widget information site, you can sell advertising
space. Many find a balance that works well here.
Here’s another option. Create a sister site of the other
type. One site will be 100% informational (almost). The other
site will be 100% sales. On the informational site, devote
most of the home page to an advertisement for the sales site.
We find that about 40% of our traffic ends up at the home page
no matter how they entered the site (many search engines
deliver them to a page other than the home page). If you
place a large advertisement on the home page with a large “Enter
Site” link under the advertisement, we find that you can
receive a 30-50% click-thru rate if your sales and information
sitse are well matched in topic. That means that you can
deliver a significant portion of the most likely buyers from
your information site to your sales site. Now that your ad is
done, don’t ever think about commercializing your information
site in any other way. Don’t put any banners, affiliate links
or anything else to drive away information seekers. Just focus
on being the very best widget information site possible.
Do the same for your sales site. Don’t ever place anything to
distract folks from buying. If you are tempted to put up some
kind of content, do it on your information site. If you are
starting with an information site and looking for a way to
monetize it, forget about all the affiliate programs and
banners. Either find one good sponsor and put them on your
home page, or start your own sales site and become your own
sponsor. After a bit of lost focus (setting up the sales
site) you can hopefully turn all of your attention back to
your information site and leave your sales site alone.