Posts Tagged ‘fansites’

Generating traffic for your fansite? Use a method that generates positive metrics!

December 22nd, 2008

Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of generating traffic for websites. A lot of this learning happened because I have some great friends on Twitter, some awesome friends in the wiki community, and met people at two Chicago area barcamps. They’ve given me advice directly, and linked to blogs and sites that give advice. This advice has been one of the major reasons that Fan History has changed the way that we do some of our promotions.

When you’re generating traffic for a fansite, you should have three goals:

  • Increase repeat visits to your site;
  • Increase the time spent on your site; and
  • Increase the number of pages visited per visit.

    When you’re link building, you want to spend more time on links which will bring in a higher quality visit. Pure visitors are great but they aren’t the most useful metric around. Would you rather get 10,000 visitors who spend 10 seconds on your site and view one page? Or 1,000 visitors who spend 10 minutes on your site and visit 20 pages? The second one is the type of visit that builds value for your fansite. It means people are more likely to come back, more likely to register, more likely to contribute to your site, and more likely to refer people to your site.

    Ever heard of digg? A lot of fandom people I know aren’t that familiar with it but it is a hugely popular site. If you can get your site on the front page of digg, you can probably get in the neighborhood of 10,000 to 40,000 unique visitors. Ever heard of StumbleUpon? More of my fandom friends have. StumbleUpon, if your site is stumbled right, can get you a few hundred visits a day. A lot of fansites would kill for that. (If the increased traffic didn’t kill their sites.) Those stats make it seem like it would be a no brainer: use both to try to increase your traffic! Lots of visitors!

    Another way to generate traffic is by wanking. Make fandom_wank or sf_drama and you can probably see another 1,000 to 3,000 visitors. If you’re linked through metafandom for being controversial, you can expect between 500 and 2,000 visitors depending on how many posts you’re linked on, how controversial you are and what day of the week it is. But like digg and Stumbleupon, these are cheap visits. Most of the visitors you get through wanking are wank navel gazers. They come in, view one page, spend between 10 seconds to 1 minute on your site, then go. They generally don’t repeat. In fact, because of the tie-ins to wank, they are less likely to be repeat visitors than if you had been linked through Digg. This is because your reputation ends up getting smacked around and you become known as a wanker. And once the wank winds down, your traffic levels off to prewank levels. The high in increased visitors doesn’t hold. You’ll get a massive drop off. So using wank to generate traffic, unless you’re specifically running a wank-type site like fandom_wank or EncyclopediaDramatica, isn’t a good idea. It doesn’t help build value by increasing the visits to your site, increasing time spend on the site, or increasing the number of page views per visit. (It is why Fan History mods don’t intentionally go around wanking; it doesn’t help our more important and valuable metrics. Quality over quantity of visits. And when we have wanked, our traffic tends to fall off a cliff about two days after the wank dies down. We’ve known this for over a year now when we first got the numbers to demonstrate it.)

    Want some real numbers for that? Fan History’s numbers:

    Average digg visitor to Fan History views 1.76 pages and spends 35 seconds on the site. Stumblers view an average 2.27 pages per visit and spend 1 minute 25 seconds on the site. It is harder to separate the wank traffic but the metrics are pretty similar because wank happens all over. But we were mentioned on ranty-rie‘s LiveJournal recently. The average visitor viewed one page, spent less than 10 seconds on the site and didn’t come back.

    If you’re trying to build valuable traffic, what are valuable ways to link build to get visitors who come back, spend time on your site and view multiple pages? Personal e-mail. We have a couple of people on hotmail that we’ve e-mailed who ended up spending over an hour on the site and viewed more than 20 pages in their visit. On gmail? The average visitor views 21.77 pages and spends 21 minutes on the site. Positive mentions with attached discussion. Sidewinder blogs about Fan History on her LiveJournal pretty regularly. Our referrers through her? They view 21.5 pages and spend 11 minutes and 52 seconds per visit on average. (And most of them come back and view the site again.) Another good way to get traffic is to link to sites where the sites are small enough to watch and view every referrer. Fan History does that and people who come in with a referrer of a stat counter, they spend nearly 27 minutes on the site and view an average of 20 pages in their visit. Plugs on message boards also work really well if the message is about the site and the comment invites other comments or discussion about the site. We got mentioned on fannation.shades-of-moonlight.com and the average visitor spent 7 minutes on the site and viewed 13 pages.

    What does that mean? You want to build high quality links where you invite people to participate and be involved. You want a link where the discussion, overall, will have a positive tone. Doing that increases the time spent on the site, increases the number of pages viewed per visit and increases the amount of times a visitor visits your site.

    Don’t go for a cheap route of wanking or using services like digg. They don’t help your increase the value in your metrics.

    For information on Fan History’s metrics in general, see Quantcast, Alexa and Compete.

  • Funding your fansite

    July 11th, 2008

    Discussing money and fandom always makes me queasy because I come that part of media fan fiction fandom which prizes the fact that there is a certain purity to do what we do and believes that making money off our activities is wrong for a variety of reasons.   Another part of the reason that fandom doesn’t discuss money  is that there is the strong belief that what we are doing is probably wrong.  Fansites, fan fiction, fan vidding, fan art all have possible copyright issues.  If some one is making money, it is best to keep that quiet lest the creators decide to go after you and others around you. As a consequence,  money very rarely gets discussed, the financial back end for most sites is largely unknown and the details that are believed to be true are frequently way off base.
    But if you get a site big enough, if you run something with high bandwidth consumption or you some how make it in the top 50,000 sites, your site is going to start costing you money if you’re doing your own hosting.  Serious money.   (And a serious time commitment.  A potentially huge time commitment which can also potentially cost you lots and lots of money.)  The question than comes down to how do you fund your fansite?

    There are a number of options.  They include donations, paying yourself out of your own pockets, paid accounts, advertising, merchandise sales, being bought out (or moving to a free service), incorporating and some other creative solutions.

    One of the most popular of these is user based donations. If your site costs $10, $15, even $500 a month and you have a dedicated and loyal user base, that money can flow.  The downside to this is that you can become really beholden to users who think because they kicked back $20 of the $250 you needed this month that you owe them.  Users can also go through a certain degree of fatigue if they see a request for money all the time.  The other downside to this is if you lack a real community and don’t have that dedicated user base, you may never be able to ask for donations in a way that will support your site.  Still, this option is popular because it doesn’t involve intrusive advertisements and it doesn’t offend the sensibilities of those who believe in the purity of fandom, where we shouldn’t make money off our activities.

    Probably the most popular option for most fansites is paying out of pocket.   The part I like best about this option is that, as the maintainer, you’re really beholden only to yourself.  If you want to say “Screw you!” to your visitors, you can.  You don’t have to answer to advertisers either.  For smaller fansites, the cost is probably between $2.50 a month to $150 a month.  Many people can absorb that cost with out any problems.  It is the ideal for many who believe that fandom shouldn’t be about profiting off other people’s intellectual property or off other people’s work because you’re basically going into debt because of your love of the community and that which you’re a member of the fandom.  If you’re a fan who wants to support other fans, there are a number of fan friendly, fan run hosting options including Squidge and SlashCity.  The problem is this really isn’t feasible if you’re planning a large, large site, need a lot of custom programming or you have huge amounts of traffic.  Most people just can’t absorb $1,000 to $2,000 a month for hosting.

    Paid accounts are another option.  They can be a wonderful source of potential income, especially if you can make them subscriptions.  The problem here is that, if you’re not a programmer, you’re either going to learn or you’re going to have to hire a developer to build features to allow you to offer such accounts.  That can cost time, may make your host less secure if you’re programming with very little idea of what you’re doing. and cost money to hire a programmer.   It can also potentially really offend your user base who might not see the necessity of offering a paid version of the site.  If you have a big enough audience and a loyal fan base, if you can program or get a cheap developer, this option is probably a really good one for larger fansites.  (Unless you’re a wiki in which case, there isn’t much you can offer in the way of paid accounts.)

    Advertising is probably the second or third most popular options for funding your fansite.  The popular sansite choices for advertising brokers seem to basically include AdBrite and GoogleAds.  If your site gets enough traffic, you can generally make enough money to cover your hosting costs.  I’m not partial to GoogleAds though because they require you may $100 before you can get your check.  In a one year period where Fan History had the ads on the site, we never reached that $100 threshold and never got paid.   Ouch.  The other problem with GoogleAds is that they don’t allow adult content.  If you’re a site like AdultFanFiction.Net, you’re pretty much screwed when it comes to GoogleAds and a number of similar ads.  A third problem I’ve encounter is that some of those contextual ads are a pain in the ass.  Fan History had a lot of ads for fans, the kind that blow air around as opposed to the type that love something.  This problem means fewer chances for click through to earn money.  Still yet another problem is that some services, like GoogleAds, make it hard to control who advertises on your site.  No, I don’t want some one advertising vibrators and viagra on Fan History.  Thanks.  But unless I catch the url and report it to block it, that ad may keep appearing. At the moment, Fan History is using ProjectWonderful for ads.  It makes a number of those complaints go away.  Besides the ad issues themselves, some users may be really turned off by ads and think that you’re making a lot of money.  I’ve seen a number of kerfluffles and stupidity regarding that issue.  If you haven’t done ads before and you’re going to do them, be open and honest with your users to mitigate any PR damage your site may face.  If you are making more than you need to operate, figure out some way to kick some back to the users in give aways or contests.  And then, if you’re asked, tell your users that all the extra money is going into a savings account for the site to help cover costs in the long run.  Say this to cover your ass.  Fan sites run by fans take a lot of flack for making money compared to fansites run by corporations and that way, you cover your ass.  Getting back to ads, this option may or may not work for you.  It just comes down to how well your ads work for you and the amount of traffic you’re getting.  Don’t be totally dependent on it as a solution until you know how well it works.

    Still yet another option if you need to pay for your site is to get free hosting.  There are a couple of sites and services which will pay the hosting costs and host you in exchange for something.  Wikia is one example.  Got a fandom wiki?  Consider moving your wiki to their server. If you’ve got a big one with a lot of traffic and a dedicated community, then you can probably sell it to them.  This has happened before with one wiki earning at least five figures.  If you’ve got a fansite, other hosting options include the Devoted Fan Network which hosts your site based on their overall site design and where Devoted Fan Network puts ads on your site to recoup their costs for hosting.  You may also try selling your site or seeing if you can get some one to pick up sponsorship of your site in exchange for exclusive rights to advertise.   That was the case for Battlestar Galatica Wiki where FanLib appears to have picked up the tab for their hosting in exchange for ads on their wiki. This option may work for a lot of people but it generally means a certain level of losing control over your site in order to do it. Of course, you can still go with the old fandom classics like FreeWebs, Bravenet, blogspot, LiveJournal, Geocities, and Tripod.   If you’re a control freak, it may be a bad, bad idea.  If you’re not such a control freak and money is a big concern, it may be an option for you.

    There area  few more options for funding your fansite that I haven’t discussed.  The real issues when it comes down to funding your fansite are your comfort level and control issues, how much you’re willing to spend, how your audience will react and finding a partner or company you can work with.  There is no one size fits all solution for fansites.

    Fandom and traffic

    April 20th, 2008

    I love looking at Fan History’s traffic information.  Where is the traffic coming from?  Which plugs are effective?  Which are less effective?  This, for me, is really important information as the decision was made, mostly for financial reasons, to not advertise.  With Fan History catering to an obscure niche interest, it means getting and sustaining a large sustainable can be difficult.  In two years, some traffic patterns have become rather obvious that those trying to market to fandom or those who seek to create in fandom projects can learn from.

    • Wikipedia: Wikipedia is your friend.  If your site, blog entry, mailing list is on the right Wikipedia page, you can generate a fair number of visits.  It increases your visibility in fandom and to people officially connected to your fandom.
    • LiveJournal: LiveJournal (and to a degree JournalFen’s more popular communities) is your friend.  A good plug on an active community can net you 50 to 500 unique visits.  If the community allows itself to be spidered, if the community has tags, those plugs can keep on giving.  They help with your search engine  visibility.  For professionals in fandom seeking to promote their project, these plugs also demonstrate an awareness of the fandom community which helps establish those projects as legitimate in the eyes of that community.
    • Fansites: Fansites are a great way to get visibility.  Make fansite webmasters your friends.   Ask them to plug your project.  Explain why it would be good for their audience.  Ask them to get involved with your site.  If a popular fansite plugs you on your main page, they can provide a good 50 to 10,000 unique visitors.    If you’ve got a unique product targeted at that community, that much traffic can be fantastic.  (And maintain relationships with those fansite maintainers. The maintainers are power brokers in their corner and can help you figure out where to target the fandom community to help you grow your audience.)  Many fansites also have ways to add your own links.  AnimeNewsNetwork and Anipike are two good anime examples where you can add your own links.  If you can’t get the maintainers to plug on your main page, do it there.
    • Mailing lists: Mailing lists are not dead in fandom.  A frequent characterization of mailing list folks is that they are opposed to web 2.0 and the whole blogging culture.  Not true.  Many of the folks I know on mailing lists just like that culture.  They do use other social networking tools but mailing lists are a communal way of sharing news with out having to know how to operate in fandom cultures they may not be familiar with. It means that mailing lists can be a great source of traffic as you’ve got a community of people who share.  Even better, people will take things that they see on mailing lists and mention them elsewhere as they share what they like elsewhere.  An active fandom mailing list with 250 to 10,000 members might result in 10 to 50 visits but there is chance of a mention elsewhere that can result in more traffic.
    • Digg: Digg is not always a huge traffic generator and isn’t a traditional fandom tool.  (delicious seems to be the social bookmarking tool of choice.)  Unless you’ve already got a huge website going, you’re not likely to end up on the front page with out something happening.  Digg does help with search engine visibility.   If your Digg link submission involves an article on an obscure topic, it can help to really channel people interested in that topic to your site.
    • Social networking sites: Quizilla, MySpace, FaceBook, bebo, orkut are great social networking sites but they don’t generate much traffic, nor do they create much increased visibility.  The fandom community on those networks isn’t really oriented towards fandom.  You can tell you’ve made it though when you start getting mentions on them.  Fan History does a plug on one of those sites, or gets a mention, it will net maybe 5 to 10 unique visitors in the course of a six month period.   These mentions won’t necessarily help with your search engine visibility, nor help your networking opportunities.  Your time is best spent plugging your project elsewhere.
    • Blogs: Bloggers can be your friend and key traffic drivers.  A big, influential blog that mentions you can get you a lot of traffic.  A smaller blog might add to your search engine visibility.  A small, influential blog might help you get the attention of people who can help your project succeed.
    • Controversy: Controversy can sell and help add legitimacy to your project.  Fan History gets fairly decent sized traffic bumps when people have issues with articles, with privacy issues in fandom or with people who help maintain the wiki.  Fandom Wank can be your traffic driving, search engine visibility, viral link creating friend.  Lee Goldberg slamming on you can give you sympathy and legitimacy.   Having slashers and het shippers duke it out on your site insures they stay and means they’ll probably link to their arguments elsewhere to complain about the behavior of those they don’t like. Controversy may also bring media attention and attention from the people affiliated with your fandom.
    • Specialized content: Specialized content generates traffic.  Fan History gets a fair amount of traffic because we cover topics that are not covered as thoroughly elsewhere.  Cassandra Claire is the best example of this on Fan History.  The Draco/Hermione is another good example.  Alias Smith and Jones is a third.  Thoroughly link and promote this specialized content to make it easier to find. Doing that will help generate viral links with out your having to do the work.

    Is marketing a fandom project different than marketing a project that is not fandom related?  Probably not.  A lot of this advice would probably work for a site promoting soap or a non-fandom specific web service.  The difference is that fansites don’t necessarily see good marketing advice as applicable to them because fandom is a hobby or an academic exercise; for them, fandom is not a business and should not operate like one.   They should because nothing is sadder than seeing a good project die through lack of interest.

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