Whether it’s your first time building an ad-supported site or you’re an experienced digital entrepreneur, building and running an independent publishing site is no easy feat. Producing quality content, managing employees, building an audience of readers and developing marketing means you have a lot of balls in the air, and often limited time and resources to make it all happen. Of course, the site itself is the most important thing, but hiring out the design and back end development of a website can cost tens of thousands of dollars, making it cost prohibitive for most small publishers. So, like everything else you’ve done to build your business, you Do It Yourself.
There are plenty of affordable tools available to small publishers to create their own sites such as WIX and WordPress. These tools enable coding novices to use templates, functionality and design tools to create professional-quality sites without the huge investment of time and money. You don’t have to be an HTML whiz to DIY your site, but you do have to approach it in a thoughtful way, and utilize these tools to create not just a good-looking site but a custom experience that is right for your brand and your users’ needs.
Here’s a checklist of best practices that can help small publishers ensure that their DIY work is of professional quality that will optimize both the reader experience and your revenue potential.
Think Like a Designer – This seems obvious, but a professional web designer doesn’t just think about what looks pretty, but also what is going to be most user-friendly in terms of look-and-feel, readability, navigation and functionality. The best way to get started is to look at sites that you like to read online and think about why the experience is so compelling. Choose layouts and design elements that enhance readability so that the visitor will engage more deeply with the content. Consider where to leave space for advertising content that will complement, not intrude upon, your site’s content. Design navigation so that various content elements and functions are easy for your reader to find.
Think like a copy editor – Your site now looks beautiful, but the substance is just as important. You likely already have a handle on the overall idea of your site’s content, but it’s important that the words themselves also enhance the reader experience. Take time to craft the copy.
Think like your user – As a Web user, what is more frustrating than a site that won’t load correctly or is so cluttered with content and clunky navigation that you can’t find what you’re looking for. So consider why your reader come to your site in the first place and make it easy for them to get what they need.
If you are using slideshows, make sure they’re easy to play or scroll through. If you are hosting videos, make sure that they always play properly. If you have a shopping cart, make sure it works and that you accept a wide range of payment options.
Think like an SEO expert – You have a beautiful, informational site, but it won’t matter if no one can find it. When crafting your content, include keywords and topics that readers might search for so you will be picked up by the major search engines, and use this inbound approach to help craft articles that readers want to read. This will help you build your audience. Consult SEO tutorials and tools such as Google AdWords to learn about optimizing your search rankings.
Think like an advertiser – Your revenue potential is only as good as the opportunities you offer your advertising partners. Don’t rely on traditional banner ads to do the trick. Offer them deeper engagement through non-traditional placements that capture user attention and encourage them to click through. Consider how you can use search optimization and native content in order to create more effective advertising messages.
The digital publishing world is rife with tools for the DIY publisher to create high-quality sites without having to engage high-cost professionals. Even a DIY site can be a huge moneymaker for a small publisher, as long as you approach its creation like a professional. That means keeping the user experience at the top of your priority list, ensuring you optimize opportunities for advertisers and creating a site layout that allows them to peacefully coexist.