The secret to success on the internet can be boiled down to one simple accomplishment: building traffic.
That’s it. If you have a site that attracts a lot of visitors, you will be able to make money. On the internet, traffic equals power, which subsequently equals money.
Depending on the topic of your site, however, it may be easier and harder to generate that money. But even a seemingly ridiculous site such as HotorNot.com has a revenue of $5-$10 million a year (with the bulk of it being profit). If you aren’t familiar with the site, the premise is simple: rate other users on how “hot” they are on a scale of 1 to 10. That’s it. You vote, and get sent to the next photo. When I first saw it, I thought it was amusing but saw no way they could make money from it. As it turns out, they managed to turn it into a casual dating site with a simple subscription service that allowed you to make connections. This simple $6/month revenue stream added up to a revenue stream of up to $10 million a year,
Now, generating revenue might not be enough if your expenses are high. One notable site that has never made a profit is YouTube. To be fair, I don’t think generating a steady profit was part of the original game plan. As a venture capital funded site, millions of dollars were invested in the infrastructure, employees and bandwidth to create what became a “killer app” for the Internet. In the end, the founders and investors did make an enormous profit on the site through its sale to Google for $1.6 billion dollars. Why did Google pay $1.6 billion to buy a site that has never made a profit? Because Google understands more than anyone the value of traffic, and truly believes that traffic = power = money.
As the founder of a well trafficked site, and with plans to establish other sites, the concept of building traffic is always on my mind. I have ideas of how other sites established their user base, but here are a few reasons MacRumors has grown to be as popular as it has:
- Good domain – I was fortunate to be able to pick up “MacRumors.com” as an expired domain in 2000. It’s a generic keyword-rich domain which perfectly encapsulates the topic of the site. It’s easy to remember, and well ranked in searches related to rumors.
- Addictive Content – it’s no coincidence that I started a web site surrounding rumors about Apple and the Mac. I was already an addict. I scoured messageboards and news sites around the web for hints about future Apple products. I don’t expect everyone to understand how this particular topic is as addictive as it is… but clearly it’s not just me.
- Little Competition – We weren’t the first rumor site on the scene. But what was interesting was that there used to be a clear divide between rumor sites and news sites in the Mac web. “News sites” would not report on rumors. They purposefully ignored the entire subcommunity. That seems ridiculous now, as the lines have since blurred, with even mainstream media covering Apple rumors. But I’d say that gave us a 4 year head start over other Mac sites. They weren’t willing to cater to the rumor-audience, so MacRumors was one of only a few rumor destinations for those intervening years.