Success with Informational Sites – Part 1

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on October 21, 2010 in: Business - Plain & Simple, Business Marketing, Tips in 10

Sometimes when I write Tips In Ten, they are tips that take ten minutes to perform, and sometimes they are tips that take ten minutes to read but longer to perform. Since this topic takes 4 articles to talk about, there will be a combination of tasks, some taking ten minutes and some taking longer.

So, over the next 4 articles, you’ll read about information sites (some people refer to these as Content sites) and I will guide you step by step through the process of setting them up and succeeding with them. But first, I need to make sure we’re all on the same page so let’s start by talking about what they are and why they are important.

Informational sites are exactly what their name implies: Sites that are rich in information. In many cases, they are presented in the form of a blog (and that is how I tend to use them) or they contain other ways to communicate information, such as articles, reports, wikis, links to other sites, etc.

What separates information sites from other sites is that they don’t sell anything. They are information only: Just informative content as far as the eye can see! However, just because they have lots of content but don’t sell, don’t write them off as money-losing, time wasters. On the contrary! Information sites can generate you a lot of money and I will show you how.

Think of information sites as resource centers for a niche market to visit in order to get the information they want about a specific topic. They need to be rich in the subject matter that your audience is looking for.

So, the next big question you’re wondering is…

Why would I want an informational site?

Good question! And, if you’re not sure about informational sites in general then you might be wondering why you’d want to pour your efforts into a separate site… after all, why not just make your own business’ site an informational site, right?

Informational sites have some advantages over building a resource base on your own site:

  • Informational sites give the appearance of being an unbiased resource center. In general, I’m sure that the information you provide would be unbiased, regardless of whether it’s on your site or on an informational site, but the customer’s perception can often be mistaken. They’ll think “of course the business is saying that; they’re trying to get me to buy something.” Even if it’s not true, that’s consumer psychology: They tend to trust more the information that seems “separate” from the business. So an informational site creates a “one step removed” site that makes it easy for you to provide information without seeming biased.
  • Informational sites help to position you. Which business would you trust more: A business that sells something and that’s it, or a business that sells something AND selflessly provides a learning center? Of course the learning center business tends to be positioned as an expert (and therefore more trustworthy and able to command higher rates). But for reasons given in the previous bullet point, that needs to take place on a different site.
  • Informational sites give you a “laboratory” where you can express your ideas and try out different things. Because of the volume of material you post, you can create content and try out different ideas and see how they are accepted. If you develop a great new coaching technique and all of your informational site readers love it, then maybe you can think about marketing it on its own. Or if your readers hate it, then you know that you should cut it out of your processes and move on. This laboratory helps you create and disseminate and test thought-leadership.
  • Informational sites that have regular content also help you to generate an audience who might not normally follow a business’ site or blog but who do crave information. So, you get a bigger share of an audience.
  • Informational sites are also very search engine friendly – for a few reasons that we’ll be talking about in upcoming Tips In Ten issues – so they help people to find “you” even if your own business’ website doesn’t turn up that well in search results.

For these reasons, informational sites are highly valuable assets that every business should own. But I would add yet another reason that informational sites are so valuable (but let me first clarify that this reason should NOT be your primary reason for starting an informational site, though it can be an important secondary reason):

  • nformational sites can provide valuable ad revenue from people who click through ads placed on your informational site.

How should I start?

Here’s the process that I use when I begin an informational site:

1.    Start by thinking about who your target audience is for your business. Remember that whatever you decide to do for an informational site, you want it to be related to your business somehow because you are attracting your target audience so you can hopefully serve them some day and because this site can help to position you as an expert. (Besides, why would you want to split your focus between the subject matter of your business and some other subject matter? It’s less productive that way). So start by listing your target audience and try to narrow the niche to very specific audiences. For example, you might be a sales coach for small businesses but you can probably narrow it down further than that to “would-be entrepreneurs”, “MLM entrepreneurs”, “recent start-ups”, and “small businesses that are about 1 year old”. There, you’ve got 4 niches that you might want to consider creating informational s ites for.

2.    Once you’ve thought about your target audience, now it’s time to think about what information they are looking for. You want to find the “intersection” between what you do and what they need. Once you find that “intersection”, you’ll need to focus all of your content there. So, let’s say that you choose to start with an informational site for would-be entrepreneurs. The “intersection” between your business and their needs might include information about sales basics, the importance of sales to various aspects of the business, the sales process, etc. I would list as many topics as I could think of, aiming to have 100 or more topics. You might actually end up with a couple of different ideas for sites for a single niche. Just pick one and work on it first.

3.    Plan the format that you want to use. We’ll talk more about this in an upcoming Tips In Ten, but in general you need to decide if you are going to create a blog, a Squidoo lens, a site that is full of articles (but with a different structure than a blog), a wiki (which only you update), etc. There are lots of options and in an upcoming Tips In Ten I’ll talk about why I prefer blogs.

Okay, put your pens down! You’ve done enough for today. Watch for the next article of Tips In Ten when we talk further about informational sites and the business-building opportunity they provide you.

Heather Recommends:

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