How to build a niche market forum business? Interview:…

I like interviewing webmasters from time to time to find out some info about them and their web businesses. Following is an interview with Mark Doust who runs a web forum for people with new web businesses. Some great advice in here that I think is valuable especially on how to get started. Very interesting method of promotion in terms of referral marketing and article PR.

If you run more than one website. What is the name and URL of your primary website?
Site Reference ( is easily the largest website that I am associated with. I am also working on and, although these are more hobby sites at this time.

The internet provides access to global audiences and markets. Where are you located and is your market influenced by your location?
I am located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Although my market is not influenced directly by my location, I always find it fascinating to see the demographics of my visitors.

What were the circumstances that led you to start your site/online business?
Initially I got started on my own sites/businesses after I found myself without a job. It is amazing how much motivation you can have when next month’s rent depends on making some money. I have actually always been involved in some business venture in one way or the other. I love the process of starting something, growing a business, and watching it morph into something entirely on its own. I promise you that at any given moment, I am working on at least two or three new projects.

What does this site do?
Site Reference is a resource for webmasters with a concentration on the newer website owner. We offer advice on web design, search enigne optimization, and various marketing methods. We also have built an extremely useful community of users in our forums.

Is this your only site?
Sometimes I wish it was. 🙂 I always have new sites being built.
Are you a full time web business person or do you have other income as well?
I am a full time web business person and have been fulltime since 2003.

There are many methods of promotion for website. What do you do and which do you think are the most effective?
Well there is no single answer to this question – it depends entirely on your website. What works for an information based site like Site Reference will not necessarily work for a retail website.

Site Reference depends almost entirely on people referring other people to the site. We try to publish high quality articles which others will refer to their friends, talk about in forums they participate in, or link over to in their blogs. This has been extremely effective for us for years and will certainly be a corner stone of the site’s continued growth.
But as I said, of each of the many methods available, I am not too partial to any one in particular. I think PPC is a great promotion method if you are selling a product or service with a known value. Article marketing (if done correctly) can be extremely good if you are selling an informational product.
But if I were to talk about my favorite and least favorite, it would break down like this:

Favorite Marketing/Promotion Method:
Referral marketing/viral marketing/public relations. This is so powerful, and so cost effective, it is easily my favorite method of marketing. Unfortunately, it is also one of the more difficult methods to master (I certainly have not yet mastered it). The web’s most popular services and sites today grew as a result of referral marketing.

Least Favorite Marketing Method:
SEO. This may surprise some people, especially since I focus a lot of my time personally on SEO. The problem that I see with this method is that people tend to rely on search engines making sales for them. It makes absolutely no sense to base your business’s success on the whims and fancies of another company that you have no control over. Don’t get me wrong, SEO is great – I love SEO as a bonus to any marketing campaign, but I would never base the success of my business on a search engine.

What techniques did you use in the beginning to launch the site?
Site Reference was built using article marketing almost exclusively. Article marketing falls under that referral/public relations in my opinion. If you write quality material that actually helps people, you will quickly find that you will be looked to as a resource.

What are your main sources of revenue from the site?
Ad sales are the primary revenue from the site, although the site does fairly well with affiliate product sales and adsense revenue.

Where do you see key opportunities in the future for revenue?
Really just an expansion of the advertising sales. Site Reference is recognized by literally hundreds of thousands of website owners. At the same time, we try to keep our ad rates extremely reasonable that our advertisers can see a real return on their investment.

Where do you see yourself in a few years time?
I’m sure my wife would like to know the answer to this one as well. When I look back on where I was five years ago, I never would have thought I am where I am today. So where will I be in a few years? I honestly don’t know. I see no reason to believe that I won’t be building new sites that will hopefully help people in some way.

If you could give two pieces of advice to aspiring or new webmasters/internet business owners, what would they be?

  1. Just get it done. I talk to so many people who say that they want to work for themselves or get something started, but they never do anything about it. When I was first starting out on the Internet, I had a full-time job which involved the Internet. So after a full day of work online, I would come home and spend an additional 6 – 7 hours working on my computer. It certainly was not fun, but the work needed to be done.
    If you really want to start something, realize that you just need to get it started. Plan your steps, but most importantly start doing and stop saying that you want to do.
  2. Do not be afraid of technology. Learning the technical side of the Internet (such as how the Internet works, how to manage the basics of a webserver, learning HTML/CSS and a basic programming language) is invaluable. Do not be afraid of it – it is actually easier to learn than you may think. Iniitally it will seem completely foreign, but as you continue to expose yourself to it and play around with technology, it becomes quite easy to manage.
Online branding

Online Branding in the 21st Century

I had a couple of interesting conversations at the seminar the other day, one in particular about the idea that I was ignoring branding and its importance. It got me thinking at the time and I wasn’t too sure how to respond. I have been thinking more and more about this concept of branding and how un-important it is compared to 20 years ago. I have a feeling that a lot of marketers are still thinking that families are all sitting together in front of the television eating their dinner together.

Family watching television together in the 1980’s

I used to do this with my family as we watched all of the sit coms together. I think its important to state that things might have changed just a little and marketers might want to just take a look at some of the changes in media consumption. There is more than just the television now and there is one emerging media called the internet that is making a big change. I personally prefer to surf on the internet than to watch ad infested television. I will watch a DVD or record something with Foxtel iQ rather than watch free to air television. I almost feel that watching free to air television is like the lowest rung when I want to be entertained. If I am watching free to air television I feel I am scraping the bottom of the barrel.

I was speaking with a client yesterday and I asked them if they have seen some of the latest things McDonalds were doing. They said, “No, I haven’t seen it because I don’t watch television anymore.” He doesn’t watch television? Have you noticed more and more people saying this these days. 20 years ago you would never have heard anyone say that they don’t watch television. Television was the way in which everyone connected and had something to talk about. We talked about the shows and watched them at the same time from our own homes. Because everyone was watching and all at the same time it made sense to just advertise then and cover everyone. It was a very smart way to advertise if you had the money because you hit so many people all at once. I found back then that I didn’t have much choice in what I could purchase because I only was provided with one medium television to choose from. All the brands that were shown on television were the brands I knew existed and so I would make my limited selection from them. The situation now is that I can go onto Google and type in a type of product and be presented with a whole host of different choices. I couldn’t care if I knew of the brand or not because I will just read the reviews of someone else who has purchased this product before. I don’t have to listen to one medium I can just get the information I need myself.

This change in consumers being able to get more choice and information more easily has dramatically changed the way in which consumers purchase. If you remember everyone sitting together watching television, think of what you do now. Before you make a purchase or go somewhere do you find yourself going online to get more information? When you go online do you get more choice? As the consumer gets used to using even more advanced forms of this process (e.g. reading reviews, writing reviews and rating products/companies), I think you will see branding become even less powerful. The key now is more niche targeted products and services which were not possible before without the internet.

Where do you think branding is going?

Online marketing

Fred Schebesta awarded Australian Young Direct Marketer of the…

Last night at the ADMA Awards night I was announced the Australian young Direct marketer of the year for 2006. After winning the NSW Young Direct Marketer of the year I went into another round of interviews and presentations. I had to present work that we at Freestyle Media had done and show the following criteria:

  • Knowledge of the direct marketing discipline
  • Success in applying it
  • Contribution to the industry
  • Ability to be an ambassador for the Association as the winner will represent ADMA overseas

Last night at the award night at the State theatre in Sydney it all felt very surreal. Over 750 people listened and heard myself announced as the young direct marketer of the year. I had to give an acceptance speech which I loved doing. (I love public speaking.) I said in my speech that it was a sign of the times that a online marketer could be announced as the Young direct marketer of the year. (This comment started some good conversation with the print people afterwoods!) I then went on to thank the Freestyle Media team for all their contributions to winning this award. I said that without them this award would never have been possible. From the web design, web development, copywriting, media buying, search marketing, finance, admin, accounting and internet marketing this all contributed to making the award possible. I concluded with thanking Michael Kiely for his tutorlidge and Rob Edwards for his forsight in seeing where direct marketing is headed. I thanked the clients I have worked with including Sanitarium, Laser Sight, University of Newcastle, Qantas Holidays, McDoanlds Australia and am looking forward to delivering more award winning work for new ones.

I appreciate everyones support throughout these times and look forward to the internet marketing seminar which I will be able to help a lot of corporate businesses unlock the potential of their online marketing.

Email marketing

Email Marketing tools who do you use?

If you have read my email list building post I am sure you are wondering what tools we use. When it comes to professional email marketing using outlook or some dodgy mailer is not the key. It gets easily blocked by spam guards and there is no reporting. When you are getting serious I recommend using a professional mailing program. Freestyle Media have used a lot of different providers over the time although we have settled with Campaign Master for our corporate clients. They are a little bit more expensive as compared to the others (1 or 2 cents per email) although they are well worth it when it comes to reliably delvering mail to your customers.

Here are the 4 things to look for when choosing your email marketing provider:

  1. Deliverability – Campaign master have a team of whitelist experts brokering deals for your emails with ISP’s to ensure that they don’t get blocked by SPAM guards. A lot of email marketing providers have a certain deliverability rate but don’t have a team of people who ensure that the ISP’s accept your emails. This is the main reason why I choose Campaign Master
  2. Ease of use – If the program isn’t easy to use don’t bother. I have heard of some of our clients spending over 4 hours on a mailout because the system was so cumbersome.
  3. Reporting – I like graphs and click through numbers. I know you can do lots of fancy analysis but I just prefer getting an indication of whats happening not so much a definitive answer. I just don’t think you can expect a single emailout to tell you everything there is to know about your customers. It takes time you need to learn from each activity 1 small thing and slowly build the knowledge up until, like Michael Kiely says, you can walk into a crowd of people and you can walk up and talk to the people who are your customer.
  4. Cost – When it comes to cost I think about what and how many I am delivering and choose a provider to match. If you are just sending a text email go the cheapest you can get, but if you are sending an HTML (multipart – text and HTML wrapped together which “degrades gracefully” depending on the email viewing software the user has) I would use a more sophisticated program like Campaign Master.

Let me know what is important to you with your email marketing?

Online marketing

Analytics for an Online Marketer from Panalysis

As you can see my internet marketing seminar is heating up and I am getting a few questions about who Panalysis are. It’s a good question if you want to become a better online marketer. Panalysis are a web analytics company headed up by Rod Jacka. Rod is a guru when it comes to identifying and leveraging website traffic statistics to improve your online marketing. I love his software that tells you where people are clicking and his use of ClickTracks will blow you out of the water. He can quickly identify the advertising campaigns that bring visitors to your site that make you money and those that don’t.

Clicktracks is an online marketing guru’s dream product as it tells you exactly where people are clicking on your website. Even better it can help you to identify and prevent click fraud, Rod has a lot to say on this matter. Rod will be at the seminar and we are also holding another analytics workshop on the 24th of November although this has very limited places.

When it comes to choosing an analytics provider here are 3 tres important things to consider.

  1. Analysis paralysis – Don’t invest in too much heavy analytics software if your not going to be analysing your site all day long. That is why I like Clicktracks because it’s lightweight but can crunch out the stats for you.
  2. Consistency brings insight – If you are going to start analysing your stats do it with regularity otherwise you lose your insights. You might pick up on 2 or 3 trends from a quick analysis but you will only gain insight if you follow these monthly or at least quarterly.
  3. Only the hardcore analyse – If you’re not a hardcore online marketer or if you don’t want to be don’t bother with web analytics. It’s best for people looking to increase their conversion rates and guide users to the right places on their website. If you just want to get a website up and throw out a couple of enewsletters don’t bother.
Online marketing

5 things to check daily with your marketing

These are 5 things I check daily for clients and for our businesses:

1. Number of Sales – I check signups/sales/leads or whatever the metric that all marketing is determined on for a particular client. With Laser Sight Centres its all about laser eye surgery bookings. How many today versus yesterday.

2. Website traffic – I check my blogs traffic almost daily. I check the following metrics:

  • Recent camefroms – What webpages did people recently come from
  • Recent keywords – What keywords did people type in to get to my blog
  • Amount of traffic – The actual volume of traffic that went to the blog

3. Signups to email database – I check signups to email databases almost as religiously as number of sales. Anyone who downloads your whitepapers/signs up to your list or any other way you are capturing interested peoples email details are interested. The more interested people you are speaking to the better.

4. Search engine listings – I type in my clients main search engine keywords every 2 days. I couldnt tell you how many times I have typed “laser eye surgery” into Google!

5. Competitive Search engine listings – I always check at the same time on the natural listings to see how my clients competitors are going on the engines and if they have decided to bite the bullet and just buy up the keywords. If they are already buying up keywords, I check to see what they are running for their landing pages and what their ads are saying.

What do you check?