Ask Jason (5 Q&As so far)

I got a ton of great questions on my last post, and I answered them ask quickly and in as much details as I could in

the comment form. My experience in running a transparent Web 2.0 company (dang, that sounds really wonky) is that at

the end of the day (or “net net” for you MBAs out there) the transparency has helped the business. Sure, we deal with

over aggressive, immature, and in some the some cases mentally disturbed folks going to town from time to time, but

the value I’ve gotten from people understanding the business and giving me suggestions makes dealing with the freaks

worth it.

So, I’m starting a little feature here inspired by Ask Autoblog, Ask BloggingBaby and Ask Engadget: “Ask

Jason.”

You can feel free to ask me any question you like with the basic guideline of act like an adult. An interesting test

someone recently mentioned to me was “post to my comments in the same fashion you would talk to me in person.” As

always, aggressive/obnoxious/vulgar stuff will be deleted, but tough questions are just fine. In fact, you can feel

free to ask me questions on any topic.

1. Paul Short Asks: If you were to start a large content portal along the lines of

About.com, what would you try to improve on or try to do better than

them (or similar sites) in terms of a) organizing the content, b) initial promotion, and c) building in interactivity

with your readers ,beyond comment features or newsletters.

Paul: Trying to take on About.com would be like trying to take on a freight train with your

mountain bike”it won’t be pretty. As Mark Cuban likes to say “if you want to run with the elephants you’re either

quick or you’re dead.” So, given the fact that you’ll never beat About.com or Wikipedia.org at this point in the

game, your best bet is to look at how far their content goes and at least triple the value they provide.

In terms of part (a) of your question, organizing the content, the format is not what matters”it’s the quality

that matters. So, if you’re going to do gadget as a topic, for example, you had better make sure you can make a blog

that is 3x as good as Engadget (good luck!), a website that is 3x better than CNET (good luck!), or a wiki that is 3x

better then… hmmmm? Doesn’t seem to be a gadget wiki… I think you get the idea. It’s better to take the open hill

(i.e. format/vertical) then get slaughtered trying to take someone else’s castle (at least in my mind). In terms of

(b), promotion, I don’t believe in it. The best promotion is a great product. Put all your energy into making

something great and the world/Google search will show up. In terms of (c) if you make great content then you’ll get

an audience. If you have an audience then getting traffic is just a matter of asking folks a question. So, again, all

you really have to do is focus on the quality of the content. I find most people forget this and get distracted by

trying to raise money, find advertisers, do marketing, and doing lunch.


Martin Asks:

Jason, I want to ask you about the effect of choosing to be out there personally and being the face of your

business – using that as a marketing tool. How do you cope with it all – the flak, the many requests I’m sure you’d

get. I know you court controversy and like to stir the pot a little (so you bring it on yourself – smart marketing)

but how do you manage your time. Because, when you’re small you can deal with all the requests but as your business

grows the demands on you increase greatly – I just find it hard to say no to people and as I’ve started getting way

too many demands put on me in recent times it’s a tough choice.

Martin: Great question.

What I’ve found is that by putting myself out there I’ve actually become more efficient. People who I know are

keeping track of what we do via my blog, as are the 130+ bloggers in the network. It’s very rare that someone has a

question for me that I have not already answered on my blog”in some cases I may have answered it multiple times (and

in some rare cases I’ve changed the answer two or three times!). When I meet new people they have the history of the

company already. They know my positions on issues and there is very little wasted time. People know at this point

that I don’t believe in traditional marketing so very few people call me asking me to buy ads on their site. People

know my schedule so they ping me when they are at the same event or city I’m in. You get the idea.

Now, on a personal level people can and do attack me from time to time, but you have to look at who is really

attacking you. If it’s some wack job who really cares? Frankly, the

nutcases out there”and anonymity does bring them out”sometimes have something valid in their venom. Some of the best

ideas of the past year have come in vulgar, insulting comments that I deleted before they ever went public. If you’re

self confident enough to ignore the personal attacks and look for the insights you’ll be better for it.

One funny thing I find is that the younger competitors in the space sometimes attack me and tell me all the things

we’re doing wrong, and how they are going to do it right and stick it to me. Then they never execute and they

basically do free consulting for us! That’s the really great thing about being transparent”you don’t need to pay for

focus groups or consultants! In fact, answering these first two questions has given me a bunch of good ideas!

As the sign above the door at Xaverian High School said: the truth shall make you free.


Jackson Asks: Jason, as a content publisher, what is the most important metric for your business

as you try and track / analyze your readership? Is there a particular metric or set of metrics that you use to

gauge the success of one of your properties? How does this change when thinking about a relatively new site

versus a more established site?

Jackson: Another great question. I’m an Excel freak and I’ve looked at all kinds of combinations

of the following values: blogs, blog posts, traffic, revenue, cost per post, ad impressions, post length, and

RSS hits.

My favorite metric is revenue per 1,000 pages (or RPM). I came up with this myself, but I’m sure many folks look at

it. Basically add up all your revenue and divide your total traffic by it. So, if you had 1M pages and made $1,000 in

a month your RPM would be $1. If you made $10,000 you RPM would be $10. So, let’s say you sold your top leader board

for a $5 CPM, you made a $1 eCPM for Google Adsense, and you made a $1CPM from Tribal Fusion. You would have $7 RPM

per page.

As far as I can tell the metrics that matter most are (in order):

1. EBITDA (duh?!) & the average % increase in monthly

EBITDA

2. Revenue & the average % increase in monthly revenue

3. Revenue per 1,000 pages (RPM).

4. Traffic growth & the average % increase in monthly traffic growth.

After those thee you can look at things like (in no order):

– Revenue per blog.

– Revenue per blogger

– # of blogs/bloggers added each month

Clearly the most overrated metric in the *business* of blogging is inbound links. Every time I hear people going on

and on about the Technorati rankings at a conference i just laugh inside.

There seems to be an *inverse* correlation between many members of the Technorati 100 and the amount of money they’re making! So, don’t worry too much about

inbound links. Yes, I know it’s an important measurement of people talking about you, but I’m finding people at

looking at that as the MOST important metric. Clearly traffic, RPM, EBITDA, revenue and CPM are MUCH more

important then inbound links!

As Flava Flav says, Don’t believe the hype!

In terms of new sites vs. existing sites the % of traffic growth is going to very different. When a new site grows

you’re looking at triple or quadrupple digit % growth, but on a site with 10M pages you would be very excited

cracking into double digit growth each month.

As Albert Einstein said, compound interest is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time.


John Keehler from http://www.randomculture.com Asks: Can you give us an overview of what you see your

competitive landscape looks like over the next few years? Right now, there’s really just you guys and Gawker Media…

so what happens next? Do we see more blog publishing networks popping up? Do we also see more single blog publishers

banding together to create larger networks? Kind of like John Battelle’s “Federated Media”, that includes the likes

of BoingBoing… Do we maybe see some larger content publishers buying these blogs? Maybe even buying out Weblogs Inc.,

or Gawker?

John: A bunch of questions in there. Some basic trends I think will happen:

  1. The number of blogs will increase, as will traffic to blogs. Blogs will become 10-20% of

    people’s media diet (in terms of news gathering and reading) over the next three years.

  2. More bloggers will try to make a living from their blogs, but this will represent only 1-2% of the blogosphere.

    Most folks will not blog for compensation”it’s just too much work, and you can’t make a lot of money from a

    personal blog anyway. In other words, blogging will be largely uncommercialized or lightly commercialized.

  3. There are already two dozen blog networks out there, and I suspect you’ll see some niche ones do well (i.e.

    9rules is becoming a cool place for designers and their blogs to hang out).

  4. John Battelle’s Federated Media will do well for the small to mid-market blogger who is looking ot outsource

    their advertising sales. Frankly, this was the WIN business model two years ago, but back then you could count on

    one hand the number of blogs that even had the traffic to sell ads. We figured out there was more value to be had

    by just building a bunch of blogs and paying bloggers. However things have changed over the past two years and

    there are a lot of sites like Rafat Ali’s PaidContent, Jeff Jarvis’ BuzzMachine, Doc’s blog, Scoble’s blog, and Om

    Malik’s Gigaom that could actual make some money using John’s service. So, I wish him the best with it, and if

    there is a business there maybe we will start offering a similar service for people.

  5. In terms of people buying blogs we’ve seen that happen already, but it’s still very early in

    the space. Right now everyone’s in build mode.


Marion Paige asks: Do you have any plans to institute a back-end directory?

Marion:

We get these questions all the time. Are you going to start message boards, chat rooms, wikis, classifieds, a

directory, etc? As far as I’m concerned it’s hard enough to be the #1 blog in a space, so why should we dilute our

efforts and try and be all things to all people?

The day Craigs lists start blogs is the day that their classified business starts to suffer. The day we try to be

Craigs list is the day our blogs suffer.

You’ve got to know what your mission is in life and stick to it. I find that many folks get something good started

and then drowned in opportunity that their early success has brought them. We’re 1,000% focused on creating great

blogs”that’s enough!

And yes, I’ve heard that Gawker is going to add classifieds to their network. I think that’s a logical brand

extension for some of their sites (just like Rafat does well with classifieds over at PaidContent.org). So, brand

extensions can work, but right now we need to stay focused on our blogs. Maybe in a year or two we’ll bolt some stuff

on.

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