So it’s been just over a year since I first published this little ebooklet and I thought I would give a short update. As you can see in my earnings reports, earnings from the website have continued to increase. Although there have been a few ‘slow’ months, the overall trend is upward, and most months in 2007 are earning over double the same month in 2006.
Significant items since this ebook was originally published
I moved the website to a faster, dedicated server
I was noticing that during peak-traffic hours page loads were extremely slow – sometimes 10 or even 20 seconds. I was also having problems emailing my newsletters because my host capped email at 200/hr in an attempt to prevent spammers. Any time I sent more than 200 emails/hr (this includes automatic notifications from the site – not just news letters) I would have to call and beg to send more email. Because of these issues I decided to switch from my $7/month shared host to a dedicated server with a new hosting company. I was concerned about the initial up-front cost of doing this, and the increased monthly fees (up-front setup fees were about $250 and monthly cost is about $175). But because this was a small percentage of my earnings at the time I went ahead with the move. Note that I did not make this change until my traffic was several thousand visitors per day. I still highly recommend an inexpensive shared web-host such as Powweb to get started with your website.
After moving to the new server page load times immediately dropped from 10-20 seconds during busy times to only 1-2 seconds. I migrated to the new server over the weekend and was shocked at the immediate increase in traffic on Monday morning (weekends are usually lower-traffic days for my site) – Traffic immediately jumped an average of 1,000 – 2,000 visitors per day in the first week. The increase in traffic was because visitors that would have been coming to the site previously were getting tired of waiting 10-20 seconds for pages to load and were clicking the back-button or closing their browser window, and going somewhere else. The new faster server did not generate traffic, it just allowed me to capture more (all?) of my traffic potential.
After several weeks and several hundred more pages of user-generated content I started having trouble with the new server. I experienced several crashes and a few days of down-time. I was not expert enough in Unix, Apache or MySQL to figure out the problems and had to beg my new hosting company to help pinpoint the trouble. They don’t usually do this because it is “my” server, but they (surpasshosting) were great. It turns out that Drupal and MySQL needed some tweaking and optimization so they did not use as much memory and CPU. I ended up disabling some of the worst CPU/Memory hog modules in Drupal such as the “Statistics Tracking” module, the “Bad Behavior Logging”, and a few other modules that I was not really using. I also paid an additional $300 to upgrade my new dedicated server from 1GB to 2GB of RAM. Since those changes the site is now running great – but that two weeks of intermittent downtime (and lost $$) was quite stressful – but I did learn a few things.
The website has now morphed into a “community forum”
Following where visitors and members took the site (based on suggestions and feedback), it has now transformed into more of a social-community than just a ‘website’. I have tried to make the entire site & forum more ‘community-ish’ by assigning merit-badges to members for making posts, adding buddy-lists, creating new forum areas based on member requests, and putting members ‘in charge’ of those areas, assigning moderators, creating chat-rooms, etc.
The biggest change at the website, which has made the MOST significant increase in earnings and was also the most surprising:
I added a “Special members only” (premium) area of the forums – and started allowing donations
I created a private area of the forums and started allowing only long-time members, members that make a lot of posts, etc into this area. This area has relaxed posting rules and this is where we post all the new, good Myspace codes and other items. One of the merit-badges (mentioned above) reflect who has access to the this forum area. Other members seeing who does and does not have these badges helps create a healthy ‘class envy’. After about a month of creating this new area we began accepting donations based on how long a members have been active at the site to allow them into the new private forum area – but I also continued to allow members that make good, frequent posts into the forum area for free. The minimum donation for long time members is $5 and maximum for new members is $20. The intent was to spur people to be more active members of the site and to make more posts so they could get into the premium area for free. To my surprise, many members decided to pay instead of post! I moved from a one-time donation fee to monthly subscriptions via PayPal. Members can sign up for $5.99, then maintain their access for $1.99/month. Changing from a flat-rate to an ongoing subscription model was one of the best decisions I’ve made. This lower up front cost attracts more members, but the ongoing monthly fee generates a passive, ongoing-income.
Allowing donations and subscriptions would not have worked nearly as well if it was not for the community ‘feel’ of the site, good content, and the feeling of ‘being special’ that getting access into the premium area of the forums gives. It also would not work if there was not something in the premium forums that people really wanted. Maintaining good ‘stuff’ in the premium areas of the website is difficult, and actually feel guilty when I feel that there is not enough premium content. Don’t expect to just slap on a PayPal Donate button on your site and get the same results as I do. You will end up with more cancellations than new signups as well with a lot of disgruntled members.
I don’t expect anyone will be able to follow my exact steps. Some things like getting on the radio or on Digg take more luck than skill. But the types of things I did – getting out there, promoting the site, making relationships, getting links, etc. you can do. Use your head, be creative, read in the forums what other people have done and try to do something new.
Other things like using Drupal for your site, interlinking, backlinks, etc are no big secret and just take a lot of time and effort. You can do these things if you’re willing to invest the time.
So that’s it. Most of the things that I did that added up to a reasonably successful website in a relatively short amount of time. It took a lot of work, a lot of learning, some luck, and a LOT of frustration, but it’s paying-off. I hope you’ve learned at least one or two things, and I wish you luck in your internet empire building endeavors!
For continuing updates on what I have done and continue to do to generate income, keep checking here in the blog, or subscribe to my RSS so you don’t miss anything.
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