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How To Build A Website That Gets Traffic And Users

Updated on December 08, 2012

How To Build A Website

Kindly note, this isn't about building a website as such, the nuts and bolts of HTML and CSS. This is about the process - arguably much more important - that comes before you do all that stuff. Building a website is the easy part. Thinking up the kind of website that's going to succeed is much, much harder. And this article is about how you can go about doing that, from seeing what's already worked to thinking about what users want.

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My Website Failure.

I built a fitness website. Why? Because I know stuff about working out. I changed myself from a fat schoolkid to a freakishly healthy man, using simple, easy methods that work. I thought I could tell other people how, and maybe make some money doing it.

I wrote a year's worth of content - sparkling, original prose - and custom built a handsome site, using a top-drawer premium theme. I spent time, and care, and money on my website. All in order to presell a bunch of people who dropped by, stayed a while, scratched themselves, and left. Without buying anything.

I wrote an ebook telling people how to get in shape, using simple gym workout methods that take just two hours a week. It didn't sell a single freaking copy.

I gave away great freebies in exchange for email addresses, and built a mailing list. Who all steadfastly refused to open any email that didn't have the words 'free gift' in the headline.

I rebuilt the site, and added reviews of fitness equipment with links to Amazon pages where you could buy it. Started getting traffic. Made a little advertising money. Then my site got slammed in the Google Panda update and never perked up again.

And at that point I'd had enough.

So Why Did My Website Fail?

What went wrong? Everything. It was one of the first sites I ever built, and I was spending twelve hour days learning all I had to know about the internet as I went along. I spread myself too thin, and I took advice from marketers whose methods were questionable. Because I knew no better.

But on the other hand... I found out how to do keyword research and pull traffic, how to write good content, how to build a well laid out, handsome website. How to do on-site SEO, and use Analytics to respond to visitor interest. I found out what works, and what doesn't. Skills I'll be taking with me into future projects.

So What Websites Work Well?

I spent a while thinking about the failure of my first websites, analysing what went wrong and what this told me about how to turn it around.

I got to thinking about the small number of websites I use regularly - little more than a handful - and what they could tell me about building a site that draws a lot of traffic and becomes profitable.

So, what websites do I regularly use, and what does this say about the internet and how to build a website that becomes successful? Read the article, then take a minute to make your own website list. Here's mine:

My List Of Websites I Use Every Day

  • Yahoo
  • My Google account
  • Amazon
  • eBay
  • Stumbleupon
  • Reddit
  • Warrior Forum.
  • Hubpages
  • YouTube

What Do Some Of These Websites Have In Common?

User generated content. Most of those listed are wholly dependent on their users to provide their substance. Imagine a one man YouTube. Be kind of dull.

Yahoo! and Google provide news and email, and Google also provides online tools.

Amazon and eBay put buyers and sellers together.

Stumbleupon is a new website at every click. A great way to explore the web.

Reddit could be described as a user generated compendium. Different sub-reddits go into all sorts of areas of interest, but they're mostly entertaining/ funny/ informative, in that quick, ADD style internet way.

Warrior Forum is about specialized knowledge, specifically relating to internet marketing.

HubPages is how article writers leverage the page rank of a large website by providing quality content that puts eyes on advertising.

YouTube is replacing television as we speak.

Internet Archetypes - Building Websites That Work

These kinds of website could be some of the archetypes that are evolving out of the internet:

  • Online tools and communication - email and social sites.
  • Forums, where specialist knowledge is shared and pooled, and questions and answers brought together.
  • Markets, where buyers and sellers find each other.
  • Collections of user supplied articles on all topics of interest, both educational and entertaining.
  • Video clips, ditto.
  • Pretty naked ladies. Which I'm given to understand people sometimes view online.

Want To Know How To Build A Website That Makes An Internet Fortune?

Then start thinking along these lines. Want to know how to build a website that gets millions of hits? Make sure it's built around user generated content, uploaded fresh and hot every day.

What does this say about any other kind of site you might have planned? I have alarming news. You only have so much of interest to tell me.

I'm not saying you're dull. Far from it. You might be the most interesting person on the planet, full of all kinds of useful information, crammed with knowledge and insight and news. But that resource is finite. There is only so much you can tell me. You only have so many thoughts to share. Your points of view are numbered. As indeed are mine.

You're Not Dull - You're Just Finite

Alone, we only have so much to give the world. We might make a great deal of interesting stuff, like some prolific artists - but what we have is limited by the number of hours in the day, and the number of days we have.

In a long and fruitful life, Picasso made around 20,000 works of art. A writer might turn out fifty or more books in a lifetime. A musician or a band might come up with an album every couple of years. And they won't all be great ones.

What's my point? The internet eats up content like nothing else before it. The internet is a 24/7, billion-channel, non-stop content mill, churning out new stuff all the time. The old model - one man keeping the world entertained - is dead.

Around a hundred years ago, an old music hall artist called Little Tich had a comedy stage act he took around the world. One act. One show. He did it all his life. Those were the days.

Little Tich - Cracks Me Up

How To Fill The 24/7, Billion Channel, Non-Stop Content Mill

If Little Tich were still around, once you got over the novelty value of the fact that a 144 year old man was still performing, you'd get bored with his old act pretty quickly. And he'd need new material. One act just doesn't cut it any more.

And that's why user-provided content is the shape of things to come. You can't fill that content gap, but they can.

Your new job could be this: to define and build a space online where your users can upload and share the content they make.

How To Monetize Your Website

This is where it gets tricky. Are you building an email list in the hope you can sell them an ebook?

Let me tell you about ebooks. They're a great idea. You're selling information in a handy PDF file anyone can download and read, and you don't have to worry about stock costs or storage because as long as you've got one copy - which can be downloaded any number of times - you're all set.

Think so? Think again. You are trying to sell information, at a time when Google, the most successful company online, is giving it away. All of it. All human knowledge, pretty much, is freely available, a Google search away.

And so is your ebook, because the first thing that happens when you publish one and let the world know is that some teenage hacker will visit your site, find your password protected download folder, and sneak away with a copy of your ebook, which they will then publish on a free download site. Because they can.

Also, you're trying to sell something with a low perceived value, because it has no physical component and no production costs other than the time you put into it. And because spammy get rich quick merchants thrived in recent years by selling low value ebooks at inflated prices, the very word ebook is synonymous with 'cheap' and 'rip-off'.

What does that leave in terms of monetization models? Real books, or maybe video courses on actual DVD. Which do have production costs associated with them, though the print on demand model available online now for both makes publishing hard copy information less fraught than it used to be. You still don't need to invest in stock or storage space. And the perceived value - for the very same information you might have put in an ebook - is much higher. Go figure. The digitized information, like video, is still liable to be uploaded to free download sites or YouTube though. Because some people are like that.

Advertising and membership sites. Both can be an uphill climb. People are getting tired of online advertising.

And membership sites? You had to struggle to get me to your website. Now you want me to pay to get in? Refer to the 'giving it away' quote above. You can't sell what other people - a mere mouse click away - are giving away for free. It's like opening a hamburger stand outside an all you can eat contest.

If you can think of a monetization model that plays into the intrinsic nature of the web, and isn't one of those I've already mentioned - you might be onto something.

Don't Make Your Website Pretty - Make It Awesome

A point that occurs to me, looking at the sites on my list, is that none of them are pretty. Easy to use and navigate, but they'd win no prizes in a beauty contest for websites. Which might be an important point to bear in mind. The time you spend making your website pretty so it can win design awards, is time wasted when it comes to what really matters: visitor usage. What your website visitor gains from dropping by is the most important part of your website.

I just stumbled on an online tutorial about using CSS to make your website look good, and it set me thinking. When was the last time I visited a site because it looked pretty? Answer: Never. Ever. Not even once.

In fact, the more designed a thing looks, the less likely I am to use it. Good design matters, of course. The best design of all is that which you don't even see, where form follows function so closely that you don't even notice how well designed something is.

Ugly As A Sack Of Spanners

If, on the other hand, you build a website with tricky, pretty, CSS and javascript navigation that does something unusual and quirky - I'm going to click away and never, ever come back.

Seriously. If you ever make me think, I'm gone. I don't want to deal with clever, zany interfaces. Nobody does. It's irksome. It's like having to take an IQ test before you can get to the good stuff. It gets in the way. If I even notice your navigation, you've failed.

And if you build a website that looks gorgeous, I'm immediately going to suspect it's lacking in every other department.

Somehow, evident design - as opposed to good design - is synonymous with something flawed and flimsy. A solution without a problem, a product with no market. If ever you're tempted to focus exclusively on the design of your website, spend a few minutes on Amazon. It's ugly as a sack of spanners, but I hear they do quite well.

How Do You Build A Website? Got Anything To Add?

I'm interested in hearing anyone else's opinion on this. My view of the internet is just that - one man's particular take on things. My personal selection of websites is linked to my own interests, and may be skewed as a result. Plus, I have an appalling track record when it comes to making predictions based on my analysis of anything.

Take a while to list the websites you use every day, then think hard about what they are and what they do. In the long run, this kind of analysis might help you find a way to build a website that answers other people's genuine needs, and so succeeds.

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  • NetBlots profile image

    NetBlots 5 years ago from Melbourne

    Definitely worth a read, and some good points... I'm just glad our melbourne web design company www.netblots.com.au is a fantastic site, it looks bold, and is easy to navigate around. Best of all there is no coding on the CMS!

  • Savva Pelou profile image

    Savva Pelou 5 years ago from London

    A good hub however as a designer I completely disagree with your statement of a gorgeous website lacks in other departments, two words my friend "google" and "facebook" both are gorgeous and both have changed the lives of millions. Other then that I give a thumbs up!

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