As a multi-agency guy I have sold, managed, project managed and consulted on thousands of websites over the years across most industries, and probably totaling more than $100m in budgets. And whilst many of those needed the complex platforms and proprietary systems we built, I look back now and think many could have used something more lean, and less costly.
Over the last few years the use of blog platforms such as Blogger and WordPress have become not only more common, but also more professional and 'accepted'. There is no criticism by a consumer if they visit a brand and find the site is based on such a system. And reality is they probably don't know.
And so I wanted to create an experiment, something that would let me analyze the value of original content for myself and see how 'social' sharing and interaction could really amplify awareness and engagement. I wanted to prove to myself that the value of the destination is not in the $100k spent on building the site, but the content added to it. And that marketing could be done by your visitors or customers.
And that perhaps there is no destination at all.
So I picked a subject I know about - the British! Since moving to the US a few years ago the most common question I get asked is '
'. Sure we are small nation, but even so, it always amuses us Brits that this crops up quite as often as it does. I have also been asked if Paris is a town in London, and do many of us live in castles. But I am not hear to mock :)
'Have You Met The Queen' just had to be the selected name.
On Monday 21st Feb on a particularly boring flight, I set to work making notes on what the content could be, how it would look, how I would promote it etc.
On Tuesday 22nd Feb I chose the domain, decided to try WordPress as I already know Blogger from this site, and simply went with BlueHost listed on the WP site.
After $90 and 10 minutes I had a domain registered, the username and password for my control panel and with a single click, had WP installed. The first thing to do was to try writing a post, and I replaced the standard 'hello world' with an easy piece of content - a YouTube video from the BBC featuring animals speaking with a British accent. (I hate animal videos, but this is awesome!).
Next I searched for WP themes and soon ran into what seems like a mini monopoly and was staring at sites that wanted me to pay $100 to buy 5,500 templates - I only needed one! After one last look around I found the link to the free ones hosted by WP and settled on something unique looking and fitting to my new magazine style brand.
So now I had a domain, a site, some content, a design and was ready to go. And the running total on time was about 3 hours.
To make sure I had the basic promotional tools, I next went fishing for widgets and plugins and found some awesome functionality for free:
- SEO: Yoast -A free application that takes care of everything that matters, including titles, linking, pinging to engines etc
- Analytics: Google - free and powerful, why not!
- Sharing: SocialSlider - another free tool, this one to create a floating button on the webpage that expands out to offer a huge variety of user promotional tools
- Sharing: AddToAny - supplemental to SocialSlider, this one sits at the bottom of the posts and allows for quick sharing of a single piece of content
- Sharing: Facebook Like button from Facebook
- Mobile: Mpexo - cool, not so pretty, free, useful mobile pages with a device sniffer for phone browsing, solves a problem
- Mobile Analytics: Percent Mobile - tells me I have had 2% of my visitors from mobile devices, and a massive amount of other data
And I added some quick content about
Running total, probably 7 hours, and still only $100 spent.
So then it came down to promotion. I decided against SEM as it didn't feel like the right fit and I didn't think I would learn what I wanted to learn. So instead I tried to create a brand page on Facebook... only to learn that you need 25 fans in order to name it. Makes sense from their perspective I suppose, and stops cyber squatting on names someone shouldn't have.
However, I didn't really want to bother my friends and so I had a frustrating 24 hours watching the site get up to a huge 6 likes. This was not going to do, and I turned to Facebook ads.
What a cool system!
What is particularly clever is how it pre-generates you a sample ad and shows it to you on your own page, it really could not be easier. A few clicks later and the required 16 digits, I had an ad made and a campaign live, subject to approval.
In the same spirit as the content of the site, I was a little cheeky - I had a picture of the Queen and the headline was 'Knickers to you!". However it was approved within minutes and I was pleasantly surprised to see I had hit my 25 fans 24 hours later.
Well then I was hooked! So I set it to run for a week and see what would happen, and after $100 invested over 7 days (as of right now), I am seeing some impressive results - an average CPC of just $0.16 and a pre optimization CTR of 0.137%.
The targeting is just so accurate. I was able to choose any interest, such as a love of British Cadbury's chocolate buttons (go seek them out of you don't know what I am talking about), and really zero in on an audience that would hopefully like the content.
And as the number of fans grew, a funny thing happened. The page took on a life of it's own. In 7 days I had created something new that was now growing organically.
What did I create though? Well there is the site -
- but Google Analytics tells me I only get 100 uniques a day, and so that isn't it.
When I look at Facebook Insights I see that whatever it is I have created is actually living and breathing there. I have generated almost 20,000 post views within 7 days, and although I scaled back on Sunday, Monday's numbers already push me way past 25,000, and growing fast.
Every few minutes I get an email from Facebook telling me that someone has posted to the wall, and when I get a moment to go check, I see that 10 comments have been added to it and a ton of likes and responses. Each one of those interactions having a social effect of course, promoting the content to more and more people.
As an example, as I started to write this post 30 mins ago, I published a short piece on the site about '
' and added it to the Facebook page. As it stands now, I have 5 likes and 5 comments - on a post about peas! I love it.
But I wonder how a brand client would have reacted. I remember during my days in the UK with iCrossing that the social media team created an awesome blog about 'green' issues for a car insurance client. The blog sat outside of corporate and so could take on a life of its own. That was very forward thinking on behalf of the agency, but especially on the part of the big insurance brand.
I think clients like that are the exception, not the rule, and there are many brands who will continue to invest more money than they need to, and agencies will continue to invest it. And it is not a criticism at either, merely an observation that 'comfort' has not caught up with possibilities (and that sometimes that investment is justified).
So what did I learn?
- As much as we talk about users watching TV whilst looking at an iPad or iPhone, an interesting observation came on Sunday during the Oscars. I could have refreshed the Facebook page throughout them and told you when the commercial breaks were with the TV switched off! The timing of batches of new 'likes' came in almost perfect sync with the commercial breaks, and a complete void of any activity during any major award.
- Content is king. I am certainly not the first to say this, but even amateur content can have mass appeal if it is original and what your targeted audience is looking for
- Don't focus on a single destination, focus on the content - let the users come to you where they want to, don't force them into visiting one destination
- Site stats don't matter! I won't care if I don't ever pass 100 uniques a day on the .com, as long as I know people are consuming the content somewhere (although this will be interesting to track as the flow of traffic between the two is increasing)
- Create the feedback loop - Facebook is perfect for this - allow fans of your content to create more of that content and share it with the same community
- Listen, listen and listen some more. From reading the posts and looking at some of the emails I am getting, I can already think of many things I would loved to do with this 'brand'
I also learnt that there are
of British people in the US who get asked a lot of dumb questions. And that there are a lot of British people who come to the US and ask a lot of dumb questions! And then I have created a little place where people want to come together and share those stories, as well as learn more about British history, humour and our food (which is not as bad as it is made out to be!)