Finding Something to Say
> Eric: Today, we're going to decide what
your sites are going to be about.
> Anita: Aren't we doing this backwards?
Shouldn't we learn how to build a
Web site first and then decide what
our topic should be?
> Eric: You could do it that way, but having a firm
idea of what the site's going to be about makes
the concepts easier to grasp. Besides, I'm sure
you'd rather know sooner than later how much
money you can make from a given topic.
I met Claude and Anita a few days later at a coffee shop near my house. I brought along my notebook computer to show them a few things via the coffee shop's wireless hotspot. After we ordered our coffees, I got right down to business.
"Today," I started, "we're going to decide what your sites are going to be about."
"I have a question," Anita said. "Aren't we doing this backwards? Shouldn't we learn how to build a Web site first and then decide what our topic should be?"
Her question wasn't unexpected, and I had an answer ready. "You could do it that way," I agreed, "but I find that having a firm idea of what the site's going to be about makes the concepts easier to grasp. It also gets your subconscious thinking about the topic as early as possible, which will help when you sit down to write some content." Then I grinned. "Besides, I'm sure you'd rather know sooner than later how much money you can make from a given topic."
"You can do that?" asked Claude.
"Only approximately, of course," I said, "by determining relative keyword values. I'll show you how to do this shortly—that's why I brought my laptop. But the topic choice also influences important decisions, like what to name your site."
"And you want to choose a topic that Google won't frown on," Anita added.
I nodded in agreement. "Precisely—you definitely want to avoid topics that violate the AdSense program policies. But, you know, finding something to say isn't just about deciding on a topic: It's about creating compelling, AdSense-friendly content; it's about copyrights; it's about organizing and editing your material."
"Sounds like a lot of work," Claude grunted.
"It is work," I said, "but have you noticed that people do it all the time, most for no compensation? What motivates them?"
Why Publish on the Web?
We all sipped our coffees while the two of them considered my question. Anita was the first to answer. "They want to help others?" she asked.
"Good answer!" I said, smiling. "The Internet connects computers together, but the Web connects people together. Remember, the Web started as a way for researchers to help one another by sharing information. Individuals have always played an important part in making the Web what it is today.
"Think of all the Web sites built by individuals or small groups," I continued. "There are many examples: Fans build sites devoted to favorite musicians or celebrities; proud parents post family pictures; the sick create support communities for their illnesses and conditions. Most of these sites aren't money-making ventures, but their creators devote substantial time to their upkeep."
"And don't forget blogs," said Anita.
"Blogs are a great example of how individuals affect the Web," I agreed, "because they're so tied to a person or a small group of people. But all a blog does is make it easy to publish on the Web. We still need an answer to why people create sites and blogs."
"So why do they do it?" Claude asked me.
"In my opinion," I began, "there are four general motivators for individuals to build a Web presence. I refer to these as the Four F's: fame, fortune, philanthropy, and fun. They're not exclusive of one another, but one is usually more dominant." And with that, I launched into explanations of each of the Four F's.
Fame has always motivated a certain segment of the population. In this context, fame means being well known and respected within a certain group. Stef has achieved a small degree of fame by creating a blog about herself that anyone could read. From what Claude and Anita told me, her blog was a popular read among her college peers. I was sure that Stef was pleased to know she was making an impact with her writings.
Stef's far from unique in her desire to influence others and gain their respect. Within any given community, there are always people who are more knowledgeable or more skilled than others. Many of these take great pleasure in being asked for their opinions and advice. What's different with the Web and the Internet is that these communities can be spread all across the world. Before, celebrity was usually confined to a small geographic area, with only a small group of people—actors, politicians, musicians—able to achieve celebrity on a larger scale.
Fame can also bring danger, though, as many celebrities have discovered, to their dismay. Anita worries that Stef's blog might make her a target for stalkers. There are measures Stef can take to protect her privacy, but the downside of celebrity is that public exposure can make privacy much harder to achieve.
Fortune is the classic motivator. Claude wants to make money and he makes no bones about it. The money is what's motivating him to create a Web presence.
Money is an extremely strong motivator. It was the driving force behind the explosive growth of the Internet in the late 1990s. Even today, the Internet is seen as the likeliest way to gain significant wealth in a short time. If you dream of being rich, the Internet is very seductive.
It's important to realize that there's a difference between making money and becoming wealthy, though. Claude's goals are modest and realistic, as yours should be.
Philanthropy is a motivator that shows up in the most unexpected places, from the most unexpected people. Take Anita as an example. As a busy young mother in a household where money is tight, you'd think money would be her prime motivator. But it's not—she wants to do something that helps others. She just can't afford to spend a lot of money doing it, which is why the AdSense program appeals to her.
The Web's always been a place for individuals to rally others around a cause and to promote the greater good. For some, that cause is the Web itself and the possibilities it provides for free speech and individual expression. For others, the Web is merely another tool in the arsenal of public service, a way to reach more people in more places.
Although I focus on individuals in this book, the techniques described here can be used by groups and organizations of all kinds. All it takes is one or two persons willing to put in the effort on behalf of the group. Even a nonprofit organization can benefit from having a Web site.
Fun is the final, and perhaps ultimate, motivator. It can be just as strong as the other three. There are people who build Web sites and blogs because they just enjoy doing it. It might be a learning experience for them. It might be a way to communicate with others who have like interests. It's a fun way to spend some time and develop some skills, no different than any other hobby.
Understanding Your Motivations
Which of the Four F's motivates you the most? The primary motivation is definitely going to influence what to expect from your site or blog. If you're interested in making money, for example, you'll want to choose a topic whose keywords have high pay-per-click fees—but be prepared to face some stiff competition from other sites chasing those same rewards. If fame is what drives you, realize that it won't happen overnight and that it requires a much higher level of interaction on your part—blogs are well suited for this. If philanthropy calls to you, you may find the ad pool for your topic to be very small. If you're doing it primarily for fun, though, any money you make will just add to the enjoyment.
Understanding your motivations lets you set realistic expectations for the amount of money you'll make from your site. If the ads on your site generate only a few cents per click and you have few visitors, you won't be making much money. You might not recoup your Web hosting costs. But you may not care: The fact that you're earning some money and that there's always the potential to earn more may be good enough, especially from a tax viewpoint if you're able to deduct business expenses from your overall income. (As always, contact a qualified tax professional for advice on these matters.)
No matter what your motivations are, though, it really helps to be interested in your site's topic. Ideally, it's a topic that's already familiar to you, but don't worry if it's not—being interested in the topic and willing to learn about it will get you just as far (though not as quickly). But you want the topic to be interesting because it will make updating the site more appealing. Your work's not over when the site's unveiled. You have to keep updating it, because a fresh, current site attracts more visitors.