How to be a success on the Internet.
Walter Cherepinsky had no idea that WalterFootball.com, the website he started as a class project as a Senior at Philadelphia’s Central High School back in 2000, would eventually be his full time job and consume his life. Nine years later, the site has become of the top football draws in the country.
In an era where the media appear to be falling apart, Cherepinsky just might be the future -- one of a number of Philadelphia-area entrepreneurs who are carving out a significant niche in cyberspace.
“A Web site is a lot like a start-up company, save for any financial risks,” says Cherepinsky, who lives in Northeast Philly. His site garnered 6.4 million hits in March as the NFL draft approached. “If you put a lot of time and effort into it, and you can provide your readers with an entertaining or informative product, you'll have a successful Web site. Being able to market it effectively and making sure it's atop the Google rankings really helps to speed up the process, but the most important thing is the quality of your content and the time you put into your site. If you're diligent enough, your site can turn into your full-time job.”
PW talked to the people behind several of Philly's leading Web sites to find out their secrets of success. Their advice: Emphasize quality content, hard work, marketing skills and passion.
FIND A NICHE: Roberta Fallon (a PW contributor) and Libby Rosof created theartblog.org in 2003 and claim an audience of 27,000 page views per month -- they got started by spotting a weakness in the city's arts coverage.
“We knew there was a need for this publication because Philly's art scene was bursting and art coverage in print was the incredible shrinking man so we became the incredible webby Spider Women, weaving words about Philly art 24/7," the pair wrote in response to PW's question. "We worked briefly without recognition before other art bloggers found us and shortly thereafter Art in America announced we were one of the best art blogs in the country. So, apparently someone was reading us."
Cherepinsky agrees: “Find a topic you're passionate about. If you like hockey, build an NHL Web site. If you like soap operas, set up a site or a blog where you analyze your favorite soaps," he says. "But before you buy the domain and hosting for your Web site, try to write at least 20 pages of content for it. If you struggle to do so, you're either not passionate enough about the topic, or you might not have enough time to run a successful Web site."
GET THERE FIRST: Timing can be crucial. Joey Sweeney launched Philebrity.com -- where (full disclosure) he frequently criticizes PW -- in October 2004. The site has since grown to 250,000 unique readers a month, he says, and it helps that the playing field was pretty clear when he launched.
“When you consider that when we started, we literally had NO competition -- this was before any of the local blogs you read now existed, save for the notable exception of Will Bunch's Attytood -- we developed a pretty voracious local audience, pretty fast," he says.
INTERACTION AND COMMUNITY-BUILDING AID SELF-PROMOTION: Steve Young writes SteveYoungOnPolitics.com, which he says can garner up to 200,000 hits a month.
“Make sure to link different web sites and to have other sites link you," he says. "Sometimes when I write articles for Huffington Post, I’ll write the first couple of paragraphs and then have a link to my Web site, noting that the reader would need to go to my Web site to read the rest of the article. Links to other sites usually have a domino effect.”
Newtown's Rob Kall runs OpEdNews.com, which he says attracts up to 2.5 million pageviews a month on the basis of content provided by the site's audience. Giving that audience a voice has been key, he said.
“Respect and value the people and community you serve," Kall suggested. "Take a stand and courageously live and work by it. Aggressively seek new technologies that make it easy to build community, connect users/members, give them a voice, enable them to define their identity.”
But even online communities can be built out in the real world.
"We didn't have money to advertise -- we still don't -- so we would do things like throw parties and help promote rock shows," says Philebrity's Sweeney. "It turned out that this thing, which came out of sheer necessity, really helped us find our footing early on, and tapped us into the music and nightlife worlds of Philly that we still write about almost daily. We've hosted lots of events, and have introduced people to a crazy array of music, and it's one of the things we're most proud of."
KEEP POSTING: Even on days when it seems like there's nothing to say, it's important to keep talking to your audience.
“Show up every goddamned day, no matter how hung over you are or how dreadfully boring the news cycle is," Sweeney says.
Fallon and Rosof agree.
"Mostly, we just keep on posting," they say. "People like a fertile site. They keep coming back.”
Larry Atkins teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University
It's easy if you try. With the future of Philly's dailies in doubt, who will feed the insatiable appetite of the city's sports junkies?
Like other young people, Temple University student Grace Dickinson lives much of her life online: Facebook, YouTube and other multimedia sites figure prominently into her daily media consumption. But when she walks into her journalism classes, those popular applications fade to the margins. Are Philly's journalism schools really preparing students for the future?
They’re not McDonald’s. They’re not “businesses.” Oh, sure, they’ve got to make payroll. But they are not and cannot be run as out-and-out cash cows for the greedy and the idle.