Growing an online content business through building trust

Traditional and digital publishers alike are grappling with how to build a profitable business around online content.  But the old model of ad-funding isn’t enough anymore.  I believe that specialist publishers can learn from the experience of small niche digital publishing entreprenueurs who have built businesses around online content.  Miles Galliford, one of the founders of SubHub, an online platform for niche publishers,  is currently writing a book on this subject called the Funnel of Trust.  It details a step by step approach to building multiple online revenue streams that seems to work for a wide range of content entrepreneurs.  I have read a pre-publication draft, as Miles is speaking at the Specialist Media Show on 25 May 2010, which I am organising, and he has kindly given permission for me to summarise his first chapter here.  You can get a free PDF of the first chapter if you register to attend the Specialist Media Show.  If you book a ticket to the conference you will get a copy of the final book on the day, hot off the press!  Here are the key steps to profitable online content publishing:

1. Publish top quality remarkable content – for free

You must be an expert in your chosen niche, and your content has to be unique or otherwise hard to find.  Miles uses the “HEART” acronym: Honest, Exclusive, Accurate, Relevant and Timely – but stresses that content must also be remarkable (see Seth Godin!).  I’ve summarised in a recent article my own thoughts on what content people will pay for.  Make this content available for free, and this will help your natural search results, but more importantly, build credibility on your topic and keep readers returning.  This is not a quick fix, though; content and trust have to be built up over time.

2. Engage with your audience

Once people have found your site, make it easy for them to explore related articles and discover your other content.  Good navigation is essential.  You don’t want someone reading one page and then leaving. Publisher-owned content sites I have launched have had 8-10 pages viewed  and 6-8 mins per visit – this is a good target to aim for.  Good, clean, relevant design helps too.

3. Build a relationship

It takes time to win readers’ trust – make them feel comfortable about what you have to say.  Find ways to capture email addresses, usually by offering a special report or free trial of a paid content service.  Once you have an email address, you can send a regular newsletter with valuable content.  Create a presence on social media sites to reach more people and send them back to your main content site.  Offer lots of other ways for readers to interact – comments on blogs, forums, create a feedback form…

4. Grow your revenues

Only once you have established a reputation and a relationship of trust with your readers, can you start to develop revenue streams.  Miles outlines 5 levels of revenue, which require progressively greater trust between you and your audience.  The first level is advertising and the second affiliate marketing, which is most effective if you focus on a small number of products that match your content and you can wholeheartedly recommend.  The third level is e-commerce, where the easiest starting point is digital content that can be downloaded from your site.  The fourth level is a content subscription, which requires a big step in trust.  The final level is participation, such as attending events, training, or buying consultancy.

I like the practical step by step structure that Miles has used – which makes it relevant to both the start-up entrepreneur and the small publisher making the migration from print to online content.  Dont’ forget that you can get the first chapter free when you register to attend the Specialist Media Show (no charge for media owners).

I’d be very interested in hearing about the experiences of other publishers who have taken this approach.  Comment below or join the Specialist Media Network on Linked-In and discuss with over 200 other specialist media owners – or ask Miles direct, as he is a member of the network!

About the author: Carolyn Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy creating practical digital media and marketing strategies, with particular expertise with media owners.  If you’d like some help in growing your own online content business please contact us for an initial chat.