Most websites fall into one of two categories; eCommerce or content based. The eCommerce site is pretty straight forward and the easier to understand for the general public. In a nutshell, an eCommerce site sells something. Examples of eCommerce sites include the big players like Dell, Amazon.com and Woot! These sites make money by selling a product.
A content based site doesn’t sell products, but instead, provides information (content) for its readers. For some reason, the average Joe is alway confused when I tell him I run a content based site that doesn’t sell anything. The first question they always ask is “How do you make money?” If you’re a regular reader of my blog then you already know the answer to that question. Content based sites make money by advertising or affiliate programs. The advertising can range from in-house sales to using a 3rd party advertising network like Google AdSense. With the explosion of AdSense, content based site has grown like mad. It seems everyone wants a piece of the “easy money” that can be made.
It is not the intention of this blog post to debate whether eCommerce sites are better than content sites or content sites are better than eCommerce. What I want to talk about is the hybrid – a content driven eCommerce site.
In a nutshell, a content driven eCommerce site is a content site with an eCommerce store. The best example of such a site is BodyBuilding.com. The site is the biggest bodybuilding site on the net and offers Over 17,000 pages of bodybuilding and fitness information with content updated everyday. All the information is completely free. The site also features a very popular forum with over 270,000 members. However, instead of selling advertising, like most content sites, BodyBuilding.com is solely supported by its eCommerce store. Most of the articles plug the products that are sold at the store, which brings up conflict of interest questions, but that hasn’t affected the growth of the site in any way.
Now for the main question; why run the site this way? Why not just do straight eCommerce or content? The answer boils down to maximizing revenue. And a content driven eCommerce site does just that. If you have an advertising supported content site, you have to keep one thing in mind – your advertisers are making money off your ad space. And they make more than they pay you. If they don’t they wouldn’t be advertising with you. So the next time you’re doing a back flip because you made $5,000 in Google, just remember that those advertisers most likely made $7,500 to over $25,000 off your ad. For Bodybuilding.com, instead of having health and supplement eCommerce stores advertising on their site, they decided to create their own store and keep all the money. It really is a brilliant plan because BodyBuilding.com is fully indexed by Google. They are number 1 for the search term bodybuilding.
The biggest problem for an eCommerce site is getting on Google’s organic search listing. Because Google wants eCommerce sites to spend money on Google AdWords, they will rarely give a free organic listing to an eCommerce site. Content sites, on the other hand, have very little trouble getting listed by Google. BodyBuilding.com has the best of both worlds – free listings by Google and maximum income with the eCommerce store (which doesn’t have to pay for advertising).
A few years back, I tried the content driven eCommerce route with The TechZone. Carl Nelson and I set up an eCommerce store call Cable Store. We sold round IDE cables and other hard to find computer accessories (it was hard to find back then). The idea was to feature these products on The TechZone and then point them to the store so readers can buy it. The concept worked amazingly well. I remember writing a feature on a hard drive enclosure the store got. We sold a ton of enclosures off that article. But in the end, we decided to close the store because it was just too much work – ordering, packaging, shipping, RMA, etc.
Today, many eCommerce owners are trying to add a content element to their sites in an attempt to get indexed by Google. However, that doesn’t work very well because Google already knows they’re an eCommerce site. Google wants eCommerce sites to use AdWords and giving eCommerce sites an organic listing means the stores can cut back or not even use AdWords anymore.
It’s a lot easier for a content based site to add an eCommerce store to its offerings. Google will not remove the content site off its index because the eCommerce store will be viewed as an advertiser. However, before you go the BodyBuilding.com route, keep in mind that running an eCommerce store is a job in itself. You should be 100% sure the extra income is worth the trouble of a pissed off customer wondering where his order is. It wasn’t to me and Carl.