What Type of Site?

I frequently see articles and even entire books on how to select a good topic for your website. I can’t recall ever seeing anything on choosing what type of site to build for that topic, though, and that can be every bit as important as choosing the topic.

So if you’re just getting started, I hope this list will be a good resource for helping you select what kind of site to build. If you have comments or questions, please leave them in the comments below!

Types of Sites

News

This is obviously a very common type of site. Whether it’s world news, national news, local news or news on a particular topic, most of us visit some sort of news site on a regular basis.

This type of site can be extraordinarily labor intensive, though, and few traditional news sites could be considered true money-making ventures. However, sites like Coolest Gadgets would also fall into this category, and the revenue opportunities there are much greater.

Commentary

This is another type of site that we’re all pretty familiar with. Sites like The Huffington Post and The Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal are similar to news sites, but have the very important distinction of being commentary on the news rather than having to report the news directly. That’s important because it eliminates both the need to be first on a story and also the need to be 100% accurate — both of which consume significant amounts of time.

If you can provide compelling commentary, these types of sites can be very viable — though the recent advertising downturn has hit many very hard.

Magazine

A magazine is like a news site as well, but with less reliance on breaking news and longer articles on particular topics (e.g. RELEVANT Magazine). Just about any offline magazine has an online presence these days, and more and more magazines are even choosing to go online exclusively. There are numerous high-quality magazine themes for free blogging platforms available inexpensively (or free) from companies like StudioPress.

As with commentary sites, magazines fill a need similar to news sites but without as much labor involved — though the advertising downturn has forced many to find alternate sources of revenue as well, a task that hasn’t been easy for many.

Informational

Many of the sites we visit on a regular basis would fall into this category: sites that provide information on a particular topic. Some are built on a blogging platform (e.g. Digital Photography School) or some other content management system, while others are are custom built (e.g. Lakes Online).

These sites can be easy to build and can be strong moneymakers if you pick a good topic.

Wiki

Obviously most people think of Wikipedia when they think of wikis, but the software that powers Wikipedia is freely available as MediaWiki and many people have created very compelling websites with it (e.g. WikiCity).

The great thing about wikis is the ability for users to create the content for you. If you can generate enough interest to get it to become self-sustaining, a wiki can be a great money-maker that also involves a minimal amount of time investment once it’s up and running.

Directory

I have become a huge fan of directories lately. Think Yellow Pages, but online and customized to a particular topic. Sites like Fly & Field provide a place for companies to have a very compelling online presence in a place where their customers can find them easily. There are many pre-built software packages for building a directory, and many directory owners choose to build their own.

Generating enough traffic to the site to make companies interested enough to spend the money to be listed there can be difficult. Once that has been achieved, though, the site can become almost self-sustaining just like a wiki.

Classifieds

Craigslist obviously seems like the granddaddy of them all here, but sites like Monster.com and AutoTrader.com are essentially just classifieds too — just with a prettier face put on them.

Like directories, classifieds can be a great moneymaker because the product you’re selling doesn’t cost you anything. The cost to you for one classified ad is the same as the cost for 1,000. It’s like printing money. Like with directories too, though, building a compelling amount of traffic can be a real challenge.

Forum

Sites like Nursing Voices provide a place for people to congregate and discuss topics around a particular theme. There are several good software packages available for powering a forum, and many of them are free.

However, I have heard even very successful forum owners lament how hard it is to make money with a forum — to the point of recommending just about any other type of site. Money can definitely be made with forums, but it’s a unique challenge.

Community

A community site like Totally Her is like a forum on steroids: more, richer opportunities to interact and more community-related content.

Revenue opportunities are more abundant with communities than they are with simple forums, and getting and keeping members engaged is easier as well because of the many points of interest. Building the community can be much more difficult, though, if you’re not using an off-the-shelf package.

Social Network

Everyone thinks of MySpace or Facebook when they think about social networks, but there are lots of smaller social networks as well (e.g. WannaNetwork) that are built with software like Ning or BuddyPress.

Hit the tipping point with your network like Facebook has, and traffic skyrockets all on its own. It can be very difficult to hit that point, though, and even when you do revenue opportunities can be hard to come by. Even as much as it has changed our lives, Facebook still isn’t turning a profit yet.

Review Site

If you’ve been around affiliate marketing long, you’ve heard review sites mentioned more than once. Often used merely as thin affiliate plays, reviews sites can also be legitimate, valuable sites (e.g. Award Winning Hosts).

The monetization opportunities here can be great, since many of the products being reviewed also have affiliate opportunities associated with them. Generating enough traffic to make it worthwhile can be a challenge, though.

Online Store

Well over $100 billion is spent online every year. Large sites like Amazon get a huge share of that of course, but there are plenty of small sites that do well, too.

Running an online store can be very labor-intensive, though. Even if you’re just drop-shipping, tracking the orders, staying on top of backorders, and handling customer service take up more time than you would probably imagine. I’ve done it, and it wasn’t fun.

Try a Combination

It was hard to find examples for some of the types of sites listed above because most successful sites don’t rely on a single type of functionality. A site like Sprintusers.com, for example, appears at first glance to be nothing more than a forum. Look closer, though, and you’ll see that it also has elements of a Magazine, a Review Site, and an Online Store.

RADIANT is the same way. They used to be an offline magazine, but they’ve since moved to be online exclusively, and they’re as much a Community site now as they are a Magazine.

Few sites are successful with just a single model. The ones who do well use a mix of site types to create a site that perfectly fits their goals (and their target audience) and gives them a mix of revenue and traffic opportunities to provide a solid foundation.

Ignore My Opinion

I’ve tried to be as unbiased as possible, but much of the information above is still my own personal opinion. I would never want to run a news site, for example, but I have friends who love running news sites. It’s what they’re passionate about, so it doesn’t feel like work to them at all. Let me know if you have different opinions!

Also, I’m sure I’ve left out a site type or two and that I’ve been less than clear in some cases. Let me know and I’ll get that fixed!

Comments


  • Jeremy Knauff

    April 1, 2009
    at 10:29 am

    Another great post Shane! I’m wondering your thoughts on forums…I’ve heard many people say the same thing about it being difficult to make money with them, but I’m looking at it from a different perspective. Using them to make money directly may not be the best approach, instead, using them to build a steady amount of repeat traffic and an email list for an existing site may be a better approach. We’ve launched a handful of both types (stand-alone forums and forums for supporting an existing website) and by far, the best results came from using a forum to support an existing website.

    What are your thoughts?


     

  • Shane

    April 1, 2009
    at 10:35 am

    I totally agree, Jeremy. I think forums can be a great addition to an existing website, for all the reasons you mentioned. They can also help build a site’s brand and expand its reputation.


     

  • Mark Madsen

    April 1, 2009
    at 1:09 pm

    Great post, Shane. Thank you very much for the mention.

    Even though they can be high maintenance at times, forums are an important component of a niche social network. Anything that can enhance and centralize communication between members helps build the brand.

    My advice – find a niche and do everything you can to remind your members or viewers of your value to them. This has been the most challenging aspect we’ve faced with our community, simply because most of the professionals in our industry have been very slow to integrate blogging, social media, and SEO into their marketing model.

    Another important lesson that we’ve had to lean is that it is becoming more important to online social network members to know about a company’s business / revenue model. I’m sure that this may be similar for blog readers as well. People just want to know that you’re going to be around for a while before they invest too much time or thought into helping you grow.

    mm


     

  • Shane

    April 1, 2009
    at 1:16 pm

    Awesome feedback from someone’s been there. Thanks, Mark!


     
  • [...] by Aqeel Syed on April 1, 2009 As a web entrepreneur you always need ideas for your next project. Mostly people make mistakes in start of their career. They pick improper niche, CMS or marketing model. Having good information of  what you are going to do can help you avoid these critical mistakes. Shane has put a great article on type of sites, he has classified sites in different categories from news to online store. You can read this article here. [...]


     

  • JTimber

    April 2, 2009
    at 5:18 am

    This is a great rundown of the various site types. I can see where this could be very handy for someone without a lot of experience who is just trying to get acquainted with the jargon of websites.

    Nice glossary resource. Thanks!


     

  • Pat

    April 7, 2009
    at 5:36 pm

    Thanks for the advice Shane, not to mention the Village Voyage reference. We’re continuing to grow the site, taking into account lots of your good advice – including a combination of the types listed above: (i.) Wiki (ii.) News (iii.) Commentary/local opinion (iv.) Directory – 8 million + business pages & counting, (v.) Review Site – anyone can edit/review any local establishment, & (vi.)coming soon – a scalable classified ads network that penetrates far more communities vs. Craigslist. Wish us luck & thanks for your continued encouragement & support. You rock!


     
  • [...] analyzing every little detail of the niche-website that you’ve been thinking about launching, launch it and worry about perfection as you go. Once you begin receiving feedback from real consumers, you [...]


     
  • [...] you’re not sure what type is best for you, read one of the best articles I’ve seen on choosing which type of site to launch, by Shane [...]


     

  • Mike

    December 6, 2009
    at 9:45 pm

    Shane, what about online application sites? Like where the visitors sign up to use the online service (email, ecards, basecamp, etc.).

    It could be a free service – to generate tons of traffic – or it could be a paid monthly service.

    It does require true “developers” to build and support but can be valuable it built for the right niche.

    Do you think being an online application would make it harder to sell – because it’s more difficult to support than just a content-based site?

    Mike


     

  • Shane

    December 23, 2009
    at 9:19 am

    Absolutely, Mike. It’s a definitely a different animal than a content-based site, but they can be equally as successful — anything from a simple service like ShrinkPictures.com to a full-blown game-changer like Twitter. I don’t think it would be any harder to sell.


     

  • Jeremy L. Knauff

    December 23, 2009
    at 9:37 am

    Mike,

    Like Shane said, service-based sites can work well. Sometimes much better than content-based sites but the development can be intense and if it becomes popular, you’ll need a dedicated server sooner than you would with a content-based site.


     

  • Shane

    December 23, 2009
    at 9:42 am

    Great point, Jeremy. Thanks!