I appreciate all the comments I received on the post I wrote about the launch of DogWalker.com. I want to discuss a couple of things brought up in the post and in threads from a couple of domain forums. Whether I am going about it right or wrong will impact my business, but hopefully you can get ideas for your next project to save you some time on testing.
I think Mike McAlister did a fantastic job with the design of the site. I made some suggestions at the beginning of the project and showed him a few directory sites that I liked, and I think he hit a home run with it. I agree to some extent that the design comes second to the content and ease of use, but I don’t agree that people can compare small niche sites to huge sites like Craigslist and Google which have less design elements.
In my opinion, when a new site is launched, it needs to catch attention, and one way to do that is design – especially when the content is lacking for the time being. Most of the successful minimalist websites have very unique offerings and are first to market with their offering, helping to build their brand. With DogWalker.com, I don’t have anything right now but the design. I have created a venue on an intuitive brand, but aside from that, I have little. However, the great design will hopefully enable me to get people interested.
Over the next few days, I plan to offer free annual dog walker listings to select dog walkers from across the country. I want dog owners to find walkers when they look, and I want to trim down the ramp up time. Since this is part time, I don’t want to have to chase people down in a year to pay, so I am not going to give everyone a free year. Additionally, I don’t want to have to monitor for spam posts any more than I need to, and if it’s free, I will have to be extra cautious. The plan is to call about 20-30 dog walkers from around the country and personally offer them free listings, since emails can be easily deleted or spammed.
I want to thank Andrew Hazen for his SEO consulting and advice. There are some things I already implemented and a few other things are in the works. I plan to reach out first to local pet stores in my area to discuss magnet handouts, banner ads, and links back. In addition to the rotating affiliate banners on the top of my site, I also think I could offer banners on some pages of the site for local pet stores. That will probably be phase 2, and it will probably require a change from WordPress to another directory.
That brings me to the question about why I chose WordPress over Joomla. The primary reason is that I am most comfortable with using WordPress. I know there are ways to migrate the site to Joomla or another content management system if necessary, and although it can be pricey, I will be able to justify the expense once I’ve outgrown WordPress.
The limitations I currently have are few, but they could prove to be key:
- Can’t offer coupons or discount codes
- Can’t do Paypal subscriptions
- Listings won’t automatically renew after a year – I will have to manually re-boot
- Search functionality is a work in progress
The search issue has been tougher than I had hoped. Mike did a ton of customizations, and that caused a couple of search issues we’re trying to work through. For example, you can search for “Manchester” and get 3 listings, you can search for “New Hampshire” and get 3 listings, but when you search for “Manchester, New Hampshire,” you get no listings. One friend suggested that the search was looking for the whole term in each search field. Any suggestions on fixing this problem would be appreciated!
I outlined my revenue generation and marketing strategy previously, but the plan is to make this basically self-sustaining. I don’t need thousands or even hundreds of sign-ups to break even, and even if I don’t get to break even, there is still burn down value for this name. In fact, the owner apparently almost let this drop a couple years ago, and bidding was pretty strong on Godaddy (according to one bidder). Alas, the owner renewed the domain name and I was able buy it from him two years later.
Again, thank you for the comments, compliments, and even the criticism. I hope it’s helpful to you in all of your endeavors.
Tomorrow, I will have some development tips and ideas for you to consider.