In case you missed it, I’ve been spending that last few months re-launching Kayaking.org and turning it into one of the top kayaking sites online. Building a brand is much more than putting-up a website – it involves putting-together all of the components that make an online business successful. I think this is where most people go wrong when they launch a new site. If you want your website to be more than just a website then you need to build a brand.
A good brand starts with a good domain name. This is where we as Domainers win. Sure, you don’t need a good domain name to build a brand, icanhascheezburger.com is a very strong online brand despite having a good domain name. They won with great content and a compelling concept. As Domainers we all have tons of great, easy to remember domains that would be the perfect starting-point for a brand. This is what initially drew me to Kayaking.org – I thought that it really did sound like the online hub for all things Kayaking. Since Kayakers tend to be more down to earth folks I thought that the .org extension also made a lot of sense.
When I first built-out Kayaking.org in 2008 I just put-together a five page mini-site and thought the traffic would start rolling-in. Well it didn’t. With a term as competitive as “kayaking” I had to go a step further – I had to build a brand. It’s been an exciting and time-consuming process but in the end the results are very rewarding, and I’m still just scratching the surface.
The first thing I did to get the brand started was develop a full-scale website with detailed articles and an easy to use directory and trip report system. When most people are searching for “kayaking” online they are usually looking to either buy kayaking gear or find a place to kayak in their area. By allowing users to generate this content I can allow my visitors to contribute to the site and help make it an even more valuable resource.
I have also made Twitter a central part of my strategy and offer a “Twitter Picture of the Week” on the site. The more ways that I can help people interact with the site and use it as a resource the stronger my brand becomes. If someone has a good experience on my site and shares it with their followers on Twitter this can dramatically help grow my brand.
Of course running a brand means running a business, and businesses need people to scale. I have someone that is now working part-time for me emailing Kayaking stores and adding them to the directory. When we email the stores we not only provide a brief description of the site and it’s goals but also include a nice PDF file that explains in more detail the impact that Kayaking.org is trying to make online. (If you’d like a copy of this PDF just shoot me an email, I’m happy to share it)
Every store we contact also gets a small badge to add to their site that says “Recommended by Kayaking.org” This is a great way to build a brand because it costs you nothing and related sites can provide valuable backlinks that both build the brand and help improve my search rankings. Initially stores are provided with a completely free listing in the directory with the option to add upgraded features. We are emailing just about every Kayaking store in the country so it really will be the largest kayaking store directory online!
So I’ve got the content, social media, directory, interactive features, good domain – all of these are essential features of an online brand. However the buck doesn’t stop there, having a good logo is very important and an area I feel that Kayaking.org has been lacking for a while. I recently hired a logo designer to create a new logo for the brand, please take a look at the three options below and let me know which you like the best:
This year I’ve made a clear change in direction within my own business. I’ve talked about this change on my blog, at conferences, on the phone, and in person. The change is a move-away from trying to develop every domain I have and instead focusing on turning a few key domains into brands. In the end this won’t take any more time, it will just require a redistribution of my time so that more of my efforts are spent on a single brand rather than the launching of 20 new ones!
At the end of the day I’d much rather have ten sites making $1,000/month than 100 sites making $10/month. Sure, both strategies get you to the same place but in the end I’d rather have ten fully established online brands than 100 mini-sites. Each one of these brands also has the potential to make far more than $1,000/month but the key here is focus. To get better focus you have to realize that you can’t do it all. I knew I had to directly reach-out to Kayaking stores but I didn’t have the time myself, so I hired someone to do it. I know that the logo I designed for the site just didn’t look as professional as I wanted, so I hired someone to do it.
In the end your brand should turn-into a business, with staff that more than pay for themselves and visitors that make your site part of their daily routine. Forget automation and rapid development, auto-blogs and a quick path to riches, I’m running a business that is doubling it’s revenue this year (vs. 2009) and I’m not doing it selling domains, I’m doing it building brands.