Starting out / Website concept / Question

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Hi all, I'm new here, thought I'd introduce myself. I've been following /r/juststart for a while now, and saw BuilderSociety being mentioned a few times so I thought I'd check it out.

I don't have too much experience building websites, but I do have one website that started out as a hobby project and is now moderately successful (just under 20k unique users / month). It's not really earning me anything (barely pays for hosting costs), but it was a fun thing to try out and I learned a bunch.

Currently I'm working on a more serious website that I think has some more lasting potential. Through a hobby I've learned quite a bit about a certain industry which is quite large, but opaque in terms of pricing, reviews, and user guides. Basically it's quite difficult for someone without deeper knowledge of the industry to make an educated purchase.

My idea is to make a website listing all the products of the main manufacturers, allowing users to compare them, and most importantly to discuss them, and give each other advice on purchasing decisions, repairs, best ways to use the product etc. There is quite an active community out there, but they are dispersed over many different forums, so if you want to know some things about product X, you basically have to delve into all these forums to find some useful information. My goal is to centralize that information in one place.

I'm relatively confident in my concept, and I have some skills to develop the front-end, but I don't have much experience with backend development. I know some very basic PHP and Javascript, but that's about it. I've been looking at some low-code/no-code options, e.g. using Airtable and Zapier as a database to create Wordpress custom posts, and although I think I can make an MVP with that, I'm not sure whether that would limit me too much in the long-term if I wanted to add more advanced features.

Q: The alternatives are basically to go the low-code way I just described, learn to code everything myself, outsource it (How much would that cost?), or find a partner with backend experience. Not sure yet which way to go, any feedback about what to consider would be much appreciated.

In any case, I'm looking forward to learning from everyone on this website.
 
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mj22

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welcome to buso, good luck on your endeavor.
 

EyesExist

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Good lucK! Kill it. Never doubt yourself.

What you get out = all about what you put in!
 

Ryuzaki

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@city17, your previous hobby product can definitely earn you some cash. Even if there's no real value in the visitors, you can still monetize it. The lowest level of monetization is CPM ads, meaning that you get paid a certain amount for a user loading and viewing an ad. They don't even have to click on it. At 20k users a month, I'd think you could fairly easily get $3+ CPMs, which would be $60 a month on the low end. I guess it also depends on what country the visitors are from, etc. And yeah, that's potentially about the cost of hosting. I see the conundrum.

I'd definitely spend some time figuring out how to monetize that a bit better though. That's a solid chunk of traffic.

Regarding your new project, I'd be tempted to create a unique solution. I've done sites "kind of" like that on Wordpress though, using a CSV file as a database and then importing cells into custom fields which then help populate the pages with pre-fab content in the template. Then I'd go back and add normal the_content(); to make each page have a portion of unique content on it. It worked out fine and was extremely organized once it was done. But generating the CSV file and importing it and all that was kind of clunky. There's a plugin called WP All Import that I used for it.
 
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@Ryuzaki Thanks for the suggestions, very helpful. I had something like your CSV suggestion in mind for my Wordpress solution, but using airtable and zapier (although I didn't try populating custom fields yet, maybe that bit doesn't work). I'm actually going to talk to a friend tomorrow who's a capable coder, so if he likes the idea hopefully I'll be able to go for a more customizable solution. But otherwise I'll probably try the method you suggested.

As to the old site, I didn't expect it to be able to make that kind of money. Currently it's earning a tiny bit from affiliate links. I tried Google Ads, but they rejected me. I guess the reason is that it's a web app (although simple, it's useful to visitors) with 80% of the text below it being related to the affiliate links, because the app itself doesn't really need any detailed explanation. So I think to get accepted I would need to remove the affiliate stuff and come up with some random text to fill the page, so Google's bot sees it as a non-affiliate only page. Still think it's interesting that Amazon accepted me, and not Google, would've thought it would be the other way around.

Or is there some different ad program you would recommend? I don't have any experience with ads, just with the amazon affiliate program.
 

Ryuzaki

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We've had a number of threads about CPM Ad Networks, and I know I've done some longer write-ups but I can't find them. Here's a couple to start to give you a lay of the land:
You can do some Google searches to find list of networks and quickly see which ones are the most common. A lot of them require a certain number of monthly impressions to be accepted too, so you'll quickly get limited to which you can use.
 
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Some updates on my progress:

- That old website I had, I added some bullshit text (not necessarily nonsense, but if I were just thinking about the visitor I wouldn't put it there..) and now Google Adsense deemed my website worthy enough and accepted me. Making a few € a day, and my affiliate links are still active as well. Nothing much, but at least now it's paying for itself! Worth the one hour I spent on it.

- Decide to go for the WP custom theme + ACF + WP All Import route for the new website.

- I've got the design finished for 80% for my website. The most important page (displaying the content of each product) is pretty much finished. I'm working now to add all the Custom Fields to it so all the information is displayed as I designed it. Still need to finish the design for the archive pages (overview of brands & product categories) as well as the homepage.

- Actually spent quite some time relearning html, css, and php in a structured way; made designing so much faster and easier than having to look stuff up. Also halfway through the JS curriculum on Freecodecamp, although I don't have too much use for it currently, I've got some ideas for some tools to add to my site later (e.g. comparison tool for products).

It feels good to see the basic framework of the working website, makes it feel a bit more real rather than just having an html template and an idea in my mind.

So, partly a question of continuing with the work and just getting it done, partly still some question marks on how to do things. For example, where to host (Amazon Lightsail recommended?), how to build a functioning custom comment section on WP (and how to handle users), how to build an Ajax search function, and so on.

Slowly getting there, one step at a time.
 
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Good to read you progressed with your new site. If I were you I wouldn't spend too much time faffing around and trying to plan out stuff for the future. Just get the thing online and work on something new each month as you go. This way you can see what is working and add more, or what is not and do less. Easy enough to find a freelance dev. who can do some monkey work on backend stuff for you when you need to expand it.
 
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Regarding your new project, I'd be tempted to create a unique solution. I've done sites "kind of" like that on Wordpress though, using a CSV file as a database and then importing cells into custom fields which then help populate the pages with pre-fab content in the template. Then I'd go back and add normal the_content(); to make each page have a portion of unique content on it. It worked out fine and was extremely organized once it was done. But generating the CSV file and importing it and all that was kind of clunky. There's a plugin called WP All Import that I used for it.
I use the combination of:

Advanced Custom Fields
CPT UI
WP All Import
FacetWP

and then Python+PythonAnywhere to run daily data processing.
 
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Good to read you progressed with your new site. If I were you I wouldn't spend too much time faffing around and trying to plan out stuff for the future. Just get the thing online and work on something new each month as you go. This way you can see what is working and add more, or what is not and do less. Easy enough to find a freelance dev. who can do some monkey work on backend stuff for you when you need to expand it.
Thanks, yea, that's kind of what I'm aiming for. I'm trying to filter out what I need to have at the start, and what I can work on as I go and add to the site later.

I use the combination of:

Advanced Custom Fields
CPT UI
WP All Import
FacetWP

and then Python+PythonAnywhere to run daily data processing.
I'm using the first three as well, seems like a good combination. Thanks for suggesting FacetWP, that's exactly what I was looking for. Does it work as fast in practice as it does in the demo on the website? It seems really fast.

If I may ask, what kind of daily data processing do you do? Automatically getting external data and adding it to your site, or... ?
 
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Thanks, yea, that's kind of what I'm aiming for. I'm trying to filter out what I need to have at the start, and what I can work on as I go and add to the site later.



I'm using the first three as well, seems like a good combination. Thanks for suggesting FacetWP, that's exactly what I was looking for. Does it work as fast in practice as it does in the demo on the website? It seems really fast.

If I may ask, what kind of daily data processing do you do? Automatically getting external data and adding it to your site, or... ?
Yes, scraping and feeds, of which there needs to be done various things to make it fit into to the same categories.
 
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Nearly a month further and my website is online. It's still very thin on content, but the basic framework is done, just a few tweaks to do (home page, logo). I've learned a lot about building a theme from scratch, using ACF, and FacetWP, and overall (Wordpress) website-building. Even if this site doesn't work out as I hope it does (still believe in my concept, but we'll see how it goes...) I feel more confident in my ability to create a solid basic website now. So for my next idea I'll be able to develop and launch significantly faster.

The next steps:
  • Put finishing touches to basic framework
  • Talk to people with experience in my specific niche, to get some feedback
  • Add products to my database (this will probably happen continuously for quite some time)
  • Start to write a few guides
Still some things I have to figure out:
  • Reaching out to companies for product image rights (what's the common procedure for this? Just email them?)
  • Figure out how to get good user engagement (comment section for people to discuss their experience with the products) and how much value it will add
  • Finding ways to promote my site (e.g. how to share with relevant forums without seeming like a link spammer)
Let's see how it goes..
 

Ryuzaki

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So for my next idea I'll be able to develop and launch significantly faster.
For sure. That's why we talk about "failing fast" and iterating through builds. Building a few small sites that don't do great but allow you to experiment through the entire process is super valuable at the start. It's way better than trying to hit a home run on your first project. There's things you don't even know exist that you'll learn about that exponentially increase your chances for success later, but you have to get through a few builds first.

Good job, and good luck. Yeah I'd just email product owners. Most, if they have affiliate programs won't care if you use their promotional materials. If they do, they're stupid. This is not necessarily the "correct" advice, but I'd just use them all and not spend the time asking. I'd just wait till someone complains and then I'd take them down. If they complain about you making them extra money, then stop promoting their products. Again, that's not the "correct" approach but it's the real move. Are they going to sue you for making them money? It'll cost them more money than it'll earn them, while stabbing an ally in the back.
 
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Some progress in the past month:

I've got two guides up now, and about 60 products in my database. I did a solid amount of research for those products to write useful descriptions, rather than just having a simple display of specs (which can usually be found somewhere else already).

So far I've focused mostly on vintage products (the second-hand market in this industry is really big because products last long and can be quite expensive), because that's where I can quickly add a lot of value. For people new to these products it can be really hard to figure out what products and brands are good, and there's not really any good resources out there yet (only forums basically).

The added benefit is that I can quite easily rank for all of those product terms, because there's not much serious competition. I'm hoping that will help me establish some credibility and people will start linking to my site as a useful resource. That way when I'm adding all the new products, I'll have an easier time ranking for them as well (where there's more competition).

How much do you think this will help? E.g. if you rank for Dell XPS 13, how much more likely are you to rank for MacBook Pro?

I've also managed to build a simple comparison tool to compare two products side by side. It's not super complicated, but learning to code something like that for the first time always takes more time.

Now the next steps are:
  • Continue to research and add more products to the database
  • Once I've got the key second-hand (and some new) products covered, I can start promoting on some product-related forums
  • Write up some guides (got a few drafts ready) based on info I learned from researching products
  • Keep on working on site functionality (still learning a lot, also from BuSo)
 
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Sounds like you're doing good man, I've actually become a little bit intrigued about your niche. I'm not in the english language market (not competition at all), so if you want a fresh set of eyes on your site, then feel free to message me in private.

I've also managed to build a simple comparison tool to compare two products side by side. It's not super complicated, but learning to code something like that for the first time always takes more time.
Can you tell me more about what this tool does exactly?
 
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Thanks Bernard. I might send you a message in some time.

It's just a comparison tool like many e-commerce websites have. On each product page there's a button 'Compare this product', which then sends you to a page with two selection/search boxes where you can pick two products, and then it shows the specs (or whatever is relevant) of those products side by side.

Example (below each product name would be an image and then below that specs)
 
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Is the content dynamically generated client side? You might not be optimising for SEO in this case. It might be better to have it rendered server side or to generate pages for each possible combination
 
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Is the content dynamically generated client side? You might not be optimising for SEO in this case. It might be better to have it rendered server side or to generate pages for each possible combination
Good question, I have not thought that through yet. I disabled indexing of that page initially.

It's loaded dynamically with PHP based on two GET values (post ID) in the url. So if you go to website.com/compare all you see is two selection boxes + some explanation. If you go to website.com/compare/?post1=54&post2=124 you will see two products side by side. The page gets loaded automatically if you make a selection.

I don't know exactly how Google handles url parameters? Does it consider each page with different parameters a new page?

Having dedicated pages for each comparison doesn't seem feasible (60 products means nearly 3600 combinations (I guess 1770 if you remove duplicates)). The products already have dedicated individual pages.

I'm not sure though how much value it would add to have this page show up in Search Engine results.
 
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Having dedicated pages for each comparison doesn't seem feasible (60 products means nearly 3600 combinations (I guess 1770 if you remove duplicates)). The products already have dedicated individual pages.
That's 3600 pages to draw traffic from. I'd go with this method if I were you, you'd be able to grab some long tails from the different name combinations.

In your mind it doesn't have value, becuse you already know that there are individual pages for each product. But from a browsing visitor's point of view, who had no clue what is already on your site, being able to see summaries of each product on your site has its benefits. These pages can be straight summaries or pros/cons of each product, letting the user compare easily, doesn't need to be a full 1000 word article. It's all about value to the visitor.


It's loaded dynamically with PHP based on two GET values (post ID) in the url. So if you go to website.com/compare all you see is two selection boxes + some explanation. If you go to website.com/compare/?post1=54&post2=124 you will see two products side by side. The page gets loaded automatically if you make a selection.
Query params won't count as individual pages in serps.

I think better strategy would be for you to use the tool for combinations with >2 products for quick comparisons as a in-page widget , while generating pages for 1v1 pages.
 
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Another month, another update.

Things I've done:
  • Updated the front page design for a more professional look
  • Updated the article page design
  • Added a simple upvote system for the comments
  • Added another 30 to 40 products to the database
  • Added 3 in-depth guides, and wrote down research for a few more (I just write down all the facts I come across while doing research for writing the product descriptions for the database)
I shared the site on a forum about my niche where I was already active. Got very positive responses (one guy even posted it on another important forum, so I don't have to do that anymore), some even suggested putting a link to the site in the navigation bar of the forum.

Some people also offered help adding products to the database. I'm a bit in doubt over this. On the one hand it would be great, because adding products and specs manually is very time consuming. But I don't really want to let them write product descriptions (unless one of them happens to be a great writer), and just having products with only specs is not very valuable.

Maybe the best solution would be to make some google sheets or google form where people can enter the data of a product, so that I can then easily add it to the database once I've written a description for it. Still not entirely sure, at the moment my site seems like just a helpful resource and not a commercial thing, and I don't want to ruin my reputation in those communities by relying on free help and then monetizing it suddenly.

Things to do:
  • Keep on adding products to the database. It's the boring part, but also the main point of the website. I feel like I often put this part off in favour of adding new features, but I should focus on this more.
  • Figure out how to manage registration (technically, security-wise, GDPR-compliance etc.) for users so they can comment on products (currently possible, but without registering). Does anyone have any good resources on this? It would be easier to not have user interaction, but I think it will add a lot to my site.
 
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I think you should definitely try to allow for some kind of user involvement if possible. That's a great sign imo, but I agree that doing that old switcheroo with monetizing user content is not cool. Look at the forum that spawned BuSo (wickedfire). However, things such as "readers choice" and "readers tips" and all kinds of reader ratings is gold, jerry, gold.
 
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Maybe you can have a section at the bottom of your own review like
"What our readers ("users", "people who bought" etc) think" by just asking for a quick review or pros/cons.
This would def add value to your site imo