Starting a publication sounds like a daunting task. The common thoughts running through your mind might range from “I don’t have an idea for a publication!” or “Why would anyone read my publication over a more popular outlet?” to “I need to start a website but don’t know how to code!”, but in general, amazing people have swayed away from starting their own publication for some reason or another. These are very valid thoughts, but we’ll address them today.
Now, you might be wondering why you should listen to me. And that’s a great thing because there’s a lot of advice going around from people who’ve never built their own business before. That isn’t ideal.
I got involved in the media business while I was in high school. January of 2018, to be exact. I ran a publication called Youth Business Collective, and we had over 50,000 readers.
We focused on entrepreneurship and marketed our publication to young people who wanted to learn to start their own businesses. For our publication, our contributors interviewed the likes of the CEO of Entrepreneur Magazine Thiel Fellows and Shark Tank entrepreneurs.
Needless to say, growing something from zero to over 50,000 readers teaches you a lot. And I figured that I’d share some of that. I realized that starting and growing a publication comes down to following some best practices and being consistent about them.
1. Pick the Right Niche
The truth is, nobody will read your blog or publication unless it’s unique. Just think about it. What are the publications you read?
They might be Forbes, Business Insider, The Guardian, Fox News, Axios, or something else, but regardless of which big publication it is, they’re incredibly difficult to compete with on a large scale.
That’s why you can’t just be any other publication.
Have you heard of Greentech Media? If I were to guess, you haven’t. But it consistently gets over 680,000 views every month for its coverage on changes in the environment and how tech is tackling climate change. And it’s because they’re amazing at it.
Have you heard of Jalopnik? Still, probably not. But they get 20 million views every month. That’s because they’re amazing at covering news related to automobiles.
If you try to start another Forbes, chances are, you aren’t going to have the resources to outcompete a publication with far more resources in the same space. That’s why picking a good niche is by and large the most important step in starting a successful publication.
Heck, it doesn’t even matter what niche it is, as long as you feel comfortable producing content for it and it isn’t so small that there are no readers interested in that content. You can figure out if your niche is in demand by using Google Trends.
2. Get a Domain and Set Up Shop on WordPress
It’s actually super easy to get your publication set up these days. Once you’ve decided on a niche and a name for your publication, get yourself a domain. My favorite places for hosting and domains are GoDaddy and Namecheap, which both have support for WordPress, a software that makes it super simple to get your publication up and running.
I’m not going to go into how to set it up, but there are other amazing sources that do. The point is, though, you don’t need to know how to write a single line of code to get yourself set up. With a combination of plugins and templates, WordPress is an incredibly powerful tool to launch a full-fledged publication, so long as you have an idea.
And if you know CSS, you can customize your WordPress site with ease.
3. Invest Only in Content – Don’t Burn Money on Ad-Spend (Initially)
The only thing separating your niche publication from success and failure is your output (and quality) of content. If you don’t put out consistent content, you’re screwed. And then you’re going to be very sad.
So don’t waste any money on Facebook or Twitter ads. That’s because as soon as you turn off the ads, your readers are gone. Your retention rate is going to be abysmal. Oh, and you’re going to have to gain them back again.
Starting out, you want to try to write whenever you can. Pledge to write a couple of times a week and stick to it. If you have the financial means to, hire on some writers. Those writers are going to be the backbone of the business. They’ll define content quality, so you want to be careful with hiring. That’s been how I’ve operated both at my previous publication and my new one.
The idea of hiring fast and firing fast is highly disputed. But honestly, when you’re first starting out, it might not be terrible. Hire fast to get the content out, and fire when your writers aren’t meeting simple timelines.
And that leads into the next thing.
4. Become a Google Publisher
The Google Publishing Platform is crucial for any publisher. Getting in is one of the key steps to setting up an awesome organic search strategy. Although there isn’t too much information out there about getting in, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind.
- Be consistent with publishing: From my experience as well as hearing from friends who have gotten their publications into Google News, you want to publish 2-3 articles per day.
- Be informational, not promotional: Google isn’t a marketing agency, so it doesn’t want to promote your publication if all you’re doing is publishing stuff with a bunch of affiliate links.
- Be transparent about your contributors: Google wants you to have an author name next to each article. That means you shouldn’t have articles published under ‘admin’ or any other non-personal alias. Presumably, they want the general public to be able to reach out to authors in case they’ve made a mistake.
You can easily apply to be included in Google News, but you do have to wait to reapply if you’re rejected, so tread lightly. Admissions are a bit of a black box, but if you stay consistent with your content output and are providing value, it’ll come right back.
In fact, getting into Google News will bring tons of traffic to your site if you’re optimizing for the right SEO keywords and your niche is specific and large enough.
Admittedly, these guidelines seem easy to follow but are more difficult to execute on. For instance, hiring writers will always be a challenge from the get-go and burn personal capital, but if you’re confident in what your publication stands for, it’s definitely something to consider. If you have any questions about anything I’ve mentioned in this article, feel free to shoot me an email or a Twitter DM. Happy to answer!