The Web is a writer’s medium. The ability to self-publish on the Web
creates a whole new set of possibilities for journalists. However, knowing
how to write and knowing how to make money from writing on the Web are two
founder of the award-winning EuropeforVisitors.com, is a writer and netpreneur who knows how to create good
web content, and at the same time turn his writings into a source of good
Imboden is a former literary agent, freelance writer, and editor of
Playboy magazine. He began his online career as manager of the Writing Forum
when MSN launched in 1995. He moved on to become editor of Venice for
Visitors and Switzerland for Visitors at The Mining Co. (later to become
About.com) in early 1997. A travel writer since 1996, his publishing credits
include novels set in Europe and a nonfiction book, Buying Travel Services
on the Internet. Together with his wife, Cheryl, Imboden currently works
full-time as editor and publisher of the several award-winning travel
related web sites.
Aside from EuropeforVisitors.com, Imboden’s sites include
Venice for Visitors,
Switzerland for Visitors, and
Austria for Visitors. His sites provide more than 3,500 pages of original
articles, with traffic currently exceeding 300,000 visitors per month. EuropeforVisitors.com
was named Forbes’ Best of the Web, proving that
even a small home-based operation can receive acclaim for excellence.
PowerHomeBiz.com interviewed Imboden to discuss his strategies for
creating a successful content Web site.
You created your first web site in 1996 with Writing.org. Then you
added a host of European travel websites (EuropeforVisitors.com;
VeniceforVisitors.com; SwitzerlandforVisitors.com; AustriaforVisitors.com;
and The Baby Boomer's Venice). What were your inspirations for creating each
Durant Imboden: I started work on Writing.org late in 1995, when I
was under contract to Microsoft as manager of MSN's Writing Forum. I'd been
using the Web for a few years, and I thought a writing-related Web site
might help to generate interest in my MSN forum.
The Baby Boomer's Venice was my first travel site. I created it on the
spur of the moment in 1996 as a test bed for a review of FrontPage 1.1 in
Boardwatch Magazine, which at that time was a magazine for online
entrepreneurs and users. The site was listed in Yahoo and several
guidebooks, and it's still around--although nowadays it's mainly a feeder to
my newer and much larger Venice for Visitors site.
I created Venice for Visitors at The Mining Company, which later became
About.com, in spring of 1997. My wife's Switzerland for Visitors--later
Switzerland/Austria for Visitors--began at roughly the same time, and I
expanded my beat to include all of Western Europe in 1998.. Our contracts
were terminated in September, 2001 after I'd raised questions about
About.com's accounting practices and other contract issues. (Those contract
issues are now the subject of a major class-action lawsuit, Levinson et al.
v. Primedia et al.)
My wife and I owned the copyright to nearly all of our About.com content,
so we relaunched the sites under the Europeforvisitors.com umbrella in
October, 2001. They've been flourishing and growing ever since.
What were your expectations when you started any of your sites? Were your
sites simply a venue to present, discuss and perhaps find like-minded
enthusiasts on the subjects that you are passionate about - writing and
European travel? Or did you begin the site thinking that this could be a way
to earn money?
Writing.org was never conceived as a way to make money. I hoped it would
benefit the MSN forum that I ran from 1995 to 1999, but I've always financed
it out of my own pocket. (I don't run ads on the site because nearly all
writing-related ads are for vanity presses or scams.)
The Baby Boomer's Venice wasn't conceived as a moneymaker either. As I
mentioned above, the site was built in connection with a software review,
and I kept it going afterwards because I liked the subject matter and I hate
to throw anything away!
The Mining Co./About.com sites were created as for-profit editorial
ventures. I've been a professional writer and editor since the 1960s, and
The Mining Co./About.com seemed to offer an opportunity to "monetize"
editorial content on the Web. After Cheryl and I were fired from About.com,
I decided that it was time to leverage my 30+ years of editorial and
publishing experience by doing on the Web what guidebook author-publishers
like Karl Baedeker, Eugene Fodor, Temple Fielding, and Arthur Frommer had
long been doing in the print world--i.e., creating a strong personal brand
and controlling the publishing process.
Do you manage europeforvisitors.com and your other websites full-time? Are
your websites your main source of income?
What are the ways you earn money from your sites? How do you leverage the
content of your site?
We have two revenue sources: affiliate commissions or referral fees, and
contextual text ads from Google's AdSense network.
Given the importance of affiliate programs in your
revenue mix, what are your criteria for selecting an affiliate program to
join for any of your site?
Our main criterion is whether a program adds value for the reader. Our
readers are looking for things like car rentals, rail passes, and hotel
bookings, so having related affiliate programs is good for both our readers
and us. At the same time, we try to include a few programs that may not be
huge moneymakers but make the site more useful, such as travel insurance and
local sightseeing tours.
We're very picky about the user experience--not only on our site, but
also on affiliate programs' sites. And we've had to drop a couple of
programs (including one well-know European hostel program) because they've
turned out to be deadbeats.
Finally, we use affiliate programs that serve an international audience
whenever we can, both to please our readers and to diversify our revenue
sources. (About half of our hotel bookings come from Europe, and most of our
hotel commissions are paid in euros. Such diversification protects us when
international travel to Europe is down and when the U.S. dollar falls
against European currencies.)
Managing one website is hard enough, and you have five. How do you make sure
that each and every site remains on par with the standards you have set in
terms of quality and in keeping with your goals?
Writing.org and The Baby Boomer's Venice don't require much maintenance. And
our other sites (Europeforvisitors.com, Veniceforvisitors.com,
Switzerlandforvisitors.com, and Austriaforvisitors.com) are really just one
big site with separately branded subtopics.
It does take time to create and maintain content, but I'm a fast writer
with efficient tools like Microsoft FrontPage 2003 and Adobe PhotoShop
Elements that make the job a lot easier. And don't forget, this is my
Of course, quality isn't just determined by editorial content--it's also
based on how you present that content. We try to avoid the
overcommercialized look and feel of big corporate sites like
Travelandleisure.com and Condé Nast's Concierge.com, where the amount of
space devoted to ads and affiliate promotions can make it hard to find (let
alone read) the editorial content. We also give thought to how quickly our
pages load. When we were at About.com, the in-house publishing system often
added 50 Kb of code to 5 Kb of text when our pages were served. That's a
good way to drive away readers with dial-up connections.
What is your strategy for creating content for each of your sites?
Our goal has always been to create "evergreen" content that can stay online
permanently with occasional updating. Lately, we've been doing in-depth
"saturation coverage" of European destinations, cruises, and other travel
experiences. Nobody else is doing anything like this.
When we write an article about a destination, we make a point of
including links to tourist offices, museums, public transportation, maps,
and other third-party sites. Linking to other sites is one of the World Wide
Web's fundamental principles, and it's also a great way to become a
"resource hub" that attracts repeat visitors.
In general, our content strategy might be termed "long-term" rather than
"short-term." As our site grows from its current 3,500 or so pages of
content, each page will add a trickle of direct or indirect income to the
existing revenue stream.
Your websites appear to be a family endeavor. How is your wife involved in
your sites? How are you balancing your family life and business?
Cheryl does some of the writing and photography on the site. She also
handles most of the proofreading and--most important--the financial planning
Balancing family life and business has never been a problem for us. For
example, I share my attic office with the computer that my son uses, and I
might be editing an article in FrontPage while my son's friends are huddling
around his PC and our dog is snoozing on the attic couch. Also, it helps to
be in a business that involves something we all enjoy: travel.
How has your sites grown through the years? Give some
milestones/achievements of the sites.
In just over two years, Europeforvisitors.com has grown to an average of
300,000 visitors and more than a million page views per month. It
has a higher Alexa traffic ranking than Travel and Leisure's Web site and
all but a handful of European national tourist offices. We've also had some
great reviews and coverage in publications like USA Today, the Washington
Post, and Forbes (which twice has given us its "Best of the Web" award).
Such media coverage doesn't necessarily drive a lot of traffic to the site,
but it's good for credibility with readers, PR people, and other media.
Please share any lessons or tips you've learned on how to create a
successful content website.
Find a topic that you love and can stay interested in, and which is capable
of being monetized. That's the hard part--not all topics will produce good
Focus on value to the reader, and make sure that your pages offer easily
digestible "spider food" to the search engines. The Webmaster guidelines at
Google, http://www.google.com, are well worth reading.
Have enough technical knowledge to feel comfortable as a Web publisher,
but don't get wrapped up in technical issues at the expense of content.
(Your readers don't care if you're building your site with FrontPage or
PostNuke--they're just looking for information in a format that's reasonably
attractive and easy to read.)
When looking for ways to earn money from your site, don't sacrifice
long-term credibility and growth for short-term profits.
Finally, if you have a day job, don't give it up too soon--and if you've
got a working spouse who can supply the family with medical insurance and
other benefits, so much the better!