Here are five strategies for succeeding as a content Web site.
Create original content. It's expensive, but the site then owns it. You control it, which means you can respond faster to users rather than first going through partners. Bottom line: You have an asset.
Give users what they want.
Find ways to always provide an answer.
Be complete through aggregation. Pull in all the information available on a particular subject. This includes getting information from partners so you have depth.
Give multiple routes to the same information. People expect to go to one place and have links to others.
Offer searching capabilities, in context. If you're doing a vertical site, give answers contextually.
Articulate your business model
Let users know what you do and how you do it. But first post that within your company so employees really understand: This is what we do and this is how we're going to make money. Then put the business model on your site so users understand it and what they can get out of it.
Make electronic commerce a feature. There are ways to keep content the focus and commerce a feature. Just look at trade magazines, where content is the purpose and vendors have ads in back.
Have a syndication/affiliate plan. It's an extra form of income.
Provide a one-click buying option.
Consider becoming an infomediary.
Own your users
Know who your users are.
Communicate with them and let them communicate with each other. Have surveys and tech support. Users are really good at helping other users. Find ways--through message boards, for example--for users to give feedback.
Don't give your competition breathing room.
Have a corrections policy. If you're an editorial site, you need to have this. Information can be changed too easily without telling people a page has changed.
Develop guidelines to avoid conflicts of interest. You really need to avoid conflict when it comes to products and services you're covering. The editorial side worked this out decades ago, but many Web sites are new at this.
Address security and privacy issues. Don't skirt the issues. The key to credibility is disclosure to your users.
Target your audience
Create a vertical portal. A lot of content sites will succeed by creating great depth on a single subject.
Build strategic distribution relationships.
Constantly add new features and content. People won't come back to a stale site.
Dominate your niche. Work harder than the competition. You cannot be complacent.
Be creative. Invent valuable resources. Think of new ways to serve users.
Editor's note: Chris Barr, VP-editor at large for CNET, San Francisco, discussed his online content strategies with Business Marketing after presenting them at Internet Content '99 last month in San Francisco.