Becoming a Top 1,000 Web Property

Yesterday we set two traffic records. WorldVitalRecords.com had more than 36,000 unique visitors–6,000 higher than our two previous best days, earlier in April. And We’re Related on Facebook had more than 105,000 daily active users.

One of the best parts about being an internet entrepreneur is how immediately your actions translate into measureable results. Our team members are working hard on search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, email marketing campaigns, and improving our affiliate marketing program. As each channel improves, the overall cumulative results are exciting.

When you have team members that have experienced the thrill of extreme growth in the past from how a web site was built or marketed and when they are hungry to experience it again, and know how to do it, then you have a great success formula. When you don’t have a team that has done it before, you have to inspire them by getting them to listen to or read about people who have done it before.

My personal observation is that the vast majority of people that work in most companies have never experienced anything like the rapid real-time success of a massive internet marketing campaign that they personally helped launch, or a melt-down of servers caused by publicity or viral marketing from something they personally helped build. I remember watching a few product and marketing managers in the early days of MyFamily.com go through a personal transformation when they personally designed or launched a feature, or a marketing campaign, that brought in huge numbers. They were never the same again. From that point on, they wanted to do it again and again, and avoid as many meetings and as much bureaucracy and red tape as possible. They wanted to be on a small dedicate team focused on rapid development. They wanted to experience that thrill again.

Most people I have worked with over the years are willing to spend a lot of time in meetings, or in planning, or in writing 20-page MRDs (marketing requirements documents), rather than spending most of their time building a site or actually launching a marketing program. We have a high concentration of experienced and hungry team members at FamilyLink.com, so we are optimistic about the future.

A good description about the difference between a traditional business with its long-term planning cycles and a fast-paced internet company comes from Meg Whitman, who joined eBay after a successful career with Hasbro, Disney and Proctor & Gamble. In the book Net Entrepreneurs Only, on page 179, she describes the radical difference. I blogged about this in 2004

Everyday we use Omniture Site Catalyst to run our online marketing programs. But we are also looking at our public Quantcast numbers every day. Recently we were able to figure out how to place a Quantcast pixel on our Facebook application so that we can get credit publicly for the Facebook users that are using our We’re Related application every day.

Our Quantcast chart for the FamilyLink.com network of sites now looks like we must be on the verge of a server "melt-down" — and we’ve had people ask us about this. But in fact, we’ve had a ton of Facebook traffic for months now, and it is only just now showing up on our public chart. And the good news is that thanks to Amazon EC2, we are scalable as far as the eye can see.

After another two weeks of Quantcast tracking our actual usage across all of our properties, it appears that our network will break into the ranks of the top 1,000 web properties in the U.S.

It takes about 2.1 million unique visitors per month to be a top 1,000 web site or property. We’ll soon be in the company of prweb.com, looksmart.com, and stanford.edu in terms of unique monthly visitors. To break into the top 500 web properties, we’ll have to reach 3.3 million monthly uniques.

I remember going to Fall Internet World in New York City back in 1998 and first running into Media Metrix. At their booth they had a list of the top 500 web sites at that time, and I was thrilled to see Ancestry.com on that list. I remember later, after the successful launch of MyFamily.com with its meteoric viral growth, and after our acquisition of Rootsweb.com, that our network of properties broke into the top 50 in reach, and our reported monthly page views put as at #19 for all US internet properties. Imagine that–a top 20 internet company based on page views!

It is clear from those early days that genealogy sites and tools for connecting families have huge potential. With the right business model, partners, and the right team, a company in this space has tremendous potential. It’s no wonder, to me, that Geni.com reportedly got a $100 million valuation on their Series A round last year. They are still, of course, trying to grow into that valuation, but they are showing steady growth. The family tree and family social networking space is hot. It has huge potential. The big question now is which of the many various companies in this space will execute well enough to survive and to attract enough customers to become viable. Our team is quite confident that we can make it. We have a number of team members who have experienced the thrill of victory before and are hungry to experience it again.

As I said in my previous post, We’re Hiring. If you have been a part of a fast-growing internet company in the past and are interested in joining with us, please contact me and send me your resume. It’s going to be a really fun ride.

International Genealogy and Search Engine Rankings

For many years I have wanted Ancestry.com to go international, since the world population is more than 20 times larger than the U.S. population. I felt that a Rootsweb-type model could be done in virtually every country of the world, followed at sime time, by an Ancestry-type subscription model. The one (a user generated content model) would lead to the other (a premium database model.)

Note: I left the company in February 2002 and have no inside information about the company or its plans.

Since the company hired Tim Sullivan as its 6th CEO in 8 years (I was the first, then hired my brother Curt, who was replaced by Greg Ballard, and then Dave Moon, Tom Stockham, and now Tim Sullivan), there are strong signs that Ancestry is going international, and in a big way. It’s very exciting for me to watch. I’m very pleased with the German web site that Ancestry launched, and of course the company has done great things in the UK and Canada.

When I first learned about Tim Sullivan, I heard that in his previous role as CEO of Match.com he had helped Match.com go into 27 countries, or something like that. So I suspected this was coming. This is a very good thing for the company as well as for genealogists worldwide. Tim has made a number of very good decisions in the past year, and in the past few months I’ve seen an acceleration of good moves being made by the company. I’m very encouraged.

When I decided to get back into the genealogy industry full-time, just a few months ago, we decided to try to focus on things that were not being addressed yet by the larger companies in the genealogy space. We have started beefing up our international search engines, and working on user generated content features that will be rolling out in the coming weeks. In addition, I’m planning to travel internationally to work with content partners worldwide. I have several such trips in the works.

Even though we are a small company, we have a generous approach to working with content partners and an incredible online marketing team that is generating more traffic and customers every month, so our royalty pool is becoming sizeable. We know we will make a good partner for many international content owners.

One of our keys to success internationally will be search engine optimization that will enable us to attract visitors from all over the world to our web pages with no marketing costs. With pay-per-click costs increasing, natural search becomes the key way for a company to grow and grow profitably.

Our efforts in this regard are beginning to pay off. We rank #1 on MSN.com for “china genealogy“, “chile genealogy“, “kenya genealogy“, “philippines genealogy“, “portugal genealogy“, “tonga genealogy“, “turkey genealogy“, and “vietnam genealogy.” We rank in the top 10 in Google, Yahoo and MSN for many other countries already. And as we roll out genealogy web pages for every town and city in the world, and for every surname in the world, and as our users beginning sharing content with each other, all of this content will be optimized for search engines as well as for mobile phones.

After leaving MyFamily.com in 2002 I ran an internet marketing agency called 10x Marketing that did search engine optimization, pay per click marketing, and affiliate marketing for many companies. And our World Vital Records team has excellent skills in these areas as well.

So keep an eye on World Vital Records and our forthcoming FamilyL— web site, as our natural search rankings continue to grow our total web site traffic will get very robust.

We know that having 13.8 million pages of content indexed by Google, like Rootsweb does, almost all of it user generated, is a great way to attract millions of monthly visitors, the way Rootsweb does.

We have only 17,400 pages indexed by Google right now, but this should grow by two orders of magnitude this year as our strategy begins to play out. And when it does, we will become a significant participant in the international genealogy space.

Record Day for World Vital Records

Internet entrepreneurs who study web analytics can find excuses all the time to celebrate small victories and large. Yesterday we had another one.

World Vital Records had its highest page views ever yesterday with 58,398. Our previous high was 43,828. As we add more and more content to our site (and all our new databases are free for 10 days), we will continue to generate buzz (14 mentions in the blogosphere yesterday) and more visitors. Our subscriber count continues to grow as well.

We also had our third highest visitor total ever with more than 3,100 unique visitors. Many of these are not being tracked yet by Quantcast, since we haven’t put their code up yet on all of our international pages. And Alexa usually doesn’t pick up unique visitors from other countries.

We noticed that next to Providence, Rhode Island, that the next city with the highest percentage of visitors was Seattle. Our team is speculating that Microsoft must want to buy us already! :)

We have launched the archive of Everton’s Genealogical Helper, spanning 60 years. And we have posted Everton’s Pedigree and Family Group Sheets database, with more than 150,000 pages. This database is still free for 7 more days.

Our site is still faster than 81% of other web sites, although we used to beat 94% of other web sites.

Maybe we’ve gone overboard on web analytics. We use Omniture Site Catalyst as our internal tracking tool, to manage all our marketing campaigns. But we also use Google Analytics because of the tie-in with Google AdWords (and potentially other services like Google Webmaster Tools). And we use Quantcast pixels so we can have verified audience measurement. I think we also have an Alexa pixel up. (Not sure about that).

Having 4 different analytics programs running simultaneously may seem ridiculous, but each provides us with a different benefit. I’ll have to watch that web site speed, though, because if the customer experience is compromised, we will have to make changes.

We are still a tiny company, with fewer than 10 employees, but we are adding more marketing help and our content pipeline continues to grow.

Knowing what it feels like to get hundreds of thousands of unique daily visitors, our team is super motivated to do it once again. And celebrating victories along the way is the best way I know to keep us all focused on doing it.

Understand Your Customer Better Than Anyone Else

Our top priority at World Vital Records is understanding our customers needs. A VC friend told me recently that if you choose a market and understand your customers’ needs better than anyone else, and meet those needs, that you will be successful.

In addition to monthly usabilty tests of our web sites, we now have a panel of 783 customers who are willing to answer any questions that we ask them. The first question we asked is what kinds of records they want us to add to our web site. Our next question will be what countries they want us to gather these records from.

We are also studying our site analytics regularly, doing A/B testing on our outbound email campaigns, and have begun using Google Website Optimizer so that we can test various landing pages in real time to see which ones perform best.

We have found by analyzing our customer database that 72% of our paying subscribers are women and 28% are men. Using Quantcast, we have a good glimpse of the demographics of our site visitors, what other web sites they tend to visit, and what keywords they are searching for.

Quantcast is an extremely useful tool and it will only get better. The founder of Quantcast emailed me recently and told me how many pixels they are tracking on a monthly basis. Their open system (where webmasters can opt in for validated numbers) will make their system better with time. As more media planners use their site to design interactive marketing campaigns, Quantcast will be able to play a key role in the ad selling process, and take a slice of that pie. To build audience, they’ll continue to make their audience measurement and demographic information free.

I love this service.

Quantcast is extremely valuable to understand all the companies in an industry. We can use Quantcast to learn the demographics of visitors to Ancestry.com or any other genealogy web site. Ancestry’s users tend to be over 45 years old, and more female than male.

I can start to see differences in audience composition and determine who is strong in what area. For example, World Vital Records already has a lot of users from a variety of ethnic groups, whereas Ancestry.com’s audience ranks high on Caucasian but low on most other ethnic groups. As we launch international databases and search engines, perhaps this gap will only widen.

We can use Quantcast to find hundreds of genealogy sites that are potentially good partners, where cross promotion could help us and them.

If you have not yet started using Quantcast, I suggest you set aside a few hours to do so, and write down all the insights you gain about your competitors and your customers, and what other sites they visit and what other interests they have.

In the traditional direct marketing industry you can use a service like Claritas which can provide you with a customer segmentation report if you provide them with the mailing addresses of your customers. They can answer questions like:

* Who are my customers?
* What are they like?
* What do they buy?
* Where can I find them?
* How can I reach them?
* How can I keep them?

They also have Data Enhancement services, which they describe as follows: “Claritas can help you learn all about your customers – their demographics, lifestyles, and consumer behaviors. We can append Claritas data to your customer file of names and addresses to give a richly detailed profile of what your customers are like and why they buy from you.”

Quantcast is providing a combination of Alexa/Hitwise/Comscore-like data along with free Claritas-like data. I’m a little surprised that it’s not getting more buzz than it is. I have found a few good posts on Quantcast, including this post on Rojo.com that says it may be a valuable tool for advertisers, and potentially an acquisition target for Google, but that it has been self-funded and may not have a business model fully figured out.

I suppose if it had venture backing then it would be getting a lot more media coverage than it is. Or maybe the company is lying low and perfecting its service until it is ready for prime time.

I blogged earlier this month about how Quancast is the best free tool for internet marketers in years, and I stand by that claim. The more I use it, the more I like it, and the more potential I see for it.

But back to our topic … understanding your customer. One more practice that we are going to start at World Vital Records is requiring all our executives to have regular phone calls with customers.

I remember when my brother Curt Allen was CEO of MyFamily.com and he asked his executive staff of 12 people how many had spoken to a customer in the past month. If I recall correctly, not a single hand went up. He was making a strong point that when a company is growing fast, it is easy to lose touch with the customer.

So when I ran the marketing department, not only did my staff each visit our call center every week to be involved in customer phone calls, but we also started holding group discussions with our customers to find out what they liked and didn’t like, and what they wanted us to do next.

It is so easy to get busy with housekeeping and putting out fires that you can completely neglect speaking with customers.

We are also planning to attend many, many national, regional, and local family history events. Not only are the people at these conferences the nicest people you’ll ever meet, but they are so incredibly knowledgeable–some of them have been doing family history for decades, so they have so many insights and ideas for what would make their job easier.

A consultant friend of mine told me recently that third-party surveys are far more accurate than those conducted by a company itself because customers will be more honest with third parties for some reason. What do you think? I remember we hired Wirthlin Worldwide to do a major customer survey for MyFamily.com back in 1999 and the results were incredible.

Blogging keeps me in touch with internet entrepreneurs, but not with the family history community yet. I think I’m going to keep this blog focused on internet entrepreneurship and marketing (due to popular demand!) and start a new blog that I’ll probably publish at Worldvitalrecords.com that will focus on family history topics.

Bill Marriott claims that his new blog will help him do on a global scale what he has been doing for years: talking to the customer.

What are your topic 3-5 techniques for staying in touch with your customers and really understanding their needs? And how has this helped you achieve success in your business?

Please share….

Note: I have not been involved as an employee of MyFamily.com (now The Generations Network) since February 2002.

The best free tool for internet marketers in years

My friend Spencer sent me a link to Quantcast.com this morning and I tried it out and then made in the centerpiece of my training today at the Provo Labs Academy.

This is an incredibly powerful tool that provides demographic information on the visitors who visit your site, your competitor’s sites and any one of 20 million other web sites. It’s like the wonderful free Alexa tool combined with the extremely expensive data that comes from high end internet traffic companies like Comscore or Hitwise–but the Quantcast service is free.

You can see the age, gender, income, and education level of your site visitors. The power here, of course, is not to just get free data about your own site visitors, but to use this tool to find hundreds of other sites with similar demographics for media planning and buying purposes.

It also includes keyword research. You can see the keywords your site visitors are likely to search for. You can find other web sites that your site visitors tend to visit.

I know I will be spending many, many hours using this service.

At the Academy, one of the members expressed concern about how Quantcast would make money. I have no doubt that hundreds of thousands of internet marketers will get addicted to their free services, so that if they roll out premium services, they’ll have a willing audience to sell to.

I’m not sure a more important free service has launched since Goto.com (later Overture and now Yahoo Search Marketing) started providing its free keyword suggestion tool for search engine marketers.

This takes that concept to an entirely new level. I applaud the team behind this incredible new Quantcast service and predict that it will spread very quickly. The user interface is excellent. It’s fast and easy to use.

My first hope is that their premium service will provide access to “more….” data under each category that they track. But for now, I’m very excited to use Quincast for genealogy purposes, and to encourage all the Provo Labs portfolio companies to use it as well.

In our Academy training today we also discussed direct mail list brokers who can provide extremely targeted mailing lists for promotional purposes. We discussed Microsoft’s efforts to one-up Google with better demographic targeting and behavioral targeting on AdCenter, which is possibly because they have some demographic data on their 263 million Hotmail users, and they combine it with search engine query histories for each customer.

A few other topics we covered include:

  • Microsoft getting into Web Analytics with a free service to compete with Google Analytics
  • How to use Clickatell‘s SMS services to provide your customers with valuable opt-in SMS alerts. We discussed some potential uses of this service.
  • How some merchants are using Google’s $10 bonus for new Google Checkout customers to advertise “$10 off of our product when you sign up for Google Checkout.” (NY Times article from December).
  • Netflix is now letting its customers stream 1,000 movies as it finally launches its online movie rental service. Netflix has 70,000 DVDs in its rental library.
  • Skype’s founders are backing the launch of a potentially industry changing online peer-to-peer television platform called Joost. It’s been code-named “The Venice Project” for some time now; but Joost is now in beta. Based on this week’s Alexa chart for Joost, I would say this project has the most hype potential and therefore may be the single most disruptive play in online video to date. Skype’s founders first launched KaZaa, then Skype (sold to eBay for $2.6 billion plus.) The chances are good that this company will sell for even more than Skype after it gets its 50-100 million users; after all television is a much sexier industry than telecommunications. It’s too early to tell for sure, but I wouldn’t bet against this company and its backers.

I wanted to talk about several other things, but we ran out of time. They included:

  • Google may someday put advertising kiosks in Malls to compete with the OnSpot Digital Network.
  • Millennial Media, a mobile advertising network raised venture funding this week. It will compete with AdMobs (the leader I think) and Third Screen Media.
  • Geni.com launched this week with a very cool web 2.0 family tree builder application. They got TechCrunched and got a huge spike in traffic. (See the Alexa Chart for Geni. Also, see the 5-year chart for MyFamily.com and Geni.) It will be very interesting to see how much stickiness they have over time.
  • Bloglines may still be the most used RSS reader, but Google Reader may be catching up.
  • Popular Science’s best of CES 2007 included the Nokia N800 internet tablet, the Ion iProjector (plug in your video ipod and project!), the OQO Model 02, and the Garmin Astro 220 (used by hunters to track the location within 10 miles of their hunting dogs, who have mini trasmitters on them. Would this work with kids?)
  • MTVu acquired RateMyProfessors.com (900,000 professors rated, 10 million annual student visitors). They now have the 2nd highest trafficked college interest network.
  • Microsoft will be embedding hyperlinks in online video by this summer.
  • How Flixster got 5 million registered users for its social network around movies.
  • This week was an especially good week with news and announcements for internet entrepreneurs. It’s impossible to keep track of all of them, but with the help of my Google Reader and it’s 100 RSS feeds and my network of hundreds of business friends who pass along news, and my Blackberry which I can use any time to search Google News, we do a pretty good job at the Academy of covering the major ones.