This article is an expansion from a previous article entitled: “What I learned from failure, an extensive article on things to consider whilst running a tutorial orientated website“.
These are things that I have learnt from running Twodded, a ‘quality tutorials’ section of the Pixel2life tutorial listing, which recently was declared dead. Several points have also been added by managers of other tutorial orientated websites that have left comments on the previous instalment of this series.
Keep in mind that not all of these points will necessarily relate to your tutorial orientated website and that this article might be expanded again with another entry at a later date – so if you wish to help expand the following article please leave your additional points in a comment below.
If something goes wrong on your site, it’s your fault – not the user’s
I had this argument a few weeks ago where by a friends site was down because of an error and when I said “calm down, take down the site and put up a ‘we are doing this’ page and and i’ll help you fix it”, I received the reply “why should we care about the users? they can bare with it, it’ll only be twenty minutes or so”.
When running a site, your first priority is your user base (especially if charging). If a new user arrives at your site and sees PHP errors all over the place, chances are they won’t be coming back. However if they see a ‘sorry for the down time, we are doing this right now’ page, chances are they’ll revisit later in the day to see if your site is back up.
Also, if you are doing something that requires the user’s attention and means downtime and possible errors, make sure there’s a clearly visible way of telling the user when it will be happening. This tells the user it’ll be happening, keeps them “in the loop”, let’s them know you care and gives them time to get anything they were going to do out the way before the down time happens.
Don’t go out of your way to obsess with SEO
By this I don’t mean using a CSS based layout, using meta tags, using ALT tags or title attributes in your links – these examples are just good practice. By this statement I mean the people who insist on people linking to them with certain text, putting 500 word essays in their ALT tags, hiding key words from users using negative margins/small fonts and other similar tricks.
All this time you spend obsessing over your rank for monkey butts and bananas in Google can be spent on better things such as writing more content, enhancing existing content or replying to comments on previous tutorials. Try focusing on your existing audience and keeping them, they’ll refer friends and lots of them, when treated well.
Personally when I see tricks like this on websites I don’t revisit them, and the majority will do the same. Don’t put SEO before your user’s experience.
Make sure if you add a feature, it’s necessary
Do people need the ability to view your tutorials in a top 10 views list? Personally I think this gives the user the chance to try holding down F5 to increase a tutorials views for a joke, or clearing their cookies and refreshing to increase the count. If your system isn’t good enough to handle it adjust and wait, then ask yourself if the feature is necessary and if it will enhance your site when added. It can either provide a valuable service to the user or it can make you look like a joke, that’s your decision.
The same goes for whether people actually want to view your tutorial as a PDF or word document, do they really want to view comments on the same page as the tutorial, do they really want to be told about your new services in the middle of a tutorial… and so on.
Another thing is feature requests. Just because one person requests it or five people request it, doesn’t mean the majority want it. Think about how many people will use the feature and if it’ll make your user’s experience with your site better. Is there a reason other sites don’t have this feature? Sometimes there’s a good reason why no-one has it.
Reward your writers wherever you can
Whether it’s a simple link in your affiliates system, an author websites link on the tutorial they’ve wrote, share in revenue, allowing them to run their own advertisements or just complimenting them on their excellent writing skills – you need to reward your writers.
This is just a sample list of rewards of course, but there are a lot more things you can do. Writers need to feel passion for the project or company they are writing for and the more their writing something benefits them, the more they’ll feel that passion.
Don’t promise what you can’t deliver
I have to admit that at Twodded I did this a lot. I promised I would write, I promised I would put up ‘authors home page’ links, I promised I would fixed a bug here, a bug there… and so on. Simply put – this made me a terrible person to work with, and I began to fully understand staff that lost confidence in the project.
From this I learnt that you should only promise what you can deliver, and to set realistic deadlines for my projects. When you come through with something not only does it show you to be someone you can rely on, but it shows your dedicated to the project.
Set yourself apart from the crowd by doing better
The question you have to ask yourself is: do you want to be the sheep or the shepherd?
Make sure you have time to run the tutorial orientated site the first place
When starting a tutorial orientated site a lot of people have them as ‘side projects’ to their ever growing network of websites. This shows on every website they build as they often dedicate less time to one project than another they favour at the time.
When starting a tutorial orientated site make sure you have the time to run it, to write for it and to manage it, otherwise you’ll be thrown in at the deep end with no swimming lessons and all hell will break loose.
Be prepared for troublemakers
Trust your staff? Think they’ll never turn their back on you? Think that no-one would ever try to run an SQL injection script on your commenting script? It may sound paranoid, but your wrong.
Make sure everything you build is secure regardless of it’s use. Once in a blue moon you’ll see a staff member or a user revolt, someone looking for trouble. If you aren’t prepared for this then you are fool, because “If something goes wrong on your site, it’s your fault – not the user’s” – your the person people will frown upon when this happens, not the person responsible. Don’t get me wrong you’ll get a hundred and one comments saying that the person responsible should be burnt at the steak, but everyone has ‘how did the owner allow this to happen?’ bouncing around in the back of their minds.
My golden rule – just because people aren’t saying it to your face, doesn’t mean it’s not being said. Listen to the one or two people that complain about something, as occasionally they are speaking out for a majority that aren’t saying anything to start with.
Keep the community and staff in line
Do you want people flaming your tutorial writers? Do you want your tutorial writers flaming visitors? Then say so, and make it happen. Make sure you have things put in the way of this happening such as comment approval systems and that no-one gets through without your say so.
In regards to staff, make sure there’s a set of rules to go by and make sure that if they are broken that action is taken.
If you have tutorials on multiple pages, make sure there’s a print option available
A very small point here, but I made this mistake on Twodded and a lot of visitors hated me for it. Simply put – some people want to view it page by page, some people want to view the entire thing at once and some people want to print it out and read it. Accommodate all three groups by implementing paged tutorials with a clear ‘print view’ option at the head of the tutorial.
Don’t overdo your content management system
I see this on the mass majority of tutorial orientated websites, no-one seems to know how to cache. You wouldn’t need a dedicated server to power your whatever thousand visitors a day if you just cached the pages that never change. Do you need to pull out a tutorial of the database every time it loads? Do you need to pull out your about page every time that loads? Sure you can store it in a database for easy editing and use it in the CMS, but cache it when your done.
It sounds simple, but a lot of people could be on shared servers or virtual private servers that are on dedicated when they simply don’t need to be.
I hope this article has benefited your tutorial orientated website and that you had fun reading it. Keep in mind that this article might be expanded again with another entry at a later date – so if you wish to help expand the following article please leave your additional points in a comment below .