We decided we would open the site to the public on a Friday, so we’d have the weekend to let Google AdSense, the advertising placement service we’re using, come online and “acclimate” its ads to our content before publicizing on Monday. Of course there were last-minute glitches and scrambling, but in the early afternoon we took the password down and FamiliesGo! was open for business.
Do you know what happened then?
I sat at my desk, did a little fist pump, emailed my parents and my husband to let them know, and went back to work on a check list for the launch.
Because of a series of issues with Adsense we didn’t have any ads until the following Tuesday night. But my excitement got the best of me and I began spreading the word on Tuesday afternoon anyway. I then found it hard to refrain from obsessively checking Facebook, Twitter, and Google analytics to see how people were reacting. Luckily, the time eventually came to retrieve my daughter from day camp, forcing me to let what I’d put out there percolate.
Like everything else in this endeavor, the launch has been educational. Some things are working out better than expected, and some less well. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Managing a website isn’t as hard as I feared
Technologically speaking. My web designer created a bunch of videos and cheat sheets and I’ve been gradually learning about creating pages, managing top and side menus, and activating plug-ins and widgets as I’ve been adding content. I know I’ll continue to hit some stumbling blocks, and sometimes I’m a little scared as I double click and wonder what will happen, but it’s amazing how easy WordPress is to use.
But it is a ton of work
A website is an insatiable beast. You need to constantly add fresh content so you can update your homepage and have new items to draw people in from Twitter and Facebook. FamiliesGo! has a blog, a collection of “evergreen” articles (like travel tips and packing lists), and travel resources (a parent-centric hotel guide, among other things). In the fall we’ll add a newsletter. It’s enough to keep a person busy full-time. Growing all three areas while keeping up with outside writing commitments, like my family travel blog on a Park Slope Parents site, and keeping a sharp eye on the business side of things, is enough to make a person’s head spin.
One of my best tricks is to dedicate daytime to creative work, which I want to do when I’m sharpest, and keep the important but mundane work, like invoicing and data entry, for nights.
Twitter is only so valuable
I have a few hundred highly engaged Twitter followers and I effectively use social media to influence them, at least according to a website that measures such things. My posts are often retweeted and I’ve built good will by reliably retweeting other people’s posts when I like them. So I felt sure that big news like my “We’re live!” tweet would be widely circulated.
I was wrong. It got barely a retweet or two.
I’ve learned in the past day or two that Twitter and Facebook posts highlighting specific content (for example, “Planning a family cruise? Before you book, read our list of 12 key questions to ask”) allow other social media users to bring value to their followers. So they generate more sharing and ultimately more click-throughs to the site than more general posts.
Ignore the numbers—for a little while
I fretted to my husband that people have only been spending about five minutes at a time on the site, and he pointed out to me that there isn’t too much do on it yet.
This is true. One of the pages people have been visiting most is the hotel guide, which ultimately is good. But I have to admit that with maybe three-dozen hotels listed, it has some growing to do.
Google Analytics is helpful tool and in the long run I’ll get a lot out of it. But it can make you crazy, especially when you’re getting going and a single visitor’s behavior can send your fever charts zig-zagging like a mountain range. For the next few weeks I’m trying hard to ignore the numbers and focus instead on the content and community building that will influence them.
Once you put yourself out there, things happen
About a dozen hotels have found FamiliesGo! without any prompting from me and submitted their listings on the hotel guide section. A travel service company and travel product company want to talk about ways to work together.
None of this is major (yet), but it goes to show that once you put yourself and your product in the public forum, response can be swift and it can come from corners you least expect. How we respond to that feedback and build on it will determine how the business grows.
Despite the new bumps and hurdles each of these new things will present, I have to say I’m looking forward to (finally) getting going.