A reference site is very similar to an online magazine in how it provides information but it differs in that it does not offer frequently updated content. In many ways a reference site is similar to a book, whereas an online magazine is obviously similar to a magazine. A magazine will emphasize new article's on it's cover, whereas a book will contain a simple table of contents, or an index, directing the user to the information they are looking for. The corresponding websites for these two types follow similar trends. Your reference site will emphasize a content catalog, index, or menu in it's design and navigation structure, your online magazine will instead give recent articles top billing. The reason is that a reference site has a higher number of unique or first-time visitors, while an online magazine has a higher number of repeat or loyal visitors. Reference sites have as high of a traffic potential as an online magazine but their growth is typically more linear. Also, as a book is thicker than a magazine, reference sites usually start out with more content than an online magazine. In fact if you're making a reference site you usually get most of your content before you even publish the site, however eventually it may be possible for an online magazine to grow to the size where it has more content in it's archives than a reference site. The major upside to a reference site is that it will usually run itself, making your maintenance work much lower and your potential for residual income much higher, I have reference sites that go years between updates, all I need to do is cash the checks. However startup work is often greater as you must obtain a large amount of content before initial publication and the lower number of repeat or loyal visitors makes starting a community much harder.
There is another type of site very similar to a reference site and that is a resource site. A resource site is often structured like a reference site but instead of providing the actual information it instead just links to it. A resource site is in many ways just a directory. The traffic potential for such a site is only so-so, the problem is that while you may get many unique visitors each visitor may only visit one or two pages before they leave your site. However the profitability of such a site can be very high, almost higher than any other type of site. The reason lies in affiliate programs, which are discussed later in the guide. But suffice it to say that if you can work it out so you get paid when someone follows one of those links from your site then you will end up making a good deal of money.
There are three other main types of content-driven sites, however this book will mostly focus on the ones mentioned above. The first is a community site. A community site is one that revolves around a bulletin board or forum. This type of site is ripe with difficulty, the major issue is that it is hard to get off the ground. People come to a community site for discussion, and when you first start off you have no discussion. In many ways it's a "Catch 22" issue, a later article will present tips for getting a community off the ground. Another issue is that due to their number of page views per unique visitor community sites are relatively unattractive to advertisers and in general make the least amount of money per visitor than any other type of site. There are some benefits to running a community though. The first is that if you use a commercially available script you should be able to setup your entire site in less than a day, and then you will just need to get traffic and discussions going. The second benefit is that the site provides it's own content, so maintenance - other than moderating the forum and keeping things running smoothly, is relatively minor. You can also usually recruit trustworthy members to help with moderation.
Also, like blogs, community sites can be built using out of the box software and so can be done without extensive programming or design knowledge.
The biggest benefit for a community site though is stability, once establishes they are the most stable and long lived type of site.
Another type of site is an entertainment site. Any of the above sites could provide entertainment but an actual entertainment site is a little different. An entertainment site usually provides little in the way of textual content and instead what it offers are interactive programs or little widgets that are entertaining. Any type of site where visitors go to play with something could be categorized as an entertainment site. Entertainment sites are usually very easy to promote and they are the type of sites that can grow virally. Viral growth is when your visitors promote your site for you by telling their friends about it. However entertainment sites, like community sites, generally create very little revenue per unique visitor, however once your script or game is made there is generally little maintenance to do. Often with an entertainment site the highest cost is going to be your bandwidth, due to large amounts of traffic that generate little revenue and the fact that games often include pictures or movies that use up large amounts of bandwidth. A good way to look at it is that entertainment sites are the easiest type of sites to get traffic with, but the hardest type of site to get money with.
The final type of site is a service site. Defined simply, a service site is a site that offers an automated service of some type. A search engine would be a service site for example. So who wants to compete with Google? Well a search engine is not the only type of service site. Price comparison engines are a type of service, remotely hosted scripts from forums to polls to surveys are a type of service. Statistical tracking services are a type of service.
Service sites are some of the hardest to build both because they usually require advanced programming and because there are only so many services that you can market online. A service site does not provide content, it does not sell a product, it merely provides a beneficial service to the user. Trying to think of a service that users need that can be programmed effectively and run automatically through a web based interface is usually the biggest hurdle when making this type of site. If you do have a viable idea though this type of site can be one of the most successful.
This guide is going to assume that you are making one of the first four types of content sites mentioned, however many of the topics discussed, such as tips on ways to optimize your HTML, will be more applicable to such information driven sites, rather than community or game sites where your pages are generated by a combination of a script and user input. Other concepts discussed though could be applied to any type of site, such as choosing a name or domain name. Additionally, while the focus on this guide is on content sites, there will be information provided on running an ecommerce site.
As always if you have any questions on anything in this article or need help implementing the advice provided, come ask the friendly people in our forums.