In my last post, I revealed the niche site that I built to serve aspiring and existing food truck owners.
FoodTruckr.com was very well received and a lot of people left very positive comments about the concept, design and content currently on the site. Thanks for that!
In this post, I’m going to pick up where I left off.
More specifically, I’ll go into detail about the design and concept of the website, the content creation process, plans for monetization and of course, results from the launch. As I mentioned in the last post, the site obtained over 7,000 unique visitors and over 16,000 pageviews, so I’ll get more into exactly how that happened and where that traffic came from.
Concept and Design
When people think about web design, especially when using WordPress, most people think about and start with what WordPress theme would work best.
There’s another kind of “theme”, however, that you want to think about before going into any web design solution, and that is:
What “feel” do you want the site to have.
Because the site was being built for a very specific target market (food truck owners), my designer and I spent some time trying to discover what kind of design this particular audience could relate to.
It started with asking ourselves some very basic questions:
What sets FoodTruckr apart from its competitors?
Great design. Quality and clarity of content. Depth of resources.
What attributes should the brand reflect?
Here is a shortlist of words that reflect the brand:
- Professional Hipster
- Nomad, Freedom, Mobility
- Love of Food, Cuisine
- Community, Tribe, Social
- Entrepreneur, Different, Unique, Individual
- Expressive, Opinionated, Heritage
- DIY, Pride
When brainstorming, Austin, TX always came to mind. It’s a modern and smart city, but it has underground credibility with a slight air of hipster, with a healthy dose of the Southwest in its veins. It’s a part of a frontier, literally and culturally, so we looked to that location for a lot of inspiration.
What is the overall message that the brand should convey?
We are here to support you as you build your successful food truck business. We get you and we get your culture. We are professionals with business experience, ready to help you with your business.
What is the personality of the brand?
Professional, creative, fun, savvy, hipster.
Based on this, we created a brand imagery board for inspiration to give us some direction. Below is what we came up with:
(click to enlarge to full-width)
Using that as inspiration, we also created some color palettes and color themes. You can do this on sites like Adobe Kuler, where you can even upload images and formulate your own color palettes based on what you upload, which is pretty cool.
Here are some color palettes created based off of that image.
I ended up combining one with a darker orange color with another palette with some grays and dark browns too.
Ok, we’ve got the colors and the basic feel of the site, but what about the logo?
Because a lot of focus was being put into creating a site and brand that the food truck community could identify with, the logo was definitely an important decision – but it was a fun one too.
Based on all of the above inspiration, we created a number of different logos. If you don’t have a designer of your own or experience using photoshop, utilizing a site like 99designs.com could help you create several options to choose from.
Here is an initial lot of logos that we had come up with:
As fun as the mustache logos are, I liked the images of the food truck the best, especially the one with “Food Truckr” written on the side (middle image on top row), just like a normal food truck would be.
Do You Need to Do All of This?
Never before had so much thought been put into the concept and design of a brand (except maybe for the recent redesign of SPI, which an upcoming post will address soon, as tweaks and changes are being made on the fly), but after seeing the resulting website I can see why designers go the extra mile to do such planning.
My approach with this project, different from other niche sites I’ve created (where I just pick a theme, change some colors and go), is a slower but more planned and professional approach, and I’m very happy with the results.
Do you need to go through this process?
You don’t, and there’s a balance between planning vs. execution, because as always the design can be tweaked later on and you have to get content on your site too, but I hope you can see why it’s worth putting a little effort into coming up with the “feel” and design concept for a new website.
For those of you who are curious, here is a link to the coming soon page I setup during the pre-launh phase, which was created using LeadPages. This exact template is actually available in the LeadPages template library, for those of you who have it.
The theme of the primary site, which is a custom skin on the Thesis 2.1 platform (and we’re working to get a version of the skin available for the public) was purposely designed to do a few things:
1) Be completely different from competing websites in the space.
Although FoodTruckr.com is essentially first to market, there are a few similar sites that target general mobile food vendors and caterers. Most are news-type looking sites with good information, but they’re confusing to navigate through and not branded very well.
2) Quickly show the target audience they’re in the right spot and what the site can do for them.
At the top of the page, you’ll see:
“Because food doesn’t sell itself. FoodTruckr is here to help take your food truck business to the next level.”
A clear and targeted message.
3) Build an email list.
At the top of the homepage, you’ll see an offer for a free eBook, which is a lead magnet to drive people into an email list using a two-step opt-in process, as proven by Clay Collins in SPI Podcast Session #78 to be more effective (and something I’m testing here on SPI as well).
There are also calls to actions to subscribe in the sidebar of blog post pages, and below the posts as well.
4) To exemplify authority in the niche.
The branding, the design and content is all meant to show that FoodTruckr.com is a resource people in this industry should pay attention to, and like I mentioned in Part 1, several people in this industry have already expressed excitement for the site and what’s to come.
A great sign that FoodTruck is headed in the right direction.
Now, let’s talk about content.
When approaching content for any site, I always pay attention to a few things to help me determine what should be published:
1) Keywords and phrases that people use to search.
People type keywords into Google because they’re looking for information about something. Provide that information and do it well, and chances are you’ll get in front of everyone else in the search engine rankings. But beyond that, you’ll know you’ll be providing information that people are looking for – so I always start with keyword research.
Using tools like Long Tail Pro, or the free Google Keyword Planner, you can see just how often people are searching for keywords related to your particular niche.
Do I worry about SEO competition when it comes to content creation?
I do not.
Because if it’s something people are searching for, then you should be writing about it anyway, regardless of competitiveness in the search engines.
Whatever keywords and topics I find, I put it into a master list of topics to write about and then continue to dig deeper.
2) What are people asking about in forums and other community spaces online?
No matter what level you’re at with your site or business, you should be diving into forums and other groups online to see what people are interested in learning about. What are people dying to know?
Write about that.
Create products about that.
Address those things that are coming directly from the minds of your target audience.
In the food truck industry, there aren’t any heavy populated forums online where aspiring or existing food truck owners hang out, however I found a lot of random places where people were asking great questions about the industry by going into Google and typing:
forum “food truck” “how do I”
blog “food truck” “can I”
…and various combinations of words like that.
Through searches like this, I found questions like:
- How do I update my location if I am a food truck?
- How do I get a permit for a mobile food truck?
- Can I start a food truck with no credit?
- How do I find local/sustainable ingredients for a food business?
- Do I have to trademark the name of my food truck?
All great questions that will eventually be answered on the site, if not already.
3) I personally attempt to do what my target audience is looking to accomplish.
For NSD1.0, a lot of people asked me how I was able to create a successful site in the security guard training niche when I didn’t have any experience as a security guard, or even know where to begin.
I believe the site was successful because of that fact, because I could easily put myself in the shoes of someone in my target audience and see what kind of information and guidance I would need and was missing to actually become a security guard.
Not knowing what to do or where to start, I asked around. I actually made phone calls to security guard companies in each of the 50 states and got information, right from the source, to what was required to become a security guard in each of those states.
I’m taking the same approach with FoodTruckr.com. I may or may not manage a food truck in the future (although after getting to know this industry, and it’s potential, I’m highly considering it just for fun), but I can definitely take the approach as if I wanted to start one right now.
As I mentioned in part 1, I actually spoke on the phone and met in person with several food truck owners to get an idea of what I would have to do to start a truck of my own, just like I’m sure they did when they first started their trucks too.
Through my research, I discovered that each city has different health code regulations, zoning, licensing and permit requirements, which is why most trucks stick to one area and you might see them over and over again, instead of something like what’s portrayed in Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, where teams will travel coast to coast selling food to various populations on their journey.
No where is this kind of information organized, which gives me a huge advantage because if I can work hard, be patient and gather all of this information and put it all in one place on FoodTruckr.com, the site will become THE ultimate resource that I can imagine it can be.
This is similar to the security guard training industry, how each state has a different set of requirements to become a security guard, and I’ll be taking the same approach. One location at a time, starting with the most popular – and we’ll go from there.
If you remember back in 2011 for NSD1.0, I had only posted information for 17 states before SecurityGuardTrainingHQ.com became the ultimate resource in Google’s eyes and the site shot to #1 in the search engine rankings.
4) Ask the target audience.
Once you get to a certain authority level and a community starts to build on your site, you have the ability to tap into your audience to understand exactly what kind of information you should be publishing.
For FoodTruckr.com, I’m not quite at that level yet on the site (i.e. I can’t write a blog post asking for suggestions and expect to receive multiple answers), but I can ask people individually – again, in person or over the phone or via email.
Always ask your target audience. If they aren’t on your site already, then you’re going to have to reach out to them instead.
As far as the content that’s currently on the site, the topics were chosen from a master list that was formed from all of the above-mentioned tactics of content discovery. I started with what seemed to be lacking online on other sites already, and also what was easiest to write about but would also prove authoritative in the eyes of a new visitor.
So far, the most popular article was the round-up post, which was heavily promoted on launch day on October 1st. This makes complete sense because it’s one that features 50 different food truck owners and their answers to a single question I asked during the pre-launch phrase, and many of those food truck owners were more than happy to share that article too.
For NSD1.0, Google Adsense was the primary strategy for monetization, mostly because it was simple and the CPC (cost-per-click) was decent between $1.50-$3.50 per click. Later on, a job board, private advertising and affiliate marketing became a second layer of income generation on the site. As of today, the site has earned over $55,000 – 90% of it coming directly from Google Adsense.
For FoodTruckr.com, Google Adsense is an option, but when I type any related keywords into Google all of the advertisers are for websites that sell food trucks. For existing food truck owners, these ads would be irrelevant, and for aspiring food truck owners I’d like to guide them through information about the industry first before being tempted to purchase or rent a truck of their own.
There are, however, a lot of advertising, sponsorship and even affiliate marketing opportunities within the industry that would make sense for the target audience. There are a few info products here and there, but I’m thinking more toward things like food truck insurance, payment and software solutions, and even deals with equipment and vendor supply companies.
One thing I had a VA do was visit any website related to the food truck or mobile vendor industry, and create a spreadsheet of all of the advertising companies that showed up on those websites – whether they were auto-generated by an advertising marketplace like Google Adsense, or were companies that privately bought adspace on those sites.
As a result, I have a spreadsheet with a total of more than 40 companies that I could potentially reach out to for advertising, sponsorship or affiliate marketing purposes. Because they were showing up on advertisements on other sites, that tells me they are willing to spend money to get in front of the right audience.
Build a big enough audience, and good things could definitely happen.
There’s also potential to provide services to food truck owners in this niche as well – from brand strategy to website development, mobile application development and more. I could imagine a full-service package going for a relatively high price, and I could also imagine a turn-key service as well that uses templates and “already-done-for-you” type solutions as well.
There’s also opportunity to charge for access to things, like software that’s especially built to help manage everything in a food truck, from finances to food supply. Software that could tell them what’s selling and when so they know when to change their menu and what price to charge for optimal profits.
Another thing that’s lacking in this industry are creative physical products that could help with marketing, like branded paper-ware or food cartons. I’m imagining a line of products that could be ordered through the website and delivered to the truck.
Or what about a conference? 😉
Some of these ideas are much bigger than others, as you can tell, but none of them are completely far-fetched, in my opinion.
At this point, my focus is content, relationship building and spreading the word about FoodTruckr.com. Eventually, like with all of my other authoritative niche sites, monetization will follow. It will come primarily as a result of listening to the audience that I’ve built – however it’s smart to know what your options are before hand so once the opportunity comes, you’re quick to execute.
And of course, you want something to inspire you too!
FoodTruckr.com was officially launched on October 1st. This is after about a month of building buzz by reaching-out, sending a few hundred emails and using a “coming soon page” to capture emails to build an email list.
Five posts were on the site at the time of launch, and one of those posts was the “money post”. I call it this not because it’s meant to make money (like I said, that’s later), but because this is the post that could provide the most value and also become the most viral if things were properly set in motion.
The post was titled:
50 Food Truck Owners Speak Out: “What I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Food Truck”
This is the round-up post that was created from the reach-out I did the month prior (which I detailed for you in part 1), and it turned into something really valuable – so in any promotion or email that happened on launch day or during launch week, this was the showcase article.
Out of the 6,224 unique pageviews on the site during week one, 4,531 of those pageviews were on this post. That means this post became the “entrance page” for the site for visitors 72.8% of the time. In other words, 3 out of every 4 people who visited the site during the first week landed on this page first.
How did this happen?
A few of reasons:
1. I emailed everyone who participated or sent back a reply to the initial out-reach email that I sent out, and I included a link directly to this page.
2. I shared this post via Twitter. A small Twitter following was created simply by linking to the FoodTruckr Twitter page at the footer of all of those emails (remember, I sent hundreds out), and also by engaging and having conversations with other food truckrs on Twitter. Twitter is a primary home for many food truck owners, so it was relatively easy to make great connections here and get follows.
It’s not too hard to get others to notice you. All you have to do is get in the conversation and speak their language.
3. The post took off on Facebook. Again, I had linked to the Facebook page and made a few connections with food truck owners there who read the article, shared it, and then other people found it, shared it, until I saw a few thousand organic views on the post (on Facebook), which was amazing!
Then people started to comment:
and then something really interesting happened…
Other food truck owners shared their “What I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Food Truck”, which would, of course, be shown on a few of their own fans’ Facebook pages too.
Then, another type of message started coming through – the ones where people just simply tag one of their friends, as if to say, “Hey friend! I’m tagging you because I think this article will be useful to you!”
This was pretty cool and totally unexpected, although it’s sort of what I wanted to happen.
Mid-day on launch day, I was so excited I decided to spend $200.00 on Facebook Ads to see if I could boost this post even more. I’m a rookie at Facebook Ads, but I did spend about the same amount when promoting a webinar I recently held.
I decided do a sponsored post, which means an advertisement that is simply the post I shared on my own Facebook page that would then show up in the news feed of those who I target.
I targeted people who liked any of the following pages:
- The Great Food Truck Race
- Food Network
- Le Cordon Bleu
My thinking was that people who either watch the Food Network (where The Great Food Truck Race and Chopped are both housed), or those who are going to culinary school would be interested in potentially starting a food truck of their own.
Well, it only took about an hour before the $200.00 was gone, but I did see a lot of engagement as a result, including likes and then on the analytics sides of things, clicks through to read the article. A few hundred likes to the Facebook Page came through too, which was a cool byproduct of that experiment.
The thing about Facebook Ads is this – it’s easy to spend money without knowing what your true ROI is. That is, in my case where there was nothing being offered on the other end except an article.
Where Facebook Ads become powerful is when you’re selling something or promoting something with a price value on the other end. At that point, you can potentially spend $200.00 to earn $1000.00 (as a rounded example). Then you could pump another $200.00 in to earn another $1000.00. You could literally just keep adding zeroes onto the ends of those numbers when you get the ads working for you correctly, and I know a lot of people who do things like that and do it very well – but I still have a lot to learn.
Was the $200.00 experiment worth it? Maybe – I mean, it did send a lot of traffic (I was paying between $0.25-0.30 per engagement), and I did get some likes, but was nothing real to measure.
Since the experiment, and then another experiment mid-month where I tried a “right-hand sidebar” ad to simply gain likes to the page (spending about $300 to gain an additional 650 likes), the Facebook page has done really well. The page is now approaching (through purely organic growth now), 2000 likes, which is awesome.
If you have the money to spend and you know Facebook will be a major part of your overall branding strategy, then I think it’s smart to put a little money into growing your fan-base there because once you get to a couple of hundred people (and I noticed this when building the SPI facebook page too back in 2009), the social proof aspect of the page helps things along.
Now, any person who comes across the page or FoodTruckr.com can see that there’s some type of community behind the brand, and they are more likely to dig deeper and commit to reading an article or two, or even subscribing to the email list.
Also, quick tip: make sure to include a Facebook Like Box on your site – it’s a quick way to grow your Facebook following without having people leave your website, since they can click the like button right there and then continue on their merry way. Plus, it’ll show faces of anyone they know in there too, which can boost conversions even more.
To get one of these boxes for your Facebook Page, click here. Enter your Facebook Page URL, customize your width and height, and boom – you’re good to go. Simply copy and paste the iFrame code into a widget, and you’re all set!
Oh, and check this out – I made sure to take full advantage of the thank you page people land on after they subscribe to the email list. Here’s a screenshot for you below to show you what you can do after people subscribe before they download their giveaway:
And finally, a cool byproduct of all of this came when I saw my first email for keyword rankings come through the other day. This email was sent to me November 9th, 2013:
Tracking tool can be found at SEOKeywordRanking.com. You may also want to try WhooshTraffic for a more robust solution.
Note: for those of you registered at NicheSiteDuel.com – my developer is 95% complete with integrating the free keyword ranking tracker in the leaderboard for 1 keyword of your choice. Woohoo!
And so here we are. The site is averaging about 80-100 visitors a day (not including data after revealing the URL last week) and 60% of it is coming from organic since after launch week.
Things are moving along. 🙂
In the next update, I’ll share specific strategies that I’m going to experiment with to get some exposure for the site.
And, in case you’re interested, I actually just released the first FoodTruckr School Podcast episode last Friday, which features Mike Swaleh – a contestant and second place winner of The Great Food Truck Race on the Food Network.
I hope you enjoyed this article and hopefully it sparked something in you for your own projects. Thanks so much!