"I was thinking about you all day today and what a great
person you are."
"I wanted to be #1...After 2 months I reached the top position for my most popular keywords."
Above The Fold!
Interview of Nick Wilson, Threadwatch's NickW
August 3, 2005
Nick Wilson is the owner / operator of the Threadwatch community. In less than a year he built it up from nothing to being one of the top dozen search industry news sites. Most of my questions revolve around how he did that, and building communities. I asked him for an interview, he said sure, and so it goes...
How & when did you get into search?
When i first realized my website wasn't showing for the terms i wanted it to. I cloaked it by USER_AGENT and went and dropped the url at WmW for opinions on the technique. Got edited, got some good advice, started reading, and haven't stopped yet.
For a long time you primarily relied on many spam techniques, and then later switched to running ThreadWatch (which is perhaps the cleanest search related site I have seen). Running rather clean or rather shady sites: which is harder, which is more profitable, and which gives you more satisfaction?
Clean sites are harder, dirty sites have been more profitable (so far), but clean sites are more satisfying. Currently i've been thinking hard on how to use some of those shady techniques to create genuinely useful sites for users, that'd be kind of fun, and perhaps the best of both worlds.
Many people who run sites like Threadwatch later create networks of various high margin channels that are marketed off the power of the main channel. Do you intend to create other websites / channels? If so will they be related to Threadwatch, and when will you know you are ready to create other channels?
Actually, i'm working on a spin-off site right now. The trouble is, i can't just create a VoIP channel, or similar - i have to be genuinely interested in the subject to put the amount of work necessary to be successful into it. I'm certainly ready to build other sites, but so far have found just one, possibly two subjects that interest me enough, AND will provide better ROI than the very general Threadwatch site.
As time has passed you have tried a few innovative advertising ideas on Threadwatch, however since you give so much away free and have many members who are unaffected by advertising (other than generally hating it) what have you found to be the most effective ways to profit from Threadwatch? Do you believe Threadwatch will be fully self funding, or do you think it helps you build social currency that you can profit from in other ways?
Much of the lack of success with ads at Threadwatch has come of me just not having enough time to go out there and get advertisers. The current system (http://www.threadwatch.org/about/advertising) is fantastic, and good value for advertisers, but it still needs pitching you know? I do believe Threadwatch will become profitable, i just doubt that will be this year, and yes, at this moment, I'm getting a lot of value out of the network of TW members. There are so many different skillsets at TW, the membership is grade A as far as that's concerned and i now know exactly who to talk to for almost any web-related task.
When you started Threadwatch I believe part of the initial quick rise was also due to tapping some of the resentment of WebmasterWorld. Do you think that helped draw over some of the core members? What did you do to help speed up the adoption and growth rate of ThreadWatch?
Not really, I think those members were already out of WmW, but they certainly wanted to vent a few frustrations with the place, and i did facilitate that somewhat. Threadwatch actually owes a great deal more to Doug Heil, if he wasn't such an insufferable tit, it wouldn't have been half as much fun in the beginning!
As far as growth rate, I did lots of stuff.
For example, when quoting someone from a forum thread, i'd pm that person, and give them the link. I commented on many blogs outside of the Search scope, used trackback to my advantage and generally posted in a style that no one else was doing at the time.
With Threadwatch I believe you have been more concerned with signal to noise than growth rate. Was thought given to the social construction of the software and layout to promote a high signal to noise ratio? What all have you done to filter noise and promote good conversations? How did you get the best parts of forums while limiting the worst parts?
Ruthless moderation. If it's shit, i nuke it.
Sometimes I find a scoop and you link over to my site. I get no comments, and then I go over to Threadwatch and learn about 10 interesting things related to the story over in your comments. How did you get those types of quality participants to Threadwatch and how do you keep them?
Luck. I think TW came at the right time, i think folks were bored with the "corporate suck up sites" afraid to say a word against Google and other corporations - TW isn't afraid of anything, except heights and daddy long legs of course, they do my head right in.
I don't think I have really seen you advertise anywhere,
yet your site is probably already one of the top dozen most authoritative
search sites. What sets your site apart to where it was able to gain
sort of authority so quickly?
As i said above, I think a large part is attitude - nobody else does what we do the way we do it, people seem to like that. But it's also about timely news, and not just Search news, we talk about things that are of more general interest to the Search community also. It all goes to make it a fun place to hang out i think.
Sometimes you and I have both been known to post some threads that had the main goal of being link bait. Even though some of them are noisy they are also highly entertaining. How do you know when the potential gain of a post outweighs any negatives surrounding it?
Instinct. It sounds daft, but i spend most of my day on TW, talking to TW members, i have a reasonably good grip on what I can and can't get away with because of that relationship. There are very few members that i've not spoken too personally, and a large number i speak to often. They're a cool bunch of people, and they're not afraid to tell me I'm being a twat when they think i am - to me, that's gold.
I was looking through some of your backlinks and saw linkage data from Slate, The Guardian, Slashdot, and many other high profile sites. What is the secret to be newsworthy or linkworthy? How are you able to curse more than I do and yet get so many more official type links than I do?
Firstly, I talked to a lot of these people, I commented on their blogs, spoke in email, and never once asked for a link. But it put me on the Guardian's radar for example. Slate probably picked up on us from the Guardian, and i've slashdotted TW myself twice heh! We've also had homepage links from Alexa, which was cool.
How do you keep your personality in a group driven site?
I post more than everyone else.
Group incentive: how do you create an environment where others will want to find and share tools, news, and information?
By providing tools, news and information. I love to post, many people do, i got up to around 5000 posts on WmW till Tabke started taking the piss, and quite a few hundred on SEW till one of their moderators made it impossible for me to continue participating. People like to post stuff, i just started it, the best posts don't really come from me, they come from the members. Grnidone had a great one on Copywriting recently for example, i'd never have thought to post something like that, but it was a cracking discussion.
Blogging and burnout: how do you continue to work so hard on Threadwatch without getting burned out? Do you take breaks?
I do now take most of the weekend off. I didn't in the beginning, as I wanted TW to never be more than a few hours without a fresh post, but now we've built a little momentum i like to hang out and do stuff with Robyn, play with the dogs, cat, chickens etc and generally take it easy. During the week though, my RSS reader is always running on a desktop. Like i said, i like to post.
Why are dogs better pets than cats?
Because dogs are totally devoted - and you can fight with them :) I do have a cat now though, and i love cats also. My ambition is to have a whole bunch more animals by this time next year. We're considering goats, maybe a third dog and ducks, sheep and pigs heh..
What tools have helped you be the first to get scoops? How do you find much of the news first?
Liferea RSS reader for Linux, the "suggest" link on the site and reading a HELL of a lot of blogs - and trying to find new ones all the time.
What tools have you moved away from since you first started Threadwatch?
If you had to start Threadwatch from scratch is there anything you would do differently?
No, there's always room for improvement, but the whole thing has been a cool learning experience. Thanks in large part to member feedback i've learnt more about community, more about discussion and networking on TW than i could have ever learnt just by reading about it. Not to mention a shit load about SEO :)
Thanks for the interview Nick
If you would like to learn more about Nick check out Threadwatch.
- by Aaron Wall, owner of Search Marketing Info