I’ve been running websites focusing on kick-ass content since 1996. Big stuff for their niches, mostly videogames but other things as well. I’ve sold my fair share, and bought a few, as well.
I’ve done my fair share of mistakes on these things. One site takeover went horribly wrong, partly due to the fact that the readership was young and the community had a very harsh attitude, but also because I hadn’t anticipating the onrush of doubts and worries from the readership.
You see, loyal readers are very scared of change. And when you barge in, a knight in shining armor in your own mind, you’re looking like a devil from hell wanting to abuse their Sacred Shrine. Or whatever.
These are the things I’ve learned to always do when taking over a blog, or content-focused site overall really.
- Be transparent! Tell the readership what you have in mind, and ask them to come up with suggestions. If it’s possible it’s always best to involve the readers.
- Don’t change too much right away! You should always remember that the readers like the blog because it is what it is, so if you barge in and change stuff you’ll have a lot more to prove. Your changes might be for the better, even the readers might think that in the long run, but it’s a lot smarter to take it slow and involve the readers in the change. And yes, I’m talking both content and design here.
- Keep the staff! If possible, try to keep the staff around. Usually, bloggers sell their blogs due to lack of time, but maybe they can manage a weekly post? That’ll calm the readership, and bring familiarity to your blog takeover, which is always good. Also, it means that the change is more gradual as well, as pointed out below.
- Don’t over-monetize! This is another don’t change-thing, but I can’t stress it enough. A very loyal readership will go blind with rage if you litter their favorite blog with ads. You can monetize, but be subtle and smart, just cram it all in there. Better to hold off and do the necessary changes to the design so that the ads fit in, rather than start putting 125×125 pixel squares just ’cause TechCrunch does.
- Overachieve! Make sure you really bring something to the table, content-wise. It’ll be a lot easier to gain the readership’s trust if you do a bigger, better, faster, and cooler job than the previous owner. That might be hard, but you should never fall behind on the level that the blog had with updates previously, always overachieve in comparison.
The main thing that will deem or doom you running The Readership’s Favorite Blog, however, will be your content. You can make some mistakes, or you can do everything absolutely perfect, but you’re bound to lose some readers, and gain others. Transitions are hard, and you just can’t expect them to be without losses.
What you want to make sure is that when a reader that dropped off in anger and disgust of you having taken over one of his favorite blogs, is coming back after a week or two, he’ll be impressed by the way you’ve handled the blog. He won’t be won over that easily, but he’s back, and you have a shot. It’s pretty common that the hardcore readers and members of the community are very testy and stringent when it comes to owner changes.
That being said, sometimes you’ll be very positively surprised. Like Devlounge, the response from the readership there – both in comments and in my inbox – is heartwarming. They’re really giving us the benefit of a doubt, and the chance to prove ourselves.
Don’t expect that, but savor it when it actually happens.
Thord Daniel Hedengren is a designer, writer, and blogger, and also the former editor of The Blog Herald. He used to be a hotshot in the gaming industry in Sweden, but sold everything and went International. Most recently he wrote a book called Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog, and does loads of kickass design.