It all starts with a great idea. That’s the first step in launching a news website. But turning a great idea for a website into a viable business can get tricky.
Launching a news website doesn’t have to be expensive, and would-be entrepreneurs don’t necessarily need to be technically savvy to pull it off. As publishing tools have gotten easier to use, the number of independent news websites has grown. In the past two years alone, there’s been a 50% increase in publishers joining the Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, an organization that serves hyperlocal news operations. Web Publisher PRO was selected to design and build the new LION Publishers website in 2019.
What would-be publishers need in order to turn their ideas for niche publications into sustainable businesses is a strategic plan that encompasses editorial, business, and marketing.
5 steps to launching a news website
Step 1: Create a business plan
Launching a news website isn’t much different from launching a print newspaper or any other type of business. Everything begins with a business plan.
Come up with a mission for your publication—for example, “to educate members of the community about local politics”—and jot down some ideas about the topics you plan to cover. Once you’ve nailed down the editorial side of the operation, you’ll be better prepared to think objectively about how to generate revenue.
Use your business plan to outline your revenue strategies, which might include things like selling advertising, charging for subscriptions, or producing sponsored content. Looking at how much revenue you expect to generate can also help determine whether you’ll be hiring any writers or editors. A budget may also be necessary as a way to allocate resources.
Step 2: Select a platform
The most popular platform for local news websites is WordPress. In fact, more than one-quarter of the web—from bloggers to international media outlets—uses WordPress. Among independent publishers, specifically, WordPress has become popular because it’s low cost and easy-to-use. However, the specifics of your business plan will dictate which publishing platform is right for you.
When selecting a publishing platform, stick to those that offer flexibility and scalability. The last thing you want is to have to switch platforms right as your publication takes off. The best publishing platforms offer customizable designs, responsive sites, high security, and they’re SEO friendly.
Step 3: Choose the best plugins
Plugins will help expand the functionality of your WordPress website. Adding a plugin to a WordPress website is a way to gain access to a new feature without paying a developer to create that feature from scratch. For example, a publisher might use the Events Calendar by Modern Tribe plugin to add a fully responsive community calendar, or he might use the WooCommerce plugin to start selling physical and digital goods. Another popular plugin among online publishers is the Google Analytics plugin.
Check out this list of the top WordPress plugins for publishers for a more comprehensive look at how plugins can be used to improve the functionality of a local news site.
Step 4: Write valuable content
Once you’ve got a business plan in place and a website setup, it’s time to get going. Start putting together editorial content that aligns with your mission. Write articles, take photographs, and put together infographics or videos that will get readers excited about your publication.
Use the first few weeks as a testing period to determine whether you’re capable of putting together the content you envisioned on your own, or if you’ll need to hire outside writers and editors for help. Experienced writers will be able to write headlines with SEO in mind and put together content that impacts readers in a way that will drive traffic and boost readership.
Step 5: Start looking for advertisers
Advertisers will usually need to see a product before they agree to start advertising on your website, so hold off on looking for advertisers until you’ve started churning out editorial content at a regular pace. The specifics of your business plan will dictate where advertising revenue comes from. A few publishers will keep their websites as a personal hobby, and they can skip this step altogether. The vast majority of digital publishers will need to select an ad server before they can start accepting advertising. Many independent news publishers work with an ad serving solution like Broadstreet, while smaller bloggers tend to begin with Google AdSense before they branch out into more profitable avenues.
If you’d like to see examples of how others have gone about launching publications from scratch, check out publishers like Bklyner, Brentwood Home Page, Potomac Local, Shawnee Mission Post and Baristanet. These publishers have all gone through the necessary steps to build thriving online businesses.
If you need help with any of the steps listed above, contact Web Publisher PRO for a free consultation or website evaluation.