We've been helping people with their review sites for over 10 years now, even before the first version of JReviews was released in 2006. In this blog post I'd like to summarize the five most important mistakes I've seen clients make when starting their own review websites. If you can avoid making these very simple mistakes you'll not only save a ton of time, and money, but you'll also increase the chances of finishing your site and turning it into a successful business.
1. Choosing a foreign topic
It's a good thing to think big. However, when it comes to starting a new site we've found that those clients that overreach and try to cover too much from the start have a higher probability of failing. It has to do with lack of focus and also lack of value added content. Building a site takes time, so it is important that you choose a subject that you are passionate about, that you know well, or that you are close to geographically. Since you will be spending a lot of time on this site, make it about something that keeps you motivated!
2. Obsessing about every small detail
Design and usability are very important. However, obsessing about every small detail like font-size, color, width, shape, etc. on every menu on every page can quickly lead you to the point of no return. I have seen first-hand that the clients that spend the most time obsessing about every design detail may end up with great looking sites, if they finish them. What is most surprising though is that these amazing looking sites typically don't last very long. I wouldn't be able to tell you exactly why, but I can speculate that after spending months making sure everything is perfect, the expectation is that the site will be a huge success on day 1. When that doesn't happen, interest is lost or there simply aren't any more resources to continue. Instead of following down this path I recommend that you focus on content, navigation and your value proposition. Launch a first version of the site as quickly as possible and then iterate based on user feedback. Perfection is overrated!
3. Copying the yellow pages
Don't import tens or hundreds of thousands of listings with just an address or a phone number. You should have enough content to make the site usable, but only if this content adds value. You don't want to make your site as boring as the yellow pages. Pick some areas where you want to focus first and develop them more deeply. User reviews will allow you to differentiate your existing content and as the site grows you can then continue expanding the number of listings over time.
4. Locking your users out
You have built a great looking site and now you want to start promoting it and get people to write reviews. Locking down content and the ability to submit reviews and comments to members-only at launch is not the best idea. Initially you should lower the barrier for users to interact with your site. I recommend that you remove the requirement to register and allow guest submissions and use re-captcha and moderation to fight spam. You can still capture user emails even when you allow guest reviews and this allows you to start building your mailing list.
5. Adding too much load
Of course you want your site to be amazing so you go out and find dozens of 3rd party modules and widgets to put on every page; or choose a template or theme that is loaded with features. And then you find that the site is very slow! Of course it is. Always keep in mind that the more things you install on the site, the higher the load and the slower the pages will load. You want to make sure your site is fast and has the least possible points of failure. I recommend that you start with a light and fast template or theme and only a handful of core extensions or plugins. If you must evaluate dozens of extensions or plugins, then use a test site for this purpose. Everything you install on your site has the potential of making it slower, harder to maintain, and more difficult to identify the source of an issue. Keep it simple!