2009 has only just begun and we’re kicking it off with a brand new post series -”The Kontera Publisher of the Month”.
Through this post series, each month we’ll introduce you to one of the most interesting and unique sites from amongst Kontera’s network of publishers. Ask-Leo.com, the first Kontera Publisher of the Month for 2009, is a perfect example of a website that truly deserves your bookmarks.
Ask-Leo is a website that offers answers to hundreds of tech questions in a variety of categories. The site is easy to use, and provides thorough and informative advice that anyone from a tech newbie to an experienced programmer or webmaster will find useful. Leo A. Notenboom, the man behind Ask-Leo, is a former software engineer for Microsoft who has decided to share his wealth of knowledge in the personal computer and software industry with Internet users worldwide.
As the owner of the January Kontera Publisher of the Month, Leo has agreed to answer a few questions for us; we hope you’ll enjoy this interview.
It’s widely known that you were a Microsoft employee for over a decade prior to starting ask-leo!; what was the impetus for starting your own business?
I didn’t actually set out to start a business. After 18 years at Microsoft I “retired”. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that my job was also my hobby, so I couldn’t really stop playing with computers and technology. I have some friends who are also internet entrepreneurs, and I started to dabble in a world outside of Microsoft. As you might expect family and friends were always asking me questions, so I started to write up the answers to questions I was getting asked most often. Those entrepreneur friends gave me guidance on things like web site construction, search engines and the like, and they also pointed out that this might well be a revenue opportunity. That was in 2003, and the rest, as they say, is history.
How many questions were submitted to Ask-Leo during 2008? What were the most common types of questions?
I don’t have an exact count, but on average I get between 50 and 100 questions and blog comments (which are often also questions) per day. So I’d put it in the 25,000 range.
Most common, by far, are questions relating to password recovery, email account theft, and loss of email account access. After that it starts to vary widely into areas like Windows quirks, suspected hardware failures, specific software problems as well as issues around viruses and spyware.
What was the strangest question you have received?
There are so many to choose from, I don’t think I could. But I certainly do collect the odd and off-beat questions, and each year on the anniversary of Ask Leo! (August 10th), I post a “best of” collection on my personal blog. You can see last year’s collection, and links to the prior years, here: http://ask-leo.com/d-bestof5. I will say this: I’m somewhat surprised, and a little concerned, at the frequency I get asked for relationship advice – I am a computer geek, after all.
Thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs start their own website/blogs daily with the hopes of building a profitable, internet-based business. What “words of wisdom” do you have for these fledgling entrepreneurs?
There are no shortcuts, but well focused and well directed hard work can be both rewarded and rewarding.
Getting Ask Leo! up and running was a fair amount of work, and it took a goodly amount of time before it truly started to look like a business. It was probably two years before it was generating a reasonable amount of revenue. During that time I was carefully learning about what it means to write authentic content for the web, what it means to be search engine friendly, and what it takes to manage a resource of this magnitude.
Even then that’s not enough. I’m actually a fairly small player in what happens to be an extremely large segment (on-line tech support). It’s a great segment for me, because in many ways answering people’s questions is what I was doing anyway. Formalizing that, and doing it myself in a public venue like Ask Leo! not only capitalizes on my experience and interests, but also allows me to differentiate myself from other players by simply being myself. Every Ask Leo! article (save one, I believe) was written by me, and I plan to keep it that way. In all honesty, that’s part of what keeps it fun for me.
Another point of common wisdom is the adage “find a problem and solve it”. I don’t have to find problems, they come to me. I can’t solve them all, but when I can, everyone walks away happy, myself included.
When did you start to monetize Ask-Leo and what role does In-Text advertising play in your overall monetization strategy?
It actually started out as a for-pay service. For $27 I would answer your question or give you your money back. That lasted only a couple of months. Google’s AdSense program was picking up steam, and of course I signed up. That’s when the power of advertising in general became readily apparent to me.
In-text advertising such as Kontera’s came along later, of course, but has become an important source of not just revenue, but security. I say there’s a natural concern about building businesses or websites around a single advertising relationship. Kontera’s participation in Ask Leo!’s profitability turned out to be significant, and definitely helps mitigate the risk of perhaps otherwise having all my eggs in one basket.
What also became readily apparent, is that contextual targeting is key. With a problem/solution site such as Ask Leo!, it’s not that uncommon for one of the ads to actually be the solution that my reader is looking for. It doesn’t get much better than that when it happens.
What sort of responses have you been getting from Ask-Leo users with regards to the various types of advertising you employ?
I get amazingly little feedback on the ads. Occasionally someone will confuse an Adsense ad as being some kind of recommendation from me, but I’ve not heard of that happening with Kontera ads. I do get occasional complaints, either for advertising in general or for the in-text ads, but that might be once every other month or so. Given that I’m running 1.3 million visitors a month right now, I consider “one in two million” an acceptable rate. (And I do make available and answer that includes instructions for people who would like to turn off the in-text ads.)
What’s in store for Ask-Leo users as we look to 2009?
Honestly, mostly more of same.
As we talk, I’m actually in the process of kicking off a major editorial review of the entire site, bringing the content up to more consistent level of quality, as quality is so key to continued success on the web. But that’s almost administrative in nature.
More visible will simply be my reacting to those 50-100 questions I get every day, and see where they take me. One of the reasons I so enjoy my career/hobby is that there’s something new every day; something to learn, to research or to play with. The fact that I can do so in a way that also helps people overcome some of the problems and frustrations they have with their computers is just fantastic.
The Kontera Publisher of the Month series kicked off in January of 2009. A publisher is selected from Kontera’s network each month and provides an insider’s perspective on what it takes to manage a successful site. To learn more visit the Publisher of the Month Category.