From blog to brand: Jamie Frater (Listverse)


Rather than creating a location-specific niche, Wellingtonian Jamie Frater created Listverse on the premise that online consumers love top ten lists. But the problem with this approach was that top ten lists are as readily available as pictures of Miley Cyrus twerking.

So, in an effort to establish a real point of difference, Frater drew on his interest in obscure trivia to create original top ten lists that weren’t available elsewhere. This strategy when combined with a commitment to sharp, well-written content allowed the website to grow into a juggernaut that enjoys millions of views every month.    

A concept that originally started as a personal hobby has now turned into an online brand that was listed as one of Time Magazine’s top 25 blogs in 2011, has spawned three books and today provides supplementary income to several freelance writers and and editors. So, without further ado, here are Frater’s thoughts on his online journey.

How did you start your website?​

I started Listverse along with five other websites while I was working as a freelance software engineer in London. I had enjoyed reading the Book of Lists as a kid and I figured it would be a good way for me to write about some of the stuff I loved: oddities, science, food, etc. Within the first month we hit the front page of Digg and the traffic sky rocketed. It was up up up from there.

How has it changed since the early days?

In the early days I ran Listverse alone—writing all the content, doing all the web design, SEO, and marketing. Since then we have seven freelance employees who do most of the work for me and hundreds of freelance writers whom we pay $100 US per list for content. My job now is completely behind the scenes managing business relationships and making decisions on strategy and growth. This involves a lot of international travel—something which would not have been impossible at the start of Listverse but now fits perfectly into our business structure.

How do you go about financing your site?

The site is purely financed through advertising revenue and book royalties (we have three books on the market plus a fourth due out this year). We have always been financed through advertising and have not had to personally invest since the first year.

How do you attract ad revenue to your site?

We don’t seek out advertisers—they approach us. This means we don’t need a sales team. We use a number of advertising networks and they have staff who seek out opportunities for us.  

What type of advertising works best for a website?

Every website is different. If you are selling products then you would probably do well with CPA (cost per action) ads whereby you earn revenue when your readers click to an advertiser’s site and purchase something. This does not work at all well for us because we are primarily a content-for-free site. We find CPM (cost per thousand impressions) and CPC (cost per click) advertising works best for us. CPC is usually better for smaller sites but it actually works really well on Listverse because the majority of our readers are people who like to read and learn and are consequently more likely to read text ads (CPC is often a mix of text only and graphic ads) and follow them. My advice to someone starting out would be to go with CPC (someone like Google) while you are small, then start introducing some extra CPM ads when your numbers are bigger.

Has anyone ever offered to buy your site? Would you mind sharing some stories. What is the most you’ve ever been offered?

Rather than tell you stories about people offering to buy Listverse (which I have always declined) I would rather share an interesting idea I came across in a book recently. A majority of people running online businesses work on their business with the intention of growing it and then selling at ridiculously huge profits. The idea of getting a huge lump sum payment is something we all love to think about, but study after study has shown that if you are able to delay gratification, the rewards in the end are more likely to be greater. If you sell your website for five million dollars and retire, you need to invest that money in order to continue living a comfortable life. But the reality is that most investment opportunities can never give you returns on five million that would equal the income you can derive from your online business. This is the philosophy I follow. Consequently, Listverse is not for sale. It is a business I intend to nurture and grow until I am too old to be of any use to it any longer and then I will pass it to a more capable member of my family.

What advice would you give to newbies wanting to make it in the online industry?

The best advice I can give to newbies wanting to start out in the online industry is: don’t … unless you are willing to work from the break of dawn to the setting of the sun every day for as long as it takes. Every person I know who has failed when making an attempt to an online business has failed for that reason alone. If you are not willing to put in the house, you will not succeed. Working from home or running an online business is no different to a mortar and bricks business: it takes hard work, passion, and dedication.

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