Catherine "Cat" Seda

Thursday, December 11, 2008

VirtualTourist Interview

How did VirtualTourist, created by two travelers in 1999, become the colossal community it is today with over 1 million registered members? According to Giampiero Ambrosi, VT’s general manager, the key is to listen.

What is VirtualTourist?
VirtualTourist is a worldwide travel community where travelers and locals share travel advice and experiences. Among other things, we offer tips and reviews about everything from hotels to restaurants to nightlife, but aside from that we also have a real world community with active forums and offline meetings.

How many visits a month does your community have?
1 million registered members, 6 million unique users per month, 30 million page views per month, and 25 marriages (that we know of).

What are your community’s most popular features?
Our forums are hugely popular--85% of our forum questions are answered within 48 hours and each question receives an average of seven replies. We also monitor our forums very carefully, so unlike a lot of other forums, there’s no free-for-all arguing or “advertising” to wade through.

Our off-line meetings, which are entirely member-organized, are a big part of what makes us so popular. Sometimes the meetings are just a small group of people who get together for a day of sight-seeing and sometimes it’s a group of 200 who gather for an entire weekend. A lot of really hard work goes into them, and it’s something our members really look forward to.

How did you, and how do you today, grow your community?
It’s really the wealth of information on our site that grows our community. We also just use good old-fashioned customer service. We listen to what members have to say, use their suggestions, and do whatever we can to make their experience great.

How do you measure your community’s success?
Certainly we keep track of things like traffic and press mentions, but, although it sounds hokey, we really measure our success by things like member feedback. We’ve had people tell us that the site has changed their lives, that they were inspired to travel because of the site, or that they can’t imagine not being a member.

At what point did VirtualTourist become a successful business?
The business was started in 1999 with a lot of optimism and the dot-com bubble burst in March of 2000, so it was really a rough road. For a while we were running the business out of an apartment and surviving on coffee punch cards. It’s been profitable and successful for a long time and the future looks really bright. In July 2008, VirtualTourist was acquired by TripAdvisor.

How does VirtualTourist generate revenue?
Advertising is our main source of revenue, but that said, there’s a very clear line between editorial content and advertising. We don’t spare an advertiser bad reviews and we wouldn’t include a positive review just because someone is advertising with us.

Can you share a “sneak peek” at what you might do in 2009?
Aside from a whole new look, we’re going to make the site much more user-friendly, interesting, and above all, fun. Additionally, we plan to give our community more options to participate in sporting or charity events around the world. We had sort of a dry run this fall when we sponsored a VirtualTourist team in a motor race across the Caucasus Mountains and we’re already putting together a few more off-line events like that. We’re also in the planning stages of creating awards for some of our top contributors, which is something we’ve wanted to do for a while. All in all it should be a very exciting year.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How to Win Sales and Influence Spiders

I forgot to second book, "How to Win Sales & Influence Spiders," is now available in Polish and Japanese! To get the book in Polish, you can contact Malgorzata Jaroszewska (Malgorzata.Jaroszewska[@] To get the book in Japanese, you can contact Yoshio Kimura (Yoshio.Kimura[@]

I *hope* the second edition of my first book, "Search Engine Advertising," will be available next year. We shall see...


Monday, December 01, 2008

Extravigator Interview

Do you have a taste for luxury travel? Then consider joining Extravigator to trade tips with like-minded travel enthusiasts. With the abundance of travel communities on the web, Extravigator stands out by reaching out to a specific type of traveler. Dan Richman, founder of Extravigator, explains how NOT appealing to a mass market is best for his travel forum.

What is Extravigator?
Extravigator is an independent and open forum for world travelers, with discriminating taste, to share their advice and insider knowledge. Although it is free to join, not everyone who applies for membership is granted one. The application process is deceptively simple. Depending on what hotel people provide as their "favorite hotel" during the application process, we either grant or deny membership. It's a very informal way of weeding out those who do not fit the profile of our ideal member. Each application for membership is individually reviewed.

How many visits/unique visitors a month does your community have?
We launched in October 2007. Today we have roughly 4,000 unique visitors a month and growing. We also have about 850 members.

What are your community’s most popular features?
Photo uploads in comments.

How did you, and how do you today, grow your community?
Extravigator is a slow growing community. The main goal is to attract stylish travelers. It's not designed for mass market appeal. So, much of Extravigator's growth comes from word of mouth.

How do you measure your community’s success?
By the amount of participation in discussions. The home page of Extravigator currently states that there are now 227 discussions that have been started. On average, most discussions have between 3 to 6 comments in each discussion. Generally, the amount of discussion would be quantified as the number of comments per day. It's difficult to give a percentage of increased traffic since traffic has fluctuated significantly in the first year of operation. Oddly enough, the largest traffic spike came from an obscure web design blog named CSSMania. Other large traffic spikes came from blogs such as Luxist, All The Best, and an insignificant mention on Gawker. The LA Times also featured Extravigator in their Travel section earlier this year, but this was only detected from a large increase in traffic from Los Angeles. Most of these mentions often translated to a few hundred unique visitors for a 24-48 hour period and quickly tapered off after that.

At what point did (or will) Extravigator become a successful business?
In many ways, Extravigator already is a successful business. It's already made a slight profit in its first year. But it has a long way to go. The site will truly be successful when every discussion on the front page is less than 24 hours old at any given time.

How does Extravigator generate revenue?
Extravigtator has only had banner advertising since its inception. We are a member of the Halogen Publisher network.

Can you share a “sneak peek” at what you might do in 2009?
We're always looking for new ways to engage our members and get them talking about the best of travel...that's what we'll be focusing on in 2009. Right now we are focused on maintaining our traffic growth through the recession.