What I learned from failure and things to consider whilst running a tutorial orientated website

This article comes from the personal experiences I had whilst starting Twodded – a ‘quality tutorials’ section of the Pixel2life tutorial listing website. The aim of the site was to provide the users of Pixel2life with consistent quality tutorials and to set a standard for websites in the community to follow.

Twodded flopped because of a number of mistakes on my behalf in terms of management and communication. In this article I want to share what I have learnt from this experience so that others do not make similar mistakes.

Keep in mind that not all of these points will necessarily relate to your tutorial orientated website and that this article will be expanded on with another entry at a later date – so if you wish to help expand the following article please leave your additional points in a comment below . This is also a huge read so bare with me, and feel free to read in parts instead of one big sit in.

Try specialising in a specific area instead of generalising in everything

With Twodded I set out to cover a lot of different areas so that I had a wider audience. Whilst doing this I took on tutorial writers that had knowledge across several areas and therefore could write tutorials for several categories for the site. This can be good for quantity, but isn’t necessarily good for quality.

Writers that you bring aboard will generally be great with one or two categories and good with several others. The option I took was to get the writers to write for whatever they could, therefore absolutely destroying the ‘quality tutorials’ standard I wanted to set with the project. It’s important to get people to write for what they are great at, not what they are good at. This enhances the end product of your tutorials, and your site on a whole.

Sometimes it is better to specialise in creating tutorials for one program (say Adobe Photoshop), for example you contact Adobe about being an official resource for tutorials on Photoshop – are they going to accept a website specialising in Photoshop tutorials or are they going to accept a website that covers tutorials in fifteen programs including Photoshop? The same goes for users looking for Photoshop tutorials, they are much more likely to trust a specialist website.

If covering more than one category, don’t let a category go without tutorials for a long time

Simply put – every tutorial category you cover is an audience. If you choose to have someone write for C++ but they never write again – make sure you’ve got a back up plan for that category. Make sure there are long term plans for any categories you cover with your tutorials as every category you have tutorials for will mean one more audience wanting and waiting for more tutorials to read.

Too many writers means too many problems, be prepared and available

Management is key to running a tutorial orientated site and the more writers you have working for you, the more you need to manage. To run a great tutorial website you need for each of your writers to: be motivated, be flowing with ideas on what to write next and to be comfortable and happy in their environment. All whilst making sure they like you and see your vision in the site you are running.

You have to understand that not all writers will be happy with the environment you have set out for them and there will be problems. You have to be easily reachable and ready for your staff to approach you. Be the perfect boss.

Hire staff you know and trust, not just anybody

Following on from the previous tip, my advice would be to keep writing teams small. Managing and motivating a small team is a lot easier than managing a team of twenty writers. A smaller team also means that you will be working as a small group of friends and get to know each other very well.

Keep in mind that a motivated team with belief is a team dedicated to writing the best they can every time and not just when they feel like it.

“How to for Dummies” books are successful for a reason

When having your staff write tutorials (and whilst writing tutorials yourself) make sure that everything is explained to the point of a user that hasn’t touched the subject beforehand can understand the tutorial. Every user that reads a tutorial is someone you can drive back to the site – and making them understand the tutorial perfectly is the first step to getting them to come back.

Advertisements are supposed to support content, not become it

Whilst managing a tutorial orientated site it is very easy to ‘sell your soul’ to advertisers by placing advertising income ahead of your tutorials and sometimes even your users. For the mass majority of people running tutorial orientated websites advertisements are a necessary annoyance and probably the only source of income. Sometimes we also forget that people are here on our sites to read a tutorial, and not to see which adverts are relevant to the tutorial the user is currently reading.

At Twodded the advertisements are above and below the tutorial related content. This means they are out the way and are letting the user get on with what they are doing. I have seen a lot worse however, such as advertisements every 2-3 paragraphs that look like plain links and advertisements that are placed so integrated with the start of the tutorial that you didn’t even know the first paragraph existed. These for me are examples that shouldn’t be copied and for me, you should think about your users first when thinking about placements of advertising – and not the money it’ll bring in.

One great tutorial, or one great set of tutorials will bring more traffic than 50 poorly written tutorials

The Twodded team had many great writers, the key great writer being Tiago Dias. Tiago wrote a series of three tutorials on how to build an MP3 player in Flash which received twice as much traffic as other tutorials on the site. Each part of this tutorial he wrote brilliantly with the full source code available for download at the end of each tutorial for the user. He also took feedback from readers of the tutorials to see what advancements they’d like to learn and then constructed the following instalments of the tutorials with these in mind. As a result of this the instalments that followed previous entries into the series grew in popularity and the series itself became semi-famous in its own right.

What did I learn from this apart from the fact that Tiago is an utterly brilliant writer?

  • Real communication with your tutorials readers can give you an almost unlimited amount of ideas
  • Following up tutorials gives the user something to look out for, and makes it easier for the user to learn something gradually
  • Sometimes one tutorial isn’t enough, and there’s room to expand this into a better outcome for the user

Always be ready to offer support to people that don’t understand something

Whilst being an excellent writer, Tiago also responded to over a hundred requests for help with the tutorials. As a result of him responding to these readers about the tutorial and helping them, the site grew in popularity – especially Tiago‘s tutorials.

I’m not going to list the amount of websites that have forums for their tutorial help and have people saying ‘Look it’s right here, you’ve just got to read’ and ignoring the user. If you help that user out and support them like a friend, they gain respect for you and your site, and will most likely bookmark to return at a later date..

Be prepared for trouble makers

Whilst bringing up this bad example of commenting, it’s important to note that you should handle these trouble makers accordingly. If your writer is responding like this to users that need help on his tutorials, consider lending some advice on how to reply to the situations. Possibly even hire staff to deal with the users in need of help to take the load off your writer’s mind.

Lead by example

One thing I got wrong at Twodded is that I never wrote anything. I never wrote the great tutorial standard I demanded from staff and I never wrote consistently like I demanded from my staff either. This was by far my worst mistake, as potential writers will be inspired by an owner of a site writing a great tutorial and will be motivated to match that quality and possibly even out do it.

On the other hand if you’re a very bad tutorial writer then maybe you have things to learn from the staff you take on board. But please don’t go overboard asking your own staff for help, there’s nothing worse than a boss that knows nothing about what your doing.

Learn from your mistakes

I think it’s evident in this article that I have learnt from my mistakes whilst running Twodded. Learning from your mistakes is possibly the best thing you can get out of failure in any walk of life and will only improve you in future situations.

This tutorial has a second part by the name of “More things to consider whilst running a tutorial orientated website“. Feel free to expand your knowledge of things to consider by reading it :)

21 Responses

  1. Stu

    Brilliant article Jay.

    You seem to have touched on alot of points which are overlooked in many of the ‘wannabe’ tutorial index sites springing up all over the place. Hopfully your ‘failure’ (by your own standards anyways) with Twodded will help some smaller sites out.

    I think in some places you have stated the obvious, and although I use the word ‘obvious’, this still somehow appears oblivious to many. The amount of so-called tutorial sites I have seen which lack many of the things you have bought up in this article are just astounding. Just one example of this, was visiting a website which has tutorial on several categories, and three of the seven categories on this site did not have any tutorials in them. I suppose this is also another point you might have mentioned in the article, being that if you have a category – have content for it! There is nothing more annoying for me personally, to click on a link and have that good old ‘nothing to see here folks, move on’ message staring me in the face!

    Your point about advertisements also caught my attention. I have never actually noticed that you placed the advertisments on Twodded above and below the actual tutorial content, but I have noticed the advertisments added in between tutorials on other sites. Although this may appear bad for you, it was certainly more helpful to me as a user, and I think you have pretty much hit the nail on the head with regards to that decision.

    Another point which I found interesting was to keep your writers motivated. The one thing you did not touch on, is that things like financial rewards, and links to sites, will generally go a long way into convincing writers to actually write for you. As someone who actually wrote a couple of tutorials for Twodded myself, I can honestly say at times it was hard to motivate myself to write them (lets make that 90% of the time shall we). Now if you chuck in £50 per tutorial from Ad revenue, you might have seen a different (and much better) result!

    About leading by example – I think I have had a few discussion with yourself about writing tutorials, and i’m yet to see it happen. Without criticising you – as I know some people simply do not have the time – I think that could have gone a very long way into setting the standards. It really is a great point to make for any tutorial website owner out there, that if you want your tutorials to be top drawer, then set the standards your self. It’s no good sitting back and letting other people do the work and get you the traffic, as in the previous point, what is keeping them motivated? You need to set yourself apart, and with the usual PHP Includes tutorials you will not do that.

    I can’t quite bring myself to leave a comment here and not mention how you have singled out Tiago in this one either. I think if there is anything you, and others, should take from Twodded, is that there are certainly people out there who are more than willing to put the time and effort in there. Although he has a full-time job which he works crazy hours for, he still managed to whip out around 20 tutorials, which is about 15 more than anyone else!

    Anyways, all in all, feking great article Jay. Really enjoyed reading (and commenting) it. 10/10 and looking forward to the second part. Please correct me if I have missed any of your point whilst reading and commenting on this, for I am slightly intoxicated.

    -Stu

  2. Jay

    Wow Stu… wow

    I’ll pick out two points to direct my reply at:
    - Me leading by example, but not doing so
    - Tiago pumping out tutorials with a full time job

    I think possible ‘flop’ of Twodded might have been because of it being a victim of my bad management on a whole. But more than likely because of destraction by clients and the distraction of Pixel2life itself. It brings me to realise the need to mention ‘you have to have the time to run the site’ in the next article, so thanks for that :)

    Tiago did manage to pull out almost 20 tutorials, AND answer all user comments/questions on his tutorial with a full-time job going AND client work on top of this. He’s outstanding, and I could probably sit here all day praising him :)

  3. Doc

    Hey. I liked the article. I have a few do’s and don’ts to add. One thing that is important is the look of the website. Pixel2Life is one of the best looking sites out there. I have had troubles designing a good one and I think I have finally done so.
    I totally agree that writting quality is VERY important. If you look at some of my tutorials earlier on, they aren’t that good to put it litely. I think I am putting out great tutorials for the most tutorials and my visitor rate has seen hikes.

  4. Tiago

    First of all, thanks Jay for this great article, with this “little” article you are giving quite a big overview of what can go wrong and what people should aim when building a tutorial site like Twodded, things started very well with a lot of interested people wanting to write tutorials for a part project of such a big site like Pixel2life.

    Twodded didn’t worked out very well not because of you not writing tutorials, everybody involved on Twodded knew that you were quite busy doing stuff for P2LStudios and also a lot of other jobs that you were doing apart from college, which for sure costs you a lot of time. The problem finding people which are able to write tutorials constantly and also do their normal work doesn’t matter if college or “real” work is a very hard task, and there are not many people willed to give their knowledge to everyone without getting anything back.

    Twodded had/has a lot of talented people which could write great stuff if the would just plan their projects a little bit better.

    Anyway, I would like to point out that the Twodded project isn’t completely dead and I’m pretty sure that it will have somewhere in the near future a promising outcome, which will attract professional as also amateur tutorial writers to an outstanding high-quality platform of knowledge.

    Regarding advertisement on Twodded, I never cared really about the ads on it, since they were so apart from the tutorial that I really merely throw an eye on them, but they were there, I don’t need to mention how many site I’ve found where ads were all over the place, a thing that really scares me out of that site, I want to learn something and not mix up my code with any “free blog” or “get cheap software” ads.

    Now I know why some of the tutorials I followed never worked out ;)

    15/10 for this outstanding article, I hope it opens the eyes of all the people that want to start or already have a tutorial site running. Very interested on reading further comments on this post :)

    Thanks again for letting me be a part of this awesome project which gave me the chance to share my work / projects with an awesome community! …the show must go on…

  5. David Leggett

    Excellent article Jay! You pointed out quite a few areas of site management that are critical to running a Tutorial or Article website of any kind.

    There is one point I would like to add onto (actually, probably a few contributions I would like to make to your article, and probably will on Bloggett in the near future), and that would be being prepared for troublemakers.

    If there is one thing that can get frustrating, depressing, and really destroy a high quality website, it could possibly be the “bad guys” reading your articles. Between hackers, competitors, and just unfriendly people, your site can earn a bad reputation for both publishers who write articles for you, and for the readers who expect friendly, and useful comments from the community (if you have one).

    The top priority in any case would be to make sure that your commenting system is secure. Letting a low-life hacker destroying your article a few days after it is published will throw off traffic, and render your site to users looking for that article as not a dependable resource. It would be even worse if you had a publisher write the article for you, and then having the article vanish. Writers do not like to see their hard work go to waste; it is always important to give them praise and rewards for their writing.

    Second off, watch out for spam. If you require your viewers to register prior to commenting, you may find it much easier to control spam pretty easily (except for those who simply have nothing better to do than register, and leave an ugly remark, or a link to their viagra website). As you said, keeping a team of people to handle this will certainly make things easier.

    I have also found another method that does not require user registration, but also never lets any spam get viewed by the public. If you censor comments for approval before they are displayed, you will never have to worry about a viewer or robot spamming your comment system. However, censorship online can be a big turnoff to some, so I would recommend using this as a last resort (personal experience).

    Again, excellent article! I look forward to more from you in the future!

  6. Figgy

    You see, Jay is write. Stu set an example by writing a very long reply. Look at every reply since! :P.

    I’m just going to keep it simple. Great article, i like how personalised it was helped to apply it to your own life and situations. Well written :).

  7. Donna

    Hello Jay,

    Awesome article and great read. I don’t feel Twodded was a Flop in anyway it’s still going strong with the few staff very dedicated to it.

    Just like to comment on a few things you have covered, one being the ads. I never noticed the ads on Twodded even though I know they are there they were practically invisable in the tutorials. The only thing that irks me on the Twodded Tutorials is they are spread on several pages that I see a lot of webmasters are now doing just adding a little bit of text spread to 10 pages or so, not only hard to read but very confusing to the reader trying to follow and NO PRINT function available for the reader.

    If I come across an awesome tutorial I’ll print it for future reference.

    Last being getting affiliated or a partnership resource with the Software Company your writing tutorials on, highly agree and is very easy to obtain as I have done this myself.

    Anyways thanks for the read I enjoyed it with my morning coffee :P

    Regards
    Donna

  8. Arutha

    Nice article Jay, thanks for the advice I’ll be sure to take it

    D.

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  10. Marxx

    Very nice article Jay!

  11. Cooper

    Why are you linking to twodded.com that just redirects here.

  12. Jay

    Cooper – just switched the .com links to the direct Pixel2life link :)

    Thanks for pointing this out for me

  13. Cooper

    Sorry, that came out sorta harsh. Didn’t mean to sound like an a-hole.

  14. Jay

    Cooper – Don’t worry about it, you didn’t come accross like an a-hole at all

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  18. Kolomona

    Wow! I think I just gained 5 IQ points just by reading this. (which brings my up to 50 now!) Thanks

  19. Getoninter

    1st of all

    “Try specializing in a specific area instead of generalizing in everything”

    Could be 1 of the most important parts i know can be a life saver trying to go for everything is something i have tried to do allot of the time.

    Hey if you choose to try everything you make more money right ?

    As i have learned thats far further from the truth than you think i enjoyed this article and i did read it in 1 big sit in ;)

    Sincerely,
    Richard Metcalfe

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  21. photoshop king

    I wanted to comment and thank the author, good stuff

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