This is a follow up story for Episode Ninja. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Steve Sanders and I run a website called Episode Ninja. The goal of the website is to aggregate data about TV shows from various sources to build lists ranking the best episodes, seasons, and more for a given show. Visitors can also register an account on the site to rate episodes and directly influence the rankings.
The project is monetized through both streaming service affiliate programs as well as conventional display advertising. On an average month, it sees roughly 350,000 unique visitors and generates roughly $1300 in revenue.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Traffic to the site is up roughly 60% in the last year. While traffic was already steadily growing, it experienced a huge boost in April of this year. I have to attribute this growth to stay at home orders going into effect throughout the world (and especially in the US) which in turn resulted in more TV viewership. This growth has been almost 100% driven by organic SEO with very little promotional effort on my part.
While the pandemic has given a huge boost to traffic, it has had the opposite effect on advertising revenue. Online advertising in general has taken a huge hit as companies reduce their ad spend through economic uncertainty. This has recovered slightly in recent months but revenue per page view is still down about 30% when compared to the same month last year.
User engagement via account registration and episode ranking has continued to grow as well. Almost 2,000 registered users have cast more than 100,000 individual episode ratings in the last year. The ability to create an account on the site was somewhat hidden when I first introduced that feature. I have since started promoting the ability to register more heavily on the home page to drive more growth. A good chunk of the traffic comes from repeat visits from these dedicated users.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Since Episode Ninja’s traffic is driven by SEO and its revenue is directly tied to page views, uptime for the site is extremely important. Every minute the site down means money lost as well as the potential for long-term impact on SEO rankings. I am starting to regret some of the architectural decisions I made early on that impact the site’s reliability. In the future, I am focusing on a serverless approach that will hopefully result in a site that never goes down except in the event of a widespread cloud infrastructure outage.
Just getting something launched is a huge achievement that many projects fail to ever reach. From there you can focus on growth and adding new features.
I was initially very slow in putting ads on Episode Ninja but I am glad that I finally did it. By not having ads I was leaving a lot of money on the table. I have since learned (and am still learning) that the online advertising industry is an extremely complex marketplace of resellers on top of resellers. I occasionally get approached by companies who are interested in buying direct ad placement on the site but I have no idea how to negotiate and handle these deals or handle the logistics of actually integrating their ads with the rest of my system. Still, a lot of lessons to be learned in this area!
As I previously mentioned, the impact of a global pandemic has been a double-edged sword on this very small business. It has been great to see an increase in visitors to the site but discouraging to see a decrease in ad revenue growth. I like to think that Episode Ninja is helping to make folks’ quarantines at home slightly more interesting!
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I’m currently working on a complete rewrite and redesign of the user-facing part of the website. There haven’t been any significant changes to the overall design of the site since it first launched and it is due for an update. In addition to re-architecting, the site with a cleaner design and better performance, one of my goals with the redesign is to display the data I already have in more interesting ways. One example of this will be adding more data visualization aspects like charting the episode quality of a show over its lifespan.
A more long-term goal for the project involves giving more features to registered users with the hopes of moving to a freemium model at some point. A much-requested feature is episode tracking - allowing users to filter the episode lists on the website to exclude episodes they have already seen or rated. This could easily expand into a full TV tracking product with reminders for upcoming episodes for your favorite shows, recommendations, and more.
I would also like to expand the mediums in which Episode Ninja is available. A native mobile app would be a logical next step that I’ve been working on for a while. I also think there is some potential for a TV app running on Fire TV, Roku, etc. that could directly link to other streaming apps on the TV.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I honestly don’t read many business or tech books (I’m more of a sci-fi guy) but I do listen to a ton of podcasts. The stories shared on How I Built This and The Indie Hackers Podcast are a constant source of inspiration for me. A newer podcast that I’ve been enjoying is The Entrepreneurial Coder. This one hits a little closer home for me since, as the title implies, it focuses on programmers starting businesses.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
The number one problem I see with programmers (or anyone) trying to start a side project or business is choosing too big of a project to start with. Choose something small that you can launch as an MVP in a short amount of time. Just getting something launched is a huge achievement that many projects fail to ever reach. From there you can focus on growth and adding new features.
Episode Ninja has hugely benefited from an early decision I made to focus on performance and SEO. I have no real clue how to grow a software product and the project probably would’ve died early on if I had launched it as a native mobile app rather than a website. Seeing early growth from SEO kept me motivated to continue working on and improving the project.
SEO gives you a “free” source of traffic that requires little effort outside of creating content, which in the case of Episode Ninja is already part of the product. My point here is that you should focus on your strengths. I know how to build an SEO friendly, high-performance website so that’s exactly what I did.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I have always wanted to bring in a partner to focus on growth, social media, and writing new content for the site. Feel free to reach out if you love TV and might be interested!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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