Budwig Videos, the personal health and cooking site, is a great example of a subscription site developed by a passionate topic expert, who’s not from a media or online marketing background. The site’s high-quality content is a nice mixture of professional-quality videos, written articles, recipes, and a Q&A forum. It could serve as an inspirational model to other special diet site launches. We interviewed Founder Sandra Olson for this exclusive Case Study.
The site targets consumers seeking practical help and advice on Dr. Johanna Budwig’s prescriptive vegetarian diet, which features flaxseed oil for a healthy and cancer-free body. A secondary market consists of consumers seeking alternative cancer cures who may not already be Budwig fans.
Although Dr. Budwig (1908-2003) left behind a legacy of materials including books and scientific papers, some are in German and others are not written for a layperson. In addition, much of the information written online by third parties about Budwig contains errors, which, in turn, are copied by other sites. Longtime fan Sandra Olson discovered the market’s need for clarity and instructional material when she served as a guest moderator for an online discussion group on the topic. Initial content creation for the site took about six months prior to launch. Currently the site contains three main types of content:
1. Videos. Olson personally demonstrates various recipes and therapies in 14 videos (and counting). The videos are unusually professional for the web. Each five-to-10 minute video is shot using high-quality equipment and takes at least several days to script, shoot, and edit. “We shoot each segment three-to-four times. Then we edit segments together at the end,” Olson explained. The key, she added is, “You have to try to be natural, but put a lift into your voice and smile. Normally, if you’re talking to another person, you’re not smiling, but when you talk on camera you have to smile.”
2. Recipes. Each basic recipe features many variations, so a cook can learn one to make a wide range of items.
3. Forum. Olson spends six to eight hours a day answering questions about Budwig diet on the site’s forum and also directly via email with members. Often answers involve research, not just quick flippant responses.
The site launched in 2008 and has “hundreds” of members. Membership costs $10.50 per month to be billed bimonthly at $21. Olson explained to us, “$19.95 sounded too sales-y. In my mind, it’s $20 plus card processing fees.” Given Olson’s positioning as an honest researcher and instructor in a field abounding with quacks, this may be smart of her. She’s proud to have never had a chargeback yet. The site does not have any other revenue streams.
Several months prior to launch, Olson posted her first recipe video on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSoddptWL0s) as a market research tactic to see if people wanted to see videos on her topic, and if so, what would their feedback be like. In the first 12 months, the video had 6,000 plays. After two years, it had had 96,000 views, and 128 mostly five-star ratings. “Lots of discussion groups have that video link,” Olson noted. Useful lesson learned here about video marketing–even if your video is fascinating to the intended audience, video may be more of a long-term play than a short-term marketing promotional pop. Viral attention can take months or even years to build. So invest in videos with evergreen-style content that are good for the long haul, and don’t build unrealistic video-driven traffic expectations into your initial budget.
Olson routinely checks about a half dozen sites and discussion boards dedicated to alternative cancer cures, including Cancer Compass and CureZone, looking for places where it would be appropriate to post comments or enter discussions. Her posts never sound like marketing; rather, she expresses her passion for the topic and tries to help with the intensive research she’s conducted. “I’m a natural researcher, writer, and counselor,” she said.
The site contains some free content, such as a biography of Dr. Budwig and basic information on her diet, for search engine optimization purposes. At launch, Olson ran a paid search ad campaign with Google for several months, partly for SEO purposes (supposedly the Google ‘bot will notice you more quickly that way).
A one-minute video of Olson starts playing automatically when visitors come to the home page. For visitors who prefer to read, there’s lengthy explanatory text below it. “I don’t keep track of conversion rates,” Olson admitted. “I’m not really good at marketing and sales.”
Technology and Vendors Used
SubHub–the subscription site platform that Olson uses to power the site. http://www.subhub.com
Authorize.net–the credit card payment gateway Olson uses to process orders. http://www.authorize.net
About Sandra Olson
Olson is a former high school and college-level English teacher, which explains why she’s so good at instructional content. “I also started a tutoring center for children with disabilities, so I have a bit of entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. Olson began researching alternative therapies because several of her close family members had been diagnosed with cancer. Although her site is not officially endorsed by the Budwig Foundation in Germany, she has been in contact with them and was thrilled to receive a letter of praise from the doctor’s great-grand nephew.
Subscription Site Insider’s Analysis
The site makes us itchy-fingered to do a little outreach and conversion optimization marketing for it! Olson’s genuine passion and credibility shine through. We suspect it has a far larger potential audience than she is currently getting. We also think this site’s content should be inspirational for other health- and dieting-related sites, possibly even hobbyist sites as well. Olson’s done a fine job with content.