SWOT Analysis for Web Publishers

The rapid changes in the search industry over the last sixteen months have left many web publishers wondering whether they should pivot their business models or exist the industry entirely. This is a difficult question for business owners who have invested years of their lives and much of their wealth in firms which may no longer be viable contenders in the "new" search industry.

SWOT analysis is a technique which business owners can use to strategically analyze their businesses in relation to their competitors and the marketplace as a whole. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunites, Threats.

  • Strengths are attributes of the organization which provide an advantage in the marketplace.
  • Weaknesses are attributres of the organization which cause a disadvantage in the marketplace.
  • Opportunities are actions the organization could take to create an advantage in the marketplace.
  • Threats are events which could happen in the environment and cause the organization to be disadvantaged.

The first two areas, Strengths and Weaknesses, focus primarily on the internal attributes of the organization. The last two areas, Opportunities and Threats, focus primary on how the organization may be affected by external events.

Specifics for Web Publishers

Many firms in the same industry will share similar Strengths and Weaknesses. Even more so, most firms in any industry will be responding to similar Opportunities and Threats.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Take a look at your organization. If you feel that your organization has an attribute which makes it stronger than it's competitors, add that to your Strengths list. If you feel that your organization has an attribute that makes it weaker than it's competiors, add that item to your Weaknesses list.

  • Access to Funding
  • Brand Recognition
  • Domain Authority
  • Industry Connections
  • Technical Skills
  • Marketing Savvy
  • Vertical Expertise

Examples of Strengths might include:

  • We have ready access to venture capital
  • We own a widely recognized brand name
  • We own a PageRank 8 domain
  • I have Matt Cutts on speed dial
  • Our technical team members are experts in our platforms, development tools, and applications
  • Our marketing team members can make linkbait about lug nuts go viral
  • We invented this niche and our competitors have no hope of ever catching up

Examples of Weaknesses might include:

  • Our working capital is limited to what's in my wallet
  • Our top domain is a hyphenated .us domain
  • We're hoping to gain PageRank at the next update
  • Matt Cutts blocked me on Twitter
  • Our technical team is outsourced to Pakistan
  • Our marketing team is outsourced to Bangladesh
  • I read a book about this niche and it seems very exciting

Opportunities and Threats

The same event might be an Opportunity or a Threat, depending upon how your organization can respond to it. Search is a zero-sum game. For every winner, there must be a loser.

Take a look at your organization. If you feel that your organization has the ability to benefit from a coming change in the business environment, add that to your Opportunities list. If you believe that your organization is at risk from a coming change, add that to your Threats list.

  • Our niche (travel, local, etc...) is being taken over by Google (unless you are Google)
  • Our niche is being persecuted (gambling, medication) or promoted (green energy, section 8 housing) by the government
  • Our niche is being regulated by the government, which benefits large companies and hurts small ones
  • Our niche is being increasingly dominated by the top brands (unless you are one of the top brands)
  • Our niche is growing (iPads) or shrinking (Blackberries)
  • Profitability in this niche is rising (medical training) or falling (almost everything else)
  • Some marketing tactics may be filtered or penalized (directory submissions, blog commenting, profile building)
  • Significant competitors are entering (or leaving) the niche

Examples of Opportunities might include:

  • Legislation could force consumers or businesses to buy our goods and services
  • Government regulation could force small competitors out of the market, and we're a large competitor
  • Google is increasingly ranking the top brands for all searches, and we're a top brand
  • Our niche is growing
  • Profitability in the niche is rising
  • Our marketing tactics are being increasingly rewarded by the search engines
  • Our niche has significant barriers to entry which prevent competitors from entering the market

Examples of Threats might include:

  • Legislation could make our business illegal in our country
  • Government regulation could force small competitors out of the market, and we're one of those small competitors
  • Google is increasingly ranking the top brands for all searches, and we're not a top brand
  • Our niche is shrinking
  • Profitability in the niche is falling -- unless you can operate on thinner margins than your competitors and take their market share when they fail
  • Our marketing tactics are being increasingly filtered or penalized by the search engines
  • One of our competitors just did an interview with Forbes bragging about the high profit margins in this niche

Responding to the Results of Your Analysis

After listing your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats you should have a pretty good idea where your business stands. From here, it's time to take advantage of this new knowledge.

The web publishing industry is currently undergoing a major contraction. Some organizations will choose to continue in this business, while others will choose to pivot into related business or to exit the industry entirely. AdSense publishers may decide to move into affiliate marketing or selling white label products. Web publishers may decide to halt development on their own projects and offer their services as SEO's to large enterprises. Entrepreneurs may simply close their companies and accept positions with larger firms.

If your niche is travel, which Google is slowly taking over and Wikimedia is considering a push into, you might consider moving to a different niche, pivoting your web publishing business into an SEO firm, or moving into the nascent eBook market. If your niche is 3D printers, you might seek funding to stake out early market share in a niche that may be about to cross the chasm from the early adopter stage of development.

If you have deep knowledge, experience, and connections in your niche, you might try to stick with it and be the last man standing after your weaker competitors have failed. If your knowledge is less niche focused and more related to publishing and marketing, you might sell SEO services or take a job with one of the huge multinational brands which Google is currently favoring in the SERPs.

If you have access to large amount of venture capital, you might take advantage of that to become one of the large brands which Google prefers to rank. With enough funding, anything can be ranked well in Google. I would caution, however, against entering a niche which is likely to be on Google's roadmap. Google, in being able to control the order of search results, has an unbeatable advantage in promoting their own properties (YouTube, Google+, etc...).

As margins in the industry are falling in our race to the bottom, you may even find a significant competitive advantage in having a lower cost structure than your competitors. Lower costs create larger amounts of retained earnings which can be used to fuel development and growth.


The two most important aspects of SWOT analysis are to be honest with yourself and to take action based upon your analysis. As Virgil wrote, fortune favors the bold. Be bold in your honesty and your actions and fortune will smile upon you.

Will Spencer is the CEO of MemeBridge and Alpha Geek at The Tech FAQ.

Published: July 18, 2012 by Aaron Wall in publishing & media


July 18, 2012 - 12:54pm

I'm a big fan of using tools like SWOT to size up the situation and plan for the future. With the massive changes Google has flung in the last 6 months I hope enough people taking your posting to heart and take a good look at their business so they can respond accordingly (rather than just guess and hope).

July 18, 2012 - 2:36pm

Surprised you would link to an MFA site. Not hating. Just surprised.

July 18, 2012 - 4:06pm

...you don't have to like every article on every site to appreciate the great information in the above article.

There are many preconceived notions that...

  • all MFA sites are spam
  • affiliate marketing is always dirty
  • ecommerce sites don't offer any featured content & everything is already on Amazon.com
  • etc. etc. etc.

However we don't gain anything by knocking each other down with surface-level insults based exclusively on the general business model without assessing quality & such.

Just because a site has AdSense ads on it that doesn't make it a low quality site. Did you see the stuff TechCrunch is doing here? They are using recycled auto-generated content to pump over a half-million monthly unique visitors. A person who is funding original editorial content (that isn't "how to lower sperm count" or "how to pour a glass of water" like eHow does) is IMHO far better off than the news outfits using fake bylines with AI-driven content & the sites that are scraping + syndicating auto-generated content.

And even if I might not like the auto-generated garbage published on TechCrunch, that doesn't mean that their other articles Mike wrote back in the day are now suddenly worse because something else was later done with the site. And it certainly wouldn't mean that Mike didn't have good business advice to share on numerous fronts. The experience & process is what turns knowledge to wisdom.

I probably won't ever run AdSense on this site (many of the ads in the online marketing space are for scams & publishers who are aware of publishing and online ads don't click on ads very often, so running such ads on this site would likely cost me more in lost credibility and revenue than it would drive in return revenues...making it not worth it from an economic standpoint (let alone any other sort of analysis)). But offering an introduction article into some technical TCP/IP issue & then having ads for an associated certification course or troubleshooting software or piece of hardware isn't the same thing as having get-rich-quick AdSense ads on a site. I don't see what is particularly wrong with that

Some people desire to create the biggest brand in the world & others are happy with lifestyle businesses (yet another derogatory phrase IMHO). We always see the people who swing for the fences and hit home runs, but the strike outs often get less media coverage. There is nothing shameful about building a solid business that helps people without pouring millions into branding and such. That line of thinking that bigger is always better just conveniently tied to Google's "build your brand with ads" stuff & our legal preference for large corporations over individuals. But we need only look at the large banking institutions that destroyed the economy to know that bigger isn't always better.

July 18, 2012 - 6:42pm

I was not hating. I was not knocking anyone down. My comment was not meant as an insult. The article is solid. I was just surprised that the article linked to what looks like an MFA site, laden with ads within content paragraphs. Thats all. SEOBOOK is still, to me, my favorite marketing related site and love that you see right through Google's BS.

July 19, 2012 - 3:26am

I've got to do my own SWOT analysis, and I appreciate your thoughts on the subject. Thanks for taking the time to put this together!

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