Well hello there young traveller. Whether you’re off to another post-lunch browse, or you’ve been gorging on geek news since you woke up this morning, I’d like to say a very sincere (well, not THAT sincere) welcome! You’re in luck today, because we’ve got another awesome edition of our interview series with the Geeky Godfathers of the Internet, and this one pretty awesome.
Today we’re talking to Chris Begley of Batman-News.com. Chris started his site in 2010, just a year prior to our very own debut, and it’s since skyrocketed. Now, I know this interview is a bit different. We usually talk to older, more venerable sites. Well, this scenario is particularly interesting because we are, without a doubt, looking at a burgeoning geek community. Batman-News is huge, and it’s going to grow, and according to Google, it’s one of the top destinations for a “Batman” search in the world. We’ve essentially found an adolescent Great White Shark, and I thought it’d be interesting to discuss a few topics before it grows into a massive manhunting machine.
Alright, that metaphor was a bit weird. But you get my point, right? Imagine talking to the folks at /Film or Screenrant in 2006. What a perspective that’d be.
Well, without any further ado (or anymore talk of those deep sea devourers) let’s discuss news, geekery, and the Caped Crusader with our buddy Chris.
First things first, if you had to introduce yourself in 3 sentences, what would you say?
My name is Chris and I’ve been a Batman fan since I was 5 years old. I work fulltime as a software developer. I love technology, Apple products, the Dallas Cowboys, and the UFC.
When did you first realize you were a geek? And when did you first realize your passion for Batman?
I realized I was a geek in the late 90s when my family got our first computer. My passion for Batman started when I was about 5 years old. I had seen the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton movies at a friends house and I loved watching the Animated Series after school. I loved art, and I would always draw pictures of Batman whenever I could. If I didn’t have paper, I’d use the inside covers of my coloring books.
What guided you along your geeky journey? Were you a devoted fan of the Animated Series? The comics? Or were you more enamored with the fanboy community, and discussing Batman as a character, moreso than the source material (as I get older, and Marvel Comics dilutes their content more and more, I find that I’m the latter)?
The movies and the Animated Series are the big reasons why I love Batman. I don’t read a lot of comics, but I’ve read a handful of the popular graphic novels. After Batman & Robin (which I loved as a kid) I didn’t have a lot of Batman in my life. Christopher Nolan got me hooked again with Batman Begins.
Before you created Batman-News.com, what were you doing? What was your job? Is it still?
Batman News is just a hobby of mine, I don’t run it as a business. I work fulltime as a software developer and as soon as my lunch hour hits I look online for the latest news to post. When I get home from work I spend a majority of my time working on the site as well.
Had you any previous experience blogging? Where?
I’ve been playing around with WordPress (the content management system that powers Batman News) since around 2006. I ran a few personal projects and websites for friends and family.
There were loads of other Batman sites and geek sites, so what inspired you to challenge them?
I didn’t like any of the other Batman websites and I thought I could do a better job. I merged my love for technology with my love for Batman and created Batman News on Labor Day weekend in September 2010. My main goal was to create a Batman site that had a slick, modern design, and one that was easy to navigate. I also wanted to put a big emphasis on community. Who cares what I think? I wanted to give the fans a voice.
Quite frankly, I’d find it insanely intimidating to create a niche site like Batman-News in 2010-2011. It seems that if your site wasn’t one of the first geek ones (the rise of AICN and CBM between 98-’05), you won’t make it. But you guys did. What was your strategy? Did you specifically focus on SEO or SMM, or was it good old fashion content creation?
Good old fashion content creation for sure. I haven’t spent on a dime on SEO, but just a few months ago Batman News appeared on the first page of Google for “Batman”. That was huge! Unfortunately it’s on page 2 right now, but I hope it’ll go back to page 1 soon. The site was also on the first page of Google for “The Dark Knight Rises” for a long time. It just goes to show that if you create good content, Google will take notice.
How were those first few months? Has your daily work really changed? What were some things that you thought so necessary to good site management, that you’ve since abandoned? Anything that you had at first disregarded, but now realize is necessary? For a time, I hated Twitter, so that was my great folly at the birth of UTF.
Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ have played a big part in Batman News’ success. I had accounts for all of the major social networks the day I launched the site. Batman News has over 130,000 followers across those social networks and they help drive a lot of traffic.
When did you guys really explode in popularity? Or was it more of a steady increase?
May 2011 is when Batman News really started getting popular. That’s when The Dark Knight Rises began filming, and fans made it clear that Batman News was their favorite site for coverage. It’s only gone up from there. Today, the site averages over 1 million hits a month, and I predict those numbers will go up once Batman vs. Superman begins filming next month.
When I started Batman News my goal was to make it the #1 Batman movie website online. I had intentions of covering other aspects of Batman, and I knew I would need help in the comics department. Andrew Asberry emailed me right before the “New 52” was about to launch and convinced me that it was the perfect time to start covering comics. I’ve had a few friends write some guest posts, but Andrew is the only other writer. He cranks out the best Batman comic book reviews week after week.
Do you enjoy a site with fewer contributors? Batman-News seems to be at the perfect point where your personal passion is rewarded with healthy traffic, so you don’t really need more content, and therefore more writers. Do you want to keep it that way? Personal, I mean?
I like keeping it small. Batman News is very much just a personal project and it’s my main hobby. If there’s one thing I wish I had more of it would be “features” and opinion type articles. I’m comfortable covering news, but that type of writing doesn’t come easy to me.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of the site? Was it the creation? The management? The writing? You’re really a jack of all trades here.
The most challenging part of the site is being able to juggle it along with a fulltime job. Things got crazy around the launch of The Dark Knight Rises in terms of the amount of news I had to post. There were times where I’d get home from work and wouldn’t eat dinner until around 9pm because I was too busy working on Batman News. Email is another big challenge. I’ve been getting 100’s a week lately, and I just can’t keep up with them all.
About site management, what do you do on a day to day basis? Are you constantly marketing on Social Sites? Do you have an SEO strategy that you want to constantly reinforce?
I post all of the news and market all of the content on the major social networks and message boards. I don’t have a SEO strategy, I’ve been very lucky in that department.
We’ve chatted a few times about how shark-infested the website game is. There seems to be a never ending slew of PR folks looking to “Improve your Ad Revenue!” or “Promote Strong Partnerships”. It’s the disingenuous nature of it all that gets to me. How do you feel about it? Do you ever feel particularly indignant, and give one of these snots a good ol’ rant?
I’ve never ranted. But if I can tell they just copy and pasted “Batman News” into a generic template and their service doesn’t sound interesting, I’ll usually just ignore the email. I get so many now that I can’t even look at everything that comes in. Batman News is a hobby so I’m very picky about that stuff. I always put the user experience before monetization.
What are your hopes for the future of Batman-News? Do you have any particular plans? Do you have a concrete forecast for the site?
Batman News is just going to keep getting bigger and better. I’m never satisfied and I’m always thinking of ways to improve it. Last March I launched “Batman News 2.0” which was a major redesign. The site automatically adjusts itself for desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Right now I’m working on adding some new features that will launch a little later this year.
I know you’ve created SpiderManNews.com, how goes that? Is it as successful as Batman-News? What are some of the challenges of that site? Any really proud moments or disappointments?
I had originally launched Spider-Man News because I thought things would be quiet on Batman News for a while, but boy was I wrong! I think WB’s Batman vs. Superman announcement at last year’s Comic-Con caught everyone off guard. The big challenge with Spider-Man News is just building a loyal following. I’m not sure Spidey is as “mainstream” as Batman… but I’m going to keep trying to grow it and make it as successful as Batman News.
You’ve got a great design right now with Batman-News and SpiderMan-News. I could very easily see that design incorporated into an entire series of superhero or genre based sites. Any plans for that?
That was definitely the goal. I hired BlazerSix.com, the best WordPress design/development shop online, to build “Batman News 2.0” and it has some really cool features. I can change all of the colors and swap in a new logo without having to touch any code. Right now I just need to find the time, but I’d love to build an entire superhero network of sites that all share the same clean, modern design. Superman News was actually going to be the next site, but I thought it made more sense to cover Batman vs. Superman on the already established Batman News.
That’s about all I have for now. Did you have anything you’d like to say to these geeky transient souls who’ve come to this interview?
I’d just like to thank you for the interview, and thank all of the fans for making Batman News what it is today. I never imagined my little hobby would blow up and become the most popular Batman website online in such a short time. If you’re not familiar, please check Batman-News.com out… it’ll be the best place online for Batman vs. Superman coverage!