By Jeanine Ibrahim
Rob Stewart loves all things snow -- so much so that he’s found a way to making a living off it. He’s worked as a ski instructor in Europe’s Alps. He's participated in ski competitions across Europe and New Zealand. He's appeared as a contributor on BBC’s Travel show. And as if that's not enough, he runs a website dedicated to winter sports.
“Snow Guide” is an online publication focusing on snow sports across Europe. The UK-based website is a recent rebrand of a site Stewart created in 2006 called “The Skiing Department.” That original site began as a simple blog. But within five years it gained such a great following that Stewart was able to quit his day job to plunge full-time into the winter sports industry as a marketing and public relations expert.
Stewart also wanted to better monetize “The Skiing Department" -- but most businesses viewed it as a run-of-the-mill blog. The site’s clunky URL, 'Blog.TheMountainDepartment. com,' didn’t help matters. So in 2014, as part of a strategy to transition from blog to legitimate online publication, Stewart rebranded the site “Snow Guide” and gave it a web address as simple as its name: www.Snow.Guide.
The move has paid off. Stewart talked to Name.Kitchen about transforming a one-time blog into a business brand.
When you first created the site in 2006, did you intend to make a business out of it?
No. When we started "The Skiing Department," I didn’t think it would turn into a business. I had just returned to the UK after spending six years as an instructor in the Alps. My new day job in marketing had nothing to do with snow, but I wanted to be involved in the ski industry.
What was the thought process in choosing that long URL?
Well, "The Skiing Department" was a bit clunky as a name, to be honest, and the old URL was even worse. It was 'Blog.TheMountainDepartment. com.' People got confused because it was totally different than the site’s name. It was 2006, and the URL was just an afterthought.
But you gave this new URL way more thought. How did you decide on 'www.Snow.Guide'?
When we went to register the name last summer, we had already known about these new top-level domains from previously hearing about 'dot-ski' [.ski]. We saw 'dot-guide' [.guide], and it seemed a perfect fit. So we went with 'Snow.Guide.' It’s just a much clearer, and much stronger as a name.
But changing a site with an established name and reputation can be risky, right?
It was a big decision. “The Skiing Department” had value. It was known in the U.K. for being an independent, non-commercial blog, which is a quite powerful thing that brands really like. Ski resorts in the U.S. knew it, too. But we're really pleased with the new changes and the reaction we've had. The branding is stronger. When you say 'Snow Guide' to someone, it's clear who you are and what it is. 'Snow Guide' rolls off the tongue better than our old name did.
Have you seen an effect in traffic to the site since the new name and domain?
Our busiest months historically start in the autumn: September, October, November and December. We launched just before that last year in August, and our traffic initially dropped off. But then it picked up through the winter. Our traffic for February, March and April has been higher this year than last year before the change. And our social media sites are growing faster than before. Our big test will be this autumn.
How is this revamped site, “Snow Guide,” more than a blog?
A blog to me is "This is what I'm doing today," etc. We have several writers creating content on Snow.Guide. I write feature articles, and we do reviews on products and talk about snow-sport techniques.
How has the rebrand helped to commercialize the site and make money?
Simplicity with a name is quite important, and 'Snow Guide' is nice and simple. The original site wasn’t making money beyond an ad-hoc basis. Now, as a business, as a brand, we have commercial opportunities with Snow.Guide we didn’t have before. We can widen our scope beyond skiing to write about all things snow and destinations as a whole.
So the name change was a huge part of our new commercial strategy, including hiring a new snowboarding writer. We’ve also created a media pack to approach brands with which we’d like to work, and we have a YouTube channel to generate more revenue, too. We're monetizing it as we go. But the big focus is on building the brand so that it has a value and people see it as an independent source of information.
Learn more about this business by going to the websitewww.Snow.Guide.