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How to Start Your Own Question & Answer Website

ChickRx co-founders

As any Mercedes-driving psychiatrist will tell you, there’s money in people’s problems. There are also some good web business ideas too.

At first glance, for example, it might look like ChickRx just another online question and answer site – a sort of more chic, glamorous looking version of Yahoo! Answers. But look closely and you’ll see it’s actually a carefully crafted online community that’s likely to draw visitors back again and again.

What’s the big idea?

ChickRx is a site where young women can ask questions on any aspect of health, beauty and lifestyle. A panel of women experts provide answers – including the odd celebrity – and in a clever twist to the standard recipe of Q&A sites, members can choose to ask questions secretly if it’s embarrassing or they don’t want to be identified for some other reason.

That’s not a feature I’ve seen on similar sites, so already they’ve differentiated themselves from other sites in the market.

That’s a key point to remember – the less you look and sound like everyone else, the easier it is to stand out from your competition.

Not just another women’s issues website

There are quite a few websites dedicated to women’s health and lifestyle issues, but ChickRx co-founders (Stacey Borden and Meghan Muntean, pictured above) realized those sites tend to be more clinical in nature and aimed at older women.

Instead, they have a panel of younger experts. Many of these – like Amy Levine (columnist for Cosmopolitan magazine) will already be familiar to their target audience.

Whether by design or coincidence, they’ve also solved a major problem Q&A sites can have. Because questions and answers tend to be short, search engines sometimes consider these types of site to have “thin content” – content that’s so short it’s not worth listing in search results.

By supplementing its Q&A posts with longer, regular articles on women’s lifestyle issues, ChickRx fixes that problem and at the same time offers a reason for visitors to return even if they don’t have a question.

What to steal to start your own question and answer site

I think ChickRx have hit on several good ideas:

By focusing on a specific target audience, the site is likely to be more successful than if it was just trying to be another Yahoo! Answers or Ask.com.

The problem with trying to generate revenue from general question and answer sites like those is you need a huge number of visitors. By which I mean millions a month, a near impossible feat for a one or two person startup that’s anything less than a few years old.

A smart way to launch a Q&A site is to follow the same model as ChickRx – concentrate on a niche that’s under-served by existing websites. Find a topic around which you can quickly create a loyal audience. It’s much easier to monetize smaller, niche markets than it is larger, disparate audiences which have no common interest to connect with.

Small markets like these can be very profitable.

How to get a website like this online

1. Choose a niche for your community
Health questions for men, urban gardening, interior design on a budget – these are examples of niche markets that you could base a community around. Pretty much any subject requiring knowledge and experience will fit the Q&A format.

2. Don’t get bogged down trying to get the perfect design
As long as it doesn’t look hideous, users of this type of site don’t care much about the design anyway. How many fugly but popular forums have you seen in your time? I’ve seen plenty. It’s the content that’s the hook.

Tip: You don’t need to be a programmer – or to hire one – to launch a Q&A site. See the end of this post for three recommended WordPress solutions you can use.

3. Get starting questions and answers from friends and contacts
This will help you fill the site with engaging content.

Isn’t this cheating? No, it’s the standard procedure for any just launched web community. You need the site to look busy. If it looks like a ghost town, you’ll frighten your first visitors away.

4. Promote the site via online forums, Facebook groups, mailing lists, etc.
Assuming you choose a market you care about – and you should – you’re probably already involved in those kind of venues already, making this an easier step for you than for someone starting “cold”.

Making Your Question & Answer Website

For just a few dollars, any of the options below will transform WordPress into a fully featured question and answer site with all the add-on features users expect like registration / login, profiles, new reply notifications and voting on the best answers.

First, there’s the AskIt theme ($39). It looks gorgeous, comes with six color schemes to choose from and has an easy-to-use admin panel.

AskIt Question and Answer Theme for WordPress

There’s also the Instant Q&A plugin ($40). Again, it’s easy to use, but it has more features than AskIt. If you’re looking for something like looks and feels more like Yahoo! Answers, take a look. One additional thing I like about Instant Q&A is that you also get the Photoshop file of the design, so it’s easy for a designer to make edits in the future.

Instant Q&A

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