Why and how I made KentIndex.com

In this post, I am going to talk you through not only why I made KentIndex.com but also how I did it.

First, what is KentIndex.com?

kent Index

Kent Index is a free classified ads website for Kent (a county in the UK). It features a points system that rewards users who actively engage with other people’s ads as well as those who contribute content (posts or ads).

On top of that, businesses, charities, and any other organisation can create a free profile page featuring their details, facilities, opening times, and all their active ads.

Why KentIndex.com?

Way back when I had just left my return to education, I had started a business. I had an idea of creating a better version of Yell.com. Back then the yellow pages website was a load of rubbish and I was certain I could do better.

While I was learning the technology that would enable me to create my dream, I obtained a bunch of domain names that seemed like good candidates for future projects. Kent Index was among them. I reasoned that I could start small with a Kent only version of my site, and then grow into the bigger nationwide version over time.

Of course, what actually happened is that while I was developing, Google made my project obsolete.

Fast forward to more recently and I realised that I had hung onto the domain name KentIndex.com and figured it was about time to do something with it. I no-longer had a business to run so I could easily make everything free.

How I made KentIndex.com

The first thing I did is paired my domain name KentIndex.com with some hosting from my 20i reseller package. I chose a WordPress optimised hosting package. The same package that I have given away on twitter before.

Obviously, I installed WordPress into the hosting package.

I initially used a free theme from the WordPress.org themes library. However this theme was not maintained and looked a bit clunky in places. So I switched to the an Author Buzz UK custom theme that I had developed. Author Buzz Simple has the advantage of being super light which makes it fairly nippy (fast).

I went with a plugin to run the classifieds because why reinvent the wheel?

I’ll go through the plugins used shortly.

Initial “ads”

To populate the site with its first ads, I contacted a few friends and invited them to have some fun. This lead to the Zombies seeking brains personal ad.

I also added adverts for pretty much everything else that I get up to online.

Lastly, I also contacted everyone I knew who was trying to sell or promote something and nagged them into using my new site.

The result was that when the first real users arrived, they came to a site that was already being used by real people. This helped to get the ball rolling and so user ads started to trickle in.

Early promotion

The first promotion of the site was through Twitter and Facebook. The best results came from business to business groups. Twitter, not so much.

At the same time as promoting the site on social media, I was working on the SEO side of things. I use Yoast SEO to help with that. Most of my SEO content has been in the form of blog posts about getting the most out of your Kent Index adverts.

I do run one CPC advert ont he site but as this has yet to yield any appreciable revenue, I have not run any paid promotions for Kent Index. My intention is to use any earnings to promote the site so that anyone who advertises on site gets the best results I can offer.

Ongoing promotion

We have a Facebook page where we share recent ads from users along with our blog posts. This drives a little extra traffic to the site (and user ads). It is especially good for the featured ad which can sometimes see a few hundred extra impressions.

We also have a group for buying and selling. This too is on Facebook. We share our page content to the group and remind sellers they can make free ads on our site.

We have a Twitter account but this has not proven to be particularly useful for this project.

Kent Index points and awards

Kent Index features a leader board of the highest-ranked users. This is powered by MyCred a gamification plugin. I recently modified the leader board to link names directly to classified profiles or business pages (if the user has one).

Points are earned for (among other things) placing ads, viewing pages, ads, and posts, and referring new customers. I’ll leave it up to you to work out what else you can earn points for.

Users in the top 25 users get the added exposure for their ads and business listings that comes from being listed on the top users page.

In addition to points, users can earn badges for actively engaging with the site. My hope is that this will drive more attention to user’s adverts.

The business page plugin

The business page option is not a native feature. Business pages are an entirely unique creation written from scratch by me.

The first version of the plugin lacked the ability to edit pages from the site itself and required finding your way into the admin area. Version 2 fixed this issue and enables on page editing of various aspects. It also provides a link to the admin editor for those that would rather use that.

Version two also added a separate tag editor that can be used right from your business page. I am unreasonably proud of that addition.

There are still improvements I could make and version three should see more features added.

You can add a profile image, as much text as you like, a business address, opening hours, and a title. You can also tag your page as you see fit and select a location within Kent. Furthermore, you can check each of the defined features (such as free WiFi, Step free access, Family friendly, etc.) and get the corresponding icon on your page.

At the bottom of your page you will find your ads.

The “hard” bits

There were two tricky parts to creating the business page plugin.

First, was replacing profile links with a page link if and only if the user has made a page. This was solved by going through the WordPress hooks very carefully and figuring out which ones to use and when. It also meant going through the hooks offered by the plugins too.

To be honest, there was a lot of trial and error on my test server before I got that all working smoothly.

The second tricky part was making sure that users got one and only one page. Business pages are a custom content type and WordPress expects users with the right permissions to make as many content entries as they wish.

I solved that by removing all user rights to make Business Pages and then providing a custom API that would check before making the page. The API is addressed by a really simply form (a box for the name and a button). From the user perspective, adding a page is easy.

Plugins used

Future Plans

The next Kent Index project has been interrupted by COVID-19. This has given me long enough to code a more robust version. Version of what, I hear you ask. Let me tell you about it.

My plan is to create a mobile based scavenger hunt game. Players will need to visit participating businesses in order to “find” items. These items are badges of the shops and other businesses that the user has found.

Each find comes with clues to help find more.

I am still toying with the idea of allowing users to level up their found locations through repeated visits (to a maximum of one per day).

This should be fun for users and great for businesses as it should drive more foot traffic to their shops.

Lessons learned

The biggest take away from this project is that there is no such thing as too much early promotion. Kent Index was slow to get started because I was hesitant to promote it “too much”. Were I to start again, I would promote it as hard as I could from the word go.

I discovered a fair amount about the inner workings of WordPress. Especially hooks and filters. One thing I noticed is that there are often many hooks that do similar things and you may need to use more than one depending on the results you are after.

Early on, I pushed an update that I thought was ready and broke the site. I really should have known better and tested it a whole lot more. Still, it was a matter of seconds to fix the problem.

Were I to start again from scratch, I would use my own lighter theme right for the get go. Free themes are perfectly fine but they often come with features that you do not need. Unused features can (very slightly) slow down your site.

Over to you

Have you ever created a classifieds site? If so how did it go and what advice would you offer to someone making one now?

Are you Kent based or running a business with (possibly) Kent based customers? If so, what can I do to help you reach more customers?

Have you used Kent Index? If you have, I’d love to get your feedback.

Any other thoughts? I would like to hear them.

Use the comments below to let me know your opinions and ideas.

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