When was the last time you saw a movie and instantly desired to share your opinion of it? If you know the difference between a smash cut and a jump cut, and you can spot the difference between a wide angle lens in The Shining and telephoto lens in The Graduate, then you’re a film critic and you need a website to start posting your articles on the web. If you work hard at it, pretty soon you may find yourself contributing to the Rotten Tomatoes score. Read on to find out how to create your site, get your writing published, and work your way toward becoming a bonafide tomato-throwing film critic.
Following along in this article, you will get practical information as well as some theoretical marketing tips. If you’re passionate about movies and eager to share your knowledge with Internet readers, you will want to bookmark this page and refer back as needed.
How To Start a Movie Review Site
There are a few important stages. (Don’t worry, we’ll cover every stage in detail.) Here are the basics:
- Getting a hosting package, where you will store your website and publish content live to the web
- Installing WordPress (a system that will organize all of your written content in one place)
- Promoting your site with digital marketing strategies
Once you’ve completed these steps you will have your own brand and a hub for all of your content. Let’s be clear though: this isn’t easy, but it’s not too difficult either. The whole process will involve a commitment on your part. But if you follow each step carefully, and are prepared to work, you won’t be disappointed.
Creating Your Movie Review Site
In order to setup a review site, you don’t need to make a large initial investment. Hosting is fairly inexpensive these days. For a few bucks a month, you can have a live site available to the world.
What Is Hosting?
When you’re ready to launch a website, you’re going to have to figure out hosting. Hosting basically involves a computer called a “server” where your website lives. You may be wondering, Can’t I host my own website on my own computer? Yes, you can, but unless you keep your computer running all day long there will be times of day when people won’t be able to reach your site. That’s why hosting your website with a hosting company is the best option.
Types of Hosting Accounts
- Shared hosting involves literally sharing a server (basically a computer) with other users. You’ll have your own isolated account but you will be sharing computing resources with other customers. In general, servers have gotten so fast that you may never notice any lag when sharing resources with others. But, for the possibility that your hosting could be affected by others, shared hosting is priced lower. For users just starting out shared hosting provides a good entry level option.
- Dedicated hosting is at the complete opposite end from shared hosting. It is basically a whole server dedicated to you. You have complete access to the full resources and computing power. But this is also the most expensive option. For a movie review site, dedicated hosting is simply too much power. That’s where VPS (below) provides a happy medium.
- VPS (Virtual Private Server)
- VPS hosting gives you the freedom of dedicated hosting but in a virtual container. VPS is like shared hosting except your share of the resources cannot be affected by other users. If you get over 20,000 visitors a day on your website, then you must really consider moving over to VPS. But, for all its power, VPS comes with a lot of extra responsibilities. For example, you’ll have to go in yourself and make sure all of your server software is up to date. This is why WordPress Hosting may be an even better option for you.
- WordPress Hosting
- As you’ll see in the following tutorials in this series, WordPress is the content management system (CMS) you will be using for your movie review site. It’s also the most popular CMS in the world. Because of its popularity you can now get hosting made specifically for WordPress.
WordPress Hosting comes in a few varieties based on how much traffic your site is getting. This makes it easy to figure out when it’s time to upgrade. As your site earns more readers you can simply upgrade your hosting to accommodate your increases in traffic.
Why Use WordPress?
In the old days of the web, amateurs had to build pages by hand and upload them to a server. This becomes difficult to manage as a website grows larger and more complex. Coders started building more elaborate systems that could generate pages dynamically. Thus, content management systems were born.
Now anyone, regardless of coding experience, can benefit from this technology. After you’ve reviewed 25 to 50 movies, you’ll have at least 25 to 50 pages of content. Imagine what happens when you get to 100 or more.
WordPress lets you easily manage hundreds of pages from a single user-friendly interface. You can categorize and tag pieces of content to help keep them organized. The level of organization requires depends on your preferences, it’s totally customizable. WordPress is easy to use and it’s free, so it’s a safe bet to use it for your site.
Getting WordPress Installed
WordPress is basically an application written in the PHP programming language. When you install WordPress you are installing its source code files. You’ll also need a database where the program will store your content for retrieval.
There are two ways to install WordPress:
- Manual “5-minute” install
- Auto install with script installer
Both of these procedures are covered in our full guide on how to install WordPress.
The Basics of WordPress
You’re a WordPress user now. In order to make things easier later, take note that all of the content you add to WordPress are known as “posts.” This will make it easier for you when we create custom post types later in this tutorial series.
By default, WordPress comes with these generic post types:
These are posts that are programmed to display differently when used on your site. Don’t worry too much about it now. Just remember that everything is a post.
In order to familiarize yourself with using WordPress, you are best advised to read from the WordPress Education channel.
Below, you will be learning about creating a maintenance page, so you can work on your site without launching it to the public.
It’s Time To Design Your Site
Since you are building a movie review site, you will probably want to pick a theme (design template) that favors easily readable text.
This means an attractive font, good spacing between paragraphs and letters, and probably some white space around the text. You’ll also want to see how the theme displays media. Are you able to add big, luxurious images? What about embedding video? You have a movie review site here, so media is important.
No need to settle for a free theme that everybody else is using. Use promo code
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Try to avoid themes that clutter up the layout with too many sidebars and widgets. It’s your call, but try to remember that you want the look of your site to encourage your readers to keep reading. The more time people spend on your site the better.
Tip: before you even start to sample themes, take a moment to stop and think. Make a list of websites you like and observe their content layout.
- What styles do you like?
- What do you dislike?
- How does it feel to use the site?
This sort of research will help tremendously when it comes time to pick your own theme.
How to Install a WordPress Theme
Themes are available for free (and some premium) on the WordPress theme marketplace. All you need to do is install a theme on your website and preview it or activate it. You can install and try out as many themes as you want. But you can only activate one at a time. For example, you can’t have multiple themes installed and use a different theme for each page.
Page Builder Plugins
You’ll notice as you sift through free themes that they share a lot of common features. Likewise, thousands of people will be using the same theme. This can give your WordPress site a generic quality and make it harder for you to distinguish yourself.
This is why there exists a large market for premium themes and theme builder plugins like these:
And there are many more. These plugins come with either free and paid versions or exclusively paid features. So you will need to carefully consider your budget and options.
If you decide to use a stock theme, don’t feel as though you’re stuck. There are many highly successful blogs out there that use free WordPress themes. What distinguishes your site is the content—not the look. So you can stand out whether you choose free or paid themes. It all comes down to the quality of your content.
Remember, you also have the option of building a theme yourself. There are plenty of books on the subject that will walk you through the process step by step, or you could start with online resources like the WordPress theme developer handbook.
In order to build a theme you must be familiar with these programming languages:
A solid working knowledge of those languages will help you in the building process. Remember you also have support out there. Almost every major city has a WordPress meetup where you can get advice from other users, both professionals and hobbyists.
You could also hire a developer to build a theme to your exact specifications. This is a more expensive option because you are paying someone else for their labor. But it may save you some time.
Key Performance Indicators (or, KPIs) give you the insights you need with regard to how your site is performing. Are you hitting your goals? Are you getting everything you’d hoped you’d get out of your site? Having KPIs—selected properly—will tell you if you’re on track and where you need to course-correct.
Stats in Jetpack Plugin
Jetpack is a plugin that connects your self-hosted WordPress site with WordPress.com resources. This gives you all kinds of neat features such as enhanced security, faster image service, and various analytics. Want to know how many people are visiting your site every day? Jetpack gives you that information. What can you do with that information? Find out which of your pages are most popular so you can replicate that success with new content.
- Pay attention to models
- What is repeatable?
- What is measurably better?
Jetpack is the easiest tool to set up and get going, which is why it’s featured first. For many sites, this is the only tool that’s needed. But as you get more advanced in your webmaster skills, you will need more advanced tools. Read on.
Google Analytics and Search Console
These are more advanced tools, but they’re free (you only need a Google account) and give you a whole suite of data you can use to make critical decisions.
- Unique page views
- The number of unique page views for a page or set of pages
- Average time on page
- How much time people on spending on your pages (on average)
- Bounce rate
- How quickly did a user “bounce” or leave your site after viewing it
- Click-through rate
- The rate at which people “click through” a search result to land on the associated page
- Conversion rate
- How often a visitor takes a desired action (like sign up for your email newsletter)
By measuring and analyzing this data, you will get a clear picture of how people are using your site. This data will help you develop your site as you strive to create valuable user experiences.
Some of these data may vary in relevance depending on your site. For example, some sites convert quickly, so time on page is not as important. Take your site into consideration when deciding which metrics are best for you to track.
All Kinds of Tools
There are all kinds of similar tools available for webmasters. Often, the incoming data will conflict. This is because different tools measure your data in different ways. You may discover that the tools described above give you enough information to make critical decisions for your site and meet your KPIs. That’s great. You should only use a minimal set of tools to match your goals. You could spend thousands of dollars on various tools and get lost in the weeds. Stick with the most important data and keep going.
Maintenance Mode (Building Your Site)
It’s time to put your site into “maintenance mode,” so you can work on it privately. If anyone visits your page in the meantime, they’ll see a nice page advising them that the site is under construction and they must come back later.
This not only lets you work at your own pace, but it also creates some natural anticipation for the launch of your site.
WordPress Maintenance Page Plugins
The easiest way to add a maintenance page to your site involves using a WordPress plugin.
Timing is everything in this early stage. It’s best to install your maintenance plugin and activate it before DNS fully propagates. This may mean using a hosts file to start working on your site right away.
Alternatives To Plugins
You are not required to use a plugin, but that is definitely the easiest way. Here are some alternatives you could explore:
These are more advanced options, but with help from our support team, you could consider them for your project.
Why Use a Maintenance Page?
Your site is new. This means you haven’t built up significant traffic yet. You can use this easy time to your advantage. Build your site in the background before launching it to the public.
Also, while your maintenance page is up, your site is not being crawled by search engines. This means your site is invisible until you’re ready to launch it. If search engines start crawling your site before it’s complete, they will be saving a poor, underdeveloped version of your site. This is not good for your future rankings. You want to only release your site when you think the world is ready for it.
Custom Post Types
Earlier in this article, you read about posts, pages, and post types. This can be confusing for WordPress beginners. But basically, custom post types are a unique type of content you create and add to WordPress. This means you can generate custom page elements according to this new type of content. Read on to find out how.
How Custom Post Types Work
You may have already noticed that WordPress gives you three different places to drop new content. You have posts, pages, and media. It may surprise you to learn that, behind the scenes, WordPress considered each of these as a type of post. The difference between them depends on how they’re used. (Please see the guides linked to from this article for more information.) Basically, custom post types let you create your own unique forms of content that you can separate from others.
What Post Types Should You Use?
Since you are creating a movie review site, you need at least one custom post type: movie reviews. You are best advised to create a separate post type for movie reviews instead of using posts. This is because you may want to reserve posts for information like news or updates.
- Posts (default): news, updates, background information
- Media (default): images, audio, and/or video
- Movie reviews (default): used exclusively for movie review content
With a custom post type for reviews, you have successfully divided your content into discrete areas. This will help you keep your site’s admin area organized. And more, imagine you want to write different kinds of reviews down the road. You can easily create a new post type and keep everything discreetly organized.
How To Create Custom Post Types
It’s time to create your custom post type. You can easily create custom post types with plugins or with code added to your theme or to a custom plugin. Both procedures are described in the guides below:
Term, Details, and Policies
In 2018, data privacy regulations kicked into high gear with GDPR in the European Union. Similar regulations are being considered in the US and elsewhere. Basically, you should take no chances when it comes to the collection of user information.
You may be wondering, what kind of data am I collecting? WordPress stores a minimal amount of user data in order to provide some convenience features. Browser cookies store information that allow your users a quick login for your site or pre-filled comment form data. This is convenient for your users, because it speeds up their use of site without requiring them to log in each time.
Now it’s time to create the masthead for your site. The masthead, in your case, will be a single page that provides critical business information about your site. It’s like the official documentation about your enterprise. Read on to find out what you should print on this important page.
Creating a masthead is an important step that many bloggers and webmasters ignore. It’s a significant statement about what your site is, who you are, and what you do.
Consider Your Options
Before publishing your masthead page, take a moment to brainstorm and jot down all the information you will be sharing.
Who is the editor?
Who is the editor of your site? Who are the main contributors? Even if all of the above are just you, go ahead and put that information here. State your name and title:
Joe Example – Editor-in-chief
Will you accept submissions?
At some point, you may get requests from other bloggers or webmasters about opening content-related exchanges. Or, you might find that there are too many movies out there for you to see and you would be open to accepting submissions from others. If you are open to these kinds of deals, the masthead is a perfect place to provide specific details about how others can engage with you.
What’s your address and contact information?
What kind of contact information do you want to share? Many bloggers choose to give a P.O. box number instead of their actual home address. You may wonder why you need to give an address at all. Isn’t everything digital these days? This depends on your goals. There are still legitimate business reasons for having a physical address. For example, if your site expands and you want to create a corporation, you will need a physical address.
Who’s your host?
The masthead is a great place to let your readers know who hosts your site. Why is this relevant? If you plan on getting a lot of traffic to your site, you can consider becoming an affiliate for your host. This means if someone clicks on the link from your site to your host, and they buy hosting, you get some money. For many bloggers this can be a lucrative deal. Consider your options; this one might pay off for you.
Create The Masthead Page
This is the easy part. Now that you’ve made a big list of all the things you want to include in your masthead, it’s time to create the page and transfer all of the information.
Be sure to publish your masthead page before launching your site.
Getting Into a Review Aggregator (Like Rotten Tomatoes)
Getting into a review aggregator can be a long, difficult process. For movie reviews, Rotten Tomatoes is certainly the most popular, so they are a good example of the process.
Review aggregators basically “scrape” reviews from select critics and return an average score to help their users see if a movie has been favorably reviewed by most critics or universally panned. One day, if you work hard, your review may play a factor in that score. Your opinion will help influence moviegoers.
Typically, the review aggregator will have guidelines for considering new applicants. These guidelines should give you a clear idea of what kind of criteria your website must meet.
But there’s a lot of work you can do in the meantime before submitting your site for consideration.
Start Building a Community
Your community exists inside and outside of your website. Your first indicator of community may be pageviews, comments on your reviews, or followers on social media. These are decent indicators that a community is forming around your writing.
Next, you should try to extend your circle. Get involved in local events and networking groups. You could even host screenings at your local “arthouse” cinemas. Take your voice to the people and provide opportunities for engagement. The people will find you.
Consider Joining a Film Critics Group or Association
Rotten Tomatoes provides a list of film critic groups and associations. You may want to consider joining one of these groups. Please note, it’s unknown whether or not Rotten Tomatoes factors your membership in one of these groups into your overall assessment. It’s up to you if you want to make this effort.
Pump the Output
Keep publishing. Always be publishing. Try to review every movie that comes out. Eventually, you will have hundreds of articles and perhaps thousands of subscribers. Stay the course, submit your site for consideration, and it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be flinging those rotten tomatoes.