If you think back to the early days of the web when excitement was high and comprehension of what the web was and how it worked was extremely low, a popular offering of many data publishers was what was called the "template web site." Publishers would make available to their advertisers a series of fill-in-the-blank web page templates that would give advertisers a modest, semi-custom online presence at a very low cost.
The early template-based web sites were expectedly quite crude. Even the notion of the advertiser having its own domain name hadn't evolved. Sites tended to be limited to a few pages, and were heavy on graphics and light on content. Still, it was a website, and it delivered value in an era when the few people competent to build them from scratch were both overbooked and overpaid. It was a nice revenue producer for publishers, but publisher enthusiasm faded as it became easier and easier for companies to create their own websites.
Clearly, times have changed. Or have they? While there's little question that creating one's own website is now both inexpensive and relatively straightforward, advertisers are once again turning to publishers to both develop and maintain their websites for them. The trend appears to be particularly pronounced among local retailers, who still see websites as big hassles that are unlikely to do much for their revenues, but it also cuts across a surprising range of companies even at this late date.
Indeed, some data publishers never got out of the business of building websites for their advertisers. ThomasNet.com reportedly has a very nice business developing online catalogs for its advertisers, a complex specialty where there is lots of opportunity to add value. And both Lexis Nexis Martindale Hubbell and Thomson West continue to build a large number of remarkably sophisticated sites for their law firm customers, many of them leveraging these companies' own proprietary legal content, another powerful form of value-add.
Part of this renewed interest on the part of companies to rely on data publishers for website development is a new-found understanding that just building a website doesn't mean that anyone is ever going to see it. Data publishers offer not only ease in developing sites for their advertisers, but can also leverage their own enormous site traffic and SEO expertise to make sure the sites they develop rank high in search engine results pages. That's today's holy grail, and many data publishers are well positioned to deliver. Maybe there's an opportunity for you in this business that never really went away, and seems to be coming back strong.