Are Website Makeovers Worth It?

By | May 13, 2009

Many people will probably disagree with what I am about to say, but I think people place too much value on giving a website a makeover. Obviously it is always good to improve a site, but people tell me all the time that if I do this or do that to my sites, the site will make a lot more money, but I have found that this is not always true.

Sites like Myspace.com and Facebook.com and Twitter.com never would have blown up like they did had they not spent a huge amount of time improving their programming and graphics, but on the other hand Google became a big hit just by having a very simple looking site that had very few changes over the years.

I am sure there are many webmasters who can tell you stories about how they improved their sites and it made a huge difference for them, but here are some of my stories:

  • Adoptme.com – I created this virtual pet site in 2001 and by 2007 it was still pretty much the same site it was when I created it. It was getting several thousand visitors a day and I was making around $3000/month from the ads on the site. But, over the years traffic never increased, and I think after a few weeks users would get bored with it. I had not done any updates at all for 3 years, and it was a very Web 1.0 type site. So, I had the idea that maybe if I made it like a Myspace.com for virtual pets, with social networking and all the usual Web 2.0 features, it would be a much bigger hit. If I could get 10 times as many visitors, or even just have the existing vfisitors go to the site 10 times as much, then I would make $30,000/month instead of $3,000/month from it. In 2008 I added cool things kids would like such as blogs for their pets, profile pages for their pets, pet groups, the ability to chat with other pets and private message them, jobs for pets, egreeting cards for pets, pet music videos, fashion accessories to dress up their pets, pet of the Month contest, An Adoptme Facebook app, pet jigsaw puzzzles, and pet video games.To top it off, I then added something no other virtual pet site had. It was a mind blowing breakthrough in technology that I thought would rock the virtual pet world (MTV bought Webkinz.com for around $160 million and Disney bought ClubPenguin.com for around $700 million, so virtual pets are big business!). I gave Adoptme.com users the ability to actually chat live with their virtual pets. Not just some random “dog” or “cat” or “horse”, but they could now chat with the actual virtual pet that they had adopted. It knew its own name, it knew the owner’s name, it knew when their owner last fed them, and it was like talking with a real animal (if animals could talk).I got many emails from kids asking me if these pets really were chatting with them, and parents emailed me to make sure it really was a computer and not a real person chatting with their kid.I sat and waited for the million buyout offers to come in, but the phone never rang. I even issued a press release and made some posts on some virtual pet forums, but nothing happened. Traffic is still the same as it ever was. Income now is actually lower, due to lower ad rates from the bad economy. I am sure kids who visit the site like it a lot more now, and it has a lot more potential now to take off, but so far that just has not happened.
  • In the 1990s and early 2000s I used to own an online vitamin store named GetVitamins.com, where I sold vitamins are discount prices. When I started the site it was basically just a text only list of vitamins and their prices, along with a simple shopping cart. Over the years I added photos of the vitamins, product desriptions, and a nice looking site design. But, from what I could tell, none of that increased the conversion rate from the ads I placed, or caused any increase in sales. You have to keep in mind though that my goal was to offer the lowest prices for vitamins, so having a cheap warehouse type look went well with that theme.
  • Dumb.com – For many years I kept dumb.com as a very simple site, with silly and funny text-only content like dumb jokes, dumb laws, and dumb quotes. It got several thousands visitors per day, but never made me much money. In 2008 I decided to give it a Web 2.0 makeover so it would be like most other dumb humor type sites, with funny videos, crazy photos, silly comics, and video games, plus a user registration system allowing people to create profiles and make comments about the content. I added over 100,000 videos and even had a bunch of content created exclusively just for Dumb.com. But, so far, none of this has made much of a difference. The site still gets the same amount of traffic as before, and makes no more money than it used to.
  • When I started Bored.com in 1997, it was just a simple list of text links to fun and interesting sites. Over the years it grew into such a popular site, I was always very very hesitant to change anything, for fear traffic might go down. Maybe the odd look of the site made people remember it better and stand out from the crowd, or maybe people liked how it loaded fast and was easy to navigate. Or, maybe people hated the look and feel, but the search engines liked it, and that was really what mattered. By changing the format I could easily have lost a huge amount of traffic from the search engines, although there was also a good chance nothing bad would happen. After 5 or 6 years, I finally gave the site a graphical makeover to make it at least look presentable, but I still goty complaints it was a very old style looking site. And, everyone suggested I add more modern social networking (Web 2.0) type features.After I sold Bored.com in January 2008, the new owner experimented with several new formats (including a blog type format). He greatly reduced the number of links on the main page, and completely deleted some of the category pages. He also changed the focus of the site to be more on video games and videos. Also, I used to be obsessive about making sure all the links worked and fixing any site errors right away, but for a few months while he moved servers the new owner had around 20% of the links and pages on Bored.com either deleted or not working correctly. In the end though, none of the format changes or error problems caused any significant change in traffic or income.

So, what is my point from all of this? I am just saying you should’t have too high expectations from improving your site. It won’t always get your more traffic or more income, and sometimes will just be a waste of time and money.

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