The Website Content Controversy
Google’s recent changes to their search rankings (see details here) to reduce spammy content (mainly from “content farms”) has led to a lot of talk about the importance of having good, unique content. It got me thinking about the topic of adding new content to my own sites.
The reason I bring this up is that people are constantly telling me I should add new content to my sites to keep visitors happy and increase search engine traffic, and that I should redesign my bad/amateur looking sites for those same reasons. You would think this is sound, logical advice, but in my 15+ year history of running over 400 of my own sites, I have found this to not be true at all. My results may not be typical, and I am sure lots of people make tons of money by having lots of pages on their sites and keeping them constantly updated, but not me.
Here are my observations about content:
1. I have just as many 1 page sites that rank at the top of Google search results as I do big sites with lots of pages that rank well. Many small sites that I created in a day years ago do just as well as huge content sites that I spent months working on.
2. Aside from the quantity of the content, I have also found that the complexity of the site makes much of a difference. Over the years I have created many simple sites (silly lists, joke pages, online quizzes etc.) and also created many very complex sites (DigitalFilms.com and CreateVids.com for example) that took months worth of programming and content creation, and I have not found much of a difference in the profits on them. I have had sites that cost me $10,000 to create make $0 and I have had sites that cost me $0 to create make me $10,000.
3. Once I launch a site, I have not found adding more content usually adds any significant traffic or income to it. Of course if you launch a bad site that is lacking in content, it should be improved later. But, at whatever time I decide a site is complete and then officially launch it, I have not found adding to it helps any. To illustrate my point, I will give you some examples:
A) WatchMovies.com – The domain gets around 4000 visitors a day, even when I just had it parked. I initially changed it from being parked to a very simple and boring 1 page site about movies. After a few months I added over 700 actual movies that you can watch for free online. I also added movie reviews and movie trailers. More recently I added a page where you upload your photo and see which celebrity you resemble, a 2700 game video arcade,movie quizzes, a 20 questions type game where the computer tries to guess what movie you are thinking of, and more movie related content, yet all these different versions of the site still get the same traffic as always and make the same amount of money as always.
B) Ailments.com – I have over 6000 ailment pages, written for me by a doctor, which have been online for several years and are indexed by Google, yet the site only gets 100 visitors a day. I started the site with fewer ailments, but adding new ones did not add any significant traffic.
C) iAnimals.com – I have thousands of animal pages, many with unique hand written descriptions, plus thousands of videos and jokes and other animal content, yet the site gets no more traffic than when I had no unique content on on it.
D) Adoptme.com – I spent around $100,000 creating this site 10 years ago and I did not make any changes to it for the next 5-6 years. I eventually added some amazing new features, like being able to chat live with your pet, augmented reality, the ability to play online games against, jobs for pet, a Facebook app, and dozens of other new features. Users loved all of this, but it still has not attracted more users or made more money than it did when I first started the site.
E) Dumb.com – When I first started this site many years ago, it was a very simple looking copy of some of the dumb related content from Bored.com. 3-4 years ago I changed it into a big site with lots of unique content and have been adding new content ever since. But, it does not get that much more traffic than it used to get.
4) I paid one Flash designer over $90,000 for various animation projects over the past 4 years, all of which were funny, well done, and great content to add to my sites (for example, see http://adoptme.com/videos/index.php and http://www.dumb.com/vacations/ ), yet none of it made more than a few hundred dollars in revenue. So, I lost over $89,000 on this content.
5) For many years I had graphics designer working for me full time, and the sites he created for me looked amazing. But, I also created many sites myself with no graphics at all (I don’t know how to do that) and most of those sites did just as well. I have had the same results with site redesigns. When I first started Bored.com in 1997 it was just a plain text site with a list of links on it. I hardly changed the site design at all for the first 5 years, and then eventually I added some graphics to it, but even then everybody said it looked like an amateur outdated site. Before I sold it I did a few more fancy site designs, but none of that ever increased the traffic.
Another example is a site I started a few month ago at CyberCops.com. I created the original text-only version in under an hour just to get it launched. It looked very unprofessional, and you would think people would not use a site like that unless it looked legitimate. But, I more recently had somebody create a professional site design for it, yet it still gets exactly the same number of help requests (several a week) as the old text only version did.
6) I have found the main advantage of changing a site design is optimizing ad placement and ad sizes. Making changes to where you place the ads, or using different ad sizes, does sometimes make a big difference in how much money you make from a site. This is not always related to making the site look nice though. For example, I recently doubled the income on one of my sites in 5 minutes just by moving a 728×90 AdSense banner ad from the bottom of the page to the top of the page. Many times changes like that can be done without really changing the main site design, it is just a matter of rearranging things a little on the site.
Conclusion: I am not telling people to avoid adding content to their sites or to not make them look nice. What I am saying is that in my experience, the cost of doing these things is usually not worth it. I would rather add a text page of content (for example like putting a list of pickup lines or a page of jokes on Dumb.com) for free instead of paying to add expensive programming/content. Adding more content is hardly ever a bad thing, it is just a matter of making sure it will make more money than you spend on it.