The good old days of the internet when slapping up any mess of HTML was enough to get you noticed. The web is a very different place in 2017 than it was in 1997. Businesses live and die on the internet. The small players need to have a lot of tricks to keep up with the big guys.
Starting a Blog
Starting a blog is so much easier today than it was 20 years ago. But as the barrier to entry has been lowered every year, more and more people are building an online business. There are several million WordPress websites live on the web so how can you compete? Being persistent can help. So does knowing when to quit and start again. Five years ago it was easier to find a niche for your money-making blog but harder to build (from a technical point of view). These days it's easier to build a website and there are many tools to help you make it profitable. However, it's harder to get traction and break free of all the chatter. You might have a great blog but unless it's a hobby website if it's not making money it's tempting to shut the business down. But when?
How Long Does It Take For A Website To Rank In Google?
If you have the budget to invest in content and the time to invest in keyword research and market research, then you can potentially see your site ranking in a matter of weeks. But this is rare and becoming rarer. Google does not trust new sites. There is an element of trust that comes from the domain age and the age of the content on your website. New sites are effectively struggling to keep their heads above water.
Spammy sites and websites built only to harvest niche-related keywords are often created and closed down within a relatively short period of time. When you’ve just started a new site the search engines don’t know whether you’re here for the long term or if you’re just trying to game the system.
If you have the patience then waiting a year before deciding on whether to keep going or pull the plug is good practice. After a year, assuming you are adding content and building links, you should see your rankings increase as Google begins to trust your site.
I’ve noticed that on websites I neglect, some pieces of content rank highly on Google, even getting to the first page. The content is good but they have no backlinks. The two key ingredients are quality content + time (for average bloggers)
Google Sandbox, say what?
Many marketers and SEOs talk about the ‘Google Sandbox’ issue. This is widely accepted to be a type of penalty or filter that Google gives your website in the early days of its existence. It’s effectively a throttle preventing your domain from moving up the ranks quickly. Think of it as a probation period. If you’ve served your time and behaved, you will be free to take advantage of the same opportunities as everyone else.
However, Google’s Sandbox is just a theory. Google’s Webmaster Central blog doesn’t mention it and I can’t find any reference to ‘Google Sandbox' from an employee of the company. It does appear to have some basis in truth, however.
The first 6 months
If you're just starting a website I'm sorry to break the bad news but the first six months of any website can be demoralising and depressing. Usually, the lucky ones, the really experienced website builders, and the entrepreneurs with lots of cash can get a site profitable and ranked well in Google before the six-month mark.
I would go as far to say that this timescale is increasing. Twelve months might be a more realistic number. Expect slow progress but remember that most entrepreneurs succeed because they keep going. They give up sometimes, of course. They allow businesses to fail. But they don’t make any decisions without evaluating the business first.
Evaluate Your Goals
Whether to continue or not with a non-profitable blog often depends on your goals. Is your prime motivator exposure and respect, or are you trying to make money? Is your website a vehicle for promoting something else or your main sales channel?
For blogs designed to generate revenue, traffic isn’t always the most important thing. Many online businesses have huge traffic numbers but little profit, and vice versa. Targeted traffic is the most important thing. If your goal is to make $4000 a month and you have 100,000 visitors a month then you might think that you’re on track. But if only 1% of these visitors buy a $3 product then you’ve fallen short of your target by $1000. Making money with your blog is the most important thing, not traffic numbers.
If on the other hand, your site receives 1000 visitors a month and 10% of those buy a $40 product then you’ve hit your target. The key here is to convert a higher percentage of your visitors into buying customers of a higher value product.
Check Your Stats
How is your website really doing? Are you able to confidently predict growth or a decline in traffic and sales? How much traffic do you get and from what sources? Is your website ranking higher every month for your target keywords and which types of traffic are the most profitable?
These are things you need to know.
Check Google trends to see if your target keywords are increasing in popularity.
Use Google Analytics fo figure out what types of visitors (based on age, location, affinity, in-market segments) convert the best.
The tools below will also give you an idea of the value of your website. This is not very accurate but it will help compare your site against your competitors. They can be a good starting point for beginning an evaluation of your website's worth.
Where’s The Money?
Probably the most fundamental thing to think about is where the money is supposed to come from. Making money from a blog happen in a number of ways. Start where you expect to be paid and work back from there. If your revenue generation plans involve Amazon affiliate commissions then make sure your content, links, and on-page SEO are focused on this. There are plenty of people on the internet that can show you how to properly optimise a website for Amazon affiliate clicks. I won’t go into it here as it’s a very in-depth topic.
If you plan on selling a product then look at your funnel. The ultimate goal is someone purchasing your product directly from your website or via an eCommerce solution like WooCommerce. Figure out what your conversion rate is and then increase it.
Looking at each step of the funnel will help you figure out where the funnel is breaking down. Google Analytics can help you with this. Services like HotJar.com and Sumo provide free heat maps, A/B testing features, and recordings of user sessions so that you can determine where and why users drop off.
Optimising the checkout process is critical if you plan on selling products on your website. Placing calls to action on different parts of your site and A/B testing layouts are all great ways of finding better conversion channels.
If you do decide to move on try to take everything you have learned from the failed site and apply the concepts and techniques that worked on the new site. If the new business is in the same industry as the old one, and your soon-to-be-discontinued website has some Domain Authority, then it might be worthwhile forwarding the old domain to the new domain.You could also link from the old site to the new site. With the first option, you can forward the domain from your DNS server. With the second option, you will need to keep the old site running. A small price to pay.
I hope this blog post helps you create a plan of action for deciding whether or not to keep going with a website. It's hard to put energy into something that's not working and it takes skill to know when to quit. The large tech firms and successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley struggle with this so you're not alone. Their projects might be on a higher level than yours but who's to say that one day you won't overtake them.
Keith is the founder of Fat Frog Media. He has worked in the tech, fitness, food, and hospitality industries. Keith helps businesses improve their marketing and conversion rates.