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Imitating my sites could set you up for failure – Here’s Why
A while ago, I received an email from a Yeys follower. He asked about one of his websites and mentioned that he modeled his site after one of mine.
Apparently, he had tracked down some of my sites and tried copying the structure and style of topics.
His site was in an entirely different niche, so he didn’t copy my site. He was just trying to learn from what he assumed was a successful site.
I won’t reveal how he found the site. Suffice to say that the list he was using a list that included only a handful of my sites, guessing a few others wrong.
Either way, the website he was trying to mimic was indeed one of my sites.
One problem, though.
It was one of my sites that pretty much FAILED.
I felt bad about that. That guy invested money and time into a site that he had modeled after a failed website.
I figured it was worth a blog post to prevent others from repeating the same mistake.
Beware of Lists of “Successful” Sites
Some people share – and possibly sell – lists of sites that are supposed to be successful.
Their proof of success is the fact that these sites are monetized by Mediavine or Adthrive (Cafe Media).
At first glance, it may seem like a good idea. After all, these networks only accept websites that have a minimum of tens of thousands of monthly pageviews, right?
Here’s the thing.
The failed site I mentioned above? It’s probably on those lists.
The fact is that any list of Mediavine or Adthrive sites includes sites with low traffic numbers. That’s because Premium/Premiere publishers are often allowed to board sites that only have a few thousand pageviews a month.
What’s more, the overall number of monthly pageviews doesn’t mean much.
You can’t evaluate profitability based on traffic numbers alone. Traffic figures can only be meaningful within the context of the number of posts, and how much it cost to produce them.
Imagine a site with 30,000 monthly pageviews. Let’s assume an RPM of $20. That site generates $600 a month.
What if that site has 250 mature articles, though? And what if producing each one cost $200?
That site cost $50K to produce. It’ll take the owner more than 7 years just to recuperate the investment. Selling at X36, they would get $21,600. The site failed, by my standards.
I have such sites in my portfolio. They are monetized by the big networks. If you were to find them on one of those lists, you would not be able to know that the sites aren’t profitable.
So, yes, when you look at a list that promises to show you my sites, or those of another successful publisher, you’re getting very little value. In fact, you could be sabotaging your own chance of success by following the wrong models.
I mean, it’s fine to fail.
Just don’t do that because you unknowingly copied someone else’s *failed* model.
The Walk of Shame: My three failed sites
What makes me say these sites failed?
These three sites should all be making more money at this point in time.
The Pet Site
This is site #3 from my 2022 reports. I was experimenting with using an aged domain. I chose a domain that I’ve owned for almost 20 years now.
The domain had been used as a niche directory for several years in the 2000s. It went out of commission in 2011 and had been doing nothing for more than a decade. The domain had a decent link profile. Many sites kept their links pointing at it. Everything was 100% whitehat SEO, so why not make something of it?
I used that domain to create my run-of-the-mill longtail questions website.
If you’ve been following my reports, you already know that the site struggled to get traction. And just when it seemed like it could be taking off, Google updates happened and the site took a major hit.
Why did it fail?
- The niche is very competitive. Queries with any mildly significant search volume are not low-competition.
- The aged domain did nothing. There was a very temporary spike as we launched, and then nothing. No discernable long-lasting effect.
- RPM in the niche isn’t very high. This wouldn’t be too bad had the traffic been high enough. Combined with the low traffic numbers, the overall $ per post is too low.
The YMYL Site
Everyone says you should avoid YMYL niches. Back in 2019, I decided to put that theory to the test.
Turns out, ”everyone” was right.
My YMYL site is still up and running, but only brings in approximately $150 a month. That’s around $1 per post per month. Each post cost about $100 to create. It looks like the site will take more than nine years to become profitable.
Why has the site failed?
- The niche is super competitive. Most of the posts don’t generate enough pageviews.
- Revenue per post isn’t high. You’d think that the RPM would be high on a finance site, but alas, the posts that pull in the most traffic are the ones that focus on “soft” shoulder topics.
The Home Decor Site
This one is a conundrum.
I set it up on what you might call an aged domain, but that domain had never been in use. I bought it 15 years ago or so, and figured I might as well put it to use.
I know that the home decor niche has the potential. I have other sites in the niche, and they do well. This site has the same kind of content. Same type of topics, same writers and editors, same kind of stock photos.
And yet it just won’t budge.
In fact, I have never seen a site do so miserably.
That website is not penalized in any way. It’s indexed, and a tiny trickle of traffic is coming in. But we’re talking occasional drops. Nothing more.
The site has 214 published articles. Handwritten, unique, and of decent quality. We published them during the first quarter of 2022. The last article was published in April 2022.
The site is relatively young, but at this point – with 214 articles – I would have expected some traction. We do not see any traction whatsoever. Over the last 30 days, the site had 63 visitors.
It’s that bad.
Why has this site failed?
Well, obviously, it’s not getting any traffic.
The only clue I have is that GSC is not showing any backlinks. We never build links deliberately, but at this point in the site’s life cycle, backlinks should have been coming in naturally.
Why is this not happening here? I don’t know. It could be just bad luck. Maybe I should run a small link-building campaign for this one and see what happens.
The point is: Some sites fail
As you can see, not all of my sites succeed.
Some websites fail. Others are just so-so.
A handful of sites are genuinely successful. They are the locomotives of our business, pushing us forward.
Oh, and two out of the above three sites are monetized by Mediavine. Anyone trying to imitate them because they appear on one of those “Mediavine sites” lists would be trying to copy a failed site.
Not a good idea.
Worried that your site has failed?
One of the most frequent questions I get from Yeys readers is:
I think my site failed – should I quit?
My answer is always the same –
Look into your stats and perform a basic mini-audit of the website. This post explains how I do that.
Essentially, the process takes you through three questions –
- Has my content matured?
- Did I target queries that were too competitive?
- Did I target queries with low search volume?
Once you figure out the answers, you should have a better understanding of the issues – and how to fix them.
P.S. If you want to assess your content’s age at a glance, use my content plan spreadsheet. Among other features, it has a built-in report with a colorful chart that shows you how old your content is.
Just wanted to comment on this particular point:
“We never build links deliberately, but at this point in the site’s life cycle, backlinks should have been coming in naturally.
Why is this not happening here? I don’t know. It could be just bad luck.”
Here’s my $0.02. From what I’ve seen, your content is average. It’s commodity content that doesn’t try to be the best in class. It may be good enough to get the click from the SERP, but is it linkworthy? I would say no.
I’m not sure which of my sites you’ve seen, but the quality of our content varies between sites). Either way, this site has the same quality of content as multiple other sites in our portfolio and they all do well and get plenty of backlinks. Leading me to suspect the quality of content isn’t the issue. Based on my experience, I don’t think the content has to be “best in class” to attract links.
The truth is they actually do link building and it is extremely low key. While they are not actually the ones doing the outreach or engaging in the active link building, you can tell the original guest poster or link builder has some behind-the-scenes agreement because their sites get quality links with good anchor texts. As an active link builder myself, I would never link to a competing site but, for some reason, their competitors are actually linking to them. You will also notice that they get several links from sites that actively accept sponsored content.
Also, to your point Anne, imitating your sites is a recipe for failure. The editorial links that do come from high-quality authority sites like New York Times are to obscure posts that do not rank well for much and do not bring in any meaningful traffic, but because you guys post so much and focus on volume, you happen to rank for the trivial keyword the writer happen to search to support their argument/content.
Lastly, I agree with Hugo. The content isn’t particularly high-quality, but the operational efficiency you have created is the driving force behind your success and for that, I give you a lot of credit because it is not easy to do at all.
I’m not sure I followed everything you said there, but I guess I’ll take the compliment. I’m not sure who the “they” you are talking about is (are?) If you’re referring to my sites, I can assure you there is no guest posting or link building “behind the scenes” agreement. Whatever that may be.
By the way, I never said our content was particularly high-quality. We shoot for “good enough.” For most queries, “good enough” hits the point and is helpful to the users. IMHO, there’s no need to go beyond and above for every question when people are looking for a simple answer.
Those are some nice sites.
Another great post. When you’re starting a new site what are the very first signs that it’s going to be successful? How long after launch do you start getting a feel for whether it’s going to work? Do you need to wait 6 to 12 months or are there any earlier clues before that?
Sometimes I can tell that the initial growth is better (or worse) than expected, but typically not before at least six months have passed.
Awesome post, Anne. Keep it up, and thanks for being vulnerable and transparent about how some sites succeed and fail. Keep it up.