Nothing changes on the Web, right?

by Tom Davis

A neglected website is a dying website.

Owners of small business websites are tempted to think that once they have a pretty good website up everything is good. This is especially true in business-to-business markets, but I see it in consumer sites as well. It is such an easy temptation because "doing things" with websites costs money and take time. But effective websites don't work that way. Not like the good old days of printed brochures—print 'em and put on the shelf. But back then, no one was able to search the universe of printed brochures using a tool like Google.

Today a website is like a printed brochure (or many brochures), a Yellow Pages listing, a white pages listing, a sponsored teaching tool and a sign on the building all rolled into one. Pretty cool. There are a lot of possibilities in using your website to project a message, make an offer or connect with customers. It all depends on how you approach it. But it always requires that you make a continual effort to stoke the fire to keep it from cooling off. If you neglect your site it will cool off. I know from personal experience.

This is a sad story of neglect on my part. In 2007 I began posting pages on a website I built called Glyphnotes. The idea behind Glyphnotes was that I would write essays on questions that I get asked frequently. That way I would spend less time on the phone or in email trying to explain things like image file formats. I managed to get some of the big topics posted like:

  • How to use Zip files on Windows and Mac.
  • What everyone should know about JPEG.
  • Why Pantone colors don't always match their 4 color equivalents.

It was interesting to see that these three topics mentioned above started getting ranked very well in Google. The page about using Zip files started getting as many as 100 visits from Google searches. It was fun watching the traffic build. Over time I got distracted trying to make a living and began neglecting the site. I knew it was there, and I even pointed people to it on occasion. But recently I was looking at data on several sites and was stunned to see what had happened to my neglected website.

The rise and fall of my website.

The life story of a neglected website.

The chart above is the daily visitor traffic at Glyphnotes over its lifespan. I probably stopped adding or adjusting content in late 2009. It is heartening to see that some growth momentum occurred even after my neglect began. I think that indicates that the attention a site needs can be spaced out to something like monthly or quarterly pulses—depending on the market and audience. 

Much to my surprise the site still gets very high ranking on some keywords. But it can see with just a few tests that the site gets lower ranking than in its heyday. For instance, the search [how to open a .sit file on windows] rank number one consistently just three years ago. (We even beat the make of the software that could do this trick.) Now Glyphnotes is down to #8. The result of this fall in rank is fewer visits. It is just that simple.

I am sure that with some effort I could get the traffic to jump back up. Especially if I began adding pages on new topics or worked on the existing pages to improve page titles and refocused the content to better expose the meaning to Google. But I have moved on. Plus the site makes an interesting "petri dish" for "neglected site syndrome".

I am not alone.

There are zillions of old, neglected websites in need of redesign and help in enhancing content. Not long ago the following video really brought it home to me. This is from the Youtube channel "Google Webmaster Help" where staff from Google answer questions and offer guides to help website owners get more from their sites. Some of the videos can get technical, but most are conceptual. Enjoy!