Mass developed minisites stand no chance

After reading Rick Schwartz’s latest blog post about how Google AdSense closed down his account over minisite content, I had an obvious question: why did Rick pay TENS of THOUSANDS of dollars for 10 minisites?

The term “minisite” was coined as an obvious bait for the domain community, sometime in the past year and a half. It indicates a quick and dirty development of a web site, often with no graphical user interface, with no custom images and with content of dubious quality. Creation of such “mass developed” minisites is aimed at those with a very small budget that want “something” to go live, in order to monetize it via the placement of AdSense ads or ads from other networks.

There are several such firms that provide development of small web sites, catering to the “minisite” domain gang. Quality of work varies – however, a minisite is a minisite and it does not really qualify as true web development.

With parking revenue dwindling, panicking domainers often opt for the cheapest alternative, not considering long-term results and consequences of pushing out badly executed content. The alternative option would entail the following elements:

  • A proper business plan
  • A budget
  • A development expert
  • Time

However, all these elements can be addressed, as long as there is proper focus on what one is trying to achieve.

If the need is for short-term cashflow, minisites *might* work – until Google pulls the plug as in Rick’s case. If the need is for long-term revenue from the development of web sites that actually provide content and add value to the Internet community, the answer is simple: full-fledged web development.

So get your paper pads and pens out and start outlining your next project. Big or small, it does not matter. What matters, is quality of work and control over its execution. So hire a true web development professional. Mass developed mini-sites stand no chance.

Comments

  1. >obvious bait for the domain community

    Spot on… Google will just get better and more aggressive at this. Domainers who missed the PPC boat just have to face facts and get more serious about ‘real’ (more real) projects…

  2. Exactly 🙂 And people, don’t go crazy trying to develop all of your domains at the same time. Have a brainstorm session and select the best names from your portfolio, then proceed with laying out a solid development plan for them.

  3. Spot on ….!!

    and “why did Rick pay TENS of THOUSANDS of dollars for 10 minisites”

    I respect Rick for his place in the industry however he is no developer – I have yet to see even an ounce of design that makes any sense on domains he owns. Development is not his talent, no one can argue that. I’m pretty sure that quote was another fluff quote because no fool would spend tens of thousands on 10 minisites.

    If he bought 10 good names then the price was for the domains – In fact, do you know anyone who has ever paid any real money for a domain with a mini-site attached?

    Answer is NO – Anyone willing to pay big bucks doesn’t give a damn about the 2 bit design there already – they have a plan and will throw your garbage out the window for their own design.

  4. Domain Development is becoming another term for “get rich quick”; a misconception shared among many domainers. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. It never has. Web development is the same as it’s always been. The only difference now is that you need to have a real plan if you choose to develop your names. Otherwise, the only value you have created is in the developer’s pocket.

  5. Great post.

    @Alan I thought I was the only one thinking down those lines. Who knows, maybe someone got ripped off!

    @Tia, you put the cherry on top (ice cream);) .

  6. Mini sites have no staying power, just like you will rarely, if ever, see a taco stand on a valuable piece of property, there will come a day where you will no longer see “taco stand” websites on a high quality domain.

    Mini sites are nothing more than a logical step towards development. The next step will be full website development, the last step will be full business development. Each website can be a value producing business in and of itself and that is where the future will go. If it takes full development then so be it, if you can turn each website into an income producing property with only a few pages then that will be your business.

    In the end domaining is all about business and mini sites and parking are flat out bad business.

    Men like Rick Schwartz will cash out on the intelligence that they had ten years ago, and men like David Castillo will make fortunes off of the business/website development that they continued to promote on their properties.

    We all praise Rick Schawrtz for his 3 million sale of Candy.com (and we should, he made a wise development and sold at the right time) but the most profitible business would have been for Rick to develop a brand of candy, that with the domain Candy.com could have competed with Nestle, Hershys and Mars. In the end he got a great price as he deserved, but the most efficient business will always be to take advantage of the domain yourself.

    Rick could have been more than a domainer, he could have been a sole owner of one of the largest candy companies in the world (in time).

    This is the future of domains, the merger of business and domaining. It is out with the old, as we step back and make room for the new. Real, honest, 100% business. It never changes.

    In the 1800’s people made fortunes flipping oil wells and speculating on land. But the most wealthy built the businesses that have lasted for over 100 years, the John D. Rockafeller’s and the Henry Ford’s.

  7. Free Domain Newsletter, you nailed it here:

    “In the 1800’s people made fortunes flipping oil wells and speculating on land. But the most wealthy built the businesses that have lasted for over 100 years, the John D. Rockafeller’s and the Henry Ford’s.”

  8. Any reference to 1800’s and oil wells reminds me of this scene from There will be blood 😀

  9. to many egos in this business says:

    Interesting comments. I feel sorry for Rick some and we all know the risks of adsense

    Rick has done a great job you either love him or dislike him. He has my respect.

    Palmsprings guys get things, truly amazing what there doing. That’s a business. Rick has a business as well.

    Now, the issues I been reading are the following

    1. To have end user advertisers you either need traffic or a generic name like what Rick has. Some of us were not so lucky as the Rick and others in the early days.

    2. Worry about forming a website and stop the mass development hype. Wannadevelop is a good part of the hype, look at what happened on a dnforum thread few weeks back and 2300 dollars down the toliet. I own mini sites, I run adsense, read the well respected hitters like what palmsprings does, elliotsblog and a couple others. Look at tropicalbirds.com, that was a mini site and now its content rich and drawing tons of traffic. That’s the powers of a mini site and can be expanded quit easily with content, can sell end user advertisers and so many options.

    Tiawood is a developer, Missouri.me is a business, Rick is a domainer with a killer portfolio. I read couple blogs and folks not many people may not know this but guess what Rick all ready had some end users advertising on names. Got some out ppc parking. When you have 5000 names, or Frank schilling you can expect all names to develope.

    This is a wake up call to for many of us. But keep focused, keep building out your niche names and keep your traffic flowing. Worry about traffic first and users before you think about money. Revenues will follow later.

    @acro.net I don’t read your blog much but will need to check in more often. This business is getting crazy and to many egos. Everyone thinks there players. Going from a domainer to a business owner and developer over night, well good luck. Lol.

  10. There is no more to add to that what Tia stated, I agree 101% with. Most domainers and not specially only the newcomers but also some “older” guys in this business still believe in that big mistake. It is too obvious for the big G that when starting something with Adsense since the beginning regarding a so called domain development to fall under the term MFA, what do people expect?
    A domain = a business and that should be understood right in addition with very hard work.
    Don´t have time for? Better forget it then…

  11. Just for the record.

    3 of these sites were not mini sites but developed sites. One was online for 9 years. The other was a licensed site Widgets.com that Gigya produced. The third site was a site I was having done for Widgets when I got the Gigya deal. That does not include then ads on other leased sites The other 8 were mini sites that I was experimenting with. To be honest the results were a fraction of PPC.

    As for sites. Maybe some of you forgot that the original TargetedTraffic.com site was hand done by me. It has taken in over $20 Million. At this stage of my life I don’t want a candy business. I am happy with my take right off the top for doing nothing and investing no TIME which folks kind of take for granted.

    Which is better in your book. $5 million a year and do nothing or $10 million and have to work, have headaches, employees, not vacation when you want. A prisoner to a business? That is what is called a choice and I made my choice long ago.

    So I appreciate the advice, but I have a bad habit of listening to folks that make more than me and ignoring the chatter of those that don’t.

    The issue is not about me. The issue is indiscriminately deactivating sites with no notice and no recourse.

  12. The idea that the term “mini site” was coined a year and a half ago is incorrect. Jim Edwards put out an expensive course on mini sites quite a few years ago. I know because I purchased it.

  13. I tried minisites once and wasn’t too happy with the results. My goal is to get indexed and get clicks. Minisites provided neither.

    I have trimmed my portfolio immensely and focus on just a few sites and their backlinks and earn a fair sum on top of selling domains. I still park pages of course but we all know the revenue stream is meager compared to a real website.

    Frustration with Adsense? Don’t get me started. Someone explain to me why a site with 10 unique content pages and real information – as valid as any other website with adsense – gets pulled? The loss of statistics is infuriating.

    Let’s sue Google seriously. They haven’t defended themselves in small claims court yet because they can’t show anything. File a class action and watch the hair fly. G will either need to give away all its stupid “secrets” or settle for massive sums.

  14. Great article and posts. Whatever one says about Rick though….this guy is the real thing. There are a lot of people in the domain business that are full of it right up to their ears. Rick Swartz isn’t one of them. I think he is spot on about life in general. He had a plan, and he followed through on it. He had a vision when people didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. He put up with a lot of ridicule and laughs. He got the last one and that is always the best one. I only wish he would write a book.

  15. Shawn [aka Seraphim] says:

    The minisite concept died five or six years ago, well before it was even discovered in the domain industry. I know you’re well aware of that Theo, sad the rest of the industry is so far behind the times… 😀

    On the subject of Google, the company rules over it’s search engine with an Iron Fist, and regardless of what website model you decide to float, the game of traffic pull is straight ruthless. Long established websites are being bumped out of the search results daily, and the point of entry for real traffic pull is shrinking rapidly. My prediction is that in five to ten years time, several large behemoth content providers will conquer most of Google’s serp results, and small publishers or “home grown” content providers will be pushed out of the picture once and for all. If you have monitored the serps closely for the last five plus years, you can see this pattern unfolding (Wikipedia, About.com, eHow.com, Amazon.com, etc.)…

    In my own personal opinion, Google’s search engine is killing the internet, and all it’s toys and gadgets just mask that fact. Yes there was more search spam years ago, but there was also higher quality content out there, and less information repetition. Good luck finding that mom and pop shop now, or that hobbyist’s website.

  16. Great points everyone. Rick, thanks for dropping by with some more info on what happened. Google’s a totalitarian monarchy with regards to dealing with AdSense accounts; hopefully, with enough public pressure they will adopt more transparency.

    Michael – the term “minisite” as it’s implemented in the world of domainers is brand new; it’s unrelated to the way it’s been used for the rest of the world, where a “minisite” is essentially a secondary portal to attract visitors to a primary site.

  17. Rick,

    “Mini sites” describe exactly what they are: little sites that don’t scale. My comment was a reference to a good portion of the domain industry, not to you yourself. Honestly, you could probably publish the worst “under construction page” possible on most of your domains but it wouldn’t matter. You have a great portfolio. You have domain knowledge. You know what you are doing.

    Others, however, are using mini sites as an investment without having a good domain to back it up, without knowing what they are getting themselves into and without having any real plan to turn a profit, scale or increase value.

    That is the message I have been trying to get across to people.

  18. Rick,

    “As for sites. Maybe some of you forgot that the original TargetedTraffic.com site was hand done by me. It has taken in over $20 Million”

    I respect your place in the industry – one to promote the industry, provide some thought provoking articles and more but please don’t confuse development with a site to showcase conferences. 1000’s of these sites exist – many which pertain to industry conferences that make millions of dollars.

    The website you refer to is not an asset but more of an ad. Development which most domainers refer to is the development of “content driven sites which generate traffic and ad revenue from a steady growth of unique visitors searching for information to the content the site provides”

    Your site is basically a 5 or 6 page landing page for the Traffic conference. Development wise – you don’t even have meta tags for keywords which is one of the first 2 things any developer learns.

    People come to your site because of the conference – there is ZERO content there to visit for any other reason.

    I enjoy the sales you report and the services you provide but please dont confuse development with a landing page for a conference.

    You may have very well earned $20 million from the Traffic conference but you didnt earn $20 million from building out this site.

    Almost like saying my credit card machine made me $20 million when in fact it was the 20,000 pairs of shoes, 100 employees and 5 marketing campaigns which generated the revenue.

    I’m pretty sure most people understand you like to go over the top at times but please – lets not simplify your site to a cash machine all by itself. It simply doesn’t fall in the category of development most domainers and businessmen use.

    Peace.

  19. “the term “minisite” as it’s implemented in the world of domainers is brand new; it’s unrelated to the way it’s been used for the rest of the world, where a “minisite” is essentially a secondary portal to attract visitors to a primary site.”

    Disagree. There’s been an entire industry around monetizing minisites through Adsense for at least 5 years.

  20. Andrew – these are not minisites, they are “mfa” sites: Made for AdSense – the lowest link in the content food chain.

    Trust me, I know what I’m talking about; I’ve been a web developer for 15 years.

  21. Acro

    again … spot on.

    Made for Adsense describes most mini-sites. Fact is those selling mini-sites sell and focus on the options available for users to build out but 99% of buyers never do anything more with hence “Made for Adsense” sites are exactly what they become.

  22. Acro, perhaps we’re just having a difference of terminology. I’d say most of the mini sites being developed for domainers are made for Adsense. A lot of people have been creating five page article sites for many years.

  23. I hate to see budding domainers fall prey to the old MFA style sites, ‘mini-sites’ is just a marketing euphemism. Worse than that are the $200 a shot domainer/dev services out there that setup a splog for you with markov running. These sites HAVE been working for spammers for years, but only when you can automatically create 1000’s of blogs a day and other black-hat stuff…

  24. Andrew – Before domainers adopted minisites as quick monetization solutions that feature dubious content in order to plug in AdSense, minisites were gateways to full-fledged sites, not stand-alone solutions. They were portals to the “grand hall” 🙂 So, in the era of domaining in the 2000’s, why do people debate this? Minisites can’t match the quality of full development. Despite having seen some bearable examples of work, I’d disseminate most minisites as appalling. That was the starting point of my post; paying thousands of dollars for sub-par development. It’s just wrong.

  25. Acro, sorry to jump in and say it but mini site is NOT a new term, Andrew is right! It might be to you, but I guarantee you there are others that have been doing web dev for same amount of time as you that have been referring to them as mini sites for well over 5 years. Mini sites existed before Google and AdSense – THEY ARE NOT MFA. I can’t see how you could think it evolved any other way? One pager, mini site, portal, et al, been around for ages.

  26. Ben – I strive to be accurate to a high degree; perhaps I am too technical for the average domainer. A portal is not a mini site is not a one-pager. They are different things serving different purposes. Portals & one-pagers & jump-sites are intros to REAL content at some other location. Minisites are self-contained entities that came to life to serve nothing but ads, all while pretending to contain useful content. As a web developer I build web sites, including portals. I don’t do minisites because that’s like asking Mozart to compose rap.

  27. I’ve never been dependent on Google income so their gyrations don’t affect me much.

    That being said, it is tragic when people’s accounts get closed with no notice, and I have seen site owners lose significant ranking that was acquired through much hard work. This is terrible.

    All of this leads to added emphasis on using logical, descriptive domains that have natural type-in value and/or high user recognition. In other words, side-step Google like the Castellos did with their pure geo sites.

    Incidentally, I am using Yahoo and Bing more than I used to. And remember well the pre-Google world.

  28. minisites are bullshit, a scam a way to put up crap and try to pose as a legit site. at least with parking people can see that it is not a site. I almost fell prey to the minisite fad, but i stopped and thought about it… i developed one of my names and am continuing to develop it. I am now profiting 500+ off of it a month without doing much maintenence. This is hardly the American dream but is a hell of a lot better than paying someone to develop a bunch of crap and getting no result, worse getting banned by G. if you are trying to make money off of Adsense there is no short cut just produce a quality site.

  29. Acro – I’m not disputing that most ‘mini sites’ are appalling. I’m just thinking back to my time earlier this decade developing so-called mini sites. They weren’t there to drive traffic to another ‘main’ site. They were there to place ads on, which is similar to what these minisites are now. The likes of Joel Comm peddled all sort of minisite solutions years ago.

    I don’t think we disagree on any of the fundamentals here, I just want to point out that I don’t think minisites are anything new.

  30. So what is a mini-site then?

    If you refer to the MFA type sites, with RSS articles and all the content pulled in from different sources, those aren’t very pretty or useful to me.

    But, you can put a lot of info on one webpage that is useful and also could be considered a mini-site. Like information on a town or city, information about an animal, information on how to do something, etc. A webpage done from scratch with individual attention and unique content. These can make good one-page ‘mini-sites’ that are useful, get indexed by search engines, and get traffic.

    Sometimes I go to ‘fully developed’ websites, click around lots of pages and can’t even find what I want!

    Though I do agree, a fully developed website done right is the best way to go if you can do it.

    From a user perspective, if I want information, I don’t care if it comes from a one page site or 1000 page site, as long as I get what I want.

  31. Lots of different opinions; I’m glad we don’t disagree on the fundamentals 😀

    Anyone remember templates from sites such as Template Monster etc? Even a template design is truer development than a minisite, IMO. That’s because it’s a bare shell which actually was designed with a specific market in mind, sans the particulars of a specific company or entity. Even the best minisites today are a far cry from a reasonably priced template design!

    But here’s a tip: there are monetization solutions out there that jump up and away from the minisite/MFA scheme of things; solutions that manage content and even offer affiliate sales management. Tia Wood has developed one such scalable solution which is perfect for owners of domains that are related to tangible products. So check it out via her web site at http://tiawood.com

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