Sometimes forces outside of your control send a once awesome website spiraling to its revenue death. That’s been the case for BBGeeks in the last 14 months or so.
The absolute SMACKDOWN that RIM (and it’s beloved BlackBerry) has taken from the iPhone and Android based phones in the last year or two has had traffic and revenue from the BBGeeks website in a constant free fall – that we’ve yet to see the bottom of despite great content, a strong brand and the absolute ranking bonanza the site experiences. Because people are simply abandoning the BlackBerry as a viable phone. Hell, even *I* – the ultimate BlackBerry fan girl – abandoned the BlackBerry about eight months ago.
Google trends does a great job of illustrating the absolute tanking of BlackBerry related searches (based on U.S. search data)…
One of the bigger affiliate programs we used to monetize the site went out of business with almost no warning.
So what’s a girl – with a lot of heart invested in a site being affected by factors she can’t change – to do?
Regroup, Refocus, Rebrand
While I may not be able to fix RIM’s problems, I’m certainly not going to stand there and take the beat down with them (I know the BlackBerry 10 phones are set to start releasing – and I won’t lie – they look sexaaaay, but still…) So my partner and I decided it was time to regroup – and combine – three of our cellular related sites – BBgeeks.com (BlackBerry themed), Andgeeks.com (Android themed) and GoingCellular.com (consumer and carrier themed) – into one larger site that encompassed them all. Whether or not BlackBerry completely dies one day, we want to be able to transfer the domain authority, links and branding to something more generic. And by moving the others as well, we’re hopefully avoiding being in the same situation regarding THOSE brands one day in the future.
Next I set out to refocus. What would the new site feature? What topics would be drop, what sections would we get rid of, what should we add? Adding sections to cover the iPhone and tablet PCs were obvious, but we also took a look at what we’d learned worked and didn’t work revenue wise, layout wise and content wise over the years to help us shape the new site layout, monetization plans and general direction.
Once I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do with the new site, it was time to rebrand. So, we bought a new brandable domain (MobileMoo.com) that gave us a lot of room to wiggle if we ever experience this again and began migrating the content of the sites. We contracted the talented design services of EMS (who also did the PushFire site), decided on a new color scheme, got a new logo through Logoworks (was totally pleased – they must have been too, because they named us design of the week!) and showed them the wireframe (as always, we used the Thesis theme 1.8.5 framework) we needed them to make pretty.
Condensing the Content
I am not, for one second, going to pretend that condensing the content of 3 sites, with 3 very different topics and thousands of posts a piece, 50+ editorial reviews combined, thousands of consumer reviews between them along with adding two new sections which at the moment contained dummy content wasn’t an absolute BITCH. Thank God for the Bulk Move plugin. Once I imported all 3 databases, I was able to move the posts around into a new site structure pretty easily.
The editorial reviews and consumer reviews were another story. Our older sites are all built on a WordPress and custom CSS hybrid – because there weren’t handy review plugins like MyReviewPlugin when we first starting making sites. Because the custom CSS requires programming manpower and what it does can now be handled by WordPress plugins, I wanted to make the new site 100% WordPress based.
Getting the editorial reviews and consumer reviews imported and converted from the CMS to the new plugins was an absolute nightmare. And one we had to do quickly, because I instructed my editors for the above 3 sites to “go dark” while we were doing the move because I needed them filling any new areas with content on the new site. It was such a nightmare that we actually launched while they were still in the process of being ported.
Preparing to Flip the Switch
Once the new site was ready to go, there was an additional pile of work to be done. First, the sites had a combined 1600+ broken external links and 4200+ external links that were redirecting to God knows where. Additionally, because we changed the entire URL structure from categories, to URL format, to post titles, changing the +2700 internal links that were “in post” versus in the navigation was – well, NOT fun.
Then we needed to redirect the old sites to their appropriate sections on the new site. bbgeeks.com was moving to mobilemoo.com/blackberry/ while andgeeks.com was moving to mobilemoo.com/android/. We honestly weren’t sure what to do with goingcellular.com as its content was now spread across tons of various site categories. So I made the executive decision to “move it” to the root. Additionally, none of these were making a “straight up move” meaning categories had changed, some had been removed, etc – it wasn’t going to be possible (at least with any kind of real ROI) to redirect everything 1 to 1.
We knew we had to do this carefully and make Google as aware as possible that this move was “legit” – from their non logical spider’s perspective, they would simply find we’d redirected 4 domains (andgeeks.com was originally googleandblog.com) with over 100K links between them to this new, completely unknown domain. Tripping a “flag” wasn’t really a question to me – it was an assumption. The only question I had is how long it would take them to sort it all out.
The safest route from the search engine perspective was doing it slowly. But that would be a little messy and confusing for users of all three sites. I’m also impatient as hell. I chose to go the “fire in the hole!” method, even though I’d absolutely have recommended that a client do it slowly. ;-) We redirected all three sites within 48 hours, smallest (traffic wise) to largest.
The Technical Flip
We decided to take the time to 1 to 1 301 redirect the top 100 posts on each site (and the top 350 from bbgeeks.com) generating traffic from the search engines, all the “core” pages (like About, etc) and all the main category landers. For the rest of the content, we used a wildcard 301 redirect to direct them to the new root for each site (i.e. random pages on bbgeeks.com not given a 1 to 1 redirect would redirect to mobilemoo.com/blackberry/). We then “turned them on” so to speak.
Next, we’d already verified all the sites in the same Google Webmaster Tools account – verifying both the www and non www versions of each. We now used the change of address function on all 4 domains moving, under both the www and the non www to tell Google they’d all moved to mobilemoo.com to “back up” what the redirects were telling them.
Goingcellular.com is also a Google news provider, which follows a different set of change of address procedures. Because we decided to leave mobilemoo.com blocked until we flipped the switch, I obviously wasn’t able to follow that procedure. But I let them know about the change as soon as the flip occurred and hoped for the best. Getting “DOMAIN NAME Thanks for letting us know that you’ve changed the domain name of your site.” in response from Google didn’t make me feel very secure, but supposedly, they’re on it. We’ll see what happens.
We then launched a press release announcing the consolidation of the three brands into the new one. Why? A smart man once told me that when big companies rebrand, there’s documentation on the web discussing it. Whether or not that has any real effect in Google, I don’t know. But, press releases are relatively cheap so we put one out on PRWeb. Besides, we obviously wanted the industry to know about the change either way. We also sent the press release to the friendly contacts we’d developed in the industry over the years – mainly to inform them – but also secondarily hoping they’d “discuss it” on their sites.
The Branding Flip
Unfortunately, this was going to be a little confusing to users of all three sites at first and there wasn’t much we could do about that. We obviously had a post front and center on mobilemoo.com assigned to EVERY category on the site explaining the consolidation and rebranding.
We already owned the mobilemoo twitter account and since the bbgeeks twitter account had the largest following (38K+) we decided to switch that one to be the mobilemoo account. So, I quickly gave up the mobilemoo name, changed the bbgeeks name to mobilemoo and then reregistered the bbgeeks handle under a new account. We then put an announcement tweet across all the twitter accounts, including the mobilemoo one, linking to the explanation post. We then retweeted it every day for the rest of the week from all accounts (except the new bbgeeks account since it had no followers).
There’s unfortunately no way to change a Facebook fan page name, so we simply had to make announcements for folks to like the new page and inform them we’d be closing the old fan pages down within 30 days.
The Newsletter Flip
I unfortunately didn’t see the true value of newsletters until recently. And even though we only slapped a blank box with zero call to action on the bbgeeks.com sidebar a few months ago (we never did one at all for the other sites) the bbgeeks.com list still has 5K subscribers and I didn’t want to start over.
We use Aweber for our mailing list service. Changing the list from being branded bbgeeks to mobilemoo is seriously easy. BUT, it didn’t take into account two things – the first is that people would have no idea who mobilemoo.com was. The second is that everyone on that list is interested in only one phone – the BlackBerry. Additionally, new subscribers weren’t going to be interested in everything on the site – but more likely, they’re specific phone platform – and possibly Tablet PCs.
Luckily, Aweber offers various ways to segment subscribers. All we needed to do was change the ad tracking code for everyone on the current list to “BlackBerry” so we knew that was the phone of choice for them. Unfortunately, we didn’t see an easy way to mass change the Ad Tracking the current 5K subscribers had attached to them. Of course, it being “bbgeeks” was telling enough – but I like things to be nice and neat. So I called Aweber to see if a mass change was possible.
Silly fact of the day? It’s not. There is no way, according to the guy I spoke with at Aweber, that I can mass change an ad tracking group. They can’t do it FOR me either. Yet, I can download my subscriber list into an excel sheet, change the ad tracking and re-upload it – and that would solve the ad tracking issue, but then everyone would have to re-opt in [headdesk]. Seems a bit ridiculous to me, but I at least know that all signups tagged as bbgeeks are BlackBerry specific. Just means the BlackBerry subs are split into two separate ad tracking groups which is annoying for a person who likes things neat and orderly. Sigh.
The Podcast Flip
Apparently, there is no way to “flip” out the details on a Podcast in iTunes, which meant going back to square 1. Which sucks.
The RSS Feeds Flip
I don’t claim to know the “best way” to condense multiple RSS feeds, but this is how we did it with our Feedburner feeds. First, we went to all of the sites and updated the “edit feed details” section of each to now use to MobileMoo RSS feed address. All but one used the “My Brand” option, meaning that the feed address is actually on the sites own subdomain. But, I see RSS as a dying item and Feedburner as a dying product – so MobileMoo’s feed is the default WordPress feed.
Segmenting the Site Users for Revenue Purposes
We also used it to segment the mailing lists… users in the Android section were shown a custom Android newsletter signup that was automatically assigned an Android tracking code in Aweber so that we could target the information they received. Same goes for all the other sections. The thank you page for each mailing list sign up took them to a form that told them about our other lists in case they were also interested in say Tablet PC information – and encouraged them to follow us through various social channels.
The search engines
The number of pages indexed on MobileMoo continue to rise, while the number of pages on the other three sites continues to fall within Google’s index (which is a good thing). After an initial “nowheresville” on search rankings, the rankings that the other three sites used to enjoy are slowly crawling back, but there’s still a long way to go.
For example, we’ve long been #1 for “free blackberry games” and “blackberry games”… after the flip, we dropped out of the top ten for both. A week or two later, we’re back at #1 for “free blackberry games” but are on the lower half of the first page for “blackberry games”. But we still see rankings across hundreds of terms “creeping back” daily, so I don’t think things are “done” yet.
One interesting thing is that even though I used the site move tool on WMT, I still keep getting emails from Google telling me that two domains in my account are serving very similar content. No shit, Sherlock. I TOLD you the sites have moved. But, they ARE at least telling me in the emails that they are showing the mobilemoo.com versions, which says they somewhat know what’s going on. Additionally, after having migrated plenty of sites over the years, I see NO increase in how fast the old sites are getting “de-indexed” as a result of using the change of address form within WMT.
The other oddity is that MobileMoo went to a PR0 the day after we made the flip. MobileMoo itself was a PR3 prior to the flip (it had a site on it before I bought the domain). BBGeeks was a PR5. Andgeeks was a PR4. (Sorry, no idea what PR GoingCellular.com was.) However, to be fair. Goingcellular.com was hacked prior to the flip – complete with WMT notices and a removal of the hacked pages from Google – and because we knew we were flipping the site, we left it that way until the move. I’ve never migrated a hacked site before and absolutely wonder if that could be contributing to the sudden PR loss. We’re giving it some time to settle a bit. If that doesn’t work, we’ll try and contact Google via WMT and see if they can “fix” it. If not, then we’ll remove the redirects from GoingCellular.com and see what that does.
But, the site ranks, so I’m not super concerned about the green pixel dust at the moment. Our core focus right now is promoting the site, developing new links to add to the tons of old ones and building the MobileMoo brand.
It only took a day or two before MobileMoo started showing in the news results. BUT, it only showed one article and has yet to show any others. Tsk, tsk, tsk. But, it’s only been a few weeks since we made the change, so I’m hoping we start seeing more enter their results. If not, it will be on to [lack of] Google support to try and fix whatever may have occurred.
The individual site communities
The site communities took the move very well. We lost a few hundred followers upon the announcement, but the majority of the 38K+ followers we have on Twitter have begun sharing and favoriting out tweets and interacting with the new brand. We still have to build back up Facebook fans, but the likes are starting to come in. We continue to push the content to the old FB pages – but it simply now comes from MobileMoo.
The future for MobileMoo
We’ve still got a long road ahead of us, that’s for sure. Overall site traffic is down quite a bit due to the loss in rankings but traffic increases daily as rankings begin to creep back. Pages per visit is up. Average time on site is up. Bounce rate is down, despite people landing on pages that redirect them to the homepage since we didn’t 1-1 redirect the entire site. We are still working on importing the reviews. We still have to work on promotion. I’m 100% positive there is stuff we missed and/or overlooked. Combining three sites, one hacked, is not something people do every day (not would it be something I recommend people do everyday), but it’s what we were faced with in order to move forward in the long run.
I thought some folks may find the shift in focus for an affiliate site – and trying to take your rankings with you – interesting. It is what it is… and frankly, there’s very little in SEO that developing the right links can’t fix. :)