One of the more common questions I get asked is is it better to have one big site or a whole bunch of little sites, and my answer is, it depends.
Now before I get any farther I want to clarify a few things. This type of question usually comes from people who aren’t building an online version of their bricks and mortar or burgeoning garage business. They are usually trying to make money from any number of affiliate programs, adsense or other contextual models, selling advertising or similar monetization plan.
I should also add that IMHO everyone should have a few throwaway sites. You need some places to test, experiment and try new things. You need to test where the line is, in fact I think everyone at least once should set out with the intent of breaking as many rules as possible in an effort to try and get banned. Sure some of you are saying hey GW are you a big stooopid head why the heck would I build a site just to get it banned? Testing, research and development. There’s a reason car manufacturers smash perfectly working cars into concrete walls. if you don’t have any real first hand experience where the line is how do you know what you can get away with and what the effects are, without talking out of your arse. That said don’t be a doofus, build your test labs in isolation and not connected to anything else you care about, mmkay.
I personally don’t feel that anyone should own or run just one site. IMHO it’s just too dangerous. It leaves you extremely vulnerable to the random wanderings of search engine algorithms. One day your on top of the world, the next your asking people if they ‘want fries with that’ cause your only site got dropped and you didn’t build defensible traffic. I think you should have a few sites and they should all be in different industries. How many sites can you manage, that’s tricky. If you have people you can out source the writing, programming and technical management too, it could be over 100+. However for most people striving for something a bit more modest is usually better idea. If you’re a ‘one man band’ with a little bit of help it’s probably somewhere between 6-20, depending on your experience and the trust/skill of your helpers. For beginners it’s probably good to start with two or three and slowly build up.
Now for those people who dabble in the dark arts the sky is really the limit. The goal here is build programatic ways to throw in some variables, have it ‘ aggregate and build some content’ and spit out some pages. medium to advanced level folks also throw in some scraping, aggregating, remixing, and scrambling components, to keep it looking like the lights are on and people are home. Pretty much once you push it out you never want to have to touch it again. Do I personally run any autogen stuff … remember what I said above about having some test labs?
The problem is many people strive for some hybrid of autogen mixed with hand built content. To make it worse they do it over more sites than they can manage. Instead of a handful of great sites filled with flagship content, or an army of robot drones running unattended, they have a small hodgepodge of completely unremarkable sites that suffer from the MSSA penalty. Trust me I know about this one, I was guilty of it myself.
What’s the cure? Roll your stuff together into something meangful. Take the little pieces of nothingness you have on your 20 blue widget sites and roll them into one site. As you roll them in filter out the absolute crap, and fix the pieces that are salvageable. Sure it’s work but in the end you’ll have something more valuable when you’re done. Make sure you 301 everything properly. I know Greg disagrees with me, but when you’re moving stuff around, and changing URL’s (either for your sites or a clients) there is simply no better way to check the progress than to use Google Sitemaps. Why, plain and simple Google comes out and tells you what it can’t find, and if Google can’t find it Yahoo and MSN probably can’t either.
Two additional points here, if your site is actually ranking for “real searches” and getting “real traffic”, don’t roll it up into another one without a really good reason. Second don’t roll too much together all at once. For example if you have 6 sites each with 100 pages, and you hack out 50 pages of garbage, don’t add the reaming 250 pages of content over one weekend, slowly trickle it in over 6 months, preferably one site at a time.
So what’s the take away – experiment with some disposable domains, push the limits, do something crazy stoopid, I can guarantee you’ll learn something. Start building your sites, start with two or three, once they start ranking if you feel you can manage another do it, don’t be afraid to start thinking like a CEO, you really want to manage the process, not micro manage the details, lastly fix or ditch the stuff that isn’t working, it’s not worth the trouble.