Why I Retired My Pet Websites

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For more than ten years, I operated a group of pet related directory websites. DogWalker.com was the most popular of the group, and I also operated DogPark.com, DogGroomers.com, and CatSitter.com. I closed down DogPark.com more than a year ago, and the other websites were shut down a month ago. I thought I would share why I decided to retire these websites.

DogWalker.com was the first of these pet directory websites I launched. I don’t know if I would call it an immediate success, but at its peak, there were several hundred paying advertisers. I later acquired DogGroomers.com and CatSitter.com, and launched websites using the same WordPress theme and customized design. Those two websites were not as commercially successful from an advertising perspective.

At some point later on, I acquired DogPark.com from a company that had been operating a dog park directory. I relaunched DogPark.com using the WordPress theme I had been using on the other pet websites. Instead of having paying advertisers, I monetized the website primarily with pet related affiliate links and Google Adsense. At one point, I had a coveted promo code people were seeking on Google, and the affiliate advertising did very well for a while.

Over the years, I continued to add content on the pet websites and there were normal ebbs and flows with traffic. The acquisition rate and attrition rate for advertisers on DogWalker.com was roughly the same, so while the website was not growing, revenue remained steady. There were not nearly as many advertisers on CatSitter.com and DogGroomers.com, which I attribute more to the nature of those business types than the websites.

For the prior few years, the websites were in “set it and forget it” mode. I continued operating and updating them, but I did not spend much time beyond keeping the websites updated from an operational POV. In fact, I turned off new advertiser registrations so I did not have to spend time answering questions, approving/editing listings, or following up when payments weren’t automatically submitted.

I ended up shutting DogPark.com approximately two years ago. The affiliate stream had dried up, and I did not want to spend the time looking for new affiliate deals or modifying the website. Adsense paid very little, and despite reasonably strong traffic, continuing to operate the website did not make sense from a time perspective.

I later made the decision I would shut down the other pet directory websites. I canceled all PayPal subscriptions, and as advertisements expired, I took down the ads. Once the ads all expired, I retired the websites.

There are a few reasons why I shut down the websites and want to share them with readers.

For all of these websites, I used a great WordPress theme that was once called Classipress. Various freelance developers I used made substantial changes to customize the styling and functionality of the theme. This meant occasional WordPress and plugin updates would cause other unrelated issues, and I would have to pay to address those every time they arose. In addition, the highest PHP version that worked with the site was pretty much obsolete and unstable.

It got to a point where I would need to completely redesign the theme in order to operate these websites. In addition to the WordPress theme’s update needs, the branding and design of the website would have needed to be modernized. It would have cost quite a bit of money to do the work, and while I am sure it would have paid for itself relatively quickly, I did not have the interest in this type of effort-filled project.

There’s also substantial risk in a major website theme overhaul, and I did not want to have deal with unhappy advertisers whose listing styles may have changed or who may be unhappy if Google rankings changed.

There was also another big issue – the value of my time. Something I learned early on with web development – and something I think serious domain investors need to consider – is that the time spent to acquire and onboard one advertiser paying $49/year is probably equal to the amount of time I could spend to sell a domain name for $2,000 – $15,000. It would make more sense to spend work time buying and selling domain names than operating these websites.

When I first mentioned to a friend that I was planning to shut down the websites at some point, he suggested I sell them. As I recall, there were still well over 100 paying advertisers on DogWalker.com at that time, and the payments renewed automatically via PayPal.

I opted to not attempt to sell the websites as business units for two reasons.

The first reason is that all payments were made via PayPal subscription, and as far as I know, subscriptions can not be transferred. I would need to transfer the entire business account, and since that is connected to my primary business, that was out of the question.

If I canceled all subscriptions and the buyer would attempt to convert all advertisers to another payment option, there would likely be a fair amount of attrition. I was uninterested in doing a deal based on a set amount of advertisers and then have to renegotiate based on the attrition. Even if there was an “as is” clause that would prevent this, the buyer would still keep this in mind.

The other reason I retired the websites is that I believe the value of the empty vessel domain names is greater than selling them as individual businesses. This might be illogical in a sense, but someone who is buying my directory websites because they are revenue generating small businesses might lack the vision to turn DogWalker.com and the other domain names into something larger that would value the domain names at a higher level.

I learned many things from operating these websites. I enjoyed launching and running these small businesses. It can take quite a bit of time to operate them successfully, and I have learned my work time is better monetized on my domain investment business than on operating websites.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, I totally agree. I shut down over 200 of my websites over the past few years, because it was not worth the trouble to run them, and pay the annual domain fees and hosting fees. And more importantly, many of them are worth more money if I try to sell the domain name instead of selling them as active websites.

  2. Nice explanation and you are correct to look at the web sites from a time perspective. I also used to run a large number of WP sites, some affiliate and Adsense ones as well as a few sites for clients.

    Changing perspective and putting all effort into what brings the greatest return on time invested was the best thing I ever did. I now have three main web sites and just a handful of satellite ones that support the main business.

  3. I’m drinking a container of organic freeze dried instant coffee now, to which I added organic butter, heavy cream, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. I say “container” because it’s not really a formal mug or glass.

    As for the topic, I like being an end user first, “domainer” second. I’m not actually great at either in my opinion, but thankfully by divine providence I do have some nice domains (my company, that is) including the one I won’t mention yet I’ve alluded to before that’s worth $1b+ that I’d ask $2b for now if asked, though it’s not officially “for sale” or listed anywhere. Was able to buy a really nice one for end use last year too – again by divine providence, no credit to myself.

  4. What great information, Elliot. Thank you for this post. I remember when you launched DogWalker.com, and can relate to many of the challenges you mentioned around maintaining the website/plug-ins. The Paypal subscription transfer issue is a big hurdle.

  5. There he is, another rare sighting of the guy with one of the best .US portfolios of all since day 1 in 2002, at least last I knew. 😉

  6. In case anyone is considering setting up websites like this, I strongly recommend using a lightweight framework if you have the know-how (preferably avoid anything using PHP), or something that can generate the markup/pages/website from plain text/markdown formatted files. I haven’t researched this space for a few years, but I was strongly turned off by all CMS almost 10 years ago, which is when I decided I would never use WordPress, Drupal, etc., and instead use actual frameworks like Flask, otherwise plain HTML/CSS for anything less than ~10 pages (no databases!) which would also use very simple PHP includes for templating e.g. a few lines of PHP would create your header/footer/sidebar/navigation etc.

    WordPress is very difficult to customise and keep updated, and although some WordPress specialists may know their way around the backend and templating structure etc. having it 100% bespoke is very difficult for anyone, far too difficult than it should be, hence why templates are used which are modified here and there.

    Just a couple of years ago I tried customising WordPress, and I was disgusted because of how convoluted and totally unintuitive it was. I’ve done some heavy work on Drupal before, many years before that actually, which was already terrible, and despite the complexity, one could still make sense of things. WordPress, despite it’s unfathomable popularity, seemed overly simplistic in its presentation and was widely known to be very unreliably cobbled together requiring at least some testing after each update or patch, or after installing a new plugin.

  7. The message: Do not develop domains!

    Ends badly in 99% of cases for domainers. Stick to what you know!

    BTW: I’m telling this to myself all the time as well!

    • That’s not really the full message.

      The sites earned well into the 6 figures. Pretty decent for a passive and tertiary revenue stream. However, in the last few years, they earned less than they did at their peak, and that extra income wasn’t worth it to me considering ongoing website needs and the time involved. Compared to the lucrative domain name business, it did not make sense for me to spend the time and effort required to operate them in a manner that would make me proud.

      The message is that web development takes quite a bit of work, particularly if there is ongoing (customer, product, content, website…etc) management required. For me, the business of buying and selling domain names is much more profitable and a better use of my time.

  8. So now I’m going to be controversial and say something that will no go down well here.

    Setting up and running a website on those domain names was a big job and did not make enough money to make them viable. And this was done by someone in the industry who has a fair amount of knowledge, experience, skills and the right contacts. But how many billions of dollar$ will those extremely rare and valuable domain names now sell for? You know, despite an experienced domainer not being able to make enough from them, they are worth a fortune and cannot be allowed to go for just a pittance.

    I think probably most domainers are somewhat guilty of the “If Kim kardashian buys my domain and starts a pet minding business she can earn $millions, so the domain is worth $x”. I believe these examples above give a nice reality check.

  9. You had all the stats and made 6 figure income. This would have been sold as well established business unit with good returns. You should have tried microacquisition

    • That income was over 10 years and had been declining. I can sell the individual domain names for more to someone with a strong vision and business plan than to someone buying based on a revenue multiple, particularly since attrition would be high without the PayPal subs.

  10. Dogpark.com has been a mess for almost the entire 20 years I have been paying attention to dogparks.
    I used to run a yahoo group for Dogpark-National-News for many years but Yahoo groups were run into the ground by a long string of incompetent companies and I finally gave up.
    Bill Z
    Delaware County, PA

    • I operated from 2011 – 2019, with the vast majority of listings being legacy.

      The site may have looked like a “mess” to you, but at its peak, it had hundreds of thousands of visits a year and earned several thousand USD/month.

  11. Elliot,

    I often consider starting a domain name investing blog to share some of my knowledge and expertise I have gained over 12 years of investing in the sector successfully and then I read mindless drivel in the comments section here and I just think to myself, “I don’t want to deal with these people and their pseudonyms and comments that add little to no value to the conversation over and over again.”

    So, I never start my blog and I never share my knowledge and expertise.

    I don’t know how you put up with it all.

  12. I also had had a website in the pet/dog nche that I actually shut down quite a few years ago.
    I’ve actually been disappointed – I had very optimiztis hopes – for the pet niche,both in terms of that web site and also in terms of other domain names I’ve acquired.

  13. I think you made a big mistake. Having monthly and annual subscription is always better than one time sales. In the article you wrote you would rather spend time making a one time sale of $2000/$15000 instead of getting a $49/year client. You failed to take into account the lifetime value of this one repeat customer, and potential of new clients this client would recommend. If you had 10 clients paying $49/per year for just 3 years you are already at $1470. Is it really easier selling a domain for $2000 or getting 10 clients to pay $49 per year?

    Even if your time is more valuable selling domains instead of “ad space”, you could have just leave it on autopilot, or sell it as website that’s making money. It doesn’t make sense that an “old website would confuse the buyer in seeing the grand vision and potential. Buyers can see what was being published on the domain with the Wayback Machine anyway. Will this history confuse them?

    If by killing the websites you want to stick with your core competency of selling domains, then why build a website portfolio in the first place?

    The other part I was going to say was already addressed by Rob with “If Kim kardashian buys my domain and starts a pet minding business she can earn $millions, so the domain is worth $x”.

    I would have either sold the website, or the domain, and kept collecting the checks until one of the two happens.

    To top it off, the pet niche is hot.

    I agree with one thing you said. PayPal subscriptions are hard to transfer, but why automatically assume that the buyer would renegotiate based on the attrition?

    Good luck with selling those domains for $15000 as you wrote.

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