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.