Lab Report: The Abandoned Website

We build websites for individuals and organizations, and we always make a point to let them know that the awesome results they see when they launch will not continue if they do nothing more at their websites. It’s kind of depressing, but we don’t want them to be really depressed in a year when they see that an abandoned website just doesn’t perform the way a managed website does.

We know that many of these clients don’t believe us. Many more plan to get busy with content marketing on their own, and time slips away from them and they never get around to it. We feel sad about that, but it’s the reality.

We have an abandoned website of our own, actually. Our lab site, FreshPlans, slipped off our to-do list about five years ago. We’ve jumped in a few times to do experiments, but it hasn’t gotten regular fresh content since 2013.

We’ve decided to try a big experiment: Can an abandoned website be revived?

What is an abandoned website?

This was the traffic pattern for the first six months after we launched FreshPlans:

This was the traffic pattern after the site was abandoned:

What causes that kind of change?

We basically stopped adding new posts — we had only 10 new posts between 2014 and 2018. We quit promoting the site with social media. We had never done advertising for the site, but we didn’t send out newsletters or even look at the analytics (except when I wanted to use the analytics in a presentation). We just ignored FreshPlans.

FreshPlans continued to get traffic. In February of 2018, we had 5,601 unique visitors and 7,474 pageviews. That’s about typical. And that’s not bad at all. This is why we believe that it’s wise to put in time and effort on building great content, even if you don’t keep it up.

But we had previously averaged about 15,000 visitors a month — before we abandoned the website. This is why we know that it’s smart to keep up building great content.

Not only did we see a serious drop in traffic, but we also see that the website itself has deteriorated. In February, our website was not responsive. We had a lot of broken links. We had stubs. We had outdated information. Things were looking shabby.

We still had quite a few posts that ranked #1 on Google, but not as many as we should have by now… if we hadn’t abandoned our website.

I promise you, if you don’t work on your website regularly, it’s looking shabby today. Go have a look. Better yet, get someone who will give you honest feedback to have a look for you.

Can you fix an abandoned website?

Yes. We’ve done it before for clients.

We figure sharing this experiment with you will give you some insights into how long it might take, what methods will work best, and what kind of ROI you might get if you pick up the pieces and revive your abandoned website.

We’ll report regularly.

Here’s what we did in March:

  • We created our content marketing and SEO strategy.
  • We implemented a new theme.
  • We’ve begun fixing the broken links and updating the outdated information.
  • We’re working to reconfigure the navigation, the sidebars, plugins, and all the rest of the things websites need.
  • We joined Adsense and Amazon affiliates so we’ll have some metrics to track besides traffic.
  • We’ve started posting new content regularly.
  • We’ve begun posting at Twitter, Facebook, and G+ regularly.

Here are the results we saw in March, compared with February:

  • Traffic is down by 7.2%.
  • New Users are down by 7.44%
  • Sessions are down by 7.08%
  • Number of Sessions per User is up by .13%
  • Pageviews were down by 4.82%
  • Pages per Session were up by 2.43%
  • Avg. Session Duration was up by 1.78%
  • Bounce Rate went down by 0.38%
  • Adsense CPC went up by 79%
  • Amazon Affiliate conversion rate was 4.62%.

What?! How could the traffic fall? Easy. Our visitors are teachers. Spring Break and Easter are normally times when our traffic falls.

Now, we’re also seeing increased engagement and some conversions, too. This shows that we’re making a little bit of progress. There’s a lot of work involved and it will take us a while.

Notice in the image at the top of this post, how the traffic started off slowly and then increased significantly after we worked for a while. Our Amazon affiliate numbers, shown below, started off slow and after a couple of weeks showed more regular conversions. This is a normal pattern.

The main takeaway from this month’s progress? One month isn’t enough time to bring back an abandoned website. It’s not enough time to establish a new website, either. Check back next month to see how the second month went.

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