Several of you have emailed me with questions about why I moved Small Business Trends over to its new home here and made the switch to WordPress software. So I thought I would take a few minutes to describe exactly what led up to the move.
Starting with Blogger
Making the move was a big decision. This Small Business Trends site has become a more central part of my business than I could have imagined when I first started banging out blog posts on my old Dell laptop over two years ago.
Small Business Trends started out using Blogger software. In the summer of 2003 when I was first experimenting with blogging, Blogger was one of the better options. It was simple to set up and use. Both the software and hosting were free. And with Blogger having been acquired by Google earlier that year, my business intuition told me it might be an advantage for getting the site indexed and ranked in Google. Blogger seemed like a deal I could not refuse.
Over the next two years, the site grew — and the limitations of the free Blogger site started to surface. I realized we needed extra pages so that information would be available even after it cycled off the home page. So I started tacking on extra pages at another domain I had registered, smallbiztrends.com, in order to provide better ways for readers to find information. I created pages for the newsletter, the Experts Directory, and so on.
I also started adding on custom features, such as the Free Find service in order to provide a decent way to search the site — something Blogger lacked. Comments and trackbacks (i.e., a kind of display of inbound links) through Haloscan came next.
What a hodgepodge! Small Business Trends became a site that spanned two different blogs, together with extra pages hosted at a third URL. And it had a slew of extra services I was paying for, so the “free” part turned out not to be free in the end.
Inefficient to Maintain
It became harder and harder to maintain the site, too. The extra pages I added were built using Dreamweaver MX, without any content management system. Updating those pages was a manual process. It also took extra time to manage all the outside services that were adding functionality to the site.
Even changing the blogroll links and changing the template for the blog portion of the site became increasingly laborious, as anyone who has used Blogger software knows. Blogger is great for a simple blog where you rarely change the template. If all you want to do is set up a blog quickly and post your thoughts now and then to it, Blogger is easy-peesy and I highly recommend it. However, if you plan to keep the site active and vibrant by changing links, swapping out announcements and ads, running polls and surveys, and so on, Blogger blogs are not efficient. To change the template you need to know a good deal of HTML, which for me was not a problem, but wading through hundreds of lines of HTML every time you need to change a blogroll link is just not an efficient business process.
Each task was a small thing, but together they added up to a mountain of small things. For a site as active as this one, maintenance started to take noticeable time.
Lacked Own Domain
The lack of a dedicated domain address was another drawback. Previously this site was hosted at a subdomain of blogspot.com, along with countless other blogs. Without your own domain you have no control over the site at the server level. If the site is not performing well, you have no ability to fix it. You can only email Blogger Support. As helpful as Support tried to be, remember that Small Business Trends was just one of millions of accounts. Blogger Support was not likely to have the same level of urgency to fix my problems, as I would have.
Not having a dedicated domain was a drawback in another sense. Some prospective advertisers and advertising networks begged off due to policies that prohibit placing advertising in sites with shared or free domains. That limited the earning potential from this site. My business plan requires that this site pay its own way, and not be a drain on cash flow.
Finally, there was the poor navigation scheme. Blogs are great for easy and fast reading of current posts. But blog navigation in general leaves a lot to be desired. Your average blog’s navigation is primitive — that is the only way I can describe it.
Usually there is a single page template. There is a tendency to cram as much navigation (i.e., links) on that single template as possible.
On top of that, in Blogger there are no “categories” for easy searching of archives. That leads to home page overload — the tendency to make the home page really long, out of fear that the reader may never find older posts.
That was the problem with the old home page of Small Business Trends. It got too long. At times it had 200+ outbound links on it. The first design was hard-coded with tables, which is good for cross-browser compatibility, but that made the HTML code a mile long. It was slow to load and cumbersome to read. That led to yet another problem I began to notice: Google and the blog search engines like Technorati had trouble picking up all the links on the page. They just choked on that page!
The Need for Change
By the summer of 2005 it was obvious that the site needed changes, so that it would function better and be easier to maintain. The site needed a design refresh, too, in order to bring it up to 2006 standards. So I made the decision to redesign the look, move to WordPress software, and transition everything to the smallbiztrends.com domain — all at one time.
However, making the decision to move, and actually getting it done are two different things. You see, the more time that passes, the harder a move becomes.
In Small Business Trends’ case, traffic had grown. By the summer of 2005, the site had thousands of incoming links, not only from blogs but from key business websites. It also achieved a Google PageRank of 7. The mere thought of disrupting all of that was disheartening.
In short, I had a dilemma not unlike what many small businesses face as they grow:
- (1) The infrastructure was not scalable. Growth only made the problems worse. The bigger the site became, the more laborious and expensive it was to maintain.
- (2) The longer we waited, the harder it became to change the status quo. The site was growing larger by the day, so there were more pages to migrate over. And, clearly, making changes to the site would disrupt some of the forward momentum that was growing daily, including traffic, link counts and Page Rank. The more momentum and traffic the site built up, the more disruption a site move would entail.
In the end I knew we would have to take a slight detour from our forward momentum, and move the site. If we did not move, the site’s limitations would stunt its future growth potential. But by moving the site, Small Business Trends would quickly recover and move forward faster and more efficiently, with lower operating costs.
Budget and Team
I set a budget for hiring skilled outside help for the move. Even though WordPress is open source software and is free, my requirements included a custom design and a number of special features. And I wanted the old site migrated over properly, so that all the old archives would be in one place — searchable and usable by readers. WordPress blogs need to be set up by someone who knows what they are doing. I needed to hire skilled help.
So I found a talented design firm that specializes in blogs — Blogudio — and got to know Eric Sagalyn, the owner. I hired him — and I have been thrilled with his firm’s work.
I also needed someone to help migrate my existing RSS feeds. By this time I had a half dozen different feeds (long story for another day) and subscribers numbered in the mid four figures. I did some blog surfing, and found a very talented young man, Tom Sherman, to sort out my RSS situation and re-direct as many of my old RSS formats as possible to the new RSS feeds, so that we could minimize the disruption to readers. We did manage to avoid a lot of disruption — again I was thrilled with his work.
I also have to acknowledge Stuart Watson, CEO of SyndicateIQ, a service I use to understand the readership of my RSS feeds better. Stuart and his team at SyndicateIQ worked to help migrate the RSS feeds, too.
Even though Small Business Trends is a sole proprietorship company, we had a virtual team for this project assembled entirely through the Internet. The four of us are spread out across the United States. None of us have ever actually met in person. But it worked out well through email, cell phone and instant messenger.
I have run Internet websites since 1999. As I have learned over the years, moving a site like this with nearly 800 pages always takes more time than expected. And unforeseen issues always pop up, especially when the business is a small one of the size of Small Business Trends where we have few hands to devote to technical issues in the first place.
As of this writing six days later I am still engaged in minor clean-up issues with the site. (I have to fit in the site work with other work, remember.) However, overall I judge the move a success.
For anyone still using Blogger for a business blog, I hope this post has given you helpful insights for the future direction of your blog, and the decisions you may be faced with. For anyone contemplating a blog who has not started one yet, perhaps this will help you avoid mistakes.