All your eggs in one basket? The case for multiple websites.
Updated: Oct 9
When I first started Tooltester, I launched multiple websites to serve different purposes. There was WebsiteTooltester for website tools, EmailTooltester for email tools, ChatTooltester for chat tools, and AppTooltester for app tools.
Juggling four or more websites quickly becomes a logistical challenge, especially when they're built on WordPress and require ongoing maintenance. But maintenance isn't even the biggest hurdle—the real challenge lies in growing a strong domain while spreading your SEO efforts across multiple platforms.
Additionally, I noticed that large, all-encompassing review sites often outperformed us in Google rankings. PCMag and CNET are two examples, but there are also less prominent brands achieving strong results because of their strong domains.
Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket: Switching Gears
In 2021, I decided to pivot our approach and consolidate all of our specialized sites into one overarching project: Tooltester.com. The idea was to focus our energies on building a single, powerful domain that could better compete with industry heavyweights.
We began the transition in October 2021 by redirecting WebsiteTooltester.com to Tooltester.com. This was followed a few months later by ChatTooltester, along with a significant site redesign.
However, towards the end of 2022, Tooltester began experiencing a continuous decline in rankings, a trend also observed among other website builder review sites. My impression is that Google has become less favorable towards affiliate sites than it once was.
What remains puzzling is why Tooltester's decline was markedly steeper compared to most of our competitors. One theory I had is that Google may have penalized us for the redirects we had implemented. I've noticed a similar trend with other websites that switched domains; their rankings also suffered following the change.
Interestingly, EmailTooltester didn't experience such a pronounced decline. Despite being managed in much the same way as Tooltester—be it in content creation, SEO, or general style—EmailTooltester has remained relatively stable.
The silver lining is that after the two most recent updates (Google Core Update and Helpful Content Update), Tooltester's traffic has increased by over 25%. While we're still not back to our peak performance, it's encouraging to see that the consistent downward trend appears to have halted.
So, What Have We Learned?
My takeaway from this experience is that focusing solely on a single website can be a very risky gamble. That's why, for the time being, I've decided against merging any more projects.
While Google undoubtedly strives to rank the most relevant and valuable sites at the top, it's very far from perfect. The increasing amount of competition, spam, and AI-generated content only complicates their task of accurately gauging what content is truly useful. This likely explains the frequent updates and tweaks to their algorithm, making the whole process feel like an ongoing, large-scale A/B test.
Even during periods when no major updates are announced, I've noticed our rankings can swing by 10% or more. An important keyword might drop four spots, only to rebound a couple of days later, then plummet again the following week. The unpredictability of it all can be incredibly stressful.
I used to think that I understand the SEO game pretty well, but it has become so random, that it's difficult to say what works and what doesn't – unless you are on a DR 80+ domain.
A friend of mine runs a genuinely useful review site that recently lost 70% of its traffic due to the Helpful Content Update. I did some digging, and frankly, the drop in traffic is baffling. The content is solid; the only weak point appears to be a lack of strong backlinks.
It's becoming increasingly clear that Google doesn't want us to become too dependent on their free traffic. The challenge, then, is to diversify our traffic sources. But for affiliate review websites, that's easier said than done. It's tough to find traffic that converts as effectively as search engine traffic does.
The primary alternatives are social media, email marketing, and PPC ads. However, if your niche isn't particularly buzzworthy, you're likely to struggle to make an impact on social platforms. If you don't have a high rate of returning customers, email marketing isn't the easiest channel either.
And not everybody has the skills or budget to run Google Ads. But it sure does feel as if Google wants to stress everybody out as much so that they bite the bullet and pay for their position on the SERPs.
What Else Can You Do?
The next best strategy is to maintain at least two different websites as a safety net. Two appears to be the sweet spot, allowing you to allocate enough attention and resources to each.
While it's not impossible for both sites to take a hit, the chances are slim if you're steering clear of spammy tactics. In my experience, it's quite common for one site to gain traction while the other loses ground, even when the two are remarkably similar in content and structure.
Another obvious advantage is that you can try different SEO tactics with each site.
How are you navigating the unpredictability of SEO these days? Let me hear your thoughts!