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Ask HN: After 2 years of content but low traffic, is it time to give up?

I started work on a restaurant finder website about 8 years ago (so the domain is that old), took my sweet time building it(!) and finally launched it properly with plenty of content around February 2016. The site is super-fast, follows loads of good best practices & SEO tricks and has over 500 restaurants on there now.

However, when I look at my Google Analytics, my stats are pretty poor... but improving! About 6 months ago I was getting 350ish users/month. This then grew to about 460 a couple of months ago and now I'm in the 500s/month (the site's based in Dublin, Ireland, population 1.5m). Obviously this is still tiny but does the growth point to better things to come?

One thing about the inbound traffic I am getting is that it's all for direct restaurant searches (e.g. "Johnny's Diner") rather than area searches (e.g. "Newtown restaurants"); the latter is where you see the site's true value, so everyone just bounces from the restaurant page.

I was beginning to get disheartened until this new upswing, so wondering if I should be hopeful? Also, surely a domain of that age must be worth something? Thanks

P.S. I specifically didn't give the site URL, as I didn't want to be seen promoting, but am happy to give it if there are comments requesting it.

19 pointseclipse31 posted 2 months ago36 Comments
36 Comments:
davismwfl said 2 months ago:

I think you picked a hard thing to do given the market competition but that doesn't mean you should toss in the towel. You have some non-zero traffic level and there is value to that if you want to continue to see what it can do.

The problem is the site is competing against the large incumbents in the space like Google etc. So you have to differentiate IMO. For example, I assume you are local to many of these restaurants, what about doing interviews, back stories, historical building facts etc. Make it nice for locals and tourists alike to learn a little about the people behind the restaurant as well as the area and history.

My son traveled recently to Ireland and that was one of the things that he and his girlfriend loved, most bars and restaurants had stories or were in some historical building etc. As an American we think old is a building still standing from the late 1800's early 1900's, Europe in general has furniture still in use that is older than some of our buildings. Google isn't going to tell you that, only a hyperlocal search can help people with those cool facts.

That type/level of content I think would help drive additional traffic not to mention differentiate your site from the big players. But you have to be honest with yourself, that takes significant work to cultivate that level of content, and you have to make sure you have a monetization strategy, but I think there is market for that type of stuff.

Just some ideas, YMMV.

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

OMG, this is an amazing idea! Thank you so much. Something like this would get me the inbound links I need. It might involve some sort of a pivot, but definitely worth investigating.

I do have one unique feature in that the reviews are linked to proper professional critic's reviews in the natioanl newspapers, rather than anonymous commenters.

To be fair also, I have put in a signficiant amount of work, adding all that content for 500+ restaurants, their menus, reviews.

I also do have a monetization strategy but was trying to get eyeballs on the site first.

davismwfl said 2 months ago:

I wish you the best, the ultimate is that you succeed as that is what we all want to do. If there is anything I can do to help you I am happy to do so. Good luck!

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

Thanks again

dazc said 2 months ago:

I can't add much to the comments already made but I notice your blog is currently hosted on a subdomain. I would move this to the main site as in example.com/blog in order to concentrate any authority. That said, you need to be adding a lot more content to it.

I would also say, don't be disheartened at the lack of progress thus far. If it's something you believe in then keep going and keep making incremental improvements.

2 reasons I see these kind of ventures fail is the creator throws in the towel too early or he keeps going but doing the same old thing over and over. Avoid these traps and you're halfway there.

BTW, I worked in Dublin for a while (many years ago) and O'Sheas on Talbot St was a regular haunt of mine. I was disappointed not to find it on your site.

CM30 said 2 months ago:

Well, I'd love to know the site URL. Maybe that'd help people here give you a bit more feedback about why it might not be succeeding right now.

Still, how have you promoted it? Have you done some backlink building? Work with influencers to get the word out? Partnered with some media outlets/let them know you exist? Promoted the service via ads? Built up some active social media accounts?

Because for good or bad, its generally the offsite work you do that really makes your site or service popular now. Don't get me wrong, the on site stuff like site speed and page structure is important too, but it's important in a 'won't scare off/frustrate those that find the site' kind of way.

Hope that helps a bit.

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

TBH, I originally thought SEO would be enough to get some eyeballs, but as you point out, that's totally not the case! I tried contacting a few local food blogs, but none of them ever got back to me. Other than that, I've just told literally everyone I know and tried using Twitter, by tweeting restaurants as I add them, in the hope they would retweet to their followers. I've thought of putting it on Reddit/r/Dublin, as a sponsored ad. I never looked into backlink building, good suggestion. In short though, I guess I do need to try harder :-) Thanks.

I was curious to see if anyone thought the upswing could be promising!

The site's https://www.menucosm.com since you asked!

CM30 said 2 months ago:

Thanks for the reply. Personally I think the site looks pretty good, though I'm probably the furthest thing in the world from a web designer or anyone with any aesthetic tastes.

That said, I think the biggest issue right now may be the question of why this site is useful, given that so many other companies are doing the same thing. At a glance, it seems like it's competing with the likes of Yelp, TripAdvisor and Google Maps, all of which have significantly more data, large communities behind them and more features overall.

Unfortunately, the features it does lack here are generally some of the ones that these sites got popular for in the first place. Such as being able to create an account to upload pictures, rate restaurants and leave reviews, or (for a restaurant owner) to manage the listing and add extra information/respond to feedback.

By not having these, there's not really much of a reason to come back to the service time after time. It lacks the stickiness required for any real user retention.

I know for sure that I'd be unlikely to return after visiting, simply because the other options would have more to draw me in.

So yeah, focus on those features, get some more backlinks and try out a few paid ads and see what happens from there.

P.S. Don't worry, you're not the only person to struggle with this sort of site. It's a tough market to succeed in, and a company I previously worked for tried to do the same thing with much the same results.

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

Cool, thanks so much for the encouragement.

In terms of functionality, yes, there's LOTS more I could build for sure, both from the regular user and the restaurant owner sides. I was trying to keep it quite minimal, but now that you point it out, it's obvious the site needs to be more engaging.

ecesena said 2 months ago:

Make the restaurant page look like the area search with that restaurant pre-selected. This way you get the same seo benefit, but your visitors will understand the value.

Also, what’s holding you from adding more cities/restaurants? 500 seems a really low number these days (no offense intended, I’m just curious why you don’t move faster on that side)

saluki said 2 months ago:

Restaurants are an interesting space but all around hard to make money in. Restaurants just don't like to spend money where it isn't absolutely necessary. So it's hard to sell them ads or online services.

You could look at letting restaurants claim their listings and offer them a pro package of services. Maybe menus, or even try offering online ordering. Being local you have an advantage that you can easily meet with restaurants in person.

I am always drawn to developing something for restaurants as their websites are notoriously bad, same with only ordering most aren't near as easy to use as they could be.

I don't think ad revenue is going to bring in a lot of revenue. Maybe $7 to $10 per 1,000 page views. So with less than 1k views you'll probably need to look at monetizing another way if that's your goal.

If you just want a fun website you can improve and run as a fun side project, keep going.

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

Yeah, so freemium services to the restaurants was one of my ideas of making money. However, as you've pointed out, restaurants "just don't like to spend money where it isn't absolutely necessary", which is an interesting and valid point.

Yeah, it was bad restaurant websites, with PDF menus, that inspired me to build the site.

saluki said 2 months ago:

I still feel the same inspiration with restaurant sites, so many bad ones out there. Part of the problem is even if the restaurant doesn't have a website there are usually menu sites that at least show what they offer in the Google SERP. So they probably feel like they don't need to pay for one. Even though they could control their message, photos, update their menus, etc.

If you enjoy working on the project keep it going.

I feel like the one area restaurants might pay for or give you a revenue share is online ordering. Maybe you could become the go to online ordering app for restaurants in your area. Not trivial to build though but an area they might be willing to pay you for.

Good luck with the site.

itronitron said 2 months ago:

regarding revenue, if your site takes off then you may be able to sell space for restaurants to include additional information and photos on their page (such as interior, staff, or food). if you go this route then you'll want to exercise some quality control so that the photos are both accurate and appealing

treis said 2 months ago:

It was probably time to give up 8 years ago. Between Yelp, Google, Facebook, Tripadvisor, and Google maps it's a saturated space. If you generate OC maybe you can differentiate yourself but for user generated reviews? Too many big fish in that sea.

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

Yeah it was when I noticed that TripAdvisor listings for a given restaurant were featuring higher than the restaurant's ACTUAL webpage, that I thought I might be too late.

However, individual restaurant listings aren't my priority for traffic, it's the area listings. However, I now feel aiming for terms like "blackrock restaurants" was alsways going to be tough, due to it being quite generic

lacbuddah said 2 months ago:

You know this space is already crowded by much larger players than you'll ever be. Does your site have any revenue? If so, does it make profit?

If you're in to food and labors of love, start a garden. At least that'll put food on your table.

muzani said 2 months ago:

You probably should pivot. You have some nice data likely by now. It's more a question whether someone wants it. Basically you don't have product market fit.

I suggest you do a business model canvas. Jot down your value proposition - what problem you're solving.

Are you targeting people looking for locations? Or hungry people looking for a place to eat? Adventurous people looking for somewhere new? Someone just looking for a place to bring a date?

Pick a specific problem. Focus your site around that. Make sure your copywriting emphasizes solving it.

If it doesn't work, move on to other similar problems.

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

Thanks for this. The main use case is "Hungry people looking for a place to eat" when they know where they want to go, or near their current location if on mobile. I guess the market's too saturated for something so generic now. As you say, I should really "pick a specific problem", specific being the key word.

muzani said 2 months ago:

Or you can tackle the problem better. One of the world's biggest problems is deciding what to have for dinner, especially for groups that eat different things.

One thing I wanted to try is Akinator for restaurants.

Do you want pasta? No. Pizza? No. Something classy? No. Spicy? No. Fast food? Maybe. Burgers? No. Tacos? Okay.

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

Nice suggestion, thanks. Means I could pivot but still using my existing dataset

paulcole said 2 months ago:

> One thing about the inbound traffic I am getting is that it's all for direct restaurant searches (e.g. "Johnny's Diner") rather than area searches (e.g. "Newtown restaurants"); the latter is where you see the site's true value, so everyone just bounces from the restaurant page.

What page are you expecting to rank for “Newton restaurants”? And if people are ending up on the Johnny’s Diner page, why doesn’t that page include the site’s true value?

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

For something like "newtown restaurants" I hwas hoping the search results page for that would rank, something like menucosm.com /restaurants/newtown-123 . On that page I have good canonical URL, pagination, rich text, SEO text, links to similar pages, all the standard stuff.

The reason I said the Johnny's Diner page doesn't show the value is because t;s the area search that's most useful. I have added links to the area search from the Johnny's Diner page, and that might be why I'm slowly seeing this upturn in traffic from 350 to 500 (the dates tie in with when I released the code)

paulcole said 2 months ago:

https://www.menucosm.com/restaurants/newtown-123

How the heck are you expecting this to rank for anything?

> On that page I have good canonical URL, pagination, rich text, SEO text, links to similar pages, all the standard stuff.

Here's what I see when I load that URL:

https://imgur.com/a/cEffh4U

I see absolutely nothing like what you describe on that page.

Meta description: Find great restaurants in Sallybrook on menucosm.com Meta title: Restaurants in Sallybrook

Really?

And if the area search is so valuable on the Johnny's Diner page why are you linking to it and not making it a primary focus of the page?

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

Hey, thanks for getting back to me and taking a look.

Newtown and Johnny's Diner were just sample names I came up with. If you go to the homepage, you'll see links to area searches and the 3 most recent;y added restaurants. I didn't want to put anything specific, I guess I probably should have!

karlclement said 2 months ago:

The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again expecting the same result. Maybe it's time to think of a new growth strategy to get exposure to your content.

throwaway2019Z said 2 months ago:

Kudos to you for sticking to something for (at least) 8 years - it's very very easy to become discouraged, so it's inspiring to someone continue to press forward after so many years.

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

Thanks :-) I've learned loads developing the site, so it hasn't been a total waste.

itronitron said 2 months ago:

this seems like it would be very useful for tourists. In touristy areas you could put up flyers with QR codes (or URL routes) that bring up restaurants in that neighborhood (where the flyer is placed).

mattmanser said 2 months ago:

Probably.

I work with a site just like yours, and can obviously say only so much. But consider these things:

The reason you're getting good hits on restaurant pages is that most restaurant websites suck. Many might have only a facebook page, etc. Presently you're being "told" by Google that it's only going to send you individual restaurant traffic, but you feel the value is in the aggregator.

Which brings us to the uncomfortable truth.

Google is at war on aggregators and is doing everything it can to hide them. In the last 8 years it has pushed them further and further down the rankings, while having it's own aggregator services appear at the top of the rankings. Google don't want you to exist because being the middleman is where they make their money. A while ago there were some cases trundling through the courts, but no idea what happened with them.

Also, most of your competitors like tripadvisor/bookatable/opentable/timeout/resdiary/etc. sell bookings directly to the restaurants. They'll charge per cover (per head). If not, they'll be upselling something else (tripadvisor has recently been pushing a lot of "experiences" where it'll be making a big commission). Some of them actually make most of their money by also selling restaurant management software, etc. You haven't given your site, or said how you make money, but can you make that kind of money, and can you do direct sales to restaurants? They are hard to sell anything to as most of them are constantly on the breadline. If you're hoping to slap a bookatable widget on each of your listings and make money, prepare to be disappointed, it might cover your hosting and a few beers.

Finally, I hope you don't find this too rude, but are you really following good, modern SEO practice? As if I search "Newtown restaurants Ireland" then tripadvisor, your main competitor, is sitting pretty at the top. But your site is nowhere to be seen (I see no independent aggregators). Perhaps you've given a bad example as Google is insistent on trying to show me restaurants from Newtown, Wales. I also tried a few restaurant names in Newton and still couldn't figure out what your site is.

EDIT: Just saw you actually posted your site, so if I search "Rathmines Restaurants" you're 16 in google results. It's not bad, but you can see what the others are doing instead ("the top 10 restaurants in Rathmines"). You also see that if you go to any of the top results, a bunch of listings have "reserve" buttons, and use something like the opentable widget.

Plus points for having full text menus, your site is clean and fast, it's a good achievement. I just do wonder how you're going to make money on it. I would definitely try putting opentable widgets in asap so you can get a much better idea of what sort of revenue you could generate and just how much you'd have to grow it to make it worth the investment. In my experience though those widgets are pretty lacklustre unless you can figure out a way to make money directly from the restaurants.

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

Thanks alot for this very detailed response. That's interesting about Google's war with aggregators but makes total sense now that you say it.

I do plan on integrating opentable, that'll be the next feature I add, if I stick with it. It's pretty much a labour of love at this stage, HN has convinced me I'm fighting a VERY uphill battle.

Restaurant management, along with freemium services on the site, was where I was hoping to make money eventually. Sadly, as you and others have pointed out, restaurants live on the breadline, so I think I picked a bad market!

In terms of SEO, think I posted the easy wins I did on another comment. "newtown" was just an example of a made up place for illustration purposes in the original post. That's cool that I'm in position 16 for Rathmines, I was down in the 50s last time I checked (Rathmines is a cool area with plenty of restaurants).

buffaloo said 2 months ago:

The numbers that matter are the ones I don’t see. Revenue? Expenses? Time commitment you put in. Opportunity cost of that time.

Maybe you aren’t Zagat’s or whatever, but if it cash flows out, pays you for your time, or you just enjoy it... Why not.

eclipse31 said 2 months ago:

Initially I was targeting users, eyeballs on the site. If I could get a few 1000 a month, my plan then was to approach investors, saying "I've got this many people using the site, this is how I plan to make money". So, I have 0 revenue and only 500 monthly visitors, they're the only figures I have right now!

Guest0918231 said 2 months ago:

A few things...

As someone else mentioned, the top listings on Google all seem to reference "the best restaurants" or "the top 10 restaurants". Also, they typically mention the current year. Both of these encourage clicks, and if people are clicking your result, it'll help improve your ranking. So, change your titles to "The 10 Best Restaurants in Smithfield, Dublin - 2019" for area pages.

You also have no H1 tags on these pages. This is SEO 101. Add an H1 heading that says "Newtown Restaurants, Dublin" at the top of the area pages.

Your URL structure is...

https://www.menucosm.com/restaurants/smithfield-274

You're using 274 as an ID, but you would be better of making shorter URLs for both users and SEO, and using the name in the URL as the identifier. I'm assuming you can find a way to not have two areas in Dublin with the same name. The new URLs would just be...

https://www.menucosm.com/restaurants/smithfield

Think about adding a short description at the top of area pages. A tiny paragraph where you can talk about the area, what it's known for, the type of restaurants there, etc. You want to keep it minimal, because you don't want to distract from the list of restaurants, but it's a chance to plug some keywords, the area name, Dublin, etc.

You have very, very few restaurant ratings. This means I can't search for highly rated restaurants in my area, and you can't recommend restaurants when users are viewing one. Take the scores from Google, TripAdvisor, and Yelp, and generate scores for each of your restaurants. For example, if a restaurant is 4 stars on TripAdvisor with 10 ratings and 5 stars on Google with 1 rating, then you might say it's rated 4.1 on your site, or 82%. And just like that, your site becomes much more valuable, and the doors open for more features and filters. If you get enough traffic one day, you can start to include your own user reviews.

One of the first things I see on your restaurant pages is the link to the restaurant's official website. I imagine a lot of users bounce there, without ever realizing you have menus on your site. You might want to reverse that, and better highlight your menu pages.

On area pages, the filters are all hidden by default. That's a valuable part of the site users are likely overlooking. You might want to have them always visible, and organize them a bit better to remove some of the unnecessary white space (which is a bigger deal if they're always visible).

You have cuisine categories, but when I'm browsing the list of restaurants, I don't see them anywhere. When I see a restaurant like "Beo Kitchen" in the area list, it's meaningless. Is this a burger place? Fine dining? Sushi? Vegetarian? You have the category data, so display it beside the restaurant so users don't have to click each one and read the description to see if it's relevant to them.

With all that being said, this is not likely to be a success because it's such a competitive area and you're not improving on the existing competition that everyone is aware of. So, I wouldn't get carried away spending a ton of additional time on the project. The good news is that you have a site, it works, the design is simple and easy to use, there's data there, it's cheap to host, and it's ranking on Google for certain keywords and phrases. There's no reason not to make a few of the simple changes I mentioned, like the title tags and H1 tags. That could be a few minutes of work, and make a noticeable difference in a couple of months. I would not recommend advertising on Reddit or paying anywhere to promote it. I'm quite certain you'll be throwing money away. I suggest working on the SEO and a few minor improvements, and letting the site simmer for a year as you focus on other projects. You can see if the analytics rise in that time, and if you start seeing a few thousand users a month. For some perspective though, you probably need a 20x increase in traffic to earn a dollar a day from advertising.

147 said 2 months ago:

What’s the site?

shmooth said 2 months ago:

i like the idea of sticking with it, and also polling your users with a chat widget -- just turn it on for an hour or two a day or night when you can get to it.

ask them if they've found what they're looking for?

how could the site help them? what are they actually looking for.

i figure Yelp and other sites are popular because they allow people to be exhibitionists, but also to share their reviews with their friends and online-friends, and take selfies, etc.

therefore, i like the idea of adding some key Yelp-like features to your site. but in a Lean way, ideally -- don't build before you test. or build 'fake' features, wizard of oz style -- see if they get traction.

if you can find an ambassador for each locality, they can be the 'governor' of that locality -- the way Foursquare used to do.

basically, something to allow people to take ownership and pride in the site, and their contributions to it.

one girl on a podcast - think she was american, but traveled abroad for school - talked about how she built lists for her friends to check out certain restaurants, etc. that is, Yelp and the other sites weren't cutting it -- information overload, too much spam, etc. so, exclusivity, i guess. she ended up creating a print magazine i think because that is what people she polled said they wanted.

i think sometimes a 'soft pivot' can be in order. that's part of the fun of going into business -- you hustle, and then you get some good luck -- luck that you created by being bold and trying something in the first place.