If you are passionate, a site can have value without ranking, as rankings are a lagging indication of site quality, market timing, and/or marketing savvy. If you are offering something that is substantially similar to competing sites, it has virtually no value until it ranks at the top of the results. In the quest to build value, mindshare, and rankings it is easy to focus on unimportant things that eat time and provide little return. For example, you could write a 3000 page website that is the encyclopedia for your topic or you could try to create the ultimate branded property, but if nobody sees it then the content or brand it doesn't flourish. You need the site to look good enough to compete, but there is little value is trying to make it perfect right out of the gate.
Brand Developement and Market Leverage
While one is writing page after page or tweaking away building a perfect new site, the competitors are leveraging Indian copywriters who write thin informational pieces wrapped in AdSense. Those same low quality sites garner self reinforcing links because they are already ranking, and most people are lazy, just linking to whatever they can easily find.
The results of any tests to monetize a low traffic site are going to provide inadequate and inconclusive results, which also likely feed into your biases and expected outcomes. If you build authority first and then come back and test later you will receive a greater ROI for the amount of effort required to perform the tests.
To put into perspective the testing errors that small samples can create, a friend of mine has a site which makes virtually the same amount from AdSense every day. The same site sells leads. Some days it generates 6 conversions and other days it does 21, all while the traffic flow and AdSense earnings are fairly constant. If you compared one revenue stream to the other, the obvious winner would look different based on what day you chose.
Everything on the Web is Broken
If you try to look really polished that might not be remarkable. You are not cutting edge if you have to be perfect before you are willing to be seen. If I wasn't willing to release my first ebook prior to when I should have you probably would not be reading these words right now.
Everything on the Web is Biased
I believe people have more of a tendency to talk about and share things that are unpolished. Google gets talked about by getting sued, Digg gets talked about by getting gamed, Fox news gets talked about by entertainment sold as news, etc etc etc.
When you try to come out of the gate perfect, it is hard to relate to your end audience without spending thousands of dollars on marketing. It is far more remarkable to come out of the gate slightly broken and biased and appeal to the overt biases of those who can give you authority. I am not suggesting to be racist or sexist or anything like that, but people are generally more receptive to (and thus likely to share) things that reinforce their worldview. Appeal to a known bias, market that story, then create another story that works another group. Do it over and over until you have enough authority to clean up the site and become the market leader.
Rough edges appealing to deep niches is a far better approach to marketing than broad and polished to a fine dull.
Get authority by appealing to smaller groups of your audience, grab marketshare, THEN try to look authoritative. Most people don't know HOW you acquired your authority...it is not something most think to question, and if they do you can always change your look and feel as needed to accommodate the market.
You don't have to do anything deceptive to gain authority, but if you think perfect content is the answer you are only deceiving yourself.
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