Shutting down your first startup

Killing your project

Draw the curtains. Cut off the lights.

Shutting down your first startup sucks! You just spent countless hours, days, and months working on is never fun.

But at some point, you need to face the facts the project you were so sure was going to be a hit, well… just wasn’t.

After working on my food directory site for the past 9 months, I decided to pack it in.

Deleted all my files and listings. Installed and ran WP Reset. Have a good day!

How I got started building my directory listing site

Setting up my directory site framework

After initially purchasing Vantage directory theme, I ended up buy and using ListingPro for my WordPress Directory theme.

Not that there was anything wrong with Vantage, but I read several reviews after I bought it saying ListingPro was better.

I’ll never know if they was actually the case or not.

ListingPro has so many options (which is a good and bad thing). It took a while to learn my way around.

That was especially true when searching for a plugin conflict! But moving on.

For hosting, I went with a VPS from InMotionHosting. As you would expect, the pricing is more than shared hosting.

I figured it was worth the additional cost to start off with good hosting, rather than changing up in the near future.

I never ran the site on a shared hosting plan, so it’s really hard to say how much faster it ran on the VPS.

Scraping data for directory listings

Once I got past the tasks of setting up the platform and getting a host, then came the fun of creating the listings.

No sugar coating this part. Getting the listing data is quite a chore.

The area I was looking to serve had around 2000 listings across numerous cities and 3 states.

I employed a few data scraping tools with varying degree of success. Botsol and Instant Data Scraper were the main scraping tools I used.

Botsol is a desktop application, and Instant Data Scraper is a Chrome extension. Both are free. I actually liked using the browser extension a bit more.

Both of the web data scrapers exported xls or csv files. I used the csv files for the project.

Once the data had been scraped, then it needed to be formatted. There are several examples available to help with knowing what data to keep or toss. Now time to upload your data to the theme.

There is a plugin called WP All Import which makes uploading the formatted data a very efficient process.

Up to this point, setting up the site and pulling data was fairly easy… tedious, but not brain surgery.

The data I was able to pull were addresses, phone numbers, and food category offerings.

But what about pictures? Where do they come from? I used free stock images from Pexels and Pixabay.

After adding photos to a few hundred listings, I had quite a collection in a folder to choose from. Italian restaurant, insert a plate of pasta, etc.

This worked fine, but it was incredibly labor intensive since I was doing them one at a time.

Tips for search engine optimization and Directory Listings

It was at this point I started to rethink my idea to pre-populate each listing with the same description text.

During the data upload process, I added a couple generic sentences to be added in the description field for each restaurant.

For individual listings to rank in Google, I now thought they needed to have more words, and using the same text for each listing was probably not the greatest of ideas.

So before I went through the process of inserting additional text, I needed a tool to help guide me.

I decided to use the WordPress plugin Math Rank as my SEO plugin tool.

Math Rank does a great job providing SEO tips and feedback about your content.

I had never given a minute’s time about SEO and the directory listings. How did I miss that?

After looking at the Math Rank score for a couple listings, I had a new plan.

Now, the new plan would be to create longer descriptions written in html format, to include all the stuff search engines look for.

The html document would consist of 3 paragraphs, contain at least 300 words, some h2 headers (that included the listing name), and inbound and outbound links.

The inbound and outbound links would be the same for each listing.

The outbound links would go to state government sites referencing local tourism info.

The inbound links would go to internal category pages.

Okay. I was now re-writing the listings again to include longer descriptions with images… plenty of SEO juice!

After implementing these changes, theMath Rank SEO scores for individual listing pages went from single digits to around 80 (with 100 being perfect).

I was definitely on the right path now…. or was I?

Adding customer reviews for directory listings

After several weeks of re-writing the listing page descriptions to improve the SEO rankings, I started thinking again.

My thought was …. Why would anyone use this site over Yelp, Trip Advisor or Google Reviews? What was my value proposition?

I hear you out there. Why now did this just start to creep into my mind?

Sometimes you try to stay so busy on a project that you don’t have time to consider if you are actually building the right thing. And there I was.

At this point, I still hadn’t finished importing all the locations.

I had completed the cities with the largest populations but was spending WAY TOO MUCH TIME re-doing work I had already redone several times over.

Suddenly I had a brainstorm. I have finally figured out the value prop I should have been looking for all along. This key feature would surely draw visitors to my site in droves… Google Reviews!

There is actually a plugin that allows you to import Google Reviews to your site called Google Reviews Widget.

The widget allow you to format Google Reviews in a number of different ways and they look pretty good.

This would be great content, but I would need to manually add this code to the beginning of each listing… one by one.

To create the reviews widget code to add in your listing, you needed to grab the data-pld field from the actual Google Review listing.

Simply right-click on the “Leave a Review” button, and use the inspect tool. From there you will find the data-pld data to be used with the widget.

Once you added the data-pld to the widget, there’s a button you press to create the code for your listing page.

Insert this code, update the page and presto! … a great looking page with Google Reviews!!

The final chapter

In closing a startup business, I came to the realization that I could spend an eternity working on this site and never make a dime.

I’ve heard it can take up to 6 months for your site to be fully ranked in Google, but significant traffic never materialized.

In truth I did very little business outreach.

I guess I watched “Field of Dreams” one too many times.

I thought a 1000+ indexed pages would generate significant traffic, even with zero marketing efforts. Wrong!

My plan was to use Google Adsense in the beginning until traffic reached a certain level, then switch to a PPC company with better payouts. I was confident people would click on these ads.

I might have been able to generate some type of revenue had I received a decent amount of traffic, but that never materialized.

More truth, the main traffic source was from the ListingPro Facebook group where everyone showcased and visited each other’s directory sites.

Lessons learned

It’s true, you do learn a lot with each project you work on.

To end this longer than anticipated post, here are my lessons learned from this project:

  • Perform keyword research before deciding on starting a project
    • I currently use Ubersuggest, but didn’t start doing keyword research until I had already started the project!?!
    • Without knowing the level of search demand for any idea, you’re just running in the dark.
  • Figure out how you will make money with your idea
    • I understand the idea of building a community first, but chances are you will not be creating Facebook on your next project. Keeping it real.
  • Be honest with yourself
    • Is your idea really unique or better than something else already in the space?
    • Are you telling your friends about it or afraid they will not like it?
    • If you are not willing to shout it from the mountain tops,….
    • Did I really think I would dethrone Yelp? Why? How?
  • Start with a MVP (minimum viable product)
    • Don’t spend months, years on a product that you’re not even sure anyone wants
    • Had I used this advice, I could have saved so much time. Ugh.
    • In hindsight, I should have perfected just one listing. If that wasn’t a jaw-dropper, then a thousand of them would be no different
  • Don’t waste your time
    • This cuts both ways.
    • Shutting down your first startup is extremely difficult. It’s hard to admit defeat, but cut your losses while you can.
    • Stop wasting time on a project your know is going nowhere, with the rationale that “it’s only my time”
    • Conversely, don’t waste time over-planning the beginning stages of a project. Make your plan and get started today.
    • Time is finite. Never lose focus on this.
    • and after I had already thrown in the towel with this project, then this idea popped into my head

Contact me

Since you’re here, you’ll really want to review some of my favorite podcasts (Mixergy, How I Built This with Guy Raz, Noah Kagan Presents, Marketing School – Digital Marketing, and Online Marketing Tips, and the NevBlog Podcast). I also highly recommend you make these websites part of your daily reading (Backlinko, Ahrefs, and Copyblogger) and you have to read these articles (125 Blogging Stats That Matter Most, How to Get Sponsors for your Blog, and Google SEO Secrets For Ranking Quickly and Increasing Traffic In 2020) and finally, The Best Tool for SEO & SEM – Try it Free Here!

Affiliate Disclosure

Since I share tips and strategies with awesome people like you, naturally my content may contain affiliate links for products I use and love. If you take action (i.e. subscribe, make a purchase) after clicking one of these links, I’ll earn some coffee money ☕️ which I promise to enjoy while creating more content like this.