Case Studies

My “Capsule Site” Visit Ni’ihau
(& How it Failed Spectacularly!)

Six months ago, I went a little wild. In the span of eight weeks, we launched five new sites – right as the double Google June/July core updates and Core Web Vitals update were all bearing down on us. To say those young sites got the shaft for just being published at the wrong time is an understatement – almost all of them are still struggling to gain a foothold in Google after 5-6 months. This is despite them performing well in other search engines like Bing and DuckDuckGo!

One of the sites I started back then is a bit different than the others. I started it as an experiment, and I’m here to give an informal six-month update on that site – plus detail the new experiment I’m running with it.

The site is Visit Ni’ihau, a “capsule” site, or microsite. This means that its footprint is much smaller than a typical site; it has just nine URLs in the whole sitemap. My idea was this site was to create a small but concentrated site focused specifically on one destination: the Hawaiian island of Ni’ihau. (If you haven’t heard of this island, it’s actually fascinating – check out the site!)

Original Hypothesis & Content Strategy

I decided to start Visit Ni’ihau (VN) after discovering the “official” site for Ni’ihau:

Niihau Official Site Screenshot

I kid you not, that’s the official site – and if you click through the image, you’ll see that it still rocks the late 90s gif header, which I’m sure was custom-made at the time.

Originally, I reached out to the owners of the site – the owners of the island – and pitched them on a completely free redesign and content strategy (the exact strategy I used on my own site). The site needs to be updated generally to be 2020+ compliant with internet best practices, and I thought a few other articles could help the site become a real authority. (As it should be!)

I received no reply, so decided to start my own site as a proof-of-concept, or to at least steal whatever traffic I could by becoming the unofficial authority. My hypothesis was that a well-written, well-designed site didn’t need many pages to become an authority on a relatively low-volume topic like Ni’ihau.

To begin, I mapped out the content I planned to produce and did my keyword research. I came up with eight core articles I thought the site needed, plus a homepage. I then set to work creating that content, sourcing images (really hard, for a place that receives maybe a few dozen visitors each year…), and publishing the content. Unlike most blogs, I made every article a “page” rather than a “post.” There isn’t a big technical difference here, but I didn’t want published dates on these pages; they’re meant to be evergreen.

Here’s the site structure:

Homepage

  • About Ni’ihau*
    • Facts about Ni’ihau
    • Ni’ihau History
    • The Ni’ihau Incident
  • How to Visit Ni’ihau
  • Books about Ni’ihau
  • Ni’ihau Souvenirs
    • Ni’ihau Shell Leis
  • Learn Hawaiian

*This redirects to Ni’ihau History

Most of the content was published within 6 weeks of the first article (May/June 2021); two remaining articles were published in October 2021, thanks to my copywriter who got them over the finish line.

Performance after 6 Months

November 2021 marks six months after I first registered and created the site, so it seemed like a good time to check-in. After all, I’ve generally found that it takes 3-6 months for sites to come out of the Google Sandbox (which isn’t an official thing but definitely exists in some form as Google evaluates your site for that time…).

After six months, here are the basic stats:

Date First PublishedMay 19, 2021
Articles Live (as of 10/1/21)8 (+ Homepage)
Monthly Pageviews (last month)375
Organic** Traffic83.9%
Email Subscribers0
Monetization/Amount Earned (total)$0

In total, the site has received 862 total pageviews since I started publishing – so last month (October 2021) accounted for 44% of the site’s all time total traffic. That’s certainly a good sign – but it’s trailing far behind other sites I’ve created.

VN 6mo Chart

This chart actually looks a lot like other sites I’m running of similar ages, but it’s about 10x smaller.

Now, there are probably a few factors affecting this:

  1. The pandemic still sucks.
  2. Hawaii is barely open to travelers, and Ni’ihau isn’t open at all.
  3. People don’t know about Ni’ihau (low volume)

But it’s still telling that it’s been so hard to get momentum on the site despite it aging for six months.

Another important factor is the ** I noted in the table above: though organic traffic accounts for 83.9% of pageviews (Oct 2021), Google represents just 17.1%. Bing is 31.3% and Yahoo – yes, Yahoo – is 19.9%. Search engines that I didn’t even know existed anymore are bringing more traffic to this site than Google. (This is very similar to what’s happening with my True Crime Podcasts site, which I’ll be sharing a six-month update for in January 2021.)

In conclusion, the site is certainly growing, but not at a meaningful rate – and not with Google traffic, which is critical to the site’s success.

Google has gotten really hard for new sites to rank, and it’s hard to stick it out long enough to see if the idea is viable – even with a site that doesn’t require any ongoing maintenance.

Plan for Next 6 Months

Obviously, nothing is a spectacular failure (as I said in the title) as long as you learn from it – but based on the core metrics, my “capsule site” concept definitely failed. It was a combination of external factors like the pandemic, travel volume, and search volume and internal ones like hubris to think I could dominate that easily. (I still think the idea is good, but perhaps the timing is just wrong and can’t overcome the other issues.)

In any case, six months seems like a time to try something new, so here’s the plan.

  1. I’m taking the eight articles on Visit Ni’ihau and consolidating/re-publishingthem as four articles on Valerie & Valise. It’s going to take between November and January to publish them at all at a decent cadence apart from one another.
  2. I’ll set up redirects from VN to the corresponding URLs on V&V, and set the VN pages to drafts.
  3. I’ll let the new posts mature on the site and compare how much traffic they bring.
  4. In the meantime, I’ll leave the existing VN site as it is to see how it does and hedge my bets in case I roll back this experiment in the future.

My new hypothesis is that these four posts will get more traffic than they currently do on the capsule site, due to the higher Domain Authority/Page Rank/whatever on Google. I’ll also be able to monetize them, thanks to having ads on V&V that I can’t have on VN due to the site’s tiny traffic and size.

I’ll come back in six months to report on my next plan, but for now let me know any questions about the “capsule site” idea or this site in the comments!

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