Someone asked me today if I thought it was possible to run a successful website that does not get updated frequently. My answer: absolutely!
There are many types of content sites out there, discounting blogs and forums the two most common types are what I call web magazines, or ezines, and reference or resource sites.
SitePoint is a web magazine, they have a large amount of repeat visitors that come expecting new content, like this blog post. On SitePoint’s homepage you’ll find recent content getting the most exposure, this is because that is what visitors want to see, the new content, because chances are they’ve read the old content before.
Now I tend to run reference sites, as I find them to be easier. Wilderness-Survival.net is one of my reference sites and it has been around for about 5 years. If you visit it you will see that there is no real featured content, no recent content to speak of. Instead the content is organized like an encyclopedia or other reference book (hence the term reference site). In fact this site hasn’t had a content update since it was originally launched 5 years ago.
So, what type of site is better for you? It really depends on the topic and your own personal abilities. If you know a lot about the topic your site is about and you can write articles on a regular basis (you won’t be able to get authors to write for you, like SitePoint does, when your site is new) then you could try to go the magazine route.
If, however, you don’t know a lot about the topic then you might consider the reference route. Reference sites still need a lot of content, in fact they tend to have more content than all but the oldest ezine sites, but they also need to launch with all or most of their content already written, so it is a lot of work at first, but then hardly any work at all.
Now personally, when I was in Army ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps, a college program for prospective military officers) I took this wilderness survival class and that is what gave me the idea for my site. So I’m not completely ignorant on the topic, I am interested in it and have read at least one book, but I am far from qualified to write weekly on it. I also don’t know if I’m qualified enough to moderate a forum on it which is the only reason that site has not yet gotten a forum… but more on that later. So, the choice was clear, I should make a reference site. If it had been a topic I felt more comfortable writing about I might have made a magazine site.
Some people wonder though if you can still be successful without updated content? Well, as I said at the start of this post, absolutely. There are issues you should be concerned with though. The fact is that you will not get as much repeat visitors as a reference site as a magazine site gets, unless you have a huge library of content such that no person could realistically read it all, or read it all without multiple return visits anyways. However, with a billion Internet users out there, there should always been new visitors that can provide enough traffic for a profit.
Another issue, this one in favor of reference sites, is that without the requirement of regular fresh content pressing down on you, you can focus more heavily on a single area of content, and this can result in tremendous popularity. For instance you might not have the resources to make a general topic webmaster help site like SitePoint. If you want to make a new site in this field it’d be better to specialize, so you pick a new technology like AJAX and decide to focus on that. AJAX is limited in scope, and while you might be able to provide regular content for awhile eventually it might get redundant. So instead of a magazine format you could adopt a reference format and instead try to cover AJAX in an encyclopedic scope, more or less a programming reference book turned into a website. With this type of format, the reference format, people do not judge your site on fresh content, but rather the depth of your library, so even if you don’t update it regularly you could become the go to site for information on AJAX.
Then of course there is the whole workload issue, with most of my reference sites all I do is cash checks, this gives me free time to make new sites. It’s really quite convenient.
You could also try to get the best of both worlds and implement a forum in conjunction with a reference site. You can even go further and do heavy content & forum integration by showing related forum threads at the bottom of articles or content categories. This way your site always has freshly updated content, but you’re not the one writing it. All you have to do is moderate and even that duty can be passed along to a trusted community member eventually.
So, don’t think you need to a regularly updated site to be successful, so long as you promote it and it has enough content that people find it useful then you can make money no matter how often you update it.