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I have owned an online mall for over 2 years (http://www.mall-rat.com). The first year was pathetic... since it was comprised of pages with multiple banners on them... slow loading and not much for SE's. (pulled 3k per month in visits)
Last February I redesigned my site using what I call "merchant entrance pages"... Which is like a gateway page to a merchant, but is an integral part of the mall itself.
Traffic picked up with the redesign (13k/month while I was redesigning it, 21k/month once completed)... then fell off when Yahoo dropped Inktomi... and then when Inktomi went haywire. I currently get 8k/month traffic, mostly from google... with the rest scattered amongst the other SE's.
Am I trying to do the impossible here?
Yes... I was going towards quantity... I have 800+ merchants (aka affiliate link pages) and I was hoping to hit 2000 total. My goal was for people to land on one of these "merchant entrance pages" and access my mall that way, as opposed to having the bulk of my traffic come through my main page.
I have visited many poorly designed online malls, and have tried to make my design different and more SE Friendly... but I feel I am either missing something... trying to do the impossible... or expecting more from my mall than it can realistically do.
Any suggestions or comments would be appreciated.
I hate to say this, but I think you might be trying the impossible :(
The main problem is that your mall doesn't really offer any content. It's certainly possible to make money from affiliate schemes - and you've certainly put the work in to amass such a collection - but in my opinion the way to go is to have a seperate site for each product area, with some real content in there for both surfers and engines.
Think of it this way - if someone's searching for a product, which is more likely to be highly ranked: a site dedicated to that product area, or your site which covers just about everything?
I don't mean to put a dampner on things, as your site could certainly do well if supported by advertising and traditional promotion, but if you want it to be SE led then I think a different strategy is needed.
How about taking, as a starter, your most lucrative affiliations and setting up a new domains solely for those? You could still use the mall as an umbrella site, and if you link back to it well you could end up with visitors exploring further.
Just my £0.02....