SM: The site was shut down while you were negotiating the purchase?
SW: It was only down for a couple of weeks, thankfully, so it was not damaged too much. There were a few articles written saying that ResellerRatings.com was gone. It was unique; I don’t know too many websites that just plain shut down.
I was wondering why they did that, and the only thing I could think of was that merchants were complaining about the users’ ratings and Internet.com did not want the headaches.
SM: When you took it back, did you tell the community what you had just gone through?
SW: I told them I had repurchased the site, but not what I had gone through to do it. I inherited a site that had been neglected. Both EarthWeb and Internet.com told me not to work on the site. ResellerRatings.com really does run itself because the content is user-generated, but the thing that does require maintenance is when merchants write in explaining why the disagree with a review. We have always had policies surrounding this – for example, we do not remove reviews unless they violate our policies. It does require maintenance, however, just to respond to all of the merchants. We have always kept a watch out for fraudulent reviews. For a period of time there was simply no maintenance.
SM: So a lot of crap had accumulated.
SW: Exactly. I had inherited a lot of junk. Part of the problem was that the site had old, sloppy Perl coding, and the database was flat file and had locking issues. It did not make money. The only positive thing was that it had traffic.
SM: What were users reviewing, was there any particular type of merchandise?
SW: They reviewed the reputation of online retailers. Because it was tied with SysOpt, it had an audience focused on electronics. I inherited this site and I had to hire a couple of young guys to revitalize it. I did not have a lot of income because I had no business, so I could not afford to pay them that much. I told them I would pay them a percentage of the revenue the business generated. The three of us reworked all the code, hired a web designer to give the site a fresh look, and got rid of all the junk. We threw out reviews all together where necessary. We replaced the backend with MySQL and started looking at monetization of the site.We partnered with Shopping.com to power the shopping engine component. We earned revenue through clicks and had CPC-based revenue. We just really started cleaning and growing from there.
SM: What kind of metrics did you get in the years after you took it back?
SW: It was up to $1 million a year in 2004. That was mostly Shopping.com revenue. The people coming to the site to read reviews were shoppers. The targeted audience was shoppers, so it monetized really well. Traffic has grown over the years, but it is not crazy growth. It has always been 400,000–500,000 unique users and a couple of million page views. When I bought it there were about 100,000 users.
SM: Where are your traffic levels today?
SW: We have about 600,000 uniques and a couple of million page views.
SM: Where are you in terms of revenue?
SW: A couple of million a year.