Rebranding and changing a 23-year old (but hopelessly dated-sounding) domain name - your thoughts?

Cyburbia

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The forum I run dates back to 1996 and it's had the same domain name and URL since 1997. (Yes, posts from the earliest days are still online), However, I've been giving serious thought to changing the name of my forum, and getting a new URL. Why?

1) To give this site a "more legitimate" .com domain.

2) With a few exceptions, Web sites tend to get less popular as they age. The site lost a lot of "buzz" between 2005 and 2010, in the face of news/blog sites, some popular new urbanism blogs, and now social media and Reddit. The subreddit for the topic is growing, while my forum struggles to attract new users. I'm beginning to think it's impossible to refresh a "legacy brand" on the Web -- consider Yahoo, MySpace, Live Journal, and even many of the classic big boards like Something Awful and The Straight Dope.

3) I don't think the "cyber" thing in the domain name (cyburbia dot org) is doing any favors. It was catchy in the late 1990s, but just sounds dated now. More so than the "e-whatever" theme.

No, the forum isn't dead or dying. It's a borderline big board with close to 800,000 mostly high-quality posts. There's a good core group of regulars. The switch to XenForo last year resulted in increased posting activity compared to vBulletin in the years just before. However, average post/day count leveled off a couple of months after the changeover. Google Analytics tells me that visitor traffic has been slowly increasing since the transition to vBulletin -- not bots, but real humans. Unfortunately, that's not translating into new users, which we really, really need to fill in the shoes of those who lose interest. The users would would have joined the site in 2005 or 2010 are on Reddit now.

I did an email blast last week to see if I could draw in the work-from-home crowd, but it didn't move the needle that day -- for about 4,000 users, there were maybe 20-30 more logins than on a normal weekday, and the posts/day count stayed about the same.

If I make the change, it'll be later this year. I want to make sure Google has all the new XenForo thread URLs properly indexed, and that there's nothing on Google that points to an old vBulletin URL. I don't want to have any content where there would be two redirects from what Google has -- no Cyburbia vBulletin to Cyburbia XenForo to [new name] XenForo.

Your thoughts?
 
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sbjsbj

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What is your niche, what are your alternative names for re-branding? Any com domains?
 

Cyburbia

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Niche: urban planning. However, I don't want to turn off the "planner adjacent" crowd with a name that's *too* focused.

dot-com domians -- I spent a day looking, and almost everything is either too long, awkward, is a letter off from another name, or taken or squatted. I found one that is almost ideal, and not far off from the existing name (but without the "cyber" aspect). Just to be on the safe side, I registered it, along with the dot-org.
 

Kevin

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I just have to ask... what actual benefit is expected from the name change?

Now before you think I'm just trying to be flippant, I'm not, I ask because you already have a pretty well established nice, short, brandable domain that has been around for years and I can't imagine that in your niche there is that much competition. Would a new name really help get new members or would it better to instead keep with the existing branding and perhaps spend some money advertising in trade magazines or other narrow focused marketing? Are there any trade organizations, if so do they have a newsletter or other media that you could advertise in?
 

sbjsbj

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dot-com domians -- I spent a day looking, and almost everything is either too long, awkward, is a letter off from another name, or taken or squatted.
That is what I thought will happen. Many think that they can just "rebrand" themselves but in reality 99% of all good names are already taken.

I found one that is almost ideal, and not far off from the existing name (but without the "cyber" aspect). Just to be on the safe side, I registered it, along with the dot-org.
So, what is the alternative name? If you have registered it, share it with us, so we can compare it with the old one.


In my opinion no rebranding will solve your problems. I checked out the forum and I see no reason to register. For being so long in the game, where are your articles, wikis, image galleries, stuff to download? There must have been years of worth knowledge in your forum. All buried. You guys didn't care to make useful guides and helpful introduction stuff all these years?

You just have categories and threads in them. What is my benefit from all of this?
As you say, I would rather go to reddit, as it offers exactly the same thing but with the minor difference that it has millions of active users.
 

Cyburbia

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I don't know I think Cyburbia is actually a cool name.
I think so too! However, I'm still kicking myself over not buying the dot-com when I had the chance.

It's the only urban planning forum (aside from a Chinese-language forum and a topical subreddit). However, even though it's the Web's oldest continuously operating planning-related Web site that isn't associated with academia (really!), it's on the outside looking in when it comes to the urban planning Web realm. Not one mention on sites like Citylab, seldom mentioned on Reddit, nothing in blogs, not even a "wow, it's still around" kind of article. We sent out an email blast when the site had its 25th anniversary -- silence.

It really seems that the longer a site is online, the better the SEO/SERPs get, but the less appealing it is among prospective new users. Same phenomenon as restaurants. Familiarity breeds contempt.
 
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Abizaga

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True a .com would have helped but no point in stressing over it and rebranding by this point imo.
 

Cyburbia

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planurbia dot com and org. I just registered the names, but I may end up not using them.

In my opinion no rebranding will solve your problems. I checked out the forum and I see no reason to register. For being so long in the game, where are your articles, wikis, image galleries, stuff to download? There must have been years of worth knowledge in your forum. All buried. You guys didn't care to make useful guides and helpful introduction stuff all these years?
First off, the forum is a hobby of sorts, not my full-time job. It's not a commercial site. No ads, no revenue. I pay out of pocket for premium hosting. I just want people to *use* it, and maybe acknowledge and recognize that the place exists. I really can do only so many features. I've tried in the past, but the time I spent on them, along with the bandwidth they used, didn't really amount to much in the end.

Articles and blogs: had them with vBulletin 4. It was a struggle finding anybody to write an article, and most of the more prolific writers about the topic have blogs of their own. Nobody used the blogging feature of vBulletin 4. There's a lot of long thread OPs, but they're in the context of soliciting a response on a forum. We have some guides, but if there were more that are "sticky", it would obscure new threads.

I have a long list of topics for future articles, and I'm going to hammer some out over the long work-from-home break.

Wiki: had it over 15 years ago, at the peak of the site's popularity. It was too much work for one person (me) to manage. It didn't attract new forum users. There were few contributions. Spammers were a pain to deal with. There was too much competition from the regular Wikipedia.

Image galleries: had them. It was a nice feature when the site was at its peak, but it didn't help stave off a long-term drop in traffic and "buzz". The images used too much hard drive space and bandwidth for almost no benefit. Existing users uploaded stuff, but it didn't attract new forum users. Many of the users with albums disappeared, with no way to contact them. I phased out the galleries this year, with no protest from anybody.

Uploads: I may try it, but I have the same concern -- would the bandwidth consumption be worth it?

New threads are tweeted, and posted in a subreddit.

You just have categories and threads in them. What is my benefit from all of this?
You're a message board administrator, I assume. What's the benefit from "all of this" on your site versus a subreddit?

As you say, I would rather go to reddit, as it offers exactly the same thing but with the minor difference that it has millions of active users.
Reddit, though, has a few key differences. It's harder to search for information. Posts and threads are more ephemeral -- once they're off the front page, they're pretty much gone -- responding to a thread won't bump it, and if it's more than a couple days old, it's essentially dead. There's far less original content -- mostly links to articles, with accompanying circlejerks, about three or four pet subjects ("cars are bad" and "housing in coastal cities is expensive" top the list). What Reddit has are new users that keep the circlejerk going.

The demographics of the subreddit are also much different -- heavily Z and young Millennial, and heavily male. On my board, it reflects the profession -- active members are about 60% male, 40% female, ranging from Millennial to Boomer, and there's no political or identity-related toxicity.
 
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sbjsbj

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It's the only urban planning forum (aside from a Chinese-language forum and a topical subreddit).
I know this one and it is really big.

planurbia dot com and org. I just registered the names, but I may end up not using them.
Good find actually. If your forum is about urban planning, having these words (or some sort of) in the domain is a plus.

First off, the forum is a hobby of sorts, not my full-time job. It's not a commercial site. No ads, no revenue. I pay out of pocket for premium hosting. I just want people to *use* it, and maybe acknowledge and recognize that the place exists. I really can do only so many features. I've tried in the past, but the time I spent on them, along with the bandwidth they used, didn't really amount to much in the end.
I am in the same boat with you (non-commercial, as a hobby, no ads), I understand you the best.
But what the bandwidth problem seems a bit out of place, no? All hosts I know of have a capacity of multiple TBs for bandwidth. Unless you have a streaming service, you will never ever be out of bandwidth. Correct me if I am wrong here. The bigger problem are always either CPU or Storage most of the time.

Articles and blogs: had them with vBulletin 4. It was a struggle finding anybody to write an article, and most of the more prolific writers about the topic have blogs of their own. Nobody used the blogging feature of vBulletin 4. There's a lot of long thread OPs, but they're in the context of soliciting a response on a forum. We have some guides, but if there were more that are "sticky", it would obscure new threads.
You had the chance in the golden days. I expected years of accumulated threads and stickies. But couldn't see one.

These days it is diffucult, as you say everyone has a blog these days.

I have a long list of topics for future articles, and I'm going to hammer some out over the long work-from-home break.
It is not about hammer some. The key is it must be periodically. This is how you can build an audience. Release every friday and tuesday an article and people will come back and so on. If you publish 10 articles now in a single day, they are forgotten after a day. You must deliver fresh content periodically. That is the only way to be relevant.

Wiki: had it over 15 years ago, at the peak of the site's popularity. It was too much work for one person (me) to manage. It didn't attract new forum users. There were few contributions. Spammers were a pain to deal with. There was too much competition from the regular Wikipedia.
But that is one thing which could make a difference. If you would have a Wiki which would have information none other have, I would have a reason to come back.

Image galleries: had them. It was a nice feature when the site was at its peak, but it didn't help stave off a long-term drop in traffic and "buzz". The images used too much hard drive space and bandwidth for almost no benefit. Existing users uploaded stuff, but it didn't attract new forum users. Many of the users with albums disappeared, with no way to contact them. I phased out the galleries this year, with no protest from anybody.
You don't need image galleries. You can use normal threads. See the forum example I gave. Or here: https://www.skyscrapercity.com/forums/urban-showcase.1088/

Uploads: I may try it, but I have the same concern -- would the bandwidth consumption be worth it?
Again, what bandwidth consumption? What is your monthly average btw.? I would say this is the least important problems you can have. I have never seen someone running out of bandwidth unless they were serving a streaming service.

You're a message board administrator, I assume. What's the benefit from "all of this" on your site versus a subreddit?
Look, I try to be helpful. This is how the world works right now. People are on their phones. YOU deliver content THEY absorb it. You must provide something they can leach. Having a place to discuss is not enough.
What I do?
I offer PDFs to download. No other site can do so like I do. All of my stuff if categorized, very well sorted. You can filter stuff and find anything you like.

Reddit, though, has a few key differences. It's harder to search for information. Posts and threads are more ephemeral -- once they're off the front page, they're pretty much gone -- responding to a thread won't bump it, and if it's more than a couple days old, it's essentially dead. There's far less original content -- mostly links to articles, with accompanying circlejerks, about three or four pet subjects ("cars are bad" and "housing in coastal cities is expensive" top the list). What Reddit has are new users that keep the circlejerk going.
Forums are not much better in terms of the search. You have for example not even an auto-suggest search.
Information buried deep down in old threads and posts same as in reddit. How much have you used the pagination system in a node and went back to page 7 of the thread list? Once a threads leaves the first page of the pagination, it is gone. Forums are build like this for 2 decades now... We need innovation but hey.... anyway.

The demographics of the subreddit are also much different -- heavily Z and young Millennial, and heavily male. On my board, it reflects the profession -- active members are about 60% male, 40% female, ranging from Millennial to Boomer, and there's no political or identity-related toxicity.
Yes, sure, but they have the numbers, your forum is dying.
It is always better to have an active place than not to have it, no matter what you demographics are. People need fresh content, daily,... It is how it is.
 

Cyburbia

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I know this one and it is really big.
Completely, totally different. It's like the difference between a forum for civil engineers, and road geeks.

The member base on my site is mainly practicing urban planners and those in adjacent fields. Most of the members of the skyscraper sites are not planners, architects, landscape architects, etc -- there's some, but it's not where they go to chat or share information with others in the field. The skyscraper pages cater largely to "city geeks" -- those with an interest in infrastructure, cities, skyscrapers, and development, but not necessarily those who do it for a living.

(FWIW, I've been a menber of Skyscrapercity for a long time, and I still stop in there from time to time. I don't see the site as competition.)

You can use normal threads. See the forum example I gave. Or here: https://www.skyscrapercity.com/forums/urban-showcase.1088/
We do that. This is one of the more legendary threads of the past.

I'm going to start writing and publishing my own articles. They'll be OPs in forum threads.
 

sbjsbj

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Okay, then they are different. You cannot expect all of us to know the difference. I thought that forum is related to your niche and not something completely different. In any case, it doesn't matter.

What matters is just take a look at them and find out what they are doing what keeps the users going and apply it to your forum.

The key is: fresh content. Think about as if you site woud be a newspaper (but targets a specific group and is about a targeted topic). You must offer stuff daily and build stuff together which is nowhere else to be found. But you are so long in the game, so you should know all of it anyway.

Good luck. Maybe other people can chime in and talk about if a rebranding would help or not.
 

zappaDPJ

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However, I've been giving serious thought to changing the name of my forum, and getting a new URL.
I can't think of one good reason to change the domain although I might consider buying the .com if it ever became available at a reasonable price.

Once a brand is established it doesn't matter what it's called so long as the intended audience knows what's on offer. How many people would go to Apple to buy fruit? As it happens your current domain does give an idea of what to expect which is a bonus for a growing brand.

It's also a short, memorable word and comes top in a Google search. You really couldn't want for much more. I'd say change it at your peril!
 

Blanco

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Did you ever consider changing the forum landing page to "latest posts" instead of one the current forum category / sub category landing page or did you ever try it over the past 23 years?

I agree with many others, changing domain name is a mistake, re-branding cost a lot of money and needs to be done right, and based on your operation, you do not have the capacity to justify it and do it right, it is too risky IMHO.

I also think this would break a ton of important links if you do not get your redirects right and you would lose potentially a lot of traffic to 403 errors.
 
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TLChris

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I saw you added a link to your own subreddit.
Why compete with yourself? Why not try to get link backs in the /r/urbanplanning etc?

Also, are you leveraging your content to gain users with newsletters or a popup asking them to subscribe to your newsletter or register for your site?

If I were in your situation, I would work on a popup modal to capture either users emails, or registrations. I would then create some content around photos or an interesting fact etc...then go share the link within reddit, or FB groups. Don't be shy, be proud of what you've created....build you own audience with the site instead of trying to build another audience somewhere else.

Newsletters need to be consistent, same time at each interval, and I recommend at least weekly if you can.
 

Alfa1

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Keep the domain name. Its perfect. Changing it can only bring damage.
I would focus on improving your community. Currently its forums only. Consider to offer more functionality that your member base has demand for.
You will know best what your members ask for. Maybe its a classifieds section, articles, groups or a documents section.
Getting a custom theme would also help to make your site attractive.
 

Bengie

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You can certainly change the domain name but keep the old one and use that as a redirect and then you shouldn't lose
any members.
 

Study Force

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From my experience, it's best to rebrand around the URL you currently have. Changing the URL will make you lose all the "link juice" you've acquired just by holding it. Do not trust any 301 redirects to guarantee a seamless change, there's no such thing.
 
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