To Merge, or Not to Merge: That is the Question

September 18, 2009 Posted by Tyler Cruz

As you know, I’m currently having Movie-Vault.com redesigned and reprogrammed from the ground up. It is a large undertaking and I have invested close to $10,000 into it.

As a quick progress update, the new design has almost finished being coded to HTML/CSS/AJAX. In fact, it should be done either later today or else on Sunday. After that, the backend programming will commence.

While all of this is going on, I’m faced with an important question: Should I merge my MovieForums.org website with the new Movie-Vault.com forums?

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You may be asking yourself why I have two movie websites. After all, wouldn’t they be competing with each other? The truth is that I never thought about the future that deeply when I purchased MovieForums.org.

MovieForums.org

I had bought the domain years ago from a friend (long time readers of my blog may remember him) for $400 because at the time I was on a huge forum building frenzy. I was obviously aware that I already had a movie forum on Movie-Vault.com, but I really liked the domain name and wanted to develop a separate site and forum for it.

For the first couple years, MovieForums.org was quite dead with only a few regulars posting here and there. But over the last year-and-a-half it has slowly but surely been growing and now gets some decent traffic.

MovieForums.org is not the largest site in the world, but it does have a strong community with many regulars. It has over 3,000 threads, nearly 70,000 posts, and over 6,401 members. But when it comes to forums, the only statistic that matters to me are how many active members there are. An active member is defined by having logged in and done at least one action within the past 30 days, and MovieForums.org has 350 active members (it was actually closer to 400 during early summer).

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I have appointed several moderators (who also happen to be the top posters) who do a great job of keeping the forum clean from spam, and I haven’t really touched the site since its launch other than the usual software upgrades and small tweaks and modifications here and there.

Movie-Vault.com Forums

The Movie-Vault.com Forums are interesting in that they are literally a decade old yet statistically in terms of forum traffic they are actually smaller than MovieForums.org.

In some ways this makes sense though, since Movie-Vault.com is mainly a movie review and content website, unlike MovieForums.org which is purely a movie discussion community.

Movie-Vault.com has over 3,100 threads, 55,000 posts, and 1,631 members. Unfortunately, I do not have the Active Member tracking enabled on the Movie-Vault.com forums, but if I had to guess I’d say it has around 70 active forum members.

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It’s interesting, and rather mind-boggling, just how old the Movie-Vault.com forums are. Many of the current regulars have been around since the site’s inception, or within a year or two. That means that a lot of us have been posting there nearly every day for 10 years!

While MovieForums.org is its own tight-knit community by its own right, you just can’t compare that with the sheer history that Movie-Vault.com has.

The top poster there has over 15,000 posts. In fact, it’s actually closer to 20,000 as I had moved to different forum software several times during the early years and wasn’t able to migrate the data.

To Merge, or Not to Merge: That is the Question

And so again I’m faced with the question: Should I merge my MovieForums.org website with the new Movie-Vault.com forums?

First, I’d like to answer the question: “why bother”? I have invested a lot of money into the new Movie-Vault.com, and while it’s easy to spend money to get a new design and programming, it’s very difficult to get traffic.

The problem with buying traffic is due to the movie and entertainment niche. Contrary to what you might think, the movie and entertainment niche has actually very low monetary returns.

Yes, people will buy Amazon DVDs or movie posters, but the fact is that the average value of the “movie website” visitor is extremely low when you break it down to a eCPM level. You therefore need a lot of traffic in order to make the big bucks from a movie website, to where you can negotiate higher prices from ad networks and private contractual advertising deals with the major movie studios.

My point is that it is difficult to buy traffic for the movie review niche.

So to help kickstart the relaunch of Movie-Vault.com, I thought that merging and taking the existing traffic from MovieForums.org would help to build a good foundation of traffic.

Remember, MovieForums.org has 350 active members. It these members participated in other areas of the new merged site, they could potentially help contribute site content as well such as volunteer news posters, movie reviewers, etc.

The Technical Challenge

Technically-wise, I am not too concerned. Both sites run vBulletin which as far as I can remember has a built-in merge function. If my memory is incorrect, then I’m sure I could hire a vBulletin coder to do it for me.

However, another thing to note is that the new forums on Movie-Vault.com will have its member system completely integrated into the new "one member system to rule them all” so it would probably be easiest if the two forums are merged before being converted to the new Movie-Vault.com member system.

But really, I don’t expect the actual technical issues to be too difficult.

What to do with the Domain

One of the bigger things that is currently working as a deterrent for me is the fact that a merger would negate the beneficial effects of the MovieForums.org domain. With a merger, I would be redirecting the domain to the newly merged Movie-Vault.com forums so that all existing traffic including search-engine traffic would go to the new forums.

But the problem is that I don’t know how long Google would keep the high search result rankings for MovieForums.org. The domain is currently #4 on Google for “movie forums” and #3 for “movie forum” and in the past was actually the top spot. This has been the forum’s main source of traffic and accounts for around 2,500 unique hits each month (around 80 per day).

And remember, the domain was the main reason for my creating the site in the first place.

The Skin and Logo

A merger would also mean that MovieForums.org’s existing logo and skin would be stored away in the Merendi Networks Inc. archives.

I never cut corners when it comes to design work, and I can remember spending close to $2,000 on the logo and forum skin. It seems like such a waste to just throw them away, but I guess that’s one of the downsides of a merger. Big companies throw away prior branding all the time.

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The Community

But what is most important for any forum merger is the community. Merging two different communities, no matter how similar they may seem, is something that needs to be considered very thoughtfully.

After all, a forum is nothing without its members. You might say this is true with all sites but it’s not because many sites only have (and need) visitors that come and go, whereas you need to be a registered member on a forum in order to post.

People are very tied to their communities, whether they’re online or not. Merging two different atmospheres together can have very grave results if things don’t work out the way you hope them to. The ‘moving’ forum members could be resentful for losing their previous home, and the other forum members could naturally feel invaded by a mass of unwelcome members treading into their territory.

As mentioned earlier in this post, both forums have strong communities. Just take the following two images as examples:32

I have already made threads in both forums explaining the possible merger and asking for their input. Movie-Vault.com is completely for it and the members are actually very excited about the prospect of having new members.

MovieForums.org on the other hand is evenly split. However, nearly all the members who voted against the merge are doing it for one very strange reason which I hadn’t considered: they prefer their forum skin to Movie-Vault.com’s. This definitely surprised me as I quite strongly prefer the Movie-Vault.com skin to theirs, and also because I personally found it quite an illogical rationale.

Only one or two of them were actually concerned about the possible community differences (they were nervous that Movie-Vault.com was too mainstream which is not the case) while another was concerned about whether or not they could remain ‘invisible’ when logged in.

I find it interesting how Movie-Vault.com is totally for the merger while MovieForums.org has some hesitation since the former is the forum that is being merged to and the latter is the forum that is being merged from. I bet sociologists would be interested in discussing that.

Still Undecided

At the moment I am still undecided. Part of why I made this post was so that I could help organize my thoughts on this matter, but it has only brought me further into confusion on what to do.

I know that the merger would be beneficial to Movie-Vault.com, but I wonder if it would be more beneficial to merge than to keep the sites separate and as their own entities.

What do you guys think? Maybe your comments can help me come to a decision.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment below, subscribing to my RSS feed, or following me on Twitter.
Posted: September 18th, 2009 under My Websites  

55 Responses to “To Merge, or Not to Merge: That is the Question”

  1. Devon says:

    Hey tyler,

    I think you should not merge the sites. My reasoning:

    1. Waste of a good domain (movieforums.org)
    2. They are seperate sites ie. one is purely a forum and the other is a review site with a forum as an extra.
    3. You may lose readership as people may not be accepting of the merge.
    4. Losing all the branding you put into movieforums
    5. It is better to build a community over time

    But they your sites and i may be completely wrong.

    Devon

    P.S I was wondering if i could have a chat with you – just send me an email :)

  2. LexRoll.com says:

    Why not keep movieforums.org as a separate website and use it as the forum website for movie-vault.com (i.e., merge the movie-vault forum into movieforums.org)? Then, place a menu on top of movieforums.org that says something like “Movie-Vault.org Network” and place links to movie-valut.com’s sections.

  3. Briefcases says:

    Personally I would be tempted to merge them. It would save you a lot of time as you would only be managing 1 movie site instead of 2. Then you can bring together all of those users to take advantage of everything you offer on movievault. Then you have a much stronger forum community and a lot more related content to direct those people too.

  4. EarningStep says:

    hi tyler… i has been your reader for long time . honestly it will be great if you can merge both of them. so both of member can share more efficient , right ?

  5. Ryan says:

    I really think you should merge the two. I think the two communities would do well for you and it could really explode movie-vault into a top movie review site. I say go for it!

  6. Griffin says:

    I say merge the two. It will be a bigger community, easier for the members to interact with each other and more fun seeing as there is more to discuss.

  7. Andrew says:

    I think it’s kinda obvious why MovieForum’s community is more hostile to the merge than Move-Vault’s.

    Think about it like immigration/emmigration:

    While there are a few people that moan and whine about the immigration into their country, there’s nothing they can really do, so begrudingly accept it. Some even like the different views of new people they get to know.

    But (and it’s a huge “but”) if people are forced to leave their country on a mass level through no fault of their own, there will be outrage and even riots/wars. Think of the Nazi kicking Jews out of all the countries they occupied (yes, I just invoked Godwin’s Law). I’m not calling you Hitler, obviously.

    I think MovieForums’ community is actually being very nice to you, considering the threat their very active community is under. Maybe reconsider the possibility of not merging for that alone out of politeness.

  8. I can go either way on this but I think I’m leaning towards keeping em separate not to risk disrupting the communities on either site.

    Whichever site you choose to be your money-maker can have instant link juice from the other site… I would cross promote both sites but only pass the seo juice to my moneymaker.

    Keeping both sites also makes it easier to do 3-way link exchanges to the benefit of your money-maker site.

    Just my $.02

  9. used tires says:

    If you merge movie forums into movie-vault, I would do a 301 redirect, and also merge the forum content from the movie-forums website to the movie-vault forum, this would allow the rankings that you had for movie-forums to transfer over to the movie-vault website, with the exception of the keyword “movie forums” by itself.

    It’s a tough decision Tyler… but you do have the stats and everything available to you, so I would crunch some numbers… and see which scenario you would be better off with in the long run, money and traffic wise.

    Till then,

    Jean

  10. WPThemes says:

    Skin wise..

    Make Movie-Vault have 2 skins.. (one movie-vault skin and one movieforums skin). This solves the problem of movieforums member

    I remember sherdog had a similar problem when they introduced a new skin. Lots of people wanted the old skin back.

    regarding your high SE ranking, even if your forum has only few hundred posts, it would probably rank the same. A lot of SE power comes from domain name keyword.

    • Tyler Cruz says:

      That’s certainly an option I hadn’t considered… what I could do is add the option of letting members choose either skin so that new MovieForums members would not be confused as to the different skin selection, and only those who really wanted to keep using the old skin can opt to do so.

      It might be difficult or even impossible to do this depending on how the new forum is set up (eg. an IFRAME inside the current template wouldn’t work with this idea) but it is a good suggestion to consider, thanks.

    • Austin says:

      This is exactly what I was thinking as well.

  11. I would suggest you not merge the sites. Instead use movie forums to promote movie vault. This way you can still leverage the traffic that you get to movie forums but you will not alienate your current movie forums members. The members who are interested in movie reviews will go to movie vault if you promote it on movie forums.

  12. I have been in a similar situation before. A few years ago I merged two poker forums together which were powered by vbulletin.

    Migrating is very easy, you shouldn’t need to hire a programmer for it. Though I would strongly recommend setting up a test forum first and importing all forums posts to that first so that you know all of the steps involved. Obviously, you should back up all databases first as well. The whole procedure is remarkably quick.

    With regards to what to do, for me this is a no brainer as the movieforums.org domain is much better than movie-vault and the skin is much better too.

    So I would:

    * Transfer all members from the movie-vault forum to the movieforums.org forum and remove the forum from movie-vault.
    * Advertise movieforums.org agressively on movie-vault and explain that it is the where they should discuss movies.
    * Display the latest articles from movie-vault on the sidebar of the movieforums.org forums.

    From a selling point of view, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot if you move the posts from movieforums.org away. You would still get a few thousand dollars for the skin, traffic and the domain, but this is much less what you would get if the site still had it’s members.

    Moving the forum away from movie-vault doesn’t drastically hurt the sites value or traffic levels too much. This means that in future, should you choose to, you could potentially sell one of the sites and keep the other.

    Also, as has been pointed out, you will need to do a 301 redirect from whatever forum you shut down so you don’t lose any search engine traffic.

    If you are still unsure about any of this, feel free to buzz me on msn when you see me online.

    Good luck,
    Kev

    • I agree totally to Kevin. Run them as two seperate websites and only run a forum on movieforums.org you can then direct the two different types of traffic between them both but get the benefits of people using both sites.

    • Tyler Cruz says:

      Thanks for the suggestions, however, the problem I see with removing/redirecting the Movie-Vault forum over to MovieForums is that it can be very confusing for MovieVault visitors, especially new ones.

      They would be leaving one site to another with a completely different skin and be confused and think it is another site… I don’t like the fact that the branding would be eliminated in this manner.

      However, I might arrange for some RSS syndication to be made on MovieVault so that I could indeed help promote MovieVault on MovieForums through ideas such as: “Display the latest articles from movie-vault on the sidebar of the movieforums.org forums.”

  13. paul says:

    Merge :) I have been a domainer for 8 years
    and like the movieforums.org domain best.

  14. Mike Manfrin says:

    Deep integrate the two forums, but make MovieForums the actual forum. I.e. MV’s forums go to MF.org. Make the community distinct from the site, but still provide deep integration (comments on MV, for instance, would be actual threads in MF, reviews and things on MV also threads).

  15. Diabetis says:

    I think that merging the two would be a great idea but what will happen to the post and the members.

  16. Greg Ellison says:

    I think you should merge the two forums but keep the forums at movieforums.org. Greg Ellison

  17. Or you could just give me movieforums.org and I will make use out of it. No just kidding, I don’t have enough time for the websites I have already. I have built so many that I have to gather a giant list of them so that I can go over to sedo.com and post them for auction. I am happy for you Tyler I am also jealous because I have always wanted a movie site.

  18. I say go for it. You want a bigger community. Run a contest or make a thread that all members from both forums can relate to. Get them talking with each other.

  19. World Peace says:

    I would definitely keep them as two separate sites and heavily advertise movie-vault.com on the movieforums.org website. You simply do not want to lose the benefit of the “movie forums” search traffic. In the long run, I think that will bring in a greater benefit to the movie-vault site than any short term spike in traffic you may get from merging the forums.
    Good luck with the movie-vault website, I remember seeing a movie at the local video store which had a review on the back of the dvd cover from movie-vault.com which I was quite impressed by, cannot remember the name of the movie though.
    I would also consider rebranding the site, with a non hyphenated .com if you are able to.

    • Tyler Cruz says:

      Trust me, I’ve tried to get the MovieVault.com name for years now, haha. Getting the hyphenated domain a decade ago shows just how little I knew back then.

      I’d really appreciate it if you could try to remember which movie that was where you saw the Movie-Vault.com quote mentioned on the back cover of though!

  20. Barry says:

    Tyler,

    Here is what you should do. I think it would be deadly

    Merge the databases and then run 2 sites off the same database. Both forums while sepperate will still look like their own communities however they would each have their own branding. If you are unsure of what I mean hit me up on msn sometime!

  21. Hi Tyler,
    I think that though both of them have a common interest, I strongly believe from my visits is that both TA are psycho-graphically very different & may not exactly merge well in their views & each others company. It might be trouble to stand as your own competition, but I would just ask you to merge, which is beneficial decision for your TA. What do is yyou think? What is your decision?

  22. Ricardo says:

    Get traffic for Movie vault, link from there to movie forums. Keep them seperate.

  23. Why not ask your “customers”?

    It only takes a few seconds to setup an online survey and ask your members on both sites what they would like to see.

    Those that take the time to answer the survey are probably going to be the most vocal ones that actually use the sites on a regular basis. If you make those people happy, the rest will probably follow suit.

    This gives you a better idea of what people want, instead of guessing.

  24. Putting the technical issues aside, I still think it’s better to merge. Your Movie Forums site should move into the movie vault forum because forums are viral in their growth. The more active they are the faster they grow. On the flip side, the sites could slip into obscurity if you hey are not active.

  25. […] of affiliate offers. He’s looking to get back to his roots, but he’s not sure whether or not to merge two of his related websites. He has Movie Forums and Movie Vault. Should he keep them separate but […]

  26. Jared says:

    My vote’s for merging, Tyler, what could possibly be wrong with a stronger community? People attract people, after all!

  27. Merging is always the best idea

  28. Robert Nabloid says:

    You can brand MovieForums.org as the forum section for Movie-Vault.

    On Movie-Vaults website, KEEP THE forum button JUST HOW IT IS in your new skin design, but the url will now go to MovieForums.org. Merge Movie-vaults Forum INTO movieForums.org’s.

    On MovieForums.org, you can then add a row of buttons, though with the red color scheme, that are exactly the same as the ones on Movie-Vault (cross branding recognition). That way when people click on them, they can easily and quickly go to reviews, trailers, etc, that are presently on the movie-vault website. Both websites will get more unique visitors and can feed each other.

    Let’s face it, movie-vault would be bigger if you had two things different: 1) updated more frequently and spent time and money on it – you’re starting to do this… and 2) a better domain. – movieforums.org can help movie-vault…

    At least now you will increase MovieForums.org’s ranking on google with all the extra incoming links (yes, I know it has more outgoing oto, but whatever), and you still get to keep the good domain with easier branding. It’s way quicker to type without worrying about that “-“.

    Alternatively, and I know this part would suck donkey balls, you could spend $10,000 or so on a SUPER good domain, now that you have more money. Then you can do the redirects and transfer all content to one awesome megasite.

    It’s tough. You have two great choices. One megasite on Movie-Vault or keep them separate but merge forums. I like the idea of one megasite 99% of the time. If it wasn’t for that “-” in the domain, there would be no question about what to do.

    ***Okay, so what I would most likely is merge it all onto Movie-Vault. MovieForums.org just redirects from now on. BUT you can only do this once you’ve rolled out the new Movie-Vault look, and YOU HAVE TO UPDATE the Movie-Vault Forum Skin to match! You can keep the same general blue colour scheme, but please, please make the top section better and make it look like you are still on the main movie-vault site What I mean is, there are no buttons to go to reviews and other things, there are just TINY links at the top that I completely didn’t see for a while, but you have that big movie-vault banner that takes up all that space — left of the movie-vault logo, that area could be BUTTONS to the reviews, and stuff like that!! It just NEEDS some design tweaking!!! Then perhaps the MovieForums.org group wouldn’t be so hesitant with an updated look!

    BTW, CHANGE that title on Movie-Vault’s header. You’re wasting valuable space in the header. Short and sweet. “Movie Forums – Movie Discussion Forum & Community” That should help with movie-vaults rankings on google.

    Honestly, domain shouldn’t matter. Look at the top rated domains right now! watch-movies-links.net is #2 ahead of MovieForums.org. Yes, the MovieForums.org domain is good and you spent money on the skin, but whatever. If watch-movie-links.net can beat you for “movie forums” in google, then you should be confident movie-vault will be able to stage a comback with teh right header, a more active community, a better design, etc… Just give her lots of TLC and you’ll do fine. If you ever decide to, you can ALWAYS merge ALL of movie-vaults forum stuff back onto the domain MovieForums.org and still use that skin. It’s your backup plan. But LETS TRY AND MAKE A MEGASITE! Beat ‘em competitor’s, Tyler!!

    (Sorry, I wrote as I thought, I’m a fast typer, and it probably makes no sense… but hope the train of thought helped)

  29. You should not merge them. Keep the sites alive, they are on fantastic domains, when the time comes to sell each of them, you will earn a hefty sum of cash :)

  30. Tyler,

    I think to merge these sites is a bad idea. Movie-vault.com has it’s own forums already but the movieforums is only a forum site.

    So I suggest don’t merge the sites :)

    well, it’s just my suggestion :)

  31. Dropout Joe says:

    You should definately merge. Think about how much further you can push/market one movie site with 100% of your focus on it. When you split your focus, you’re only giving 50% of your attention to each. Sure at first it seems like a lot of work to merge and some members might get upset..etc. etc….but the truth is, in the long run, focusing on one is what will produce the best results for you.

    You can spend 2 hours a day marketing each individually, or you can spend 4 hours a day focusing all your attention on just one and really driving traffic to it. Also take into consideration the extra costs to market 2 websites, update 2 websites, etc. This money focused on one will go a lot further allowing you to develop a real winner.

  32. I think you know the right decision.. When I was merging (or trying to) and selling part of my cigar company, it was like every person and their dads had something to say about the merger. I wouldn’t listen so much to what others say because they don’t always have the right advice for you. Ask a few close people to you that you trust, and in the end, do whats right for you and your business. :)

  33. […] Advertisement Three weeks ago (God it’s scary how fast time flies) I published a post titled: To Merge, or Not to Merge: That is the Question in which I weighed the pros and cons of merging two different forums I […]

  34. So I we really get all stressed out about the two websites, and whether to move them or not. I really wouldn’t want to and I guess its because of the whole search engine presence. You have more pages that reach further out there which only gathers attention so much more, and its easy free targeted traffic. Then you have PPC, and that has nothing to do with this post, but I would probably say that after he merges these sites, a MAJOR! PPC, SEO operation will hit the deck. yeah that’s it. my synopsis. he-ya.

  35. Jorge R. says:

    Hmm… there will always be pros and cons to any decision we make, and in the end we decide based upon our expectations and our subjective rationale. As long as you have a clear strategy with its respective actions implemented, I guess either choice will just work out fine for you. if it was me making the decision, I would merge them.

  36. I think I like the movieforums.org design the best. The red and black really look good together.
    -Jack

  37. dont merge the 2 forums it will sink (joke).I think to merge these sites is a bad idea. but anyway we have choice.

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  38. You should do quite well in affiliate marketing, provided you have the necessary endurance to complete the job.

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