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HousingMaps, an autopilot, value-add site with the potential to autoscale. | The Man Who Sold the Web Blog

HousingMaps, an autopilot, value-add site with the potential to autoscale.

7 Apr

A couple days ago, I posted an article about autoscaling via an API.  (I suggest you read that article first, as it provides some context for this discussion.)  In this article, we’ll examine a site that adds tremendous value, is on complete autopilot, and gets all its content from other sites.   The unfortunate thing is… it doesn’t autoscale.

The site is HousingMaps.  Have a look.

I love HousingMaps and used to use it when looking for apartments around Los Angeles.  What HousingMaps does is take rental properties and other types of housing available on Craigslist, and maps it on a Google Map.  There are also various filters, e.g. by budget, by keyword, by number of rooms.

It adds tremendous value by allowing for a new, easier, and more intuitive way to browse Craigslist’s housing section, which is one of Craigslist’s most popular sections.  It’s on complete autopilot, because all its data is extracted from Craigslist, which is always being updated.  In fact, after launch, I feel like this site requires 0 maintenance.  I don’t think it has had any changes since I first came across it about 5 years back.   And now, 5 years later, it’s still as relevant.

The only issue I have with it, from a design/architecture perspective, is that it does not autoscale.  A site like this can be easily put into the autoscale operating model.  To do this, it just needs to store a snapshot of all searches or filter combinations performed  by its users (e.g. 1 bedroom apartments in Boston, 2 bedroom apartments with keyword “beach” in Los Angeles, apartments less than $750/month in Atlanta, etc.).  This means, with each unique search, a new page is added to the website.  These searches can be listed on an alternate page of the site–e.g. on a recently browsed housing maps page, most searched housing maps page, etc.

Now, why would the site want to create these extra pages?

There are two main reasons.  One, we want to leverage the power of long tail SEO to significantly increase organic traffic.  If your site only has 1 primary page, the number of keywords you can optimize for is limited.  Let’s face it.  You won’t be optimizing your homepage for a long tail search term.  However, if you are creating pages automatically based on user inputted long tail searches, you are creating new pages that are each automatically being positioned for a set of related long tail  keywords.

Secondly, it’s (almost) always better to increase the footprint of your website.  By definition, the larger your footprint, the more pages you have.  By implication, the more pages you have, the more collective link juice you have.  With the right internal linking structure, you can greatly improve the ranking of your homepage.  Or, you can use your footprint to feed link juice to your other online properties.  Either way, it’s a better situation for you.

So, dear reader, have you designed your sites to autoscale?


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