The majority of this post was written last Wednesday as I sat in the airport in Lihue, Kauai waiting for my flight back home from my vacation. However, Google also just made some algorithm changes affecting exact match domains that I wanted to address. I point out the timing of when I wrote this post to let you know that I decided to make changes to my business before this latest algorithm change was made by Google.
I discuss the Google Exact Match Domain algorithm update a bit towards the end of this post.
I have had a lot of time to reflect on my business during my vacation last week. However, to be honest, I have been considering making some changes to my niche site strategy for several months now.
Why have I been considering making changes?
Well, the same reason anyone makes changes. I’m not happy with the results I have seen with the sites I have been building over the past few months; so its time to re-evaluate.
Let’s Re-cap: How it All Started
When I first started building niche sites about 3 years ago, I wrote all the content myself and my first few sites started with around 20 or so original articles a piece. My first couple of sites each starting earning $20 a month and continued to do so. In fact, these first couple of sites are still earning, and one is still right at about the $20/mth mark…and I haven’t touched any of these sites in 3 years!
After the success of these first couple of sites, I decided to expand in a big way. I looked for ways to build more sites, more quickly, and at a lower cost. As a result, I experimented with starting sites with only 1 page of content and using automated link building tools.
The strategy worked brilliantly!
I quit my job over a year and a half ago because the income was so much more than I was making as a Business Banker at Wells Fargo. The best move I ever made!
However, as Panda and Penguin hit, these thin content sites have not been holding up as well. Please also remember, that many of my sites now have MUCH more content than 1 page. I took the “winning” sites and built some with 20, 50, or 100+ pages of content. Some of these larger sites have held up.
But in the past few months, my strategy of building lots of small sites with 1 to 5 pages of content is falling flat. I’m not able to rank most of these sites very well with the content and link building strategies that I’m using.
The keywords I’m picking should be ranking very well because of how low the competition is.
Time to Re-think my Strategy
So, I’m re-thinking how I approach niche sites. When something isn’t working, it’s always a good idea to try a new approach.
So here’s the scoop: For me, micro niche sites (1 to 5 page sites) are out. Larger sites with better content are in.
You might be thinking, “Didn't Spencer just say he couldn't handle authority sites and he's back to building niche sites?” Well, yes I did say that. But if you read the post, its clear that what I meant is that I can't handle personally writing for more than one or two sites. So, a big part of going back to niche sites was so that I could outsource content again, not that I thought authority sites were a bad option.
Does this change everything?
No not really. Keyword research remains the same. The overall goal of ranking well in Google and generating free traffic remains the same. Providing relevant content also remains the same.
What changes is rather than trying to build 100 mini sites all with 1 to 5 pages of content. I feel like it’s a much better long term strategy to focus on 1 site at a time. Over a period of a year, I may only perhaps create half a dozen sites. And if I find a really big winner, perhaps, I’ll only focus on 1 or 2.
So, how much content will my new niche sites have?
My new strategy will be to start each new niche site with at least 20 pages of content. I am thinking that 25 to 30 original articles will be the new normal starting point. Obviously these sites would get even more content as they show promise and start making money.
What About Link Building?
Because I will only be focusing on 1 site every month or 2, I will have the ability to create higher quality links. The problem with creating dozens or hundreds of micro niche sites is that you never have time to build real links; you have to rely on links that you can automate. These links are just not working that well anymore.
So, now I will have time to spend an hour or so each day on just 1 niche site for 1 or 2 months. So, rather than using cheap or spun content and using automated tools, I’ll have a chance of a month or 2 (or more) to focus on just 1 site and truly build the connections necessary to start a real link profile.
In a nutshell, I’ll have the time to build quality links using the techniques I’ve already discussed here and here and here. You just don’t have time to build real links if you have hundreds of sites.
In the past, you didn’t need to do these things to rank micro niche sites; the strategies worked. But like I said, the sites I have built over the past few months have not met my expectations at all.
What About Keyword Research?
In addition, because I will be investing more time and money into each of these sites, I need a higher return. I’m not happy with $1 a day. My hoped for return would be closer to $500+ per month per site. To get this return, I can’t target a keyword that only gets 1,000 searches per month.
Most likely, the keywords I target will need to have a higher search volume; probably around 4k to 20k searches per month. I hate to suggest a minimum or maximum (because I certainly won’t follow it exactly), but I just want to make the point that my primary targeted keyword for the site will have more search volume than for micro niche sites.
However, long tail keywords will also play a bigger role here. Each new article can target a slightly different long tail keyword. So, yes, I’ll have a primary keyword that I want to rank for, but I’ll also have dozens of other keywords that I’ll hope to rank for as well. Keyword research is much more important now than ever before, because your investment of time and money in each site is greater.
You can't just throw up sites anymore and see what sticks, you need to truly analyze your keywords and competition to make sure you have a profitable niche on your hands.
What About Outsourcing?
If you can do everything yourself: writing content, building links, and overall creating your site, I think it’s a great way to start.
However, I know myself too well, and there is no way that I can commit to writing all the content myself for multiple sites. I will be outsourcing most of the content to high quality content writers.
In addition, I will be doing some of the link building myself; but will also rely on my virtual assistant to complete as many tasks as possible.
This will give me more time to oversee the overall quality on higher standards of the site itself. I think it goes without saying that each of these sites will have custom logos and premium themes.
Quality, not quantity, is the new strategy.
What About Exact Match Domains?
As mentioned in the first part of this post, I've been considering re-focusing my business on larger and higher quality sites for a few months – long before the so called “exact match domain algo update” or “Exact Match Domain Penalty” or whatever you want to call it.
So far I can definitely see that some of my sites were negatively affected by this update. I can also see that at least one site is ranked #1 now where it was 5 or 6 before in Google. Overall, I have not seen any major changes in my Google Adsense earnings from my sites overall. However, its only been a couple of days, so its hard to assess the overall impact of the EMD Google update. I plan on writing a more in depth post in a couple of days when I've had a chance to analyze the results.
But overall, having an exact match domain is no longer necessary. In the past, having an EMD (exact match domain) gave a bonus to your site that made it rank better than it should have based on quality of content and links. However, that bonus is now gone. I'm of the opinion that Google didn't apply any penalty to exact match domains, it just took away the existing bonus that was there.
A large portion of my sites are not exact match domains, but are rather partial match domains. I've been saying for a long time that if you can get an exact match domain, get it; but if not don't worry about it! Just add a prefix or suffix to your domain and work with the low competition keyword. Now, you probably don't even have to worry much about having the keyword in your domain for a partial match. If you want to build a site called BillsZone.com and target the keyword “surfboard reviews”, that's fine.
Its too early to say how important having the keyword in your domain (even if not an exact match) really is anymore. The point is, you can still rank with an EMD, a partial match domain, or a totally unrelated domain like “BillsZone.com”. Other factors like quality of content and link building are more important.
I've heard from several people so far that this EMD algorithm update has affected them pretty heavily. I've haven't been affected as heavily from what I can see right now (although definitely some). However, whether or not the update had taken place, I've decided to take a new approach to niche sites. I'll be focusing on only one site at a time and truly working on building it into something of better quality as discussed. Micro-niche sites are no longer the way forward for me.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Where will your focus be with niche sites? Have you been affected by the EMD Google update? Lets discuss below…