Today's article is a guest post from Kevin Graham. Kevin has been building successful niche sites now for a few years and he shares some great tips for building, scaling, and selling your site. In fact, he and his partner have sold 2 sites for over 6 figures!
While some of the guidelines that Kevin teaches aren't exactly in line with what I do (building LOTS of sites instead of focusing on a few, using PBNs, etc), he has clearly found s system that works well for him.
Overall, I hope you pick up a few great tips to help you build a successful site!
The key to success with web assets is to take an approach that turns the building and management of niche sites into a real business. To replace the income from my 9-to-5 job for the long term, I've decided that I want to build many sites (instead of just a few) – and that requires a different approach.
What do I actually mean by a “real” business? The government, tax department, and college textbooks all have a different definition of what a business is, but when I talk about a “real” business, I consider it to have the following traits:
- It is profitable, and profitable to the extent that it is your main source (or a significant source) of income
- It employs others or uses the work/services of others
- It is non-passive – you, or a manager, are active in the business and it requires direct effort, thought and oversight
- It delivers scale – your business creates more than you could create on your own
- It is repeatable, not a one-off deal, hack or scam. There are systems in place and they are documented
- It is monitored and managed for performance
More About My Niche Site Business
Like Spencer, I starting building niche sites in my spare time whilst working full time as an IT Support Officer. In late 2013, I sold a small AdSense niche site for $3,000 with Empire Flippers and realized I could make a real living off niche sites.
In 2014, with some savings and my partner in tow, I moved from my home in Australia to Chiang Mai, Thailand to start building niche sites full time. Thailand is a very cheap place to live and Chiang Mai has a fantastic expat community meaning savings and motivation last a lot longer.
Fast forward to October 2016, I’m still in Chiang Mai but have traveled all over the world whilst building niche sites (the latest trip being to the remote Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal to do some whale watching). By the numbers, I feel that we have achieved a lot:
- 37 niche sites built
- 3 niche sites sold
- 5 regular contractors
- 6M+ words written
- Over 3.5 million visitors to our sites in the last 12 months
- Two six figure sites sold on the Empire Flippers marketplace
This was way beyond my initial expectations and goals.
My 6 Steps for Building Niche Sites
My goal and expectation for any given niche site remain very low. My stated aim is to make $500 per month, once the site is 6-12 months old. Some sites make $0 (we made a mistake or took a chance on a keyword) and some sites make $5,000+ per month after 24 months, but the $500 per month goal remains the target. After four years building niche sites, about 5% flop and 10% hit it out of the park with my model. The other 85% are my troopers – we build one to two sites per month. Build and rank 20 niche sites making $500 per month and you are set. With that target in mind, here are the steps that we follow to build a site:
It all starts here. Keyword research is the most important step of the process, because finding low competition keywords is vital to the success of your niche site. This is the domain of my partner – he uses Long Tail Pro for keyword research, and analyses the data in detail to evaluate competition. He also uses a lot of gut feel and instinct built up over the years – he says “keyword research gets easier, but it is never easy in my opinion”. His advice for new players: follow Spencer’s posts from the Niche Site Projects 1, 2 and 3 on keyword research – they’re still as relevant as ever, and start exercising that keyword research muscle.
Brand & Site Plan
This involves selecting which keywords will make up a site, what pages and articles will feature, the brand and domain name, word count, cost to build, guidance for your writer/s and logo design. Be original with your branding. Don’t pick up the domain best-niche-product-guide-hq.com – be creative and come up with a brand that will stand out from the crowd. We use a simple Excel template to outline the following key points that we then send to our writer:
- Brand and domain name
- Logo design brief
- Target keywords
- Titles for each page/article
- Minimum word count of each page/article
- Cost of content, edit & images
- Stock images required
- Products to be researched
- Stats & ranking of products researched
“Content” is another way of describing the words, images and product reviews that form the basis of your niche site. Having the best and most helpful content in your niche will help your site to rank and convert visitors into buyers. Finding good writers to produce that content for you can be hard but once you have them, they are an invaluable part of your team. We wrote all of the content for the first site ourselves, but once you start making money, you should hire some good writers to leverage your time.
Sites need to be built, hosted on severs, have logos uploaded, themes formatted and content posted. Make sure your site looks good and loads quickly to get the best results. We have a site builder on our team who does all of this work for us, allowing us to focus on other parts of the business.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Your site could be the most helpful site in your chosen niche, have amazing content written by A-grade writers, on super fast hosting with a clean and responsive theme… All of that won’t matter if you don’t do any SEO – no one will see your site. You will get beaten by the competition with their rubbish content and clunky site, who simply did a little SEO. Everybody has his or her own take on SEO, so find a method that works for you and run with it – whether that’s building your own Private Blog Network, renting links from others or doing outreach and link baiting – or any combination of the above.
Monitor & Manage
“What gets measured, gets managed.” Want to lose weight? Weigh yourself and count calories eaten & burned. Want to make money with niche sites? Track your site’s visitors with a tool like Google Analytics or Clicky (Clicky is much better) and track your rankings with a keyword tracker. This helps you pick up issues with your sites and gives you information to help improve your keyword research (remember I mentioned that gut feel & instinct in step 1?). We track the following stats on a monthly basis for each of our sites:
- Keyword rankings
- Number of visitors
- Page views
- Bounce rate
- Goals (the number of people who clicked to Amazon)
- Orders on Amazon
- Items Shipped by Amazon
- Page Views per Visitor
- Average goal value
- Average visitor value
- 3/6/12 month average earnings
- Potential sale price after brokerage on a marketplace like Empire Flippers.
Tracking this data allows you to interpret what is actually going on with your sites. If traffic increased during the month but earnings decreased, what happened? Was it because more visitors bounced from your site, so there might be something wrong with your site. Or did the product you review go on sale, reducing your commissions? Maybe the products you reviewed have gone out of stock on Amazon? Some things you can fix, some things you can’t.
Niche sites are extremely low maintenance compared to other businesses (you see all the updates for Long Tail Pro right?) but they are not completely passive. Neglect them completely and your income will eventually dry up. If you don’t want to keep up with a site, it might be time to consider selling it.
A Story of Success
Earlier this year, I sold one of our sites on the Empire Flippers marketplace. The site had been a passive earner for us for quite some time (apart from our regular monthly stats review and quarterly site review), and we felt it was time to find a new owner for this site.
When we listed it for sale, the site was making about $5,600 per month, and sites of this size generally take a little bit longer to find the right buyer. The process took about three months in total from when we submitted it for sale on Empire Flippers through to when it sold and I transferred it to the new owner.
Empire Flippers make it really easy to sell profit making sites on their marketplace and they have a number of buyers ready to snap up sites, especially sites that are earning from $500-$1,000 per month – those sites will generally sell within an hour or two of listing.
I was super pumped with this sale – it provided a big cash win for us and a high-return asset for a new owner who can spend more time working on that one site and take it to the next level. They’re already posting new content for additional long tail keywords and working on expanding the site.
Current and Future Plans
With money coming in and my partner remaining focused on niche sites, I was able to try and fix a problem that had I’d been facing in the operation of our niche site business. In late 2015, I launched a new business called Bulk Buy Hosting where we provide reliable, reputable & affordable hosting for private blog networks.
(Spencer's Note: I do not personally recommend PBNs as explained here).
In January this year, I launched a case study on my blog. The case study covers buying a premade niche site and ranking it with your own private blog network. I called it the “Starting from Scratch” case study, as it was exactly what I would be doing if I was starting over in the niche site business. The case study shows how I spent my $1,000 budget and bought everything that is needed to start earning affiliate commissions from a niche site.
Thanks for reading and letting me share my thoughts and successes. I also want to say a big thank you to Spencer and the Long Tail Pro team – without you guys, I wouldn’t be where I am today.