After I made my last post about the recent Google Panda update, I received LOTS of really great comments about different strategies that people employ to keep themselves “immune” from updates by Google. This has got me thinking about my own strategy and how I go about doing things. Don't worry, I'm not about to say that everything I have said in the past is no longer valid and that I am going to be changing how I do business completely. But I am saying that I always keep an open mind to different ideas and I may be adding some of these strategies to my arsenal.
As you are probably well aware, I have primarily focused on building “small niche websites” and building lots of them. This has worked well for me in the past and honestly continues to work quite well for me (even after the recent Panda update). The sites I built in August and September are really doing very well and have added a decent amount to my overall income. These have all been what I call small niche sites of less than 10 pages of content each.
However, is building the small sites really the best LONG term strategy? Yes, they work now – but will they always? And as it appears that Google is making it harder to rank for certain things – are there better ways to go about building niche sites that still have the advantage of free traffic from search engines? Well, these are some of the questions that I will consider as I discuss a few niche site strategies that I will rank as: Good, Better, and Best.
First let me clarify that there are more strategies than these 3, and a lot of the ones I am NOT covering here are often shady or poor strategies. Some of those niche website strategies may include using automated/copied content, using spun content on your site, or other poor content strategies. I draw the line at providing quality original content. The content on your site really needs to be original or at least presented in an original and useful way.
A Good Strategy: Lots of Small Niche Sites
Alright, the first strategy which is essentially what I have talked about on the Niche Websites Hub here all the time. My usual strategy is to build small niche websites with around 5 pages of unique content that is quality in that it addresses and answers the query of the visitor. I optimize my site essentially for 1 keyword to begin with in the hopes of dominating the search engines for that term. I do my best to get an exact match domain if possible, but if not, I'm fine picking up a keyword rich domain with a prefix or a suffix.
This is a good strategy because I can quickly build lots of sites and almost just as quickly determine if the sites are winners or losers. If they are winners I will begin adding more content and grow the site. If its not making much money after 90 days or so, I may let it just die. This is the method that I talk about being a numbers game right here. I have done very well with this method, but is the tide turning? Well, lets look at the 2 other strategies that I call better and best for LONG TERM profitability.
A Better Strategy: A Few Large “Authority” Sites
Now remember, I am not saying that small niche sites are bad OR that I am abandoning that model at this point in the “game”. I am simply stating what I believe to be the best in terms of a LONG TERM stand point. Smaller niche websites will almost always start earning faster, but a large authority site has the ability to earn more over the long term. I am in the process of also building a larger authority niche website (read more here).
What is an “authority” site? Well, its simply a site that can speak as a professional resource in that niche. The quality of content is usually better here as well. A real authority site is not just about more content. Just because a site has 100 pages or even a 1000 pages of content, does not make it an authority. Ezinearticles.com has millions of articles, but I would never call it an authority on any of those articles. The quality of content is just not there on most articles from article directories (typically).
An example of a site that I might consider an authority status is Pat Flynn's SmartPassiveIncome.com site. This site has lots of content and is well written and is truly viewed as an authority in the online marketing niche. Pat has built a brand that people respect and want to visit over and over again whether or not Google exists (and this is key).
Another great example is UniverseToday.com – which is a site created by Fraser Cain in the space and astronomy niche. Fraser doesn't even build links to his site – they all come naturally because of the high quality of his content. However, the site still has nearly 500,000 links and has a PageRank of 7. That's really the way it should be. Fraser has built up a nice brand here and would do just fine without Google because people would share his content on Facebook or come back over and over again. In fact, his Universe Today site comes very close to becoming the BEST type of site that I discuss below (and perhaps it is), but keep reading to find out the types of sites that are the best model in my opinion.
Authority Sites Immune to Google Updates?
These are both sites that provide very high quality and relevant information on the niche they have chosen. These types of sites have much more LONG TERM value when compared to a small niche site. Even though I can rank #1 in Google for a great keyword with a small niche site (and its still very profitable) – these types of sites can rank for thousands or even millions of keywords. So, if they drop a few spots in Google for 1 keyword, its probably not that big a deal.
However, this comes back to my post about the recent Panda Update. Because their content is higher quantity and because of the volume of content they are truly able to provide better value to the visitors of their sites. This makes them overall much less susceptible to minor “tweaks” in the Google algorithm – because they are obviously providing what users want (and this is what Google wants too).
Obviously these types of sites are much more difficult to build – they require lots of time and effort. I am still grappling with how to best approach these types of sites. After all, is it always best to say right from the beginning, “I am going to build this into a 500 page site”? Or is it better to take the approach of, “Well, I'll build a 5 page site and if it has some promise, I will build it into a 500 page site”? I am still leaning towards starting small and growing large. However, the key here really is to provide high levels of content that you would be proud to show off to a Google manual reviewer 🙂 . You should be more than happy to have Matt Cutts come and visit your site.
The Best Strategy: Large Authority Site with “Tools”
So, what can be better than a large authority niche site? Well, in my opinion a site that is essentially text content only can be made better with useful tools or services on the site as well. This can truly make a site a destination spot for visitors to come back again and again.
Let me provide a couple of examples and then discuss. One example is Bankrate.com. This site is filled with thousands of high quality articles in the finance niche and that's great. But what really makes the site stand out even more is all the calculators that truly help users figure out their mortgage costs, insurance needs, car payments, and more. Because BankRate.com provides some useful tools that users are truly looking for, they come back again and again. This combined with the high quality content that they provide really gives Google a great reason to rank them highly for lots of keyword terms. These are the types of sites (in my opinion) that Google REALLY wants to see.
Another example is CreditCardChaser.com. This site also has lots and lots of quality written articles that helps it generate lots of search engine traffic. However, you will also see that it has a unique way of helping people find the credit card that is right for them. It helps user select cards based on features such as: cash back, rewards, low interest rates, etc.
How about something out of the finance niche? Well, here's a site that helps you find a camping site with interactive maps and directories (plus lots of content on the blog): OhRanger.com
Here is a golf website that helps you book a tee time: GolfNow.com
Then of course you also start to get into larger type sites with revolutionary ideas/brands such as: Amazon.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com, Mint.com, or eBay.com. Sites that actually provide a function or tools to keep users coming back again and again. These mammoth brands and the ideas behind them are perhaps better saved for another post as they really represent the .00001% of ideas (I just made that percentage up). These colossal winners are very few in number. I want to focus on ideas that the individual can start with very little funding.
Hopefully you get the idea of what I call the “best” strategy. The best kind of strategy is to provide a site that is more than just basic text content. If you can provide some sort of tool or service that actually helps the visitors to your site accomplish something – then that's really a winning strategy! If your website actually “does” something unique then you should never have to fear what Google does – because these are the types of sites that people are often very interested in.
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So, again I think the BEST kind of strategy is a site that both provides lots of high quality written content along with offering some sort of unique tool or service that is highly beneficial to users. Of course none of this is easy to do, but in the long run, its the best strategy.
I am actually in the beginning stages of discussing with someone else how the 2 of us can partner together to build one of the “Best” kind of websites. The idea is to build something not just with a bunch of content that perhaps targets lots of long tail keywords, but also solves a problem or helps a human visitor in a way that they would want to come back or at least refer the site to others. The kind of site that is similar to the 4 examples that I provided above.
All 3 Strategies?
As my business exists at the moment I am only building small niche websites and dabbling at building larger authority sites (I do have multiple sites with around 100+ articles apiece but still wouldn't call them an authority site yet). This is where my authority site project comes into play. I am planning to build this newer site into something more viable that can hopefully provide high quality content to the user.
However, I am also in the early brainstorming phase for building a larger site that actually “does” something. Down the road, I think these kinds of sites (if I ever do more than one) could hopefully become the best sort of long term strategy. But for now, I suppose I am dabbling in all 3.
Small niche sites are great because they continue to make me money, but it really is alot of work finding keywords, building sites, and maintaining all of them. I can outsource most of this work though. However, I would have to probably build 1000 of them to achieve the potential income of the final Best option. So, I suppose I am in a bit of a transition period of my business. I will continue to make money with niche websites, and I still feel like there is a lot of opportunity there – but will it last forever? Probably not. Should you be thinking about what the best strategy is for your business? Absolutely.
The great part about all 3 strategies is that many of the same basic principles apply. Keyword research is vital to all three for example. It is just so critical to know what people are actually searching for so that you can truly provide the information that they are seeking. This can be done with a small niche site, and authority site, or a tool based authority site. Long Tail Pro will continue to make keyword research easier for small niche sites, large authority sites, and tool based branded sites.
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Providing real and relevant answers to people is also a common theme in all methods; however, the answers are often better delivered by the larger sites (but not always – I target some queries much better in some niches with my small sites than big sites ever have).
Is the Sky Falling?
I want to be clear here. I am not trying to say that no one should ever build a small niche website again. In fact, I will continue to do so. However, as I experiment with larger authority sites, I may be migrating my business to this as my primary model. I have always been about experimentation and adaptation, you would be wise to do the same.
Perhaps a good model for the newer person would be to find 5 good niches that they are interested in and have low competition. Build 5 niche websites and then focus on and build the 1 or 2 sites that perform the best into larger authority sites. If this works well, perhaps repeat the process.
Or if you want to continue building small niche sites in mass, go for it. Just be aware of the risks which I have written about many months ago (I really not saying anything new here). There are always risks with any business – and if you are not providing high quality content you are playing it very risky indeed.
As you build a small cushion of savings that you can invest, you can then go out and find that BEST idea that I discussed and invest in this site long term. These types of sites need to have a unique idea, tool, or service that they can offer users.
Your Thoughts and Comments
I would be very interested in hearing what you have to say about my good, better, and best strategies for niche sites. Do you agree with my assessment here? In addition, I know that many of you can provide some exceptional insight that may help readers beyond what I have provided here. Please take a moment to share your thoughts, advice, and feedback!