How to Make $4,500 a Month with a Website in a Boring Niche
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Hey everyone, Spencer here with a quick introduction. Below you will find a guest post from Heidi Bender, a long time Niche Pursuits reader. Heidi has been a part of Niche Pursuits Insider (which is no longer available) and I've exchanged many emails and chats with her over the past couple of years.
As a result, I LOVE to see how her site has grown and how well she is doing. Heidi is a great example of someone that has stuck with her site and just continually worked on it and improved it over the years. And Heidi shares the actual URLs of the sites she operates below, so feel free to go check them out.
Hello. My name is Heidi, and I am a blogger, author, organist, cat lady living with my husband and our cats in Michigan. Back in 2012, I discovered Pat Flynn's podcast and learned that people were making money online!
In 2013, I took an online course on how to choose a niche and making money on the Internet. I expected to quit my day job within a year! It turned out not to be that easy for me, and I still have a day job.
I choose “thank-you note” writing as my niche as I had lots of experience writing thank you notes. You may be thinking, “no one writes thank-you notes anymore!” It's a boring niche, but millions of people seek thank you note writing help through Google every year. So far in 2019 (through October 2019), my site has had 1.8 million visitors and is making around $4,500 a month, mostly from ad revenue.
The journey has been slower than expected, but I am so glad that I stuck with it! I've learned a bunch along the way about what works and what doesn't for my site.
The below chart shows the increase in page views from 2014 – October 2019. As you can see, 2019 has already surpassed 2018!
Adding content in the beginning
In May 2014, I launched, Tons of Thanks, and wrote a few articles. My mom and friends visited the site. It was not getting instant traffic. My expectation was write it, and they will come the next day!
My mastermind group explained The Google Sandbox delay. What??? I was going to have to wait months for Google to rank my site!
Meanwhile, the site needed more content. I didn't want to hire writers, and back then, I may not have realized that hiring out content was a thing. So In October 2014, I signed up for a challenge to post a new blog entry every day of October. I didn't know anything about keyword research or SEO. Through the Facebook group for the writing challenge, my site started to get some visitors.
However, my motivation dropped after the challenge as traffic wasn't quickly increasing. I posted new articles less than once a month.
By October 2015, I had heard about keyword research from the Smart Passive Income podcast (which is how I learned of Spencer and Niche Pursuits). I signed up for the 31-day writing challenge again; only this year I did keyword research and made a content plan. I focused on long-tail keywords for the first time, finding long-tail keywords using Google's auto suggest and other free tools like Ubbersuggest.
Slow growth isn't motivating. Again, I didn't post much after the writing challenge.
In October 2016, traffic was steadily increasing, but my site wasn't making much money (more on that later). So, I did the writing challenge for my new cat blog.
And then, in December 2016, the views for one of the very first posts had a massive spike in traffic! For the first time, I felt like my site was successful. And I learned that people write more thank-you notes in December than any other month!
The page views doubled between November and December 2016 for my “how to thank someone for money” post, which pushed the page views for one moth over 100,000 for the first time. Apparently, money is a popular gift in December!
Content strategies that work!
It was time to get serious about the site! What has worked the best for site growth since 2017 is focusing on long-tail keywords that my site has a chance at ranking for. I learned how to find these keywords from Spencer's Niche Pursuits Insider and Organic Traffic Formula programs. New posts began to rank within a month or two (sometimes faster) instead of not at all!
No more writing posts that only my mom would read!
Updating old content to be longer, targeting more keywords (better SEO), and adding more internal links has increased traffic significantly as well.
Here is an example: in October 2018, I increased the length of the post written in 2015 and improved the SEO. Traffic from Google rose almost immediately. The keywords for this post are searched for in October more than any other month. The traffic to the post in October 2019 is 5 times greater than 2018.
I have found more keywords to add to articles looking at the WordPress search terms. I can spot the keywords that landed someone on my site but wasn't exactly what they were looking for. When this happens, I either add a new post for that keyword or update an existing post.
Google Search Console has also revealed keywords where my site was ranking for them already, but not on the first page of Google. With research, I was able to find enough related keywords to write a new post.
I wanted my site to be an affiliate site as that was one of the first make money online strategies that I had learned.
The course I took in 2013, recommended using Amazon affiliate links to sell related products. The formula was traffic + Amazon links = $$$. But even after my site had decent traffic, very few people clicked the links. I was mostly recommending thank-you note cards since people come to my site for thank-you note writing help. Thank you note cards are not an expensive product on Amazon, so even when people bought a pack of cards my commission amount was very small for each sale.
Affiliate links for a couple of other companies that sold thank-you note cards did not result in more sales.
I had to adjust to have a profitable site.
The site made $511 from Google AdSense in December 2016, the most so far in a single month from 140,000 page views. I had upgraded to better hosting and was paying for an email list, so after costs, there wasn't a much profit.
And then I learned that there are other ad networks with higher payouts than Adsense, including Ezoic, Media.net, and AdThrive.
I was encouraged to apply to AdThrive by an acquaintance since my site had reached their requirement of 100,000 monthly page views. AdThrive accepted my site in May 2017.
In December 2017, the site earned $3,600! Six times more than the previous December.
Currently, the site makes around $4,500 each month. With ads accounting for 99% of revenue, the amount earned each month can feel like a roller coaster as the RPM and page views change throughout the year.
Stuff that didn't work well
- Defining my avatar to figure how what people wanted to buy was futile. I did this exercise several times in different courses. But it didn't lead to any tangible results. The people I am helping, want free one-time help, and are not looking to buy something.
- Writing a book to become an authority – I mention on my website that I am an author, but I don't think most people care as the “buy the book” page gets very few views. When I was writing the book, I assumed 3 people a day would buy the book on Amazon! This didn't happen! My thinking was that it was just a numbers game (more viewers = more book sales), but this book proved once again that my site visitors wanted free one time help. I self-published the book on Amazon in May 2016. It did not make a profit until May 2019 due to the amount I spend on editing, the cover, formatting, etc. that assuming the site would drive book sales.
- Selling PDF downloads directly on the site. I did a survey first with my small email list, and people didn't buy it! The PDF's didn't go to waste though, as I give them away as free guides in exchange for their email list.
- The Money is in the List. Not my list! All of my affiliate attempts and selling the PDF's were failures when promoting stuff to my newsletter lists. The auto-response series may drive a few book sales. My email opt-in rate is something like .000001%. I felt bad and horrible and like I was doing email list marketing wrong for years. I finally was able to let it go after hearing Jon Dykstra talk about his list not making much money on the Niche Pursuits podcast episode 145.
- Affiliate sales I have Amazon links, but it's rare to have a month with over $50 from Amazon. Thank you note cards are a low-cost product, so the commission amount is fairly small (less than $1). About once a year, someone will make a large purchase from a higher-end notecard company that I recommend.
Link Building Strategy
Pinterest has generated consistent traffic for the site as well as accounting for about 1% of the monthly traffic. And having Pinterest links may help with site authority. I use Tailwind to schedule pins and gain followers every month even when I do not pin anything new. Perhaps, I should try affiliate marketing on Pinterest.
For a while, I did blog commenting. I don't know if this helped or not with domain authority and didn't get many (if any clicks) from others that saw my comment. However, I did do a guest post after the site saw my comment and reached out to me.
For one post, I went through the exercise of finding a site that might want to link to it as a resource for their site. Writing the outreach emails was time-consuming. Even though I knew ahead of time that the response rate is usually low, I still had higher expectations knowing that my content was a great resource for them. The result was two guest posts and one site that linked to the page as a resource.
Through the HARO (Help a reporter out) service, I have landed a few links as well.
I also respond to relevant questions on Quora. The links are no-follow, but they do send a few visitors to my site every day.
Link building is not an activity that I enjoy as it is very time consuming and at this time I am not outsourcing. Instead, I am focusing on adding more content and hoping to get more natural links eventually.
You can make money online without paying anything or affiliate sales even in niches that are considered to be a boring topic. As long as people are searching for help or information, the site has the potential to earn from ads.
Ads can also be a good fit, if your site doesn't have a lot of buyer intent keywords or if you do not want to write product reviews.
Significant revenue from ads may take longer than affiliate sales ads as ads are much more dependent on getting higher pages views. More page views usually mean higher ad revenue, but with ads the RPM changes daily and is impacted by other factors (desktop views vs. mobile, quarterly ad budgets, etc).
My site would have grown faster if I had learned how to do better keyword research sooner.
Thank you for reading my story! If you have any questions, feel free to ask in a comment!
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Wow, 5 years later and she finally saw success. Awesome journey, just goes to show you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it seems like she could have gotten there much sooner if she switched her ad provider. Awesome story.
Yes, I could have had earned more faster if I had switched ad networks sooner. I am hoping someone will learn from my story and make the switch sooner if they are monetizing with ads.
Congrats on your success. I think the thing that surprised me the most is the amount of revenue you’re getting. The RPM must be through the roof if you can get an average of $4500/month with about 300,000 monthly page views (according your graph for jan. to oct.). AdThrive must be incredible and thinking of trying them out as I’m currently with Ezoic.
Over time, the RPM has grown to be much higher with AdThrive. It wasn’t as high when I first started with them. They are able to optimize with them. Also, desktop views have a much higher RPM than mobile views. Fortunately, for my site, there are people searching for help from their jobs (probably).
Overtime I have come to realize that making money online isn’t an overnight thing and does take consistency and some patience. Very motivating article.
Great article! It’s nice to see that you kept going and trying even after everything kept missing. Keep it up! You make me feel better about having some fails and slow growth as well.
it has been a slow journey! I didn’t realize how many failures I had faced until writing out a list for this article! Perseverance wins.
Very inspiring story of your journey. I wish you continued success going forward. Seems most people give up in that first phase of their journey, sure glad you did not and you were able to motivate others to push past the obstacles.
Thank you! I felt let giving up a few times and took breaks for many months, but always came back to it eventually and learned new things to try.
Hi Heidi, have you considered Matt Diggity from Authority builders for link building? One of the best in the business! If you have a huge volume keyword that your having trouble ranking for it might make good business sense to see what he has to offer. I just watched one of his Webbys and learned some of the approaches he does and he golden. Well known in the seo community, speaks all over the world ect so he’s reliable. Recommended! PS: I love your story!
I have not tried out Authority Builder. Thank you for the recommendation as my site doesn’t rank for the keywords with the highest volumes in my niche. The current sites on the first page have much higher domain authority. (ex. Hallmark.com).
Thanks for the kind words, Jonathan.
Heidi, happy to take care of you whenever you need help. You know where to find us. 🙂
such a great post, agree that Slow growth isn’t motivating, but now day the competition is very high.
also agree to “CONTENT STRATEGIES THAT WORK! “: in such high competition if one don’t make a content strategies the site will never gain the traffic which is required.
but i thing for any site SEO is the key to all, if your content is not SEO based you will never be able to pull the traffic in…
I agree on the SEO unless people have a very strong social media presence or want to pay for ads.
Congratulations on your success. You made a boring niche really profitable. A good lesson for everyone.
The problem with an ad-based site is that you need a lot of traffic. But, as you’ve built authority in your niche, my 2 cents for your site: now you can easily target money keywords and can double your income.
Here are some ideas for you: thank you gifts – 18000sv, thank you gift ideas, thank you gift box, thank you gift for women, thank you gift for men, thank you gift for teacher, wedding thank you gift, thank you gift for coworker, thank you gift to boss, thank you gift small etc.
Yes, ad-based sites do need a lot of traffic. So far, of the things I tried that work for other sites, ads are the only way to make enough to cover site costs.
Thank you for the suggestions!
Thanks for sharing. I think the most important takeaways are that every niche has is different and there are no one-size-fits all strategies. I too heard this from Jon Dykstra and I am relieved that the money isn’t always in the list as I hate email marketing! Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for reading! I cringe now when I hear “The money is in the list” lol. not everyone’s list!
Thanks for sharing. I hope my site success like yours.
keep at it! it may take longer than expected for results like my site, but perservance can pay off!
Thanks for sharing your story, Heidi. Interesting! I can see why you get a lot of traffic, because writing a thank you note is easier with a boost. This feels like a silly comment, but the only ads I see on your site are Amazon affiliate ones. Are the ad-network ones invisible? 🙂
The AdThrive ads are at the top and sticky sidebar and mixed into the content.
Nice blog..! I really loved reading through this article. Thanks for sharing such a amazing post with us and keep blogging.
Great article. When you update your old content do you simply just hit Publish or do you set a new date so it looks like new content? I always wonder about this and whether I should be doing more than simply improving old content and hitting publish. Thanks. Neil
I hit the udpate button. I don’t try to change the dates on the old posts – I am not sure how to do that, maybe that would be better?
Thanks for replying. I just wondered if Google liked to see new content and looked at the published date. But good to know you just hit update and saw good boosts in traffic.
Hey Heidi & Spencer,
Thank you for taking the time to put this write up together and share your story. There are lots of lesson learnt from this blog post.
It tells us that success would eventually come if someone does not quit. Quitting is for the lossers.
I did go to your website to check it out but my antivirus is giving me a warning that your site contains malware. I had to leave immediately.
You might want to investigate that and fix it.
Thanks for letting me know about the malware. What antivirus are you using? I think I need to check with my host about the malware?
This is so inspiring and that you made it possible and hold. I have days i want to quit but people like you remind me that this is possible just takes a lot of hard work and patienece. I hope one day i can reach my goal as well
Thank you for such great articles
I had weeks and sometimes months when I didn’t work on the site, but eventaully kept coming back to it and it paid off!
Congratulations Heidi, great story of perseverance and hard work. Thanks to you and Spencer for publishing your Cinderella tale by way of thank you notes. Awesome! 🙂 Richard
Hi Heidi, congratulations on the success! Sure, it’s not a booming success that’s made you a millionaire, but I feel the most important thing is the freedom that being able to do what you’re passionate (writing) and make a decent chunk doing so.
Thank you! The extra income has given me freedom and the ability to support causes that I care about (cats, mostly). The money will help me become a millionaire faster, I suppose!
Firstly, I don’t think your niche is boring. Congrats to you for thinking of it and sticking with it. I also like that is all about good manners and good intentions.
So good on you for doing well from a positive and useful ‘product’.
Thanks posting this blog post! Heidi’s journey is really inspiring. perseverance is the key to success. Making money only take effort and a lot of patience.
If Heidi had put this kind of effort in blog which was in a different niche she would have definitely made lot more money. I am sure if she would spend some time on link building without outsourcing and building relationship with others in her niche her blog would certainly get a lot more traffic.
Congradulations to Heidi for the success she has achieved and all the best to her.
Thank you for reading the post and your feedback! Everything you say is correct! I struggle with the link building, so looking into the recommendation to use Matt Diggity’s site as another commenter suggested.
Great success and inspiring story. I am also struggling with new brand website and hopefully will get results soon.
Any suggestion new affiliate site??
Very inspiring story, thank you for sharing and giving hope to all of us hard working niche site owners that still waiting for the success to come!
Thanks for reading!
Thanks for the great post, Heidi!
I´m just starting with my blogging journey, I’ve made a “testing” page on a topic I love but seems to be quite difficult to rank in. Wherever I look with tools like Long Tail Pro, everything seems to be quite saturated, meaning that I find it quite difficult to find the right keywords.
Any tips on how to do it in order to get some results?
Amazing and inspiring story. Worth the 5 years wait! Now it’s your full-time job?