The Authority Site Project was completed and wrapped up in 2015. However, for history, I've included a few of the posts below. Enjoy the older site building history…
The authority site project is all about building one site into a massive property that hopefully will someday earn many thousands of dollars each month. This is very different than the focus of building a small niche site until it makes a few hundred dollars a month and then moving on to another site.
If you have been following the story of Perrin and I, you will now that we have been building sites together for about a year and a half now. We went through the Niche Site Project 2 and shared how to build a niche site from the ground up.
Then when I hired Perrin at the beginning of this year, we kept building out more niche sites on our own. However, due to the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult to build and manage a large portfolio of sites and truly give them the love and attention that they deserve; we decided to focus on just one site.
In fact, it was in June of 2014 that we decided we would no longer build out any additional small niche sites. And in July we starting building our authority site.
Our decision to move away from quicker small niche sites to a longer term business was validated last month when many of our small niche sites were hit with the PBN penalty. This was extremely painful because many of our sites tanked in Google; including aPennyShaved.com (the site from Niche Site Project 2).
However, it also gave us the confidence that the shift in our business was a smart one. So, the Authority Site Project is all about sharing everything we are doing to build out our new authority site. We’ll be sharing the tactics and tools we use, the lessons learned, the earnings, and perhaps someday even the domain name.
Over the past few months, Perrin have been working on a project to build out a gigantic web property. I've shared brief updates on this project, but only as an aside…the “authority” project has never been the core focus on this blog.
However, its finally time to give this new project and case study the attention it deserves!
So, today I want to cover a few topics, such as, why we are doing an “authority site”, what an authority site is, what we've done so far, and what are plans are moving forward.
Overall, this project represents a small pivot in my business away from smaller niche sites and so I hope this post acts as a good introduction to what I expect to be doing long term.
What is an Authority Site?
I'll be honest, I hate the phrase “authority site”. I only use it because its a phrase that a few in our community use and understand. Rather than calling it an authority site, I'd rather just call it a site I actually care about; or a site I expect to actually make a full-time income with someday.
Perhaps its easier to define an authority site by what it's not. It's not a churn and burn site. It's not a site I hope to get up to $100 a month in earnings and then quickly move onto my next project. It's not the kind of site I would ever risk using shady tactics to rank in google.
Overall, it's the kind of site that will require a lot of time and attention and is expected to become a huge property with content added regularly for the life of the site.
I was just asked yesterday via email if I thought aPennyShaved.com had become an authority site rather than a niche site. Again, I hate the definitions of “niche” vs. “authority”…I think its a dumb game to play. However, my answer was yes, aPennyShaved.com was becoming an authority site.
Perrin was adding regular content, and he was actively working on the site to make it into a real business. This is not something you would do on a micro niche site.
In fact, as I look back on the Niche Site Project 2 posts, most of that still applies to an authority site! The process of finding a market, picking keywords, writing content, and even promoting that content is still essentially the same at its core. So, the good news is that the only blog posts that no longer apply are some (not all) of the link building posts…and if you look, I actually wrote very few posts regarding link building.
However, there ARE some differences and some additions that are required to build a truly great web property. That's what this project is all about…exploring some of those additional tactics to take a website to the next level.
Progress So Far?
Since we are already a few months in, I can't give a step by step detail of everything we've done. However, I do hope to provide many more detailed posts for each step of the process so that you can go back and replicate the authority site process on your own.
Here's just some quick bullet points on things we've done for our site so far:
- Picked a profitable market with nearly limitless content potential
- Spent way too much time picking a brandable domain. I'm happy with it though 🙂
- Developed an overall vision for what we want to accomplish with the site, and how we can stand out.
- Used Long Tail Pro to research and pick hundreds of long tail keywords that fit our target market.
- Purchased a premium theme and hired someone to design a logo.
- Hired an author to start writing out 3000 word articles for each of our chosen keywords. We add 1 of these articles each weekday.
- We also post 2 to 3 shorter news articles a day.
- Created a Facebook and Twitter account to establish a social presence.
- Brainstormed ideas for content that may not be keyword based, but is highly shareable and useful.
- Created a unique page on our site that related sites in our industry will mention. (I'll go into more detail on this in the future).
- Manually via email reached out to hundreds of organizations to essentially ask for links to our unique page. We've received dozens of great links already using this method.
- Published a massive resource that we expect to use as “link bait”.
- Used Reddit and other resources to get exposure to this massive resource. This method is working well for us.
- We are continuing to brainstorm additional “resource” ideas or highly shareable content that we can use to get attention, traffic, and links.
- Brainstormed kindle eBook ideas for our market. We came up with half a dozen potential titles. I taught how to self publish on Amazon Kindle here.
- Perrin has now written our first Kindle eBook. We are now hiring people to format and create a book cover. We will likely start selling the book in the next few weeks.
- Created a lead magnet and got email opt in forms all set up. Creating an email list is going to be key for us.
- Submitted our site to Google news, but got rejected. We are certain we know the reason and it was due to a simple mistake on our end. We'll resubmit as soon as we are allowed to (December).
- We've also started testing Facebook ads. We are looking to build our email list.
Overall, you can see we've done quite a bit, and even this list doesn't really do justice to the time and energy we've already put into the site.
So, how much money have we made? None!
That's right, none. We've haven't even tried to make any money yet. We have no ads or any possible way to monetize our traffic at this point. It's all part of the plan. We are more concerned with building a great resource before we worry too much about the money.
However, we do plan on monetizing within the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.
Although we don't have any income to share just yet; perhaps you will be interested in seeing our traffic!
New sites take a little while to get traction. In fact, Perrin and I have publicly discussed that we fully expect it to take a year before we make much money. So, we are going to put a ton of effort up front for 12 months, with the hopes that it starts paying off after that.
This can be a long waiting game, but seeing traffic increases can give you confidence.
Here's a screenshot from when our site was created until Oct. 8th:
Slow traffic growth with lots of fluctuation…pretty normal for a new site.
However, we started doing something interesting earlier this month, we started submitting some of our best content to Reddit.
This has significantly increased our traffic after Oct. 8th:
Note that the scale is 1000 to 2000 rather than 25 to 50 visitors! We are now regularly getting a few hundred visitors a day when we submit something to Reddit.
Now here's the entire traffic history of the site:
This screenshot makes it look like we weren't getting any traffic until October! The spikes are now so much larger, that you can barely detect the 25 or 30 unique visitors a day we were getting previously.
Check out the growth on a monthly basis:
This is my favorite graph. You can clearly see that we were growing in July, August, and September. However, you can see the huge jump in traffic we are experiencing this month; and there is still over a week left in October.
Overall, I'm pleased with the progress of our new authority site!
The Goal and Plans Moving Forward
We have lots of plans for our site down the road. We'll continue to add content daily and we'll continue to promote our more shareable articles.
The purpose of this is to eventually catch the eye of Google and hopefully we'll start ranking for all the content we've been adding daily. This is a long term process, but that's the eventual goal.
In addition, we are just starting to dive into building our email list. This is really where most of our focus is going to be over the life of the business. Sure, Google traffic is nice, but we want to build our email list and core audience. Once we have this audience in place, we can produce products or promote relevant affiliate products much easier.
So, our immediate plans going forward are to focus on capturing visitors to our site with an opt in form. In addition, we are also spending money on Facebook ads to test our ad titles, offers, and overall the fastest and cheapest way to add quality leads to our email list.
The eventual goal will be to create several useful products that we can promote and perhaps even a membership site. Again, this is a long term goal.
We are starting with our Kindle eBook and depending on how it goes we could be writing several more. We don't know the exact direction our business will take, but we hope to replicate some of the success that Steve Scott has experienced with his Kindle books.
Overall, we have significant plans for the site and we are quite excited for the project. We really do believe that this site has the potential to grow into a stand alone business with its own employees and management. No that's not going to happen in the next 12 months. However, with the right type of planning and continued success that is the long term future that we hope for.
That should make it pretty clear why I wouldn't risk using PBNs or some other short term strategy to rank my site. Google is part of our traffic strategy, but it could eventually be only a minor portion of our traffic (kinda like Matt Paulson and his sites discussed in our podcast interview).
We are in this for the long haul. That's what an authority site is all about.
Overall, I felt like it was finally time to share what our authority site project is all about! We've been working on it for months, but not really given it the time and attention it deserves here on NichePursuits.com.
This new project is going to make up a significant portion of the content on Niche Pursuits for at least the next 12 months. So, hopefully you are interested in following along!
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, or questions below. Today was just a quick introduction to our project; so if you have anything specific that you would like me to address in a future post, please let me know in the comments.
Perrin and I have been working quite a bit lately on our Authority Site Project. I've also been enjoying a lot of brownies and cookies lately…but that's a different story.
I don't share the income from most of my business (you can see all that I'm involved with in my last post); however, the one area of my business that I have been sharing the income for is the authority project.
I missed posting the income report for February, so today's report will include both February and March.
To be honest, I was hoping to show an increase in income, but that hasn't happened. We had a smashing success with our first book, and we had assumed that we would be able to achieve similar success with subsequent books, but that simply has not happened.
Today, I'm not only going to discuss the actual earnings of the site, but what we plan to do differently to turn around the downward trend in earnings. I will also discuss my decision as to whether or not I will be revealing my site. (I asked for your opinion in my last post).
Let's jump into it.
Income for February and March
I want to throw the numbers out here first thing, so that we can discuss things the rest of the post.
Here's the overall stats and earnings of the site:
Combined February and March Earnings: $1,854.68
This is both Kindle earnings and Adsense earnings for the months of February and March.
February Earnings: $899.08
March Earnings: $955.60
As you can see, we continue to sell nearly $1,000 worth of Kindle books on Amazon each month; however, this is much less than January and December.
I'm unhappy with the downward trend.
However, before I dive into reasons for the lower earnings and strategy, let's take a look at a couple of screenshots.
First, here's a screenshot of the Kindle sales for March, just in case you enjoy the visual stats that this represents:
Promotion on Amazon Brazil
The huge spike in sales that you see on March 5th was due to a promotion that Amazon Brazil did for our book. The promotion was done at a $0.99 promotion, so most of the sales you see there are worth about $0.35 to us.
I was contacted by Amazon Brazil out of the blue (I didn't do anything to get their attention) and they asked if I was okay if they highlighted our book at a discount. Of course I said yes, and the above spike in sales was the result. Pretty cool!
Here's a look at the traffic stats to the site:
As you can see, the site averaged about 215 sessions per day for the month of March. While this is a good start in traffic, you can see from previous months (in the chart above) that the traffic has not increased significantly since December.
What's Going On? Negative Reviews…
While I'm happy that the site is earning real money, I expect so much more from the site. I don't think I'll be satisfied unless we can get the site to $10,000 per month in revenue. That's the goal.
Here's a quick recap on the site and why it hasn't been steadily increasing in traffic and earnings like I had hoped.
First, we did a stellar job with our first book and it was earning $100 a day for a while there. However, we hired a different author for our next 2 books, and they flopped.
Part of the reason for the flop was poor topic choice, but the bigger reason I believe was the lower quality of the books. These 2 books were slammed with a few negative reviews early on, and that just killed the sales. Once you get some negative reviews on your books, it's hard to overcome them.
Unfortunately, our first book, (that I feel IS high quality), was also hit with a couple of negative reviews. These negative reviews also took that book from a bestseller, to a not so hot seller. I believe that the 2 negative reviews on this book are “fake” reviews.
They don't really address concerns in the book, and at least one of them was written by someone that only reviewed our book. You can never know 100% which reviews are fake or not, but there were certainly a few signs that the negative reviews on our first book were not “real” reviews.
The negative reviews on books 2 and 3 were real, and unfortunately were probably deserved.
As a result, we went back to Perrin writing book 4, and I'm happy to say that the quality is excellent again! Book 4 has received nothing but positive reviews and I still believe it has a chance to sell well.
Book 4 is currently selling just okay, mostly because the timing of our launch strategy didn't quite work as well as before. We just didn't get our book listed on some promotional sites in time and other timing factors just caused it to have an average launch.
However, we will be trying a few things in the next couple of weeks and hope that will jumpstart more sales for Book 4.
In addition, Book 5 is nearly completed and gives us another opportunity to bring in more sales.
Overall, we are still learning as we go with writing Kindle books, but I think we are getting closer to finding a “formula” that works for us more consistently.
Email Subscribers and Google Traffic
In the meantime, we are still building an audience and getting more and more email subscribers to our list. All of our books have opt in forms, and of course our website itself is helping to build the email list everyday.
We currently have about 625 subscribers on our email list, and I think we may come close to doubling that in April. We made some tweaks to the opt-in forms on our website to give more opportunities for people to opt-in, and the early results are very promising.
We've been using Thrive Leads to make this process easier for us. Thrive has built-in A/B testing, AND has just about every possible type of lead form you can think of: pop-ups, exit pops, widgets, headline bars, content upgrades, slide-ups, and more.
I know. We should have done more to increase our opt-ins sooner; however, I really think things are moving in the right direction now.
Another big reason that we haven't seen a higher increase in traffic is due to the fact that we focused so much on Google News traffic for the past few months. We saw some early spikes in traffic with a couple of our Google News articles, and we thought we could replicate that on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, the Google News traffic has not really panned out for us. We tried writing more daily articles. We tried different topics. We tried keyword focused articles for news pieces. We tried both longer and shorter articles. However, we could just never get consistent traffic from Google News.
Here's a look at the traffic from Google news over the past 2 months:
As a result, I've made the decision to focus more on what I know and what is still bringing in more of the traffic to our site: Organic Traffic from Google.
Again, I know. We should have just stayed with what we knew all along…but the “shiny object” of Google News traffic got us started down a path that just hasn't panned out as well as we'd hoped.
We've done some additional keyword research and now have a better content plan moving forward. The process is long, but over the next couple of months we should start seeing more search engine traffic as our new articles get picked up.
The Decision. Reveal the Site?
Like Lebron James, I have a decision to make. Unfortunately, nobody in Miami (or Cleveland) wants my basketball talents…and nobody from ESPN wants to interview me about this decision. However, I DO have a decision to make regarding my authority site.
Many of you had good reasons for why I should reveal the site; and many of you had good reasons why I should NOT reveal the site.
The primary reason given for revealing the site would be to give people an example that they could see, visit, and try to glean strategies from for their own site. I see alot of value in having a live example of a site that is working.
The primary reason given for NOT revealing the site was that it takes away from the true case study value of the project. If I reveal the site, readers from NichePursuits.com will visit the site, link to the site, and probably even buy the books. The waters become muddied as to whether the success of the site was “natural” or whether it was really just due to the fact that I have a popular blog.
After reading all your comments and doing lots of thinking…I've come to my decision!
I will NOT be revealing the URL to my authority site.
I want the site to do well on it's own…without the influence of NichePursuits.com. Not only will this prove that a site can be built from scratch; but will hopefully inspire those without any influence or following that they can do the same.
So, for the now, the site will remain hidden and I will continue to share these updates without revealing the URL. IF the site reaches the goal of $10,000 per month in earnings, I will take a second look at that decision. (If Lebron can go back on his decision, then so can I).
If I can build the site to that size, I think it might be valuable at that point to talk about it openly. I'm not saying I WILL do this, I'm just saying I will consider that as an option once we get to that earnings level.
In addition to some of the changes to our site mentioned previously, we will also be focusing more on producing quality books. The best way to avoid negative reviews is to simply make sure there is no reason your book should be getting those negative reviews.
Sometimes it's unavoidable (if a competitor decides to buy negative reviews); however, for the most part, you control your own fate with reviews.
I think 2 out of our current 4 books are sufficient quality. However, any new books we do will be even more in-depth, longer, and I'll be more liberal with the editing hammer. The only way to get top notch results is to produce top notch books.
Finally, since our list is finally starting to grow a bit, we will be gathering a “street team” of reviewers that will be happy to download and review our books as they come out. These initial reviews will help propel the sales on Amazon.
Overall, we have been putting quite a bit of effort into our authority site and kindle books. This post doesn't really do justice to everything that goes on behind the scenes. However, this gives you a quick look at how the site is coming along and what our plans are for the future.
I'm disappointed that the site isn't earning more. However, it IS earning close to $1,000 per month and that's a decent start. We are definitely not profitable yet, but I believe the potential is there if we simply keep plugging away and continuously improve.
Whether or not you like my decision to keep the site private, I hope you will continue to follow along as there are plenty of lessons to be learned here. I'll continue to teach what I learn along the way and hopefully some of my tips can help your own sites succeed.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Are you happy that I'm keeping the site private? Do you have any questions about something I discussed? Or perhaps you have questions about something I didn't discuss. Either way, let me know in the comments section below.
The Final Project Update
The authority site project is back! However, things have changed a bit since I last reported on the project.
I actually sold the site, as mentioned in this post here. The primary reason for selling was opportunity cost. Perrin and I were spending alot of time on the site and we weren't seeing a huge return. The earnings peaked at a little over $2,000 per month (mostly through Kindle eBooks sales).
When I launched my first Amazon FBA product just a few months ago, the sales of that product surpassed the earnings of our authority site in about 30 days. As a result, I made the decision that rather than spend more time on the authority site, I should focus on building my FBA business with my limited time.
The results have been phenomenal, and it was clearly a smart decision for my business. It's only been about 6 months since I launched my Amazon FBA business, and it just did a little over $40,000 in the past 30 days.
However, that still left me with a great authority site that I was no longer putting time and effort into. I was chatting with a friend about business in general one day, and the subject of my authority site project came up. I showed him the site, and he immediately expressed interest in buying the site!
I really hadn't considered selling the site previously, but this friend made me an offer and we made a deal!
I'm now happy to reveal that the buyers of the Authority Site are Hayden Miyamoto and George Do. They have gotten into the business of investing in websites and renovating them for profit. They believe that my authority site is a perfect candidate for that model.
I agree. In fact, I only sold 66% of the site to them, and I retain 34% ownership. I believe that getting great individuals involved that are able to put more time into the site will yield some nice returns.
So, with that I'm actually turning over the rest of this blog post to George Do, one of the new owners of the authority site. George will explain the plans for the authority site, and share a few other details.
Remember Spencer’s Authority Site Project?
We’re bringing it back from the dead.
I’m George Do from WiredInvestors, a site dedicated to helping people learn about buying websites as investments. I’ve teamed up with Hayden Miyamoto from NoHatDigital (who you’re probably already familiar with) in order to work on this case study.
What We’re Doing
We pooled together our resources to buy 66% of the Education Authority Site that Spencer was working on before he shifted his focus to Amazon FBA. Spencer still owns 34% of the site but we’ve agreed that he’ll be a passive partner since he’s busy killing it on Amazon. We’re going to be running a case study on what it’s like to buy a website and revamp it to boost earnings.
This case study is going to be old school – we’re going to be revealing everything – the domain name, the site, and all the tactics and strategies that we use to improve it. You will literally be able to visit the site and see what we’re doing, and then read about what worked and what didn’t in the weekly update.
We know that Spencer has been burned before with regards to publicly revealing the domains of sites that he’s working on, so Hayden and I came up with what we think is a good compromise – we’ll be revealing the site that we’re working on exclusively through a newsletter. You can choose to follow along and get all the details by signing up for updates below:
If you’re only interested in the broad strokes of what we’re doing and you’re not too fussed about seeing the specific strategies that we use or live changes on the site itself (which you’ll be able to follow along with), we will be providing more general updates on a monthly basis on NichePursuits where we go over what we’ve done to the site and whether or not it’s been effective.
Why are we Doing This?
Hayden and I both believe strongly that given the current climate in online business, buying a site and making improvements is a model that makes much more sense than building a site from scratch. We also believe that investing in websites has the potential to be extremely lucrative (for those who know what they’re doing).
The Google Sandbox (and constantly changing SEO landscape) make it difficult to rapidly validate website ideas. While it is certainly possible to build a profitable authority site from scratch, it will generally take about 6 to 12 month’s worth of work to truly find out whether a site is ‘hit or miss’.
It therefore makes more sense to buy a site that is already a ‘hit’ and try to ramp up earnings instead. If you’ve done your due diligence, the worst case scenario is that you’ve bought an income generating asset that provides pretty good returns. The best case scenario is that you can significantly increase the earnings of the site and end up with an asset that provides you with outstanding return on your investment, regardless of whether you choose to hold or sell.
About the Purchase
Just a couple of notes about our purchase of Spencer’s Authority Site Project. Right now, a large part of the value of the site comes from the Kindle Library – I would say that about 85% of the valuation comes from Kindle sales. We view the Kindle Library and the website itself almost as two separate assets (although there are obvious cross-promotion opportunities available).
The Kindle library is a nice cash-flow purchase and I think we can grow it modestly with very little effort. We also want to do some testing in using Kindle for lead-gen.
That being said, our primary focus in this case study will be on making improvements on the website side – that’s the area that both Hayden and I are most familiar with and where we feel there’s most room for massive growth.
The Case Study
These are the goals of the case study:
- To provide a clear roadmap for people to be able to buy a site, ramp up earnings, and either sell the site for substantially higher than the initial investment or hold the site as a long term, near-passive income stream
- To validate the idea that buying a site makes more sense than building a site due to the larger ROIs, better scalability, and the ability to test/validate ideas from day 1
- To showcase a range of useful, evergreen techniques that can be used to improve either traffic, conversion, or monetization on a site (with the help of multiple outside experts)
- To educate people about the both the risks and the considerable rewards of website investing, and to highlight the importance of knowing what the heck you’re doing
The Project Itself
Now, don’t get us wrong. This project is not purely educational. It’s equally, if not more important to us that the site itself is successful since we’ve both got money on the line. We’re taking the success of this site pretty seriously and we have both short term and long term plans laid out for it.
Everybody has their own style when it comes to investing in websites (find out which style you fit into here). For this site, Hayden and I plan to apply the 80/20 approach (Pareto Portfolio) in the short term, and we will attempt to validate some longer term monetization ideas (the three models Hayden uses most are Info Products, Productized Services and Lead Gen). If this validation is successful, we’ll be overhaul experts in the long term.
How will we Validate our Monetization Plan?
Because the site already has some traffic, we will create a couple landing pages and an email funnel there. We’ll also invest in some FB traffic.
Here are the two scenarios that we foresee for the project:
Scenario A: We manage to validate our long term monetization strategy
- We’ll apply the Monetization Overhaul mentality to the site – and validate some product creation ideas to see if we can move up the monetization value chain (move from ads/affiliate offers and kindle sales to product creation/lead-gen).
- Other long term strategies we might apply to the site include: white hat SEO, building authority and traffic via social media.
- On the Kindle library side, we’ll be playing with pricing, doing some promotion, creating a funnel from the books to our products, and potentially producing new ebooks.
- In the short term, we’ll apply 80/20 principles to the site: things like On Page SEO, link-building via contributor accounts, Funnel Design, and CRO
- We’ll be working actively on the project for 6-9 months
- The goal is to substantially increase the entire project’s earnings (more than 4x) by 1.5 years
- If we were to sell in 2 years, our total 2 year ROI will be 535%, and our annual ROI will be 152% (compounded)
- Our plan here is to buy and hold, so we don’t anticipate selling the site unless we get a great offer
Scenario B: We can’t validate our long term strategy
- We’ll 80/20 the site – this will include things like sprucing up On Page SEO, targeting uncompetitive LT KWs, improving funnels, and working to optimize conversions on ads, affiliate offers, and ebooks
- We’ll 80/20 the kindle library. This will include playing with pricing, book descriptions, covers and promotion.
- We’ll be actively working on the site for 2-3 months
- Our goal in this scenario is to 2x the entire project’s income in a year
- Assuming that the site’s income ramps up in month 8 and 9, and hits 2x in month 10, we’ll have 3 months track record by the end of the year and will theoretically be holding a site worth 2x what we paid for it
- If we then choose to sell, our one year (annual) ROI will be 164% based on the income stream each month and the selling price of the asset
- Note that although we’ll only be actively working on the site for 2-3 months, we don’t expect earnings to increase until a few months after we’re done making improvements (this is particularly true for SEO related improvements)
- Our plan as of right now is to keep hold of the site unless we get a great offer
As we progress week by week, we’ll be bringing in various experts to help us on specific aspects of the site.
You know those heist movies where they round up a group of specialists to break into an impenetrable vault? That’s exactly what we’ll be doing. Hopefully, some of you will find it just as riveting (it’ll be tough though – a good heist movie is hard to top).
If you guys have any questions or comments about this case study, website investing in general, or anything else online business related, both Hayden and I will be doing a quasi-AMA over the next week or so in the comments section.
Feel free to Ask Us Anything and we’ll do our best to answer any questions you might have.