In 2007 I packed my bags and headed off to Cuba for two weeks in the sun. My girlfriend and I had carefully chosen the specific resort because it had an internet cafe where I could check on my websites and respond to emails while we were away. So imagine how annoyed I was on arrival to discover that they had a problem with their internet connection and as a result the internet cafe was out of action.
Miles from anywhere on a small Cuban island I simply had to forget about the internet while I was out sunning myself. Forget, that was, until the very last day of our stay when I overheard someone else talking about another resort a 30 minute walk along the beach that would let non-residents use their own internet cafe for a small fee.
So I packed my suncream and my passwords and off I trekked. A short while later, like a junkie getting their latest fix, I was logging onto the web while breathing a huge sigh of relief. How had everything gone for the last two weeks? Had anything terrible occured?
However soon enough my new relaxed state turned to unbridled excitement as I logged into my various affiliate accounts. As it turned out not only were things going just fine – infact they were doing better than ever. A round of link-building before I headed off to the sun had led to an increase in search engine rankings for a number of my sites – including one small niche website that had brought in so much revenue that this little 10 page website had already paid for my vacation. Without even logging onto the internet for two weeks.
That was when the power of niche websites really hit home. That I could sit around in the sunshine, drinking strawberry daqauries and chatting to my girlfriend, then come back with more money than I left with. Passive income at it’s best. Money flowing into my account on autopilot while I just enjoyed life. It’s the internet dream. And for me it had become a reality.
The Problem With The Niche Website Business Model
Niche websites work. They bring in passive income like clockwork with minimal interference (though of course they require some up-front effort to get them there). But here’s the problem: for all the courses, ebooks and webinars out there niche website owners don’t like sharing their specific sites with others. They don’t want you to know what niches and keywords they’re targeting; otherwise competition quickly becomes rife and the “easy ride” can be over. This means that despite all the training available to you there are still some “unknowns” – it’s still necessary to go through a process of trial and error to see exactly what works. What keywords, what monetization strategies, what site layouts, how much content and so on.
Typically this means if you’re a total newbie that you’re going to still have to spend months building sites until you either hit a “home run” of a site that starts pounding out cash like there’s no tomorrow or you’re going to have to be constantly going through a process of trial and improvement, testing out concepts to see what works and what doesn’t in this particular marketplace. Where should I put my ads? What links are working right now? And so on.
Remember that niche site I mentioned earlier that paid for my vacation? That site was in a niche that has since died a death for affiliates – the online music downloads niche. Why did it die? Too many lawsuits around “music sharing” peer-to-peer networks and the arrival of just a few dominant players like Amazon and iTunes selling legal downloads while their old competitors went bust. For 6+ years that site cranked out profits month-in and month-out without ever being touched after the initial launch but eventually evetything comes to an end. These days there is no mystery of where to download music from the internet – but some years ago this wasn’t the case – and an affiliate could make good money pointing people in the right direction.
However because this niche died a death the site’s profits eventually dropped through the floor. And I stopped renewing the domain. This means I can reveal every aspect of this site to you right now without worrying about the competition. This means I can leave no stone unturned in showing you a perfect example of a profitable niche website for you to use for inspiration and modeling. And that, my friends, is priceless.
Revealing A Sample Niche Affiliate Website
The site I want to talk about today was called Music Download Sites. Obviously that’s the exact keyword term I was primarily targeting having registered the domain Music-Download-Sites.com, a keyword that got 49,500 global searches per month. From that I derived several hundred very motivated visitors per day, and an income of around $500 a month on average (though sometimes much higher) for many years on end. Even better I never updated, improved or added to the site once it was built – apart from split testing some monetization strategies. It really was hands-off income.
Niche Site Concept 1: Keywords
Typically most of the “gurus” of keyword research recommend looking for keywords with a lot of searches and very weak competition to give you the best possible chance of getting onto the first page of Google with minimum effort. Personally though I’ve gone about things in a slightly different manner that has led to greater success for my niche sites…
I still pay attention to these factors of searches and competition for sure. I want to know that my efforts are going to be rewarded with a decent number of visitors, but I also like to look at two additional elements when selecting keywords to build a niche site around.
The first of these is what is going through the mind of the person actually doing these searches. For example if someone was searching for “free photo editing software” it’s clear they’re not looking to spend any money. Sure, there’s a chance that you might upgrade a handful of these people into buyers but generally it’s going to be an uphill struggle.
On the other hand consider a search phrase such as “best photo editing software”, “Photoshop price” or “photo editing software reviews”. These are “commercial” searches from people who are looking to make a purchase – they just need some guidance on what to spend their money on. And that’s exactly where your site can come in. In a word, then, I consider the commerciality of the keyword – or how likely that person is to be looking to spend some money rather than just looking for freebies or simply tips and advice.
Secondly I look at the estimated Adsense per-click value for keywords, even if I’m not planning to monetize my site with Adsense. Why? Because the more an advertiser is willing to pay for a visitor, the more they’re expecting to get out of that visitor. It’s another “backup” tip for finding commercially-profitable keywords. If someone will pay a dollar or more per click then I know they’re probably making a profit off these visitors and so I know these visitors are almost certainly willing to spend some money.
Let’s take a look at a sample keyword search just to highlight these elements with a real set of searches…
Notice how the people searching for “free” solutions are far less valuable to advertisers? By avoiding those and targeting other keywords the amount you could earn per click with Adsense could double.
So to summarize, consider how likely your visitors are to spend money. By all means consider the search volume and competition but tie these in too. Infact, of all these factors, the one I probably pay the least attention to is actually the competition – how many competing sites there are and how “strong” they are because when you know how to build links properly it’s possible with enough patience to rank for virtually any keyword I choose.
Niche Site Concept 2: Monetization
I see far too many people on discussion forums saying they own a website that gets 200 visitors a day (or whatever number) and how should they monetize it? In my experience the most successful niche websites I’ve built have had the monetization strategy in place before the site is even launched. There are a couple of reasons for this…
Firstly if you’re looking to build a website that makes you a profit, you want to know well in advance there are things you can promote whether that’s CPA offers, affiliate products or Adsense ads that pay more than a few cents each. You don’t want to spend months getting to the top of the search engines only to discover that there’s nothing you can promote (and trust me, I did just this a few times in the early days).
Secondly the monetization strategy you choose can help to direct your site content. Let’s go back to our “best photo editing software” example for a moment. Many niche site builders would then outsource an article about the best photo editing applications, paste it onto their site and slap some Adsense ads on it in nice obvious places to maximize clicks. And to a degree this will work.
However my own experinces suggest that selling products as an affiliate is normally much more profitable than getting Adsense clicks. Not always, but often. Indeed you can always employ both strategies – hoping for affiliate sales yet using Adsense as a “backup plan”. But wherever possible I want some affiliate products I can promote.
From the perspective of monetization then it makes sense to do your research here. In this case look for affiliate programs for photo editing software. Look at the stats to see which ones seem to convert best and/or pay the highest commission rates. Then buy a number of them and test them out so you can find the “sweet spot” of a product that is genuinely great and has a fantastic affiliate program that will let you turn site visitors into profits as smoothly as possible.
(Note: Yes, I said buy them. Don’t just regurgitate what other people have written about whatever you’re promoting. If your reviews are going to be honest and legitimate – and stand the test of time – then please do things the right way).
A major element of your content then becomes to pre-sell the top products you’ve found and “name drop” them inside your articles. Suddenly your article about the best photo editing software isn’t just a general article written by an outsourcer but is a high quality piece of writing that discusses a range of software (all of which you’re an affiliate of) and then gently highlights the benefits of that specific “sweet spot” product.
Many years ago when I first built that music downloads site it was only making $40-50 a month. This was a combination of Adsense income and affiliate sales. Not only was I not promoting my affiliate products in a very smart and convincing way, but I was promoting products that weren’t really converting. The real “break through” moment came when I started testing different affiliate programs and products to see which ones really converted. Once I had found the “perfect match” my income literally went up by ten times overnight, so never underestimate how important intelligent monetization can be.
Niche Site Concept 3: Maximizing Clickthroughs To Your Affiliate Promotions
There are two strategies I use which work better than any other I have tested for affiliate promotions. The first of these is to judiciously place text links within the body of your articles that then lead off to an affiliate product. You can do this for not just product names (“The best keyword research tool that I have found through all my testing is LongTail Pro which will check the competition, search volume, Adsense value and available domain names”) but also for general product descriptions (“The best keyword research tool that I have found through all my testing is LongTail Pro which will check the competition, search volume, Adsense value and available domain names”).
The second technique seems to go against the grain but my own findings have found it to be tremendously successful in a range of niches and I hve spoken to other niche site owners who have experienced similar things.
If you visited my old site then the first thing you’d see on arrival was a giant banner ad the size of a postcard! Talk about “in your face”! Personally I never thought this would work because it’s too obvious you’re trying to push a product and that people would shy away from that.
However from testing where my affiliate clicks were coming from it seems a large number of people who were tight for time didn’t want to wade through my detailed, carefully-constructed affiliate articles and instead just wanted to click the giant banner and be taken straight to an offer for them to make a decision on. I made more profit from that giant banner than from all the subtle affiliate links across this entire site.
As an additional note I always like to try and ensure my affiliate links open in a new browser window. In this way if the prospect doesn’t end up buying for whatever reason they will still have your site open, meaning that they may take another action (clicking a different affiliate link or an Adsense ad) thus increasing your profit per visitor.
OK so now you know the two techniques I was using to drive traffic from my site to the affiliate programs I was promoting but there’s another element here to consider: testing the specific affiliate programs – and this is where these two linking methods can come in so handy…
Take your content and then turn general keyword terms into affiliate links. Initially just ignore the direct product-based links (i.e. turn the phrase “best photo editing software” into an affiliate link but not “Photoshop”). These are now generic enough to run through a split testing process – sending some visitors through one affiliate link when they click and others through another. By doing this you should be able to send an equal number of visitors to a number of affiliate programs to observe which ones generate the best response.
Banners are just as easy to do as you can use a free WordPress plugin like WP-Ads to rotate different banners and see which ones pull the best results.
In addition by adding tracking IDs you will be able to see exactly which pages your sales are coming from and whether your text links or banners are pulling best.
At the end of all this you should find a clear winner based on what’s working and can then rework your content gently in such a way as to push the maximum number of visitors to the affiliate program that earns you the biggest profits.
Niche Site Concept 4: Maximizing Adsense Revenue
Maximizing Adsense revenue is always something of a trade-off. The most aggressive Adsense layouts that get the highest responses also risk making your site look tacky or unprofessional and almost certainly like a “made for Adsense” (MFA) site. In the Google Panda update it seems as if Google is also punishing sites that display too many adverts above the fold so going for the highest converting layouts also potentially risks your search engine rankings. In a nut shell you may make more revenue initially but there are longer term risks.
On the flipside more subtle Adsense layouts are less likely to scare off visitors but your revenue per visitor is likely to be lower. And of course only you can decide on what is “right” for you, though personally I try to aim for a compromise.
For advice on the best Adsense layouts for maximizing profits I recommend you check out the following free resources all of which are high quality and offer advice from seasoned experts after considerable testing:
Using a range of various Adsense plugins for quickly adding Adsense to various places on your site it’s reasonably easy now after the initial setup to change the arrangement of the Adsense ads on your website and observe the direct results of your experiments.
My own experiments suggest that the leaderboard advert, placed toward the very top of your site, can be one of the most profitable implementations and has doubled the revenue on many of the sites I have placed it on.
The problem that I had with the leaderboard ads was quite simply how to find WordPress themes for my sites that (a) I liked and that looked professional but also (b) that made it easy to add a leaderboard ad at the top. There are a few very generic themes that I found such as Acme but to me they don’t look too flashy.
Fortunately I discovered a simple snippet of code that can be applied to any WordPress theme that will display the leaderboard right above your article and it is this technique I use currently. In this way there is no need to buy a new theme or move from your current theme; instead you can just modify it in just a few minutes to easily display the leaderboard. Here’s how you do it.
Niche Site Concept 5: Content Creation
I’ve never been a niche site builder that has worried too much about content length. I’ve just written the best article I can on a subject and finished it when I’ve said all I wanted to say whether that was 300 words or 3000 words (which is how many words this article is rapidly heading towards ;-). However I have consistently discovered over the last few months that my longer articles tend to rank better than shorter articles. Also websites which focus on “shorter” articles such as Ezine Articles have suffered penalties from Google recently and lost a lot of traffic as a result.
The core concept now if you’re trying to rank your content in the search engines is value. No more cheaply-bought, low-value content bought from an outsourcer that barely speaks English. No PLR or spun content. Just high quality, high value content that will really impress your market (and indirectly as a result Google too).
There are other benefits of longer content too. Firstly you can include more Adsense ads or affiliate links without it looking too “forced”. Suddenly they don’t all have to be squeezed into a 250 word article but can be spread out comfortably over 800 words or more.
A smaller number of longer pages also makes your link building easier. Rather than wondering how you’re going to build deep links to hundreds of pages you can focus more on just building links to a smaller number of pages which is not only easier but should also result in more links to each page because your efforts are less diluted. Of course more links mean better rankings and thanks to the value you’re offering you also increase the chances of genuinely natural links occuring as people find your content, are wowed by it, and link to it from their sites as a genuinely useful resource for their readers.
Google seems to be measuring the length of time that a user spends on your site after clicking through from the search engines so once again, a longer article – carefully interlinked with the other content on your site – significantly increases the chances of a visitor staying on your site for a period of time. I have some pages where the length of an average visit is over 5 minutes – compare that to the few seconds you may get when you offer crummy content. So this is another way in which you’re likely to win in the search engines.
Oh and lastly we should mention long-tail traffic. Google estimates that 20% of it’s daily searches are totally unique. They won’t appear in the keyword suggestion tool and each one is searched so infrequently that there is no point in deliberately trying to target them but for each of these searches Google will display an assortment of websites. One of those could be yours.
Pat Flynn reports on his niche site project that 72% of his search engine traffic is coming from longtail keywords he hasn’t deliberately targeted.
So once again here longer articles have more potential longtail keywords in them to appear in the search engines. And when you combine this with an intelligent link-builging process too, it’s entirely possible for your site to appear for all sorts of keywords you hadn’t considered.
All of these factors add together to mean more traffic from the search engines and happier visitors when they arrive at your site. That sounds like a win-win situation to me.
My music downloads site was just like this. It offered long, detailed articles completely covering a topic and examining it from every angle. It may have only had a dozen or so articles on it but each one showed a high degree of dpeth and detail.
Niche Site Concept 6: Link Building
Because it can be so easy to build a niche website that earns a few hundred dollars a month but building a site that will replace your entire living expenses is so much harder the normal route for niche website builders is to build numerous sites over time. All of these small sites and minor income streams then run together like small streams gathering to create a huge flowing river to produce an income that the marketer can live off full time.
An additional benefit of the “many small niche sites” model is that it affords a degree of security because having dozens of sites in different niches with different competitors means that changes in the search engine algorithms have a smaller impact as typically when one site goes down in the rankings another rises to counteract the loss. In contrast if you had only one niche site that dropped, and you were relying on the affiliate income and Adsense profits it produces to pay your bills, you could be in for a nasty surprise.
However these numerous sites also cause a possible problem. Typically link building takes a lot of time and effort – and it’s very difficult to do so when you have numerous niche websites. As a result many niche website marketers find themselves trying to use low-quality automated link building such as submitting their site to plenty of poor quality directories or sending out thousands of automatic spam blog comments.
My own experiences have been that these “low quality” links tend not to be particularly beneficial. Infact, of all these “scalable” link building techniques the only one that I have seen significant results from has been from the blog networks. And Google just killed them, so that link building technique is also out of the question.
For my music downloads site I didn’t rely on these spammy techniques for link building. I generated only high quality links from other high trust, high PR sites in my niche. And it was this impressive link profile that helped me to “weather the storm” of all those search engine algorithms over the years and retain my top rankings for highly competitive (and profitable) keywords. And with the latest changes at Google building high quality links is more important than ever before if you want to rank for worthwhile keywords.
A few strategies I am using right now that are working better than ever before for my niche websites:
- Guest posting on related, high quality sites
- Outreach to other high traffic sites in my niche to request a link
- High quality, paid directory submissions
- High quality, manual blog commenting on related blogs (that I actually read!) to build my profile
- The creation of infographics and their submission to the social bookmarking sites for natural link building
- Active participation in social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to spread my content
Of course while these methods get me fantastic results, they either take a lot of time or money (or both) so be aware of this. This is why I have put together an ebook that outlines the scalable link building techniques I now use with great success. We’re talking easily generating dozens – even hundreds – of high quality authority links on autopilot that glue my websites to the first page of Google. You can check it out here.
I’m forever testing new tools, resources and ideas for niche sites including keyword research, content creation and marketing so now I’d like to give you my “must have” tools so you can see what a “real” niche site builder considers to be the “best of the best” and uses on a daily basis to generate significant results rather than all the tools pushed by the numerous affiliate marketers hoping for a quick buck.
Keyword Research: Having tested out dozens of different keyword research tools over the years I have been using Long Tail Pro since it first launched and find it incredibly powerful, quick as well as giving me all the information I need to find top keywords including competition analysis, domain checking and even rank tracking.
Content Creation: I like to create my own content in general because I enjoy writing and it’s the easiest way to guarantee that my content is of a quality I expect. However from time to time I will outsource some content creation and in this instance I have had good results with The Content Authority when you select the higher quality option. They’re not cheap in comparison to many of their competitors but the quality warrants my extra expense.
I have spent over a decade building sites and ranking them in the search engines. if you’d like to see more information about my ebook that contains all the free link building tools and strategies I use on a daily basis please click here now.
In closing, if you feel you’ve benefittted from this article then please take a moment to show your appreciation by sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, linking to it from your blog or letting your email subscribers know about it. Clearly the bigger the response this article generates the more motivation I will have to keep creating “top notch” content for you in the future. And after several hours writing it’d be nice to get a few “props” – so thanks in advance if you can spare a few seconds to share this post.
Finally please leave any questions you may have in the comments box below and I’ll do my best to stay on top of them and respond personally to you…