If every site and article I published was a success I’d have a much more lucrative portfolio than I do.
Sadly, I’ve failed miserably with some topics and entire sites after investing heavily.
What’s an example?
A good example was my failed effort in the smartwatch niche. Actually, a lot of the content now does pretty well but it wasn’t the best choice for a niche. The watches were expensive to buy. It takes a long time getting familiar with them to write about them intelligently. The write-ups had to be extensive because it’s a very competitive niche.
To make matters worse I set up this complicated smartwatch comparison page. It was a ton of work. Required ongoing work. Looked terrible on mobile. It never got much traffic.
When I started in this niche I thought it would be great having the latest and greatest smartwatches. Turns out Apple’s watch is my fave for pretty much every function and category so I never personally used any of the others. Switching watches isn’t seamless either. Bluetooth has to be reconnected so it wasn’t practical.
I got tired of writing over and over “and the winner is Apple.”
The content was really expensive. If the watches were free I may have broken even but factoring the cost of the watches puts me deep in the red.
Another problem was that affiliate conversion rates were horrible. Apple doesn’t have an affiliate program so that didn’t help. The rest never converted well. I earned commissions on the odd Garmin (the Fenix is a pretty sweet watch) but that was it.
The biggest problem was the competition. What was I thinking? Of all the niches out there I chose one that many of the most authoritative sites on Web cover and have covered for years.
All in all it was a big waste of time and money.
In time I had to suck it up and realize there were better niches to go after on that site. I published some related content and sure enough, it ranked and made money. It cost a fraction of the smartwatch content to produce.
The writing was on the wall. I needed to ditch the smartwatch effort and move into something else. Fortunately, the domain was sufficiently broad that I could adjust to other niches. The other topics were related to smartwatches but definitely easier and cheaper to cover.
It’s easy to fall into the sunk cost fallacy. In this case the sunk cost fallacy would be sticking with smartwatches because I had invested so much into it. In for a penny, in for a pound. Fortunately, I didn’t fall for it and moved on. Now the site is doing just fine.
How about another example?
Years ago I spent two years of my life building out a faceted search website. Faceted search is being able to filter content for more than one variable at the same time. A good example is real estate sites. A good real estate site offers the ability to drill down by multiple house features at once such as price, number of bedrooms and so on. Many ecommerce sites offer faceted search.
I still love the idea of faceted search but not knowing PHP made it tough. I relied on plugins. I managed to get it to work after far too much effort and money. Despite all that, it never ranked.
I undid it all. Hated to do it because it was pretty slick but “pretty slick” doesn’t pay the bills.
What’s worked consistently for me is focusing on what actually works. Usually the basics work best. Good content that loads fast targeting low competition keywords / topics.
Fancy website features is more often than not a waste of time.
Too much competition is often the cause for failed efforts. That’s probably what made the smartwatch niche hopeless. I mistakenly believed that publishing really good articles with all my own images would win the day. But guess what? The tech authority sites that have been around for years and years publish pretty good reviews as well. It’s the same 5 to 8 sites that rank for most smartwatches.
What I failed to do and clearly I wasn’t prepared to do was go above and beyond to such a degree that it would eventually rank.
The best example of above and beyond is DCRainmaker. Read his Garmin Fenix 6 review to get a sense of what I’m talking about. No other review comes close to what he puts into it.
As a result he’s well rewarded. Not only does he do well with Google search traffic but he has many, many readers who won’t buy until they read what he has to say about it.
And yet he does not rank number one for every review. When I searched “Garmin Fenix 6 review” he ranked third. Techradar and Outdoorgearlab ranked #1 and #2. Both are fine sites but their reviews don’t come close to what DCRainmaker published.
That said, there’s no need to shed any tears for DCRainmaker. He’s still killing it. But it does go to show you that Google does not rank the best content #1 all the time.
BTW, if you’re keen on growing a product review site in today’s landscape, you could far worse than emulate DCRainmaker. If you can write 10,000 word reviews absolutely loaded with every possible bit of info about something, you’ll do well.
Fortunately I had the foresight years ago to double down on the stuff that was working whether it was a topic or article concept.
TIP: If your site is relatively young and traffic is spiking upward, chances are most of that traffic is to one or two articles. That’s often the case for me. It’s the case currently for two new sites. One or a few articles account for 50%+ of the daily traffic.
When you see that, it’s a good cue to do more on that topic.
It’s a balancing act
Publishing is a balancing act of focusing on what works but also trying new things, some of which will work and some of which won’t.
That’s still my MO. I’m currently focusing on something that’s working and working really well. Specifically it’s a series of articles earning $75+ RPMs with Mediavine. Fortunately, there’s a lot more I can do on the topic and so I am. High-earning opportunities like that don’t come along every day.
On other sites, I try new things; new shoulder topics, new article concepts and so on. Some will work and some won’t.
That’s the biz.
Back to my miserable smartwatch effort. The lesson learned there is niche selection matters. I learned a lot from that
effort failure. Now I make sure there are plenty of really low competition keywords to go after.
Part of my problem in all of this is I have more of a publisher mindset than an SEO mindset. I don’t tend to dig in all that carefully to tweak the SEO aspects of content as much as I could. I’d rather publish more content. I know I’m leaving money on the table but that’s how I do things.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.