Health Niche Site Case Study: $0 to $3,000/Mo. in 15 Months (While Working Full Time Job)

This is a first on Fat Stacks.

Since Fat Stacks' launch, I've focused on profiling my niche site business. It's been fodder for plenty of content.

However, recently I received an email from a reader saying the following:

Man, Your stuff is great-useful info.  Seriously. 1st site--made over $3K Dec. for X mas and over $2,500 Jan--(real average #).  We are growing - over 7K visits a day-1st blog ever.

Got 3 more blogs in the works.

Andrew
Publisher

That email made my day.  My month actually.

It's emails like that which make publishing a site like this a real joy.

Since that email, I've gotten to know Andrew and have had the good fortune to check out his site... actually their site since Andrew and his partner Ken work on it together.  After reviewing their site I was not surprised they're enjoying success.  They're content is second-to-none.  They're doing it right.  Since then I've chatted with Andrew on Skype and via email.

Like most people with success, Andrew gave me a few pointers and I did the same return.  In fact, his knowledge and ability to get content featured in Google's featured snippet is pure gold.  Read on because Andrew was kind enough to share with me the resource he discovered that helps him get content in Google's rich snippet.

Andrew also generously consented for me publishing this case study profiling his niche site success.​  Like most people working a full time job, Andrew and Ken stipulated they remain anonymous.  I don't blame them... the last thing they need are their employers finding out they're working fast and furious on an exit plan.

Site Start Date

Andrew and Ken started building the site in earnest in November 2015, which isn't that long ago in the big scheme of things.  That's 15 months ago.  Like many new sites, growth during the first 6 to 10 months is very slow going.  However, for the past 6 months his growth is truly impressive.  Keep in mind both of these guys have very little time for this project since they both work full-time jobs.

Check out their traffic growth:

Earnings

In December 2016 their site generated approximately $3,000 in revenue.  While it's rolled back a bit since then, they're still booking approximately $2,300 per month.  December is often a very lucrative month for many websites, especially when monetized significantly with Amazon affiliate links.  It's not unusual for revenue to fall back a bit in January and into Spring.  

In February 2017, the site generated $2,300 USD in revenue which is still a great sum and a great start for a relatively young site.  

Keep in mind this is their FIRST niche site, which is unprecedented. Most people, me included, have a few false starts in the beginning.​

Here are earnings screenshots:

Ezoic (display ads):

Media.net (display ads):

Amazon Affiliate Commissions:

The Niche

Their niche site is health-related.  That's as specific as I'll get because like me, he does not need more competition.

There is a great deal of competition in his niche, but it also has a mammoth audience.  While it's not an easy niche to succeed in, when one does succeed, the potential pay off is quite good due to the huge audience.​

While this niche traditionally performed well on Facebook, this hasn't been the case for Andrew.  Instead, he's had excellent success with Pinterest for traffic.  Pinterest amounts to about 1/4 to 1/5 of his overall traffic.  The lion's share of traffic is organic search via Google.​

Given his growing foothold in the niche, I see no reason Andrew can't build it up to 2 million to 5 million monthly visitors.  By my calculations, based on current earnings, that would generate $20,000 to $50,000 per month.  This will take time of course, but the momentum is there and Andrew has a solid plan to keep growing the site.​

What I think  is exciting is their revenue is diversified reasonably well between display ads and Amazon commissions.  That's an enviable distribution in the event one stream disappears, the site will still earn.​

The Content

The quality of content that they're publishing is the secret to their success, in my humble opinion.

It's a populist health site but all the content is supported with references to clinical studies and other credible sources.  This gives their content credibility.  Moreover, his content is in-depth, well-written and based on science; not regurgitated nonsense.​

The content is informational and mostly text.  However, the content presents a nice lead image and peppers the text content with images for illustrative purposes.

In a nutshell, Andrew and Ken have carved out a smart approach to their niche.  They take otherwise dry science and presents it in a fun and easy-to-read manner.  

Some of the posts are "about" style posts that explain a topic in detail.  Other posts are listicles which are fun and easy-to-read, but when you really dig into the listicle content you realize there's substance there and each item included in the list is there justifiably based on clinical studies, peer-reviewed studies and other credible sources.​

Content Source

Where does he get the content from?

This is another aspect that is really smart.  They found excellent writers for reasonable rates.  This is not easy to do.  We would like to all be so lucky.

When I first visited their site I thought Andrew and Ken wrote everything and that they did so out of passion for the topic.  However, it turned out most of it was outsourced for very reasonable rates.  That's super impressive leaving him time to work on Pinterest growth, content formatting and topic ideas.  Remember, they both work full time jobs so time is limited.​

Careful Keyword and Content Analysis

Another key to their success is the care they puts into keyword research and content analysis.  Since they've published so much content (600+ articles) they're able to see a pattern of which types/topics perform best.  They adjust topics accordingly.  

Of course in the beginning they went on blind faith and published all types of content on all types of topics related to his niche.  It was only over time and after attracting decent traffic volume were they able to identify topics and content formats that perform well.

I realize this approach doesn't help people starting out, but I'm afraid it is a bit trial and error in the beginning.​

One tool Andrew specifically credits to really honing the content and helping the site rank well is the Onpage.org tool.  ​He credits this tool to helping him outline his content so that he covers it thoroughly.  He's also using it extensively to enhance existing content.

Publishing Frequency

They hit that publish button a lot.  Currently they publish about 3 to 6 articles per week.  To date the site has over 600 articles, many of which are truly outstanding.

For 2 guys holding down a full time job, that's mightily impressive and sets the foundation for building up an amazing and authoritative website.​

Traffic Sources

The 2 main traffic sources are organic search traffic and Pinterest.  

In February 2017 the site attracted 179,041 visitors.​

At this stage, I think it's a perfect mix.  It's a diverse traffic set yet not so diverse that it fails to do well at any one or two traffic sources.

As stated above, his Pinterest traffic makes up about 1/4 to 1/5 of his total traffic.  The lion's share of the balance is via organic search (i.e. Google).​

1. SEO

You would think that a website publisher with this much organic search traffic at the 15 month mark is a crackerjack SEO.  Well they're not.  Their on-site SEO is solid.  They know what they're doing with the on-site SEO details, but here's the thing (which surprised me too), they have NOT pursued any proactive link building activities.  

The site does not have a PBN.  Neither Ken nor Andrew have done any outreach.  All they've done is excellent keyword research, content analysis, on-site SEO and published really good content.​

BUT, that's not to say the site hasn't attracted links.  The site has many inbound links, all of which are natural.  

Here's a screenshot of his inbound link growth:​

Impressive natural link attraction!

That growing link profile is really impressive.

While I'm not saying every niche will attract links like that, it is safe to say that not all sites in any particular niche will attract links like that either.

The reason the site attracts so many links without outreach or other methods is that his content is credible and easy-to-read.  In other words, much of the content is link-worthy.  Other publishers are happy to link out to their site naturally because he provides quality content in a way that helps people.  ​

Clever Content SEO Tactic

One tactic that's working wonders is their ability to get his content featured in Google's Featured Snippets.

What's a Featured Snippet you ask?

It's a box at the top (under the ads) of Google Search Results that displays the key information sought.  Google justifies this as a positive user experience, but it no doubt increases their ad revenue because it keeps people on Google search results page longer.  I admit though, that I find this Google search feature useful (as a user and marketer) for plenty of searches so I have to hand it Google... it's a real win/win for them and users.

Here's are 2 screenshot examples of the featured snippet:​

Weather snippet - likely wouldn't click through.

Recipe snippet - very likely to click through for more info.

What Andrew and Ken did is study all that they could find on how to structure content so that the content stood a good chance of being featured in the featured snippet.  Andrew also analyzed the content of many other sites that were featured in the featured snippet.

The result is they've figured out how to format/structure content that gives the site a better than a happy accident chance at having content featured in Google's featured snippet.

The real benefit here is that the featured snippet doesn't give all the info sought unlike some niches.  You know what I'm talking about.  When you type "what's the weather right now?" you don't need to click through to the site that's featured in the featured snippet.

However, for Andrew and Ken, because their content and topics are more in-depth, they're able to harness the featured snippet for traffic.

In fact, they're so adept at getting featured in the featured snippet, they've had such content featured even though that same piece ranks 4th.  Let's face it, getting into the featured snippet is the "new 1st spot on Google" and certainly a higher profile first spot than anything else on Google.

Please keep in mind that while they've had success getting content featured in the featured snippet, it's still hit and miss.  As with all things Google search, you never know.  All you can do is set conditions up to give you the best chance for success.​

2. Pinterest

Another thing they does well is putting a lot of effort into crafting Pinterest-friendly images that will be shared and entice people to click through to his site.

It is true that the site is in a Pinterest-friendly niche, but the fact that they're booking over 1,000 daily Pinterest visitors already shows they know what they're doing.​

Here's the thing, his Pinterest pinning volume isn't that high.  Instead, he creates one really great Pinterest image for each post.​

For images, they uses stock images but then customizes them with some enticing text to attract people on Pinterest to visit the site.  It's not ground-breaking, but it does take time and effort, plus you need a decent eye for design to really make these images stand out and attract attention on Pinterest.​

Monetization

Currently, the site is monetized with display ads and Amazon affiliate links.  The distribution between the 2 models is approximately 65/35, with display ads earning the larger portion.  That's not a bad split at all given the site is not really an "Amazon Affiliate" style site.  I'd love that kind of split on my sites.

1. Display Ads

This was one area I was able to provide Andrew some tips. I'm optimistic that they'll nudge the RPM up a bit with my tips, but otherwise his display ad set up was quite good.

They use Ezoic, AdSense (Matched Content Units) and Media.net.  I suggested they also try RevContent which is known for performing well on health-related sites.​

Display Ad Placements:

  • Below title/above lead image: Ezoic leaderboard
  • Below lead image: Media.net
  • Middle content:  Peppered with Ezoic ad units
  • Bottom: Amazon Native Ad Unit
  • Sidebar top: Ezoic ad unit
  • Sidebar Middle: AdSense Matched Content Unit
  • Sidebar Bottom:  Sticky Ezoic Ad

2. Amazon Affiliate Links

This is the amazing part.  The site is not a blatant product review or "best-of" Amazon promotion website.  In fact, the site has very little content that directly promotes products at all.

The lion's share of the Amazon affiliate revenue is a result of people clicking the Amazon native ad units and then buying something.  In some cases they buy something related to his niche, but in many instances they don't.

This goes to show that in some niches, the Amazon Native Ad Unit can be very effective and deliver a healthy RPM.​

Placement of Amazon Native Ad Unit

Currently the Amazon Native Ad Unit is placed at the bottom of the content.  This means the substantial Amazon affiliate revenue is pure gravy; resulting in very little cannibalization of his display ads.

Moreover, the traffic the site sends to Amazon converts at an eye-popping 11%.  I found this very interesting given the niche and lack of direct, blatant product promotion.​

Website Design

The website is powered by WordPress.  

The theme is minimalist with plenty of white space.  No bells and whistles.  This way the ads stick out and the star of the site is the content.

The site has a nice custom logo for the site.

The domain is a brandable domain (i.e. not a keyword focused domain).

The site loads fairly fast... well above average when compared to other big sites monetized with ads.​

Subscribers​

Email List

In addition to all of the above, the site has attracted over 10,000 email subscribers.  They're still working on how to best monetize that traffic source.  Once they crack that nut they'll possibly add another very lucrative revenue stream to their niche site.​  I suggested they try PowerInbox, which should help add revenue via the email newsletter.

Push Notifications

With 16,400 push notification subscribers they've also been successful at attracting website visitors to join the push notification subscription service.  They're definitely ahead of me here in number of subscribers and the fact that they're using OneSignal for this service, which is free (I'm paying a monthly subscription fee).

Between the email newsletter and push notifications, they've attracted over 26,000 subscribers, which when monetized decently will likely be a very lucrative revenue stream.  In the meantime, at the very least, it's a consistent and decent traffic source simply by alerting subscribers about new articles.

Resources Andrew Uses

Aside from the usual publisher tools such as WordPress and a theme, Andrew specifically mentioned the following tools and resources:

1. OnPage.org: Analyzes content and helps enhance it.

2. OneSignal: Push notification software.

3. Ad Inserter Plugin:​ Manages display ads

4. Niche Tycoon/This Blog:  He purchased my course in April 2016 and told me it helped him build out his site.

5. Authority Hacker Course/Blog​: Great course on building authority websites (the blog is top-notch too).  FYI, the course is only open intermittently.  

6. Matt Diggity's Article "How to Steal the Featured Snipped in 3 Sneaky Steps":​  I'm a huge fan of Matt Diggity.  Read his article about how to improve your odds of getting featured in the featured snippet.

7. Ezoic: Comprehensive display ad platform that provides many ad networks and split tests them.  You can split test AdSense against other ad networks. I currently use Ezoic as well.  Read my Ezoic Review here.

8. Media.net: Andrew earns pretty good coin with Media.net.  It's not as good as AdSense but it's a close second. Yes, you can use it with AdSense.  Read my Media.net review.

Key Points

Determination

I think the most important thing to realize is how focused and dedicated Andrew and Ken are to building up this site.  They toiled for months with no revenue.  They didn't stop at 50 posts.  They just kept motoring to 600 and will keep on motoring to thousands of articles.

Quality

Moreover, they took care to focus on publishing quality content.  Sure, some of the content can be enhanced; that's the case with any site over time.  However, overall, their content is excellent and as they analyze what works best, They'll continue publishing better and better content.

Actually, during my conversations with Andrew, it's clear that he's now investing quite a bit of time into enhancing existing content by adding more detail, updated facts, studies and ensuring formatting is set up for getting featured in the rich snippets.  This is very smart and it's something I'm doing as well.  ​

Success Breeds Success

Andrew told me that he notices the site gets more and more natural links to their content when the site hits position 5 or higher.  I've noticed the same.  It makes sense, right?  Put yourself in the shoes of another publisher or yourself when you wish to link out to another site.  You do a quick Google search and link to the best resource on page one.   Since Andrew and Ken are publishing really good content, other publishers choose to link to their site over other resources.  And that is the easiest way to build links EVER!

Actionable Steps to Success

  • Niche selection:  Large, defined audience with huge traffic potential.  Moreover, must a be a niche in which you can publish outstanding content.
  • Content: Develop a system for planning, writing and publishing content that's better than existing content online.  Figure out hacks for making the content better.  In Andrew and Ken's situation, their hack is supporting their health info with numerous studies as references.
  • Monetization:  Test multiple revenue streams always striving for a higher RPM.
  • Traffic:  In early stages, identify 2 best traffic sources and focus like a laser on those traffic sources.  
  • Analysis:  Andrew is very analytical.  He's constantly analyzing content, traffic stats and revenue data so that he can constantly improve all aspects of the site.

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26 Comments

  1. Brent Dunn says

    Awesome case study Jon!

    Andrew and Ken great work thus far, hopefully we get an update another year out 😉

    I very much like how you tackled going after snippet traffic. I think the fact that you went after rich snippets is one of the reasons your site is doing so well organically. Several webmasters are behind the times in basic schema, so having your site packed with useful meta data is only going to help you rank more over time.

    Keep it up!

    1. Jon says

      Thanks Brent. I too ignore basic schema. Working with Andrew and Ken on this opened my eyes more to how effective snippets can be.

      1. Brent Dunn says

        Well I remember you mentioned you were using rich Pintrest Pins so you were still doing a lot more than most!

  2. jim says

    This was a really helpful article… many fine points.
    My main takeaways were the “featured snippet” thing
    as I always wondered about those… and of course the emphasis, once again, on high quality articles.
    It’s great to hear about success without link building too…

    1. Jon says

      Thanks Jim. I agree the featured snippet angle is enlightening and something to keep in mind when crafting content.

  3. Tarek Harba says

    Well written as usually, Very impressive strategy for ranking naturally and gaining Powerful backlinks.

    I have started applying your Niche tycoon course on my site, I’m seeing an increase in the traffic gradually.

    Good work for both of you

    Please keep posting case studies like this one it’s very informative ??

    1. Jon says

      Thanks Tarek for your comment and feedback about your success!!

  4. Perrin says

    Love seeing successes like this. Super inspiring. Nice work 🙂

    1. Jon says

      Yup, I agree. Super inspiring and some smart effort too.

  5. Christina says

    I’m curious about their Amazon affiliate disclosure placement in their pages. Are they placing it above their content, in the sidebar, footer or a combination?

    1. Jon says

      Hey Christina,

      the amazon affiliate disclosure is on every page in the footer. That’s where I put it on my sites too.

  6. brian says

    nice post. That is a lot of content to get written. Just curious did they just use a writing service or something like Upwork ? For decent researched content I would expect at least $20 per 1000 words to 600 article @ 1000word a piece adds up for initial site……but good to see content still performs well with no outreach

    1. Andrew says

      We did not use a writing service. We tried a few and it was garbage. We have an ex-pat friend living abroad (native speaker) and family.
      But the pricing is about right–Yes the $12K is about what we put into it–more or less for writing. We lost money in 15′ and made a little in 16′–but reinvested. But this is where having a partner helps–as we both have demanding jobs unfortunately. It helped having the financial part and also the “keep you honest” and on track for the site–even when work/family does not leave a lot of free time. I think you can find good writers on upwork but people you know are a better option.

    2. Jon says

      Hey Brian,

      Andrew was kind enough to explain their content source in a more recent content. In a nutshell he said “We did not use a writing service. We tried a few and it was garbage. We have an ex-pat friend living abroad (native speaker) and family.”

  7. Wannapreneur says

    Congrats on their success! I am curious about the author names on the author box of the articles. Do they show them or just keep them empty? If they are paying low rates and producing a ton of content then they probably are the type of website which prefers not showing the name of some random author from Text Broker or some content agency, e.g. Health Ambition. I am also struggling with this subject and debating which route to take with this. Thanks for sharing the experience!

    1. Jon says

      Hey Wannapreneur,

      No author box as far as I can tell… but I didn’t review every post. I think this is legit as content falls under website content. I do this too on niche sites. However, publishing under a pen name or real name with author box is obviously good too. It’s a choice. I suspect having a personality behind a site/article can be beneficial, but not necessary.

  8. Gary says

    Some useful tips Jon. I would like to know if Andrew used a content outsourcing company or a writer’s marketplace for finding his remarkable content. I’m not shy about paying for content because I know the long term value of a great piece of content.

    1. Jon says

      Hey Gary,

      Andrew left a comment on this after your comment. He wrote “We did not use a writing service. We tried a few and it was garbage. We have an ex-pat friend living abroad (native speaker) and family.”

  9. Mudathir Olaniyi says

    Nicely written. But i still don’t get the whole concept of keywords and how to use then. i’m new to blogging but already have close to 200 post. Although i created 2 years ago and i didn’t go near it for like a year and some months. Ever since i started managing the blog, traffic has been really poor but somehow i managed to get google adsense approval and i’ve been trying to maximize my traffic but nothing has worked for me. Maybe if i understand the concept of SEO and keywords, maybe i can improve in my traffic. Please help me on this

  10. Anne says

    I volunteer in an organization that promotes public health by helping people understand evidence-based medicine. One thing I’ve learned is that you do actually need to have experts in the scientific field in order to read and summarize scientific studies. A layman usually lacks the overall context to do that properly and usually lacks the ability to properly assess a study as well.

    I hope these guys also employ a physician and/or scientist that goes over their content and makes sure it really is in line with evidence-based medicine. Just “based on studies” isn’t nearly enough. Everyone thinks they’re “based on studies”, including homeopaths and anti-vaxxers. I have no idea what their niche is but since they’re doing such a great job reaching a growing audience, I hope they’ll read this and consider getting an actual scientist or physician with an evidence-based approach to overview their writers’ interpretation of the studies.

  11. Mark says

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks for putting out this case study and thanks to Andrew and Ken for being willing to share.

    After following your coaching as well, I feel like I am right on the heels of where these guys are and it’s very motivating, since we all tend to work in a vacuum in internet marketing and don’t hear much feedback like this.

    Hopefully, there will be another progress report soon…..if so, I look forward to it!

    1. Jon says

      Hey Mark,

      Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I too find the case studies very helpful for me and the feedback from readers proves it’s a popular type of post for sure. I have another one in the works.

  12. Russell Lobo says

    An excellent post Jon,
    I like the way you made a detailed analysis of the strategy. A question: “Sticky Ezoic Ad” – since Ezoic also uses Adsense ads, it doesnt go against their TOS right?

    1. Jon says

      According to Ezoic, it’s fine as long as the sticky ad is through Ezoic. Ezoic is a certified Google publisher and they’re able to get exceptions for their publishers. I’m currently using Ezoic’s sticky ad in sidebar and yes it does dispaly AdSense ads.

  13. Naresh Kumar says

    Excellent strategy to build a niche site , It’s nice to see that you have generated a lot of traffic from Pinterest. Thanks Andrew and Ken for sharing the knowledge with us. Always content is king , and content marketing and keyword research plays a vital role in ranking on search engine. This is some great detail you’ve provided in this post. I appreciate you sharing your work with us and providing some good food for thought!

  14. Jelina Roy says

    Hey Jon,

    Indeed a great case study.

    I have recently started working on some amazon niche sites and this case study will surely be helpful, although it is not directly related to amazon sites, but still very helpful points mentioned.

    And of course thanks to Andrew and Ken for being inspiration.

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