I know I’ve been fortunate with my niche site business.
While I’m not by any stretch of the imagination the most successful niche site publisher, I’m fortunate to earn a decent living doing it, and it’s something I love doing.
Interestingly, I never, ever planned to embark on a “tech” career. I’m an attorney by profession, but ironically it was becoming an attorney that led me down the path to building a niche website business.
Briefly, as a young attorney I needed more clients. This was 2006 and the internet was just hitting a critical mass. While I knew nothing about marketing online, I figured it was worth a shot. Besides, I didn’t have the advertising budget for a 2-page ad spread in the Yellow Pages.
Fortunately for me, most lawyers and law firms weren’t marketing online. Most did have websites, but they didn’t promote those sites. Most of their ad budgets went to billboards and Yellow Pages. I took our small ad budget to the internet. Specifically, we invested in a website built by a reputable SEO company. It was a huge gamble, but paid off. Fortunately the SEO company we hired really knew their business.
That SEO company recommended we publish a law blog for search engine traffic. The site they built wasn’t in WordPress; it was proprietary software they developed that included a good blogging platform. They told me what to do and I did it. I blogged like crazy. I didn’t do keyword research; I just wrote articles I though prospective clients would want to read. That said, the SEO company did school me in the on-site basics.
Within 6 months our firm’s website was getting decent traffic and new clients were hiring us. It was a success. I ramped up my blogging efforts which exponentially helped our online efforts.
As I blogged, I started reading more about SEO and online marketing. I then stumbled on the concept of niche websites and affiliate marketing. That was exciting. I figured if I could make a law website work well, why not try a niche site.
It was slow going at first… but I ended up filling my head with too much information. Before I knew it I had launched many niche sites, all of which earned ziltch. The only site I worked on that did well were the law firm sites (I had launched more law firm sites, all of which did well).
My big problem was trying to do too much too fast. It’s what we refer to as “bright shiny object syndrome” which is jumping from one method, model or new site to another never turning anything into a success.
Fortunately, I recognized this mistake fairly quickly.
That’s when I decided to focus, which is the first major change I made that helped launch my niche site business.
To this day I get distracted with trying new projects. More often than not it turns out badly. Fortunately I have staple websites I keep building that provides me a little latitude to venture on silly frolics, but for people starting out trying to get to that first $10,000 per month, focus is critically important.
I still remember the moment when I decided to scrap all my silly niche sites and focus on the 2 that were actually generating a little revenue. I put my all into them at night and on weekends.
Within 6 months I was earning mid-four figures per month. Within 12 to 18 months I hit $10,000 (Canadian) per month. That’s when I knew I could make niche site publishing work. All-in-all it took me about 2 years to get to $10,000 per month with niche sites ONCE I decided to focus.
Focusing requires faith in what you’re doing. It’s not pleasant working like crazy for no or little money. But milestones are huge… the first $1, $10, $100, $1,000 and so on are hugely motivating.
Tip: Focus. Seriously focus on ONE website. These days there are so many moving parts to a successful niche website that unless you have a team, managing more than one is very difficult. You must publish excellent content (400 word junk articles won’t do it). You must manage 1 or several social media properties. You must test monetization. You probably should run an email newsletter.
All of this takes a lot of time.
BUT, while building successful niche websites seems to take more work than the olden days of microsites, the good news is the potential revenue and growth of niche sites is so much better now. I think niche websites have so much more potential today because we have:
Many ways to monetize websites. These days there are so many great options to monetize a website.
Many excellent traffic sources. While Google search is wonderful traffic, before social networks, that’s all there was for the most part. Now for many sites, Google search makes up less than half of total traffic.
Many devices to cater to. While this seems like a hassle to format for multiple devices (views), in my view the more devices people use to access the internet, the more aggregate website visits there are which means more visits to your site. These days people spend hours per day online outside of work and much of that is just random surfing killing time and having fun. That’s absolutely wonderful for all types of niche sites.
More niches to serve. Actually, most niches that exist always have. By “more niches to serve” I mean that with pretty much everyone online, many niches that were too small 10 years ago now have a great deal of traffic and revenue potential. Seemingly small niches can still be very lucrative.
However, in order to gain full advantage, you must focus.
2. Recurring Revenue
While only a portion of my online revenue is recurring, it’s sizable and large enough to live on.
If, in any way you can implement a recurring revenue stream in your business, do so. It’s worth it in the long run.
I stumbled into this accidentally and while results were slow in the early days, I stuck with it and in the long run investing in establishing a recurring revenue stream was one of the best decisions I ever made.
That said, if you have some moderate success with a website and recurring revenue isn’t possible, don’t abandon your project looking for something else. All I’m saying is if it’s possible to incorporate recurring revenue into your current business, do so.
I explain in step-by-step detail exactly how I generate almost $10,000 per month in recurring revenue in my course Niche Tycoon.
3. Be Unique
While not everything I do is unique, I’ve done things over the years that other people don’t do and fortunately some of those things worked out. For most projects I start, I think about how I can offer something unique. It doesn’t have to be hugely unique, just something a little different.
Here are some examples that have worked for me:
i. Establishing private partnerships with products and services nobody promotes:
Fairly early on in my online career I realized promoting the same products as other people was hard. I adjusted my approach by reaching out to other products/services within my niche who did not have a public affiliate program and made a private deal where they paid me for referrals. I’ve done this many times and it’s worked great because I have no competition in great niches.
ii. Came up with a unique and scalable way to promote products as an affiliate
This was my first niche site success approach. I created product galleries in a very specific niche listing out the best types of products for a very specific purpose. While traffic levels weren’t great, these posts ranked quickly because nobody else did it and they targeted very long tail keyword. The best part is the converted very well so even a little traffic earned well.
iii. Published content within a niche in a unique format not done by other sites in the niche
While the content is the same, the format is different and it was a format people liked. The niche site was a hit quickly.
iv. Structure niche websites in a unique way that improves user experience and content quality
In 2016 I took my “be unique” mantra and spent hundreds of hours working on a new way to build much better niche websites that better served visitors and made it easier to publish tons (and I mean tons) of long tail content quickly providing the exact content people want. I reveal and teach this new approach in detail in my course Niche Tycoon.
There are more, but the above 4 are the “unique” approaches I’ve taken over the years that really helped build my business.
You might think it’s weird that I include “AdSense” as key tip in my online growth and that’s because it is. But I simply can’t deny the positive impact AdSense has had on my online business.
The thing is, my including AdSense is both a metaphorical and a literal aspect to my online growth.
Here’s the thing. For years I ignored AdSense. I focused on local marketing and affiliate marketing. My problem was I listened to the internet marketers who said AdSense paid so bad it wasn’t worth using.
What I didn’t realize is that on B2B sites (i.e. “how to blog” and “internet marketing”) websites, AdSense is not good. Many bloggers in the “how to blog” sphere don’t publish other niche sites so it makes sense that they would say AdSense is bad because they don’t publish sites outside of the “how to blog” niche.
BUT, for many, and I mean many niches, AdSense is the best option and it’s a good option. In fact, it’s so good that it’s worth going into many niches and AdSense makes it possible.
It’s metaphorical in that I refer to AdSense to include all display advertising. It’s also metaphorical in that it’s important you have an open mind and not listen to just one person. Use your brain.
There’s a reason the biggest magazine websites use AdSense and other display ads… it’s their best monetization option and it’s very good at that. If mega media publishing outfits use display ads, it’s a bit silly for smaller players like us to espouse AdSense and other display ads as a “terrible way to monetize a website.”
I love display ads for monetization because it offers freedom… freedom to publish on all kinds of topics; not just topics that successfully promote affiliate products (which is also great to do, but not exclusively).
I’m going to use that annoying “fortunate” word again. I’m fortunate in that I love testing stuff. I’m a website tinkerer. I love to try new things to see what will happen. More often than not testing efforts are a bust, but once in a while I strike gold.
But, there’s a fine balance here. You can’t spend all your time testing. At some point it’s procrastination. Testing should be part of your efforts; not your sole effort.
If you have some moderate success, excessive testing is procrastinating your real work. I know from personal experience. Instead, you should be focusing your time on repeating what’s working. This can be boring and tedious, but if you want to grow, do more of what is working and then squeeze in a bit of testing time throughout the week.
I think it’s best to wait until you have some success before investing in more testing. It’s impossible to test anything without traffic. Besides, you need to just get some revenue rolling in so that you have a viable business. After that, you have the ability and luxury to test.
Here are some examples of what you can test:
Affiliate promotions: Affiliate offers, merchants, call-to-actions and types of content that promotes affiliate products.
Ad display: Placements, sizes, ad networks, ad types (i.e. text vs. banner vs. video etc.) and colors.
Email optin rates: Placements, incentives, copywriting and opt in options (forms, fly-ins, notification bars, pop ups, welcome mats, etc.).
Types of content: This is huge because I’ve noticed that some types of content performs much better. You want to get to the point where you discover a pattern of which types of content performs best and then produce as much of that content as possible. By “works best” I’m referring to attracts the most traffic and/or earns the most per 1,000 visitors. For me, I take both into account.
For example, if I have a post that pulls in hundreds of visitors per day but earns nothing, I’m not likely to keep on producing that type of content.
FYI, I’ve noticed that posts that are in some form or fashion a list (i.e. title with a number in it such as “15 Gadgets I Can’t Wait to Get My Hands On“) perform better with ad revenue than non-list articles.
Traffic sources: Traffic source can make a big difference. For example, I earn far in ad revenue from Facebook traffic than Pinterest traffic PER 1,000 VISITS. On the flip side, Pinterest traffic requires much less effort and it’s more passive in that past efforts can drive traffic for a longer period of time than Facebook. Therefore, because I prefer passive and less effort, I put more effort in Pinterest even though it doesn’t earn as much per 1,000 visitors than Facebook. It’s a balancing act. That said, I still post often to Facebook, but I don’t invest a huge amount of time doing so. Moreover, I use Facebook to generate revenue in ways other than simply driving traffic to my sites.
The internet changes fast. Some of what worked 3 years ago doesn’t work as well or at all now. That said, some of what worked 3 years ago still works like gangbusters. Keep doing what works and change your approach when something stops working.
Examples of what doesn’t work so well anymore:
Free Facebook traffic:
Yes, you can still drive free traffic from your Facebook page with engaging posts, but for the most part, the volume is much less than it was 3 years ago. Yeah, yeah, some FB gurus will say FB is just as good as it was and if it’s not it’s because you post lousy posts. That may be the case with some FB marketers, but I think it’s pretty clear that the overall ability to drive free traffic from a FB page is diminished in recent years.
Junk backlinks for SEO:
Ohhhh, the glory days of building hundreds of junk links for SEO. It was so easy then, but it was also a lousy job. I did it because it worked, but it wasn’t fun. These days junk, spammy links don’t work. Sure, it might work for a bit but I think overall it’s not a long term SEO strategy. I actually prefer having to focus on better content than focusing on how I can build hundreds of thousands of lousy links.
These are 2 very obvious examples of changes that had big, negative impacts on a lot of marketers and business owners. During the heyday of free Facebook traffic, many websites received the lion’s share of their traffic from their FB change. Over time, those traffic levels have dwindled for many website publishers.
With respect to SEO, that’s a constantly changing minefield but there have definitely been significant changes at certain points in time which radically changed SEO practices.
I was impacted by both of these changes
I used to focus on SEO. The first Google Penguin algo update hit me pretty hard. It didn’t wipe me out, but it hurt.
After that, I jumped on the FB bandwagon. That was a beauty for a couple of years too.
Fortunately, despite following the trends, I also incorporated some strategies that have helped me continue building up a solid business. Primarily that’s been focusing more and more on better and better content, diversifying traffic sources and building up a recurring revenue stream.
Actually, before Google Penguin, I was very dependent on SEO traffic so I wasn’t diversified. That was a huge lesson for me, which I took to heart. So even though I jumped on the free Facebook traffic bandwagon, I diversified my traffic sources at the same time. Without question I wish Facebook traffic continued to pour in like it did 3 years ago because it was so easy and fast; however, it’s not the case and so I’ve adapted.
I think it’s a good practice to ask yourself “if my number one source of traffic/revenue ended tomorrow, what would I do to stay in business?” You may have to do some testing to figure out other traffic/revenue sources, but it’s a good idea to implement it just so that you’re prepared for a worst case scenario.
Big Picture – What does a constantly changing landscape mean?
Diversify your traffic sources and revenue streams. BUT, this is a balancing act, especially if starting out. You don’t want to try to make a success of all social platforms. You’re better off focusing on one or two social platforms and doing a good job on them. The other traffic sources could be paid or SEO or email.
Same thing with revenue. If you monetize with ads only, work hard to diversify the ad networks… generating decent revenue from two networks. This way if one stops working or there are problems (i.e. a ban), you aren’t left with no revenue.
Leverage is the strategy that builds your business.
You can leverage your niche site business in a number of ways. They are:
- Scale existing site;
- Build more niche sites; or
Regardless of which strategy you embrace, you must identify with absolute clarity what works and focus on that.
For example, for one of my niche sites, I published a lot of content that ultimately didn’t serve me very well. While it took me a while to figure it out, I did realize I was investing a great deal of money in content that didn’t carry its own weight. Accordingly, I shifted strategies by focusing on producing more of the content that was working.
It’s the same if you decide to scale by building more niche sites. It’s probably a good idea to build a niche site in a way with which you’re familiar. Better yet, create a niche site for which you can leverage your existing niche traffic, such as leveraging your social media channels.
The key to leveraging is doing more with less in a shorter period of time. That’s the goal and fortunately with one success under your belt there are many ways to proceed. Success breeds success in this business. That said, I’ve done a lot of things that haven’t worked out in recent years too. That falls under testing which overall has served me well, but I’ve taken hits at the same time.
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.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
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.