Recently an email reader interested in my coaching asked via email whether my niche site success was a stroke of luck or whether it was a result of careful planning that can be taught and replicated?
This is a great question.
Unfortunately the answer isn’t cut and dry.
I think the answer is online success is a combination of planning, hard work, experience (including some failures), plenty of experimentation and a bit of luck.
I think there’s some luck involved, but that luck is a result of the old saying “the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
The thing is I’ve been publishing blogs and websites for a good number of years now. I’ve had a good number of successful sites over that time, some of which continue to do well to this day and some which have fizzled into nothing. And then some never went anywhere.
Here’s the thing:
I’ve probably launched at least 100 sites. Most never worked out, largely due to the fact many of those were launched pre-Google Penguin and I was trying to build up too many micro sites after buying the infamous Google Sniper course. Nevertheless, I know what it’s like to launch sites only to have them fail.
The important thing is that every site I’ve launched and actually dedicated myself to for 6 months or longer has worked out quite well.
In fact, my first niche site success was a result of me stopping launching site after site and instead focusing on two niche sites exclusively. As soon as I did that, my revenue sky-rocketed and my niche publishing business was born.
What does this mean for you?
1. Do you have the skills to be a niche site publisher?
a. Content Quality
You gotta be honest with yourself. In order to succeed with niche sites, you need to be a decent writer, or at least be able to edit mediocre writing into good writing. Failing that, you must be able to put together great outlines for writers and be willing to hire decent writers.
A niche site is like writing a non-fiction book (a job I thought would be a dream job before I discovered the internet). That’s the mindset you need. The plus side is you have more flexibility in how you go about it, but the quality must be at the same level.
The key is that you in some way get excellent content in your chosen niche. Without this, you don’t stand a chance.
Take Chris Lee over at RankXL or Perrin at Authority Hacker for example. They’re both successful nice site publishers because they’re both excellent writers and good at ensuring the content they outsource or produce is excellent.
How do I know Chris Lee is a good writer? Read RankXL blog. It’s very well written. He’s very skilled. I suspect he puts the same level of effort into the content of his niche sites. FYI, I don’t know his niche sites so I can’t comment on them specifically; I’m inferring based on the quality of RankXL.
As for Perrin, he publicly shared the site he sold, which was Herepup.com. That site is well written. Perrin’s work at AuthorityHacker.com is amazing.
Here’s what you do. If you have a burning desire to be a niche site publisher, give it a shot and see what level of content you’re able to produce, either by writing it or outsourcing it.
You have to be objective though. Be honest. Is it as good as the content on the best sites in the niche? If not, that’s going to be a problem.
I don’t think you need to have passion for your niche topic, but it doesn’t hurt. If you’re not the best writer, but you have passion about the topic and can write in an engaging way that’s personal and people like, that will definitely do the trick.
I like my niches quite a bit, but I don’t like them so much that I’m giving up my online biz to go and start a brick and mortar business pertaining to the niche.
I like my niches enough to know enough so that I can produce content people find worth reading. I also know it well enough to be able to produce solid content.
One other thing to note about the passion vs. no-passion debate is that even if you love your niche topic and are super passionate about it, you will publish content that isn’t so exciting to write. It’s similar to if you love playing golf and so you become a golf pro, there will be aspects of the job you don’t like even though it pertains to golf.
2. Do you have the drive?
I know I’m falling in the old entrepreneur cliche claptrap with this post, but I think there’s something to it when I ask whether you have the drive.
I remember the day when I learned that Site Build It’s founder’s daughter earned $2,500 per month from some blog about some Caribbean Island. BTW, I did launch my first blog with SBI but moved to WordPress shortly thereafter. I think this dates me a bit.
Anyway, I checked out her Caribbean Island site and couldn’t believe she was earning $2,500 per month from it. I’m not saying it was a bad site. It was actually quite good. I’m saying that I couldn’t believe a site that was no doubt fun to publish could earn so much.
I knew right then and there that I wanted to publish niche sites and that I would do whatever it took to do it.
I got to work. I had a full time job then so I worked before work, after work and on weekends. Fortunately this was before I had kids so I had the time to do it.
The point is I had drive. There was nothing else in the world I wanted to do more than earn a living publishing niche sites.
While I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living, I understand if publishing niche sites as a lifestyle isn’t your cup of tea.
You must ask yourself, do you want to do this for the collateral benefits such as:
- no boss
- work when and where you want
- make good money
- no schedule
Or do you want to do this niche publishing gig because you absolutely love the idea of being a publisher of a successful niche site?
If you’re doing it for the collateral benefits, that may not be sufficient motivation (it might, but it may not be).
I’ve had many friends want to do what I do, but when I show them the ropes, they aren’t really all that interested.
The fact is this line of work includes a lot of tedious and frustrating work. I enjoy writing, but if you don’t, this biz will bore you to tears. Let’s not even talk about all the technical stuff you’ll need to learn in order to make it work. Sure, you can outsource it, but over time you’ll find that you’re going to have to learn some technical stuff as well.
My final comment on drive pertains to whether you’re willing to fail. It’s rare that a first effort will succeed. Most successful niche publishers have at least one and perhaps a string of failed websites behind them.
The thing is, I never bemoaned failed sites. It never bothered me. I chalked it up as part of the course of business. However, I can understand how a site failure can be difficult to overcome.
4. Accept Imperfection
While being able to produce excellent content is important, you must also be able to accept imperfection. I’m downright sloppy in many ways. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ve no doubt spotted spelling and grammar mistakes. This site isn’t all that nice of a design. I could certainly spend more time dressing up the posts.
However, I prefer publishing content so that’s what I focus on. Since I only have so much time, site design, post formatting and perfect grammar will not happen. I’m okay with that.
It’s the same with my other niche sites. Not one of them is perfect. I could spend a year fixing them up, but that would be a waste of time. I choose to accept them and move forward working to build them up.
Another aspect to accepting imperfection is you need to put your commercial hat on. I never had a problem with this. I know ads on a site detract, but the site has to earn. I know promoting products may once in a while result in someone buying something that won’t work for them, but that’s the price of recommending and linking to products that help many other people. I do take my affiliate links seriously and do my best to promote stuff I know is good, but mistakes can be made.
If you don’t want to tarnish your site with ads or affiliate promotions and not promoting to your audience, you won’t make money. That’s perfectly fine if you blog for a hobby, but if you want to carve out a living from it, unless you have a trust fund, you’ll need to monetize.
5. Be persistent, but not foolishly so
This is a tough topic to write about.
On the one hand, you need to give your niche site a real effort. Quitting after three months is premature. You need to really dig in and put in the time to grow it.
However, at some point, if it’s going nowhere, you need to decide whether it’s never going to work and try something else.
I don’t know at when the “quit” point is at, but unfortunately most people starting out hit that stage at some point.
If you must bail on a site and start something new, no doubt you’ll have learned quite a lot so that you can do the next site better.
If you choose a niche that’s been proven to be commercially viable and you can’t make it work in two years, you may want to re-evaluate whether publishing niche sites is for you. After all, you can bail on that niche, but end up spinning your wheels in another niche.
That said, each niche does have unique characteristics. Perhaps you’re in a niche where email marketing isn’t all that great, but you find you really like email marketing and are good at it. In that case, you may be well-served to start in a new niche where email marketing is a good fit.
Likewise, while I’m terrible at email marketing, I am good at cranking out plenty of content and monetizing that content with ads and affiliate promotions. Therefore, niches that have decent ad revenue potential and/or affiliate revenue potential are a good fit for me.
6. Be willing to experiment
I think this is the most important part of the process. Looking back, my biggest successes were a result of doing something a bit different which I discovered by experimenting.
Once you discover a niche you’d like to build a site on, you need to do two things:
- Think about how you can be unique in the space; and
- Be willing to experiment to find your sea legs.
My biggest successes were a result of being unique in some way. Here are some examples that resulted in my biggest successes:
- getting into SEO very early with my brick and mortar business… before the competition did;
- promoting products nobody else promoted by working out private referral deals with those companies (I still have long term deals in place with a few companies);
- coming up with content angles nobody else did and then scaling them to promote hundreds of products; and
- covering topics in unique ways within the niche so that there’s no search competition (I do this extensively these days).
Look at other successful sites. Most did something unique and they execute well and are now a success.
The thing is, you don’t have to turn the industry or niche upside down. You just have to put your spin on something. For example, with one niche site of mine, I publish a couple types of articles from a unique angle so that specific types of keywords are engaged. There is practically no competition yet the volume is pretty good. Now that I know this works, I’m scaling it big time.
In order to find some unique angles and opportunities, you need to experiment. This is time-consuming and frustrating, but it can make a big difference. In fact, it’s this step of the entire process where some people may attribute luck.
For instance, one might say I was lucky to jump into SEO early. I don’t really think that’s luck, but I can see how luck would be attributed to that.
One might say I got lucky discovering some excellent merchants to promote that nobody else promotes. Again, finding the few that worked out well is a result of testing many.
One might say I got lucky coming up with unique content angles and keyword angles that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad and affiliate revenue. However, those content angles were a result of testing many different keywords and content types and then analyzing what worked and what didn’t work.
I’m not ruling out luck, but it’s also a result of experimenting, researching and thinking about this stuff.
The point is, if you jump into niche sites, think about how you can at least do part of it in a unique way. I spend a lot of time experimenting with different topic angles to see what will work. This is my experimentation hat which I put on every day. In fact, it seldom comes off.
My Final Answer
This post really got me thinking about my online business and in the end I have to conclude that luck isn’t so significant in what I’ve done and what I’m doing.
This stuff can be replicated in that every niche has room for more awesome sites, but those sites must bring something to the party too.
If I had to boil down my success (which in the big scheme of things is fairly modest), it would a willingness to look for a unique opportunity, however slight, and then executing that opportunity very well.
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 that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
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.