I’m willing to bet you’ve had more ideas for online businesses than you could reasonably do in your lifetime.
I know I have.
It’s a bit annoying, isn’t? All these great ideas, but not enough time and/or money.
The allure of a new project is very strong. There’s all that hope, optimism, something different.
But take it from me, a guy who has started more online projects than I can count, the allure is fleeting.
Here’s the reality.
Starting a new website from which you intend to be a business is a beast of a job and/or needs a lot of money.
I think those of us with established sites forget that.
I’m back in the thick of start-up stages with 2 new sites; one launched in late 2016 and the other in early 2017.
They’re growing and are turning out better than expected, but that’s because I hired 9 VA’s to handle existing work and to take on the new work. I’m just getting to the promotional stages (I’ve published 100+ plus pages across the two sites).
Without the VA’s, I’d barely be able to handle one site adequately.
Despite the monumental effort needed in building up a niche blog site, I have plenty of ideas.
Since I love reading about online business ideas, I thought I’d share some I think are good and are models I’d be interested in doing.
Please keep in mind that I can’t guarantee they’re good ideas. I think they are but I’ve started more failed websites than successful sites. Remember that.
Table of Contents
- Here’s my list of 10 online businesses I’d love to build if I had the time
- 1. Software Review Site
- 2. The PBN and Affiliate Money Site Model
- 3. Local Sites Built to Rent Out
- 4. More B2B Niche Sites
- 5. Top 10 List Site (with accompanying YouTube Channel)
- 6. Niche Q & A Site
- 7. Monster Niche Email Newsletter
- 8. RV’ing Website (any travel site while traveling)
- 9. Software as a service offering
- Which idea do I think would make the most money?
- Which idea do I think is the simplest to to get started with?
- What’s missing from my list?
Here’s my list of 10 online businesses I’d love to build if I had the time
1. Software Review Site
Of all products I’ve promoted over the years as an affiliate, none have made me anywhere nearly as much money as promoting software.
While there are some very good and established big players in the space (Capterra, G2Crowd.com), I think there are great opportunities if you niche down to a particular software type or category. Heck, if well funded, there’s definitely room for a broader site, especially if you invest in editorial reviews and demos.
The big players primarily rely on customer-driven reviews, which is cool. User submitted content is great. However, I think there’s great value in editorial reviews (reviews created or at least directed by the publisher) supplemented with customer reviews.
This means you would need to make video reviews and do full write ups. Reviews aren’t the most fun to write, but they can be very lucrative. Quality reviews are popular in most product spaces; software is definitely one of them.
Moreover, you can usually get a free trial or pay for just one month to try out the software, make a video, get screenshots, etc., so the capital outlay isn’t huge. Video reviews are easily made with screen capture video software.
The primary monetization in the beginning would be affiliate commissions. However, if you get the site established, you could probably earn well with sponsored placements and posts.
Affiliate commissions can be very good on software. These days many cloud-based software offer recurring commissions, which is my favorite type of commission.
I would definitely create a database structure with filtered search so visitors could really drill down their search by checking a variety of features/purposes. This is a lot more complex than standard blog categories and tags, but would result in a much better site.
I’d either use FacetWp or get something like Rehub (the Rewise design of that theme looks pretty cool). That said, I’ve bought a ton of themes and software that looked great on the sales page only to end scrapping it and end up coming up with my own configuration, in which case Facetwp is the likely route I’d go.
Traffic source would primarily be organic search. Review sites generally rely heavily on organic search. If you managed to squeeze out a lot of revenue, paid traffic could work.
- Low investment needed to create very high value content.
- Easily done yourself if on a small budget.
- Huge revenue potential.
- Boring content to produce.
- You must be patient; traffic will take time to arrive.
2. The PBN and Affiliate Money Site Model
I’ve never built a PBN. I’ve never relied on them for links since Google Penguin. I know little about building them properly.
Nevertheless, I’m fascinated by the model. Many people have tremendous success with them. I don’t think I’d care to rely on PBNs for all my business revenue, but I’m sure tempted to build a niche site and rank it with a PBN just to see if it works.
I’m particularly interested in building out a PBN that in itself is an asset beyond providing links. I think it would be cool to build a PBN where the sites actually get decent traffic and therefore actually funnel traffic to the money site (an idea I’ve had for some time, but is discussed and done well by Matt Diggity). This is a monumental task, but it sure would be cool. I think too, this would be much less risky because sites that have traffic and link to related sites would be viewed as legitimate links.
I think with building a PBN, you must choose your niche carefully. It must be one with high earning potential because PBN’s are expensive to build and maintain.
I’m not sure an AdSense supported site would be worth it. However, I think an Amazon niche site would be worth it… as would a software review site and other niches with high paying products.
Most traffic would stem from search engines, but like I said above, the PBN itself could generate traffic as could social media (depending on the niche).
If revenue is high per 1,000 visitors, paid traffic is also a possibility.
Nothing fancy. Just a great looking, straight up affiliate promotion site.
- It’s fun. I think it would be very interesting to make a PBN work.
- Huge profits: If you can rank for high value keywords, you can make a ton of money.
- Easily outsourced: PBN building is really just setting up systems. When it’s a system, outsourcing is ideal.
- Exciting: for people who enjoy risk, a PBN is a great business because of the high risk/high reward ratio.
- Risky. If your PBN is discovered, you stand to lose a lot of money and if earning money, losing a revenue stream (which can hurt big time).
- Boring: It can be tedious work, especially if you do it yourself. That said, I like the concept so much I could probably muscle through some of the boredom.
- No peace of mind: If you rely on PBNs for your living, it would be fairly stressful always wondering if Google will discover the PBN and drop the hammer.
3. Local Sites Built to Rent Out
I got my start online blogging for my brick and mortar business and so I have a soft spot for local marketing and SEO.
While landing clients is more lucrative, there’s a decent amount of hassle attached to that.
Renting ranked local sites doesn’t come with hassle. The only hard part is finding “site tenants” to pay the rent. Once you’ve secured a client, assuming the site converts for them, it can be pretty passive income.
Mostly organic search traffic.
Clients renting the site. You could of course put AdSense or affiliate offers on the site if not rented. Alternatively, you could double up such sites as part of a PBN… just watch for footprints. Some PBN SEO’s might think using client rental sites as part of a PBN as naive, and they may be right, but on the surface, I like the concept.
A simple corporate website design will do the job just fine.
- Easy and cheap to build.
- Can be fairly passive (once clients found to rent).
- Leverage the web properties to also serve as a PBN.
- Very easily outsourced.
- Boring. Building local sites get tedious if you must do it all yourself.
- Pay off not huge: You need a lot of rental sites and clients to make a good living. That’s a lot of work and let’s face it, not all sites will successfully attract clients to pay the rent.
4. More B2B Niche Sites
I’m in a couple B2B niches and there’s not too many niches as lucrative on a per thousand visitors than B2B websites. Fat Stacks is an example. Sites geared toward a small business industry is another example.
Traffic is primarily organic search, but over time can grow direct traffic, email newsletter traffic and even social media traffic. In my experience, organic search is the best.
Monetization is why I love B2B niche sites so much; there are many ways to monetize them. You can:
- put ads on the site;
- promote as an affiliate;
- sell a course;
- sell a service;
- sell sponsored posts; and/or
- all or many of the above.
A simple blog structure will do the job.
- Huge profit potential along with many monetization options.
- Fun to publish if you’re into writing for business readers.
- Ideal for email marketing.
- Plenty of recurring commission products to promote.
- Takes awhile to build up because largely rely on organic search traffic.
5. Top 10 List Site (with accompanying YouTube Channel)
I like publishing listicles. They’re easy to outsource and people like them.
I think the most important skill or talent with these sites is coming up with interesting listicle topics. If you have a knack at coming up with interesting topics, you can quickly succeed.
The actual writing of the content is easy; it’s really a copywriting skill that’s needed for the headlines. The rest of the content can be outsourced.
Social media and organic search traffic. I think social media should be the focus at first and then let organic search take hold over time. I also think YouTube is perfect, but does require creating quality videos from the list content.
AdSense is your best bet unless you publish a product-oriented listicle site such as Top Ten Reviews.
Simple blog format will do.
- Plenty of long tail keywords to target.
- Potential for great social traffic.
- Easy site set-up (a simple blog will do).
- Need a ton of traffic to make decent money.
- Need to come up with clever topics. It’s not as easy as it seems (nothing is).
6. Niche Q & A Site
I love Quora as a user. I spend quite a bit of time on the site. I think a lot of people contribute good answers, even if some, especially on business topics, are self-serving.
Google likes it too. The Google rankings for that site are amazing (for good reason).
Clearly the Q and A format works. While Quora is today’s darling, there’s room for me. Specifically, I think there are solid opportunities for niched down Q & A sites that focus on specific topics.
In fact, I’m currently experimenting with a Q & A section for one of my niche sites. I’ll probably add it to one or two other niche sites I own.
TIP: One big decision you must make if you attach a Q & A format to an existing niche site is whether to include it as part of your main domain (i.e. www.your-site.com/questions) or put it on a subdomain (i.e. questions.your-site.com). At first, I thought it was a no-brainer that it should go on the main domain. I though the engagement and potential backlinks it would attract would help the overall domain.
However, my rep at Answerbase suggested a subdomain is better for one very good reason. He said that in the event specific questions and answer(s) rank well in Google, it’s a great blog post to expand for the main site aiming to claim multiple spots in the search engine.
And so I put my Q & A portal on a subdomain with the intention to use it as a way to come up with more blog post topics for the main site.
I really enjoy publishing a Q & A site. I like researching questions that people ask within the niche and then answering it. It’s fairly quick and results in a helpful section of the site. I’m largely a long tail content marketer which makes Q & A ideal for me.
Search engine and social media. If it gets popular enough, direct traffic could be a winner. Moreover, you can set it up so registrants get added to your email newsletter from which you can send traffic back to the Q&A.
Ads and affiliate offers primarily.
There are some free plugins which are okay. I tested a few, but nothing is as slick or robust as Answerbase, which is cloud-based. Most importantly I found the Answerbase’s UI to be superior to the plugins. I suspect there are Q&A themes which could work if you put it on a subdomain.
- I love producing content in the form of questions and answers.
- Very easy to set up and build.
- Great potential for long tail search traffic.
- Takes a while to build up and gain a following.
- Low revenue per 1,000 visitors.
7. Monster Niche Email Newsletter
Last year someone hired me for a brief consultation to discuss ad placements on their site.
It turned out they were making five figures per month from email newsletter ads. And get this, the newsletter was automatically created every day with RSS feeds. They didn’t have to really do anything except publish content daily on the blog (which is admittedly a lot of work).
I was super impressed. They had a big email list, but even then, I thought that five figures per month was pretty much passive income.
That got me thinking about my email lists. There’s no doubt in my mind that email is more effective in some niches than others. Generally email is super lucrative in B2B and problem-solving niches. For entertaining/information niches, email is not lucrative.
Nevertheless, I do see the merit and potential of building big email lists, and so I’m slowly doing that in my non-B2B niches.
But my email lists are accompanied by large websites. There’s a lot of moving parts. It’s a big job.
A simpler business model, which would take a lot of testing to get up and running, but could be insanely lucrative and fairly easy to run, is publishing just an email newsletter in a particular niche. All you need to do is focus on attracting subscribers, sending out great emails and monetizing the newsletters. It’s a very focused model which can be very good.
In order to really make this work, you need:
- to be a great copywriter to sell stuff; and/or
- go for volume with a viral optin offer.
If you can succeed at both, you’d probably be a fool to do anything else online. I’m no copywriter so I’m limited when it comes to email marketing. But that doesn’t mean I could learn; I’ve just never taken the time since I have a real penchant for niche sites.
Paid is best. Social could be good too.
Email newsletter ads and/or affiliate offers. Could also sell sponsored emails to companies.
Site set up:
A simple optin page will do. Very easy.
- Simple business in which you can focus like crazy.
- If you like analyzing data, it’s good. You gotta know your numbers to make this work.
- Risky since you have to invest a fair amount for testing until you get profitable.
- Need to be a good copywriter if selling stuff.
8. RV’ing Website (any travel site while traveling)
Last summer I embarked on my first RV trip traveling 5,500 Km in 2 weeks in a rented motorhome. I loved it. We rented a motorhome again this summer and just reserved one again for 2 weeks next summer.
I love the RV lifestyle and could easily spend a year in one (for now I must settle for a couple of weeks during the Summer cause the kids gotta go to school).
I have no idea just how lucrative such a site could be, but I think it would be fun to publish. I’m not alone; there are no shortage of RV travel blogs. The key would be to do it better and get piles of traffic.
Ahrefs reports “RV” is searched 94,000 times per month. That’s not very much so on the surface it doesn’t seem all that good. I’m sure there are plenty of long tail keywords to target.
The key would be to figure out how monetize so that RPM is high. RV rentals and sales are big business. I’m sure there are plenty of RV parts and accessories and gear one could promote as an affiliate too… as well as camping gear etc.
There’s potential for sure; but for me it would be more of a labor of love. I’d do it if financially secure and wanted to make a few bucks while bootin’ around in a motorhome. Gas money if you will.
The point is I think anyone who loves to travel and does travel can have fun blogging about it. It’s definitely not a new concept; there are probably thousands of travel blogs. The key is doing it better than most of them, which generally includes coming up with an angle and a clear-cut audience. In my case it would be the motorhome crowd; the road warriors spending months at a time on the road.
Organic search and social media.
Ads and affiliate offers. Potential for lead gen for RV rentals and sales.
I think a basic blog structure would be best but it may require something more advanced depending on how the site developed.
- Easy to set up.
- Probably not terribly lucrative.
9. Software as a service offering
If ever I get tired of niche publishing and sell the lot for a decent chunk of change, I’d be tempted to invest in starting a cloud software product.
It takes a lot of capital as well as a killer idea. Sure, many people have started on a shoestring, but I think generally, it’s an expensive undertaking.
The key other than money, is a great software idea. I haven’t thought up such an idea, but if I did, I think there’s phenomenal money to be made in cloud software. It’s inexpensive to deliver (once developed) and generates recurring revenue. In my view it’s the ideal product.
It’s not that I have no experience with cloud software. I earn 6 figures per year as an affiliate for several software platforms. In fact, my first niche site success primarily promoted software (I still receive commissions despite my dropping that site years ago).
Another great thing about selling software is paid traffic is viable which makes it possible to generate revenue fast and scaling fast.
All-in-all, owning a successful cloud software platform would be fantastic.
Organic search and paid ads.
Recurring subscription fees.
Very complex. I’d be heavily reliant on developers since I’m not a coder.
- Potential for massive profits.
- Create something cool/useful.
- Huge investment = high risk.
- Complex. You need developers.
Which idea do I think would make the most money?
Undoubtedly, a successful cloud software service would likely make the most money. But it’s also the biggest risk. You could easily sink $500K to $1 million and end up losing much of that money.
The other idea with huge financial potential is a successful software review site. This is much less risky than actually developing and selling software.
Which idea do I think is the simplest to to get started with?
Other than the cloud software site and email newsletter business, all the ideas above are pretty simple and don’t involve much risk. You just have to roll up your sleeves and do the work, which is primarily producing content.
As you can see, I like simple. I’ve always been a niche publisher which is one of the simplest online businesses. That said, I don’t mind writing. While I outsource most writing now, I’ve written an absolute ton of content over the years and continue to do so.
What’s missing from my list?
One obvious online model I didn’t include is ecommerce. While ecommerce can be hugely lucrative, I’m not really interested in doing it. It may be shortsighted of me, but I just can’t seem to get motivated to do it.
Another model missing in my list is CPA which is buying traffic and making money off free offers and lead gen. I’ve dabbled at this, but never succeeded with it.
And yet another model missing is offering services to clients, be it writing, SEO, social media etc. While I include the site rental model, I don’t include the more lucrative cousin of actually building an agency.
I’ve often thought about starting an agency, but working for clients doesn’t appeal to me all that much. I have a few clients from years ago and they’re great, but having clients means having bosses. I don’t rule it out though. In fact, I never rule anything out. Who knows what’s in store. It’s still the Wild, Wild Web.
I like the idea of a membership site but my biggest fear is being under the gun every month to come up with content or whatever is promised to the members. I don’t need that pressure.
Selling digital information (i.e. courses)
I didn’t include selling digital information because I actually do this with my Niche Tycoon course. This has been a very good business and I enjoy it. I recommend it if you can create a great course. It’s not in the list above because I’m doing it and my list is about models I’d like to do if I had the time/money.
There are other ways, of course, to make money online. In fact some people come up with ingenious sites and models which makes me think “why didn’t I think of that?”
For now I stick with niche sites and blogging. It’s what first attracted me to starting an online business and it’s still my favorite thing to do.
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.