The wonderful thing about niche sites is that there are many different ways to make money.
You can completely disagree with my method, do exactly the opposite, and still make a lot of money.
This doesn’t make your method better or worse than mine – just different.
To each his own (or her own).
What I can tell you with certainty is that my system works.
I have replicated it multiple times and it seems to be working as expected.
In this article, I will share the overall process I follow to build niche sites that make money. The aim is to show you a realistic estimate of time and effort when building a niche site.
Phase 1 – Niche Selection and Keyword Research
- Estimated time needed in this phase: 1 Week
- Total Time since the start of the site: 1 Week
I repeat this like a broken record and I will repeat it again – niche selection is the most important thing that you can do when building a niche site.
Choose the right niche and even if you do everything else wrong, you can still end up making money.
Do this wrong, and you’ll most likely struggle.
Unfortunately, there is no magic technique to find the perfect niche.
Sometimes people end up with amazing niches by accident (yours truly included), and sometimes a niche may look perfect in every way but may end up being a dud (again, happened with yours truly).
Here are some pointers that I keep in mind when choosing a niche:
- Don’t pick a niche that is very specific or product-focused. For example, I won’t pick ‘cheese grater’ or ‘tennis shoes’ as the niche (as it’s too narrow and product-specific). Instead, I would go for broad niches such as ‘cheese’ or ‘tennis’ and have these products as a part of the overall site.
- Pick niches where there are a lot of low competition information keywords. This is my main consideration as I plan to monetize my sites using display ads. Of course, there could be products that I can recommend on Amazon or other affiliate networks, but display ads would be my main source of income.
- Focus on the US market as that gives the highest RPM for display ads
- Don’t pick up niches where there is a need to add multiple screenshots or images. I find adding images (and getting/preparing these images) a huge time suck. So, I try and avoid niches that need a lot of it (such as tool reviews or cooking or DIY).
And of course, the final decision on the niche can only be taken after the keyword research is done.
In my head, the niche may look perfect, but if I cannot find enough keywords for it, I’ll drop it and look for a better one.
Phase 2 – Getting to 10k Page Views
- Estimated time needed in this phase: 8-12 Months
- Total Time since the start of the site: 8-12 Months
As a result of the keyword research in Phase 1, I should now have a list of 50 to 100 low competition easy to rank keywords.
It’s time to get the content written for these keywords.
I use content writing agencies (currently using Content Development Pros) and platforms such as UpWork and Writers Access to get the content written.
The aim here is to publish 50-70 information articles and wait for Google to get the site out of the sandbox.
Usually, there is not much movement in the first few months.
But if the keyword research is done right, I usually see some articles rank in the top 10 for their targeted keyword within a few months (somewhere in the 4-6 months time frame).
This can vary a bit.
Below is an example of a 1.5 month-old site that has less than 20 articles. Some articles are already ranking in the top 100 for their target keyword (the best one is ranking at the 11th position).
While this doesn’t get any traffic as of now, it’s assuring to see that some of the articles are able to compete only based on the content.
As the site ages and more content is added, I can expect to see more articles ranking in the SERPs.
On the other hand, I have also had sites where I published 100+ articles and it did not show enough traction in the first 10 months.
My point being – there could be some delay in seeing your articles rank. Don’t lose heart. It happens to all of us.
And of course, it could be the other way round as well, where the site takes off a lot faster (such as the one below that crossed 100K+ pageviews in less than 11 months)
In my experience, sooner or later, these articles begin to rank (given that you choose the right niche and do proper keyword research).
Also, not every article is going to rank in the top 10 or top 20, but there would be some articles that will start ranking in the top 10 and will get some traffic to the site.
At this stage, I wait for the site to hit the 10,000 page views per month before moving to the next stage.
This is just a personal preference and you can decide to move to the next stage with less or more page views.
10,000 page views is also the mark where I can add the site to the Ezoic ad network.
While it may not make a lot of money with these many page views, it’s good to see a few dollars coming in (especially if it’s your first site).
Another major thing that I do during this phase is to create social profiles for the site (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest).
While this may not add a lot of authority to the site, it makes it look real. It also gets the site the first few no-follow links (from social profiles).
Phase 3 – Link Building + More Content
- Estimated time needed in this phase: 3-6 Months
- Total Time since the start of the site: 12-18 Months
In phase 3 of the niche site building, I start with proper link building.
At this stage, the site is already about 8-12 months old, has anywhere between 50 to 100 pieces of content.
Some of these articles should already be ranking on the first page of the SERPs.
Since I have a portfolio of sites and I don’t have enough time to build the links myself, I outsource the link building process (or in more blunt terms – I buy links).
My preferred link vendor is Reach Creator. I met these folks at the Brighton SEO conference last year and have been using their service since then.
Reach Creator is quite expensive, but I’ve had a great experience with them. The quality of links that they have built so far is as per my expectation.
I’m sure I can find a cheaper link vendor with similar quality, but I don’t want to spend my time vetting more link vendors now.
Whenever I have to build links to a site, I place an order for 10 links.
Of these 10 links, about half (4 or 5 links) are pointed to the home page (using the brand anchor text such as the site name or the niche name).
The rest are divide into two or three better-performing pages on my site. These are the articles that are ranking somewhere in the 5th to 10th position in Google SERPs and also have a decent search volume.
I have not built more than 10 links on any of my niche sites. These first 10 links act as a huge booster and push many of the pages ranking in the top 20 to the top of the SERPs.
In case you pick a competitive niche, you may have to build more links.
Note: If you are new to building niche sites, I suggest you build links yourself. While it is a lot of hard work, you will learn a lot in the process.
A few weeks/months after link building, I expect the traffic to go up by three to four times.
This may also help in getting some organic links, where people link to info articles on my site that are already ranking well in SERPs.
Phase 4 – Publish More & Optimize
- Estimated time needed in this phase: 4-6 Months
- Total Time since the start of the site: 16-24 Months
By now, the site is more than a year old and should already be making high three figures or low/mid four figures through ads and affiliate ($500-$2000)
By now, the site has an overall expense of somewhere between $7000-$12,000 and is making at least $500 a month.
If I look at the overall valuation of the site (considering a 30X multiple), the site should be valued at about $15,000.
On papers, the site is a winner (as I’ll make some profit if I decide to sell the site right now).
In reality, I’m down by a few thousand dollars and have a site that’s growing and has the potential to recover all the expenses and make huge profits.
At this point in time, I focus on publishing more content (based on the keyword research that I did in phase 1).
At this point, when a new article is published, there is also a possibility that it will shoot up the rankings faster (within a few weeks). I have seen instances where a newly published article started ranking in the top three positions in SERPs for a given keyword within a few days.
This is an indication that the site is in an authority mode and your keyword research is on-point.
Another important thing I start in this phase is some optimization of already ranking articles.
If there are some articles that are already getting a lot of traffic, I can check for the opportunity to add some affiliate links.
Phase 5 – Build a Brand/Authority Site
- Estimated time needed in this phase: 8-12 Months
- Total Time since the start of the site: 24-36 Months
At this stage, the site should be getting upwards of 70K+ page views a month.
Now, it’s time to turn this small niche site into an authority site by building an email list, diversifying the income sources by adding more affiliates, expanding the reach through social media (such as YouTube or Pinterest/Facebook), and creating an information product (if it makes sense).
Of course, you can also choose to continue to pump out content and keep banking on the display ads income.
I don’t always turn all my high traffic sites to authority sites with all the extra stuff such as email or social media.
That’s because it takes time. The time I spend on gaining more social media followers or sending emails can also be used to add more content and grow the display ad income.
Since I have a portfolio of sites, I have carefully chosen a few sites for which I go above and beyond the content publishing work. But if you’re starting your first site, it’s a good idea to turn it into an authority site.
While this is a broad framework that I follow, I don’t expect every site to stick to these timelines. Some sites will take off a lot faster, and some would take their own sweet time.
This framework is also not set in stone, so I can make the changes on a case by case basis.
For example, if a site is not picking up even after publishing a lot of content, I can choose to build 10 or 20 links and see what happens (even before reaching the 10,000 pageviews mark).
Or, if I see that a site is doing really well and getting some organic links on its own, I can choose to not build links to it at all.
More or less this is the framework I stick to, and it’s been working for me so far.