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Last updated: May 29, 2022
As an online marketer, no matter how well things are going, you always need to think about the future. A business can literally fail overnight.
This is especially true for online businesses focused on affiliate marketing because of their volatile and unpredictable nature. That’s why it’s important to always be moving forward and not put all your eggs in one basket.
In this case study, I am going to outline how I built and grew a brand new niche website from scratch to reach a $23,000 income within nine months.
This niche site case study was first published in 2018. Not everything mentioned in this article may be as relevant today as it was back then. However, a lot of the core strategies used at the time are still effective today, such as finding a good niche, publishing high-quality, conversion-focused content, and proper keyword research.
Starting a New Project
I tend to get bright ideas in the new year, right after the Christmas and New Year holiday period. This means that January is usually the month I start new projects.
For this particular project, I had three options in my mind:
- A new authority site:
Building a new authority site requires a huge amount of work with little return in the first six months. But in the long term, this business model can grow into something really big and sustainable, as long as you keep putting in the hard work.
- An Amazon FBA business:
Amazon FBA was a hot topic in the online business scene at the time. Lots of Internet marketers had taken the plunge and achieved success with this business model. But just like building out an authority site, starting an FBA business requires a lot of work, and also a financial investment, in the first few months. Exciting, but also risky.
- A niche website:
The third option, creating a new niche site from scratch is less work, but would never generate the long-term income that an authority site or an FBA business could generate. Plus, it’s more of the same and just not as exciting as the other two options.
After a week of weighing up the cons and pros of all options, I had made up my mind. I was going to build a brand new authority website with the idea of selling my own products down the track.
But the biggest reason for starting a new authority site was that it could also become a financial asset. Just like real estate, a well-performing website grows in value over time. My plan was to build out an asset that I could eventually sell for a nice amount of money.
Decide on a broad niche, research sub-niches and topics, analyze keywords, and all of the other fun stuff that is required when starting a new website.
Doing a Complete 180
Have you ever made a firm decision in your life and then moments later you totally change your mind and do the opposite?
That’s exactly what happened to me when I was doing the research for my new authority website. As I was searching for products on Amazon that would fit nicely in my chosen niche, I stumbled upon a specific type of toy that appeared to be hugely popular.
Those toys were literally selling like hotcakes, even more so during November and December.
After a bit more deep analysis regarding keywords and competitor websites, I decided that this (very small) niche was too good to just ignore. I knew that I had the skills to get a decent-looking website up with good quality content and to rank for the keywords that I wanted to rank for. Building small niche websites has always been my thing, so to speak.
So, I made the decision to put my new authority website on the back burner for the time being, and build a brand new small niche website instead. Exciting times!
A New Niche Affiliate Website
Before I dive into the strategy for this website, let’s have a look at some interesting key statistics. The numbers below are for the period March 2016 until December 2016.
|Stats (March – December 2016)|
|Domain registered:||March 15th|
|First article published:||April 2nd|
|Total articles (at end of 2016):||12|
|Total Amazon earnings:||$23,319.75|
|First Amazon sale:||May 2nd|
|Highest earnings in one day:||$1,537.71 (December 13th)|
I would like to emphasize that the site really only had 12 articles by the end of that year. They were all high-quality, well-researched articles, heavily optimized with strong on-page SEO.
I’ve always known that quality of content is so much more important than quantity of content, and this niche website proved that once again. The key though is to pick a hyper-focused niche.
With only 12 blog posts and a handful of pages (about, contact, privacy, etc.), you can imagine that the return on investment for this site was extremely high.
Have a look at the below image showing the Amazon income this site generated from October 3rd until December 31st (the last 90 days of 2016). You can see the huge spikes in November and December.
This was not because the SERP rankings suddenly went up. This was because the toys I was promoting were extremely popular as gifts during the festive season, which was the main reason I started the site in that particular niche.
Let’s go through the strategy I used for this website.
Okay, so I had discovered a niche with very popular products that had huge sales spikes during the festive season.
My goal, therefore, was to get this brand new website to rank high in the Google search results for the most important buyers keywords before November 1st.
The festive season during November and December, with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas, that was my goal. I didn’t care about the months before or after.
This was a huge challenge, as I only had 7 months to achieve those rankings. That’s not a lot of time in the world of Google, where a brand new site typically needs at least 6-12 months, if not longer, to really establish itself and gain trust and authority.
I couldn’t just register the domain, publish content, and hope for the best. I had to come up with an effective strategy, a strategy that had worked for me before, but this time tailored for this particular niche and website.
1. Picking a good domain
To succeed with a small niche website in the short term, you will need a good domain.
Exact match domain names don’t really work anymore, but it’s still good to have (part of) the name of the product type/category you’re going to promote included in the domain and brand name.
The other option is to hunt for an expired domain that has a good backlink profile, to try and minimize the Google sandbox effect.
I’m not at all an expert in domain hunting and I also don’t have the patience for it, so I decided to buy a brand new domain. I ended up with a funky domain name that included the product category.
2. Website structure and content
I spent a lot of time researching and collecting all the keywords via Semrush and Ahrefs, so I had a very clear content structure in mind.
Since this was going to be a very small niche website around one specific type of toy, I only needed one WordPress category.
I also decided to go for just one money article. This article had to be in-depth, credible, and offer a great user experience. This money article was the one that had to end up high in the search results for all the major and long-tail keywords.
This money article became a well-researched TOP 10 list article with reviews of the best products in that toy niche. This was one of the first articles I published and ended up being around 4,000 words long. It turned out to be a really good article, with great product descriptions, images, outbound links, and a good structure with an intro, a comparison table, a detailed top 10, and a conclusion.
I also made sure that this top 10 list would be a candidate to earn the Google Featured Snippet to increase traffic.
To boost this money article, I published 9 individual product reviews as blog posts, each linking to the money article. My intention was not to rank for those individual review articles. All I wanted was the money article to rank for the “buying” related keywords.
I also published two informational articles, with no affiliate links. These articles were about 1-2K words long and had quite a few outgoing links to support what I was writing about. They would also link back to the main money article.
So, in short, there was a good balance of affiliate and informational content, wrapped in a very clear website structure.
3. No backlinks
For this brand new affiliate niche website, my focus was on publishing high-quality content with perfect on-page SEO. I did not want to focus on creating backlinks.
It’s really difficult for review websites to generate backlinks anyway, so I decided not to waste my time on this.
4. Buying the products
I wanted the site to be legit and credible, so I decided to actually purchase some of the more popular products that I was going to review. This would make the reviews much more genuine which worked out really well.
Since I am based in Australia, I wasn’t able to buy all the products because not all sellers ship to Australia. But I did manage to get my hands on some of the most popular ones.
The interesting thing is that towards the end of the year, when my SERP rankings were high, some Amazon sellers and toy manufacturers would contact me asking if I was willing to review their products.
The Right Kind of Traffic
So many bloggers and affiliate marketers make the mistake of thinking that they need tons of traffic to be successful. You don’t.
What a website needs is targeted traffic. If you have a website selling showerheads, then all you need is visitors that are ready to purchase a brand new shower head. But realistically, not many people, at any given time, are looking for a new showerhead.
Which is fine. Because if a large part of those people that are looking for a new shower head come to your website, then the CTR (click-through rate) on your website will be huge. You don’t need visitors that are not interested in buying a new showerhead. You need the ones that do need a new shower head.
And if you design your website such that you can convince people to buy a shower head from you, then you can make a nice income from that relatively small amount of visitors.
The same happened with this niche website. People that visited my very small niche website were ready to purchase that particular toy. So my job was to publish in-depth reviews presented on a good-looking website so that these visitors would click through to Amazon to eventually make a purchase.
Monthly keyword search volumes
Have a look at below Google Analytics graph. It shows the amount of page views the site got from August to December 2016.
The massive spike in November and December is not because my rankings were up dramatically. It was because the search volumes of the keywords I was ranking for were much higher during these months because of the festive season.
The CTR in these months was enormous. It was the silly season, so most of these people were ready to make a purchase.
This is a mistake I often see bloggers make. They look at average monthly search volumes of keywords, not realizing that there can be huge differences between months. This is especially true for toys as they sell best during the festive months.
As I was only focusing on SEO, it’s no surprise that the majority of this traffic was organic, coming from the search engines. Buyers were actively looking for the products I had reviewed and were ready to buy them.
In January 2017, the site had a Moz DA score of 1.
Why so low? Because the website had very few backlinks, and Moz’s DA score is mostly driven by backlinks. It’s simply not a true reflection of a site’s authority within a given niche.
This site was a proven authority within the niche the site was in. And it was able to generate a very decent income driven by highly targeted, organic traffic.
Not only is Moz DA highly inaccurate in regards to estimating traffic, but it’s also misleading when it comes to determining a site’s value and income. The same applies to the Ahrefs DR and Semrush AS metrics.
With high-quality, hyper-focused niche websites, backlinks don’t matter as much.
Sell or Grow?
In January 2017, immediately after the holiday season, I was thinking to sell the website and cashing in. The average monthly profit was very good and I would have been able to get a good price for it.
Eventually I decided not to sell, for the following reasons:
- The site was too young:
Since the site was less than one year old and had very few backlinks, I was worried people wouldn’t buy the site and instead would simply start their own version. Why pay a huge sum of money for such a young site if you can build it yourself?
- Copy cats:
I was worried that this “undiscovered” niche would get discovered by listing the site for sale. That wouldn’t have mattered much if I had sold it, but what if the site wouldn’t sell?
- Expanding the site:
I secretly wanted to expand the site. I wanted to add another, related, toy category to the site and generate even more traffic and more sales in 2017. And then perhaps sell in 2018 when the site would be older?
And then, in March 2017, disaster strikes…
Amazon decided to change its commission rates schedule. My category, toys, went down to 3%. I was hitting a staggering 8% in November and December, and now they slashed it to 3%. That’s right, less than half…
This was very, very bad news. But this is the kind of stuff that you have to deal with as an online marketer. Running an online business is fun, but you need to be prepared for such unforeseen events. So, while this was disappointing, it didn’t have too much of an impact on my mindset.
I was happy enough to have achieved decent earnings within 9 months with such a small website with only 12 articles. And these commission rate changes weren’t the end of the world. I had already added the new category and all I had to do was publish more content and get more traffic.
But then, more bad news…
I noticed that the big-authority review websites (you know who they are if you’re an affiliate marketer) had picked up on this undiscovered niche.
They were all publishing these typical top 10 review posts, and as good as my content was, it’s incredibly difficult to compete with these giants.
It’s frustrating because it was so obvious that those big websites don’t actually buy the products they review. And honestly, some of those top 10 review articles were garbage and full of fluff. But sadly, they were coming after me, and there wasn’t much I could do about it.
However, I did manage to maintain most of the SERP rankings and sales were, again, pretty good in November and December 2017. Not as good as in the previous year, but still very decent.
While in January 2017 I thought the website was too young to sell, in January 2018, I decided the time was right to sell the website.
The months of November and December 2017 resulted in a very decent income, and I figured it was time to cash in so I could focus on the other projects that I had going on.
In my review of Empire Flippers, I explain in more detail why I sold the website and how the sales process worked out for me.
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To conclude this niche site case study, let’s summarize some of the key things I have learned and how you can use them to your advantage.
1. Small Niche Sites Still Work
Small niche sites definitely still work but you need to choose the perfect niche and the right category of products.
Jump into Amazon and look for top-selling products, ideally priced between $50 and $300, with good and consistent reviews.
Then search for sites that review these products, analyze the keywords they are ranking for, and determine whether you can potentially outrank them.
This is actually a lot of hard work and requires a good level of expertise in regards to analyzing competitors and keywords. Using a blogging tool like Semrush or Ahrefs is crucial in this process.
2. The Authority Site Model Is a Better Long-Term Strategy
If you’re in it for the long term, the authority site model is still the better choice.
It may take longer to rank in Google, but you will end up with an asset that not only can generate a reliable income stream but can also be sold for a large amount of money.
A good approach is to start with a small niche that can be expanded into an authority website. As such, it’s crucial to pick a domain that is not too narrow and allows you to expand in the future.
3. Backlinks Are Still Important
Backlinks are important, but quality content is more important.
Many years ago, SEO was pretty much all about building backlinks. One could publish garbage content, build some links, and rank.
Many Google updates later, and that model simply doesn’t work anymore. Publishing quality content is now much more important. And if you do manage to publish high-quality content consistently, you will see that those valuable backlinks will come naturally.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to build backlinks. You should, but only do it the white-hat way. Guest posts, outreach, broken link building, there are lots of white-hat style backlink strategies to implement and execute.
4. Pick a Good Domain
Picking a good domain name is crucial.
Don’t go for non-brandable exact match domains, and instead look for something catchy, something that people can easily remember. It should also be short and include the name of the niche you’re in, or at least a clear reference to the niche you’re targeting.
Finding a good domain name is fun, but I find that many people are impatient and register a domain too soon, only to find out later that this domain doesn’t really work very well.
Take your time and ask people around you for their opinion so you can validate your chosen domain name.