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Last updated: October 2, 2020
Back in March 2016 I took a week off from my online business work to have a bit of a strategic think about the way forward. I had a couple of niche websites that were doing reasonably well, and one bigger authority website that was growing steadily and earning me a good income.
When running a business, 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 because of their volatile and somewhat unpredictable nature.
In this case study I am going to outline how I decided to build and quickly grow a new profitable niche website with very minimal effort.
Note that this niche site case study is from a few years ago, and not everything mentioned here may be as relevant today as it was back then. However, a lot of the core strategies used at the time are still very effective today, such as finding a good niche, publishing high quality conversion focused content, and proper keyword research.
Starting a New Project
I was ready for a new project but wasn’t sure yet which way to go. 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 it can grow into something really big as long as you keep putting in the hard work.
- An Amazon FBA business:
Amazon FBA was the next big thing in the Online Business world. Lots of Internet Marketing gurus out there 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.
- Another small 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 property, 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.
Next step? 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 toy that appeared to be hugely popular.
They were literally going like hot cakes, especially during the festive months of November and December.
After a bit more analysis around 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 top quality content and to rank for the keywords that I wanted to rank for.
So I made the decision to park my new authority website for the time being, and build a brand new small niche website instead.
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.
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 per 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 top quality articles, heavily optimized with near perfect on-page SEO. This proves that quality of content is so much more important than quantity of content.
And with only 12 blog posts and a handful of pages (about, contact, privacy, etc.), you can imagine that the hourly rate for this site was very high.
This income was only from Amazon US. I hadn’t signed up for other countries such as the UK and Canada. In hindsight, this was rather stupid, as the income could have been significantly higher.
Have a look at the below image of the Amazon income this site generated from October 3rd until December 31st (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. This was the main reason why I started the site in this niche in the first place.
The following image is also interesting. It shows stats around the different types of links people clicked on to navigate through to Amazon. You can see that a good amount of revenue came from native shopping ads, which proves they do perform well.
More than 10% of revenue was generated via these native shopping ads.
Let’s go through the strategy I implemented for this website.
Okay, so I had discovered a niche with super popular products that had huge sales spikes during the festive season. My challenge therefore was to get this brand new website to rank high in Google for the most important 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 one year, if not longer, to establish itself and gain trust and credibility.
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 supposedly don’t work anymore, but it’s still good to have the name of the (type of) product you’re promoting included in the domain and brand name. It does help to boost your rankings for that particular product.
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 made sure that this category page was well optimized.
I decided to go for one money article. This article had to be long, in-depth, legit, credible and everything else. This money article was the one that had to end up high in the SERPs for all the major and long-tail keywords.
This money article became a long TOP 10 post with a list of the best toys in that niche. This was one of the first articles I published and ended up being around 4K 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 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. This article is still being featured in the top spot today, which delivers a great amount of extra traffic and revenue.
To boost this money article, I published nine individual product reviews as blog posts, each linking to the money article. My expectation was not to rank for these 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 top 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 the most important 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 product.
The Right Kind of Traffic
So many bloggers and affiliate marketers make the mistake thinking that they need tons of traffic in order to be successful. You don’t.
What a website needs is targeted traffic. If you have a website selling shower heads, 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 shower head.
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 shower head. 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 huge profit from that relatively small amount of visitors.
The same happened with my website. People that visit my very small niche website are ready to purchase that particular toy. So my job was to publish decent reviews wrapped in an attractive design so that these visitors would click through to Amazon to eventually make a purchase.
What’s the point of having people visit your site who are not at all interested in buying the products you are promoting?
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.
The site had a Moz DA of 1 and at the time of writing still has a DA of 1. Why? Because the website has very few backlinks. This goes to show that Moz DA is flawed. It’s not a true reflection of a site’s authority.
My site was, and still is, a proven authority within the niche the site is in. And it has generated a decent income because of highly targeted, organic traffic.
Not only is Moz DA highly inaccurate in regards to estimating traffic, it’s also misleading when it comes to determining a site’s value and income.
Sell or Grow?
Right after the festive season I was thinking to sell the website and cash in. The average monthly profit was very good and I would have got 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 I wouldn’t have been able to sell it?
- 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 is older?
And then, in March 2017, disaster strikes…
Amazon decided to change their 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 also part of being an Internet 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 just happy to have achieved such huge earnings within 9 months with such a small website with only 12 articles. And these commission rates 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 these big websites don’t actually buy the products they review. And honestly, some of these top 10 review articles were garbage and full of fluff content. 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 rankngs and sales were really good in November and December 2017. Not nearly as much as during the festive season in 2016, but still very decent.
I sold the website! In this article I explain why I sold the website and how the sales process worked out for me.
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Key Take Aways
To finish off, let’s summarize some of the key things I have learned and how you can use these 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, determine whether you can potentially outrank them.
This is actually a lot of hard work and requires a good level of expertise around analyzing competitors and keywords. Using a blogging tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs is crucial in this process.
2. The authority site model is the better option long term
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. It’s therefore crucial to pick a domain that is not too narrow.
3. Backlinks are still important
Backlinks are important, but quality content is more important.
Many lightyears ago, SEO was pretty much all about building backlinks. But creating quality content is now much more important. And if you do manage to publish high quality content, you will see that backlinks will come naturally.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to build backlinks and speed up the process. 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, 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.
Choosing a good domain name is fun, but too many people are impatient and register a domain too soon, only to find out later that it doesn’t really work very well. Take your time and ask people around you for their opinion.