Back in October of 2013, I registered a brand new domain with the plan to build a niche site in what I believed to be a low competition niche.
The plan was simple, build the site, add some content, and let it age. Once I start to see movement in the SERP’s, I will then add more content and start my SEO.
I did what I set out to do and I have since sold that site, which has generated over $10,000 in income.
This article takes you step-by-step through my exact process.
It’s important to point out from the start that I am unable to reveal the actual niche or the website to you in this guide. This is due to the contract I have signed with the new owner preventing me from doing so.
Timeline Of The Site
June-14 – From Google Sandbox to first earnings
July-14 – Niche site blackmail attempt!
Aug-14 – Niche site plans and limitations
Sep-14 – Zero hours worked – income > $300
Oct-14 – Turning a niche site into an authority site?
Nov-14 – Way’s to increase earnings
Dec-14 – Benefitting from the holiday spending spree
Jan-15 – More of the same, please
The table above links to each update as I published them on this very blog. The ups the downs, the highs, and the lows.
Below I will condense this timeline into a more manageable format, however, you are free to dig into the article themselves if you wish.
I have mentioned a number of times that in order to build a successful niche site, you need to perform great keyword research?
What do I mean by that?
Well for one, keyword research takes longer than an hour. In fact, I have been known to research for weeks before choosing a keyword or niche to target.
Nowadays I can usually find a great keyword within a few hours to a couple of days. But that takes practice and lots of it.
We want to set ourselves up for success from the very start, so jumping on the first keyword you find is not the answer. Patience is indeed key when searching for those diamonds in the rough.
So let’s take a look at the search volume of my chosen keywords.
Location: UK, Search Vol: 22,000
Search Vols: 5,400, 4,400, 590, 320
So I have a combined exact match search volume of around 35,600 and I am obviously looking to get as high in the search engine rankings as possible.
So we need to take a look at the competition.
Truth be told, when I first saw the competition I rejected the niche.
It was filled with large e-commerce sites that are well known in the UK. However, this is very typical and once I revisited my research I saw signs of weakness in the top 10 results. Things like:
- Zero backlinks for at least 4 of the pages
- Keyword not in the title or URL
- A couple of US targeted sites ranking in Google UK
- A KC score of just 22 (KC is calculated by LongTailPro and indicates the competition level out of 100)
I took all of these weaknesses and capitalized on them.
The site I built was based around a particular product, with several styles and brands available for me to promote.
It’s important to think about this upfront out as you need to know how you will monetize a site when it’s built. I’m not a fan of the build it and think later philosophy.
Typically, when it comes to physical products and niche sites, the answer is Amazon.
Amazon runs an affiliate program called Amazon Associates. Recently they have become a little pickier about which sites they allow onto their network. However, once you are on, you can use your affiliate ID’s and links on any site, as long as you don’t break their rules.
So, if you don’t already have an Amazon Associates account, you will need a decent website up and running before you can sign up and be accepted. Just keep that in mind.
About My Product
The typical retail price for these products was between £50 and £300 GBP. And yes I was targeting the UK market for a reason…it’s where I live and I know the market and the people!
Always play to your strengths.
The target demographic was males between the ages of 18 and 35.
So I knew they had the money to spend and I had a product range that could generate decent commissions.
Just a note on the commission structure for UK Amazon affiliates.
They have a payout cap of £7, meaning that even if you generate a sale value of several hundred, you will only be paid £7 maximum commissions.
This is a deal-breaker for many, however, I like that it puts people off…it makes it less competitive for me!
Here is the blurb from Amazon themselves:
Limitations on Advertising Fee Rates for Certain Products
Notwithstanding the advertising fee rates described on this page, advertising fees for all Qualifying Purchases of Products are limited to a maximum of £7.00/€10.00 (as appropriate) per Product regardless of the Qualifying Revenues received from the sale of that Product, except where that limitation is specified expressly as not applying to certain categories of Products below.
Planning The Site
This is where we dive back into our keyword research and start to build out a plan and structure for our site.
There is good reason to plan before we dive in.
First off, I like to get my homepage content completed. This is typically a minimum of 2,000 words and includes images, videos, and external links to other related info sites (like Wikipedia and perhaps some of the product manufacturers pages).
I write the homepage content myself, mainly because I know I will write it better than anyone else can based on the amount of research I conduct, and how well I get to know my product and the target market.
Here are a few tips to help you do the same:
- Visit some forums and get a feel for the language used
- Look for questions that have been asked on Quora.com or Yahoo! Answers
- Look at the existing sites in the top 10 – what content do they have? Topics, heading, and subheadings
- Check out the products on Amazon and read the reviews – this is a goldmine of content ideas
The goal here is to make the homepage really meaty and include EVERYTHING the competition has, and more.
I then used my secondary keywords to dictate my inner pages. First off, I group them all into categories, be it color, price range, features, etc.
Each niche will be different so it’s difficult to explain here so I will use an example.
If the niche was Dog Breeds, that would be our main keyword.
I would then have categories such as:
- Large Dog Breeds
- Medium Dog Breeds
- Small Dog Breeds
Now each one of these categories will have decent search volume in itself, and there will also be many other long-tail keywords we can target, such as:
- Best Large Guard Dog Breeds
- Best dogs for a small house
Now I’m making these up but you get the idea. I would use the keywords to group each into 3-6 main categories.
If you are struggling for categories you can always revert to using brands and price ranges (e.g $50-$100) etc, or even colors and sizes.
Next, we look at site structure. Here is how I like to structure my sites…
Essentially the homepage has a lot of great content and links to the main categories. However, the way WordPress works it makes it hard to rank category pages.
So I make them actual pages and assign the homepage as the parent. So it would look like this:
— Big Dog Breeds
— Best Large Guard Dog Breeds
— Medium Dog Breeds
— Small Dog Breeds
— Best dogs for a small house
So as you can see, the homepage is top of the hierarchy and we have the 3 category pages under that.
Next, we have the 2 longer tail pages, which are info type articles and designed to answer a specific question or solve a problem.
Posts or Pages?
Now you will notice I am only using pages here. There is a reason for this and its simply a case of being easier to manage.
You can certainly use categories if you like and hack your own page template to allow you to add content to those category pages and then assign each blog post to the relevant category.
But I prefer to use pages over posts and if you use the free plugin called Admin Column View, you can see a nice list-style structure to your pages which makes it much, much easier.
There is another reason for using pages instead of posts and that is a silo.
I’m sure you may have heard of them before, basically, a silo structure is a way of setting up your site so that link juice flows through the pages and back to the homepage.
I won’t bore you with the details if you’re interested read this awesome explanation.
So, in summary, we are lining up our pages of content to pass link juice to one another, which is how we are able to rank for more keywords.
How I Built The Site
As I mentioned in my intro, I purchased a brand new domain that had never been registered. It was a partial match domain (PMD) with a prefix before the main keywords.
This is not always recommended as it is easy to over-optimize your backlink anchor text if you have the keywords in the domain name, however, I wanted to get going quickly and believed that the site wouldn’t need many backlinks at all.
Just how few it actually needed surprised me, which is why I cannot emphasize enough just how important great keyword research is.
So…brand new domain, no history, no age. no backlinks. A clean slate.
I wanted to use a theme that was easy to use and modify to my tastes (or how I thought my target customer would expect the site to look).
I chose the Niche Website Theme, primarily for the optimization is has and the ability to tweak the styling by adding hex color codes directly into the theme options panel.
Next up came the logo. I sometimes pay for a theme designer over at DesignCrowd, however often I just knock up something sufficient within Photoshop.
Tip – If you don’t have photoshop I recommened you get it, you no longer need to shell out hundreds of dollars either. You can get it for around $12 per month now.
I mentioned earlier that I wrote all of the content for the homepage.
The rest of the content, product reviews, brand, and manufacturer write-ups, etc was outsourced to my team on UpWork (formerly oDesk).
Let’s take a look at how I structured that content.
I wanted the homepage to include over 2,000 words from the very start. The main reason was because of the top 10 competition all being eCommerce sites and naturally very low on content.
They had a few product descriptions but that’s about all they had. So I could easily beat them with 300 words, but I wanted to have the ability to rank for long-tail keywords whilst my site aged and I could eventually rank for my main keyword.
I really like the Tablepress plugin for a couple of reasons.
First off you can create some really nice looking tables with it, and secondly, I like to use it to add additional data elements to my page that the competition doesn’t have.
In this case, I ranked the top 20 selling products in the niche and included their rating out of 5 and the price band the product fell into.
What’s more in the first column I included a small 160 x 160 image along with the product name below. Both of these were linked to Amazon using my affiliate link.
Tip – It’s probably a bit overkill to use links in the images and in the title here, and I don’t do this any longer. It drastically increases your outbound affiliate link count.
Next up I brainstormed the kind of things I would want to know about these products and included them as simple “Y/N” columns in the table.
Now the visitor can interact with the table by sorting according to the most important features to them, not just price but a whole number of things.
To beef out the homepage, I then created 5 mini product reviews by choosing the 5 items from Amazon with the most amount of sales and highest reviews.
Each fell in at around 300 words and contained simple information and the key features about that particular product.
Again I included an image and use the title of the product to link out to Amazon.
This is where I start to outsource as I have never really been very good at writing product reviews. I find it hard work and pretty boring, to be honest.
I have a guide that show’s how to find awesome content writers for $0.03 per word. You should be able to find at least 2-3 writers to try out.
Just send them each a different title/topic and give clear instructions and even a sample layout if you have seen a good review template you like.
So…once I had the content back, I then gave the writers a score on the quality of the article, how it read and also the speed at which they returned the article and their communication.
If someone is very slow I ditch them, I don’t have time to be waiting around – plus I am paying for a service.
If you would like to know how I structure my review articles see below…
On page (content, interlinks, length, UpWork)
Off Page (the hoth, pbn links, domainhaul, rank source)
There are two types of backlinking I ran for this site. I will discuss them both here and refer to my other content to help fill in the blanks.
1) The Hoth
The Hoth is an SEO outsourcing company that takes the hassle out of building backlinks. They can do it on mass and they do it pretty damn well from my experience.
First up I used the $60 package with The Hoth. This gets you:
- 1 Super Spun Article
- 6 In-Content Links
- Tier 1: Spun Article Posted to 3 Top Level Blogs With 1 Post Each
- Tier 2: 7+ Supporting Web 2.0 Properties 20+ Supporting Social Bookmarks 100+ Profile Links
- 50 Private Network Posts
- Standard Filipino Content
You have the option to upgrade to American with The Hoth Mini+ for an extra 40, taking the package up to $100 in total.
For me, that is a small price to pay for what you get and the amount of hassle you save. Check out The Hoth here
2) PBN Links
The only other link building method I used was a few PBN’s links from some of my own PBN sites.
A private blog network is a network of websites built on aged domains that have existing authority in the form of backlinks.
The better the backlinks the more authority your site has and the more ‘juice’ is passed onto your money site.
In total, I used just 5 PBN links to the site, 3 to the home page, and 2 to inner category pages.
I tend to use slight variations on the exact keyword anchor text for links coming from my PBN sites. For example;
For the keyword, “Dog Breeds” I would use the anchor text of “types of dog breed” etc.
A note on finding expired domains
The marketplace has really picked up with many new domain sellers popping up all over the place. My methods for finding domain has changed since I started this site, however, the latest methods I use are still resulting in some great domain finds.
Does The Google Sandbox Exist?
I believe it does and I have sufficient experience of a period of around 4-6 months where a newly registered domain will literally do nothing, and then out of nowhere start to rank in the top 2-3 pages.
This is exactly what happened to this site, where 6 months to the day of inception, I started to see the SERP movement.
That was my queue to start building links and adding more content. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do this sooner, I just never got around to it and I am more of a softly, softly, slowly, slowly kind of SEO!
I don’t like to send a ton of links too quickly – I like to see how the site does with just on-page SEO and then throw a few PBN links at it to see how it does.
In doing this you learn a great deal about what it actually takes to rank a site for specific keywords and competition levels.
An Early Scare
In July-14, which was just the 2nd update in this case study series, I had already attracted some unwanted attention.
You can read all about it in this post – July-14 – Niche site blackmail attempt!
Essentially someone thought they could blackmail me into handing over money in exchange for them, not ‘outing’ my site.
Now I have no idea how they found out the URL of the site as I have never revealed that here, but they did some great detective work and decided I was an easy target.
Unluckily for them, I really didn’t give a hoot about the site and proved that by taking the site down and adding a “fuck you” message to the home page HTML file
Well, calling their bluff worked and they quickly disappeared, and I continued with the case study after putting the site back online.
Throughout the course of the next few months, things went well. Each month saw an increase in site earnings, as you can see below;
- June-14 – £47.53
- July-14 – £64.54
- Aug-14 – £25.77
- Sept-14 – £208.63
- Oct-14 – £263.89
- Nov-14 – £510.90
- Dec-14 – £1080.92
- Jan-15 – £283.02
- Feb-15 – £132.61
- Mar-15 – £160.27
- Apr-15 – £178.90
- Total – £2,819.14 ($4,301.65)
Both November and December were a great reflection on just how big the festive period is. Both months blew all of the others out of the water.
I have seen time and time again that February is naturally a slow month, sure it’s a shorter month too, so I guess with a few more days it may have hit the £160 mark.
Still, you can see the earnings start to climb month on month, I am sure that come November the new owner will start to see a surge in sales.
Selling the Site
I decided to go with FEInternational for the sale of my site. If truth be told, I hadn’t heard much about them until Thomas Smale (who is the Co-Founder of FE) contacted me in September 2014, after reading one of my niche site updates.
He was interested in whether I was going to sell the site and offered his services.
He also asked for some advice on getting more exposure for FE and I suggested they start blogging regularly, which they have since done and got some major features like this on from Forbes [insert link]
I told Thomas I was going to take credit for that, so here I am
So back to business.
I entered into negotiations with FE in early March and they expected to be able to obtain a sale price of 25-30x multiple of my average monthly earnings for the site.
So I had December, January & February combined income of $2,279
So that gave me a 3 month average of $759
So at 25x multiple, we had a rough valuation of $18,975
I knew this was WAY too high as December was a clear outlier in earnings and actually the site seemed to be on a downward trend.
This is an issue for anyone looking to see a site in January and why you will an influx of sites for sale as people try to cash in on their biggest month which will up the value of the site.
By the end of March, we saw a drop of over 27% in traffic.
At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to sell the site – but then I took a deeper look.
As you can see from those large peaks, the search term was HIGHLY seasonal, much more than I would have expected. So that explained the drop in traffic.
We still needed to come to a more realistic figure, however with FE they will try to get the best deal for both parties, so I set a figure in my mind that I believed was a true reflection of the site’s performance and future earning potential.
How Arrived At My Calculation
I looked at September & October of 2014 and March & April of 2015. So I had 4 months covering a good split of the year and looked at the average earnings, which fell in at around $310.
I then used a 20x multiple to take into consideration the 27% reduction in traffic and came up with my number of $6,200.
So that was the minimum I wanted for the site and anything higher was a bonus.
I think it’s important that you set your absolute lower limit and don’t accept anything less. I was sure that the figure I had was fair for both parties and reflective of the current situation of the site.
I received a few questions and also held a teleconference with FE and an interested buyer, however that didn’t materialize.
So I waited another 2 weeks with regular updates from James my account manager and was delighted to receive an offer for $7,500 based on further investigation and due diligence.
I obviously accepted the offer and awaited further comms.
The buyer then highlighted the drop in traffic and asked for further access to Webmaster Tools and Analytics which I granted.
Shortly after he countered with a reduced offer of $6,000 given the traffic decline etc.
I countered with $6,500 and no lower than that, to which he accepted!
So it was done. I had sold my site for $6,500 and it had made $4,300 in affiliate commissions. Taking the total profit from the site to around $10,000 after fees.
Completion and Escrow
As FE is a business and website broker you can expect to have sellers fees. With FE this is 15%, which is pretty standard across the board and a figure I was happy to pay considering how quickly the deal was done.
Payment for the site was made via Escrow and the Escrow fees are split 50/50 with the buyer.
It took another week or so for the site files to be transferred and for the new owner to get set up and be happy with everything.
He then signed off the transfer and the funds were credited to my bank account.
The process of listing the site with a broker was a great experience. FE is very well set up to handle everything and they ask all the right questions to help sell the site.
The initial investigation period allows the brokers to get a very good understanding of the business you are selling and get in contact with the RIGHT potential buyers.
They are also able to answer most of the questions they receive without having to bother you, the seller, every 5 minutes. This is my preferred route to site selling over the likes of Flippa Auctions which you have to babysit and answer lots of questions, often from tire kickers!
So What Lies Ahead?
Initially, I had thought about creating a niche site course, where I would take on a number of students and teach them everything I know about building, ranking, and profiting from a niche site.
After a lot of research, I realized that there were A LOT of courses out there. Many of them were just crappy ebooks but some really stood out to me.
Take Doug Cunnington’s Niche Site Video Course for example. As you can tell by the title, this is an actual over your shoulder video course (which is how I learn best and how I suggest you learn too).
After selling his own niche site for over $10k and making over $12k with another site, Doug decided to teach others what he has learned from being in the trenches. His course covers the following:
- Module 1 – Niche Site Planning
- Module 2 – Keyword Research
- Module 3 – Competition Analysis
- Module 4 – Picking a Domain Name & Hosting
- Module 5 – Content for the Site
- Module 6 – Applying for Amazon Associates
- Module 7 – Link Building
- Module 8 – Ongoing Maintenance
- Module 9 – Next Steps & Optimization
The course is centered around creating an Amazon Associates niche site (just like this case study) and each module contains a links & resources section which directs you to the correct material, checklists, and cheat sheets you will need at each stage of your niche site build.
I have worked with Doug in the past and I really like how he incorporates his Project Management background into his Niche Site Projects.
You can find his course here (affiliate link)
So now that is off the cards, I do have a few ideas on case studies I could share here on the blog:
- New Niche Site Case Studies – I have a handful of new niche sites I am getting started with, all in different niches. I am looking to build out at least 6 this year and work on the build, rank, hold, and flip model.
- High Volume, Low Competition Model – I have already started a new site that will target VERY HIGH search volume keywords with little buyer intent and low competition.
- Authority Site – I mentioned in my Q1 update that I have been working on an authority site since the start of the year. We are starting to ramp up the content and get some good traffic now.