In my last update published in September, I made the decision to move to a quarterly reporting method to avoid repeating the same things each month and also to ensure there was some good info to share with you guys.
However, it is exactly these consistent actions which make the difference between a successful niche site and a dud.
In this post, I will take you through what went down in quarter 4 of 2015 with the niche site which has just reached its 7 months birthday.
Q4 2015 Niche Site Case Study Update
To recaps on anyone who has missed the previous updates. The goal of this site was to build a site from scratch and publically discuss the actions taken and what to do/not to do.
Along the way, I share the rankings, traffic and any income the site makes. Also, what I find works and what doesn't.
You can read back on the updates below:
- Niche Site Case Study Intro
- Niche Site Case Study – Jul 2015
- Niche Site Case Study – Aug 2015
- Niche Site Case Study – Sep 2015
Ok onto the update.
As you can see, I'm tracking over 150 keywords. Since the last update, I have shifted up a gear and I am now tracking some high search volume keywords too. I want to see how my site is moving against the higher traffic stuff as it builds on its existing authority.
So still only 15 keywords (that I am tracking) in the top 3 and 39 in the top 10. Let's take a look at what SEMRush tells me:
Here you can see SEMRush has actually found 167 keywords that I am ranking for in the top 10 (notice the filter I've added to include only those in a position less than 11).
This shows just how many keywords you can rank for if you produce longer form content. You can even find new keywords that were not a part of your original scope, these can help to form new pages of their own.
Now you may have expected more than 15 keywords in the top 3, HOWEVER, I had a game plan and I stuck to it.
That plan involved targeting just a couple of terms that I knew would result in clicks and ultimately sales. I knew this because I performed a deep dive on my competition and began to understand what was driving the most traffic and, therefore, income.
I am now within touching distance of my main competition, in fact, just yesterday a couple of my keywords took the number 1 spot from him.
Traffic has been good over quarter 4, with the site averaging around 4k unique visitors per month and an average time per visit of over 3 minutes. Now for a niche site, THAT is impressive.
That shows the power of long-form content, you keep the reader on your site for longer and Google sees this and rewards you.
One thing that is interesting is that I got over 200 hits from Facebook over the quarter. Now normally that's nothing to shout about, however, I built up my small 1,200 strong fan page by targeting English speaking countries in Asia with right sidebar “like” campaigns.
This allows you to get a good base of “likes” so when doing any promotion, it looks like an active community and will entice others to “like” your page too.
I knew the fan base wasn't strong but it seems they do actually click…and as most of my articles are “review” type content, I am surprised they even click.
So this is the good stuff. This case study is the only time I share my earnings from a site and I do so to show you how the case study is progressing. I don't do this to brag but to inspire you to take action and do it yourself.
Here are the snapshots from December:
As you can see, the site is growing in income month on month to a point where if it were to continue at the December levels, I could expect to sell the site for anywhere from $20,000-$30,000.
However, January and February are notoriously slow months so let's see how it does and I will report back in April how Q1 went.
I have no plans to sell this site just yet, in fact, I have some big plans and can see this site doing 10x Decembers income within 12-months.
What did I work on?
Keyword & Competition Research
The three months October to December saw me perform a lot of keyword and competition research. I wanted to know what was the low-hanging fruit and which of my competitors I could learn from.
Turns out that they all had a few nice little features or tricks up their sleeve that I could implement.
So I started with the low-hanging fruit.
I punched in sites that had a low DA into SEMRush and looked at the keywords they were ranking for. It was this research which led me to add higher search volume keywords into my SERP tracker.
I saw brand new sites, less than 1-month-old ranking top 3 for some 12,000+ exact search keywords, and I thought “what they hell, let's write an article and go for it”. So I did.
The first one is currently just outside of the top 10 (13th at the time of writing) and the search volume for the main keyword is 22k. With another 20k of related keywords that I can incorporate.
To what do I attribute the moderate success of this site?
I know this question will come in the comments, so I wanted to catch it here. Essentially there are a number of factors that played a part in the success this site has seen thus far.
I'm not one to stand on ceremony, so lets juts jump right in.
1. Choosing a brandable domain name
In past years, EMD's (exact match domains) used to be amazing for ranking for your chosen keywords. These days I don't like them for niche sites a number of reasons.
- Saleability – a brandable domain will fetch a high value when you come to sell.
- Over optimising – it's easier to build brand backlinks and avoid over optimising on your exact match anchor text
- Outreach – If you are doing outreach for backlinks or guest posts, having a branded site is much more likely to result in a positive response.
- Unique – no-one is going to remember “davesbestsnorklefordivinghq.com” but they will remember “DavesDiving.com”
2. Choosing a domain with existing backlinks
Expired domains are not only good for PBN building or 301 redirecting to your money site. They also work amazingly well to build out a niche site.
You do have to be careful you don't jump in feet first and register the first domain you see with decent metrics. Be sure to look at the existing links and ask yourself a few questions:
- Would I want this link if I were building from scratch?
- Will this link stick around?
- Is the site within my topic? (topical relevance is huge)
As long as you can answer yes to the questions, then it's a domain worth looking at.
I pick up most of my domains via backorder with NameJet or SnapNames. Yes, the minimum bid is $69 and yes you can register a brand new domain for less than $10…but they won't have any history and will sit in limbo for a good 6 months.
Which brings me onto my next point.
3. Skipping the Sandbox
I touched a little on the Google Sandbox in an earlier post from the niche site case study #1. You register a brand new domain and throw up some content, you get an initial boost to that content and rank top 3 pages and then you drop back to nothing.
Some people refuse to acknowledge its existence. Maybe they have some amazing method that helps them skip this waiting period completely, maybe they are a better SEO than I am.
Either way, a great way to skip the sandbox is to build on an expired domain that has existing links and a good history (check the waybackmachine).
4. Writing shit-load of content
It all starts with content.
That was my motto when starting this site and it remains today. Think about it, you want to make money online, yet most people aren't willing to do what is needed to achieve that.
If you want to make money, you need traffic. To get the traffic, they need some for of content to consume. Be that video, PDF's, text, Infographics, podcast, interviews…
As it stands this site has over 100 articles, which, for the most part, exceed 2,000 words each.
5. Ranking for the longtails
Writing a LOT of content comes with the added bonus of being able to rank for a TON of keywords in the SERPS. There will be keyword and phrases you rank for that you have never seen before.
Heck, 15% of all Google searchers are brand new to Google…so the more content you have the more likely you are to rank for a bunch of different terms, that all bring in a trickle of traffic and result in pages that bring eyeballs to your site and affiliate links.
What's working right now?
This is a question that gets asked a lot, it comes with the territory I guess. SEO changes from week-to-week, heck day-to-day sometimes.
There are a number of things that I have found to be working extremely well right now.
I had a couple of sites that were sat on page 2-3 for most of my target keywords. I like to build links slowly so I can track the movements and attribute them to each link/action.
However, no matter what I did to this site it just sat there. So, I spoke to someone on my inner circle and he was having some good success with de-optimising his sites.
Namely the title and URL structure and also the keyword density. Combine that with adding another paragraph or two and a YouTube video and the pages really started to move in the SERPS.
Table of Contents
This is another small test I made, initially to make my site look more legit as I have plans to turn it into a larger authority site. But also to see if adding a table of contents (I use TOC+) would impact my rankings in any way.
Seeing as I only like to make a single change and then track the impact, I can say with 100% certainty that adding these rich snippets have really helped.
I wrote a pretty lengthy guide to keyword research late in 2015 and it still holds true with what I am doing today.
With any kind of tool that has an algorithm to calculate how difficult a keyword is, you need to take it with a pinch of salt. The scores are obviously just an estimate and they all apply a different weighting to each metric available.
For example, KWFinder uses social shares as part of its algorithm. Now Twitter has stopped supplying social share counts, this part of the algo is now defunct. So use your own judgement and use the scores as a ‘guideline' only.
You've likely heard of SEMRush and seen how it can be used, so I won't dive too deep into this here. What I will say is that for the price (which I used to think was expensive) it is the best tool I have ever used for keyword research.
Your can do so many things with it's data, really don't need anything else. For example, your ranking 2nd page for a term and want to see which keywords the site ranked #1 is ranking for.
So you type their root domain into SEMkush and hit go. Next you apply a filter for that URL and BAM you get every single keyword that page is ranking for int the top 100 (recently changed from top 20 results to the top 100!).
Now you go back to your article, add in more content and be sure to include those keywords you were missing. Remember, it's not all about ranking for your main keyword, but pulling traffic for all the long tails too.
This is a big one and a tip I picked up from Matt Diggity's post on “Establishing Topic Relevance“.
Essentially by adding more content to your site that has a sole purpose of linking to the piece of content you are trying to rank using the exact match anchor text, you help to establish relevancy on your topic and show Google what the page is about.
I have been adding 3-5 articles for each page that doesn't seem to be moving away from page 2. If you are stuck on page 4+, I would first suggest looking at your on-page SEO before doing this.
Are you building PBN links and not seeing any movement? Well, there is a very good chance Google are waiting to see what your next move will be.
SEO's were typically little gung-ho in their approach to link building, however, times have changed and it now takes much longer to see the impact of your efforts.
I mentioned above that I had recently taken the top spot for a couple of my target keywords. I had been working on these keywords in September/October, since then I have not created any additional backlinks or supporting content.
It seems like my efforts have just “kicked-in” 2-3 months down the line. The big difference is that I didn't panic, I simply went abut my business and trusted that the links I had built were solid and my on-page was sound.
I then left in the mighty hands of the Google Gods.
What are my plans for this site moving forwards?
2016 will see this site move significantly towards more whitehat tactics. After using SEMRush to dive into what my competition are doing I can see three things:
1. There is a TON of scope for easy-to-rank keywords that I can target to get some additional traffic and affiliate sales.
2. The big money will come from product development either digital or physical.
3. I can 10x the traffic by targeting some of the more ‘informational' type of content a visitor would expect to see on a site in this niche.
Planned steps for Q1
This year I only plan to spend 50% or less of my time with niche sites. This is because I have a number of larger projects I am working on and I have also built up a good team over 2015 that can literally do everything I can and more.
So it makes sense to take a step back and work on the processes and my other projects and let them do their jobs. I will still be involved but more from a “team leader” role rather than a “getting my hands dirty” role.
Still, here are a few things which I will accomplish in Jan-Mar:
- Complete “informational” keyword research
- New theme for the site – target of sub 1 second load time
- Update all featured images to match new theme
- SEO campaign for more branded backlinks
- Establish a video production process that supports each new article on the site
- Continue to add 10-15 articles to the site per month
- Build out Facebook Group with a like campaign and more social sharing (target = 5k fans)
That's all for this update, I hope you can see that niche sites do still work and they can earn a decent income if treated right.