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When I got back into building niche sites again a few years ago, everything I saw online said to go small with your niche selection. The idea was that you could go small and quickly carve out a bit of space within a niche, which would be easier than going after a larger, broader niche.
This concept made sense to me, yet I ended up going in a different direction. For the first site that my wife and I started, we went big. Really big.
Even though I had just spent months researching how to make money online with niche sites, because I didn’t have any real experience, I still made mistakes, or at least what I thought were mistakes at the time.
In this case, the mistake of going against the grain worked out extremely well for me. For that reason, I’m grateful that I didn’t necessarily follow the exact path laid out by others when it comes to building niche websites.
Now that my team and I have built four successful niche sites, with a fifth on track as well, I’ve learned that there’s more than one way to make money with niche sites.
In this post, I’m going to go over the pros and cons of either building one large authority site or multiple smaller niche sites. They both have their benefits and drawbacks and can both be successful, so at the end of the day, it’ll be up to you to decide which path to take.
The Small Site Approach
Now when I say small site, I’m not talking about micro sites. It wasn’t long ago when people would literally create one-page sites on a topic. It worked at the time, but it’s not a great approach anymore.
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When I say small site, I’m referring to sites with 30-50 posts, maybe even 100 posts, about a small subniche. Maybe something like fishing in Alaska.
Assuming you don’t go too small, this can be a great approach. There are definitely some large benefits to doing this over building a large, authority site, but there are some drawbacks as well.
One of the biggest benefits of going small is that you can rank more quickly. Ranking quickly means you can start making money sooner than later.
Google uses your domain name, your article titles, the content within the articles, and much more to determine what your site is about. If you stick to a relatively small topic on your site, Google will be able to easily determine what your site is about.
As your articles start to gain traction in the organic search results, this can lead to Google viewing your site as an authority in the small space that you’re targeting. As this happens, your articles will rank more quickly and your competition won’t be as tough as it would be if you weren’t targeting such a small subniche.
If ranking more quickly and making money faster aren’t enough for you, you can also take on less risk if you build out multiple small sites. By building multiple small sites, when one or two of them get hit by an algorithm update, it won’t impact you as much as it would if you only had one large site that took a rankings hit.
Another benefit of building smaller sites is that it’s much easier to to create targeted branding for your site. You can come up with a domain name that’s really specific that will be more likely to be clicked and trusted by potential visitors.
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This can also make it easier to promote affiliate products, as your visitors will get the impression that you are an expert on the topic.
The last benefit that I’ll mention for building smaller sites is that failing isn’t as big of a deal. If you build 10 small sites and fail on half of them, you’re still making money on five sites. If you build one large site and fail to get any traction, you’re not making any money at all.
On the flip side, there are definitely some drawbacks to going small with your niche selection. The first being that you will run out of topics pretty quickly.
If you were to build the site that I mentioned above about fishing in Alaska, you’re eventually going to hit a wall where you can’t come up with anything else to write about. In that case, because it’s tied to a geographical location, it would be really difficult to expand outward.
At the same time, when you target such a small subniche, you’re going to have a difficult time getting enough search volume to your site to make meaningful money. Unless you’re taking an affiliate marketing approach, you’re going to have a hard time making much money from a small traffic stream.
Speaking of money, if you target low-competition, informational keywords like I do, your goal at the end of the day will be to monetize with display ads. Display ads can produce a nice, steady, income stream on just about any site on any topic (although there are some exceptions).
While you can join some ad networks with low levels of traffic, you won’t get the really high RPMs (revenue per thousand impressions) until you join a premium ad network, like Mediavine or AdThrive, which will require a significant amount of traffic.
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Lastly, if you decide to build several smaller sites, another drawback is that it can become difficult to manage them. Where you might be able to stay on top of comments, emails, social media posts, etc. on 2-3 sites, as you add more and more small sites to your portfolio, you’ll either need to bring on some help or let some of these things go.
Building a Large Authority Site
An approach that you don’t often see recommended, especially to beginners, is to build a large authority site. When I say large, I mean targeting something like “fishing” as a whole.
The rewards from building a site in such a large niche are huge, but as you can expect, it’s not quite as easy to carve out your space as it is with a small site.
For me, one of the biggest benefit of going big is that you have an endless amount of topics to cover on your site. Whereas you might run out of keywords to target pretty quickly with a small site, when you build a site in a large niche, there’s almost always another angle you can take to target additional keywords.
Another benefit is that as your site grows, you will naturally continue to gain more backlinks and improve the authority of your site. This will help to fend off any newer, smaller sites that are trying to target the same topics as you.
When building small sites, you will gain some authority as well, but because those sites will only have a limited amount of articles, they will eventually stop growing. An authority site, on the other hand, can continue to grow and grow, year after year.
And that brings me to another huge advantage of building a larger site, and that’s having the option to sign up for premium ad networks. Premium ad networks can increase your income significantly overnight when compared to some of the smaller ad networks.
For example, we used AdSense and eventually Ezoic on our first site, before finally switching to Mediavine, which is a premium ad network. I don’t remember the exact RPMs on AdSense, but I do remember that Ezoic significantly increased our RPMs over AdSense, and we were getting roughly between $7-12 per 1,000 sessions with Ezoic.
Fast forward to Mediavine, and that same site gets between $25 and $40 per 1,000 sessions depending on the time of the year. As you can see, getting on a premium ad network can have a significant impact on the financial success of your site.
One last point about money, and that is that with a successful site that has a broad scope, you can get a significant return if you decide to sell it. Because you likely haven’t exhausted all of the topics within your niche, a potential buyer will see that they can buy the site and continue to grow it, which means you will get a higher multiple on the sale.
Lastly, when it comes to managing your niche site, having one large site really shines. Because you’re only managing one site, you can focus all of your energy on that site.
You can build and manage the social profiles, really attack the internal links (I highly suggest using Link Whisper for this to save you a ridiculous amount of time), and respond to all of your comments and emails. These things are simply not possible when managing a portfolio of smaller sites on your own.
As I just covered, the benefits of building a successful niche website in a large area are huge, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy and that it doesn’t have some significant drawbacks.
Speaking of ease, the difficulty in ranking your site in a large niche is probably the biggest drawback to trying to build a large, authority site. When you go after such a broad topic, Google will be putting you up against sites that have been around for years.
Those large sites will be tough to compete against, because they not only have hundreds to thousands of blog posts on their sites, but they likely have tons of high-quality backlinks and maybe even a team of expert writers producing content for them.
Knowing what you’re going up against, you have to be patient and realize that it will take a lot longer to rank your articles in a large, broad niche. This is one of the main reasons why you don’t see many people pushing this particular approach.
Even if you do happen to succeed and build up a large and successful site in a broad niche, another major drawback is that all of your eggs are in one basket. If your site takes a rankings hit from an algorithm update, all of your income could disappear overnight.
This is not something to take lightly, as it can take a long time to build up a site in a broad niche. The last thing you want is for all that time and effort to be for nothing.
My Approach to Building Niche Sites
Like many concepts I lay out on this site, it doesn’t always have to be black or white. In fact, the sweet spot where you’ll find the most success is usually somewhere in the middle.
With that being said, the way I approach building niche sites, including the one I mentioned in the beginning of this article, is to think big, but start small. What I mean by that is to pick a large niche and domain name, but only write articles for a small subtopic within that niche.
For example, let’s say that you want to build a site in the fishing niche. Pick a domain name like fishingadventureswithjeff.com (you’ll definitely want to come up with something better than this), but to start, only write articles about ice fishing.
Once you’ve exhausted all the keywords you can find about ice fishing, move on to fly fishing, and so on. This gives you many of the benefits of going big and going small, all with a single site.
This is the approach that my team and I have taken on all five of our sites. It’s worked well for us, but like with everything else, I encourage you to experiment and do what makes the most sense to you.
At the end of the day, there’s more than one approach to building a successful niche website, and each method has its pros and cons. It’s up to you to decide which path makes the most sense to take.
My approach is to start small and expand over time, all within the same site. That’s worked extremely well for us, but it’s not your only option. In fact, a good mix of large and small sites may be an even better approach to building sites.
My hope is that you will take the information above and use it to give you some initial direction. As you’ve spent some time building out a site, reevaluate and adjust as you begin to figure out what works best for you.