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Like many of you, when I first started down the path of looking for ways to make money online, I was inundated with “get rich quick” schemes. The people behind these videos on YouTube do such a good job of presenting that’s it’s hard not to get sucked in.
Well, I can tell you based on my experience that it rarely works that way. While there are definitely some shortcuts you can take, if you want to build a reliable income stream online, you need to put in the time and effort. You also need to be patient.
In this post, I’m going to outline the basic steps for building a successful income stream from simple niche websites. I’ll also let you know what “shortcuts” I avoid, and why I avoid them.
The Traditional Methods
Before I get into how I build niche websites, let’s first take a look at a couple of the most popular methods you’ll see pitched online. These methods can definitely work, but require more risk and effort.
One of the most popular methods for building niche sites is to target buyer-intent keywords. In fact, this was a big part of my approach when I first attempted to build a site 7-8 years ago.
The reason this method is so popular is that you don’t need a lot of traffic to generate a good amount of revenue. If you can start getting a trickle of traffic to those articles on your site with affiliate links, you can convert those visitors to dollars right away.
A big drawback to this method is the risk involved. Although Google has more or less stated that they don’t have a problem with affiliate links, it seems like the sites that get hammered during every algorithm update are the ones with the most affiliate links.
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For this approach to work, you have to be okay with taking that risk, and you need to find a good balance between making money, pleasing your visitors, and keeping Google happy.
With the system that my team and I have developed, we make it a point to keep our risk low. That’s the main reason we no longer add buyer-intent content to our sites. I’ll touch on the other reason in just a moment.
Now, this one I will admit is something that Google has been pushing lately, and that is to build content around topics, instead of keywords. This in itself is not necessarily a bad approach.
The main problem with this method is that it’s hard to gain any traction early on if you’re producing content around large topics. Keep in mind that when I say large topics, I’m not referring to broad niches.
Let’s say your niche is based around swimming. Using more of a keyword-based approach, you might target something like “how to do a backstroke.” With a topical approach, you might target something like “types of swimming strokes.”
Now, this is just an example, and both targets are likely competitive. However, I can assure you that you’re going to have a significantly harder time ranking for “types of swimming strokes” than you would for “how to do a backstroke.”
To take this example a bit further, what I would actually target in this scenario is something more like “how to do a backstroke flip turn.” I would take this keyword and produce the best piece of content around this single search.
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In the topical approach, you would instead produce a very large piece of content that targets all of the types of swimming strokes. Obviously, you’re never going to cover topics as small as “how to do a backstroke flip turn” within a single article using the topical approach.
The Common Thread
The common thread between the two approaches above is that it’s not going to be easy to rank your new site. Buyer-intent keywords are competitive because they can produce good income with a low number of visitors, while large topics are competitive because they can produce a large number of visitors from a small number of articles.
In either case, the generally-accepted answer is to build backlinks to your site. If you’re not familiar with the process of building backlinks, you can basically think of it as a collection of various methods to get other sites to link to your site.
One popular method is through email outreach, where you send hundreds of emails to other sites asking them to link to yours. People have gotten very clever with these emails, but they’re still easy to spot.
Another method is through writing guest posts on other people’s blogs, then linking back to your site from within those guest posts. These are just a couple of examples, but there are plenty of other commonly used methods as well.
While getting a few backlinks from some high-authority sites will definitely boost your rankings in the short term, by reaching out to ask for these links, you’re doing something that significantly increases the long-term risk of your site.
Google has made it very clear that they don’t want people building backlinks to their site. It’s not that the links themselves are an issue, but that they don’t want people trying to manipulate how those links are obtained.
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If Google’s algorithm determines that you’re backlink profile looks unnatural, you can be penalized and lose your rankings overnight. This is the risk you’re taking if you decide to build backlinks to your site.
Unfortunately, if you want to grow a site using either of the two approaches listed above, you’re going to need to get some links pointing to your site to get any traction. That’s why I opt for a different, low-risk approach, which I’ll cover next.
The Easy, Low-Risk Way to Build Niche Sites
Now that I’ve told you what not to do, let’s dive deeper into the approach my team and I use for building niche websites. This is a low-risk approach that allows you to steadily increase your income without constantly worrying about when the next Google algorithm update is going to hit.
Whereas the methods I described earlier targeted high-competition keywords, I only target low-competition keywords. By targeting low-competition keywords, you can actually rank your posts with zero to very few backlinks.
Now when I say low-competition, I mean low-competition. I’m talking about keywords that no one (or almost no one) is targeting. These are the low-hanging fruit keywords that you can easily rank for with a new site.
While you would think that these keywords don’t exist with how many sites are out there, you can find these low-competition keywords in just about any niche. People are always coming up with new questions to search in Google, so this is something that just evolves naturally over time.
As you might expect, when targeting low-competition keywords, the search volume is also going to be very low. While that might seem disheartening at first, it’s not so bad when you realize that people are simply ignoring these keywords as a result.
These low-competition, low-volume keywords are your ticket to early rankings and growth. Yes, it does mean you will need to write more articles to reach those higher search volume levels, but it won’t require you to take any risky, unnecessary shortcuts.
If you’re looking for low-competition keywords, you’ll want to target what’s known as information keywords. These are typically question-based in nature.
A few examples are:
- How to ride a bike on a slope
- Can you swim up a river?
- How often do you need to inflate a soccer ball?
These are the types of searches that people enter when they’re looking for more information about a subject. Because many of these types of searches have zero buyer-intent, people simply ignore them. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make a lot of money off of them.
The key to finding low-competition, information keywords is to really drill down into each topic. So instead of targeting “how to fish at night,” target “how to fish at night from the shore.” Or instead of “what to use instead of bait,” target “what to use instead of bait for fly fishing.”
The further you drill down, the less competition there will be. Just make sure the keyword auto-completes in Google Search so you know there’s at least some search volume.
Another big part of my team’s approach is to target broad niches. Instead of camping in the backyard, just target camping in general. The broader you go, the more topics you’ll have to write about in the future.
The key here is to pick a broad domain name, but at the same time, start by targeting a subniche within the broader niche. So in the example above, you would have a long-term plan of targeting camping, but for your first 30-50 posts, you might write only about camping in the backyard.
With this approach, you can almost view it as developing several micro niche sites, but putting them all under the same name. As you’ve exhausted one subniche, make it a category on your site, then move on to another.
By doing this, Google will look at your content early on and be able to easily determine what it’s about, and you will be targeting a small subsector of a large niche.
As your site starts to gain some traction in the search rankings, you can build out into those other subniches on your site and start competing for keywords that would not have been possible early on.
There’s no doubt that if you want to grow your site as quickly as possible, doing a bit of outreach and getting a few nice backlinks to your site will help. However, not only does this add risk to your site, but it’s also a ton of unnecessary work.
Backlinks are important, so don’t get me wrong. You definitely want backlinks pointing at your site. It’s just that you want them to happen naturally over time as your site grows. The speed will depend on the type of content that you produce.
If you consistently produce good content on your site, the backlinks will follow. Yes, it will take longer than it would if you were to do some outreach, but you can use that extra time to write content instead of writing emails. You also don’t have to stress out about what might happen with the next algorithm update.
If you want to get some links to your site sooner than later, the best way to do that is to produce high-quality content. Create articles that include facts, infographics, unique images, tables, etc. Create resources that people will want to link to when they come across your articles.
With that being said, you absolutely can rank for low-competition keywords without backlinks. Backlinks will simply speed the process along, and even if you don’t try to get them, they will come naturally over time.
We’ve never built a single backlink to any of our sites, and yet, we have thousands of links pointing to each of them.
Ads Over Affiliate
One thing I haven’t touched on yet is how you’re going to make big money when targeting low-volume keywords with no buyer intent. On the surface, you might think it would be difficult.
However, if you head over to our Income Reports page, you’ll quickly see that it’s possible to make tens of thousands of dollars using the steps outlined in this guide. As far as the method used to generate that income stream, we focus on advertisements.
Running display ads on your site is one of the most common ways to earn an income with a site, but many are under the impression that the return from ads is simply too low to justify the effort. In my opinion, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
While you might see a very low return early on if you use certain ad networks, once you’ve reached 50,000 sessions/month, you can apply for Mediavine’s ad network. That’s who we use, and you will likely see your RPMs skyrocket when you join their network.
Another network to consider is AdThrive, which requires 100,000 pageviews/month. While we’ve never used AdThrive, I’ve heard plenty of good things about them as well.
When you first start out, your best bet is to go with Ezoic, which recently removed their traffic requirement and will net you a much higher return than AdSense.
Regardless of the ad network you choose, if you consistently produce high-quality articles targeting low-competition keywords, your earnings will continue to climb. And the best part, is that there’s really no ceiling to this business model.
Think of each post as a small income generator. While 10 posts might not make you much, as time passes and you’ve produced 100 posts or hundreds of posts, all of those small income streams will add up to a significant amount of money.
The last thing I want to point out is that we don’t take any shortcuts, at least not any that increase our risk. If you do things by the book, you will be rewarded in the long run, and for us, that’s what we’re all about.
If your goal is to grow a site as quickly as possible to make money right away, you can do things like link-building to speed up the process. Just know that you’re chasing a short-term business model that could crash at any moment.
Instead, if your aim is to build a long-term income stream, don’t take shortcuts, and don’t add unnecessary risk. It takes more patience, but when that money starts coming in month after month, you’ll feel good knowing that it will continue to come in in the future.
There are many ways to build a successful niche site, and each has its pros and cons. If you’re looking for the safest and easiest (in my opinion) way to build a niche website, stick to the steps I’ve outlined above.
While it might take a bit longer before the revenue starts coming in, by that point, you will have built the foundation for a steady income stream that can last you for years and years.