Disclaimer: Some links in this post are affiliate links. Making a purchase after clicking one of these links may result in a commission for me. Also, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Building a niche site doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, when I first started out building niche sites several years ago, I didn’t pay for much more than a domain name and hosting.
With that being said, as my small team and I grew those sites to over $40,000/month, we did reinvest a small portion of our earnings into some tools that either helped us scale our business or streamlined our processes.
Below, I’ve outlined the tools and resources that you need to get started, as well as the ones that will help you take your sites to the next level.
As a side note: these are all tools and resources that we use on our niche websites, not ones that we use on Passive Income Unlocked. The revenue number above also does not include any revenue from Passive Income Unlocked.
Table of Contents
- Domain and Hosting
- Keyword Research Tools
- Writing Services
- Advertising Networks
- Affiliate Networks
- Stock Images
- Social Media Automation
- Email Services
- Image Editing
- Google Tools
A Domain Name and Hosting
You’re not going to get very far with an online business these days without a domain name and hosting. You can think of a domain name as the unique URL that people type into their browser’s address bar to get to your site.
You can think of hosting as where all of your site’s files live. The domain name and web hosting work together to provide visitors with access to your site.
When first starting a new site, we always go with Bluehost. The reason is simple. Bluehost offers a clean and simple startup process for purchasing both your domain name and hosting as a bundle. Once purchased, you can then install WordPress with a few simple steps.
Bluehost definitely isn’t your only option. You can buy your domain name through plenty of online registrars, such as GoDaddy or NameCheap. You can also buy your hosting separately from your domain name, which is something I do recommend doing once your site starts getting a large amount of traffic.
Once our sites get to about 20,000 pageviews/month, we move our hosting over to Rocket. Rocket provides lightning fast hosting that’s about as reliable as it gets, and the cost is also very reasonable.
Rocket also comes bundled with Cloudflare Enterprise (pre-configured for you), which is pretty much worth the price of admission on its own.
Once you’ve locked in your domain name and hosting, the next logical step is to install a Content Management System (CMS). The go-to CMS for blogs around the world is WordPress.
While there are plenty of other content platforms out there, WordPress gives you the security, speed, and flexibility that you need for free. That’s right, once you have your domain name and hosting purchased, you can install WordPress on your site for free.
Again, just do this through the Bluehost interface to make it easy.
A WordPress Theme
After installing WordPress, you’ll need to select and install a theme. A theme provides the user interface and basic features that your visitors will see. It defines the layout of the pages, the design of the menus, and many have built-in features like social sharing buttons.
When you’re building a new niche site, I recommend going with a free theme. When you log into WordPress, you’ll see that it comes pre-packaged with plenty of free themes, and these are more than sufficient to get the job done.
While the free themes are perfect in the beginning, as your traffic grows, you’ll want to invest in a premium theme. Premium themes typically offer more frequent security updates, a more modern, adaptive user interface, and features that you simply won’t find with free themes.
We currently use the ContentBerg theme on all of our sites. We like it because it’s fast and provides a clean user interface that emphasizes the content on each page (as implied in the name of the theme).
There are plenty of great themes out there so do some research and pick the one that makes the most sense for you. Contentberg definitely not your only option.
Mediavine recently released their own theme called Trellis. Since we use Mediavine to monetize all of our sites, we figured we should give it a shot.
To our surprise, but simply switching to Trellis and increasing the font size slightly, we saw a significant increase in our RPMs. As a result, we’ve moved all of our monetized sites over to Trellis.
Trellis is still in beta, and we did run into some technical issues when first changing to this theme on a couple of our sites. The issues were resolved quickly, but it’s something to keep in mind.
We actually prefer Contentberg over Trellis, and it’s considerably cheaper, so we’re only switching to Trellis for our sites that are currently monetized through Mediavine.
WordPress comes packed with all of the necessary features you need to get your site up and running, and the theme you choose will take that a step further by including additional features that can further improve the look and feel of your site.
While that’s a good starting point, that’s typically not enough. As you build out your niche site, you’ll identify certain opportunities that you’d like to take advantage of, but don’t have the right tools or features on your site to do so. This is where plugins come in.
Plugins provide the bells and whistles for your site. And while I typically avoid most unnecessary tools and features, some can be really useful and increase your site’s chances of succeeding.
Some people go overboard and install dozens of plugins on their site. Just be aware that each plugin has the potential to conflict with another plugin and could also slow down your site.
I highly recommend sticking to only those plugins that you feel will really benefit your site and its users.
Here are a few plugins that we like to use across our sites. We do use a handful of others, but these are the ones that we feel provide a solid base to build from.
Grow Social is a plugin that was recently taken over by Mediavine, which is the advertising network we use on our sites. We were already using this plugin before the takeover and name change, but nonetheless, it’s one that we find to be really useful.
With the Grow Social plugin, you can add social sharing buttons to various areas of your site. You can also customize the buttons and choose which social networks to display.
One of the biggest selling points for us with this plugin was that it’s so lightweight when compared with other social sharing plugins. By lightweight, I mean that it won’t slow down your site much by using it.
Another plugin that you’ll want to consider is Yoast SEO. This plugin has quite a few features built-in to make sure you check all of the basic boxes to get your site found via organic search.
You can use Yoast SEO to generate your sitemap, prevent certain pages from being indexed, set your permalink structure, and much more.
One of the best ways to quickly improve your organic search rankings it to building internal links between all of your relevant content. If you’ve done this manually, as we have up until a few months ago, you know how time consuming and overwhelming this can be, especially as your site grows.
That’s where Link Whisper comes in. Link Whisper semi-automates the process of building internal links by making suggestions based on related content.
We’ve literally added over 500 internal links using this plugin in a matter of a few days. This would take months to accomplish manually. In fact, we would simply never bother to get it done.
If you use Link Whisper, I highly suggest adding tags to your posts in WordPress. This will allow you to tell Link Whisper to only suggest links within a given tag, which has been the biggest key for us to quickly build internal links with this tool.
While most plugins have the potential to slow your site down, some actually help to speed them up. That’s the case with the Autoptimize plugin, which includes several methods for optimizing the way your site loads for your visitors.
There are quite a few speed optimization plugins out there with similar features. Some coexist along certain plugins better than others, so if one causes issues on your site, try a different one.
This is the only plugin on this list that we pay for, and even then, you can use the free version if you’d like. Smush Pro from WPMU Dev is an image optimization plugin that includes several features to increase the loading speed of your images.
Some of these features include automatic image compression, lazy loading, and even converting to WebP, which is a newer image format that will help you improve your Google Pagespeed Insights scores.
The last plugin that I’ll mention is Ad Inserter, and we don’t use it for inserting ads, like the name suggestions. This plugin basically allows you to insert a piece of HTML across multiple pages on your site in the location of your choice.
This is perfect for inserting ads if you use an ad network that doesn’t automate this process for you. However, we use it to promote digital products, quizzes, or to test features we’re unsure about.
For example, with Ad Inserter, we can automatically place a linked image of a digital product that we’re trying to promote at the bottom of every post. When the image is clicked, it takes the visitor to the landing page for that particular product.
Keyword Research Tools
When it comes to finding keywords, you don’t necessarily need to use any tools. In fact, we do all of our keyword research right inside Google Search.
With that being said, we do use a couple of relatively low-cost tools to help streamline the process.
The first tool is a Chrome and Firefox extension called Keywords Everywhere. This extension will show you the estimated monthly search volume for keywords right inside Google Search, as well as on some other sites, like YouTube and Answer the Public.
Our main goal with this tool is to filter our keyword list so we’re not targeting keywords that are too high or too low in volume. High-volume keywords tend to also be high in competition, while super low-volume keywords simply don’t provide enough traffic potential for us to justify targeting.
The other tool that we use is called Keyword Chef. We’ve only recently started using this tool, but so far, it seems to work extremely well at finding the types of keywords that we like to target.
When using this tool, we use the option to give us question-based results, which is what we target the most.
While we don’t use Keyword Chef as a primary keyword research tool, we’ve found that it does a good job of filling the gaps for any keywords we might have missed in the past when researching specific topics within a niche. It also does a nice job of showing you the types of questions that people are asking in a niche and the subtopics that they are searching for.
While I always recommend writing as many of your own articles as possible, especially when starting out, the best and easiest way to scale a niche site is to outsource some or all of the writing.
When outsourcing content, you can either hire people directly, go with freelancers, or go through a content writing service. In our case, we started with freelancers, then moved on to content writing services.
I cover each of these briefly below, but for a more in-depth review of our current favorites, along with samples, check out our guide to writing services.
If you’re looking for a low number of articles, your best bet is to use a service like Upwork. With Upwork, you’ll post a job listing that describes what you’re looking for, then people will bid on that job.
There’s obviously a bit of work involved when using a site like Upwork, but if you’re patient, you can uncover great writers that will provide content at much lower rates than you’ll see with a writing service.
To find good writers on Upwork at low rates, you’ll need to look for people who are new on the network. When freelancers first start out, they have no choice but to take lower paying contracts.
You’ll have to pay these writers for a test article, and know ahead of time that you’ll likely waste your money on a few of them. It’s worth it if you can uncover a few gems.
Once you find a good writer or two, bump up their pay a bit to keep them around. Many of our best outsourced articles were written by freelancers on Upwork. We still work with a couple of them to this day.
Almost all of our outsourced content now comes from a writing service, more specifically one named Content Pit.
Aside from the writing quality being excellent, what we really like about Content Pit is how consistent their writers are when it comes to formatting.
With pretty much every other writing service we’ve used in the past, we’ve had to format each article quite a bit to match our existing posts. With Content Pit, they follow our instructions so well that we can basically publish them as is.
On top of that, to order in bulk, you can literally copy and paste a spreadsheet of keywords, word counts, etc. into their online portal in seconds. The articles are later returned in batches via email. Just like with the formatting, this saves us a ton of time.
The only drawback to using Content Pit is the turnaround time is a bit on the slow side. I’m told that they are currently working on hiring more writers, but are pretty selective during their hiring process to ensure the writers can meet their expected standards.
For a 10% discount on your first order (up to 10k words), use the following coupon code: PIU10
If your goal is to make passive income online, there’s no better option than running advertisements on your website. Once you place ads on your site, you can basically set it and forget it. The income will continue to climb as you increase the traffic on your website.
There are different requirements and expectations for the various advertising networks out there. Some require you to reach a certain amount of traffic on your site, some only take sites in certain niches, etc.
When first getting started, your only realistic option used to be Google AdSense. Recently, Ezoic removed their 10,000 pageview requirement, so you can get started with them right away.
When running a couple of our sites through Ezoic in the past, we saw a significant increase in RPMs when switching from AdSense. Now that there’s no traffic requirement, it’s a no-brainer if you’re looking to monetize your site early on.
While the traffic requirement has been removed, you will be required to pass a series of certifications to unlock certain features. Basically, you just need to watch a series of videos, then take a test, which can be retaken if you don’t pass.
Ezoic does recommend waiting to join until you have over 1,000 visitors per months. This is due to the nature of the way that the Ezoic platform works to determine the best types and placements for your ads using artificial intelligence. The more traffic you have, the better this system works.
Mediavine currently requires 50,000 sessions to apply. While that might seem like a lot, if you follow the system that I lay out on passiveincomeunlocked.com, getting from 10,000 to 50,000 sessions per month typically only takes a few extra months.
Trust me when I say that it’s worth the wait to work with Mediavine. They are a great company that’s always innovating and looking for ways to improve. Their customer service is also top notch, and their RPMs are about as high as they get.
The goal with all of our sites is to eventually monetize them with display ads using Mediavine’s network.
Another popular way to make money on a passive income site is to place affiliate links. When you place affiliate links on your site pointing to products that you recommend, you make a small commission every time someone clicks one of these links and makes a purchase.
For the most part, we only use two affiliate networks across our sites, and those are Amazon Associates and ShareASale.
Probably the most popular affiliate service to use is Amazon Associates. It’s so popular because it converts so well. People already shop at amazon.com, so if you can get one of your visitors to click a link over to Amazon, there’s a high chance that you’ll get a commission.
Before you apply to Amazon’s affiliate program, make sure you have a good amount of useful content on your site. Ideally, wait until you have some traffic coming in as well. This will help your chances of getting accepted to their program.
Another popular affiliate program is the one offered by ShareASale. ShareASale works more like a middle man and connects you with hundreds of merchants who don’t have their own affiliate program like Amazon does.
Once you’ve signed up for ShareASale, you will need to apply for each merchant individually. As long as you have a relevant site with good content and some traffic, you’ll usually be accepted to each Merchant’s program.
From there, you can add affiliate links to each merchant’s website just like you would with the Amazon Associates program. Every time someone clicks a link on your site to one of these merchants and makes a purchase, you’ll receive a commission.
Just know that the conversion rate on ShareASale and other affiliate networks is typically going to be significantly lower than with Amazon. I only recommend going through non-Amazon affiliate networks when you want to promote something, such as a subscription service, that isn’t available on amazon.com.
There are plenty of other affiliate networks out there aside from the ones I just covered, and I definitely recommend looking into them. Some of the other networks are better suited for specific niches, so it’s definitely worth your time and effort to at least take a look.
A couple of popular affiliate networks are CJ Affiliate and Impact Radius. There are a lot of great merchants that use each of these networks that you can’t access any other way.
Some companies also run their own affiliate programs and don’t go through an affiliate network. You can usually find these by scrolling to the bottom on any site and looking for a link that says “Affiliates” or something similar. If you don’t see anything for a business you’d like to promote, reach out to them directly to see if they can help you out.
If you want your site to look professional, you absolutely need to use high-quality images on it. The best solution for this is to take your own photos, as they will be authentic and unique. However, this isn’t feasible in most scenarios.
With a new website, you can opt to use free images on your site from places like pixabay.com, but as you start to grow, I highly suggest paying for your images. Using paid, stock images not only gives you a bigger selection of high-quality images, but those images will also come with some legal protection.
For paid, stock images, we use iStock Photos on all of our sites. We’ve tried other services as well, but we have found that iStock has the largest selection for the cost.
Social Media Automation
While we don’t put much focus on social media anymore due to its inconsistent nature and unreliable traffic, we do use one tool to help us grow our presence on Pinterest. That tool is called Tailwind.
Tailwind is a web-based application that has several features built-in that can help you grown and maintain your Pinterest account. We use it for two basic purposes. The first is to automatically schedule pins, while the second is to connect with bloggers in similar niches to share each other’s pins.
These two features are easily worth the relatively low price of admission.
I have to imagine that it would be pretty difficult to run a business these days without an email account. And when you consider that building niche sites is an online-based business, it makes it even more important to have a simple way to communicate with others.
While you most certainly can go with a free Gmail account when first starting your first niche website, eventually you’ll want to move on to a business email account that ends in your domain.
A business email account simply looks more professional and adds a level of authenticity to your business.
We use Google Workspace on all of our sites for this purpose. It’s cheap and relatively easy to set up, so it was a no-brainer for us.
For some niche sites, it can make a lot of sense to collect email addresses and send out periodic emails to your visitors. This is a great way to keep them up to date on new content and even promote affiliate offers.
While it won’t make sense for all niches, we do collect email addresses on a few of our sites and regularly send out emails to those who sign up. It’s a great way to get return visitors to your site and makes it much easier to promote your products and services to them.
We currently use MailPoet for sending emails. We like MailPoet because it can completely be managed within the WordPress interface and has a feature to automatically send out recurring emails to notify subscribers about new posts.
While we don’t typically edit any of the stock images we post across our sites, any time we do need to spruce up an image, we use Canva. While Canva does have paid features, most of the core features are free and are sufficient for most projects.
In the past, we heavily used Canva for creating Pinterest pins. These days, we use it for one-off things like creating a digital product or creating a clickable image to put in your sidebar (that takes you to a specific page on your site).
It’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t with a niche site if you don’t have a way to track your progress. Thankfully, Google offers a couple of excellent free tools that you can use for this purpose.
Google Search Console and Google Analytics are two free tools that we use on a regular basis to keep an eye on our sites and to help us make decisions regarding the direction to take each site.
Search Console includes various reports that relate to your organic search presence. You can see the trends of your impressions, clicks, and more over time. Other helpful reports include things like your backlink profile, mobile performance scores, and issues that have been identified on your site.
In some ways, Google Analytics provide similar information to Search Console. However, it includes traffic from all sources (social, direct, etc.) and allows you to drill down much, much further.
With Google Analytics, you can see exactly where your traffic is coming from, what types of devices they’re using, which pages they’re visiting, how long they’re staying on each page, and much more.
The data provided on Google Analytics can then be used to make decisions about the content on your site. As you identify what’s working and what’s not working, you can tailor your content strategy accordingly.
As you can see, it doesn’t cost much to run a niche website. Our handful of niche sites bring in a total of over 1,000,000 pageviews per month, and yet, the tools above are basically all we use to keep the business running.
When you first get started, all you really need to pay for are a domain name and hosting. From there, just focus on adding content and building your site.
Over time, as your traffic grows and you scale your business, start looking into reinvesting some of your earnings into tools that can streamline your workflow and help you reach the next level.