Building a Niche Website

Everyone who has more than 17 minutes of SEO experience and decides to start up a blog/website has visions of Mashable-like, server-crushing traffic on the day of a new iPhone launch. However within 6 months of not making it onto Techmeme once, they give up, littering the digital highway with yet another abandoned WordPress blog. Don’t despair: there is hope. I’ll share some tips with you about creating that niche website that will make you profitable without chaining you to your desk for all eternity.

Choosing a Subject

Choosing a subject is probably the number one step people get wrong and the number one reason new websites fail. A few years ago, Rand Fishkin wrote about writing in an over saturated space. That post is just as true today as it was 5 years ago. Unless you can bring a unique opinion, new information, or are an exceptional writer, steer clear of over saturated niches like gadget/electronics/tech blogs. Conversely, you need to find a subject that will have enough of a critical mass of traffic, advertisers, and affiliate income earning opportunities. Seasoned SEO’s can sell leads where no traditional affiliate programs exist but, unless you’ve done it before, I’d stay away from that path.

The next most common mistake is that people focus only on high revenue areas for which they really have no passion or expertise. Again, seasoned marketers can do this; if it’s your first time around the block without training wheels, I’d think long and hard before going that route. Find something that you are at least slightly interested in: at some point during that first 6 months, when only a handful of people are reading and you aren’t making enough money to buy a happy meal, this project will turn into work. At that point, if you don’t care about the subject, the quality will slip, it will show, and the project will die on the vine.

Use a Pseudonym

Now all the social media rainbow and unicorns people will tell you that people will see through your nome de plume, and you will never get enough love and trust to get anywhere. I think they are full of crap, and you should not take personality advice from social media types, most of whom don’t have a personality to speak of. I don’t suggest pretending to be a 5′ 2″ petite, perky, blonde, 23-year-old single woman when in reality you are 6′, overweight, and balding 50-something, divorced male because, even if you are able to pull it off, once you become successful, it’s hard to maintain social media equity if no one has ever met you.

Instead I suggest using a pseudonym that everyone knows isn’t trying to be a real person and, more importantly, can be written by more than one person. Examples include Manolo of or Mr. & Mrs Smith’s Travel Blog. If you run more than one site, keeping these personalities separate and distinct isn’t easy, but hopefully you will be able to avoid prolonged therapy. I will caution you about using your real identity and giving it too much of your personality. If you go down this path, the website’s value and revenue is tied to your involvement, and the site becomes something you can never sell. So, when you stop paying attention to it, the value drops.

Use Different Types of Content

When you are building/running a website, you need to mix up the content with things like editorial content, reviews, linkbait, destination content (like recipes, how to, or query based content), and seasonal content. For things like recipes or reviews, make sure you take implement XML markup. Google definitely gives a preference to sites that use it. The real key here is taking advantage of scheduling posts if at all possible. For example, you are much better off running a website that lets you write and schedule Thanksgiving Recipes as opposed to a site that requires you to be chained to the desk, reporting and publishing news as it happens.

Aston Martin DB9 (image via Aston Martin)

If reviews are applicable for your website, look for ways to make them cost effective. Consult with your tax professional about deductibility of expenses. You may not be able to claim an Aston Martin DB9 for your car-based website. However, you may be able to claim a vacation to NYC to attend the Javits Auto Show. If you are doing product reviews, Craigslist and eBay provide excellent opportunities to buy/sell slightly used equipment to review. I’ve written several other posts on this subject, so check out:

An Example of Putting it All Together

A lot of people in the SEO space talk in abstract generalities, usually to protect a tactic, their own website, or a client’s website. While these are completely valid reasons, they miss the crucial element of using an example to illustrate how to take something from theory to actual practice. So, while I’m not going to point to an exact website, I am going to use a real world example that I came across that served as the inspiration for this post: a smoothie website…

A few weeks ago, I found myself with a large amount of blueberries that were uneaten. Since I hate paying good money for fresh produce only to throw it away, I used Google to find some blueberry recipes, and came across a really well done smoothie website.

  • The majority of the site was made up of “everyday” smoothie recipes, some of which were in proper XML format and some not, so I suspect a migration/formatting project is in place
  • A wide range of seasonal recipes for all of the seasons and major social holidays like Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas
  • Product reviews were prominently featured as rotating sidebar links as well as placed throughout other website posts
  • Health, nutrition, and science content was published and interlinked to show expert knowledge and build trust
  • Linkbait and social media posts were created with headlines like “Top 10 Healthiest Smoothies”, “5 Most Flavor Packed Summer Smoothies”, “7 Unusual Smoothie Recipes”

Hopefully this post has given you some ideas that you can use on your existing site or on the next website you build.

photo credit: BigStockPhoto/Pink Candy

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