How I Used a [Mostly] Content Only Strategy to Grow a Brand New Site to 400+ Daily Visitors

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Content Only StrategyIf you hate link building like I do and plan to use a content only strategy for your niche site – then this post is for you. Starting a brand new niche site on a brand new domain is definitely NOT a get-rich-quick plan. I should know. I’ve started plenty of them. But, if you want to build a long-term and reliable passive income producing website – you shouldn’t be thinking about getting rich quick anyway. Sure, we’re all in this for the money. But think of the fairy tale about the tortoise and the hare. Every single time I read the story – the tortoise wins!

This is the approach I’ve taken with the one main niche/authority site that I’ve been building out for over a year now. In past posts on this blog, I’ve referred to this site as ‘My ONE Thing’ site. In a post I wrote about a year ago – I declared that I was going to FOCUS on just ONE thing – and that ONE thing was going to be this particular niche website. My traffic and earnings for this site have continued to increase, slowly and steadily, as a result of deciding to stick with the long-term strategy.

Within this post – I’m going to show you how I’ve grown the site to an average of 400+ visitors (sessions) per day – and even as I write this post, that number continues to slowly increase!

Enduring and Surpassing the Google Sandbox

I never wanted to believe that the Google sandbox was real. When people first started talking about it – I thought it was just a cop-out or an excuse for why they couldn’t get their sites to rank right away. But after experiencing it myself on a couple of sites, I confirmed that the Google sandbox is very real and it is alive and well.

If you don’t know what the Google sandbox is – here is a good and short explanation that I found (in Q&A form) on a popular SEO website…

How would you describe the Google Sandbox in one sentence?

The Google Sandbox is very similar to a new website being placed on probation, and kept lower than expected in searches, prior to being given full value for its incoming links and content. >>> Read full article here…

I started this ONE thing niche website in June of 2015. I actually decided on the niche and purchased the domain in April of 2015. I think I loaded WordPress on the site sometime in May and added some basic plugins and did some other basic setup stuff. But the very first post was published in June of 2015.

Six total posts were published by the end of June. Nine more posts were published in July and another nine posts in August. All of these posts were strictly informational and targeted very low competition keywords (lower than 25 KC in Long Tail Pro) that had decent search volumes. In September, 17 product review posts were published. Then in October, I resumed publishing informational posts and I’ve been doing so ever since at a rate of (usually) 3 new posts per week.

Here’s a look at my traffic for all of 2015…

he Site Sessions Jun2015 thru Dec2015

As you can clearly see, I had virtually NO traffic on my site at all for the first 5 months! A little bit of traffic started to trickle in throughout November and one of my posts went crazy on Pinterest and generated a TON of traffic for much of December.

The point in telling you how much content I published and then showing you this traffic screenshot is to illustrate the all-so-true effects of the Google sandbox. I published 24 informational posts and 17 product review posts within the first 4 months and didn’t start to see hardly any traffic at all until about month 6.

Content Only Strategy

As mentioned at the top of this post – I REALLY don’t like link building at all. I know that it is necessary to get links in order to rank higher in Google. And I know that links will come naturally over time. And I also know that there are link building activities that I could be doing in order to get links faster. But starting out – I figured this site was going to be in the sandbox anyway, so why bother? I decided to focus just on content and site layout during the first several months.

I planned to start an email list for this site from the very beginning and I had a really nice 16,000-word guide (eBook) written to give away as a lead magnet. The thing is… when there’s no traffic during the first several months, there are no leads to attract to the lead magnet! But then, all of a sudden, the Pinterest explosion in traffic happened in December! I noticed it right away – so I quickly created a content upgrade for the specific post that all the traffic was going to and started to collect email addresses.

My email autoresponder series has well over 20 emails in it that are setup to be sent weekly to new subscribers and each message is designed to get email readers back to my website. I also encourage my email subscribers to share my content with their family/friends who might be interested in the content.

Note: The reason I’m telling you about the email list here is because the content within that email autoresponder series is a VERY important part of this ‘content only strategy’. Not only are the emails themselves part of the content – but they lead back to the content on the site as well. Getting that personal connection via email and building trust with my audience has been one of my top goals with this site. Making money with my email list is just one piece of my overall income strategy for the site.

So – this was it!! My site was finally starting to take off. The Pinterest explosion provided a boost, and I haven’t looked back ever since. After the Pinterest explosion in December of 2015, my traffic leveled off to around 200 visitors per day. Here is how my traffic has progressed throughout the rest of 2016 (up to this point)…

Niche Site Sessions Jan2016 thru Aug2016

This graph doesn’t really look all that impressive. But if you look closely, you can see that the year started off at around 200 visitors (sessions) per day and slowly, but surely, increased to over 400 (almost 500) average visitors per day.

The Content Creation and Publishing Strategy

As of today (the day that I am publishing this post), I currently have 168 published posts or pages on the ‘One thing’ site. The vast majority of the posts are informational or bloggy in nature – and every single post on the site (except the product reviews) targets low competition keywords based on KC scores calculated in Long Tail Pro.

When I first found this niche and did the initial keyword research – I found tons of great keywords with really low KC scores and significant search volumes. I’m talking 291 keywords that had KC scores of 25 or less and an average search volume (among those keywords) of 666 local (U.S.) searches per month. This niche was nuts! Heck – 50 of the keywords on this list had KC scores of 15 or less!

Since the vast majority of these keywords were informational in nature – I did very little competition analysis other than simply calculating KC scores in Long Tail Pro. My strategy all along was going to be to just publish a ton of content (regardless of search volume) and try to rank for as many keywords as possible. With 168 pieces of content published already – I’ve still got plenty left to be written and published! I still have well over 100 keywords left that I plan to target – each with their own separate article!

So… how did I do it? How did I come up with so many article ideas and how do I get all of that content written and published?

I’ll just say that Long Tail Pro was instrumental for the process. Back when I did research for this particular site, there was not an option in Long Tail Pro to check KC scores in bulk. You had to click a button for each and every single separate keyword in order to calculate the KC score. Today’s version of Long Tail Pro allows you to click one button to calculate KC scores for every single keyword in the list.

Long Tail Pro - Learn More Here

Don’t know what a KC score is? I explain in detail within my most popular post about Long Tail Pro – 4 Ways to Get Long Tail Pro and Make it Pay for Itself.

After calculating KC scores, I simply download the keyword research results from Long Tail Pro and place all of the data in a Google spreadsheet. One of my writers and my VA have access to that spreadsheet and they take care of most everything else from there. I stay involved as far as managing and paying my team and making sure everything is done according to my specifications. It’s not really as easy as I make it sound.

Yeah… if only I could just create a spreadsheet with great keywords and then sit back while my team builds out a site for me. I’m working towards that. Not quite there yet.

That’s about it though. My team and I have consistently published an average of 3 articles per week on the site for 15 months now and we’ve grown to almost 500 (average) daily visitors. We’re not stopping anytime soon and we’re going to keep plugging away at the 100+ article ideas that are still waiting for us in the spreadsheet.

What About Backlinks (Link Building)?

You’ll notice that in the title of this post, I wrote that I’m using a [Mostly] Content Only Strategy. I have made some lackluster efforts to build links – but I haven’t gotten very many. Like I said – I don’t like doing it. But I still try sometimes, because I know that I have to.

It’s kind of funny. I recently read this case study on Niche Pursuits about a site that Spencer has been working on for almost the exact same time period and with almost the exact same strategy as me. He’s earning over $3,000/month with his site after only a year, and I’m not even close to that kind of earnings. The one big difference I could see in his case study vs my site is that he has 100 referring domains (backlinks) pointing to his site and I have only 32!

Niche Site Referring Domains - Ahrefs Sep2016

So what have I been doing to try to get backlinks pointing to my site?

I’ve done nothing but 100% email outreach. As you can see, I’m not real good at it. I’ve tried a few different outreach strategies.

One of them being something I call, “The Lazy Linkbuilder” strategy. This involves finding relevant content and then emailing the webmaster and pointing out my content and asking him/her to link to it. As you can probably guess – it doesn’t work very well. But sometimes I at least get some social sharing – and once in awhile, the email conversation leads to a guest post opportunity.

The other outreach strategy I’ve been using involves infographics – and this one works a little bit better. But still – I’m not very good at it.

I use Ninja Outreach for ALL of my outreach efforts. It’s a really slick tool that makes the entire outreach process extremely fast and easy. Like I said – I prefer to take the lazy approach and Ninja Outreach enables me to do exactly that! It finds the email addresses for me in my list of prospects. I type out one email template and then the software can be set up to automatically send emails to every prospect in the list!

Ninja Outreach - Free for 14 Days

The point is – I can CLEARLY see that more backlinks will make a world of difference for my site. But the other point is – this post is about how I grew traffic to this site without concentrating on link building. So – take it however you want to. 🙂

How Much Money Is This Site Earning?

Not enough!

The End.

See you next time…

Okay… just kidding.

I know I can’t publish a post like this and not mention the income. But it really isn’t enough and I feel like it could and should be doing better. But whatevs… Here’s the deal. I’m still in the red with this site. Between paying for content and paying my VA to do all of the other site related tasks – I’ve been spending around $400/month on this site. At 15 months in – you do the math! Yeah… I’ve spent a LOT of money on a site that hasn’t been giving me a positive ROI yet.

I just barely crossed the $400 in earnings with this site last month. This means that (hopefully) I’ll be in positive ROI territory from here on out and over time – this site will eventually pay for itself. After several more months of content creation and lackluster link building attempts – I’ll be able to just let this site sit and earn passive income while I sail off into the sunset and… errrr, um – I mean, while I work on the next exciting website adventure!

I actually have a much more detailed post draft started about the income for this site. So I won’t go into any more details here. All I’ll say is – stay tuned and watch for my next post if you want to see How to Increase Income on a Crappy Amazon Affiliate Site! Lol. I think I’m actually going to use that as the title.

Happy to answer any questions in the comments section below. Would love to hear what you would do differently than me?

Good Day!

Image Credits

“tortoise” by B.B. via Flickr

  • Jim

    Great article! This will motivate me to add some more content to my own niche site that’s sitting around 15 visitors per day right now with just 30 prices of content.

    What kind of theme are you using for you site? Does it look like a review type site or does it look more like a personal blog?

    • Thanks Jim. I’m using the Ultimate Azon Theme for this particular site. Highly customizeable theme as far as colors, fonts, layouts, etc. – and I have a nice custom header graphic. It definitely looks more like a blog and I did create a personality to be the name/face of the blog. That same personality also sends out all of the emails to the email list.

  • Cody

    Great post Matt. Your patience is inspiring. Do you think at the 5-6 month mark you were moving out of the Sandbox due to age, or was it all due to the social media impact/new content? I am averaging about 10 sessions a day with about 40 pieces of content and 4-5 months of effort, so I feel like I am far from getting your numbers. Thanks again.

    • Thanks Cody. It seemed to me that I hit the perfect storm as far as when that Pinterest explosion happened. I think the site was just coming out of the sandbox. A little bit of traffic was starting to trickle in during November. It may have been one of those visitors who first shared one particular post on Pinterest – and that post caught fire. After that, traffic remained steady at usually at least 200 visitors per day.

      It’s easy to get discouraged when traffic just isn’t there. Stick with it. Get links when/if you can. Encourage social sharing as best as you can. Hopefully something positive will happen real soon for you.

  • Great post Matt. Thanks for sharing, I hope this strategy pays off for you. Spending $6000 plus on a site seems excessive but it’s not when you compare it to a bricks and motar (real life) company and if the ROI is good and constant then it’s win win.
    Did you not consider using a link building service such as fat Jo or the Hoth?
    Good luck ?

    Tom

    • Thanks Tom. Spending $6k+ might seem excessive – but that kind of money didn’t have to be spent to build out a site like this. I could have just spent time and did all the work myself. But then it never would have gotten done! Lol. I’ve done all the work and built out my own sites in the past. Now that I have the income -I prefer to pay to have others do most of the work. And it wasn’t like I paid the $6k all at once. It all happened month by month – over a long period of time.

      I did not consider using any link building service whatsoever for this site. I have used the Hoth in the past (and some other services) and I was pleased with my results. But I’ve also had sites penalized in the past. So, I made the conscious decision to stick with 100% white-hat link building for this site. Definitely the long-term and safe approach – but with all the time and money I’ve spent on this site, I want it to stand the test of time.

      • So, $6k doesn’t necessarily seem excessive and I’m all about outsourcing…But do you think it could have been built for less?

        At this point, what’s the break even date for the site given the burn rate and rising revenue? Do you think you can build the revenue faster now that you have a very solid foundation?

    • I’m with Matt about staying away from services, even though he and I have used them in the past… We’ve also been burned!

  • Thanks for the post, Matt!
    It is always interesting to read about different techniques of growing traffic. I am a bit of opposite to you; I do not mind backlink building but afraid of email marketing hehe. I guess I am afraid of making mistakes while talking to actual humans rather than dealing with websites.
    As of your expenses, they do not seem to be too excessive for me. VAs are expensive – I know it from my experience – but it’s so worth it. Plust, the black hat backlink building (PBN) option is also not cheap.
    Good luck with the website! I am very curious to follow your journey 🙂

    • Hey Nadya – I don’t really look at email marketing as being much different than producing content for a website. A little bit different – yes. But in both cases, when I write – I write as if I am talking to a person. Emails are just shorter and I almost always include links to more content on the website.

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  • Great post and valuable information. I started a new website approx 3 months ago and yesterday through one article my traffic went through the roof. I would expect it to drop off again but now I know the type of article, headline etc that I need to keep working to attract more traffic to the site, it is a very big learning process, articles like yours here help to make a little bit easier 🙂

    • Thanks Jamie. I’m guessing that ‘through the roof’ traffic came from social shares… It’s always nice to get a boost from social sharing. Unfortunately, that type of traffic never sticks. That’s why SEO is so great. New searchers keep showing up day after day, week after week, month after month. And I think Google does take social signals into account as part of their algorithm. They might not be worth very much… but at least a little. And every little bit helps!

      • Yes,your correct, it was mainly from social shares, I will keep focusing on great content and hopefully more keywords will get picked up on SEO.

  • Max Graham

    Great post Matt! Is this considered an Authority site then?

    • Thanks Max. I would categorize it as an authoritative niche site. By most peoples standards – I guess it would be considered an authority site. But I don’t care much about labels. Authority site. Niche site. Call it whatever you want. I treat it more like a blog – but it has definite niche site properties (like comparison tables, etc.).

  • Hey Matt, great post. It’s good to see low competition keywords working out for you. I’ve been having great success with them lately, too.

    Any tips for Pinterest traffic?

    • Cool to hear Doug! Can’t say that I implemented anything on purpose to get all of that Pinterest traffic. My site doesn’t even use the recommended Pinterest size images! It drives me crazy that every different social network wants different sized images – so I don’t bother. I just publish whatever size for each post and let it pull into social networks however it pulls in.

      Also – I did notice that Pinterest traffic is pretty much worthless for conversions. I did get some email subscribers from it – but almost zero buyers came from Pinterest. I don’t think I’ll be wasting my time anytime soon to try to purposely optimize just for Pinterest. SEO is the way to go!

  • slavikb

    Hi Matt, when you start a new site and generate content, do you wait until months later before adding affiliate links in the posts? Or does the content (even from day one) feature revenue-generating affiliate links?

    Thanks!

    • I put affiliate links in from day one. Although… I try to publish more informational content starting out that doesn’t contain as many affiliate links. Then later I add the posts that feature lots of products with comparison tables, etc. And then later – I add buttons or links from within the informational posts that lead to the post that is designed to make more affiliate sales.

  • Shashank Gupta

    Hi Matt, Thanks for sharing this info, very helpful. During the sandbox period, what was the avg ranking for your keywords? also now what do you plan to do? plan to focus more on link building or content?

    • Hi Shashank – I honestly don’t remember exactly how my keywords were ranking during the sandbox. I’m tracking a ton of keywords for this site and the rankings varied greatly among them. As you can imagine, every keyword started off not ranking at all – then slowly but surely a bunch of them started moving up in the rankings.

      I’m planning to stick with this site and keep publishing about 3 new articles per week. I still have LOTS of keywords left to target and my writer and VA are handling the content creation and publishing duties with very little involvement from me. I just have to pay them!

      I still hate link building – but understand that it is necessary. So my VA is continuing with outreach to try to get links and I am seeking guest post opportunities whenever I can (my writer also writes those articles for me).

      So – to answer your question – my main focus is still on creating and publishing great content. But at the same time, I continue my lackluster efforts to try to get links.

      • Shashank Gupta

        Got it.Thanks Matt for your quick reply on my questions.

  • wkhojoseph

    Very detail guide on your content promotion. Do you have a guide on how you use ninja outreach for your outreach effort?

    • Can’t say that I exactly have a guide for Ninja Outreach that I’ve shared publicly. I do have an old SOP document that I gave to my VA as instructions – but the entire process has evolved as the Ninja Outreach software has evolved. So, the SOP isn’t exactly up to date.

      I will say this – when I signed up for Ninja Outreach, I was put on their email list and I learned a TON about how to do outreach just from the emails and resources that they sent me. I don’t know if their autoresponder sequence is the same… but it certainly helped me quite a bit when I first started doing this. And by the way – you don’t have to buy to get on their email list!

  • Great article. Saw your comment on SPI and followed you over here. My site has been stuck traffic wise for a while and I think it may be because I’ve just been writing useful content but not really paying attention to the keywords and keyword competition. I’m off to take a look at Long Tail Pro and to read the article about making it pay for itself 🙂 Thanks.

    • Cool Ray! Yeah, still using and loving Long Tail Pro. Especially the new cloud version, which is what you would get as a new buyer. It’s really slick. Let me know if you have any questions.

      • I actually came back to ask you about that. I was hesitating after reading about the effect the google keyword planner changes had on it. So it’s good to go now with the keyword competitive score and all.

        • Yeah Ray… totally good to go! The changes with keyword planner affected the old desktop version of Long Tail Pro and only for some users. It has no affect whatsoever on the new cloud version – which is what you will get when/if you buy. I’ve been using the cloud version extensively lately and it works like a charm. I’m liking it a LOT! It had issues starting out… but they seemed to have worked out all of the bugs and it works great!

  • Great post man! Sounds like you are on the verge of really getting some traction in regards to income. Keep it up!!

  • Hey Matthew, niche site building is not really my thing, but I loved the content only strategy that you shared. I am definitely going to use this approach to build my blog and grow an audience. Also thanks for opening my eyes about the google sandbox, it now makes sense.

    • Hey Tamal – niche site building wasn’t my thing either when I first got started. I also started out blogging and spent well over a year without earning hardly anything. Then I learned about the world of niche sites! But really – blogging and creating niche sites aren’t really that different. Just use keyword research for your blog posts and good on-page SEO and you’ll do just fine.

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