Current State of Google – Niche Sites vs Blogs

The Current State of Google - Niche Sites vs Blogs
This is not a picture of me

Have you been paying attention to the state of Google? Which way is the wind blowing today? Which types of sites is Google giving precedence to? What should I be doing to get my site to rank highly in Google? Why was my site ranking highly yesterday and it completely fell off the radar today? What did I do wrong or right? What the hell is Google doing? What are they going to do next? Does anybody know?

Most of these questions are great mysteries. SEO geeks are constantly trying to solve them and sometimes they do… for that day. And then it all changes again. The trick to keeping up with Google and all of their changes is to stay on top of the game and try to keep up to date as much as possible. Read the SEO blogs. Keep up with current case studies done by others. Figure out what used to work, what is working now, and what appears might work well into the future.

I always think that I have it figured out – and then I find out that I don’t. I’ve been a blogger, a blog-quitter, a niche site creator, and a niche site quitter. I’ve attempted an authority site, then quit it. I went back to niche sites. I’m in the middle of building an authoritative niche site. But thanks to this recent post on Niche Pursuits, I’ve realized I made a crucial mistake in choosing my niche. At least I still have this blog – Dumb Passive Income – which has remained constant. Which leaves me with a question and kind of a dilemma in what I should be doing going forward. Should I be creating niche sites or focusing on a blog or blogs? What is the best option to help me reach my goal of earning $1,000 per month by the end of 2013?

Is “Free” Traffic from Google the Goal?

I put the word free in quotations because it really is a relative term. Google traffic might be free in terms of you’re not paying money for it. But, you are spending time to learn and implement proper SEO strategies. We all know that time is money. Especially for the person who works at a day job and trades their time each week for a predetermined amount of money, whether it be hourly or salary.

My ultimate goal with this blog and with everything else I do online is to get away from that model. I’m tired of trading time for money. I want to be able to put in work now to create things that will earn me income well into the future. This is what is known as passive income. Can I do this without Google? Probably. Will it be easy? No. Should I be focusing on other means of driving traffic to my sites? Maybe.

In my 2 years of experience with blogging and creating websites, I’ve realized that traffic from Google can be very lucrative. I am not an expert at getting it and keeping it – but I have had some success in the past. I’ve also had a little bit of success with traffic from social media interaction and blog commenting. I’ve figured out that a lot of traffic doesn’t necessarily translate into a lot of money. Social media and referral traffic from other sites are typically people clicking through just out of curiosity. Search traffic from Google is people looking for answers. Providing answers to specific search queries is key – and that is where the money is at.

So – to answer the question – yes, “free” traffic from Google is absolutely the goal. Now the trick is to figure out what will work long term when optimizing for Google search engine traffic. Long term with Google!? Is there such a thing?

The Current State of Google Sucks!

Currently, Google seems to be putting an insanely ridiculous amount of emphasis on freshness. Whether it be content freshness or site freshness, I don’t really know. Glen from Viperchill.com somewhat recently posted the following epic article on this topic: Revealed: The New SEO (When Google Takes Freshness Too Far). The article is a real eye-opener and gained a LOT of attention around the interwebs. In it, he reveals some very specific examples of how horrible the current Google search results actually are. Note: the article was published near the end of July, 2013

Around the time that Glen published that article, I had already been seeing some strange fluctuations in some of the search results for keywords that I was targeting with some of my sites. I’m going to lay it all out right now and reveal one of my niche sites that I previously kept secret. This will be kind of like a follow-up to the post on ViperChill – using my own personal experience as proof.

Question to ponder: Is this content freshness thing a long-term trend that Google plans to stick with?

The Success then Failure of My Very First Niche Site

Springtime of 2012 was when I quit my old personal finance blog and started this one. The plan was to learn how to build niche websites and to document everything on this blog. I was still completely clueless as far as how to do proper keyword research, but I was on the hunt to find a niche to build a site around. Around this time, my mom was having an ant invasion problem in her home. She had heard of some kind of homemade ant killer that was effective and asked me to look it up for her (she doesn’t have a computer or internet). I discovered a simple recipe that uses borax to kill ants. I also discovered a niche that had a whole bunch of crappy sites dominating the search results! I did some simple keyword research using the free Adwords tool provided by Google and I found my keyword – borax ant killer!

At the time, exact match domains still got a huge boost in the search engines – and this one was available as a .com! In a very short period of time, I produced 4 pages of content and boraxantkiller.com was up and running. In less than 30 days, it reached the #1 ranking in Google with zero backlinking efforts by me! The site earned around $10 to $15 per month during that summer, then died off and earned almost nothing until the spring of 2013. Apparently, people don’t have ant problems during the winter – duh. It maintained the #1 spot in Google though for almost that entire time. Note: Being an exact match domain, the site did lose it’s rankings right after the EMD update, but slowly made its way back to #1 after only a few weeks.

Fast forward to spring of 2013 – I added a few more pages of content, installed a much better theme (Niche Website Theme) and added a header graphic. I started to make some pretty good money with this site considering the low number of searches that the main keyword gets. From April 1st, 2013 until today (Sep. 20th) the site has earned a little over $270 with Adsense. I guess the site isn’t a total failure. It is still earning a small amount, despite completely losing its ranking for the main keyword.

The current top 10 results in Google for the search term borax ant killer are really quite terrible. Instead of taking a bunch of screenshots and writing out all of my thoughts, I actually recorded a short video which shows it all. Check it out on YouTube here or watch the embedded video below.

One point I forgot to mention in the video was the freshness factor for the top results in Google. It is non-existant! None of those blog posts in the top 4 could even be remotely considered recent.

  • Spot #1 – published March 8, 2012 – over 1 year old
  • Spot #2 – date not shown – first comment 2 years ago – over 2 years old
  • Spot #4 – the terrible blogspot blog – published July 11, 2010 – over 3 years old

I think the main lesson I’ve learned here is that I should quit wasting my money on hosting and buying domains and just create all of my niche sites on blogger.com using free .blogspot addresses. Heck, they come with instant domain authority of 95!

Building Niche Sites vs Creating Blogs

I’m actually not so certain that this has to be a choice. It isn’t that you or I have to choose one or the other. We can do both – and I don’t mean separately. It appears that bloggers currently have an [unfair] advantage as far as ranking in Google. But I think that we can still build out niche sites on very specific topics and built around very specific keywords. Perhaps we could do so, but treat them more like blogs. This was a revelation I had about a year ago when I started this little thing I called The Niche Blog Project. It didn’t work out the way I had hoped. The keyword was WAY too competitive – but I think I had the right idea.

I still have a couple of smaller niche sites that I’ve created fairly recently that haven’t totally fallen off the Google cliff of search results. I didn’t plan to do much else with them except let them age and maybe add some backlinks here and there. Perhaps I should go back to those and make them look more bloggy and keep pumping some fresh content through them. That seems to be what Google wants. But then again, those niche sites don’t exactly have Page Authority or Domain Authority yet.

Perhaps the next best plan is to build out sites on expired domains. That seems to be all the rage lately – buying expired domains. With the evidence I’ve shown in my video above, this might actually be the perfect plan. The trick here would be to find an expired domain that is free to register and that has existing authority – plus you would have to find a relevant niche that passes all of your keyword research criteria. If you could do all that, I think you would be golden and could build a site that would rank quickly in Google’s current state.

What Am I Doing?

As for me, I’ve got about 15 unfinished projects and I constantly change my focus based on which way the wind is blowing. Yesterday, I was determined to stick with the large niche site I was working on for the remainder of the year. Today I’m not sure. Tomorrow I might be sure. Who knows. I know I’ll at least be doing something! Given my recent discoveries on the current trends, I’m thinking these are my options:

  • go back to my original Niche Blog project (payoffcreditcard.net) and change the entire site and start posting a TON of outsourced content
  • start a new Niche Blog project – starting from square one with brand new keyword research
  • build out one or more of my smaller niche sites into larger more authoritative sites with a bloggy feel
  • do none of this and only blog on Dumb Passive Income and hope that people think I’m credible

Okay – I’m about done rambling here. Much of what I’ve written above is just what is going through my head lately as I STILL try to figure out exactly how I am going to get rich on the internet. 😉

What are your thoughts on any of the analysis I’ve featured here? What direction are you going with your online business?

Remember that there are several dumb ways to create passive income online, but only one site that is blogging about it! Dumb Passive Income… dot com.

-Matt

References

Image: “oh no, here come the Bloggers” from Flickr by Brett L.

14 thoughts on “Current State of Google – Niche Sites vs Blogs”

  1. Hi Matt,

    I can feel your frustration. Just when I think I’ve got Google all figured out too, the winds shift and my posts are no longer ranking. Earlier this month I was making pennies in Google Adsense all because Google felt that I had “crawler errors” and “poor page load time” according to the Scorecard in the lower right hand corner in the Google Adsense dashboard.

    To also make matters worse, I checked my sites in ahref’s a few times and noticed a ridiculous amount of back links being lost for not just my sites but also some of the popular money blogs out there. MMD has gone from over +100K links to just over +10K links. There is definitely something going on out there with Google.

    However, I will say that reading so many good posts from other niche site developers that opportunities do exist and I don’t feel as though we’ve exhausted all the options yet. You know that within a few months the follow along site on Niche Pursuits with Perrin will be a success, and that will be another example of someone taking a keyword from scratch and turning it into real cash.

    Out of all your options, my opinion is to just focus on one big authority site. For me, after reading Spencer’s post on Niche Pursuits about whether or not to build a small or large site, I’m all for building a large authority site of 50 to 100 posts. And that’s what I’ve been working on for the last month. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t, but I’m willing to find out.

    Whether you keep going with your first authority site or start a brand new one is up to you. Do you like the topics you’re writing about? I think you’ll have an easier time if you pick something that really, really interests you. That’s not to say that you don’t already. I just know that for myself even I’m getting tired of writing so many posts about what feels like the same niche topic: money, money, money, etc. Maybe starting a new site isn’t such a bad idea because it will add some freshness to your project and revitalize your ambitions.

    The expired domains are a good idea to, but more so to keep around for link exchanges and sponsored posts. All of which can help you further your main authority site efforts.

    But whatever you do you better keep up with DPI! I like seeing the progress, no matter how little or how large it is every month.

    • Thanks for the guest post MMD… oh wait – this was just a comment! 😉

      I share and take to heart many of your sentiments. I actually love working on this site, Dumb Passive Income, more than anything else. I just feel like I always need to be working on other sites too in order to gain some credibility. I need proof that the stuff I talk about here actually works.

      It’s a little frustrating, because I almost feel like I’m sharing more failures than successes. At least the sharing of my failures is proof that I’m not lying or embellishing anything. As much as I’d like to suppress them and only share my wins – I think people benefit even more by seeing what not to do and what to avoid. If only there was a way to monetize failure….”Here, buy this plugin through my affiliate link so you can avoid what I’ve done.” haha

      Don’t worry MMD – I always plan to keep up with Dumb Passive Income no matter what else I’m doing.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Hey Matt, I honestly feel you’re starting to tread on a difficult path. I don’t know all the factors as to why you have 15 unfinished projects, but 15 is a LOT of projects to not be following through on. It’s great to recognize when you’ve truly made a mistake, but don’t mistake a true revelation with simple self doubt. And if it’s just self doubt, don’t let that drive you into complete abandonment of a project. I’ve followed through with projects where I’ve seriously had to fight off self doubt – and in some of those cases the end result was still failure. But that’s okay, because throughout the process I learned a lot.

    • Hey Josh – 15 isn’t a real number, that’s just what it seems like. Part of my problem is not letting failed projects (sites) go. I hate to have “wasted” all that time/work/money, so I end up spending more time/money to try to make it work when it really doesn’t have a chance. I need to learn to move on from the failed experiences and chalk them up as learning experiences.

      Thanks for your input and insight on self doubt. I’ve learned from you in the past and look forward to following your new journey into the future. I’m glad you found my blog and are taking the time to comment and participate.

  3. Matt, you know I’ve always been suspicious of building a business around Google’s whims. Problem is, you’ve built DPI around (primarily) niche site development, so I’d think you’ll eventually need to stick it out with some niche sites and truly succeed there, giving DPI more credibility. The goal needs to be that people see DPI and think instead Smart Passive Income (not literally, of course!). The one thing that differentiates your site from places like SPI and Niche Pursuits is that it shows the struggle to succeed, but that is probably only good for so long, and probably never will result in the kind of income that you or I want to make online. LTNE has plenty of structural problems, but I’m happy at this point to just blog on the topics I enjoy and let the chips fall where they may. Importantly, though, this isn’t a real business model and I know it (unless the model is to simply blog until I find my opportunity and then exploit it!). I’ve always thought that you are every bit as talented as anyone else out there. I think you just need to focus on something intensely for a period of a few months, utilizing the things that I know that you know, and succeed in a big way. If you don’t succeed after an honest and intense effort, THEN shift gears. None of the things you’ve done so far have been sunk costs, because you’ve learned from each of them, so I wouldn’t worry about that. More than anything, though, just keep writing! We’ll get there!

    • Hey Mike – based on the sentiment of your comment, and the others so far, it made me realize how much my frustration must have shown through in this post. That definitely wasn’t my intent when I started writing it.

      I 100% agree with your comparison of my site to SPI and Niche Pursuits. People follow those guys like lemmings because of their proven success. A select few are fans of me because of my transparency and willingness to share struggles and failure. But nobody wants to copy my failures! Perhaps I should create an “ultimate guide of what not to do in internet marketing.” haha

      You’re right though. I do need to make one or more of my niche sites into a great success story so that others have something to copy. When I have proof like that, then this site will start to head more in the direction of the aforementioned sites. Until then, I’ll take your advice and just keep writing about what is going on in my world – and keep plugging away until I find the success that I’ve been searching for.

  4. Hey Matt,

    You do inspire others (such as myself)….I agree with what others are saying regarding you focusing on either authority or niche sites. Settle on one and hone in on making it a success.

    • Thanks for your input Big Dave. It’s humbling to hear that I inspire you. I’m glad you took the time to let me know. I am focused. Focused on figuring out what exactly I should focus on! haha I think that sticking with just one thing will always be a challenge for me. But encouragement from guys like you, and others, is definitely a help to me.

  5. DUMB Passive Income??? We could make a niche site duel whee the winner is the one who gets sandboxed faster!!! LOL I like your style!

      • Yes, I understand what you’re trying to do. It’s funny and informative – actually what I try to do on my own sites too, but people often don’t understand sarcasm or they don’t appreciate it. Has anybody ever emailed you and asked “why do you consider yourself dumb? You aren’t credible if you call yourself dumb”

        I did receive comments like that for my own projects (I call myself “money making FOOL”). It’s unbelievable how some people use their brains for anything but thinking. LOL But I LOVE your blog! 🙂

  6. There is a lot to be said of mommy bloggers, those are the ones that are holding the top spot above , on how they know how to stay on top. I try to emulate their tactics every chance I can get. From blog hops to blog opps, they are ruling the internet.

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