Niche Sites and SEO as a Business – Want to do this full time?

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I built my very first niche website in 2012 – around the exact same time that I started this blog. I’ve had a blast over the past couple of years learning all the ins and outs of how to build, rank and monetize niche websites. Even more fun though is the relationships I’ve built and the awesome community of niche site builders that I’ve gotten to know mostly as a result of putting myself out there by blogging about everything I do right here. One of the people I’ve gotten to know more recently is this cool cat named Curt. His story is very similar to mine and I thought readers of this site would enjoy reading about it – along with some very helpful tips. So… the following is an epic guest post by Curt. Enjoy!

A couple weeks ago, Dan wrote an article over on NicheSiteProject.com about building your niche site portfolio up so that you can quit your job.

It was a pretty honest, raw take on what it’s like to scale up and replace (or supplement) your current income with income earned online with niche sites.

He went over real life examples of earnings (including the ever-important RPM metric) and how expenses can start adding up.

What I want to talk about today is how to manage this all and set yourself up for success, even in the face of an ever-changing Google algorithm and the uncertainty of online revenue.

Oh, and if you’re looking for business professor type material, you’re not going to find it here.

I’m working my way through all of this right now, coming up with systems and processes, so this is me speaking from real life experience, not as someone who has either worked in systems-heavy environments or got a degree in business management.

We’ll get through this as a couple of dudes taking a go at this online income thing, and see where we end up.

What the flip do I know about any of this?

That’s a good question. I told you it wasn’t going to be some business professor type material. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for, but I know I’d prefer to hear some tactics of what’s working for real people in their day to day lives.

I built my first niche site in 2012, basically following Pat Flynn’s Niche Site Duel 1.0 method. It made roughly $50 per month from Adsense from conception to sale earlier this year, and lit a fire in me that has led me to pursue this full time.

50permonthadsense
Earnings from my first site. Just rolling in the big bucks.

I’ve now got a handful of money sites and sell 100% spam free DA20+ domains over at Domain Colosseum with Dan. I work from home and my online earnings make up a majority of my income.

It hasn’t all been a straight forward rising graph from the first pennies earned from Adsense, though. I made $8,000 from one site in December last year, only to see it fall to under $400 by February. That’s a devastating blow, and one that you need to be able to bounce back from if you want to turn this SEO thing into a business.

February earnings were a measly 5% of the $8000 earned in December (.co.uk and .ca earnings not shown).
February earnings for this site were a measly 5% of the $8000 earned in December (.co.uk and .ca earnings not shown).

Let’s find out the types of things I’ve done to rebound from a terrifying start to the new year and start building my SEO-based business.

Systems

This is so important.

And also one of the hardest things to implement and master.

My inspiration for systems comes in large part from Jon at AuthorityWebsiteIncome.com. I know Dan even mentioned him in his last post over at Niche Site Project, but you’ve really got to have a read through every post on Jon’s site if you want to learn about applying systems to niche sites and online businesses.

Systems are what stop you from wasting time on tasks that are not necessary to advance your business, and allow constant measurement and improvement that will make you more efficient and earn you more money.

Systems tell you what to do in each aspect of your business.

Let’s take starting a new site as an example. Do you have a system in place for putting a site together?

One of the decisions I’ve made recently in my business relates to planning (more on that below). I’m going to be building 2 new sites per quarter, so I had to come up with a plan that I could follow each time so that I don’t miss a step, spend too long on something that isn’t necessarily beneficial, or spend too much money.

I have a New Site Flow Chart that includes the following rows:

  • Item
  • Resources required
  • Cost
  • Related Documents
  • VA Time
  • My Time
  • Notes

The actual Items start off like this:

  • Keyword Research
  • Select Monetization
  • Select First Silo
  • Select 2-3 more silos for future use
  • Define article names and descriptions
  • Outsource 7500 words of content to launch site
  • Buy domain
  • Buy hosting
  • etc.

This document is something I can turn to each time I make a new site (or in fact give to a VA to follow to launch site for me – that’s later down the line, but that’s the idea). It also interacts with other documents, such as my Money Site WordPress Set Up document. This contains the settings, plugins, and notes I need to launch a new site quickly and with the same quality as my other sites.

Again, I could hand this off to a VA and get everything done without my having to be there, which is one of the greatest advantages of having these systems and processes in place.

I’ve also got a system for building links to my sites, taking action if a site is hit with an apparent penalty, and more. It removes the guessing game, indecision, and stress that comes with all of that, and allows for measured, calm decisions to be made.

And guess what? You don’t have to stick with a system forever. In fact, you should be tweaking it as you find efficiencies, new tools, or better methods.

Start drafting documents that you can reference for each part of your business, from building new sites to linking to selling sites to hiring to making spending decisions. Even if your first step is to go through and write out exactly what you’re doing while you build a new site, that can start as your New Site Flow Chart.

KEY TAKE AWAYS

  • Difficult to master but imperative for success
  • Read everything Jon Haver writes at AuthorityWebsiteIncome.com
  • Create systems for each portion of your business
  • Systems tell you what, when, and how to do things
  • Example of where to add systems: New site creation, link building, content creation

Tracking

You can’t improve on something if you don’t know where it’s supposed to be.

One of the tables in an individual site tab on my Master spreadsheet.
One of the tables in an individual site tab on my Master spreadsheet.

If you got 10,000 visitors to your site this month and earned $1000, is that good?

You might think so, because you made $1000, but what if last month you got 8,000 visitors and made $1100?

If you don’t have that kind of information written down or tracked in some way, you will not make the right decisions for your business. If you’re earning less per visitor this month, and you can quickly see that based on a spreadsheet or other tracking method, you’ll be able to assess why that happened and potentially remedy the issue.

Without that knowledge, you’re basically blind and left to “hoping” everything will work out.

I don’t know about you, but that kind of darkness leaves me anxious and stressed. I’d much rather be able to open my spreadsheet, enter the numbers, and immediately know the direction of my site or my business.

I use a pretty basic spreadsheet to track my finances and the main metrics of each one of my sites. I absolutely love this spreadsheet.

It has an income and expense tab, and each of those are set up to populate the Overview tab, so when I make a purchase or make money, I can see right away how that affects my bottom line. It also populates the expense section on the individual site tabs so I know how well each site is doing.

Each site measures main metrics like visitors, page views, bounce rate, income, rankings, links, and more. As I continue to build and refine my systems and tracking, I’m sure I’ll find things that I missed, or that aren’t actually important, but as I said above, part of the process is finding what works best and altering your system to make you more efficient.

A quick note on things I’ve missed or aren’t important: know what drives the bottom line of your business and focus on those numbers, rather than vanity metrics. You likely aren’t making any more money this month because you got 400 shares on Facebook instead of the 200 last month.

One metric you should be tracking, and this is something that I only recently learned and found was important, is Earnings Per Thousand, or RPM for short (Revenue Per Mille). You’ll usually find this as an Adsense metric, and they track it per impressions, or page view, but you can do it based on visitors, if you prefer (as I do). You want to know how much you’re making for every 1000 visitors who come through your site.

Earnings / Visitors x 1000 = RPM

So if I’ve got a site that makes $1000 last month and had 9000 unique visitors, I’d do $1000/9000 = 0.111 x 1000 = $111.11. That means that for every 1000 visitors I got to my site, I earned $111.11. This is easily done in a tracking spreadsheet with a formula that gets populated when you enter your visitors and your earnings totals.

RPM will allow you to quickly see how well you are optimized, whether something is going wrong (if it drops), whether a piece of content, or your site as a whole is performing really well for some reason (if it increases), and also gives you an idea how much money you’d make if you attracted more traffic of a similar quality (through ads, more articles, or ranking higher).

KEY TAKE AWAYS

  • You can’t improve on what you don’t know/measure
  • Learn what drives your business and track key metrics, including RPM
  • Make decisions based on your data, not on whims

Spreadsheets and Organization

A note on spreadsheets.

Use them. Please.

And get good at labeling them and organizing them in folders.

Folder snapshot
Folder snapshot

Same goes with all your files, as organization is key to efficiency and will not only allow you to find things quickly, but may actually help your mind feel less cluttered, therefore making you more effective. Your mind may not work that way, but mine does. I notice a huge relief and freeing up of mind power whenever I organize a project properly using the right labels and folder structures.

KEY TAKE AWAYS

  • Get organized!

Outsourcing

This took me too long to act on, but as Dan said to me recently, it took so long because it costs moola.

You may be wondering how you could possibly outsource any of your business at this point. Getting someone to write the content for your new site could cost a couple hundred dollars! Want someone to install WordPress and set it up with a theme and all the plugins? Guess you won’t be able to afford coffee in the morning this month. Getting a VA to write and schedule content for your Private Network can run you $400-$600 per month depending on the size of network and money site portfolio (I know, because I just hired one).

It can be scary and intimidating to outsource anything, but you can literally get anything done these days thanks to sites like oDesk, and after awhile you learn how to get quality work done for a reasonable price.

I prefer oDesk for all of my hiring needs. So far, I’ve hired writers, programmers, researchers, and site builders.

This, like everything else in this post, works together with each other element. You need to be able to track your costs and revenue. You need to know your expected revenue for a task or project so you are turning a profit if you outsource. You need to have systems and plan so you don’t have a freelancer spending time and your money trying to figure out exactly what it is you want.

Now that I’ve seen the power of outsourcing, and made the mindset shift to turn this online shtick into a business, I know that it’s definitely worth it to outsource the creation of content for my sites, both money sites and PBN sites. If I was still writing for myself, I would probably still be where I was 6 months ago simply because of the time that it takes to do the writing and the time that it takes away from doing other things.

I’m a big fan of learning how to do what you need to do before outsourcing it, but as soon as you have a good handle on it and could teach someone else to do it, give outsourcing a shot.

You don’t get what you want every time, but I take each failed hiring as an experience that I can learn from. And to learn and get real world knowledge after spending a $20 bill on some PBN content is priceless. It means that I won’t make the same mistake, that I’m moving in the right direction, and that this is just one step closer to really mastering the process.

KEY TAKE AWAYS

  • Your time is usually better spent growing and advancing your business
  • The cost of many things done by online freelancers these days is VERY low
  • Use outsourcing to free up time to do more important things in your business
  • Test out some smaller contracts if you are unsure, and learn the ropes
  • Make sure you have processes and systems in place so you can quickly train a freelancer/VA

Planning and Mindset

Pretty much every facet of what we’ve been talking about goes hand in hand, and planning is no different.

I’ll tell you what, even though we all know we’re supposed to plan and get systems and organize, and on and on, it can be really tough to plan if you aren’t sure what data to base your growth off of.

It’s going to be really tough for most of you guys reading this (and for me) to plan properly.

Things change so dramatically in a couple of months, never mind a year, both up and down and back again, that you can basically have no idea where you’re going to be in 1 month, 3, months, or 12 months.

Do you make forecasts based on your last month because you finally cracked the first page with 3 of your sites? Do you make forecasts based on the average of the last 6 months, even though 5 of those were spent building up your sites, making next to nothing? Will last months success carry over to this month?

Being slightly diversified with various sites, monetization methods, and business ventures has given me the ability to plan a bit more than I ever have and look to the future, but I know for a fact that I spent a year or more having absolutely NO idea how to plan properly.

Part of the reason is that you can go from $100 in a month to $8000 in a month in 4 months, but also you can go from $8000 to $100 in a month just as easily.

amazonfail

Like I mentioned above, this sort of thing happened to me after the New Year. Having just one site that does well is very difficult mentally, especially when you build links to it (i.e., you aren’t doing organic outreach and acquiring ‘natural’ links as Google claims to like). You know that if the Big G changes something, or if you link incorrectly, your earnings could be wiped out. How on earth are you going to plan 6 months from now, when you’re too worried planning your next link going up?

The point of this section on planning is mostly to tell you that it’s OK to be feeling frazzled, scared, and unsure of what’s going to happen. I’m not great at planning yet, but little goals like deciding to build 2 new sites per quarter, are a good start and give you a handle on the future, however small it may be.

I have tried various different business ideas and structures over the last few months, from paid advertising to local client SEO to rank and rent sites…I always keep coming back to the classic ‘niche site’ based on Private Network links (and of course Domain Colosseum). This is what I do now, this is the business around which I make my plans, and this is where I am confident I can succeed.

But man, it’s tough to get here! And honestly, thats good. You will grow your technical skills out of necessity but you’ll also find yourself growing your business skills better than if you had enrolled in a 4 year Commerce degree from your local University.

It comes in starts and stops, and you’ll be in over your head pretty much the whole way, but if you plan not to quit when the going gets tough (especially in the first year or so), you’ll have weathered the storm and will be still standing when you’re ready to buckle down and seriously plan ahead.

This has started to include some important mindset issues, which is why the section is on both planning and mindset, as it was a good segue into the latter topic.

This could be the most important part…

When you’re working at home, by yourself, for yourself, there is a lot that can hinge on your mindset each day. I assume there is something similar for those of you who work another job and put in your online hours after work and on the weekends – that kind of hustle is tough. In both circumstances, the clarity of your mind and the structure you create in your mind can have a huge impact on your efficiency and success.

This is one of the biggest things that helped me go from a $50/month Adsense site to creating sites that could do an $8000 month.

My mindset shifted dramatically when I decided to ‘take the plunge’ and dedicate the majority of my time to learning how to create sites that make money.

Perhaps the biggest shift was in my attitude to money. Up until that point (and I remember it as a specific point, just over a year ago in September 2013), I had spent money on a domain name, hosting, and Market Samurai. That was it.

Like many people who haven’t yet seen a large success, I was skeptical that I had to spend money to make money and that my earnings would just sort of increase gradually over time until I was making enough to live on.

It’s hilarious to think of now, but I see it all the time in people new to the space. You can build links for free manually, so why do you need to spend anything more? It may take awhile longer, sure, but I can get there! Meanwhile, I see them month after month after month commenting on the same blogs, seemingly not improving.

It’s not just that they aren’t spending money, it’s that the mindset you’re in at that stage is not conducive to success.

When I made the shift and decided to start treating this like a business, I understood that some training materials are investments, and that some domains to start a private network would pay for themselves many times over. I began to see how I could make smart expenditures that would multiply my revenue down the road. I started to track things, I made my first rudimentary spreadsheets, I started getting involved on forums and in the comments section on sites I respected.

It’s not for everyone, and not everyone who decides to do it will be successful, but if you are serious about making money online in any capacity (particularly long term and consistently), you must make the mindset shift that allows you to focus on this as a business, not just as some fairy tale retirement plan that anyone can do without spending any money.

It can sound glamorous and easy the way most of the gurus talk about it, and it is easy to get ahead of yourself, admit excitement, wonder how you could have been so lucky to stumble upon the goldmine of internet marketing.

And again – that’s OK. I think it’s a normal part of the process. But eventually, you’ve got to take the plunge, make up your mind, and then start laying the foundation for your successful online business.

KEY TAKE AWAYS

  • Planning is hard and you may not be good at it yet, but that’s OK
  • Try to plan ahead, even if it’s just small things like what you’ll be doing tomorrow – eventually you’ll be ready to plan for real
  • Sh** happens, your plan and your mindset dictates how you react (whether you keep pushing forward or fail)
  • You will learn more by diving in and doing than you will by reading or taking any number of classes
  • Your mindset could be THE most important thing of all
  • Think of this like a business and your mind opens up to the possibilities
  • Understand the risks, make smart moves that increase the chance for reward, and be honest with yourself (it’s not a fairy tale get rich quick thing, no matter how easy some bloggers make it look)
  • It’s possible to succeed and turn this into a real business, making real money, having real fun!

The End

Thanks to Matt for letting us invade Dumb Passive Income for a day! Dan and I will be around to answer any questions in the comment section. Let us know if we can help with anything.

I hope this post helped you organize your thoughts and plan a little bit for turning this online gig into a real business. I’d also like to help you rank your sites in Google.

We’re launching a new semi-exclusive Done For You PBN Solution called Link Colosseum and we’re only opening it for a few people to start, so if you’re interested, get on the list to be notified the minute we launch it: http://www.domaincolosseum.com/link-colosseum-wait-list

That’s it, that’s all, it’s been a ton of fun, catch you in the comments section!