A Plant Growing in a Jar of Money

03.11 by Cameron Martel

An Introduction to The Business Behind Niche Content Websites

Every day, billions of people from all over the world navigate the internet.

Using desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, game consoles, and other internet-connected devices, people everywhere are constantly searching for and engaging with new content.

The continuous creation and consumption of content drives a multi-billion dollar advertising and publishing industry; an industry that has produced tens of thousands of millionaires and provides an income to hundreds of thousands of digital entrepreneurs, content creators, and web marketers.

In this post I’m going to write a high-level overview about what you need in order to start earning your own piece of that multi-billion dollar pie.

The Niche Content Website: The Easiest Way to (Legitimately) Make Money Online

I’ve spent the last 12 years wrapped up in online pursuits. I’ve run copywriting companies, managed five-figure per month affiliate campaigns, built and sold website development companies, and currently run SimplifiedSEO.com as well as managing SEO and content pursuits for Pod Marketing and A07 Online.

I won’t claim to be a guru. I will say that I’ve done a bunch of things with varied, but increasing, levels of success.

Out of everything I’ve ever done, the one that has maintained my interest the most is the niche content website.

What’s a Niche Content Website?

A niche content website is a website that is laser-focused on its topic (AKA, its niche).

A good example of one is WatchesYouCanAfford.com (WYCA), a watch review site I started and ran for 3.5 years.

I build my niche sites with two objectives:

  1. Create high-value content that performs well organically. This type of content properly addresses user intenet (what someone wants to find when they search for a keyword), is intelligently laid out and written so as to encourage consumption, and provides a good user experience.
  2. Monetize the traffic it receives in a sustainable way. Generating revenue from a website shouldn’t take away from the value the website’s content provides.

I always create niche sites with the goal of building them into authority sites, with quality content that is well-researched, cited, and impactful. A website that has these qualities will always be valuable, especially when it comes time to sell.

Anyone Can Run a Niche Site

Ahh yes, the cliche “anyone can make money from home” pitch. Except that it’s true. It’s definitely true.

Make no mistake, running a niche site isn’t necessarily easy. Things happen that will challenge your skillset and force you to adapt. I’ve been there. No business comes without challenges, niche sites included.

But they’re solvable.

If you can write and format copy- if you can use Microsoft Word – you could learn how to create content and maintain your niche site.

To operate a niche website, at a minimum you need to be able to:

  • Problem solve using freely-available resources.
  • Be an expert on a subject (your niche), or have enough of an interest in a niche that you’re able to research and create good quality content.
  • Be willing to learn toolsets and software that powers the website (such as WordPress).
  • Make small financial investments where needed (think: domain/web hosting, design for a logo, etc.)

None of the above skills are overtly technical in nature and can be learned through a combination of trial and error and a fair bit of Googling.

Anyone Can Run a Niche Site

Financially, it costs under $100 to purchase a domain/web hosting and start a small website. In fact, using freely accessible tools, you could get a website online today for under $20 (including the cost of the domain name and web hosting).

That’s not to say that there aren’t non-monetary costs. There are, and they can be significant. But in terms of starting capital, you really don’t need much.

Let’s say you wanted to start your own CameronMartel.com. What would it cost you?

  • Domain Name: GoDaddy – $15/yr (your very own domain).
  • Web hosting: HostGator – $12/mo (for the managed WordPress hosting, which I recommend). You could get hosting for as low as $2 or $3/month.
  • Content Management System – WordPress – $Free (one of the most popular CMS’s in the world).
  • Design: Twenty Sixteen– $Free (bundled in the WordPress installation).
For $27 you could recreate this website. Following free online guides, and assuming it was your first time, it’d probably take you two or three hours to do.

Name another business that you can start for less than the cost of a supersized fast-food dinner for two.

Bet you can’t, and that’s the point.

The Basic Formula Behind Starting, Growing, & Making Money From a Niche Content Website

Knowing that it’s relatively easy to start a website, there’s an obvious question that’s unanswered: how does a website make money?

There are a lot of ways to monetize a website, but the most popular – by far – is to passively monetize its content with advertising.

There’s also another way that an investment in a niche site can be profitable: if it makes money, it’s worth something. Depending on how well the website is built and how it earns an income, it can be worth anywhere from 1.5x to 4x annual earnings.

Going in, it’s important to understand what gives a website valuetraffic, an audience, and monetization.

TL;DR Version:

Essentially, the more traffic a website receives, the better it will respond to monetization. By engaging and expanding your audience, you can increase your traffic and grow your revenue.

If you’re impatient, skip to the section on monetizing a niche content site (but you really should read the whole thing).

Understanding What Makes a Website Valuable

  • Traffic refers to how many visitors a website receives. This can be expressed as several different metrics (sessions, pageviews, etc.), and is further broken down by traffic source (organic, social media, paid, etc.). I used to look at unique pageviews as the main metric I reported traffic on, but I’ve since switched to sessions.
  • Audience refers to who the website engages and where it engages them. In 2017, a successful content site will have great content on its website, supplementary social media sources (a Facebook page, Twitter account, etc.), and a social media strategy that engages subscribers.
  • Monetization is exactly what it implies: how a website is set up to make money, and how much money it makes.

It goes without question that other metrics, such as the amount, type, and quality of content already on the site, or contracts that may be in place, also influence the value of a website.

Like any business, the value of a website is a combination of earnings and assets.

Still, it’s the above three that I’m scrutinizing the most when I’m trying to put a number on paper.

Understanding What Makes a Website Valuable

When I look at a niche website, I look at where its traffic comes from and how much traffic it receives (in that order).

When assessing the traffic a website receives, and the contribution to the website’s value it makes, I believe that traffic quality is more important than quantity. In 2017 we’re almost at the point where you can’t have one metric (quantity) without the other (quality).

I define quality traffic as traffic that:

  • Visits the site for an appreciable amount of time.
  • Is engaged with the content and doesn’t have a high bounce rate.
  • Is from geo’s that I can properly monetize. I look for sites with high USA, Canada, UK traffic since those geo’s are the easiest for me to monetize.

I also heavily weigh:

  • Traffic source – I put the most value in organic traffic (Google, etc.), but that doesn’t mean other sources (like social) aren’t valuable.
  • Strength of SEO – Even though this is a single bullet on this list, I put a lot of time into SEO research. If the site I’m looking at has great SEO, I’m willing to pay a premium for it because I know that it is unlikely to experience an unexpected loss of organic traffic.
In my experience, quality organic traffic from strong SEO adds a lot of value to a website.

How Audience Influences Website Value

A website that receives a lot of traffic is good; a website with a large audience is better.

The audience a website cultivates is a combination of the traffic it receives and the number of people it reaches through social media, e-mail marketing, and other supplementary channels.

Building a proper following on social media takes time and an investment in content. I built a moderate social media following for WYCA and found more value from users I attracted from effective content integration than I did from contests, paid media, and the like.

The same is true of building an e-mail database, which is rewarding if properly executed but can be challenging to do well.

Audience demographics are also important. A website that attracts 25-45 men/women is more appealing than a site that attracts an audience consisting mostly of teens (not to say that such an audience isn’t valuable).

How Audience Influences Website Value

Most content sites earn revenue by incorporating advertising into their content. These ads are integrated into the content so as to maximize their click through rate without detracting from the overall user experience.

Simply put, the better monetized a website is, the more money it will make… and the more it’s worth.

When I look at a website’s value, I look at both how much money it currently makes and what I believe it could make after making improvements in the monetization strategy.

Most content sites have a passive monetization strategy.

WYCA, for example, was passively monetized through a combination of Google AdSense and affiliate marketing integration. Ad creatives and call-to-actions (CTA’s) were targeted towards users at specific parts of the buying cycle.

Passive monetization isn’t quite “set and forget”, but it’s as close as you’re going to get. Done right, you can passively monetize your traffic without interrupting the user experience.

WYCA was also actively monetized, where advertising was sold directly to brands and other publishers. Active monetization requires your direct involvement (ie – selling ads, managing relationships, etc.).

How Do You Influence How Much Money a Website Makes? 

The conversation around monetization can be complex, as there are a lot of variables that influence how well monetized a website is. This piece is where investments in conversion optimization and marketing strategy really pay off.

When you’re just beginning your content website empire, you’re not going to be concerned about conversion optimization or marketing strategy- the fact is that you’ll probably be happy to be making anything at all.

However, once you’ve built familiarity with the website and are starting to get the hang of things, you’re going to start thinking about how to grow website revenue.

That process – working to grow website revenues, increase traffic, and so on – is the ongoing reality of a niche site owner. 

It’s Easier to Create a Niche Site Today Than It Ever Has Been

Here’s the reality: in 2018, it is possible to not know a thing about web development and still build a website that makes money.

There are more tools available that facilitate this business than there ever has been, including website platforms (like Weebly) that completely automate the tech side of the business entirely.

This is a business you can work part time, slowly growing your audience and improving your content, or you can dive into it full-time and rapidly build your influence and position in the market.

It takes hard work and the willingness to constantly learn new skills, but the rewards are very tangible and attainable.

In Niche Websites

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