Content sites are great, low barrier to entry businesses that (when done right) can generate a sustainable source of cash.
Not only that, but they’re also fun. Using the method I’m going to outline below, you can pick a topic that really interests you — learn more about it — and make money in the process.
I started two of my own content sites a few years ago. They were my first foray into internet businesses and affiliate marketing. When I started the first one (about running — Let’s Go Run), I had no idea what I was doing, and no money to do it.
I scrounged around the internet finding resources about SEO, keyword planning and blogging. I went through about three SemRush trial’s (sorry SemRush!) with different emails trying to come up with a keyword plan, and figure out why the hell my blog posts weren’t coming up on Google! Then, after about 4 months of working on it and putting out content religiously, I started ranking for one of my main keywords.
I made it to the front page of Google! I’ll never forget the excitement.
That got me hooked. I spent the next few years growing out that site, and creating another one with my mom (who loves golf).
I got them to the small-medium level (each had traffic of about 10k monthly visits) and then sold them online. I needed the cash to start what I thought was a ‘real’ business.
The thing is, I sold them way before I had monetized each of them properly. I just didn’t know what I was doing! And the buyer knew it. All the income was from affiliate earnings, and they were running off the same account (so I don’t have specific figures for each website), earning around about $80 to $100 mark per month combined.
Knowing what I do now about niche content sites, and their ability to generate a sustainable cash flow, I would have never sold those sites.
This is my approach to building content sites that are monetized effectively, and how you can too.
A niche content site is just a website where people wanting to know about something in a certain niche go to find that out.
If you take any subreddit, and create content specifically tailored to that audience, it would be a niche content site.
Swim University is the perfect example of a niche site: Everything you need to know about keeping a pool clean.
The fundamentals of it are as follows:
The approach I’m going to give you here uses the framework above, but modifies the Monetization step slightly.
The goal is simple: Get to revenue as fast as possible.
We’ll go into monetization further below, but the gist of it is this:
SwimUniversity.com (above) — Pool care
GearLab.com — Outdoor gear reviews
ApartmentTherapy.com — Kit out and care for your trendy apartment
Fatherly.com — A site for dad’s
Before you continue, understand your motivation for wanting to do this.
Here’s mine: Cash. Niche sites are great cash generators if you can get them right. As long as you have a steady flow of traffic, they can bring in a (mostly) reliable income every single month.
For me, that means not having to worry about rent as an expense.
For you, it might mean an additional income to fund your startup.
Get clear on your motivation to do this so that when things aren’t going so well, you know whether to knuckle down and commit, or bail out because it’s taking too much time and energy to achieve what you want.
These aren’t sexy businesses, but they work if you do ’em right.
And validate it, too.
This is my unconventional advice: Start with your interests.
The thesis behind that is: If you’re not interested in it, you’re not going to want to create content about it.
One thing I do know is that for this to be successful you have to commit to creating enough content.
There are a few things you need to consider when picking a niche, though.
Are you going for a ton of traffic that converts in the low % range, or are you going more niche, with very high search intent?
I’d also recommend snooping around the following forums/places to get a sense for the community you’re diving into and what the pain points are:
As you pick up on areas of discussion, do a search for them as they relate to your niche in the keyword finder and add all those keywords to your list too.
That’s the fun part done.
Now that you’ve got your keyword list defined, you need to start writing content. Religiously.
This is where most people fail on niche sites. They write a few (maybe 5 or 6) articles, and then they get bored and move on. That’s why I said earlier you need to pick a niche that you’re interested in.
As a guideline, you’re likely going to need to write 100-odd pieces of content in a year.
If you think that’s unachievable in the niche you’ve selected (because you’ll get bored or otherwise) you have two choices:
Your domain name is not the be-all and end-all. A nice one is nice to have, but it’s not essential.
6. Without a doubt, Wordpress is the best option for a quick and easy setup.
Your domain/hosting provider will likely have some sort of installer for Wordpress available in the backend (Softaculous, usually) which will do it for you.
7. Install a theme. I get mine from Creative Market.
Again, don’t get hung up on the details. You’ll be surprised by how little people care about the nitty-gritty things that seem to be a big deal to the website-owner.
If your site works well, looks reasonably good, loads quickly, with great content — that’ll do.
8. Post your content. Add images. Add external links (more on this later).
9. Add a method of collecting email addresses! Don’t just have a generic “Join our newsletter” either. No one wants to join just another newsletter.
Give your readers an actual incentive for signing up: “Join our newsletter for exclusive access to subscriber-only content”.
10. Remember to install:
Now for the most important (but also the most tedious, for me) part: Driving traffic.
Putting up content and hoping for the best almost never works straight away. It’s likely that if you just left your content, it would take a few months for even a little bit of traffic to trickle in. Sometimes it wouldn’t at all.
In SEO there are these pesky things call back-links. Here’s how it works:
Neil Patel is again an authority in this space, and I’m not going to be able to do a better job of explaining it to you than his article on: How to build high quality backlinks in a scalable way.
👆 is the perfect example of backlink. Neil is an authority in the space, I’m sending users from my website to his, because he knows a ton about that area. That’s what you’re trying to achieve.
Backlink building, though not absolutely necessary, is a sure way to increase your domain authority, and therefore your traffic. It also means you can start targeting keywords with a higher difficulty.
Don’t neglect other sources of traffic. You can leverage the already-available audience of other sites just by cleverly engaging on them.
Here are some options:
The key to success on each of these platforms is tailoring the content to that platform.
Harry Dry is a master at this. When he creates on piece of content, it gets repurposed for every site he engages on. Here’s how he does it.
Facebook has a virality effect to it. If you understand the audience and give real value to them, it’s likely that your content will be shared.
Building your own Facebook group where your audience engages in not a bad idea, either. If it gets big, you’ll have a few thousand readers to every article you post every time there’s something new.
Reddit has highly-engaged communities that (mostly) don’t take kindly to spam and self promotion. Always do it tactfully. Most of the time if you post something very valuable, people will ask for for more resources, then you can drop in your link.
Once you’ve started driving traffic to your site, you need to build an audience.
When you own your audience, you own your distribution. That means you can engage with them and prod their pain points to find out how you can help, and then sell to them based on what they’ve told you (neat, ‘ey?)
Collecting emails is the best way to do this. That’s why I encouraged you to set it up it right from the word go.
Mailchimp is a great, free-to-start, option. You can use a popup like Optin Monster on Wordpress to stop users from leaving before.
Harry Dry (MarketingExamples.com) also did a case study on how to create a website that converts readers into subscribers. A quick summary:
Here’s my email-sub popup (It actually needs some work!):
There are essentially four main strategies to monetize a niche site:
You’ve got traffic and an audience. You’ve now got to choose how to monetize it.
My choice here is hands down: Products.
I say this because I think they:
Let’s look at the economics of a very simple online product: an eBook.
We’ll set the price for our arbitrary organic backyard garden eBook at $15. Let’s say we have 30k monthly visits to our site. If we convert 1% of that traffic to paying customers (300) we have $4500 a month ($54k a year). That’s from one eBook alone. The idea would be to have multiple different options and increase that conversion rate to the 5% mark.
On the other side of that, let’s say you offer a complete strategy, with online coaching and a bunch of extra add-ons for $500. If you convert only 0.1% of your traffic (30 users), you’ll yield $15 000 a month ($180k a year).
That said, you don’t have to go with one strategy only.
The affiliate model is a great way to have a constant stream of income every month. The issue here is traffic numbers. For an affiliate model to earn you a decent income you need a good mixture of the following:
Amazon recently announced a big change to their affiliate program. They’ve reduced the amount they’re paying in most categories by more than half. That means that the affiliate model has become much more difficult to get right. There’s a bit more work required to find products which you can sell.
I also don’t believe in the affiliate model entirely. Here’s an example: If you google “How to start a blog” you’ll see a ton of posts. On almost every single one of those posts, the writer will recommend you setup your hosting with Bluehost. Why? They pay the largest commission share of the hosting providers. Are they the best? Absolutely not. There are a ton of better, cheaper, more secure options.
Services run in almost exactly the same way products do. The only difference is instead of selling an eBook, you’re selling your (or someone else’s time).
I don’t like this model for the simple fact that I hate giving away my time. The purpose of these businesses (for me) is to create a cash stream that requires little effort.
I’d much rather put my knowledge into a product, and sell that, than give my time away.
That said, if you have expertise that can only be delivered in one-on-one manner (like business audits for example), there is money to be made for high-price consulting. The same conversion rates and economics apply as products, all you’re exchanging is an hourly rate for a product.
Advertising comes in a few different forms. Here they are in my order of preference:
Sponsorship is going to require two things:
I’ve never played in this space so I don’t know the economics of it, but it is definitely my last resort.
To give you an idea of the economics:
Google Ads CPM’s can range from $0.30/1000 to $2.50/1000, depending on your niche, audience and location. Taking a reasonable (and easy to work with) estimate of $1/1000 views, to make a monthly revenue of $4500, you’d need 4.5 million monthly views. Obviously, this is going to vary,, but the gist of it is: Using Google/Display Ads as your main source of revenue is going to either take a long time, or a lot of investment.
If you’re going to play in the advertising space, you’d be better served approaching niche brands, applicable to your audience, and asking the for direct sponsorship.
When your site starts generating income, remember to keep some cash aside to re-invest in the business. I would set aside minimum 20% of your monthly revenue for this.
Here’s what you might consider:
This free’s you up to do what you want to (or start another niche site).
SEO requires constant work. A change in Google’s algorithm can destroy your incoming traffic overnight. Having someone monitoring this periodically is worth while. Following up on back-links, optimizing on-site SEO and updating old posts are some of the tasks they would do.
The goal here is to ensure you’re not entirely dependant on one source of traffic (like Facebook, for example). This person would expand your outreach to different channels, and balance out (and grow) your incoming traffic. This is a risk-mitigation strategy that’ll make a quite fickle business model more robust.
This is tedious work. Cold emailing, constant reminders and outreach and content creation. This person would focus entirely on growing your backlinks by creating viral/shareable content and reaching out to partners who might want to link to your site.
Aaaaand that’s it. A (quite) comprehensive guide to building a six-figure niche content site.