My Niche Site, and Why it’s Been a Minute

Back on the F train, and finally able to write a little bit. Well that’s only half the reason posts have been thin recently. But true to the spirit under which I got into this I’ve created an incentive to write here by creating a disincentive to Not Write – breakingferriss.com will soon be fully integrated into both branding and backlinking strategies for passive-income-generating websites. That means if you’re a prospective employer I’ve directed to this blog to showcase my content creation skills (purely writing in this case), you’re both Observer Of and Participant In a small part of my SEO spiderweb, and by clicking through the links to my other sites you’ll be both observing and helping my traffic strategy.

Anyway, the vast majority of this blog’s intended readers are not folks looking to hire me, but people in very-close-to-my-shoes – maybe they’ve read Four Hour Work Week and are looking for real-life examples of people trying to enact the principles in the book, or maybe they’re lifetime cubicle-rats just now discovering that there’s another way to live – one that doesn’t necessarily preclude a traditional job, but which certainly frees us from the need for one. (Prospective employers may take solace in the fact that if I sought you out for a job it’s because I want to work for You specifically, not that I’m desperate for any job I can find.)

Before I digress TOO much, I want to come to the main point of this post: together with my wife, I launched a niche website this month!

Little background – niche sites, in their purest form, date from the heyday of lackadaisical google algorithms and “content farms,” an era just a few years ago when early adopters of affiliate marketing and Adsense realized that unique visitors were not only a means to sell or promote a product, they were The Product. As such *any site* you could slap up that could get enough visits could easily be monetized, regardless of whether it was providing value to its readers.(If you’re a Boyscout like me, that probably rubs you the wrong way, as it did me.) All you had to do was use more sophisticated tools than most people were using at the time to find a phrase a lot of people were searching for and few websites were writing about. Buy the domain, throw up a free WordPress theme, use some SEO dark magic by sprinkling lots of keyword-dense short articles on the site and backlinking from the comments sections of high-traffic message boards on the subject, and Bam, you had a moneymaker.

Well those days are over, and it’s a lucky thing for any road weary google-searchers out there, tired of ghost landing pages and useless “About.com” articles. Google’s panda update sent a great many of these content farms to the back pages of search results. The silver lining is that those of us with actual expertise and website creation skills can now compete on a relatively level playing field. (There are still lowbrow sites, to be sure, but those folks now have to work harder to supply real content.)

Which brings us to http://nycbeyondmanhattan.com . I should say at the outset that as of this writing, the site is one week since launching, and has only skeleton content, let alone Adsense, and hence is not generating money. (We hope there’s a “yet.”) I’m chronicling my experiences in passive income, so I’ll detail below some of the steps I’m taking, but it would border on unethical to pass myself off as an authority on this stuff unless and until I’ve actually earned from it. Disclaimer out of the way, read on…

Chih-yu’s and my site caters to experienced travelers who want to experience New York like a local – not just outer boros but non-touristy areas of the outer boros. (Yes, the phrase “like a local” is part of my branding.) Problem was, very people were searching for “outer boros.” For starters, “boro” is a pretty new-York specific term. It’s what marketers call a “semantic keyword,” the way “passing guard” is to “jiujitsu” or “backlinking” is to “make money online.” People want to know about it, they just don’t know they want to know about it until they learn more about the umbrella subject. The best strategy is to rank for something people are searching for and try to get “targeted traffic” – people likely to be genuinely interested in your site and not just happening on it accidentally – by extrapolating from other keywords.

So the keyword I’m trying to rank for is “what to do NYC”, which has *steep* competition. What to do in that scenario? Trusting the wisdom of Pat Flynn, we decided that even though competition for those search terms was high, we could serve them better. We’re building what’s called an “authority site.”

But let’s back up just a bit. The niche thing, outlined on Pat’s site, starts with Keyword Research. A keyword is anything someone searching for information in your niche is likely to type into google. There are two tools I’ve used to help me with this, one free – the infamous Adwords Keyword Tool (I could give you the link but let’s let Google earn their paycheck) – and one for a nominal fee, Market Samurai. (Market Samurai is a piece of software you download and install, which pulls thousands of results from google and does the sorting for you. It also uses a metric ton of memory while it’s running, though the files don’t take up much space.)

What are we looking for with keywords? High traffic relative to competition. Keywords like “best footwear for Hokoken in July” have next-to-no searches. You could rank for that keyword right away, but you’d get precisely zero visitors to your site – at least based on that keyword. Keywords like “how to garden” or “make money online”, on the other hand, have extremely high traffic, but to publish a site catering to searchers of those terms, you’d have to beat out hundreds of big, old, and well-funded sites. There’s not much traffic for pages on the second page of google, let alone the 255th.

Both Adwords and Market Samurai can help, but the best single tool, after playing around with those sites, is your noggin. Only you know what you’re unique at. Here are some examples of niche ideas I came up with – clinical scheduling best-practices for medical and dental schools (not very sexy, but unique), low-budget DIY videography for musicians, a guide to Montana for urbanites traveling there, etc. The key, I think – and this is something I haven’t heard many of the online marketing gurus mention – is the “for”. Take a need, then make it specific to a group you belong to. In Four Hour Work Week, the example is Yoga for Rock Climbers. There are a million-and-one DVDs on yoga, but few specifically tailored to rock climbing. By adding the qualifier, you’re making the target group smaller, but also more focused. Just like adding a single character to a password, you’ve reduced by an order-of-magnitude the volume of your competition.

The other commonality of the above niches is they’re often an adjunct to a primary skill. Say, like a family member of mine, you practice law. That’s a primary skill, one that takes years to hone, but for which there are formal schools and millions of CLEs (continuing legal education seminars) competing in the space. But say you’ve taught yourself videography and basic website design and enjoyed greater commercial success promoting your firm. A few minutes to confirm the existence of a market, and surmountable competition (web traffic for a few targeted search terms), and you could launch a site/video series/all of the above dedicated to that niche.

I should say that a great many niches don’t follow the [primary] for [adjunct] model – Pat Flynn’s niche site is dedicated to security guard training. One of his interview guests has a site dedicated to reviewing Gis for jiujitsu. But if you look deeper, the specifiers are there. Pat didn’t tackle security guards writ-large, but focused on providing a few targeted resources to a select group interested in finding out how to train to be a security guard. The Gi site isn’t an omnibus site dedicated to juijitsu in the abstract, but rather a small facet – gis – and a particular angle on that facet – reviewing them.

Chih-Yu and I, inspired by another of Pat’s guests who, with his wife, launched a niche dedicated to providing information on Dubai for westerners traveling there, originally discussed starting a blog on Taiwan for an analogous audience, but quickly dismissed it due to lack of recent expertise. What we do know about, however, is living Brooklyn like a gangster, and we felt our particular quizzical, nerdy, analytic, skill-set could be deployed to explain it to foreigners. In that spirit, NYC Beyond Manhattan (subtitled “outer boros adventures”) was born.

I promised a discussion of the low number of posts, and that’s because I’ve been creating content like a feind, for a quixotic number of sites, not least of which is NYC Beyond Manhattan. As NYC Beyond Manhattan is actually launched, I can now write about it/it desperately needs backlinks.

Have a comment or success story? Hit me back. Reading this and want to do me a solid? Link to this blog from your site. Thanks, and I’ll be back soon with more!

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