(The Entrepreneur Ridealong) Building A Niche Animal Site From $0 to $500,000: Choosing Hosting and Niche Website Update
How’s the site handling the recent SERP volatility?
There’s been a lot of SERP volatility in the last few months. We’ve had not one, but two core updates and of course, the Helpful Content Update.
Like many sites, this project has taken a hit despite having credentialed experts (including a Ph.D. holder) either reviewing or writing every article. We also have original photography and videos that aren’t found anywhere else on the internet (taken by our experts).
Despite those signals, the site has still been kicked out of the first position by Quora or Reddit across a wide range of terms.
And many of those results are objectively bad with featured snippets from Quora that appear to be written by insane people (which is kind of how Quora rolls anyway).
Here’s the gameplan moving forward:
- Keep producing content and focus on what Google still likes us for even if we’re just given a spot in second or third position after Reddit and Quora (the new King and Queen of the SERPs, respectively).
- Level up our E-E-A-T with more of an offline presence for our current experts or work with experts who already have an online presence. We’re working with the right people, but Google isn’t getting the signal.
- Focus on other traffic sources. This niche has some potential when it comes to social and has already had some traffic spikes from social shares.
Despite the dip, we still have a solid foundation to work with.
Moving forward, I don’t think the Helpful Content Update will “roll back”, but I also don’t think Google wants to keep serving nonsense from Quora or forums from 2007 in prominent positions in search so I still see the potential for plenty of growth here.
Site Building & Hosting
We have our niche, domain, and content strategy ready to roll. Now, it’s time to lay the foundations by setting up hosting and building out our site.
Even though the site is new and not generating much traffic, we still don’t want to cut any corners at this stage and need to make sure we lay a strong foundation that will support our growth over the coming years.
That means solid hosting and a website layout that supports both users and ad placements.
That’s the high-level goal and the rest of this article will cover what that means in practice.
What do you look for in a solid host (and how do you determine the right plan?)
When it comes to a host I’m looking for four things: uptime, speed, support, and good pricing roughly in that order.
If the uptime is spotty then there’s nothing more to talk about and it’s a hard pass. Most hosting companies can keep your site up 99.9% of the time and it’s really some of the bigger household names that are slacking in that department.
Speed is another big factor and in my experience, if a host has a solid reputation for uptime, they’re usually on the ball with speed as well. We should expect to change plans as the site grows but with the traffic we’re starting with, most plans should have us covered.
From there, we want solid support and response. Problems are going to happen and even if it doesn’t lead to your site going down you don’t want to wait days for support. Live chat isn’t required but a response to a support ticket within 10 minutes or less is a reasonable expectation.
What content management system works best for content sites?
WordPress is your best option. I prefer to have writers write directly on WordPress (which saves time) and it’s easy enough to teach most people the basics of WordPress compared to another CMS.
If you’re looking for an exit, which we are, it also helps that buyers will be familiar with WordPress. You’ll also have a massive selection of themes, tools, plugins, and other nice-to-have options.
Outside of specific use cases, it’s hard to argue for anything else here.
What theme do you use? What about visual builders?
Simple themes that are focused on speed are the way to go here. Astra, GeneratePress, and Kadence are all solid options.
These give us a solid foundation with plenty of customizations that we can grow into.
You can use extras like Elementor but because of the impact it can have on page speed, I wouldn’t use it on every post and instead use it on core pages like your homepage, about page, and contact page.
I’m a big fan of Stackable which works with the Gutenberg builder to keep things fast and simple.
Make Sure Your Site Is More Than Mobile-Friendly
Whatever you do, make it mobile-friendly. It’s still surprising how often this gets missed and while most website builders ensure mobile functionality (by checking the right boxes) the end result doesn’t always offer the best user experience.
Websites will end up with funky image sizes or a weird side scroll on mobile. This won’t trigger an issue on a mobile-friendly test so the best way to fix these problems is with testing.
If you hit F12 in Chrome, you can view any website on a variety of mobile devices. Take the time to do this, especially when you’re launching a new site, instead of only making sure you’re passing the minimum mobile metrics.
How do you ensure the website’s structure is SEO-friendly from the start?
We want to make it easy for Google to crawl our site and easy for our users to stay longer.
Here are a few of the best practices:
Keep your URLs clean, short, and descriptive. We don’t need to stuff here but the URL should make it obvious what’s on the page. Choosing between domain.com/category/post-title or domain.com/post-title is up to you and I haven’t seen a difference (or seen one documented) either way.
Site Hierarchy and Navigation
Keep it shallow and the best practice is to target a click depth of no more than 3. Adding simple navigation menus and breadcrumbs to posts can help you pull that off.
The benefits of internal linking are well-documented and while most are focused on the SEO benefits, a good internal link can also help users on your page (which likely has SEO benefits along with the obvious revenue benefits).
I target a minimum of 4 internal links to every post with 10 internal links for pillar or major content. There are plenty of internal link-building tools and while they “check the box” from an SEO perspective I haven’t found one that I really love so these are usually built manually.
Tools like Rank Math make it easy to see what pages need internal links and the free version of Link Whisperer has a great report for evaluating your current internal links.
We’re Building With Ads In Mind
It seems obvious, but plenty of site builders seem to forget that they’re going to be putting ads on their sites.
They end up designing a beautiful blog template with a sidebar that’s too small or just looks bad. If you aren’t sure, reach out to the ad provider you plan on using while you’re designing, and make sure your design matches their standards before you upload your first post.
Don’t Be Afraid of Adding In Some Style
We don’t want to overcomplicate our build or blow a bunch of budget on web design for a project that isn’t producing any revenue.
But we also don’t want to have a website that looks like junk. Google loves brands and brands care about web design. You don’t need to have all custom everything but ask yourself if the average user would “trust” your website just based on look.
This is easier than ever with visual builders but you can also ask ChatGPT (or any of the other language models) for CSS advice to whip up some custom designs with very little effort.
How do you handle site speed issues?
I’ve found that you can spend hours tracking down some random issue that is presented to you in Google’s Pagespeed Insights.
It could be that I’m not technical enough, patient enough, or both but I generally outsource these issues to a pro. Once you have a good build-out, you can repeat the process so you don’t run into the same issues more than once.
Prioritizing solid hosting, an easy-to-use CMS, and mobile optimization, while keeping SEO and ad placements in mind, lays the groundwork for a site that’s not just functional, but primed for growth.