Justin Cooke

May 18, 2012

If we’re being honest with ourselves, the value our sites were providing to their visitors when we were getting started wasn’t very good.  Worse than that…it was pretty horrible.  This was likely due to being new, wanting to keep costs down, and an understanding that if the content wasn’t great we’d probably get a better CTR on the sites.

This has changed quite a bit 18 months after we’ve started.  Over time, we’ve found better writers at a decent price point and have been forced to continually improve the content on our sites due to an always-changing search landscape.  While our content on the sites has significantly improved, there are a couple of areas where we’re still missing the mark when it comes to providing significant value to the searchers who come across our niche sites:

  1. Lacking well researched information and content
  2. Not using the best format for the particular niche
  3. Low-end design on the sites

There is one other problem with some of our niches that I’ll address: They’re hyper-focused and not in the best position to be scaled out.  I don’t mention this point above because I see it as being less important…if you’ve really put the research in, have a great layout, and your design is clean, it doesn’t hurt to have the BEST site about “tall ski boots”.  It’s a hyper-focused site, but that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing if you include the other components.

Still…It’s Not That Simple

Our problem with implementing the steps above is that it means each site requires a level of detail that keeps Joe and I from leveraging our best resources and skillsets.  If each new website we create has to be extremely customized…Joe and I would end up having to build out quite a few of the sites ourselves.  Not something we’re looking to do.  Our main issue has been coming up with a process that addresses the customization issue but leaves room for the standardization required to really scale out the process, leveraging our core advantages.  Good news: I think we’ve solved the problem.

Authority site scalability problemAnswering The Customization Problem

Most of the customization lies in three areas: keyword research, design, and content research.  Our plan involves having around five different “process templates” to use, depending on the keyword and type of site that we’re looking to create.  To put it very clearly: We will have completely separate and different processes for several different types of sites we’d like to build.

While doing keyword research, Joe and I will have to find the keyword to target, pick the “process template and then perform additional secondary keyword research ourselves, depending on the path we plan to take with the site.  Depending on the “process template” chosen, we will also include reference material for the content writers to use to pull valuable information for the site.  This will most likely include information from government sites, other authority sites, or even offline information in some cases.  Once that’s done, we should be able to standardize the rest of the process for our agents and push the specific content research off to higher-level outsourced content writers.

Let me give just one example and a description of a “process template” we intend to use, but I’ll include a brief description of some others at the end of this post:

Geo-Targeted Informational Sites

You’ve seen this before…consider Pat Flynn’s Security Guard Training site. The idea is that there’s some specific knowledge or requirement for the site that requires research, based on a geographic condition.  Want to get your guard card in California?  Would you like to be an armed security guard in Florida?  There are specific requirements you’ll have to meet based on what you’re looking to do and where you’re looking to do it.

Hardly limited to security guards, this type of site has practical applications in a wide range of industries.  Here are a few examples:

  • EMT Certification
  • Real Estate Licensing
  • Insurance Certification

Authority Site PlanThe initial setup and preparation for these sites will look something like this:

  • Target a keyword (no exact match domain needed) that gets 4K+ exact match searches per month and has “moderate” or better SEO competition.  (In our case, we may target a 3, 4, or 5 on our “Chance To Rank” scale…maybe a 2 if the niche was really valuable)
  • Target 2-3 well-related secondary keywords that get somewhere between 700 – 2,500 exact match phrases per month and have a “Chance To Rank” of 4 or better.  (Similar to our current niche site primary keyword research)  We would build pillar posts around these keywords.
  • Choose another 2-3 topical and helpful long tail phrases that would be of particular use to the visitor that are related to the subject and build out a few more pillar posts.  Keyword research is not critical here, whereas value to the visitor is.
  • Target the best 10-20 geographical secondary keywords and build out content specific and relevant to that location.  You can pick up a free plugin for a state-based map here, created by Pat Flynn for this type of content.  This can be state-based, region-based, city-based, etc., depending on the niche.

The plan includes paying for higher level content for the home page (introducing the site and directing visitors to the appropriate content) and for the pillar posts.  This would be well-researched and well-written content with an expected rate of $15-25 per article and a total cost of around $100-$150.  The geographical content would have a specific format used and would require researched information, but would probably be shorter and not as well written as the home page and pillar posts.  We’d be looking at around $10 per article or so at $100-$200 to start.

We’re looking to have 2-3 WP themes to choose from for this particular “process template” and a set number of plugins.  We would spend some time and effort on custom headers, buttons, and design changes.  We’d do this in-house and would estimate $40-$50 in site build-out costs.  The site would be setup from the beginning to be social friendly.  Our monetization from the beginning would be AdSense, but we could add additional monetization as we maintain the site over time.

Our linkbuilding will be non-spammy and include original content posted in article directories and Web 2.0’s.  We are planning to limit the amount of created links and instead rely on “pillar” links that we can later promote.  We’re estimating costs of around $50-$70 for initial linkbuilding.

This should put our total costs at around $300-450 per site for the initial build of the sites.

Ongoing site maintenanceOngoing Maintenance

Unlike our set-and-forget niche sites, we’re planning to provide continued maintenance to these sites to see how much further we can build them out.  We’ll invest in the site proportionally, depending on their success along the way and our best guess at a positive ROI.

4 Month Review:

High-End$50+/month and growing – We’ll add more geo-specific content to the sites, consider adding another 1-3 pillar posts, create social media profiles, add additional pillar backlinks, and add opt-in email capture.  Estimated cost: $200-$300 per site

Mid-Range$20-$50/month – If the sites are ranked well but not earning or have a low CTR we’ll consider changing the monetization.  If they are not ranked well, we’ll promote with additional backlinks.  We’ll add more geo-specific content to earn more long-tail traffic.  Estimated cost: $50-$150 per site.

Low-EndLess than $20/month – Leave these sites alone for another four months to see if they improve.

8 Month Review

High-End$100+/month and growing – We’ll add additional pillar content, finish out as much of the geo-specific content as we can to stay on budget, and continue to build out the social media profiles and promotion.  Estimated cost: $300 per site

Mid-Range $40-$100/month – Review each site with a checklist and have specific actions to take depending on the reasons for under performance.  Estimated cost $100-$150

Low-EndLess than $40/month – Sell the sites at auction, most likely.

12 Month Review

Every site will be reviewed at the 12 month mark and the vast majority will be sold.  We may end up hanging on to a few of the sites that we feel particularly attached to or have an interest in building out even further on a case by case basis.

This is our rough outline for a geo-targeted information site, but there are other “process templates” we’re considering as well:

  • Finder Sites – Months ago we were having an interesting conversation about these types of sites but we never got around to execution here.  The idea is that there are tons of niche searches done where people are trying to find things locally that aren’t well served by places like Yelp, Google Maps, etc.  (Dirt bike trails, tennis courts, skateboard parks, golf courses, etc.)  The idea is that by pulling information from several different sources, we can create a repository of information that’s not well served online.  In some instances, these niches would be well served through newsletters, subscription services, or list building and emailed product offerings.
  • Ecommerce Sites – In many instances, our niche sites target “buyer” keywords but don’t actually offer the visitor an opportunity to purchase…not a great user experience!  The idea here would be to take a keyword like “buy dress shoes” (for example) and create much more in-depth, researched sites that are initially monetized via AdSense.  We can later switch the mid-high range sites to Amazon sites.  At the eighth month mark, we can even consider setting up drop-shipping sites for those that are now in the high-end range.

New projectsI’m really excited to start testing this out and yet I’m worried as well because there’s quite a bit more risk with these sites.  They’re much more expensive to build, require significantly more customization per site, and take much longer to see a return.  Still, I think this serves us quite well in the following ways:

  • New level of buyers – We get quite a few requests for $100+ per month sites from buyers, but our current niche sites don’t often meet that critieria.  These sites will open us up to buyers at a different level than our current sites attract.
  • Expansion/Experience – While we know quite a bit about building niche sites, we’re pretty inexperienced at a ton of other things in internet marketing and we stand to learn quite a bit testing this out.  Also…to be honest…niche sites are getting a bit boring.  Our creation of sites is currently on auto-pilot…it will be fun to challenge ourselves here!
  • Authority – We give tips to our readers, listeners, and buyers on what we WOULD do if we were building out our niches sites…but it’s more theoretical than knowledge through experience.  We’d like to be able to point to a process that shows EXACTLY how we actually do build out sites into much larger “authority” type sites!

Does this mean we’re moving away from the niche site model?  Definitely not!  We’ve recently heavily expanded the team and plan to pull from that expanded crew to create these sites rather than taking away from our current niche site model.  We’d rather not pull from one and give to another…we’d simply like to add this as a sort-of new product line to our brand.

So…what do YOU think?  Do you like this addition?  Do you think we’ll be able to take customized sites and standardize the process?  Any other ideas for sites or “process templates” we can target?  Let us know in the comments below!



Make a living buying and selling websites
Sign up now to get our best tips, strategies, and case studies

Discussion

Leave a comment
  1. Spencer Haws says:

    Hey Justin, sounds like a good plan! This certainly will give you the upside potential of having a big winner. I’m doing something similar, still building smaller sites but I will be focusing on just 1 large site as well completely written and managed by myself.

    I’ll be interested to hear how the new sites go!

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Thanks, Spencer!

      Right now, our “big winners” are $100+ per month…it would be nice to bump that to $1,000/month or more! :-) To be perfectly honest…I get a bit bored doing the same thing over and over again…so mixing it up like this is more exciting. Some risks here, of course, but it will help push us further along this process and continue to grow…we’ll keep you updated!

      • Pat says:

        Good luck to you both! I think it sounds like a solid plan and I’m really interested to see how Spencer’s and your authority sites evolve and are executed within the next year or so.

        • JustinWCooke says:

          Thanks, Pat!

          It’s difficult enough to build out a successful site like yours on your own. We’re really interested to see if we can do that through other people and find a way to replicate it. Either way, really excited to get it started…thanks for stopping by!

  2. Matt Hagens says:

    Sounds like a great plan! I have quite a few small niche sites that I plan on doing something similar. They are ranking fairly well and get a ton of long tail traffic and know that with some good content I can capture more of. Where do you plan on getting the higher quality content?

    It is a risky investment, but something I want to try. You can’t win big unless you play big!

    Good luck and keep us posted on the progress!

  3. […] insight into their current business plans – they believe they’ve developed a way to scalably create authority sites – “Most of the customization lies in three areas: keyword research, design, and content […]

  4. Phil Whitley says:

    Justin,

    Great post! My biz partner and I were talking about this very thing, this past week. We do have experience with higher quality, authority sites, but we’ve not been as clear on the “process template” that works – and it seems that backlinking has also been our Achilles heel with these.

    We’re just starting to outsource and build niche sites, based on your model, but as you said, at some point in the near future that’s going to be on autopilot and we’re going to want to focus on other IM revenue streams. We’re really starting to look at non-search engine ways of monetizing, which for us is hard, in that we are both good at throwing up sites – so more lateral thinking ahead.

    Thanks again for the great information,

    Phil

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Awesome, Phil.

      Yeah…it was much easier to write the blog post above and lay it out than it actually will be “templating” the authority site process, I’d imagine. Definitely agree with you on the linkbuilding as well…it’s hard to know where to go with that right now, eh?

  5. Vin says:

    Hey dudes. I’ve actually been working on a few of these geo-targeted sites since January. I have one in particular that is making me $70-$80 a month after 4 months. It’s making that much and I’ve only built out about 50% of the content that I originally intended. It’s ranking #4 for a term that gets 8,100 local searches a month, but most of the traffic comes from long tails.

    Drop me a line if you want to take a look at it. I’m sure that the site could benefit from an objective point of view.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Vin!

      That’s great to hear…it sounds like you have 1 in the High-End range…that sounds promising! Definitely interested in taking a look to get some ideas…

  6. Luke Clark says:

    You guys are awesome! Another amazing blog post. You guys have definitely been a lot of motivation for my 19 sites I have right now (that I’ve written all the content for).

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Awesome, Luke…great to hear! That’s quite a bit of content to write, eh? I wrote a few of the articles early on but soon realized that would take up a TON of my time and outsourced it. Once I had the process of ordering/editing down, we handed that off to our agents. Writing the content yourself will definitely keep actual costs down…but the cost in TIME can be massive. Do you plan on outsourcing that piece in the future?

  7. Mike From Maine says:

    It will be interesting to see how this works out. I think the extra content will help protect the sites from getting slapped easily in a google algorithm update.

    With a lot of the niche sites I build I’m just trying to see if I can get the exact match domain to rank on the homepage and make money. If that works and it is profitable then it should be easier to rank secondary content with some links from the homepage.

    One word of warning: You should be careful that secondary content doesn’t just go after variations of the ranking keyword. It should look like a natural website. That’s why I like your idea of geotargetting since its a normal way to make a website.

    Anyway, this post has me thinking. I have some nice $100/month earners right now that I will probably sell to get some cash back from my investment, but I will definitely consider building some sites out in the future.

    And where’s the podcast, Adsense Slackers! :-)

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Mike!

      I’m not convinced that Google doesn’t like sites with less content. We still have quite a few sites that continue to chug away while some “authority” sites have taken a hit. I agree with Spencer’s post that it seems to be more about backlinking than the amount of content on the site.

      Starting off with smaller sites and building out the winners seems to be a good strategy. We’re starting off with larger sites only because we’re going to be more aggressive in the keywords we target…and our current process wouldn’t get our mini-sites ranked for those aggressive keywords…we’re hoping this will do the trick.

      Totally agree with you in that the secondary keywords should be somewhat separate from the main keyword.

      Sorry about the podcast…didn’t squeeze it in this week, but will definitely have one out next week. AdSense Slackers, lol…I like that! :-)

  8. Tyler Herman says:

    I have no idea how you are going to do link building for these types of sites for only $70. You just aren’t going to find stupid easy keywords in the numbers you need to build lots of these sites. You’ll get lucky with a few but most will require a lot more SEO than a niche site would.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey, Tyler, thanks for the comment.

      We’re going to limit our linkbuilding for these sites to unique content. We’ll be reviewing these sites every 4 months for improvements to be made and will adjust along the way as needed. We won’t be going after keywords like “car insurance” here, so I don’t think it will be as difficult as you think it is. The idea would be to have strong enough sites to attract a fair amount of natural links as well over time.

  9. I think you guys are definitely headed in the right direction with these authority sites! However, the one thing you definitely need to be the most careful with is the quality of content you are providing – even in your inner pages. It will be interesting to see how you guys make out with scaling authority sites – will definitely be a bigger challenge than scaling niche sites IMO – best of luck!

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey, Thomas!

      Quality of content is our main priority. Not just that it’s grammatically correct, but also that it’s truly helpful. I DON’T think we’ll be able to get it to where each looks similar to a “labor of love” site…especially not at the beginning. Still…the closer we can get to that the happier I’ll be.

      Ultimately, we’d like to have sites that range from starter niche websites all the way up to full-on businesses. Those larger “business” sites will probably start off with the tools we’re building, this blog, etc…

  10. Aaron @ LinkOrbit says:

    Hi guys, I like the fact that you testing the higher quality sites angle. I just wonder if your estimate of 50-70$ with web 2.0 and article dirs being enough. I have a feeling penguin has made successful link building more expensive.

    Also, I wonder if you cant do better than 50+/mo with your monetization efforts. Do you really have to wait 8 months to move tp something better than adsense?

    But kudos, I think this transformation is what has to happen for the long term success of the niche micro site industry.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Aaron!

      If we can provide a path from a mini-niche site to larger authority sites with a fair rate of success we can either:

      A) Build out all of our niche sites similarly
      B) Provide that plan to our niche site buyers

      This would be ALONG with all the benefit these authority sites would bring on their own.

      A bit of dreaming here…but how awesome would it be to have a path to scaling out actual, job-replacing authority sites or businesses? Our niche sites at $30/month aren’t going to get you there…neither will our $50-$300 authority sites, but it’s definitely a step in that direction.

      This gives us our mid-range sites. Right now, we have:

      A) Niche sites that we build/sell
      B) …
      C) Branded sites (AdSenseFlippers, TryBPO, and other sites we’re working on now)

      These would fill B or that mid-range role we’re looking for.

  11. Kent Chow says:

    Justin, this sounds like a solid plan. Authority sites are way to go and last long as a business model!

    Check out my recent interview post. With Facebook Fans traffic, Sean makes $10K monthly. (It could be very powerful!)

    I’m interested in your site template approach. This sounds a reproducible process. I know you guys are very good in scaling things up.

    I miss this important point that.. the way how to structure a site makes difference. Layout and how to lead the visitors stay long (reducing the bounce rate) makes difference in Google eyes.

    I have 2 “authority” sites. One is making $100+ adsense and one is making $200+ from Amazon these days. I’m focusing on adding more new content, driving traffic, and scaling them up.

    I’m trying to duplicate the success and create an authority site monthly. I will reinvest the earning into the content to scale them up.

    Look forward to your future update. Thanks!

  12. There is some valuable information in here for “real” websites as well. Geo targeting is becoming ever more important as businesses try to atract more targeted customers.

    I like the review process you outline above as well.

    Jason Ansley
    http://www.ansleyRDgroup.com
    http://www.NPOdev.org
    http://www.randyRCplanes.com

    @ansleyRDgroup @NPOdev @randyRCplanes

  13. what’s the average number of content pages of your authority websites? Thanks

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey there!

      We haven’t started building these yet, but the authority sites will start off with somewhere between 15-25 pages of content to start. (home page, 2-3 pillar posts targeting keywords, 2-3 pillar posts targeting helpful topics, 10-20 geographic content pages)

      We’ll build out the sites that seem to be having success and could end up with sites that have 40-70 pages of content, with most articles in the 500-1,200 word range most likely. Some would NOT get built out if they were not performing very well…

  14. Phil Jensen says:

    Justin

    I like the plan. I’m also trying to move in that direction (just have to get enough content build first). I think it’s probably the most long-term and effective strategy when it comes to Adsense.

    At the end of the day, if you can provide value to the visitor you’ll probably always win…just have to make sure your CPC and specific audience CTR is not too low.

    As I’ve mentioned before I’ve made this mistake and it totally sucks. I designed a fairly large movie website that started to attract a fair number of visitors that really enjoyed the content (even had an active forum). But I couldn’t make any real money with the site. The visitor’s didn’t click on any of the ads (low CTR) and when they did the CPC was really low (less than $.20).

    Good lesson to learn early though.

    Good luck guys!

  15. AustinTPL says:

    Great Post Justin! I have a geo-targeted information site in the works currently. I’m doing a bit more content upfront though to capture as many long tails as possible, so costs are a bit higher than your estimates.

    I’ll be documenting it on TPL in the future. Hope these work out well for you guys!

    Cheers,

    Austin

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Sweet, Austin…definitely let us know how it goes!

      I like your site. Let us know if you’d like to put together a guest post about that site…that would be interesting for our audience, I’m sure!

  16. Sorry posting with a spammy-looking disqus profile. This sounds like a great plan. Good luck guys!

    I just want to point out that you did not link to the plugin about state-specific map built by Pat Flynn, that’s all.

  17. Trent says:

    Terrific article guys. I really liked how you talked about having a process for authority sites.

  18. Christopher Verzonilla says:

    Would it be a bad idea to use a Philippines address for domain registration or could it actually help generate more organic traffic since there is less competition in PI.

    • My guess is bad, as the PI specific traffic would be lower and covert less for advertisers so they wouldn’t be willing to pay as much. Stick to .com, .net and .org.

  19. rahul247rocks says:

    Hey Guys, I started a Ipad related micro niche website and now it’s almost a month old. I wrote some posts and I am hardly getting traffic to the site. I am using blogger platform. Please help!

  20. DanielV says:

    You mentioned that you were looking at a couple different themes. Would you mind sharing us which themes you were considering and which theme you chose? I would great appreciate this.

  21. Ryan McLean says:

    Love this post. Really resonates with me because I am more a semi authority site guy. I totally want to go down this path and I think my goal will be investing $100-$1,000/month per site (depending on it’s earnings). Then let it grow into an authority site using its own profits.

    I will max out spending at $1,000/month and then take any extra income on top of that for myself. Then scale it into new sites.

    1) Sart niche and test the viability of the market
    2) If it’s good then build into a semi authority site
    3) Reinvest income to build into authoity
    4) Keep it ticking over and growing or sell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Have a site to sell?

Sell Your Site

Click here to find out how much your website is worth