If you’re reading this on the Long Tail Pro blog, you’ve most certainly wrestled with brainstorming profitable website ideas at some point.
Hopefully you’ve already found one (or more), but I’m certain that some of you are still struggling trying to figure out a successful formula.
Here’s the formula I’m talking about:
Niche Selection + Monetization = Revenue
Then, let’s go back to ECON 101 and remember that your revenue minus expenses will give you a profit. The good news is, fixed expenses for running a niche website are generally pretty low.
Let’s take a look at both parts of this equation:
The very first question you have to answer is “what the heck is my site going to be about?”
Remember that this goes hand in hand with revenue; as some niches are naturally more profitable than others.
For instance, if your primary source of income is as an affiliate of someone else’s product, do you think you’d make more per sale by getting people to sign up for credit cards? Or by referring them to buy socks on Amazon and monetizing via Amazon Affiliates?
Obviously the credit cards, all else being equal. Discover Card pays $40 for referring a new credit card account, while you’d probably make less than a dollar per sale on the socks.
So does that mean you should just go out there and start reviewing the best credit card promotions?
The second (and often overlooked) part of choosing a niche is analyzing the competition. Clearly a niche like credit cards is completely saturated with giants like Creditcards.com and others. The degree of difficulty for building a profitable website in this niche is off the charts.
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The way I see it, there are 2 different ways you can go with your niche selection decision.
First, you can choose a topic that you know very well and are passionate about. This is a huge advantage if you are planning to create most (or all) of the content yourself. You won’t have to do as much research, you already know the kinds of things your audience is concerned about, and creating the content probably won’t feel like work.
The second approach is to decide solely based on numbers. What niche do you feel that you can compete in and find enough avenues to make money? The good thing about this approach is that you are basing your decision on data (keyword research). You also have a wider array of choices at the outset, because you really can focus your site on virtually anything that makes money- since it isn’t a topic of passion anyway.
The downside is that you’ll have to do more research to really learn the niche and find out what people want to know. Also, you’ll need to either hire a writer or become knowledgeable enough on the topic so you can create a bunch of content and inform your readers.
Either Way Works
The good news is, you can make money either way. Not all niches are created equal, but you could find a ton of examples of people who started a site because it was a passion, and ended up turning it into a revenue generating machine as something of an afterthought.
In my recent post about making more as an Amazon affiliate, I shared the story of 100 Days of Real Food who basically did just that. The cool thing about programs like Amazon Associates is that you can find products to sell in just about any niche you can think of. So whatever your passion, there is probably a way to make money from it if you are creative enough.
On the other hand, examples are everywhere for people who have started sites based on data alone. The topics weren’t necessarily things they knew much about, but the keyword research data said that there were a good number of people searching for things in that niche, they competition was relatively low, and there were products and/or advertising to sell and profit from.
This was the case in both of Spencer’s Niche Site Projects.
I’m of the opinion that getting traffic is the hard part. If you are raking in the traffic, it’s pretty easy to find ways to make money from that traffic (although some are better than others). Here is a quick rundown of two of the most common ways to make money from a niche website:
Google Adsense may be the quickest and simplest way to make money from your website. In short, you sign up as a Google ad publisher and then create ad units. You then take those ad units and place them on your website. Google then takes care of putting relevant ads in those slots, so when people click on them you get paid by Google for each click.
The amount you make varies, and like we talked about earlier, your niche/topic will affect your cost per click. Credit card companies pay more for a click than sock manufacturers.
Lisa Irby has a fantastic post that covers the topic of earning money with Adsense in great detail.
The quickest way to get started is to install a WordPress plug-in called Quick Adsense which allows you to set where your ads will go on your entire site, all in one place. For instance, you’d say to put ad 1 after the first paragraph, ad 2 in the middle of your post, and ad 3 at the end of your post. The plugin then takes care of that for you, so all you have to do is publish your post.
The great part about Google Adsense is that you can use it to make money in almost any niche. If you are getting traffic, a certain amount of those people are going to click on ads because Google is great at dropping in ads that are relevant to the user.
The second common way to make money with your website is through affiliate promotions. This simply means that you refer a sale or a lead to another product/service/company and they will pay you fixed amount or a variable commission of some kind.
Amazon Associates, which I referred to earlier, allows you to promote anything on Amazon and make a commission on the sale. Since Amazon sells hundreds of thousands of items, you can find products in almost any niche to promote here.
Promoting the right affiliate deals can be super profitable. In fact, you can even build a website around promoting a single affiliate offer – if it’s the right one. Check out the guide to Affiliate Marketing from Pat Flynn, who used his first site GreenExamAcademy to promote a third-party practice exam as an affiliate.
General Profitable Website Ideas
Although affiliate income and Google Adsense are only a couple of ways to make money from your website, they are two of the best candidates if you are looking for a site that earns passive income. You can really “set it and forget it” if you’d like, and don’t have to worry about dealing directly in advertising sales, creating and maintaining a product, or providing customer service since you aren’t selling anything directly.
Before I share a couple of specific niche ideas, let’s go through some more general ideas that you can apply to a variety of topics and create a profitable website.
1. Providing Product Reviews
One of the most obvious strategies to profit from affiliate offers is to do product reviews. To stand out, you need to do real reviews for products that you know well and have used yourself. You will only get so far by trying to do reviews of products you don’t really know much about.
There are tons of keywords out there like “PRODUCT NAME review”, “What’s the best PRODUCT TYPE”, “Is PRODUCT NAME worth it?”, etc. that you can target with solid, thorough reviews.
I’ve held up TheWireCutter as an example before, but the point remains – they provide crazy in-depth product reviews and then refer you to Amazon or other places and make affiliate income when you buy. The key to their success is that the user really gets all the information they need to make an informed purchase.
2. Product Comparisons
Similar to product reviews, product comparisons are another way to profit as an affiliate. Think of these as “vs.” posts, where people are comparing one product to another, one brand to another, etc.
Again, authenticity is important to do a helpful comparison post. Being able to give the pros and cons and take on an unbiased advisory role to your website visitor will allow you to send highly targeted traffic to your affiliate offers.
As an affiliate, you won’t make money unless the traffic you send converts (buys the product) – so it’s your job to “warm them up” before sending them over to the final destination. Writing thorough comparisons with the buyer’s best interest at heart is a great way to have people buy into what you are saying.
The great thing about people looking at your comparison posts is that they are usually close to purchasing one or the other – so they often convert well.
3. Curation Posts
Curation posts are simply a list of things that you pull together from around the web and put them all into one post. People love to share these kinds of lists, and you’ve no doubt seen them on social media…
- 8 things only kids from the 80’s will get
- 14 ways to be your parents’ favorite kid
- 56 best ice bucket challenge fails
Buzzfeed is the king of curation, and while they don’t always have lists with affiliate links – sometimes they do. The cool thing is, it gets positioned in a way where you don’t feel like they are asking you to buy something.
Here is an example:
There are a bunch of very unique gift ideas on this page! Notice that at least 5 of the 19 items are sold on Amazon, and sure enough… they’ll make a commission when you click their link and go buy the “insanely clever” gift.
It appears that the majority of the items on their list are just regular, non-affiliate links. So it’s important to note that you shouldn’t just be thinking of curated lists that you can stuff with affiliate offers. The key here is that it really is a fantastic list of clever gifts.
Buzzfeed actually delivers on what they say, they just seamlessly integrate revenue generating opportunities into their content.
Tutorials and “How to’s” are big time, and sites like Wikihow are based solely on this idea. They show you how to do everything.
So how can you profit from tutorial posts on your website?
By including affiliate links to the things you’ll need in order to do the job.
Here is an example:
While this guide from HGTV doesn’t actually link out to the products/tools listed, I think it demonstrates the idea. Is there an opportunity to show people how to make stuff in your niche?
Again, not everything in your list needs to be an affiliate link.
However, there’s a good chance that the people visiting HGTV’s post above aren’t going to have everything they need to finish the project. I can hear it now – “Oh crap, I don’t have any clamps!”
So if this was my guide, I would take a few of the tools in my list that I think people are least likely to have and set it up like this:
See the difference?
Now, HGTV is doing just fine without pulling in affiliate income from their “how to” guides, but when affiliate revenue is at the heart of your income strategy, adding this simple step is a no-brainer.
So anytime you are telling people how to do something, ask yourself: What tools/ingredients/products do they need for this project?
The answer might just provide you additional income with very little effort.
Example Authority Sites
The nice thing about the more general ideas above is that they are applicable to a host of different niches and industries.
Is your site about dental care?
You can review teeth whiteners, compare tooth brushes, curate a list of the candies so delicious they are worth getting a cavity, and then sprinkle in a guide on how to make homemade tooth paste (while showing them where to buy the ingredients).
Your site is about car parts?
Review snow tires, compare windshield wipers, curate a list of gifts for classic car lovers, and then show people how to change spark plugs (while recommending your favorite set of spark plugs).
But what are some more specific ideas for a profitable website?
Let’s talk about that.
Niche Site vs. Authority Site
The lines of what constitutes a “niche” site and an “authority” site have been blurred in recent years. One of the biggest differences is that niche sites are often hyper-focused on a very specific topic. Authority sites typically are still focused on a niche, but have a little more broad scope.
An example could be a site like DIY Ready, which would definitely be an authority in the DIY/homemade space. They talk about building furniture, crafts, jewelry, clothes, and basically anything you can think of that could be a DIY project.
However, a niche site might be one that is focused specifically only on building DIY lanterns. Sure there are some different types of lanterns that can be built, but generally all their content is focused on this one topic.
Which is best?
While there is often overlap in what could be classified as an authority site or a “niche” site, it’s best to strike a balance. For instance, DIYReady is in a niche – DIY projects. But that niche has enough depth to it that they can cover all kinds of things on their site.
So while you may not be setting out with the goal of building a huge site, having a topic that broad enough to scale into something bigger is a great way to go.
If you can’t think of more than 20 different content ideas in your niche, it might just be too narrow.
Profitable Website Examples
Matt of Swim University explained his background and approach on the Side Hustle Nation podcast. Matt makes money by being an affiliate, but he also sells advertising space to other pool companies that want to be in front of his audience.
Matt is truly an expert in the pool care industry and has put together lists/reviews like the 10 best automatic pool cleaners with affiliate links:
He also uses the “how to” approach in posts like “how to open an inground pool in 10 steps” Notice his list of things you’ll need:
Swim University is a full-time gig for Matt, and really is the perfect example of what I meant by “striking a balance” between a niche site and authority site.
Pool and hot tub maintenance is certainly a niche, but it’s a niche with fantastic depth. Swim University is really an authority in the pool care niche.
Survival life is a site developed by the folks at Digital Marketer. While you might think that a site that deals with doomsday preppers, surviving in the wild, etc. wouldn’t amount to much, it now does well over $1M per month in revenue.
If you attended the Digital Marketer conference in 2015, you learned that there is quite a science to their success. While they incorporate affiliate marketing, they’ve also created their own survival knife and are masters at gathering leads and selling to them via email and paid advertising.
So despite the fact that Survivallife.com is much more than a one man show, there is still plenty to learn and implement, even if you are trying to start a profitable website on your own.
One example is a recent post, 5 Fathers Day Gifts for Preppers. It’s a short curation post, but in it they include a mix of products that you can buy from Amazon and products you can buy directly from them:
The survival space is more broad that pool care, but is still a niche space overall – one that Survival Life dominates.
Other Website Ideas
The list of possible niches at categories for a profitable website are nearly endless. If you are about to go at this for the first time, here are some general suggestions:
– Try to think of at least 50 content ideas. You don’t have to get detailed at this point, but if you are struggling to get there then your topic might be a little too narrow. Can you broaden the scope slightly?
– Make sure you can find some good low competition keywords that you can try to rank for early on. Not every post on your site is going to be focused on a particular keyword, but a good mix to shoot for is about 50% of your posts being keyword focused and 50% being “shareable” (like the curated lists above).
– Have (at least) rough plan for how you will monetize your site. If it’s Adsense, are there advertisers when you search some of your keywords in Google? If it’s affiliate offers, are there good products in your niche that you can promote and sell?
Specific Profitable Website Ideas
With my last few points in mind, I’ll leave you with some other profitable website ideas and how you could incorporate the concepts above into your strategy. I like to get into a niche where I have a few different angles I can take, and it all still makes sense with my topic. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Connect with your audience through your personal story
- Review products you’ve used, like double strollers and other items that make your job easier (affiliate links).
- Curate fun ideas (sprinkling in affiliate links) like “Halloween Costumes for Twins” which is a somewhat low competition keyword according to Long Tail Pro.
- It’d be easier to stand out with a more obscure pet than a dog or a cat, (maybe a parakeet?), but sharing your experiences as an owner can connect you to your audience.
- Review your favorite foods, houses, pet medicines
- How to make your own pet food, or pet supplies (affiliate links to products)
- Curate lists of gifts for people who own the same kind of pet as you.
Here’s an example of a low competition keyword I would target early on:
- Beards, mustaches, etc. can result in a bunch of style guides
- How to make a certain style – including links to the products to make it happen
- Review shaving creams, razors, specialty products
Here is a low competition keyword I might target with a super in-depth buyer’s guide (including affiliate links)
Affordable Green Living
- Instructions on how to make your own solar panels, or other “green” products for home (including affiliate links)
- Curate list of most ingenious ideas for reducing your carbon foot print
- Review products targeted at this market of environmentally conscious home owners.
- Use “newsjacking” to become an influencer and part of the conversation on stories that matter to this audience.
The beautiful thing about striking a balance of being broad enough, but still firmly inside of a niche is that you can pivot your content as you go. In other words, if your site is in the grooming niche and you find that your content about mustache care and products are really performing well, you can start focusing more and more on that topic and it still fits.
However, it you’d started out as “the beard guy” then focusing on mustaches would seem a little out of place.
That’s not to say you can’t do a site about beards only – I’m just saying that I’d try to pick a topic with a slightly wider net, that has a couple of directions you can go and then you can really dial in on what seems to be working a few months down the road.
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