[Case Study] How I Scaled and Sold Two Niche Sites for $125,000 in 2018

Summary:

  • In 2018 I sold two of my niche sites for USD $125,000
  • One niche site was monetized with Amazon Associates products and one of my own info products; the other site was monetized with ads
  • I learned these lessons from scaling traffic and revenue for the two sites in a relatively short amount of time (~9 months for each site):
  • Overwhelming need for a solution = higher conversion rates
  • Perennial needs = consistent demand
  • “Low hanging fruit” keywords are the best way to get more traffic to an established site
  • Low-competition keywords (new ones) are the second-best way to get more traffic to an established site
  • “Buyer” keywords can exponentially increase your site’s income
  • High-priced offers are often as easy to rank as low-priced offers (so go with high-priced offers)
  • Excellent content makes outreach easier
  • The 80/20 principle applies to niche sites
  • Testing matters
  • Age matters (sometimes)

Making money from niche websites is simple (but not easy):

  • Find a niche that has good potential (strong need and evergreen demand)
  • Do deep keyword research to find low-competition keywords (a good mix of informational and “buyer” keywords)
  • Find (or create) solutions that address your audience’s needs

As I said, these steps are simple – but they’re NOT easy…

There are a lot of moving parts involved that take some time to understand and get

good at.

But here’s the good part: if you follow the 3 steps above, you can build assets in a relatively short period of time that you can sell for tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars.

How do I know?

Because I did just that with two of my sites in 2018!

I turned two sites that were hardly making any money into assets that were making a total of ~$5,000 a month.

And I sold those two sites for $125,000 through the website brokers FE International.

 Here’s the Christmas card that FE sent me:

Quick primer on selling a website:

Sites that get most of their traffic organically (i.e. from Google) and are monetized through “passive” sources like Amazon affiliate commissions sell like hot cakes on marketplaces like FE International and Empire Flippers and typically get from 25 to 35 times monthly profits. So a site earning $3,000 per month could sell for $75,000 to $105,000.

To get a handle on how you can create your first $100k site, first look at how the math breaks down:

To make $3,000 per month from a niche site with 10 “money” pages (e.g. articles that review an affiliate product), each page would need to make $10 per day ($10 per day X 10 pages X 30 days = $3,000).

Assuming a 5% commission (typical for Amazon products), to make $10 per day, a web page would need to generate approximately $200 per day in sales of Amazon products.

In my experience, that’s not very hard to do, because of a couple magical aspects of the Amazon affiliate program…

  • Amazon is a conversion machine. They run tons of tests to improve the sales rate on their site and it’s reasonable to assume that they’ll just keep getting better at turning browsers into buyers.
  • The 24-hour cookie. When a visitor clicks on an Amazon link on your site, Amazon places a cookie in their browser and pays you a commission on everything that person buys from Amazon in the next 24 hours… That means your site visitor doesn’t even have to buy the products you’re promotingon your site. (But, of course, you should only promote the best products on yoursite, so visitors do buy those products.)On my health site I promoted Amazon health products exclusively, but I received commissions for products in every imaginable category…                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Including a $1,200 industrial trailer!BWAHAHAHAHA!!!!!(He says while creating a tent with his fingers like Monty Burns…)

Background on the Two Sites I Sold in 2018

Site #1: Health Niche Site

This site is in a health niche related to sleep disorders.

I started the site after noticing health symptoms that my wife was having and discovering (through keyword research) that a lot of people were searching for treatment options for the same condition. 

Even better, there were a broad range of topics (both informational and commercial) that people were searching for – which meant I could create a site with lots of educational content.

And that’s what I did. But what I didn’t do was create any commercial content (i.e. content that targets “buyer” keywords).

That is, until one day in early 2017, when, just for fun, I checked my Amazon Associates account. Here’s what I saw:

Woohoo! I had made $29.07 in Amazon commissions in the month of February!

Truth be told, my Amazon earnings had been so small until then that I chose to receive payment in Amazon gift certificates, which I used to buy books.

But then I got thinking…

What if I added Amazon affiliate links to some of my site’s pages that are currently monetized with Adsense?

Here’s what happened when I did that:

By simply adding Amazon affiliate links to existing web pages, I was able to instantly increase the site’s income. In fact, for the month of April 2017 I earned $169.55.

That triggered another thought: what if I added new content to the site that specifically targeted Amazon products?

That’s when I dove into the world of “buyer” keywords (also known as “commercial” keywords) – in other words, keywords that imply the searcher wants to buy somethingnow.

So I went searching for as many niche-specific keywords I could find that included the modifiers “best” and “review” (which I had read are the best modifiers for commercial keywords).

Then I had twenty or so articles written that specifically targeted those keywords, loaded up the articles to my site, and moved on to other things.

Here’s what happened:

Without making any other changes to the site, those new articles steadily started to rank in Google, gaining more traffic every month, and steadily increasing in Amazon Associates earnings from $26.97 in March to $1,836.04.

The site was also making money from an info product that I had created years earlier. I was kind of burned out with the niche, and had let this site (and its associated info product) languish. The info product was making an average of $1,000/month – which I think could have been a lot more if I had had the enthusiasm to work on it.

(I know that sounds kind of strange – “You were making $1,000/month from the info product and you didn’t have the motivation to ramp it up?!” But I’ve always been more of a researcher/strategist than a manager. Managing things makes me bored pretty quickly…)

Right after New Year 2018, I contacted FE International and asked if there might be a market for my site. I was shocked when they got right back to me and said they had a few potential buyers in mind, then shortly after that said they had an offer for me of $75,000.

Site #2: Government Grants Niche Site

This site was focused on government grants for Canadians and was monetized by ads only – first Adsense, then a free service that optimizes ads and their placement (more on that in a minute). 

This was also an old site that I had left sitting neglected. What spurred my interest in scaling this site was my sale of the health site earlier in the year. I thought: “Can I replicate that success?”

So I followed the same formula as the health site, but because this government grants site was monetized with ads, my keyword research focused more on informational keywords.

(Note: I did research some buyer keywords and have content created around “best” and “review” keywords. That didn’t turn out so well, as I cover in the “Testing matters” lesson learned in the section below.)

This site aggregated government grants for Canadians in a specific sector. It was basically the only site of its kind, and because Canadian government sites suck at SEO my site’s pages often outrankedthe government web pages that are the authoritative source of information!

 (Tip: aggregating data that is both useful and scattered all over the web is a great business model.)

I did two things to scale this site’s traffic and revenue:

  1. Added more articles, targeting low-competition keywords. Most of the articles were round-ups of government grants, so they were looong (as long as 15,000 words)
  2. Switched from Adsense to a different source of ads

Adding more articles slowly but surely increased the site’s traffic.                            

And switching from Adsense to a new provider (Ezoic) instantly increased my EPV (earnings per visitor).

As you can see from the two screenshots below, my ad revenue went from a monthly high of $689.51 with Adsense to a monthly high of $$2,186.11 with Ezoic.

Here’s my ad revenue with Adsense:

Ad Revenue (Jan to June 2018)

And here’s what happened when I switched to Ezoic:

Ad Revenue (July to October 2018)

(Note that my organic traffic also increased, but that increase took place in the Fall. Between June and August there wasn’t much change in traffic, so simply switching from Adsense to Ezoic increased my income by ~250%.)

In October 2018 I contacted FE International again and asked if they could hustle up a buyer for this government grants site. Sure enough, they quickly found a buyer, and I was soon the recipient of another lump sum wire transfer – this time for $50,000.

10 Lessons Learned from Selling My Two Niche Sites

Getting two wire transfers in 2018 for large sums of money was an adrenaline rush – one that I’d like to replicate many times, for years to come.

So at the end of 2018 I sat down and tried to isolate some “lessons learned” from scaling and selling those two sites in a relatively short amount of time.

 Here are the lessons that I’m currently implementing on my existing and new niche sites:

  • Overwhelming need for a solution = higher conversion ratesWhen people have an overwhelming need for a solution to their problem, they’ll buy whatever seems like the best solution – and they’ll buy it now.This was the case with both of my niche sites.With the health site, visitors had a compelling need to purchase products that would reduce the severity of their condition. So when they arrived on my review articles, they were already eager to buy.With the government grants site, visitors had a strong need for free government money. In reading the emails that visitors would occasionally submit through a Contact Us form on the site, I learned that many visitors were old and had low incomes – so they really needed that government support.Fortunately, there were (and are) a lot of advertisers who would pay a high cost-per-click in that niche for someone to click on their ad. So I received a high earnings-per-click on the government grants site.There are lots of niches that have good search volume but don’t have what I consider an overwhelming need. Think about things that are “nice-to-haves”, but not “must-haves”: coffee machines, cameras, air purifiers, etc.Is it possible to make good money from nice-to-have niches? Absolutely. But your conversion rates will be predictably higher with must-have niches.  

Action step: Choose a niche whose audience has an overwhelming need for a solution to their problem.

  • Perennial needs = consistent demandBoth of my niche sites dealt with “perennial” needs (also called “evergreen” needs). In other words, my audience had problems that weren’t a fad or a trend.(As a contrary example, think of diets. What would have happened if you had started an “Atkins diet” site when that became a big fad in the 2000’s? You wouldn’t have much of a business today, because that diet is no longer popular.)However, one big difference between my two sites was that traffic (and revenue) tended to dip in the winter for the government grants site, because of the industry that the government grants were related to. Whereas the traffic (and revenue) for the health site continued to chug along regardless of the time of year, because the need was not seasonal.

Action step: Choose a niche that has a perennial need (and, ideally, a need that isn’t seasonal).

  • “Low hanging fruit” keywords are the best way to get more traffic to an established siteA “low hanging fruit” keyword is one that your site is already ranking for, but not in a top position on the first page of Google. So it meets these criteria:
  • A page on your site is already ranking for the keyword (so you can see the keyword in your Google Analytics account, in the Search Console)
  • The page is ranking anywhere between positions 5 – 10 on the first page of Google (if the page is already ranking between positions 1-4, it’s not low hanging fruit because it’s already ranking high)
  • The keyword gets a decent amount of search volume (what constitutes “decent” is up to you)

So the first thing I did when planning new content for my two niche sites was to open Google Analytics and look in Search Console for keywords that my pages were ranking between positions 5 – 10 and had at least 500 monthly searches. Then I wrote new content for those existing pages that explicitly targeted those keywords. Boom! A near instant increase in traffic (in some cases, within days).

Action step: If you already own a niche site, dig into your Google Analytics data to find pages that are ranking in positions 5 – 10 for keywords with decent search volume.

Then create new content that specifically targets those keywords and add that content to your ranking pages.

  • Low-competition keywords (new ones) are the second-best way to get more traffic to an established siteThe second thing I did when planning new content was to fire up Ahrefs and look for the lowest-competition keywords that were relevant to each site (in Ahrefs, that means looking for keywords with a KD – keyword difficulty – score of “0”, meaning your article will need zero backlinks to rank in the top 10 on Google).

Action step: Do deep keyword research to find the lowest-competition keywords possible.

  • “Buyer” keywords can exponentially increase your site’s incomeAs mentioned in the background to my two sites, when I added Amazon affiliate links to some of the informational pages on my health site, it instantly increased that site’s income. Sometimes it’s just a matter of adding (relevant) affiliate links to pages on your site that are already getting traffic. And, obviously, adding new content that targets buyer keywords can increase income even more. But if you don’t yet have a site, you need to be careful about focusing only on buyer keywords. Google doesn’t look highly on niche sites whose sole purpose appears to be to make money (which I can attest to from experience, after putting $3k worth of buyer articles into a site that had little informational content and seeing no movement in rankings).

Action step: If product recommendations help your site’s users, add recommendations for relevant products (with affiliate links). Increase your income further by researching more buyer keywords and creating content around those keywords.

  • Here’s a chart from my health site that proves this: the chart shows the Amazon Associates earnings for my health site over a 3-month period (note that each tracking ID is a specific page on the site):

Amazon Affiliate Earnings for My Health Niche Site (Sorted by EPC)

I did this analysis to try to figure out which pages sat in a sweet spot: high traffic and high earnings-per-click. As you can see from the chart, even though some pages get a lot of clicks (e.g. tracking ID 11, 13, 14, and 19), they make a low earnings-per-click, which means some pages with lots of clicks actually make less money overall than pages with low number of clicks and high earnings-per-click. A prime example: tracking ID #4, which was a “best” page that reviewed the top models of equipment that cost on average $200. My average commission on that was almost $9.00. Compare that to tracking ID #19, where my average commission was ~$1.00.Was it any harder to rank for the buyer keywords that those two pages targeted? No. They both were new pages that ranked at around the same time. The difference is that one page reviewed high-priced products (~$200), and the other reviewed cheap products (~$20). 

Action step: When doing keyword research for buyer keywords, keep in mind the price of the products you’ll be reviewing. It’s often no harder to rank for keywords that target high-priced products – so you might as well go for those!

  • Excellent content makes outreach easierFor the health niche site, I did no outreach. I simply focused on adding content that targeted low-competition keywords, which increased traffic for existing pages and got new pages ranked fairly quickly. For the government grants site, I did a small amount of something that I’ve never done before – outreach. I spent around a day (6 hours of work) looking for online directories of contacts and setting up an email campaign. Then I queued up emails to ~2,000 professionals who I thought would be interested in my government grants site. The response was extremely positive. Only a small percentage of recipients replied to my messages, of course (that’s typical of “cold” outreach, where you don’t know the person you’re contacting). But of those who did, this was a typical message: “Wow, I didn’t even know these grants existed! Do you mind if I post a link to your site on my Facebook page?”

Action step: Even if you’re not planning to do outreach for your site, make sure your content is the best in your niche. One of the best ways to do this is by using the “Skyscraper” technique.

  • The 80/20 principle applies to niche sitesIf you haven’t read Richard Koch’s classic book The 80/20 Principle, run out now and buy it. It will change how you look at everything (not just online business). The 80/20 principle states that most things in life are not “balanced”, and that a small number of inputs are often responsible for a disproportionately large percentage of outputs. For example, a small number of customers are often responsible for the majority of a business’s profits; in our personal lives, a small number of activities are responsible for the majority of our happiness (or sadness); etc. This also applies to niche sites. Simply put, no matter how many articles you have on your site, a small percentage of those articles will bring in the majority of traffic and/or revenue. As you would expect, this applied to my two niche sites. Here’s the chart summarizing my Amazon affiliate earnings for the health site again, this time sorted by total earnings:

Amazon Affiliate Earnings for My Health Niche Site (Sorted by Earnings)

You can see from the cells highlighted in green that 5 of the 23 “money pages” on the site brought in 74% of the total earnings. In other words, while those five articles represented approximately one-quarter of the money pages on my site, but they brought in nearly three-quarters of the revenue! And here’s a chart summarizing the main pages of my government grants site:

Ezoic Ads Earnings for My Government Grants Niche Site

Again, you can see that a small percentage of my pages (5 pages) made a disproportionately large percentage of the earnings (68.76%).

Action step: Don’t settle for publishing a handful of articles to your site, because it’s hard to predict which ones will provide the bulk of traffic and earnings. Publish lots of content – which will increase your chances of having content that “takes off” and gets lots of traffic and revenue. 

  • Testing mattersI don’t do a lot of testing, mostly because I find it boring (I know, that’s a pretty bad reason…)But once your site gets a decent amount of traffic, “conversion rate optimization” can make a big difference to revenue. I discovered that a simple change – on my government grants website – did make a big difference in revenue for that site. On my grants website I tried to make money with a bunch of different monetization methods (info products, affiliate products, CPA offers) but couldn’t find anything that worked better than Adsense (even though Adsense wasn’t making much). In the end I theorized that none of the non-ad methods worked because my audience was (a) low-income, and (b) looking for free money (i.e. government grants) – so they weren’t “spenders” (but they would click on a – free – ad). Then I read on Jon Dykstra’s blog (highly recommended, btw) about an ad-serving service called Ezoic. Switching to Ezoic would cost me nothing, and I read that niche site owners were making much more with them after switching from Adsense. Which proved to be the case with my grants website, too:

Ad Revenue Increase After Switching to Ezoic

Bottom line: I could have tested a lot of other things on my niche sites before selling them, and probably could have increased earnings – and the sale value of the sites. I’ll be doing a lot more testing on my other sites in future…

Action step: Once you have some traffic coming in to your niche site, test different monetization methods, providers, and offers, to see if you can increase revenue without having to increase traffic. 

  • Age matters (sometimes).Both sites that I sold were old and had attracted links naturally as they aged. Although neither site had much “authority”, they both had some authority, and my assumption is that this helped new content rank when I linked from old pages to newly-published pages. That assumption is supported by a study done by Ahrefs. The study took 2 million random keywords and looked at the age of the top-10 ranking pages.

Here are the main findings of the Ahrefs study:

  • The average page ranking in the top 10 on Google is at least 2 years old
  • The average page ranking in position #1 is 3 years old
  • BUT 22% of pages ranking in the top 10 were created within 1 year

And here’s a nice graph summarizing the distribution of page age in the Google top 10 rankings across 2 million keywords:

Source

And here’s Ahrefs’ Sam Oh with a summary of the study and a few tips for ranking faster:

The lesson for you? Start a site and get publishing content asap. Even if the content you publish doesn’t get traffic right away, if you do your research correctly that content will eventually rank and get traffic. 

Now, if you’re a glass-half-full type of person (and why not be?), keep in mind this point:

22% of pages ranking in the top 10 were created within the past year

So while the majority of web pages took a long time to rank on the first page of the SERPs, there were still a heck of a lot of pages (in absolute numbers) that took less than 12 months.

In fact, in his video Sam Oh states that “ranking for keyword terms with a low search volume generally tends to be faster”.

Why is that? Because keywords with low search volume also tend to be low-competition keywords.

Action step: Keep in mind that there are ways to get traffic to a new niche site faster. As I found in my study on fast-ranking niche sites, you can speed up your site’s progress by:

  • Targeting low-competition (typically low-volume) keywords
  • Creating content that targets both buyer and informational keywords (so your site establishes “EAT” – expertise, authoritativeness, and trust – in Google’s eyes)
  • Publishing lots of content in your site’s first year

Summing Up

To state the obvious: it’s a great feeling to get a wire transfer for a big chunk of money.

I’m in the process of implementing the lessons learned from scaling and selling those two sites in my existing and new niche sites (while also keeping in mind my principles for online business).

I hope you’ve picked up a few things you can implement with your own sites. And if you have a comment on your own experience scaling and/or selling niche sites, please leave it below!

About the Author Moe Muise

I've been making money online since 2009 and have a passion for research. My focus is niche research: finding profitable niches, keyword research, and competition analysis, as well as creating outstanding content.

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