Niche sites are out. Niche-authority sites are in.

In the last week I’ve learned more about niche site building, nullified some theories and refined others. The net result is that I’ve decided to switch from a ‘niche site’ building strategy to one of ‘niche-authority site’ building.

This shift not only makes sense because of my personal sensibilities, but I think it makes sense from a long-term business perspective also.

Ranking and keyword research

My newest/latest beliefs always shape my latest strategy and lately I’ve been struggling with the concept of ‘Google ranking’. It’s a statistical truth that if you aren’t in the top 10 results for a given keyword then chances are you are barely going to get any traffic.

Now the question then becomes, how do you rank? I think there is a lot of validity in the standard keyword research techniques – however..

But it’s not enough

I think this is a good starting point, but I believe that that a bit too much can be made of keyword research being your primary or only technique.

The reasons why I think that one needs to broaden out is quite simply that Google is getting better daily. Simple and advanced backlinking strategies, and in-site SEO techniques which have been used to rank can either by nullified or even hurt your ranking when Google algorithms change – see the Penguin and Panda updates for examples of this happening in the past.

Google is in the business of search. The better their search algorithm the better it is for their business. Google knows about a lot of the ranking techniques being used by the Internet marketing community and knows that these techniques are often in direct opposition to their goal of serving up what they believe is the most valuable content.

Because of this, I think that many techniques used to game the search engines will become less and less effective as time goes on.

It comes back to content

One thing has perplexed me with those that make hundreds or even thousands of sites. Where do they get the content? I think it’s theoretically possible to generate good content when you have hundreds of sites but it would take an army of really good virtual assistants.

Since most people don’t have a ton of great virtual assistants who can write and research well it’s my belief that a lot of content sitting out there on thousands of niche sites isn’t that strong from a value perspective.

In fact, my last few months of research has confirmed this fact. It’s not uncommon for an individual to target a niche by keyword research alone, and then develop quick articles by summarizing Amazon reviews or taking other articles they find and using an article spinner.

Don’t shy away from niches with a bit of competition – add a competitor content stage to your process

A site may have a lot of backlinks and ‘Google authority’ but when push comes to shove I those sites may not have a long term future unless people go back in and really make them valuable.

Because of this, I think there may actually be more opportunities out there that people don’t realize. My recommendation to those of you who are using keyword research tools is to accept a bit more competition than your normally would – don’t reject a candidate keyword simply because there are no PageRank 0’s in there. Take the time to check out the top 10 ranking sites for their content. It’s possible you’ll see sites that have pretty crummy articles that aren’t adding a lot of value to their niche.

My theory is if you go in there and write some killer content for that niche, sooner or later you’ll be ranked – either through natural and created backlinking of your own or future improvements to the Google search algorithm.

The latest iteration of my niche-authority site strategy

The latest iteration of my niche-authority strategy in a nutshell:

  1. Find a topic. Find a topic that you are either interested in, knowledgeable of or you feel that you can dig into and learn about if you had to. Additionally, and more importantly, the keyword needs to be related to a fear, problem or passion. Fears, problems and passions imply strong emotions and emotions cause people to act which is good from a business sense. Note: I borrowed these three particular words in the strategy from Glen Allsopp of viperchill.com – they’ve worked for him in the past and they make logical sense to me.
  2. Filter candidates using keyword research. My process is more complicated than the following but at a high level There are lots of interpretations as to what this means and how to do it, but I start with a product like Long Tail Pro (affiliate), do exact keyword match and look for low competition based on a volume filter, CPC filter and various competition filters.
  3. Filter candidates using competitor content research. Now that you have several keyword phrases that look good from a numbers perspective, check out the top ten sites for quality of content. What are they bringing to the game? Are they ranking because they’ve been playing backlinking games? Could you kick their ass on content alone? If so, you may be able to take on a site with a decent PageRank who is gaming the system.
  4. Determine ways to monetize the candidates. What are the ways to monetize? Assuming had chosen a niches rooted in a fear, passion or problem what types of things can help people address that issue? Could advertising entice them? If so AdSense or direct advertising could be an option. Is there a product that could help them? If so, affiliate marketing or creation of your own products could be good options.
  5. Determine content strategy of each candidate. Determine what your rough content strategy will be. Can you easily write about the customer hot button issue?  If you aren’t very familiar with the topic do a bit of reading into it and get a feel for how much work it would require for you to become a knowledge authority in the area. This step is important because it ensures you’re going to be able to create enough good content to dominate the niche. Pat Flynn had a great tip – go to Wordtracker, put in your niche keywords and it will spit out a list of top questions in that niche. The answer to each question becomes an article candidate.
  6. Pick a niche from the list of candidates. Pick a niche based on steps 2-5 above. Remember to get something that is low-ish competition from a keyword perspective, who has some serious gaps in content competition, where the are ways to monetize and who you could build up
  7. Put up a site. Ironically the most technical part of this process is the easiest.
  8. Write good articles. Don’t just write a handful of articles. Write killer articles are directly addressing a customer need. You should have a pretty good idea on the types of articles to write right from the get go if you’ve followed step 5.
  9. Perform some backlinking techniques. In an ideal world I’ve love to say that if one creates an amazing site that Google will instantly know all and reward you. However, I realize that Google is an imperfect beast so as of right now you’ll have to get involved in some above-board backlinking. For an amazing post on backlinking check out Pat Flynn’s The Backlinking Strategy that Works.

Putting more focus on content research and generation means slower progress but is worth it

Because I’m now putting as much stress on content research and filtering before diving into actual niche building, I’m probably only going to be able to put out one site a month – maybe every two months. It should be worth it though because I think sites with higher quality content opens up a lot more possibilities down the road and are much more tolerant of Google algorithm changes.

It uses some of the ideas about finding a topic for web sites, combines them with other business best practices then applies those techniques to the Apple App Store. I’ll be regularly updating the site with not only articles but an interactive web app that helps people find great, marketable app ideas.

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