Find a Good Niche
The start of your venture is to find a good topic. Maybe this is something you already have knowledge in or something that you are interested in.
I don’t advocate that you have to be passionate about the topic of your site. I’m only mildly interested in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but I enjoy the money TCM.org brings. If I am completely disinterested in a topic though, it would be difficult to find the motivation to look at the site on a regular basis.
Just chose something that will not be unbearable to look at every day for the next year, because that’s what you will have to do.
Question advise that tells you not to do something. If I had a Dollar for every time people told me not to start an AdSense business in the travel niche… I would still have less money than I made with the sites. 🙂
Think about what you do not want to do. For example, we don’t have any adult sites or gambling sites. Ask yourself how you will feel telling your daughter or son in ten years about your sites.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
When you intend to sell a web site, it is always an advantage when potential buyers see stuff they are already familiar with.
For example, buyers prefer standard content management systems like WordPress over home grown solutions. The reasons are obvious:
- There is no learning required.
- Support is widely available.
- Development is ongoing and not dependant on you or your developers.
What really counts is usefulness for users, not innovation for innovation’s sake. In most cases, today there is technology out there to do what you want. I would estimate that 90% of all web sites that are sold are based on standard software with few modifications – if any.
Should you use Drupal or WordPress or Joomla or…? It doesn’t really matter. Chose whatever you are already comfortable in or what suits you most. The important thing is that you use a ready made platform and don’t start building things from scratch.
If for some parts you really need custom development, outsource it via freelance or other marketplaces, I would advise not to spend more than $2,000 on an initial product that you can launch with.
Chose a Good Domain
I have a history in domaining, the art of buying and selling premium domains. I know the value of premium domains for branding.
The thing is: You can build a successful website just as well on a freshly registered domain. In fact, in some cases a new domain may outperform a premium domain that you bought for big money. The premium domain might carry some history unrelated to your new topic. Even worse, it could have a penalty because of spammy SEO. If that is the case, your efforts will be an uphill battle that may not be worth fighting.
Here is an example of that from real life. We hand registered MisterEmpresa.com for a Latin American business directory and it has now around 20,000 unique visitors per day – compare that to VisitBrazil.net, a domain we bought on the aftermarket for a couple of thousand Dollars, launched at the same time, now stuck at only 50 uniques.
On the other hand there are three good reasons for investing in a premium domain name:
- A premium domain is a backup. It brings a value by itself, adding to your website worth. Even if your development fails, you should be able to recoup part of your investment by selling the domain (if you bought at a smart price).
- If there was already some content on the domain, and that content is topically related to the site you are planning to build, it can give you a significant boost and shorten the time to traffic.
- Premium domains are brands. It is much easier to sell an advertising deal to a hotel in Kyiv when you are Kyiv.com than when you are visitkyiv.co.ua.
In summary: Get the best domain you can get for your budget, but pay special attention in your due diligence on past use and past SEO.
Traffic, Traffic, Traffic
Whether your business model is advertising, affiliate sales, subscriptions or product sales – to make money with a website you need traffic. The more traffic you have, the easier it is to generate revenue. You certainly can make money with small, specific traffic, but then you will need to know a market well and be able to convert the traffic well. It’s much easier to make money if you have vast amounts of traffic.
And it’s much easier to make money if you have free traffic because then your user acquisition cost is zero. It’s hard not to make money on zero cost. Free traffic is coming from search engines. So you need to learn about search engine optimization.
How much traffic do you need before you start making money online?
It seems a magic number is 10,000 unique visits per day. Once you are there, you are starting to be attractive to direct advertisers and you will make some decent revenue from AdSense or other advertising networks.
How do you attract such amounts of traffic?
Create useful, interesting content. As boring this advice is, as true it is. But there is an aspect that is often neglected. Say that you are writing an article and it gets spread virally – a single article attracting 10,000 visitors over 10 days would be a huge success. It’s much more likely that an article attracts a couple of hundred visitors. That means you are better off having 1,000 articles with a regular audience than trying to come up with that hit viral wonder.
If I say article, it does not have to be editorial content. The important part is scaling up your content. Get creative: product descriptions or reviews, images, directions, symbol explanations, historical content, patents, whatever you can bring in large quantities that are useful to visitors and has not been on the Internet before.
SEO Explained; or the Million Dollar Question Answered
SEO? Really? Isn’t that sleazy? Do you really want to be Google’s bitch? Isn’t it too late to come to that game?
There are many myths around SEO, and people both passionately love and passionately hate it. Matter of fact is that today search engine traffic is the easiest and cheapest form of traffic.
SEO is in fact very easy. It means three things:
- Making your site easily accessible to crawlers (and you have to try hard to fuck that up if you are using a standard system like Drupal or WordPress).
- Coming up with interesting and valuable content.
- Spreading the word so that people will find, consume, and spread your content and return to your site.
Here is the answer to the one million Dollar question on what to do for SEO.
Understand that all search engines rank pages by relevance and importance. Importance is largely determined by popularity, and popularity is determined by the number of “mentions.” How many people link to you? How many people talk about you on social media? Are the sources that mention you authoritative?
So it’s clear that most important aspect is gaining popularity, spreading the word, and building links:
- Find influencers in your topic and get them to link to your content.
- Write guest posts, columns, editorials on other sites and include links to your site.
- Make it easy for people to share your content on social media.
- Engage with people on Twitter and Facebook and point them to your site (when appropriate).
- Answer questions on Quora, Yahoo Answers, etc, with references to your site (when appropriate).
- Run competitions that include something where people link to you.
- Come up with infographics, great photos, or videos that people naturally tend to link to.
- Make sure your videos on YouTube link back to your site.
- Ask for a link at every occasion. For example, we did a body painting for the Euro 2012 soccer championship. Of course we asked for links from the painter, the photograph, each model, and the studio. 🙂
Remember, there are no short cuts. Gaining exposure takes both good content and time. Don’t fall into the trap to try to speed things up by buying directory submissions, link wheels, spam blog networks, or any other tactics that are meant to deceive Google. If you want to get significant organic search traffic, you don’t want to run the risk of Google taking you out of the index.
Passive Income is Key
My favorite aspect of making money online is that you can build up sustainable passive income. The dream of sitting at the beach and still making money is real.
One of the best ways to monetize traffic is AdSense. Buyers love AdSense. Once it’s set up and optimized, it requires no further work. Compare that to finding direct advertisers or optimizing your website for sales conversions.
With 10,000 unique visitors per month, you can expect to make $5,000 per month in advertising. That’s a $200,000 sale right there.
Every bit of manual work that you have to do on the site detracts from its value. If you have orders to ship, customer inquiries to answer, or spam to fight, try to outsource as soon as possible to make the business a hands-off operation.
Keep the House Clean
If you start he site with the intention to sell it, it is much easier to keep a clean house from the beginning.
- Add Google Analytics, with AdSense tracking enabled.
- Have the site on a dedicated server or VPS with no other sites, so that you can pass the whole set up to a buyer, if he is interested.
- Add a URL channel in AdSense if you run AdSense on more than one site to make verification of income easier
- Keep track of expenses and income in an Excel sheet..
- Document your supplier/vendor/outsourcing relationships
Take Your Time
Growing a site takes time and care. There are no short cuts on the way to sustainable sites, and if anyone is telling you something different, they are lying because they are trying to sell you something which will get you penalized by Google sooner or later.
Buyers value sites with operating history of at least 12 months. If in the past 12 months your traffic was stable or growing, you will have a good negotiating position.
Enjoy the Process
You will be stuck with your baby for a long time. You will have to work on it instead of going out, spending time with your family, or watching movies. Hopefully your site will be about a topic you are at least somewhat interested in.
You will also be hit by setbacks. What if over night you lose half of your traffic because of a Google algorithm change? Will you be motivated to keep at it? Hopefully you enjoy what you are doing or the temptation to quit will be high.
Thanks to my friend Herve Aubin for reading a draft of this article and providing great feedback.