How I Made My First Internet Dollar – A Passive Income Niche Site Case Study

By Nick
116 Comments

A few weeks ago I received my first ever payment from Google Adsense in my bank account. While it was only $170, it represents a small but significant step to making money in a way that is completely independent of my time.

Making money passively has been something that I’ve been wanting to do for several years, but have never really made a start. For the last nine months or so, I’ve been quietly working on a website that initially started as a small experiment in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), but has grown into my first source of passive income.

My name is Nick McIntosh and this article is the case study that I wish I had read nine months ago. Let me help you benefit from my hindsight in how to set up a passive income niche website.

The Background

A few years ago, I read a book called the 4 Hour Work Week, which outlines a plan for untold internet riches. You build a website, sell a product that people want, get other people to do the work, make money and then go sit on a beach. The book has more to it than this, and I strongly recommend you read it, but that’s the headline.

I work in digital marketing.  Which means I know a lot about how to build a website, how to market that website so that people visit it, how to assess the competition (the other websites that have similar information / products / services) and how to determine how much demand there is in the market.

In my job I work with companies and help them to understand how these things can help their business, and bring them more customers or sell more products and ultimately, make more money.

While there have been many times where I’ve done one or more of these things for a client, and done them successfully, I’ve never taken an idea from zero to profitable by myself. I always get called in to fix other people’s problems or help take a business project “to the next level”.

When my friends and peers discover how much knowledge I have in this area, they often looked at me with surprise and ask some variation of…

Nick, you know this stuff better than most other people, why aren’t you applying it yourself and working on your own projects (so you can go sit on a beach)?

There are many reasons for this, but a big one was simply that I was afraid. Afraid that if I tried, and failed, I’d be a fraud. The risk was that if I couldn’t build something by myself, what credibility did I have to encourage others to use these methods in their business? It took me a long time to find a ‘mental loophole’ or a way to trick myself into giving it a go anyway.

The Loophole

Back in February 2011, Google rolled out a significant change to its search algorithm – the Panda update. Google frequently makes changes to the way it arranges the world’s websites but this update had a big impact on the digital marketing community.

At the time, an extremely popular way to improve the search rank of a website was to use a tactic called article marketing. Panda appeared to devalue this kind of marketing.

Many people reacted to these changes by running around screaming “SEO has changed forever” and complaining. I attend a lot of industry networking events in digital marketing and it seemed to be a theme that came up time and time again over a period of a couple of months.

We don’t know what to do! SEO doesn’t work anymore!

Unfortunately no one seemed to have any hard data to say that article marketing would no longer work.  While it certainly looked like the tactic might be less effective than it was, I couldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t still work in the long run. The assertions that ‘the game had changed’ annoyed me, especially as they seemed untested.

I decided to test it.

I really enjoy doing experiments. I’ve tested exercise programs, sleeping patterns, diets and lots of marketing ideas – and by making this just another experiment, which no one expected to work anyway, and which could fail without consequence, I was able to skip around that whole “if I fail I’m a fraud” mental construct. Take that psychology.

The Goal

I set two simple goals:

  1. Make a website, from scratch, and get it rank #1 in Google using article marketing, within three months
  2. Make $1 in revenue

The Result

2 June 2011: Registered the domain “www.nettleteahq.com

9 July 2011: Installed WordPress, and loaded the first content

30 July 2011: Ranked in top 30 on Google for the target keyword ‘nettle tea’

11 August 2011: Ranked in the top 10

17 August 2011: Installed Adsense

22 August 2011: Received 1st Adsense click, earning $0.50! I went on to receive a few more clicks and finished the month of August with $7.27 in revenue.

29 September 2011: Ranked #1 for the keyword ‘nettle tea’

As you can see, I missed getting the #1 ranking within the three month time frame. However, I’m still going to give myself a pass for getting there eventually.

As of March 2012, the site continues to rank #1 on Google, even though I added no new content to the site since 18 July 2011.

To date the site has received 27,484 visits, with a single day peak of 933, has earned $355.08 in Adsense revenue, (single day peak $29.78), $46.12 in affiliate commissions for product sales, for a total of $401.20 in revenue (which works out at 1.5 cents per visitor).

$400 might not sound like much, but I’m very chuffed as while I have invested a lot of time, and around $700 into the site, there is no reason it shouldn’t just keep ticking over and bringing in enough to cover my coffee habit, each and every day.

I haven’t put a price on my time as even if I had only made $1, the learning experience in of itself has been very valuable. Besides, if I wasn’t building the site, I probably would have just wasted the time watching cat videos.

If you want to look at a pure ROI, getting $400 back on a $700 “investment” within nine months is outstanding value, and assuming people keep clicking ads, I should make back my investment within 18 months, and have a saleable asset to show for it.

The Method

The high-level strategy for this kind of project is simple, and no doubt many will be familiar with the business model for a niche topic website, so you may want to skim this. But for those who aren’t here is the premise:

1. Brain storm a bunch of topics, for me a good topic is one that lends itself to:

2. Determine the demand, as in how many people are looking for information on this topic, using things like Google Keyword Tool or Market Samurai.

3. Assess the competition, how many other websites already exist and how established they are in the market.

4. Build a website, and fill it with content that specifically targets the keywords people are searching for.

5. Market the content, so that the site ranks well in Google, and subsequently gets traffic.

6. Monetize the traffic by placing advertisements, selling products for a commission or developing your own products.

(7. Sit on a beach)

There are numerous guides on how to do each of these things, but I specifically followed a case study on How To Build A Niche Site by Pat Flynn, who wrote a highly in-depth series of posts about building his own niche site. If you REALLY want to know how to do all this stuff, I’d suggest you read them and watch his videos.

Unfortunately, Pat didn’t go into a lot of detail around keyword research, which is probably the most important thing to get right as it will determine your success later. For more detail on this area, I went through the first few modules of Ed Dale’s The Challenge training.

The Challenges

Even though I was following a highly detailed case study, there were a number of things I found really difficult – more from the amount of time required than anything else. Pat has a way of making everything look extremely easy and the amount of time that he suggested things would take seemed to be much less than what I could do.

On reflection, there are also a number of things that I just plain screwed up

Keyword Research

I would estimate that I spent 40 hours alone on keyword research in Market Samurai. Every topic idea I had seemed to be unsuitable and a dead end. I kept a tracking spreadsheet and I ended up thoroughly researching 46 different topics before I stumbled across something suitable.

After a few hours keyword research stops being fun, and there were several times during this where I was tempted to give up or settle for a topic that didn’t quite meet the criteria for a good keyword.

Domain Names

I screwed this part up – it should have been nettleteahealth.com or something, but instead I blindly copied Pat’s naming structure. The lesson from this, is of course that the domain doesn’t really matter if you do the marketing correctly, and there’s no need to blindly copy other people. Entrepreneurs-Journey succeeds despite the difficulty I’m sure many people have even spelling ‘entrepreneur’ correctly.

Content

I hired a writer to create the initial articles for the site, based on my keyword research. While it was cheap ($10 for 500 words) and written by a native English speaker, on reflection it wasn’t of sufficient quality. I had it written in 1st person, in a way that told a story and tried to force engagement with the reader.

It would have been better if I had got the writer to do more research and focus on producing THE BEST content on the internet, at a comparable standard to Wikipedia. At the time I made the mistake of having the content written for Google rather than the reader.

Personality

One tactic I have seen used to great effect is where the writer’s personality comes across in a website.  When you can “hear” the voice of the author and see a photo of them, you naturally become more engaged. So without really thinking about it I added a personality to the site.

What started as a pen name, quickly grew into a fake character with personality, photo and back story and ultimately I went too far and became uncomfortable with how I was presenting the information. This is one of the reasons I’ve been reluctant to share this story until now – the site didn’t feel honest.

I’ve since removed the “personality” and have begun working with another writer to help redevelop the content away from the 1st person conversational style so that everything is presented in an objective manner, even if that means people are less engaged.

Marketing The Content

Article marketing, the reason for this whole experiment is in essence very simple. You take 400 words of good quality writing, perhaps something like “how to grow white roses indoors”, and post this article on your website. You then re-write the article, changing it so that it has different words and a different structure, but ultimately delivers the same message.

Then you put this second article on an external website with a link back to your website. By linking back to your website, you are essentially “vouching” for your own content and telling Google that your site is of high quality, and relevant to the topic of “how to grow white roses indoors”. Google then ranks your website slightly higher for the topic “how to grow white roses indoors”.

Easy right?

For this strategy to be effective, i.e. get a #1 ranking, you need to do it a lot. I ended up doing it about 2000 times. Yes I’m serious. The more competitive the topic that you have chosen, the more links you will need.

Luckily there are some pieces of software that can help you automate this: article spinners and article posting services. An article spinner enables you to create many unique “copies” of an article, while an article posting service takes these unique copies and distributes them all over the internet for you, building your links.

Article spinning is a god awful horrible nightmarishly boring job that takes a long time. And if you want to do it well you have no option but to either grind it out, or pay someone. As a guide, it took me on average three hours of concentrated effort to thoroughly spin a 500 word article. I ended up outsourcing it and it turned out to be about twice as expensive to spin an article as it was to have the article written in the first place. Again, Pat made this look easy.

I broadly followed Pat’s guide on how to distribute these articles and your success will be largely determined by the quality of the sites you are able to post to.

Money Making Potential

Finally in terms of money making, nettle tea is not a good niche as it doesn’t have strong commercial intent. How much does a tea bag cost? But people still come, and some of them click on the ads or use the affiliate links, so the site makes money!

The Cost

It costs money to do all the above. Something that many people and businesses outright baulk at. I was talking to a friend this week who has just spent 12 months and $30k traveling the world, and when I suggested that she invest about $500 and educate herself in how to build a website like this she was immediately reluctant.

Even though she works on websites daily, even though she has a thorough understanding of all things internet, even though she knows that it’s important to invest in your education, even though she’s a smart woman.

It was really hard to convince her that it would be $500 well spent.

There’s something that gets triggered in people’s brains when it comes to opening the wallet for this kind of project. For many I think it’s the intangible nature of education and the time separation between action and results.

It’s true that you can do many things yourself and save some money if you want, but for me the trade off was that if I went that route, NOTHING would have actually got done. By spending money I was more committed to seeing the project through, and by allocating cash up front I felt like I had an “operating budget” that was at my disposal.

So what did it actually cost me? Here’s a quick break down:

Market Samurai $150

Domain name $10 / year

Hosting $60 / year

Graphics & stock images $40

Article writing $115

TheBestSpinner $84

Article spinning $200

= $660~

One expense I was able to avoid was paying for an article submission service, as a friend had a free trial for a service and used me as a “test project” before applying it to his own business. If I do this again I would budget $200-$250 for this.

My Time

I have got no doubt that I have spent a couple of hundred hours on this project. But it’s now a couple of hundred hours of additional experience and understanding of what really goes into getting a site to rank and rank well. And it’s knowledge that I use in my consulting work for which I do charge an hourly rate.

But again, if you know upfront what this kind of project is going to cost you in terms of time and money, I wonder how many people would even attempt it.

For me, learning is fun. For many people, it isn’t.

The Take Aways

I can totally understand why business owners and marketers feel confused by this world. I went into this knowing a lot, but I was still surprised at how long it took me to do things that others had said were simple. For example, article spinning takes hours of focused grind. Not fun. It’s work that pays dividends in the long run, but the process is tedious and a hard slog.

Facebook and Twitter are much more fun and much more sexy.

Expecting an internet novice to do this, and not get completely frustrated and give up, is a big ask. I know a lot of business owners who are in this camp.

But unlike Facebook and Twitter, you don’t need to feed SEO daily, in fact I haven’t posted any new content since July. I have a number of new articles that I will drip feed over the coming months to continue to build traffic, but I have literally done nothing for the last three months and people have still been visiting and still clicking ads.

It’s also very easy to get bogged down in the process and spend weeks chasing your tail trying to get things “just right”. I know I spent far too long on the design and appearance of the site, before it even had traffic.

For a business, the time is the real cost and the results won’t be apparent for many months. If you run a direct marketing TV commercial or print ad, you know very quickly whether or not it’s been successful. Same with email.

The problem with SEO is that there is a huge amount of upfront work for no immediate results – so it’s very easy to lose focus. I can fully appreciate why business owners get frustrated with SEO services – it’s a long term play but it’s often sold as a short term fix.

Realistically, I wouldn’t promise ANY results for the first three months, and require a minimum commitment of six months before even measuring whether or not your efforts have been successful. For many people, that lead time is unacceptable.

But the rewards are clearly there. Earlier this week my little website did $29 in one day. I couldn’t believe it. While that doesn’t sound like much, to give you perspective my rent is only $25 per day. And while it doesn’t generate that much every day, I can see the possibility that it might.

Finally, if you do choose to try this, it’s extremely important to take what everyone else says with a grain of salt, and don’t expect that you’ll be able to do what they have done. This case study included.

Pat’s niche website on security guard training is currently earning over $2,000 per month and while I’d love to say that my site might do this, I don’t see it happening any time soon. It’s also clear that some tasks will be quick and easy for you, and others slow and laborious.

Take your time and set learning goals rather than performance goals.

Where To Next?

I might do this once or twice more, but building a portfolio of niche websites isn’t for me. It’s too boring. Yes, you can make money, but unfortunately if I’m not being challenged it doesn’t matter how much money is on the table, I’m just not going to stay interested.

It’s clear that you could do this over and over again and slowly crank up your passive income. If you did this consistently for three or four years, I think it would be quite feasible to have a portfolio of 30 sites, and if you could average only $5 per day per site, you’d be clearing more than $50k each year with a very minimal ongoing time commitment.

A question for you: Have you tried to build a niche site? How did it go?

Nick

About Nick

Nick McIntosh is an online business project manager and lifestyle design enthusiast. Whether it be building businesses, learning languages or playing with internet marketing he is always seeking to push his boundaries and understand how the world works. You can read more at NickMcIntosh.com.au or find him on twitter @nick_mcintosh

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116 Comments

  • Thanks for the lengthy and honest write-up Nick.

    For those who don’t know, I’m friends with Nick in real life too and while he was in Brisbane last year I heard him talking about this niche site a lot, so he certainly wasn’t lying about how many hours went into it!

  • [...] How I Made My First Internet Dollar – A Passive Income Niche Site Case Study [...]

  • Thanks for the honest write up, Nick. I tried starting my first niche site a few months ago and have been frustrated with the slow progress. I agree that many tutorials gloss over the hard work required for building SEO, spinning articles, etc.

    Recently, I’ve found some success outsourcing SEO tasks via Fiverr. I might continue to use them for building links, but I don’t think I could do this over and over since it can be very boring and tedious.

    • Hey Lindsay, keep at it and you’ll get there eventually. If you can do just 10 mins a day and build 1 more link, everything adds up. I’ve used Fiverr a couple of times myself, mostly for graphics and have found it to be very hit and miss, but I hadn’t considered getting SEO services from them. Might give it a try.

      • Thanks, Nick! I’m already seeing some SEO benefits after investing a little time and about $25 in Fiverr services. It isn’t as easy as I thought it would be, but as Seth Godin says, “Extraordinary benefits accrue to the tiny minority of people who are able to push just a tiny bit longer than most.”

  • Thanks for all of the insights Nick. How do you think implementing a video SEO strategy would help you drive traffic? What’s the competition like on YT? It still sounds like it’s a niche with potential.

    • Hi Amani
      I haven’t yet tried to drive any traffic from YT – mostly because article marketing has been working well. While YT does have some content that relates to the niche, there doesn’t appear to be a lot.

      The other problem with YT is that I don’t want to be on camera. This isn’t a niche that I’m personally passionate about so I would need to find someone else to record the videos, or alternatively build a slide deck with a voice over.

  • Great post, Nick. I just started building niche sites a while ago myself and I definitely know the challenges of creating and ranking sites. keyword research is truly the most difficult and important step in the whole process. But overall, I love the chance to create something and watch it get ranked. Good job.

  • Steve

    Interesting read Nick, always interested in hearing how you are getting on.

    You’ve plugged The 4 Hour Work Week enough that I have finally purchased the kindle edition of the book to have a read ;).

    • Haha, yeah yeah, I know I sound like a Ferriss fanboy!

      But, it’s one of only a handful of books that I’ve read that has seriously challenged me to think about how I’m living my life – and because of that I have no hesitation recommending it… constantly.

  • Nick…great write up! It’s gotten my little brain cogs whirling…

    I had no idea things like the spinners existed either!

  • Kim

    I agree with Yaro, this is a great write up Nick, and I thank you for sharing it! I like your website (am a nettle tea fan) and appreciate the honesty with which you have presented these facts!
    I too, am familiar with the “backlinking strategy” Pat writes about. It was such a relief to know that all of “these things we do” didn’t seem diificult only to me. Very tedious, very time consuming and in some cases, with a huge learning curve, as well.
    Congratulations on your earnings! :-)
    Question: I didn’t notice anything about other backlinking done for your site. Is this because you didn’t or didn’t mention it yet? (contextual, profile, wiki, edu, gov, social bookmarking, etc…)
    To answer your question, I built mine last summer/autumn and although I’m thrilled to be on the first page of google for my main keywords, I still have work to do.
    I’m hoping to “qualify” for Yaro’s new advertising platform, :-), so any suggestions are quite welcome! Thanks.

    • Hey Kim, there is no need to qualify for http://www.CrankyAds.com – you can use it anytime, it is free.

    • Hi Kim, I followed Pat’s backlinking strategy, except rather than using Build My Rank or Blog Blueprint, I used another, similar service.

      I also created numerous web2.0 sites, posted in article directories and did social bookmarking.

  • I appreciate this thoughtful analysis of the time and money it can take to start a niche site. I also agree that sometimes the value of a project is not necessarily in the money you make from it, but from what you learn from it. Thanks for sharing those intangible “earnings” with us!

  • Great post Nick! I’ll admit to also being afraid to fail at building a niche site.
    While I *know* what needs to be done, putting in the time and having it not work would make me feel like an idiot.
    But you’re right: it’s $500 well spent for anyone working in digital! 2000 articles scares me though ;-)

    • Yup, fear is really annoying emotion. I find that it’s actually a good indicator of what I need to move towards, rather than move away from. But of course that’s easier said than done.

  • great article! what I’ve done is build a niche website in the mortgage field.. I’ve set it up to be very localized…therefore ranking for local keywords such as “city” + main keyword. and what I’ve found is that one can rank for the main local keywords quite easily by doing a few articles (5-10 of them should do the trick). I set up my main page to be a lead capture page and then sell the leads to someone or a business looking for leads. I don’t get a ton of traffic…but then again I don’t need a lot of traffic all I need are a few closed deals a month for a decent level of passive income.

    • Ron, I think you’ve hit on something that many people miss – it’s ALWAYS a case of quality over quantity.

  • I don’t think you need to create 2000 additional articles if your niche isn’t very competitive. In fact, for my latest niche site I’ve only wrote 2 or 3 articles on other sites and seem to be doing OK.

  • As you say Nick, most people gloss over the amount of work required. Your honest account of the challenges you encountered is especially helpful.
    Your experience shows that this kind of niche site takes a lot of work to make profitable, and any decent profits must be a long term goal. And if that’s true for someone who makes a living building and marketing websites, then the barriers for a new starter are even greater!
    So for a beginner the barriers (skills & work needed) are great, and for someone more committed the profits are modest and slow. So where does that leave the adsense niche site model??? Am I right to dismiss it or am I missing the upside? I’d love to hear Yaro or Nick or anyone else’s view on this.

    • I don’t think you are right to dimiss it. Even with Nick’s example, it shows that it works. The challenge is keeping your motivation up, which as in Nick’s case, he realized it was not the business model for him (nor is it the business model for me – I prefer having one authority site). People who do niche marketing love the process. Putting in all those hours is enjoyable because they love the idea that they are going to create a new passive income stream. That may or may not be enough motivation for you, so perhaps building a team that does a lot of the work for you is what motivates you.

      It all comes down to what type of business you want to build online. Thankfully we have plenty of options. I personally have only done the niche site thing when buying already established sites. I’ve also had a services business, two authority sites, and now a software based ad network. I like variety, hence I keep changing what model I follow. Nick clearly has the same “problem”.

    • Dave, great question! There are many different models, each with their pros & cons.

      The most important thing you can do is pick 1 and see it through. If you enjoy the process and are motivated to continue then great! If not, choose another model and continue to iterate until you find your what’s right for you.

      If I was passionate about niche sites, then I would simply scale up the strategy. 1 single site is unlikely to meet your income goals, but if you were to build a portfolio of sites I think it would be very achievable to earn a full time income.

      • Thanks Yaro, good points. I can see now that this model might suit someone with a day job who can spend half an hour on it each day after work, or on weekends. Methodically ticking off each task over a 6 month+ period fits with the medium-long term nature of this model.

        Agreed Nick, what I like about your story is you picked one and followed it to the letter, and only then assessed how effective it was, how to refine the method, and whether it’s the model for you. More often we make judgements before executing, which leads to shortcuts followed by a hasty conclusion that “it doesn’t work” (then moving onto the next shortcut). Thanks again for your post and comments.

    • I think that is highlights the necessity of volume. Niche Adsense sites are all about three things – narrow targeting, an efficient (read: cheap) process for scaling, and volume.

  • Hi Nick,

    Thanks for sharing this information. I would like to sit on a beach as well while earning LOL. It’s great that you were able to get things started and I wish you more success. I had the same fear before finally jumping into the freelancing industry. I had my doubts and mostly feared being scammed but so far so good. So I’m glad I did try it, you never know unless you try right? :)

    - Cristina

  • Nick,

    Lovely analysis.

    I guess since you are a reader of SPI, you should have gotten more ofre-hand knowledge about KW research. I cant believe you spent such amount of time on this.

    Sheyi

  • Ricky

    Hi Nick,

    I like the website, it is well designed, and beautiful logo. did you design your website by yourself??

    • Hi Ricky, the theme is called SimpleFolio and it’s what Pat recommended in his initial case study. I outsourced all the design work, I think the logo cost about $30 on oDesk.

      • Ricky, can you be kind enough to provide a download link to that theme. Since i saw it on Pat’s site, i’ve been trying to download it but the developer brought it down.

        Sheyi

  • JM

    Bookmarked this page and will follow your instructions very soon. Cheers for that!

  • Nick,
    I have read and re-read Pat’s niche articles, and have wondered about the ease with which he puts the site together. Thank you for giving me a different perspective.

  • Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. Pat Flynn has also been a huge inspiration to me as well.

    As far as your reader question, I’m currently working on a niche site right now. I’m tracking my progress on my blog. It’s definitely hard work – but I picked a niche that I’m very passionate about, so I enjoy doing it.

  • I too read the 4 hour work week and have had a lot of fun making a site about something I am really passionate about. You are right about the process of learning being the enjoyable part. I am just about to launch. Not being technical it has taken me much longer than everyone says but such a lot of fun and I still have loads to learn. I was anticipating it taking me a year to get it all going so it is interesting to see your estimates of how long it has taken you. Thanks for sharing – I found it very interesting to hear your experience. Good luck and hope to hear more of what you’re up to. best wishes, Rosemary

  • Wow Nick, this was an EPIC post. Awesome write up, I tried a few niche sites before but I failed to build for the right keywords. Bascially I just went for keywords that didn’t perfectly fit all the criteria. So now I rather spend time on topics that I am passionate about but its great to see your details write up on how it works. Thank you!

  • I’ve been working on a few niche sites and it’s been a roller-coaster.

    I’m glad you’ve pointed out how BORING and awful article spinning can be. I think the issue with the fact that it could take 3 months to see results is that you never know for certain that your niche will be profitable until you start getting traffic.

    Research gives you an idea but it is possible to get to the number one spot only to find adsense clicks earn 10c when the research told you it would be closer to $1.

    Saying that, I do love the thrill of watching a niche site take shape and start earning money. I’m sure you will agree that the days where you get more adsense clicks feel pretty amazing!

    Really great write up. I look forward to seeing how things progress from here :-)

    Ramy

    • Hey Ramy, I wouldn’t worry about the Adsense CPC so much – there are many ways to monetize, just need to test a few options and find what works best for you niche.

      I’ve also been using some affiliate links and they have been performing very poorly, so the next step will be to find something better.

      You’re right about the thrill! That $29 day was an amazing feeling – it was 6x my previous highest and I had to triple-check I hadn’t miss read the report.

      Good luck with your sites.

  • It seems you used an article network.. care to share what that network was? As I’m currently seeking a working article network and it seems the one you’ve used works.. thanks.

  • Orpheus

    I’m interested in the link network you’re using. You seem to have a hell lot of backlinks from that.

    • Hi Mark & Orpheus, I’m sorry but I can’t tell you the name of the article submission service. Part of the deal with my friend was that I wouldn’t disclose it.

      BUT given the number of blog networks that have been de-indexed in the last week, I’m not sure I could recommend using a network. Instead, perhaps check out a service called “The Content Facilitator” which caught my eye the other day, or for some more ideas, Pat has another great article here:

      http://www.smartpassiveincome.com/step-towards-ethical-link-building/

  • Hey Nick, thanks for the honest, in-depth case study. I’m a big fan of Pat and that is actually how I found this article, he posted it on his Facebook page about an hour ago. He certainly has a great deal of passion and makes things look so easy, but like you said for a newbie like myself, it took a lot more effort and time.

    Like you, I really enjoy the whole process of learning though, so it is definitely time well spent. I started on a few niche site ideas back in January after finding Pat’s site and the one I linked to is a niche site/blog where I’ve been concentrating my efforts recently.

    I’m going the affiliate route on that site and was overjoyed when I received my first affiliate sale of Market Samurai and a plugin a few weeks ago. I have not actually banked any revenue, but it was great to finally see my efforts result in a sale. I had done the original posts, detailing step-by-step instructions for using Market Samurai, about 9 months ago on my personal blog. It felt really good to see an email detailing a sale when I had done absolutely nothing that week to promote anything. It was not at all passive when I put forth a ton of work and effort on creating the original posts and site, but at the time of the sale it was.

    Since that time I just try to continue to come up with content I think would be useful to others like us, trying to supplement/replace our income so we can relax on the beach. I then work on creating backlinks on the days that I’m not working on content. I find it less boring/cumbersome that way. If I try to do both on the same day, I get frustrated and find I’m less productive. I have not outsourced anything just yet.

    Keep up the good work and best wishes for future success!

    • Congrats on getting some commission! That feeling you get when someone makes a purchase is great!

      If you’ve found a system that works for you, creating content 1 day, and linking it the next, just keep at it. I think it’s easy to try to do too much at once and burn yourself out.

  • Thanks for the read. I too have recently started my niche adsense website building. I have only earned $0.30 so far, and not even sure my site is getting indexed…Im trying to figure that out each and every day. I was hoping April would bring in some results. I hear a lot of people start websites and see traffic within a 2 week period..it has been 3 weeks for a particular site that I have been focusing on and still nothing. I am not sure what is going on. I did just submit 2 articles to directories and did a couple bookmarks myself and even ordered some backlinking from fiverr who supposedly used UAW but did not have any way to show me the results..making me doubt even after all his positive reviews…hhmmm..he did say it would take at least 10 days and today would be the 10th day..so we will see.

    Keep up your hard work.seems to be improving for you over time

    • Aleshia, you can quickly check if your site is being indexed by going to Google, and in the search box put “site:www.mywebsite.com” without the quotes. That should return a list of all the pages Google has indexed on your site.

  • Would you host more than one of these sites on the same hosting account? I understand you can’t give out the name of the network but you know where I am if you decide you wish to. My blog link is under my name. Thanks

  • My question to you is, at stated that someone jacked his website idea after posting his web-name. Do you feel like this could be a problem for your Niche topic, as we know it is easier for newbs to copy then research and create there own viable content.

    All and all , What a great article, speaking to the reader like you where right next to them, with indepth content about your Niche.

    • Hi Rory, yes someone can come along and copy, and if they make a site that is better than mine, I really don’t mind. Nettle tea isn’t a particularly valuable niche, so I don’t consider it a big risk to share this information.

  • Tru Dat…It does take a whole lot longer to do the necessary tasks than what you are lead to believe but the info Pat gives is still very valuable. I gave it a whirl w/o using the pay for tools or outsourcing and so far after 2 months have managed to climb up to being listed as the 50th search result for my keyword phrase out of roughly 913 million.

  • absolutely loved the article Nick – superb. congratulations to you.

    what stood out the most for me as I was reading was the mindset people maintain. your friend was ok spending 35k but . . .

    “Even though she works on websites daily, even though she has a thorough understanding of all things internet, even though she knows that it’s important to invest in your education, even though she’s a smart woman.”

    it’s fascinating to me the variety of mindsets that exist and how just a “simple” shift in it means a world’s difference.

    niche sites do work, and they are how I generate most of my profits online. you are right however in that if done repeatedly over time, they can get boring. however, the process is so methodical that systems / instructions can be developed around it and completely outsourced if you wallet can sustain the “investment”. I am experimenting with a couple niche sites that are 100% outsourced and the experiments are going real well so far.

    in the mean time, I am diversifying and exploring at the same time. I have the same “problem” that you are Yaro have – I love diversity, I get bored easy, I have ADD and I love learning and achieving (this is where your persistence is derived from).

    I am sure at some point every task can get old (or us bored from it), but it is the process of diversifying / exploring / learning which is what truly ads the variety and keeps us continuously interested.

    again, loved hearing about the journey and looking forward to more similar content from you mate

  • Nick – awesome, detailed, and most importantly REAL post. Very cool to see someone take the shiny plastic wrapping off Niche Site development and see what the hard work looks like.

    Best article I’ve ever seen written on the topic – looking forward to following your success!

    • Thanks for the comment Dan, I’m happy to share. The great thing about a niche site is that the hard work only needs to be done once. When it’s setup and you can see a couple of dollars trickling in to your account every day, the hard work is forgotten (so long as you didn’t pull all your hair out)

  • You commented above about creating numerous web 2.0 websites. What did you mean by that? Great article by the way!

  • Well done. The first dollar is always the hardest. As long as you are consistently doing the right thing you will succeed.

  • It is very interesting to read your honest and transparent real story. It is very encouraging news for new comers. Just like any other profession, serious blogging required lot of dedication. Quality content, seizing of SEO opportunities and promotions are very important to stay in the heavy competition.

  • Wow, Amazing case study, Nick. I’m going to create a new niche blog to make money online with Google Adsense, your case study is really helpful for all of us. But I have a question, how do you do to get #1 ranking on Google for your keywords?

  • Hi Nick,
    thanks a lot for the good and personal write up.

    I started with my first niche site in 2008 and I spent a lot of effort in it. Today I have a hand full websites – some working well, others don´t.
    My take away from the SEO-Affiliate Challenge is, if you want it – don´t give up – it can take more than a year to see the first results…But for most people thats the point of no return ;-)

    • Hey Hendrik, Yup, it’s very much a case of playing for the long term. This website cost me the equivalent of not watching 40mins of tv each night for a year. I wonder how many would consider that trade worthwhile…

  • I just started the blog “http://encyclopediamedica.blogspot.in/” yesterday and am still waiting for my first click. Do you have any tip that will help in make money. I already have an ad-sense account and have already integrated it with the blog. i have only the basic knowledge about blogging and SEO. Please advise me on how to proceed with the blog.

  • Fascinating blog post. I started my niche site just over a year ago and it’s doing OK. I stopped adding anything to it for about 3 months from Oct-Dec just to see if it was worth carrying on, and I found the traffic kept coming) which made me realise it was worth the effort. It’s still a new site, but I love it, it’s a passion and I now need to monetize more and get more back links and traffic and build more content – normal stuff really!

  • Hello Nick,
    Great case study and a detailed one. You just plotted the plan and also the mindset to required to start online business. You talked about very basics which is required to go ahead. Can you tell me how much time and when (timings as well) you invested on daily basis.
    I am having a site up and running, but afraid of thinking when things will start happening right from traffic to earnings.

    • Do you have traffic? If not, I would suggest you focus on building traffic first, before worrying about earnings. For me I didn’t even install Adsense until I was on the 1 page of google for my primary keyword.

      Goodluck!
      Nick

      • Yes I am concentrating more on traffic and adding more content.
        A rare suggestion what others experts don’t do.
        Will get you back.

        Thanks Nick

  • Hey There Nick!

    This is a well written and detailed post. I really do understand how you feel about niche sites. I’ve made some of the same mistakes you have, particularly buying the wrong domain. When that happened my heart dropped. But like you said it is the marketing that counts. I applaud you for your patients on the journey to make your niche site profitable. I’m sure there are many more rewards coming to you by way of your Nettleteahq site!

    Take Care!

    Marc B.

  • Great article! Finally some one who portrays the REALITY of internet marketing. So, I’m curious, you say that quality of the content is important if you use AdSense. To me it seems that what matters is that people find your site and click on the ads rather than stay on the site. So, I’m curious to which extend the quality of the content matters in this case as opposed to let’s say if you are doing your own products etc.?

    • Hi Ivan
      It depends on your strategy, for me quality content is extremely important, simply because I want to be able to say I am making the internet better by having this website. I firmly believe that the site will be more successful in the long term by aiming to have the BEST content on the net.

      If I was just trying to make a buck, then yes, I could throw up anything, get rankings, and then hope to get a few clicks. But you end up with just another crappy Adsense site that adds no value. I hate finding these sites when I’m looking for information so I’ve decided that I won’t do this myself.

      I may look at doing a product at some point in the future, and if so, I’ll reorganise the site to try and drive people to the product, rather than ad clicks.

  • Wow. Lots to digest here so I will have to read it again a time or two to get all of the data you provided. Your step-by-step outline is great.

  • Ben

    very useful post nick – much appreciated! i think i’ll give article marketing another crack. who else did you shortlist for the article spinning app?

  • Steve

    Nick, as you mention in the comments the site has some affiliate links, at what point in the timeline presented in the article did you add these?

    • After I had traffic (ie was on page 1 of google)

      A few people emailed me asking where they could buy nettle tea so I found an online retailer that had an affiliate program and dropped in some links.

  • CM

    Excellent write up. This is the kind of case study i was looking for when i made my first affiliate site.

    I started a year or so ago, but lost interest as the site wasn’t about something that led to easy article writing, and my initial research was poor. That said it’s still made me over $100, so it was good learning experience.

  • Curious where you found your writer for your articles, I have a site but the article writing is really really slowing me down.

    • odesk and more recently, media piston

  • I so needed to find this today! Thank you. My first site went live January 2012. It is an affiliate marketing/blog. I have spent hours upon hours trying to build the traffic. I am proud to say by the end of March I had a page rank of 1 but…….I have only earned $6 in commissions. It is so hard not to get discouraged even though I am passionate about my niche. My main frustration is that I am not getting quality comments. Way too many robots! I get comments on my fb page but not my site!!!! I am even giving away my book for free trying to get a sale. OMG please help me not give up! I have to prove to my husband that this will eventually work!

    • Hi Susie
      Well done on getting a #1 ranking! That’s a significant achievement.

      Is there a particular reason you are focussing on trying to get comments? How does having more comments work to build traffic or increase sales? It’s great to have some social proof, but is it the best thing to focus on?

      I would focus on building traffic, and then focus on improving conversion.

      Hope that helps, keep going!

      • I know it sounds silly, however for me I need to feel validated by my readers. To me no response means they didn’t enjoy it. :( Guess I need to get over this huh? And thank you so much for the link! That was huge for me!!

  • Great article!

  • Well written and very encouraging, any one can make it if he or she overcome fear of failure.

  • This is just what I wished I’ve read a couple a months ago, but even now it’s a good pointer.

  • Mike T

    I just visited your Nettle Tea site and I don’t see any adsense ads at all. Did you stop using adsense and are just using affiliate links now, or are you just using adsense in the mailing list?

  • Hey, thanks Nick.

    I can totally relate. Oh I remember the patience it took to make my first dollar online. It was a few years back… and was the best feeling in the world (cudos to Ed Dale and the guys over at Stompernet).

    Some people underestimate the amount of patience, learning and hard work that goes into building a passive income generating website.

    Have gone on to make a full-time living as a result of the skills I developed over the years.

    But it’s well worth the effort in the end, even if it’s just being able to look in the mirror and say “I did it”. :)

    • Making a living online seems a long way off for me, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to look back on this day the way you’re looking back on those days.

      Congratulation on your success.

  • Lynn

    Hi Nick,
    Thank you so much for this article. This is exactly the help I was hoping to find. You’re a very good writer and have provided a great guide with needed, necessary information. It can be difficult to find basic information on the internet these days. I have bookmarked this and will be returning to it as my guide as I attempt my first website. Thanks so much for your effort here. Sincerely, Lynn

    • Hey Lynn, glad you found it useful. I know your pain about finding straight forward, useful info, so I’m happy to help.

  • Hey there!

    What a great article :) I am in a similar situation, instead I have around 6 micro-niche sites finally making ~$100 a month total after 8 months. With the direction G is going I am doing authority niche sites instead like you suggest. I will say that everything but the kw research and seeing the money in boring ;)

    Toki

    • Well done on making $100!

      The authority site thing is probably better long term, but there is no reason why a small niche site can’t be of good quality either.

      Whenever I read about niche sites, the impression I get is that people think “trash sites” when in fact with just a few pages you can still have a great site with awesome content.

  • I enjoyed this article and appreciate you sharing genuine numbers. It’s a great example that nothing is an overnight success, and many of the folks online pandering to the “get rich quick” crowd oversimplify the process that supposedly brought them success. Thanks for sharing!

  • These stories of “small” successes are very inspiring and just the thing to keep me going in my own endeavors. I am trying my hand at niche sites, mostly because they are simple and the process of creating them is fairly simple. But not as simple as I had imagined (of course).

    Article marketing is the backbone of my promotion process. I can’t help it, but I can’t put out trash (autospun rubbish) articles, despite how many people seem to use that technique I’ve been using TheBestSpinner to create some very complex spun articles that produce almost perfect articles at the other end.

    The main sticking point I came to is that in my initial enthusiasm I purchased around 20 domains and thought I could get them all done simultaneously. What a huge mistake. I’m having to learn my lessons with a factor of 20. The sites are up and now I’ve just put my focus on one that made quick profits and have been focusing on optimizing it’s earnings and ranking before moving onto the others.

    I have been using SYA for submission, which seems to have a decent success rate in getting articles submitted and “stuck” for some link juice, but the problem with a hand-off approach like that is that the whole article submission happens in a black box, so I’m not exactly sure what kind of success rate I’m getting. With that said, having the whole submission done for me was just one thing off my mind. Which frees it up for other stuff.

    Cheers,
    Peter

    • Hey Peter,

      I can totally relate to your situation.

      When I first got started online, I went out and literally bought every domain I could get my hands on. And I learned the same lesson as you. You now had more sites to manage!

      I’ve since had a lot of coaching and mentoring and these days, I still have over 40 domains (give or take), however I only concentrate on a small handful of sites.

      You’ll find when you focus for an extended period of time on one site, at least until it’s ranking well & generating traffic, the rewards tend to be much better.

      It has almost a snowball effect.

      See online the “barriers to entry” are virtually nonexistent. This is why we fall into the trap of chasing every “shiny new object” that pops up in our inbox or every low competition keyword we spot using Market Samurai.

      My advice is, pick one, test it using free or paid traffic, and if it doesn’t convert then maybe consider going after another one, but not until you’ve tested it sufficiently.

      My coach used the analogy of trying to get a plane off the ground.

      Most internet marketers put effort into getting one off the ground, and then get distracted and then jump over to the next one… leaving them with lots of planes (website) half way up the runway… but not going anywhere.

      Remember: FOCUS = Follow One Course Until Successful :)

      As regards using closed article syndication networks, consider setting up a Google Alert for your article titles, and then you’ll be notified when & where your articles appear online.

      One final point, online marketing can be a lot more time consuming than most folks imagine, and when you still have bills to pay, like most of us have, a great way to supplement your income is by doing some consulting / marketing services for other businesses who will pay you upfront.

      I still do it myself these days, when I’m testing new projects where I might not see a return right away. That way I can keep going forever, as I don’t run out of income between projects.

      Hope this helps.

      All the best, and keep it up. :)

  • Hey Nick,

    I was wondering how you were going with this. Good article!

  • Nick has the site continued to be in the top spot with limited time invested? What other projects have you taken on since then?

  • I agree that the most important part of all of this is TO TAKE ACTION! its a proven formula, just like Maths is, but you need not only know the theory behind making a website, but you need to build one. Congratulations on taking action and showing that Adsense can give you very good profit margins. keep going :)

  • It is a great feeling when you make your first couple of Dollars, for some of us the feeling never goes away. :)

  • Looks like the latest post panda updates got your site and thwacked it into thin air. I [personally didn’t think it was great quality anyways.. Content was too thin, obviously the new algorithm figured this or your links were from bad neighborhoods.

    Has everyone read the new blog post by Matt?

    Quote “even no SEO at all”

    I want to now how they are going to rank a new website when it hasn’t done any seo at all.

    Maybe all manual reviews, but that’s impossible.

    Hmmm

  • Hey, I totally agree. That first dollar is always without a doubt the most satisfactory as it sets a mile stone for your success.
    I have yet to make that first dollar, but I can’t wait till I do.

  • Thanks for sharing your experiment, I am currently building my site, at times it is tedious and slow. One day, I believe it will pay.
    Pats system, to me, it it takes 3 hrs minimum to spin an article, why not write one?
    Dont get me wrong, pat is great, and how it works for him is phenomenol. I have my own idea for an experiement I will execute soon, I will let you know how it goes.

  • Thanks for this article Nick! I’ve just recently ran into Yaro and Entrepreneurs-journey and there’s GREAT value you here but the best part for me are the available case studies. I’ve started to implement Adsense and Infolinks which I did last week. So far a collective $1 earned :) But this has been with no real pushing of traffic to my website. I have primarily been focused on Facebook and spend on PPC there which has lead to a overflow of traffic to my website. I’m now working on content and becoming more consistent and focused.

    Again, GREAT work Nick and EXCELLENT resource Yaro!

  • Hey Nick I have also read Pat’s niche site duel stuff and it seems to be concrete. I think it is more difficult now to build a fast growing niche site or atleast one has to work harder because of all the panda and penguin updates.

  • This is a quite a good story. Thank you for sharing it. Its an inspiration for us all. Its amazing how you managed to obtain so much in less than one year. I am now beginning to understand that when people look for information then perhaps they don’t click on ads. As far as spinning articles, I am not a great fan but the thing you mentioned about linking to your spun article is a great SEO technique.

  • Mel

    Hi Nick. I so appreciate what you wrote about Pat making it look easy. Can you provide some more details about keyword research. I am doing The Challenge and have spent so many hours trying to find terms that meet their criteria. Did your nettle tea research fit their filters for SEOT, PBR and SEOC? Or, did you find that you needed to bend on some of it? Your response will really help me. Thanks.

  • Great story indeed. I have done a site trying to sell a service and I got one customer. I am changing strategy to focus on more than one source of income within a website. If people do not buy a service they will click on the google ads or they may click on an affiliate link. If the traffic is strong enough who knows who clicks on one those links, he may be in dire need of your offerings.
    Just Do It.

  • Hi,
    GREAT info for a person like me. I am starving for info on a real life case study who has made money online. I saw your website. its simple and informative. the pat flynn site is very informative too. I bought another guide which very lengthy. you gave the entire process in one page. I will take steps. thanks again.
    regards
    vinodh

  • Thanks Nick! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who has been frustrated with the niche website business. I’ve been trying for years to get the whole keywords SEO thing right. Then I get bored and work on something else until I realize I really need to put more time back into the niche website. Thanks again for this great article.

  • Thanks Nick for putting together this article. I actually came from a country where internet, blogging and website development and the related stuffs is a new thing. i rarely had anyone to enlighten me more on this topic back here and that can be frustrating but you just did it on this site.

    My site is actually new and am also new to blogging and absence but i think with this, i will make a good start. Thanks Nick.

  • Ali

    Hello Nick,

    Thank you for the great article. I was looking for this kind of basic yet very useful information for a while. Congrats for the success of your experiment. I hope I can achieve something like this as well.

    I searched the keyword nettle tea, but didn’t find your website for the first 11 pages of the google search, then I gave up. I was wondering if what went wrong.

    Would appreciate a reply.

    Thanks again.

  • This is a very encouraging article for those who don’t see results immediately!

    I think Pat Flynn has a great amount of info, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thought how easy he makes it all look. The same with everyone hawking stuff on WarriorForum. None of it’s easy at first!

    Spinning is incredibly boring, even if you have a good spinning tool to help.

    It’s also very boring the first time you have to set up accounts at the various article marketing sites, or when you create your set of web2.0 properties/blogs/etc. if you go that route.

    And yet when you log into adsense and see $0.37 sitting there for the first time, it suddenly gives you a little extra energy to slog on :)

  • I thoroughly enjoyed this article and have to say it is one of the almost complete “how to’s” out there.

    SEO is important but not essential for ranking at the outset. It just depends what you want to rank for I guess. If its a ridiculously competitive keyword than SEO is indispensable. However, for small keywords, just writing quality content without even so much as bothering with keyword density (it should automatically be decently high if you sticking to a particular niche) will do the trick.

    Ok, so you won’t be attracting hundreds of UVs immediately but remember that every site initially has a fighting chance. After that it is about SEO I guess.

  • i just got my first penny with my online business. i have got Google keyword search #1 this week and have now added adverts. can’t wait to see how far it goes!

  • Hello, Nick

    Your article is inspiration for me sometime i’m depress because my site generate less income for me and it’s hard to going #1 in google search. But after i read it. I got it! I’m not walk alone. There are many people that work hard like me. Now I will walk again, to be #1 in google search

    Thank you for inspiration

  • Nick,
    Thanks for the article. It presents a realistic picture of how difficult it is
    to break into this business and be successful. In a way, that is good as
    it means the wall is high enough that not a lot of people get over it. I have
    been attempting to develop an online business for quite some time and
    have yet to achieve any success. In all that time I have only come in
    contact with one other person who is a successful online enterpreneur.
    After you have been at it awhile, and have developed a resolve that you
    are eventually going to have some success because you know the freedom
    and financial success that awaits you, you cannot be denied. Thanks for
    the encouraging us all.

  • when you niche site not working, you lose money instead of earn.. that’s the risk before you can sit at the beach.. you probably need to fail few time before you can sit at the beach at last.. that’s my exp on niche site..

  • Thanks for this. I’m in the process of building a niche website myself and I’m always looking for new information!

  • Hi Nick. I keep coming back time and again to read your post. I have it bookmarked in Chrome. Your brutal honesty (I hope it was) is truly inspiring. I started out about 3 years and honestly did not know what I was doing. A few Panda updates later and I started 2 new blogs (hedging my bets). But it can be a tough game at the outset. Whenever I am feeling disillusioned, I read blog posts like yours to life my spirits and keep going. Thanks for the inspiration and advice.

  • I remember earning my first dollar using Amazon Affiliates way back in 2009. I remeber using devhub and their widget features. I was 15 back then and it just amazed me how easy it is to earn online…that and the fact that it’s possible. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Hello Nick,

    No doubt, this is the awesome case study on Niche Site! Well, everyone should know about it and start generating handsome revenue with your tactics. Really, thanks for it, I am gonna surely try it out :D

  • MC

    Hi Nick, It has been almost 3 years with the website. I’m curious are you still making money on it, and how much time are you spending on it now? Thanks for sharing your case study.

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