3 Easy Steps to Building a Life Changing Authority Site (And Other Ramblings)

I’ll immediately point out that the title of this blog post is pure satire.  Contrary to what a lot of people would like you to believe, and what you know to be true deep down inside, creating a true authority site is not easy.  It requires a lot of hard work and patience.  It’s great to “follow your passion”, but the truth is, doing so is not some magical one way path to a proverbial pot of gold.

We all know this to be true, but it’s something I’ve recently experienced up close and personal.  You probably read a lot of blogs about people who have quit their jobs (or been fired) and have subsequently made an amazing living by starting a business online.

Unfortunately, that isn’t my story (and if you’re like most people, it’s not your story either).  This isn’t intended to be a “how to” post – it’s more a collection of thoughts I’ve been meaning to write about, so take from them whatever you want.

The “Get Rich Quick” Mindset

Even though we all inherently understand that “get rich quick” schemes are not real, we often try to find ways around that reality.  We may not outright fall for these schemes, but we’re still attracted to this way of thinking.  We understand that there is hard work involved, but where we fail is when we equate hard work with (relatively) quick success.

That’s one reason I think mini niche sites have become so popular.  Yes, you still need to invest your time and put in a solid effort, but the “set it and forget it” model is so attractive.  And there’s a simple formula to follow, that goes something like this:

1) Do your keyword research and evaluate potential competition.

2) Buy a domain and build a website.

3) Add content to the website.

4) Perform (and even somewhat automate) SEO tasks, primarily link building.

Those who could perform those four steps well and efficiently could somewhat easily create an income-producing asset that requires little maintenance.

It feeds perfectly into the “get rich quick” mindset.  It’s not that you’re actually getting rich quickly, but you’re taking what you perceive to be a small step in that direction.  Even though one niche site might only earn $30/month, we all understand scale.  We can all do the math and figure out that if we could make 200 of these sites, we would earn $6,000/month – an income that could easily replace a “real job.”

Niche Sites Aren’t Dead, But…

Clearly, niche sites aren’t dead.  There are several public examples (Spencer from NichePursuits and the guys from AdSense Flippers come to mind), and probably many more private examples that prove this business model is still viable.

The problem with this logic (and pointing at these examples) is that you’re highlighting those who stand out.  You might even call them exceptions to the rule (and they are exceptional – I have high respect for the two sites I linked to above).

This is somewhat of an extreme analogy, but it’s almost like pointing at the leading manufacturer of paper and saying, “Look – that business is wildly successful, so it must be a good business model to try and emulate.”  The fact of the matter is, our world is becoming more and more paperless, and the only reason these paper companies are successful is because they have learned to adapt and stay on top of the industry while many other similar companies have probably crumbled.

This isn’t exactly the same as creating niche sites, because the challenge isn’t staying ahead of your competition.  The challenge is overcoming whatever changes Google throws your way. Niche site “X” generally doesn’t compete with niche site “Y”.

And while you might like to say “don’t rely on Google”, those who are massively successful with mini niche sites rely on Google for both traffic and earnings (via AdSense).   Maybe they diversify with other businesses (which is great), but their mini niche site business on its own is very Google-centric.

Here’s what I’m getting at: The landscape is changing, and it isn’t as easy to create a profitable niche site today as it was a year or two ago.  Although people still do it, and will continue to do it, I strongly believe it will become more and more difficult.

The very best will adapt and continue to succeed, while others may find mediocre results at best.  As I mentioned above, this situation isn’t unique to this type of business model.

The Solution is Simple but the Path Isn’t

If you really want to build a more sustainable (content-driven) online business, it’s becoming more and more apparent that “authority” sites are the way to go.

The biggest challenge with this type of site is that you can’t fall into the trap of assuming that more content = more authority.  Many would like to believe that adding 10 pages per month to their mini niche site will definitely turn it into an “authority site” (and I’m guilty of thinking this in the past), but that still doesn’t seem to be a bullet-proof strategy.  It’ll probably help a lot, and if the writing is good, it could work well for you in the long term.

Unfortunately, I worry that most people treat the process no differently than creating a thin niche site:  Outsource lots of articles to subpar writers and slap them onto the site without much thought.  Then, get some more long tail keyword traffic and hope people click on your ads and move on.

After all, wouldn’t that be easy?  You could take the process you use for mini niche sites and simply do it on a larger scale, without having to buy many domains and build many links to different domains.

So What Then is a Real Authority Site?

I envision a real authority site as one where, when I land on it, I feel confident that I’m reading good information or otherwise receiving value.  I see authors who I can read about, or Facebook and Twitter pages with real activity and conversations.  Blog posts with real comments.   A site that I would return to in the future.

Ironically, it would probably also be a site where I wouldn’t be as tempted to click on the ads, because I’ve found a wealth of interesting or helpful information.

Must a successful authority site have all of this?  No, probably not.  Ideally, it would, but it’s probably not a requirement for success.

Is it easy to scale this?  To have multiple sites like these?  I don’t think it’s easy (most truly valuable things aren’t easily attainable), but I’m sure it’s doable.  You can hire real writers and social media managers, or invest the extra time to do a lot of it yourself.  It’ll cost more, but I’m willing to bet that you make more in the long run.

The Pressure to Succeed and Why It Can Hurt You

The fast success of mini niche sites (in the past) and other similar ventures have created a certain pressure to succeed (quickly). This is something I’ve experienced first hand.  While I’m still tinkering with my mini niche sites, I’ve stopped creating new ones, and have no plans to do so in the near future.

What I’m left with, and what I’m focused on now, is the desire to create true authority sites. There are two I’m working on – one I’ve had for awhile and am slowly building up the content (with the help of some free guest posts), and one that is more based on a hobby of mine.

But the pressure to succeed is still there.  I look at past income reports from less than 6 months ago where I was nearing $1,000/month in passive income and I compare it to now, where I might barely crack $100 for the month of June (we’ll see).

It’s discouraging to feel like you’ve taken several steps backward.  And when you’re still putting in the work (on a different type of site) but not seeing the quick results you’re used to, you sometimes feel like giving up on it. 

Real authority sites require more work and more time before they begin earning reasonable money.  Some people will find success more quickly than others, but most of us need to learn to be patient and stick with it.   In my opinion, most people will give up before they’ve given themselves a true shot at it, especially those who previously made money with mini niche sites.  Don’t be that person (and I’ll try not to be as well).

What Do You Think?

I know I’ve rambled on about a few different topics here, but I’m curious to hear about what you think, and get a good discussion going in the comments.  If you found this post interesting or want to get more people involved in the discussion, please do share it on Facebook or Twitter (or wherever else you like to share things). Thanks! :)

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38 Responses to “3 Easy Steps to Building a Life Changing Authority Site (And Other Ramblings)”

  1. Eric, great points bro. A lot of of this stuff resonates with me and mirrors my own experience. As for avoiding the “get rich quick” mindset, I advocate avoiding that with the authority pages too. I fell into this trap with some aggressive link building. I had a pretty good site that started to pick up some authority, so I did a little “grayhat” linkbuilding and rapidly ascended the SERPs for a keyword. After that I began targeting more challenging keywords with aggressive link building tactics. It eventually came crashing down. Thankfully the site is still in the index and making money (although not nearly as much as it once was) and I think in time I can eclipse my former traffic – but you gotta do it slow and right. Making the best content (link worthy), and forging relationships with people in your niche. With enough time and persistence you should be able to reach critical mass.

    As for scaling, well, I think one site may be more profitable than people initially think – if you really pour yourself into it the sky is the limit and more opportunities will open. That said, if you earn enough money you may be able to automate some aspects (hire full time high quality writers), slow down with the posting schedule and “coast” a little, or even grow by acquiring other authority sites. So I do think these types of sites can scale, but if your site gets big enough you may just be tempted to stick with what you already have. Just my .02 – thanks for the thought provoking post.

    Dan

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Dan, I agree with your points about aggressive link building – while it’s tempting, it’s really not worth the risk you’re putting on your sites. When it’s not done well, you’re essentially ruining good content by forcing Google to “penalize” it so that no one will find it.

    I also agree that one authority site may be “enough” in terms of profitability/income potential, when done correctly. It’s all about finding the right kind of niche and being able to execute well (and stay dedicated to it).

    [Reply]

  2. Awesome post, Eric! My niche sites tanked after the Penguin update and while I was originally pretty disappointed about it as all my online income was gone overnight, but since I’ve discovered that building authority sites is a lot more fun than niche sites because you have more control – not Google. Plus, you actually get to write stuff that makes a difference in people’s lives, not just to get them to click on an ad. It’s harder to create a good authority site, but a lot more rewarding in my opinion.

    Thomas
    Thomas @ Mobile App Tycoon recently posted… How to Come Up With KILLER App Ideas Series – Part 4 – Be Inspired from Real Life Activities

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Thomas! Yes, building an authority site is a lot more fulfilling despite the extra hard work it requires. You’re building something more substantial, which really opens the doors in terms of different ways you can monetize it, and the impact you can have on others.

    [Reply]

  3. This seems to be the popular topic of the month after Penguin.

    I see authority sites as those that wikipedia and the rest of the niche links to.

    If you are going to spend the time to build a real authority site the first step most people fail at is to not write at least one super-epic piece of content on the subject. Not a shitty ebook but a 5000+ word article that totally nails the subject. Should take at least a couple weeks to write and should be revised often if the niche changes.

    If you don’t start with that you’re just another blog dumping out content. In fact I don’t think a blog can be an authority site. A blog is an attachment to an authority site that keeps the readers up-to-date with the latest news and stuff but the real epic content needs to be pages on the site.

    Also, I’d think long and hard about building a real authority site and only using ads on it. If you are building a real authority you should be creating a real business around it. Find some really solid affiliate offers to start with but be thinking of building your own store and maybe your own physical products.

    Once you have real products and a brand Google is a lot less likely to fuck with you, and you can now run direct PPC ads to your money pages without any hassle :)

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Hey Tyler, awesome advice re: writing at least one piece of “super-epic” content. It’s that type of content that will attract the “natural” links everyone talks about.

    I also think you’re right about building a real business around the site – although ads are a great place to start, once you’ve built some momentum, you’ll have a lot more potential with an actual product or service that you can call your own.

    [Reply]

  4. Eric,

    Another great post. I too have stopped creating niche sites. I actually sold off about 50 sites that I didn’t really like writing for and have spent more time on just 8 of my sites. I have been writing 1 article for each site every other day and it seems to be working pretty well. I also have been slowly building backlinks to inner pages ONLY and that has made a huge difference on my site. I have not allowed guest posting on my niche site just yet, however, I plan on doing that sometime soon.

    I believe you are right as to what a real authority site is, it doesn’t mean more content but an overall feeling that you get when you are there.

    Adam
    Adam recently posted… Why Most Entrepreneurship Articles Are A Waste Of Time

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Adam, that’s great to see that you were able to actually sell off most of your niche sites. That’s something I wish I would have done while the sites were still receiving decent traffic/earnings.

    Also, your point about deep links to inner pages is a good one that I think a lot of people overlook. Thanks for sharing.

    [Reply]

  5. agreed with the simple solution and difficult path…and a catalyst is definitely one’s passion and knowledge about the authority site’s topic.

    while niche sites aren’t completely dead (i still have several that are doing well), authority sites are definitely becoming the preferred choice.

    that said, one has to be knowledgeable enough about the topic to create that overall feeling that you talk about when on the site.

    the challenge? not everyone’s specialty is profitable. not all passions are equal. for those that do not already have an inherent advantage, the “new way” can present interesting challenges
    Sunil l Expediting Wealth Through Extra Income recently posted… Arbitrage – How to Use Your Mortgage as a Wealth Creation Tool

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    I completely agree, Sunil, that’s one of the great challenges with authority sites.

    I think a good response to this goes back to one of Pat’s recent posts (on SPI) where he said something to the effect of: You don’t NEED to be passionate about it; you merely need to be interested in it.

    If you’re at least interested in a topic, you can take the authority site as an opportunity to become educated on the topic while you share that knowledge on the site.

    [Reply]

    Sunil l Expediting Wealth Through Extra Income Reply:

    Agreed, and although a much longer route, it beats the alternative of not doing anything at all
    Sunil l Expediting Wealth Through Extra Income recently posted… $5,963.41 – My Biggest Google Adsense Earning Check + State of Niche Websites

    [Reply]

  6. Great post, love the title, had me groaning when I read it but still clicked through!

    I think authority sites are an unproven quantity at least in the way people are approaching them post-Penguin. In 3-6 months there are either going to be a lot of rich affiliates out there with 100+ page sites or a lot of broke marketeers with RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome from all the writing that didn’t pay off!

    As Tyler says if you are going to put all that effort into building a site that can be a real authority you are missing a trick if you don’t have your own product to monetise the site with instead of just promoting other peoples stuff.

    Its like opening a shop that gets lots of people coming in only for them to see adverts to other shops instead of your own products.
    Joe recently posted… Nice and Free Pinterest Plugin

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Joe, I figured the title would give people an initial reaction of “what the hell is this guy thinking…” I just wanted to add a little humor and irony.

    You’re absolutely correct that, in a way, authority sites are a big risk – you risk that your hard work doesn’t pay off. When a mini niche site fails, it’s no big deal, but when a large authority site fails, you’ve lost lots of hours and potentially a lot of money.

    With that said, if you are willing to take the risk, your potential reward is much greater.

    And I agree about having your own product – it may not be the first step you take with an authority site, but it should be the ultimate goal.

    [Reply]

  7. Hi Eric,

    Authority sites are definitely the way to go, im building one myself right now. At the moment i am just focusing on adding lots of unique content, but i have plans to add something of more value later on that will distinquish me in my niche, such as a few tools that visitors can intereact with.

    I don’t think i could maintain multiple sites like this though, im just going to focus on the one, and try to make it a REAL authority site!

    Daniel
    Daniel @ MyfinancialFreedomChallenge.com recently posted… Authority Site Update – June 2012

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Sounds like you’ve got a good plan for your site, Daniel. And focusing on one site is probably the best way to go. Thanks for the comment!

    [Reply]

  8. Hi Eric niche sites aren’t dead by any means. Where I’m finding success in ranking and staying ranked is NOT a ‘set it and forget it’ but adding consistently unique fresh content to my niche sites. And if yours good enough to find a niche that isn’t competitive all you need to fresh unique consistent content with out much back links.

    [Reply]

    Sebastian Reply:

    Great point Marc and excellent post Eric. I’ve read all over the web that niche sites are dead. Stuart Little also said the sky is falling. It’s important not to feed into the crowd mentality of micro sites not working. It may be true that micro niche sites aren’t working, it may not. The culprit could most likely be the tactic. There’s no sense in throwing away a profit generating idea just because the process is now flawed. I do agree with the consensus that backlinking in scale is probably something that needs to be rethought for microsites. For authority sites KW research is important but VALUE is king. Dont make the mistake of CONTENT=VALUE. You can have 100 great articles on a subject but if they don’t create value then it’s all in vain

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Marc and Sebastian,

    I definitely agree that niche sites aren’t dead. I actually believe that there will ALWAYS be a way to make good money from them, regardless of the changes that Google makes. I’ve just decided to make a personal shift in where my efforts will be in the near future. And who knows, I may turn back to niche sites eventually, if I get bored. :)

    [Reply]

    Marc Reply:

    I’m a rookie at this but it seems to me that the sites that were hit were Adsense sites. My focus is on niche sites but selling products with no adsense in mind.

    [Reply]

  9. Hey Eric.

    Valid points. We are emotional beings, and not always logical. That’s one reason why we always want to get rich quick, even though we know it’s usually not real, unless you win the lottery or something.

    I think authority sites are def. the way to go, I am trying to build my blog now, but in hindsight it’s what I should have done all along instead of trying to go after the low hanging fruit that is drying up nowadays.

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment Ryan. It is funny to think about all the time you put into niche sites and wonder what things would be like if you took ALL that time and put it toward working on one site.

    [Reply]

  10. I think everyone has that get rich quick mentality when first getting a job! or you wouldn’t be getting it! You mentality is i need to make this money to survive! i mean you need to pay of your bills and other expenses! So having this work as a side job would be the best thing to do! unless you can manage all of the internet and put all the work in! It has been great reading your post Eric! can’t wait to read the next one you post!
    Jake @ real estate Idaho recently posted… Nail the Final Walkthrough

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Jake. I do think the “get rich quick” mentality is inherent in everyone, to a certain extent. What differs is how we choose to deal with it. The more successful people are good at delaying gratification – doing the hard work now, even if the benefits aren’t immediate.

    [Reply]

  11. Authority sites works well instead of niche sites. Niche sites may rank but Google penguin do not tolerate these sites. Google will penalize these sites. So, it is good to make authority site to get bucks.
    Angel recently posted… Sermorelin to Increase Growth Hormone Production Naturally For Health and Vitality

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    I actually think Google Penguin looks more at the backlinks of those sites, which tend to be low quality. In my opinion, if you can formulate a solid backlinking strategy that avoids the pitfalls that Penguin targets, you can still build successful niche sites.

    [Reply]

  12. Hey, Eric…thanks for the mention!

    I agree with you that it’s a bit silly to look at those who are doing well in an industry, dismiss those who are not, and considering that the “average”. I think niche sites are one industry…but take a look at the wannabe actors/actresses in LA waiting tables…they’re in the same boat!

    I can point to a few others that are having success still with niche sites, but a helluva lot more that are not. I still think it’s one of the best ways to get started in IM, though. You learn the fundamentals (KW research, WP setup, content creation, linkbuilding, etc.) in a low-risk setting. Many then graduate to the next level. Ed Dale’s 30 day challenge is great for this, I hear…
    Justin recently posted… In Defense Of Google Traffic

    [Reply]

    Sebastian Reply:

    As always Justin, right on the head. Niche Sites are a great way to get started making money online because of the low entry barriers. People need to see the knowledge and EXPERIENCE they are gaining building microsites. It’s going to be alot harder for a newbie to build a semi-succesful authority site than building 20 micro sites because HE HAS NO CLUE on how to build the building blocks of an authority site. Micro sites are a monetizable way to learn the ropes of web traffic
    Sebastian recently posted… The Hybrid MicroSite 30 day Challenge: Roadmap

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for stopping by to comment, Justin! Big fan of AdSense Flippers.

    You’re absolutely right that niche sites are a GREAT way to begin – it’s how I got started, and how many others learned all the essential steps to building a profitable website. Not to mention, it’s good for your confidence to build a site that finds success relatively quickly (even if it’s only $1), to motivate you to continue. In my mind, all of this is really only possible with niche sites.

    That being said, I’ve decided to take my business in a different direction, while recognizing that niche sites are STILL viable (albeit more difficult to succeed with than they used to be).

    [Reply]

  13. Yes I agree that authority sites are the way to go, but they are going to take time to build up. I think one of the least painful routes is ‘curation’ where you just take a snippet of other peoples content and link back to it. This way you can provide value to your readers by putting your own spin on things. They are a few well known authority sites out there that are curated like drudge report and huffington post.
    Andy@get money recently posted… The New Trend In IM – The ‘Explainer’ Video

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Good point, Andy – I’ve read a bit on curation and it definitely seems to be a more efficient way to post regular, fresh content.

    [Reply]

  14. Thanks for sharing these 3 steps. I wish I could make my own website. The only thing I can do is SEO. Thanks again, I find it very useful.
    Timothy recently posted… Square Skylights

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Timothy!

    [Reply]

  15. I think that your take on the future becoming more and more difficult to earn passive income is true. We just can’t rely on getting more content to increase the site traffic. I agree that when a blog gives reliable information and value, then it can stay competitive and increase its business.
    Amy Turner recently posted… Credit Card for Young Professional

    [Reply]

  16. Eric,
    I enjoy reading the whole article. This is a heads up for me as I am on my way to growing up my knowledge about SEO.

    [Reply]

  17. Niche site will not do much compared to authority sites, these site will be having an upper hand on SEO.

    [Reply]

  18. While it may be true that authority sites will have an upper hand in SEO (maybe), its important to remember that SEO is not the main metric to focus on….the main metric is profits.

    5 niche sites may do WAAAY better in terms of profits than 1 authority site that has much more traffic and SEO.

    As long as you’re optimizing the SEO and content of your site, wether it be niche or authority, your main goal is profits and profit growth

    [Reply]

  19. Eric, what do you think are the best ways to monetize authority sites? I agree that adsense might not be the best way.

    Do you think affiliate marketing is the way to go?

    I read somewhere that one of the best ways to increase your adsense earnings was to create crappy website content that would basically encourage visitors to leave as quickly as possible.
    Dale P recently posted… Trading Stock Options Online Aug 14 2013

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    For many niches, I do think affiliate marketing is a great option, especially if you can find a product/service that really resonates with your audience. I think the ideal way to monetize an authority site is to come up with your own product offering, however this definitely involves more time and risk.

    [Reply]

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