Niche Site Duel – Update #7: A New Approach & A Wild Ride With Google
It’s been more than two months since my last niche side duel update, so many of you are probably wondering if I’m even still working on this site. The truth is, I hadn’t for awhile, but I have recently started making some changes. There were a lot of things that had kind of demotivated me, but one of the main ones was a domain change that put me off of Google’s radar for awhile.
The good thing is, I got back on Google’s radar, and in a big way. This got my motivation back up and I made some changes to the site that I think will make a difference in my earnings. This short story doesn’t have a very happy ending though, at least for the time being, so you’ll have to keep reading to see what happened.
Google’s Wild Ride
No, this isn’t a ride at Disneyland – and I’m glad it’s not, because it’s not a lot of fun. Imagine a roller coaster taking you to the top of Mt. Everest and dropping you into the depths of the Grand Canyon. Hyperbole be damned, this is what it feels like. I’m guessing a ride like that wouldn’t be safe for kids at Disneyland anyway.
Ever since I changed my domain name and put a redirect from the old domain to the new domain, I knew it would take Google some time to transfer the backlink juice and get the new domain ranking for my primary keywords. Meanwhile, I was slowly building links for my new target keyword (“P90X reviews”), but otherwise wasn’t adding new content or making any other changes.
One day, when I was checking my Adsense account, I noticed I was getting a ton of ad impressions from the P90X site. Sure enough, I was out of the sandbox and was ranking in the #4 spot on Google for my primary target keyword. As you may recall, this keyword gets 90,000 exact searches per month, so I was seeing a pretty large influx of traffic.
Once I saw the spike in traffic, I revisited the site to see if there were any changes I could make to help increase conversions – these will be explained below, along with how this spike in traffic affected my earnings.
During this spike in traffic, I went back to my backlink building strategy, following Pat’s “strategy that works” and tracking it with my Ultimate Backlink Tracker. I had the taste of high traffic in my mouth (it’s a bit spicy) and I wanted to make my way to #1 in Google, which I now believe to be extremely possible, despite how incredibly competitive my target keyword is.
BAM – I wake up one morning to see very few Adsense impressions, and immediately I know what happened. I’m back in the sandbox. See the image below for an illustration of my wild ride:
Yes, you’re seeing that correctly. When I was ranked in the #4 position on Google, I saw nearly 600 unique hits in one day. It was fantastic, for the short time that it lasted.
The Changes I Made & The Traffic’s Impact on Earnings
As soon as I began seeing an uptick in traffic, I knew it’d be a good idea to revist my site’s layout and content, to see if I had everything set for “optimal” conversions. There were some changes that I thought could benefit the site, so I made them. Here’s a summary of what I did:
1) Added a logo – Before, I just had a text header, which I think looks relatively unprofessional/unappealing. I threw together a quick logo in Photoshop and added it. I’m a believer in simple things like logo, color, and layout helping reduce your bounce rate (i.e. I think they help people stay on the site longer, which means an increased chance of conversion).
2) Changed the layout – I actually decided to use the same WooTheme that I use on this blog, but tweaked a little bit differently. I feel it gave me a little bit more flexibility in layout options and allowed me to make the site look a little bit more authoritative, compared to my previous layout. There are still some changes I need to make, because some of my images aren’t displaying correctly with the new theme.
3) Added a “sticky” post to the top of the front page – This was the biggest change I made. One thing I’ve noticed in general, is that when people visit your site, they are more likely to click the most recent post before any other. Some people will only click the most recent post, and then leave, if it’s not something they’re interested in.
The problem with a blog-style niche site is that your most recent post isn’t always set up to convert sales. Although I would usually put a few P90X affiliate links in every blog post I wrote, there was never any call-to-action or other means of increasing conversions. Therefore, I decided to add a post that would remain at the top of the page.
Although this post is designed to generate affiliate sales for me, it’s actually helping the reader too. They’re the ones Googling “P90X reviews” to get to my site, so it actually makes sense for me to give them a full review of P90X as the first thing they see when they enter the site. The front page has the dates removed, so without clicking through, no visitor would be able to tell that this “sticky” post is older than the posts below it.
This post gives my honest review of P90X – it’s not a pushy sales letter. People respect that, so when I tell them later in the post that Amazon has some of the best deals on P90X and P90X equipment, they don’t hesitate to click through. Amazon is something that most people are very comfortable with.
Not only do I point them to Amazon, but I provide them with a mini-storefront that they can browse from within the blog post itself. I use a premium plugin called phpZon to do this (and I’m not even going to provide an affiliate link to it, because I don’t have one handy). This plugin gives them 43 pages of relevant products, with prices, images, and links to the products’ reviews on Amazon. All of this has my Amazon affiliate ID embedded within it, of course.
Impact on Earnings
As you would expect, I saw a spike in Amazon earnings to accompany these changes and the spike in traffic. In one day, at the peak of traffic (in the #4 spot on Google), the site earned $24 on Amazon. If I could project this over an entire month, the site would earn probably $600-800. If I could somehow get to the #1 spot (which I think is possible), I believe this site could easily earn around $1,200 per month. Unfortunately, you don’t earn any money in Google’s sandbox, and that’s where I am right now.
In terms of Adsense revenue, this spike in traffic made me realize that Adsense is definitely not the best way to monetize this site. I only earned approximately $2.50 from Adsense during the few days of high traffic. I’ll still leave Adsense in place because it would still probably bring in an additional $20-25 per month once the site is ranking near the top again, but it’s definitely not going to be a significant source of income.
Lessons Learned (Hopefully)
I don’t believe I was creating backlinks too quickly (because I was doing them manually) or illegitimately. I think the sandbox effect happened because I wasn’t varying my anchor text enough. When Google sees this, I think it looks suspicious and/or unnatural. No one knows for sure how or why sites get put in the sandbox, other than that Google has some algorithm or filter in place that catches websites (usually young ones) and sets them aside while it determines their authority and where they should rank.
I’ve heard sites can take up to 90 days to come out of the sandbox – and typically, they come out in a fairly strong position, assuming you do a good job building quality links with a variety of anchor text. I guess I can summarize my lessons learned like this:
- Vary your anchor text
- Keep adding quality content and backlinks at a reasonable pace (which should always be the case if you’re doing it manually)
- Be patient
That’s really all there is to it, and I think #3 is the one that people really need to keep in mind. Having a high ranked, high traffic niche site doesn’t happen overnight. Just because someone else was able to rank on page 1 within a month doesn’t mean it’s going to work that way for you. Each niche is different, and within each niche, each target keyword is different. Disney references aside, patience is where the magic is.
Have you had any experiences like this with your niche site(s)? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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