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:

  1. Vary your anchor text
  2. Keep adding quality content and backlinks at a reasonable pace (which should always be the case if you’re doing it manually)
  3. 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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35 Responses to “Niche Site Duel – Update #7: A New Approach & A Wild Ride With Google”

  1. Great post.
    One thing that I started to realize after my first Niche Sites were up and running a couple of months ago was the following.
    At the end of the day, it’s way better to go for a keyword with a high amount of searches (like you did with your P90 site), even though it takes more work and takes longer.

    If you have a keyword with let’s say 2800 monthly [exact match] searches, you might not make too much money, even if you get 30 visitors a day.
    When you keep in mind your CTR and the salespage conversion rate, it’s not so much at the end of the day.
    David Berger recently posted… How To Make Your First 100 Online In 45 Minutes Through Affiliate Marketing

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    You make a good point about sites with low traffic, but I think it really depends on your niche and how much work you’re willing to put in.

    If you can dominate a low traffic keyword (we’ll say 2,800 exact searches per month) and grab the #1 spot in Google, that may be more profitable than the #10 spot on a high traffic keyword. And it may be easier to get to #1 for the low traffic keyword vs. #10 for the high traffic one.

    For some high traffic keywords, it’s almost impossible to crack page 1 of Google, in which case you’re most likely way better off with a lower traffic one. I guess that’s the kind of research that needs to be done before you build a site. :)

    [Reply]

  2. Hi Eric,

    Great post thanks. I think what you are experiencing is the good old Google Dance. It happened to one of my niche sites. One day it was ranking well, within the first month, and then all of a sudden the homepage totally vanished from the SERPS.

    Returned about 1.5 months later in a higher position. I then swapped out my analytics account since some Romanian site had copied all my content and my analytics id. Site went straight back into Google dance mode.

    Just got to keep building a diverse range of high quality backlinks and the site will hopefully return in a stronger position.
    Geek Face recently posted… My First Affiliate Money Making Experiment

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    I wish Google would realize that I don’t like dancing. :) You’re right though…just need to keep pushing through, building backlinks and being patient.

    Thanks for the comment!

    [Reply]

  3. Eric,

    This is funny for me too because remember my first 3 set of mini-sites? Other than creating article backlinks for one of them, I also created close to a 100 social bookmarking backlinks.

    And the damn site hit Yahoo at #94 & nothing on Google for months. I haven’t done anything with that site and today it’s ranking at #24 in Google with only 40 backlinks found.

    Funny how these things work. Patience is one thing you definitely need! If I were you, I’d create a couple of backlinks every other day until Google lets it out of the kiddie-box.
    Moon Hussain recently posted… Revisiting My Past &amp Making an Impact in 2011

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Yup, I remember reading about you having similar dancing “fun” with your sites. That’s crazy that after not ranking and basically letting the site sit around, you jumped up to #24! Not bad.

    Thanks for the comment, Moon.

    [Reply]

  4. Nice Job. That spike is certainly encouraging. Unfortunately I’m playing with you in the sandbox right now too.
    Mike Moyer recently posted… Minimalism Is A Bunch Of Crap

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Yeah, it’s getting a bit crowded in here, Mike. 😛

    [Reply]

  5. As someone new to niche sites, I’m curious as to what the definition of “the Google sandbox” is and how that term came about?

    I read your tips here and kept thinking about my own blog. I keep wondering how much of an impact (if any) switching my blog from Squarespace to WordPress will have on my bounce rate and such. I’m hoping to put it in place before April. Keep up the tips and I will implement mostly everything you say.
    James M recently posted… 2011- Dont Move- Improve

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Hey James – The Google “sandbox” (also known as the “Google dance” by some) is basically when a new site ranks well early on, and then seemingly disappears from the search results (it’s still there, but buried deep within the results).

    No one really knows the cause – many believe it’s due to building backlinks too quickly (so that it looks unnatural) or not varying your backlink anchor text enough. You can read more here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandbox_effect

    As for making your transition to WordPress, I did something similar about 8 months ago, switching from Blogger to WordPress. I paid a professional $100 to do it so that I made sure it was done right (I didn’t want to lose any of my SEO work that I had done on it). Best decision I ever made, switching to WordPress. I’m not familiar with Squarespace, however.

    [Reply]

  6. Patience is where the magic is! Brilliant!

    It’s very true though. It’s often being said with writing that the most successful writers are the ones still left in the race. And I’m sure that’s true with every other occupation.

    Thanks for sharing Eric :-)
    Stuart recently posted… The Bull

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the comment, Stuart. :)

    [Reply]

  7. Hi,
    I am sure website will come back with in 10days. It happens to new site they jump in serp up and down again and again.
    Rahul recently posted… Hubpages Updates

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks for the support Rahul – I hope you’re right!

    [Reply]

  8. Eric,
    Awesome post! That sure is a roller coaster ride. Its exciting to read your in-depth updates. I agree with your point on patience. My top earning sites are the ones I launched back in 2007. That said, I still launch tons of new sites (80 plus in 2010) because I know time, patience, and persistence are on my side.
    Best,
    Ian

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Ian! You have a TON of niche sites now, and it’s motivating to see that your older ones are earning well (so there’s hope for all of us who have started sites recently). Great to hear from you.

    [Reply]

  9. I’m looking for a program with frequent updates and legitimate results. Any suggestions?What is the best search engine keyword niche marketing tool?
    Edited Name recently posted… Choosing a font for your website

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    My favorite software is Market Samurai. I’ve written about it several times, but my first brief review was here: http://www.my4hrworkweek.com/i-just-tried-market-samurai-wow/

    [Reply]

  10. Great post. I’ve found that personally I’ll make a concerted effort to make sure many of my first links are NOT ideally optimized for SEO for the exact reason of avoiding the sandbox. I’ll make two or three that are the URL, gather a few links that are “no follow,” and then have two or three with something general like “widget blog,” “new site,” or “John Doe’s widget page.” Then I’ll sneak in a couple keyword optimized ones in there. I found this to be really effective most of the time for staying out of the sandbox of Google. Even when getting optimized keyword links, I vary the keywords a lot so there’s never a slew of the exact same keyword showing up at the same time. Good luck with climbing back up – at least you know the page will be a good money maker once you get there.
    Master Dayton recently posted… 2011 Writing Goals- Looking Ahead

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Hey Master Dayton, great suggestion. I never thought about beginning a backlinking campaign with links that are intentionally NOT optimized for search engines. I really like that idea and I’ll probably try it for the next niche site that I build.

    Thanks!

    [Reply]

  11. I’ve gotta hand it to you for getting your ranking up so high. Hope you get out of the sandbox in a hurry.

    It really is hard to keep rule #3 in mind isn’t it. I definitely tend to want it all right now!
    Andrew Walton recently posted… HubPages Capsules – The Comments Capsule

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Yeah, delayed gratification is a bitch. :) The good thing is, I’m really in no hurry to get to the top.

    That’s the beauty of having multiple projects going – it allows to be patient on the ones that seem to be taking forever to progress.

    [Reply]

  12. thanks for update. I am also working with A niche site and working on it. My site started earning. And i am really happy with this. Hope Google will not send my site to Sendbux….
    Best luck. And please update soon on niche site duel

    Shajjad

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Shajjad – best of luck to you too!

    [Reply]

  13. Eric, I’m with you on changing domains and a new journey back with Google. I had changed mine recently and am having the same ‘struggle.’ It takes time and it’s a sort of click-through credibility, I suppose.

    I love the new site and think you’re on the right track, bro.

    And you are right on with the logo and its help to your site. It brands you as professional and a credible resource. Thanks for sharing!
    Bryan Thompson recently posted… Is It Wrong to Want to Be Rich

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Yep, unfortunately changing domains does add a bit of time to your progress, but things will work out eventually.

    Thanks for the positive comments about the P90X blog – I appreciate it! :)

    [Reply]

  14. I LOVED your idea of putting the sticky post at the top of your blog.

    This makes complete and total sense to absolutely WOW a first time visitor, especially when your keywords are so narrow.

    But even for my blog, which is much broader, it makes sense. Especially if I’m in the middle of writing a series and they “Part 3” of a post up top and then have to decide if they even want to go all the back to “Part 1”, knowing there’s 2 more servings to consume after that.

    And yet for the consistent visitors, what shows up on your main page may be of no concern because they only click through to your blog from their reader or their email… not from clicking on adsense, ppc or search results.

    DAMN, I can’t get over how simple, yet awesome this idea is and can’t wait to implement it!!!

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING THIS WITH US!

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Wow, I had no idea that this was so great. 😛 You’re right though – it is pretty simple, and I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it until recently. I could see how it wouldn’t work for some sites, but for others, I think it can definitely help conversions.

    Thanks for the comment!

    [Reply]

  15. Hey Eric,

    I admire your determination. I mean, going in the sandbox twice is definitely not an easy thing to deal with, especially after the time you spent building the site and creating backlinks.

    I’m sure everything will work out in the end though! From what I can see, you got a valuable site going, so don’t give up!

    By the way – I tried the P90X Cardio workout (a friend gave it to me) and I can’t even last 10 minutes! =/

    But, I’ve been working on it a little each day, so I’m starting to improve, heh. I’m probably going to end up buying the whole thing when I have the extra cash.

    Hope your weekend has been going well so far!

    Christina
    Christina Crowe recently posted… What Did You Do Today

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Hey Christina – that’s awesome to see that you gave P90X a try. It’s a tough workout! Highly recommended though, if you decide you want to give the full program a shot.

    As for me…trying to fight my way out of the sandbox is enough of a workout. :)

    Thanks for the comment!

    [Reply]

  16. You probably went into the sandbox because you changed your theme and affected your on page seo. The bot doesn’t like to see too many on-page changes at once. It shoves you back in the box while it cogitates about what your changes really mean.

    This is why people need to get their layouts etc done right at the start, and then leave it alone. Don’t make any more on-page changes, and once you’ve settled, you’ll come back.
    teatree recently posted… New Year Resolutions

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    I never thought about how changing the theme could affect my ranking – thanks for that insight. Hopefully I’ll be out of the sandbox soon!

    [Reply]

  17. I really love the way you organize all of you stuff regarding business. Very impressive and professional graphics too, also your earnings are more then impressive…
    Roshan Kharia recently posted… Be aware that this camera does take some getting used to- at first

    [Reply]

    Eric G. Reply:

    Thanks Roshan – I hope they’ll be even more impressive in the future!

    [Reply]

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