9 Things I Wish I Knew When Building My First Niche Site

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After starting my first niche site in 2009, it took me 4 years to finally get to a full-time income.

4 years is a loooong time and I know I could have gotten to this point sooner if I just knew what I know today. It’s interesting to look back and see how much my niche site and SEO strategy has evolved over the years.

Back then, I had no idea if what I was doing was sustainable. But today, I’m satisfied with the overall process that goes into everything.

Here are 9 things I wish I knew when building my first niche site.

Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes and get there a lot faster than I did.

1. Target high search volume keywords

This probably isn’t what you’re used to hearing. But if you’re going with Adsense as a monetization strategy, you need traffic… and lots of it.

When I first started out online, I was targeting long-tail keywords and building entire sites around a few 500-1000 searches per month keywords.

Something like that isn’t going to get you to $100/day. It’ll be tough to even get to $500/month with that strategy.

Instead, the way to build a profitable niche site is to target high search volume keywords and build a valuable authority site.

You can still target smaller long-tail keywords, but you also need to be targeting some bigger keywords as well……. The ones that have the potential to bring you a flood of traffic when you start ranking for them.

2. Make everything be about long-term growth

Don’t think about the short-term. Fast rankings, and quick money is always nice, but that usually never lasts very long online, especially when SEO and Google are involved.

Make everything you do (content creation, building backlinks) be about the long-term.

My entire niche site building process now revolves around sustainability, and building a real business out of it that will be around for the long-haul.

3. Focus less on design

This might be a personal thing that not many others can relate to, but I’m 90% sure I have a sickness… and it’s limiting my productivity.

I spend so much time on design. From font-size, color scheme, margins and paddings, if something looks even 1px off then I’ll spend hours just fidgeting around with the CSS and end up doing a complete design overhaul.

If you’ve been reading RankXL since the beginning, you’ll know how many design changes there were, especially in the last 2 months.

There was even a period where the entire design and layout would change every single day for about a week.

This is what the first version of RankXL looked like:

rankxl first design

Funny thing is… even looking at this now I’m thinking to myself… “Man, that looks pretty nice. Maybe I should change it back…”

Making the site look professional is nice, but spending that time on producing quality content and doing promotion are what actually grow the business.

4. Build fewer links

Similar to #2… My entire backlink strategy is different now compared to a few years ago. When I first got started online, spammier links were working REALLY well.

It’s tough to recover a site where 90% of the link profile are links from weak, spammy sources.

Instead, focus on creating strong links one-by-one. It took me a long-time to realize the importance of quality over quantity. Spend the time to get links that actually make an impact on your rankings.

Links that are easy to acquire usually will not make any dent in your rankings. They usually won’t harm your rankings either. BUT… it will probably dilute the power of a strong link you acquire in the future.

I’ve ranked for big keywords with fewer than 20 links. It’s all about quality.

5. Don’t slack off on content creation

Quality content is becoming increasingly important.

It’s the reason I still write my own articles for posts targeting big keywords. I put a lot of work into making them the best out of what’s ranking already.

Time spent on site, bounce rate…. they’re all ranking factors that will impact your rankings.

If you’re targeting a big keyword and all you have is a generic 500 word article then nobody is going read, share, or link to you.

If you’re going to do it, do it right the first time.

You only need to create an article once, and it has the potential to make money for you for years (and even decades) in the future.

It also makes your backlinking campaigns so much more effective when you have a great piece of content to work with.

When you think of it like that, spending 3-4 hours on content creation doesn’t seem so bad.

6. Build just ONE niche site at a time

In the beginning, I was throwing up niche sites left and right. It wasn’t a terrible strategy to do that back then.

But the better option would have been to start with a SINGLE site and work on growing that into something really valuable.

This is more important today than it was in the past. It’s much easier and faster to grow a single site to 5 figures/month than it is to grow a bunch of sites that add up to that amount.

Start with a single site and put all your energy into growing it into something huge.

7. Treat it like a business, not a gig

This is probably one of the biggest ones, and one that most people are guilty of not doing too.

Treat your niche site like a business, not a gig.

If your goal is to make $10,000/month with your next niche site, then realize just how big the project and outcome are.

$10,000/month is over $100k/year. Most offline businesses would be dancing in their shoes to make that much their first year.

WIth Adsense and niche sites, you also have the luxury of passive income. You don’t need to open up shop every morning to start making money. The website is always running.

What I mean by treat it like a business is… to grow it like a real business. A business doesn’t just get to $100/day and $10,000/month overnight.

You need to put in the work required. AND… you need to take the right steps and think about the long-term.

Don’t get frustrated that you aren’t making $100/day after your first month and just bomb it to death with link packages.

Don’t look for shortcuts.

8. Stop chasing shiny objects

I seriously have focus issues, and it was holding me back from being successful online.

I’ve tried literally every make money online method there is.

From dating sites, CPA offers, mobile advertising, Facebook, YouTube, affiliate programs…. everything you can think of…. I’ve tried it.

The funny thing is, each time I did so I did it with the anticipation that this would make me a boatload of money overnight.

It took me a long time to realize that I should just stick with the one thing I DID have some success with. Adsense and niche sites.

That doesn’t mean that the other methods don’t work. Other people are having success with them.

But if you’re going to do something, give it your all. Don’t just dabble into multiple things and half-ass everything.

Focus on one thing and do it really well.

9. Learn SEO… real SEO

If you spend time on Warrior Forum, you’ll see a lot of threads like this:

“Where can I learn X?” or… “How can I do this?”

And people will answer…

“Just search around this forum. Everything you need to know is in here.”

Umm…. not really.

What people discuss on Warrior Forum is not real SEO. Building tiered links with web 2.0’s and article directories, discussing the best link packages on Fiverr, and debating whether or not SENuke is a good investment…… is NOT real SEO.

Instead, invest your time and resources into learning real SEO, backlinking strategies and techniques used at the biggest agencies around the world.

A few of my favorite blogs to read are Moz, Distilled, Seer, SELand, SEJournal, and SEO by the SEA.

And if you want a full guide on applying these strategies specifically for niche sites, check out The Niche Site Course.


  • Reply
    July 3, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    Hey Chris,

    This post pretty much summarizes my online marketing resume to date!

    I’ve practiced here today, gone tomorrow SEO for a long time. I’ve chased The Next Big Thing an embarrassing number of times. I’ve spent days futzing around with my sidebar or messing with plugins instead of creating more content and building relationships.

    I’ve decided to basically start over. One site in a huge niche I care about and am knowledgeable about. No algorithm chasing or trying to game the system. Will try to do something every day to grow the site.

    Hopefully, it doesn’t take 4 years, but if it does at least I’ll have something I can be proud of.

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 4, 2015 at 3:05 am

      Hey Jerry. Yeah it’s almost impossible to get started in IM without chasing at least 1-2 “shiny objects” 🙂

      That’s awesome, and the right approach.

  • Reply
    July 3, 2015 at 5:08 pm

    Number 8 was a shocker for me, I’d hate to think how much I spent in the past on junk haha.

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 4, 2015 at 3:03 am

      Hey Matty. Yeah, #8 was a big one for me, and I’m still not 100% cured from shiny object syndrome, haha.

  • Reply
    July 3, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Hey Chris,

    I came to know about Online Marketing in 2013, Since then i made $25.
    Reason is i was always after shiny objects until i stumbled upon your blog.
    I am now investing my time in learning real SEO rather shiny sales pages/WSOs with earnings screen shots.

    I already bought your RankXL course. It is awesome, but i think it is kind of difficult for me to start in SEO. But i wont give up. I am on the journey to build REAL online business.

    Q1: How long does it take to get some visitors to my niche website?
    Q2: Which web hosting plan is best for 500,000 unique visitors? (Shared or Dedicated)?
    Q3: What plugins are used for on page SEO?


    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 4, 2015 at 3:00 am

      Hey Bilal, shouldn’t take over a month to get your first visitors. Dedicated will be required to handle higher traffic volumes, and it’s worth the investment at that stage. Yoast is what I use for on page seo.

  • Reply
    Alex Zemkus
    July 3, 2015 at 6:58 pm

    A lot of great points Chris. I can particularly relate to No. 3, I’d get an idea in my head about something and then like you spend hours trying to change things around. The BSO’s have also had too much of my attention in the past.

    I see No. 7 as being the key. Because there aren’t generally any real costs involved in getting started online most people don’t have any skin in the game.

    Now imagine though that you had just spent a $100k, you had mortgaged your house to get your online business up and running. How would you treat this business then? I’m sure most of us would have a whole different level of commitment to it.

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 4, 2015 at 2:59 am

      Haha, glad to hear I’m not the only one for #3.

      Good point, that is so true. Putting up a site, especially a niche site is minimum cost and it’s easy to give up on something you have no big financial investment in.

  • Reply
    July 3, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Cool post. So it took you 4years to get your biggest site to 15k per month?

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 4, 2015 at 2:56 am

      No, 4 years since I built my first niche site. My biggest site was started in end of 2014.

  • Reply
    Dave Ledoux
    July 5, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Such a good article Chris! Thanks for the link to your outreach strategy. I’m going to implement this summer aggressively. How closely do you track your Domain Authority? Does DA affect your outreach or do you use a different metric?

    Thanks for all you do!

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 6, 2015 at 1:11 am

      Thanks, Dave!

      That’s awesome. Not too much. It mainly affects how much time and effort I’ll put into personalizing the outreach message.

  • Reply
    July 6, 2015 at 3:26 am

    Hi Chris! Love your blog.
    May I know how much do you spend per month per websites? from the start ? this month?


  • Reply
    Ankit Yadav
    July 6, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Hey Chris,

    This post clearly outlines what really matters in long run as far the as the strategy for a sustainable online business is concerned, apart from SEO resources you mentioned I would like to suggest a few as well: Kiss Metrics Blog, Hub Spot Blog, Inbound.org and GrowthHackers.com.

    I follow and read your posts a and when they come out.


    Ankit Yadav

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 6, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      Hey Ankit. Yeah, those are all great resources as well. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2015 at 5:20 am

    Hi Chris,
    thanks for all the free helpful infomation.

    Do you use adwords to drive traffic to your websites.

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 7, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      Hey Steve, no I don’t use Adwords or any other paid traffic sources to my sites, but am experimenting with some other source like Facebook atm.

  • Reply
    July 9, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Yes great post as always.
    I like how you think about your ‘customers’ on niche sites.

    I run 80+ niche sites at the moment and some of these lines really helped me..

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 9, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      Thanks, Adrian.

    • Reply
      Bhuboy Villanueva
      May 22, 2016 at 11:49 am

      Wow Adrian 80+ Niche sites, and here i am thinking and feeling overwhelm for having 4 lol. So how did you manage it, you build one at a time or at the same time?

  • Reply
    July 12, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Hi Chris,

    Awesome blog and awesome content. I’d like to follow your methods but I’m wondering what the monthly outlay might look like.

    what kind of monthly budget but I need to get things going according to your method and when might I start to break even? I know that for a lot of these methods require purchasing software or domains, etc. what’s a realistic monthly budget to follow your course most effectively?

    Keep up the great work!


    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 12, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      Hey Matt, the main budget that goes in are for domain, hosting, and maybe a wp theme. Since it’s about SEO and not paid traffic there’s not a set budget you need to set aside for acquiring visitors to your site. There are some tools that you might wish to purchase memberships for like backlink checkers, but most of what we need to do can be done with using their free versions. Unless you plan to outsource everything, there’s not much else that you need to spend money on.

  • Reply
    July 16, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Content is king. Good sharable content is the king. I haven’t taken 4years to learn this but I would not mind the long wait.
    Iam new to niche blogging. Been there 3 months and google analytics by yoast tells me i have so far got above 30k pageviews. Most of thrse thru boosting posts on fb. The keyword i want to rank for averages about 6 million searches per month.
    so i agree with you totally

    But I have had, from the grapevine though, that getting an AdSense acc is an uphill task nowadays. Any truth in this?

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 16, 2015 at 5:26 pm

      Yeah I’ve been hearing it seems to be tougher these days, but having a good quality site should help.

      I don’t know since I got mine like 5 years ago and it was really easy back then.

  • Reply
    December 22, 2015 at 1:04 am

    Hi chirs , when you mention no. 6 , build one niche site at a time, how would you know if its time to move on to the next niche site

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      December 22, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      For me, it’s when I start to rank in the top 3 for most of my biggest keywords, and I’ve built up enough authority that new posts jump to the first page without requiring any separate link building.

      • Reply
        December 23, 2015 at 1:50 am

        Does following the 3 month checklist , will achieve that

        • Reply
          Chris Lee
          December 23, 2015 at 2:56 pm

          Yeah, that would be a good start.

  • Reply
    March 5, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    Hi Chris. How many articles do you think a niche blog must produce in a day to make any decent impact?

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 16, 2017 at 11:51 am

      There’s no magic number here, as long as you’re creating long, informative articles.

  • Reply
    December 1, 2017 at 12:49 am

    Thanks Chris!
    I am a proud student of your RankXL Niche Course.

    It takes away a lot of business decisions on my end as I follow your step by step 3 month checklist.

    It is one of the best course available in the market.

    It gives me more focus and gives me more time to think about quality contents for my new sites.

    Love your course!

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      December 4, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Bob! Happy to hear that 🙂

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