In days gone by, you only had to fear a Google update if you were doing something overtly wrong, like over-optimizing your content, performing questionable link building tactics, or being otherwise spammy. If you played by their rules, you were golden.
Ever since 2018 though, Google has been shaking things up across the board, in attempts to improve the overall quality of their SERPs. They don’t just want to make sure no spammers can game their algorithms, now they REALLY want to make sure only the best content ranks the highest.
Unfortunately they don’t seem to know what defines the best content anymore, or their algorithm doesn’t quite know how to find it, which is why we’ve seen such wild swings in some of these updates as they test their algorithms to refine the SERPs more and more.
As frustrating as this can be, it’s a good opportunity to think more carefully about the sites you invest in.
Not only do you have to make sure a site has a clean backlink profile and high quality content, you also want to make sure it has diversity of traffic.
Not Just Google
Of course, Google isn’t the only reason to future-proof your website. It’s definitely at the forefront of concerns, but other factors are subject to a website losing value too.
Social media networks fall in and out of favor, and have changing algorithms of their own.
Even the topic of your website is something to consider. I’m sure cryptocurrency seemed like a good niche in 2017, but perhaps not so much now.
The key, is to making sure you’re not too reliant on one specific traffic or revenue source, and to making sure that you can control as much of your site’s fortunes as possible.
What does this mean in practical terms?
Realistically, it means either buying a business that has some of the features in this series of posts, or buying one that has the potential to have them.
I originally intended today’s post to be standalone, but as I mapped out the article, I realized it would be better as part of a series, with each post focusing on one particular strategy.
Today we’re looking at the ways in which you can build a real audience around your website. Doing this takes time, and might not always be worth your while, but it is one of the most defensible strategies for your website.
In fact, it can be the difference between having just a revenue-generating website, and a business.
A Website With An Audience
Here at Onfolio, our strategies in 2020 are going to revolve a lot more around audience-building for our websites (or businesses).
It might sound obvious to connect content websites with audiences, but you’d be surprised how many websites out there don’t have proper readerships. Even websites with email lists might not really be able to say they have a brand with sustainable, measureable, return visitors.
It’s not strictly the website’s fault. There is a lot of noise and competition on the internet, and audience building can be tough; especially as so many content website builders have SEO skills, but lack in other areas.
In addition, many website builders are not particularly passionate about their niches, outsource the content to generalist writers, and are mostly focused on ranking in the search engines, collecting commissions, and leaving it at that.
This means there is a unsurprisingly high amount of audience-less websites on the internet, and available on the market.
It’s no wonder that Google is waging war on them but shaking up the serps so much of late.
Is This Always A Bad Thing?
While this may make many investors wary, it is actually attractive to others.
What’s more risky? Buying a website with no audience, or buying one that relies on an audience and its connection with the seller?
There’s nothing worse than seeing a business suffer because the new owner had no connection with the customer base or audience.
Generally, the more “passive” a website is, the higher the multiple it fetches. The ultimate passive website is one without an active following.
The third option then, and one we are focusing on, is taking an audience-less website, and building out that missing audience.
It’s harder to do, but that’s kind of the point.
When you have an audience, you have a business, and it’s much more defensible.
Look at the recipe niche for example. Websites with “fans” and repeat visitors tend to perform (and earn) much better than generic websites that just post recipes and not much else. Ironically, Google tends to reward these sites with better rankings too.
Who’d have thought it? You make your website less reliant on Google by building something that attracts a fanbase, and Google takes note that your site is quality.
While converting a generic website into something that attracts fans may be tough, it’s still easier than starting something from scratch, as you already have some content, some search rankings, and revenue.
Even if your existing content is average, at least it is getting eyeballs, and improving it will yield dividends right away.
If you build it, they might not come, but if they are already coming and you make it better for them, they’ll stay.
Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but the concept works.
How To Build An Audience
It’d take a whole series of posts to really cover the “how to” of this, but let’s look at the 80/20.
First of all, how do most content sites, especially ones in the sub-$500k range, function? Let’s take a look at a hypothetical site.
We’ll call it..genericwebsite.com
Genericwebsite covers content on a certain niche. Maybe it reviews kitchenware, or office furtniture, or drones.
Some of its articles rank well in Google, but most don’t, and therefore they don’t get any traffic. Of the ones that do rank, they serve a specific purpose. Something like “Best awesome drone 2019”.
A would-be drone shopper visits Google, types in their search term, and clicks over to Genericwebsite.com. From there, they read a review, which might be fantastic, or it might be about average.
At some point, they probably click over to Amazon or a Drone retailer, make a purchase, and earn genericwebsite.com a commission.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be very lucrative for genericwebsite, and it makes money pretty passively from those search terms if ranks for. Over time, Google likes the website more and more, and the search rankings grow, the traffic grows, and the revenue grows. The workload doesn’t necessarily grow with the revenue, which is even better.
Additionally, the website still served a purpose. The drone shopper was given advice, and helped to make a purchase. The website added value to the internet, and got paid for it.
But our drone shopper from earlier probably doesn’t visit the website again, unless they’re searching for something else drone related and happen upon the website in Google a second time. In the best case scenario, they’ll remember the domain name and how helpful it was, and will click on it even if it’s not in the first position in Google. This actually sends a positive signal to Google.
In most cases though, they’ll just click on whatever website they see first, and if one day genericwebsite.com falls out of favor with Google, or gets beaten out by a competitor (maybe called equallygenericwebsite.com), our drone shopper would likely not even notice the difference.
Again, this isn’t usually a huge issue. Google likes to stick with the sites it already knows are quality. This type of revenue isn’t reliant on repeat visitors anyway, it’s reliant on many people with similar problems.
The point is that since this article is about future proofing your website, we’re talking about what potential problems exist and how to defend against them.
What Most People Do To Mitigate This
Most people will create an opt-in form with a lead magnet aimed at building an email list. They’ll have mixed fortunes getting people to subscribe, and when they do, they’ll just serve up their latest articles to them.
For some websites, this can go quite well, but for genericwebsite.com, most of their email subscribers are going to get bored of reading generic “best drone accessory” articles.
For other websites, it’s even worse. You can’t really build an email list around office furniture reviews or water filters, or any of the typical products that so many affiliate sites are built around.
Ultimately then, most people’s attempts to build an audience around their site fall short.
What You Can Do Instead
Instead, you could focus on adding more informational content. This is the type of content that drives people to subscribe. This is also why it’s important to try to acquire a site where you can build out that content hub.
When looking at a website, if future-proofing is key for you, ask yourself if the niche allows expansion into audience-building.
Furniture shoppers don’t have much need for informational content, but recipe searchers do.
People looking for water filters don’t really need much informational content either…or do they?
I typed “Water quality” into answerthepublic.com and was rewarded with 98 questions people are asking around water quality. Surely you can build out some useful resources to address those questions, and that’s just on the subject of quality.
Again though, this is where many people fall short. They add informational content and think “Ok, job done”.
You can’t just arbitrarily add some informational articles to your site, just like you can’t add an email list for the sake of it.
Are you really building an audience-worthy resource around the niche by just adding info articles onto your site?
Essentially you’re still following the affiliate site model, but you’re adding on some info articles that might bring in display ad review, might teach Google that your site isn’t pure affiliate, and might even divert some traffic to your money pages.
So how do you take it a step further?
Why not make your site less about “water filter reviews” and more about what kinds of things people who are searching for water filters are interested in.
Who searches for water filters?
– People living in areas with bad water
– People going camping
– People moving abroad
– Survivalists and preppers
– Health conscious families
These all sound like groups of people that could become your audience if you built a site out that speaks to them.
You don’t even have to start out with that intention – you could pivot an established “pure affiliate” site to start catering to these audiences, then refer them to your affiliate articles when the time is right.
Let’s look at another example and go back to the drones website. Who buys drones?
- – Hobbyists
- – Casual drone usage
- – Hikers
- – Photographers (and there are lots of different groups within this group)
- – Construction industry
- – Drone racers
And probably more people besides these.
Why not build a hub of content out that interests one or more of these groups?
Not only will you still be able to have your other drone content, you’ll be able to send people from this info content directly to it.
A site that has “Best drone” content exclusively, isn’t going to perform any better than a drone racer site with a huge fanbase that also has a “best drone” article.
You’ll also have built a fanbase, and an audience that is less reliant on Google.
Ironically enough, that’s the kind of thing that will make Google reward you more anyway. It’s the philosophy shared by Dotdash, who’s portfolio reaches 90 million viewers per month.
Dotdash properties (websites such as Investopedia, Lifewire, The balance, Verywell) focus on the best content, on the fastest websites, with minimal advertising and their CEO has the belief that if they do that, not only will Google reward them, but they won’t have to fear Google anyway, as people will actively seek out their content.
Now, Dotdash is a massive publishing company with multi-millions invested into its content, but that doesn’t mean their philosophy can’t be applied on a smaller scale.
There Are Obstacles
I personally believe the reason most people just build “affiliate sites” with “money content” and not much else is down to bandwidth, budget, or a lack of ideas; rather than because the strategy doesn’t make sense.
It’s also a lot easier to just make generic “best [product]” content than it is to build a site with high-quality content where you actually understand your audience.
Therefore if you can actually do that, you’ll end up a cut above the rest.
Using These Ideas
When you find a website for sale and it’s just focused on one product or type of product, and it reviews those products only, it doesn’t mean that has to be your model. Most websites are built by solopreneurs with limited time and resources, and when they DO invest time or money back into the site, it’s doing more of the same.
Spending 6-12 months building out a massive amount of content that is purely audience building and informational just doesn’t appeal to them when they can focus on more “best of” articles and link building instead.
But ultimately that is the way to win. Look at how sites like nymag.com, businessinsisder.com, and other more niche-specific magazine sites are taking over the typical “best of” SERPS now, and you’ll see what I mean. You can still target those review keywords, but also build out your content in other directions.
Sidenote: This recent article by Glen Allsopp identified that typical niche sites still dominate the SERPS and magazine/news type sites like nymag aren’t completely taking over.
While that is great and means you don’t HAVE TO follow the strategies I’ve described here, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t either.
What I’m outlining is one thing I would do if I wanted to take a site to the next level, while also protecting it from becoming just another site that lost rankings.
When To Do This And When It Might Not Make Sense To
While writing this article, I couldn’t help but think..sometimes all of this might not make sense to do.
The ROI might not be worth the effort.
You may also have been reading it thinking the same thing.
Sometimes, just buying a “cleaning products review site” with a partial-match domain name is still a good investment. Building out buckets of content around cleaning and trying to build an audience or fanbase may not be worth your time or money. You may just want to optimize the site some more, grow it, and enjoy the cash flow, or flip it later.
So when does it actually make sense to do this, and when does it not?
A key answer is the website size, the niche size, the work required to pull this transition off, and the risk in not doing it. The landscape and what competitors are doing will also come into play.
If your site is making a couple of grand per month or less, your best course of action may be to just double down on building out more affiliate content and improving the SEO strategies.
By no means do you need to follow the above strategy in order to have a successful site.
Equally, this isn’t the only method at your disposal for future proofing your investment. We’ll cover more ways in future articles.
It DOES give you more control over your audience and less reliance on Google though.
Take this post more as a guide on one effective way of building some protection and diversification into your business, and look at your own situation to decide whether you actually should do it.
You should also consider if you can pull it off.
If done right, the rewards can be huge.