This lesson is going to involve tech and numbers and while I’m going to try to make it as simple as I can, it’s best that you go grab yourself a cup of tea/coffee or any other addictive substance of choice.
Before we get into all of that that, let’s start by defining what we mean by a successful website, financially speaking.
While there are people making six figures a year, heck six figures a month, with their websites, I decided from the word go that the success of my website would amount to $3,000 a month. I chose that number specifically because as someone who travels a lot and frequently moves to new countries, I wanted to aim for an income that I could feed my family on no matter where in the world I was. Obviously, $3,000 (approx. £2,000) a month doesn’t go too far here in London, though it was a pretty impressive part-time income back in Delhi. That said, a person could survive on $3,000 a month, no matter where in the world they are. Therefore, that was my minimum.
By success of a content-based website then, I mean that it makes enough money to keep a person fed, clothed, and homed. If you’re in India, that might mean $1,000 a month for you and if you’re in London, you might want to aim for $4,000 a month instead. Regardless of where you are, it’s a good idea to have a general target in mind for what financial success of the website will mean for you. This will be important when it comes time to finalize your topic and also when choosing an exit strategy.
There are two steps that go into researching whether or not your topic has the potential of earning money.
The first step is based almost entirely on numbers. The second is based almost entirely on intuition and judgment. Sometimes, as happened with The International Freelancer, you might find that regardless of the low numbers you’ve found in step 1, step 2 gives you enough information that makes you feel the idea is strong enough to pursue. There’s no formula to this, unfortunately, but figuring out these details right now is key, absolutely key, to making money.
There’s no right or wrong here. I can’t tell you what will work. No one can. Which is why it’s important that you do as much research as you can before you start investing the time to build a website and create products nobody wants to buy.
Today, we’re going to tackle the first step of the process. Tomorrow, we’ll tackle step two.
My belief is that the success of your website will eventually come down to three things: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Content, and PR. The marketing gurus on the Internet talk frequently about SEO and content but they often neglect PR. We’re not going to do that because as a journalist and now an entrepreneur, I know that PR is one of the most valuable things a business can have and that includes your own website.
We’ll talk about content and PR in week 3, but let’s talk about SEO now. While not the most glamorous of subjects, it’s important because SEO and traffic is crucial when it comes to researching your niche.
What is SEO? Search Engine Optimization is basically a series of steps that you can take to optimize your website in a way that search engines rank you highly for select phrases or keywords that you’ve chosen. For instance, let’s say you have a website about literary haunts in London. If someone searches for “literary London” in Google, you would want your website to show up in the search results, preferably on the first page and right at the top. The efforts to get you into those results is called search engine optimization, that is, optimizing your website for search engines.
I get that this isn’t going to be the most interesting part of the process for you. It can’t be, because you’re a writer. You love a good turn of phrase, you spend hours making a paragraph just so, you hate repeating yourself even once, let alone half a dozen times like the SEO experts suggest, and so on. SEO and good writing, we believe (often correctly) do not go well together. Therefore, I won’t be asking you to write for search engines. I write for humans and you should, too. But we’ll come back to that later.
For now, let’s turn our attention again to our websites.
In a word, traffic. Yes, you’re going to do PR, you’re going to write articles for national media and guest post for well-known blogs, and you’re going to be all over social media promoting the heck out of your website. But if you want real, targeted traffic, Google is still the best free way to get it. If someone is searching for “entrepreneurship” and your website is the #1 search result on Google for that word, you’re getting organic targeted traffic and there’s nothing better than that.
Which, of course, is where the problem lies. Because there are millions of people searching for the term “entrepreneurship” at this very moment and there are thousands of websites giving them the information that they need. There are already the Forbes and Entrepreneur magazines of the world dominating that space and you and I with our new websites simply aren’t going to be able to compete, at least in the short term and not without the financial and human resources these publications have.
When you’re thinking of your website, then, get specific. “Entrepreneurship” is too broad, but how about “entrepreneurship for writers”?
Now we’re getting somewhere.
It’s time to get specific with numbers. To do this, we’re going to use the free Google Adwords Keyword Planner Tool. This tool tells you how many people are searching for a particular term in Google monthly and what the competition for that term looks like. It’s a really nifty tool and you could waste hours on it (try not to though, okay?) Let’s run our chosen niches through it.
First up, for each of your topics, come up with some keywords that people would potentially search for to land on your site. For my “entrepreneurship for writers” idea, for instance, “writer entrepreneur” could be one such term, one I’ve heard used a few times. Run the term through the Keyword Planner tool, however, and you’ll see that if you’re considering search terms alone, this might not be such a hot idea. At the time I did this, the monthly local searches for this term were 90. Not good.
That said this is never going to be the only factor in making a decision. Because entrepreneurship for writers is an increasingly hot and rising trend, I’d explore it further to see if I can make a business of it without any search engine traffic, at least in the short term. If I were able to get a ton of press, for instance, Google traffic might not matter. Further, if in the next two years, I anticipate people searching more for this term, it may be worth exploring. Or perhaps there are other terms that mean the same thing and are used more frequently. For now, though, given the information I have, if I wanted a profitable business a year from today, I’d put this one on the back burner.
Anyway, moving on. “Entrepreneur” has 673,000 million local monthly searches and is therefore, a very difficult term to compete against. But “mompreneur” and “online entrepreneur” may be searched for less frequently. This is why it’s important to pick a specialized niche and not always go for the broadest category imaginable, even though as a writer, that might seem like the more intuitive thing to do.
Most experts suggest anywhere between 2,000 and 6,000 local searches as a good number to aim for.
For my website Your Dream Interpretation, the number of local searches was 110,000. I still decided to go for this keyword because of one big factor: I knew I could beat the competition. When I searched on Google for “dream interpretation” the websites that appeared on the top of Google listings were badly designed pages with lots of useless content. I knew I could do better in terms of both design and content, two things Google takes highly into consideration when ranking websites. Also important to note is that Your Dream Interpretation was born from a page on my website. It was an article that I’d written for a women’s magazine years ago that I had up in my portfolio, which to my surprise was continuously the most visited page on my website for years. It ranked very highly on search engines. I figured if one page on my website that had nothing to do with the website could rank highly, so could a website that I’d created specifically for it. And I was not wrong. More on this below.
My suggestion for your first website would be to work with a keyword that has 4,000-6,000 local searches so that you’re giving yourself the best chance of success. Remember, you’ll have many different keywords that come up in searches, but one main one that sums up the topic of your website. For instance, for The International Freelancer, that’s “freelance writing,” though I also try to rank for two dozen other keywords as well, including “foreign correspondent,” “international freelancing” and “freelance journalism.”
Don’t forget to plug in your chosen search term in Google to see what websites come up on the first page and then poke around to see how big and content-filled they are. What, realistically, are your chances of beating them in the short term?
Finding the right niche and doing the research upfront plays a very important part in determining whether or not your website will be successful, so don’t skimp on this part, frustrating as it may be. You’ll go back to square one several times. That’s okay! That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Finding the right topic is a big deal, so make sure you get it right.
I’ve redesigned my portfolio in the last couple of years but before the new redesign kicked in, the most visited page on my personal website, as I mentioned above, was not my homepage or even the blog. It was a page on my portfolio, an article I’d written on dream interpretation—common dreams and what they mean. The page was sitting on the top of Google for some dream keyword or the other and it sent thousands of people to my website each month.
I’m not exaggerating that page’s popularity. I received a dozen e-mails each week from people who wanted to pay me to interpret their dreams for them. I’ve been sought out by journalists, who obviously didn’t bother reading through the whole website, to be quoted in articles about dream interpretation. And—I realize this is getting a bit silly—I’ve been asked to appear on television to talk about dream interpretation because someone Googling it chanced upon my article and thought I was an authority on the subject. (I didn’t give quotes or appear on television, of course.)
One article. That’s it. I wrote it for a woman’s magazine and I quote a few experts in it.
So when I first started thinking of content-based websites, I thought, hmm, dream interpretation. I already know that I can drive thousands of people to the website. Could I build a website that would be the #1 dream interpretation website in the world? I was convinced that I could. (I reached #3 that first year.)
So I did my research and voila—an idea was born! Then—and this is important—before I built the website, I came up with an income goal and exit strategy for the site, something we’ll discuss in an upcoming lesson.
Today, I want you to take that list of topics you’ve identified over the last two days and start running them through the Keyword Planner tool to see what kind of monthly searches they bring up. Do these seem like topics that are in high demand?
Don’t let go of any of these ideas yet, but start thinking about which could potentially be the most valuable in terms of traffic generation among the lot.