Case Study WGL: 7 Big Niche Site Mistakes I Made that You Can Avoid
This case study is taking the opposite track of many case studies. It is an examination of why a website I put up failed to make very much money. It did make some, but is now down in the doldrums along with many other sites that got hit by one or more of Google’s algorithm updates in the past eighteen months or so.
This might not be such a problem if the site was a small niche site, but it is not. Making extensive changes to accommodate the things Google doesn’t like is generally impractical due to the amount of content the site has. I have made some changes, but it took quite a long time and effort. I ended up taking a bunch of shortcuts because the task was just too onerous since my time is very limited and I am the only one maintaining the site.
Who am I?
I’m not going to write a biography here about me, you can go to my personal blog for that.
Let me just mention a few points and get it out the way.
- I am a senior citizen.
- I was a programmer of mostly business systems for 20+ years for large corporations
- During those years I was a contract programmer for about 7 years
- I have built many websites, mostly WordPress, but initial ones were HTML
- I have many domain names for sale plus some of my websites
- I usually don’t follow the rules and like to do things my way
- Ignoring some fairly obvious rules got me in this mess with the website in question
There is a lot more I could say, but this article is about the mistakes I made on one particular site of mine, although some of the same mistakes were made on a few other sites over the years. These are mistakes I feel others have made or will make, so I am doing a “tell all” or expose in the hopes it will benefit anyone hoping to have a niche site, blog, or some other kind of site and make money from it.
The amount of money one might expect can be a little or a lot, but my feeling is that for most people the site should at least make enough to cover hosting costs, domain name and renewals and cost of any software or plugins and content you might have to pay for. In other words carry itself without you having to dig into your pocket to support it. All this is after you get the site up and get some traffic to it.
Many, if not most of us, would like to turn a profit from our websites so that we have something to show for it at the least, and a decent profit, whatever that might be for you, is really what I think most people want.
So profit will be one of the main things we will strive for along with providing the website visitor quality content and a worthwhile site you can be proud of. I hope avoiding these mistakes I made will help guide you to more profits and less work with your website(s).
Let’s start at the beginning.
Way back, at least six or seven years ago I got the “brilliant” idea to see if I could find out what “Luck” was. Aside from the dictionary definition and what Wikipedia or other encyclopedias said, I was hoping I could get to the bottom of exactly what luck was.
I spent days and a lot of hours searching on the internet to see what I could find out about luck. To my surprise my searching turned out to be essentially a big fat zero. Virtually nothing substantial was found. I spent more time searching, but it was really a waste of time. So after spending a good two or three week’s actual time researching, spread out over months, I gave up, sensing it was futile to keep searching.
I went on to create several other sites on different topics over the next couple of years and forgot all about luck. One day my son came by and told me about Fiverr. It had recently started and it sounded interesting so I checked it out. Then it hit me that maybe I could find someone to do research and write articles on good luck. I didn’t have time available to write more articles myself. If I could find someone that could do that for a small amount of money then maybe I could put up a site about good luck.
This leads us to a big mistake so I’ll call it the first mistake.
Mistake #1: Not doing Keyword Research or Ignoring Keyword Research
I had been on the internet long enough to know some keyword research was necessary in order to pick a niche that was feasible to create a website about. Personally I never put too much faith in keywords even though I knew they must be important. Regardless, I did some keyword research, but the results were less than stellar. My Market Samurai keyword tool had stopped working when I rebuilt my computer a few months before, so I used a combination of several free keyword tools including Google AdWords Keyword tool, which I felt was the best of the free tools.
Anyway had I paid attention to the keyword results I would have known such a “niche” was too broad, unfocused, not enough products available to sell, and some other negative characteristics that anyone could probably figure out.
By this time my decision to create a site on good luck overruled common sense. I had already forgotten the aspect of making money with such a site and “assumed” that if I had enough content on the site that would make up for the poor market or niche. This is another mistake some of you might make.
Good content alone will not drive visitors to a site. How many of you have made this mistake?
Mistake #2: Picking a Niche where there is very little Information Available
I was just so anxious to put up a site about Good Luck that I simply ignored all the valid points about finding a niche I could compete in. I ignored the fact there was very little information, and that being the case, the site would probably end up being just a few pages and not the niche site I hoped to build. I wanted a site with quite a few pages so I could have articles with lots of longtail keywords so my site could be easily found by a lot of people.
I decided that if I could find a writer on Fiverr that could write some articles on good luck I would put up a site anyway. I set up a gig on Fiverr asking for an article writer that could write two articles on good luck. I didn’t get any positive response the first week. After about a week several people finally responded that they could write one article, but I could tell from their response and/or seeing samples of their writing, they just wouldn’t fit the bill for what I wanted. I knew five dollars was really too little for a quality article, but I thought I would feel out the market on Fiverr anyway.
I was about to again forget the prospect of putting up a site about good luck when I got a response that said “I can do it.” It was from a young writer from India. First I was elated that someone was interested, but then thinking about India I was very leery about even responding. That was because of some previous bad experiences with article writing from India. I was trying not to let that cloud my mind and knew I really couldn’t judge everyone just because I had some previous bad experiences.
So I decided to follow up on the response and had her write two articles for me about luck. I believe I just told her to write two 500 word articles on anything she could find on luck. She did and in almost no time she sent me two such articles. I read them and was very pleasantly surprised. Her English was very good and better than some people here in the U.S.
Now, when I got the two articles back I started thinking that maybe she copied the articles from somewhere since her English was so good. That was definitely not like the previous experiences I had with other writers from India. I had paid a lot more money for several months’ worth of articles for 20 sites of mine, but had to eventually scrap virtually all of them due to poor English.
In spite of my previous experiences I had a good feeling about her ability to write quality articles. So I decided to have her write 30 articles on good luck for me. Mind you, I still had very little information about luck, either good or bad. I really wanted to see if she could do research and how well she could write. If the articles didn’t turn out well I wouldn’t use them.
As it turned out, the articles did turn out to be fine and I decided to put up a site on good luck. I had written about thirty articles myself just in case hers didn’t work out. Since then I have found another excellent writer from India who writes all my articles that I outsource. I hate to admit it but her writing is often better than mine, and I’m a native of the U.S. and live here in California. One good experience can make all the difference in the world. My original writer has moved on to much bigger things and has her own highly rated blog.
If you are wondering where I got the info on luck that I couldn’t find before – well since it now appeared that I was “out of luck” finding much information on luck, that I would concentrate on good luck superstitions since it seemed that superstition and luck go hand in hand.
Because of the lack of information on the internet on luck I decided to take another track. I bought all the books on Amazon they had about luck at that time in early 2010. That was about seventeen books. I also had maybe four books on luck in my book collection. I read all the books I bought but was disgusted to find there was only one book that had any real research on luck, and it was very minimal at that.
What I did then was commission my writer from India to write 400 articles on good luck. I knew there was essentially no info on the Internet so I sent her about fourteen of the books I had purchased and told her to write articles about what she found in those books. That was, for all practical purposes, superstitions.
In the meantime I registered a domain name and put up Wish Good Luck (WGL). That was Jul 23, 2010 and it’s still up and getting traffic, but not nearly as much as in early 2012.
That leads me to the next big mistake I made:
Mistake #3: NOT picking a Niche where people are passionate or spending money
I was interested in luck, specifically good luck but if you think about it how many people pay much attention to luck? I’d say not too many. Aside from that, how many people are interested in any details about luck, even enough to buy an inexpensive book on it? Not many. If luck is a niche, it is a very vague one where it is unlikely there is little, if any, commonality among those in such a niche.
For me it turned out that all my hopes about having a site delving into and explaining luck was a pipe dream. It turned out I was either forced to forget having a site about luck or either incorporate superstitions into the site. That’s what I did – add a lot, in fact almost all the content is about superstitions, of which so many are supposed to bring one good luck or bad luck.
Although most people have a few superstitions they might believe in, not many are looking for data on superstitions or spending much money on such things. Yes you do find a few eCommerce stores on the internet selling all sorts of superstitious items, but my guess is that the people buying them are very superstitions and such buying may quite likely be impulse buying.
OK, so I shelled out a lot of money to have a few hundred articles written, almost exclusively about superstitions involving good and bad luck. That’s not counting probably some 60 – 100 articles I wrote myself which required a lot of unpaid effort. I realized that to get my money back, let alone make a profit, I would need a lot of traffic to the site. This was a real challenge since the site was not a blog so I could not add my personal observations about superstitions except to say I didn’t believe in probably 99% of them and the other 1% I had serious doubts about. That would never go over well and any traffic I did have would disappear if I dared say that.
I decided not to try to sell trinkets, pendants, talismans, good luck charms and an assortment of similar items. I figured it would be too much work and bring in too little returns. That left me to try to make money off of ads on the site. I had already added Google AdSense to the site, but it didn’t bring in enough to even buy a fast food hamburger, fries, and a drink. And that was over a whole month’s period of time.
I needed a lot more traffic. That wasn’t going to be easy, but I had to try.
Mistake #4: Paying for links or traffic
Since I was well informed in internet marketing and had subscribed to many newsletters, had previously been in all sorts of memberships and had a good idea how to get traffic, I decided to try one of the paid traffic sources since I thought it would be faster than going after free traffic. Actually I was really going after free traffic, but it cost me some real money so I am considering it paid traffic.
I had a lot of sites at the time so I picked four of the sites that I thought had the most promise plus my good luck site and paid for a service that promised goo gobs of traffic for five sites after a few months. It was a blog network that put links on their sites pages back to my sites. I could monitor the progress and tell if it was working or not.
I did monitor it, and a very few of the keywords did move up in Google search positions. It worked better on the other four sites but not very well on WGL. I figured it need more time so I used the service for three months. Nothing worthwhile came out of that and I effectively wasted some $450 that I really couldn’t afford to waste. Now, the amount that was spent on WGL was $90 or $30/month. Same for the other sites and since I had five sites the total cost was $450. Money wasted. Don’t do this!
Now let me say that all link or traffic services are not necessarily bad. In my particular case the one I tried didn’t perform up to my expectations. It is not always a bad thing to consider paid traffic. In some cases it can be very worthwhile. For example getting traffic to a site selling something or a membership site. In such cases you cannot afford the wait and guessing about whether or not free traffic will come fast enough. Paid traffic might just be a necessary option. So this mistake may not necessarily apply to every particular situation.
Mistake #5: Paying for WordPress Plugins
Since all my sites that counted were WordPress sites this applies to them. I definitely recommend WordPress sites for almost any type of site, especially for the beginner. I am a programmer and I had thousands of dollars of software to create sites and work with images and I scrapped it all for the ease and simplicity of WordPress. Even though I can, I refuse to dig down into the code of websites to make changes. There are very minor exceptions to this but they are few and far between.
In all fairness, I already had some paid plugins I had purchased previously and used a couple of them on the site. But I did shell out over $100 for WP Robot which I justified by thinking I could use it on some of my other sites. In fact, I did set it up on one or two other sites, but never really used it except to try it out and examine the results.
The story was different for WGL. I did use WP Robot for a few months. It did its job well, pulling articles off an article directory and creating pages from the article. I had to go in and add keywords, description, and most of all verify the article was of an acceptable quality. Most were. I still had to add AdSense code to the pages and I added a banner to most such pages and a few links to other pages on the site.
After about 100 – 200 or more articles from WP Robot I decided I had enough content from article directories and quit using the plugin. It’s still on the site, but deactivated. Besides, there weren’t many articles on superstitions and virtually none on luck, so I knew my days of using it on WGL were limited.
I figured I needed something different and searched around for a plugin that automatically added some other type of content to the site. I did find one, and bought Digi Traffic Multiplier. It too is a great plugin for WordPress and does exactly as advertised. Rather than explain it, just check out this page and others and note the questions and answers. That is the output of the plugin. The admin image, Suzi Q, I added in for an extra touch.
That is a great plugin and served me well, maybe too well. For when one of Google’s updates rolled around in April 2102 I lost a little traffic. Then over the next two months I had lost about 90% of the traffic the site originally had. I cannot fault Digi Traffic Multiplier, however. It gave me hundreds of pages of questions and answers. You can see these all over the site.
I fault myself because what I had done was pay attention to some of the so-called gurus of SEO. I had optimized the alt tags for well over 200 pages of the plugin’s output. Since many of the pages that had the Q&A had twelve or more questions and dozens of images I feel sure I went astray adding keywords in most of those alt tags for the images.
What that led to was a whole lot of work removing most and often all the alt tag keywords. It was a real job. In fact, it was so onerous I decided to just go ahead and remove most of the pages with the questions and answers, especially if the pages didn’t have many pageviews.
To make a long story short I ultimately removed over 600 pages from the site rather than spend the time and effort changing alt tags. Almost all those pages I removed were generated by the above two plugins. Some of the pages I decided were really ok so I went through all the on-page SEO on articles I wanted to keep, created a new site, Superstition Lane, where I moved about a tenth of the superstitions.
The reason I bought those plugins was because I felt that the more pages I had on the site with ads on them, the more potential ad clicks I could get. In addition, there would be more longtail keywords so more people would eventually find my site. Since I needed a lot of visitors all those pages with relevant keywords getting indexed would add up to a lot more traffic to the site. I had AdSense on virtually all the pages of the site along with some banners, mostly to my own sites or products on my other sites.
I cannot truthfully say the plugins were a waste of money for me, but they really would not have been necessary had I picked a valid niche where a small site could compete and perform well, or even an authority site in a narrow niche could also. But I did all the wrong things and I was paying the price for doing things my way.
In most cases you will not need to use plugins to grab data and create pages or add data to the pages automatically. You won’t necessarily need many hundreds of pages to get a lot of traffic if you promote your site in effective ways. Save your money for things you really need for your site.
Mistake #6: Site too big/too much traffic for the hosting plan and not making enough money to even cover hosting
Very few of you will run into this problem. But nonetheless, if you pick the wrong niche like I did and still try to pursue it, you may well feel the bite of this same problem. I’ve skipped most of the ways I tried to get traffic since they seemed to work OK, except for the big amount I wasted in that paid linking strategy.
What I did do, however, was to analyze the many ways to get traffic. I had decided not to use any article directories like I had previously done for some of my other sites. However, I cautiously did submit three or four articles that I wrote to slide sharing sites. I did use a gig on Fiverr to add my links for WGL to 200 link directories. That turned out to be almost 700 links, way more than I expected or wanted.
I decided to write a few longer articles, and for a while, maybe six months, I added a new unique article to the site every day. All articles were SEO’d as much as possible, and there were few outgoing links on most of those articles, except to other articles on the site.
All that paid off. It was work, but well worth it for the traffic I started getting. Unfortunately I was in the wrong niche, the clicks on Google AdSense were way too low to make decent money, however the traffic was building up nicely. Then one day I got an email from my hosting company that my site was hogging their computers. They suggested some changes, to use WP Super Cache, eliminate the related post plugin, and one or two other things I needed to change.
I should mention that my hosting plan was reseller hosting. It had a lot of space and bandwidth compared to most cheaper hosting plans. However, I had quite a few of my other sites hosted on that same hosting plan so that made some difference. But traffic on WGL was far greater than any of my other sites.
I made those recommended changes to my site. After removing the related post plugin I had very little interlinking between pages so I added interlinking to most pages within the site (there are plugins to do this, but I did it manually since I had to deleted that plugin). Over the next couple of months I got a little more traffic, but again I got a similar email from my hosting company like before. I had also noticed it was getting harder to edit my site because it was taking too much time saving the changes.
To make a long story short, I finally had to go to larger, more expensive VPS hosting. But the sad part was shortly after that, the traffic ended up going down a lot, probably due to Google algorithm changes. I never did find out exactly why my site lost so much traffic, but think it all had to do with Google either de-indexing a lot of my pages or moving them so far down in the search results that no one would find them.
So now, to this day, the site does not make nearly enough to pay for the hosting. It is still a large site even after eliminating hundreds of pages. Looking at the database now, it is 185 MB and the site uses slightly over 2.5 GB of space. At its peak I was getting about 1300 – 1500 visitors a day on average. Many days I would get 3000, 4000, 5000 visitors a day. That’s not a lot compared to the big boys, but in another niche, like internet marketing, that would easily translate to thousands of dollars of income a month, or more.
Mistake #7: Not updating your site on a regular basis
This mistake is rather hard to prove, but it is known that Google, and by extension Bing, Ask, and other search engines want new, fresh content for people using their search engines to do searches. That won’t happen if you don’t update or add new content to your website on a fairly regular basis. What’s a regular basis? I don’t know. I have read various numbers of days from different people. But you can easily understand updating a site whenever you feel like it just won’t cut it, unless you’re updating rather frequently.
The most reasonable estimate of this, in my opinion, is somewhere between 8 and 12 times a month. Now, if you blog, then it probably should be more frequent than that. I personally think once a day is too much for most people, but some people supposedly in the know, recommend once a day to several times a day for bloggers. I think that gets old fast and will burn out most people. That’s too much like a job, a stressful job at that.
As mentioned above, when I was submitting a new fresh article a day for at least a half a year I seemed to get a lot more traffic that way. That is costly if your site is not making at least enough to cover the cost of articles if you are paying someone else to write them. Also your niche may not support so many articles so that tactic may not work for a lot of small sites.
There are other tactics, such as curation, which many say works. I’ve done a little of that and whether it works or not I have yet to determine, but it hasn’t hurt and from all I’ve seen it really does work. Here are a few pages where I use curation on WGL. I will probably do some of this on any future or current sites I may work on.
This final mistake is not specifically related, but should apply anyway, especially in my situation.
Mistake #8: DO NOT try to work on multiple websites at the same time unless you are successful on your previous site.
This mistake won’t apply to many people, but I am adding it in case some of you are like me. I have so many ideas and try so many things that it is very hard for me to do only one website at a time. This is not a good policy and I definitely don’t recommend it. Stick with one website until it becomes successful. If after a period of time you see it probably will not meet your expectations and then decide to scrap the idea, fine. You need to concentrate all your efforts getting one site to perform well and get enough traffic to it to be profitable.
Aside from the challenge of creating different kinds of websites, the main reason I have so many websites is because of all the domain names I had. Rather than letting them sit at my registrar while I held them, I decided to build websites on about half of the domains I decided to keep. Very few readers of those reading this will be in that particular situation. This is not a recommended course of action. If one is going to invest in domains do that and don’t build dozens of websites – concentrate on selling your domain names.
That ends this case study. I hope telling of my mistakes will help others avoid the same mistakes I made. These mistakes can make the difference between success and failure on niche sites, and some of my errors would also affect other types of sites. I didn’t list everything I did “wrong” or that I feel would be ill advised to do, but you get the point. One needs to do some research before building a site. If that research shows it is not feasible to build a website in the niches you researched, then don’t do it. In such cases, find a viable niche you could actually compete in.
Tools and help I used
They worked out well (even though I may have over used these tools).
Hostgator VPS Hosting – (this is an affiliate link) I have had their VPS hosting for at least two years and have many sites on this hosting plan which has a lot more space and bandwidth than regular or reseller hosting. If you have or expect to have a lot of traffic, then this is a good alternative compared to a dedicated server.
WP Super Cache – a free WordPress Plugin that speeds up the page loading of your WordPress site
Exclude Pages from Navigation – a free WordPress Plugin that I used /use to eliminate pages from the menu
Page Tagger (not currently updated) – replace with Tag Pages – a free WordPress Plugin that allows you to use tags on pages. I noticed this was a big help getting pages indexed multiple ways since I had so many pages.
Digi Traffic Multiplier– a paid WordPress Plugin that grabs relevant questions and answers from Yahoo Answers
WP Robot – a paid WordPress Plugin that grabs content and articles from various sources (depends on the options you get)
Elegant Themes – (this is an affiliate link) a paid membership with very high quality WordPress themes
A custom article writer (a person) – contact me if you want a personal recommendation for a high quality article writer. She has written a lot of articles for me on various sites of mine.
Conclusion: WGL Niche Site Mistakes
These are my major mistakes on this particular site. Yes, I certainly have made other less disastrous mistakes as we all have. What mistakes have you made in researching and putting up a site? What about promoting it? Let me hear of your mistakes and successes in selecting a niche, putting up and promoting a site. We can probably all benefit from that.
I am in limbo on what to do with Wish Good Luck. I could add more articles to it, but that would do little good. I could try again to get more traffic to it, but that won’t help much either. I could add a store on it, but without a lot of traffic that will do little good. I’ve thought about adding a mailing list to the site, but I cannot find anybody interested in writing a long autoresponder sequence of messages appropriate for such a site. Also what to promote is a problem, except a few pieces of jewelry that might pay worthwhile affiliate commissions.
I am at a loss as to how to improve the situation with that site, so it is just “out there” for the present time.
Mistake #9: Email problem
This mistake is one I learned a couple of months ago even though the site mentioned above has been up over three years. It won’t apply to most people, but I am mentioning it nevertheless since it is possible to happen to anyone. When I got my AdSense account with Google many years ago – way before I put up Wish Good Luck site, I was using a different email address than the one I use now and have been using for the past few years. Apparently Google sent an email to that email address this past April or May. I still had that old email, but rarely looked at it. When I did look at it one day a few months, ago I saw a notice from Google indicating I was violating their terms of service with Wish Good Luck site.
Typical of Google, they didn’t say what specifically I was violating. So I went through the hundreds of pages of the site trying to find out what I was doing that Google didn’t like. I didn’t see anything. I hadn’t updated the site in quite a while so I had no clue what they didn’t like. Then it dawned on me that maybe it was the articles on gambling that might be what they didn’t like. So I removed most of the gambling articles from the site. In the process I noticed all my Google AdSense ads were missing. They had disabled all my ads and the site was now earning $0.
Needless to say I wasn’t happy about that. So if you visit the site today chances are it is a much smaller site and there are still no Google ads on it. Let this be a lesson. If you have Google AdSense or AdWords account and Google sends you a notice about something they don’t like, you stand to lose a lot if you don’t correct it immediately. In my case, it was months later when I finally did see their email, but that was way past the 72 hours they gave me to correct the problem, one they never directly specified.
Although I am not sure about what the problem they were concerned about was, I finally settled on the idea that I had a single link in an article about bingo. That link went to a site in the UK where one could play bingo online. I still don’t know for sure if that was the problem, but that is my best guess. The takeaway from this is to keep your Google email addresses for AdWords and AdSense accounts up to date.
If anyone has any ideas on this I’d like to hear your comments. Comments are moderated but may be off due to a ridiculous amount of spam comments I’ve been getting on my sites lately. If that is the case, send me your comments on the Contact form and mention this article, and I will add them to the site.