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Building and Running Niche Sites for Fun and Profit
I'm Brett B. I built and run the Niche Laboratory keyword tool and the FindAForum forum directory. I've also built and run dozens of micro-niche sites. In my day job I'm a software developer and have also taught English overseas.
In this insider guide I've brain dumped what I've learned from running my own niche sites over the years. I won't bore you with the basics of how to choose a web host or set up WordPress. Instead I'll give you some insider tips on starting and running niche sites. I'll also give you access to some of the data that Niche Laboratory and FindAForum have accumulated over the years.
For the record FindAForum has 1380 forums in its directory. Niche Laboratory has been used over 50,000 times. So I've seen a ton of data about niches!
Here's my Niche Laboratory insider guide to choosing a niche.
Niche Laboratory has been chugging away for 5 years now. It collects data about each job, which helps future users by telling them if their niche is a popular one or not.
So what are the popular niches?
The most popular niches for Niche Laboratory users are:
If you choose any of these niches then you need to be careful: these niches are super popular with bloggers. You're going to have a whole lot of competition on your hands! Remember that bloggers love keyword tools, so you'll all be targeting the exact same keywords (more on keyword tools later).
So how do you choose less competitive niches, and do such niches exist?
First off, there are plenty of niches where you can still do well.
My tip if you're not sure about a niche is to try putting up a free blogger blog. Write a few articles and see if you get any visitors. This year I tried the TEFL/English teaching overseas niche. So far my new site has bombed. Thankfully that's OK because I am in plenty of other niches where getting traffic is a lot easier!
If you're doing keyword research using a tool like Niche Laboratory or Keyword Researcher Pro then another tip is to search for longer phrases. Many Niche Laboratory users search for one or two word phrases (here's the statistics if you're interested). However, you'll generally find less competitive niches if you search for 3+ word phrases.
Some niches you might think are saturated aren't. Take dating for example. I noticed that a couple of ClickBank products in this niche have disappeared from the MarketPlace. That's a shame because they sold really well for me.
Clothing is another niche that you think might be saturated. In fact clothing is good because there are just so many long tail keywords to look for. And the competition is pretty poor to be honest. Clothing blogs are for the most part complete rubbish!
Don't neglect physical stuff either. Yesterday I had an idea for a USB device. Guess what? There are NO competitors at the lower end of the market. Nobody has done this yet, at least on a smaller scale. Sure, this niche isn't as easy to get into as putting up a WordPress blog and writing whatever comes in your mind. But these USB devices sell for $100 a go. More effort will results in much higher rewards.
If you can't think of an easier niche then why not change your site's language? There are still some great opportunities to establish sites in markets where the language isn't English. Asian and Latin American markets have the best opportunities in my opinion. If you're not a native English speaker then why struggle writing an English language site? Just blog in your own native tongue.
One final tip - the Niche Laboratory Pro keyword finding Windows app now has an adult keywords mode. There are massive opportunities in weird niches. In fact I am currently testing out a niche which I think will be gigantic in a few years' time. I found this keyword while doing a Niche Laboratory Pro test run on a completely different niche!
There are so many different website types so don't fall into the most boring thing of just starting a blog on WordPress. There is so much else that you could do.
Here are some different types of site that are killing it right now:
Finally, there are some HUGE opportunities in forums right now. This is potentially so big that I've added a section below just for forums.
A lot of people think the golden days of internet forums are over.
Well yes and no...
There are still a lot of opportunities in the World of Online Forums. This is due to:
As well as creating Niche Laboratory, I also created FindAForum. I started FindAForum in 2013 and it is now the #1 forum directory on the internet.
Are forums dead?
Some (well a lot) of the forums on FindAForum get gigantic amounts of traffic. One of my friends owns a forum listed on FindAForum - Happier Abroad. He hasn't done much with his site in years, yet he regularly makes several hundred dollars a month from the site.
In fact I think that NOW is exactly the right time to be starting a forum.
As I stated earlier, a lot of forum owners are giving up - which is where you come in!
I've noticed a few forums in a niche I'm personally interested in have given up recently. The three reasons are:
On point 1 – yes forums take time to run, so don't start one (or any other niche site) if you don't have any time to maintain one.
On point 3 – well you know what to do there! As somebody who is interested in online marketing, you need to be a lot more creative when it comes to monetizing your forum. Remember that a lot of people buy websites on Flippa because existing sites with a lot of traffic can often be really poorly monetized. This goes for pretty much any forum that's ever been listed on Flippa...
As for social media platforms, well I personally think Facebook is dying. I don't go on there that much anymore. Now they changed their newsfeed algorithms all I see is my left wing “friends” posting political crap about how nurses are underpaid and other stuff that doesn't interest me.
The fundamental error Facebook has made since the start is assuming your friends are interested in the same things that you are.
Mine certainly aren't! So I have a never-ending battle of trying to stop worlds colliding there.
On top of that employers are fishing in social media sites looking for reasons to fire you or to not hire you in the first place. Think I'm joking? I once lost out on a job because they thought Niche Laboratory's mascot Saki wasn't deemed politically correct enough.
No – if you are interested in anything that's not considered mainstream then it's suicidal to use social media sites. Use a forum instead, where you can be a little more assured of anonymity.
On top of that FaceBook and other social media platforms just aren't reliable. Niche Laboratory is pretty popular these days, yet they somehow unpublished our FaceBook page. Then I got it back only for the site to lose the post I'd just tried to publish on there.
So what type of forum is it best to start?
My #1 tip is to stick to niches that are centered on hobbies and interests. The big players aren't terribly interested in these niches so you won't see the intense competition that you'll find in niches like weight loss, property and loans. Remember that many visitors to FindAForum are genuinely surprised when they find out the No.1 forum on there is in the skyscrapers and tall buildings niche! Furthermore, look at the top 10 or even top 100 and you'll not see too many forums in the weight loss, forex or SEO niches.
It takes a lot of effort to get a new forum off the ground, so you'll probably be posting on your own for a year or two. It's going to help to choose a niche that you're really interested in. It's even better if you're active in the niche and can post original photos and videos to help establish your forum's authority in this niche.
Getting new members can be a hassle at first. So bear in mind people are more likely to post if they've just been scammed, or having real problems with something.
People like to imitate other people so this is another angle to starting a forum. I became semi-retired at the age of 45. This is the type of topic people are REALLY interested in. Another one of course is that in the niche website building niche people like to copy other peoples' successes.
If you're lucky enough to spot a new niche then you could start the first forum to cater for people interested in the niche. For example p2pindependentforum was pretty much the first UK based forum to cover P2P investments. I wish I'd had the same idea because I was an early investor in P2P and could have easily started a similar forum.
Finally a forum is much easier to start if you add one to an existing site. For example in 2017 I added a forum to the Niche Laboratory website. I've not had many other people post there, but I got search traffic to the new forum almost immediately.
In fact I turned another site of mine into a forum in early 2018 and it was my fastest ever site to get traffic from Google. My new forum is doing OK. Traffic is growing, and I've had a few real users register and post content. My best new member posted 300+ posts. That's 300 posts of good content that I didn't have to write!
Here's my new forum's traffic chart:
I just noticed that one of my users has posted some photos of his collection of his widgets in the forum's niche. This is really encouraging! You need to start a forum in a niche people are super passionate about. Choose something that people will willingly spend the majority of their disposable monthly income on, and you could be onto a winner.
Always check out the competition though. As I said I have quite a few competitors. However, a few have closed down lately. If you do find competitors then you can always make your forum a lot more specific. Some of the most successful forums I've seen are in nano-niches that are really obscure. Yet the world is big enough that there are plenty of people who are super fanatical about these tiny topics! Actually with hindsight I should have made my forum a lot more specific. It's kind of really broadly topic based at the moment, and I don't think that works to its advantage.
So I have demonstrated here that it is definitely possible to start a new forum and get traffic, all without doing much in the way of link building or other promotion.
Amateur forum owners put loads of image ads all over their forums. They look unsightly and don't usually normally perform that well.
The true professional forum owners make money from (a) selling text links, (b) putting inline text link ads and (c) getting sponsorship of forum sections.
My friend does (a). This is a niche with many desperate buyers so vendors are only too willing to pay for links on a PR 5 forum.
I personally do (b). My forum reviews a number of other websites. So I modded one of my forum's PHP pages to insert an affiliate link on every mention of the product names in a post. These text links convert like crazy because anyone reading them and clicking on them is probably a committed buyer at this stage.
As for (c), you can see this happen a lot in the cars and motorcycles niche. While I was compiling the list of forums to include in FindAForum I found loads of cars forums where particular sections of the forum were sponsored by a spare parts supplier (e.g. wheel rims).
Like forums, are directory sides also dead?
Directory sites are still worth starting. I started FindAForum back in 2013 and it's now my highest traffic site. Look at that traffic growth:
Unfortunately it doesn't really make any money. But if you choose your niche carefully then you can make A LOT of money from directory sites.
An example of a really successful directory site is OfferVault. It is the absolute authority site on CPA and other affiliate offers.
I'll say more about FindAForum in the Case Studies section further on.
Since I built my own keyword tool I know rather a lot about this subject! So let's have a deep dive into keyword research.
I see people making these mistakes with keyword tools:
Keyword research should be split into two types:
If you haven't yet started your site then you need to do some niche research. And there's only one tool I'll recommend for this – Niche Laboratory!
Niche Laboratory makes it so easy to gain an executive overview of an entire niche. From a Niche Laboratory report you'll be able to plan your site's headings, as well as plan your first 20 posts. You might also gain some valuable clues about how to monetize the site.
The nice thing about Niche Laboratory is that you might also find some related niches. So maybe you can plan a whole series of micro-niche sites, or expand your topic into a larger authority site.
One final thing Niche Laboratory will do for you is to tell you how competitive your niche is likely to be. If you're a newbie and you find your niche has a rating of over 50, then forget it. Choose another niche!
For what it's worth, I started a new site in 2017 and Niche Laboratory assessed the competition from other bloggers at less than 5%. By comparison the SEO and Weight Loss niches have around 100% competition.
Was my niche really obscure?
The main keyword had a 33,100 monthly search volume according to Google's data.
Once you've written your initial few posts then it's time to find more keywords.
I can recommend the following keyword tools:
If you want more keywords from Niche Laboratory then you'll need to download the Niche Laboratory Pro Windows app. It finds so many more keywords than the free web version so you'd be foolish not to give it a go. It also has a special mode for finding keywords in adult and NSFW niches.
Benefits of Niche Laboratory Pro:
Google has more data about keywords than any other company. And you can get access to this data through the AdWords Keyword Tool.
On the downside they're becoming ever more restrictive on who can use this tool, and what data you can extract from it. If you're not a paying customer of AdWords then you won't get too much out of it.
I tried it the other day and it would only let me export download one set of keywords. They're also continually telling me that they're going to close down my account due to inactivity.
Another issue with the AdWords Keyword Tool is that too many other people are using it.
Finally, Google themselves are moving away from the whole concept of keywords. AdWords takes way too long to set up when you're targeting individual keywords. Far better to just use some AI algorithms to do all the work for you.
I bought Keyword Researcher Pro years ago and it still works!
It's pretty much my main keyword tool and it finds some really nice long tail keywords that are generally really easy to rank for. It also works in pretty much any niche.
All of the keywords it shows you are keywords people are actually searching for online. So unless your niche is really competitive, you WILL get traffic.
The tool can also be used to search for product keywords in Amazon (useful if you're building a product themed micro niche site) as well as video keywords for YouTube. Don't forget video - I'm doing quite well with the NicheLaboratory.TV Channel I started last year.
The downside to Keyword Researcher Pro is that it's only suitable for narrow niche research. It won't find all those LSI related phrases that Niche Laboratory will find for you. So if you run a job for “oil heaters” then all of the keywords you find will include the phrase “oil heaters”.
I made a video review of Keyword Researcher Pro for NicheLaboratory.TV - check it out:
One of the commenters on that video flamed me for only showing a small part of the entire application. They're absolutely right of course! I'm always in a tearing hurry to do everything, and that includes finding keywords! Well luckily Keyword Researcher Pro is super fast at finding keywords from Google. I didn't show its Amazon or YouTube keyword research modules. I didn't show any of the article writing features in the tool either. Maybe I should make use of those more, but I tend to write my articles directly into WordPress. Actually I'm writing this content directly into Visual Studio, which is a little crazy but not all sites use WordPress!
Not too many people know about AnswerThePublic but it's a real gem. Plus it's free!
The downside to this tool is that it doesn't work very well in some niches. So give it a go, but don't rely on it for all of your keyword research.
AnswerThePublic is a good companion to the Niche Laboratory. It works great in some niches, less well in others.
This is another keyword tool I did a review of for NicheLaboratory.TV:
This video has got a few views and even better - two comments. I still haven't cracked how to get those upvotes though...
Well what can I say really? AnswerThePublic is pretty good. The Niche Laboratory blog's most popular article was inspired by a keyword I found on the tool, so I can definitely recommend it. As I said in the video, my main issue with AnswerThePublic is that it doesn't work at all in every niche. A bigger issue with it is that it recommends much the same keywords as you find elsewhere. This is why I like Niche Laboratory Pro because it will find those hidden ideas that you'll never find in most of the other keyword tools. Also Niche Laboratory Pro is better if you have plenty of traffic already and have already written about most of the main keywords in your niche.
I've not actually used this one but it is the market leader. If you're serious about building an authority site, or you're tackling really competitive niches then you have to give it a go.
The great thing about Long Tail Pro is that it assesses the competition for each keyword. So you won't have to waste time writing about keywords and phrases you're never going to be able to rank for.
I should really try this tool soon. Back in 2011 I was a member of The Keyword Academy. As part of our monthly membership plans we got access to their Niche Refinery keyword tool. I used this to find keywords to write about in a whole load of niches. By writing a lot of articles in managed to boost my AdSense income from $50 a month to over $1000 a month. I achieved that income surge in less than a year.
If you used Long Tail Pro then you could easily replicate my success!
I love this tool! However it's useless if your site isn't established and you don't have much Google search engine traffic.
The good news is that once your site has a lot of traffic, then the Search Console is truly wondrous.
I use it for four main purposes:
This is a seriously good source of keywords.
How many of you use this?
How do we get these keywords?
We put our own website users to work!
This keyword tool is really effective, and it's free. Very simply all you need to do is to make sure your website has a search facility. Then you make sure the queries are logged.
I do this on FindAForum. When I built the site I put in some code to log all of the queries submitted to the site's search form.
Well I built that code then forgot about it. A few years later I looked in the database table storing the search queries.
I had 20,000 entries in it!
This data is an absolute goldmine of opportunities. For FindAForum I can use it like this:
By the way this is also a brilliant idea on an e-commerce store. If your visitors have to use the search facility, it's for 2 reasons:
How to log searches? I'm not sure if you can get a WordPress Plugin to do this. However you can set up Google Analytics to record this data for you.
It also works really well with forums. phpBB has a built-in search facility for example. I find users really like it and my new forum gets around 10 searches a week. This data is a goldmine for finding topics my forum doesn't yet cover.
In this section I'm going to show you why you MUST think beyond just blogging.
I'll show you how going the extra mile can really pay off!
Back in 2013 I took a career break and went to live in Asia. While living in Thailand I had so much time on my hands that I looked around for a little project to do. I found that a popular forum directory called Big-Boards had closed down. I decided to make an alternative.
And so FindAForum was born.
I settled on the name and then realized the .com was unavailable. So I bought the .net instead. A little side piece of advice here is that what top level domain you opt for doesn't really matter. However, I wouldn't have bought findaforum.net if there was already a forum directory sitting on the .com.
As to the forum directory itself, I had to do a little research on this. The existing Big-Boards had presumably been compiled by hand. I don't even know if they had a database behind it. Well however they made their site I wanted my site to be semi-automated.
I have an admin utility that allows me to add new forums to FindAForum. I still manually review all forums added. But the software I wrote makes screenshots, finds the number of posts, members etc. and a bit of other information about each forum.
The biggest effort I had to do was to add the initial 1000 or so forums to the site. I'll pull no punches here – it was boring and it took a long time. I decided to use the Pomodoro Technique and do them in batches of 20 at a time. It kind of helped having a browser with lots of browsing tabs open at the same time.
I definitely went the extra mile on FindAForum.
Did it pay off?
FindAForum is now the #1 forum directory and it is now my highest traffic site.
What did I get for this extra effort?
The FindAForum traffic chart. I achieved all this with virtually no link building:
This is one if you have a WordPress blog and want to go the extra mile. It's quite easy but not many people do it for some reason.
So what do you do?
Simple – you add some interactive pages to your WordPress blog.
Why make them?
So what are we building?
It's simple – we're going to build some interactive forms.
Here's an example:
Say you had a blog in the Medical Tourism niche.
This is a great micro-niche. The niche is growing year on year. Plus it's really easy to monetize.
How to stand out from other Medical Tourism blogs?
We'll add a Medical Tourist Destination Chooser Tool.
What do we need for this?
We basically just need a form with a few questions. For example we could ask where the person lives. Do they like hot weather? What type of procedure do they want (dental, cosmetic surgery etc.), what is their budget?
Based on our detailed knowledge of the niche we could then show the user a list of recommendations. For example if they like hot weather and want dental work done then we could recommend Thailand or Malaysia.
The results could also be affiliate links to 3rd party sites. However I'd be careful not to allow affiliate commissions to influence the results. As an authority site we want to be seen to be impartial.
So how to build them?
Because I know a little PHP the way I went about this was to clone an existing page template PHP file and add some HTML code for a form to it. Then I uploaded it to my Theme's templates folder and made a new Page (not a Post) using this template.
If you're not a coder then you could hire somebody to do this. Maybe there's a WordPress Plugin you could use as well.
But actually it's so easy to code something like this that you could use it as an opportunity to use PHP.
Do forms like this work?
My first attempt at making an interactive form got a natural backlink from a related forum. It was quite amusing as there was a whole thread discussing whether my form was good or a piece of junk. Who cares – I got a backlink!
More recently my best performing niche site has a few interactive forms. Two of the top 10 pages on the site are interactive. In fact one new form I added jumped into the top 10 pages in less than 3 months.
You can see a real example on Niche Laboratory.com. I built the Blog Headline Generator around 6 months before I wrote this article. It's proven really popular and is now the second most popular page on the site. I presume it's picked up a few natural backlinks. It's definitely doing well in terms of traffic from search engines.
I've only just started experimenting with these but so far the results are encouraging.
Start the site off by populating it with your own questions. Answer some yourself, but leave the others for netizens to answer. Incidentally a brilliant source of keywords to seed the site is Keyword Researcher Pro. It's tailor made for establishing this kind of site.
Why I like Answers type sites:
I've tried two types of Answers site. I custom built a little site. I've had a few netizens posting on there, so it might become successful.
I added an Answers plugin to a WordPress site. So far I've only had a couple of real people post questions. But I think the plugin looks really great and I am now using it instead of a forum plugin which I briefly tried out.
If you want a real world example of a successful answers site, just look at Quora. If you want an idea of an answers type site in a particular niche, well here's an example of one that was bolted onto an existing site: answers.echinacities.com.
Niche Laboratory came into existence after I built FindAForum. I got interested in text processing and keywords in general, and there was enough leftover code from FindAForum to build a keyword tool.
To build something like Niche Laboratory then you need to do a whole lot of work compared to just blogging using WordPress.
However, Niche Laboratory has some advantages you're unlike to get with a blog alone:
On this last point, building a database is a VERY good idea. A few years ago a company called Preqin started a database about private equity investments. Now the company makes millions of dollars a year by selling access to that data. It might be in a fancy niche, but it's still basically just a database like I've built for FindAForum or Niche Laboratory.
Back to the topic of the Niche Laboratory site and I'll admit that the keyword tools niche is pretty bad for making money out of. In fact building out the site has been the best way to monetize the site. The main keyword tool is a huge loss leader. But here's what I've also done:
So the keyword tools niche is pretty saturated these days. Still, interactive sites can potentially be good money makers.
Here's another example. In China people like to take on English names, especially if they're going to work in the country's vast import/export industry.
Unfortunately many Chinese people choose English names that are somewhat dated (like Rose or Lily) or just a little weird (like Apple or Bubble). What they really need is a website like Special Name. This website was created by a 16 year old girl, and she made over $50,000 from the idea. Plus her site got backlinks from high rankings sites including this BBC news site article about her business.
In 2017 I had the idea to build an e-commerce store. I basically just made an affiliate store showcasing stuff I found on Amazon and AliExpress.
This experiment wasn't terribly successful so I've put it on ice for now.
If you're interested in drop-shipping or e-commerce stores then check out the Product Laboratory. If you type in a niche it shows you products you could sell, as well as how competitive the niche might be.
Of all of the case studies here, this was the most successful.
Back in 2001 I was working for a top digital design agency in London. I worked on a lot of websites that had hundreds of pages and often a big and complex database behind them.
How to make sense of it all?
With a code documenter tool of course!
When I found myself out of work in 2002 I built a tool that would automatically sift through all the source code and tell you which pages used which functions etc. etc. I sold this software to corporations, with prices ranging from $49.95 for a single license all the way up to $249.95 for a site license.
After a year I was making $1000 a month from this tool. If you take anything from this case study it's that having your own product is a very good way to make money.
Sadly this niche is no longer as lucrative as it once was. These days Agile development has been adopted very widely, and one of the cornerstones of Agile is that you're not meant to write any documentation. Code should be self-documenting!
There are still HUGE opportunities in software, especially business software. A friend of mine is a doctor and former software developer. He tells me that there are tons of opportunities for building applications in the healthcare industry.
I spent a few months working in the insurance industry, and again, there were plenty of opportunities there. Insurance companies will pay 10x as much for their software as doctors will. I know this because I once went for a job interview at a company that switched from the medical to the insurance niche.
I've had a lot of spare time this year. So I finally got round to giving vlogging a go. I've made a YouTube Channel for Niche Laboratory, and you can watch my videos on NicheLaboratory.TV.
So far I know this about vlogging:
I started the Niche Laboratory YouTube Channel ten months ago and then kind of abandoned it – the usual “shiny object syndrome” thing. I've just gone back into my stats and there does seem to be some potential there. A couple of my videos have had a fair number of views. My top video has had 690 views so far.
Clearly if I made a few more videos like my top performer then I could do quite well. Again I'll point out that the keyword finding niche is pretty small. I mean how often have you thought about looking for niche site making ideas on YouTube? I think in this niche you're much more likely to head off to sites like the Warrior Forum instead of watching videos.
One thing I have noticed is that videos take a while to get traffic – especially if you only have 20 subscribers like I do.
Here's the chart of watch time for my most popular video. I published this one on February 13th 2018. But look at the viewing figures – it wasn't until July that the video started getting regular viewers!
One last tip: keyword research is just as important when you're making videos!
Before I started my software business in 2002 I never really considered trying to make money online, except for doing a bit of freelance writing. In those days there didn't seem to be that many ways of actually monetising a website.
These days there are of course many ways to make money from your site.
However, don't fall into the trap of attempting to make money from day one.
In the old days I used to put adverts on a new website straight away.
Now I wait.
And I wait.
Sometimes it may be 2-3 years before I actually put any adverts on a site at all.
And I suggest you do the same.
For a new site, your primary goal is to get traffic.
When I buy a new domain now, I register it for two years. If after 2 years it has sustainable traffic, then I'll renew the domain. At the same time I'll also start putting ads on the site.
If the site's not showing much signs of success, then I simply let the domain expire.
It's important to be patient. After all, Niche Laboratory got practically no traffic at all for the first year of its existence. Between January 2014 and January 2015 it got hardly any traffic at all:
So don't be in a hurry to try and make money from your site. Remember that for the first 3 years of its existence, Google had hardly any adverts on it at all. During those first 3 years its priority was to simply become the #1 search engine on the internet.
Remember if you only have a few site visitors then it's just not really worthwhile putting any advertising on there at all. Besides, some advertising networks don't care at all about people who only make a few bucks from promoting offers on their networks. For example, ClickBank will actually deduct money from your earnings unless you regularly make affiliate sales there.
So when it does come to monetizing a site, what are your options? Here's what I've tried:
If you've got a niche site with AdSense or Chitika on it, then examine the ads and write down the URL's of the advertisers you see on your site most frequently [don't click on your own ads obviously]. Then see if they have affiliate schemes for their products. Incidentally, even if they don't then they're probably going to be interested in buying links or advertising on your site.
Not all affiliate schemes are advertised. I've had 27 payouts from an affiliate scheme that isn't advertised. I only know about it because they are a major vendor in one of my niches and I emailed to ask them if they had an affiliate scheme.
2018 marked the 20th anniversary of my making money online journey.
Here are my high (and lows):
I wrote some software articles for a website after seeing a "Write for Us" link on their site. I wrote around 7 articles for them in total. I actually got sent a couple of USD checks, and they were for quite a good amount.
You might still be able to do this, especially if you have specialist knowledge of a particular niche.
Around 1999 – 2000 people were thinking the internet would be gigantic. Huge sums of money were being thrown at internet startups.
This became the dot com bubble, and then the dot com crash:
I was one of the unfortunates who were working for a dot com, and I lost my job in 2001. I tried to find other work, but in those days the internet was still many times smaller than it is today, and there were very limited job opportunities for internet developers. In retrospect it seems weird to think about not being able to find a job in tech. In those days there was no Facebook, no Twitter, and hardly anyone knew about Google.
So I spent my time out of work making a couple of shareware software tools for Windows PCs. The breakthrough was finding out that if I made software, I could hook it up to a site that took credit card orders.
This all seems so obvious these days, but back in 2002 it was quite novel.
This year marked the peak of the software business I started in 2002. From mid-2003 onwards I was regularly making $1000 a month from software sales. It really kept me afloat during some lean years for my career.
In 2008 I achieved another milestone - a record weekly sales income of $825!
Then the big financial crash happened as well as a shift in software development that made my tools more of less obsolete. Lessons learned:
I started a small ClickBank eBook business. I made a few sales but was never comfortable with doing stuff in the health niche.
That same year I also wrote some rubbish on a completely unrelated forum and one day another forum member pointed out the fact that my threads were getting thousands upon thousands of page views!
I left that forum and expanded this into my own websites about the same niche.
I joined The Keyword Academy online website membership site. This really inspired me to write 6000+ words a day for a year or two. I wrote so much I broke my keyboard. Man, I really wanted those achievement badges! This propelled my affiliate earnings to well over $1000 a month.
In 2012 my niche sites were savagely attacked by Google's Penguins and Pandas. But unlike most other former members of The Keyword Academy I didn't lose everything...
In 2012 I also built a membership site in one of my niches. I made a bit of money. But my friend who started a similar membership site a year later is now making over $5000 a month. His secret was to reach out to the main influencers in the niche.
I tried to enter some new niches.
Despite having a great idea, I totally bombed in the property niche.
I started FindAForum and Niche Laboratory. Both are successful in terms of traffic and user satisfaction, but they make very little money. FindAForum's made nothing, although it did get me a job offer. Niche Laboratory makes a few dollars from affiliate CPA offers and product sales, but it barely covers the amount of time I spend on it.
In 2014 I got permanently banned by PayPal!
For a few months I thought this was the end of the World. My online income got hammered. Not because of a traffic collapse. It was because I couldn't get paid by the companies whose products I was promoting via affiliate schemes!
Actually some good came of this. I realized that instead of focusing on making new money, I should get my existing money working a lot harder.
I shifted my cash savings out of low interest rate savings accounts and started investing in P2P businesses, stocks and bonds.
I quit my software developer job and started teaching English overseas. Teaching English (and other languages) is a big and growing niche. However the best opportunities here are from teaching, rather than blogging about teaching.
I will also say that short education courses can give you a really good return on investment. Is a four year's Bachelor's degree worthwhile? I'm currently a university lecturer and I think half my students are wasting 4 years of their life. What wasn't a waste of money was the $1800 I spent on getting the CELTA teaching certificate. I've already had a 902% return on that investment in terms of the money I've made from teaching.
Remember my 2014 PayPal ban? That was my wake up call. I shifted my money from low interest accounts into higher paying assets.
If you learn anything from my story then this is it:
Invest your online profits. I've invested almost all of the money I've ever made online. The result is that in 2019 I now make over three times as much from investments than I do from websites and online income. You could easily do the same. If you're young then you also have the additional advantage of compound interest that could potentially increase your assets by many times over.
I still like building websites though. These days I just do it more as a hobby and as something to keep my IT skills up to scratch. Maybe this is a better approach.
A forum I started in 2018 has proven quite successful so far:
I had another minor success in that in early 2018 I made a Windows version of Niche Laboratory. It has made a few sales, but it has not made me a fortune. Still, it makes a lot more than I do from the affiliate marketing advertising on the site. I hope you can learn from this that selling your own product usually makes you a lot more than just promoting other peoples' offers.
Always remember to keep innovating as well. My most recent idea is to move into the electronics hardware niche. I have had my brilliant idea. Now I need to build my prototype. After that I'll have to start talking to people with 3D printers and get them to make me something I can get manufactured on an industrial scale.
Watch this space...
I'd love to hear what you think about Niche Laboratory and anything covered in this insider guide. Here's how to get in touch:
You can comment on any page of this site. As a bonus the first three people to comment on any page get a free "dofollow" link.
Alternatively email me – brett [at] nichelaboratory.com
Niche Laboratory also has a forum where you can post your thoughts about niche research and making money online.
We also have a Facebook page here. I generally hate Facebook but you can post stuff here and Like us etc. etc.
There's also a wealth of useful stuff on the Niche Laboratory blog. It's where I publish most of my secret niche research data. The blog's most popular posts include:
Remember to get involved by leaving a comment on the blog too! All those backlinks you get do help your site.
I've made a few videos too for the Niche Laboratory YouTube Channel.
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