Authority Site Case Study: $0 to $2,174.26 a Month in One Year

At the end of June 2019, I decided to start a new authority site.

On July 3, 2019, I bought the domain, and the following day, I wrote and published the first article. One year later, in June 2020, the site made $ 2,174.26. By this time, there was a total of 153 articles on the site.

Having been inspired by many case studies myself, I decided to show you the results I got through building this site so far.

Among other things, I will share the site’s traffic and revenue growth as well as the steps it took to build the site with you.

I will also try to show you data that I haven’t seen in other case studies before like the monthly traffic growth by the articles’ month of publishing to show you why I am a big fan of building authority sites or the amount I would have made if Amazon didn’t change their commission structure back in April 2020.

Before jumping in, let me just note that this is not the only way to build a site like this. For example, I didn’t do (almost) any link building, something that many others consider essential.

There’s also no guarantee that by publishing the same amount of articles or following the same process, you will get the same results. However, hopefully, the case study will serve as a good reference on your own journey or as a motivation showing the fact that something really can be built out of nothing.

Anyways, enough rambling, let’s jump in.

Traffic, Revenues, Costs, and Site Value

Before presenting any detailed breakdowns and explanations, let’s start with the four main metrics.

In June 2020, the site recorded 63,713 sessions of which 56,359 were from organic sources (primarily Google, of course).

As you can below, the traffic started growing fast in March 2020 as some of the content I published earlier in the year started to “age.” The jump was also caused by one of the articles starting to rank well for a major keyword.

Authority Site Case Study: Traffic

Over the first year of its existence, the site earned $ 4,818.93 in revenues. While it earned almost nothing for the first few months, it had its first $ 1,000+ month in May 2020 and its first $ 2,000+ month in June 2020.

As for the other side of the equation, besides a considerable amount of time I spent on building the site in the first few months when I wrote all the content myself, I also spent $ 4,462.88 on various expenses during the year, primarily on content.

Authority Site Case Study: Income

Subtracting the cumulative expenses from the cumulative revenues, you get a cumulative profit of $364.04 over the first twelve months of the site’s existence.

While the profit amount is nothing to write home about, I am more than happy with where it is. That’s because it’s important to take into account two things.

First, the vast majority of the expenses I paid over the last few months has been investment in content that has yet to start ranking and paying itself back.

As you can see in the chart below, traffic continues to grow today even for some of the articles that I published a year ago.

Growth of Traffic Over Time

Second, content websites can generally be sold for anywhere between 25 to 35 times their monthly revenues. Assuming the site continues to earn about $2,000 for the next few months, it means that I built myself an asset worth anywhere between $50,000 and $70,000.

In other words, one could say that in the first year of building the site, I earned tens of thousands of dollars in equity in addition to the actual profit.

Not bad for a year of “side hustling.”

With that out of the way, let’s dive into the details starting with my thoughts on choosing the niche and domain name.

Niche and Domain Name Selection

For a number of reasons, I will not be revealing the niche or the domain of the site here. However, I still think it is valuable to talk about the process I went through when selecting what to write about and what domain to put the site on.

After looking at a variety of niches, I chose “the one” for a number of reasons. Some of the main ones were:

  • I know a fair amount about the topic allowing me to, I believe, identify search phrases that those building sites in the space without much experience might miss
  • The niche has dozens and dozens of sub-niches each consisting of a wide variety of both products to review as well as tutorials and other informational articles to write
  • While there are a couple of large affiliate sites in the niche targetting “best [product]” type of keywords, the informational articles around related topics are fragmented across many websites of varying (and often quite low) quality
  • I found that a considerable amount of informational articles ranking at the top for decent keywords are very short (500 words or so) and sit on “old school” corporate blogs

As you can probably tell by now, the niche I chose is very broad – and intentionally so.

Rather than aiming to build a very narrow niche site talking about a topic that can be “exhausted,” I am looking to eventually build a large website, some might call it an authority site, that I will be able to add content to for years to come.

Going down that road meant that I had to choose a relatively generic domain name rather than a very focused one. To give you an example without revealing my niche, I went with a domain to the tune of “outdoorlifestyle.com” rather than “backpackersparadise.com” or “bestbackpacks.com.”

In spite of choosing such a domain name, though, I picked a couple of specific sub-niches to tackle in the beginning to try to grow the site using focused clusters of articles.

Keyword Research Tools and Process

Speaking of topics and articles, let’s talk about what I believe makes or breaks a content website focused on getting visitors through Google. I’m not talking about creating quality content (although that’s certainly a considerable part of it). Instead, I’m talking about keyword research.

More or less for all my keyword research, I use two tools – Keywords Everywhere and Ubersuggest.

Keyword Research Tools I Use

The former is a Google Chrome extension that shows keyword data including estimated search volume and suggested relevant keywords right inside Google. As such, I mainly use it to generate ideas and get a quick idea of whether a keyword is worth exploring further or not.

The latter is a more traditional keyword research tool that gives data similar to Keywords Everywhere but also provides information about SERPs (search engine results page) as well as the estimated difficulty of ranking for keywords. While that metric by itself is usually not a good enough indicator of whether or not a keyword is worth targetting, it still serves as a useful reference point.

As for the tools’ cost, they both used to be free. Now, however, they are both paid. Even then, they are some of the most affordable such tools on the market. Keywords Everywhere costs just $10 for 100,000 credits (one credit = getting information about one keyword) and Ubersuggest costs about $30 per month.

In terms of the keyword research process, I use a variety of different techniques (including looking at the competition, using Google search wildcard, etc.) to come up with ideas. Then, I evaluate each keyword that seems worth targetting in greater detail.

Among other things, I look at the type of content (blog post, forum thread, product page, etc.) that ranks in the top ten, the competition, and the search volume.

Some people argue that search volume is a useless metric as it is never accurate. Personally, I find it quite useful as a reference in spite of the fact that I published many articles that receive several times more traffic than the primary keyword search volume would suggest.

If you are wondering why the search volume and actual traffic don’t match, that’s partly because of the tools’ inaccuracy but also partly because each post can rank for multiple keywords.

Once I find a keyword that I want to target, I go through some of the top-ranking pages to see how long they are and determine the target wordcount based on that.

Content Production Process and Team

With the target keyword selected, it gets moved into the content production process.

During the first couple of months of building this blog, that simply meant I sat down to write the article. Today, it means that I sit down to prepare the outline that then gets assigned to one of the writers that I work with.

Thanks to that, I am able to consistently publish over twenty articles a month on the blog while also taking care of my other projects and client work.

At the end of June 2020, the site had 153 published articles totaling almost 225,000 words.

Authority Site Case Study: Number of Articles

Over the course of the first year, I worked with a total of six different writers. At this point, I continue outsourcing articles to three of them. Of the three that I don’t work with anymore, two found other priorities while one didn’t deliver the quality of work that I was expecting.

Just in case you are wondering, I hire all of my writers through Upwork. I am considering starting to also use the ProBlogger job board, though.

In addition to writers, a couple of months ago, I also started working with a virtual assistant (VA) to free up some of my time and to save myself some of the frustration caused by having to do simple repetitive tasks.

While I will write a separate post about my content production process on a different day, I will give you a brief overview of it here as well.

First, I create a fairly brief in Notion (a project management tool I use).

Next, the VA takes that brief and copies it into a Google Doc which is then shared with one of the writers. While the writers are working on the articles, the VA creates a featured image for them.

Once I receive the articles from the writers, the VA takes the text from the Google Docs and transfers them into WordPress. He also does basic formatting including headings and adding the featured image.

Then, I go into WordPress, edit the articles, add links as necessary, and save the draft.

Finally, the VA schedules the articles to go out on schedule. At this point, I am publishing a post on the blog seven times a week.

Content Publishing Process

Content Mix and Monetization

Next, let’s talk about the types of articles I publish on the blog as well as the way I monetize it since those two go hand in hand.

Starting with the content mix, a bit less than a third of the articles that I published on the blog to date target “commercial” keywords. In other words, they are articles that provide product suggestions whether in the form of lists of recommendations, product comparisons, or individual product reviews.

The majority of the content, though, is targeting “non-commercial” keywords. The articles in this category help visitors learn about various techniques and so on.

The main reason for this breakdown is that I find “non-commercial” keywords less competitive, yet, I also find that they have more than enough earning potential.

Besides the two main types of content, I also have a couple of articles targeting people wanting to start a business in the niche I write about. I run into the concept of adding this type to a site on Jon Dykstra’s Fat Stacks Blog a fairly long time ago and it resonated with me.

While I ended up largely neglecting this category for a long time, I hope to put more effort into it later this year for a reason I will get into towards the end of this section.

Blog Content Mix

At this point, all of the site’s revenues come from two sources – Amazon Associates and Mediavine which is an ad network. I keep display ads up even on “commercial” content that I mainly monetize with Amazon.

When it comes to the ads, I initially run Google AdSense on the site. Once the site hit 10,000 pageviews in April 2020, I switched to Ezoic. While I really liked their dashboard, in May 2020 with my traffic having grown further, I switched to Mediavine, the ad provider that I use on my aviation blog as well.

Cumulatively for the first twelve months of the site, the revenue split between Amazon affiliate and display ads income was roughly 50/50. In June 2020, however, ad revenue contributed over 60% of the total, and I expect that percentage to grow higher over time.

Authority Site Revenue Breakdown

One last thing I will note here is that in April 2020, Amazon decided to slash its commission rates considerably. In fact, after the rate change, I earned from Amazon just a little over half of what I would have earned if the rate hadn’t changed.

While it was unfortunate to see Amazon do that, at the same time, it wasn’t completely unexpected. Especially considering the fact that many other affiliate programs are slashing commission rates amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amazon Affiliate Commission Change

Still, it was a great reminder that I should put some focus on diversifying the income the site is earning.

The first thing I am doing on that front is experimenting with other physical goods affiliate programs. That’s not yielding any results yet, though.

The other thing I hope to do is to diversify income beyond physical products, initially through expanding the business-related section of the site and recommending various software that operators of businesses in the space might use.

For now, though, Mediavine and Amazon remain the two sole “customers” of the site.

(No) Link Building

The last thing that I want to, for the sake of completeness, briefly mention is link building.

In case you are wondering what that is, it’s simply the process of actively trying to get other sites to link to you so that Google and other search engines see you as more authoritative.

While there are site builders that think it’s essential, I don’t think so. In fact, other than a failed attempt at sending about fifty or sixty emails to other site owners in an attempt to get a link or two, I didn’t do any link building for the site.

That said, chances are that if I did, the site would have grown even faster. Regardless, I prefer to instead focus on creating content that will hopefully attract links naturally over time.

Future Plans

While I don’t plan to do monthly reports or anything like that, I hope to update you on my progress with this site again within the next six to twelve months. Until then, I plan to stay the course in terms of content publishing. That said, I hope to remove myself from the various processes by increasing the responsibility of my VA and hiring an editor.

Long term, I hope to grow the site into one of the largest in the space and to potentially develop some tools that people interested in the niche might find useful.

If you found this case study useful or if you have any questions, make sure to leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading!

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