Some posts only go to subscribers via email. EXCLUSIVELY.
You can read more here or simply subscribe:
That’s a very big title there, I know. But I think it’s something web publishers need to address at this point.
We should have been talking about this for quite a while now, but maybe the last Google update was the kick we needed.
In this post, I’m going to show why niche websites are an important part of the Internet, making information accessible to the masses.
That’s quite a high horse, I know. So, let me climb on top of my soapbox and explain.
What’s a Niche Site, anyway?
The Internet is a vast place with an ever-changing, diverse landscape (Yes, I wrote this sentence! Not ChatGPT!). Each domain name on the internet represents an entity, also known as a website.
Websites come in many shapes and forms. E-commerce sites, news sites, forums, and social networking platforms, to name but a few.
And then we have “niche sites.”
Simply put, a niche site is an informational content website that covers a specific topic.
The focus is not on a blogger, a brand, a store, or a community. Instead, the focus of the entire site is the topic itself.
The niche site contains multiple pages that answer various questions and queries from people who are interested in the topic. Typically, the information is organized into categories so that the visitor is offered a structured overview of the subject matter.
Niche sites are about curating and organizing online information
Niche sites vary in scope and size, depending on the choice of topic.
You could focus a niche site around a small topic such as “grooming labradors,” cast a wider net and create a site about labradors in general, or possibly publish an even larger site on dogs. If you’re very ambitious, you can take on the entire topic of pets and consider that your niche, adding thousands of articles over the years on how to care for a variety of animals.
The key is to create a well-structured site that covers various aspects of that topic.
Niche sites typically contain articles that cover specific questions as well as broader guides. For example, in a small niche site on grooming labradors, specific questions that can be covered in separate pages could include –
- “How to get mats out of a Labrador’s fur”
- “What are the best shampoos for Labrador skin allergies?”
- “How often should I brush my Labrador’s coat?”
- “Is it safe to trim a Labrador’s whiskers?”
- “How to manage shedding in senior Labradors”
In the niche site industry, we call these “longtail queries” because these questions are not high up there in the list of Google’s most popular searches. Fewer people look for those questions compared to a broader question such as “how to groom my dog.”
And this is the strong suit of niche sites. When done right, they can quickly provide accurate and helpful answers to very specific questions within the niche.
Why do people create niche sites?
In an ideal world, experts would be creating detailed, accurate, well-presented, and thus helpful pages that provide specific answers to each longtail answer based on their authority and experience.
In the real world, niche experts rarely have the know-how, inclination, or ability to put together a website.
After all, a lot goes into creating a website. I’ve shared here my initial 20 steps for creating a new site, but there’s so much more that goes into launching and then maintaining a website.
Not everyone can do that.
Take my Dad, for example, a photographer with more than 50 years of experience. He’s an expert who has taught photography at schools. He could answer a lot of your questions about the topic, but there’s no way in the world he could create or maintain a website.
Neither could my brother, who is much younger and quite tech-savvy. He’s an expert on vehicles, with credentials and years of experience. He often weighs in on articles on my auto site. He would never start his own site, though. It’s not just that he’s too busy managing his own business; he actually finds web publishing boring (I know, I know, hard to believe!)
Let’s face it, even with accessible free platforms, 99.9% of people will never create and maintain a proper website. And I’m probably being generous here.
So, what happens in the real world?
A handful of experts do create their own websites. They’re not always very good, mind.
Since these people lack the expertise or know-how, these sites are often poorly organized, look unappealing, and fail to share the information in a way that actually answers readers’ questions.
Not all of them, of course. There are some great expert-led sites out there, with people who have both a passion for the niche, as well as a passion for publishing sites.
But they’re rare.
Most niche sites are created by people who enjoy web publishing. I consider myself to be one, so I can describe this from my perspective.
I LOVE creating and maintaining websites. I derive pleasure from publishing content. I love planning and structuring a site, installing software, creating well-researched pages, and putting together the building blocks to cover a topic thoroughly and accurately.
But wait, that information needs to be by experts, right?
Most times it doesn’t. If done right, niche sites can help people even without having an expert at the helm.
Niche sites are information curators
Experts and people with real-world experience often share their information in many ways, such as –
- Scientific papers
- Points made in passing during an interview in a magazine
- Forum posts and other user-generated content sites such as Reddit and Facebook
- Reviews in huge collections by sites like Booking.com or TripAdvisor
- Tips and mentions in hobbyist videos shared on YouTube or social media
In short, the answers to those “long tail” specific questions are often all over the place. A disarray of bits and pieces that the average internet user would have a difficult time finding and consuming.
This is where a niche site can come into play.
When done right, a niche site publisher will –
- Find the question that’s on people’s minds.
- Thoroughly research online to find the raw nuggets of information.
- If needed, reach out to experts to receive additional input.
- Carefully weigh, assess, and organize the information
- Present it in a way that’s easy to follow on a written online page.
As such, niche sites have a pivotal role in the Internet as curators of information.
As ethical web publishers, our job is to find those hidden informational gems, polish them up, and turn them into helpful content that’s organized in a way that provides good answers to people’s real-life questions.
People don’t want to follow threads in forums or on Reddit, they don’t want to read scientific papers, and they don’t want to spend an hour watching a YouTube video when all they need to know is how often to brush their labrador.
They want a single page that curates the information from all of these sources and provides them with a well-researched answer in a way that’s easy to follow.
Why do I create niche websites?
I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes by now because my discussion so far never mentioned money.
So, let’s talk about that for a minute.
There is a lot of money to be made from niche websites. The users who visit our curated informational pages, are prime targets for advertisers, so monetizing the sites using display ads or affiliate offers can be extremely lucrative.
It’s not easy money.
Creating and maintaining decent web pages requires a significant investment. Not just of time and money but also of skill and experience. It’s also a risky business where a lot can go wrong.
Realistically speaking, based on way too many years in the industry, I suspect most niche site owners never see a profit.
Let’s not beat around the bush, though. If you’re serious about web publishing, you want to see a profit. You won’t be able to maintain the long-term investment required without generating a stream of revenue that compensates you for the investment and the risk.
In that respect, it’s not different from any other business. Just because someone makes a profit out of their dental practice or their auto shop does not mean they don’t make a valid contribution to the community.
It’s the same with niche sites. Yes, we’re in this for the money, but that does not take away from the potential benefit our business brings to the Internet.
The average internet user benefits from niche sites. They benefit from a professional web publisher taking the time to research the internet and do the legwork for them, curating the information in an easy-to-read article that answers their specific question.
And it’s perfectly legitimate to be compensated for that.
The Recent Google HCU Update
If you’ve been following my X/Twitter account, you may have noticed that Google’s John Mu visited one of my tweets recently.
In a way, this blog post is in response to this exchange –
John Mu, Google Search Advocate, knows niche sites and how they work. Indeed, choosing a topic for your niche site is a “thing” in our industry.
However – and that’s the point I’ve been trying to make in this post – that does not take away from a niche site’s potential authority on the topic.
Are there bad niche sites out there?
You bet. There have always been internet spammers. While it has sometimes been slow to do so, Google was actually usually good with catching on to them.
Low-quality spammy sites are getting worse. With some publishers generating one-click AI content in huge masses, I’m personally concerned about the current state of the Internet. I’m even more worried about the future.
Not to sound overly dramatic, but human civilization is at an interesting and potentially dangerous crossroads as the Internet is quickly filling up with low-quality, single-click, unsupervised AI content.
Some publishers make a point of fact-checking, verifying, and generally editing the AI content. That’s what my company has been doing. Many do not. Google has no way of telling which content is which.
What is the answer to the current situation?
I don’t know. As I mentioned at the beginning of that Twitter thread, I feel sorry for Google. It’s a tough situation, for sure.
But the answer is not to devalue niche sites and surface the raw information out there. Featuring e-commerce websites for informational queries is also not a good idea.
Both things now happen with Google, as it struggles to figure out where the Internet’s reliable answers lie.
At this point, I believe Google should come forward and say that out loud. Instead of using arbitrary parameters in the algorithm, they should go public with the real issue at hand: The Internet is becoming dominated by AI content, and it’s not always accurate or high-quality.
Unfortunately, doing that would expose the fact that the search engine is facing a crisis. I suspect that the informational content part of the Internet is becoming too big to handle effectively.
I’m guessing – and this is pure conjecture – that Google’s engineers are smart enough to devise ways to reliably gauge the quality of content, but they may not be able to do that effectively across the sheer mass of pages being published every day using AI tools.
Admitting a problem of this scale is probably not something a large corporation wants to do. Moreover, judging by how Google is moving forward with Bard and Generative Search, it almost seems as if Google is going for the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach.
And I think this should worry every person out there. Not just web publishers.
Thanks for reading this far!
I know this is not a very practical post, but I felt the need to voice this opinion in a clear way. Or as clear as I could. As always, let me know what you think. This is an important discussion that I think web publishers should be having these days.
Hopefully, Google will become part of the discussion rather than try to sweep the real problem under the rug to keep its own business agenda going.