$1,000 Affiliate Niche Site Build

In 2017-2018 I ran a test where I built an affiliate niche site with a budget of only $1,000 USD. I wanted to see how much I could accomplish with both the site build and SEO with such a small budget. 

At the end of the test I gave the site away to one of the people that followed along. 

The build and giveaway were covered over a series of blog posts. For the sake of connivence along with cleaning up this website's content, I have curated that series of posts here into one case study. 

Enjoy!

$1,000 Outsourced Niche Site Challenge & Giveaway

Are you ready for some Internet marketing and SEO fun? I hope so, because I am. At least, I hope this is fun and not a massively stressful and sadistic online adventure I’m exposing myself to.

So, what is the $1,000 challenge the title refers to? It’s a pretty simple idea where I put $1,000 of my own money into building and marketing a site that you could win.

Yes, you read that correctly. I plan on giving this new site away to one of my readers.

If that sounds good to you, then keep on reading.

The Idea

Over the last few years I have made some decent money by building small affiliate sites from scratch, getting them to rank for reasonably profitable keywords, and either putting them on autopilot and collecting the modest commissions, or flipping them for a profit.

But, anyone that’s babied an affiliate site from non-existence to something that another person might want to spend good money on acquiring knows it can be a major time sink. The busier you get with other ventures makes it only that much harder to nurse a site from infancy to full maturity.

That led me to the idea of trying to outsource almost all of my next site. With all of the great services available now, I’m fairly confident I can get a nice looking site put together and earning at least a little for under $1,000, though it’s far from a sure bet.

The Plan

The plan is simple. I have a maximum $1,000 USD budget for the entire site. That’s for content, hosting, and everything else. I plan to only focus on marketing the site through SEO, so none of that money will go to ads or any other form of marketing.

I am also going to outsource most of the process, though not 100% of it.

What I Will Do

I have no idea if this site will be a success, but I’m going to do what I can within my budget to try and make it one. That means I am going to do a few things myself.

They are:

  • choose my domain name
  • setup hosting
  • do my own keyword research
  • plan the site architecture
  •  choose the WordPress theme
  • upload and format the content myself

If you already have a small team in place, you could even pass off some of these tasks, but I want to take the approach as if I am one person with nothing more than a small budget.

What I Will Outsource

This is the fun part. I really hope I can get good results by outsourcing a few major aspects of building a niche site. And, for whatever it’s worth, this is going to be more of a gray hat approach as my budget is small and I’m trying to minimize the amount of personal time I put into the site.

Here’s what I plan to pay for:

  • social account creation
  • content writing
  • logo/graphic design
  • link building

I could take this a little further and just buy a prebuilt site instead of ordering content to build a site around myself, but I want to have a little more control over the site architecture and content formatting. This is mainly due to having very little budget leftover for links after getting the site setup. So, I really want to make sure the on-page is to my liking.

And, if it totally tanks, I cannot blame it on the site design.

The Rules

The rules for this challenge are arbitrary since it’s a one-person contest, but I figure I should lay something out to keep me honest. Overall, the rules are short and simple.

  • I cannot spend more than $1,000 on the site (hosting, content, links, etc.)
  • I will outsource most of the work aside from the planning and initial setup
  • I won’t use any other form of marketing like paid ads
  • I won’t give out the URL to avoid getting a bunch of unearned links (spam or not), and to protect the site for when I give it to the contest winner
  • I will give updates when I make significant changes

I don’t think I missed anything and I don’t want to make this too complex, so I am going to keep this part short and sweet.

The Contest

Here’s where the fun starts. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I plan on giving the niche site away. The winner won’t have to pay a single penny.

There are a few stipulations to this giveaway though.

  • The winner will need a Namecheap account for me to push the domain to
  • The winner will need his or her own hosting
  • I need to get at least 250 unique user entries
  • You may need to sign up for an affiliate program as I’m not sure what affiliate program I’ll use on the new site at the time I am writing this
  • I am only accepting entries for the first 30 days after the launch
  • I will pick the winner via software approximately 6 months from the date this post goes live. That day is 1/20/2018.

Sound good? If so, then enter below.

*The Contest is now Closed

Thanks for reading and hopefully entering. I have to run and start doing some keyword research.

Update 1

First, I want to thank everyone who has entered the contest and is following along.

We have about 130 entries so far.  I am really aiming for about 250 unique entries, so hopefully the word continues to spread.

If you have yet to enter, you can do so here –

*The Entry Period for This Contest is Closed

Now, let’s just cut to the chase.

Choosing a Niche

Before I could really do anything such as order some content or choose a theme, I needed to pick a niche.

When starting out I wasn’t sure what affiliate program I was going to use. However, after some thought I figured since so many people are using Amazon, that would be a safe path and offer easy value to the winner of the site.

For reference, if anyone is looking for options other than Amazon, some of the more common ones I know of are:

  • ClickBank
  • CJ Affiliate (the new Commission Junction)
  • ShareaSale
  • JVZoo

There are a bunch of others too, but you could spend weeks scouring them all.

Why Amazon?

Amazon doesn’t have the best commissions. But, they have so many products to choose from.

That makes it a little easier to match a product with a juicy keyword or keywords.

Amazon also does an amazing job at converting shoppers into buyers. That means while you might not get an amazing amount of money from each sale that is made, you should get a bunch more sales.

Don’t be surprised if you get a conversion rate of 8% or higher from people that actually click through from your site to Amazon. Try getting that with a ClickBank product.

Keyword Research

The first step to starting any new niche website for me is keyword research. I suppose you can outsource this, but I am doing it myself for two reasons.

  • I have a very tight budget and I need my keyword research to be as high quality as possible, and I honestly have never outsourced this task before so I don’t want to start testing vendors now.
  • I need to save most of my money for content and link building.

Without going into an entire tangent on how to do keyword research, I’ll try to give a quick but clear explanation of what I did.

I look at two main factors when doing keyword research: search volume and competition.

I don’t have any magic numbers or special formulas I use for a few reasons, and that goes for both the volume and the competition. Maybe I should, but I don’t.

Instead I have things I like, and things I don’t like.

What I like:

  • a niche with more than one strong keyword
  • more than one “best” and/or “review(s)” keyword to work with
  • lots of search volume for lower priced items ($15 item/primary keyword with 2,000 monthly searches, OK. $18 item/primary keyword with 50 monthly searches, no thanks)
  • moderate search volume for moderately priced items ($85 item/primary keyword with 400 searches a month, worth a page IMO. $400 item/primary keyword with 80 monthly searches, nah.)
  • another niche site or small affiliate style sites on page one
  • a niche that I feel can be expanded on if the site shows promise

What I don‘t like:

  • building a whole site around one big keyword
  • building a site around branded terms with no modifiers (best, top, reviews, comparisons, etc.)
  • high priced items – buying a $50 item from Amazon is a lot easier for people to do psychologically than buying a $1,000 item. It can happen, but I don’t personally like building sites around them
  • bulky items & items with long lifespans – people get very picky about something they will use daily for a decade, like a sofa. Many prefer to test something like that out in person
  • seeing the main keyword dominated by big brands in the SERPs with no affiliate sites to be seen

The 4 Tools I am Using

Everyone has their favorite keyword research tool, but here’s what I’m personally using now. And, I’ll explain why as well.

Amazon

Before I do anything fancy I like to take a good hard look at what is available on the various affiliate platforms. As I have already decided to use Amazon, this was a natural place to start.

I have no set strategy here other than looking around for something that catches my eye that I have not thought of before.

It doesn’t have to be some super secret niche product. I’m just looking for something that I haven’t already seen dozens of niche sites pushing. And, being that I do a lot of work in affiliate marketing, I see tons of niche sites.

Aside from looking for something interesting, seeing how many reviews a product has is useful too. It can give you a bit of an idea of what to expect when you start looking at search volumes.

KWFinder

After poking around Amazon and getting a few ideas, I jumped into KWFinder to drill down some keyword ideas and search volume info. I wanted to see if the items had enough monthly search volume compared to their price to justify promoting them.

One big thing to keep in mind here is don’t forget the long tails. A primary keyword’s search volume might only be 500 searches a month, but there could be a dozen long tails around that primary keyword that add another 500 searches or more.

A cool aspect with KWFinder is that is also shows the current top ten ranking sites for the keywords you are researching and their estimated page strength. That lets you get a rough idea of the first page competition without the need to leave the tool.

kwfinder

Ahrefs

Ahrefs has added a pretty stellar keyword tool, so if you have a subscription, there’s no reason to not use it. I really like comparing the search volumes it shows to those which KWFinder shows and kind of average them out to get a better idea of what to expect.

It also includes additional useful information to help you base your keyword selections on like the percentage of clicks that go to ads vs. those that go to organic listings. You can even get a breakdown of estimated search volume by country.

ahrefs

Google

Google is maybe the most overlooked tool for doing keyword research. If you want to see what is happening when searching for keywords on Google, just head on over to Google and take a look.

Of course it doesn’t show you search volumes like the other tools, but you can get some valuable information.

First, if there are no ads, it’s probably not a very profitable keyword.

Next, you can see what other sites are ranking for the terms you are considering going after. As I said above, KWFinder lets you do that within the tool itself, but there’s no harm in taking a minute to check Google out manually as well, as you start to narrow down potential keywords.

Lastly, Google is so kind they even give you some related searches you should probably mix into your content. Just look at the bottom of the search results page.

google suggests

Thanks Google!

Just remember, hop into incognito mode and sign out of any Google account you might be signed into before searching. Also, if you are targeting the USA and searching from outside the USA, you might want to use a USA proxy to get more accurate results.

Update 1 Summary

After doing all of the above, I am fairly certain I narrowed down the niche I am going to target with this challenge. I found a fairly decent amount of well searched keywords, and from my first look, the competition appears reasonable.

The Good – Some really nice search volumes and a wide assortment of buying keywords.

The Bad – There is some stiff competition for the #1 spot for some of the keywords, especially from some of the big reviews sites out there. The search volumes are high enough though that getting top 3 should still yield a nice ROI, and with these search volumes there’s always going to be competition. Ranking them is no slam dunk though.

Money Spent – So far I have not touched the $1,000 budget. I do have access to KWFinder and Ahrefs, so that of course helps. But if you don’t, they have free trials that give you limited use. There are other options out there too like SEMrush which offer pretty useful free trials you can leverage if you’re working with a shoestring budget.

Time Spent – A reader requested I add this metric to the challenge updates and I thought it was a great idea. His point was that while my budget is only $1,000, I might put in a good amount of time too. I am going to try not to put in too much time as the idea is to outsource a lot of the work, but I will put time in for things like keyword research and styling content.

For this initial work I spent about 5 hours of digging through keywords to get a bunch that I am comfortable with.

Next Step – I am going to let a couple days pass and then revisit my research. It’s easy to get tunnel vision after investing so much time into one part of a project. I want to clear my head and take a fresh look. Then, if all looks well, I will plan out the site architecture.

Update 2

Thanks again to those following along. We’re starting to move into the more interesting aspects of building a niche site.

We are at about 160 entries so far.  I am still aiming for about 250 unique entries, so hopefully the word continues to spread.

If you have yet to enter, you can do so here –

*The Entry Period for This Contest is Now Closed

And now, on to the next part of getting this site built out.

It’s Time to Spend Some Money

Fair warning to those that have read past the introduction. I am going to cover a lot here, so this might be one of the longer updates.

The reason for this is unlike in the previous update where my main focus was on one thing, keyword research, this part of the process requires managing more than one task.

My main goals at this time are:

  • Order Content
  • Pick and buy a domain
  • Pick and buy hosting
  • Order some additional content for link building

Let’s take a look at these one-by-one.

Outsourcing 99% of the Content

I can already hear the haters. “99%! I thought you were outsourcing this entire site!”

No.

I previously stated I will be outsourcing MOST of the work. But, as I am very limited with this budget to both build a site from nothing and do some SEO before it’s time to give it away, I need to roll up my sleeves and do a little of the work.

I will be outsourcing all of the money page content. I won’t be outsourcing the “About” page or any of those other basic supporting pages.

After drawing up a basic breakdown of my budget, I know approximately what I have to spend. This also lets me weigh my options for where to order.

  1. I can try my luck at finding a good writer on a freelancing site like Upwork.
  2. I can use a content-centric service platform like iWriter.
  3. I can use a writing service aimed specifically at creating content for this kind of niche affiliate site, like what Human Proof Designs offers.

There is no right or wrong here, but I do feel some options fit what I need for this challenge better than others. Here’s a quick look at what I feel are pros and cons of each service and how they fit my current needs.

Upwork – You have most likely heard of Upwork, but if not, it’s basically a massive freelancing platform. You can find developers, virtual assistants, graphic designers, and yes, even writers.

  • You can find a ton of writers, and you can outsource your work to one writer or an entire team.
  • It can take a lot of time to find a writer or writers that you’re comfortable with, and the better writers can get expensive.

iWriter – iWriter is platform dedicated to content. You can order content re-writes, press releases, blog content, and even e-books.

  • The big selling point here is that it’s a site full of nothing but writers. There are also different price points depending on the quality of content you want.
  • The quality of the writers is very hit or miss and the higher rated writers can get pretty expensive.

Human Proof Designs – The crew over at HPD are mostly known for their pre-built affiliate sites, but they offer some useful services as well – content is one of them.

  • The service is very specific to my current needs as it’s not a general freelancer site or content platform, but a service aimed directly at content for affiliate sites. The prices are also very attractive.
  • If you go for the biggest package, it can take a little more time getting you content than if you outsourced your order to a large team of writers.

I have used all three of the options above in the past, and while Upwork and iWriter have their places, for this I feel Human Proof Designs is the best fit.

First of all, I really like the fact that I don’t have to spend time interviewing and sorting through a bunch of different writers. That makes getting the order placed and worked on a lot easier.

Next, having used them in the past, I know the content is well-written and perfect for product review type posts. Also, it’s formatted well meaning the copy is very web friendly with small paragraphs and lots of headings.

And last but not least, the prices are awesome! Since I am on a very tight budget, they are too attractive to pass up.

There are four preset pricing packages:

  • 8,000 words for $199
  • 16,000 words for $349
  • 20,000 words for $399
  • 24,000 words for $450

You can ask for custom packages too if you need more.

I REALLY wanted to order the 24,000 word option as the pricing is great. But, as I still need to buy a domain, hosting, a theme, and pay for off-page work, I went with the 16,000 word option.

Click here to read more about the HPD content services. 

Choosing & Buying a Domain

Now that the main keyword research is done and the content is ordered, I need to wait a few weeks to get my articles. This is the perfect time to do some prep work.

I need a domain to put all of this content on.

I don’t really like exact match domains, but if that’s your thing, don’t let me steer you away from them. I just prefer a mix of a partial match and branded domain name.

The two main reasons are:

  1. I can get a little more aggressive with the anchor text on my link building
  2. I can expand the site easier if it shows a lot of promise

I almost always use Namecheap as they are reasonably priced and have great customer service. If you are building a site while following along, don’t for get to use Namecheap’s August coupon code: DOGDAY8

It will only save you about $1, but every dollar counts and there’s no reason to not use it.

I managed to find a nice brandable PMD .com. For whatever it’s worth, I still prefer .com over other extensions, so I do spend some extra time brainstorming site names and seeing what’s available.

Choosing & Buying Hosting

Having content on the way and a domain name to attach it to is great, but I need to get all of this hosted somewhere.

There is a mind-numbing amount of hosting options out there. I have and still use a lot of them. I usually don’t only stick to one host.

For this project I have decided to go with a shared hosting plan to help keep the cost down. I wanted a host that was reliable though and has good service because the last thing I need is choppy uptime.

I ended up using a StartUp plan from SiteGround.

The promo price is $3.95  month. That equates to $47.40 for a year.

Aside from a 99.9% uptime promise and quality support, they have stuck with the better hosts in the business to provide free SSL certificates. I don’t think you absolutely must have https to rank, but for a new site, there’s no reason not to get it.

Additional Content

As I stated earlier, it’s going to take a few weeks to get my content from HPD. This is a perfect time to get some link building content written as well.

Part of my gray hat link building strategy is going to be using some web 2.0 sites. It’s nothing new, and it’s not the most powerful type of link. But, beggars cannot be choosers.

I like to use web 2.0’s a little early on to kick my link building into a more serious phase, but we’ll go into that later.

For now, I need to get some content for these things.

The primary reason why I am doing this now is twofold:

  1. As stated before, the money content takes time to get written, so it’s better to do something during that time than to do nothing
  2. I can get the content and create some 2.0 sites early on to let them index and age a bit before I link out from them

Now the next logical question is, where do I get the content and 2.0 sites?

The quick and easy way is to use a popular service like the Hoth. They have mini plans for as low as $60 and larger plans for up to $250. I have used both, and honestly prefer the larger plan as I feel it’s more bang for your buck.

  • This is a truly DFY (done for you) service, so you don’t need to spend much time doing any of the work.
  • The content is spun, which is a turn off for some people.

Unfortunately for me, even the mini plan is going to cut too deeply into my projected budget. That means, I have to go even cheaper.

Another option is to go to Upwork and order some short 300-500 words posts on similar topics to what your niche site is built around. That’s exactly what I am going to do.

I am aiming at spending about $35 and I hope I can get 8 pieces of content for this price. This will make about 4 or 5 small web 2.0 sites for me to build links from later on.

Keep in mind, it’s not going to be stellar content, but as it’s a batch and the word counts are short, I should be able to find a writer that will agree to the terms.

  • The Upwork content will be original content.
  • This is only content. I will need to either pay a VA to set up the 2.0 sites and publish the content, or I’ll have to do it myself.

As of writing this post, I am leaning toward the Upwork option mainly due to my budget.

Update 2 Summary

I have ordered content, bought a domain, bought hosting, and am about to order some content I’ll later use in link building.

The Good – We’re really making progress now. Due to taking the time to do my keyword research last week, I feel the path forward is pretty clear.

The Bad – I can already feel the pinch of the budget. I couldn’t order as much content as I wanted. I also probably need to cut corners on my 2.0 sites.

Money Spent – We are now jumping right in to spending some of the $1,000 budget. So far the costs are:

That comes to a total of $441 spent, which leaves me with $559.

Time Spent – For my initial work I said I spent about 5 hours on keyword research. I spent about an additional hour reviewing my research and organizing my keywords for the content order. And, I spent about an hour looking for a domain name and setting up the orders for everything discussed in this post.

That sets the current total time put in to about 7 hours.

Next Step – I need to make sure my 2.0 content gets written, get my hosting set up, and spend a little time picking a theme for the new site.

Update 3

Another week, another update.

We are at about 165 entries so far.  I am still aiming for about 250 unique entries, so hopefully the word continues to spread as there’s only three days left to join.

If you have yet to join, you can do so here:

*The Entry Period for This Contest has Closed

Ready for part 3? If so, keep on reading.

Time to Build a Foundation

In the previous update ​I bought content, purchased a domain, chose and paid for my hosting, and ordered some early link building content.

That ran me a total of $441 dollars leaving me with $559 for the rest of the project. I’m going to use a little more of that remaining money now.

I need to be careful of my overall budget though as I still need to worry about link building.

My main goals at this time are:

  • Pick and buy a WordPress theme
  • Set up some 2.0 sites for early link building
  • Set up the bones of my site

As usual, let’s take a look at these one at a time.

Picking Out a WordPress Theme​

I have no idea why, but I actually feel this part is fun. I am kind of a nerd when it comes to WordPress themes. ​

​There are tons of options out there. I used Genesis a lot in the past, and this site is built using Thrive Themes.

However, for this new site, I kind of want to use a one-off theme and not a full theme suite. For one reason, I don’t currently have a developer’s license for Thrive, so I don’t want to break their TOS. Additionally, I honestly just want to mess around with a different theme.

I made sure to leave a little room in my $1,000 budget to buy a new theme. Unfortunately, I only had a little under $40 ​to allocate. That will let me get a new theme, but it will cut down on my options significantly.

Due to my budget, my first choice for theme shopping is​ ThemeForest.

They have a ton of one-off themes that fit right into my budget.

I wasn’t completely sure what I was looking for, but I headed to the blog/magazine section under WordPress as that seemed like a logical place to start.

themeforest blog themes

There’s also a filter on the left that lets you narrow down the selections by price, which is exactly what I needed.

themeforest price

At this point, it’s just about taking some time and poking around to see what looks interesting.

​When buying this type of one-off theme, I like to make sure there has been at least one sale, which ThemeForest will show you. It also helps if the devs appear to be active with updates and bug fixes.

I already had an idea of a site structure I wanted to work with, and I saw a theme that fit perfectly with what I want to try. ​I’ll go over the site architecture in another post, but the theme I decided to go with is called: Sweety

It’s card based, meaning the homepage will just be small little blurbs about each post. It’s kind of like a Pinterest style page for blog posts instead of images. ​

If fit right into my budget at $29, so I figured it’s worth a try.​

​Now that the theme is sorted, it’s time for some 2.0 work.

Setting Up 2.0 Sites

​I found a writer to do my basic 2.0 link building content for my desired budget of eight articles for $35 on Upwork.

The trick here was 2-fold:

  1. batch the order so one writer gets the entire project thus making the job worth their time
  2. provide the titles and keep the ideas of each piece simple so their is little to no research required on their part​

As this is money site content, I am not looking for perfection. But, I was still able to get a native English speaker for the work.

​I would normally pay a VA to set up some 2.0 sites while I wait for the content to get written, but sadly I had to do this myself. I don’t really have enough wiggle room in my planned budget for outsourcing it, and I will be really bummed if I have to pass on better links later down the road because I spent money on this instead.

​With the eight articles I made five different sites: three 2-page sites and two 1-page sites.

The 2.0 sites I used are:

  • WordPress.com​
  • Strikingly.com
  • Joomla.com
  • Yolasite.com
  • Zohosites.com

All of these offer follow links as of the time I am writing this. I could mix in some nofollow sites to keeps things balanced, but I plan on using a press release in a bit which would take care of that.

​One thing to note is that when I first build these, I do not link to my money site. I want them to stew a bit until they are indexed and my money site’s main content is indexed.

Only then will I link out from these 2.0 sites to the money site.​

I also find the need to tier these sites with extra links or they very rarely index. This is one of the rare times I’ll use a Fiverr or Konker gig. Again, this is mostly for getting the 2.0 sites indexed, not to pound them with tens of thousands of links and juice them up with spam.

​Setting Up the Niche Site Infrastructure

Up to this point I have done a lot of the ground floor work.

To date I have:

​Instead of sitting around and waiting for all of the ordered content, this is a perfect time to get the foundation of my site put together.

​If you have ever done this from scratch before, then you know what to expect. If you have not, here are the basic steps that I usually follow:

  1. Change the DNS on the domain registrar to match that of my hosting server​
  2. Install WordPress from the installer in the hosting cPanel
  3. Clean up the standard install (I remove all but one of the stock WordPress themes), and install my premium theme
  4. Clean up all the stock plugins I don’t want and install the basic plugins that I do want
  5. Delete the sample post and page
  6. Fix the URL structure
  7. Add a logo
  8. Add About, Contact, and Privacy Policy pages and a Sitemap
  9. If you want to set up a Google Search Console account, I might do that here too, but for this site, I’m not going to bother with that at this time
  10. Tinker with the site to get it functioning how I like before I start adding the money content

​I don’t go overboard here. I just want to get the site looking OK and functioning well. I can worry about the fine styling later after it’s getting some traffic.

  • Pro Tip: If you have a site on Squarespace, or have a friend who has a site on Squarespace, use their free logo builder to save yourself some set up costs. You can always pay for an improved version later on after the site starts showing some promise.

Update 3 Summary

We’ve got a basic site put together waiting for its money content. And, we have some 2.0 sites for link building waiting for content and aging.

The Good – ​Progress is moving right along and we haven’t blown our budget yet.

The Bad – I still wish I could have ordered more content both for the site and the 2.0 sites, but I am pleased overall with how things are moving along.

Money Spent – We didn’t spend a whole lot this week.

  • During the work done on Update 2 we spent: $441
  • We bought the Sweety WordPress theme from ThemeForest for $29 (plus a $2 transaction fee) for a total of: $31

To date that means to spend has been $472, which leaves a remaining budget of $528.

Time Spent – I had to spend more time than I would have liked since I could not outsource the 2.0 site account creation. That took me about an hour although it should have taken me less. I was just not motivated and a bit distracted while doing it.

Additionally, I spent about 15 minutes poking around on ThemeForest. I already had an idea of what I wanted, so this might take you more time if you’re going in with no idea of you’re looking for.

Lastly, I spent about an hour getting the domain and hosting set up and the theme uploaded, etc. Again, this might take you a little less time or a little more time depending on your motivation and experience.

That sets the current total time put in to about 9 hours and 15 minutes to date.

Next Step – I think the 2.0 content will be done before the money site content, so I’ll need to get that all published. I’ll also need to tier the 2.0 sites.

After that, I need my money site content so I can start styling it and get it published. That will most likely be the next major update I write, but I might put something up about the website architecture I use for niche sites while I wait for the content.

Update 4.5

Yes, I have skipped "Update 4" due to hosting issues. I sent an email to those of you who entered, so I am not going to go into a long-winding rant about it on here as well.

The good news is the site is up, though I still need to clean it all up. How fun!

Also, as I changed from my old Hostgator hosting to SiteGround, I figured it was a great time to take advantage of SiteGround's free HTTPS program and switch to a secured site.

Now on to the outsourced site challenge update!

Quick Review

Since it's been a couple of weeks since I last posted on here, I figure the best way to get started is a brief refresher of what has been done so far. 

Work done so far -

  • Did keyword research using KWFinder
  • Picked a niche (however I am not revealing that for obvious reasons)
  • Outsourced content from Human Proof Designs
  • Picked and purchased a partial match domain from Namecheap
  • Purchased and set up hosting from SiteGround
  • Found a writer on Upwork for some basic web 2.0 content
  • Chose and purchased a one-off WordPress theme from ThemeForest
  • Set up the 2.0 sites so they index and age
  • Set up the basic money site (installed the theme, added the contact & about pages, etc.)
  • Tiered the 2.0 sites with a low-cost automated 2.0 service from Fiverr

That's a whole lot of steps to go through before even publishing the first post. The good news is we can now move on to where the money is potentially made.

Time to Populate the Site

All of the groundwork has been done, and great news! My Human Proof Designs content came in a few days ago!

As I previously stated in a different update, I wish I could have bought a bigger package, but the $1,000 budget is keeping me in check. 

Publishing the Content

In the missing "Update 4", which is sadly lost forever, I went into a very long explanation of how I sometimes silo the content on my affiliate sites. 

A very very quick rundown of my base idea was that I use three basic tiers of content -

  1. the homepage, usually static, but a magazine-style homepage would work too - this links down to the top of each silo
  2. the top of the silos, which are usually non-branded "best" and "reviews" keywords that someone with the intent to buy a product would use
  3. under each silo are supporting reviews targeting a mix of branded and lower traffic keywords - these posts link up to the top of the silo
  4. I also sometimes add a blog running parallel to all the of the silos linking to them

Here's what it might look like -

seo content silo

This type of site architecture absolutely works. However, I am not using it on this new affiliate site.

Why?

The sub-silo supporting content requires a decent amount of time and money (resources) and due to competing with e-commerce sites and/or being based around low search volume doesn't pull in many earnings leading to a rather low direct ROI. Due to the restrictions of this challenge, it's just not possible to build the site this way.

Instead, I am using a simple architecture using a card based theme. This allows the winner to either maintain the same structure, or develop the site into a silo architecture if they choose to expand the site. 

As far as getting the new content up, here are some highlights.

Permalinks

If you are building a site as you follow along, don't forget this step. No one, including Google, likes ugly URLs. I tend to make these short and leave out the buying keywords like "reviews" as a way to make sure I don't over-optimize. 

If you are not sure what I am talking about, you can read more about URL structure here

Amazon TOS

A fast way to ruining an Amazon niche site is by getting booted from the Amazon affiliate program. Do what you can to abide by their TOS.

One easy-to-avoid mistake involves images. DON'T download images from Amazon and upload them to your hosting. DO use the Amazon API or their Sitestripe.

I used Stripestripe to link to the reviewed products. But, I didn't go crazy with affiliate links. I can always add more after the site is ranking. 

Internal & Outbound Linking

I like to make sure that when I start to build links, the incoming link juice bounces around the site. I make sure to add some internal links within the content when it makes sense.

I also don't think it's a natural look to only have internal and affiliate links. I always add at least one outbound link per post to a relevant site.

Use Time Wisely

In the past I would spend tons of time trying to make each post perfect. I wanted it to look great and be a conversion machine. But, this might be a big waste of time.

Since this site is built with SEO in mind, it's not going to get traffic right away. Of course I want to make sure it's built to rank, but I can worry about making it look perfect when it starts to pull in some traffic.

Update 4.5 Summary

The bulk of the site is up. I have published the Human Proof Designs content and it's already starting to index. I also tiered the 2.0 sites so they are ready to link out from when I'm ready.

Here's where everything currently stands - 

The Good - Almost all of the initial content is done, and it's online. Everything is aging and getting ready for the off-site SEO work. I'm also doing OK with the budget.

The Bad - The theme I chose is nice, but it will take a little more effort than using something like Thrive to get the final version to look as good as I would want it to. Oh, and the hassle of fixing this site has been a thorn in my side.

Money Spent - As of Update 3 we had spent a total of $472. I only spent an additional $16 on the Fiverr gig for tiering the 2.0's.

That puts us at an total expenditure to date of: $488

That leaves us with a nice chuck of change for link building: $512

Time Spent - Before this update we had about 9 hours and 15 minutes invested. I tinkered a bit with the content and proofread a little more than maybe I should have at first. It took me about 3 hours to get the site up to a basic standard of acceptability, which was probably more than I should have spent.  

That puts us at a total time of around 12 hours and 15 minutes to date.

Next Step - It's time to get some basic links built. I like to start with a very simple press release. 

This is ONLY for anchor link pillowing/diversification and to kind of "wake up" the site. It's not for a rankings boost or anything like that. 

I think I have enough left in the budget to just pay someone on Fiverr to write a simple PR and run it through syndication for me. 

Once that is done and I see more pages start to index, I'll link to the money site from the 2.0 sites I have previously set up.

That's it for now. Thanks for reading and keep ranking.

Update 5

The giveaway site is up, it has content, and that content is indexing. Now the real fun starts!

Having a nice niche site is great, but it's just a toy if it's not earning any revenue. 

Good long-form content, like what you can get from HPD's content service is a solid first step. With decent keyword research, you'll even start to see some of your keywords popping up in the top 100 without any additional work. 

But, the real impact from when keyword research, long-form content, and back links come together. We've already done the keyword research and built out the site. That means this update is all about back links!

Outsourcing Link Building

There are many ways to build links, but at the very start of this challenge I stated I was going to try and outsource as much of the process as I could for up to a total of $1,000. I also said this was going to be a gray hat approach, so yes, I will be buying links.

shocked man

 Did he say, "Buy links?"

Why am I buying links when all of the mainstream SEO advice you read says NEVER to do such a thing?

It's pretty simple really. It all comes down to a few facts:

  • I only have a budget of $1,000 to make and try to rank a site
  • I'm trying to do this without investing hundreds of hours of time (thus the reason for outsourcing a lot of the work)
  • It works

I'd love to get some legitimate tier-one quality back links, but let's be real, a smallish affiliate site has a very uphill battle in front of it when trying to do so. And again, I am trying to do this without making it a full-time job.

Don't be misled though. Any time you do any kind of artificial link building, whether it's building your own blog network, or buying links, you run the chance of getting smacked down by the big G.

This is strictly a risk vs. reward endeavor. If done properly, the potential reward outweighs the risk for the current investment in this type of site, in my humble opinion.

Now let's get started.

Step 1: Press Release

Yes, I still use press releases. No, I do not try to rank press releases.

The main reasons for why I use press releases is two-fold:

  1. to "wake up" my site
  2. to build a nice base of non-optimized anchor text

The real goal here is to just send a little link love to my site to help get all of the pages and posts to index. And, while doing so I can buffer or pillow the anchor text. I do this so when I start getting better links with targeted anchor text I won't end up over-optimizing my anchors.

Just writing a press release isn't going to do anything though. You need to have it distributed to PR sites.

The easy way to do this is to use a full-service PR service like this one that Dom over at Human Proof Designs has set up

Unfortunately, my budget is way too restrictive for that. I had to go a less costly and much more annoying path. I also think it's not as potent as the distribution is fairly minor. 

I ended up writing a short 300 word PR myself about the site launch. I spent a few minutes checking some sites for PR writing services without distribution, but they were over what I was comfortable with spending. 

After I drafted the PR, I used this PR distribution service on Fiverr. It's not amazing but it is within my budget and should accomplish my basic needs for tapping my site with a few links and building up some naked URL anchors.

I let these links simmer for a few days before moving on to the next part. 

Total spend: $6

Part 2: Web 2.0 Sites

Remember those Web 2.0 sites we set back up a few weeks ago? Now is when they come into play. 

After I see the PR links start popping up in Ahrefs (or do a manual site: check in Google against the report the Fiverr seller supplies if you don't have Ahrefs or something similar), I can revisit the aged and tiered 2.0 sites I built. 

There is no right or wrong to where you point these. I usually just make it random. For example:

  • Site 1 links to the money site homepage from its homepage
  • Site 2 links to an internal page on the money site from the homepage
  • Site 3 links to internal pages from all of its post, including the homepage
  • Site 4 internally links to a post that links out to an internal money site page
  • Site 5 links to the money site homepage from an internal page

There's no real rhyme or reason here. I'm just trying to mix thing up. It's probably overkill, but I like randomness.

As for anchor text, the PR took care of URL links. From these sites I like some branded and generic links. I'll occasionally toss in a very long tail keyword, but I'm staying away from my main keyword targets until the next step.

Total spend: $0

Part 3: Network Links

This is where people will start to freak out. They will be OK with building nofollow blog comments on spammed sites, blasting a PR with GSA spam, etc., but when you mention network links they run in terror. 

I'm not really sure why. 

Anyway, I'm not going to debate whether to use them, if they work, or any that. This is a gray hat and outsourcing challenge, so I am using them just as I would for one of my sites similar to what I have built for this.

As mentioned in the last update, we still have $512 to work with minus the $6 from the Fiverr PR gig. That might seem like a lot, but it's actually very limiting.

There are a lot of different networks and link sellers out there, but I usually go with what I know and who I trust. So, for this, I am heading back to Human Proof Designs to use their existing network

There is a 10 link and a 15 link option. I would love to go for the 15 as it's more bang for your buck. The 15 link option equals about $26.60/link as the 10 link option comes in at about $29.90/link.

Due to my tight budget and potential need for a second round of links from a different source in a few weeks, I'm stuck with the less economical 10 link plan.

That gives me 10 links to aim and 10 anchors to consider. I could spread these out, but that's just going to waste them.

Instead, using the mindset that I don't have any more to invest after this $1,000 budget is burnt, I want to do anything I can to start to get some kind of cash flow ASAP. That means getting at least one money page ranking and pulling in some affiliate sales. 

With that mindset, sending the 10 links to one money page is the obvious play.

As far as anchor text goes, the PR gave us some naked URL links. The 2.0 sites gave us some generic anchors. Now I can mix in the rich anchor text mixing in some natural variations and long tail anchors. 

Total spend: $299

Update 5 Summary

This entire update was about link building. We spent a good chunk of the the remaining budget as well. 

Here is where everything is at -

The Good - We are about 90% done with the work and outsourcing at this point.

The Bad - The budget is getting really thin. We also need some patience at this point. It takes time to get out of the dreaded Google sandbox, and it takes time for our new links to index and start passing juice. 

Money Spent - Before I started any of the link building, we had about $512 left in our budget. 

After the $6 Fiverr PR distribution gig and the $299 HPD link package, we are left with - 

Current Total Spend: $793

Remaining Budget: $207

Time Spent - I had to write my own PR. I spend about 20 minutes staring at a blank Word doc annoyed, and then about 25 minutes writing and formatting it. I also spent about 15 minutes logging back into the 2.0's to link out from and 15 more minutes with the HPD link order.

That adds up to 1.25 hours of time spent for this update, which brings the total time invested thus far to 13 and 1/2 hours.

Next Step -  After all these links get built and have time to simmer, I want to see how the site reacts. It will let me know if I should still focus on the same page I sent the HPD links to, or if I should put more effort towards another page. 

This requires a little patience.

That's it for now.  And, if you're looking for a rankings boost, I urge you to check out the Human Proof Designs link program, which will help support my site and this contest at the same time.

Update 6

We are really moving along now. It's been a few weeks since the last update. But that's because I have not done much but try to have some patience, which seems like a truly important character trait to have in modern SEO.

The biggest work that was done (outsourced) last update was getting some links from Human Proof Designs.

Since that left me with only $207 in remaining budget, I have basically been waiting to see the results start to filter in before making any more moves.

My First Round of Links

At the time of my purchase, Human Proof Designs only offered one-time 10 link and 15 link options. I had to opt for the 10 links option due to budget constraints. 

Since then, they have started a monthly service that's pretty hands-off: https://www.humanproofdesigns.com/monthly-links/

That's a pretty cool service if you know you will be continuously growing your site.

As far as my links, it has since been about 4 weeks from my purchase. We're starting to see some nice things happening -

human proof designs link success

While we aren't page 1 yet, that's not bad for a site that's this young and only has a press release, some 2.0 links and just got it's first round of 10 PBN links.

I fully expect to see this slide up a little more over the next few days and to see some lower volume long tails start making moves as well.

I also wish I would have had the budget for the 15 links instead of 10, but the rules of the challenge are the rules of the challenge.

Spending the Rest of My Budget

I don't plan on adding more content, though I would if I had the money in the budget to do so. I like to trickle in new content while I work on my links.

It keeps the site fresh and growing, and it also adds more potential conversion points.

But, since we have a little more than $200 to work with, it's going to go to more links.

We know we have a nice 1,100/month keyword showing promise as it moved up on to page 2. It's for the page I targeted with the first round of HPD links

Since the PR links should still be enough anchor text variation and are pointed to the homepage, I'm going to order another round of links going after the same review page.

This time however I am going to use a service I helped set up: Diversity Links

Why a Different Service?

I just used HPD links and it's showing promise. Why change?

If you asked that, hats off to you. It's a very good question. 

First, there's nothing wrong with them, and going in for another round would be fine. But, I don't have enough money left for another round of 10 links.

I could jump into the 5 links a month recurring plan for $159, and then cancel after the first salvo. That's a perfectly acceptable plan. But, I also like to mix up my link building as much as possible. 

I like to have a whole crazy spread on anchor text. I like to have links from all kinds of sources, like a PR, 2.0 sites, forums, blog comments, images links, etc. I love the randomness of it all, as I feel that looks incredibly natural. 

So, I am going to mix in some oddball CMS links along with the WordPress links I got from HPD

Different CMS Links?

Yes, most blog networks rely on using WordPress. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that as an insane amount of the Internet uses WordPress or a CMS built off the WordPress core.

But, as I stated, I like to mix things up, and Diversity Links gives me that option. 

There are three plans to choose from:

  • 5 non-WordPress links (Joomla, Drupal, Serendipity, etc.) 
  • 5 non-WP links and 5 WordPress links
  • 5 non-WP links, 5 WP links, and 5 2.0 sites with 3 posts each

I like those options!

Which Choice is Best?

Again, due to my budget I am very limited. The only option I have even close to enough money left for is the "Essential Diversity" package. On face value, I don't really even have enough for that as it runs $229 and I only have $207. 

However, due to knowing the team over there, I know if you reach out, they will cut you a deal for $197 if you are a first time buyer. Lucky me!

I didn't just work that out for me though. Just message them in the chat box on their site and they'll hook you up as well. 

And, if that isn't cool enough, if you mention my name when you order any time through the rest of November, they'll throw in an extra link. That's a $45 value!

Check them out here: https://diversitylinks.co

Update 6 Summary

This entire update was about link building (again). We also basically churned through the rest of the budget. 

Here is where everything is at -

The Good - We are 100% done with the work and outsourcing at this point. Now, it's a waiting game.

The Bad - I really wish I had a bigger budget. A few more posts and an extra round or two of links would really help.

Money Spent - Before this update, I had $207 left in the budget

After the $197 spent on the Diversity Link Essential Diversity package  - 

Current Total Spend: $990

Remaining Budget: $10

Time Spent - I didn't spend much time at all. I only ordered 5 more links, and I knew what page they were going to. I think I maybe put in less than 10 minutes in total. I'll round up to 15 to keep things simple.

That brings the total time invested to 13 and 3/4 hours.

Next Step -  Now, I wait. I am basically out of money, so what we get is what we get. In about 6 weeks I'll draw a winner, and I hope by then he or she gets a site that is getting some legit organic traffic.

At the very least they'll have a site that's primed and ready for the next level.

That's it for now.  And, if you're looking for a rankings boost, I urge you to check out the Human Proof Designs link programtheir monthly link program, and Diversity Links.

Final Update

It's been awhile, but now that the holidays are over, it's time to get back to work. 

I originally stated the giveaway would be on 1/20/2018. But, as we're basically done (no more money!), I figured handing it over a few days early is fine. 

First, I want to summarize the whole process and see where we ended. Don't worry, I'll try to be as brief and clear as possible. 

The General Flow of the Process

I want to be totally clear -- this is not the only way to build a niche site. This is just the way I built this one. And remember, I outsourced wherever my $1,000 budget would allow.

Keyword Research

I needed to spend some time picking a niche. I did so by finding some juicy keywords through a trial and error hunt basically. 

Tools Used -

Money Site Content

The site needs content, so once I had the niche, I ordered content. I made one batched order since I already had my keyword research finished. This way of batching is a big time saver.

It also takes time for the writers to complete it all, so I like to get this going A.S.A.P.

Service Used - 

Domain

This is pretty straight forward. You need a domain for your site. I like brandable partial match domains personally. 

Service Used - 

Hosting

A domain and content are meaningless if you don't have a place to store all the data. I like to pick a host that is easy to work with that also has a very good reputation in the niche affiliate site community. 

Service Used - 

Web 2.0 Content

I like to use real content for web 2.0 link building. It doesn't have to be great, and it's cheap enough that I feel it's worth it when you have room in your budget. Spun content also drives me nuts, so I'll spend a couple extra dollars here. 

I also set this up A.S.A.P. as I like them to index sooner rather than later, and I tend to tier them with cheaper 2.0's.

Service Used - 

WordPress Theme

I don't bother with other content management systems when building niche sites. WordPress is just too easy to use and makes selling a site easier. I did however go a different route since I didn't want to use a suite like Thrive for this. 

Theme Marketplace Used - 

  • ThemeForest

Set Up the Money Site

As I wait for the ordered content, I like to set up the basic site. That means getting the domain and hosting connected, uploading and setting up the theme, and adding all the supporting pages (About, Contact, etc.).

Then I publish and style the content as it rolls in. 

Service Used - 

  • None

Link Building

This was a four-step process. I used a PR, the 2.0's I built, and 2 sets of network links. 

Services Used - 

The Results

Apologies for the length of the above section. I wanted to get the whole flow in one place so you don't need to go and re-read all the older updates. 

But, now that it's out of the way, let's see how the site is doing. 

This is a screenshot from Ahrefs from about a week ago - 

niche site challenge

We're still a little bit away from page one, but there are some nice juicy keywords that shouldn't take much more to get them into a revenue producing result. 

A few more links could go a long way.

If I had to do it all over again with the same budget, I would probably save the money spent on the 2.0's and use it for more PBN links instead.

That's a Wrap

Thanks for reading and following along!