One Expert Shows You How to Start and Grow a Niche Blog

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How to Start a Niche Blog

If you’ve made the choice to start a niche blog, you’ve chosen well. The internet is filled with blogs and websites focusing on broad topics but when you narrow your blog’s focus, you’re more likely to target their needs. And when you target their needs, you increase your chances of earning a solid income.

When I first started The Savvy Blogger, I went looking for others in my niche who were doing things differently – I wasn’t looking for Pat Flynn or Darren Rowse. I wanted someone sharing real-life success and experience with a fresh perspective.

Which brings me to my next interviewee, who is well-versed in creating niche sites.

I ended up stumbling upon Larry Deane’s blog. After striking up a conversation in Facebook in his group (which is no more, I’m afraid), I discovered he was a fount of information and inspiration. Thankfully, he’s agreed to share his experience here.

I was blown away by what he shares here and I hope you’ll read every word…and take notes. He not only shares what he does, he shares how he does it in surprising detail. You won’t be disappointed.

Take it away, Larry!


Interview with Larry Deane - How to Start and Grow a Niche Blog


In 2006, my wife and I decided we needed to get control of our personal finances. I started reading everything I could on managing money and personal finance, and that included reading a few new types of websites called blogs. With everything I was learning, I figured others might benefit from what I was learning as well, and at the very least by starting a blog and talking about what we were learning and doing publicly, I would keep myself accountable.

I started “Gather Little by Little” in 2006. Little did I know how quickly it would grow. In 2009, I was getting nearly 3000 visitors a day, and earning anywhere from $1000.00 – $2000.00 a month from it. But, I was beginning to run out of content ideas, and felt like I was repeating myself over and over. Around the same time I got an offer to buy the site for just under $30,000. The decision to sell was agonizing but I sold, and used the money to pay off debt. During that same time, we moved to the Mountains of North Carolina as well.

In addition to writing on Gather Little by Little, I was also building out websites and blogs for people, as my full-time job is a programmer and web developer. I decided to make that my new direction. I would teach people how to start and grow their websites and blogs, and provide services as well. In 2009 I started Side Income Blogging . While doing this, I also became very interested in running niche sites, and seeing if I could earn from them. I did. I started two that earned nearly $3000.00 a month, but they were unfortunately penalized by Google updates later, and blacklisted in search.

I currently run 7 different websites, all are authority sites, that fully comply with Google’s current guidelines. One of these sites is my current focus, where I write-up guides about hiking locations, waterfalls, things to do, etc. in the Blue Ridge Mountains . My biggest earning site is another authority site, that I unfortunately won’t disclose publicly. I publish on Blue Ridge Mountain Life weekly and on my other sites 1-2 times a month.

Today I earn about $40,000 dollars a year working part time on my websites. Much of this income is from Amazon’s affiliate program. I am working very hard to convert this into a full-time income, so I can leave my full-time job and work solely on my websites full-time.


1. What were your initial goals when you started and how have these goals changed over time?

My original goal was to help people. I told myself that if I just helped one person, my efforts would be worth it. Based on emails I have received over the years, I achieved that goal many times over. I then learned I could earn money, so I work hard to always provide valuable content that helps people solve their problems and get the information they need. In exchange for that, I offer products that I get sales commissions for and run ads related to the content.

To me, this is a win/win for myself and my readers.

Today, instead of just having that one goal, I have three:

  1. Help others and provide value
  2. Earn Income from helping others
  3. Be able to retire from my full-time job, and run my online business full-time to support my family
Key Insight #1
Reread this answer and you have a summed up how-to for making money with a niche blog. Help people by solving their problems (making it ALL about your readers!) and recommend related products, adding in additional monetization methods that make sense. Larry does this beautifully! His travel site has literally got me thinking about moving from SoCal.  🙂 

The one thing to keep in mind at all times is that most of your readers are looking for solutions. When you tap into that pain point and offer help by providing those solutions, you presell (meaning they’re more likely to buy from/through you) and build fans who want to keep coming back to YOU for what you’re giving.


2. Why did you choose blogging over other business models? How did you choose your niche and how did you know it was the right one?

Blogging interested me, and it seemed very doable on a part-time basis, especially with my IT background. What’s funny though is I didn’t start blogging as a business at first. I had no idea you could make money doing it. I found that out a few months later, as I got inquiries to run advertisements. The first time I got paid for an ad, I was ecstatic – I can write about something I’m passionate about, and get paid while I sleep doing it?? WIN! I was hooked.

Over the years, I have had opportunities to do other business models, and I have just kept with websites, and especially what I call authority sites. Authority sites are basically blogs that serve as an authority on a particular topic. For example, Side Income Blogging was an authority site for earning money online through blogging and website creation. I even stopped doing website development for people, as I really just enjoyed more passive streams of income. Exchanging time directly for money is painful, at many levels.

Choosing a niche is a whole lot of research, a little luck, and honestly a little magic. I don’t have just one niche, I have seven, since I have seven different sites. I am constantly looking for niche ideas and topics. When I find one, I record it in Evernote, and then spend time using keyword research tools to research search volumes and competition. Too many people just focus on search volumes, and don’t spend near enough time on competition. Researching competition should be your focus. Competition is what determines how well you can rank, if you can rank at all. Oh, and don’t forgot those search terms with lower keyword volumes, they can add up to big volumes real quick.

How did you know they were the right niches? I didn’t. It’s an experienced guess, and only time will truly tell you.

My general approach is to start, say, 5 different sites that I think could do well. I dream that all 5 will rank on page 1, and I’ll get rich. The reality is that one generally does well, and the other four either fail, or rank ok. I keep the ones that I’m earning positive income from, and drop the ones I’m not.

How much time I give to a site depends on how profitable it is. For sites not earning me much at all, I just leave them alone and just let them earn – and don’t add much new content if at all. For sites that are growing in rankings, and earning me more money, I put all my efforts into publishing new content and keeping the sites fresh. Sometimes I’ll circle back around to the sites that were just sitting, and publish a round of new articles just to see what happens. You never know.

I try to focus my time where it’s most valuable, and where it’s proven to make my business grow.

Niches are odd though. Sometimes you do all the right research, you know it’s going to be successful, and it’s not. Other times, you take a gamble on a site that you aren’t sure about, and it does great. To this day, I am not able to come up with a 100% successful pattern for choosing niches and sites that are always successful. I’m not really sure anyone has.

I have a site right now that I just knew was going to do great! 4 months later, and it’s only getting 6-10 visits a day. Is it going to flop? Probably, but I continue to publish content on it, and will continue for at least another few months. The problem? The competition was more difficult to compete with than I thought. Sometimes it just works out that way.

Key Insight #2
Larry touches on a several gems in this response, but what sticks out most for me is that to succeed as an online business owner, you need to be patient, persistent, and resilient. You’ll notice that Larry’s initial success did not guarantee success with his later endeavors.

However, that didn’t – and doesn’t – deter him from persisting. He continues to build, grow, and adapt and he’s “staying in the game,” testing and trying new things when necessary, letting go of what doesn’t work. 

 


3. What’s your personal philosophy regarding content? How do you know what your prospective customers are looking for? Where does this information come from? Do you write all content yourself or do you outsource?

I use keyword tools and search insight tools (I use SEMRush) to determine what to write. I write some of the content myself and outsource other content. With seven sites, there is no way I can write all the content. The trick is finding a reasonably priced writer, that doesn’t mind writing content for topics that are often really boring. That has been a challenge for me.

Writing yourself on one or two sites is feasible, but at some point to scale up, you have to hire help. Either writers, Virtual Assistants or both. I’ll be honest, I have control issues, so letting others write for and manage my sites was – and continues to be – difficult for me.

Key Insight #3
Outsourcing can be beneficial for many reasons. If you can’t write English well, outsource it. If you work a full-time job and have kids…you can outsource tasks like content writing to help you build your business. And as Larry says, at some point, if you’ve grown your business big, you can outsource to continue to grow or even just to give yourself some breathing space. 

4. Do you have any original tips or techniques for getting traffic and getting your readers to engage with you through your blog?

I think all of the “original” tips have probably been shared many times by various blogging experts. My two focus points for traffic for me are:

  1. Optimize your content for search. Google is still the most valuable and profitable traffic to get.
  2. Use Social Media, and specifically Facebook. Facebook can drive huge amounts of converting traffic.

I really don’t care about engaging users on my blog/website. I focus on Social Media engagement. In fact for most of my sites, I turn off comments. Comments are mainly used by spammers and people looking for free links (in my opinion).

Key Insight #4
Social engagement is a signal to your readers – and search engines – that your blog is an active, engaging resource. It’s what’s known as an “off site” signal. Social media is great because it’s another opportunity for you to engage readers with high-value content.

I know that Larry promotes his Blue Ridge Mountain site by sharing AMAZING photos, sometimes with a teaser that invites a reader to learn more. He gets likes, comments, and shares – BIG time – and that’s another signal to readers and search engines that he is an authority in his niche.

It’s refreshing to come across a blogger who is less about self-promotion (though, that’s part of his strategy) and more about providing value in another way. When you put your reader first, you will see the traffic, the loyalty, the income.


5. How long did it take to start earning income from your business? Is it a full-time income (replacing a job) or a part-time income? What would you say has been the reason for your success?

I earned my first income after about 3 months, but that was in 2006. Things have changed. I’m now seeing that it can  take 6-months to year to start earning any reasonable income from a new website or blog. Google’s sandbox has a really made things more difficult.

I currently work on my sites part-time, about 20-30 hours a week, but my goal is to go full-time within 5 years.

The reason for my success? Hard work and tenacity. When others quit, I kept going. When a site failed, I tried another. When Google penalized me, I learned from it and moved on.

Blogging is not a get rich quick strategy, and like any other business, being successful takes hard work, a lot of time, knowledge and effort. Anyone who tells you different is lying. If you’re looking to make a quick buck in 3 or even 6 months, stop reading now … it’s most likely not going to happen. There are exceptions, but they are rare.

Key Insight #5
YES! 🙂 This response could not be more spot on! Things have DEFINITELY changed and what worked even 5, let alone 10+, years ago may not work now (or may work differently than before.) 

The reason for Larry’s success is a key point but what stands out for me is that he can work part-time like he does, making pretty good money. That takes away any and all excuses that you don’t have time to build your blog AND it’s inspiring to know that you don’t have to work ’round-the-clock to see results, even after the money is coming in. 

 


6. How many different revenue streams do you have? Which ones perform best?

I probably have 10 – 15 streams of revenue. Having multiple streams is critical to your success, in case one stream stops or fails for some reason. My best performers are Amazon, Adsense, Media.net and a very specific niche pay per lead program I use. Even with Amazon’s recent changes, it can still drive.

With that said, I am constantly trying new things to see what works and what doesn’t.

Key Insight #6
Trial-and-error is the only way you’ll figure out what works for your unique business. I think it’s also important to note here that there are some outside-the-box ways to monetize your blog. Some ideas will come simply out of necessity – you’ll learn where opportunities are as you grow your biz – and others you’ll hear about from other site owners.

There are more ways to monetize than the usual – ads, affiliates, digital products, and services – and if you can monetize AND provide value to your readers in a unique way, you set yourself apart as you work to ensure a secure income.


7. Do you use social media to promote your online business? If yes, which platform(s)? Has it had an impact?

Yes, it’s not really an option anymore to being successful. Maintaining active social media accounts is critical for your business, and also serves as input to Google for search engine ranking.

Success on Social media really depends on your topic/niche. For example, a Facebook page about how to kill roaches in your home probably won’t do well on Facebook, as people don’t want others to know they have roaches. BUT, a site like Blue Ridge Mountain Life does REALLY well – people love sharing beautiful photos of mountains.

Key Insight #7
Trial-and-error comes into play here, too, as does common sense. If you do some research into any social platform, you’ll get a feel for the kind of people that hang out there and the kind of content that does well there, too. 

If you’re not sure whether or not a particular platform is where your readers are, just try it out. Share your stuff, share high-quality complimentary content, and try to get a feel for what kind of energy a platform has. In the case of Facebook, people are going there to shop – they’re going there to have fun. So find a way to promote yourself and share content without being “salesy” and you’ll see your audience and reach grow.

 


8. What has been your biggest challenge as an online business owner?

Consistently growing my income to larger levels and finding the time I need to work on my business to maintain growth, since I work part-time. Balancing all of this with my family is an ongoing battle, but if given the choice, I generally choose to let my family win. But that is a very personal choice.

Key Insight #8
Consistent growth; that’s a challenge we all face and it’s the “work” part we talk about when we talk about income blogging being work. But it’s a good challenge to have when you have goals like Larry.

The freedom-based lifestyle doesn’t come from dreaming or goal setting or hobby blogging. You gotta put in the work. Seems like Larry has a pretty good strategy for growth and I have a feeling that – though this is a challenge now – he will overcome and reach his goal of working on his online resources full-time.


9. What would your best advice be to someone just starting out looking to make $1,000 or more each month by blogging? What would be your advice to someone who is struggling to make money online with their blog?

Find a problem that people are searching for answers for. For example; “How to potty train a dog” or “How to train a dog”. Do keyword research on that topic, using a good tool, and find keywords with lots of medium and low search volume, with low competition. Build a website, and create lots of really good and long (1000 words+) content for those keywords. Include lots of photos, graphics, and video in your content. Target 15-20 pages before you launch the site. Promote it like crazy on social media and start getting traffic to it. Then, at least once a week or even more often, publish content from your list of keywords. Include affiliate links in those articles, and run ads in content and on your sidebar.

Keep doing this for 3-6 months until you start to see the site ranking and moving up in rankings. Once you are getting a good amount of search traffic, you can continue posting more frequently, or if you want to start another site, you can back off to publishing new content 1-2 times a month.

If you can scale up, create 3-5 sites like this, and see which one takes off. Focus your efforts there.

If your current site is struggling, step back – look at why, and be real honest with yourself. Maybe you love the topic, but nobody else does (a common issue). Are you keyword optimizing your articles? Is your approach and solution unique? Is there too much competition? Are you active on Social Media? These are just a few questions to ask yourself. Put your ego aside though, and evaluate your site honestly. It might be time to let the site go and try something else. Or maybe you just need to invest more time. The reason and solution will generally be pretty clear, if you’re 100% honest.

Key Insight #9
This is why I wanted to create this interview series: there is no better way to learn than from someone who’s “been there.” They are on the path, doing what you want to do. You simply model their methods, testing and tweaking to find out what works for you. When you pair that with patience and persistence, you are ahead of 99% of other bloggers who will start, try, and quit.

Larry’s told you not only how HE does it, but how TO do it. The only thing missing are the finer points, the details – and that comes from either a solid blogging training program or learning-by-doing (how you choose to learn is up to you.) But this answer…this is how you make money by blogging.

 


10. And finally…What do you enjoy most about being an online business owner? How has it impacted you, your family, and/or your life?

Working for myself, and having my efforts and earnings go directly to my bottom line and not some corporation. I also like being able to set my own schedule. Since I work full-time and part-time, it definitely sacrifices my family time some BUT I do most of my online efforts early in the morning, before they are even up, which minimizes impact. Additionally, for my Blue Ridge Mountain Life site, we bring our kids along with us, so we get some great quality time in the outdoors as a family, plus content for our site at the same time. Again, it’s a win/win, which I always strive for.

For me personally, starting my online journey has made me realize that my full-time career is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. It has made me realize that I want to work for myself, be accountable to myself, and reap the success that I personally sow.

Thank you so much, Julie, for allowing me to participate in your interview, it has been a pleasure, and I sincerely hope someone benefits or is inspired by my replies.

Key Insight #10
Thank YOU, Larry! I guarantee someone will be inspired by you and your journey – I know I have been.

One thing I resonate with is knowing that a particular career is not right for you. For me, I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I was in grade school, I remember standing on the playground watching the world outside the school gates and thinking, “THAT’S going to be ME. I’m going to be out in the world in the middle of the day, doing what I want to do.”

I didn’t know it then, but I was setting an intention to live a freedom-based lifestyle. 

I’ve been an entrepreneur ever since, even starting my first business at a young age. I grew up, taking on jobs – the day I turned 16, I got my first “real” job – trying to find my way. But I could never feel fulfilled, no matter what job I had. I knew I wanted to work for myself.

When I found out I could make money with an online business, like you, I was hooked and knew that was how I wanted to make a living. It’s not get-rich-quick, it’s certainly not “overnight success,” but it’s doable and I couldn’t imagine living any other way.


Interview with Larry Deane - Blue Ridge Mountain LifeLarry is a part-time internet entrepreneur and runs a number of niche and authority sites, including Blue Ridge Mountain Life and Side Income Blogging.  Larry has built a number of successful and income earning websites over the past 11 years, and has helped others do the same.

Larry is also an avid hiker and photographer, and lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with his wife and six children.   Larry works full-time as a software developer for a Fortune 500 company.


Ready to Start Making Money with a Niche Blog? It’s as Easy as 1…2..3!

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Liked This Interview? You’ll also like:

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>>>How to Start a Food Blog and Make Money – Learn from a Blogger Who’s Doing It!<<<

>>>Mommy Bloggers Make Money – How One Blogger Quit Her Job to Blog Full-Time<<<

>>>“How Can I Make Money with Affiliate Marketing?” | Top Tips from an Expert<<<


Featured blogger interview series - mommy bloggers make moneyWould YOU like to be featured in this series?

I’ve always been inspired by the success of others and in this interview series, I hope to inspire you in the same way.  If you’re a blogger making at least $1,000 a month, I want to hear from you! Contact me to let me know you’re interested and we’ll talk.


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