Niche Adsense Websites - Observations After 18 Months

by JamesM
25 replies
  • SEO
  • |
The following observations are the result of running a small network of niche sites monetized via Adsense. I built these sites over the course of a few months starting back in January 2010, and they currently account for about 20% of my IM income. While IM is not my full-time job a large proportion of my 9-to-5 deals with custom analytics and landing page optimization, which is why Adsense appealed to me in the first place.

Disclaimer: This is in no way intended to be a "how-to" guide and you will not find detailed instructions on niche selection, SEO or anything else in this post. I will not be revealing specific niches or figures here, and while much of the following may appear common sense I hope it might help others starting out on their own Adsense journey. Specifically it might prevent you from wasting time looking for a magic bullet that doesn't exist. In the post-Panda world you'll need to work harder than ever if you want to make consistent money with micro-niche Adsense sites.

Niche and Keyword Selection

Keyword research and selection is the cornerstone of micro-niche promotion. If you get this part right then you can often succeed no matter how badly you fudge everything else. Get it wrong however, and you could face an uphill struggle that ultimately won't be worth your time. In retrospect I have made various mistakes in my keyword research, although I also fluked upon a couple of gems.

I've been guilty of setting my sights too low and as a result have sometimes selected niches that, while easy to rank for, have yielded either too few visits or too few advertisers to make them worthwhile. In retrospect I wish I'd been more confident in the niches that I've attempted to tackle, and in the future will be more ambitious with my niche selection. Ultimately, I'd rather have a crack at a moderately competitive niche that has the potential for a decent pay-off than waste my time getting ranked for keywords with poor ROI.

It's worth noting here that although some niches might appear to have a large number of potential advertisers each might only have a small Adwords budget. In a niche with lots of competing publisher sites this might result in less-than-expected ad coverage.

I've also found that generic micro-niches often outperform model-specific micro-niches due to a relatively higher number of well targeted ads. For example "red widgets" might be a better keyphrase than "acme scarlet widgets" simply because advertisers are less likely to write ad copy for specific product models than umbrella phrases. I believe that relevance of ad copy plays a huge part in determining your CTR (maybe as much as you ad layout), so ensuring you can get well targeted ads is imperative. As an aside I have improved revenue from under-performing model-specific content by replacing Adsense blocks with Amazon product widgets (YMMV).

Don't Disregard Seasonal Niches

First off, seasonal niches can be extremely lucrative. I have a site that makes as much during November, December and January (combined) as any of my niche sites do throughout the whole year. Seasonal niches often have lower competition and so are easier to rank for, and there are enough seasonal niches to ensure that no matter the time of year you could have sites pulling in cash during their peak season.

It's worth noting that sometimes a niche that at first suggests seasonality will turn out to be a perennial earner. I have a site that promotes a specific piece of exercise equipment that I assumed would prove most popular during winter but in practice that site has performed consistently year-round.

One of the problems with developing sites around a seasonal niche is the difficulty in predicting ad coverage and number of advertisers if you're outside of that niches peak season. Generally you want to build your site 6 months before peak season so that your domain can age and you can rank for your keywords. I'm afraid that I still haven't got a solution to this one, although I've got list of keywords I researched last winter that I might start building now, but if you're starting from scratch then you don't have that luxury. I know that the Google Keyword Tool and Google Trends will show broad trends but I don't know of a way to get detailed keyword figures out of season. That might be a weakness on my part - if you know how then please let me know

In summary I think that seasonal niches present a great opportunity if you're comfortable with fluctuations in your income. Personally I intend to exploit seasonal niches further as I move forward.

CTR Optimization

I've used various theme's throughout my journey with Adsense and although I've done extensive A/B testing and tweaking, I've never found a magic bullet that significantly boosts my CTR. At times my layouts have been very "aggressive", but I've always been careful to keep within Adsense TOS. At one point I was obsessed with making my sites look nicer so that I could lower my bounce rate, the logic being that if people stuck around for longer than a few seconds they were more likely to click on one of my ads. This was also partially motivated by fear and paranoia over losing my Adsense account if I was too aggressive in ad placement, something that no doubt arose from reading all the horror stories of banned Adsense accounts that you read from time to time.

After all of my efforts and I can categorically say that overall any improvements to CTR have been marginal, and sometimes changes have even had a detrimental effect. I've recently switched to "CTR Theme", but I'm not sure if I'll stick with it as I was getting a similar CTR using my own custom theme. My conclusion is that there is only so much that you can improve your themes and ad layouts to improve CTR as other factors, like ad relevance, greatly influence CTR. In retrospect I think that I've spent more time than necessary trying to optimize CTR - time that would have been better spent writing new content or researching new niches. There's definitely a law of diminishing returns at work here.

My advice to anybody starting out would be to choose an aggressive (but compliant) theme and then concentrate on content and SEO. Of the themes that are publically available my current favourite is CTR Theme, although others prefer the Clickbump Engine. Either of these would be a great start and will save you headache and heartache further down the line.

Average CPC

When I first started out my average CPC fluctuated wildly for a couple of months, but since then it's been pretty steady with a deviation of only +/-5%. This is across multiple niches, some seasonal, with different sites rising and falling in the SERPs (and therefore a differing ratio of clicks across each niche). I'm not sure what exactly to make of this, as it could be the result of an averaging effect across my portfolio of sites or it could be hand of Google at work. Draw your own conclusions, but I'm in the process of building a couple of sites around keywords that research suggests should yield significantly higher CPCs, so I'll wait and see if it's enough to push my average CPC beyond it's current stable range.

On-Page SEO

I've always been on top of on-page SEO, so I covered off all of the usual criteria (site structure, internal links, H1 tags, alt tags etc) early on, plus most decent themes are quite good in that respect. What I've realised recentlythough, especially since the Panda updates, is that the quality of my content makes an enormous difference to my rankings. When I first started building these sites I wrote all of the content myself, spending a couple of hours on each article (research and writing). As time progressed I got lazier and outsourced writing, dropping my editorial standards somewhat. The interesting thing here is that the pages where I wrote content myself are ranking better than ever, but the lower quality pages have either dropped, or have problems stabilising in the SERPs. It seems that the old addage "content is king" is as true as ever. My plan for the future is to ensure that all content is high quality and I'm going to revisit and rewrite some of my older pages that I'm confident I can bring back into the SERPs.

Off-Page SEO

When it comes to off-page SEO micro-niche sites typically face different challenges than larger brand and authority sites. It's difficult to get authority backlinks as most sites are so niche and commercial in nature that nobody wants to be associated with you. The white hat method for getting backlinks to these sites tend to involve article directory submission and manual social bookmarking, while others choose to go down the black hat route. Personally I've tried several different methods, and I don't think anybody will be suprised when I say that I've had most success from in-content links from diverse IP ranges. That basically means using a blog network of one kind or another. I've had initial success with other methods, but generally my sites start to drop if I rely on social bookmarks and profile links. The simple truth is that in-content links work best for me. That means that I'm going to have to write even more content - some for my sites, but some for backlinks too!

I also want to mention exact match domains (EMDs). While useful for gaining initial rankings a micro-niche EMD can limit your ability to build out a site as a more authority resource. However, of the sites where I admit to less than stellar content those with EMDs have held their rankings best. It seems that, for the time being, EMDs still provide a nice boost. The only problem is finding niches with available EMDs now that the rest of the world has jumped on the micro-niche bandwagon!


If you've been building niche Adsense sites for a while then I doubt there are any real revelations here, but hopefully this will have been useful to somebody. If I had to put together some "take home" points from my experience they would be:
  • perform due diligence on the profitability of a niche before building a site
  • don't be afraid to tackle moderately competitive niches with higher potential rewards
  • don't shy away from seasonal niches
  • don't spend too much time "tweaking" your site design - pick a decent optimized theme and get on with writing content
  • only use genuinely high quality content (be brutally honest with yourself)
  • as with content creation, the most effective SEO methodology seems to be the one that is most labour intensive
  • EMDs still hold value, for the time being at least

Well, that's about it. Who'd have guessed you actually have to work hard at this micro-niche thing to make money. I'm sure there'll still be hoardes of people who will think otherwise and they will have to learn for themselves. Hopefully if you've read this far you'll have found something of interest or use to you. If not, sorry for wasting your time
#adsense #months #niche #observations #websites
  • Profile picture of the author Ernie Lo
    Excellent post! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Do you have an opinion on the number of ads per page you think is best? Is having 3 ads on a page better than 1?

    and what about the settings. Do you have interest based ads turned on or off? have you tested both types before, if so what were your findings.

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    • Profile picture of the author Jeremy Banks
      Originally Posted by Ernie Lonardo View Post

      Excellent post! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

      Do you have an opinion on the number of ads per page you think is best? Is having 3 ads on a page better than 1?

      and what about the settings. Do you have interest based ads turned on or off? have you tested both types before, if so what were your findings.

      Hey Ernie, thought I would toss in my 2 cents here. I find having 3 ads does dilute the payout per click. I usually stick with two

      IMO 3 ads will turn the user off anyways because it makes the website look to ad happy and spammy.

      I like to have two ads in the most prominent spots, I usually go with a long ad in the header and another at the bottom of the post, a square in the top left of the article and another square at the bottom, or long ad in the header and square in the top left of the post

      These give me AWESOME CTR and decent payout per click without the page looking to ad heavy and spammy
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  • Profile picture of the author Rough Outline
    Originally Posted by JamesM View Post

    Off-Page SEO

    That basically means using a blog network of one kind or another. I've had initial success with other methods, but generally my sites start to drop if I rely on social bookmarks and profile links. The simple truth is that in-content links work best for me. That means that I'm going to have to write even more content - some for my sites, but some for backlinks too!
    Do you mean sites like Hubpages and Squidoo?
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  • Profile picture of the author Jeremy Banks
    Thanks for the detailed insight.

    How many sites do you have and I am sure some people would want to know how well you are doing
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  • Profile picture of the author JamesM
    @Ernie, I'm currently runing CTR Theme so I'm rocking 3 units, but I've extensively tested loads of combos. At the end of the day it seems to be a wash. My best overall layout was using 2 text-only blocks (336x280), one at the top of content, text-wrapped, with one at the bottom. To that I'd add a 160x600 wide skyscraper image-only to the sidebar. This image ad would never get any clicks, but seemed to force peoples gaze across to the top text ad. In some ways I think it cried out "look anywhere but at me"!

    @Rough Outline, although I don't use HubPages or Squidoo they'd do as well. What I meant was private blog networks like Build My rank.

    @Jeremy, I'm not going to post figures because I don't want to present myself as any kind of success (or failure!) - I'm just another grunt on the frontline. I'm nowhere near your $5000 per month, but I plan on trying to get there!

    If this post has been helpful please click the "thanks" button ;-)

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  • Profile picture of the author jimmyloyola
    Awesome thread. Very interesting read. Warrior forum is full of good stuff
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  • Profile picture of the author Rukshan
    Great writeup. Can you explain more details about offsite SEO tips?

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  • Profile picture of the author warfore
    Very good post.... Although the topics are covered many times in the forum it's good to get another perspective. It really helps to validate information you already have and to supply nuggets that you may have overlooked.



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  • Profile picture of the author MBDirect
    I am hitting the Thank You button. This was a great contribution and yes, others cover some of same topics but you have taken the time and thought to put it all in one package which is not even self-serving and that can't go unnoticed. Many thanks - much appreciated.
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  • Profile picture of the author JamesM
    One of the points I'm trying to make here is that although these topics have been covered time and again on this forum I myself have been guilty of ignoring the advice and observations of others. I'm hoping that by spelling it out I might save others from wasting their time and energy looking for a "quick fix" as I have.

    If I'd been focused on expanding my portfolio in a consistent manner rather than looking for shortcuts I'd be significantly further down the road than I am now. Panda has hit some of my sites hard, but at least it's made me evaluate where I am and the best course of action to move forward. The fact that I've got sites that are similar in levels of competition, but with variation of content quality and backlinking methods means that I've been able to reach meaningful conclusions based on their performance over the last 6 weeks.

    If this post has been helpful please click the "thanks" button ;-)

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  • Profile picture of the author JB777
    Excellent info here James!

    In regards to moderately competitive niches what should be your focus early on in terms to building?
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  • Profile picture of the author Klemen Znidar
    Great writeup!

    I only have one question. How big are your micro niche sites? How many pages.
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  • Profile picture of the author JamesM
    @prawnballs Yes - I still use bookmarks, but early on, and in large numbers. Fiverr is a good place to look if you do some due diligence.

    @morc3x as many pages as I can put together without repeating myself! Sometimes it's 1, sometimes 3, sometimes 5 or more - it all depends on how much there is to say without compromising quality of information.

    If this post has been helpful please click the "thanks" button ;-)

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  • Profile picture of the author BXPS
    Thanks for the useful tips.
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  • Profile picture of the author salaka
    great post do you use amazon, CPA clickbank what are the tools you use???

    great post thanks
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  • Profile picture of the author retsek
    Great post.

    I'd add that CTR is really dependent on the niche as well.
    I have one information site with a CTR of 16% using custom theme. I applied that same theme to two other info sites on different topics and one is stable at 2% CTR and the other at 5%.
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    • Profile picture of the author bhuff85
      Originally Posted by retsek View Post

      Great post.

      I'd add that CTR is really dependent on the niche as well.
      I have one information site with a CTR of 16% using custom theme. I applied that same theme to two other info sites on different topics and one is stable at 2% CTR and the other at 5%.
      Couldn't agree more on this. It truly is across the board, as some niche markets definitely tend to sit on the higher side, while some niches have horrible CTR.

      One thing I have noticed (and this is merely from my experience) is that in certain unisex niches that appeal more to women, I've noticed a considerably higher CTR.

      Another find - niches that are more "hobby related" tend to attract a higher CTR. My guess is that extreme hobbyists will tirelessly look for anything they can get there hands on that can improve the satisfaction of their hobby (i.e. golfers looking for the best driver that money can buy). The more detailed you can get with your keywords and your ad targeting, the higher CTR you should see. It's all about ad relevancy.
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  • Profile picture of the author XIIIzen
    Excellent contribution man. As far as I can see you have got grasp of one the beasts mentioned here in the forums, Adsense is in fact a good source of revenue.

    Thanks for sharing your insights with such a detail.
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  • Profile picture of the author mahmoud747
    Thanks for your informative post
    but what is the average cpc you are looking for when building adsense site ?
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  • Profile picture of the author TryBPO
    I absolutely, 100% agree with what JamesM has laid out here and we've had very similar findings. I found myself nodding my head multiple times while reading the original post.

    I absolutely agree with his assessment regarding wasting time trying to gain by switching themes. We've tested out a few themes (We're currently working with CTR Theme as well) and haven't found much benefit either way. Our time is better spent testing out different monetization methods (We think...this may prove to be a time waster too...we might be better off creating more sites/content than messing around with the detailed process of trying to improve CPM through monetization methods) adding content, adding more sites, etc.
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  • Profile picture of the author robftprod
    Thanks for the post. I've been guilty of doing the theme dance too! Trying to find that one theme that will increase my CTR by some astronomical percentage. Thanks for confirming what I was suspecting.

    One quick question: Have you spent much time testing many different ad color combinations? (it's become my new addiction)

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  • Profile picture of the author peatermead
    Thanks for sharing these tips. I am also working with niche sites but don't see much success. Not sure what am I doing wrong?

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