Don’t build a niche store, Google killed them
No, the title isn’t an error, I did intend to say “Don’t”. Let me explain…The internet is a constantly changing place. One day you may find yourself getting more than 2000 visits to a site per day and earning money like there is no tomorrow, then the next day, both traffic and money are suddenly all gone. This is what happened to my top earning niche stores in August of 2011.
I’ve been holding on since then, hoping that by making various site changes and by getting more links that the traffic might return. After more than a year of waiting, I’ve realized it just isn’t going to happen. I’m accepting reality: Google has successfully killed niche stores and I will no longer be recommending them as a viable source of side income going forward.
Frankly, I waited for far too long, and shouldn’t have held on as long as I did. Someone moved by niche store cheese, and rather than getting up to find the next “new cheese”, I stayed around hoping it would come back. Big mistake, that caused me to waste a great deal of time.
Update 1/1/2014: After two months straight of no income and very little traffic on the site, I shut it down. I’ll be focusing more on my niche sites and blogs going forward. Keeping reading, and I’ll share with you how well they are working and how to get started.
Update: 6/4/2014: Instead of Niche Stores, I now recommend building out Niche Sites. You can read more about this and follow along with my in my Niche Site Case Study.
Build a Niche Store
Building a niche store was all the rage beginning around 2006/2007. I jumped on the bandwagon during a great time in 2007. I initially built two niche stores, followed by a few more over time. A few of them did pretty well, a few others never took off at all, but one of them earned me more than $8,000.00 over the course of 5 years. Not bad for a site I hardly spent any time on.
I started off using a software package called Build a Niche Store (BANs). BANs worked great and made building an eBay based niche store really simple. Google soon caught onto BANs though, and around 2008 or so, Google started de-ranking BANs sites on their SERPs. Seems Google has this obsession with only having sites they (the key word being they) feel are beneficial to “searchers” at the top of the search engine result pages (SERPs). The problem is,”beneficial” is subjective and often debated. Now, in Google’s defense some of the BANs stores out there were terrible and did not provide a good user experience. While perhaps I’m partial, I felt my did. Others must have agreed based on the traffic and sales I was getting.
Once Google made the change to start black listing BANs sites, I saw my niche store drop from the #1 or #2 position on Goole for it’s primary keywords, to somewhere on the 4th or 5th page within a few weeks, then ultimately not being listed at all. Many other BANs based sites were seeing the same thing. As a result, BANs soon lost a lot of activity and the owners moved onto other things. People were leaving BANs left and right. I didn’t stay on it long after I started seeing my traffic die off.
I converted my sites to use using WordPress, Thesis, and the phpbay plugin. My niche store was actually my very first Thesis based site. This turned out to be a smart move for me. I submitted a request to Google to have my site “un-blacklisted”. A few days later, my niche store began to recover quickly and became very successful again, even more so than before. I attribute this mainly to having a better design on the page than I had with BANs, but also primarily due to Thesis being an excellent SEO theme.
2010 and 2011 were the highest income years, the niche store was ranking in the #1 spot for it’s primary keywords and also ranking very high for secondary keywords as well. I was shocked at how much my eBay affiliate payments were each month. The niche store quickly became my number one earning site for over a year, even exceeding my consulting/development income.
In August 2011, that all changed very suddenly. I logged into Google analytics one day, as I had noticed my eBay commissions dropping and here is what I saw:
See the big downward plummet (looks like a cliff)? I honestly have no real explanation why. I didn’t lose any back links and all of the ones I had were still very credible. I changed nothing on the site, and I literally mean nothing. My only theory is that the Panda changes Google had been making over the prior few months finally hit me. The traffic slowly decreased.
I recently shut the site down completely due to only a small trickle of traffic, and no income for over 2 months.
No visits = no buyers = no income = time to move and try new things.
Instead of building niche stores, I’ve started building out niche sites and blogs. Keep reading, I’ll explain below.
Why doesn’t Google like Niche Stores
Let’s talk for a second about why Google doesn’t like Niche Stores. This will play into why they do seem to like Niche sites though.
I mentioned earlier that Google is focusing on putting sites they feel are the most beneficial to their customer base at the top of the SERPS. The problem with a niche store is: They aren’t real stores. They are sites set-up to resemble real online stores, but the products offered are really sold by someone else, commonly Amazon.com or Ebay. So when you click on an item for purchase, the niche store will direct you to the actual item for sale on EBay or Amazon.
The other big problem with niche stores is that Google spiders, and algorithm love high valuable and rich content. Niche stores generally don’t provide a great deal of highly valuable content. Instead they provide listings of products for sale, which are more eCommerce sites than content sites. As a result, Google doesn’t rank them high. I thought adding a blog with lots of good content would help, but it didn’t because the content isn’t front and center.
I would assume based on my own results that Google doesn’t feel that niche stores are credible or valuable sites for their search audience. Thus, Google ranks niche store sites lower on their SERP pages. Personally I disagree, but Google never asked me, so I guess it doesn’t really matter.
Time to move on…
The future of affiliate based niche stores
There isn’t one. Google may change their stance in the future, but I doubt it.
A better niche option is to explore building out niche sites instead. Niche sites can be broken down into two types:
- Review sites
Review sites provide detailed and comprehensive product reviews. This includes detailed text about the product, valuable feedback to readers about the product, and lots of pictures. The reviews themselves generally contain affiliate links out to product companies like Amazon.com. These types of sites, when the right niche is chosen, can receive a large amount of search traffic, and earn a great deal of monthly income.
Micro-blogs are similar to larger and more general blogs (which Google seems to love), in that they focus on providing visitors with information about a particular niche, but the niche is tightly focused. I converted one of my original niche stores into a micro-blog about improving gas mileage. Traffic and revenue, while still not significant, is growing and well above what I was earning from the prior niche store design. I also enjoy learning about and writing on the topic.
I additionally built out a micro blog about bed bugs to help educate people on bed bug detection and treatment. This micro-blog/information site is doing very well and uses Amazon.com affiliate links for bed bug related products along with Adsense for monetization.
I you are interested in learning more about building out niche sites, check out my niche site category pages which as all of the articles I’ve written about niche sites. In particular, I’d recommend these:
- How to build a successful niche site that actually earns money
- Niche Sites – Why I love building them
- Review Sites – How I improved my conversation rates by 15%
- Niche Site Keyword research
- Niche Site Case Study
Thanks for this info, Larry. It’s a bummer that Google gets to determine the value of a site’s content. I’m glad you were able to change things up enough to get back on track!
Thanks Tammy – it really is a bummer!
Good article. I had been studying if I wanted to add an eBay store to one of my blogs. I guess this has answered my question. 🙂
Yes Charles – but even when Google wasn’t killing them, “blog stores” never really did well. Far more effective to promote products directly within applicable articles as just simple text links.