Affiliate marketing websites can broadly be placed into two categories: niche sites and authority sites.
Although there is a lot of overlap between these two types of websites, each type of site has its own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to their building and monetization.
Today we are going to learn:
- What the differences are between a niche site and an authority site
- How to determine whether to build out a niche site or an authority site
- Different approaches that need to be taken when building a niche site vs an authority site
- The differences in business models between niche site and authority site ownership
The first thing to say before we go through the differences between these two types of sites is that there is a lot of overlap between them.
Both niche and authority sites are websites that are focused on a specific industry. An example of this is a site dedicated to running.
Both types of sites are monetized through affiliate marketing. Third-party products related to the site’s industry are sold through the website.
To use the example of a running site again, these can be monetized through affiliate sales of running shoes, fitness trackers, and health supplements.
The key differences between niche and authority sites are in their size, content strategy, and their intent.
Niche sites are smaller than authority sites.
It is possible to create a profitable niche site with as few as 10-20 pages.
A small site like this will usually be focussed around a sub-niche, which is a specific portion or angle of a broader industry.
So, if you were to create a niche site in the running industry, you might choose to focus specifically on forest trail running, or treadmill running.
This way you can exhaustively cover a topic in 30 posts or less.
The downside of this is that you are often restricting yourself to selling one to two products in order to not spread your content too thin.
Authority sites tend to be a lot bigger, generally with over 100 posts, and with new content being added during the lifetime of the site.
This can allow you to cover a whole industry, or at least a wider portion of an industry, and sell a wide range of products through your site.
Authority sites often grow out of successful niche sites.
When a marketer starts getting traction in a particular industry, they can double-down on creating content for that site, broadening out that content into other areas in their industry.
This does not have to be the case however, as sometimes it is not worth scaling a successful niche site past a certain point – we will talk more about how to determine whether this is the case a bit later.
Niche sites and authority sites differ not only in the amount of content, but also in the type of content and keywords you target.
For niche sites, the vast majority of your articles will be written with the intent of trying to rank for high commercial value keywords. Examples of these are product reviews and comparison pages.
Authority sites, on the other hand, will have a large bank of purely informational articles that aim to answer common questions within an industry.
These informational posts may internally link to commercial pages (in fact it’s good practice to do so) but the primary aim of these pages is not to sell a product but rather to engage and build trust with people interested in your wider industry.
To illustrate this, let’s compare the keywords ranked for between a niche site and authority site in the same industry (camping in this instance)
Authority site keywords:
Niche site keywords:
As we can see, the authority site ranks for the keywords: “campfire baked potatoes” and “how to use a charcoal chimney”
These are not keywords that one generally types in when they are looking to buy a product.
They will however bring in traffic that may be interested in the products you are selling at a later time.
The example niche site ranks for terms like “best survival axe” and “best handled ham radio for survival”. These are higher buyer intent keywords and traffic will be driven to product pages.
Authority sites will also rank for these higher commercial intent keywords, but the focus will be on driving traffic to both product and informational pages.
Their content strategy will therefore revolve around creating a holistic resource for anyone interested in the website’s industry.
Niche sites will focus almost exclusively on driving traffic to commercial pages, so a content strategy will focus on writing about a much narrower topic, driven by the products that they are looking to sell.
As we are beginning to see, niche sites and authority sites have a whole different philosophy behind them.
Niche sites are looking to make one time sales, intercepting traffic just at the point where it is ready to make a purchase with top-of-funnel content.
Authority sites are looking to create content and drive traffic at every stage of the marketing funnel.
Authority sites try to build a brand, following and community through their content with the hope that their followers will turn into repeat customers.
As well as creating content for every stage of a buyer’s journey, authority sites are often monetized with items of various prices to take advantage of followers who are at different stages of familiarity with the site’s brand.
When you have a dedicated following you are in a strong position to sell your own products such as courses and consulting.
These tend to be more profitable than just selling affiliate products.
As authority sites aim for a higher level of audience engagement than niche sites, they take a lot more work to develop and do not become completely passive even when hitting maturity.
Niche sites on the other hand can be built in a (relatively) set-and-forget manner. Once you are ranking for a few high-commercial keywords you can make money from your site without creating any new content.
The only work involved happens when you either want to grow your site, or you have lost visibility to competitors.
With the additional work that goes into authority sites comes a much higher scope for income.
The biggest questions you should therefore ask yourself when choosing whether to build an authority or niche site is what the scope for profitability is in that industry, and how much time you want to invest in your site.
Let’s break these down into sub-questions to better help you make this decision.
1. Determining the potential profitability in your industry
a. How much interest is there in your industry?
The potential profitability of your website will always be constrained by the demand for information and products in its industry.
Dominating the entirety of a small market may not turn out to be as profitable as doing well in a small part of a larger market.
This means that for some very small industries it does not make sense to build an authority site.
You can determine the level of interest in a specific industry by looking at keyword volumes for the keywords in that industry, as well as the social followings for the big influencers in that industry.
b. How monetizable is that industry?
As well as search volume, you should always think about how easy it will be to make money from your website.
The effort that it takes to build an authority site can only be justified if you have better options for monetization than low ticket affiliate products and ad revenue.
The key question to ask yourself is: how willing are people to spend money in your chosen industry?
Profitable industries tend to have the following characteristics:
- The products and services in that industry are expensive (over a few hundred dollars)
- It’s an industry where people can make money (marketing for example)
- It’s an industry with a large passionate following
What you ultimately want to ascertain is whether you will make more money doubling down in your current industry, or diversifying into new ones.
c. How many “splinter industries” does your website have?
If your website becomes authoritative enough, it can start dominating the market not only in its initial industry, but also in adjacent industries.
An example of this would be a website that was initially about camping branching out and becoming an authority about hiking and mountain biking.
If your chosen industry has a lot of potentially profitable splinter industries then this increases the chances of building an authority site being worth your time and effort.
2. Determining how much time you want to invest in your site
a. How interested are you in your industry?
With an authority site, your audience will be composed of people who are very familiar with your industry.
To create content that engages these people, you need to have authentic industry expertise.
To do this without having a genuine interest in your chosen industry is either very difficult or very expensive (you will need to hire expert level writers).
If you have no real interest in your website’s industry, it is probably worth sticking with a niche site.
b. How passive do you want your income to be?
Unless you are fortunate enough to find a lucrative market with little competition, running an authority site is not a passive business.
Your audience will need a constant stream of content to stay engaged, and there are usually several sites battling it out to be the go-to in the industry.
You cannot compete with a passive approach.
A more passive business model is to create a larger portfolio of smaller niche sites.
Each site will be less profitable with this model, however.
Although authority sites often evolve from niche sites, if your plan is to build an authority site from scratch then your tactics should be slightly different than if you are building a niche site.
Here are some of the following ways that the tactics behind building each type of site differs.
1. Keyword research
With a niche site you are looking to rank for commercial intent keywords only. Therefore you should be looking predominantly at keyword value and competition when informing your keyword research.
An authority site is looking to build an audience, so a keyword’s search volume is of as high priority as its monetary value.
2. Content creation
Given that a niche site’s main aim is to rank for very specific keywords, your content should be written with the aim of maximising keyword-specific ranking and conversion rates.
On-page seo optimization is an absolute must, even if it happens at the expense of making the content a bit dry.
Authority sites require different types of content for different pages. Some content should be SEO optimised, whereas more informational pieces should be written naturally to maximise engagement and links.
To build a dedicated following with your authority site you should try to build a consistent brand entity across all your output.
This branding encompasses design, on-site copy and the tone of your social posts.
For niche sites branding is less of a priority, with your main aim being to establish enough trust for your traffic to convert.
4. Social media
Authority sites generally need to build a community to maximize their profitability.
Social media is generally necessary to do this, with Facebook and (surprisingly) Youtube being excellent places to build communities.
Given that authority sites tend to have a lot of non-commercial content, traffic can be effectively driven to these posts via social media.
Social traffic does not convert that well in general. This makes it less important to the success of a niche site.
Both niche and authority site ownership can make you a lot of money.
The difference is how you make your money.
With an authority site, one site alone can make you in excess of $10,000.
Large magazine websites, like The Huffington Post, for example, can almost be seen as very extreme examples of authority sites.
Niche sites are unlikely to make you that amount, but their advantage is in how you can scale and systemise their production.
With niche sites your portfolio of sites will be much bigger to make the same amount of money as with authority sites. Both are excellent business models, but each requires a different mindset.
Oli Graham has been working in digital marketing for 8 years, both agency-side and on his own affiliate marketing projects. He is currently the Marketing Manager for Rightlywritten.
Oli Graham has been working in digital marketing for 8 years, both agency-side and on his own affiliate marketing projects.
He is currently the Marketing Manager for Rightlywritten.