As an SEO adviser to the real estate industry, I am asked or come across questions about niche sites all too often. The main questions are, “Should I start a niche site?” or “What niche should I target?” The allure to this marketing tactic is real. The logic sounds good, the tactic seems clever and everyone tells you to focus on a niche. So why wouldn’t you have a niche site — or 12?
- Building an authoritative website takes lots of resources. Don't spread yours thin on multiple domains.
- Consumers visit and act on websites that they trust. Your website must invoke trust and attempt to build a relationship.
- Powerful brands are reaping more and more SEO benefit; don't neglect branding for SEO -- they are becoming one in the same.
As an SEO adviser to the real estate industry, I am asked or come across questions about niche sites all too often.
The main questions being, “Should I start a niche site?” or “What niche should I target?”
The allure to this marketing tactic is real. The logic sounds good, the tactic seems clever and everyone tells you to focus on a niche. So why wouldn’t you have a niche site — or 12?
Well, here is my advice on starting a niche site in almost every situation:
Don’t do it.
Before we dive into this, let me be very clear about something. I am a huge believer in niching for success, especially if you are new to real estate. I am not telling you to be unfocused or to not target a niche.
What I am telling you is that you should have a single, branded website for all of your niches. Let me explain why.
1. Niche sites are a bad SEO strategy today
One of the main reasons, if not the main reason, you are wanting to start a niche site is to rank it for a specific keyword. So how is it a bad SEO strategy?
The problem is a lack of understanding of fundamental SEO practices.
You see, Google’s single most important objective is to serve up the great, relevant websites to a searcher’s query. Niche sites are usually not great websites. Niche sites are notorious for being shallow, plagiarized, keyword stuffed and over-optimized.
That’s because their goal is not to build a resource for visitors (what Google wants to see); their goal is to game Google and rank higher.
“Tisk, tisk,” says Google, and it changed its algorithm. The era of Google’s Panda update put a stop to low-quality sites. Overnight, niche sites were blinked out of existence or dropped drastically in rankings.
Guess who took over those spots? Higher-quality, branded websites.
2. You don’t want to fracture your Web authority
One of the best metrics you can use to determine the viability of your website in search rankings is domain authority. Domain authority or DA, is essentially an aggregate, 0 to 100 score of assumed ranking factors in Google’s algorithm, created by the SEO company MOZ.
In other words, if you want to rank better, you need to build your DA.
What does this have to do with niche sites? They suck at creating DA.
By the very nature of what a niche site is designed to do — rank for a specific keyword with minimal content and effort — it will be very difficult to build a high domain authority site because DA takes just that — lots of content and effort.
Building domain authority is not easy. People start niche sites because they want an easy ranking.
Are you starting to see the problem?
Say you build a niche site, put just enough effort into it to rank for your target keyword and boom — you rank for the top position. This is not an unlikely scenario, especially if you picked a low competition, hyper-focused keyword and you have a decent idea of what you are doing.
The problem comes when your competition decides to target that same keyword, except they do it from their main website that has been around for a while, has lots of great content on it about tons of topics (not just the niche) and has a domain authority that is double yours.
Within a very short time you will be overtaken because their site has more authority. They can essentially outrank your entire niche site with a single page, but that’s because their domain is powerful and lends credibility and authority to that single page. Something your weak, niche domain will not do.
It almost seems like Google did this on purpose — hmmm. Oh wait, it did.
3. Strong link profiles are harder to achieve with multiple sites
According to MOZ, the best way to build DA is by improving your link profile. Your link profile is made up of the number and quality of sites that link back to your website.
The best way to think about backlinks is to think of them like votes. Each time another site links to your site, they are lending you vote of confidence.
The more authoritative (its own DA) and trustworthy the site that links to you is, the more that vote is worth. The problem is niche sites cannibalize your link profile from your branded site.
For example, say you manage to build 10 very high-quality backlinks, but because you have multiple sites those links are spread thin between all of your domains. Instead of having one powerful domain, you have multiple weak domains.
Also, the best way to build up your link profile is by creating more and better content, giving you more opportunities to be linked to. Most agents have a hard enough time creating a single piece of blog content once or twice a month. Now throw in a second, third or fourth niche site to that mix, and you have created an unsustainable monster.
4. Niche sites can hurt your brand
Just like having multiple sites will spread thin your SEO juice, multiple sites will spread thin your brand power.
In a 2015 study by the California Association of Realtors, homesellers were asked, “What was the number one reason you selected your real estate agent?” The answers were as follows:
I doubt any of these qualities come as a surprise to you. But in the digital era, the agents that will succeed will be the ones that can translate these qualities into their online presence.
Think about this: if your website can’t convey the above qualities, people are not going to want to work with you or become your lead.
It takes lots of well-crafted content to tell a story that will get website visitors to trust, like and view you as credible. If you are building these resources across multiple domains, then you will water down your brand’s power throughout each domain.
You are better off consolidating all of your resources on your main website where those brand-building assets will compound and create a wonderful brand ecosystem.
In fact, I would argue that niche sites won’t just water down your brand, but can overall hurt it. Consumers want information from trusted sources. That means they want your logo front and center, and they want to know who you are before they take what you have to say to heart.
5. The niche site strategy is a logistical nightmare
What happens when you are ready to move into a new niche? You have to create a whole new niche site.
- Developing or paying a developer to build the site
- Optimizing the site for search or paying someone to do it
- Maintaining and updating the new site (as well as other existing niche sites)
- As mentioned before, just the modest task of creating great, link-worthy content for your site
Worse yet, the entire time you spend building up this new site usually means your branded site is being neglected. Without new efforts being put into your branded site, it becomes easy pickings for competition to overtake.
SEO is as much about maintaining rankings as earning them in the first place, and this takes constant effort. The niche site strategy makes this all but impossible to do unless you continually increase the resources and budget for the strategy with each new niche you want to attack.
Now that I have dashed your hopes and dreams of ranking your little army of niche sites, you should just throw up your arms in frustration and forget SEO altogether, right? Not at all! SEO is more important than ever, you just need to make sure you have the fundamentals down.
All-in-all good, sustainable SEO comes down to building a valuable resource for your target audience. If you are ever unsure about an SEO tactic, just ask yourself, “Am I creating something that website visitors will be delighted or genuinely better informed after consuming?” If the answer is “no,” don’t do it.