Niche sites and authority sites are completely different things.
Or are they?
So many different definitions get thrown around that it's easy to get confused. You've got niche sites, authority sites, micro niche sites, affiliate sites, amazon sites, amazon review sites, adsense sites, blogs and of course, mini-micro-meta-sites-about-micro-machines.
I made that last one up.
Or did I?
For the most part, a lot of the definitions overlap. I'm definitely guilty of using some of these terms interchangeably. That said though, there ARE different types of sites, and different strategies that can be followed.
People can argue until they're blue in the face about which method is better, and ultimately they may all be correct. What I'm going to do in this post then, is look at some of the different types of sites, look at where those overlaps may lay, and weigh up some of the pros and cons of each.
Generally speaking, when people talk about an authority site or a niche site, they're referring to the scope of the site, and perhaps also the quality.
A "niche site" is usually smaller, perhaps 10 or 20 pages only, and focus around one subniche. An example of this type of site could be Dog Collars.
An "Authority Site" has a lot more content. We're talking anywhere from 50 to several hundred pages. The general idea with an authority site is never to finish adding content, with new posts going live once or twice a week. With all that content, an authority site naturally will cover more topics and multiple subniches.
An example of an authority site might be everything to do with having a dog. Kennels, bowls, training, leashes, and a lot more informational content.
When you look at the definitions I've given above, it actually seems pretty clear. The problem is that it can lead to very binary thoughts. It's either an authority site or a niche site and that's not the way to think about building income generating sites.
I have never believed that niche sites and authority sites need to be mutually exclusive. Every authority site still operates as a "niche", and at one point an authority site probably only had 10 articles on it anyway.
And who is to say a "niche" site can't be built out and expanded later? That's exactly what I do with my sites, and how we set up our done for you sites as well. Check out our last point here on silo stacking.
To understand a bit more about why these different definitions persist, let's look more at the history of how affiliate marketers built niche sites.
A Brief History Of Niche Sites
As recently as 2012, you could buy an exact-match-domain, put up a few posts on it, and be at the top of Google within days, or even hours. Back when adsense used to pay a lot of money, affiliate marketers would churn out a lot of these sites and either rake in the money with Adsense, or build a few more pages on their site targeting products, and rake in affiliate commissions.
That loophole was closed in October 2012 (about a month after I build my first EMD website. Lame.)
Still, it took a while before the notion of an "authority site" really started to spread. People would still build smaller 20 page sites, and make a lot of money with them.
This started to become less successful as Google made it harder to rank sites, and made the sandbox period more of a real thing. You couldn't just put a few hundred words onto a couple dozen pages and send some links to the site.
You now had to demonstrate that your site was an "authority", or in other words, one of the best sites in the niche.
This is where the concept of an authority site was really born.
In a lot of cases, when somebody talks about an authority site it means "As opposed to a tiny-little micro niche site".
What I don't like about the definition is that it seems to suggest that smaller sites are not authoritative. Like these sites are just making things up and BS'ing about the topic to get a sale.
Which isn't the case at all.
This type of low-quality affiliate site still exists in some niches, but that doesn't mean every small site is poor quality. You can have a 10 page site that is very comprehensive on a small topic, and would be worth of the term authority.
Equally, you can have a large site that covers a lot of topics and has dozens of pages, but does that guarantee it is authoritative?
You can see how confusing this can get.
So I'll just summarize this section with this:
There is a clear trend towards sites being built out on a larger scale, with both longer articles, and more of them. You can't expect to roll out a 10 page site and get the same success you used to. "Set and forget" is much less effective than before.
That said, there's no reason to automatically assume every site you build should be a huge 100 site monster. You can succeed nicely with a 30-50 page site that only covers a few related subniches. You don't need to keep churning out content every week unless you really want to.
Regardless of whether you want a smaller "niche" site, or a larger "authority" site, you want to focus on in-depth, quality content, with a solid mix of informational and affiliate posts. "Thin" sites are a thing of the past.
Niche Sites Vs. Authority Sites
In my definition above, I have attempted to point out that there are overlaps between authority sites and niche sites. While I've given a definition of each type, I've also said that they don't need to be mutually exclusive. Niche sites should be expanded over time, so that they can end up becoming authority sites.
So in essence, all authority sites are niche sites at the beginning. They're authority site babies in a way, but you have to start a niche site if you want to start an authority site.
With that said, the two types of sites do tend to involve different strategies because the site is at a different stage.
It also depends on the type of affiliate business you want to build.
For example, someone who wants to maintain a portfolio of sites and outsource a lot of it would be better suited to niche sites, while someone who only wants one site would eventually build an authority site.
I've actually talked about a lot of these things in an earlier post which you can read here, but I'll summarize again below.
Pros and Cons of Niche Sites
The basic strategy with a smaller site is to just build it out to a certain number of posts (I recommend 30-50) and then focus on link building from there.
If/when the site starts to become successful, you can then build it out even more and turn it into an authority site, or you can just leave it as it is, and move onto another site.
This strategy is much more suitable for somebody who has limited time, or wants to do a lot of outsourcing. You can build and promote your site in stages.
The sites that we build for our customers are in this style too, but we don't tell people to just leave them as they are. We encourage our customers to add more posts to their sites, and we choose domain names that don't force you to stay limited to just one niche. For example "Bestsafetyrazorhq.com" is a bad domain name that doesn't let you expand later.
This strategy is definitely appealing to a lot of people, but there must be some downside, otherwise why would people bother building out authority sites at all?
The answer is because an authority site has a much higher earnings ceiling. If you've created a site that dominates in its niche, you can add new products, move into new subniches, and leverage your existing authority. You could do a small amount of work to increase your income.
Niche sites on the other hand have much more linear growth. Yes, there's definitely a point where a niche site starts to be a lot more authoritative in Google's eyes and starts to get page 1 rankings more easily, but there is less opportunity to scale easily. Niche sites don't often bother with building loyal audiences or fanbases, and many don't even utilize an email list.
It's a lot easier to get to $10,000 per month with 1 authority site than it is to get to $5,000 per month with 2 niche sites.
This does assume that you have a lot of time to dedicate to one site though. If you only have a few hours free per week, you won't be suited to an authority site.
So to summarize, for niche sites you have:
- More ability to outsource and to some extent "set and forget"
- Much less time required (but you still need patience)
- An easier path to monetization
- The ability to rinse and repeat and build multiple sites out.
- The ability to expand to an authority site later, if desired.
- Can be more grey-hat.
But at the same time you have:
- A lower earning potential (but still high enough)
- Much less ability to leverage your audience later for easy scaling
- Less ability to create your own products/services.
Pros and Cons of Authority Sites
As already discussed above, authority sites are much more time intensive. Once you reach a certain level of success (or "authority" even), things get a lot easier. A site with an existing audience and fanbase, a site that gets people returning to read new content, will always be able to add new revenue streams with relative ease. It's a lot easier to start offering your own products, digital or physical, when you have an existing customer base to sell to.
The path to reach this stage can be long and arduous, especially as authority sites really only want to rank with white-hat link building techniques, but it's well worth it once you get there. I just interviewed Doug Cunnington about this very specific topic - going white hat from gray hat.
Authority sites also needs to have much higher quality content. Niche sites don't need to be as good. I'm not saying a niche site can have poor content, but because you aren't trying to build a base of repeat customers, your content only needs to be good enough to earn commissions.
Authority sites want to be the best on the internet, so will need to write much better content. This is expensive if you are outsourcing the content, and will require you to be more strict when hiring.
It's harder for beginners to outsource content for authority sites, because as a beginner, you're less likely to know how to train writers, or how to spot good or bad content. You might be looking at $50 to $100 for good authority site content, whereas niche site content can cost $10-20 per 1,000 words.
An authority site also requires you to focus on just that one site. This might be more frustrating for some people, especially if you're impatient like me! It is ultimately an advantage though, because focus always leads to more success.
As with niche sites, let's summarize here about authority sites:
- They have a higher earning potential
- Once you have traction, you can accelerate scaling
- Google loves bigger, more in-depth sites
- You can build more assets, such as email lists.
- They take a lot more time
- They are more difficult for beginners
- They cost more to run
So Which Is Best?
In case you hadn't realized by now, there is no correct way to skin this cat, but there are definitely going to be some people who are more suited to one style of site and others who go the other way.
My personal method is in building a site as a niche site, but leaving the door open for it to grow. I don't want to just pick a very narrow subniche that has limited potential, unless I know the site will rank all by itself. Which it won't. Not anymore.
So my ideal site is one that starts off in 1 or 2 subniches, starts to get traction, and can then be built broader.
For example, start with safety razors, then move into brushes, stands, other types of razors, and other grooming products.
This is exactly how we have designed our ready-made sites. We get you started in a subniche, but we really don't want you to just leave the site like that. Grow it, expand it, and get it successful.
We have customers that are stacking our niche sites together. Attacking the low competition keywords first in shoulder niches and then weaving them together. Makes a lot more sense than finding a low competition subniche and then moving up the same niche when your site is still too young to be favourable to Google.