After experimenting with a few brand new keyword specific niche sites as personal SEO project for the past 90 days, the question came up, does a site really need backlinks as much as before? and if so, how many does it need to cross the tipping point?.
After posting niche-specific quality content (gleaned from intensive keyword research) each day for 7 days a week and building less than 100 links to the site:
- The site now ranks for over 400 unique keywords both competitive and long-tail keywords in the top 10 and top 20 results of Google, Yahoo and MSN
- Has attracted over 1800 visits from 1100 unique visitors its first month (and is increasing traffic, impressions and user engagement daily).
The site has had no advertising or promotion (aside from the few links it has), is relatively brand new and ranks next to well established brand names just from a few posts that mention them in the title.
In addition, the site gets indexed within minutes of posting fresh content and has all of the trappings of a well established authority site (which would have taken years) to acquire the same level of trust, yet the site is not even 90 days old.
To say that this was alarming and quite amazing was an understatement. At this rate, by the time this website is 8 months old, it should rank for the one word trophy phrase for the entire industry (which equates to a feasible amount of traffic / monetization potential).
So, my argument is, can site architecture and earmarked content accomplish more than just link building or just link building without content? in this case, absolutely! The only thing different in this study was two things.
The first is, it was almost like the shotgun approach to SEO vs. the laser beam approach I was used to employing in regard to SEO in the past. It’s tricky when dealing with sites that have already been branded or limited by their content or lack of it (history can help your efforts or hurt them, depending on positioning).
The second thing was to start fresh with a new site, select the pinnacle phrases in advance then built semantic bridges to support the disparity in the gap using titles, internal links and tags augmented by RSS and site architecture.
This is one clear case that starting fresh and not making the mistakes of an aged site can magnify the themes on page / off page coherence. In essence, by creating the peaks and valleys and controlling the conversation, we could dictate how search engines would interpret the content and then add its own variations of keyword stemming to the mix. This also needed less coaxing (if you will) to convince search engines about the true ranking objective and traction the site was targeting.
So, instead of the old approach of walking into an established site, trying to make it rank for additional phrases and have the process hampered by its history. We were able to forgo this process and jump right past 990 other sites (for competitive terms) just by using a clearly delineated site architecture, internal links and using a modified technique of theming and siloing to get the benefit of each post working for a benchmark semantic goal (the competitive root keyword).
As a result, my eyes were opened to an entirely new way to do SEO (ambient traffic that rises). That’s the beauty of this industry, just when you thought you had seen it all, you forgot to test antiquated assumptions to see if they are still valid today.
When discussing this with a friend, his input was, “It’s amazing how much time is spent designing the page for robots, when it is customers who make the decision to buy“. Much in the same way, you can assume you know more then the signals of search and second guess where traffic flows, or you can or you can just test the waters across multiple keywords simultaneously with a niche site to build traffic and website authority when you find a real signal. This method can equate to unbridled rankings with less effort and be replicated with other synonyms with ease.
Does the mini-site / niche site model still work? Absolutely, but now with the ability to gain authority faster than ever (if you provide quality content) this model can challenging and upstage older sites who have become complacent in their ranking and relevance / demeanor.
For the sake of clarity the term niche site in this instance refers to a site based on a very clear topical base of keywords. It may have 200-300 pages, but very targeted pages at that. If qualified traffic is the objective, there are many ways to attract visitors (some more expensive and more time consuming than others). However, do not discount the fact that search engines know more about your niche than you do in most instances, or at least what else they are looking for.
If you observe the trends, listen to the signals of search and pay attention to the medium, then you can leverage it and pick keywords that convert day in an day out by using them as your main topics for discussion.
Search engines can gauge what your site is about and send more traffic from keywords you never even considered (just from briefly mentioning them), if you get out of your own way and let them do what they do best (deliver traffic). The traditional SEO is now something you use to steer the reigns once you find which keywords have the most search volume.
The takeaway is, instead of trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole and trying to make a site rank for a specific keywords, you can create a new site, use targeted content to rank for everything in between the semantic signals, then use SEO to lean in to the keywords and phrases with the highest engagement and search volume to monetize traffic.