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A lot of you wanted niche site teardowns, which sounded fun to me.
So today’s newsletter is my first niche site teardown.
I’ll pick out a niche site and tell you what’s good about it, what needs to be improved, and what I would do to grow it.
If you find this helpful — which I hope you will — drop me a reply and let me know you want to see more like it.
Mike gave me the thumbs up to tear down this site of his and provided commentary on my takeaways below.
“Hey Joe, nice teardown. You cover many of the reasons I decided to no longer work on this site.”
— Mike (@NicheDown)
If you want to find out all of what Mike said, make sure to read this fully!
It sounds like there are no plans for Mike to continue working on the site (last post was in October 2022).
One of his reasons for that, as he explained in his newsletter, is because he doesn’t actually have much of an interest in this niche.
Which is my first takeaway for you: Building niche sites that you don’t give a sh*t about is not going to go well.
Especially within the next 1-2 years.
The Search Generative Experience, and general direction of AI, is going to push mediocre content down and only build up genuine experts (or sites with huge authority).
The niche site game of informational content from 2 years ago is going away, and it’s important to adapt ASAP.
Here’s what Mike said about this takeaway:
“I’d say is my “lack of interest” in the niche probably just barely cracks top 5 or even 10 reasons I decided not to work on that site any longer. Many of the reasons I shared actually align nicely with the feedback here, which means many niche site owners are starting to come to the same realizations about true “niche site” longevity and risks.
The days are numbered for generic informational sites that simply target long tail, low competition keywords. This site is a keyword grab, nothing more. And sites like it are living on borrowed time.”
— Mike (@NicheDown)
But let’s move on to the actual site itself.
From the homepage, the site has a simple design with clear colors; black, white, and teal for its primary ‘pop’.
It definitely isn’t going to win any awards, but simplicity isn’t always a bad thing.
At the end of the day, the important thing is the content. What’s actually bringing traffic.
My second takeaway is that this is a reminder to not waste unnecessary time on your site design.
For most niche sites, you could genuinely whip up a WordPress site with the default theme and run it like that for the first year.
Your theme and design aren’t going to have a massive impact on how Google ranks your site. And it won’t affect your users much, either.
Most visitors are on mobile, for most websites. Which means design effectively becomes irrelevant as only the header is where any design usually shows up, and the rest of an article should be all about the content.
Your words, your formatting, headings, and use of imagery have the biggest impact.
From the homepage, I noticed an issue with the site.
One that could actually impact the SEO of this blog.
If you hover over the author name on one of these blog posts (currently displayed as ‘Michael Donovan’) and check out the URL:
It shows up as a different author name in the URL.
It’s likely that Mike started this site with a persona and then switched that before he shared it publicly.
So then, third takeaway is to fix that and ensure the full author name matches the URL for that author. And ensure your site persona is actually you, or someone with authority in the niche.
But how? You can use the plugin Edit Author Slug to change via the Profile settings for that author.
Then the full URL would be: https://appliancefixes.com/author/michael-donovan/
Be aware that making structural changes like this comes with it’s own risks.
I’d then setup a 301 redirection from the old author URL to the new one.
The URL then matches the author name, and it won’t confuse Google or readers.
Mike’s thoughts on author personas:
“In a world flooded with AI content, authenticity becomes the moat.Your personality. Your unique experiences. Your perspective. YOU. You become the moat. Stop hiding behind personas and pick a niche that you’re proud to show your face and experience in. Stand behind your content.”
— Mike (@NicheDown)
Let’s move on to looking at the important bits, an actual article.
What strikes me initially is that the featured images are pretty amateur and low-quality.
This isn’t always a bad thing!
You see, people trust people.
When a featured image/photo looks like a hobbyist put it together with little know-how, it can fortify the belief that this is trustworthy, to some degree.
Because over-professionalism can negatively impact that trustworthiness, depending on the topic.
When you’re trying to find out answers to your legal questions, you almost always want to land on a legal company’s professional-looking blog that has been around for 30 years.
But when you want to get some tips to do some DIY fixing around your house, you want to ask your mate.
And that’s where amateurism can win.
My fourth takeaway, then, is that you should understand your niche and the audience as much as you can.
Understand what your competitors are doing with their content and what the audience expects in terms of professionalism (or lack of) and humanness.
And do more of that for your site.
All that being said, those featured images could be a bit larger and better quality on desktop. But on mobile, I’m sure it’s fine.
Scrolling down a bit, we come to the first heading of this article sample, which is a reiteration of the article’s title and a featured snippet bait:
Personally, I believe that this kind of tactic is going out of the window.
For a starters, I’ve never quite understood why sites would reiterate the title in the first heading, and then also bold the immediate snippet-bait paragraph.
It’s over-optimization. And Google hates this and is cracking down on it.
Even if something like this is still working right now, it doesn’t mean it will continue to.
I’ve spoken to many SEOs recently about this topic of featured snippets and they all have the same experience: “Yeah, I got snippet banned late 2022!”
And after looking at their sites, including my own, we all had some combination of too much of this snippet-bait.
I’ve never done it quite to this blatant degree, as I would always use my introduction to lead into a bold paragraph.
But even that is potentially very discoverable in an algorithmic way for Google (or perhaps just obvious to site reviewers who flag your site in the build up to a core update).
Either way, those of us who were SEO optimizing to try and win featured snippets got ourselves banned from being able to win them.
I lost a TON of traffic between September 2022-January 2023, and it has only just began recovering in the last two months.
The majority of that downfall was due to featured snippets loss.
I know of sites in my niche that are on the rise because they are winning all the featured snippets. Simply because it’s a brand new site that has not yet had the ban hammer of Google in a core update.
Sometimes they are over-optimizing, sometimes not. They are a much lower DR than my own site, and they have not been around as long, yet they are winning snippets over me!
This story is similar for plenty of SEOs.
So here comes your fifth takeaway: Stop over-optimizing for featured snippets. Don’t bait. Don’t push together a paragraph in bold just to make it ‘easier’ for Google to grab it.
Is that big bold paragraph block, that doesn’t use the line-breaking of the rest of your article, actually helping the user?
Or is it there for the search engine?
There is always a fine line between this kind of optimization, but most are still doing it the over-optimized way.
You can encourage snippets while making your content helpful for the user, be more creative about it and less bait-obvious!
With Generative AI coming in to Google in the future, snippets like this may be completely pointless because Google will be plucking out smaller pieces of information from your article to make their own answer anyway.
So if you just write good helpful content that is concise and easy to digest (helpful) then Google will be able to source it better.
I am already updating posts to remove snippet bait. I am making all my content more natural.
Google can and does pull content out from 75% down your content and from random paragraphs to use as featured snippets already. When SGE comes into play, it’ll be doing that even more.
As I look further at the content, there’s plenty of product photos with amateur graphics:
He has used plenty of photos in these blog posts, which makes perfect sense seeing as it’s all “how-to” guides about physical items.
If you’re going to create content about how to do something in the real world, photos like this are essential.
It goes one step further by creating an obvious focal point and using directional arrows.
Let’s be real, the colors are horrible.
But is it clear? Yes.
And the latter almost always overcomes the former.
What interests me most is where these images are coming from, because I don’t think Mike took them all himself.
Some are decent quality, and others are quite pixelated, which suggests to me he has probably sourced screenshots from things like how-to videos on YouTube or similar.
Mike commented on this:
“I have no real experience fixing home appliances. I’m effectively just aggregating content from YouTube with this site. That’s hardly a defensible business model.”
— Mike (@NicheDown)
And the poor quality of some of those photos is overcome by the helpfulness of them.
A lot of the time, SEOs and niche site builders are obsessed with getting things right rather than simply getting the content out there.
Whatever helpful images or photos you can add to an article will have an overall beneficial effect — even if they look low res.
It all comes down to the outcome. Does this addition HELP the user with what they came here to do or get?
The sixth and final takeaway is to prioritize helping your visitor/reader/user above all else! You never have to make blog posts perfect, especially when that perfectionism is more about fancy colors.
Many niche site owners get overburdened with style than formatting. The formatting could involve colors, style, and design, but it should always be about giving the user the best experience.
If it’s not adding to their experience – in a helpful way – then what’s the point of it?
What I would do to grow this niche site…
- I’d try to improve the quality of the featured images and photos and be a bit more consistent with colors in those images to fortify the trustworthiness of the brand
- I’d pivot into YouTube video tutorials if possible. Even Shorts/Reels would be enough. Get the appliances and record the solutions, which would solve a lot of the previous point by creating opportunity for unique photos
- I’d try to take some kind of ‘appliance fixing’ workshop/course that I could use as accreditation on the about page for the site’s persona
- I’d increase the line breaking a little more on paragraphs on the site. The large font takes up a lot of screen space on mobile, so splitting up that reading would help users
- More of the same; this kind of site relies on output VOLUME of informational content to then be monetized by ads. But it potentially has a timed shelf-life without building more credibility across social channels
Mike’s thoughts on not continuing to work on this site:
“ApplianceFixes.com is limited in many ways. There aren’t many ways for me to grow it outside google traffic. Who’s going to read about appliances fixes in a weekly newsletter? What digital product or physical product can I sell? What social media channel can I create? And since I have no actual experience fixing appliances, all of these would be monumental challenges for me.
The interesting thing is that at the moment, Google is starting to reward this site with more impressions, and more clicks everyday. So it will be interesting to see how far it goes.
But for now I’ll be focusing my time and energy working on a travel site that I l’m able to provide first hand experience and advice for. All 100% original photos. A site with a real chance to survive long term.”
— Mike (@NicheDown)
That’s the teardown, I hope you’ll get a few insights from this.