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And, lucky me, Mike decided to go public with his latest main project: StayNewEngland.com
It’s a travel site that focuses entirely on the New England area of USA.
A great opportunity for another teardown of a fresh niche site.
So let’s crack on!
Travel is a niche that has been on my own radar for some time.
There can be really high RPMs on ads for this kind of niche site, and plenty of potential with affiliate commissions.
What seems to be the best approach is to go as local as you can, and possibly expand later.
Pick a geographic area that you can enter with a unique angle and dominate it.
Though there are plenty of concerns in the niche community that Search Generative Experience will wipe out a lot of keywords in travel.
As users will be able to search for their answers (“How do I get from X to Y”, “Best coffee shops in X”, “Budget hotels in Y”) and the Generative AI will give them fairly regularly.
But I challenge this theory, as travel is all about an experience.
And only creators can physically visit and document (photos/video) that experience to share it with the world.
Human experiences will always be most valuable.
I think the same is true for any niche, so the strategy moving forward should be very much about finding those opportunities.
It’s getting harder to build an informational niche site that just spits out words.
You have to be prepared to do more. And care about the quality you put out.
First takeaway: Travel sites aren’t going away, going local and showing unique experience will always be of value.
Let’s take a look at the actual site.
|It’s not winning any awards. But is that a problem?|
From the site’s homepage, it’s doing three things well:
- Linking to the site’s main categories/hub landing pages by area
- Displaying the most recent posts
- Giving an ‘About’ preview as a reason to trust the site/author and linking to /about
These are important things to do.
Linking to the main hub pages is telling users, and Google, what the site is mainly about and directing the discovery/crawl.
Displaying the recent posts on the homepage gives that necessary homepage juice boost to fresh content so it can get indexed and ranking quickly.
And showing a brief about section gives the reader a reason to trust the site and it’s author(s). This can be really key when it comes to winning links from journalists and other sites.
The first potential issue that’s visible from here is that these hub pages to geographic areas mostly land on “coming soon” pages:
This can be a problem because it’s effectively asking Google to index a “thin” page that offers no user or ranking value.
If you’re doing that too much, then it might have negative effects on the rest of the site.
Especially as the “coming soon” text is an image. There’s nothing readable here for the search engine crawler to understand what’s going on with this page.
A short paragraph to explain what’s going on might cure some temporary issues for users and for crawling.
With all that being said, I doubt this is going to be hugely problematic as long as it doesn’t stay like this for months.
Clearly, Mike is planning to create content for each of these topic (geo) areas.
But right now, that content isn’t there, so ideally these hub pages shouldn’t be either.
I’m not sure that showing Google what the site will be about is going to help what it currently is about.
But it might have a small effect on readers landing on the site, trusting it a little more, and even converting to become an email subscriber.
Second takeaway: In my opinion, it’s better to structure the hierarchy of your site with the content (posts) that actually exist. Have a topical authority plan for what you know you want to cover eventually, but phase it out so it’s not confusing for users or crawlers.
What is clear is that Mike and his partner are focusing on Rhode Island content coverage to start.
It is pretty important to focus your energies on dominating one cluster of content, before moving on to another.
They’re doing this well, with just a few posts so far, but in the right direction.
Third takeaway: Prepare your content plan, and dominate each topic cluster one at a time. You’ll know once you’ve dominated a topic area because it will have positive effects on your overall ranking for that topic area. When you feel that boost, you can consider the sideways step into new areas.
Jumping back to the About page, it’s simple but effective in doing the job of what the site is there to do, and why you can find trust in its authors.
About Us pages don’t have to be overly complex.
They need to do a few things:
- State what the site is about, while noting any unique angles or perspectives that enable trust
- Clearly define who the authors are, while noting their specific experience or expertise related to the subject, ideally with genuine human faces/photos!
- Link out to any individual author socials or credibility that validates their status
And all that is happening here.
Sure, there could be more detail about the site itself. But it is a new site, and that likely will become clearer with time.
Extra things that an About Us page could do is add details about how to contact the people behind the website.
And show any relevant business addresses, phone numbers, etc – just for a little added SEO schema juice.
Fourth takeaway: The About Us page is the place to state your authority on the subject, show your humanity, and give readers (and Google) a reason to trust you. If your current About/About Us page isn’t doing that, sort it out!
Now let’s take a look at the content.
One of my issues with Mike’s last site, ApplianceFixes.com, was that the images were often poor quality and low-res.
It seems like there’s a bit of that going on here, particularly in the featured images.
Now, don’t get me wrong, images that are sized for mobile are most important.
But something’s a bit odd here as this featured image (above) measures 560 x 315 pixels and yet comes in at a file size of 308 KB.
That’s not quite right.
And it’s likely because it’s a PNG file, unnecessarily.
I can get ~120 KB images at a resolution of 1200 x 675 px.
So there are some image improvements that could be done here, and it’s usually about the process.
For example, here’s one of mine:
- Create Canva project at 1200 x 675 pixels / res
- Drop in my original photograph onto the canvas to upload it
- Right click > Set image as background
- Fiddle around in whatever other ways like adding a logo if you want to do that
- Share > Download
- File type > JPG
- Size > 1 & Quality > 100
- Download it
- Then use an app like ImageOptim to squash the file even more. (JPG optimization settings 90%+)
- Hey presto, a JPG file that’s somehwere in the 100 – 150 KB range.
I use this similar strategy for featured images, and most other images.
If you’re predominantly using a photo for an image, you want to use JPG.
If it’s predominantly a graphic, then use PNG.
When you mix the two mediums into one image, you often get oversized JPG’s or PNG’s.
Additionally, the images being used are strangely small when viewed on desktop:
I think there’s extra width here that can be used to greater effect.
On mobile, these images will be just fine because the entire width of the content area is reduced and will force both text and image to be aligned and full-width.
But on desktop, the width of these images is smaller.
Perhaps it’s a stylistic choice, but when we are looking at photos of a travel experience – I would argue that getting those images nice and big and easy (and attractive to the eye) to look at is important.
Fifth takeaway: Be intentional about your images. Get down your process for what kind of ratio and dimensions you are going to use across your site (to simplify your process), getting the filesizes into the 100-150 KB range, as well as how you want images to appear stylistically. Mobile is always the priority, but don’t simply forget desktop users. My ideal is create consistency between mobile and desktop experiences.
Moving on to more about the reading experience, Mike is using Kadence Blocks to create slightly more user-friendly lists to help the user with key details about a travel experience:
This is a good start for the site, to help the user.
But it does leave a little more to be desired because when you take a look at the web page overall, it feels pretty bland.
There could be some improvements here to make the user experience even better (and more eye catching) by experimenting with more color use.
I like to try using pastel background colors on blocks like these, to make them “pop” out from the regular article flow.
Here’s a quick example of what I would do:
This is by no means perfect, but it was 2 minutes of changing some CSS.
(But as this is a Kadence Blocks feature, it’s not even CSS to change it but changing the block settings – simple!)
I took the primary accent color of the website and put it into a color picker, then selected an even lighter and more pastel color variant to get a background color.
I added 10px of padding inside the whole content block and an extra 10px of border radius to make it feel tidy and friendly.
Do you think it’s better now?
Sixth takeaway: Adding additional content blocks that help the user are always a good thing. Don’t add them just for visuals, they should always always always be added when the goal is to make the user experience better. Just don’t forget to style them in a way that makes use of human psychology like catching the reader’s eye from scrolling and also giving the eye a chance to relax by making text very easy to read against a background that doesn’t add to eye-fatigue.
Overall, I think Mike has a great project here, presuming there is niche space to enter and compete.
Being a local himself and using his unique opportunity to gather genuine human experiences, and document it, to create content with is the right path.
His couple of articles that make use of photos of their travel experiences are excellent, simply because the photos add so much value!
There is probably more detail he could add with each post — but maybe it’s not necessary.
Getting articles out the door should be the focus, they don’t necessarily need to be the “ultimate master guide” to every keyword right away.
In time, and Google Search Console data collected, it will become clearer what content to do more of, what needs more detail, and what to avoid – etc.
Final takeaway: Get into a niche that you A) care about B) can have genuine human experiences in B) enjoy writing about. Sometimes it may be a difficult road, but I’m all about building blogs that I can be proud to own and keep forever.
Here is what I would do to grow this site from its current phase:
- Write somewhere around 30-50 posts on Rhode Island before moving to a new category
- I would consider hiding the geo hub pages until there is actual content to show
- Improve the readability of posts using more bold and color formatting, particularly on helpful blocks
- Include a subscription box in the top 20% of the page to start building a loyal audience right away – much easier to do with travel
- And if possible, start crafting a great reason to be on an email list already, e.g. new travel destinations/experiences to try
- Ensure articles have even more photos than they do, if you have the potential to get photos then use them
- Start linking to sites like Booking.com already and track those links to start gathering affiliate potential data early
- Look for people to collaborate with on experiences; they could be fellow bloggers, Instagrammers, YouTubers and will crossover audiences very well
That concludes this teardown!
What did you think? Drop me a reply and let me know if this was helpful!