How to Build a Niche Website That Earns Six Figures A Year with Jon Dykstra

Jon Dykstra - niche website expert
Jon Dykstra

Perhaps you’re wondering, “What is a niche website?”

A niche site typically focuses on a single subject like sports cars and attracts traffic through high-quality articles optimized for search. A hyper-niche site dives down into that niche even further.

During the early 2000s, Canadian lawyer Jon Dykstra faced a unique challenge. His employer wanted him to attract more clients through blogging and content marketing. So Dykstra began writing about legal topics that interested clients, based on their search queries. 

Today, he regularly earns over $40,000 a month from online publishing.

In this interview, Jon explains:

  • What a niche website is and why they’re so profitable
  • Why niche sites are ideal business opportunities for writers
  • Where to get niche website ideas
  • What Jon would do if he had just one hour a week to work

And lots more.

I start by asking Jon how he transitioned from a career as a lawyer to becoming an online publisher running nine profitable niche sites.

Resources

Fat Stacks Blog

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Bryan Collins:
So Jon, it's great to talk to you today. I was wondering if you could walk me through how you managed to transition from a career in law or as a lawyer to what you're doing now, which is building a profitable niche sites online.
Jon Dykstra:
Yeah, happy to, well it was a long transition. Most of these situations are. I was practicing law and as a young lawyer I needed more clients so we decided to get a website going. This was way back when a lot of small business didn't have a website, lawyers included. So we got that going and we hired a company to do that for us because I knew nothing about it. What they did was something that was novel back then and they included, they did the usual business website, but they actually had a blogging component, a CMS. Essentially kind of like WordPress but built in, and this was back in '07 around... '06 and they said to me, they were pretty revolutionary in the whole SEO. They recognized the blogging potential and they say, Hey, as a lawyer if you want to get more clients and traffic, blog.
Jon Dykstra:
And so I started doing that and that's essentially how I got into it. I really liked it. I loved writing about various things that we did with our law practice and just giving information to potential clients and it worked really, really well. And so it grew from there. I started really just enjoying the whole online blogging aspect, the writing aspect and of course the marketing and the search engine optimization that resulted from that. So I started dabbling a little bit with some general content websites that I'd read about and kind of built those on the side. And eventually they grew and so did the blog. The transition is I continued to help some other law firms with their online marketing back then this is all pretty novel stuff. And then potentially... or eventually I should say my new sites just started growing. Eventually you're forced to choose. It's hard to do both. And I really just seemed to like the blogging side more and the writing side online more and opted to go that route.
Bryan Collins:
When or what year was it when you decided to do it full time?
Jon Dykstra:
2012, early 2012, we actually built up the law practice. I managed to do fairly well with the whole online thing. And I did that for a number of years and the content sites thing didn't come till quite a bit later. I was focusing on the small business website and the local blog for a long time and that was a really important thing for me and it worked like gangbusters. It still works. I encourage... I have colleagues and friends who own local small businesses, I still a hundred percent encourage them to blog and provide really good information on their sites for their prospective customers or clients.
Bryan Collins:
So did you, just so I understand correctly, did you leave your job as a lawyer to work on the niche sites or to manage the small business site that you've described?
Jon Dykstra:
More toward the niche sites. That was the ultimate end goal to help with the transition financially. I didn't take on a lot of marketing work. I took enough on so that it would help me get by. When I did the transition in 2012 my niche sites were doing quite well already. The marketing was sort of a bit of a safety net because that's a totally different business model. But I knew that while I didn't mind doing that, that wasn't something I wanted to do indefinitely. Like the end game was being an online publisher that was really wanted to do. And so that was my goal and that's where I'm at today.
Bryan Collins:
An online publisher, which you certainly are. If I followed you correctly, you have at least six, maybe seven niche sites, is that correct?
Jon Dykstra:
Yeah, correct. A nine actually.
Bryan Collins:
Okay.
Jon Dykstra:
But you know, it's easy to say that several of them are very small and don't do anything. They're merely ideas. And here's why I do that, it's very difficult to manage that many sites. And the reason for that is like, really, I really focus on four sites right now, I would say. And the reason it's hard is your costs go up exponentially. I mean, just simple things like little tech issues that can happen across all your sites. Well, instead of dealing with one site, you've got to be a multiple site. So it exponentially pulls away from your time. And when you have one or two large sites that's very demanding as much as you outsource and have a team in place, it still requires a lot of my time.
Jon Dykstra:
But here's the thing, here's why I launch a few extra sites on the side. I call them my rainy day sites and I kick them along and I publish maybe one, two, three articles a month on them. I don't expect them to do well, but I like to have some age sites with some good content just sort of sitting there in case down the road I do get some time and some more resources and I can then build them and they're already aged, they already have value even though they don't actually make any money.
Bryan Collins:
So you sent me a great email there about a month ago, or to subscribers on your email list and it explained about what you would do if you had just one hour a week to work on your business. Could you explain what your approach is where you had just one hour a week?
Jon Dykstra:
Yes. It's simple. It's writing really good content for whatever topic you decide to create a website about. The most important part, and this is where I spend the most of my time, is the publishing of really good content and you know, you're involved in the writing industry, the top tier publications, that's what they focus on for the most part. That's why they're top tier publications. It comes down to the content and so if you have one hour a week, write. That's it. If you can only get a couple articles out the door a month, then so be it, but make them really, really good. On the flip side, everybody's situation is different. I'm assuming if you only have one hour a week, you have a job, a full time job, which is demanding.
Jon Dykstra:
If you have disposable income that you can risk. This is a risky business.
Bryan Collins:
Right.
Jon Dykstra:
But if you have disposable income and you're genuine in wanting to build up a publishing business, it does help to be able to pay writers to produce more content that will speed up the process. But if you're going to go out of pocket and you're brand new at this and you're going to spend hundreds of dollars per article or multiple articles a month, realize there is no guarantee with this business. I've had lots of false starts with sites. I've had sites that don't work. Many, actually, they just don't work. Bad fit with me for whatever reason, bad idea. These things happen.
Bryan Collins:
At what point do you know a site isn't working?
Jon Dykstra:
Isn't working?
Bryan Collins:
Yeah.
Jon Dykstra:
Oh yeah, that's a good question. That's a hard thing, that's a really hard decision to make because you don't want to pull the plug too early. I mean, you got to be patient. These things don't happen in six months. The growth takes a long time unless you get very, very lucky or you really know what you're doing. I can't make them happen in six months. So it's hard. You don't want to pull the plug early, but at the same time you don't want to just keep throwing money at something that has absolutely no future. So it's really a judgment call.
Jon Dykstra:
For instance, I have one new site that I don't know, for some reason I thought it was a good idea and it's something I'm interested in so I may pursue it just out of interest sake if I get more time. Here's one indicator, if your potential market readership is pretty limited. I don't like that. To me that is... If I go that route that's because I didn't do my research properly, but I don't really like that because the upside is very limited and I prefer to create online publications where there's a huge market, a huge potential readership that motivates me to really want to grow it. And so that's my preference.
Jon Dykstra:
But on the flip side there, there is something to be said for very, very niche, very focused online publications that cover one topic and it covers very much in depth and at some point you've exhausted the topics and you can almost kind of say, well I'm done with the site and it earns what it earns. It's probably never going to earn much more. But it is a nice little stream of revenue. Maybe it's a big stream of revenue and that's it. So there are those sites too. But my general preference is huge potential market. And like I said, I've picked sites that just bad idea from the get go, didn't do my research, thought it would be easier, thought it would be better, thought it would be bigger. It comes down to like having to make a gut decision and it's hard because you don't know if you're doing the right thing.
Bryan Collins:
And to flip that question on its head, how long do you think it takes for a niche site to gain some traction?
Jon Dykstra:
Yes. Well let's assume that the lion's share of your traffic and your focus is Google search traffic. You really need to give it two to three years. These days Google takes a long time to really get sites to be performing really well, especially with my strategy, which is really focusing on a lot of long tell, low competition articles for readers that'd be more obscure, maybe interesting topics that go a little bit more in depth. The reason I do that is there's less competition and it's easier to rank. But even for that, if you're going to get some serious traffic, you need a lot of those articles and build up a large catalog of content and then your traffic will grow. The alternative strategy, but you can do both at the same time, would be to focus on really popular topics, but then you really have to focus on trying to get them ranked in Google.
Jon Dykstra:
Now these things can be sped up. I tend to take the tortoise approach. I know people who are able to build big high traffic sites inside a year, inside 18 months. But they're doing a lot of promotion and link building and attracting links and that sort of thing. So it can be done. It's not my approach. I tend to take the tortoise approach. So, and then there's also the social media factor. I mean if you are very adept or hire somebody who's very adept on Pinterest, you can make things happen fairly quickly on Pinterest.
Bryan Collins:
Yep.
Jon Dykstra:
Again, not easy and most people don't manage. But if you have the knack for Pinterest, you can get results very, very quickly.
Bryan Collins:
So listeners are clear, what do you see or what is the definition of a niche site and then a hyper niche site? Because it's took me a while to figure out why some sites are so specific and other sites aren't.
Jon Dykstra:
Yeah. Well this is one of those things that all falls on a spectrum. Right? Okay. So I mean arguably a site that discusses automobiles is a niche site. Some would argued, well that's not really a niche, that's like 50 niches inside one site. So it really depends who you talk to. I like connect to a new site, I tend to prefer the word content sites or online publication, but whatever, niche site, that would be a niche site.
Jon Dykstra:
I would say a hyper niche site would be something that discusses crossovers or sports cars. But some would say, well no, that, well yeah that may be a niche site. A hyper new site would be something that maybe focuses on a Toyota minivans. You know, you just keep going down and down and down. Right. And I think you can talk to different people, you're going to get different ideas. For me, a niche is generally, I would qualify automobiles as a niche. Some would say, well that's essentially like an entire vertical or sector or market. Yeah, you could be right.
Jon Dykstra:
But that's why the reason I think of it that way is because I tend to, if I were going to go into the whole, let's say I was going to do an automobile type site. Well I would go at the automobile level, I might start with a Toyota crossover and do a bunch of stuff on that or Toyota minivan and just do a bunch of stuff on that. But the goal would be to build it out to cover many different types of cars and potentially trucks and so forth. So.
Bryan Collins:
Gotcha. Gotcha. So we talked there about your transition from a full time job and also about a reliance on Google for traffic. So do you see the Google algorithm as a risk to your business or to niche sites? Like I've certainly seen with my own sites that traffic can fluctuate after an algorithm update.
Jon Dykstra:
Absolutely. Google's the biggest risk in this business. Whichever your biggest traffic source is, that's your biggest risk because without traffic it's not really much of a business. So yeah, I mean Google changes its algorithms all the time. I've had fluctuations over the years, big ones, small ones, and I think anybody who's been publishing online for a number of years have had the same experience. So yeah, absolutely big risk. I think if you are very good on Pinterest and you get a lot of traffic from Pinterest, that's a risk. Pinterest can change its algorithm overnight and there's nothing you can do about it. I mean, look at what Facebook changed their reach big time, big, big time to brands and pages, business pages, several years ago and people had huge online publications with all their traffic coming from Facebook and it disappeared overnight.
Jon Dykstra:
So, yeah, I think there's an argument to be said that people who buy traffic, let's say your e-commerce sites, they might be a little bit more insulated from the risk, but it's a competitive environment and your costs for traffic will fluctuate throughout the year, over the years could continue to go up to the point where you can't afford either. So yeah, I mean, whatever your traffic source is that's your primary risk.
Bryan Collins:
So how or what advice would you give to somebody for managing that risk?
Jon Dykstra:
Well, I'd say diversify, but how do you do that? Right. I like to think I'm diversified with multiple websites. In fact, that's the number one motivator for me to invest time and money into additional sites, to grow them and hopefully that I'll have multiple streams of revenue, but let's face it, all of these sites, the lion's share of the traffic is Google. So, okay, Google could change its algorithm where it affects one of my sites. That's in all likelihood a very likely scenario in the future. If the algo could change to affect all my sites. Right. That's less likely I suspect. Which is why I do it. But it is possible. So yeah, I mean how do I diversify? I suppose invest in other types of businesses outside of being online I suppose. But then what you're doing is you've got a distraction, you're not as focused and that's a difficult thing to manage as well. So it's a hard question to answer. I'm basically focused online and it's a risk.
Bryan Collins:
And to play devil's advocate, would it make more sense to just focus on one site and build that up as much as possible by putting all the resources and time into that one site?
Jon Dykstra:
Yeah, I think so. There are many times throughout a month I think that because I am deploying resources and time on other sites. Now, I do put the lion's share of my time into two sites and they happen to be the most lucrative. They're the most lucrative probably because I put the most time into it. But on the flip side, I think it's a good idea to try to diversify somewhat, but I can't argue with your suggestion that I could grow the one site perhaps more, larger, faster. But here's the thing, and this is an interesting observation and I don't know, you can't really quantify this, but okay, I've got one really large site. It's the highest revenue site. I've had it for a number of years, six years now. The thing is I could double the investment per month, but is that going to grow it any faster?
Jon Dykstra:
I already put quite a bit into it and I have had months where I've really poured a lot into it. And did it grow a whole lot faster? Not really. It's sort of like, basically what I'm trying to say is there's a sweet spot where diminishing returns, if we want to get all economic about it. At some point you could throw as much money as you want into an existing site, but you're not going to get greater returns. You're just, that's it. So you're kind of, I don't know. But maybe that money will pay off 12 months down the road. It's hard to know. It's almost impossible to track really. But anyways, I feel a little bit better diversifying, but I agree with you like if I were willing to take a bigger risk and just put everything into [inaudible 00:18:07] site and build it up as big as I can as fast as I can.
Bryan Collins:
You also talk there about deploying resources and I know from taking one of your courses that you rely a lot on other writers to produce the content for your sites and you outsource some of the content production. So how do you manage working with so many different writers across so many different niches?
Jon Dykstra:
Yeah, well this was the crux of the entire business model really. I liken content as the widget. If you're in manufacturing, you produce widgets. If you're an online publisher, you produce content. And so yes, there are multiple workflows. I have a couple of in-house writers that I work with. Now that's a great situation. Okay. They are hard to find and hire. But when you do find them it's great. And the reason is because basically like it's hands off, you get into a workflow, they know what you want, they know how they want everything. You don't have to reinvent the instruction template every time because they are basically, they just do their thing, they write, you gave them a list of topics. In fact, one of my writers, she comes up with the topics herself, which is great. And she basically has her own column within one of the sites and it's awesome.
Jon Dykstra:
Okay. Now the other source of where I get content is what I call content agencies. Some people refer to them as content mills. Basically what these are is it's a website that brings publishers and writers together. So there's a huge pool of writers who are there. You submit your article topics and then some writer will pick it up and write it and deliver it within the stipulated deadline. So the one I like a lot these days is writeraccess.com. I'm a big fan of them. They've got some just absolutely great writers. They attract really, really good talent. And then also if you go to a much smaller budget, you're willing to spend a little bit of time improving it and doing some editing. Textbroker is good. It's a very economical option. And I still use them occasionally, but I prefer WriterAccess.
Jon Dykstra:
So these are great. I like these content agents because I can literally like order 50 articles at one time and instead of waiting for one writer to produce them over the course of two months, I can have 20 writers pick them all up and deliver them seven or 10 days later.
Bryan Collins:
Yep.
Jon Dykstra:
And so there are pros and cons to both. But you know what, when you use one of these content mills or agencies, 30% or whatever percent is going to the middle person, right. It's inefficient. It's no good for the writer, it's no good for the publisher. But if it weren't for them, I wouldn't be able to access a big pool of talent. So that's the way that it is.
Bryan Collins:
It still seems to take a significant amount of time to fit in the brief and work with a writer to make sure they're on brief and then to provide feedback on the article and then get it to a place that you'd be happy. At least based on my limited experience using some of the sites you've mentioned.
Jon Dykstra:
Yes. Well that is also a part of the equation I've been working on. So recently I created a new position... Until very recently I did the ordering and I did the keyword research, I did the outlines for content briefs and all that. Now it helps when you set up templates, create templates. If you're getting into this, have order briefs. I have literally like 20 different content, brief templates that I tweak for every order, but the lion's share is there, right? I'm not retyping everything every time. Okay. So that helps a lot. And the other thing that I've done is I recently created a... It's just a part time position, it's what I call a content strategist. And they are doing the keyword research and the outlines and creating the content briefs, while working off my templates, she's creating some of her own templates as well, which is fantastic and submitting the articles and then reviewing the articles as they return.
Jon Dykstra:
So that was the role I had been doing since I got into this business. When I started outsourcing writing that I still continued to do that. But recently I was able to hire a very capable person to do that and that's freed up my time to really focus on just trying stuff. I like trying stuff and that's kind of how fatstacksblog.com emerged because I just tried stuff. I started testing how to monetize with display ads, I wrote about it. Started testing with [inaudible 00:22:35] stuff, I wrote about. Started testing different types of content and wrote about it. And so I kind of like to tinker and a lot of the stuff I tried didn't really work out, but some of the stuff I do and it does work out and then that really helps out my business.
Jon Dykstra:
So that's kind of what I spent a lot of time doing. But it's been nice getting out of the process. Now if you're going to hire a content strategist, you going to have to pay. Don't look for really low cost to you, you've got to get somebody who really understands this business model, who's done it before. Who can do really good keyword research, who can come up with good topics, who is willing to put the time, like understand how to create an excellent outline. The quality of the article is directly related to the quality of the instructions you give the writer. The more details you give them, the more you set out and explain exactly what you want, including subtopic and headlines and sections and everything else. The more you can provide them, the better your article is going to be. It gives them the time to actually write really well written sentences and articles and do good solid research and so forth.
Bryan Collins:
Did you find a content strategist on Upwork or through similar methods?
Jon Dykstra:
I tried there. I had some applicants they looked around. I was very lucky. Well one of these sort of unexpected benefits of the publishing fatstacksblog.com and having an email readership is, I just said occasionally we'll have a advertiser position to the email readership and there are some very, very talented capable people who are looking for a part time job to work on the side while they are working on their own online publishing business. So that was where I found this person. She had applied for it and she's worked out really, really well.
Bryan Collins:
Great, great stuff. That's fantastic. And the other appeal to creating niche sites for a lot of people would be the idea that you can set us and forget us, even though I know that's not necessarily true. Do you find you have to work as hard as you were working back when you were a lawyer or are you able to work a reduced week? Or what does your working week look like today?
Jon Dykstra:
Yeah. Well law is a demanding job so I don't think I worked quite as hard then, but I still work hard and it is demanding. And could I take a month or two off and still have income? Yeah, I could, but you can't just walk away. It's very difficult to do that. I think maybe if you get to a couple levels beyond where I'm at when you have really, really like capable management, true professionals running things. Sure you could, but that's going to cost you big bucks and I'm not going to do that. So yeah, I still put in 35 40 hours a week. It's a good number for me. I enjoy what I do though. I look forward to coming in and tinkering on my sites and seeing how things are going and coming up with ideas and reviewing the work that's been done and doing interviews like this with you and writing. I still write. I enjoy it. So yeah, I'm involved, but I also like to be involved.
Bryan Collins:
Yeah. I've been on your email list for a while, Jon and your Fat Stacks emails, I mean it's obviously you're writing those emails and content because there's a lot of personal insights so it comes across that you do enjoy the creating content part of the business. But what if somebody has a niche site and it's not a topic that they're overly excited about. Does that make a difference?
Jon Dykstra:
A little bit. I think it'll make more of a difference if they're writing the content, but I think it can be overcome. I think you can hire writers who are interested in the topic and you just have to pay, right? Like if you're looking to pay two cents a word, it's not going to be good. It's going to be no passion, no enthusiasm, no personality in that content. You pay six to eight cents a word, you're going to get people who are going to, who have the skills to write interesting, fun, informative content, and you'll see the passion. So you're merely the publisher. You publish their work on your site and it can be good content and that's what I do.
Bryan Collins:
Mm. I like that. I like that. So where can people find more information about you Jon? Or about Fat Stacks?
Jon Dykstra:
Yeah, fatstacksblog.com that's my business blog. It's where I blog about what I do with my online publishing business. What I'm doing, building up the sites and so forth. It's a lot of content. I've recently started a podcast and trying to get a little bit more into YouTube. So it's just me having fun talking about this stuff.
Bryan Collins:
Yeah. It's a great name for a site, if I remember correctly, it's based on Breaking Bad. Is that right?
Jon Dykstra:
Yeah, yeah it is. Oh man, it's a quote from Jesse Pinkman from the Breaking Bad show, which I loved. Great show. And let me just see it here. I think I have it on the site somewhere. I put it on there because everybody kept asking me why the name, why the name. I'm like alright I'm going to put a little snippet at the top. So I have it at the top here. There's a quote in one of the episodes, I have no idea which one, but I remember this and it's a Jesse Pinkman, "Going to make some mad cheddar yo. Cheddar Mr. White, fat stacks, dead presidents, cash money. We're going to own this." I love that line. So there ya go.
Bryan Collins:
Very good. Very good. Well it was great to talk to you today, Jon. Thanks again.
Jon Dykstra:
Yeah, thank you very much Bryan, I appreciate it.

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