[Case Study] How I Built An Authority Website In The Insanely Competitive Fitness Niche (Domain Revealed)
In this case study I’ll show you, step by step, how I built a profitable authority site in the insanely competitive fitness niche. As always, I’ll reveal my domain, URLs, niche, keywords, backlinks, my thought process and everything that matters!
About My Case Study Site
- Domain: manvsweight.com
- Broad niche: fitness
- Narrow niche: bodyweight training, at home training
- Traffic: about 50,000 unique visitors a month
- Number of white hat, in-context backlinks: 300+ (I lost count of the exact number)
- Domain Rating (according to Ahrefs): 50
- Number of organic keywords the site ranks for (according to Ahrefs): 45,000+
- Number of blog posts published: ~140
- Revenue: I’m sorry but I built this website in a partnership with my friend Gabe, whom you can see if you visit the site. Since he’s invested a lot of work, time and energy in the site and wouldn’t feel comfortable revealing his earnings to the whole world, it wouldn’t be ethical for me to display precise revenue figures. Let’s just say the site makes decent and mostly passive income. 🙂
How did I do it? Let’s spill the beans and get into the details!
What You Will Learn Here
What is an authority site, how do you build one and how do you make money with it?
An authority site is a website that has a lot of high quality content about a specific topic / specific niche. The content can be in the form of blog posts, pages, videos, infographics, etc… all that matters is that the content should be valuable to the readers who are interested in that topic.
For example, I built my website that this case study is about in the fitness niche, so if you go to my site at manvsweight.com, you can find a ton of posts that are all related to fitness, working out, dieting and so on.
Here are a few more examples from other niches as well:
- Nomadic Matt (travel niche)
- NerdFitness (fitness niche)
- Cave Of Programming (learn programming niche)
- Anguilla Beaches (Anguilla travel niche)
- and so on...
How do you build and monetize an authority website?
Actually, the entire point of this case study is to show you how I built my own authority website, step by step from scratch. But basically, the whole process boils down to these steps:
Step #1: Find A Topic
Find a topic / niche for your site like “fitness” or “dating” or “gardening” or “fishing” etc… (of course, choosing the right niche is more complicated, but this is the general idea).
Step #2: Do Keyword Research
Identify what subtopics within your main topic people are searching for in the search engines (Google) and create content about those subtopics.
For example if you look at my site, manvsweight.com, you can see that it’s a fitness site. But within fitness, there are tons of sub topics like
- bodyweight training
- weight loss
- fat loss
- muscle building
And even within these subtopics there are a lot of sub-subtopics, for example a subtopic of bodyweight training can be:
- bodyweight training
- bodyweight exercises
- bodyweight training for beginners
- bodyweight biceps exercises
No surprise, if you go to my website, you can see that I have content (blog posts) about all of these sub-subtopics: here’s my post on bodyweight exercises, here’s my post on bodyweight training, here’s my post on bodyweight biceps exercises etc…
To oversimplify things, you can say that these subtopics within a subtopic are called “keywords”. So “bodyweight training for beginners” is a keyword, and so is “bodyweight biceps exercises”. Don’t worry if it’s not 100% clear yet, we’ll get into more details about keyword research in other case studies, and you can always ask me in the comments below.
Step #3: Create Content
This step is pretty self explanatory. Once you identified your keywords, it’s time to create valuable content to present to people who are searching for those keywords in Google. You already saw how I did this: I simply created separate blog posts for my keywords and provided a lot of written content, images, embedded videos etc…
Step #4: Get Traffic to Your Website
This step is the hardest and this is where most people fail. Technically, you can get traffic to your website from a ton of different sources and we’ll cover many of these on this blog.
Just to stick with my current case study site, manvsweight.com gets 90% of its traffic from Google and other search engines, so you could say that I use mostly SEO (search engine optimization) to drive traffic to this site. Again, we’ll cover aaaaall you need to know about SEO in this and later case studies.
Step #5: Make Money
How do you make money with an authority website?
There are a lot of ways to make money with a website, but all require one thing: traffic. Once you have traffic you can make money in several ways:
- Affiliate marketing
- Display advertising
- Sponsored posts
- And a ton of other strategies.
Now that you know what an authority website is, let me show you exactly how I built mine in the fitness niche.
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Step 1 – How I Chose My Strategy For Building The Site (And Why I Picked The Authority Website Model)
If you read my story, you know that I tried lots of different website building models that all failed after a while, including:
So when I was about to start anew (after many failed attempts) I decided that this time I wanted to build something that would have a lot of value and that would last.
I didn’t want to build a 5 page niche site, or an impersonal “made for AdSense” site with regurgitated content written by $10 freelance writers. So this was one reason I decided to go “big” and build an authority site.
The other reason was that I’d had enough of the risks associated with doing Black Hat and Grey Hat SEO, I wanted to do things completely White Hat. And no matter where I looked, every credible resource (like Backlinko or Authority Hacker) said that in order to be able to do White Hat SEO, you have to have a high quality website that’s actually useful and that actually adds value to the internet. So this was the other reason I decided to try the “authority website” model.
What is Black Hat, Grey Hat and White Hat SEO?
To sum it up, Google has specific guidelines for webmasters (i.e.: people who build websites), in which they define what they think is OK or not OK to do to make your website show up (=rank) higher in the search engines’ results pages.
(And why would you want to rank higher? Well, the higher you show up, the more traffic you get, because the more people will see your site and click on it, etc…).
Basically, anything that Google doesn’t approve of is called Black Hat and Grey Hat SEO (Blackhat is even worse than Gray Hat), while the stuff they do approve of is called White Hat SEO.
The reason you want to stick with White Hat SEO is that Google periodically updates the algorithm they use to rank websites, and websites using Black Hat and/or Grey Hat strategies usually end up getting hit by these algo updates more frequently than White Hat sites.
Then why would anyone use Blackhat strategies? Because Black Hat websites, if done right, may get results quicker... for a limited time until Google penalizes them.
In my case, I opted for long term results instead of “quick but temporary wins”, so that’s why I decided to build a completely white hat, authority website that Google tends to love.
Step 2 - How I Picked A Niche With High Profit-Potential, But Relatively Low Competition
Niche selection is probably the most critical part of building a new website. This is where most people fail, in fact, this is where I failed with many of my previous websites.
Why is it so critical?
There are many ways you can fail by choosing the wrong niche:
Mistake #1: Choosing A Very Competitive Niche
If you choose a niche that’s profitable, but too competitive, then you can create the best content in the world, you can fill your site with hundreds of pages, but you’ll never gonna break out of the shadows of your competition, you’re never gonna get any traffic and you’re never gonna make any money.
An example of such a niche is probably “loans”: there’s a ton of money to be made in the loans niche, but the competition is so cut-throat and fierce that you’re probably never gonna succeed in it (i.e.: you’ll never rank high in Google, because the other websites are so powerful that they will outrank you all the time).
Mistake #2: Choosing An Unprofitable Niche
If you choose a niche that’s very easy to dominate, but isn’t profitable, then you can – once again – create the best content in the world about that niche and fill your site with hundreds of articles, but even if you get a lot of traffic you probably won’t make considerable money.
This happened to me with my “romantic ideas” niche site (used to be at passionate-romantic-ideas.com): I got thousands and thousands of visitors every day, but I barely made $100 at the end of the month.
Because my visitors weren’t interested in buying anything or spending any money, they were just browsing for ideas.
Now, don’t get me wrong: with enough traffic, you can make a KILLING even in the least profitable niches, by simply putting display ads on your site for example.
However, for this you have to make sure you choose a niche that is broad enough that hundreds of thousands of people will visit your site every month, because that’s what’s required to make a good amount of money with low-profit monetization strategies such as display ads.
In my case, however, I chose an unprofitable niche with a traffic potential limit of a few thousand visitors a day, so at the end of the month I had hardly any money to show for my results.
Mistake #3: Choosing A Niche Where You Can’t Build The Right Type of Website
A lesser-known way to fail with niche choosing is if you choose a niche that’s profitable, but you can’t create the type of website that’s required.
This happened to me with an old site of mine that was called OneCaratDiamondRing.com, and it was supposed to be a niche site about diamond jewelry.
The keywords seemed easy to beat with fairly low competition, but no matter what I did, I just couldn’t get the site to rank.
As later I realized, the reason for this was that most of the sites that Google ranked for terms like “one carat diamond ring” or “blue diamond engagement rings” were eCommerce sites, where you could actually order the jewelry you wanted and have it shipped to you.
In contrast, my site was a simple niche site where I talked about jewelry and diamonds, wrote reviews, linked with affiliate links to actual jewelry eCommerce sites and so on…
So after about 6 months of struggling, I had to realize that once again I chose the wrong niche.
The point is, there are many ways you can screw up choosing a niche. We’ll talk about how you can avoid making these and other similar mistakes in my keyword research guides.
My Criteria For Successful Niche Selection
Based on my experience with previous failures, I had set the following criteria for choosing the niche for my new authority website that ended up being manvsweight.com:
1, I had to be at least a bit interested in the topic (otherwise creating content for the site would be a huge pain, and that would show in the content’s quality, which would hinder the site’s results).
2, I had to be at least somewhat knowledgeable about the topic, otherwise the content would suck (even if you outsource content creation, you have to be knowledgeable enough to check if the content your freelance writers provide is accurate or not). [I actually solved this problem by partnering with my friend Gabe not long after launching the site: he’s a real fitness maniac, so there weren’t any problems with either his interest in or knowledge about the niche.]
3, The niche had to be profitable, evergreen and not seasonal. By profitable I mean that people are spending money in the niche, not just browsing for info or ideas. By evergreen I mean I didn’t want to build a site that would lose its relevancy after a while like “The 2014 World Cup” or “iPhone 6”. I wanted a site that would be relevant and interesting preferably forever (like fitness). And by “not seasonal” I mean I wanted a site that would bring profits all year round, not just around Christmas, Valentine’s Day or summer, etc…
4, The niche had to be easy enough to enter: I wanted to see lots of keyword opportunities where I thought I could rank with a decent chance on the first page of Google. Again, I wanted to avoid very competitive niches like “loans” or “finance”.
5, There had to be a lot of other successful sites of the same caliber as mine: either smallish niche sites or smallish authority sites, bloggers etc… This is important because this is a sign that you CAN rank, get traffic and make money in this niche as a solopreneur, you don’t need huge fortunes and the support of a venture capitalist to have a chance at getting traffic in the niche. I found that there were a lot of sites in the "at home training / bodyweight training" niche like the one I wanted to build, you can check out a few of them here:
- and so on...
These sites all showed up for quite a few keywords and got a lot of traffic according to Ahrefs despite having relatively low Domain Ratings, so I was confident I’d be able to do the same.
So anyway, after a lot of soul searching, brainstorming and researching, I ended up choosing the “at home training / bodyweight training” subtopic (niche) within the bigger “fitness” topic.
So now you know how the idea for manvsweight.com was born...
Of course there’s a looooot more advice, tips and suggestions I could give about choosing your niche. If you’d like to see me write a separate blog post about niche selection, let me know in the comments below.
Also, don’t forget to subscribe so that I can notify you when the post is live.
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Step 3 - How I Do Keyword Research To Quickly Rank Well In Google [Separate Case Study]
After niche selection, keyword research is the most crucial part of building a successful authority website.
This is another area where most people make huge mistakes. They either choose keywords with too much competition, too little search volume or both. And there are a dozen other mistakes you can make when it comes to keyword research…
I should know, because I used to struggle with keyword research for 6 years(!), even though I’d read just about every guide and watched every tutorial on the subject.
Since I see lots of people making the same dastardly mistakes that I made during those 6 years, I created a complete, step by step case study about how I do keyword research now, and how it’s skyrocketed my online revenue.
Step 4 - How I Get Traffic: The 2 Strategies I Used To Gain Traction
Once you picked a niche, identified the keywords you want to target and started building your site, it’s time to get traffic. There are a million ways to get traffic to a website, but on manvsweight.com I focused on mainly two things:
Strategy #1: How I Used Networking And Outreach For My Brand New Site To Get A Traffic Bump (And Also Lay The Foundation For My Link Building Efforts)
One of the best ways to get traffic to a new website is through networking and outreach. This basically means that you have to contact people who already have an audience in your niche (let’s call them influencers), and get them to share your stuff with their audience.
Of course it’s far easier said than done:
1, You must have content that’s so good that influencers will be happy to share it.
2, You must know how to “network” in order to get exposure even as a totally unknown newbie in your niche.
Both of these are such complex subjects that I could write a separate guide / case study about how I did these for manvsweight.com in the beginning, and how it not only landed me a lot of extra traffic, but also lay the foundation for my next, currently ongoing traffic-generation strategy: SEO and link building.
If you’d like to see my networking/influencer outreach case study for manvsweight.com when it comes out, make sure you subscribe to my email list and I’ll send you an email when the guide’s published.
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Strategy #2: How I Did Link Building and SEO (And Got 100s of Totally White Hat Links In Just a Few Months… Without Writing a Single Guest Post)
As I said in the intro, manvsweight.com is mostly fueled by SEO, as it currently gets about 90% of its traffic from Google and other search engines (mostly just Google though). The concept of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is quite complicated, but let me try to summarize it in two key steps:
1, You have to get your on-page SEO right.
2, You have to get link building right (link building is basically off-page SEO).
When it comes to on-page SEO, I don’t want to regurgitate others’ information. Everything I do is based mostly on Brian Dean’s On Page SEO guidelines, so go ahead and check out his post.
However, when it comes to link building (which is the more difficult task of the two), I’ve developed my own link building system that I used to build over 300+ high quality, editorial backlinks to manvsweight.com in just 2-3 months.
I’m talking about powerful backlinks such as this link from T-Major Fitness (one of the biggest fitness brands in the world), or this link from Dr. Sircus, or this link from a Canadian university (and the list could go on).
No one can “buy” you links like these, and you usually can’t get them via guest posting, either. At the end of the day, you need to use an outreach based link building system to get similar results, and you need to fine-tune it to actually make it work.
That’s why I developed my very own link building strategy! You can learn more about it in a different case study once I finish writing it. In the meantime, subscribe to my newsletter so that I can notify you when it’s out.
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Step 5 - How I Monetize(d) The Site
Building a website isn’t worth anything if no one visits it, and having site visitors isn’t worth anything if you don’t make money from them. That’s why the final step of building an authority site is monetizing your hard work.
Again, I’m sorry, but I can’t talk about our exact earnings out of respect for Gabe’s wish to not make his whole financial life public. 😀 I’m sorry if you think it cheapens the value of my case study, but I feel that you can still verify everything I talk about for yourself if you just visit the site, Google the keywords I claim to rank for, etc… and then you can make your own estimate about how much we might make.
Now, there are a million ways to make money from a website, but here’s what I specifically do on Man Vs Weight:
#1: Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is when you promote someone else’s product in exchange for a commission. This is what drives a significant percentage of manvsweight.com’s revenue.
The most profitable affiliate programs that I participate in are:
- Amazon Affiliates (on the site I’m promoting home gym equipment, fitness accessories, fitness clothing, supplements, and everything in between).
- ClickBank (I’m selling digital courses like "Bodyweight Burn" or "Bar Brothers" [you can check my site ranking in Google if you type in these keywords + review]).
- Private affiliate programs (The third category that actually brings me a lot of money every month is private affiliate programs, which I’ll talk about in another case study. If you’d like to be notified when I release this new case study, subscribe to my email list!)
#2: Product Sales
If you visit the site, you can see that we quite heavily promote our own products. Gabe and I found that there were a lot of inferior products out there about our niche ("at home training / bodyweight training"), so we decided to launch our own courses. I’ll talk about our product creation and product launching experiences in another case study. For now, let’s just say that our own product sales also bring in money from the site, so we don’t solely rely on affiliate marketing.
(#3: Display Advertising)
I put this in brackets, because although I tried display adverting on the site and it did make relatively OK money (although the cost per thousand impression for display ads is usually way below other monetization methods), I didn’t like how the site looked with ads scattered all over the place.
I felt like it cheapened the site and made Gabe and I lose some credibility in the eyes of our visitors (which in turn lost us product sales), so I decided to ditch the ads instead.
Mistakes I Made And Why Man Vs Weight Is Now Only In Maintenance Mode
This case study wouldn’t be complete without talking about the mistakes I made with Man Vs Weight. I know you’re probably used to case studies where everything works out perfectly all the time.
But I’m not here to lie to you, I’m here to tell you my own experiences, and not all of them are great.
There were a lot of mistakes I made with the site which delayed its success:
1, I focused way too much on branding and design before I even started receiving any traffic. (Rookie mistake!)
2, I focused way too much on building an email sales funnel, before I ever had any visitors. (Again, rookie mistake!)
3, I picked wrong keywords and created content for them, only to later realize they weren’t ideal picks for the site so I had to delete them completely. This meant a LOT of wasted energy, time and money.
4, I wasted a lot of money by outsourcing content creation to the wrong people who created BS content. Also, I spent way too much money on some “experts” to write better content for the site, when I could have spent that money on far more productive things.
5, The list of similar mistakes is way longer, I can’t list here all of them, but as something noteworthy comes to mind I’ll update this post.
The Future Of Man Vs Weight 🙁
The biggest mistake I made, however, was that I picked a niche where I only thought I was knowledgeable and passionate about the subject. Yep, I have to admit, a few months down the line I realized that I wasn’t such an expert on fitness and training, and to be honest, I didn’t even care that much about it.
This is what caused mistake # 4 to happen: instead of writing my own content, I had to outsource it, and this caused a loooot of problems (more on this in another post).
Anyway, I later managed to fix this mistake by partnering with an old friend of mine, Gabe, who I knew was a die-hard fitness fan. Together, we created several courses for the site, and Gabe managed to fix some of the posts written by lower-quality freelance writers.
However, I couldn’t deny any longer that I lost a lot of interest in the site, and due to outsourcing, a big part of the content isn’t as high-quality as I originally visioned. Also, Gabe has a full time job as an engineer, so he doesn’t have a lot of time to work on the site either.
All of this means that Man Vs Weight won’t become the fitness authority that I intended to create. Instead, it’ll just be a side project for me and Gabe, we’ll probably upload 1-2 posts a month, and won’t try to promote the site any further (I even stopped doing link building for it).
We won’t completely abandon it, because it brings in nice money with very little work (passive income), but we’ll both focus on different projects.
I already created a few other sites in other niches, this time not making the mistakes I made with Man Vs Weight, and my results are astounding. This makes me think that I do have a place in the “SEO & make money online blogosphere” to talk about my experiences and help others who’re struggling.
I hope you liked my Man Vs Weight case study and that you got some value out of it. Don’t forget to check back often because I regularly add new case studies to the blog (albeit not as often as I’d like, due to my other online businesses). If you’d like to get a notification whenever that happens, subscribe to my email list below.
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That’s it for today! Feel free to add any questions, comments or remarks below, and I’ll see you in the next case study!