Today’s interview features an internet entrepreneur – Spencer Haws – who I’ve followed for the past few years, so I’m honored to have him on The Daily Interview today.
Spencer started the way that many people do online – he created some “niche” websites (i.e. websites that publish content related to a very specific topic), tried to get some free traffic from Google, and monetized that traffic with ads. He found a strategy that worked, and has since created hundreds of niche websites that bring in a total of over $100,000 per year.
But he didn’t stop there.
Throughout his niche site creation journey (in which he had to overcome several obstacles), he developed his own software product to help his niche sites become more successful. This software (Long Tail Pro), which will be discussed in the interview, is now widely known in the internet marketing industry today as one of the best keyword research tools available.
Let’s jump right to the interview.
Spencer, I’ve followed you for a long time online – even well before you started Niche Pursuits, your blog where you essentially capture everything that’s happening in your online business. You’ve had a wild ride and a lot of great success. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey.
Where did it all begin (i.e. what was it that allowed you to leave your day job and start your own internet business)? What are the different aspects of your business that you’re focused on today?
Like many people, I went to college, got a degree (business finance) and worked in the corporate world for 7 or 8 years. Also like many people, I never really enjoyed working for other people, and corporate politics is just ridiculous to me; it was not the place for me! Luckily, in my spare time, I started building websites just as a hobby…I was really just curious to learn html and get a website up and running to be honest.
However, after a year or 2 of “dabbling”, I stumbled on the idea that you can actually get traffic from Google…for free! This set me on a multi-year journey of learning, failing, and finally succeeding at SEO and niche websites.
From about mid 2009 to early 2011 I focused exclusively on building niche websites (small websites that only make a little each month from free Google traffic). During those 2 years, I was able to build up a significant income…so much that it was more than my corporate job at a bank, so I quit my job on March 11th, 2011.
I still actively build niche websites. But I’ve also branched into other areas such as creating Long Tail Pro, a keyword research tool, wordpress themes, iphone apps, and more. I now also spend time blogging at NichePursuits.com; and of course I’m always on the look out for that next big idea.
What has been your greatest success (or successes) so far?
My first big success was being able to quit my job. I had been making more from niche websites than my corporate job for about 6 months, and the income was growing. So after saving about 6 months of living expenses, I said goodbye to my boss! It was a HUGE accomplishment, and I still look at that day with fondness. To give people an idea of the kind of money I was making primarily from Google Adsense and my niche websites, I averaged about $10,000 per month that year.
My second big success was launching Long Tail Pro. Because I was doing so much keyword research for my niche sites, I used all the existing tools out there. None of them really satisfied my needs. They were either too slow, not user friendly, or didn’t really display the stats that I wanted to see.
So, I decided to hire a programmer and create a keyword research tool. It was not an immediate success. But the business has grown tremendously over the past 2.5 years. This is an ongoing success story as the Long Tail Pro business continues to grow. I’ve been able to build up a great business, really because I solved my own needs. Clearly many other people were having the same issues with other keyword research tools that I was having.
Success is inspiring, but I think failure is often where we learn and grow. What do you consider to be your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?
I have had ALOT of failures along the way. I know I just shared a couple of successes, but I’ve had way more failures. One in particular that still stings is when my Google Adsense account was banned. Yep, I was making over $10k/month and Google shut down my Adsense account. (I also know this happened to you Eric, so you can feel my pain). I saw in the blogosphere that many other accounts were getting shut down as well, for no reason that could be detected.
This taught me to try and not solely rely on Google. Lucily, I have been able to get my Adsense account back and continue to earn from Google Adsense to this day. But the experience has taught me to diversify and never rely on one source for anything (income, traffic, and more).
This is one reason why I am constantly testing and trying new business ventures.
You’ve built a lot of websites over the years, and I think it’s well-documented that much of your success comes from doing proper keyword research. But there’s something that isn’t as well documented, and although I know you’ve written about it at some point before, I don’t think it’s had enough attention.
What’s your process for coming up with ideas for new websites? I think people generally like to start with things that they are interested in, but if you feel like you’re out of ideas, or your passions don’t seem like they would work for building an entire site around them, what’s your favorite way to generate new ideas?
I come up with ideas from a number of locations. Here’s a few I’ve written about: http://www.nichepursuits.com/15-ways-to-brainstorm-for-keyword-ideas-and-jumpstart-your-brain/ . However, a couple of ideas that I really like are:
1. Using Amazon to discover new products ideas. and
2. Copying other niche sites that I see. To be honest, its not copying them exactly, I often will look at the link profiles of niche sites and see that they are either interlinking their own sites or are getting links from other niche websites. Looking at all these links gives me ideas for new seed keyword ideas, that I can then eventually spin into new websites.
Although a lot of the core pieces of building a website and making money online today are the same as they were 3-5 years ago, I’m sure you would agree that a lot has changed. If you were starting today – from scratch – and you wanted to build a website to earn an income, what would your overall approach be? What seems to be working today?
I would either create one blog or authority site that you are interested in and promote and grow it almost exclusively for 2 or 3 years. Or create a product (software, information, physical product, doesn’t matter) and sell it. Selling a product is a much faster way to make money than blogging or building niche websites.
However, I do often recommend that people build a couple of niche sites when they first get started, just to learn the ropes. They shouldn’t expect that these sites will earn much, if anything. But their purpose would be just to learn about SEO and websites in general…there’s nothing like hands-on training.
But at the end of the day, look for a target market and fulfill a need with a product that you can sell. Then once you have some more funds to invest, feel free to dabble in building lots of niche sites or other ventures.
Let’s take a step back and look more generally at making a living online. If you had to take your best advice and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
Create something of value that your market actually wants and the money will follow. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources?
Finally, where can people find you online?
Thanks for your time today, Spencer!
What’d you think of the interview? Have you ever tried creating niche sites before? What was your success like? Leave a comment below!
(If you enjoyed this interview, I’d greatly appreciate you sharing it using either the buttons below or to the left. Thanks! 🙂 )