Today I’m excited to bring you an interview with Spencer Haws, someone who I’ve followed for a long time.
He’s an internet entrepreneur who quit his job early in 2011 and has amassed quite an impressive list of accomplishments: He has earned a six-figure income through his niche sites with Google AdSense, developed one of the top keyword research tools on the market today (Long Tail Pro), and has worked on a number of other projects that he documents on his blog, Niche Pursuits.
In this interview, I asked Spencer a wide array of questions that I thought people would be really interested to read about. Spoiler alert: At the end of the interview, I’ll explain how you can win a free copy of Long Tail Pro.
Before we get into the interview, I just want to give a full disclosure: I am an affiliate of Long Tail Pro, but you should also know that I’m a satisfied customer who paid full price for the software when it debuted over a year ago (i.e. this isn’t some kind of promotional post where I was given a free copy in exchange for the promotion).
Long Tail Pro an excellent keyword research tool that I use every single time before I start a new website, and it also helps a ton with creating new articles and article titles.
Interview with Spencer Haws
1) You’ve recently made the shift from focusing on micro-niche sites to more in-depth “authority” style sites. It’s pretty clear that this is what Google will be favoring going forward (although you never know what kind of curve balls you’ll encounter down the road).
What do you foresee as a potential pitfall (from a Google ranking perspective) for many who are making the switch to these heavier content-based sites? What do you think is the biggest mistake people are making?
I agree that for the long term, larger “authority” type sites are the way to go. But I want to clarify that I still build small niche sites more as a testing ground. These are riskier sites and probably won’t stick in Google for years to come. However, I still build small sites to find what’s working, what pays well, and to overall test a market. I then take the winning “small” sites and start adding more content until they become more authoritative. I used to only build small niche sites and just try to build hundreds.
Now, its more building small sites to test, and then focusing on just a few “winners”.However, its risky. So, if my brother or close friend asked me what type of site to build, I would tell them to find a passion and create a large blog surrounding that topic. I think that’s a good long term strategy for those that don’t want to dive into the more complicated and risky business of micro niche sites.
But larger sites can also have “pitfalls” as you mention. I think the big pitfall is the same that people make when building sites of any size: poor keyword research. If you produce content on extremely competitive search terms, chances are that you will never rank in Google. But if you can find keywords that are easier, you can get lots of free traffic. Its a matter of planning and executing.
2) Micro-niche sites were/are easy to build: find a good keyword, evaluate the the competition, and build the site if it meets your criteria. The same process applies to larger “authority” sites, but the stakes are higher, and you can’t necessarily afford to spend the time or money on questionable niches like you could with micro-niche sites.
What’s the biggest change to your approach when building authority sites vs. micro-niche sites?
I agree. Authority sites require more time and effort. For this reason, I spend more time up front on keyword research, and making sure I’ve picked a good topic. I am at a bit of an advantage because I’ve built so many small niche sites in the past, that I know dozens of really great niches that I could build an authority site in at any time. Its still not an easy process, and no guarantee.
However, one thing to consider is how much traffic a given keyword receives. One that was getting 1,000 exact match searches may have been enough to be profitable with a micro niche site; however, a larger niche site that you put more time and effort should have a higher payoff. For this reason, I like to consider keywords with 5k exact match searches or high (10k or higher preferred) for larger sites. This takes a bit more research time to find these higher search volume keywords that are also easy to rank for.
3) Good keyword research is a fundamental part of building a successful website that relies on search engine traffic. It’s the reason why Long Tail Pro has been so successful and well-received. What’s one thing you focus on when doing keyword research that you think a lot of people may overlook?
This is something that I’ve talked about alot. Analyzing the top 10 results in Google is the MOST CRITICAL aspect of keyword research that you can do. Many people think search volume and CPC is all you need. Or they might think that looking at the Title Competition is all you need to do. When in reality, if every site in the top 10 of Google is authoritative – your chances may be slim for ranking.
In addition to authority of the top 10 pages in Google, is the relevancy of those results. If the results are not targeting your chosen keyword properly, you might be able to outrank them fairly easily…even if they are authoritative. I’ve actually built in a new function into Long Tail Pro called a “keyword competitiveness” score that gives a quick calculation showing how strong or weak the overall 10 results in Google are. This takes into account both authority of pages and relevancy, and can give you a number at glance telling you how easy it would be to rank in Google.
4) I’ve written a lot about Google AdSense alternatives on my blog because both my personal AND business account (for my LLC) have been banned. Do you like or have you had any success with Google AdSense alternatives? Or do you think, from an advertising perspective, Google AdSense is the only platform out there that makes these content-based niche sites profitable and worth pursuing? (Put aside the fact that there are many other ways besides publishing ads, to monetize a website.)
First of all, I was devasted when I heard about both your accounts being banned. I think Google does a very poor job of letting people know when accounts are banned and how to avoid it.
I’ve had minimal success with the alternatives. Infolinks is probably my favorite at this point. However, depending on what market you are in, there may be lots of better options like CPA offers, affiliate products, and more. Google Adsense is the largest advertising network in the world, for that reason, it will always be the highest paying general content advertising platform (more advertisers = more competition = higher payouts).
However, there are lots of other ways to monetize sites. I’ve done well publishing my own ebook on one of my niche sites. So, for those willing to put more time and attention into a site; Google Adsense doesn’t have to be the only route…it is just often the easiest.
5) A lot of people look at Long Tail Pro and may pass on the opportunity to buy it if they already own a similar piece of software, such as Market Samurai. Personally, I use both, and there are definitely a lot of things I like more about Long Tail Pro.
What are some reasons you would share with someone, about why they should purchase Long Tail Pro if they already own Market Samurai? (For people who don’t own any software yet, I’d recommend Long Tail Pro over Market Samurai.)
I think Market Samurai is a good tool. But the reality is that I created Long Tail Pro because I was personally not satisfied with the speed and effectiveness of Market Samurai. Anyone that uses Market Samurai knows how painfully slow it can be to just look at the results for one seed keyword. After hitting multple buttons and waiting about 5 minutes (I’ve timed it), you will finally get up to 800 results displaying CPC, Search Volume, etc.
This same 1 seed keyword with the exact same data takes about 45 seconds in Long Tail Pro (and you only have to hit 1 button). In addition, you can input multiple seed keywords at once with Long Tail Pro. In fact, I did a timed test of Market Samurai vs. Long Tail Pro a few weeks ago, showing how long it took each software to get the data for just 5 seed keywords. You can watch that video here: http://www.nichepursuits.com/
It took me 25 minutes in Market Samurai. Long Tail Pro took 3 minutes. And in this same 3 minutes, I also got all the exact match domains available in Long Tail Pro (I didn’t do this in Market Samurai because it would have added significant time).
Overall, Long Tail Pro is faster.
Secondly, the competition analysis is also more effective to use in Long Tail Pro (in my opinion). With one number, the keyword competitiveness, you can see how difficult the top 10 results are. In Market Samurai, you have to interpret the green and yellow highlights, with no overall measurement of difficulty.
I think Market Samurai is a good tool – but I’ve taken Long Tail Pro to the next level when it comes to speed and effectiveness.
You can see everything that Long Tail Pro has to offer here: Long Tail Pro
6) When you quit your day job to pursue your internet business (I know it probably feels like a really long time ago now), what was the most challenging part of the transition?
I quit my job in March 2011, because my Google Adsense income from niche sites was more than I was making from my day job. I have to admit that the part about staying home rather than going to an office at a corporate job was pretty nice! However, setting a schedule and staying motivated can sometimes be difficult.
Without a boss, I can stop or start working whenever I want. In addition, building sites doesn’t usually have an immediate return. So, the effort I put in today, may not come to fruition for a couple of months. It can be hard to keep plugging along during these times. However, now that I’ve sent a schedule for myself and gotten used to “paying myself”, the transition has been good.
Overall, there were challenges, but nothing too significant for more after I quit my job.
7) You’ve come a long way since earning your first dollar with AdSense several years ago. What do you see as the next big thing for your online business?
Yes, since building micro niche sites and now larger sites (which I still do); I’ve also grown the software side of my business (Long Tail Pro). A big part of my growth and my continued “big thing” for my future is my blog: NichePursuits.com. I hope to continue to grow my blog audience. I’m amazed at the variety of businesses and individuals that are interested in building sites, ranking in Google, and content marketing. I’ve recently seen more and more small “brick and mortar” businesses become interested in marketing their businesses online through content.
They’ve sent me emails thanking me for the value they find in my blog or with Long Tail Pro. I’m amazed that the keyword research and competitor analysis principles I teach and helping real life small businesses. I want to expand my read through my blog and help more of these individuals and businesses.
As mentioned on my own blog, I’ve recently expanded the functionality of Long Tail Pro to include some “platinum” features. These new features are sure to make keyword research and competition analysis much easier for small business and niche website creators. This is a growth area in my business that I’m excited about.
So, I don’t have a next big project or business in mind; other than growing my existing business through blogging, content marketing, and more niche sites.
Thanks so much Eric for the opportunity to do this interview on your blog! I wish you all the best with your own authority site and other projects.
Do You Want a Free Copy of Long Tail Pro?
First, I want to thank Spencer again for taking the time to answer my questions. It’ gave me a lot of insight into how I want to proceed with my own online business, and hopefully you were able to take away some valuable information too.
On another note, Spencer was nice enough to give me a copy of Long Tail Pro that I can give away free to one of my readers. I’m going to make it really simple for you…here’s how to win it:
1) Follow me on Twitter. (@My4HWW)
2) Retweet this post (be sure to include @My4HWW in your retweet so that I know you did it).
3) Click here and read about Long Tail Pro. Leave a comment on this post explaining why you think Long Tail Pro would help you. Somewhere in your comment, be sure to include your Twitter name so that I can match up the comments with the retweets.
It’s that easy! You have until 11:59 PM (CST) on Friday, December 14th to complete the above steps and be considered for the free copy. I’ll be picking the winner randomly. The winner will be notified via Twitter (and then I will probably need your e-mail address to actually hook you up with the software).
Thanks for subscribing to my feed! For more great content, check out my Muse Creation Newletter for tips, tricks, and ideas that I won't share on my blog.
Also, follow me on Twitter!