Niche sites and authority sites—in the world of digital marketing, these terms are often used interchangeably.
But when it comes to things like content strategy, competitor research, and return on investment, there can be distinct differences between the two.
In this article, we are going to break down the major differences between niche and authority websites. We will look at how to determine which site falls in which category, and we will look at specific examples.
By the end of this article, you will be able to tell which kind of sites your competitors are building, and you will be able to decide whether you should build a niche site or an authority site.
What is a Niche Site?
A niche site is a blog, e-commerce site, or general discussion site built around a single topic, or niche. An example of a niche site is Skateshouse, which is a niche site about skateboarding products.
A niche site can be about either a passion, activity, problem, or product. Some examples of these niche types are:
- Passion: yoga
- Activity: skateboarding
- Problem: personal finance
- Product: coffee makers
There is going to be some overlap between these categories, but the most important thing about a niche site is that it only covers one niche.
You shouldn’t build a niche site about yoga and also coffee and tea. It will become too broad, and your readers won’t understand what your site is about.
With niche sites, you often want to be very specific. Maybe yoga is too large and competitive of a niche for your site to compete in, so you can build a niche site about yoga mats instead. This is called niching-down, and is a great strategy for a new site.
Niche websites have a narrow focus, but they also keep other things simple. Most niche sites have a single traffic source and a single monetization method.
For most niche sites, Google will be the primary traffic source, but many marketers have seen great results with Pinterest traffic. If you already have a dedicated social media following, that can be a great place to start driving traffic.
Most niche websites monetize with affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is when you place a link on your website to a product, and you are paid a fee if your readers click your link and buy that product.
For niche websites, your best strategy is to choose one program and market their products as much as possible. For that reason, we recommend starting with Amazon Associates.
That’s the gist of niche websites. Some of the major benefits to building niche websites are:
- Low initial investment
- Lower competition keywords
- Simple content strategy
- More passive revenue
- Easier to sell
A few of the drawbacks of niche websites are:
- Lower income ceiling
- Easier to run out of keywords
- Fewer backlink opportunities
Now that we have established what a niche site is, let’s look at what makes up an authority site.
What is an Authority Site?
An authority site encompasses everything about a niche site, but takes it all much further. An authority website is a site dedicated to an industry or topic, with the intention of becoming an expert resource in that industry. An example of an authority site is Dog Food Heaven, which is in the dog food niche.
What all this means is the end-goal for an authority site is to be a major source of information within their chosen industry. With an authority site, you are cultivating a dedicated audience, which means building trust.
When you are building an authority site, the name of the game is diversification. You want multiple income sources, multiple monetization methods, and multiple content strategies.
Instead of just affiliate marketing, you might also monetize with display ads. Most authority sites also sell their own products: digital, physical, or both.
Also, authority sites try to get traffic from every source possible, including Google, social media, podcasts, and email. Yes, email. Email marketing is huge with authority sites, as it is the best way to keep your audience coming back to your site.
If this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. Authority sites are large, complex, and very valuable. Many authority sites have sold for over 40x their monthly revenue. It’s not uncommon for these sites to be worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.
Some benefits of authority sites are:
- Very high income ceiling
- Easier to branch into adjacent niches
- Diversified income is more reliable
- You aren’t beholden to one traffic source
- Returning audience
- Lucrative exit opportunities
This all doesn’t mean authority sites are perfect. Some drawbacks of authority sites are:
- Much higher initial investment
- Requires extensive planning
- Longer wait for profit
- More competitive keywords
- Much more hands-on business
Differences Between Niche and Authority Sites
Now that we’ve established what niche and authority websites are, let’s break down some of the key differences. While each of these might not apply to every site, in general these are what separate niche and authority sites.
Niche Research Strategy
When researching niches, you should be considering the audience size and how competitive the niche is. If the audience size is too small, then you won’t be able to get any traffic to your site. If there is too much competition, then it’ll be more difficult to rank in search engines. We are looking for the sweet spot in between.
For a niche site, you should start by searching for some of your big niche keywords in Google. Think of keywords related to product reviews.
For example, in the yoga niche, try “best yoga mats for beginners” or “Manduka yoga mat review.” Then, look through the search engine results page, or SERP, and look at the sites that are ranking. For a niche site, the more small sites that are ranking, the better.
When choosing a niche for a niche site, you want to see as many small sites ranking as possible. The more small sites that exist in your space, the more lucrative the space must be. However, too many large sites will be difficult to outrank.
For an authority site, you want to see a healthy mix of large and small sites. Small sites show that it is possible for you to compete and start making money early. Large sites show that there is enough of an audience for you to reach a high enough income ceiling.
Keyword Research Strategy
Similar to niche research, keyword research for niche and authority websites differs based on volume and competition. The best way to do keyword research is to use a keyword research tool, and we will use SE Ranking for this article.
For niche websites, you are looking exclusively for low competition keywords. Even if the keywords only get 50 views per month, you are looking to scrape the bottom of the barrel and start ranking in Google.
For authority sites, you may start out targeting these keywords, but you will be targeting higher competition keywords as you build your audience. Also, because you will be doing much more link building, you will need to target some high competition keywords as well.
Lastly, Authority sites should also target info keywords at all volumes. Many info keywords have relatively low competition, and they are a great way to build your audience. While they are difficult to monetize, they will bring your site revenue in ad views and email signups.
Size and Scope
Most niche sites don’t grow past a few hundred posts, and they exclusively revolve around a single topic. Your goal is to rank for small keywords in your niche, and build on those rankings.
An authority site can have thousands of posts, and they can branch into secondary niches. If you are running a dog food site, you might want to start targeting pet insurance keywords, or cat food or other dog accessories. Eventually, you can expand your authority site to cover the entire dog or pet industry.
In short, authority sites have more reach, while niche sites have more focus.
Branding a niche site is usually a matter of stating what your niche is. Your website name will probably be product based, and will contain an exact match keyword. For our yoga example, a site name could be bestyogamats.com. It’s not pretty, but it tells search engines your site is only about yoga mats.
For authority sites, you want your branding to be more professional. A keyword in the name is nice, but you want your readers to know more than that. You want your readers to understand your philosophy. A site name like mindbodyyoga.com or mindfulyogi.com would be better for an authority site.
Authority sites also need to focus more on professional brand aesthetics. A premium logo, responsive site design, and an attractive layout are essential. While a niche site can get by with a text logo and simple colors, an authority site must intrigue readers and potential backlink prospects.
As we hit upon in the intro, a niche website will usually get all of their traffic from Google. If you are familiar with Pinterest you can work on that as well, but Google traffic is much more passive.
For an authority site, you need multiple streams of traffic. Organic (from search engines), social traffic, paid ad traffic, and direct traffic are all things you will need to target. Also, you will need to build an email list, so you can send them new offers, and keep your audience coming back.
Almost every niche website monetizes using Amazon Associates. While Amazon doesn’t pay very high commission fees, they convert so well that it doesn’t matter. That means if you send a reader to Amazon to check out a yoga mat, and they buy a bike instead, then you still get paid.
Many authority sites still use Amazon, but most diversify their affiliate programs. There are a lot of affiliate programs available, and you can even reach out directly to manufacturers. Custom affiliate deals will pay much higher commissions than any program.
Another way to diversify income is to sell your own products. Digital products are the easiest, but, with the help of dropshipping and print on demand, physical products can also be very lucrative.
The benefit of selling your own products is that the profit margins are much higher than advertising. The drawback is that there are also support costs to worry about, and e-commerce can be very time consuming.
For a niche site, your investment is mainly going to consist of your time. The domain and hosting for your site will probably cost between 30-100 dollars per year. If you write the content yourself and only use free plugins, you can run a niche site for next to nothing.
An authority site requires a more substantial investment.
First, premium tools, like keyword research tools and premium plugins, can cost hundreds of dollars. You’ll also want to invest in a premium theme to give your site a more professional look. Private hosting will be necessary as the site grows, which can get very expensive. However, the biggest expense of an authority site is content.
If you are running an authority site, you won’t have time to write all the content yourself. You will be too busy reaching out for backlinks, doing competitive research, and making the site awesome. So, you will need to pay writers, which can get expensive.
Because of all this, you should expect to spend a couple thousand dollars in the first year of an authority site. While that investment can be intimidating, the return is worth it.
Since authority sites are larger and more robust than niche sites, they also make much more money. While a great niche site can make thousands of dollars per month, an authority site can make hundreds of thousands.
If you decide to sell your site, you can be in for a financial windfall. These types of sites often sell for between 30 and 40 times the monthly revenue, and sometimes even more.
If you sell a niche site, it will be easier to sell quickly, due to the lower price tag and opportunities available. An authority site will attract bigger buyers, but will take longer to sell. Also, if your authority site is set up perfectly, you will get a lower multiple, because there is less opportunity for a buyer to improve the site.
With all that said, a niche site can sell for tens of thousands of dollars, an authority site can sell for millions. It’s not hard to decide which you’d prefer.
Examples of Niche and Authority Sites
Keeping in line with our yoga example. Let’s look at a couple sites in the yoga industry. First, let’s look at a yoga niche site, Luvi Yoga.
This site is very simple, and, in all honesty, not very well designed. They target small keywords, and focus primarily on buying-intent keywords. The site is one year old, and they have around 170 posts. However, your impression of the site might improve when you look at their traffic.
Luvi Yoga gets almost forty thousand visitors per month. That is almost unheard of for a one year old site. At an average of three cents per visitor, this site could be making around $1,200 per month, which would make it worth between $36,000 and $40,000 dollars. Not bad for a little niche site.
An authority site in the yoga niche is Yoga Journal. This site is set up as an online yoga magazine, encompassing classes, teaching, products, and discussion. It has thousands of posts, and it ranks for hundreds of thousands of keywords.
Oh yeah, it also gets 1.5 million visitors per month.
This site is likely making six figures per month. And, since they sell premium memberships and high-paying affiliate offers, it's likely that it’s a multi-million dollar company.
There’s no guarantee you can do this with an authority site. It takes a ton of work, persistence, and luck. But this site was built in five years, and there’s no reason someone else can’t see that same amount of success.
Niche Site or Authority Site: Which is Better?
From what we’ve seen, authority sites have much more potential and offer a better return on investment. So then, the question of niche sites vs authority sites comes down to risk.
Niche sites are a low-risk low-reward investment. You might be able to achieve job-replacement income, but that’s about as far as they will go. An authority site could make you rich, but it takes a lot of time and money, and you could fall flat.
With all that being said, Google is leaning more and more toward ranking authority sites. If you are on the fence between building a niche or authority site, you are better off planning to build an authority site, and concentrating on a niched down area of it. You can expand your site into broader content as it grows.
How to Decide Whether to Build a Niche Site or an Authority Site
Make a List of Possible Niches
Make a list of niches you find interesting. Go through Amazon’s product categories, and write down any you think you could write about. Try to identify at least 20 niches; more is better.
Once you have a list of niches you find interesting, take a look at the search results for keywords in that niche. Find competition in your niche. If you can’t find any, then you should take that niche off your list.
If there are a lot of small sites in the SERPs, then it is a good industry for a niche site. If there is a mix of big and small sites, then it can be great for an authority site. If there are only big sites, then it is probably too competitive, and you should take it off your list.
How to Find a Niche in 5 Minutes
You can also read this article to help find your niche.
Analyze the Available Monetization Methods in the Industry
When you find a niche you are interested in, take a look at competitors. See how they are monetizing their sites, and ask yourself these questions:
- Do competitors use display ads?
- How many affiliate networks are available?
- Are your competitors selling digital products?
- Are there e-commerce opportunities?
If it looks like there are only affiliate offers available, then you might do better with a niche site. If your competition is diversifying their income, you need to do the same.
Look for Adjacent Industries
How many related niches can you find? In the yoga niche, you could branch into women's health, eastern medicine, homeopathy, or pilates. There are many extra angles you can take. That makes it a great niche for an authority site.
On the other hand, something like paddleboarding doesn’t have many niches that are easy to transition into. It’s hard to write about other watersports or outdoor activities on a site that is branded around paddleboarding. Paddleboarding would be a great topic for a small niche site.
How Much do You Want to Invest?
Any site you build, niche or authority, is going to require some type of investment. Whether it is time, money, or both, you have to put effort into your site before you start making money. Before you decide what type of site to build, ask yourself these questions:
- How much time do you have to work on your site?
- What is your budget?
- How much content will you need to start ranking?
- How active do you want to be in your business?
- How interested are you in the topic?
After answering those questions, you should have an idea of how dedicated you are to this venture. An authority site will take much more dedication than a niche site, so you need to be prepared to put in the work.
Differences Between Niche Sites and Authority Sites: Our Final Thoughts.
While niche sites and authority sites appear similar, they require different approaches and mentalities.
Niche sites are simpler to build and easier to maintain. They have a narrow focus, and rarely veer away from their primary topic. If they are properly built, a niche site can provide job-replacement income.
Authority sites are much more lucrative, but take much more work. Multiple content strategies, traffic sources, and income streams are necessary for authority sites to function. Also, authority sites should also consider selling their own products, so they can completely control their income.
Whether you decide to build a niche site or an authority site, building a website is an incredibly rewarding project. You can make a lot of money while you own the site, the income is semi-passive, and you can sell the site for a lot of money.
Owning a website can completely change the course of your financial future. So, decide which type of site is better for you, and start building. Just start.