Have you ever thought about starting a blog? It may be the most profitable move you could make today.
Advertisers will pay big money to place ads on blogs with high viewership and specialized content. Not only that, an increasing number of businesses are creating lucrative affiliate marketing schemes for savvy creators.
The benefits of niche content sites have been well-known for almost a decade in the digital marketing world. The 2010s saw an explosion of these blogs on every topic imaginable from travel to barbecue equipment.
However, it’s a lot harder to build a blog that ranks at the top of Google search results than it used to be.
To prevent people from pumping out random keywords and low-quality content to get rankings, Google stepped up its requirements for ranking high on their search engine. Now webpages that are older, faster, cleaner, and have many reputable links pointing to them get ranked. Those sites that try to rank through fast, underhanded tactics are punished.
Mark Mars helped businesses build brands and content online for almost a decade in the UK. In 2019, he realized he wanted to do it for himself. After hearing Welsh entrepreneur, Adam Smith, speaking on a podcast about how he changed his life by acquiring and flipping content blogs, Mark knew he’d found his cofounder.
Together, they created Niche Website Builders, an agency for investors who want to buy and sell blogs. As the largest agency in their space, they’ve grown to £3.3 million (~$4.5 million) in 2021 with a team of 170 in just a few short years.
Here’s how they did it.
A Year’s Salary in Eight Months
Mark Mars is a rare breed: a creative who also loves data and computing. “I used to build websites for friends and family. Later I got interested in getting to the top of Google search results so I started doing SEO. Then it opened my eyes to all the other digital marketing opportunities,” he says.
Mark created a digital marketing agency and spent the next 15 years helping businesses rank better on Google. Around 2019, something dawned on him. “I thought, ‘Crap, I’ve been doing this for people for so many years, but I haven’t done it for myself.’”
Someone in Wales had the same realization. Like Mark, Adam Smith had begun his career working for digital marketing agencies. During that time he’d dabbled in affiliate marketing. In the second half of the 2010s, he purchased a website on an online marketplace to make a side income.
“Back then you could buy sites for much cheaper than today,” says Adam. “I decided to buy a content site focused on barbecues and smoker machines. Even though I didn’t have much experience in that niche, I worked on it for about eight months and sold it for more than I was getting paid in a year at my day job.”
Adam realized the blog writing business was lucrative and he wanted more, “I asked my agency if I could step back and work for them part-time and they said ‘No,’ so I quit.”
Back to Mark. He’d also quit his agency job and was working as an SEO consultant while building his content site portfolio. During that time, he heard Adam on a podcast talking about buying and flipping content sites. He realized they had a lot in common.
“I sent him a message, we got on a call, and we hit it off,” says Mark. “We both noticed there were a lot of people that wanted to invest in content websites, but not enough that had the time or resources to do them well. Our talks quickly turned into an idea where we would share the costs of creating a content writing and web design agency that could do it for them.”
As veterans in both the content agency and consultancy worlds, Adam and Mark had a relatively easy time getting Niche Website Builders (NWB) up and running.
“Niche Website Builders started as a Facebook group and a blog that we ran for some time,” says Mark. “Since we had a following already, we had loads of orders from week one.”
Between their ready-made audience and Mark and Adam’s industry connections, they quickly built a business. Niche Website Builders made £1 million (~$1.3 million) in their first year and £3.3 million (~$4.5 million) in their second year.
What Niche Website Builders Does
Put simply, Niche Website Builders is an agency for people who want to create profitable content blogs.
“We’re in the website investing space,” says Mark, “So that ranges from people who have full-time jobs and want to earn a bit of extra income on the side from their blogs to full-on investors or what we call ‘portfolio owners.’ These are people who grow and sell sites for a living.”
According to Mark and Adam, the upside from owning content blogs is gigantic. “You can generally sell a blog or a site that you’ve built for around 40 times what it makes monthly,” says Adam. “So if you get it making a thousand dollars a month, then you could sell it for $40,000. As you might imagine, people with money think this is a great investment tool.”
“We have one customer who has been using our service for 12 months,” Mark adds. “He’s making $40,000 per month which puts the resale value at $1.6 million.”
As content creators for the busy entrepreneur, Adam and Mark wanted to create a one-stop-shop for everything an investor could need when creating a content site. “We’ll write blogs, we’ll build links for sites, we’ll get them monetized through ads and affiliate schemes – anything they need when they are just starting out,” says Mark.
For payment, NWB has both a subscription service and one-off payments. “About one-third of our business is made from subscriptions from small to medium-sized blogs,” says Mark. “Investors often do one-offs where they’ll purchase large amounts of words every month.”
As the largest business in their space, Adam and Mark get a large chunk of their customer base through word of mouth. They also utilize the power of niche content and online groups to pick up leads. “We’ve created a couple of Facebook groups and even purchased a group,” says Mark. “We also work with YouTubers and podcasters and appear on their shows.”
Hiring Full-Time Writers in the Gig Economy
Where Adam and Mark think they shine is their high-quality writing team. They have about 110 writers in the UK and are still growing the team.
“All of our writers are based in the UK, with a good 60 percent in Wales,” says Adam. “We currently create about seven to eight million words of content every month. That means we’re pushing out tens of thousands of university dissertations’ worth of words every month.”
In the content niche, having a great team of writers is necessary to make sure you maintain rankings at the top of the search engine.
“Google is always trying to raise the bar on what it considers quality content,” adds Mark. “We wanted to make sure we were hiring writers that have the passion to write the content.”
While some businesses try to run their own content teams, Adam and Mark believe this is ultimately a tough investment.
“If they want to write in-house, clients have to find freelance writers or have people on full-time,” says Adam. “Full-time means they have to manage them, pay them, and make sure they’re doing everything right. And working with freelancers is usually horrible. One of two things happens: either they disappear or as you give them more work the quality decreases as they start to farm your articles out.”
To join the team at NWB, every writer has to do a 1,000-word test article first. “After that, we do an interview, but it’s usually a formality if the writing is good,” says Mark.
Once a writer comes on board, they spend time working in a “writing pod” under a pod leader pushing out content. If they pass that, they become full-time writers and can shift between pods and projects.
“We have a KPI for the number of edits asked from a client,” says Mark. “We’re proud to say that only around 1.5 percent of our content gets returned for edit.”
The Future of NWB
Mark believes the amount of money moving in the content space is only going one way: up.
“Just a couple of years ago you could only get 25 to 30 percent ROI from selling these blogs,” he says. “What’s happening now is the same thing that’s happening in the Amazon FBA [Fulfillment by Amazon] world. VCs are buying these businesses and merging them into giant content conglomerates.”
As for the future of his company, Mark has no shortage of ideas: “We’re going to start white-labeling our service for traditional agencies,” he says. “We’ve managed to get our costs down low so agencies can still mark up for clients. We also want to start talking more to traditional investors to help them create a system for entering the space.”
Mark ended the interview with these words of advice for founders in content:
Understand the space and understand the commitment. The reason most content sites fail is people give up too soon.
“Understand the space and understand the commitment. The reason most content sites fail is people give up too soon,” he says. “This is not an overnight, get rich quick scheme. It’s hard to see traction if you’re not pushing out content. For those that stick with it, the rewards are huge.”
He adds, “Once you start earning you can hire more writers to grow the asset. The startup cost can just be hosting. And if you don’t want to wait, just buy a blog.”
Mark and Adam’s story is another powerful reminder that some of the best execution can come after working in any field for a long time. Each of them spent the better part of two decades working as an employee at another business. Sure, they may not have followed early trends as youngsters, but when the time came for them to act they had the connections and know-how they needed to scale to millions in a year.
Want to share your bootstrapping story with the world? Enter your details in this Typeform and we’ll be in touch.