At the beginning of 2022, I started using some of my free time on building a small niche website and experiment with search engine optimization (SEO). Here’s how it’s going.
I’ve added a small FAQ at the bottom of this post that answers some of the questions I’ve been asked about this small project before and after I started writing about it.
This was the month I began working on the site. There was very little article publishing and a lot of playing around with layouts, colors, and other non-value-adding work. I even began playing around with a design system in Figma, but quickly realized that was a huge waste of time.
Eventually, I got the site live and started writing some of the first posts. This month I managed to publish 3 posts.
This month I continued to work on the design and architecture of the site. You’d be surprised how many times I changed the CMS structure, how things should relate to each other, and what the URLs should look like.
Eventually, I managed to write and publish another 3 posts, just like in January. This month was also the first month that articles were given impressions on Google. The “Users” and “Sessions” numbers were probably all me since I didn’t set up any tracking filters to exclude my own IP. This was also fixed here.
This month I did another refactor of the structure of the site and actually ended up completely redoing all URLs. Not a fun thing to do for an SEO project, and it was pretty clear that a lot of the new URLs took some to get properly indexed in Google, even though I had set up correct redirects on all of them.
Before I built the site, I did some basic keyword research to try and figure out how people searched for the main topic of the site. One takeaway I got from this during March, is that keyword research tools are way off.
The good thing is that they almost always show too small numbers in terms of total traffic potential. Seeing which posts started getting impressions (and clicks) gave me a pretty good idea of which direction to move forward in. This was also what made me redo the site architecture once again.
I managed to publish 5 articles this month. Some were longer and some were very short.
One useful takeaway here is to start out by publishing short, medium-quality articles with different topics. Then wait, observe and see which gets impressions. Then optimize accordingly.
This month I didn’t do a complete refactor of the site structure (wow!) but instead added small features to it, such as putting posts in correct hierarchies and making sure they had FAQs added as a schema in the head tag and a few other changes.
This was also a month when I didn’t do much work on the site at all. Not because I lost interest, but the time just wasn’t there. This is a site I have fun with during my free time. If I’m doing other stuff, this likely gets neglected.
One takeaway here is to notice the power of time when working with SEO. Impressions and clicks still increased despite spending less time on the site, and this was likely due to the work i did in March.
This month I added a small dashboard to track the performance of the site. I know creating more content helps it grow, but visualizing it this way really motivates me to keep working at least just a little bit on it.
Initially, I actually automated everything, so that the dashboard pulled data from the CMS, Google Analytics, and Search Console. But I remembered the power of actually writing down what I’d done throughout the month, so now it’s just pulling numbers from the spreadsheet I’m also showing each month.
Graphs always look nice when they’re starting from 0, but my point here was to show both leading and lagging metrics for the site. Again, to highlight the point of continuing to work on it.
May was the month I published most amount of my articles to date, but it wasn’t until the end of the month that I started writing them. It may be the dashboard (and the nice increase in performance) that spiked a little more motivation to keep going.
I managed to publish 7 articles, but again, most of them were at the beginning or the end of the month, cause that was where I felt like it.
Believe it or not, in June I decided to change the site architecture (again). I spotted some difficulties with some things I wanted to try out, so I decided to spend (too much) time figuring out how to restructure it and solve that issue.
I ended up creating entirely new content models in Contentful which took quite some time, but being on the other side of it now, I still feel like it was worth it. But it came at a cost…
This month I only managed to publish 3 articles, as a clear result of spending too much time on the technical stuff. But Google (and the other search engines) were good to me and the site still grew nicely.
As you can see, the metrics moved in the right direction, so despite my limited efforts in adding more content, it still turned out to be a great month.
Frequently asked questions
I’ve been asked a couple of questions by friends and visitors of the site, so I decided to share them here for others to read (and who knows, someone might ask a similar question on Google someday).
Which tech stack do you use to run the niche website SEO project?
I’ve built the site around a set of free tools (some of them running usage-based freemium plans) that include:
Gatsby for the frontend
Tag Manager for tracking pixels
Google Analytics for website analytics
Contentful for CMS
Google Docs for writing
Make.com for behind-the-scenes automation
Notion for project management
What is the end goal of the website?
For now, there is none. Initially, I was just testing out frameworks like Gatsby and how they work with Contentful. Now I just enjoy writing and seeing numbers go up ;).
Are you doing any link building to the site?
For now, I’m not. I might in the future, but I also know that you can go a long way without doing so. As an experiment, I might have someone help me build a few links someday, but it’s not a focus at the moment.
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