Authority Sites Versus Niche: Where Do You Stand?

by / Thursday, 19 July 2012 / Published in Internet Marketing

Does it seem like niche site building will soon become an ancient Internet relic?

I’m starting to think the answer may be yes. This week, I noticed a little trend emerging in the Internet marketing blogosphere: debate over whether authority sites are a better business model than niche sites. There are ardent advocates on each side, and both have valid arguments.

Authority Sites: The Pros

On the AdSense Flippers website, the guys moderated an entire 4000+ word debate pitting authority sites against niche sites. Super affiliate and authority site owner Steve Scott argued for authority sites, and a niche site-builder named Mike Thomas argued in favor of niche websites.

To be clear, let’s look at the great definition of the two terms that Scott offered up during his portion of the debate:

Niche and Authority Site Defined

Scott continued by pointing out the merits of an authority site. He explained that authority sites should be considered long-term investments. The idea is to build up a readership; a loyal following that will trust your recommendations, identify with your brand, and buy from you repeatedly for the long haul.

The biggest plus that Scott noted, however, was something we’ve been talking about here at Site-Reference for months now:

It’s better to build your online business in a way that you control completely. Diversifying your traffic sources and creating a brand will future-proof your website and protect it from Google’s changes.

When you create an authority site – a true authority site – it’s here to stay, with or without Google. New and returning visitors alike will continue typing your site’s address directly into their browsers, visiting your site through links, and finding it through shares on social networks. The long-term value of an authority site? Well, it’s incalculable.

The Cons of Authority Sites

It’s funny: it seems that ever since the last Google algo update, the talk has been non-stop authority sites. It’s become the buzzword in the Internet marketing world right now. But what webmasters are forgetting is that they can’t simply pay people to “make” an authority site. They can hire writers, SEO experts, etc., but they can’t buy the trust that comes from a solid foundation of long-term, repeated visitors. That kind of reputation takes years and heaps of value-add to achieve.

An authority site simply can’t be manufactured.

You can buy an authority site – sure – at a ridiculous premium. But the high price is justified due to the sheer longevity and power of such a site in a particular niche.

That’s the primary downside of an authority site. It could take months, and in most cases, years, to see any kind of real return on investment. That’s exactly what caused Spencer Haws of Niche Pursuits to throw in the towel after only a few short months. In his blog post this week – aptly titled I Can Only Handle 1 Authority Site, Back to Niche Sites – Haws lamented about the difficultly that comes with authority site building:

Haws on Authority Site-Building

It’s a lot of work. Indeed. And it’s a time commitment. As in a working-on-it-for-the-next-decade time commitment.


That’s what it takes to become a true authority: loving your topic to tears and writing about it tirelessly, networking with others in the same arena, and committing to grow the site… forever. Or until you sell it. Haws himself summed up the biggest drawback of managing an authority site – the time suck.

Pros of Niche Websites

In his announcement post about the change in course, Haws enthusiastically discussed his reasoning for returning to niche website building – even after Google banned him from AdSense and closed his account.

“Niche sites have always been the core of my business, but the early part of this year really shook me up. I’ve looked at the damage and still see a pretty sweet business. I still earn a great passive income from my niche sites (yes it’s much less), even after Penguin and AdSense closure. I’m ready to emerge stronger after the storm,” says Haws.

“Who’s with me?” Haws asks, “I know the risks, and I’ve always bounced back after penalties, deindexing, and more.”

Interesting point-of-view. I’m against spamming the Internet, and I’m all for authority sites. But the perspective is interesting. His is similar to Thomas’ viewpoint supporting niche sites in the AdSense Flippers debate.

I’m thinking that a niche website does have its purpose. I read quite a few articles that outlined a strategy of creating niche websites in order to find out which areas would be profitable without wasting time building an authority site – only to find out there’s no money in the niche. I agree with that wholeheartedly, but there must be a better way to find this out.

(By the way: I’d love to hear your thoughts on that in the comments below!)

During the AdSense Flippers debate, Thomas noted, “It all depends on how you build your niche sites. I’ve seen supposed “authority” websites that have a ton of content but were spammy as heck with spun or poorly-written content, no images, and placed on a free commonly-used theme.

I’ve also seen niche sites that had only one page of content, but the content was well-written, included relevant images, and was placed on a theme with a unique header. If you were a Google reviewer which website would you penalize first?”

Niche Sites: The Cons

I almost agreed with the argument made by Thomas. Then I checked out the page where he sold his niche websites. Here’s an excerpt from one of the articles in which he discusses his backlinking methods of choice for the niche sites he creates:

“Unique Article Wizard- I use the spun article I get from EZArticleLink also here. In that way I can get even more links out of the spun article.

Article Marketing Robot- I use this to give my sites a blast of link juice. You need to run this in Windows as it’s not available for Mac.

Social Adr- This service lets you put your social bookmarking on autopilot. There’s a free account where you get credits in return for bookmarking other people’s links, or you can skip that and pay for the service. I have a paid subscription.”

Okay, but wait. His niche sites are not spammy?

See, that’s the biggest drawback of niche websites right there.

They’re created to rank quickly and by any means possible. Most of the time, they’re sites about such exciting topics as “push reel lawn mowers” or my personal fave, “red gym socks”. People won’t be excited to link to sites like these. You can’t really build an engaged community around socks. Therefore, spamming the web is pretty much the only way to get links to sites like these. It is what it is.

It is inherently risky to build your business upon something you have no control over. If you depend on Google AdSense for your sole source of income and you build hundreds of niche sites, your time is ultimately limited with the program.

So, should you build niche sites while creating an authority site? Build a portfolio of niche sites alone? Work on your beloved authority site for years and *hope* that it will be an earner?

The choice is up to you, but whatever route you choose is a roll of the dice.