Open Discussion: Are Mini Niche Websites Dying?

By Daniel Scocco

Last week I came across an interesting post on the SEO Black Hat blog that talked about black holes. No, not the astronomy ones, but the SEO ones! Quoting the article:

Black Hole SEO employs a technique that causes the normal laws of Google Physics to break down. Link juice flows into a massive body, but can never escape. When employed on a massive body, it tends to dominate the SERPs.

A black hole site is created when an tier 1 authority site ceases to link out to other sites. If a reference is needed, the information is rewritten and a reference page is created within the black hole. All (or virtually all) external links on the site are made nofollow.

As you probably guessed, the most famous example of an SEO black hole is Wikipedia. The problem is that many mainstream websites are following the same route (e.g., NY Times, Business Week). Even some popular blogs — which we would expect to have more willingness to pass the link love — are starting to use those black hole techniques to avoid linking out as often as possible (e.g., TechCrunch with their “Company Profile” pages).

The problem with this pattern is that it reinforces that popularity of the big guys, while making it harder for the small kids to play. Ever heard the saying “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”?

On a follow-up post, Quadszilla claims that this phenomenon could put a bane on the “mini niche websites” strategy. That is, you would be better off trying to create 1 or 2 mega websites rather than trying to create 100 mini niche websites.

Now this is certainly a controversial issue, because as of today you still have hundreds (if not thousands) of webmasters and online marketers that swear by the efficiency and profitability of creating mini niche websites.

Personally I stand on the fence here. I think that both strategies could work, and both have advantages and disadvantages. In fact I employ both of them. I have a couple of large websites (Daily Blog Tips being one of them), but I also develop mini niche websites from time to time.

But what about you? Do you agree with Quadszilla that mini niche websites are on the way out? Or do you think that this online strategy will still be working years down the road? Speak your mind!



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32 Responses to “Open Discussion: Are Mini Niche Websites Dying?”

  • Gary

    I do the same thing to big websites. I run a WordPress plugin that auto nofollows Wikipedia and Flickr, and will hand “nofollow” any links to large websites I put on my site.

    When I pass link love, I do so on purpose, and usually to sites whom I’ve had personal contact with.

    Everyone should set a policy of nofollowing big, corporate websites (including Wikipedia).

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Gary, yeah usually I nofollow links to sites I know would never link to me back as well.

    Though last month one of my sites got mentioned on NY Times and they did place a link, so I was left confused 🙂 .

  • Mikael Rieck

    I honest can’t see how it would put an end to niche websites. The larger sites will still have their focus on topics with the most traffic and the larger the sites get the more they’ll want to focus on the popular topics (leaving room for the niche websites).

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Mikael, it depends. Think about Digg or Wikipedia. They can virtually cover all the topics on the web.

  • Matt

    It’s a tough call Daniel, I think I might be on the fence with you.

    One part of me is like “screw them they’ll never link to me” and the other part of me is “I want to be setting an example and trying to keep the web / Google free and open to all”.

    Tough call..

  • Mikael Rieck

    @ Daniel, well you’re right about that. However I still see a tendency to Google favoring sites that are more “on topic”. Surely Digg and Wikipedia will have the power of their main domain to draw from but I’m pretty sure that we’ll always see that the site that provides the best (view with Google’s eyes) content will win every time. If that information is provided by Digg or Wikipedia then I find it to be only fair that they win.

  • Gemma

    While it’s beneficial not to make follow-able links to junk sites, linking out to quality sites is good for SEO (boosts search engines’ perception of the linking site’s own quality)… so a policy of no external linking might not be helpful.

  • SEO Genius

    I think it depends entirely on what assets you already own. A person who has just started out in the internet business who then decides to develop a website in a mini niche will find it much harder than another person who already has one or two succesfull blogs or knows a thing or two about internet marketing or has some sort of advertising methods already set up.

    To be honest, overall I think its getting harder and harder for anyone to start out in the web industry and it will keep getting harder. Although blog formats have made it easier for people to share their opinion there are several companies emerging over the rest who will in the end dominate each market.

    Will.

  • Mikael Rieck

    @Will, I agree that it might be harder but new people also have a lot more knowledge and tools available to them (and often for free). You can argue that it was a lot easier to get high rankings 10 years ago but at that point almost no one knew anything about SEO and building websites. So the competition might have been so fierce but on the other hand they had to learn EVERYTHING by trial and error. That is no longer the case today.

    As for new people having a harder time starting out than experienced people… Is there any business where that doesn’t apply? 🙂

  • Camillo Miller

    Weel, I think that the only one that can make the game more fair is Big G. Some sort of penalization for those sites who don’t link at all or maybe link with too many no-follow links could be taken, even if they are big fishes.

    I know this would mean that Google would be able to drive “editorial choices” but many times this technique is used to avoid linking original content or maybe the first source for a news and so on…

  • keith w.

    Mikael Rieck just said what I was going to say, starting a new business is always harder than those with more experience and money. It’s definately tougher to start mini niche web sites and make them successful when you are up against big media companies with built in advertising (other papers/media they already own). At the same time it’s just as tough these days to start a new brick and mortar business when you’re up against existing companies that have been built to make it through tough times.

    To succeed mini niche websites need to find different approaches rather than just relying on search engines or links. I think nowadays it means leaving your computer as well.

  • SEO Genius

    Good point Michael an angle i didn’t really look at it however i don’t think its a level playing field, then again when is it.

    Although new webmasters have more resources and tools at their disposal identifying a niche is not as easy as it used to be. Obviously because moe niche’s have been discovered and dominated.

    I suppose it all boils down to the niche you actually choose to go in to this will be the key to whether it is a success or not.

  • Mikael Rieck

    @Will, I can’t say anything about how easy it was 10 years ago because I weren’t in the business then. But I honestly believe that it is still (incredibly) easy to create niche websites (even without leveraging any current websites that I own). It will take effort, time and hard work (by someone) but it can be done.

  • SEO Genius

    Of course, I too can’t really express experiences that I had 10 years ago because I didn’t even have a computer then. However my own opinion is that it would of been easier then however with further development in to the internet oppurtunities have been made better so its something you could probably never really have a correct answer for.

  • Blogging Millionaire

    I think Google just needs to do something about this so the little guys can play also.

  • Rarst

    I think without nofollow Internet would be simpler place (if not better). It was to fight spam in the first place? Well, it didn’t work. I hope Google just cancels it some day.

  • Sid Savara

    Problogger had an interesting post on a related topic recently as well, where one of his articles made it onto digg – but then digg outranked him for the keyword (which still pointed to his article).

    I think it will make it harder to compete with the big guys at what they do – but we’re focusing on SEO here. Compelling, unique content that spreads virally, slowly, via word of mouth will always be successful. Will your article on Stonehenge ever outrank wikipedia’s in Google? No – but if it’s compelling, and people like it enough to genuinely link to it, you’ll still get real referral traffic.

  • Jaseem Umer

    Think what the big G has done to blogosphere with just a “nofollow”.

  • DennisSC

    Well, regardless, the Internet is still the wide-open wild west compared to all the other media landscapes right now. Hopefully it’ll stay that way for at least a while.

  • Jeff

    I would have thought niche blogs would a lot more specific key words to make them more relevant eg. ‘bee keeping versus ‘bee keeping Perth’ Wikipedia would come up for ‘bee keeping’ but not for ‘bee keeping Perth’
    The big guys just don’t have the time or resources to give such micro detailed information on such a wide range of topics. If you have good information people will find you.

  • Dan Thornton

    I’m in the unusual position of working for a big media company, but running small outside sites for fun.

    I agree it’s frustrating that large companies are now turning into SEO blackholes – bad enough that Wikipedia has this policy, but at least it has the reference excuse – there’s no such excuse for mainstream media sites who should be engaging with bloggers and users – not encouraging them to go elsewhere…

    On competing with the big boys – don’t bother. The advantage of being small is being fast and agile – a speedboat compared with a large company of Titanic like proportions. Look for ways to do things differently, whether that’s SEO, Social Media, Video etc. It costs little or nothing to experiment, and by getting to something in the first wave you’ll pick up a lot of respect, page rank and authority.

    After all, the first SEO or Make Money blogs are still respected. But a new ‘Make Money’ blog just gets a groan and ignored now. Meanwhile mainstream media are still amazed anyone can make money out of online content!

  • Jodith

    I really think it depends on the niche. Some niches are still so small that there are no big-box sites in them, although I’m sure that will change over time. But it will also depend on the type of information shared on the small blog. In my particular niche, it’s not just about the technical information I offer, but the personal perspective offered on many of the topics.

  • dylan

    I agree with the author that both big mega site and many mini sites can work. It depends on what kind of person and publisher you are.

  • Martin Jones

    50 is the new 10….

    What I mean is this. It’s all about relevancy. Relevancy between categories, posts, pages and links and relevancy in how fresh your content is compared to your competition.

    Start looking at building tight, relevant, content rich sites that are regularly updated and you’ll do well.

    Don’t forget to include “about” pages, site maps and privacy policy pages. Don’t just make it ‘look’ like a legitimate site, take the time to do it right.

  • Matt

    I expect it’s getting harder to start a new niche website.

    However, if the site is established my experience is that Google is getting better at delivering ad revenue.

  • t.cedu

    Good here too!

    There are definitely places to learn and improve, and finally leaving comment on a blog can be a pleasure too. Gosh, I read alot often but confess that I end to leave (and come back often) without any single word.

    @Mikael,
    “….. But I honestly believe that it is still (incredibly) easy to create niche websites (even without leveraging any current websites that I own). It will take effort, time and hard work (by someone) but it can be done”

    Damn true! Time & hard work for sure, may be not on hurting yourself trying to outdo the bests. Leveraging in a fair and clearly credit attributed may end in something… a matter of choice, from the easiest to the more challenging. Tools and means are out there!

    @Dan
    “…. the advantage of being small is being fast and agile … look for ways to do things differently,… it costs little or nothing to experiment…”

    You’re probably right here, but at all costs, you’ll have to hold tight, as Alan has written, … hope that it could turn to be easier in the (short) long run. 🙂

    @dylan
    “I agree ….that both big mega site and many mini sites can work. It depends on what kind of person and publisher you are.”

    Ok! I guess that it need time, efforts and a strong mindset. Optimistic, … Yeah!

    @ Martin
    “50 is the new 10…. it’s all about relevancy … between categories, posts, pages and links… Start looking at building tight, relevant, content rich sites that are regularly updated and you’ll do well”

    Depends on what means “building” in this case, but I fully agree Martin.
    May be “(re)distributing” should apply too! This route sounds to me 🙂 …

    Thanks all for your comments and Alan for opening doors too (you should definitely blogchat with Scott @ publish2.com) on many topics for the benefit of everybody.

  • Unternehmensberatung

    Very nice article. Thanks.

  • ayman

    good work

  • Mini Websites

    It is a frustrating trend to see so many blackhole websites, but I don’t think it’s the end of mini sites by any stretch of the imagination. I think it only changes the way mini sites are used and how the overall network of sites is going to be structured.

    I can tell you we build a ton of mini websites for a variety of clients and they are far from dead.

  • Kris

    I think every market will be differnt, some markets a large site will be better and others a small targeted quality niche site will work. We own both, a large on much larger then dailyblogtips and it has its advantages, but there are some markets where our niche sites can take our any large competitor. (we just pushed about.com out of many of their top spots with our niche sites)

    So it depends, get of the computer and sit down and brainstorm what you as a customer/visitor want/need/expect, its pretty basic so keep it simple. 🙂

  • Todo

    I think that getting the web monopolized is not good on first place for Google, except if the big G plans to make just few websites that dominate the web market and after that to buy each of them 😀

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