#99 – How Small Sites Beat Big Sites

What you will learn

  • Why smaller can afford to target the keywords that bigger sites can’t
  • How having fewer categories can help us outrank higher authority sites
  • Why and how you should build links to your money pages
  • Why it costs big companies more to produce the same content as we produce and how we can take advantage of this
  • How a site with personality can overcome a site with more resources

Competition is always a factor when starting an authority site.

Can you beat the big players? Should you even bother taking them on?

In this week’s podcast, Gael, Perrin and I look at the changing landscape of authority sites? Are more big companies beginning to adopt the authority site model? What happens if they do? Is there still room for the little guy?

Are Big Companies Starting to Target Our Money Keywords?

A couple of years ago, an article on Viperchill caused alarm in the authority site community.

‘How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results’ touches upon Hearst Media. It discusses how they launched bestproducts.com, and linked to it from their other large sites (like Esquire, Elle, and Cosmopolitan.)

BestProducts.com Ahrefs backlinks

You can see how rapidly the site began to acquire links.

BestProducts.com Ahrefs domain overview

It’s now a 74 DR site, and getting an estimated 2.7 million visits per month from organic search.

The success of bestproducts.com, thewirecutter.com, and CNET freaked a bunch of site owners out.

What if the big media companies discover what we do? Will they come in heavy handed with huge resources and wipe us out of the SERPs?

Well, more than two years on from the launch of bestproducts.com, we’re not really feeling the squeeze.

Sure, there are more big sites appearing, but they tend to be targeting the tech niche disproportionately.

At the moment, we’re not seeing many examples of smaller sites being wiped out.

But what if more big sites begin to emerge?

Can Small Sites Beat The Big Sites?

Spoiler: yes!

We’ll touch more on how later, but, for now, I’m going to reassure you by showing some examples of small sites outranking some massive sites.

Best Crossbow source is beating Walmart and Amazon for ‘barnett quad 400’.

We have also found:

How Do Small Sites Beat Big Sites?

Keyword Research

To beat the big sites with keyword research, you need to be selective.

Don’t go head to head with the big sites unnecessarily. If a big site is ranking first, maybe don’t target that keyword.

Target keywords that have lower search volume. The chances are, big sites won’t target these keywords because they don’t generate significant revenue (from a big brand’s perspective).

Instead of targeting ‘best perfume’, try:

  • ‘Best perfume for teenage girls’
  • ‘Best perfume for your grandmother’

You have more chance of ranking for these smaller, specialized keywords.

Also, there’s probably more chance your target audience will click through to your article, as it’s specifically targeted at and relevant to them.

You’d be surprised at the return on investment of this type of content.

Because, we don’t have all the overheads of the large companies (offices, large salaries, benefits, etc.) it’s a lot cheaper for us to target these keywords.

The big companies can’t afford to go for the small wins because they don’t have a major impact on the bottom line. For an independent entrepreneur, $100-300 an article like that might make per month can be significant.

Content

Big companies are lazy. Or maybe they’re just not thorough.

You’ll find that they tend to lean heavily on their authority to rank. They’re not ranking because they have the best content.

You can rank over the long term by:

  • Having better-optimized content
  • Having longer, more detailed content
  • Adding more personality and personal experience

While sites like The Wirecutter are exceptions, you’ll find most large sites are taking more of a scattergun approach with low-quality content to see what ranks. They don’t care if it doesn’t. Although they have more resources, this generally means they spend less per individual piece of content.

We can concentrate more, focused resources on each piece of content.

We can put more effort into creating truly epic content that will continue to rank in the long term to give us that return on investment.

Relevance

This ties in with content. Where the big sites are taking the scattergun approach, we can take the sniper approach.

TopTenReviews.com TopTenReviews.com has 495 categories.

There’s no way they can show Google they’re an expert in every single category on that site.

They’ve gone broad. Combat this by going narrow.

There’s a reason about.com was broken up into smaller, branded sites. No-one could get personally invested in about.com – it’s literally just about stuff!

They’ve broken that site down in a number of smaller sites (like The Spruce). The hope is that these narrower, branded sites will generate a returning, loyal audience, and rank better because they are more relevant.

There’s definitely a balance to be struck.

Don’t go hyper-niche, but it might be worth choosing fewer categories. Cover these categories in more detail to convey your expertise.

Personal Branding And Personality

There’s an old sales saying: ‘people buy from people’.

AH Pro member Kevin Espiritu runs Epic Gardening. He’s made himself the face of the site. Kevin creates videos, runs a podcast, and even has a book deal in the works.

EpicGardening.com about page

While you can build a site based on personality, the big sites almost have to do the opposite.

They’re churning out such a volume of content that they need everything to sound the same.

They have brand guidelines, with complex editorial processes.

They’re essentially removing the personality from the writing.

Suzy Quilts is a friend of Perrin.

She started blogging because her fans on Instagram were asking for more. Suzy’s site is making a lot of money. She has a deal with a Swedish sewing machine company and has even had a quilt in a Toyota ad.

How cool is that?

This has all been built with her personal brand.

It helps to think of Kevin Kelly’s concept of 1,000 true fans.

He states that you don’t need a huge audience but a highly engaged, small group of fans.

Build a small fan army.

Link Building Scrappiness

Although it might be slightly outdated now, Perrin found Ahrefs to have the best keyword difficulty score.

Ahrefs focuses on page level links.

Links on the page level seems to be a much better indicator of whether a page will rank than links to the domain as a whole.

While it’s easier for big brands to acquire links naturally. They don’t tend to do link building in the same way that we do.

Our advantage comes in having fewer, important pages.

We’ll feel the pain more than the large sites if one of our money pages drops from first position to sixth.

So, we can shift focus to resolve this. If links are the problem, we can launch a guest post or infographic campaign to build links to that particular page.

Instead of building links, bigger sites seem to be buying smaller sites and redirecting them to their own domains (as happened when Healthline purchased Authority Nutrition).

Healthline.com Ahrefs new & lost referring domains

If you build page level links, you can rank for a higher percentage of your articles. This will mean you achieve an ROI on more of your articles than the big sites.

Flexibility

When something happens in your industry, your audience will usually want to know about it.

Usually, a lot of news articles will appear and start ranking. But, these are usually just a short summary of events.

Readers want analysis.

As a small site, you can delve deeper into the issue, and give an expert opinion on the problem.

It’s a good way to get on your audience’s radar. Especially when you’re just starting out.

Costs

Big companies may have more money, but they also have more costs.

Think about it; big companies tend to have offices in major cities and employees on salaries to match.

As smaller companies, we can take advantage of not having an office. We can build a remote workforce. You can gain access to high-quality people all over the world, give them freedom of location, and, often, this means they’re available for a significantly lower salary.

Legal Stuff

Suing small companies doesn’t make headlines, and they don’t have all that much money to go after.

There’s no great incentive in pursuing small companies.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone should fully comply with the law and take the advice of a lawyer where necessary.

But, government institutions are more likely to target the big companies.

How To Take On The Big Sites

All in all, you need to remember why you are creating a site.

For most people, it’s the prospect of becoming independently wealthy and having control over your life. You don’t necessarily have to beat the big sites.

There’s enough pie to go round.

But, if you do want to beat the big boys, here’s how best to do it:

  • KW Research – go after the smaller or more specific keywords.
  • Content – spend more per piece of content and make each piece of content better.
  • Relevance – create narrow sites or cover categories in more depth.
  • Personality and personal branding – use your personal brand to create a more engaged audience and explore other business opportunities.
  • Costs – leverage your low overheads to invest in the things that matter — content and links.
  • Page level link building – build links on a page level to make sure your content keeps ranking.

Do you want to learn how to build 6 figure authority sites?

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16 Comments

  1. uh uh uh….

    awesome post mark.

    just take a print and from tomorrow will spend some time and start working on what you said.

    i am sure it will work got my health blog too.

    thanks

    vikas

  2. I have enjoyed the last few podcasts, lots of good info.

    I think worrying about these large media companies owning all these sites is generally a big waste of time. In that Viperchill article he talks about how they dominate the serps for certain keywords. But these same sites, like popular mechanics, were already in the top 10. Sure they can share links across these sites, but does that really help a site like cosmo?

    From what I’ve seen the content from these are usually thin, and definitely not personal. Bestreviews/com may have a best widget page, but what else do they have to support it? An authority site will have “how to use widget”, “widget a compared to b”, “YouTube of me using widget” all pointing to a “best widget page”. Google definitely values this silo’d and relevant network of articles. Throw in infographics, pdfs, products, etc and you should be good to go.

    This brings me to a thought. Do you think you could target a keyword where the serps are dominated with sites that are solely relying on their domain authority (but have POOR content)?

    1. “This brings me to a thought. Do you think you could target a keyword where the serps are dominated with sites that are solely relying on their domain authority (but have POOR content)?” Yes. 100%. I’ve done it, and our sites often end up beating these sites purely on accident. But yea, if no other pages have good content or many links, overall authority doesn’t matter much :)

  3. Hey Guys!

    This is a good topic to discuss. I think it is becoming easier as time goes by and technology evolves for small sites to beat the big sites.

    Especially, with Google RankBrain. This new way of ranking content in the search results is one of the things that is helping the smaller sites rank high and beat the big site, in my opinion.

    Keywords play a huge part in this ranking contest. That is true!

    Thank you for sharing this awesome podcast episode guys!

    Best regards! :D

  4. Hey guys,

    Another great podcast!

    Was wondering, if you become the face of your brand, how much more difficult does that make it to sell your business in the future?

    I like my niche a lot but I don’t want to be in that business forever.

    Thanks!
    Steve

    1. I don’t have specific experience, but I’d imagine it’d be quite a bit more difficult depending on how crucial you were. If you were JUST a face, it’d be easier, since the new owner could just be the new face. If, however, you have some kind of individual skill the brand is based on (e.g. my friend Suzy who sells quilt patterns she designs herself), then it’s probably a lot harder.

  5. Hi guys,

    Great podcast again, just one query. You mentioned the importance of getting page level links but it would have been interesting if you went into your tactics of how you get them. Page levels linkbuilding seems to me like a slightly different skillset as it is difficult to convince site owners to link to specific pages as opposed to the generic link back to your site (especially commercial articles).

    Maybe you have an article on this that i missed or it could be an idea for a post (very little if any articles about page level linkbuilding that i can find).

    Cheers,

    Alec

    1. That could be a whooooole ‘nother podcast. It’s a good idea, though. I’ll mark it down as an idea for our podcast pipeline. For a quick an easy answer here in the comments: guest posting is typically the best way to get page-level links. It’s not scalable in the way link building can be if you’re running campaigns for linkable assets, but you generally don’t need nearly as many links.

    1. Ha. Yea it was fun to see. A few things.

      1. One of the reasons I sold it was BECAUSE I knew they could double the revenue. I hadn’t been able to get into that affiliate program on my own, and I knew they had a relationship.
      2. I kept ownership of 30% of the site, let them grow it, and sold the remainder a year later, which netted me quite a bit more (combined, overall) than the first sale price. It was pretty fun to earn some money and watch the site grow without having to do anything lol.

      Overall, I’m glad they’ve had success with the site!

      1. Nice! Thanks for your reply Perrin.

        Her tone and calling you out by name struck me as somewhat arrogant..

        Building a site from scratch on your own to something as big as HerePup is most definitely harder than switching affiliate programmes and adding new content/links to an already successful site

        Anyway good for you and thanks for the awesome content!

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