The Authority Site Business Model – The Real Chemistry Behind The Complex Beast

If you’ve been researching creating a money-making site for a while now, you’ve probably heard the term and wondering, “What is an authority site?”

First and foremost an authority site is a trusted source of information. It is a site known for editorial quality and is usually large and full of information (or, as we will discover, all the information on the site is very carefully curated to audience needs).

An authority site is a trusted site focused on a specific topic – it is content-driven and well moderated.

Essentially, they are a business in the shape of a website. They usually have multiple revenue streams and traffic from several channels. This is what makes them so successful.

They are called authority sites because they are the authority on a specific subject.

An authority site does not need to be built to sell products, in fact, usually, they are designed with information as to their main commodity. That is, they are ‘blog style’ sites (which makes them really easy to design and maintain).

This means that you don’t need to pay for warehouse space, there’s not a lot of customer service or interaction, eventually, they should deliver passive income.

You will often be told that an authority site is easy to build while you’re still doing a 9-5. This is absolutely true, and the ROI on an authority site tends to be high but you will need to put time and effort in. You won’t get something for nothing, after all!

And to become an authority site, and therefore be trusted by both your users and Google’s algo, you’ll have to follow a few key steps.

Diversification of Traffic Channels

Like I said before, you need to have diversified traffic for an authority site. But what does that mean, and how does it work?

Basically, you can protect yourself from huge losses of income by making sure traffic is coming from several sources. That way if one is lost, several still remain.

Four potential sources of traffic for an authority site are:

  1. Search engine traffic (SEO)
  2. Social media
  3. Owned media (email newsletters, social media pages, etc)
  4. Paid media

Diversification of Revenue Streams

Diversified streams of revenue protect your site in a similar way to the diversification of traffic (if you lose one, you still have more). But also, diversified revenue means more revenue.

You can build revenue from ads, affiliates, and sales of information-oriented products and services or physical items. Some site builders call this ‘stacking’ as revenue types are stacked.

Of course, many sites have a main and a secondary revenue stream, they certainly don’t all need to be making the same amount of money. But the more streams you have the better in the long term, and the quicker your site will be close to self-sustaining.

Challenges for Building An Authority Site

Although building an authority site is easy relative to building other small businesses from the ground up, there are some challenges that pretty much every authority-site owner encounters. And that doesn’t just go for your first site! It’s hardest the first time and hopefully, you learn some skills to help cope but these will always be needed for new sites too.

  • Challenge #1: Required Skills
  • Challenge #2: Expenses
  • Challenge #3: Moving Parts

So, how do we deal with these challenges?

Luckily, you’ve got me to help you out! Here’s how I have found it best to deal with each of these common challenges.

Challenge #1: Required Skills

In order to run a successful authority site, you’re going to need to pick up a whole bunch of new knowledge and skills very quickly.

This means that work is often very much front loaded when you start a site – and particularly when you start your first site – as you have to learn how to design a site, often learn all about a new topic, about link building and SEO, about Google’s algorithm, about affiliate products opportunities and ad revenue, how to be a great content writer or manage content writers, and much more depending on your existing skills and the topic you chose.

That sounds tough! And I won't be going to sugar-coating the truth to you, it can be. Although it eventually becomes much easier, building an authority site isn’t some kind of easy-money hack. You have to put in the work.

The good news? I don’t know anyone who has put the work in who hasn’t seen results. None of these single skills is too hard to master, there are just quite a few of them. Give yourself enough time, put in enough effort, and you will become an expert in:

  • Creating top quality content
  • Building quality links
  • Researching niches
  • Managing your site

Challenge #2: Expenses

It’s easy to spend money when you’re starting a site. Why?

There are a few reasons. Firstly, it seems easier to throw money at issues at first than it does to learn how to get around them yourselves.

Whether this is buying a pre-designed site or splashing out on content rather than learning to write at least some of it yourself, cutting corners like this is tempting. But it all adds up. By all means, if you can afford to spend money on great content, do it, but remember you will have to make that money back on the revenue from or sale of your site before you’re making a profit.

Secondly, the internet is getting more expensive. More people are making sites, so prices for hosting, content, tools, domain names, etc are all going up and have been for a long time. Seems like a good reason to start your site ASAP, because it’s only going in one direction!

Thirdly, as a newbie, you might well make financial mistakes.

This is why creating and sticking to a budget is so important. If you stay within your budget, you can brush off a few mistakes. Though of course, do your reading and research and you’re far more likely to sail smoothly through the site-building process.

Challenge #3: Moving Parts

An authority site is a complex beast. There are an awful lot of moving parts to take into account, each connected to the rest.

This includes multiple traffic streams, multiple revenue streams, plugins, affiliate network trackings, and more.

That might sound daunting – especially when you look at a finished site. But you don’t need to magic up a finished site! You’re going to learn each skill and then build that part of your site. In other words, we’re moving on to “stacks” and levels!

The Solution: “Stacks” & Stages

What are stacks and stages?

Honestly, it’s just fancy, industry-specific language for breaking things down into logical categories and manageable pieces.

So, your ‘traffic’ stack will include the following ‘stages’ or types of learning. You’ll teach yourself about organic traffic, then social traffic then paid traffic.

I know you want to jump right to paid traffic! You want that sweet sweet cash! But you know what? That would be almost impossible. You have to build skills – or build them up (stack-like) one on top of another. If you tried to learn just the top one? It would tumble right down!

You can build multiple stacks simultaneously, giving yourself a wide base of knowledge that will help you troubleshoot as you go and build a great site.

And the real joy of this method? Once you’ve learned a skill, you can usually at least mostly automate it going forward as long as you check on it regularly. So you’re never juggling too much at once.

The 4 Stages Of The Authority Site Business Model

I get why some people are initially confused about what an authority site actually is. After all, there are four different types of authority sites, and the topic can of course be almost anything under the sun as long as it fits into the “blog style” required.

So, what are the four authority site types?

V1 Site – Affiliate Stacking

The first type is a level one affiliate site that relies on organic traffic. This is an easy-to-build option. If you start with a site like this, you can easily build it up into a more complex type of site over time. If done well, a type one site can bring in a decent amount per investment dollar.

It may take you up to a year to build up to significant levels of traffic with a simple affiliate site. You will have to stay on top of SEO, as you are relying on search engines to bring you traffic, and that’s a complicated skill to master.

Making Money With a V1 Authority Site

The level one authority site model is easy to monetize, as long as you get traffic flowing.

You just need to link out to affiliate products within the content you’re publishing, whether that’s the Amazon associates or other affiliate programs.

The basic rule? The higher value the items or services you’re linking to, the more you get on a kickback. But equally, some people opt to do higher volume with less expensive/rewarding affiliates.

You need both affiliate content and linkable assets for this type of site.

V2 Site – Ads Stacking

A mid-level authority site brings in new streams for both traffic and revenue.

Specifically, this kind of site will usually aim for social media traffic on top of organic traffic.

This means you’ll have to begin writing content (mainly information-based) that will perform well on social media and grow your reach. This is truly a great step towards becoming the “authority” on your topic.

In terms of social media, Pinterest and Facebook are the prime choices, though Instagram and TikTok are getting increasing traction these days.

Making Money from a Mid-Level Authority Site

For a mid-level site, you will need to learn a new skill to add to your revenue column. Specifically, you’re going to learn about ad revenue.

The easiest way to get ad revenue immediately is to install Adsense, but they are outperformed by smaller networks like Mediavine and Adthrive (which require a certain amount of traffic and site quality requirements to join). Once you reach the requirements for multiple networks you need to run tests on what works best with your audience, in your niche.

In my opinion, Ezoic is the easiest way to start with as it's really easy to join because of no traffic requirements anymore.

V3 Site – Owned Media Stacking

V3 sites add products to the mix, all backed up by an email mailing list that you’ll need to learn how to build out. Yes, that’s another stage for your traffic stack!

Once you have your own products and a larger audience, you’ll be making more money and have more freedom to experiment with what your site offers.

Making Money From a Complex Authority Site

As the name implies, a complex authority site is… well… a little more complicated than the other options. It takes time to set up, and you’ll have to keep providing value in the form of helpful content, products, services, and emails to your audience if you want them to stay on board with your brand.

“Products” may sound daunting, but they can be informational or memberships rather than anything physical (though this is also an option). It all depends on your niche.

Building an email list means writing additional content for emails specifically, as well as keeping up the informational and potentially also the affiliate content you were already writing. In fact, emails maybe a taster for or shorter versions of this content.

V4 Site – Paid Media Stacking

This is an advanced level of stacking (and of the site) and many authority site builders don’t actually reach a V4 site or don’t want to.

As long as you are selling products through SEO traffic and email list, you should be able to make enough money to further afford paid traffic for your business.

You see how you are adding stages on top of one another? Kind of like… a stack…

Making Money From a V4 Authority Site

You’re really just sticking a cherry on the cake here. In this stage of the site, you begin investing in Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Ads content to scale your site traffic. This increases awareness of your brand and should help grow the email list faster and therefore increase your sales.

Think carefully (and do some research) about which social media sites your target audience use most, and what sorts of ads they respond to. Of course, you should also consider whether you need this level of stacking – it’s not worth it for everyone, and it takes extra work.

Niche Selection

Finally, a note on niche selection. I understand that I’ve talked a lot about niches throughout and that may have been a little confusing if you weren’t aware of what they are. Basically, your niche is the topic you want to focus on through your affiliate site.

You have to choose your niche before making any other decisions on the type of site you are going to run but do keep that in mind as you make the decision. If you want to build up to a complex site, for example, what products will you be selling?

Here are the key questions for niche research, which I go into in much more detail in another article:

  • Are there successful small sites in this niche?
  • Are there successful big sites in this niche?
  • Can you think of informational products in the niche?
  • Can you think of physical products in the niche?
  • Could this niche be considered a passion, lifestyle or problem?
  • Are there enough low competition keywords?
  • Are there enough commercial keywords?
  • How does ad revenue look for others in the niche?
  • In the niche, are there other sites ranking?
  • and more…

Final Thoughts

Like I have said many times throughout this article, it’s not smooth sailing to build a successful authority site. It is, however, eminently possible for most people if they put in the work and follow the correct advice.

Maybe that’s not the “get rich quick” story you wanted, but it’s the truth!

If you have the time to commit to an authority site, you can successfully build and flip one (of course, if you want to). Time, after all, is the most precious resource of all. By putting in the time, you’re making an investment.

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