One of the things you should consider doing this year is building out sites solely with the intention of running crazy SEO experiments on them.

I call them SEO practice sites.

In this post, I’m going to share with you what they are, how to build them, and why you should probably build one (or even a couple of them) yourself.

What’s an SEO practice site?

An SEO practice site is a site with less importance that you can test out all sorts of SEO strategies on.

It’s something you build on the side of your main primary site.

Ideally, your portfolio of sites should look something like this:

1. One big main project. I’ve been advising you do this for years now. Always work on one main project. This is your main site with the highest potential. It’s your most important project and the one you’re going to be working on for the next 5 years.

2. One to five SEO practice sites. Most people will start out at just one, until they start getting experienced with outsourcing. These are all smaller sites. You don’t really care if they turn out successful or not. They’re there so you can test out different SEO strategies, even black hat strategies that you wouldn’t ever think about doing for your main site.

Why build a practice site?

More diversity: It can be boring to only work on one project all the time, especially in the beginning stages. It’s nice to have some smaller sites you can play around with.

Testing is fun: As an SEO, we’re always itching to run our own tests and see how they work out. Practice sites are testing sites.

Unexpected huge outcomes: Sometimes, these tests turn out better than expected. Little projects can take off and get even bigger than your main project.

No stress. No pressure. It’s also refreshing for your mentality to run a portfolio of sites this way. At any given time, you have one main project where you’re dedicated to building a high quality business. And then you have these little guys where you just don’t care about the outcome. You can do whatever you want on them. They can fail. Their rankings can tank. There’s no pressure to grow it into a successful site.

Monetization testing: This is a cool one. With these sites, you can also aggressively test out monetization strategies. You don’t absolutely have to care about brand image or creating a high-quality experience for readers. You’re free to test whatever you want – things you would never try on your main project. For example, you might try testing out using 5 different ad networks and plastering a page with ads. Or you might try creating an email sales funnel that’s nothing but sales pitches and see how it works out. These are all a little extreme, but they’re all things you can try on practice sites.

A payoff at the end: These sites aren’t just being built, tested on, then abandoned. Yes, they’re called “practice sites” but that doesn’t mean you can’t actually build something valuable out of them. The cool thing is that you can sell these sites off once you’re done with them. Depending on how much you’ve grown them, it can add up to a hefty payday.

How to build a practice site

Honestly, you can build them out however you want. But here are a few guidelines and examples from my own sites.

Niches: Ideally, practice sites should target really narrow niches. They’re going to be smaller sites with fewer pages. So you don’t want to build sites in huge, broad topics like health or science. You just won’t have enough content to cover them all. We’re not building these with the intention of growing them out into big authority sites. We’re using them for practicing and running experiments.

Content: Content is entirely up to you and it will really depend on what you’re testing. For example, two of my sites that I consider to be practice sites look like this: One publishes nothing but 3000 word articles covering major topics/keywords in the niche. The other is full of 800 to 900 word articles and will publish at 5x the frequency of the first one, and cover every long-tail keyword I can find.

Writers: Always hire writers for practice sites. I never write any of the content for these sites myself. These are practice sites and I want to spend the least amount of time on time-consuming tasks like writing, editing, formatting, etc.

Links: No guidelines here. You can test out whatever you want. That’s the point of these sites. Playing around with link building strategies are where these sites really become helpful. You can try things you would never risk doing on your main site.

How many should you build?

Ideally, 2 to 3.

But if you’re not experienced with building and growing multiple sites, just build one.

Again, that’s because you shouldn’t really be spending a ton of time on these. I would never sit down and spend 2 to 3 hours writing articles for one of these sites. Everything is outsourced.

If you won’t be outsourcing, then you shouldn’t build more than one. Maybe two is okay, but not more than that. It would just take too much of the time you could be spending growing out your main big site.

Conclusion

Building an SEO practice site is something everyone should do.

You get a lot more flexibility in the strategies you can test and play around with. And it’s a lot more fun to work on extra sites on the side that you don’t care about as much as your main site.

It takes a lot of the pressure away of always “doing things right” and “building a quality brand” and you can try riskier (err…. spammier) techniques. Sometimes, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

In the future you can always sell these sites, so it’s not time wasted. And they do have potential to be grown into more successful assets than you initially expect when building them out.

Take action now:

Don’t just hit the back button. Go choose a niche and register a domain name right now and set it up on your hosting account. Don’t spend days on choosing a niche either. Just pick one in 10 minutes max. Doesn’t matter what it is.

Then, do some quick keyword research and order 5 to 10 articles from iWriter or Textbroker and slap them up on your site.

Remember, no pressure. Just do it. It’s a practice site. Just do it with a “who cares” kind of mentality.

Stop thinking and planning so much. Start it first. Think about strategy and what you want to test out on it afterwards.

34 Comments

  • Reply
    Arina Nikitina
    March 8, 2018 at 9:23 am

    I love this approach, such a mindshift! As a perfectionist I often get stuck, trying to do everything perfectly right. Test site concept is so simple and powerful, but it never crossed my mind! Thank you!

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 8, 2018 at 12:37 pm

      Glad it helped Arina!

  • Reply
    Badawi
    March 8, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Hi Chris thanks for that. I did try this method before but hostgator messed me up. Anyways I have a quick question, if you were to start a new authority site all over again, what would you focus on the most to grow it

    1. Link building
    2. Building an email list

    Keep up the good work Chris

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 8, 2018 at 12:37 pm

      Both!

  • Reply
    Dave
    March 8, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Hi Chris
    Thank you for this interesting post
    I want to ask about testing as seo can take a while to show results, as we know it takes 6 months to get any sort of traffic, rankings and results, even 6 to 12 months, doesn’t it?

    So say we implement something for seo, the result would be some time away and we wouldn’t wait for that outcome before trying the next test, so how do we know what test produces which results?

    Thank you

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 8, 2018 at 12:46 pm

      Hey Dave. You wouldn’t test multiple things at once on a single site. That’s the reason you would have more than one.

  • Reply
    Barbara DiLucchio
    March 8, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Hi Chris,

    This sounds like a great idea, unfortunately I hardly have any free time at the moment but I can see where this would be really fun and interesting trying out new SEO ideas. Have you ever found any really cool ways of doing seo that seemed like you had discovered a new way of doing SEO? As soon as I get any time at all I will try one of these for fun.

    Good to hear from you,

    Barbara

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 8, 2018 at 3:17 pm

      Thanks Barbara! That’s a good idea for a blog post. I can do a writeup of some of the things I’ve tried and the results of them ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    Anil Agarwal
    March 8, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    Hey Chris,
    This is really a masterpiece. Why haven’t I thought of this before?

    I do understand that most people usually follow all sorts of blackhat link building approaches while trying to rank a site, but I never knew it could be done intentionally just for testing purposes.

    I think this is something I should really try out this year.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 8, 2018 at 3:17 pm

      Awesome ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad to hear that.

  • Reply
    Bhuboy
    March 9, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    This sounds like a good idea and will keep your main site safe while you are trying new seo strategies, and see if they work before applying to your main site. Thanks for this

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 14, 2018 at 12:05 pm

      Thanks for checking it out ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    Shafi Khan
    March 17, 2018 at 10:37 am

    Great approach Chris. I do have some smaller niche sites but still, I take care of them and avoid any experiments as they bring in some $$ every month.

    I feel I should start doing some experiments and hopefully, I’ll run it this month only. Thanks for sharing the tip!

    P.S. Love the new logo. Looks awesome :O

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 27, 2018 at 3:57 pm

      Thanks, man ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Reply
    Nabitha Sariyath
    March 18, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    Hi Chris

    Makes sense like everything you write.
    I read somewhere in your blog that you donot generally reveal about your niche sites to your friends and others. Is it still true? What harm can it cause to reveal. Doesn’t it help when more people know about your sites ? (or does it?) can you clarify?

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 27, 2018 at 3:57 pm

      Nearly every case study where the publisher revealed their website publicly has ended badly.

      Usually in the form of copycats, a sudden surge of new competition, or malicious attacks of negative SEO either from a new competitor or just someone with bad intentions who has too much time on their hands.

      • Reply
        Nabitha Sariyath
        April 3, 2018 at 11:15 am

        Thanks for the reply; you are talking about new sites, right? because you yourself do mention many websites as case studies, discussing their monetisation. like the one on wikihow. is it that no one can harm wikihow anymore?
        I myself told all my friends about my new blog, hoping for some traffic that way. Now keeping my fingers crossed, because of your warning. Do you think that so long as I don’t mention the money I earn from it ( when i earn it ๐Ÿ™‚ ) I am ok

        • Reply
          Chris Lee
          April 23, 2018 at 11:58 pm

          It’s fine to tell your friends and family ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    Steve Mack
    March 19, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    Hi Chris
    Thanks for your post and your ideas.
    Getting traffic from SEO obviously can take a while to see results, so doesn’t that create a long gap before then testing another natural traffic method? Often SEO can take months..!

    Also would you agree with this post (https://smartblogger.com/how-to-start-a-blog/#test_medium) and use the new blog site called ‘Medium’, or stick with your information in your post here?

    Thank you Chris

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 27, 2018 at 3:52 pm

      Thanks Steve!

      Depends on what you’re testing. For the most part, you’re not looking to throw up a new site and start expecting to see real results from the test from day 1. They do take time. But you might test things like what can be done to speed up the process.

      I don’t blog on Medium so can’t say for sure.

  • Reply
    Edson
    March 20, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    Hi Chris, thank for another great post.

    Please tell me something. Is it possible to grow a new site to get traffic in two months?

    Is it possible to have at leat 100 visitors in the first month?

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 27, 2018 at 3:50 pm

      100 visitors? Yes. You can get that from referral traffic alone.

  • Reply
    Mohit Gangrade
    March 21, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    Hey Chris,

    Love the idea.

    I have a “secondary” site, but I don’t call it a practice site. However, it serves the same purpose.

    I will spin out 5-6 practice sites soon. I love the idea. This way I can test whatever tactic I want without worrying about building the “perfect brand.”

    What type of writers do you hire for these practice sites? The $10 writers or the $100 ones?

    By the way, I LOVE the new design of the RankXL blog.

    Keep up the great work!

    Thanks,
    Mohit

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 27, 2018 at 3:49 pm

      Thanks Mohit ๐Ÿ™‚

      Which writers you hire will depend on what you’re testing as well – ex. higher quality content vs lower quality content, short form content vs long form content.

  • Reply
    Adeel
    March 25, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    Hi Mate.

    Practice website idea seems great. I like your idea.

    Only a couple of days back I was thinking to test something different.

    I plan to get a site in a certain niche and make it a hub of FAQ, collecting and answering every single question asked in that niche.

    The content will be thin but still I want to test how Google sees this kind of website.

    Any input from your side?

    Adeel

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 27, 2018 at 3:45 pm

      Might be cool if you could create a community element where people can ask/answer each other.

  • Reply
    Mike
    March 26, 2018 at 3:55 am

    Hello
    May I ask on what WP theme you based your current version of theme?
    Your looks very DOPE and its also quick. I don’t plan to copy it, but it could help me a lot as themes I used in the past maybe looked good, but they were all slow due to “fancy features”. Its VERY hard to find low-weight low-resourcecost theme that looks as good as YOUR.

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      March 27, 2018 at 3:44 pm

      Hey Mike, I’m using a custom theme. I’m glad to hear you like it ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    John Ayo
    April 20, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    Really love this part “Theyโ€™re there so you can test out different SEO strategies, even black hat strategies that you wouldnโ€™t ever think about doing for your main site.”

    Chris thanks for sharing

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      April 22, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      Thanks John ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply
    Paolo
    May 10, 2018 at 10:56 pm

    Hi Chris,

    What do you think about setting up a website about a certain locality (mostly information on a certain country/place)? I live in a major Asian city so I think there are many people interested, potential for website traffic might be good. But I am wondering about the potential website earnings. Like will it do good with Adsense, or even possible chance to sell it in the future? I could easily make a test website on this but I’m wondering if you’ve had any experience ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      May 12, 2018 at 3:38 pm

      I don’t really build local based sites. If you do though, it’s more important than other niches to really understand each keyword’s search intent and to analyze the TYPE of page that’s ranking.

  • Reply
    Bart
    July 12, 2018 at 7:27 am

    Makes sense, really fills a gap I was feeling. This should be at the end of your SEO course in a “next steps” PDF

    • Reply
      Chris Lee
      July 14, 2018 at 2:09 pm

      Thanks Bart! I’m happy to hear this helped.

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