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.
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.
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.