Starting an online business is a simultaneously daunting and exciting prospect for many folks. The promise of getting rich quick is enticing, to be certain. But most know the reality of the situation, too: Real work is involved if you want to actually make a buck.
For some, starting a business is straightforward. They have a skill, trade, or interest that would lend itself well to monetization. For others, however, the path isn’t quite so clearcut. For them, some research is required to find the ideal business type. Niche businesses have a lot of appeal because they’re not trying to compete with the likes of Amazon or any of the big box stores. Rather, they cater to specialty markets filled with people with particular interests. These are people you don’t have to convince too hard to buy your products because they’re looking for them (and want them) already.
Here, you’ll find a collection of tips, tricks, plugins, and themes that will provide you with some direction for getting started with building a niche business website. While the vast majority of the info here pertains to WordPress specifically, you’ll find that much of the advice transcends the platform itself and relates to running a business online in general. We hope you find it useful.
A Note on Choosing a Niche
The specific niche you choose should, of course, be something that is of personal interest to you. While this isn’t always a necessity, you will find that it will make your job a lot easier. Having a familiarity with the subject matter of your niche means you know what products are related to it and what people are looking for. You’ll have an understanding of the target market and its demographics.
Pick a niche that you know all about already if you can help it. You’ll save some time and can move onto the all-important steps of building your website.
On the flip side, if you don’t know much about your chosen niche, you’ll have to do a lot of research. And I do mean a lot. For some, that’s not an issue but if time is a factor and you want to get up and running quickly, it behooves you to pick a niche you know something already about. For instance, if you enjoy gardening in your spare time, it would make sense to start a garden supply store. You’re familiar with the products you’d sell already (because you use them), you’d understand the competition (because you’ve purchased from them), and you’d understand the target market (because you’re in it).
The beauty of using WordPress to build a niche site is that a lot of the hard work is done for you already. For starters, you don’t have to worry about any of the backend coding if you don’t want to. And you have a whole host of themes to choose from that cover the gamut of industries. From comics to cooking, beauty to tools, you can find a WordPress theme that suits your niche perfectly.
Here are just a few of the best niche themes out there right now.
Are you a gym rat? Love to partake in yoga on more than just a whim? Do you like to go jogging for fun? If this sounds like you, and you want to monetize your interests, consider using the Sportify theme. It’s perfect for a fitness blog, gym website, or anything else related to sports or health. You can easily use it to create a sporting supply or health store, too.
This theme sports (ahem) a responsive and flat design and includes several features that make building a site easier like an eShop, a timetable, a slider with nifty transition effects thanks to Slider Revolution, WooCommerce support, and plenty of customization options due to a solid foundation on the Tesla Framework.
It also includes custom posts for testimonials, services, calendar, team members, and more, as well as short codes for a variety of features like buttons, pricing tables, team members, and special offers. This theme also includes an AJAX contact form, Google Maps, social media support, 9 page templates, Google Fonts, and extensive documentation. All for $39, that’s not too shabby.
If food is your passion, then you might find Yumblog to be the perfect choice. This blog is feature-rich, stylish, and ultimately suited to any site centered around food. So if you want to start a recipe blog that sells affiliate cookware or you’d like to actually sell downloadable recipes, this niche theme will serve you well.
Yumblog comes with a lot of features including multiple domain use, a year of automatic updates, a year of email support, documentation, training videos, and more. You also get the Cooked plugin bundled with this theme, which allows you to create a community-based recipe site with just a few clicks. It lets users submit recipes on the front end of your site, adds a recipe search function, and includes a full-page recipe viewer for greater appeal.
This theme also works with the drag-and-drop solution, Beaver Builder, so creating a new site doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect. Oh, and it’s responsive, too.
You can get Yumblog now for $75.
If you’re in the event planning or business conference, er, business then you might want to consider the Tyler theme. It has an extremely professional look that lends itself well to the corporate set and includes all the features you need to get your point across.
In this niche, the goal is to sell tickets to your events and that’s precisely what this theme allows you to do. It comes with 15 color presets, the ability to highlight keynote speakers and featured performers, a quick info view, and more. Plus you can include performer profiles, sessions, and set up quick filters for your different events to make search simpler for your users.
Other features include a responsive design, maps with points of interest, media display, a blog, 8 language translations, and easy event registration thanks to Event Espresso, Xing Events, and Eventbrite integration.
Tyler is available for $89.
For writers looking to build a portfolio for their work or for bloggers wanting to share information about a specific subject matter that can be monetized via an affiliate program, The Writer is a choice theme. It’s minimal and perfectly suited for displaying long-form content within a responsive design that plays well with mobile.
Some of its features include distraction-free reading, customized typography, support for Google Authorship and social media profiles, SEO support, and the ability to set covers for each story. You can also customize several areas of the theme including colors, headers, fonts, and layouts thanks to the OCMX Theme Settings panel. It also has a visual customizer, which makes changing things up a snap.
Other features include automatic image resizing, oEmbed, self-hosted videos, a year of free support, thorough documentation, and free updates.
The Writer comes in two versions. The Standard Pack is $79 and the Premium pack is $139.
If hardware, tools, and anything else construction related is your thing, then you ought to consider 456Industry. This theme is designed for e-commerce and with a Bootstrap framework, it’s built to perform well. It works with WooCommerce and Visual Composer, so you can drag-and-drop build your site in a matter of minutes. It also includes the OptionTree theme options panel, for quick changing of the layout, colors, and fonts.
This theme also comes with support for the WPML multilingual plugin and comes with the LayerSlider plugin for the easy integration of 2D and 3D sliders with over 200 transitions. And it comes with the Meet the Team plugin as well as a responsive design, XML dummy data, BackupBuddy, Google Fonts, Contact Form 7, and more.
456Industry will set you back $58.
The last niche theme we’ll talk about here today is called Adorn. Isn’t it just lovely? It’s designed for the beauty niche and works well at highlighting your best spa products front and center. It also includes prominent social media links and a newsletter signup form to make connecting with and capturing leads simple.
Some important features include 6 layouts, 6 color schemes, footer widgets, custom backgrounds and logos, a responsive design, WooCommerce, and more. It also comes with plugin support for Simply Instagram, Genesis Responsive Slider, Jetpack, Simple Social Icons, and Genesis Enews Extended. You will need to have the Genesis Framework installed for this theme to work.
Adorn currently costs $50.
Affiliate Management Plugins
One of the most popular ways to make money with a niche business is through the use of affiliate marketing. Some people opt to become affiliates for certain companies and make their living that way. It works like this: you create a site around a specific subject. Mobile apps, let’s say. Once you’ve built up a lot of content on this site, you can start signing up as an affiliate for mobile app companies. You put their ads on your site and/or use their affiliate links in your content and when someone completes a sale through one of these links, you get a commission.
This is a sound way to do business online. Some people abuse it, of course, but if you keep things on the up and up, you stand to create a thriving business without needing to create any of your own products.
On the flip side, if you’re running a site that sells products that could be considered “niche-y” then you may benefit from starting your own affiliate program. That is, allowing people to sign up to earn a commissions when links to your products from their sites result in a sale. It honestly doesn’t matter what niche you specialize in here, just that you have a product with an established audience. The more people interested in buying your stuff, the more people you’ll have interested in selling products on your behalf as an affiliate.
Before you get anxious at the thought of setting up an affiliate program on your own, never fear – with WordPress anything is possible and there are lots of plugins out there already that allow you to manage your affiliates from within the WordPress dashboard. Here’s just a brief sampling of what’s out there:
We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about our own plugin, right? Affiliates is a WPMU DEV offering that makes setting up an affiliate program for your site’s users simple and straightforward. It quickly and easily lets people send referrals and sales your way, all while you can track the number of clicks from within the dashboard.
You can use the plugin by itself or with other WPMU plugins like Marketpress, Membership, and Directory. It’s compatible with BuddyPress and multisite and works seamlessly with PayPal for painless one-click site promotion and earnings potential. Statistics and graphs are included as well so you can see exactly how you’re doing and who your best affiliates are.
There’s an ad management system included as well that lets you keep tabs on how your ads are fairing thanks to nifty reports. Once you get an affiliate program running, you stand to save a ton of money on marketing because you’ll have a whole crew of people out there doing it for you for just a little slice off the top of your profits.
Affiliates costs $19/month by itself or $24/month as a part of a WPMU DEV membership.
Another affiliate program option is called AffiliateWP. This plugin integrations with most current membership and e-commerce plugins so you don’t have to worry about managing multiple systems. This plugin lets you see who is earning the most for you, produce affiliate reports, and lets you moderate who can become an affiliate (and who cannot).
The built-in affiliate dashboard makes it easy for your affiliates to see how much they have earned from you, any pending payments, and how individual URLs have performed for them. It also includes real-time graphs, simple installation, and you’re allowed unlimited affiliates so you can feel free to build your affiliate empire.
AffiliateWP also comes with thorough documentation and support, it’s translation-ready, and includes coupon tracking for many e-commerce systems like Easy Digital Downloads and WooCommerce. This plugin is available in four different packages: Ultimate, which includes unlimited sites, updates, and support, and 7 add-ons for $449; Professional, which includes unlimited sites, 1 year of updates and support, and 7 add-ons for $199; Plus, which includes 3 sites and 1 year of updates and support for $99; and Personal, which includes 1 site and 1 year of updates and support for $49.
Still another option to consider is Post Affiliate Pro. This bit of software makes it easy to track everything related to your affiliate program from referrals to clicks to sales. Keep track of commissions, payouts, and manage your affiliates all from within the same interface.
It lets you set up an affiliate signup form. And once users signup, they’ll gain access to a control panel where they can get all the tools they need to promote your products with ease and keep track of how much they’re earning.
Post Affiliate Pro enables you to set up commissions and how they work (per click, per sale, or a fixed amount), create campaigns, establish your promo materials like banners and text links, and more. All affiliate links are SEO-friendly by design and employ DirectLink, which means there aren’t any added parameters to the links, just the web address and the web address alone. Add in real-time tracking, the ability to set up commission groups to reward your best affiliates for a job well done, and a messaging system for communicating with your affiliates, it’s easy to see why Post Affiliate Pro is one of the best. Other features include a control panel, built-in themes, and extendability.
There are three pricing plans available. The Ultimate plan is $99/month, the Professional plan is $49/month, and the Basic plan is $29/month.
If your online niche business is within the realm of apps and digital downloads, you might find the App Store Assistant plugin to be beneficial. It makes it easy to display the details and direct links to iOS and Mac apps as well as iTunes selections and Amazon items on your website using affiliate IDs.
This makes it really simple to feature products you’re an affiliate for in your sidebar or within individual posts and pages, especially thanks to shortcode integration. Other features include localization support, a star rating system, multiple button styles and colors, local caching, an RSS feed widget, custom excerpts, lightbox support, and more.
App Store Assistant is free.
Link Management Plugins
Following along the same line of thinking as above, building a niche site with an affiliate program also needs to take link management into account. That is, you need to think about how your affiliate links will be presented out into the world. For some, links that are obviously a part of an affiliate program can be a turn off. Some will go so far as to delete the affiliate part of the URL and go to the main site, which means your affiliates will miss out on revenue. Not cool!
To remedy this, you can use a link management plugin. It helps you to avoid situations where you miss out on commissions as an affiliate or you miss out on sales as a company that has an affiliate program. Here are some of the best link management plugins out there right now that serve the niche business set:
Pretty Link is a straightforward plugin that makes it easy to shorten your links using your own domain name instead of an external link shrinking service like bit.ly. It’s all in the name, really. It makes your links “pretty,” clutter-free, and consistently branded. Once this plugin is installed, you can get a good view of how each of your links are performing thanks to built-in reports.
It works great for affiliate links, of course, but it’s also beneficial for tracking email and social media clicks. There’s a free version available in the WordPress directory but you can get added features using Pretty Link Pro, including automatic link creation, link cloaking, auto tweet links, keyword links, and more. The Blogger Edition costs $37 and the Developer Edition will set you back $97.
If you sell products on Amazon (or act as an affiliate for a company that sells products on Amazon), you can definitely make use of the Amazon Link Engine plugin. This plugin converts all Amazon links in your site into “globalized” links that work on any Amazon storefront. This means that international site visitors will be sent to the item in question on a local Amazon storefront. This helps to ensure the most clicks result in sales and that you earn the most from international commissions possible.
It works in conjunction with GeoRiot, which allows you to earn affiliate commissions, if you wish. A free 30-day trial of this service is available. Other features include compatibility with the Amazon Associates programs, an easy-to-use interface, API setup, and full integration into the standard WordPress dashboard.
This plugin is free.
If you want to cloak affiliate links, you should get a lot of mileage out of the WP Link Engine plugin. it’s easy to setup links that are geotargeted and include the restrictions you specify with very minimal work. You can restrict who accesses your links, setup split testing on link destinations, swap keywords, mask links, and more.
This plugin is designed to save you time on linking to your affiliate products by automatically generating links in your posts for specific keywords. You can also split-test your product links and split your traffic to figure out what approaches work best.
WP Link Engine does cost $79 but if you’re serious about proper link management, this plugin may very well be worth it.
The last link-related plugin I’ll talk about here is called Eclipse Link Cloaker. It works by preventing lost commissions since it masks affiliate links so they appear clean and tidy. This can help you to boost your affiliate earnings. It also includes auto-linking of keywords, control over link cloaking, multiple cloaking types, link statistics, customization options, and more.
Eclipse Link Cloaker costs $77 and comes with a 60-day money back guarantee.
Advertising Widgets & Management
Another really important part of building a niche site is incorporating advertising when appropriate. Some people rely on things like Google AdSense to supplement their affiliate income. This works particularly well when your site is built primarily around niche content. Even traditional businesses can make use of advertising, however, and can increase their income by selling advertising space.
As always with WordPress, you have plenty of options for managing your advertising:
The Advertising Manager plugin makes it easy to setup and rotate Google Adsense ads with minimal fuss. It works with other advertising networks, too, and allows you to target your ads to specific segments of your site including by category, tag, pages, and authors. It also comes with statistics for seeing how your ads are performing.
You can insert ads into pages and posts, added to templates, and more. Advertising Manager also comes with a widget that makes it possible to display ads in your sidebar. Oh, and it’s free, too, so you can’t beat that.
If you want to sell ad space on your niche business site, then you can definitely make use of AdPress. This plugin comes at a premium, but it’s designed to make managing your ad space a snap. It touts a responsive design, an Ad Designer that lets you see how the ads will look on the live site, the ability to rotate ads, a special call-to-action ad for your product or service, PayPal integration, and more.
It also allows you to sell ads by a variety of means including duration, clicks, and pageviews. Additionally, AdPress comes with analytics, auto-ad approval, moderation, a client access manager, AdminBar notifications, a purchase history, internalization, detailed documentation, and more. You can easily create an ad zone on any part of your blog using the included short code or you can use the widget or function support.
Several add ons are available as well like Advanced Checkout, PayPal Express Checkout Gateway, PowerAd, Third-Party Ads, and Stripe Gateway.
You can get AdPress now for $39.
Still another advertising option is the WP PRO Advertising System plugin. This solution lets you manage ads from your WordPress dashboard with ease. “Easy” really is the operative word here. You can manage ads, advertisers, banners, ad zones, and campaigns with minimal fuss. What I particularly like is this plugin goes beyond the traditional banner ad setup and you can make corner peel ads, popup banners, background ads, and more.
It has built-in tracking, too, so you can easily monitor your click-through rate, platform, IP address, clicks, and impressions thanks to detailed analytics. Additionally, you can create ad campaigns, manage multiple banners, and create ad zones to appear anywhere on your site using a widget, shortcode, iFrame, or template tag. A shortcode editor is also built in. And as an added bonus, all ads are responsive and MailChimp ready. Woot!
WP PRO Advertising System is available for $28.
Another really important aspect of building a niche business site is managing reviews. Even if you’re not selling your own products and are acting as an affiliate, you can still make ample use of reviews. I mean, think about it—featuring authentic, stellar reviews of the products you’re marketing can help boost sales. There’s nothing potential customers like more than hearing a legitimate, positive review from a real-life satisfied customer.
How can you do this? Don’t worry, you don’t necessarily have to solicit reviews from your customers and you don’t have to copy and paste pre-existing reviews of products from Amazon onto your site, either. Several plugins exist that take the guesswork out of review management and let you really make the most of each and every review. Here are a couple that have caught my fancy:
Okay, so you know how Google features reviews in some of its search results now? If you sell car parts, let’s say, it would make good economic sense to have those products come up in Google search results, right? And it would make even more sense if those search results featured reviews of the car parts you sell. It’s been shown time and time again that the fewer clicks a potential customers needs to make before getting to the point of sale, the better.
You can take advantage of reviews within search results—which are actually a part of something called rich snippets—by using the WordPress Rich Snippets Plugin. It adds semantic and structural markup to your content so that search engines can better crawl it and features those aforementioned reviews in search results.
It doesn’t just work for products, either. These rich snippets can be used for recipes, events, music downloads, organizations, and events, too. They can feature things like ratings, votes, and more. When all is said and done, this plugin aggregates reviews users leave in the comments on your site, too. Pretty nifty, if you ask me.
There are several versions of this plugin available, including Light, which is free; Single Site, which includes expanded support and updates for $69; Multi Site, which includes support, updates, and the ability to use it on multiple sites for $139; and Unlimited, which includes support, updates, multiple site use, and add-ons for $199.
Another review plugin you might benefit from is WP Customer Reviews. Since all the major search engines now crawl for reviews, it’s a good idea to have a dedicated spot on your niche site to feature them. It makes it easier for search engines to find user reviews and it also gives you a way to not-so-subtly brag about how awesome your products are. I call that a win-win!
This plugin works with multi-site and multi-user installations, offers submission moderation, hReview formatting for search engines, anti-spam, a business hCard, customizable fields, shortcodes, compatibility with caching plugins, an external stylesheet, and more. You can also respond to reviews, you can use the plugin in multiple pages and posts, and aggregate reviews.
WP Customer Reviews is free and since it has over 50,000 installations, I’d say it’s a reliable choice.
Opt-In Forms and Popups
When thinking about how to present content on a niche site, many people go for the blog format. It makes sense. After all, this gives you the opportunity to feature content related to your niche. It lets you create an informative place that people can use to find out what they need to know about your niche. You’re not just an e-commerce store that way and you’re certainly not just shilling products.
But at the end of the day, you still need to be concerned about making the sale. And if you don’t do that upon the first visit, you need to ensure people come back again (and again) so they eventually click “Buy.”
One way to accomplish this is through the use of opt-in forms and popups. While sometimes viewed as a nuisance, they are quite effective at generating leads and helping you build a list so you can prompt visitors to come back to your site. As with most things related to WordPress, you don’t need to go about this manually. Plugins exist that make incorporating stylish opt-in forms as easy as anything:
OptinMonster is a really popular choice and after playing around with this plugin for a few minutes, it’s easy to see why. For starters, it’s really easy to use. Setup is a breeze. And it really works. You can create opt-in forms that have been designed to build your subscriber base and turn site visitors into customers.
The plugin’s site boasts a 60-second opt-in form creator and while you’ll likely need to spend more time than that crafting the perfect call-to-action verbiage, the OptinMonster Builder really does make it easy to create a professional and slick opt-in form in a minute. These forms take make, ahem forms, like floating bars, slide-ins, sidebar forms, lightbox popups, and more.
It also includes smart user targeting, which allows you to feature your opt-in forms on specific pages, posts, or categories. It also can be configured to show after a user does a specific thing on your site. A/B split testing is also included as is exit-intent tech that lets you display a popup when a user is about to leave your site to give them one last chance to sign up. Finally, analytics are included as well so you can see what opt-in forms are working the best and how you can improve your lead generation efforts in the future.
OptinMonster is available in 4 different packages. The Basic works with one site and is $49; Plus works on three sites and is $99; Pro works on unlimited sites and is $199; and Ultimate works on unlimited sites, includes lifetime support, and is $499.
Ninja Popups is another good choice for increasing signups to your site. It’s great for newsletter signups, of course, but also works by offering a discount or coupon to users for giving over their email addresses.
Some features of this plugin include popups that appear when a user has scrolled down a percentage of the page you define or when a user is inactive, exit intent, A/B testing, multiple design choices, translation readiness, customization options, Google Analytics, free upgrades, and more. It includes page-level targeting, time and date settings, as well as support for multiple email marketing services like MailChimp, AWeber, iContact, Constant Contact, MyMail, Wysija, GetResponse, and more. It’s social media ready, too, and includes integration support for all the popular services including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+.
Ninja Popups is priced at a reasonable $20.
Foobar is a great way to add notifications to your site in the form of a bar that appears at the top of the browser window. With this plugin, you can create different bars for each page, include original branding, and link to your social media profiles.
You can also create unlimited notification bars, customize them in any way you wish, include shortcodes and custom HTML, and integrate it with an RSS feed. You can even show your latest tweets, if you want. This plugin is a really great way to notify your users of important information, make sales announcements, and even capture newsletter signups.
Foobar costs $16.
Social media is a major part of doing business online these days. Everyone knows that. So yes, regardless of what niche you’re working in, you need to have a presence on at least Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But depending on your niche, you might find it beneficial to sign up for a social network related to your industry, too.
Believe it or not, many industries have their own niche-tastic social networks you can sign up for and use to connect with like-minded individuals that might be interested in what you have to offer. Does it spell more work for you? Yes. But the added time investment is more than worth it when you see your sales soar.
While not every niche network has a WordPress plugin, you can still make use of them by incorporating a link to your profile on your site and by linking to your site from these social networks.
Note: Linking to your site from a social network is not the same thing as spamming a social network! Keep your posts informative, interesting, and real. Nobody likes it when they’re constantly being sold to. Keep the 80/20 rule in mind – 80% of your posts on social media should be helpful or informative while just 20% should be promotional or salesy.
Here are a few social networks that could prove useful to your business:
Is fashion or home decor your thing? Then Kaboodle is a good niche social network to get involved with. The site lets you create styleboards that coordinate your favorite looks and products then share them with people all across the web. It works somewhat similar to Pinterest in that you can easily share items you find on other websites with your followers. As you might imagine, this can be incredibly useful when your goal is to share your products with potential customers. You can even sign up for Kaboodle with your Facebook account to further integrate your efforts.
If there’s an element of social activism or healthy lifestyle in your niche, then you might be able to make use of Care2. The “world’s largest community for good,” is a social network designed to build grassroots movements around social causes and to promote healthy living and attitudes. With all different kinds of petitions and articles about hot topics, you’re certain to get into a few healthy debates on this site. And when you integrate that with your WordPress site, you’re bound to foster lively discussions. I can easily see Care2 being used in conjunction with sites in niches for gardening, cooking, health, fitness, pets, mind/body, and social activism.
Now, if you’re a creative professional and sell art prints on your site, Behance might be a good choice for you. It’s a social network made exclusively for creatives and acts as a way to share your work with a broader audience. What’s particularly great is fellow artists get to view, comment, and vote on your work, further adding to your credibility when it’s time to encourage a sale.
If you have a food-related blog, sell cookware, or offer recipes on your site, Allrecipes is a niche network must. It’s one of the best places online to seek out new tasty dishes to try and on the flip-side, it’s one of the best places to share your recipes with others. Each recipe can be star rated, which gives your tasty dishes a chance to shine. This improves your credibility, of course, and gives you yet another place to link back to your website.
Building a WordPress site for a niche subject isn’t all that different from building a site on a broad topic. However, the process will help you come to appreciate the vast number of possibilities WordPress opens up to its users. There’s no need to feel limited by your niche. In fact, the sky’s the limit if you want to get schmaltzy about it.
What have you done to build a niche website with WordPress? Did you find the platform to be especially helpful in generating a site that speaks to your specialized audience? Were there any tools you found to be particularly helpful to this end? I’d love to hear all about them in the comments below.