While there’s not necessarily a right or wrong idea, choosing the best topic for your website can be the difference between success and failure. In this guide, I’m going to teach you the factors I’ve used to create multiple profitable websites in a variety of niches over the last 20 years. I’ll go through the key components of a good idea, some examples of my bad ideas, and ways you can ensure you really nail this decision. You’re going to save yourself months, even years, of time and money by not trying to turn a bad idea into something good.
This guide is not for someone who wants to raise money, hire full-time staff, or otherwise get bogged down in meetings, spreadsheets, and other time-wasting nonsense. It’s for the motivated person who wants to create a great, lucrative web business with the tools already available.
By the time you’re done reading this, you should be on your way to finding a unique website idea you can turn into a profitable business.
This is the first guide in my series on how to make money online, aimed at beginners.
Let’s get into nailing the perfect idea.
Table of Contents
- What Makes Up A Good Website Idea?
- How To Use The 3 Pillars For Your Own Idea
- 3 Examples of my Bad Website Ideas
- 8 Website Ideas I Love Right Now
- How To Come Up With A Brand Name
- Recapping How To Nail The Perfect Website Idea
What Makes Up A Good Website Idea?
In the context of this guide, a good idea is one that will both make you money and not burn you out. When I started Viral Nova in 2013 – a site that generated billions of page views and made over $400,000 profit per month at its peak – the only thing that shocked me more than its freak success was that I now absolutely hated my life. Regularly working 16 hours per day, battling enormous server problems, and facing endless scrutiny from traditional journalists negated the joy of succeeding.
Presumably, you are here because you want to start your own business in order to find freedom – both financial and time. So, a good idea solves both. If you make 7 figures and hate yourself, that’s not success. Conversely, if you love your business but can’t afford a slice of pizza, that’s not success.
I’ve broken it down into three key pillars:
- Your passion about a topic
- Audience loyalty toward that topic
- Content availability for that topic
It’s important to look at each of your potential ideas with these in mind. But treat it as a spectrum, not a hard science. For example, if you’re really passionate about a topic, but content is harder to come by, this is OK.
I’ll go into details and provide examples.
When you have a personal passion about the subject, there’s a high likelihood you’re not going to burn out. You’ll not only genuinely enjoy it, but it’ll shine through in the content. When you love something, you’re also going to naturally be more of an expert than the average person. So, start thinking of things you just really like. From stuff you can’t live without all the way down to casual hobbies.
Of course, without an audience, your passion means nothing. What I mean by loyalty is choosing a topic that is a part of your audience’s very identity: their children, pet, religion, sports team, city, and so on. Each of these examples have nearly unlimited ideas within them as well. By choosing an idea that’s deeply rooted in someone’s identity, they’re going to be much easier to reach in this ever-shrinking attention span society and ultimately convert into a loyal visitor.
So, when you’ve decided to start a business that focuses on content related to something you love and lends itself to the identity of a sect of people, you’re basically giving yourself a massive headstart.
Nothing above matters if you simply don’t have access to the content. Fortunately, there are many, many sources of great content, all legally usable. Just a few:
- You! Are you an expert on anything? Do you personally create anything? Do you just really like something? Then, with the help of supplemental sources, you’re going to have plenty of content. Note: this is where my future guides will focus when it comes to content.
- Embeds. I’ve built businesses with literally billions of visitors by using others’ content completely legally (I’ve also learned the hard way how to do this properly). YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and just about every major platform allows you to embed content, and it’s a goldmine of opportunity.
- Wikipedia. There’s perhaps no greater resource on Earth than Wikipedia. Use it! You certainly do not want to plagiarize anything, but it’s a valuable source for creating your own content in your own way.
- Royalty-free and Public Domain photographs. Usually, these are great supplements to your content, and I’ll be doing an entire guide on this alone.
So, make sure to research your ideas thoroughly and make sure there’s a clear and legal content roadmap.
How To Use The 3 Pillars For Your Own Idea
Now that you’ve learned what constitutes a great idea, it’s time to begin brainstorming. Here’s how I do it in 3 corresponding steps.
Step 1: List Everything You Like
This part is fun. Just start making a list of everything you’re passionate about. Literally anything – don’t think about the business end of things yet. Here are some of mine:
- My dog, Willow
- The video game, Rocket League
- Home renovations
- Building wealth
- Dining out
As previously mentioned, if you stick to your passion, you’ll avoid burnout down the road and naturally have an above average understanding of the topic.
Step 2: Eliminate Topics Without A Loyal Audience
The perfect idea will appeal to the very identity of your audience: their religion, their family, their pets, their favorite team, their city, and the hobbies they’re passionate about. This is the inverse of step 1.
Let’s use the site you’re on right now as an example. I’m passionate about building wealth, but, in particular, doing it without the annoyances of networking, meetings, raising money, and so on. There’s something very satisfying about earning money with just myself and a site.
And there are millions of introverts just like me who want the same. They don’t want a boss, they don’t want the pressures of investors, and they want to set their own hours. A person’s financial status is one of the most important parts of their lives. That, by nature, has the makings of a loyal audience.
If your passion from step 1 doesn’t breed content that has the potential to be a part of a user’s hopes, needs, or even dreams… it doesn’t mean your idea can’t work. It just means you’re making it more difficult on yourself.
Step 3: Eliminate Topics Without Plentiful Content
Answer the following questions:
- In which format will your content be? Text, video, audio, something else?
- Will you be creating unique content of your own or sharing others’?
- Where are the sources of consistent content?
- Will there still be plenty of content 2 years from now?
- Do you have the legal means to use this content?
I will be doing an entire guide on creating great content, so I won’t touch on that here, but create a list of all the various sources and “themes” of content you can create and share. If you’re falling short finding plenty of topics to cover, there’s a good chance this will be an ongoing problem, and you may be pursuing a bad idea.
Bringing It All Together
It’s not a perfect science. If you think about the three pillars above each making up 33.33333% of a great idea, it doesn’t mean that’s how it’ll be in reality. Strive toward that goal when contemplating your idea, but understand it’s on a spectrum.
Perhaps your passion makes up 50% of why you choose a particular idea, and the other two pillars are 25% each. This is perfectly fine. In fact, if any of the components make up a majority of this “formula,” I would suggest it be passion.
Going over some of my bad ideas from the past will hopefully help you further understand it.
3 Examples of my Bad Website Ideas
I’ve started several websites that ultimately failed, and, for the most part, using the guidelines above, I can quickly pinpoint why they failed. The bad news for my failures is they cost me several thousand dollars. The good news for you is it’s 2022 when you can launch for a fraction of the cost. I remember scraping together money to pay an overseas team to code my first dynamic site from scratch. Nightmare material, but that’s the past.
Around 2007, I set out to create a GameSpot/IGN competitor, which was basically video game trailers, reviews, and news. I spent over $2,500 getting the site designed and coded (WordPress didn’t exist). To this day, it was one of my favorite sites from a looks standpoint. Everything was in place – I loved video games and gamers loved gaming.
Where I severely miscalculated is the sheer resources needed to actually even remotely keep up with GameSpot and IGN. This was a classic content availability problem.
The premiere gaming sites not only had entire staffs dedicated to reviews and news, but they also got everything early including the games themselves. In hindsight, this was extremely obvious, but I was under the impression I could keep up on a low level and then expand. Turns out, it was one introverted kid from Ohio with no realistic path to keeping up from a content standpoint. This would require raising capital and hiring staff, the two things I never wanted to do.
- Passion: A
- Loyalty: A-
- Content: F-
I still own this domain and felt it had a lot of potential for Google traffic. I would basically follow the EHow strategy of writing hundreds of tutorials in a variety of categories, using freely available information. Once there were thousands of articles, I’d sit back and enjoy the traffic.
Not only did Google ultimately slap this strategy across the face, but it was just a failed idea from the ground up. How could I possibly feel passionate about so many different things that I’d actually write quality tutorials? The loyalty of others was sort of a non-factor here because this was simply a broad content play.
Unlike GameRecoil, content availability – at least as the Internet was in 2009 – was its strongest of the 3 components. There still wasn’t a lot of curated tutorials and guides yet, so bringing this information together with freely available information was certainly possible, even if low to medium quality.
- Passion: D
- Loyalty: F
- Content: B
Here’s one that I spent over $25,000 and 6 months on. I was able to recoup a majority of the cost by selling the assets, but this was a failure on almost every level. During the Farmville explosion on Facebook, getting into the social gaming world was very lucrative. I attended a convention in San Francisco, listened to Mark Pinkus, and came back home ready to work.
I hired a company in China to make my idea a reality: the player had a house with a backyard, and they could entice cooler animals to their yard as they leveled up and kept their existing animals happy. I thought it was pretty adorable, and I felt people would pay real money to update their yards and homes cosmetically.
Six months after paying $20,000 for development, I still didn’t have a product. I’m out here trying to compete with entire staffs of in-house, talented developers by outsourcing this to a company across the world. That’s a broken idea from the beginning. To boot, my passion for the project faded, nobody even knew Backyard Buddies existed so loyalty was a non-factor, and by the time I got to a working product, the social gaming craze had been slapped by Mark Zuckerberg.
It was yet again an example of one person trying to do too much.
- Passion: C
- Loyalty: F
- Content: D-
8 Website Ideas I Love Right Now
In case you need an extra jolt to your brainstorming, here are 8 idea “themes.” That is, not the specific niche you should choose but rather the general approach and format. Hopefully it serves as a helpful guide.
Before you roll your eyes, I truly believe everyone is an expert at something. Just because you’re not a talking head on CNBC or otherwise famous for your knowledge, it doesn’t mean you don’t have it. I love this idea theme the most because the passion factor is off the charts, so your information will shine. Even better, Google has said multiple times a formal education isn’t required – an above average, factual, clear approach will still find eyeballs.
Write thorough, high-quality, helpful guides and articles about your expertise. Love gardening? Great. Love cars? Great. Love making weird desserts? Great. The key here is to write incredible content that blows away the other experts… and then you’ll be the expert.
If you love a band, TV series, actor, or anything else in the entertainment industry, there are a lot of others who do as well. Usually. The first Web site I ever created was in 1998 for the video game, Goldeneye. It became the largest source because I LOVED it and was always the first to know the latest.
The first profitable Web site I ever created was for Halo 2. It was quickly the definitive source on the game before its release and literally changed my life, opening my eyes to the power of the web.
Note: be sure to not use copyrighted photographs and videos unless you have permission.
Here’s one that I think has opportunity all across the country and world. Most of the official sites for towns are terrible – the design is awful, they’re never updated, and sometimes you’re lucky if they even load. The advantage for you to make the best unofficial site for your hometown is you live there! This creates almost unlimited content opportunity.
One hurdle is if your hometown is too small. In this case, you might want to consider the county or region. But generally speaking, I believe even a medium-sized town has potential to garner a modest and consistent income.
Niche Video Curation
One of the most powerful platforms on the planet is YouTube. Not only to use every time I can’t figure something out, but as an entrepreneur. The site that led to me leaving my first and only job specialized in curating video content from YouTube in a straightforward way.
There’s a lot of great content on YouTube, but a standalone site that combines copy and video embeds can do well. The key is to bring your own information and knowledge to it so that, in conjunction, it’s a brand new piece. The best part is, it’s completely legal and even encouraged to embed others’ content. Think of yourself as the catalyst for video discovery with your own approach.
Faith / Self-help
Our mental health is still somehow undervalued in society, but more people are realizing this needs to change. Whether it’s through your faith, spirituality, astrology, or any other form of feeling more empowered, it’s valuable. If it’s helping you, it will help others. Granted, for every helpful site in this arena, there are less-than-ethical counterparts. I don’t suggest the latter, but creating a source of self-help for others with your own take can do very well financially all the while helping others.
How To Come Up With A Brand Name
So you have your topic. Now you need a domain (a dot com) where your website is going to live… this is your brand. While it’s not entirely vital that you absolutely nail your brand name, here are methods I have used countless times. Have fun with it and make it your own.
The Mix and Match Method
- Write down a whole bunch of words related to your topic.
- Write down a whole bunch of words that you honestly just like how they sound.
- Use a thesaurus to find other words that make sense.
- Now mix and match these to see what sounds good together.
As a quick, on-the-fly example, let’s say I’m going to start a history website.
Relevant words: history, historical, past, long ago, memory, recollection, story, storyteller, scribe
Cool words: zero, hawk, axis, focal, supernova, virtual, cyber, legacy
Normally, I’d spend at least half a day on this alone until something clicks, but let’s go with it. Just looking above and checking for domain availability (more on that in the next guide), I kinda like FocalHistory.com (available), HistoryHawk.com (taken but for sale for $280), and LegacyHawk.com (available).
These might sound silly but, as a brand, they become their own meaning and they don’t sound silly anymore.
The Animal Method
Another possibly overplayed method that I still use to land on a brand name is the following formula:
Topic + Animal Name = Brand Name
Examples: GardenFawn, GamingKoala, RecipePigeon, and FitnessBoar.
Those took me 1 minute to think of and check their domain availability. They’re all available, and personally I think they sound pretty brandable. The most important part of this is to just have fun with mixing and matching until you land on the brand that makes sense, speaks to you, and sounds fun.
PS: I registered GamingKoala.com as the example in my next guide on how to launch quickly and effectively.
Brand Name Generators
If you lack creativity, there are some great tools out there that can help you. I really like Shopify’s so give it a try if you’re feeling stuck. Keep in mind: regardless of how you find a name you like, you’ll need to see if the domain is available and ensure there are no existing trademarks. You can search the US trademark database here and then you’ll also want to search your state’s database.
Recapping How To Nail The Perfect Website Idea
Let’s bring it all together. We have the formula:
Great Idea = Your Passion + Others’ Loyalty + Plenty of Content Availability
- Start with listing all of your favorite things, including individual aspects of each of those things.
- Remove anything that a potential reader wouldn’t consider vital to their life.
- Remove anything that has a shortage of content. Not enough shareable content, not enough information, not enough article ideas.
- Once you settle on a topic, choose a brand name.
At this point, you’ve spent zero dollars and haven’t written a thing, but you’ve eliminated so much adversity. In the next guide, I’m going to do my best to eliminate all of the difficult, confusing choices you have to get your new website up and running.