A 2-Year-Old Real Estate Website Earning $9,000 a Month: Case Study

Spencer Note: Hi everyone, today I'm excited to share with you a Niche Pursuit reader success story!Jeff Howell has worked extensively in real estate and decided to leverage that knowledge in a unique way.

He applied the principles of keyword research, content marketing, and link building to create a niche site in the commercial real estate leasing market.Instead of trying to make money as an affiliate, it is able to sell its own products and services, which has led to tremendous growth over the past couple of years.  

Read on to get Jeff's full story!Here's Jeff…

The make-money-online crowd is all-in on Amazon, e-commerce and affiliate commissions.Understandably so.But for most people, it's a new set of skills that need to be acquired to make money online.  

What about leveraging what you're already an expert in and understanding how you offer your knowledge or service in a way that hasn't been done yet?  

I spent 18 years as a commercial real estate agent in downtown Toronto.Commercial real estate isn't as glamorous as most people think: there's a lot of cold calls, it's highly competitive, and it takes about a year to close deals.  

Whenever we would meet with a client, the most important meeting would be when we would review the client's existing lease and be shocked by what they had agreed on in the 40,000-word document (all they focused on was the rent in the last deal, not all the other things).  

There was so much value that we created with the leaders in those meetings.  

So why couldn't we catch it and bring it online?

And Ref Lease is born.  

The service is a commercial lease score card, prepared by the lease referee, which levels the playing field for you, the tenant.  

Your three choices in negotiating a lease are:

DIY: This free option will most likely result in the most expensive way in the long run and will spend a lot of time trying to learn as much as you can about leases.

Hire a lawyer: the job will probably be done well, but you need to find one, trust them, bypass their busy schedule, and the hourly rate will amount to around $2,500 by the end of the deal. 

Ref. Lease Agreement: For a flat rate (currently $425), you will receive your lease score card and the lease will be in the red and is ready to return to the landlord.  

Lesson n. 1: The internet is still a child, and all use cases have not been identified on how to provide goods and services.Real estate is a slow-moving industry, and brokers do not offer commercial lease reviews online.

Great, so Lease Ref will launch in early 2017… and… drum roll …. $4,000 (and I'm rounding up).

Lesson 2: Good ideas do not equal success overnight.  

This is where the story gets interesting.  

I retired from commercial real estate.  

It was time to move on to something new.Something I could get excited about.  

Of course I switched to home care software :-). 

I left Lease Ref alone.Being honest was more annoying than rewarding.I was loving a new career and once a month I would have a lease to review, and the lack of frequency meant there was a substantial amount of income compared to distraction.  

That said, 2018 earned $13,626.Ok, it's worth keeping around.  

Total marketing budget during this period: $0.Every now and then I would build a link from Help to Reporter Out (HARO).This was my goal when the site was up and running. 

Lesson n. 3: the  Most people give up too soon.I was lucky I didn't sell or shut down – I kept it alive while focusing on my new job.  

This is where the story starts to get really interesting.  

As you can see, I had an order in September of 2018 and forward in September 2019, there is an increase in revenue of 2,407%.Revenue is more than double in that month compared to all of 2017.  


There must have been a huge increase in traffic, right?

I wish that was the case.I learned a lot about SEO, but as you can see, traffic doubled, which is nice, but it didn't explode in relation to revenue:


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In the same year-over-year comparison, page views were:2018 (through October 3): 85,960 2019 (through October 3): 162,904So, if my conversion ratio stays the same, I should expect double the revenue.


Around the same time, here's what revenue looked like: (the year ended positively with $13k in revenue).

2019 started slowly and revenue was loaded into the back-end and is currently located at:

So let's review – in practice traffic has doubled, and revenue has increased by 5 times. Because?

Building links?No.

Tons of new content?No.

3 reasons.  


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1 – I created more content intent for the buyer. Previously I did not have a place of personal guarantees in leases.People who search Google for personal guarantees are trying to figure out if they need to sign them, how they can get out of them, etc. They are nervous and seek help.The stakes are high.So I created the best resource available on that topic.You can find it here.These people are much more likely to pay $425 for advice when they are about to sign a personal guarantee for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

2 – I created more content at the top of the funnel. A tenant usually negotiates a letter of intent before a lease.If they find Lease Ref earlier in their purchase journey, I can help them in the early stages of negotiation, or at least have awareness and more time to ask for help when the lease negotiation comes.That resource can be found here.  

3 – Video .People need to know, appreciate and trust you before buying.Since I expect people to go straight from Google search to purchase, there's a lot to ask.So in return there are over 200,000 words of advice on the blog, but people want to know who they are dealing with.An example of a post with multiple videos is available here.You'll be able to see me (with money thrown in my face), an explainer video shot in Powerpoint, and a couple of screencasts showing lease clauses.  

The combination of 3 allowed conversions to outpace traffic growth:

As you can see, since video addition and new content traffic were flat overall.

Note that prices have increased (twice).This actually helped conversions as well: prices seemed almost true to be true at first, and there was an immediate improvement in conversions when prices were raised (woo hoo!).  

Lesson n. 4:  Too many people focus on traffic and don't focus enough on the buyer's journey once traffic arrives on your site.  


So what was the magic involved in keyword research?  

First, there aren't many real estate commercial websites active in the SEO space, so I decided to track some that are actively creating content and links, and followed them with the help of Ahrefs.  

The second (and more valuable) source was leasing itself.The logic is that, if a user is frustrated with a particular clause in a lease, they would search for "how to remove <insert problematic clause> from my lease".  

So the view is highly technical, delving into how to modify clauses with specific examples.Not only this ranking on Google, but the competition (brokers and lawyers) – they do not want to reveal trade secrets. 

So it was a win-win for everyone.  


While the ultimate goal is to have websites that really make you money while you sleep, there's also an opportunity to take the existing skills and knowledge you already have and package those services into a unique way to make a living online.  



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