It’s been a long time coming, but here’s Part 1 of the major Niche Site Duel 2.0 update you’ve been waiting for!
In this report, I will reveal the niche site I created for the existing and aspiring food truck business owners and operators, as well as everything that has happened up until this point. By the end of this report, you’ll know exactly where the site is at and what my immediate plans are for the future.
For those of you who are new to the site and don’t know what this “Niche Site Duel” thing is about, here’s a quick rundown:
Back in 2010, I was challenged to build a niche site from scratch, and I decided to publicly share the process here on The Smart Passive Income Blog. I shared everything about the process, from keyword research to content creation and monetization, including what went right, and what I could have done better.
The case study went very well. In 73 days, I got to #1 in Google for the target keyword, security guard training, and for the past 2 years the site has been consistently earning more than $1500 every month, for less than 2 hours of work per month of upkeep.
There are 15 total blog posts that document that entire process, which you can find here.
Of course, things have changed since 2010-11 and I decided to build another website publicly here on the blog. This time, I had to take a completely different approach because the methods and strategies for building and ranking a site back then don’t work quite as well today.
I’ve already shared a number of posts for this second round (dubbed Niche Site Duel 2.0) talking about the niche research and discovery process, as well as the pre-launch process I’m using to build out the site.
The new site, which targets the food truck business, went live on October 1st and so far it’s done very well – relatively speaking.
At the moment, the site isn’t making money, and it’s still climbing the ranks of Google, but I’ve seen a good number of visitors so far.
Since launching on October 1st (37 days ago), the site has seen 5,016 unique visitors, 7,146 visits and 16,010 pageviews! Most of the traffic is a result of the launch of the site and it’s now hovering around 80-100 visits per day.
Post launch week, 60% of the traffic now comes from organic search.
It’s a good sign.
Overall, I’m incredibly happy with the results. Monetization will come later, of course, but as you’ll be able to tell during the rest of this post, it’s definitely on my mind.
Most importantly, however, those who I’ve spoken to in my target audience have said this is a site that is very much needed in the industry, and one they are willing to support, which is awesome!
For Niche Site Duel 2.0, I’m taking a long-term, content-driven and relationship-driven approach to the success of this website. It’s taken a while to get to this update because I didn’t want to share the URL until I had a good month’s of data behind the site to share.
So far, some things went really well, while other things did not go as planned – but that’s how it is. Doing business online is about taking intentional action and then adjusting and figuring out what works along the way.
I’ll explain more in this post, but I’m really excited because after this two-part series and after you understand exactly where the site stands, you’ll be able to follow along as I attempt to grow my list, gain exposure in the marketplace, and eventually earn an income from the site.
It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but this is something I can see earning a six-figure per year income on it’s own – it’s just a matter of getting there, and I’m willing to take risks and be creative to do it. It’s going to be a fun ride, but for now – let’s get into the site: where it lives, what it took to get there and lessons learned.
Because my primary goal is to create a brand that food truck owners and operators can connect with, one that could potentially house a culture of it’s own, I decide to go with a brand name that was primarily focused on identification, rather than SEO and keyword research.
That’s why I decided to go with FoodTruckr.com.
There were a number of different domain names and brand names in the running, such as FoodTruckStartUp.com, FoodTruckResource.com, FoodTruckStop.com and some derivative of How to Start a Food Truck, but none of those had a nice, short and brandable ring to it like FoodTruckr.com did.
The chosen domain name does break a small little “rule” that I usually mention when I talk about choosing a domain name, which is you should make it easy enough so that people don’t misspell it, but there are a couple of reasons why I think this works (and of course, there are always exceptions to rules):
- There are successful websites like Flickr.com and Fiverr.com that obviously misspell the word they are representing, and it seems to work in their favor because when people do explain that “there is no e”, or “with two r’s”, it becomes more memorable. Both domains are short enough where one missing letter or extra letter seems to be okay, and FoodTruckr seems to be short enough too. But more importantly…
- Cultures have been created on those websites, and people can identify with them. Flickr.com is commonplace and people don’t even think twice about the spelling now, and I’m hoping FoodTruckr will do the same in this industry.
I actually tried to get FoodTrucker.com (with an ‘e’), but the site is being squatted on and I’ve tried to reach out to see what it might cost to buy it, but so far – no responses.
Even if I did get FoodTrucker.com (with an ‘e’), I’d still redirect to FoodTruckr.com.
The Pre-Launch Phase
Before the site was launched on October 1st, I had spent a month “pre-launching” the website.
On FoodTruckr.com, using LeadPages, I setup a “coming soon page” with a countdown timer and an opt-in form to download a free resource list that was quickly created. [Full Disclosure: I’m a compensated advisor and an affiliate for LeadPages.]
The lead magnet, to incentivize people to sign up to the FoodTruckr email list, is titled: 6 Free Social Media Tools to Get People Talking About Your Food Truck
And FYI, those tools are:
During the research phase (which actually involved talking on the phone and meeting food truck owners and operators in person), I found that most food truck owners rely on social media for a lot of their marketing. It’s how they get people to know where they are at – so that’s why this resource list felt like the perfect giveaway.
This list of tools was a direct result of following Clay Collin’s advise in SPI Podcast Episode #78, where he mentioned that people gravitate toward tools and resources because people feel like if they get the right tools, they’ll have what they need to get the results they want – generally speaking.
I got a lot of feedback from those who did download the resource saying that it was extremely useful and information they’ve never seen before – a great first impression, but looking back there was a mistake that I made.
The title of the book, 6 Free Social Media Tools to Get People Talking About Your Food Truck, immediately suggests that this resource is for people who have a food truck already. The target audience for FoodTruckr.com are those who have a food truck, but also those who are interested in starting a food truck of their own, so by packaging my resource in this way, I wasn’t incentivizing those who have yet to get started.
I could have potentially earned a lot more subscribers if I had titled the book:
6 Free Social Media Tools that Everyone Who Steps Into a Food Truck Should Know About
…or something of that nature. It’s a slight difference in copy, but it makes a huge difference in who it seems to be targeted for.
You see, by saying “talking about your food truck”, those who don’t have one will already discount that as a resource. But everyone, even those who don’t have a food truck yet, can imagine stepping into one someday.
It was a small mistake, and I was still able to grow the email list during the pre-launch phase to 215 emails.
215 was short of the ambitious goal of 1000 emails I had before the launch of the website (I have a guest post coming up about someone who did get 1000+ emails after reading my pre-launch plan post), but 215 is still an incredibly respectable number, and it was nice to launch the site with some type of audience already, instead of publishing content for an audience of zero.
So how did I get those emails?
Primarily, through emailing people and connecting with food trucks on social media. More about this below…
The Reach Out Process
During the pre-launch phase, I made it a goal of mine to reach out to 400 food truck owners via email. I wanted to do this for a number of reasons:
- To introduce them to who I was and what FoodTruckr.com was all about,
- To get them to visit the site and hopefully subscribe to the email list.
- To ask them one question so I could include their answer in a round-up blog post on launch day and link back to their website or truck. This was my “what’s in it for you”, but at the same time it was a way to do research as well.
The question I wanted to ask was: “What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you began your food truck business?”
Before I could send any emails out, the first step, of course, was to collect the email addresses.
I hired a VA to spend about a few hours compiling a list of food trucks and their contact information into a Google Spreadsheet. He did this by performing basic research on Google, and there are a number of location specific sites that list food trucks in certain areas too. I could have had him find 1000 email addresses or more, but I wanted to just see what would happen with a manageable 400 emails.
I then proceeded to send these emails out manually, one-by-one. It was important for me to do this so they would seem more personal, because I wanted as high of a response rate as possible.
Did this take a long time?
Well, it took a little bit of time, but not as much time as you might think.
Most of the emails are the same with just a tad bit of personalization, and I calculated that I could send out an average of 3 emails per minute (using TextExpander, primarily). I have the spreadsheet on the right hand side of my screen, and Gmail open on the left, and I can easily go down the list, copy/paste/textexpander and send these emails out very quickly.
I sent out 400 emails in 2 and a half hours, and got 23 emails back within a week. That’s a 5.75% response rate, which Neil Patel in Session #67 of the SPI Podcast says is about normal.
After a week, however, I sent a super-quick follow-up email to those who did not respond. It was not the same exactly email, but it was a ‘reply’ of the previous email I sent so they could see the previous email below. Here’s what the new text said in that email:
Hey name! Just following up on the email I sent to you last week. I’d love to feature your truck on FoodTruckr.com. Let me know when you get a chance. Thanks!
…and that’s it.
To my surprise, within a week of that email, I had seen 42 additional responses come through! The follow-up worked really well, and many people responded saying things like “Sorry! I totally missed your first email” and “Thanks for the reminder! Here’s my answer…”
The follow up only took an additional hour and a half to do, but it was totally worth it. So, after 4 hours of work, I received a total of 65 replies.
And the responses I got were pure gold!
I say that because based on the answers I could create an amazing round-up post, but beyond that I got to hear directly from my target audience about what their biggest pain points are, and I now have a slew of potential business ideas and solutions that could be created, built and perhaps sold. Also, a ton of potential blog posts to write about and multiple ways to provide value to this audience.
There’s nothing like actually sending an email and getting a direct response from someone, except maybe getting on the phone or speaking to someone in person – which is another thing I did during my research.
While reaching out via email, I also met in person with local food truck owners here in San Diego. I wanted to validate what I had learned through my email outreach, and also dig deeper into those issues and problems so I could truly understand where they were coming from.
Here’s a list of what I learned through my research both via email and phone:
1. Licensing, Zoning and Health Requirements are a HUGE Pain.
Almost everyone I spoke to, and in several emails responses from my reach-out, I discovered that dealing with licensing, zoning and health requirements is a huge pain point.
You can’t just drive a food truck to a new area, park on the side of the road and then all of a sudden start selling your food to pedestrians. Your truck has to be cleared to provide food in that area through the health department for that city, and you have to meet the zoning requirements as well and have proper licensing.
I can now see why no one attempted to organize this information for existing and food truck owners before. It’s a mess!
Every city has different standards that a food truck must meet in order to sell, and various cities have different rules for where you can and cannot park your truck and start selling food.
In addition to that, all of this stuff costs money to obtain, and if you want to sell in multiple cities, you’re going to need multiple licenses and get approved by the health department in that city.
Yes, this is craziness, and it’s going to be a challenge to organize this information (information that seems like it should be on any website providing information about starting or managing a food truck business), but it’s a challenge I’m definitely up to.
I had a similar challenge when building SecurityGuardTrainingHQ.com when I discovered that each state has different requirements to become a security guard, but for this site it’s every city, and there’s a lot more pieces to the puzzle.
Of course, if I do organize and collate this information, it would be huge because then it would make FoodTruckr.com THE absolute resource to go to for food truck startup information, and it would be useful even for someone who already has one who may want to learn what it takes to sell in another area.
The plan is to tackle this by starting with the most popular food truck cities – Los Angeles, Portland and New York City, and then go from there.
Like I said, this is going to be a LONG process, but I know it’ll help people and provide value.
2. Food Truck Mechanics…Please!
Another common pain was just how much everyone wish they knew when it came to fixing a food truck. In other words, how to troubleshoot a broken down food truck.
Food trucks break down all of the time, especially because a lot of the time people rent older trucks to start their business at a lower cost, and of course those older trucks break down from time to time.
When a food truck can’t move (unless it just happens to break down in the perfect spot) then it can’t run it’s business.
The solution most people have at this point is to call a local mechanic, typically one they’ve worked with before, who comes out and services the truck on the spot.
There are definitely a lot of other solutions that could be provided, such as a food truck mechanic locator on the website or in an app that people can use when a food truck breaks down to see where the nearest mechanic might be, along with the contact information. I could earn a commission from the mechanics for this, or have food truck owners pay a fee to use the service each month.
A resource to learn how to fix the most common problems that food trucks have would be a cool idea too.
There are lots of possibilities here, but the main point is that I would have never known this was an issue if I had never asked.
3. Location, Location, Location.
You could have a food truck and sell the best food in the world, but if you’re not in the right place or have no idea where to sell – then you’re not going to do much business.
Social media is used more than anything to let existing fans know where they are, but understanding exactly where to park a food truck for the day is a big issue, for most.
In many cities, like Portland, there are designated areas (called Food Truck ‘Pods’) which are the only spots anyone with a mobile food truck business can sell, due to the city’s zoning requirements. They cannot sell on the street – so it makes it easy to figure out where to go.
In other cities, you have to know what’s going on during the day to make a profit. For example, what events are going on around the area and things like that.
A hub for events in different cities could be a potential solution, and there are probably some third party websites that keep track of events that a website could potentially tap into.
4. A Day in the Life of a FoodTruckr
I found out that people who work on food trucks work crazy long hours, each and every day.
They wake up early to prepare and get ingredients and supplies for their dishes. Then they prepare some of the food and then usually do a lunch run somewhere. Then they either resupply or find another location for dinner and then clean up the truck for use the next day.
Amongst all of that there’s driving through traffic, selling food to customers, dealing with any unplanned events.
They work 14-16 hours each day, but they love it. They wouldn’t trade it for anything and I truly respect that. When I asked why, they would usually respond with something like:
“Because I have a passion for the dishes that I prepare, and I want to share that with as many people as possible.”
“Because I like how every day is different. I can’t sit in front of a computer all day. Everyday is a new challenge and adventure, and I love it.”
Best answers ever, and it helps me determine what of language to use and how to relate to them.
I also found out a lot of interesting things that were a little surprising to me:
- Although social media plays a big role in their marketing efforts, their websites don’t. 99% of them have their own websites to go along with their truck, but many of those websites seem like an after-thought – just something that’s up to share a phone number for catering purposes or perhaps a link to Twitter or Facebook.
- None of them collect email addresses. I have yet to find one that does, which is mind-boggling to me.
- Hardly any of them have incentives for customers to come back later.
- Some of them see value in collaborating with other food trucks and joining forces, while others are more “solo” and wouldn’t care to team up or share locations or trade secrets.
- Many are interested in learning more about how to use social media and the Internet to increase awareness and fervor for their.
- Many have caught on to the trend of using an iPad and Square to collect payments, or an equivalent.
And finally, probably the coolest thing people said to me during my research was that they were excited about FoodTruckr.com, and would be willing to help moving forward.
Although I’ve only spoken to a couple dozen food truck owners and operators in person, to hear that was huge as far as validation for the idea, so I’m definitely happy with the results so far and moving forward with it.
A by-product of this outreach is that a number of people did subscribe to the email list, which is fantastic. Beyond the email outreach, the FoodTruckr Twitter page has been hot too. Twitter, by far, is the easiest way to make a quick connection with people, and it was used primarily to connect with existing food truck owners, give them a shout out, retweet and introduce them to the brand. Many of the connections made on Twitter led to downloads of the free resource, and many of them shared and retweeted it too – although that’s an interesting topic because…
A big challenge with this particular niche is that there aren’t very many places to promote. There are only a handful of other websites that cater to the target audience (a good thing yes, but also a challenge too), and when this audience retweets or shares the information that FoodTruckr provides, it’s being retweeted to fans of those particular food trucks. That is, food truck consumers, not other food truck owners. Not who I’m targeting at this point.
Moving forward, I will be reaching out to many food truck organizations in order to find a way to have others promote the site for me.
I realize that this post is now incredibly long, so I will follow up in my next written blog post with part 2 of this update that will go into the details about the launch, content, traffic, keywords I’m being ranked for, design and plans for the future.
Thanks again for your patience with NSD2.0 – the site has been revealed (yay!), and now you’ll hear about it every step along the way. A few of you, I know, found the site before today – and that’s okay. There may be a few extra visits here and there in the numbers, but overall I’m confident in how the site has performed so far. Beyond the numbers, it’s the direct emails and feedback from food truck owners who tell me they love the content and purpose of the site that I’m most excited and proud of.
FoodTruckr.com (and the SPI redesign – coming hopefully by the end of this week, if not – next week) will be my primary focus moving forward.
Thanks, and there’s a whole lot more coming in Part 2. Cheers!