Ecommerce Case Study: How Does a Boating Ecommerce Site Make Money?
I love analyzing online businesses. I get super excited every time I come across a new niche website. I get a bit worked up every time I stumble across a fun niche website, I love diving deep and investigating how they drive traffic and make money. I’ve seen niche websites ranging from insurance online courses (one of my niches) to parakeet care guides, to DIY dirt bike track building. There are online business ideas everywhere you look. Pretty much anything you do, touch, or talk about can be monetized as an online business.
In an effort to share my findings and research, to help you start your own online business, I’m going to start sharing my research and analysis. I’m going to begin publishing various case studies, such as today’s eCommerce case study. I’m going to dive deep into a particular website or niche, and break down how I think they are making money, how they are driving traffic, and what I would do to get started with an eCommerce business in the same niche.
Today’s Ecommerce Case Study: The Boating Niche
Today’s case study is all about starting an eCommerce website in the boating niche. This is a viable eCommerce opportunity that I stumbled across when researching with my Dad. My Dad is going through my build a business online course, he is searching for his first niche website idea. Pretty cool I get to teach my Dad something new, not too often that happens!
We went through a ton of ideas, we went through a whole brainstorming exercise, and dove deep into Long Tail Pro to validate some ideas (week 1 of the “build a business” online course). My Dad is an avid boater. He’s been buying and fixing boats long before I was born. So naturally, when we were diving into a brainstorming session, boating was one of the viable opportunities that popped up.
I was SHOCKED at the opportunities for an online business in the boating niche. There was so much that we came across. We started with boating in general, but the more granular we got the more opportunities arose. I quickly realized that there is a niche opportunity for EVERY TYPE OF BOAT. Every type of boat could be its own website. Even better, every aspect of boating could be its own niche website (motors, hull repair, accessories, etcetera…) The more niche the better. Here are some of the opportunities we stumbled across:
- Bass boats – 49,000 people searching this term per month with niche opportunities like “bass boat accessories” and “used bass boats for sale in Alabama” that could be subsets of your bass boat website.
- Boat trailers – 27,000 people searching this term per month with niche opportunities like “used boat trailers for sale” and “pontoon boat trailer” that could be subsets of your boat trailer website.
- Houseboat rentals – 22,000 people are searching for the term “houseboat rentals” per month.
- Jet boats – 27,000 people searching this term per month with niche opportunities like “jet boats for sale” and “best jet boats 2020” that could be subsets of your jet boat website.
We ended up going down a rabbit hole in the pontoon boat niche because there was a lot of unique opportunities here. I’m a big fan of looking into the keywords and search volume of a niche, so I dove deep to see what people are searching for regarding pontoon boats (see Longtail Pro results below). Here is just some of what I found:
- Pontoon boat weight – 1,000 monthly searches and very low competition (14 KC score on Longtail Pro).
- Pontoon boat for rent – 27,100 monthly searches and very low competition (22 KC score on Longtail Pro).
- Pontoon boat kits – 720 monthly searches and very low competition (22 KC score on Longtail Pro).
- Pontoon boat trailer – 3,600 monthly searches and low competition (29 KC score on Longtail Pro).
- Small pontoon boat for sale – 1,900 monthly searches and low competition (30 KC score on Longtail Pro).
Those are five potential topics I could focus on for this website. That’s over 30,000 monthly searches for those five topics. If I can just get half of that traffic to my website (15,000 monthly visits) then I’m confident that I could create a website generating at least $5,000 per month in recurring revenue. I could even take one of those topics like “Pontoon boat for rent” and that could be my entire website! I could go even more niche than “pontoon boats” and instead focus on a specific geographic region and own the market for pontoon boat rentals in Florida.
There is one particular website that we stumbled across. Pontoonsonly.com. An interesting little niche site specifically about Pontoon Boats!
This website piqued my interest. This type of website is exactly what I was recommending to my Dad. So, I sat down and took a detailed look at PontoonsOnly.
Now, in this blog, I’m going to show you how this website is making money. I will give you some insight into PontoonsOnly, and how you can copy what they are doing in a different niche to start making money online.
Ecommerce Case Study: PontoonsOnly.com
First of all, let me say that I did not talk to anyone that owns this website, or anyone affiliated with the website. I have a good amount of online business experience, and one of my favorite parts is guesstimating how a website makes money and how much money they make.
So, let’s look at PontoonsOnly.com.
First of all. Love the niche nature of this website. They know what they are doing. They know how to build a website and own a niche.
How Much Traffic Does This Website Get?
For research, I use Neil Patel’s tool Uber Suggest. According to the competitive analysis from Uber Suggest, PontoonsOnly.com is getting approximately 41,000 organic monthly traffic. Not bad for a little niche about Pontoon boats! For reference, my website AssociatePI (in the insurance niche) only gets 5,000 organic hits per month and that website generates $5,000+ in monthly recurring revenue. You don’t need a lot of traffic to make money online. If you can get 40,000+ organic hits per month, you will have no problem making money online.
It seems most of their traffic is coming from the page “Used Pontoons” they are ranking for keywords such as “used pontoon boats for sale by owner” and “used pontoon boats”. This brings in approximately 22,000 organic visitors per month (see image below). This just goes to show you, a little bit of SEO on just ONE page on your website can make all the difference. They are clearly focusing their effort on the keyword “used pontoon” and its variations. If you find one solid keyword like this for your website, one keyword that is relatively easy to rank for and has substantial search traffic, you can build a whole business around it. For reference, “used pontoon boats for sale” has 27,000 monthly searches and a Long Tail Pro KC score of 33.
One keyword like this, with a little bit of focus on SEO for this keyword, can bring in the bulk of your traffic. 22,000 visits per month to this one page is enough to build a six-figure business around.
You can see the other main source of organic traffic come from variations of the keyword “pontoon boats for sale” (ranking #3 on Google). This is brining in an extra 20,000 organic hits per month (see image below).
For reference, this website has a DA score (domain authority score) of 15 according to the free SEO Moz toolbar that I use.
That’s not very high. A lot of my websites have DA scores of 25+. A DA Score is simply a score that indicates how much Google trusts the website. The higher the score the better. A higher score means the website is more trustworthy in the eyes of Google and will rank better on Google’s search Algorithm.
A score of 15 is not bad, it was just surprising. I expected the website to have a higher DA score if they are getting this much traffic. Honestly, it’s a good sign! It’s encouraging. That means it’s a niche that is not very competitive, it means you could come in with your own pontoon boat website and carve out a little niche for yourself. It’s also encouraging because this goes to show, you don’t need a 60+ DA highly authoritative site to get organic traffic to your website. A website with a DA score of 15+ will do the trick!
How Does This eCommerce Website Make Money?
With a little bit of digging, and some investigative work, it seems they are making money in the following ways:
- Paid listings – I see some pontoon boats are listed as a “featured listing”. I assume this is similar to what you see on Amazon where you can pay to be featured or listed in the top spot on the page. It is very clear that anyone can list a pontoon boat for sale on this website, it very clearly states that listing your boat is free, but it seems the “featured listing” is a premium option for anyone that wants to get more views on their pontoon boat for sale.
- Financing affiliate – When you go to look at one of their boats for sale, there is a big button that says “Get a loan on this listing”. When I click that link it takes me to “Vantage Recreational Financing”, a lender that specializes in financing for boats. When I check the URL at Vantage Recreational Financing, it’s clear this is an affiliate link. That means, when you purchase financing through this link, by clicking this button from the pontoon website, PontoonsOnly will be paid a commission for referring the sale to Vantage Recreational Financing. This is common (and smart). I’ve worked with financing affiliates like this in the past that pay 2% to 5% per financing sale that you refer. Some financing affiliates will pay per lead, they will pay $50 to $100 per lead that you send over. It’s a lucrative relationship to have, it’s smart to include this as a revenue stream from PontoonsOnly.com
- Cut of each sale – I’m not positive on this one. But my suspicion is they are taking a cut of each sale. I’m not sure if they do, but that is common on these types of sites especially when they offer a free listing. If they aren’t doing this, they could be! I’m going to assume they take a cut from the seller for each sale, similar to how a real estate agent works, it’s free to list your product for sale but if you sell it the broker (in this case PontoonsOnly.com) will take a percentage of the sale.
How Much Money Does This Website Make?
There is no way of knowing for sure. I doubt they publish their income reports like I do for my websites. But let’s make some conservative assumptions to estimate how much money this website is making.
- Paid listings – There are 800+ listings for “new” pontoon boat sales and about 200 listings for “used” boats on PontoonsOnly.com. Let’s round this off at a nice even 1,000 boats listed for sale on this website. I don’t know the exact cost to be listed as a “featured” seller on this website, so let’s say it’s only $100 for a seller to get listed as a “featured listing”. Let’s be conservative and say that only 1% of sellers on this website pay to take advantage of the featured listing. 1% of 1,000 listings is 10 sales. 10 sales x $100 per listings = $1,000 per month. My best guess is they are making $1,000 per month from paid listings on this website.
- Financing affiliate – We know that 40,000 people are visiting this website every month. We know that there are 1,000 boats for sale. To be conservative, let’s assume that only 0.25% of people visiting this website end up buying a boat through the website (1 out of every 400 website visits). 40,000 x 0.25% = 100. Let’s assume only 100 boats per month are sold on this website. Now, out of those 100 sales, how many of them are buying financing through the affiliate link? Let’s say, out of the 100 sales per month, only 2% take advantage of the financing offer. 100 sales x 2% = 2 affiliate sales per month. It looks like the average price of a pontoon boat on this website is about $20,000. Let’s assume the lender offers a 3% commission on every affiliate sale made by PontoonsOnly (it’s usually closer to 5%, but let’s be conservative). 3% commission on a $20,000 boat sale is $600 ($20,000 x 3% = $600). So, if two buyers go through PontoonsOnly to purchase financing through the website affiliate link, that means they are making $1,200 per month from financing affiliate sales.
- Cut of each sale – I’m going to assume that PontoonsOnly is taking a cut of each sale. Earlier, we estimated that 0.25% of people that visit this website end up buying a boat. 0.25% of 40,000 monthly visitors is 100 sales per month. I don’t know the exact number, but let’s be conservative and say PontoonsOnly takes a 1% cut of each sale. Earlier we determined that the average price per boat sold on PontoonsOnly is $20,000. A 1% cut of a $20,000 sale is $200 per sale. If they are selling 100 boats per month, at $200 per sale, that means PontoonsOnly could be making up to $20,000 per month as the middleman selling used Pontoons ($200 x 100 sales = $20,000)!
- Monthly Total = $22,200 monthly revenue. That’s $266,400 per year!
Now, this is just a best guess estimate. Honestly, they could be taking more of a cut from each sale. If they took a 2% cut, they could be making $40,000+ per month. If they sold more financing and earned up to 5% on each financing referral, they could be making $5,000+ from the financing affiliate. There are endless opportunities here, there is a LOT of money to be made in this niche. The real takeaway here is this company is making great money with a simple niche website idea.
How Could They Make More Money?
The three revenue streams I listed above are just a few options for this website to make money. They might be, and probably are, making money in other ways that I can’t see from the outside. Here are a few ways I would monetize this niche:
- Membership – They could charge dealers, sellers, or buyers a monthly membership to get access to pontoon boat listings. I do this with one of my sites. I charge $40 per month for sellers to list on my website, and I have another membership where I charge $10 per month for buyers to get first access (I call it “premium access”) to the listings.
- Direct dealer – PontoonsOnly could sell pontoon boats directly for a dealer. I don’t know who the big pontoon boat manufactures are, but with 40,000+ website views per month PontoonsOnly could strike a relationship with one dealer and sell directly for that dealer. Kind of like a showroom sells furniture for a manufacturer, this is like a virtual showroom. I have seen manufacturers pay 5% to 10% for direct sales like this. PontoonsOnly could be making a $2,000 cut per sale when selling directly for a dealer!
- Amazon Affiliate – This is an easy addition to make a little extra income. There is so much that goes with owning a boat, and so many of those products are sold on Amazon. The Amazon affiliate program ranges from 3% to 8%, not to mention boating products are pretty expensive. PontoonsOnly could easily add a couple of blogs recommending the best boating products that go with a pontoon boat. For reference, my website that gets 10,000+ monthly views brings in about $100 per month from Amazon affiliates. It’s not a lot, but extrapolate that to a blog with 40,000+ views and semi-expensive items on Amazon and they could easily be generating an extra $1,000 per month through the Amazon affiliate program.
- eBay Affiliate – People are selling Pontoon Boats on eBay. Let’s say you earn the lowest commission, 1.5% according to the eBay affiliates page. If you earn a 1.5% commission on a $20,000 pontoon boat sale you are making $300 per sale. PontoonsOnly already has the platform set up, they could start listing eBay products on their website as affiliate links and earn an extra $300 each time someone buys on eBay.
- Pontoon Rental Affiliate – PontoonsOnly could build an affiliate network of pontoon rental agencies. I’m sure there is an affiliate program out there for boat rentals already. Remember, we already know that 27,100 people per month are searching “Pontoon boat for rent”. This is another revenue stream that PontoonsOnly could work into. If they can drive traffic to an affiliate for pontoon rentals, they could build out a whole new revenue stream.
- Google Ads – I hate ads. You guys probably know that about me already. It’s a volume game. You need a ton of volume to make a little bit of money. With Google ads, you make about $0.50 every time someone clicks your ad. If this website is bringing in 40,000 visitors per month, and only 1% click their ads (400 people), that’s only $200 revenue per month (400 clicks x $0.50 = $200). That’s a lot of work for a little payout, BUT it’s another revenue stream that could be added to this website.
- Dealer advertising – As I said earlier, I’m not a big fan of the advertising model. I don’t do any advertising on my websites. It’s a small margin game. You do a lot of work to get traffic, just to make pennies in return. That being said, there’s an opportunity here. PontoonsOnly could workout an exclusive advertising deal with a pontoon boat dealer. With 40,000 web hits per month (480,000 hits per year), that is plenty to pitch the advertising opportunity to a boat dealer. I have seen online advertising deals, for sites with this much traffic, range from $1,000 per month to $2,500 per month for banner ads and exclusive advertising. It could be an easy way for PontoonsOnly to bump up their monthly revenue with little extra effort.
How Can I Copy This?
Who would have thought? Pontoon boats of all things. Pontoon boats are an extremely profitable online business opportunity.
So, how do you copy this?
First things first. You need to find a niche just like this. If you liked this idea so much, you could even build an online business in the boating niche! Like I showed above, there is a lot of opportunity here (houseboats, jet skis, bass boats, etcetera…).
If you want to copy this, if you are ready to jump in and build your online business, here is the step-by-step process you should follow to build a website just like PontoonsOnly:
- Step 1: Find Your Niche – first, you need to find your niche. Download my 5 favorite niche site ideas. Choose one of these to get started, or use the research I showed in this blog to do your own digging and find a niche that you are passionate about.
- Step 2: Validate Your Niche – don’t jump in right away. Once you find your niche, you need to validate that there is a market. Watch this video I recorded to get an idea of how you can dive into Long Tail Pro and validate your niche.
- Step 3: Validate Your Audience – this is a HUGE part of my build a business program. All of week two is validating the audience. This means you need to talk to people. Don’t go spending hundreds of dollars and weeks building your website until you have completed step three. Talk to people in your target audience (I use surveys online), figure out what their pain points are, then build a product or service that solves their problems.
- Step 4: Find One Topic to Focus On – as we saw at PontoonsOnly.com, they focused on one key topic “used pontoons”. Find one topic to start with and focus on that. You will learn what this topic is once you have completed steps one through three. Use Long Tail Pro to dive into the search volumes of your niche and choose one topic to focus on. For example, if your niche is gardening, don’t make a generalized gardening website. Choose gardening tomatoes (or something similar) to start with. Choose a focus and expand from there.
- Step 5: Create Content – once everything is validated, once you have your pain points identified, then it’s time to create content and drive traffic to your website. Use my 1K Challenge (how to drive the first 1,000 people to your website). Build out your website and start driving traffic.
- Step 6: Pre-Sell – again, this is another HUGE part of my build a business program. Don’t spend months building a product without pre-selling. You know your pain points, you know your audience, now that you have traffic on your website try to pre-sell your product and service to your audience. If they buy it before you build it, you know you are onto something big. Then go and build it and sell it.
- Step 7: Scale – I’m running out of room in this blog. There is too much to go into regarding scaling your business. That is a future step, and one that I cover in detail in my “scale your business program”. For now, focus on steps one through six. We will talk about scaling from there at a later date after you get traffic and your first sales.
And that does it! That is it for today’s eCommerce case study on PontoonsOnly.com and how you can build an online business just like this and start generating up to $40,000 in revenue per month just like PontoonsOnly.
Good luck out there building your websites. Remember, if you need an idea to get started, download my 5 favorite niche site ideas and get started building your business today.