How On Earth Is Netlify Free? (SEO Niche Sites Just Got Better)

Donovan Nagel
Written by Donovan Nagel

Okay, so I tried out Netlify this week.

As always, I’m seriously late to the party (I always resist the herd) but this one had me too curious.

I had to see what all the fuss was about (people rave about it on social media).

All I can say is:

I’m sold. Literally wow.

Like a lot of people, my first reaction was:

How is this free?

I almost feel bad for not paying for it.

My SEO niche site experiment on Vultr Netlify

As I mentioned recently , I’m running a static niche site experiment at the moment.

The goal is to rapidly design, populate and deploy 8 static niche sites and have them all generate consistent traffic and passive income (before the end of this year).

The gist was this:

  1. Buy 8 custom domains in ultra-specific niches relevant to me.
  2. Set up VPS hosting for each one ( Vultr ).
  3. Deploy my Gatsby boilerplate with custom logo, color scheme and optimized SEO.
  4. Purchase several dozen high quality articles for each and edit them in my own voice.
  5. Place CTA’s and let them simmer in the Google SERP soup.
  6. Implement some automated marketing.

I completed the first one already. Gatsby + Vultr.

Amazingly, it’s already gaining traffic and I sold several low-ticket items on Amazon.

When I moved on to the second niche site however, two things changed:

  1. I tinkered with Netlify and was mindblown at how amazing it is (became an instant convert).
  2. My Gatsby boilerplate wouldn’t build on Netlify (haven’t been able to diagnose what the issue is) so I created a Gridsome (Vue.js) alternative instead.

Gridsome vs Gatsby on Netlify

I’ve been incredibly eager to test out Gridsome .

I thoroughly enjoy using Vue.js and prefer using it over React so when I saw Gridsome (which is basically Gatsby for Vue), I was ecstatic.

The problem is it’s still an infant project with a tiny community and ecosystem compared to Gatsby.

This also means that the docs are incomplete.

So while the development is more enjoyable, I’ve hit hurdles on various things that I had to go and talk to the guys on Discord about due to lack of documentation.

Not a huge problem but I want to be spending my time on content creation at this point, not development.

After some tinkering, I got a boilerplate set up that looks very similar to my Gatsby project and is ultra performant on speed tests.

Ideally, I’d like to find a way to get my Gatsby project building on Netlify (until Gridsome is a mature project).

But for now, I’m using it.

Netlify is the future of free web deployment

I love Vultr .

I can deploy an OpenBSD VPS and have a rock solid web server powering my site in about 20 minutes tops (incl. a pf firewall and Let’s Encrypt SSL).

Well, Netlify can have me up and running in about 2 minutes with Let’s Encrypt and its CDN.

For free. (UPDATE: almost free. See below)

If you go on Twitter and search @netlify or @netlifylove , you’ll see loads of people basically saying they can’t believe Netlify is this good.

I now understand why.

I had my Gridsome Github repo built and deployed on Netlify (HTTPS incl.) literally with a few clicks.

Mind. Blown.

Incredible speed and I don’t need the extra step of syncing my locally built project folder with my Vultr OpenBSD server.

In fact, since the build happens on Netlify’s end, the only things I need to edit and push to git are my markdown files in the posts directory.

Obviously I can’t verify how reliable Netlify is in comparison to a service like Vultr.

I’ll learn more about it over time.

So here’s what I’m doing from now on:

I’ll continue to use the one site I have already running on Vultr (which I still highly recommend as a service).

For the remaining niche sites, I’m deploying on Netlify.

I might stick with my new Gridsome boilerplate if I can’t fix my Gatsby issue but we’ll see.

Netlify sets a new standard for web deployment (in addition to being free)

Honestly, the process is so easy that even your average Wordpress normie would enjoy it.

I can see static having a serious revival thanks to Netlify.

The fact that I can do all this with just a few clicks in just a few minutes, then just git push my site changes or blog posts and watch them magically appear on my site is wonderful.

It actually makes me want to blog.

It makes static site deployment so easy that you could effortlessly run dozens of passive income-generating static sites with virtually zero effort or upkeep.

It’s the future.

UPDATE: Netlify recently started charging for ‘Builds’

Netlify recently announced the introduction of a ‘Builds tab’ in the dashboard where 300 minutes of build time are given to free account users. This is generally a lot for most people with one or two sites.

At the time of this update, I have 11 live niche sites running on Netlify.

Nearly all of them are Gatsby and some of them have over 100 posts.

For the larger sites, the build time usually is between 10 - 15 minutes per build (each post includes several images). On a typical work day, I rebuild multiple times for each site as I update code and optimize post content.

So I’m already over the built time allocation for a free account.

This means that my 100% free Netlify niche sites are no longer free - I’ll have to start paying for the extra builds.

I have a few options here:

  • Pay.
  • Build less (do all my work over a period of days and then push a large update to Git for a single build.
  • Spread my sites between Netlify and Zeit (or other static site hosts like Surge).

I have no problem paying Netlify since I’m using them extensively and their service is tremendous.

But I’d like to stay free until my niche sites are able to pay for themselves.

Flippa flipping

I’ll go into this in greater detail in a future post but I also want to share this briefly before I close off.

I’ve started buying up sites on Flippa.

Recently, I went on there out of curiosity to see what’s available.

Most of it is garbage.

A lot of the sites for sale are very clearly shoddy Wordpress themes. You’d get further starting a brand new site than you would trying to work with some of these existing projects in my opinion.

Inflated metrics and worthless backlinks or revenue that doesn’t quite add up are a problem.

It really requires some work, sifting through pages and pages of worthless trash but you can find some gems on there with potential if you know what to look for.

I placed a bid on an ecommerce site designed almost 15 years ago that never had a change in design.

According to Ahrefs, this one particular site gets a steady stream of traffic to high competition keywords for some popular, high-ticket items.

So the plan is to redesign sites and old blogs like this one from the ground up and see what kind of results they can produce with a bit of TLC.

I’ll share more on this soon.

UPDATE: Read about my Flippa investment experience .

Stay tuned.