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Find side-project ideas using our old pal Google

Programmers love side-projects. It’s a great way to stay on top of trending technologies and, sometimes, make some extra dollars. The success of a side-project, however, often has nothing to do with the specific shinny technology you are using. It is about actually FINISHING it. To me, that means starting a project with the end in mind. You have to have some purpose in order to squeeze out the nights and weekends to build it. To that extent, what would be better motivations than some extra income?

In this post, I will try to lay out a strategy to identify side-project opportunities that can actually get you some passive income. Note it’s not going to get you rich over night, but hopefully you could earn a steady income flow. You ask how? We will use our old pal Google to shed some insights on us.

Identify the opportunity

One of the best way to find massive demand is through Google keywords. Billions of search queries are processed by Google per day, which collectively reflect at least millions of demands.

If we can leverage that information to our advantage, we can identify a market small enough that no giant companies are present, but large enough for us to earn a significant amount of income. You might be curious how to get this data. Well, guess what, our friend Google is providing that information to us for free through “Related searches”!

Quiz: what can you find as a good side-project idea if you search “instagram download” and look at its “Related queries”?

The query “instagram download photos” immediately stands out. The official website/app doesn’t provide this functionality for obvious reasons, but apparently there is huge demand here (it’s a no-brainer since it is a simple query involving “Instagram” and it ranks high)!

Research competitors

Now we have a general idea of the demand, we need to do a little bit of research on existing competitors before spending time coding. After all, we as programmers earn a good amount per hour coding anywhere.

The research also involves using Google ;) Basically, you just search the query, e.g. “instagram download photos” in our case, and see what the top results are. After that, I often look them up in SimilarWeb, who would tell you what’s their monthly traffic and other statistics. It gives you both an idea of how large the market is, aka how much you could potentially make, and how fierce is the competition.

A level deeper, you should also learn how your competitors are attracting traffic. One way is to use to look at their top referring contents. This is super helpful when you start to market your product.

With these information in mind, I find it also really helpful to actually experience with the competing products. You need to learn from them and see if you have a good idea in terms of innovation or usability. If you do, now it is the time to start coding.

Build/ship fast and do marketing

Seize this type of opportunities is all about moving fast. Your side-project is no-longer a laid-back toy project, you now have a purpose in mind so go and ship fast! You want to have something out there and start to market it as early as possible so that your site can start to move up in search rankings. At the end of the day, it’s all about SEO since the initial opportunity is found directly through search engine.


This is something that myself started to explore. It provides me with a good motivation to ship my side-projects and a great experience to run a start-up like business on the side.

As always, I would really appreciate your thoughts/comments. Feel free to leave them following this post or tweet me @_LeiG.