A Two Year timeline On A Successful Website

This month is the two-year anniversary of my entry into affiliate marketing with a little WordPress blog and the Amazon Affiliate program. In the last two years, I’ve had much more success with my single website than I initially imagined I would ever manage. The last few months have seen something of a decline compared to the high points of last year, but I’m gearing up a new strategy to take over rankings in a major way. Now that my site has built up some real authority and quality backlinks, I think I am well positioned to leverage my position in order to take it to a new level.

Looking Back

Most of the action took place in 2016. The site experienced massive growth starting in April of 2016. In January of 2016, I was already very happy with the website’s results. It was earning around $1,000/mo, having grown from earning nothing in April 2015, to a few dollars here and there, to a steady stream of income. By late 2015 it was making enough money to pay my (modest) rent, and I was very happy with myself.

From April 2016 onwards, I began to see the true potential. Earning from January to April had waxed and waned, always remaining sub-$1,500. In May I saw an increase of nearly $1,000 in earnings. In June it doubled. In July I was just shy of $6,000. This growth culminated in my best month yet, August, when I earned nearly $10,000.

My product is used year round but is definitely more popular in the summer, so after August it began to decline. It earned between $5-6k/mo until December, when the Christmas spending bump graced me with another $9k month. In total, 2016 ended with nearly $60,000 earned. Way more success than I ever imagined.

Over the course of this, I’ve had almost nothing in expenses. A few hundred dollars accounts for hosting, domain, plugins, etc. The minimal graphic work I did myself, and I have enough web development experience to use WordPress competently. I have written nearly every article except perhaps 10 or so, which I hired a friend to do at the cost of a few hundred dollars. Some products I purchased to review, but most were provided by manufacturers at request. Expenses have been very minimal.

AdSense earnings have also consistently pocketed me $100-$200 a month since April of 2016, a nice addition to the main Amazon earnings.

Declines

Through 2017, things haven’t been going quite a swimmingly. Partially due to a seasonal decline, traffic has been falling. Adding to this is increased competition in my niche, which a few big-name players have moved into, making the front page a more competitive place than it was when I started off. Amazon also recently cut their affiliate earning, especially for products in my niche, which has forced me to tighten the belt a bit. As a result, the last few months have seen earnings falling down to around $2,500. Still some good scratch.

This is entirely my fault. I grew complacent. For months the site was on autopilot with little more than occasional updates. I took an extended vacation out of the country. Very little effort was put into maintaining the site. But for months it did not seem to suffer for it. Then a gradual slump began, resulting in the current rut.

Traffic

Although I’m not doing as fantastically well as in late 2016, I think I can get back there and beyond. One of the most hopeful metrics is my traffic. Traffic has never been high very high and is almost entirely organic. Even in my very best earning months, I was looking at around 2,000-2,500 unique visitors a day. This has steadily fallen until an average day now sits around 1,300-1,700 unique visitors a day.

Traffic is 91% organic Google results for this month and is concentrated in a handful of pages. Social traffic is generally low although I do maintain social media profiles, only a small portion of my content lends itself to being shared on social media, although I do have some articles which get some social traction.

The fact that my earnings have been so high with so little traffic is very promising to me. This tells me that if I can boost it up to serious traffic numbers, tens of thousands of hits a day, the earnings from my format could be truly incredible. At the same time, there is likely a ceiling here somewhere. My success is largely due to the targeted nature of these search results. While I might find keywords to break through into bigger ponds of traffic potential, it’s unlikely this larger crowd will be quite as eager to buy as the information seekers looking for “best x” or “x review.”

The Format

My site consists of several types of articles. The real money-makers are product articles with Amazon affiliate links. These make up the bulk of the site’s ~170 articles. A typical review article is around 1,000-2,000 words. In addition to articles on specific products, there are also several “Best x” or buyer’s guide articles which do comparisons. These articles tend to be longer, ranging from 3,000-7,000 words and feature comparison tables and in-depth descriptions and reviews.

Complimenting these articles are a host of articles on tangentially related topics. These can be almost anything from something which relates to the products, their industry, news, topics or activities related to the products, etc.

Internal linking is one of the most important assets anyone has, and I’ve paid a great deal of attention to it. I try to design pages in such a way to compliment one another. For example, my “Best x” articles often feature short blurbs about a product, with a link to a full review article with 1,000+ words of detail. This article may then be linked to another article which is topical, perhaps something about how to use the product, or why one brand is superior to another. Creating these sort of cascading patterns of relevancy across the whole website lets you soak up all sorts of long-tail keywords and offer a much more substantiative presence. However, it is vital not to lose sight of creating quality content in service of this. Every piece must be thorough, well-written, unique, and solve a problem or answer a question.

The “Broad Niche”

The “broad niche” idea is an oxymoron, but it makes a lot of sense. The idea is that you leave yourself room to expand. Let’s take an example. Say you’ve decided your niche is dog grooming products. The main keyword you want to rank for is “dog grooming brushes.” You could make your website doggroomingbrushreviews.com and that could be your extremely narrow focus.

Or you could try to have a “broad niche.” You could instead try a more generic domain name like groomingdogs.com. Now, once you run out of topics specifically about brushes, or find something else relevant, your site is accommodating of the expansion. You could go even broader, naming your site something like dogcare.com. Or super-broad, like petcare.com. Even if you start out with just articles about dog grooming brushes, having the ability to expand won’t hurt you, even if you never write about anything but your original topic.

This is the approach I’ve taken with my website. It has given me good results. In addition to allowing me to expand and not put all of my eggs in one basket, it gives me a chance to switch gears sometimes and write about something other than the same old thing. Yet because there is a common thread connecting all the topics on the site, it is easy to relate one article to another and create relevant content with strong internal linking.

Some Thoughts on Strategy

In the early days of the site, had little in the way of strategy except for the simple idea of writing product reviews. My niche was low competition enough to let me get a few review articles up out of the gate that attracted small amounts of very targeted traffic. The products I began with are pretty low-cost, so comparison and round-up articles tend to get more clicks, as fewer people are searching for specific reviews of low-cost items. While commissions are low on individual sales, when traffic is high enough, the nature of the Amazon affiliate program results in earning a lot of commissions from products other than those from my niche.

I have been active on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest throughout. I’ve had a Google+ but neglected it until recently. In general, my niche isn’t a great one for social media, so I have not had the best luck getting traffic from these sources. Occasionally I get success by tagging manufacturer’s for products I’ve reviewed, or occasionally write articles that get shared well, but this is minimal.

I used some mass-follow tools to build up a following on Twitter and have nearly 2,000 followers, but most of them are completely disinterested and I rarely get clicks to my posts. I used a similar tactic on Pinterest with better results. In general I would not recommend these tools and would stick to building organic followings, as they are the only type of worthwhile following. On Facebook, I have a little over a measly 100 Likes, but at least they are all completely legit, and occasionally share my posts.

Backlinks

Starting off, I sought backlinks from manufacturers of products in my niche. I believe this was a great contributor to my success. I searched every manufacturer’s website to identify those that had blogs or Media pages, and then wrote reviews of their products or features of their company. Many of them shared the links to the reviews freely. Others I offered to contribute guest posts for and had some success.

I’ve done guest posts for a few blogs, but not too many. The majority of my backlink profile has been built organically. Recently I have begun doing more outreach in an attempt to get backlinks, but for a long time the only link building I would do is asking manufacturer’s to link to my reviews of their products.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been taking a more aggressive approach to link building. I’ve increased my outreach efforts, sharing links to my site with relevant blogs, websites, and media outlets. I write to content creators who I think might be willing to link to my content and offer them a reason why they should, along with the link. I’ve written to bloggers offering corrections or alternative opinions. I’ve posted on forums, made comments on blogs, anything to get the link out there, but always making sure to try to actually contribute something and never just spam.

I’ve also experimented with some success with Help A Reporter Out. In responding to a few dozen queries I have successfully got 2 backlinks, with a 3rd offer that seemed rather sketchy so I declined it. I’ve found that providing direct answers to their questions up-front and advertising myself as an expert blogger seems to work the best. Read each query thoroughly and reply quickly. One of the links I got from HARO is one of my highest quality backlinks.

Guest posting is extremely time consuming and can be difficult to find collaborators. However, it has a huge benefit in that it allows you to control your anchor text in the body of the content. As a term of writing a guest post, I always have one link with my chosen anchor text in the content body. This is link juice gold, and should be used to target the specific keyword you want to rank for.

Linkable Assets

Think about the typical product review in your niche. Is that something any kind of interesting blog would link to? Is it something you’d want to share on social media? Probably not. Reviews are only interesting to people who want to buy that product, and they are only interesting for the duration of their shopping experience.

Since my site’s primary focus is on review content, this is why I haven’t had much luck on social media. However, I have had better luck at getting organic backlinks. Why? Well, the entire time I’ve been writing reviews, I’ve occasionally peppered in “interest” pieces. These are articles which I make as fascinating as possible. They are not product-oriented, but are always related to my niche in one way or another.

These articles are either extremely informative or designed for entertainment purposes. They make the website more than a repository of reviews, but also give it an opinion, a voice, a mission, and a depth of content which is not inherently commercial. While they produce almost none of the revenue for the site, they are the most fun to write, and probably the most value I feel the site contributes to the internet.

They are also the most likely to be linked to. These articles are massively well-sourced, making them comprehensive resources for people to do serious research if they want to. Or skim the surface and learn about a new topic. Although it is a process which literally takes months, I have found that these types of articles do a great job of attracting backlinks without any outreach or linkbuilding efforts, just pure old organic links.

Giveaways & Mailing List

One tactic I’ve used consistently to pull in some traffic is giveaways. Since products in my niche are low-cost, manufacturers will readily sponsor prizes for giveaways. I host them, generating backlinks from giveaway directories, as well as temporary spikes in traffic from visitors. These giveaway visitors don’t tend to make me any substantial money as most of them simply sign up for the giveaway and leave, but some follow the Amazon links or click on an AdSense ad.

But all of them give me their e-mail address. My mailing list has over 2,500 addresses, though only around 800 of them open my newsletters. Most of these addresses were collected via the giveaways, but some subscribed through the site. So far I have not been to effective at leveraging this list. I sent out newsletters when each giveaway starts, so usually about twice a month. My newsletters will be opened and clicked consistently if they advertise a new giveaway, but nothing else interests them much, with my other content only getting a few clicks here and there.

Moving Forward

Knowing what is possible from last year’s success, I’m hoping to reach new heights this year. Over the last few weeks I’ve successfully added some high quality back links to my portfolio and am working on several more. I’ve been rolling out new content faster than usual and am taking a renewed focus into keyword research.

While I did a ton of keyword research in the beginning, I slacked off a bit. However, many of the keywords were obvious, or based on my previous research, so in some sense I never exhausted the wealth of original research. Yet nothing beats good keyword research: the majority of my traffic comes in from just a handful of pages, with exact match post titles seeming to be the most consistent way to rank.

So, with a shiny new subscription to ahrefs, I’ve taken to compiling a huge amount of keyword data and identified a load of tasty keywords awaiting some new content. Competition in my niche has grown stiffer, so I’ve taken to analyzing them, too. I’m doing what I can to edge out their backlink profile, writing to all the blogs and pages that have linked to them to see if I can do guest posts or be linked to as a resource.

I’m also updating older posts and posts that haven’t quite cracked the front page. Ahrefs is a wonderful tool, and most of the time I’ve been running this site I have been flying blind with little more than Google Analytics. With a much more hands-on approach to my SEO strategy over the next year, I hope to bring in some serious traffic and believe my site is well positioned to do so.

Q and A

So I take it you started the site around April 2015 and it took ~year for it to gain the proper traction?

A/In its six-month, it made $600 in Amazon earnings. That would be October. By January it was making $1k. I considered it a raging success already in May when it made $19. But seriously, it exceeded my expectations in less than six months. January would be nine months, at $1k/mo it was pretty good traction.

For the most part, though, yeah, the serious money came about a year in.