A Guide To Earning Passive Income Online
A few years ago I started reading a series of case studies posted on reddit explaining how to build a website from scratch that sells things online through Amazon (and other sites) for a commission, that will hopefully lead to earning passive income. What do I mean by that? As an example, let’s say you build a website reviewing cat fountains. For every cat fountain you write about and review, you include a link to Amazon to buy it, such as this one https://amzn.to/2DYy7TF. If someone clicks on your link and buys things, you get a cut. It doesn’t increase the cost of the item, just redirects a tiny bit of the sale to you, instead of to Amazon.
These posts were made by a user calling themselves Humblesalesman, in a subreddit called /r/JustStart. These posts taught me so much about affiliate marketing, breaking everything down and explaining it in a way that I easily understood, this information has been invaluable to me.
Humblesalesman Hacked, Case Studies Gone
Unfortunately though, at some point in time, someone hacked Humblesalesman’s reddit account and the posts were deleted. The entire account was deleted.
Fortunately though, at some point in time, I backed every one of the posts up, just in case.
I’m sharing them now in this blog post to further preserve them (Here’s a mirror someone else made). Hopefully, they’re as useful to others as they were to me. Thank you Humblesalesman for originally writing them, selflessly, just to help strangers. Best of luck in whatever you’re doing now! (he has a new account, here, but it’s been dormant for a year as of writing this in May 2019).
The Humblesalesman /r/Juststart Case Studies
These are the original 9 case studies, archived through the archive.is website. You can use it to create a ‘snapshot’ of what a website looks like at that given point in time. I’ve formatted them from a reddit post into a blog post, corrected any grammar/typos, replaced broken images with any from Archive.org, made sure all of the links still work, but otherwise, it’s unchanged.
- Affiliate Website Case Study Part 1: January 2016
- Affiliate Website Case Study Part 2: February 2016
- Affiliate Website Case Study Part 3: March 2016
- Affiliate Website Case Study Part 4: April 2016
- Affiliate Website Case Study Part 5: May 2016
- Affiliate Website Case Study Part 6: June 2016
- Affiliate Website earnings report Part 7: July 2016
- Affiliate Website earnings report Part 8: August 2016
- Affiliate Website earnings report Part 9: September, October 2016
Bonus: an archived copy of this blog post: https://web.archive.org/save/https://crackmacs.ca/readthings/affiliate-website-guide/
I would also recommend reading through the comments under each mirror copy of the case studies, there’s some great info sprinkled throughout.
Affiliate Website Case Study Part 1: January 2016
Mirror 1: http://archive.is/1iwDf
Welcome month one of my 12-month case study on growing a website from scratch to 50k/month.
Who Am I?
I am a self-taught online marketer who up until very recently (more on this later) made his entire income from a portfolio of websites. These websites were monetized through various affiliate schemes
This is an industry I know inside out. This case study is to share some of my expertise as well as keeping me on track and motivated.
Why Affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a low barrier to entry, a low overhead career that can even be set up to run passively. As you can imagine with those bold claims, it is a VERY saturated industry. Even more so than the tee-shirt niche.
Affiliate marketing is a great starting point for beginners who want to dip their toes into online marketing. The wide range of skills you will need (and by association learn) are transferrable to other industries, even if your attempt is a failure. After all, Everything needs to be marketed. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing a physical product or even a service, marketing is a huge part of any industry.
So you are just another guru?
Nope. I am not trying to sell you anything.
Unfortunately, affiliate marketing is an industry plagued by “Gurus” like Pat Flynn and Spencer Hawes. People like this make most of their income from “showing you how to do affiliate marketing successfully” rather than actually earning money through their websites. More often than not, the readers of these blogs know more about affiliate marketing than the guru themselves.
Trust me on this, the people who are actually earning good money from affiliate schemes are the ones that want to keep it a secret. While I will talk openly about all facets of affiliate marketing, one thing I will not reveal is my websites and the entire earnings they bring me.
The Case Study
My case study will be a 12-month look at creating a website from scratch and earning an income through one of the most basic of affiliate schemes; Amazon Associates.
I have set myself the lofty goal of earning 50k/month by the end of December this year. Whether I succeed or fail, I am taking you along for the ride.
I will be posting a single post at the beginning of each month. This post will recount what I have been up to for the previous month.
While I will touch on a lot of different areas, I often won’t go into detail. This is largely because there are good guides on google on just about anything a quick search away, written better and in more detail than I would have been able to. Don’t be lazy.
I want to stress, this is not a step by step guide to riches. This is simply how I have decided to go about creating a new website. Some of this case study will be relevant to you. Other parts won’t. I do not have all the answers or even most of them. Most of my success comes from testing and adapting. You would be wise to do the same.
So let’s jump into it.
January 1st, 2016
The Case study kicks off. I had way too much booze in my system from the night before. New Year’s Eve is a cruel mistress.
Choosing a Niche
In my infinite wisdom, I did not come with a niche pre-chosen. Day one saw me deciding what niche I wanted to target.
I have never chosen a niche based on passions or areas where I have strong knowledge. Every “expert” article I have read on niche research calls me wrong on this. Why would you go into a niche you know nothing about? Because the best way to kill a passion is to associate it with work.
Imagine you love driving, so you become a taxi-driver. You can love your job all you want but do you honestly think you will enjoy driving when you have your day off? Probably not. Yeah, this probably isn’t the best example I could have come up with but you get the idea. Instead, I prefer to choose a niche based on something that I have no knowledge in but interests me. This gives me something else to learn and allows me to see a niche with a fresh set of eyes, because I do not have preconceived assumptions to bring along (Have you ever had an expert try to explain something to you that is jargon-heavy? They often assume you have an above basic understanding of the topic). If I can learn about a niche, I can teach others about a niche. And because I have learned more recently than “experts” in that niche, I will likely have a better idea of exactly what newcomers to a niche want to know.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret:
Just about any niche can make money.
I know someone who has a website on socks who brings in 3k/month net profit. The website is pretty poorly done and the content could definitely be done better and it’s socks. SOCKS. But the guy makes bank.
So knowing this I stick with my tried and true method for choosing a niche.
I grab a plain A4 sheet of paper and start scrawling. You can write down anything. Products. Audiences. Anything.
Here is a VERY basic representation of a single mind map path.
Family -> parents -> mom -> raising children -> babies -> sleeping babies -> blankets
This is a simple column structure, family being at the top. Your mind map will be much more sprawling. As you go up the column the audience, content opportunity, money to be made and competition increases. As you go down it all decreases. A niche could be the whole column or any part of it. Niche does not necessarily mean small.
Your mind map can have hundreds if not thousands of branches. Just keep going until something clicks.
For myself, I generally choose a niche that has products to review as well as room to push supplementary “how to” content. Seeding products with “affiliate links” through this content is where you earn your money. Using the mind map example it would either be a baby site or a sleepwear/nursery site.
After that, it’s time to look at the keywords. Keyword research has been done to death so I quickly skip over this bit.
Here is a great article on keyword research for your newly found niche.
Normally articles found on this site are rubbish but this guest post seems like it has good attention to detail, more than I was prepared to write about in this post. Although it is on the survivalist niche you can take the same principles and apply them to your niche.
Add these keywords to a spreadsheet.
With your keywords in hand, you will know whether or not you have a good and varied content to write about.
To get a really really rough idea of how many monthly searches you can upload your newly found keywords to Google’s keyword tool (sign up with Gmail needed). This will give you a rough idea of how many people are searching for each keyword/month. Keywords with 10 or so should be included in larger guides while keywords with more searches would make good whole article search topics.
- Again, I stress this: If a product category exists with numerous competitors, there is a market for it.
Now we go through and look at the competition on Google. So still using my example I would type in “best baby blankets” and look at the top ten results. Basic top ten lists that I know I can do a better job of.
The key here is to providing VALUE. If you think you cannot do a better job than the existing websites then move on to your next keyword. The best way to make it as a brand is by providing value to your target audience. In this case, I could provide more detail (what the blankets are made of, color choices, etc.) better pictures (high res photos that don’t need to be squinted at) compile blankets into themed sections (by color, pattern, etc.) and so on.
Yeah, there are other ways to find a niche, but this is how I went about it.
Congratulations, you now have your niche and an idea of the content to add.
What I did
I scrawled my entire mindmap and nothing really stuck out. I had covered a lot of these niches (often partially) in the past and the new was not something I could spend a long time writing about, no interest whatsoever.
Having long lusted upon sites like the wirecutter and CNET, I thought:
Fuck it. I’ll review everything
This may have been my lack of coherent thoughts due to struggling from the night before, or this may have been my actual thought process, regardless I am stuck with it now.
No coherent theme besides product categories. No supplementary guides. Just reviews. The varied product will stop me from getting bored and a good step towards that 50k/month, since reviews convert well.
Now the problem is, some of the products I would want to cover are already covered by some other sites in my portfolio. Including them would see me compete with my own websites. Neglecting them would see product categories with odd gaps on my new website.
This was a tough decision for me.
But after taking a good hard look at my previous content I was somewhat disappointed. I had built these sites to the point where they were mostly run by VA’s. But with that hands-off approach, many of these guides and reviews had become dated or not given as much love as I would have given them myself.
I felt like I had rested on my laurels and thought I could do much better.
So with that, I set about selling all the sites in my portfolio. (I refuse to use sites like Flippa and empire flippers, instead lawyering up).
As I type this I have the last two sites being finalized with the respective buyers, the rest were all bought by a single buyer. I will not be disclosing the sites, their earn or the amount they sold for since they don’t really have anything to do with this case study.
Now I know I could have done anything else with these sites, even 301’ed them to the new one. But after weighing up all my options, I decided my best bet was to sell them outright for a fat wad of cash.
That cash will NOT be used on this website. Truth be told, this is more of the same for me and if this site fails then that will be me distancing myself from affiliate marketing for good and using the funds to finance another side project. This is my last hoorah, so hopefully, I can go out with a bang. At the time of writing this, I have no intention of creating another affiliate website.
But I digress…
The reason I settled on reviews is that they are one of the last hurdles in the buying process that a consumer will leap before buying. A consumer is reading a review because they either want to confirm that this is the product for them or if it isn’t, be directed to a product that is. Because this step is closest to the end purchase, conversions are generally better than a standard information website. But you know what that means… More competition.
I will now touch on how I went about other vital parts of setting up a website.
So now it’s time to choose hosting. Most of my other websites were hosted on Pantheon (no real complaints) but this time I am going with Digital Ocean, giving me the absolute freedom to do whatever I want. A $10/month plan and I was away (I can scale as the site grows).
Now for many of you, managing your own infrastructure will be a little confusing. So when starting out I would recommend shared or VPS hosting. These have simple control panels with one click WordPress installs (the Content Management System the majority of the internet uses).
With hosting you definitely get what you pay for. There are plenty of good guides out there for understanding hosting terminology.
Crackmacs note: I use Rebel.com for my blog hosting. Until Dec 31st 2019 they have an offer for free hosting migration. Check it out.
Yep, I am going to implement something I have never done before. Roll out site-wide SSL (the HTTPS you see in the URL bar). Why start now? LetsEncrypt.org allows you to generate free SSL Certificates for your website. FREEEEEE!
This is quite technical and for those of you who do not understand the process should hold off implementing it. Since Automatic (the people behind WordPress) are a major sponsor of it, it is likely that there will be a very simple way to use this just around the corner (likely a plugin). Just wait.
While Google HAS said that this will eventually be a ranking signal, there is little to no evidence to suggest that it is currently in use for anything other than a “tie-breaker” (when both sites meet an identical ranking score).
CMS (Content Management System)
WordPress.org (NOT .com) is the best documented CMS on the web. Any problem you come across will already have been solved. There is no going past it in terms of simplicity and customizability.
It’s no secret I love StudioPress themes and their Genesis framework. They are well coded, easy to customize and look great. I dropped $99 for the Genesis framework and it came with a free theme (actually I already had the genesis theme but for the purpose of the case study I will list it as an expense at the current market rate).
Crackmacs note: https://generatepress.com is the best affiliate WordPress theme these days, as of 2019. Best WordPress theme for any site, really.
Whether you like it or not, your domain name will become your brand name. As a result, you are also going to want to grab any social handles that line up, especially on the big ones (facebook, twitter, Instagram, Pinterest).
Here is a good service that does the checking for you: https://namechk.com
Grab the name on the main social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest) any others that are relevant to you. Since the domain name is your brand, choose a good name.
A good name for a kitchenware website could be a made-up word like “Zaletra.com” or a generic but relevant name like “fredskitchen.com”.
Avoid names like “bestblenders.com” as not only are they awful to brand but are awkward when you want to expand your offering. It doesn’t make sense to an end user to add rolling pins to a site with this name. Obviously, this advice is null and void if you WANT to only make a single product website. But IMO it takes as much effort to rank a single product website as it does one covering multiple products/lifestyles, so why sell yourself short?
Also, whether you use a goodkitchen.com, a ccTLD like goodkitchen.com.au or a gTLD like good.kitchen has no impact on ranking in google. Just go with whatever works best for you. Any arguments over “.com” losing you traffic are irrelevant in the early stages since your traffic will come through search and social, not by people entering your address in the search bar.
Webmaster and analytics
Google is too big to ignore and from day one you should set up your webmaster tools and analytics and link them together. While it’s initial value may be lost on you, it won’t be too long before you find it useful. By setting it up on day one you have access to all the metrics from when you first start, which may provide valuable insight in the months to come.
Setting up the website
With all the above sorted it is now time to tinker on your theme. I try to avoid plugins where possible since they slow down your website. However, there are some plugins that are definitely worth looking into IMO.
- W3 total cache – easy browser caching
- Simple social share – Good looking social icons without the bloat.
- Akismet – spam blocker
- Contact form 7 – for contact forms
- Mailpoet – syncs with MailChimp for easy email lists
All of these are free plug-ins. Some work on donations while others have “premium options” you must pay for. If you want a paid-do-it-all form plugin, I cannot recommend gravity forms enough.
So I messed around with the theme CSS of the theme until I was happy with the colors, content area size, font’s headings and more.
Here is a great video on how to tweak themes yourself (this example is a studio press theme).
Crackmacs note: here’s a video on customizing the Generate Press WordPress theme.
For the logo, I just put two letters in a circle to match the color theme and domain name of the site. This is a place holder. This early in the game your brand has no klout. People are coming to your website for the amazing content you are going to create, not because of brand awareness. Wasting time on a logo here is pointless. We can fix this up when our site starts earning.
Don’t forget to set your logo as the favicon (The little icon that appears on the page tab).
I also removed the blatant link back to StudioPress in the footer of the theme, something many people leave in.
Okay, so while it may seem like a lot to do, setting up the whole site just took less than a day. I have done this before and do not like to waste too long on it. Content is where it’s at. You can’t attract visitors (and as a result earn money) without it.
So my aim was to create 30 articles in January.
5 reviews each across 6 different categories. This is where the bulk of my time was spent.
But my goal was to set this website up with minimal spend. How can I create a review site that adds value without physically reviewing a product? By reading and compiling reviews myself. Amazon has a wealth of reviews, the problem with this is that most of them are fake. You cannot trust the 5-star reviews and the 1-star reviews are often competitors. So as a generalization I would only consider the 3-star reviews from Amazon.
This is where most set and forget affiliate websites stop their research. But the emphasis here is on value. So I continued to research on sites like Walmart, Target etc. Since these sites do not reward products with higher rankings based on reviews, they are often more accurate.
But I am not done yet, there is more to be learned about the product. So I took up all the points that were brought up in the reviews and went to talk to people in forums about them. Trust me on this, there is a forum for EVERYTHING, not just here on reddit.
But what about photos? You can’t have a review without photos. Here is where the MARKETING kicks in. You HAVE to think outside the box. I came up with two methods of getting photos that have not been used (well at least not publicly documented online) before. Let’s take a look at the first method.
From the same forums, I would identify who had the product and ask them if they could take photos with their camera from certain angles and email them to me. Sometimes I would offer a $10 Amazon gift card to sweeten the deal. Every product you are going to review has already been bought and tested by someone else. Take advantage of it. I would also ask for their opinion on the product and any quirks they experienced (More info for my review).
It’s amazing just how good photos from mobile phones are these days. A quick touch up through photoshop (or pixlr a free browser-based editor) and just like that you have a unique product photos that look a million times better than the stock photos those other “review affiliate sites” are trying to pass off.
And repeat. 30 more times.
Now you may be thinking:
That’s a fucking lot of work just for some content.
And you would be right.
But awesome content takes work and is much easier to use in outreach than your run of the mill stock-photo filled website.
For those of you wondering why I bothered to go to the extent of tracking down custom photos, it would have cost me in excess of $9000 for all that product. I got around 580ish usable photos (some were odd angles or were blurry and out of focus) for my website for a little over $120. And it’s all original content. A little over 20 cents/photo Bargain!
So my value add is thoroughly researched products with original photos. Some photos are even of the product being used. Perfect. I might add that if an overwhelming majority of people thought a feature of a product was shit, I conveyed that in my review.
But I wasn’t done yet.
My next step was to get some better quality photos. So off to Alibaba I went. Now I am sure that just about every single one of you reading this is aware that Alibaba is a huge marketplace for counterfeit goods. I decided to use this to my advantage.
I set up an account and tracked down factories that “supplied” the product I had reviewed. From here I would engage the company and after some back and forth would ask for sample photos. Wanting my business, They provided me with photos of the product from all different angles on a white background free of charge. While the products were almost certainly of poor quality when used, they looked identical to the real thing in the photos. And that’s all that was needed. I then mixed these photos in the reviews where applicable. Just like that my review site was coming together.
This is just the starting point (MVP) and if my website gets to an earning stage then I will be purchasing the product to review myself with the money brought in from the website as well as using the advice from u/Free_willy99 and leveraging my site for free reviews – this will come much later. But part of the fun of building this for me is being resourceful and spending as little money as possible.
I am entirely self-taught and if I can do it then so can you.
I currently have no pricing tables, no big “buy now links”. This is deliberate. During the early stages of outreach, I don’t want to be written off for another “affiliate website”. If influencers only read as far as the comparison table then it is likely that is the assumption they will make.
A mixed review site is probably one of the hardest to market due to the lack of focus on a single topic and will DEFINITELY hurt me when I begin my outreach next month.
I have covered different styles of affiliate websites here:
One or a mixture of those may work better for you.
So after my first month, I have a fully functional website, 45 reviews (beat out my target) and from all outside appearances, my website looks like the real deal. Most importantly, it is miles better than the competition in terms of VALUE.
I’ll be honest with you, as I type this I have not yet looked at my analytics. I don’t even know if I’m appearing in search yet or not and couldn’t care less.
Because at this stage they mean nothing. I have performed no outreach and it is likely that any search standing (if any) is just google throwing my site around on page 3+ against random long tail search terms.
Seeing no progress is demotivating and I have no intention of putting myself through it when I am in the middle of writing 45 big-ass reviews.
This month (February) will see the first look at the analytics as well as the beginning of outreach.
Much to my surprise, I actually sold two products during my first month. Now it is worth mentioning that neither of these products are even closely related to anything I have reviewed, so it was more dumb luck than anything I can pin down to a success right now. I would be just as happy with progress if I had not made a sale this month, this is just the beginning.
From what I can tell, the purchases came through the forums. As I have been talking about products and tracking photos I have also been dropping links to my reviews here and there where relevant. Just because you are doing something like chasing down photos doesn’t mean you have to stop marketing. EVERY SINGLE PERSON you talk to from the moment you start your website is a networking opportunity.
Now you may have noticed that the clicks seem abnormally high. This is me testing my links. Every time I create a link, I click through to test it. This counts as a “visit” on amazon’s shitty metrics. If I was to remove my clicks, based on tracking, I would have roughly 35 unique clicks through to Amazon (some of this number was definitely bot traffic). It’s too early to tell whether my conversion funnel is set out correct and what not. All this can be adjusted when I get more visitors to play with.
So my costs so far:
- Domain name $10
- Hosting: $120 (yearly)
- Studiopress theme $99 (one-off cost)
- Photos $122
Total costs to date: $351
Earnings to date: $9.23
Woo. In the red. But that is to be expected.
The plan for February is that my time will be split between 25% outreach and 75% content creation. Stay tuned.
EDIT: While it may seem like this was all easy reading a summary of what I have achieved, I cannot stress enough the grind that this month was. It was downright @#$%ing boring. Writing 45 pieces of content sucks. Reaching out and sourcing photos sucks. Setting up a new website for the millionth time sucks. Affiliate marketing is hard and boring work.
Affiliate Website Case Study Part 2: February 2016
- Mirror http://archive.is/fMtUd
The Month In Review
After writing a whopping 45 articles last month and wearing my fingers down to nubs I felt I had set the groundwork for a very solid, albeit unfocused website.
Now as you are no doubt aware, great content is worthless if eyeballs don’t read it. So this month I split my time 75% to content 25% to outreach.
Because my websites are usually focused around a single niche it is easy for me to come across as an expert in my field, especially to the person you are reaching out to who will only casually glance at your website. As you will see, having an unfocused website hurt me in outreach. The goal of outreach should be backlinks that DRIVE REAL WORLD TRAFFIC. Yes, backlinks help you eventually rank in Google but real people have real wallets that buy real products. Kill two birds with one stone.
While I do have some link building tricks I do not share, they do not work on this style of website. So for this website, I just stuck with what works.
For this website, I refused to do guest posts. I am already writing so much content on my website that I do not want to write more content for other people. This is a personal choice, not a business one. Guest posts are probably the easiest way to naturally link back to an entire review website since you are fully in control of link placement and where you link to. This whole case study is not how you should build an affiliate website but rather how I am choosing to create one.
As a result, some of what I do won’t be best practice. Shooting myself in the foot? Absolutely.
First I went with my tried and true method of chasing down “resource” pages. I found 200 loosely related resource pages and emailed each site owner informing them of my awesome website. 15 responses, no bites. A good bit of feedback stating that the section relevant to them was not built out enough, or the site was a throw shit at a wall and hope something sticks approach.
Failing that I tried my next one, broken links. I found two dead sites that had hundreds of backlinks pointing to them and crafted 300 emails to various webmasters. Of that, I got 22 Responses and again no bites.
This is not unexpected. Supplementary content is the easiest way to get links. Who wants to link to a review? I stress this often “how to guides” and the like work best when pitching to other people. But this is not how I am creating my website, so I had to come up with something else.
If you read my last case study you will know that I have been spending a lot of time on forums and social media where people discuss the products I have reviewed. I noticed something quite funny for one particular product and it was completely unexpected. Fanboyism. Now as you know there are diehard fans of Apple iPhones and Android phones. And they love to argue about why the particular product they spent their money on is superior to yours. You may have even come across a heated exchange between the two “warring” sides in the comments of related articles.
Well, I was surprised to see this same level of fanaticism surrounding one of my products. If someone cares about something a lot, it’s not too hard to rustle his or her jimmies. So with this in mind, I actually bought the highest model of this product, one that is particularly popular and gets exceptional feedback from its cult following, just to review it.
And I absolutely roasted it.
Not in a troll way. In a legitimate way.
You should know that for every feature a product has, there is someone who is going to find it useless. I wrote the review from the mindset of someone who wouldn’t like or need every feature. It was scathing. I finished the review with something similar to “Do not buy this product, it is broken in its current state” I then went on to recommend the competing brand.
Pretty happy with my dirty work, I now had to make my opinion known. So I posted it in one of the forums where the product was routinely praised.
Boy, didn’t that open the floodgates….
No, my Akismet is working fine. This is the number of responses I got on my article. Over the next 24 hours, I received over 200 comments on the article itself. I also posted to forums where the opposing fanboys lurked. In addition to this, I reached out via social media and email to anyone who had reviewed the product, informing them of my findings and questioning their odd choice to praise the product. I also reached out people who reviewed the competing product and praised their decision to recommend it over the one I had reviewed, linking back.
My article was being talked about. And posted. And argued about. Not just in the comment section of my website by right across the web. I had links to this post appear naturally in comment sections of big brand review sites, forums. Two influencers even amended their article to include my review as an alternate opinion. Not to mention all the social media shares.
Now the product cost between $80 and $250. And out of that, I got 32 backlinks (that I can find) pointing back to that one page of my website. Now while the majority are blog comments and forum posts there were some really juicy ones as well. But the juicy links only pointed to that one single page. It’s here that internal links come in. Linking to related articles from your link magnet helps give a boost to them in the eyes of Google.
It’s NOT instant. But it is noticeable.
So I linked different reviews which in turn linked out to other reviews. Internal linking is a must, not just for Google but for your user. If they are enjoying reading a review but the product isn’t right for them, recommend one that is. You may find this gains you a sale.
Because you can never have enough content I created another 35 articles for my website. I am slowly moving towards a cohesive theme (making all the different categories make sense) but it won’t be until 200ish posts before this is apparent. Lots of work to do. Content is where the money is at so it is where I am spending most of my time in an effort to reach my lofty target.
Content this month went back to me just using stock images from Amazon. Not my preferred method but it allowed me to churn out 35 articles in addition to the outreach. Because I am using basic images available to everyone my key differentiator is my copy. It has to be on point. Remember, you HAVE to add value SOMEWHERE. So far that gives me 80 articles. Content is the thing that makes you money. And having scored a handful of links, next month will see me entirely focus on content. While I am not looking forward to another full month of writing, it needs to be done otherwise I won’t even come close to my goal.
Now it may surprise a lot of you to learn that my website is already ranking in google, I am hitting some incredibly unpopular keywords on page one but the stuff I want to rank for is starting to creep through to page 3 and 4 (and higher).
Now say this with me “there is no google sandbox”. There is however a major difference in the amount of data Google has on your BRAND NEW website and one that is 3 years old. So Google slowly shuffles your site around until it gains the data needed to give you a stable rank. There was a reason why I did not look at my analytics in the first month. The data is bogus.
Let me show you what I mean:
Now, this may have only been for two individual searches. It definitely wasn’t consistent and it was just google shuffling around my website. You CANNOT draw any conclusion from these findings. IMO you need a good three months of data (following the movements of the keywords) before you know what Google thinks about your website.
So Far I am consistently ranking for zero relevant search terms on page one, 9 semi-relevant unpopular long tails on the bottom of page two and the rest all page three and onwards to infinity. This is normal. Ranking on Google is the long play. Normally I would start out by attacking social media to drive my initial traffic but my lack of supplementary content makes it difficult to create clickbait.
For this website, my goal is to drive 90% of traffic through Google. I will not be focusing on social. So to date, my average on page time is 2:03 and a bounce rate of 78%. Pretty happy with this and it is a big clue to Google that my content is worth something. But man is this lack of progress a drag. Even though I know it’s temporary, working two months for little to no result isn’t all that impressive.
Now with the google starting to shuffle my site against keywords, I am starting to see a trickle of targeted traffic reach my website with me having to rely on outside sources like forums. And you all know why we want targeted traffic. Because if someone finds something extremely relevant to them, they are more likely to open their wallets. So while inconsistent, the targeted traffic this month actually bought products related to my site, which is a good indication of things going right.
Above you can see the new reporting screen from Amazon. I’ll be honest, I hate it. While it works fine if you selling less than 30 items, it is incredibly poorly set out for those who sell hundreds of products a day. Once I exceed 30 products sold/ month I will be reverting to the old reporting system.
As you can see, the targeted traffic brought in a little more money this month. Nothing to scream about but it shows everything is going according to plan. I am confident I will hit the thousands before month 5.
You can see the spike in clicks on the 17th. This was a result of my outreach efforts going semi-viral in the niche. Unfortunately, the traffic was mostly people looking to argue so it didn’t result in many sales. Untargeted traffic sucks, remember?
Only one major expense this month, the product I purchased for review. Since I am giving it a price range to obfuscate the product, I will simply list the expense as the upper end of this price range. Yes, this makes my report inaccurate, but in the coming months being $100 or so out shouldn’t make a difference.
Last months expenses, carried forward $341.77
This month’s expenses:
- Product: $250
- This Months Earnings: $51.20
- Total: -540.57
Wooo, one step forward, two steps backward. Still in the red. While it looks discouraging, growth in this field is exponential and this is exactly what I would have expected to see at month two. Looking good. Until next time.
Affiliate Website Case Study Part 3: March 2016
- Mirror http://archive.is/9Mv7U
As promised, this months case study is a boring one.
The Month In Review
With 80 articles under my belt, I kept plugging away at creating more content. I set myself a goal of 60 new pieces of content by months end. I came up three short adding 57 articles for a total of 137. This number does not include index pages, contact info, etc. This is purely the total number of blog posts.
And that’s pretty much ALL I did last month. Remember how I said affiliate marketing is a grind? It really is. And I cannot stress that enough. I am not at the marketing part yet. I am still “creating a product”. After all, what good is marketing if you have nothing to sell?
You know the saying a good product sells itself? Well, that is true of websites too. Think back to your favorite websites. They add value to your life in some way that keeps you returning time and time again. Whether it’s just appeasing a curiosity, providing a laugh or even prompting a nostalgic memory, the key is value and I cannot stress this enough. Value = Money.
So why the big effort on creating all this content on a new site? The answer is really simple. Because we are years late to the party. How many websites do you visit that only have 50 pages? Literally none. They have been growing a helpful library of information over many years and you have to play catch up.
The good news is that none of these sites are infallible. The larger a site gets the more difficult it is to update and keep current. Even monsters like consumer reports are having their market share eaten up, more often than not by affiliate websites like ours.
If you have been building a site with me and following along each month it is now time to stop for a second. And once again compare your site to your direct competitors.
- Are you adding more value in a way that your audience has been waiting for?
- Does your site look better?
- Does it load faster?
- Does it answer questions that your audience is searching for?
If yes then disregard this. But if you come up short or even say “It’s about equal” then you have to up your game. Good enough just won’t cut it.
So with the addition of more reviews, my website is slowly starting to form a cohesive theme. It’s going to take another 100 or so posts before it really gets there but it’s all starting to shape up nicely. As you can see I am 100% focused on content right now. Whether this is the right decision we will have to see, it may very well be that I am leaving outreach too late in order for it to give the website a big boost. But at the same time, I want my site to be completely cohesive like a finished product before I start heavily marketing.
This month traffic got a little odd. It started flowing in from Canada. Through Organic search none the less. It appears that for some reason Google has decided my website is Canadian, even though the proper geotargeting has been set up in Webmaster Tools. Check it out:
Going back over my backlink profile it does appear that the vast amount of backlinks I have are from .CA domains. Whether this had anything to do with it is beyond me, I have not experienced anything like this before. But I will be building out more links from American sites and see if this has any effect. I am ranking for the same keywords as before, but instead, they are appearing in the .CA search results instead of .com. It’s almost as google literally shifted everything I am ranking for over to .CA.
No biggy. These things happen and at best it is a minor setback.
I’ll be honest, I was expecting earnings to be higher this month. This is likely to do with my .CA problems, however, I still managed to sell a few items. Turns out Canadians also use the .com Amazon. This is not something I was aware of.
No expenses this month. That has allowed the full earnings to go towards bringing me out of the red. Not there yet though.
- Past Expense, carried forward: $591.77
- This month’s earnings: $90.95
- Earnings to date: $151.38
- Total: -440.39
While this still looks remarkably discouraging for three months work let me remind you that website growth is exponential, not linear. It will happen all at once and knock your socks off when it does. For the most part, I expected to be here.
For April I am going to spend a little more time building links and outreaching but for the most part, it will be creating more content.
Affiliate Website Case Study Part 4: April 2016
- Mirror http://archive.is/8q72R
The Month In Review
Due to business issues unrelated to the case study, I could not dedicate the full month to the website. Originally I had plans to aim for another 60 or so posts, to bring the pages on my website to 200.
I would have loved to give my site more time this month as the downtime will be detrimental to its growth. But I just couldn’t be in two places at once. So I just chipped away in the few hours I could spare.
So I shifted my focus.
Adding 14 pages to the website this month would have been marginal help. So I decided to focus on backlinks. Spending a week on backlinks will give a MUCH greater boost to the site over the course of the month than adding such a small amount of content. Just to clarify, I probably spent 30-35 hours on this over the course of the month.
There is no secret to building links. It’s a numbers game. It’s boring. But if your website is adding value then half the battle is won. No one wants to link to a spammy website.
All the techniques I used can be found here: https://backlinko.com/link-building-strategies
So how did I do?
Much better than the first time I attempted it. With my site starting to have a more coherent category structure rather than just random products, link building went smoother. Given that I still have another hundred or so pages of content to add where it will be at the point that it is a genuinely useful resource IMO (at the moment it is missing products to completely fill out whole categories), the future is looking good. Given my Canadian search problem, I focused solely on backlinks from websites that targeted the USA.
So I managed to nab 32 backlinks all up.
Here’s where they came from:
- HARO (Help a reporter out): Found a request on a topic that one of the products on my site loosely ties into. Got lucky and was able to bluff my way through posing as an expert the topic, landed me an awesome content link on a popular news site. But it wasn’t all success, I sent off another three responses that were ignored.
- Competitors: I dropped the $99 on a subscription to AHREFS this month and had a look at the different sites competing for “best [product]” and “[product] review” As well as other modifiers. Since many of these sites are old school crap, like the type that Spencer and Perrin spit out, I was able to nab 13 backlinks from emailing the sites linking to them and telling them about my superior content. Competitor loses a backlink, I gain one. My favorite method of link building.
- Broken Link Building: While searching for companies filing for bankruptcy, a gem popped out it was entirely relevant to a few of the categories on my website. Unfortunately, the website was still up. So I kept checking. And checking. And checking. Mid-April the website was taken down, which caused all 2000 + inbound links to become broken. Running the site through Ahrefs revealed out of the 2000 only half of that were worth chasing and of that only 200 or so relevant to my website. So I sent an email blast out and I managed to score 15 links just by informing the sites in question that their link was broken and that I had the perfect replacement page.
- Comments: I don’t normally chase comment links but since I was time-strapped I nabbed two on relevant blogs. I did this by debunking the article. The articles in question contained misinformation on the product so I wrote a 600-word comment saying why this was false and if they wanted more information to email me directly. I didn’t come across overly negative and praised the author for the bits that he got right. And just like that, I am an expert on a well-trafficked competitors blog post. (I tested to see whether comments were auto-approved before writing the 600 words). I did this twice on pages I deemed were popular enough to justify the effort. One of the two even amended his article and linked to my site in the resource section below the post.
- Content theft: There is a microniche who has been stealing my original photos from a category. Now I was lucky that the site in question isn’t all that bad as far as small websites go, was actually ranking for some decent terms and had somehow managed to score some good backlinks himself. So I said that I had no issue with him using the photos as long as he credits the source in a dofollow link. The alternative was to waste my time sending a DMCA which doesn’t really benefit either of us. An easy backlink here.
Looks simple huh?
I sent 653 initial emails out for those 32 backlinks.
I may get lucky and nab a couple of more links since there is still some back and forth going with a few of the prospects. But it’s a numbers game. A Google spreadsheet will be your best friend. Link building is essentially relationship building. Those that accept your backlink advances for the first time will be much more open to guest post pitches and collaboration in the future.
From the pages linked to I then used internal linking to spread the “link juice” of across as much of my site as possible, where it made sense of course.
For the first two weeks of April, I still had the problem with Google not recognizing my site is targeting the USA. I have spoken to numerous experts who have never seen this problem before. Around Mid-April the problem corrected itself, whether this is because I changed the geographic target a couple of hundred times or the backlinks were starting to work, I have no idea and am still puzzled as to what could have caused this. Regardless, I am back on track now.
In terms of ranking, the site is on the up and up. I have a few good keywords climbing page 2 with one even teetering on crossing over to the front page. When this happens you will see the earnings spike rather than the slow trail of long tails that have been bringing in traffic. I am excited for the end of May because I believe I will be able to show you the impact that backlinks make on your search position and as a result traffic and earnings. Now obviously this is speculation and it might not happen at all, but you can often see results 1-3 months (although sometimes longer) after a good handful of links hit your site.
Earnings remained fairly constant this month. Given that no thought has been given to conversions with affiliate links buried deep in the posts and little work done on the site this month, this was to be expected. After all, you only get out what you put in.
Those of you who followed along with my last case study will note that I was earning more by month 4 there than I have here. It’s largely to do with the competition of the niche. In order to hopefully reach 50k/month I aiming for some higher dollar value products than I did with my previous case study.
As you are no doubt aware: the more expensive the product, the higher the commission, the higher the competition. While I have no doubt I can rank for these more competitive products, time is an issue in terms of my 12-month goal. The reason these products are being targeted earlier in the year is that they generally take longer to rank for. At month 6 I can always chase down lower competition products and rank for them in half the time.
With my site back in Google US search I have a good feeling about May.
Just the added cost of the Ahrefs subscription this month of $99.
- Expenses to date: $690.77
- This month’s earnings: $100.75
- Earnings to date: $252.13
- Total: – 438.64
Nothing overly surprising here. Still in the red.
- Next Month
I need to get back on track with rounding out my site before I can knuckle down and do some serious outreach. Another boring month with a target of 60 pieces of content.
Affiliate Website Case Study Part 5: May 2016
- Mirror http://archive.is/Bcrui
The Month In Review
Another boring month this month. But that’s what a lot of affiliate marketing is. A boring grind.
After a relatively unproductive month last month, I once again got back into churning out content. This month saw the goal of 60 new pieces of content. I managed to just pass it with 61 new reviews added to the site.
This gives me 198 reviews on the site and edges me closer to rounding out the product categories like I originally intended. What started as a messy site with random reviews now has a much more coherent structure. The addition of another couple of product categories and the site will almost have a cohesive theme, which will make outreach much simpler.
People stress too much about unique images. The 61 pages I added were entirely composed of stock images. While unique images may add a sense of credibility, they are costly and time consuming to get. When the site is earning you can transition to unique images, but in my experience readers are more focused on the review than the pictures. You only have so much time, spend it wisely.
This is month 5 and no real outreach has been done. Besides a frantic effort last month and the scathing review of a popular product in the early days, no real outreach has been performed. Heck, I have not even really touched social, while the accounts exist I would be lying if I said I had more than 5% of my reviews posted to each. Content is still 100% my focus right now. When I am happy with my overall site outreach begins, I feel I am one month away from this.
I will once again stress this: Your content is your product. And how easy to sell your product will entirely depend on the value behind it? Weak content is hard to sell. And when you are performing outreach; chasing those valuable backlinks, you want to make your job as easy as possible. And great content goes a long way towards that.
Unsurprisingly, the pages that had links built to them from last month have shot through the SERPs. This is why I do not believe there is a sandbox. If you build links to pages then they will receive a noticeable boost. In fact, one of my pages targeting a 3,600 keyword jumped from page four to the bottom of page one. It has 5 good backlinks pointed at it and was only created the month before. If you believe there is a sandbox then I agree to disagree. I will not be discussing the matter further.
As for traffic, the final week of May saw me averaging 350 uniques/day. Of those around 180 were from the US. Total visits are very much a vanity metric since generally speaking, only those in the US are going to purchase through your affiliate links. Just a reminder to dig through your data to find what is truly important.
As you can see there is a direct correlation between ranking and earnings, especially compared to last month.
Now the earnings have me quite excited since I have not even looked at optimizing my site. The click-throughs have been coming from people clicking in text links. And to get to them you have to spend a minute or two reading through the page (assuming the average adult reading speed of 300 WPM) to get to them. While this has resulted in a low click-through vs traffic, it gives me a lot to work with. If I was to add pricing tables and pop-ups right now we could probably triple this figure.
The reason I am holding off on this is that I don’t want my site to look spammy for when I begin outreach. If your site looks like an advertisement you have just made your link building job much harder than it should be.
Now for those of you starting out, if you are no longer using subscription services then you should cancel them. You can always start them up again when you again need to use them.
Given this, I “pretend canceled” my Ahrefs subscription since it was not going to be used this month with the focus on content creation. For those just tuning in I “pretend subscribed” last month at a price higher than I pay. The reality is I have had an active Ahrefs subscription for years but am including all paid-for programs in the case study.
- Expenses to date: $690.77
- This month’s Earnings: $434.89
- Earnings to date: $687.02
- Total: -3.75
Well, no matter what happens, the site will be profitable next month.
Affiliate Website Case Study Part 6: June 2016
- Mirror http://archive.is/Q85I3
The month in review
June saw me incredibly strapped for time.
For those of you on the other side of the world, June is the final month of the financial year in Australia. More time than I would have liked saw me sort out tax issues. Most of the remainder of my time went to starting a new project. I have stated in the comments that this site was just a pass time until I figured out what I wanted to do next year but an opportunity landed right in my lap that was too good to pass up. This will be the main focus of my time and capital moving forward. I will not be discussing this project further.
And a little time was spent on the affiliate site.
Heck, I have hardly had time for reddit and the number next to that envelope that I have not replied to is a little embarrassing. Chances are I won’t time get to respond to these and if you have comment replied or PM’ed then I do apologize.
So with a new project started where does that leave this website? I am someone who hates downtime and rather than watch TV I much prefer to work on something productive. So I will be continuing this case study and posting monthly earnings reports.
So the big question:
Could the website have reached 50k/month in its current state?
IMO, yes. The groundwork is almost entirely complete (besides conversion funnel) and there was the potential for 7 months of pure outreach, relationship building, getting down and dirty with SEO and just getting the website known. If you have attempted this yourself you will be fully aware that building a website is the easy part. While you can earn just with a website it’s the MARKETING that really makes it kick. Remember; it’s called “Affiliate Marketing” not “Affiliate build a website”.
I will stress this again: website growth is exponential, not linear. It doesn’t increment in fixed amounts. But this exponential growth will be directly proportional to your efforts and success at marketing your website. And 7 months of pure outreach while reinvesting profits would see the site getting close to the initial goal.
So where will the site end now? I am contemplating extending the earning reports past the end of the year since much less time will be spent on the website. Or it may get sold at the end of the year, to be honest, it is currently of minor importance to me relative to the main project. But work will continue on it regardless and a decision will come closer to the end of the year.
The Affiliate Site
Not much work was done this month. I finished the site with the last 6 pages of content. We now have a fully fledged resource on a niche, albeit just reviews. I also did some backlink building. All I did was email around my site to be included in resources pages. When it comes to resource pages they are pretty bottom of the barrel when it comes to link building. So when I chase them I go big or go home. An example of one would be a state organization for doctors. They are often respected, have links from various doctors and government organizations and link out to the best. A bribe will often sweeten the deal. I scored 3 good links here and only had to bribe two of them $50 each. Relevant Charities are also good and that “bribe” can be introduced as a donation.
Edit: In addition to this I would like to stress just how well bribes work in this industry. More often than not it’s not the head of an organization that runs a website but rather some lowly paid clerk. When emailing out it’s quite easy to see who you are talking to because everyone posts more than they should on social media. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. can all be used to determine who you are talking to and what position they hold at the company you are approaching. The more you know about someone the more likely you can win them over. Buy them dinner, send them an Amazon gift card as “thanks” etc. Whatever.
Is this morally questionable behavior? Yes. But this is how the world works. People positively respond to things that benefit them. Work with it.
Ranking took a hit this month. But this was a foreseeable consequence of an intended action. I moved the site to a new domain. Given that I originally intended the site to be an “anything and everything review site” only to refine it over the coming months, the original name didn’t really make sense. So I bought a new name that was a little more relevant to my overall niche.
I then 301’ed the old site to the new. When doing this you can expect your site will tank in the ranks. At least initially before more or less regaining its original position prior to the move. As I write this my website is already showing signs of normalizing, however, this did see traffic drop in the process.
As expected, the traffic drop lead to reduced earnings and we did not see the growth we would have without the move. I have reverted to the classic view for the earnings reports. I find them much easier to read since it groups products by category and displays them all on a single page. Until the new reporting center does this I will not be using it.
I have also noticed one of my other images being used by someone on a forum claiming it as their own. I will be watermarking all images moving forward.
Just the bribes this month for a total of $100
- Expenses to date: $790.77
- This month’s Earnings: $685.25
- Earnings to date: $1372.27
- Total +$681.50
This month saw the site cash positive. Ordinarily, the best way to see the site grow would be to re-invest this money into aspects of the site you hate to do. Hate writing? You can now pay someone to help a little. Hate link building? You now have bribes. Struggling with CSS? You can now pay someone to help pretty your site etc. etc.
Affiliate Website earnings report Part 7: July 2016
- Mirror http://archive.is/yOooy
Hey guys, as stated I will continue to post earnings reports across the year. Here is July’s.
Forced to swap over to new reporting tools because Amazons old one was displaying the table lines but not the numbers within them. As you are no doubt aware, it is not uncommon for the amazon associate back end to mess up. Hey, at least they don’t lose track of your earnings.
Reached 4 figures this month. While Amazon Prime day was a nice boost, $200 can be attributed to it, it was not the defining reason the site hit 4 figures. You can see the jump in earnings on the 13/14 from it (Prime day was on the 12th but you don’t earn until goods are sent out).
Around 90% of this month’s earnings can be attributed to a single post hitting the third position in google. Even without a conversion funnel. If you are really interested in how your top pages perform I highly recommend creating separate tracking Id’s for them and setting up goals in Google Analytics.
After the 301 redirect to the new domain name all the other pages have pretty much normalized in terms of ranking. Still lost a few keywords but for the most part these were long tails I earned by accident anyway and their loss is minor. So with one page out of the 200+ earning, I am confident there is still plenty of earning potential. Even this review hitting position 1 would see earnings at least triple.
No work was done on the site at all this month. Was far to busy kicking off my new project and I have no plans to work on it this month either unless I am forced into some unavoidable downtime.
Affiliate Website earnings report Part 8: August 2016
- Mirror http://archive.is/RhsJT
Hey guys, I know you haven’t seen me around but I have been incredibly busy on my new project. I should be able to somewhat distance myself from it in the coming months once I am happy with the whole process and can walk on its own with minimal input from me.
Once again zero work was done on my affiliate website, earnings crept up again as a second post hit the bottom of the front page this month.
As for September: The early part of this month saw an algorithm update, combine this with the mess Amazon has been experiencing on their back end (despite what they say, their tracking of sales appeared to fuck up earlier this month) I think we will be down overall next month in terms of income. Not a big deal, the month after should even it out.
To answer a common question:
Once bitten by the affiliate marketing bug, it’s hard to shake.
I plan to do a new case study in the new year but it will be how someone should set up an affiliate website once they have established a good income stream. That is, hiring freelancers, designers, and others to grow your site. The reason I have steered clear of doing a case study like this is that it sets a much higher barrier to entry, a beginner can’t just waltz in and do it and I honestly enjoy the stories of people that have jumped in after reading my case studies and achieved success themselves.
But unfortunately, after attempting this for the second year in a row, It has become brutally apparent that I cannot justify spending so much time for a minimal reward, even if I was to hit my initial goal in the 12 months.
Keep grinding away. It’s boring but worth it.
Affiliate Website earnings report Part 9: September, October 2016
- Mirror http://archive.is/APCKa
As promised I would post the last two earning reports up this month.
But before I do I just want to stress to those that keep PMing and asking questions as to “why I am not performing outreach” and similar questions, even though I thought I made this clear:
You can consider this case study abandoned. It is no longer a case study.
Do not look at these posts to learn anything. They are simply income reports for those of you who have expressed interest. The site has remained static since June and I have no intentions of logging back into it. Heck, I have not even set the Amazon associates side of things up with a bank account. I do not have the time to mod this place much less continue a solo effort on this site.
If you want to learn something, there are plenty of other ongoing case studies where you should turn your head.
So here are the income reports:
To answer the most common questions:
- No, the site is not optimized; a user has to scroll 600+ words to find any sign of an affiliate link.
- No I don’t know how the site is ranking, I have not checked analytics, search console, etc. In months.
- Yes the site has only had 4-5 months of work put in and is earning that passively.
P.s Really awesome to see all the ongoing case studies that are growing month on month. Your efforts will be rewarded. As for the rest of you – What are you waiting for? It is currently the easiest it will ever be to rank an affiliate website.
I hope this information has been as helpful to others as it was for me.
Thank you to /r/juststart/ for all of the help and information over the years. Invaluable.