Affiliate Site Case Study – Month 4 Update
From the roll-out of our brand new affiliate site theme, to our progress with link building, to the production of even more content (even though we promised we’d be cutting back).
There’s a hell of a lot to cover in this month’s update and no time to lose.
Let’s dive straight in…
Affiliate Site Case Study Recap
We’ve come a long way in the 4 months since launch.
We’ve improved rankings and increased both traffic and earnings.
Let’s take a brief look back at where we started and where we left off in our last (month 3) update…
We’ve had a busy few months since the launch of Survival Front and we’ve covered a hell of a lot in the case study blog updates, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to remind you of our progress since launch.
The site went live in October 2019 and made a very respectable $0.85 in its first month of life.
Things went from strength to strength and in month two, commissions increased by 560% to $5.61, followed by a further 177% increase in commissions in month three culminating in a whopping $15.54 earned.
Although the earnings themselves aren’t too impressive, I think that the growth is pretty awesome.
If nothing else, it’s a positive sign of what’s to come.
Monthly Progress: Recap & Summary
|Time Period||Organic Traffic||% Change||Earnings||% Change|
Since inception, from October to December, we focused heavily on content production and started exploring various types of link building, as well as promotional activities on platforms such as Quora and Facebook.
We also discovered that single product (brand name) search terms had the potential to be pretty lucrative, with decent search volumes and, in some cases, little competition.
That’s why we’ve built a single product review template into our brand new, hand-coded affiliate site theme (which Gareth, my business partner, will discuss in more detail later in this post).
So, now that we’ve reminded ourselves on our first three month’s growth, let’s dive straight into this month’s update…
We’ve seen some nice upwards movements with regard to rankings this month.
Ranking groups across both desktop and mobile are all ‘in the green’ and keyword movements are consistently more up than down.
Let’s take a look.
The ‘Positions’ metric in Ahrefs shows the number of keywords that either had a decrease or increase in their positions.
Across both desktop and mobile, Survival Front keywords had increased more than they had decreased.
Now, while there will always be fluctuations in the SERPs, generally speaking, if your keyword movements are increasing more than they’re decreasing, you’re doing ok.
There are a few exceptions to this, such as a single, traffic-generating keyword dropping and a ton of lower volume keywords moving up.
In this scenario, you’d have more keywords increasing than decreasing, but your traffic would more than likely take a hit.
On the whole though, more green than red is a good sign.
As you can see in the table below, 47 of our keywords increased on desktop, and 45 increased on mobile.
Only 27 keywords decreased on desktop, and 24 decreased on mobile.
So, almost double the number of keywords increased than decreased.
Got to be happy with that.
The ‘Positions’ metric also shows total keywords per ranking group (i.e. the number of keywords in positions; 100+, 51-100, 11-50, etc.) and movements history (i.e. ‘-6’ means 6 keywords fell out of this group based on the date-range filter), AKA the keyword increase/decrease.
That’s a pretty long-winded way of saying, the ranking groups are essentially ranges of SERP positions (i.e. position 1-3).
The chart below shows the various ranking groups (as defined by Ahrefs), and the number of times Survival Front ranks in those ranking groups for a keyword, as well as whether those numbers have increased or decreased over a given time period (in our case, the month of January).
As you can see from the table below, rankings are up across the board on both mobile and desktop.
We haven’t yet made it to positions 1-3 for any of our target keywords, but I doubt it’ll be too far off.
Ranking Group Movements
|Ranking Group||No. of Keywords||Increase / Decrease||Ranking Group||No. of Keywords||Increase / Decrease|
If you have an Ahrefs account and you’d like to start tracking your position for a given keyword(s):
Head over to your Ahrefs dashboard and click on the ‘Rank Tracker’ link in the top navigation menu, click on your project or create a new one.
If this is a new project, at this point you’ll need to add keywords that you’d like to track. If not, set a custom date range for the period you’d like to analyze.
Once you have the correct date range selected, you can now toggle between desktop and mobile views to analyze your performance in both areas.
Pay particular attention to the ‘Positions’ metric – this is the part of this dashboard that is going to tell you how well (or otherwise) you’re performing when it comes to ranking.
Overall, another positive month in terms of rankings.
So long as we remain ‘in the green’, we’re pretty content.
What we want to see over the coming months is a lot more keywords dropping in and a ton of those starting to climb up the ranking groups, with the obvious goal of eventually hitting positions 1-3.
By now, you’ll know that I’m not one to shy away from an attention-grabbing headline.
So, try this one on for size…
Increase Your Organic Traffic by 37.66% in Just One Month!
Let’s take a closer look.
Now that initial interest in the Survival Front case study is settling down a little, we’re beginning to see the traffic metrics adjust and better reflect the true state-of-play.
While there is still a significant number of visitors being driven from social each month, you’ll note from the table below that this is significantly reducing as time goes on.
Believe it or not, this is a good thing.
It will allow us to obtain an accurate reflection of where Survival Front actually is and how well it’s doing.
|Traffic Type||Current Period||Previous Period||% Change|
It’ll come as no surprise that the majority of that social traffic is still being driven by the Niche Affiliate Empires Facebook group.
Direct and referral traffic is also down significantly, at -30.04% and – 52.58% respectively, which was also expected at this stage.
Email traffic was up massively; probably because we sent out our first Survival Front email this month.
Again, this was to be expected as we’d not really utilized the email list until this point.
My main point of interest, as I said in the last update, is organic search traffic.
At this moment in time, this is the ONLY traffic metric that matters to me, because it directly relates to our ongoing SEO efforts.
Clearly then, we’re over the moon with our 37.66% increase in organic visitors in January, up to 552 from 401 in December.
Broken down, organic search is looking extremely positive…
Breakdown: Organic Search
|Acquisition||Current Period||Previous Period||% Change|
New users are up 46.29% indicating that improved rankings really are making a difference.
Sessions are up, too, increasing by 21.65% on last month.
Our immediate goal is simple – to increase traffic.
If we continue to improve our rankings, thus increasing our organic traffic, our new custom-built affiliate site theme (with built-in CRO best practice) will handle the rest.
We’re fairly confident of that.
I just can’t help myself…
Double Your Revenue in Just 30 Days!
That’s the last ‘guru’ headline you’ll hear in this post – I promise!
Let’s jump straight in…
The growth trajectory for both rankings and traffic had remained consistently positive over the last few months and earnings are no different.
Again, while the figures themselves may be on the small side, the growth is pretty huge.
In January alone, we’ve had 30+ ordered items, culminating over $600 revenue for our good friends Amazon and a massive $32.06 commission for ourselves.
This is a pretty staggering increase in monthly earnings.
An increase of 106% compared to last month, to be precise.
Let’s take a closer look below…
Revenue & Earnings
|Shipped Items Revenue||$637.52|
So, whilst we had 7 returned items, I still feel that January was a solid month for Survival Front sales.
We’re continuously monitoring and working on our conversion rate, but as we’ve seen with so many other sites, as traffic increases, so too will the conversion rate.
It just seems to be the way of things.
We’ve been running a number of split tests over recent months and feel we have a pretty optimized site when it comes to conversions.
As traffic really begins to grow, the proof will be in the pudding.
If you’re looking to improve your CRO, here’s a couple of basic tips that will serve you well.
- Implement a product comparison table at the top of your posts with a clear CTA
- Ensure your CTA’s read ‘Check Price on…’
- List the pros and cons of each product
- Always use product images in your reviews
- Make sure you clearly pick your #1 product (and explain your reasons why)
- Add a footer pop-up with a clear CTA
We’re pretty hot on CRO, which is why our done-for-you affiliate site service clients receive it as standard in their package.
I can’t emphasize enough, just how important it is.
|Current Period||Previous Period||% Change|
As you can see, we had an extremely positive month with respect to earnings.
Don’t get me wrong, we won’t be retiring on our $32 commission any time soon, but a 106% increase in earnings in just one month is pretty damn awesome.
If our predictions are correct, over the coming months, this is going to continue at an almost doubling pace.
If this rate of exponential growth continues to the 12-month point (October 2020), we could be looking at around $15,000+ monthly commission and an asset worth upwards of $400,000.
Now, wouldn’t that be nice!
So, now that we’ve covered this month’s rankings, traffic, and earnings, I’m going to hand over to our very own Gareth Daine, who is going to take you through our brand new, hand-coded affiliate site theme.
Our Brand New, Custom-Built Affiliate Site Theme
Hey, Gareth here!
Last month, Terry mentioned that we were in the process of working on developing a custom theme coded from scratch because we wanted to move away from Elementor.
NOTE: This is fairly technical, and probably not for the non-technically minded, or beginners. Feel free to skip past this chapter if that’s you. 🙂
Now, don’t get me wrong.
Elementor is excellent for quickly putting pages, and indeed, sites together.
Of course, this leads to performance issues.
On top of that, it can be quite limiting in certain situations, particularly if you want to manage all your data in WordPress.
Don’t get me wrong; I got it to work.
It’s just a bit of a ballache.
Another problem we wanted to address was the deployment of changes.
As a veteran software engineer, I’m used to working with version control, staging servers, and robust deployment processes, not to mention automation.
Finally, the reliance on multiple, bloated plugins to achieve what we wanted began to become a problem, not just in terms of performance, but also in terms of productivity and cost.
In the end, we decided to move away from page builders completely.
If truth be told, I wanted to build a custom theme from the outset, but I didn’t have time.
However, I always knew that when I did have time, I would build an impressive theme from scratch.
And, that’s what I’ve recently completed and deployed. 🙂
It took a HUGE amount of work, but I’m happy to report that it’s looking and working great.
If you have the funds, time, or ability, I highly recommend you look at building your own.
Building the Theme
It’s been a while since I last built a WordPress theme from scratch, so it took a bit of refamiliarising myself with it.
I hate the way most WordPress themes (and plugins) are built.
Often, procedural style, spaghetti code, with no namespacing or modern development practices.
I also hate the way the core team doesn’t follow the PSR standards recommendations.
With our theme, I wanted it to be as object-oriented and standards-based as possible, with the correct use of classes (objects) and namespacing.
Furthermore, easy deployment was a requirement for this theme (we’ll discuss that later), so I decided to use Composer to handle dependencies.
Composer is a PHP dependency manager that allows the managing of all of your theme’s external package and dependency requirements.
It makes development, maintenance, and updating a breeze. 🙂
Composer also allowed me to include the excellent dotenv package by Vance Lucas and Graham Campbell, which means I can use environment variables to store specific info, such as database credentials, API keys etc, and grab those details in code when required.
Furthermore, dotenv allows me to deploy a standard wp-config.php file and commit it to version control and handle the dynamic elements in a .env files on the server, which Laravel Forge (discussed later) handles elegantly.
It also allows me to easily pull in excellent PHP packages and use them within my themes, such as Carbon, which is a PHP package for handing dates and times.
Rather than a HUGE functions file, each specific theme requirement is handled by an individual class.
- Ajax functions to handle pagination and other things.
- Amazon API integration.
- Custom fields.
- Custom post types.
- Theme options.
- Database table creation and modification.
- Cron jobs and schedules.
Each of these classes is included in the theme via the PHP use statement, and Composer handles all of the PSR-0 autoloading requirements (the automatic loading of all of the required classes).
I then create a new instance of each required class in my functions.php file.
Now, everything is modular and handled by a separate class.
This makes maintaining the code base much simpler and straightforward.
Code Management & Deployment
One of the most significant benefits of building a bespoke affiliate theme, apart from having full control, is the ease and speed of deployment.
I also have various development environments, including:
- A local environment. An exact copy of the production server on my local machine, utilizing Vagrant and VirtualBox, along with Laravel Homestead.
- A staging environment. Again, a replication of the production server, but on a subdomain of the primary domain.
- The production server.
In GitHub, I generally have two branches, develop and master.
As I work on a new feature, I usually create a hotfix/feature branch for that feature, which is later merged into develop and ultimately master.
I have a specific workflow that I use with git, which I’ll discuss shortly, but let’s first talk about why it’s essential to productivity, maintenance, and deployment.
I use a provisioning tool called Laravel Forge.
Now, Forge can do lots of cool things, from creating instant PHP servers, fully configured and provisioned, to deployment of your code, automatically.
Remember the staging and production environments mentioned earlier?
Well, on my Forge provisioned server, I have a script that listens for events that happen when code is pushed to a branch on GitHub.
For example, when I merge new code into and push to the develop branch, Forge automatically deploys that new code to the staging server.
Similarly, once I’ve tested the new code on the staging server and made sure all is OK, I can then merge the develop branch into master, which again, will automatically deploy those changes to the production server.
Now, here’s the cool thing.
Because our theme is used across multiple internal and external client sites, when I push these code changes, they are automatically deployed to every single site, without me having to do any further work.
They all use the same codebase. 🙂
This makes deploying new site changes an absolute breeze.
Can you imagine having to manage this in a page builder, utilizing a ton of different plugins?
So, here’s a brief breakdown of my git workflow:
- Create a new hotfix/feature branch from master.
- Develop and test the code locally.
- Merge and push the code to develop.
- Conduct testing on the staging server.
- Once testing is complete and you’re happy, merge develop into master and push to that branch.
- (Optional) delete your hotfix/feature branch.
Simple and straightforward code and deployment management.
Performance & Speed
Another key benefit of creating a custom theme is the control you have over the codebase and the performance and speed improvements you can make directly to that code.
As mentioned previously, page builders often add lots of unnecessary, bloated code, as well as pull in unneeded scripts and styles.
A custom theme allows you to control all of this, as you are hand-coding each HTML element and creating every style declaration.
For example, I have created an image resizing script (class) that resizes images to the exact dimensions that they display on the device they’re being viewed on.
Having this full control allows you to also drastically reduce DOM nodes (individual HTML elements) and nesting.
You can go from thousands of nested DOM nodes to a few hundred or less by having this sort of control.
Another excellent benefit of having full control over your codebase is in the ability to use view partials, which are separate PHP files that contain the template parts for your theme, meaning that things are much more maintainable and modular.
After all of the performance and speed improvement work, the site is notably faster to use.
We’ve tested it on mobile 3g, and it loads exceptionally rapidly.
Compared to the previous theme, built on Elementor, according to Pingdom Tools, the site has had an 80% reduction in load time, which is pretty phenomenal.
From 3.2 seconds, down to 627ms.
In terms of the excessive DOM node problem, we’ve had a significant decrease, from 1,888 plus to 779 elements.
That’s a decrease of 58% and puts us in the green with PageSpeed Insights.
A brief note on performance and speed auditing tools.
All tools report varying degrees of ‘truth‘.
Overall, we pass the muster on most things, but further improvements can and will be made, but it’s essential to mention diminishing returns between the time invested and the benefits gained.
You can spend weeks chasing a perfect 100%, green score, but gain little benefit.
The most important thing for us is not what the tools say, but how it performs in the real world. And it’s fast as hell.
That said, there are still improvements that can be made that will benefit us in the future.
We think the real source of truth should be Google’s web-based PageSpeed Insights tool, for a couple of reasons:
- It’s Google.
- PageSpeed Insights scoring and auditing can be affected by many things, including your client, router, network, local machine’s resources, and other things. The same goes for running this on your own server.
So, when running any audits, we recommend using their web-based tool.
Try it! You’ll see, often, very different results on your local machine compared to the web-based implementation.
NOTE: PageSpeed Insights shows a score of 33 for a Survival Front roundup review on mobile. But, in real-world conditions (live, weak signal 3g), the site loads and works rapidly. There’s a disconnect here somewhere. Hence those diminishing returns.
Theme Management Requirements
One of the major contributing factors for creating a custom theme was in the management of content and in our ability to create functionality with ease, that previously required multiple plugins working in conjunction with each other.
For example, we use Advanced Custom Fields a lot to manage post data, and a big issue was repeater fields.
To get them working with Elementor, we had to use several plugins together, including AnywhereElementor.
We managed to get things working, but it was still restricted because Elementor has limited native repeater field functionality.
With a custom theme, this was easy and became much more powerful as a result.
In terms of productivity and ease of use for our staff, we wanted to manage all content and data input directly in WordPress.
For example, our info guides are built with several vital elements, including:
- Featured image.
- Individual chapters, containing an intro featured image, and the primary chapter content.
- A summary.
All of this information is handled using custom fields, with the chapters using a repeater field.
As mentioned above, getting these chapters to work as needed was a bit of a faff, whereas, with a custom theme, it’s a breeze.
Similarly, we have a similar setup with our roundup reviews.
- Top 3 (Carousel) – Best Value, Our Choice (Winner), and Premium Choice
- Product Quick Comparison
- Individual Product Reviews
- Buyers Guide
- Our Pick
- Winner Footer Popup
Again, handling this sort of set up was a ballache in Elementor and the various plugins we used, while with a custom theme, it was unbelievably easy.
With our product roundup reviews, we also use a custom post type, Products.
As with chapters, there are several important custom fields that are required:
- Featured Image (Fallback)
- Item ID (for Amazon Product Advertising API 5)
- Item ID Type (ASIN or ISBN)
- Rating – 1 to 5
- Affiliate URL (Fallback)
- CTA Button Text (Fallback)
- Badge Image (Top 3 Pick)
- Single Product Review Introduction
- Single Product Review Content
- Single Product Review Summary
- Image Gallery (Fallback)
- Features (Repeater)
- Pros (Repeater)
- Cons (Repeater)
- Related Roundup Review (Popup)
As you can see, a lot of info to manage.
Luckily, because we now hook into the Amazon API, we no longer need to add images or affiliate links, vastly increasing our productivity.
Again, I coded a separate class to handle this, as well as running a nightly cron job that pulls in new images and links and caches the links to them in the database, so that we remain entirely up to date.
Managing Frontend Assets
For this, I use a couple of different tools:
- NPM, which is a package/dependency manager for Node. It stands for Node Package Manager.
- Laravel Mix, which is a wrapper for Webpack.
When working with CSS, I always opt for SASS, which stands for Syntactically Awesome Stylesheets.
It’s a CSS extension language that allows you to drastically reduce the amount of CSS you write, nest instructions in a much more productive way, and use things like variables.
- It concatenates and minifies all CSS.
- It moves or copies any additional dependencies to the correct public location.
It’s effortless to set up and use, and when I’m ready to compile assets, I run a simple command in terminal.
npm run production
Simply add these files to your branch for commit, commit, merge and push, and you’re done.
Design & CRO
In terms of design and CRO, we’d already pretty much designed the vast majority of our theme in Elementor, previously, so it was just a case of porting the design across.
This just involved me hand-coding each element, and then creating the CSS, some of which I was able just to copy.
We did, however, add some new footer popups for related roundup reviews (to show on our new template, which we’ll discuss below), as well as on our info posts, when the user scrolls to the bottom of the page.
Our theme comes with several (tried and tested) CRO improvements, which help increase CTR, including:
- Top 3 Pick – Best Value, Our Choice, and Premium Choice
- Clear, Contrasting CTAs
- Product Quick Comparison Table
- Pros & Cons
- Our Pick
- Footer Popup (Winner)
These elements have been tried and tested across numerous internal and external (client) projects, meaning we have the data to back up that they work.
Of course, CRO is a constant, on-going process of experimentation and testing, and every site is different, so it’s important to refine continually.
New Feature: Single Product Review Template
One of the coolest new features with this new theme is our single product reviews.
As mentioned above, we use a custom post type, Products, to handle each product.
With our new theme, we’ve introduced some new custom fields and a brand new single product template, that, quite frankly, looks gorgeous.
Even if I do say so myself. 🙂
A considerable benefit of this new template is that it allows us to create expanded single product reviews. Furthermore, since the introduction of the template, it has allowed us to automatically publish hundreds of individual product reviews in one fell swoop.
That’s 337, to be precise!
Which is a massive influx of content, that is already starting to rank. 🙂
A Look to the Future
Now that we have our theme live and the ability to rapidly and automatically deploy changes and improvements, we plan to develop this theme further as time goes by.
Specifically, in future updates, we’ll be looking to include:
- Further performance improvements, mainly where imagery and web fonts are concerned.
- A brand new X vs. Y template, so that product reviews can go head to head.
- Ecommerce functionality, and the ability to dropship, for further diversification.
- Improved connectivity to 3rd-party affiliate network/platform APIs.
- Integration of display ads.
NOTE: In the very near future, once we feel it’s ready for prime time, we’ll be releasing this theme publicly for purchase. 🙂 To stay notified on when that will be, make sure to sign up to the Niche Affiliate Empires newsletter below. 🙂 👇👇
This month we published a total of 12 articles, all of which were commercial (product roundup review) posts.
So, although we’re switching focus from content creation to link building and promotion, we’ve managed to maintain a steady pace.
Let’s take a look in more detail…
Here’s a complete list of all of the posts we’ve published in January:
|Timeframe||Article Title||Article URL|
|Week 1||Best Hunting Flashlight||https://survivalfront.com/best-hunting-flashlight/|
|Best Sleeping Bag Liner||https://survivalfront.com/best-sleeping-bag-liner/|
|Best Ultralight Tent||https://survivalfront.com/best-ultralight-tent/|
|Best Mini Flashlight||https://survivalfront.com/best-mini-flashlight/|
|Best 72 Hour Survival Kit||https://survivalfront.com/best-72-hour-survival-kit/|
|Best Survival Gadgets||https://survivalfront.com/best-survival-gadgets/|
|Week 2||Best Hammock Tent||https://survivalfront.com/best-hammock-tent/|
|Best Survival Rations||https://survivalfront.com/best-survival-rations/|
|Best Cold Weather Sleeping Bag||https://survivalfront.com/best-cold-weather-sleeping-bag/|
|Best Bushcraft Knife||https://survivalfront.com/best-bushcraft-knife/|
|Best Backpacking Tent||https://survivalfront.com/best-backpacking-tent/|
|Week 3||Best LED Flashlight||https://survivalfront.com/best-led-flashlight/|
I know we’ve been saying it for a number of months now, but we’re genuinely going to drastically reduce the content production from this point onwards.
Not purely because we have around 142,000 words of product roundup and info content already live, but also because we now have an absolute ton of single product review content, thanks to our new affiliate site theme.
All in all, Survival Front has upwards of 400,000 words of content.
I’m sure you’ll agree – that’s a hell of a lot!
Let’s take a closer look at how this is broken down…
|Content Type||Number of Articles||Average Wordcount by Article||Average Wordcount by Content Type|
|Product Roundup Review (commercial)||66||2,000||132,000|
|Single Product Review (commercial)||330||800||264,000|
|Total Estimated Wordcount||406,000|
It’s been no easy task producing this amount of content within a 4-month period, but we’re confident that in the long-run, it’ll pay dividends.
As the site continues to age and our authority grows, we expect to see more and more articles ranking for commercial and informational keywords.
How quickly that happens largely depends on how quickly we can grow Survival Front’s authority.
So, from this point onwards, we’re going to focus almost completely on link building and promotion.
Further content may be produced sporadically as/when we identify viable search terms, but for now, our primary task is going to be building quality, relevant backlinks.
Which leads us nicely onto our next chapter; let’s see how we faired with link building and promotion this month…
Link Building Processes
We’ve started ramping up link building this month and want to increase this further in the months ahead.
We’ve also continued promotion via Quora, but we have doubts about whether or not it’s providing a tangible ROI.
Let’s dive straight in and analyze our results…
This month, I’d like to start with Quora.
In January we published a total of 8 long-form answers.
As we discussed during last month’s update, we have a couple of basic rules when posting on Quora, including ensuring that our answers:
- Are extremely long-form and descriptive
- Add value and answer the question directly
- Are visually pleasing (and utilize various formatting options such as bulleted lists, numbered lists, short paragraphs, and headings, etc.)
- Include relevant imagery throughout
- Include a non-spammy, relevant link to our site
Since using Quora for promotional purposes, we’ve had varied success.
So far, we’ve been featured in a Quora newsletter and obtained the top spot for a number of questions, but the only metric that counts to me – referral traffic – has proved less successful.
Note: It’s worth noting that Quora traffic is shown in Google Analytics (GA) as social traffic, not referral traffic.
Now, as with everything we do, we always like to incorporate and factor in the ‘compound’ effect of these things.
For example, 100 users driven from Quora in month 1, quickly becomes 200 in month 2, 300 in month 3, and so on…
Unfortunately, the ROI in terms of referral traffic just wasn’t there.
Since we started utilizing Quora for promotion, we’ve driven a grand total of 12 users to Survival Front.
Pretty damn abysmal, if you ask me.
There’s no doubt that this traffic would continue to multiply if we progressed, but at that pace, it simply isn’t worth the time investment.
My verdict; Quora isn’t what it used to be.
But hey, if you don’t test these things, you’ll never know.
If, however, you do decide to give Quora a go (and come to a different conclusion than we did), drop a comment below this post so people can see both sides of the argument.
In summary, Quora was a bit of a flop for us.
The good news is, we had more success with link building…
So, I’ve touched on various aspects of outreach and link building in my previous updates, but I’ve not provided a full overview of our strategy and processes.
I’m going to go into a little more detail this month, so if you’re not interested in our approach or feel that you’ve got link building covered, simply scroll to the end of this chapter to see how we got on.
Link Placement Vs Guest Posting
In the early days of the agency, we went pretty hard on the link placement side of things.
And truth be told, we didn’t have much luck.
This was, I feel, due to one primary reason…
Every single internet user on this planet has been spammed more times than they care to remember and a significant proportion of those people see cold email outreach (for whatever purpose) as just that; spam.
They’ve had the same email templates blasted at them hundreds, if not thousands of times, and quite honestly, it doesn’t wash anymore.
People are wise to it.
They know that I’m not really the inquisitive bloke I say I am, who just happened to ‘stumble‘ across their blog and really like an ‘article they wrote‘ on a (strangely enough) related topic to the post I have literally just published.
Can you see why the alarm bells would start ringing if you’d have had numerous similar emails, every week, for the past 5 years?
These people aren’t soft.
Maybe I could get away with it if I genuinely wished them well, thanked them for the information in their blog post, and went on my merry way.
Boom. I drop the L-bomb, too.
If they didn’t smell a rat before, they definitely will now.
The way I see it, there are 4 outcomes to this type of outreach, ranked in order of likelihood:
- They completely buy it and link to your post – highly unlikely.
- They’re so frustrated with you that they tell you to go kill yourself with a hammer (this genuinely happened by the way) – unlikely.
- They get back to you offering you a paid opportunity – likely.
- They completely blank your email and stick it in the spam – highly likely.
Clearly, we’re after outcome number 1, but truth be told, that rarely happens.
So, What About Guest Posting
Before I move on and discuss guest posting, it’s probably worth pointing out that the link placement method can provide you with an ROI, but this will be heavily affected based on a number of campaign factors:
- The quality of the content asset (how genuinely valuable is your article?)
- The topic/niche (is this a marketing savvy industry?)
- The relevance of your prospects (how relevant are the people to whom you’re reaching out to?)
One of the reasons I prefer the guest posting method, however, is because you’ll generally get a number of both guest post and link placement (niche edit) opportunities as a matter of course.
When I run a guest posting campaign, I try to cut out all of the bullshit email stereotypes and ask people straight up…
“I’d like to write a guest post for your site and include a link within the content of the post itself to credit myself as the author. Is this something you’d be interested in?”
None of this, ‘I really liked your site/post’ or beating around the bush.
When most marketers out there are shouting about ‘building relationships’ with your prospects, why then am I saying to cut all of the niceties out and get straight to the point?
Well, from personal experience, the time you waste on trying to build relationships with prospects that later turn out to be unsuccessful, can be quite significant.
I’ve found that getting straight to the point, and having either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ pretty much straight away is a much more efficient way of doing things.
One thing I’ve noticed with guest post campaigns, on enough occasions to be confident that it’s not just a fluke, is that people will often get back to you with two options:
- Link Placement
- Guest Post
Long story short, a guest post campaign often gives your the best of both worlds and will return both guest post and link placement opportunities.
More often than not you’ll pick up any straggler link placement opportunities anyway and can then make an informed decision at the time, as to how you’d like to proceed.
This is why you may want to consider guest posting as your standard default.
Plus, over time, this will give you a more natural-looking link profile, as your links won’t be consistently of the same type.
So, now that you know where I stand on guest posting vs link placement methods, feel free to slag me off in the comments section for being wrong 🙂
Guest Posting: Our Step-by-Step Process
Ok, so this isn’t going to be a complete step-by-step process, as that’s coming in our new link building guide – due out by the end of April.
But I am going to give you a pretty in-depth run-down into how we do things, the tools we use, costs associated with each, and how long each stage of the process can take.
So, let’s dig in…
This is the first, and probably the most ‘un-scientific’ part of the process.
This is the part of the process where we find keywords relevant to our niche or topic – these will be used later when prospecting.
This part of the process can range from extremely easy to extremely difficult.
It really depends on how complex your niche is and how well you truly know it.
Step 1: First, you want to take your general niche/topic and simply think of related terms.
For example, when brainstorming for Survival Front, my main niche/topic would be ‘survival’.
Step 2: From here, I would list any related keyword(s) I could think of – it may look something like this:
Step 3: Once you’ve exhausted all ideas using this method, it’s worth listing products related to each individual topic – again, this may look something like this:
- Survival knives
- Prepping rations
- Hunting rifles
- Camping tents
Once you’ve pretty much run out of ideas you can think up yourself (which are often the best keywords to use), we’re going to move on to Ahrefs.
Step 4: Log into Ahrefs and navigate to ‘Keyword explorer’ – enter your umbrella/broad match keywords one-by-one and analyze the results for:
- ‘Having same terms’
- ‘Also rank for’
- ‘Newly discovered’
This will give you some more keyword ideas to include when prospecting.
Note: Remember, these keywords are used to find related/relevant websites – websites (prospects) that fit into the categories of the keywords you’ve selected.
Step 5: Next, navigate to ‘Site explorer’ and enter the URL of your site (the site for which you are guest posting).
Click ‘Organic keywords’ and analyze the results.
This may provide you with some additional keyword ideas that you’re ranking for.
Step 6: Finally, enter the URL of your top competitors into ‘Site explorer’ and carry out the same process.
Click ‘Organic keywords’ and, once again, analyze the results.
Again, this may provide you with some additional keyword ideas that you’re competitors are ranking for.
Summary: Now you have an extensive list of keyword ideas, you’re ready to utilize that list as part of the guest posting prospecting process.
This is the part of the process where you’re going to start collating your target websites (prospects), using the keywords you collected in the previous stage.
In its most basic form, this is where you identify the people to whom you want to reach out.
In addition to your list of keywords, for this stage of the process, you’re going to need a list of Google advanced search operators.
For those of you who have not used search operators before, don’t worry.
Whilst it may seem complicated at first, trust me, it’s not.
We’re going to keep it really, really simple.
The list below is non-exhaustive, but will get you started on your guest posting journey:
- “add content”
- “become a contributor”
- “become a guest blogger”
- “bloggers wanted”
- “guest post guidelines”
- “become a guest writer”
- “contribute to our site”
- “guest bloggers wanted”
- “now accepting guest posts”
- “submission guidelines”
- “guest post guidelines”
- “write for us”
- “guest blog”
- “guest blogger”
- “guest column”
- “guest article”
- “guest post”
- “guest author”
Note that all of the search copy above is contained within speech marks?
These are used to ‘force’ Google to perform an exact-match search.
Although results may vary if you don’t use the speech marks, generally, I’ve found that this variation isn’t really that significant.
By all means, test each variant our for yourself, and see what works best for you.
Ok, now that you have your search copy (the list above) and you also have your keywords (collated during the ‘Topical Brainstorming’ stage, you’re now in a position to start prospecting.
The basic concept behind prospecting using advanced search operators is to take one of your keywords, match it with the search copy we’ve listed above, and perform a search in Google for each combination, thus bringing back results that are relevant to your keyword (i.e. “survival”), as well as you search copy (i.e. “guest blogger”).
This works by fetching results that are relevant to both your niche and who also accept guest blogging.
Easy enough, right?
Once you have taken a keyword, matched it with each search copy, and performed a search, you simply repeat the process for the rest of the search copy for that specific keyword.
Once you’ve completed the search for all of the search copy for your first keyword, you continue cycling through the same process for the remainder of your keywords.
Don’t worry if this is slightly confusing, it’ll all make sense when I demonstrate it using an example shortly.
Once you’ve performed a search, you’ll need to right-click each of the results, copy the link address, and add it to a spreadsheet – we’ll use this prospect spreadsheet later.
Note: At this stage in the game, don’t worry about vetting the sites too much.
Unless it’s blatantly obvious that they’re spammy or completely irrelevant, then there’s no requirement to go filtering through sites at this point.
This can be a difficult habit to get into, as you almost feel as if you’re putting unchecked results into your campaigns.
Trust me; you’ll save a lot of time and effort if you filter at a later stage.
For now, simply copy the URLs and add them to your prospect spreadsheet.
So, a lot of information to take in there.
Let’s see how everything fits together in a short example…
Step 1: Take your keyword and match it with your search copy – it should look something like this:
- “survival” + “add content”
- “survival” + “become a contributor”
- “survival” + “become a guest blogger”
- “survival” + “bloggers wanted”
- “survival” + “guest post guidelines”
- “survival” + “become a guest writer”
- “survival” + “contribute to our site”
- “survival” + “guest bloggers wanted”
- “survival” + “now accepting guest posts”
- “survival” + “submission guidelines”
- “survival” + “guest post guidelines”
- “survival” + “write for us”
- “survival” + “guest blog”
- “survival” + “guest blogger”
- “survival” + “guest column”
- “survival” + “guest article”
- “survival” + “guest post”
- “survival” + “guest author”
Step 2: Copy your first keyword/search copy combination (i.e. “survival” + “add content”), paste it into Google, and hit search.
Step 3: Right-click on each of the results, copy their link addresses, and add it to your prospect spreadsheet.
Note: Generally, it’s not beneficial to for further than page 3 or 4 of Google – once you hit this stage for a given search, the results will more than likely be completely irrelevant.
Step 4: Next, repeat the process using all of your keyword/search copy combinations.
Step 5: Once you have exhausted all search results for your first keyword (i.e. “survival”) and all search copy, repeat the process for the remainder of your keywords, for example:
Summary: By the end of this process, you should have collated a significant list of prospects, utilizing as many keywords as are required.
Note: In order to achieve a decent number of final prospects (i.e. the prospects you will conduct outreach to), you’re going to need a significant number of initial prospects (i.e. the pre-filtered prospects you have just gathered).
For example, you may have found an initial 1,000 prospects, but because you now need to find email addresses for each of those prospects, as well as verify those emails, by the time you’ve finished filtering, in reality, you may only be left with a couple of hundred valid final prospects.
You need to bear this in mind when gathering prospects initially, as it’ll have a knock-on effect on your campaign later on down the line.
This stage is pretty straightforward.
All we’re doing here is using a SaaS tool such as Hunter, importing our prospect spreadsheet, and having the software search the web for publicly available email addresses.
Step 1: Convert your ‘prospect spreadsheet’ into a CSV file.
Step 2: Log in to Hunter and click ‘Bulks’.
Step 3: Click ‘Email Finder’ and then ‘+ New Bulk’.
Step 4: Enter a name for your list, drag and drop your CSV into Hunter, and click ‘Upload’.
Step 5: Match the columns with the fields that Hunter needs in order to find the prospect email addresses.
Summary: At this stage, you’ll have a list of prospects and their associated emails.
Again, this stage of the process is relatively straightforward.
This time, we’re going to utilize a SaaS tool such as Neverbounce to verify the emails we found in the previous stage.
Why? Well, it’s no good having a huge list of email addresses if none of them actually receive your emails.
If you have a lot of non-verified email addresses, your bounce rate and deliverability can be impacted.
This can lead to restrictions being placed on your email account and, ultimately, a ban in some cases.
Step 1: Log in to Neverbounce and click ‘Add List’.
Step 2: Drag and drop your CSV into Neverbounce – this will upload your list.
Step 3: Click ‘Download’ on your cleaned and verified list, ensure ‘Deliverable’ is selected, and click ‘Download’ again.
Summary: At this stage, you now have a list of prospects and their associated (cleaned and verified) email addresses.
We’re now going to launch our guest post outreach campaign using the G Suite add-on, Streak.
This add-on is not as powerful as some of the email management SaaS tools, such as Mailshake, however, it is free and simple to use, so is an ideal choice for beginners.
If you’re not already using specific email management software, I’d recommend giving Streak a try whilst you learn the ropes.
Step 1: Within your Gmail, click the ‘+’ button to the right-hand side of ‘Pipelines’ to create a pipeline – a pipeline is what is used to track ‘things’, such as where in the outreach negotiation process a prospect is, for example:
- Guest Post Required
- Guest Post Sent
- Guest Post Live
These pipelines are customizable, so feel free to personalize this to fit your needs.
Step 2: Open up a new email message and import your CSV as a ‘mail merge’ – this will upload your list into Streak.
Step 3: Customize your outreach message using Streak ‘variables’ by clicking ‘Insert Variable’.
I generally keep this email simple and use only ‘first name’ variables.
At this point, I’ll draft a brief, to-the-point email, informing the prospect that I’d like to write a guest post for their site with a link pointing back to my site as ‘credit’ for the post.
Keep it really basic and really straight forward.
Step 4: Send your mail merge.
Once you have sent your outreach email, there are three possible outcomes per prospect:
- No Response
- Negative Response
- Positive Response
If you receive no response from a prospect, it will not show in your inbox.
Simply forget about it and move on – it’s not worth wasting your time chasing up non-responders, at least if it’s a manual process.
As you begin to gain more experience in mass outreach, you may opt to use software that incorporates automated follow-up emails.
If this is the case then, of course, I’d recommend using them, as you really have nothing to lose by doing so and people can quite often get back to you 2nd or 3rd time around.
If you receive a negative response, again, it is not worth your time getting into a back-and-forth about the moralities of cold outreach, or GDPR compliance, or any of the other many topics that may crop up.
Simply make them as ‘Not Suitable/Not Interested’ in your pipeline and move on.
The only responses you’re generally interested in are positive ones.
These can vary from straight-up acceptance responses to elaborative/inquisitive response whereby the prospect wishes to know some more information.
Simply respond to the prospect and allocate them to whatever stage of your pipeline is suitable – more often than not this is the ‘Negotiation’ phase.
Summary: At this stage of the process, you should have launched your outreach campaign to a significantly large list of (cleaned and verified) prospects, organized the respondents within your pipeline, and followed-up on each opportunity.
Note: Don’t be scared of speaking openly – be clear about your expectations prior to sending over any content, as this will avoid issues down the line.
Note: Remember when we said not to pay too much attention to relevance checking and filtering results during the earlier stages we discussed, as we’d cover that in another stage of the process?
Well, this is that stage.
Make sure that, as emails come through, you’re checking out the site for relevance, it’s DR, organic traffic, backlink profile, etc. and you’re happy that a link from this site is acceptable and meets your requirements.
Guest Post Production
This is the final stage of the guest posting process.
By now you have:
- Brainstormed topical keywords.
- Collated a decent-sized list of initial prospects using advanced search operators.
- Scraped their email addresses.
- Verified their email addresses.
- Launched your outreach campaign, checked relevancy and other criteria, and followed-up on opportunities.
Now all you need to do is write the guest post and submit it to the prospect.
Step 1: Agree on a topic.
Step 2: Confirm any writing guidelines/criteria.
Step 3: Write the guest post as per the guidelines (ensuring your link is included) and submit it to the prospect, asking to be notified when the post is live.
This can be something as simple as…
If you could keep me posted once the post is published, it’d be really appreciated, as I’d like to share it with my network.
I look forward to seeing the finished piece live. 🙂
Sometimes this gives the prospect a little bit more of an incentive to inform you when everything is sorted.
Failing this, you’ll just have to keep checking in, seeing if the post is live, and chasing until it’s done.
Step 4: Once your post is live on the prospect’s site, navigate to the article, and make sure everything is as it should be.
If all is well, add the relevant information to a link monitoring spreadsheet, send a thank you follow-up email, and note down any important metrics (i.e. Dofollow/Nofollow, site DR, traffic, etc.)
If it has not, contact the prospect and express your concern as to why your agreement has not honored.
Guest Posting: Tools, Time & Costs
So, a lot to take in there.
Hopefully, you found the process overview valuable and you can now go away and implement it yourself.
There is one other point to note before we move on to looking at the costs associated with outreach, in terms of time and money…
While conducting your outreach, you will undoubtedly come across prospects offering you link placements and guest posts in return for payment.
I’m not here to go into the moralities of paid links, or even advise you on whether or not you should go down that route; you will ultimately do your own research, assess the risk, and make your own decision.
However, as this chapter is about link building and these types of opportunities will crop up, I feel obligated to highlight Google’s approach to Webmasters (SEOs) paying for links.
Important: It is a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.”
You’re all professionals and will all make your own mind up on how you approach link building, and if you think the reward outweighs the risk, cool. 🙂
Let’s take a look at the estimated costs associated with an outreach campaign similar to the one we described above…
Tools, Time & Costs
|Process Stage||Tools Required||Tool Costs||Time Required||Time Costs||Stage Costs|
|Topical Brainstorming||Ahrefs||$399.00||1 Hour||$50||$449|
|Email Finding||Hunter||$215.30||0.5 Hours||$25||$240.30|
|Email Verification||Neverbounce||$57.14||0.5 Hours||$25||$82.14|
|Email Management||Streak||–||35 Hours||$1,750||$1,750|
|Guest Post Production||–||–||56 Hours||$2,800||$2,800|
Note: The table above is really for illustration purposes only – the costs are estimated and may vary from the actual results you personally achieve.
There are literally tons of variables at play here.
The cost of hours was based on the average hourly rate of a freelance SEO in the US ($50 per hour), according to this Ahrefs survey, multiplied by the estimated number of hours it would take to complete each task, for a campaign of 1,000 prospects.
The cost of tools was based on the current monthly cost of Daine Media subscriptions – some of the tools have a higher capacity than 1,000 prospects and this should be factored in.
An estimated 32 links could be achieved from a campaign of this size, based on current Daine Media results.
It’s also worth noting that the above campaign would take an estimated 114 hours in total to complete!
However, there is some good news…
In May 2020, we’re releasing a link building SaaS tool that will enable you to automate 80-90% of the link building process.
Pretty cool, right?
Imagine it; the ability to carry out monthly campaigns like the one we’ve just described above, all at the push of a button and in a fraction of the time.
And it get’s even better…
We’re releasing the tool for beta testing initially, at a heavily discounted price.
For a fraction of the cost of some of the tools mentioned above, you can become a beta tester, run amazing campaigns, acquire countless high-quality links that will skyrocket your rankings, and have access to new features and functionality as they’re released, all for just $99.99 per month!
This monthly price will remain unchanged for life for beta testers, even once the tool has launched at full retail price which will be considerably more than $99.99 per month.
Then make sure you have subscribed to the Niche Affiliate Empires newsletter, where we’ll be announcing the beta launch first.
We already have a waiting list of 300+ people, so sign up quickly to avoid missing out!
Link Building Summary
So, there you have it; an overview of our guest posting processes.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter and found our process overview useful.
We’ve yet to fully commit to link building on Survival Front, however, it’s coming in the very near future.
Once we do, we’ll be sure to keep you posted every step of the way, on both our successes and, more importantly, our failures.
Here’s how we’ve got on with link building so far…
Link Building: Progress to Date
|Time Period||Number of Links Acquired|
|Total Number of Links Acquired||51|
The plan is to progressively ramp up the link building going forward and now that we don’t have to worry too much about Quora promotion (as we’re pulling the plug on it) and producing content (as we’re drastically pulling back our writing efforts), we have a lot more time to dedicate to outreach.
Time to smash it!
BONUS EXTRA: Stay tuned for my ‘Definitive Guide to Link Building‘ blog post which will be released in April.
This guide will teach you everything you need to know about building links and growing your site’s authority and will include actionable, step-by-step processes for crafting a killer link building campaign, including in-depth blueprints on:
- The Link Placement Method
- The Guest Posting Method
- The Broken Link Method
- The Competitor Link Method
- The Expert Roundup Method
- The Bandwagon Method (our very own, brand new strategy developed by our CEO, Gareth Daine)
- And much, much more…
To be one of the first to be notified when the post is released, make sure you’re signed up to the NAE newsletter.
This is one definitive guide you won’t want to miss!
So, there we have it; Survival Front’s month 4 update.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this read and have taken something valuable away from it, even if that’s just a little bit of inspiration to keep on plodding along with your own digital asset.
Everything we’ve discussed in this post is really all white noise unless, of course, it’s improving the only two metrics that ever really matter; traffic and earnings.
So, let’s take a look out how we’ve done so far…
Monthly Progress: Recap & Summary
|Time Period||Organic Traffic||% Change||Earnings||% Change|
|Total Earnings To Date||$54.06|
|Estimated Flippable Asset Value (26x – 32x)||$833.56 – $1,025.92|
We’re still not Survival Front-made millionaires (yet), but we’re continuing to grow and it won’t be long before we’re bringing in some real money through this site.
If there’s anything you’d like me to discuss in detail in the next update, please do drop me a comment below and I’ll make sure I cover it next month.
Until next time, stay safe and earning Niche Affiliate Emporers.