I was recently talking with Jon about doing a post for you guys here at fatstacksblog.com, and he suggested a case study about one of my sites, one of the bigger earners.
We decided that rather than just a generic “This is what happened and how much it earned” case study though, we’d rather focus on content types, content timelines, link types, and link timelines.
So while I will still try to make this post follow the story of the site’s growth, it will be less linear and more themed towards certain aspects of growing a site.
I think that will make it ultimately much more actionable.
So cheers for having me again Jon, and let’s get to it!
Table of Contents
Let’s Add Some Context
First, some background about the site:
- It’s primarily earning from Amazon (though it wasn’t when I first started it – more on that later)
- It took a while to get growing as I learned more about what works, but it went from $50 per month to $2,000 per month in a year, once I finally got traction
- I’m not going to reveal the URL. This case study won’t benefit from it and the site will only end up tanking some time in the future if I do.
- Aside from adding new content and links occasionally, the site is mostly passive income.
- It has about 100 posts/pages.
- It is not what some people would consider a “micro niche” site. It definitely covers a specific niche, but within that niche there are a dozen or so different product types, and each type has dozens of brands, so there is plenty to cover.
Types Of Content
The types of content I use for the site fall into the following categories and percentages:
- “Best” and “review” posts (60%)
- Info posts (30%)
- “Vs” posts (10%)
Most people will probably know these already, but to give an overview, a “Best” post is something like “Best double stroller” where you might review 5 or 10 different double strollers, and give a conclusion about which one is the best. These tend to get a lot of searches, the traffic is generally ready to buy, and it’s easy to get conversions.
You can also do lots of things to boost your conversions, like adding a comparison table or a featured product box.
A “review” post is similar, but usually just focuses on one single product, like “Gillette safety razor review”. These ones don’t usually get as much traffic as “best” keywords, but they are still useful and some of them do still have a high search volume.
Besides, you don’t have to write the reviews just to get search traffic, you can send paid traffic if the commissions are high enough, or you can link internally to them and send traffic there from other pages on your site, such as from info posts.
Speaking of which, “info” posts serve quite a few purposes:
- They help your site become more of an authority
- They stop you getting a thin-content penalty where you just have a bunch of affiliate articles
- You can use them to funnel traffic to other posts, or to an email list.
With this particular site, I didn’t build an email list, because it was an Amazon affiliate site and I didn’t really know how to monetize a list very well. So instead, I put a lot of links to money posts instead and sent people to check out my review posts or best of posts, and it worked pretty well for driving additional traffic to the money pages.
I like to have anywhere from 40-30% of my content as info posts. This isn’t a science, but I find that it really helps you site look more legit. Info posts tend to be easier to rank as well, so it’s not like that’s 30% of your content being wasted.
Here are some examples of good info posts to write:
- Are (whatever) safe?
- How to (whatever)
- (whatever) definition
- Can you (whatever)?
- How to use (whatever)
- Ultimate guide to (whatever)
- List posts (Top 5 reasons why you should (whatever).
The list is really endless, but the ones above are usually quite easy to tie in to other money posts. For example, if you were writing “Are straight razors safe?” you could send people to read your article on the best straight razors for beginners, where they might end up purchasing something.
I like to put “vs” posts in their own content type because they’re a hybrid between an info post and a best post, and they’re one of my secret weapons.
Generally a “vs” post is quite easy to rank compared to a best or review post, but it actually is just as monetizable and converts pretty well, especially if you’re comparing two Amazon products.
For example, let’s say you had a coffee website and you were saying “Aeropress vs Cafetiere” (I have no idea if this is a real keyword or not). You would be able to deliver a lot of information and help people make a decision, but you’d also get an opportunity to not only recommend one product, but two.
You could show the top 2-3 Aeropresses, the top 2-3 Cafetieres, and the top 1-2 overall. It lets you put a lot of affiliate links into an article without it looking like a thin content post.
Generally, there are fewer people writing vs posts as well, which makes them easier to rank. We’ll talk more about ranking later though.
Is This Classed An Authority Site?
The term “authority site” is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, because it is confusing and misleads a lot of people. For me, an authority site is something like Fatstacksblog, Humanproofdesigns, or in other niches, Bodybuilding.com is a good example.
Thewirecutter.com isn’t an authority site, yet it has thousands of pages.
So what’s my definition of an authority site? It’s simple. One where the site has a persona, and a loyal following, and people actively link to it and share it because they read it a lot. Vox is an authority site, Huffington Post is an authority site. Any site where people consider the site to be “an authority” is an authority site.
Yet a big Amazon site or even non-Amazon site, can’t really be considered an authority just because it’s large.
Have I said authority too much? I think so.
Anyway, what I dislike about the term, is people seem to think of sites in an either or situation. It’s either an authority site, or it’s a micro-niche site.
This is baloney.
Micro-niche sites haven’t worked since 2012.
Whatever site you build, will need to have at least 30 articles and will want to cover at least 2-3 subtopics. There’s no “Micro site vs authority site” anymore. All sites should be large.
Instead of making a site about “Best grill brush”, make it about Barbecues, and cover topics from “Best grill brush” to “Gas vs electric grill” and talk about whether or not smoker grills are safe to use indoors.
Every site we build at HPD, whether we’re building it for ourselves, or for a customer who picks up one of our Done For You sites, is designed to be built-out and expanded into a larger site. This doesn’t mean it has to be considered an Authority site where you are trying to build a loyal following.
If you want to do that, great! But you can also just put up a large amount of good content that fits into the categories above, and still do very well.
The argument should really be “Do I want to build this site out as an authoritative figure, or do I just want to make it a super useful content site?”
So when thinking about your content, and your niches, and subniches, you definitely want to target a niche that has room to grow outwards.
The Content Timeline
When I first started this site, I was writing all the content myself and I did about 3 articles per week for 3 months. At that point, I was exhausted and took a break for a few months (was working on other sites) and then returned to focus on link building.
I didn’t put the content out in any particular order, it was just based on which keywords I had next to write on my list.
While it doesn’t really matter whether you put all your content out in batches or drip it out (unless you’re an authority site with an active following), the advantage of doing it all myself and dripping it out allowed me to do a much more thorough job of internal linking.
Every new post I put out would link to a pre-existing post, and over time, those pre-existing posts would start to rank purely off the internal links. I had one “vs” post on the top of page 1 and it didn’t even have a single backlink, just some internal links. See why I like “vs” keywords so much?
Once I had reached 30 articles and made the switch to link building, I didn’t really add many more articles. In fact I believe I only added 3-4 more articles for the rest of the year.
While I do think it benefits you to keep rolling out new articles every week (more articles = more traffic afterall), I also think it’s a myth that if you just arbitrarily add new content, you’ll succeed purely because Google loves this.
At some point, you’re going to want to focus on link building… which is what we’ll talk about next.
When I first started the site, I didn’t link build until it was about six months old. I of course shared almost every article on social media channels, so it had its foundation of social links and social signals, but nothing that was going to move the needle in terms of rankings.
Some of the articles did find their way to page 1 of Google without linking, especially once the site had left the sandbox (for this site it was about 4 months, but it tends to be longer now. More like 6-7).
The first links I started building once I had made my mind up about whether or not to stya white-hat or go grey (I went grey), were Hoth links.
People have varying opinions about The Hoth, and my opinion is to always try and see for myself.
I bought the standard pack $60 and then the more expensive version $250, and both times my rankings went up. They didn’t skyrocket to the top of page 1, but they moved enough to make me satisfied.
I do feel there can be diminishing returns with The Hoth though, as a later pack didn’t move the rankings as much (or maybe it was just a more competitive keyword).
I focused those links in two ways:
- Branded links to the homepage
- Partial match and limited exact match links to inner pages
As a quick note, I set the homepage up on this site as a 4,000 word article. It wasn’t aiming to rank for any particular keyword, it was more like a long-form “about” page which talked about all the topics the site was going to cover, and then linked to inner pages to read more.
By doing this, I was able to funnel homepage links to inner money pages as well, so every link I built served multiple purposes of increasing the Domain Authority, while also directly passing link juice to inner pages.
This doesn’t always work, so depending on what type of site you’re building, you may prefer to just add a blogroll as your homepage instead.
Next up, I started building PBN links to the site. I’m sure a lot of people will have lost interest in this case study now that I’ve admitted to this, but as I mentioned earlier, I’ve always been of the “try it for yourself and judge” persuasion.
There are a ton of different opinions on PBN’s, and mine was this “I’d rather have a site that earns me money and has a risk of getting penalized, than a site that fails because I can’t build white hat links properly”.
These days, I am just as good at white-hat links, so I like to mix it up.
Anyway, in terms of the link building, I built links in a similar fashion to how I did it with The Hoth. I mixed the links between the homepage, and inner pages.
What was really interesting was that some posts popped right up to the middle or even top of page 1 with only a few links, and other posts never made it past page 2 no matter what I did.
This could be because the post was over-optimized, it could be because page 1 sites were ranking off their domain authority and not specifically backlinks, or it could have been for 100 other reasons.
What I learned was that you should always have many different money posts, because if one of your juiciest ones never makes it to page 1, you’ll still make money from the other posts.
This goes back to what I was saying earlier as well, about choosing a broader focus for your niche.
Scaling A Site – Using Its Progress To Feed Itself
Here’s a really cool thing you can do with your site once it starts to get traction – you can use its progress to feed even more progress.
This doesn’t just mean reinvesting your profits. Of course you will want to do that if you want the site to grow, but this is beyond that.
As my site grew, I ranked for more and more keywords. This meant that more and more competitors showed up in Semrush, and more and more content gaps were available in ahrefs.
I spent a good few hours just going through these, seeing what content my competitors ranked for that I didn’t, and then writing my own posts on those topics.
On top of this, I also found many instances where my articles ranked on page 2 for keywords they weren’t really optimized for. By tweaking those articles and optimizing them better for those keywords, I was able to grow the traffic my existing content got as well.
So essentially, I was able to find my competitors, find what they ranked for and copy it, and then optimize my existing content to increase its traffic too.
And then a month later, you rank for more keywords, and you can do the whole process again.
By doing this, and then sprinkling links to the newer content and the older content alike, you’re able to accelerate your site’s growth, which is why it went from $1,000 to $2,000 per month in just one month, and then keep scaling beyond.
The screenshot below shows the Google Analytics over the first 2 years of the site’s life. The red arrows indicates where I started scaling it. You can see how there was an acceleration in traffic when this happened.
Let’s Talk About Time
Before this post gets to epic proportions, let’s tie it all together and talk a bit about timeframes.
As I mentioned earlier, the first sixth months of the site’s life were basically we writing content, sharing it on social media, and then letting it sit for a couple of months while I was busy doing something else.
I quite often like to let sites sit, or “marinate”, before returning and putting effort into them again. This may seem a bit counterintuitive as it feels like a site is losing momentum, but I’ve never really seen evidence of it being harmful. On the contrary, it’s nice to take a breather and come back to find the site has higher rankings than when you left it, simply because age and time has pushed them up a bit.
The next 6 months were a mixture of link building, adding the occasional article, and optimizing onpage SEO until I got the rankings to a place that I was happy with (Ok, I’m never fully happy, but the site was doing well at least). After that, it was just a case of scaling, and rinsing and repeating.
Don’t take these timeframes as gospel for every site, but I’ve definitely seen most of them fall into this kind of pattern where you don’t get the proper traction you want until the 6-12 month mark. That’s just the way the Google algorithm seems to work.
Now in terms of link velocity and quantity, I was building about 5-10 links per month. Nowadays I think you need to make it 10-20 per month, but of course this depends very much on the strength of competition in your niche. What you don’t want to do is spam your site into oblivion, which is how most grey-hat SEO’s get penalized.
Slow and steady really does win the race.
I was recently asked in an Ask Me Anything about strategies for niche sites. In all honesty, the strategy always boils down to the same things, growing content, and adding links.
There are many different tactics you can use along the way, such as white-hat, grey-hat, and all the variations of each, but the strategy just involves adding links, and adding more content. It’s learning how to do this that takes time.
For those of you who want to follow me and find out more about my training, then come say hello at HumanProofDesigns.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.