Fat Stacks quote from Breaking Bad by Jesse Pinkman

15 Things I’d Do Differently with My Authority Site (If Starting From Scratch)

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Recently a comment was left asking me what would I do differently with my authority B2C site if starting today?

That’s a fantastic question; worthy of an entire blog post since it’s been almost 2 years since I launched my most successful B2C site ever.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 2 years.  That site changed my life financially.  Until then I earned a living, now I have growing capital resources to grow my business faster and faster.

Like anything, there are several things I would do differently.  This post sets them out.  Here we go.

What I Would Do Differently

1. Silo Structure

Without a doubt, knowing what I know today, thanks to RankXL, I’d plan the entire site in a silo structure from the start in an effort to have better on-site SEO.  Of course I don’t know if this would have resulted in more organic search traffic, but I suspect it would.

However, I don’t regret how the site evolved.  When I launched it, I did so ignoring SEO altogether.  Maybe ignoring SEO can be good because one doesn’t do something stupid that results in a penalty.  Who knows?  Nevertheless, I’d structure the entire thing as a series of silos.

Here’s a great article about silo structure (it’s old, but still relevant today).

2. Optimize Images from the Start

Slow loading website

I optimize images now, but I didn’t when I started.  I was in too much of a rush (story of my life).  Talk about amateur hour, but that’s how it goes.

I really should go back and optimize images from the first 100 to 200 posts because they do take time to load.

While optimizing images takes time, it really does help with page load speed and of course user experience.

3. Better Keyword Research

This ties in with a silo structure.  If I were starting today, I’d plan out several hundred posts, each targeting specific keywords with a specific location within the silos.  I would have loved to have known about SECockpit in the beginning because this software is genius at finding a lot of great keywords in pretty much any niche.

FYI, I use SECockpit and many other subscription based software platforms intermittently.  I sign up, cancel, sign up, cancel… I use it on an as-needed basis.  For example, when I do keyword research for a site, I’ll do it for several days straight resulting in hundreds of post topics and then not bother with research for several months.

That said, when I launched the site it was a new niche for me.  I had no idea which keywords would rank.  I figured it all out once organic traffic started pouring in.  As they say, hindsight is 20/20.

4. Invest Less in Email Marketing

I know this is sacrilegious in internet marketing circles, but frankly, in some niches, email marketing isn’t all that great.  The owners of Car Throttle say the same.

I invested a lot of time and money in building a 20,000 subscriber email list (after being scrubbed several times) but haven’t earned much from that list at all.  I doubt it’s worth what AWeber charges me.  Truth be told I haven’t worked hard to generate an ROI with it, but I don’t think investing more effort will pay off.

The fact is some niches simply are not great for email marketing… especially fun niches that people enjoy for fun and entertainment.  Maybe I just went about it wrong… admittedly I’m not very good at email marketing.

5. Spend Less Time Testing So Many Ad Networks

Once I hit 500,000 monthly pageviews, I received offers from ad networks weekly.  It’s very flattering; however, it became a time suck.  Unless the ad network offered an ad format I didn’t have on the site, testing resulted in the entire effort being a waste of time.

That said, I learned a lot about the display ad industry doing all that testing so it wasn’t entirely worth it.

After 2 years and dozens of ad networks tested, my stable of ad networks include AdSense, Media.net, GumGum, Amazon AssociatesOpinion Stage Polls and Criteo for backfill (you can set a floor CPM which is awesome).  I also really like Spoutable, but I prefer having an exit intent form that offers other articles on my site.

6. Invest More In Outreach Link Building

It’s only recently that I started white hat outreach link building as taught in RankXL and discussed by Brian Dean at Backlinko.

It’s too early at this point to point to any success (although since December, my organic search traffic is in a very nice upward trajectory).

Frankly, I hate outreach because it’s so boring.  My disdain of outreach has cost me tens of thousands of dollars with my niche authority sites and Fat Stacks.

What I love doing is coming up with content ideas and publishing content.  I know promotion is important, but I tend to skip that all-important step… until recently.  Whether I ever do outreach with Fat Stacks remains to be seen.  Again, not doing so costs me a lot of money, but I enjoy writing for this blog the most and since I have several niche sites, I only have so much time for Fat Stacks.

Why am I doing link building outreach now?

Because I can afford to pay someone to do it.  I’ve hired a person who has experience with this work.  Time will tell whether she can walk the walk.  She cost more than other people offering similar services so I hope she delivers.

I did some outreach just to be familiar with the process so I can at least determine whether people I hire to do the work are on the right track.

I’m sure if I had done outreach from the beginning, my organic search traffic would be much higher than it is now.  That said, I set out with no intention of doing any SEO, yet organic search traffic grew quickly anyway.  Maybe had I focused on SEO I would have botched it back then resulting in a dead site today.

7. Invest More In Epic Pillar Content

These days I’m routinely publishing epic 3,000 to 5,000 word content pieces loaded with images, tabbed sections, fancy boxes… the whole shebang on my niche sites to create really awesome posts.

I didn’t do this for the first 20 months, but I wish I had.  It’s great, evergreen content that will generate revenue for a long time and attract links.  In fact, I now have dozens of such types of content which makes outreach link building easier (not easy, but easier because I can provide these resources confident that many website publishers will at least consider linking to them).

8. Use Table of Contents in Posts Right from the Start

For longer content, I’d use the Table of Contents Plus plugin (free – read my review here).  I use it now extensively.

This plugin creates simple, but effective tables of content very quickly and easily.  The best part is the in-content links can show up as additional links in Google search results page.  I love it when it does this because it increases conversion from organic search pages.

9. Start an Affiliate Woocommerce Store on a Subdomain Sooner

For my biggest B2C authority site, I’ve been building out an affiliate woocommerce store on the site’s subdomain.  It’s been a huge job, primarily because I started it after 900 posts were published, within which I promote hundreds of products on Amazon and other affiliate networks.

By having the affiliate store, I can link to it from the main site which reduces the use of affiliate links on the main site.  Also, the pageviews per visitor on the affiliate store is triple that of the main site.  Essentially it keeps visitors exposed and surfing my B2C site brand longer.

That said, I haven’t set up the store enough yet to determine if conversion is better, the same or worse.  Only time will tell.  If it’s a success, I’ll publish all about it on this blog.  It’s too early at this stage and I don’t want anyone jumping the gun doing all this work if it ends up being a waste of time.

If you want to know how I’m setting it up, I use the Flatsome theme with Woocommerce, Woozone (for Amazon products) and Datafeedr for importing products from non-Amazon merchants.

10. Optimize my ads for mobile much, much sooner

I believe it was 10 months after site launch that I optimized my display ads for mobile.  This was a huge mistake because until then my mobile ad RPM was pitiful.

More pathetic is the fact I didn’t even realize that nearly half of my organic traffic was on mobile devices because I never checked.  Moreover, I had never checked my site on my tablet or phone.  Talk about stupid.

I finally did check my site on mobile devices and the traffic to the site on these devices and realized the following:

a) Non-mobile optimized ads look terrible on mobile devices (they get cut off), which explains why mobile revenue was pathetic.

b) Mobile traffic was growing and I better optimize mobile ads to earn decent revenue from mobile visitors.

11. Incorporate WP Review plugin much sooner

I’ve tested a lot of review/star rating plugins over the years.  Most are too complicated and cumbersome to use.

Not WP Review plugin (paid).  WP Review plugin is by far the best star rating review plugin I’ve used.  It’s easy, fully customizable and it shows the star ratings in the organic search rankings pages (SERPs).  These stars really jump out and attract click-throughs to a post from the SERPs.

You don’t need to restrict this plugin for product reviews.  You can incorporate a review of anything in a post such as an image, video, piece of content… anything which then makes using this plugin possible and gives you the opportunity to have star ratings appear in the SERPs.

12. Never Stopped Producing YouTube Videos

For the first 12 months, I turned every post into a YouTube video.  This is time-consuming and the revenue from YouTube wasn’t great (it still isn’t).

However, I’ve resumed turning every post into videos recently.  I have a backlog of about 700 posts to turn into videos.  While YouTube revenue isn’t great, quitting this part of my authority site was shortsighted.  I have nearly 1 million YouTube views.  Had I never stopped, I’m sure I would have 3 million views and at least 10,000 subscribers which would have primed my YouTube channel for really taking off.

YouTube is a slow process, but the long term can be very good.  The videos send traffic back to the site and earn money, which is a win/win.  Moreover, the videos can be posted across all social channels.

Because the YouTube revenue wasn’t covering the cost of outsourcing to create the videos, I stopped.  I wish I hadn’t stopped even if it cost me money for a year or two.

13. Not Waste Money On Setting Up the Site for User Generated Content

I spent over $6,000 on a totally useless project.  I hired a developer to make it possible for visitors to submit images and publish their own posts.  The entire thing was a disaster.  The site became a spam fest.  I spent more time deleting garbage and seldom ended up with a post worth publishing.

I learned a valuable lesson which is user generated content sounds like an easy way to get content, but it’s a lot of work managing it all.

14. Never Stop Using Opinion Stage Polls

Early in 2015 I started using Opinion Stage Polls and Quizzes.  I pulled the plug after about 2 months because my expectations were too high.

In early 2016, I started using Opinion Stage again (after trying several other poll software).  The fact is the user engagement is awesome.  I also joined their revenue share program where ads are placed in the polls, from which I receive 70%.

So far revenue is decent ($500 per month and should climb to $1,000 per month with ad optimization within the polls); more importantly, thousands of visitors take the polls weekly so they’re popular and great for user engagement.

Here’s a monetized poll created with Opinion Stage:

15. Use Media.net More Aggressively from the Start

I LOVE Media.net ads.  The RPM is fantastic (rivaling AdSense).  For a long time I relegated Media.net ads to the below-the-fold spots.  Now I have 1 Media.net ad unit in the best ad spot on my site and it earns spectacularly.

Media.net has wonderful customer service and they are more flexible with where you can place ads.  Moreover, they will create custom designs for you so your ads are unique which helps with ad/banner blindness.

I realize it’s not easy being accepted into the Media.net, but if you can get in, test placements with their ads extensively; I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

What I Would Do the Same

While there is much I would do differently, there is also much I wouldn’t change.  Here’s that list.

1. Avoid blackhat SEO tactics

I think if you’re going to invest in an authority site with a long term view, blackhat SEO tactics aren’t smart.  Why risk it?  If you’re building an awesome site, you won’t need blackhat tactics in the long run.

I’ve never built a spammy link to my authority sites and don’t plan on it.

2. Buy traffic

There’s a lot I could say about buying traffic to a niche site, more than I care to share here (I reveal all in my course).

I had no idea in the beginning just how lucrative buying traffic would be and how beneficial to the site it would be.  In a nutshell, buying traffic did the following:

a) generated profits fast (some months more than others);

b) grew Facebook fans to over 250,000 fairly quickly;

c) generated hundreds of thousands of on-site shares which drove more traffic and gave the site a lot of social proof;

d) grew the brand;

e) grew the email list (which I’ve never been able to make all that lucrative, but in another niche could have been a goldmine);

f) traffic generates traffic – by this I mean visitors shared the content which drove traffic and in my opinion helped with organic search traffic growth in the long run; and

g) gave me access to any ad network I applied to (many have minimum page view requirements).

Obviously fast profits was the best benefit, but even if you can’t get paid traffic profitable, do not underestimate the other benefits of buying traffic to a niche site.

3. Invest time & money in Pinterest and Facebook channels

Whenever starting a social media channel from scratch, it’s slow-going in the beginning.  After all, with few fans/followers, you aren’t going to generate much traffic, yet the work can be tedious if you post often.

However, if done right (which isn’t hard), investing time/money in building up social media channels can pay dividends for years.  Once you have fans/followers and if you serve them what they want, you have instant traffic sources.

Pinterest took 18 months before I enjoyed any serious traffic from it.  Now I get 2,500 to 4,500 daily visitors from Pinterest for one site, which is awesome.  I suspect it will grow.

PINTEREST TIP:  My Pinterest traffic exploded when I activated rich pins.  I suggest you do the same.

4. Invest in outsourcing

I don’t begrudge a single dollar I invested in outsourcing.  Sure, not every dollar I spent panned out; however, enough of the money I spent made it possible to really grow my sites.

I started slowly by outsourcing the most time consuming part of the site, which is content.  I then added social media.  Then video and email newsletter production.

These days I don’t have to spend much time on my authority site except for paid promotion, keyword research and monetization, which freed me up to get 2 more authority sites underway (I formed a JV with one site and purchased another site).

5. Use Genesis and the Eleven40 Theme

I like the fact I’m loyal to StudioPress because it makes choosing a theme easy.  I don’t bother looking at other theme developers.  All I need to decide is which StudioPress child theme I’ll use.  For authority B2C sites, I like Eleven40 Child Theme.

That said, the site I recently purchased uses a different theme.  I considered changing it, but it’s too much hassle.  The current theme looks good and does the job.  In fact it has some features that StudioPress doesn’t, which works well for the new site.

Another site I recently got involved with as a JV uses the SociallyViral theme.  I must say I like this theme a lot as well.  It’s by MyThemeShop, which is a reputable theme developer and so far I have no complaints, only praise.

6. Use Amazon Buckets/Cloudfront for media storage

I’m grateful I knew enough early on that Bluehost wouldn’t do a good job hosting all the media (mostly images) I planned to publish.  Bluehost is a fabulous starter hosting company, but when it comes to storing images and videos, Amazon is where it’s at.

Upon site set-up I used Amazon buckets for storing all media.  I then hired a consultant to set up Cloudfront.

I’ve saved thousands of dollars with this set-up and while it’s more technical, it’s been worth it with respect to cost and site performance.

7. Focus on publishing quality content

Before I launched what is now my most successful website, I spent 3 weeks or so researching the vertical.  I analyzed every site I could find to see what type of content they were publishing, traffic information, social media engagement, keywords… everything.

By doing this research, I was able to determine the following:

a) the niche was very good despite there being many big players.  The traffic potential was and is enormous, which is important to me;

b) how I could publish content that was different and often better than other sites were publishing;

c) the niche could be monetized with display ads and affiliate offers.  Interestingly, I thought affiliate offers would be more lucrative when I started, but it turned out display ads were more lucrative;

d) what types of content did well with social media; and

e) legitimate content sources.

Once I had a plan in place, I focused on publishing outstanding content.  As the site grew, I invested more and more of the profits in better and better content.  I continue to follow this plan to this day.

8. Test Test Test and Test Some More

a-b testing

I did a lot of things over the last 2 years that was a waste of money and time.

However, all that testing resulted in finding a few things that work incredibly well.

The following are things I tested relentlessly:

a) AdSense and Media.net colors, sizes and placements;

b) Many different ad networks and advertisers;

c) User experience and engagement: Polls, reviews, related content widgets, on-site videos… dozens of tactics to increase pageviews per visitor and time on site.

d) email subscriber sign up forms, landing pages, popups, placements, etc.

e) Affiliate merchants (it’s amazing how some merchants sell so well and others not so much – even when selling the same product).

f) Paid traffic sources;

g) Social media post types, frequency, software, manual posting… endless testing here;

h) home page layout;

i) navigation, including several mobile responsive menu plugins; and

j) post formats (click here to see a post format I use across my niche sites – including ad placement).

I’m sure I tested more, but you get the idea.  I spent a lot of time testing and while a lot didn’t pan out, I didn’t care because the few things that worked well, worked really, really well.

9. Use SumoMe Plugin

I love SumoMe.  I don’t like their premium pricing, but the SumoMe Share and Image Sharing plugins are the very best I’ve used (and I’ve tested most of the premium share plugins).

While I pay for the Share plugin ($20 per month), I use the free version of Image Sharing and it does a terrific job.  I get hundreds of shares every day because Image Sharing makes it so easy for visitors to share any image on my site.  If you publish a site with a lot of images, this is a must-have plugin.

10. Resisted the Urge to Start More Sites

Boy, was it ever tempting to launch several new sites at the 6 to 8 month stage.  I’m sure glad I didn’t.  Instead, I doubled down on my one site and continued growing it.  My aim was to get it to the point where it could run itself with my growing team.  It reached this stage around the 18 month mark.

What signified “running itself?”

When the site started earning $20K plus per month from free organic traffic without my involvement, I deemed it as “running itself”.

While the site earned far more than that in previous months, most of it was from paid traffic.  That’s not passive.  It required several hours of my attention almost every day.

However, now that I invest less in paid and it still earns very well from organic, I now can turn my attention to starting and growing new sites (or in the case of one site, purchase a site and grow it).  The fact is it’s easy outsourcing content generation, but I’ve never outsourced paid traffic.

So, if you have success, that’s great, but resist the urge to start more sites too soon.  Get to the point where you can live off of your main site with very little involvement … that’s when you’ll have time and resources to start another site.

Wrap-Up

It’s interesting that I’ve pinpointed more that I would have changed than I’d do the same.  I guess it’s easier to spot the failures and mistakes.

I’m sure as time goes on, the site will continue to evolve which will no doubt add to my “what I’d do differently” and “what I’d do the same” lists.

Overall, I have no regrets.  After all, any time you end up with a site that generates a healthy 5 figures in profit every month, it’s hard to regret anything about that especially when I love doing it.

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