August 2019

By: 
Tom Qiao
 | 
Updated: 
September 4, 2019

August was an eventful month.

I was on the road with my family for two weeks visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee / North Carolina.

It was a peaceful place that I'd describe as Niagara Falls meets Yellowstone (minus the geysers).

Now, let's jump right to the results for August.

Key Metrics

  • Revenue: $199 (+3% MoM)
  • Traffic: 7,586 (-% MoM)
  • RPM: $26

Commentary

Traffic and revenue were flat month-over-month. This made sense as I made no major changes to content or backlinks in the prior period (except for site design which does not impact rankings).

On-Page SEO

Going forward, I plan to continue executing my next steps plan to increase my site's visibility. In particular, I've started to systemically implement on-page optimizations across my site.

For on-page SEO, I've selected PageOptimizer Pro as my weapon of choice. At $39 a month for unlimited runs, it's an affordable option for doing high quality on-page analysis.

I also considered SurferSEO but ultimately passed due to higher pricing, a complicated UI, and its reliance on correlational analysis (vs. single-variable testing like PageOptimizer Pro).

For more details, Search Engine Journal has a great piece that explains the most popular on-page SEO tools like Cora, POP, SurferSEO, and Website Auditor.

Non-Amazon Affiliate Programs

In August, I researched all the major affiliate networks to try to find better affiliate programs and diversify away from Amazon.

In total, there were only a dozen or so worthwhile programs (which was unfortunate). Having said that, there could be additional opportunities that are not on affiliate networks (as when the merchant operates their affiliate program directly).

Overall, here are the affiliate networks that I liked the most from a merchant selection, network data, and user interface perspective:

  1. ShareASale (5 Stars): huge merchant selection, provides network data on average order size, conversion rate, and EPC, good user interface (can filter/sort and search by category)
  2. Skimlinks (4 Stars): good merchant selection, good network data, auto-affiliates links (but slows down site due to additional Javascript code), sometimes offer exclusive rates negotiated by Skimlinks (however, they take a 25% cut on all commissions)
  3. Rakuten Marketing (3 Stars): good merchant selection, limited network data, UI is a bit clunky and hard to navigate

Other affiliate networks like CJ Conversant, Pepperjam, AWIN, etc. didn't have enough merchants in my niche to make them worth considering.

Site Speed

In August, I optimized my site speed (again) using the same speed guide by Daan van den Bergh.

This time, I meticulously measured site performance using GTMetrix, Pingdom, PageSpeed Insights, and WebPageTest after making every single change.

I removed plugin bloat such as social sharing icons (unfortunately, social media does not move the needle right now). I also cut unnecessary Javascript code in the header and footer such as Skimlinks (not driving enough sales to warrant the global speed hit).

The final result was 1.5s load time and 91 (mobile) and 99 (desktop) on PageSpeed Insights.

Now, onto a special section for this month: Cross-Border Shopping Banking for Canadians

Cross-Border Banking for Canadians

In this section, I want to share my thoughts on US cross-banking banking for any fellow Canadians in the same situation.

Like most bloggers/site owners, I receive the bulk of my income in USD from affiliate networks like Amazon Associates, ShareASale, etc.

However, I live in Canada and need to repatriate some of my earnings to CAD. I also have many business expenses that are denominated in USD (such as software).

Initially, I was using TransferWise to receive my affiliate payments. However, I soon discovered that sending USD back to Canada (even to a USD account) would be quite expensive.

TransferWise charges a hefty fee as it has to use the more expensive SWIFT network.

According to its support team, this costs $3.20 extra on top of the standard fixed and variable fees. The cheaper option is to do a USD/CAD transfer to a Canadian bank.

In addition, TransferWise cannot be used to make credit card payments.

In my opinion, this makes TransferWise a poor place to park my hard-earned USD. They don't pay any interest and it's expensive to send money back home (at least for Canadians).

But I do appreciate their transparent fee structure and ease of holding multiple currencies.

After doing some research on USD accounts for Canadians, I settled on using RBC Bank:

  • RBC Bank's Visa Signature Black is a no-fee USD credit card that earns 1% cash back
  • RBC Bank (US) syncs up with RBC Royal Bank (CAD) for easy and instant USD/USD or USD/CAD cross-border transfers
  • RBC Bank's Direct Chequing Account does cost $39.50 a year and is limited to 10 free debits a month - but you can get 1 year free with the Cross-Border Bundle (credit card and chequing account together)

Overall, RBC Bank offers excellent value on its USD credit card and chequing account.

The Visa Signature Black yields 1% and eliminates the FX fees that I was previously paying for USD transactions. It has no annual fee and no conditions, unlike BMO (waives $35 fee with $1,000 spend per year) or TD (waives $39 fee if you hold a USD chequing account with them).

Although RBC Bank's Direct Chequing Account has a monthly fee, it's cheaper than using TransferWise to send monthly payments back home and can transfer USD funds between US and Canada to pay my personal and business expenses. It's also free for the first year!

Next Steps

For the rest of September, I plan to:

  • Continue testing on-page signals in 2-week intervals. I've started by optimizing meta titles and will move onto H2/H3/H4's and image alt tags in the near future.
  • Finish keyword research for my next content silo. My Ahrefs subscription ends this month and I'm cutting costs by using it every 3-4 months (Standard Plan is $179 per month).
  • Implement best practices for internal linking (Ahrefs has a great blog post).
  • Build external links by seeking more guest post opportunities and sending more targeted email campaigns to promote existing info articles.
  • Add visual assets to enhance UX, including featured images, product images, custom backgrounds. Optimize image alt tags and convert images to next-gen formats like WebP.
  • Dedicate time to improve proficiency in Google Analytics. Do a course or read blog posts to understand the platform and collect better data on user behavior and acquisition.
  • Create job requirements for my 1st writer. Design a screening process (online quiz) and post listing on Facebook groups for writers, Fiverr/UpWork, etc. Setup a trial run in October with first candidate. Read the book "Who: The A Method for Hiring" (time permitting)
  • Compile ultimate list of SEO blog posts, podcasts, YouTube series from authorities that I respect, as well as read the massive SEO PDF guides that I keep downloading.

To Flexibility and Freedom,

Tom

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