May 2019

Hey there, thanks for joining me at Flexibility is Freedom!

This month, my authority site (The Derm Detective) started to heat up.

Traffic and revenue both increased >40% month-over-month (MoM).

In this post, I’ll review my business results along with 3 additional topics:

  • Featured Snippets: The Best Way to Beat High Domain Authority Competitors
  • Content “Template” Strategy: How to Capture Low Competition Keywords by Reusing Existing Articles
  • (Personal Journey) It’s Been Almost 1 Year: Reflection & Next Steps

Thanks in advance for reading. I appreciate it!

This Month’s Results

Key Metrics

  • Affiliate Revenue: $99 (+43% MoM)
  • 30-Day Unique Page Views: 4,932 (+44% MoM)
  • # of Articles (Live): 71 (+26 MoM)
  • # of Links (Live): 5 (+3 MoM)

Commentary

Overall, May was a very productive month.

I was actually sick for a week and had to take time off to recover.

It was nice knowing that my site was still “running” even though I was unable to work on it.

1st Guest Post

Earlier this month, I published my first guest post on Acne Einstein (a related skincare site).

This resulted in 3 high quality links to my own site (hooray!). I created this opportunity by contacting the site owner directly via LinkedIn who put me in touch with his editor.

Shotgun Skyscraper (Again)

As I mentioned last month, I’ve been experimenting with “small-scale” link building campaigns. The last one in April had a total of 14 prospects (including Acne Einstein).

Despite its smaller size, the campaign performed quite well. It resulted in 1 link exchange and 1 guest post (3 links) which exceeds any of my previous campaigns.

Unfortunately, these types of manual outreach campaigns are not scalable.

That’s part of the reason I’ve returned to the idea of shotgun skyscraper (again).

Last month, I was quite bearish.

But after listening to this podcast, I’ve changed my mind. The authors brought up several valid points that support a “mass blast” approach to email outreach.

In short, no matter how good your email is, there are so many factors outside your control that can influence whether or not you get a reply.

Perhaps the recepient’s email doesn’t exist anymore (bounced).

Perhaps your email never reached their inbox (delivery failure or stuck in SPAM folder).

Or maybe they’re just overwhelmed this week and can’t get back to you.

Whatever the reason, it’s more efficient to send a “mass blast” email to try and figure out who will reply rather than spend time customizing every email.

You’ll get lower reply rates, for sure, but the idea is to make up for it with sheer volume.

Having said all that, I’m planning to implement a two-tiered version of this strategy soon:

  • Low Authority Sites (Ahrefs DR < 50): I’ll use shotgun skyscraper (efficient)
  • High Authority Sites (Ahrefs DR > 50): I’ll contact them individually as before

Traffic & Revenue

Okay, now onto traffic and revenue.

Both grew >40% MoM as my initial articles secured their rankings in Google and a few new ones began ranking on page one.

In particular, one of my “Best X for Y” articles started doing well near the end of the month.

This led me to learn more about featured snippets, one of the sub-topics in this month’s post.

In terms of new content, I published a record number of 26 posts using a “template” approach.

This approach helped me streamline content production and reuse existing articles to capture low competition keywords. That’s the second sub-topic of this month’s post!

Amazon Cuts Affiliate Rates!

I wanted to put a quick note here about changes to Amazon Associates.

In May, Amazon cuts its affiliate commission rates on several product categories, including apparel, jewellery, watches, shoes, and a few more.

The commission rate was slashed from 6% to 4% and for some categories from 10% to 4%!

Thankfully, none of these directly impacted my niche. But it highlights the risk of relying too much on Amazon Associates for monetization.

Diversify, diversify, diversify.

Featured Snippets: The Best Way to Beat High Domain Authority Competitors

Gotta catch ’em all (featured snippets).

This month, I started looking into featured snippets.

It all started when I noticed one of my “Best X for Y” articles was ranking on page 1.

I could hardly contain my excitement when I typed in the target keyword into Google and found my site sitting pretty in the featured snippet section.

So you might be wondering, what is a featured snippet?

It’s basically a special “answer” box highlighted in the search results for “question” type queries.

For example, “Who is…?”, “What is…?”, “Why did…?”, etc.

It’s helpful to understand why Google is focusing on featured snippets.

A study by Ahrefs showed that ~12% of all search queries have a featured snippet.

I’m willing to bet that % will continue to increase…

Here’s why.

Mobile. (and Voice)

We already know that mobile traffic has surpassed desktop traffic.

And voice search is potentially the next frontier (“Okay Google”, “Hey Siri”, “Hey Cortana”).

The fact is, traditional search results are not well-suited for mobile and voice search.

That’s where featured snippets come in.

It provides the short “answer” to the user’s question.

It’s highlighted at the top of the search results above organic competitors but below paid ads.

This is what Google Assistant, Siri, or Cortana reads out to you after a voice search.

Okay, so the best part?

My take is that featured snippets provides an opportunity for smaller sites (like mine) to “win” more competitive keywords.

As keywords get more competitive, it starts to get really crowded on the front page.

Featured snippets are a way to “catapult” your site over the competition to position #0.

You can beat high domain authority competitors with thousands of links and millions of monthly visitors. Under normal circumstances, it might be next-to-impossible to beat these guys.

But with featured snippets, it’s possible… if you optimize correctly for it. But first, you’ll want to make sure you’re on page 1 first as 99% of featured snippets are taken from there.

I’ve read a few articles on optimizing for featured snippets and I’d boil it down to this:

  • Answer the “question” as concisely as you can (40-50 words is great)
  • Include the “question” as a heading (H2, H3) just before the answer (Q&A style)
  • Include keyword variations where possible in your answer (these are the bolded words that show up in Google search results)
  • Iterate. A lot of trial-and-error is required before you hit on something that works

It’s also a good idea to evaluate why your competitor is getting a featured snippet and not you. Then replicate what they’re doing right in your own content.

Next up, my content strategy.

Content “Template” Strategy: How to Capture Low Competition Keywords By Reusing Existing Articles

Reshape existing content to capture low competition keywords.

This next section covers my content “template” strategy.

What I’m about to discuss will contradict a lot of traditional SEO advice and SEO gurus.

These are my own independent opinions based on my personal experience.

Ready?

So you often hear in SEO that “content is king”.

That if you create “amazing content”, you’ll be on your way to the promised land.

Now, I don’t deny the importance of great content.

It’s a fundamental part of ranking well in Google, not to mention satisfying your visitors.

But I find there’s an implicit expectation that every piece of content you write has to be a masterpiece. Like a work of art by Michelangelo.

Masterpieces take a lot of time to create.

Now, a blog post is obviously much easier than the Sistine Chapel. But a really good one still takes a fair bit of time (research, planning, writing, editing, formatting, graphic design, etc.).

Here’s the punch-line: I don’t think you need to create masterpieces to rank for low-to-medium competition keywords on Google.

Here’s why.

Similar to art, comparing two articles is inherently a subjective judgment.

It depends on a lot of things – the topic, audience, context, perspective, tone, language, etc.

In essence, people value different aspects which means there can’t really be a universal “winner”. I might enjoy an article because it’s comprehensive while someone else may feel it’s too wordy.

Since content quality is subjective – one that even humans can’t agree upon – I don’t think that Google can really evaluate it. And if Google can’t evalute it, it can’t be used in its algorithm.

By the way, what I mean by quality is – how well do you like something vs. something else? Sometimes in SEO, content quality may refer to legitimate content vs. spammy content.

Okay, so let’s assume that Google can’t evaluate content quality. Yes, I know there are counter-arguments that Google can indirectly measure quality via user engagement (time on page, bounce rate, etc.) and off-page signals like links. But let’s ignore those for now.

So then how would Google determine search rankings?

The answer is: Relevancy.

For me, relevancy trumps so-called “content quality”. At least for low competition keywords.

On-page SEO is essentially the art of nailing down relevancy for a target keyword.

I’ve been listening to guys like Kyle Roof (mentioned him last month as well) talk about on-page optimization and I’ve been using his tool PageOptimizer Pro as well.

As a starting point for on-page SEO, you should have your target keyword in your meta title (usually the same as your H1), URL (also called slug), and introduction.

Beyond that, there’s also additional optimization for keyword variations and related keywords (also known as Latent Semantic Indexing or LSI, Natural Language Processing or NLP, and Term Frequency – Inverse Document Frequency or TF-IDF).

To ensure that I’m doing basic on-page optimization for my content, I’ve been developing “templates” for each type of article:

  • Single Product Reviews (“Review”)
  • Product Comparisons (“VS”)
  • Round-Up Reviews (“Best X for Y”)

For each template, I set a pre-defined page structure of H1, H2, H3’s with specific sections. This means I always include my target keyword in the optimal places.

These templates also help cut down on the planning and writing stages.

In addition, for every product category I want to make sure I cover it as fully as possible to maximize the value of my research and writing.

I write my articles in this particular order for best results:

  1. “Review”
  2. “VS”
  3. “Best X for Y”

Allow me to explain.

I start with the single product reviews to understand the features of each product and their pros/cons. As I look at more products, I get a good sense of how these product compare to one another.

This naturally leads to “VS” reviews where I’m specifically comparing two products. I can reuse my review content to write these posts (very efficient).

I find that “VS” keywords have the lowest competition among the 3 types.

When I’m finished writing reviews and product comparisons, I’ll have the knowledge to create “Best X for Y” round-up articles that are so common in online marketing.

Again, I can reuse prior content to compile a list of my top product recommendations.

As an aside, here’s my complaint with most round-up articles.

They suck.

As in, the author didn’t spend much time actually researching each product. It was likely a freelance writer who just took the top products from Amazon and wrote a little blurb on each one.

E.g. “The 18 Best Vitamin C Serums for Hyperpigmentation”… cough cough by MomCurls

What I like about my current approach is that by the time I write the “Best X for Y” posts, I have a complete understanding of the product ecosystem and hierarchy. By then, it’s really just a matter of repurposing existing content.

It’s Been Almost 1 Year: Reflection & Next Steps

I’m now approaching the 1-year mark since I began this passive income journey.

For me, the first year has always been about validating the business model.

My first site was intended as a proof of concept. Does it actually work?

At this point, I’ve grown increasingly confident that it does.

Revenue started coming in as soon as my site had a decent amount of traffic.

So the next question is, how do I scale this business model effectively?

I’ve intentionally avoided outsourcing tasks as I wanted to understand each step of the process first.

Outsourcing a poorly-designed process = a much bigger poorly-designed process.

It’s going to be a new challenge for me.

The next part of this journey involves developing processes and managing a small team.

That is the path to scaling this business.

Another avenue that I plan to explore later on is additional affiliate site opportunities.

When I first started, I chose my niche based primarily on my desire to help other people solve a problem that I myself understood very well.

To a lesser degree, I considered factors such as competition, industry trends, and affiliate rates.

Now that I have more experience, I’ll be able to find more attractive opportunities for my next set of authority sites. These will be more ambitious in scope than The Derm Detective.

Stay tuned for next month as I’ll be doing a full review of my 1-year journey!

Until next month!

Cheers,

Tom

May 2019 Income Report
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