November 2019

Welcome to Flexibility Is Freedom!

Every month on this blog, I discuss my experiences in affiliate marketing and SEO.

I’ll show you what’s working, what isn’t, and share my plans for world domination.

This month, I had a blast at the Chiang Mai SEO Conference 2019 and met a ton of people, including fellow SEOs, e-commerce players, and other types of remote workers.

This is now my 5th week in Chiang Mai and I’m loving the digital community here.

Every time I talk to someone, I’ll learn 2-3 more things to apply to my business.

Without further ado, let’s dig into the results for November 2019!

Key Metrics

  • Revenue: $176.42 (-15% MoM)
  • Traffic: 4,483 (-1% MoM)
  • RPM: $39.35

In November, revenue declined again while traffic stabilized over last month. For context, revenue declined 10% in October but traffic declined 27% MoM.

It’s definitely less fun seeing negative numbers on the board but that’s just part of the SEO game.

I’m now convinced that my site was affected by the September Core Algorithm Update.

Traffic is down ~40% in November (4.5K visits) compared to August (7.6K visits).

Now, there’s obviously a ton of SEO theories & pundits on every algorithm update but I’ve chosen to focus my time on upgrading content quality and building authority signals instead.

Next Steps

So what’s my short and medium-term game plan?

Well, I still intend to execute the rest of my next steps 2019 timeline as it remains a good template. However, I recognize that I will not meet my revenue target of $1K per month by the end of this year.

Following the conference, I’ve realized that I really need to focus on increasing my productivity through: i) Efficient Processes, ii) Automation, and iii) Outsourcing.

To that end, I’ve taken a more disciplined approach to documenting my processes, starting with content creation (research & writing) so that I can recruit and train a writer in the new year.

Overall, I’m taking a three-pronged approach to increase rankings and traffic:

  1. Invest in Content Quality: I’m doubling down on delivering research-driven, user-friendly, and SEO optimized content for both my readers and search engines.
  2. Diversify Backlink Acquisition: I’ve realized that link building is not my strength (more on this topic later) and I’ve come around to the idea of using agencies to supplement my own outreach process. However, I’m only interested in high authority (high DR and solid traffic metrics) and niche-relevant guest posts.
  3. Increase Authority Signals: Several speakers at the conference highlighted the increasing importance of “authority” in today’s Google algorithm. To that end, I’ve taken steps to boost my site’s credibility, including adding a physical address & phone number, business citations (SEOButler), and niche-relevant backlinks with branded anchor text (i.e. my site name).

Food 4 Thought

Reflection

Lastly, here are a few concepts bouncing around in my head this month:

Link Building, Reinvestment, and Compound Interest

I realized at this year’s SEO conference that you’re always paying for links, either directly through paid guest posts and link insertions or indirectly through agency costs and internal outreach expenses (including your own time).

But in my opinion, what matters to Google (from a practical standpoint) is not how you built a link but where that link comes from and the context surrounding that link.

Whether someone links to you because you paid them (commonly known as greyhat SEO) or because you persuaded them (e.g. free guest post, link exchange, creative offer, or maybe they were feeling generous that day), Google has no way of systematically detecting when a link is paid or not.

Granted, Google can find common patterns (“footprints”) on sites that sell links and target them en masse. Hints like “write for us” or “sponsored post” are often easy ways to spot paid links.

But doing this across millions of sites is an arduous task, though I wouldn’t bet against Google’s spam team. It just seems to me that the most logical method for creating a “linkspam footprint” is to examine the quality of the linking domain and the relevancy of the link, rather than trying to figure out if any monetary compensation was accepted.

In fact, Google recently introduced the “rel=sponsored” tag that lets publishers voluntarily tell Google if a link was paid or not.

Okay… I hear you, that’s a bunch of SEO jargon, but where is the punchline?

The bottom-line is this: my philosophy on links has shifted towards link quality, rather than just link acquisition method. Just because you emailed someone and they agreed to link to your massive skyscraper article for free, doesn’t always mean it’s a good link. And it also doesn’t mean that you’re safe from Google algorithm penalties in the future.

As an example close to home, my own site was 100% whitehat outreach links before the September Core Algorithm Update and traffic still declined ~40% by October. For every link I built at the time, I only cared if it was free or not, without examining the quality, relevancy (domain, article, anchor text), or authority of the linking domain.

That’s not to say that links were the only factor involved (I think content quality and authority are also up there). But it means that I’m much more careful now about how I build my link profile even within the whitehat outreach realm.

My current strategy is to reinvest the monthly cash flow of my site into high authority and niche-relevant guest posts from agencies (currently trying out SEOButler). At today’s prices, I can afford about 1 high quality backlink per month (DR 50-70+). I plan to build a mix of links to the home page with branded anchor text (to increase authority) plus a select number of relevant links to my top money pages with partial match or random anchor text (to avoid overoptimization penalties).

I think this reinvestment strategy will “compound” over time (similar to compound interest) as I can pick up more backlinks as my cash flow grows (higher authority and better rankings should translate to higher earnings).

However, I do recognize the risk of using agencies as they themselves create a footprint of “unnatural links” which is why I plan to continue my own outreach process as well. I think it’s helpful to diversify my link acquisition strategy and de-emphasize my weaknesses (link building) to focus on my strengths (research & content creation).

Outsourcing & The Money Value of Time

Back in my days at business school, one of the first things we learned was the “time value of money”, a fundamental concept in finance. The basic idea is that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.

But I’ve been thinking more about an important corollary to this concept, which is the “money value of time”. The basic idea is that your time is worth more as you have more money (or vice versa).

For example, if I gave you a million dollars, would you still do your own laundry? Probably not, you could hire a personal assistant or housekeeper at that point. But if instead, you were a cash-strapped college student, then you’d probably spend the time to do it yourself.

So what does this mean in practical terms?

It means that you should try to find ways to outsource the lower value tasks in your day-to-day life to make room for the more significant and fulfilling items.

In business, that means automating, outsourcing, or building a team to take care of relatively lower value tasks so that you, the entrepreneur, can focus on higher value creation items (management, strategy, research, new initiatives, etc.)

In your personal life, that means eliminating certain tasks to make more time for those important and life-changing moments with your loved ones and friends. It could be small things like hiring a cleaner once a week or a part-time assistant.

The key lesson from “money value of time” is that we all experience a diminishing marginal return to more money. After a certain point, it just becomes more zeroes in your bank account with less and less incremental happiness.

The great irony of the traditional career path is that we trade our time for money, only to trade that money back for time again.

Anyways, for me, I need to start the outsourcing process and document my processes to onboard my writing team in 2020. This will allow me to work on higher value items in my business (keyword research, site structure, competition research, new initiatives, creating a link building process, etc.).

Compete With Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

Finally, I have one last idea for you to noodle on.

And that is to compete with your strengths and not your weaknesses.

Interestingly, this applies to both business and personal life.

For most of my life, I’ve heard people say that you need to become a “well-rounded individual”.

Universities would say that they want ambitious & talented students that play varsity football while still getting A’s in class.

Recruiters would tell new graduates that they want employees with analytical and technical skills while demonstrating leadership qualities and being a social butterfly.

Even in relationships & dating, people often want to be with someone who is beautiful and handsome, but still smart and funny, who has a good job and makes a lot of money.

Well… I’ve since realized that people who say such things are delusional and looking for a “unicorn”, something that doesn’t exist except in their imagination.

Being “well-rounded” means being average and mediocre in everything that you do.

It’s simply not possible to be better than someone else at everything unless you have some kind of cheat code that gives you infinite time and resources.

Fixing your weaknesses, at best, will only make you average. For example, I could practice 3-point jump shots every day and in 10 years, perhaps I will be just average.

Unless there’s a unique reason, there’s usually less benefit from fixing a weakness compared to mastering a strength. You cannot beat your competitors by being mediocre at a lot of things.

The bottom-line is this: I’ve changed my philosophy to focus on developing my strengths so that in 10 years I’ll be able to compete with the best in my industry. As for my weaknesses, I’ll find ways to outsource or de-emphasize them (i.e. don’t compete with your weaknesses) rather than trying to become mediocre at everything.

Final Words

This entire year has been incredible and I’m still as excited about my affiliate site as the day that I launched it (which was just over a year ago in November 2018).

I still share the same vision as when I started, although that vision has become clearer and I now have a better sense of how to get there.

This journey has not been without its fair share of ups and down but I’m even more optimistic for 2020, especially after the experiences and connections that I’ve made in Chiang Mai recently.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Next month, I’ll be producing a comprehensive year-end review and laying out my vision and game plan for 2020.

Cheers,

Tom

November 2019 Income Report

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