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.
Without further ado, let's dig into the results for September 2019!
P.S. I've completely redesigned FlexibilityIsFreedom.com this month - I personally love the new look (the old one was dreadful) - I'd love to hear what you think in the comments!
Revenue came in over $200, including income from Amazon UK and a merchant on ShareASale. It's still a long way from my goal of $1,000 per month but definitely a step in the right direction.
As mentioned above, it's hard to say if traffic increased or decreased due to the missing data.
Daily traffic was relatively stable until mid-month when several keywords declined in ranking.
Upon further investigation, I believe this was caused by changes in site structure, specifically the navigation menu, that left some pages "orphaned" (i.e. there were no internal links to find them).
While I'm not 100% sure this was the reason, I'm definitely more conscious now of how I make site changes, even minor ones like design tweaks and plugin installations.
Thoughtful planning and documentation (in case a rollback is required) are necessary steps to avoid these types of "unforced errors" in SEO.
The main theme of September was: efficiency.
In the year that I've been building my business, I've learned that there's only so much I can accomplish in a day, even if I strongly feel otherwise.
Frankly, I have two hands and they can only type so fast (and for so long).
I need to work smarter and double down on the 20% that produces 80% of my results.
This month, I've decided to stop doing the non-critical 80% (which made me feel productive) to focus on the critical 20% (i.e. creating quality content and building quality links).
Here are 3 examples of common site management activities that I've eliminated and the software solutions that I'm now using instead.
In terms of site speed, it is important to meet user expectations for load times (generally, under 2 seconds), particularly on mobile where network speeds are slower vs. desktop connections.
To ensure a blazing fast site, I spent hours trying different caching plugins, reading tutorials, compressing images, and of course, running speed tests on GTMetrix and Pingdom.
However, I (eventually) realized this was not the best use of my time.
Site speed is a relatively small ranking factor in SEO (though I strongly believe it's more important in mobile searches which represent over 60% of all search queries).
Previously, I used a number of free plugins to optimize site performance:
This setup works well (I use it on this site), especially with a free CDN like Cloudflare.
However, it does require a lot of fine-tuning and testing, which takes up additional time.
Now, I use WP Rocket (a paid plugin) which combines the above 3 plugins.
This costs me $49 a year (I used a 10% coupon by signing up for their newsletter) but it saves me a lot of time and energy which I can re-invest into content and links.
Overall, the performance of WP Rocket seems to be on par (maybe even slightly better) than my previous setup, but I like that it has a clean interface and is easier to manage.
I've also added Perfmatters (another paid plugin, see a trend here?) which I heard about on a recent Authority Hacker podcast.
Perfmatters lets me "turn off" JS and CSS scripts on a page-by-page level which is super powerful.
I can strip away unnecessary lines of code to optimize key pages where I'm competing against bigger competitors with better server resources.
This lets me stay competitive on site speed without upgrading my shared hosting plan (yet).
For sites that are built on Elementor like mine, Perfmatters is really a life-saver. You can eliminate a ton of unused elements (styling, animations, icons, etc.) that load globally even when it's not used on the page.
Okay, enough about site speed! Here is my current setup:
While working on site speed, I briefly considered swapping out Elementor for a more performance-driven solution like Astra (a Wordpress theme).
Unlike Elementor, using Astra (a theme, not a pagebuilder) meant using Gutenberg blocks to create each page (Gutenberg is the latest Wordpress editor).
However, this turned out to be way more work than it was worth in performance savings, so I reverted to using Elementor on my sites (I used it to redesign F is F).
Now that I've discovered Perfmatters, I'm even less concerned about Elementor's performance drag as I can easily disable unnecessary lines of code.
While pagebuilders are more appealing for beginners (like me), it's important to find the right balance between site aesthetics and site performance.
Sometimes, that means leaving the animations and fancy buttons behind when they're not needed.
Finally, I looked into effective solutions for link management. This is, without a doubt, one of the most important (and likely overlooked) parts of affiliate marketing.
As an affiliate marketer, I only make money when someone clicks on my affiliate link and buys a product from the corresponding merchant (in most cases, Amazon).
But if that link doesn't work, then all my SEO efforts to get that visitor to my site are for naught.
Here are some possible reasons for link "failures":
In other words, a lot can go wrong with an affiliate link that may lead to a subpar user experience such as visiting a "Product Not Found" page on Amazon.
This means lower commissions as users can't find the product they were looking for (and these are our most valuable users since they were interested enough to click on the link!)
The problem is that with hundreds (if not thousands) of affiliate links on a site, spread across text links, images, buttons, and call-to-action elements like pop-ups, it's an almost impossible task to manually recheck every link.
Fortunately, I've come across across an excellent link management solution: Geni.Us.
Originally designed for iTunes affiliate links, Geni.Us has some special features for managing Amazon affiliate links. Here's what I find most attractive about it:
Similar to my solutions for site speed and site design, Geni.Us is a premium service that costs $9 a month for 4,500 clicks and $1 per 1,000 clicks thereafter.
It's not cheap (at least $108 a year) but there's a good chance it can pay for itself by monetizing international traffic (particularly India), notifiying me about out of stock items, and saving me a ton of time on manual link management.
Just 3 more things as this section is getting quite long (enough to be its own blog post).
On Amazon India:
For English-language content, the major audiences worldwide (with an Amazon store) are the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and India.
So which geographies drive the most traffic?
To my surprise, India was the 3rd largest traffic region for my site (almost 2x the UK).
Now, for the bad news.
Opening an Amazon Associates account for Amazon India is apparently quite challenging due to local business entity and local banking requirements.
This means most sites are leaving "money on the table" in a fast growing market.
Fortunately, Geni.Us provides a unique way to unlock this revenue source by partnering with Cuelinks, a link aggregator in India.
Essentially, I use Cuelinks' affiliate tracking ID for visitors from India and they pay me the commissions that they earn in their Amazon Associates account, less fees and taxes in the process (roughly 50% according to a Geni.Us blog post).
Still, 50% of something is better than nothing!
Another reason I like Geni.Us is its performance compared to link services like Onelink or Skimlinks.
When installed, both Onelink and Skimlinks make additional requests on the back-end to their servers to "create" a local affiliate link for Onelink or add your tracking ID to the URL for Skimlinks.
This increases page load times and hurts site performance.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Amazon Link Engine (Geni.Us's Wordpress plugin) is very lightweight and had an almost undetectable impact on page size and load times.
On Non-Amazon Links:
For non-Amazon affiliate links, I use ThirstyAffiliates to cloak and manage links.
Cloaking means you use a "pretty" or "clean" link in your content (e.g. yoursite.com/go/product or yoursite.com/recommends/product).
The visitor is then redirected from the "pretty" link to the actual "ugly" link (e.g. affiliatesite.com/?affiliateid=12345).
Side note on ThirstyAffiliates: I don't recommend using their Amazon Uncloaking feature.
It's intended as a "quick fix" for sites with thousands of existing "pretty" links as this violates Amazon's terms of service (links must show they are directed to one of Amazon's official sites).
Using this feature on a fresh site actually takes more time than simply using plain Amazon affiliate links. This feature was also not performance-friendly in my tests.
This month, I began to systematically implement on-page SEO on my site using a master spreadsheet (to track changes) along with PageOptimizer Pro.
I briefly tested SurferSEO (another on-page tool) but found the interface was too complicated and I was not a fan of their correlational approach to SEO.
In September, I also bought Kyle Roof's new on-page course for $379 (it's a pre-release version as the course is still being developed).
Generally speaking, I'm not a huge fan of SEO courses as I believe knowledge should be freely shared.
However, I've been following Kyle Roof for a while (he also developed PageOptimizer Pro) and I'm convinced that conducting scientific tests is the best way to learn SEO.
So far, this course has really changed how I think about keywords, site structure (reverse silo), research strategy, and on-page factors:
For me, the most actionable steps from this course (so far) are:
In September, I completed another guest post (not yet live). As of October 1, one of my previous guest posts went live on a high domain authority site.
Since I'll be travelling in October to Southeast Asia, I've decided not to run another shotgun skyscraper campaign (for details, see my June 2019 income report) as this requires Scrapebox which runs best on a desktop connection.
As I noted in my July 2019 income report, I plan to use a mix of both shotgun skyscraper and quality guest posts to create my backlink profile.
That's because each link building tactic has its own pro's and con's:
I'm currently working on a high quality informational article that I will promote next month via:
I'll still consider high quality guest post opportunities next month as well.
Eventually, I'd like to add a "Featured In" section on my home page to showcase all the places where I've written a guest post and add more credibility to the site.
Well, I've covered most of my next steps in the Off-Page SEO section.
I'll continue to implement on-page SEO (with careful documentation in case of roll-backs) and create supporting articles for my key pages (i.e. informational articles for link building).
Next month, I'll be in Thailand ahead of the Chiang Mai SEO Conference in November so I'll make sure to upload some photos from my trip!
To Flexibility and Freedom,