Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda Had Success with Affiliate Marketing

Over two and a half years ago I wrote what I consider to be one of my best posts ever about affiliate marketing called how to survive the affiliate evolution. And while it basically outlined my entire business plan at the time – and still remains a good plan today – I’ve often bitched that 99% of folks that read it and raved about the information laid out within the post never actually acted on it.

But I did.

And I’m going to show you what *you* could have done had you gotten off your ass, given up the SEO fame game bullshit and actually worked hard and followed through on my advice.

A few months before I wrote that post, I bought a domain with the intention of building a site about all things BlackBerry. That domain was BBGeeks.com. It was a brand new domain, had no age, no backlinks and was an absolute blank slate.

Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares

Now before anyone whines about how I have a company with employees and about how it is so much easier for me to build websites than the average person, I’d like to take the opportunity to call bullshit on that excuse. While I do indeed have a company that specializes in developing affiliate brands and affiliate websites, we own numerous sites. My employees and myself are spread out between them. The amount of effort it took to create and market this site could have indeed been accomplished by one person, working diligently. Save the excuses for someone who doesn’t know that they’re just that – excuses.

Creating the site

I took every piece of my site creation advice from my affiliate evolution post into account when we created the site.

Start buying brandable and not keyword laden domains. If you can include a keyword, great, but branding is important and neccessary.

I bought what I felt was a brandable domain name in BBGeeks.com. We bought BlackBerryGeeks.com as well, but we didn’t want to build on it in case there were ever trademark issues with RIM. But we wanted to make sure a competitor couldn’t grab it later in the game and piggyback on the brand we intended to build.

Learn what unique content really is and start creating it…

We created in-depth overviews of service providers and of hosted BlackBerry exchange service providers. We started doing reviews of BlackBerry software after actually downloading and testing every single one we reviewed. We started blogging three times a week even though we knew we didn’t have any readers – but we blogged as if we did.

Give your site the ability to create a dialogue instead of a monologue.

We created the ability for our readers and users to leave reviews on all the companies and software we did write-ups about. We also had the traditional ability to leave comments on blog posts. We sent emails to family and friends asking them to review any of the companies they had experience with to give the reviews a kick-start.

What I’ve found over the last year or two is that design matters.

I contracted a website designer to create what I felt was a kick ass “look” for the site when we initially created it. It cost a little bit of cash, but I felt the end result and the need to be taken seriously by larger tech sites was worth the upfront investment.

Plan for expansion before you need to.

While we obviously made the BBGeeks site to be niche, we picked up a few other niche and general smartphone related domains that we figured we could develop later if the BBGeeks site was successful from a branding, traffic *and* revenue standpoint.

Differentiate yourself and add value. Let’s get one thing straight. Google doesn’t hate affiliate sites. Google hates shit affiliate sites.

Initially, our POD was our overviews of the cellular service providers (instead of the industry standard, which was to review the phones) and our overviews of the exchange hosting companies from a BlackBerry specific standpoint. Those were our “technical” point of differences.

As time went on, we realized (what we felt were) our two biggest competitors in the space were both targeting very different markets. One targeted the uber BlackBerry tech enthusiast the other targeted IT guys that worked extensively with BlackBerry. Both segments were basically advanced BlackBerry users. We realized one very large market – the newbie or casual user – wasn’t really being *focused* on. So we decided we would fill that hole. We decided that would be our “branding” point of difference.

Monetizing the site

In my original article, I mentioned the importance of having multiple revenue streams when you build a website. Affiliate marketing will always be the “core” for me, but having as many “income baskets” as I can is important to me.

Having multiple affiliate programs for not only different types of items (widget covers as well as blue widgets) that make sense for the core topic, but also having different suppliers for blue widgets themselves.

We have no less than 20 affiliate partnerships – including a few white-label and co-branding partners – for BBGeeks.com. Additionally, for each “type” of item we have affiliate relationships for, we have multiple merchants we can refer to for each. This not only allows us to refer our users to the best deal, but it also allows us to protect ourselves against any one merchant going under or merchant abuse.

Sell advertising.

We work with an ad network that sells our advertising space to big name companies that want to get access to our millions of impressions per month. We also sell advertising via contextual advertising channels.

Start creating methods to contact users without them having to visit your site.

We have an RSS subscriber base in the five figures range and a opt-in mailing list that is about triple the size of our RSS subscriber count.

Consider becoming a merchant if your site is successful enough that the reward for the effort is there.

While we have no interest in becoming a merchant, we were able to strike up a white-label partnership that allowed us to partner with one, under our own brand, which allowed us to create the BBGeeks store.

Now, if you have a great site and have a strategy to monetize that site, you’ll need to get it traffic in order to go through the effort to put those monetization strategies in place (and have the leverage to get the bigger deals).

We obviously didn’t start out selling advertising (because we didn’t have the impressions) or with a larger affiliate deals (because we didn’t have the traffic to obtain them). But, we knew they were all plausible avenues and had their contact information ready for the second we had the traffic numbers to do so.

Getting the traffic

All of the above is useless without eyeballs. You can have the best site and the best monetization strategy, but unless you are able to effectively promote it, all you have is a “could have been.” You need to start off with the basics… good site structure, good keyword research and good on-page SEO. After that, it’s all about site promotion.

Learn how to develop site traffic without the search engines… Understand social media optimization and personalized search as seperate entities, as well as the effect that social media optimization has on SEO…

I’ve already discussed how successful our guerrilla marketing tactics have been with Twitter. The subsequent traffic we’ve been able to develop as a result of it speaks for itself. We’ve used contests, humor, linkbait pieces spread virally through social channels and more successfully. And our efforts towards non-search focused traffic and branding has – as expected – actually helped our search engine ranks in the long run.

Learn to market a site through more “traditional online channels”.

We’ve used press releases, we’ve created what is now one of the top BlackBerry podcasts on iTunes (yes, we’re aware of the irony) and have done numerous “media intros” to ensure the “tech press” knows about our site. Keep in mind, we never “asked” them for anything… we just wanted to let them know we existed and welcome any feedback they might have. Kind of like shaking hands at a cocktail mixer.

There is still a place for the tried and true methods of link development providing you update your execution and strategy in relation to them to keep up with the current times.

Don’t think for a second we ignored the traditional “pounding the pavement” for links. While our core focus when obtaining any link was usually “will this get us traffic?” we made sure that the links we did get had as much “value” as we could as far as anchor text and other inbound link factors went whenever possible. If we didn’t have the content to get a link from a site we wanted one from, we created it. And we made sure “it” was killer enough to get us the link.

When we did our post on free BlackBerry games we didn’t just throw a bunch of links on the page. We downloaded each game, played with it, picked what we felt were some of the best, listed the rest in categories with short descriptions and organized it in a way we hoped would make it easy for people to use. It took over a week to create. And we still keep the list updated and maintained regularly. But the end result is the most trafficked page on the site, both via search engines and referring sites. It was a lot of effort, but it was a lot of reward.

That, not blog comment bullshit, is *real* link development folks.

Developing relationships within your niche can be vital.

We reached out to all the larger BlackBerry themed sites when we started out. Some ignored us, but most were very friendly. We made friends, did guest posts, helped cross promote each others contests and sites when possible (and when it made sense). While we compete, we compete on a mature level. We’re glad for the relationships we’ve developed. And now that we are a “larger BlackBerry themed site” ourselves, we try to give back to the new generation of “up and comers” within the niche when we can.

The end results

We’re proud of what we’ve been able to build BBGeeks.com into. Nothing is more awesome than having a complete stranger on a plane recommend the site to me when they see me playing with my BlackBerry or having Dave Naylor tell me how much his wife loves our site over a pint at a conference.

In the approximately two and a half years that BBGeeks.com has been live, we’ve managed to develop over 100,000 backlinks to the site. Yes Virginia, you can compete without buying links. We’ve got over 25,000 Twitter followers who actually engage with us on a regular basis. Our RSS and mailing list subscribers reach well into the five figures and our podcast has a subscriber base in the four figures.

People searching for our brand (“bbgeeks”) and variations of our brand (bb geeks”, etc) reach into the high four figures each month (they like us, they really really like us!) and I think those brand searches are some of the search terms I love seeing the most in our analytics each month.

While we are quantified with Quantcast, we don’t have the code on every page of the site for various reasons. That said, even quantcast figures show you that they know about nearly 500,000 unique visitors per month and our traffic keeps climbing, because we keep working hard to be a valuable resource:

BBGeeks.com traffic
As far as revenue goes, I’m not going to give specific numbers, because it’s frankly none of your damn business. But what I will tell you is that the annual net revenue you could have made with the site would have put you in the top 15% of annual household incomes. I bet that kinda makes you wish you’d have gotten off your ass and built a site in a niche you could love with a quality you could be proud of, eh?

Comments are closed on this post. I don’t want to hear a bunch of comments. In the words of Nike, “Just Do It.”

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

If you’re someone who doesn’t understand a lot of PHP, Genesis will give a ton of functionality that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise with a simple control panel instead of having to alter code. For the advanced, Genesis has incredible customization possibilities via Genesis hooks.

The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

You can find out more about Genesis below:

Comments

  1. Brenda Barr Byrne says:

    Hi Rae, felt I just had to drop you a note to say, I just loved your article and more particularly its tone! I too feel folks should ‘just do it’

    Those whose input is merely to say ‘well that won’t work’ yet fail to come up with an alternative that will!

    As an FYI I found you by googling niche market concepts!

    Glad I came across you!

    Keep up the great work!

    Best regards,

    BBB
    Brenda Barr Byrne

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