Transcript continued from the Episode 085 Show notes

Another quick Twitter tip that I will offer you is one way to get some expanded coverage on Twitter is to use broad hash tags. People in general are searching for hash tags on Twitter, so if you include some broad hash tags like #internetmarketing or #affiliatemarketing, then you will take advantage of the people that are on Twitter searching for those hash tags and you can get some discoverability for your tweets that you haven’t gotten before.

So there’s a couple of Twitter tips for you. You heard me say pound instead of hash tag because I’m a programmer at heart and when programmers see that little crosshatch sign they call that pound.

Late Night Listener Feedback: Small Affiliate Sites

The first thing I want to tackle on the show today is a little listener feedback. This feedback was left for me in Google Voicemail and somehow I didn’t get the name of the person who left this feedback. So, if you out there, call me back and I’ll give you the proper credit that you deserve on the show. I really love feedback, so let’s hear this feedback from our mystery caller.

Hey, Mark. I’ve really been enjoying your show as I work my way through the back episodes. I have a question. Today, do you find that small affiliate sites, like your Corn Sheller site, can still be successful? And when we say successful, I’d love to hear how many sites you currently manage and overall how does it impact your family’s income?

I wish you the very best. Thanks so much for all the information. Take care.

I love this question on several levels. Mystery caller, thank you so much for your question. The first thing I will say is let me completely unequivocal in this answer. The answer is, YES, small affiliate sites can definitely still be successful. I know this because I have small affiliate sites, but as you might imagine I don’t start them every day. I’m not constantly starting sites, more of my time is spent messing around with sites that I already have. Once you build up some sites, that’s what you’ll want to do too. Usually you’ll find that once you understand a market and have your own data on where your traffic is coming from and you know what offers are converting, you’re going to find that’s a more profitable use of your time than just starting sites at random.

I will tell you, this is a full transparency show, you will still find or at least I still find that I can start sites that just don’t work out for reasons that I still can’t completely understand. When I’ve talked to the Empire Flippers guys, Joe when he was on the show he said this too, occasionally they build a site that just doesn’t work. By doesn’t work I mean it doesn’t rank well and they don’t have a really good reason for why. I think he still has sites that just flop and he’s not sure why. I’ve certainly seen that.

In fact, I’m dealing with one of those now that I’m really trying to dig into. I spent a more than usual amount of money building backlinks and creating content for this site and it’s still not getting any traction. Sometimes I stay after these just so I try to uncover why, but that’s the reality of it.

The question is do these still work. This is a question you hear all the time in various different context. Is it too late to start an internet business? In general, do affiliate sites still work? Do small affiliate sites still work? Can you still get free traffic from Google? I always hear various versions of this question. Let me tell you that the answer is unequivocally yes.

It’s not just guys like me who have been doing this on and off since 2007. It’s one thing to say that Mark Mason with years of experience, creeping up on whatever it is now, seven years of experience in internet marketing, can build a successful website. Great. What does that tell the new guy? It doesn’t tell the new guy or gal anything really. That’s like saying that Neil Armstrong can be an astronaut. That doesn’t make any sense.

The question is can a fourth grader who wants to be an astronaut still be an astronaut? The answer to that, I’m pretty sure, is yes. And the answer to this question that’s asked by our mystery caller is also unequivocally yes.

The reason that I know this is I’ve been tracking many members of the Rankings Institute Version 2.0 as they proceed through that course. A lot of people in that course already had websites and they are just fine tuning those websites, getting their properties to the next level. But an enormous amount of people, and the people that are most vocal in the forums and that are asking for the most help and asking the most questions, the people that I have the most visibility to, are people who are actually getting started with their first ever niche site, or maybe they’ve done something in the past but they didn’t know what they were doing and now they’re building a little niche site.

When I say a little niche site, I’m talking about a site that starts out with maybe 10 pieces of targeted content. These 10 pieces of content are something on the order of 1,000 word articles that either review a product or address some burning problem that people are searching for – how to solve XYZ problem or product XYZ review, or XYZ product comparison, those kinds of articles. They have 10 of those of articles and then maybe four or five boiler plate pages; a contact page, an about page, a privacy page, a disclaimer page, stuff like that, some legal pages because Google is looking for that stuff. All together these sites are, when you first get started and are trying to build a minimum viable websites, something on the order of 20 pages. They have a decent header, but it’s nothing extravagant. Really that’s about it, that’s the starting point.

So when you say small affiliate websites, that’s what I’m talking about. I’m specifically not talking about one page landing page sites like we used to build in the old days. I’m also specifically not talking about authority sites with 50, 100, 200 pages in inventory.

The Security Guard Training site that you guys are familiar with from Pat Flynn over at SecurityGuardTrainingHQ, that’s an authority site. The Corn Sheller site, which the mystery caller mentions, that’s an example of a small affiliate site. It’s up to 30 pages now, but when it first started it was sort of 20-something pages.

The answer is yes and I know this because I see people in the Rankings Institute doing this. I’ve seen them get their first traffic recently, in the last several weeks since the course started. When I say I’ve seen them, I mean in the Rankings Institute when something happens good to you during the course you submit evidence of that to Andrew and Alex and they award you a badge, so you can see people and what they’re doing. Whether they’ve successfully completed approved keywords or they’ve successfully created their first content, or they’ve successfully gotten their first consistent traffic, or they’ve made their first sale, you can see what’s going on because they’re getting these badges that appear next to their names in the forum. Also, they’re talking about their success online and in private Facebook groups. SO I see this evidence going by.

Then the question is how much money am I making and how much money are these guys making. As we’ve talked about many times before, and I covered this a couple episodes ago, I don’t talk about my particular income situation in regard to affiliate marketing, and I have my reasons for that and you guys know all about that. If you don’t, you can go back and look a couple of episodes ago where I discussed that at some length. But we can talk about the money that the Corn Sheller site is making, because I do talk about that. I think that represents the bottom end and a realistic outcome sort of on the minimum side.

The Corn Sheller site is a niche that I would never have picked, it’s not monetarily attractive, and it continues to make something on the order of $30 per month from that site without doing anything to it. It has done that for almost two years. It has gusts of wind, I think its biggest gust of wind was almost $200 one month, if I’m remembering correctly. That gives you some idea of what’s possible when you pick a niche that is not really a very good niche for this kind of online marketing.

The people that I see in the Rankings Institute, there are a couple of famous stories that Andrew revealed during the rollout. My favorite guy is a welder, his name is Blaine, and in Rankings Institute 1.0 Blaine the welder built one of these small affiliate sites during his spare time when he wasn’t welding. He is literally just a normal guy. I consider myself a normal guy, but you guys probably don’t because you know that I’ve been doing this for years. But Blaine is a super normal guy, just a regular every day Joe. Actually, there are some things that make Blaine incredibly special, and we can talk about that on another episode, possibly the success criteria that really pushed Blaine over the top.

Blaine’s success, I wouldn’t say it’s typical, but it is certainly achievable by almost anyone. What he found out was he built one of these small affiliate sites and got the income up to thousands of dollars a month. I’ve seen several examples in the Rankings Institute and elsewhere where people are making thousands of dollars a month with affiliate websites.

Now, these results are not typical. I think, as we’ve talked about in previous episodes, most people who try to do this do it incorrectly, they don’t follow through, they give up too soon. We’ve gone through all those things. They don’t even get to the Corn Sheller level of $30 per month, let alone the amazing life changing amount of income. Blaine talks about this in some interviews he’s done with Andrew about how that money just changed his life. I think somewhere around $5,000 a month just completely changed his life.

So that’s the answer to your question, I think. Yes, the small affiliate sites can still be successful. There is direct evidence of that. You can do it. There is absolutely no question about it. Alex Miller will tell you that because of these Penguin and Panda changes in Google, in some ways it’s now easier than it has ever been to get this done and make money online. That’s not to say that’s it’s easy and that anybody can do it and it doesn’t matter whether or not you do it right, but it is true that Alex and Andrew believe that it is easier than it has been since they’ve been doing it all the way back to 2007.

You can do it and the amount of money that you can realistically expect to make ranges from $0 per site, which certainly happens in a lot of cases, and even cases for me, all the way up to and including $5,000 per site.

I almost forgot, our mystery caller also asked how many websites I have. We can talk about that.

I have had as many as 100 websites in various states of disrepair at the peak in 2009 when the trend was to create as many junky websites as possible and fill them with Adsense and basically spam the internet. And that worked for awhile. Most of those sites got damaged by either really spammy automated linking strategies that were popular at the time that I experimented with and/or the really spammy junky duplicate content that I was using to create those websites. This was a long time ago.

One of the things that my friend Nicole Dean over at NicoleontheNet.com used to tell me back in those days was, “Mark, you really should think about creating websites in a way that makes the internet a better place.” I remember how I knew that rang true at the time, but I was too busy trying to figure out how to make money with minimum effort and maximum automation to really hear her words. But, I really do believe that now, that that’s really the right way to make money on the internet and we’ve talked about that on the show many times.

Now I am of the firm belief that for me personally the right number of sites for me to have is about 10. The way I think about is I’ll have 10 sites and if I build an 11th site, I may choose to build an 11th site but eventually it’s going to be with the goal of replacing one of the 10. So right now I’m working on about 10 sites that I’m trying to nurture and get to a level that I’m happy with from an income standpoint. Most of those sites are eventually going to be like the Corn Sheller site, in the sense that I don’t touch them much and they generate income.

One of the great things is if you do get 10 sites going and they’re generating some reasonable amount of money, let’s say you had an average income generation from each one of those sites between $500 and $1,000, for example, if that was the case then you could easily outsource the maintenance of those sites. You could easily hire yourself a full time person, perhaps in the Philippines, to keep WordPress up to date and manage the security on those sites. You could easily hire writers to write for those sites to increase the content on a regular basis. You could really reinvest in those sites without hardly any management on your part at all.

One of the things that you might choose to do, for example, would be to dedicate 30 minutes of review time to each one of those sites per month. Let’s say for example that you decided that on the 3rd Tuesday of every month you were going to review site #4. Basically you were going to look at it and write down all of the stuff that you wanted to do for that site – do fresh keyword research, create five new pieces of content for the site this month and get those up, review product XYZ, go to Amazon and research what all the latest products are on the site – and you just make a punch list. Let’s say you listed 10 items, you could send almost all of those items to your person that you were paying based on the proceeds of the site to go do those things and make them happen.

That’s what I do. I do these tasks in a tool called Asana. There are lots of other tools like this; Basecamp, 5PMweb, etc… Those tasks just get done throughout the month and you kind of fire and forget. You do the thinking, but not the work.

I think that’s a really good way to do it. For me, I can think in terms of 10 sites roughly and I’m only ever really focused on two or three of them at a time in any given month. And sometimes I struggle with that. To be honest with you, you guys know sometimes I struggle to get the show out, sometimes I struggle to get these websites done, sometimes I struggle to remember my name, it just depends on what’s going on, lots of struggles. But that’s the strategy.

Let me warn you, though. If you’re just starting out, you want to do one site. Maybe two. No more than two. Sometimes it’s okay to have two because if you’re doing one you may be waiting on stuff and while you’re waiting on stuff you can work on site number two. This is something that I’ve also learned both personally and in the Rankings Institute, we see people that come in and say, “I’m going to have 10 sites,” and they start working on all 10. That’s a bad strategy. You need to work on one.

My friend Lynn Terry talks about this idea of working on something from start to profit before you start working on the next thing. I might stretch that a little bit and say it’s okay to work on two things, but I definitely wouldn’t work on more than one site.

Mystery caller, I hope that helps you out. If you’ll call me back, we’ll give you the due credit that you deserve for an excellent question.

Late Night Tech Tip: Tracking Keywords

One of the problems that you have when you have 10 sites is keeping track of keywords. You want to do this because you want to constantly improve your site and see what’s happening to it, track it, and make sure you understand where your traffic is coming from and how you’re ranking in the search engines. Unfortunately, Google Webmaster Tools doesn’t really give you enough information about how your site is ranking in Google. So it’s usually a good idea to have an external tool that is tracking your rankings for you.

I have used many of these tools. A couple of the ones that you probably know about that are pretty popular, for those of you that have used Market Samurai before, you know that Market Samurai comes with some tracking capability. That’s really great because it comes with the baseline capability for free.

One of the things about these online tools is they run without any attention from you. You just put the keywords in and it just checks your keywords every week and tells you where you’re ranking in Google, Bing, and Yahoo. That’s awesome and I love that aspect of it, that it’s completely maintenance and hassle free, it doesn’t go down, and if it does go down that’s somebody else’s problem.

The problem with those online sites, which are very low maintenance for you the user, is that they’re usually somewhat expensive. For Market Samurai you have to pay a significant monthly fee if you want more than 50 keywords. Most of the sites are like that. You can Google for this, but there are many such sites. There are sites like Authority Labs, WhiteSpark does tracking, Moz, which used to be SEOmoz, there’s a site called RankWatch that a lot of people like. The challenge with these sites is they create recurring cost.

When you’re first starting out and building sites, accumulating recurring costs is one of your enemies. Everybody wants you to subscribe to this keyword tool and this content system and this link system, and by the time you know it, all of a sudden you have a drag on your cash flow that’s $400, $500, $700, $1,000 a month. That just puts pressure on you in your business to make bad choices and it causes cash flow problems for a hobby or an effort that you’re undergoing where you’re trying to make money, and here you are dumping all this money in month after month. Especially for people that are starting out, I like to try and avoid these recurring monthly costs.

The other problem with online rank tracking services is also related to cost, that is that they don’t scale very well. In my case, I have 10 websites that I’m managing, as we just discussed, and I’d like to track between 20 to 100 keywords per site. I don’t absolutely have to, but I’d like to. That’s just, in my opinion, cost prohibitive on most of these sites that you have.

On one of the sites in particular that I like not only do they count each keyword against your quota of total keywords that they let you track, they count each search engine. If you want to track “internet marketing podcast” in Google, that counts as one towards your quota. If you want to also track it in Yahoo or Bing, or both, that counts as another two. By the time you add all this stuff up it turns out if you have a lot of sites it’s pretty expensive to track all the keywords.

That’s the reason I went looking for an offline tool. For several years I have been using a tool called Rank Tracker and you can find that at LateNightIM.com/ranktracker. Rank Tracker is a tool that I like and is by the guys at LinkAssistant. This is kind of an amazing tool, it’s part of what they call the SEO Power Suite.

This is kind of an amazing tool in the sense that it does so much stuff. It integrates with Google Analytics, it integrates with Google’s Keyword Tool, it will tell you all kinds of information. You can, at least theoretically, track an unlimited number of keywords with this tool.

It also has some nice feature that I really like where you can schedule updates of your keyword status periodically. For example, once a day, once a week, or once every three days you can update the current status of your keywords where you’re ranking in Google and it keeps pretty graphs so you can see how your keywords are doing in Google. It’s just all real good.

I have this graph of where the Late Night Internet Marketing site itself ranks for the keyword Mark Mason, which I’ve been as high as #3 and right now I’m hovering at the bottom of the first page. It tells me that and I have data all the way back to three years ago on that keyword in this tool. That’s kind of cool. I can see that right here and I really like it.

The limitation of Rank Tracker and the problem with it is the way that it gets its data – and this is true for almost any keyword tool that I’m aware of – is it actually does the query in Google. It goes to Google behind the scenes, pulls the page, and searches for the website that you’re trying to track in the ranking results. Google knows that people are doing this and they have robot protection, you’ve probably seen this, that after awhile they throw a captcha code up on the search page.

That’s not a real problem because there are services out there like Death by Captcha where you can pay a service to answer those captcha codes for you automatically. And Rank Tracker supports that, so you can get a Death by Capctha subscription and you can plug it into Rank Tracker and do that.

I do that, but I also do something else that is working for me really well. One of the things that I do is I have this Rank Tracker software running on its own server in my home. When I say server, it’s nothing fancy. It’s a $500 Mac Mini that is running in a closet. If you’re not a Mac person or you haven’t seen the Mac Mini, this is kind of the ultimate home server box. It’s deadly quiet, it runs cool, you can put it anywhere, and it’s small. It supports really good remote logins because underneath it’s UNIX, so I can control this thing from anywhere in the world just like I’m sitting in front of it. I run it headless, it’s sitting in a closet upstairs close to my cable modem. This Mac Mini is running a copy of Rank Tracker and every night it wakes up and it updates all my keywords.

The problem is, as I discussed before, Google sees this activity of me trying to do thousands of queries to Google and it starts throwing captcha codes. This affects the software and it also affects people in my house who are trying to use Google. So if my kids are trying to do their homework, all of a sudden they Google “dinosaur” and they get a captcha code from Google, so that’s not good.

What I do to mitigate that is I use some virtual private networking software. I’m going to tell you the name of this software, but this is a family show. It amazes me that people pick these kind of names for their business. The acronym is HMA and it stands for Hide My A$$. Since this is iTunes and maybe your kids are in the car, we’re going to call it HMA. If you Google HMA VPN, which stands for virtual private network, you’ll find this company, or you can go to LateNightIM.com/HMA and that will get you there.

What this does is this software makes my Mac Mini have a different IP address every few minutes that I specify. I have it set to five minutes, so every five minutes my Mac Mini looks like it is coming from somewhere else in the United States and it has a different IP address every time. This is privacy software and people use this for various purposes. One of the things you can use this for, for example, if you’re trying to stream Netflix outside of the United States you can login and get yourself a United States IP address even when you’re outside the United States.

Other people use it because they’re trying to do nefarious things and they don’t want to be tracked. Other people use it because they’re in Starbucks and they don’t want to be subject to snooping by people who are monitoring the Starbucks wi-fi network, so they create an encrypted channels through the HMA network. There are lots of legitimate business reasons to use VPN and there are also reasons like this where I’m trying to make sure that Google doesn’t restrict the number of queries that I’m doing to the Google search engine.

I don’t care how long it takes for me to update all my keywords. I don’t care if it takes 24 hours, because all I care is that once a month or whatever when I look at this report that I actually have many days worth of data throughout the week and throughout the month that I can look back at historically and see how the keyword is trending. I’m not really interested in a service that makes it possible to update all the keywords instantly.

If you’re running an SEO business or something where you have clients where you need to have information immediately, this might not be the right tool for you. For guys like you and me who just need a view of what’s going on as a function of time, you can plot along. I have the software set to update one keyword every 30 or 40 seconds, to change the IP address every five or 10 minutes, so from Google’s perspective that computer is only making four or five queries every four or five minutes, and that looks like human activity so it never throws the captcha code.

In addition to that, I have a very inexpensive captcha handling package from Death by Captcha plugged into Rank Tracker so if it ever does get a captcha code it can solve it. This is a very effective solution for me. This combination of Rank Tracker and HMA VPN solution is a really good solution running for me on my Mac Mini and that’s how I track my keywords. I recommend this Rank Tracker software to you, because it’s really good.

It’s not super inexpensive, in the sense that it’s not $5.00, but they do have a free edition. If you go to LateNightIM.com/RankTracker you can try the free edition and see what you think. It will work just fine even without the VPN behind it. You can test it out and see if it’s for you.

I hope that helps you. If you have any questions about how to use Rank Tracker, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line in the show notes at LateNightIM.com/085.

Wrapping Things Up….

That’s it. I’m a little over time this week, but I hope that was helpful to you. I hope you have an absolutely fantastic week. As always, I am very much appreciating reviews in iTunes. You can go to LateNightIM.com/itunes to login and give me a review there. I’m really trying to get over 100 reviews and I’d appreciate that.

If you do give me a review on iTunes, let me know and I’ll give you a shoutout on the show. I really appreciate all the support as we ramp up and head towards the 100th episode of the Late Night Internet Marketing Podcast here in a couple months.

Thank you very much. We’ll talk to you soon.

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