Ross & Craig Affiliate Site Audit
- Affiliate Website Monetization Strategies and Workflow
- Audit #1: Page Title Tags, Flat Website Structure, CTA Optimization
- Audit #2: Navigation Issues, Diversifying Income Streams, and Email Opt-ins
- Audit #3: Possible Google Penalty, sameAs Schema, and Technical Issues
- Audit #4: Brand Traffic and Backlink Profile Issues
Craig: Hi guys! Welcome to today's SEMrush. Today I'm joined by a new guy to our little group, Mr. Spencer Haws, and none other than the infamous Ross Tavendale. How are you guys?
Spencer: Doing great. Great to be here, Craig.
Craig: We've had a whole bunch of your websites sent over and...we've selected two sites each. We will have a good old laugh at what you're doing, and hopefully point you in the right direction or throw you under the bus or whatever it may be.
Ross: Where in the U.S. are you Spencer?
Spencer: I'm in Washington state. Up in the Northwest. I've been building affiliate websites for about ten years and so I've got lots of different niche websites that I've been building. I have a blog called nichepursuits.com that I've been blogging about how to build affiliate sites and SEO and things related to that.
Ross: Very cool. Do you have a particular niche that you're most fond of?
Spencer: I've definitely got multiple niches that I'm in. I've got a site called owntheyard.com that I've built a public case study on through my blog. But it's in the backyard games and backyard landscape design type space. It's only a little over a year old, but it's going pretty well. And then a couple other more in the recreational space - sports and running type niche that I'm in as well.
Ross: Excellent. What about you Craig? You've spent the last 18 months starting to build your affiliate empire a lot more. What kind of stuff in particular do you look at or what kind of niches do you like to play in?
Craig: In terms of general day to day affiliate stuff, SaaS tools, digital marketing stuff, anything related, is the easiest thing for me to sell. What I've been trying out in the last while or so is buying and selling different websites. I see it more of an investment thing. The same as you would buy a property, do some work on it, and flip it on for a profit.
With that side of the business, it's something that I really enjoy, but it can be any niche at all. You don't have to go for any specific niche. As long as I can see that there's scalability there and something to work with then I don't really care whether it's gardening tools or whatever.
Taking an Amazon website and putting it on to a private affiliate and then flipping it because the revenue obviously quadruples or whatever you choose to do. I've been doing a bit of that. It's working out reasonably well.
I think long-term I want to do more in the dropshipping side of things. I'm not a huge fan of affiliate and the commissions and everything that you get, and sometimes you're having to fight for sales. Whereas, if you've got a dropshipping website you're in full control of all the orders and everything else.
There's no funny business. No funny cookie policies. I think long-term I want to go back into the dropshipping side of things and just build a few eCom stores or something.
Affiliate Website Monetization Strategies and Workflow
Ross: I'm interested to hear about monetization strategies before we jump into some of these websites. We've been given about 90 websites and we've picked two each that are in completely different niches.
When I look at things like people monetizing exclusively through Amazon Affiliates and I hear all these horror stories about ... Well, for example, you look at the fashion category and they drop their commission from five to two and a half percent. If you've got a fashion website that relies on it that cuts all of your income in half.
Spencer, how do you think about monetization? Do you use Amazon Affiliates? Is it a mixture?
Spencer: I do use Amazon Affiliates, but as you mentioned it sometimes can be difficult or a little bit risky to place all your eggs in one basket - in the Amazon basket. A lot of times there are private affiliate programs. If you're selling ... a handful of products are your bestsellers that you're selling through Amazon, reach out to them privately, and they often have their own affiliate programs that pay higher commissions.
I know that's also the case with just a ton of other affiliate programs. For example, a lot of hosting affiliates, they have one price that they pay out through a network, but if you contact them directly they might be willing to bump that up ten or twenty bucks per lead, especially if you're doing well. Being able to work directly with companies is definitely a really great idea.
Ross: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. When you were saying earlier some of the different niches you're involved in from running and health and fitness to backyard games and things like that. I assume that you're not personally an expert in all of these different verticals.
With regards to workflow, and things of that nature? How are you building in workflows, and how are you recruiting in people to help with that? Is there a particular strategy you look at?
Spencer: Obviously, writing the content is extremely important. I'm not an expert in all those areas as you said, but I've kind of figured out the processes and procedures to do that. The quick workflow that I have is that I do all the keyword research, find the topics that we want to write about.
I've written pretty detailed procedures on how to tackle those topics, whether it's a buying guide or a review or what type of article it is. Then I hire authors that are able to read these standard operating procedures and write the article and format the article in a way that I want to do that.
I have an editor that's also been trained and is following my SOPs that I have to go through and edit those articles and make sure they're monetized properly, we're using Yoast SEO and keywords are being used properly, etc. That's really the main process in terms of the content.
Once I've done the initial keyword research I hand it off to authors and we can go into where I find authors, etc., but that's kind of the process from the author to the editor, the editor hits publish, and then I kind of take it from there.
Ross: What about you, Craig. Do you have a particular process for getting content on the site and building links and things like that?
Craig: In terms of content, obviously content's key, and I've got someone to outsource that to that looks after some of the projects that I've got. I've also got an in-house content writer that looks after some of my closer stuff.
In terms of Amazon, I've got someone to outsource it to and obviously follow the SOPs just as Spencer said.
Ross: There are people who don't know what an SOP is, Craig. Can you explain that?
Craig: Standard Operating Procedure. So, if I want something to be done, a lot of these VAs, or people that you outsource your work to, have to follow the process that you want. And obviously what we also do is give them some training videos - this is what we want you to do, and this why we want you to do it.
I've got the people, my content writer, trained up on what I think is the best practice for Amazon product reviews. Roughly how many titles and stuff that I want on there and she's obviously trained in being able to add the tables and everything else. I want one person to do the full lot of work.
In terms of scaling up after that, is that one person will be in charge, and she will just hire writer after writer after writer for as long as I want to scale, but that person will fully be in charge of doing the tables and stuff. I don't really want any involvement in it. As far as I'm concerned, it's more of an investment thing for me.
And the same goes for link building. I outsource the link building. Sometimes I'll buy some links myself.
Ross: Wait, wait, wait. Did you just say you buy links, Craig?
Craig: Buy them from different vendors or get someone to do some outreach or whatever. I think that everyone's got their own opinions based on the link building strategies that you use. There's nothing wrong with doing what you do, creating pieces and getting all these kind of links and doing it the way that you do it, or my way is perceived to be riskier, but I'm sure Spencer will agree.
I'm quite curious to hear your answer on this, Spencer. Do you buy links or are you trying to get them for free, or what? What's your link building strategy like?
Spencer: Straight to the point, man. I outsource my link building as well, but I hire people to do outreach for me to do outreach and try to get guest post opportunities is one of the core ways that I'm doing link building.
I don't do a ton other than that. Just doing some outreach and looking for opportunities. Sometimes that leads to a guest post. Sometimes it leads to some other type of relationships where they've got a site and I've got a site and things work out well in that regard. A lot of outreach I have a VA doing all of that.
Ross: Do you want to kick off the auditing?
Audit #1: Page Title Tags, Flat Website Structure, CTA Optimization
Craig: Gareth Daine submitted his website, and it's a case study that Gareth's doing. Gareth has his group called Niche Affiliate Empires and he wanted to start from scratch. You know, absolutely nothing and build an affiliate website and talk people through the journey and the process and the pitfalls and everything else. This is the website. It's the survival niche, and the website is survivalfront.com.
You'll see it looks fairly simple, easy. How to start a fire, how to read a map, and all that kind of good stuff that's on there.
The website's fairly simple, straightforward and easy to understand. He's obviously wanting to sell things like fire starters, which if you click on it, "Best Survival Fire Starter", check price on Amazon and it's got all his stuff on there and you'll see that product reviews by Terry Daine, one of Gareth's 500 brothers.
Quite a nice looking website. It's got all the products on there. He's probably using AAWP to showcase all that stuff.
Ross: What's AAWP?
Craig: AAWP allows you to put the tables, the product boxes and all that kind of stuff on to your Amazon website, rather than you going in manually and putting in all that stuff. There's a plugin that does it all for you.
Ross: It's like a site builder that plugs into an app, like the Amazon product feed.
Craig: Yeah. Pretty much. Like this table here, it just looks nice, simple and easy. You don't have to do any kind of coding or anything for that. That's all pulled through from Amazon so you just basically need to pick the products that go in there. It makes life a lot easier.
I think the website, if I remember correctly, earns around about 300 pounds a month at the moment, coming from nowhere. Literally, this never had any content. He's starting to build up and go after a lot of long-tail keywords with the website.
What I would say to guys like Gareth, just some starting points. It's all good and well loading up your website, you're after a whole bunch of long-tail keywords. But if we look at his home page, that's shocking in terms of a home page title tag. “Home | Survival Front”. We know that you’re Survival Front and it's good to have that in there, but certainly better targeting on that would be something that I would recommend.
Ross: What would you recommend in there, Craig? If we were to rewrite that title tag, what stuff would you be dropping in there?
Craig: Off the top of my head, I don't know anything about fire starters, but obviously there's got to be other terms... you know, how to start a fire, or... I don't know. Fire starting supplies, or camping supplies, or whatever these things may be. You've got to make better use.
You've got up to 60 characters for the title tag. I think just using fire starters and your brand name on every title tag is just garbage as far as I'm concerned. Put a bit more variation in there. A variety of different keywords that are semi-related.
It's the same as for anyone. If I was an SEO company, for example, I would have SEO, SEO services, SEO consultant Glasgow or whatever. You're going to try and chuck in a few keywords there. Not just fire starters.
Ross: Maybe put in some review based keywords, maybe some top ten stuff. Use SEMrush's keyword magic tool to get an idea of the long-tail that's kicking around and start keyword targeting that.
Craig: That's exactly what you would want to do. And as I say, if you go to their sitemap on here. He's got 56 posts on there which is all good. And it's obviously best survival folding saw, best eight person tent and so on.
But again, best eight person tent. There's not enough going on there in terms of variation. When you click on them, they then, at that point...that's taking you right to Amazon. What they're basically doing is loosely targeting keywords and there's not enough on-page optimization as far I'm concerned.
There's not a huge amount wrong if we go to projects and you do a site audit. There's a handful of broken links. There's not too much wrong in that front. I think it's more the internal linking and the title tag and keyword targeting that are pretty poor.
Ross: What do you think of that site structure? If you go back to the site? If you look at the sitemap, it looks like a completely flat site structure. Everything's hanging off the root domain.
If you've got some tent stuff, some fire starter stuff. I'd be looking at siloing that much, much better. We're doing internal linking, we're internal linking between, inside of our own silos. I'd have a /clothing/survivalclothing page and start to really break those into just a hierarchy really because it looks like it's completely flat.
Spencer: Yeah, I can see when you go to their site it does appear when you look at their menu navigation, they've got it divided out in nice categories; outdoor and camping, survival tools, survival kits, radio, and communication - along with some subcategories there. They may be not structuring that properly.
Ross: Bill Scott actually said this in the chat straight away, he's like, "No CTAs." There are CTAs, it's just that the navigational colors are the same as the CTA colors, so just make it the complete opposite. Make it so it's actually ugly and it really stands out would be a big one for me.
Craig: This website's obviously in its infancy. They don't have a huge amount of that stuff going on. I think the key points here are the silo structure, as you said, and probably better keyword research and title tags on-page could be a little bit better and then obviously anything else above and beyond that in terms of any schema or anything else. Calls to action and everything would follow thereafter.
It's all done on a limited budget because Gareth, for anyone who doesn't know him, is doing a lot of client work, and this is just more of a hobby, side project. Just a testing phase, if you like.
Ross: Cool. Spencer, do you want to jump on to the next one that you're looking to audit?
Audit #2: Navigation Issues, Diversifying Income Streams, and Email Opt-ins
Spencer: We are looking at doing frugalconfessions.com. It's actually a great looking site here. Really like the theme; it looks really clean in that regard. It's monetized with, looks like AdThrive or Mediavine. I'll click on one of these articles here: 151 Stocking Stuffers For Women. You can see the ads. They've got lots of those ads in the sidebar and in the footer and then throughout the content of course.
One initial thing that I look at is the menu here. The only category that I see is 250 Money Saving Tips, and that's not even a category. That just sort of takes them to obviously their most popular article here.
In terms of the structure from the home page, the navigation could be worked on just a little bit. You can click on the blog, or you can click on the 250 Money Saving Tips. Maybe they could break that out a little bit better, whether that's budgeting, deals, or other ideas to maybe make money.
I did want to look at monetization for the site, specifically beyond just the ads. That's great. The site gets a decent amount of traffic. I'm going to pull up SEMrush here, and let's pop in frugal confessions here and see what we've got going on.
You can see that the traffic has grown over the last couple years. Of course, quite a large dip here in October that we can talk a little bit more about, but what I wanted to do first is when I'm looking to better monetize a site, of course, I am going to navigate around and see what they're doing currently, but I also typically would like to look at some of their top pages, because pulling your top pages out of your website is really where you're going to get the best bang for your buck.
Look at where most of your traffic is going and think about, "Okay, how can I improve that particular page?" In SEMrush you can come over to pages, and it's going to show you which ones are getting the most traffic. Let's go ahead and pull their top page is How To Sell Old Appliances For Money (8 Places Who Buy Used Appliances). That's kind of a fun one, for sure.
As we scroll through this, the one thing that she does well, is she does point out ... she's got this looking for other ways to make extra cash. She's got ... which looks like, I think it's an opt-in here.
Ross: For the noobs that are watching, could you explain what an opt-in is and why you'd want to use one?
Spencer: An opt-in is an email capture form. Ideally, she would be capturing emails to get people on her email list, because a lot of people aren't ready to buy or make a decision right away, so if she can send them a drip series of email, and catch them at the right time, in the future they might be ready to buy or make a buying decision.
Going back to this original article or top page, yes, she mentions another article that I think is monetized well, but this article itself, beyond ads, maybe there's not a lot of opportunities. These are certainly not affiliate links as I go through here, for the most part. These are all just where you can sell your appliances or make some money from your appliances.
My idea for better monetizing this particular article would be certainly to see if there are any type of affiliate opportunities that are out there. Maybe there is somebody selling eBooks specifically for how to make money with appliances, and so you could do a quick search and see can I add an affiliate link or "Hey, there is this ebook that you could buy."
She certainly needs to create an email capture form, because I would imagine with the traffic that she's getting she could build up a significant email list and then be able to market to them over time
Ross: Do you recommend any software at all, Spencer, for that sort of stuff, or how would you go about putting that sort of stuff on the website?
Spencer: There's two pieces of that puzzle in terms of software. One is the actual email capture itself. There's lots of Word Press plugins and tools that do that. One that I like is OptinMonster.
Using OptinMonster to capture the email and then email service providers, one that I use is ConvertKit. But there's Mailchimp, there's Constant Contact, there's dozens and dozens of services that you can use to actually send out the emails at that point, but ConvertKit is one that I'm currently using and like.
That's what I would do is I'd go through then and look at some of the other top pages on SEMrush and see how she could be doing a better job. But overall, definitely capture some emails.
Then, if you're really ambitious, which ambitious people tend to make a little bit more money, I would create your own product on this website. I think an ebook would go really well with frugal confessions, so I would create an ebook on either the best ways to save money, so maybe this 250 Money Saving Tips is the start to that ebook, maybe flesh this out a little bit better.
Not only sell it on your own website, but you could sell it on Amazon. It could be an additional revenue stream for you, and an additional traffic stream as you sell it on the Amazon Kindle Store to get all those people searching for money-saving ideas.
Audit #3: Possible Google Penalty, sameAs Schema, and Technical Issues
Ross: We have a couple more. I've been given celiac.com. Let me just share the screen with you now.
First impression of this site is ... it says it was a support group since 1995. Well, it looks like it was designed in 1995. I think that's one of the first things we need to have a serious look at. Just the way in which this flows is a bit of a problem for me. Things like signing in with Facebook and all of that…I've got a bit of a problem with any Facebook sign in, just because of the way in which they pervasively track people online.
One of the first things I want to do when I audit these sites is I want to get a general feel for the traffic. When I look at it on SEMRush, guys, what is the first thing you notice about this graph? And this is July 2018. Something really bad happened because it looks like they've had a penalty. Anyone like to hazard a guess what algorithm update there was around August time 2018 related to medical problems?
Craig: The Medic Update that impacted loads of other websites that had nothing to do with medical.
Ross: Absolutely. These guys have had a pretty severe Google slap and that's due to what looks like the Medic Update. Let's just talk about and let's just quickly debunk the notion of EAT. This is a little contentious. From my point of view, the whole EAT metrics thing, it actually still comes down to link value and having all these things on the page that Google can pick up and relate back.
It is, of course, important having published authors with links back to show credibility, but what is the easiest sign that's the hardest to manipulate for credibility? That is getting links from scholarly articles in major publications that are actually in line with the topic.
In the UK we've seen a major publisher, the Daily Mail, drop tons and tons of traffic around medical terms, which they should do because they're not a medical site and not an authority on it, but they did have the link base to show some level of authority.
What I'd first and foremost like to do is actually click in to some of these people. In their About Us, they got a bunch of staff. The one that comes up first is actually this guy called Dr. Ron Hogan. They've got serious, heavyweight people doing their writing so it's almost definitely not a problem with the quality of the content. One thing I do note here, it's literally just his name on a page, so in terms of Google understanding if this is ... if Ron is a particular entity or not, we don't really know.
You can see here it's starting to create these parameters. I'd like to see what happens when I run a crawler over this. Is that going to keep putting on parameters based on my session? If it is, then that's a pretty serious technical problem.
The reason being is if Google bot's going through that and every time it hits a link it's doing a question mark on a session ID parameter, it may start viewing that as additional pages. The site, which is already massive, may actually be seen as considerably larger, so your crawlbot will just be completely zapped up.
This particular site allows for people to actually put in user-generated content. That could also be a serious issue. With regards to Dr. Ron, the first thing I want to do...is run it through structured data testing.
When it comes to any sort of your money or your life websites, or anything that could potentially be affected by Medic, it's important that your content is organized perfectly. This is back to this EAT thing. This is the expertise part and just making sure that it's all completely aligned and really easy to understand if you're a robot.
We've got organization schema. Fine. Breadcrumbs. Fine. We've got lots of structural and navigational schema, but nothing actually about Dr. Ron himself. There's a profile page schema in here, but you'll notice that it doesn't actually say anything about him being a medical professional.
Moving it away from classic organizational schema and starting to put in the fact that these people are giving medical guidelines, it's a medical webpage, and these are medical professionals.
Using this sameAs schema function. This is schema.org, again, this is all built in bootstrap, and it looks like it was built the same time as celiac.com, I would seriously think about using sameAs. All sameAs is doing is saying that for Dr. Ron's profile, Dr. Ron is the same as this Twitter profile, is the same as this Facebook profile, etc, etc.
The reason why that is important is it just kind of combines all these entities that are online into a singular place so that Google can understand that, "Oh actually, these are all the same person."
Another big thing you'll notice is it's got 362,000 backlinks. That's just because it's been going for a very long time. One thing I will note though, when we look at Majestic, and look at their links over time, they're well and truly out of their heyday. In terms of their links that they've been getting over the last year or so, it's completely flatlined.
Back to this EAT thing, part of the trust is being cited with links and having regular amounts of links pointing to the site. Link velocity definitely matters. You can't rest on your laurels with this.
Other things to note here is the fact that these articles, the advice given in them, especially the user-generated content, is very dubious. The lines that they're drawing between celiac's disease and actual health claims are pretty mental, so just making sure that if there is user-generated content out there, that it's heavily put over to the other side of the domain, and there's some sort of writer there.
Google's now got rel=ugc for link markup, so you'll need to mark them up with rel=ugc so they know that it's user-generated content.
Spencer: Yeah, I agree. You pretty well nailed it there. It feels like the website 10 years ago was a lot more relevant and a lot more going on, either more experienced authors, more qualified authors, perhaps.
It just kind of feels like they need to either step up the expertise side, and start showing that they are truly experts in the celiac space and that as they do outreach and produce great content hopefully the link velocity is going to start going back up as they become more relevant.
Ross: Craig, did you want to jump in? Do you want to look at a second website?
Audit #4: Brand Traffic and Backlink Profile Issues
Craig: The website is collectiveray, he is based in Malta and he's got various WordPress tutorials, tricks, themes, plugins and stuff like that.
Now, this website, if you put it into SEMrush, and this is something I want to bounce off of you guys, the website has done reasonably well. It's grown a lot since back in mid-2017, all the way up until this October/November update or the November update that came out which has obviously seen a massive dip in traffic.
The website itself looks alright. It could probably be doing with a bit of a redesign. In terms of the content, you've got a lot of content on this website.
What's your thoughts on this dip that people have had? I've seen it in pretty much both of your presentations when you looked at websites you see this dip in November. I've had it as well with one of my affiliate websites, and I just want to know what you guys are putting that down to.
Ross: With regards to it, I wouldn't use these graphs to diagnose things. I would look at your year over year traffic because it might be a seasonal problem. There was a core update at the exact same time, so it's likely that it is part of the algorithm update. They say that it was a broad core update so it's nothing we can particularly pinpoint.
For me, the first and most obvious thing is just look at your link base. The fact that they said that we've been featured in Ink and we've been featured in CSS tricks makes me think that he's quite savvy and he understands the value of off-site.
Has he done anything slightly dodgy with regards to offsite? The obvious thing as well is, is he getting any brand traffic? If you go into SEMrush and you look at all of his keywords, is any of that his own brand name? If not, that's really weird.
That extreme trajectory followed by a crash, if I'm Google and I'm seeing this site grow in popularity for a bunch of keywords but there's zero brand movement, that just screams manipulation. That's a potential issue that I would seriously look at.
Craig: Spencer, what's your thoughts on it because you do a lot of affiliate stuff so you must ... have you seen a lot of these dipping in November?
Spencer: My hunch and my guess is that usually it's off-page, some sort of either shady link building that they've done or Google just made an update where maybe they truly didn't have the valuable links that they needed in the first place to be where they were. The sites that did have those more valuable, true links are now ranking better than they are.
Craig: They've got 20,000 individual backlinks, but it's coming from about 1,000 domains. A 1:20 ratio of links to domains is suspiciously high. I'd look at the ratio of trust flow to citation flow.
If you've got a high citation flow it means that you've got easy to get, easy to manipulate links. If you've got a low trust flow it means that you need to get features in some much bigger publications, and if the reverse happens it means you don't have enough link equity going to the right pages. But I'd love to dig into it more, but sadly we're coming to the end.
Spencer: Thanks for letting me join in, guys. It's been great to join the duo here.
Ross: Absolutely. It was lovely to meet you Spencer. Where can we find out more about you after we take this offline?
Spencer: If people want to follow along, I'm over at nichepursuits.com where I blog and try to keep people up to date with what I'm doing.
Ross: Great. And what about you, Craig?
Craig: You can find me anywhere. Just shoot me up Facebook. Or craigcampbellseo.com or whatever. And Ross, I'll ask you. Where do we find you?
Ross: Typeamedia.net, or just Google me, I'm sure you'll find me because I am an SEO after all. It was lovely to speak to you all.
Craig: Cheers, guys.
Spencer: Excellent. Thanks a lot.
Craig: See you later.