All the numbers I’ve shared here were taken from the official sales document, which was handled by third-party professionals (EmpireFlippers). They have been through extensive due diligence. I have done my absolute best to be clear about everything possible. Enjoy the rest of the case study and hopefully, you’ll be making your own monthly profits soon!
After around a year and a half of hard work, I sold my affiliate site for a six-figure sum.
The sale exceeded my expectations and has set the bar high for future endeavors!
Let’s get straight to it. I know you guys want to see what the financials looked like when I sold the site, and how I got there.
In summary, the site made about $5,400 per month ($64,800 per year) on average within its last 8 months span. I wrote some pieces of the content myself and was spending around $350 per month on average on content outsourcing and link building (MailShake, Hunter.io).
There were also costs like hosting ($8 per month), tools (that were used only when I needed, for example, Ahrefs) and some other costs like plugins, theme, Pinterest pins and custom-coded stuff from the developer. This cost me an additional $100 per month. So all this left me with around $5,000 profit per month.
Here are the monthly figures for the site:
February 2021 (half month)
So, how did I do it, so quickly?
Basically, I think it all comes down to great planning and careful execution of those plans. I have built sites from the ground up before but this one has been my biggest success. That’s because, from the niche to the content, to link building I had a plan. A lot of my planning skills were honed through The Authority Site System (TASS), a course that I will mention throughout this case study.
Of course, my plans shifted over time and I even made a few silly mistakes. With my next site, I’ll work even more methodically and hopefully, make even more profit because I’ve learned from this experience. And I’m documenting it here so you can learn from it too!
The Niche Selection
Unfortunately, as I have sold the site and wouldn’t want to make any problems for its new owner I can’t reveal the specifics of the niche I chose for the site I built but suffice to say I put in a lot of research before I settled on it.
It’s a popular but not saturated niche that gave me a lot of scope for content creation and building links in the right way and to the correct scale.
This was my first site using Amazon as an affiliate but I had a strong understanding of the site-building process from previous ventures. I wasn’t new to building sites but this site’s success was still a great achievement that I would like to document step by step.
1. Decent pricing products
I knew going into things that I had to pick a niche that would include products with a reasonably high price on Amazon that was nonetheless desirable and affordable to many.
There’s no point in a kickback if it’s minuscule, and likewise, there’s no point if the product is so expensive no one ever buys it! In my experience, a price of around $100-$350 is perfect.
2. Private Affiliate Programs
Amazon associates is a good start when you’re building an affiliate site but you never want all your eggs in one basket. There’s always a chance of being suspended by Amazon (this can happen for a variety of reasons and doesn’t imply actual misconduct on your part) so it’s best to spread the risk.
To find additional affiliate programs I looked at competitors in my niche and figured out what they were promoting. I also did research beyond that but my biggest finds in terms of quality affiliates programs were all through competition research.
Continued personal research can pay off though because there’s always a chance you’ll find a product that’s new to the market or has a new affiliate program and get in on the ground floor before your competitors are on board.
3. Evergreen Industry
It was also important to choose an industry that had been going for a considerable amount of time so I knew it wouldn’t be a flash in the pan.
I mean, sure, you could make a site all about premium fidget spinners in 2017 and it might do well for a year but then interest would dry up!
4. A Minimum of Seasonality
The same basic concept applies to seasonality. I looked at the data for a few niches through the years to make sure they weren’t just popular during the holiday gift season or only a summer fad.
This is really one to look out for as you would be surprised by the seemingly perennially popular products that actually take a hit for a few months a year!
The bottom line is, nothing performs completely consistently year round but you have to get as close as you can to 365-reliability. Of course, as well as reliability I needed to make sure the niche must have an audience that buys products online.
5. Lots of Commercial Keywords
The key here was finding a niche with plenty of decent volume commercial keywords to choose from, almost all of which could lead to its own article. That means there needs to be a substantial range of topics or products covered by those keywords, rather than all or most of them being a variation on a narrow theme.
I ended up with close to 100 articles on my site and the majority were commercial articles. These were the main income generators for the site.
6. Shouldn’t fall directly into YMYL categories
When talking about niche selection, I considered it important to go over what counts as a YMYL category for Google’s EAT algorithm.
The Google algorithm is a mysterious beast in some ways but in 2013 theirs Search Quality Evaluators Guidelines taught us a lot about how Google works and what they look in web pages to rank them higher in the search.
The likelihood is, they have changed somewhat since 2013 (the algorithm certainly has) but YMYL and EAT still seem to be key.
YMYL stands for Your Money or Your Life. EAT stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness. The closer your niche is to sites that Google puts into the YMYL category, the more solidly it has to prove its EAT credentials.
Defining YMYL and EAT
Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines define a YMYL site as any in a niche that if the information is portrayed inaccurately, untruthfully or deceptively, could damage the reader’s health, safety, happiness or financial stability.
If you write about one of these niches, you have to be an expert.
The obvious examples here are money advice and health. And to be an expert in either of those things, you need specific, provable qualifications.
But to talk with authoritativeness, expertise and trustworthiness on camping equipment? No qualifications are needed. Maybe you’re just an enthusiast, or maybe you worked in an outdoor gear store for five years. Maybe both.
So that’s what I mean when I say it is best to steer clear of YMYL topics unless you are genuinely an expert in the field. And even then, you have to back up every claim you make on your site with evidence (usually in the form of links to, and citations of, very trusted websites or academic papers).
But knowing all about EAT is important whatever your niche is, you should be attempting to come out on top of EAT anyway.
The bottom line is if you want the Google algorithm to rank you well you need to get to know the EAT and to an extent the YMYL criteria even if you have steered clear of YMYL.
7. High link building opportunities
It had to be something I could really build up a reputation of being an expert in, with a decent range of informational topics having plenty of links earning opportunities. I also looked into HARO as part of this, which is a useful initiative I will get into further later.
This is one of the reasons I didn’t mind that my niche was reasonably competitive. In a way, stepping into an established world for a niche means that you have the best chance possible of competing as long as you take time to study the competition!
You can see affiliate sites that are doing well and emulate them and also being part of a wider circle of related niches means that you can get links backlinks from sites in any of those closely related fields.
So, say my niche was camping equipment – I would be in the wider world of outdoor activity sites, hiking sites, family holiday sites, shoestring travel sites… all related to my niche but not exactly competing with me! It’s a fine balance.
For me, The Authority Site System (TASS) course really cemented the knowledge I needed to choose a well-placed niche and get the most out of it.
Planning The Site
When I launched the site I had a monthly income goal in mind. Making money that I could plough back into the project was important to me at the time.
For that reason, although the site’s content was planned to cover multiple categories (that is, multiple product categories within my niche) I initially chose two of the top most profitable to focus on. These were products that were a decent price (that $100-350 mark I talked about earlier) and they were also popular.
I had other categories lined up but I was really trying to succeed with these two first to pave the way for the others.
At first, I identified the easiest keywords to rank in and got that content up ASAP. But this was not my long term or medium term strategy.
Most of my silos were not focused on these easy keywords – they were just a quick way to break even. Instead, I created a large number of parent term pages (for example, best lawn mowers) in the niche it would be harder to rank for, knowing they would serve me well in the longer term.
All the successful competitors had similar pages built around these keywords so I knew I needed them too.
As with most stages of building a site, competition research is key when you are building a content plan!
As part of my assessment of both the niche I chose and my competition in that niche (which, really, are always going to be two sides of the same coin), I devised a content creation strategy.
I knew I needed four main types of written content. They were:
1. Buying Guides
Buying guides are actually a rundown of multiple products like ‘top ten’ or ‘top twelve’ but along with that list (which of course contains an Amazon affiliate link for each product), there is also a full buying guide to that type of product.
For example, If I was writing about backpacking tents for my hypothetical camping gear site (I promise this was not actually a camping gear site, it is not a double bluff!) I would list the ten best, with information on each of them and pros and cons lists, and then I would include a buying guide.
The buying guide would answer questions like ‘types of backpacking tent’, ‘key things to look for in a backpacking tent’. Each of these would in turn include subheadings.
These articles tend to be on the longer side of things – 3-4.5k words – and they need to be to hold all that information, plus affiliate links, without looking like an attempt at selling to the reader. The additional info both keeps the reader on the page longer and informs the reviews of the products before making a purchase.
2. Single product reviews
These do what they say on the tin. They are longer-form reviews of single products, designed for the reader to feel like they are becoming an expert on that product.
Consumers often read reviews like this before/after picking a product or products they like out of a buying guide.
3. Comparison (Vs) Topics
Again, these topics are designed to make customers feel like experts before they make a purchase.
They might be specific product vs specific product – so Wild Country Hoolie Compact vs Berghaus Cheviot 2 (yeah, I am sticking with the tents example) or they might be brand vs brand OR style of product vs style of product. So, geodesic tent vs tunnel tent, or pop-up vs traditional.
4. Informational Topics
Informational topics are long, in-depth articles.
In a way, they are the backbone of a site because they demonstrate your expertise in a field, play a key role in building links through outreach and cover the most common questions that people search in your niche.
They should be fact-based and if possible split up into digestible chunks.
Before you launch your site, you should have a good store of finished content. I made some mistakes at this point in my journey – not fatal mistakes but mistakes that probably slowed me down.
Maybe I underestimated the power of good content, or maybe I thought writing it was easier than it is but I initially attempted to write all my content myself. This was a massive job on top of everything else I had to do! It took me 4 months to publish 20 pages on the site and they were not up to the standard I would later consider a minimum.
Of course, I was worried. This is when I decided I needed to work with writers.
It turned out, though, that finding good writers (and keeping ahold of them) is a job, and skill, in itself. You see how steep my learning curve was now?
I found freelance writers to work with, but initially, we were not seeing eye to eye. I realize now, of course that my guidelines for the content were not clear and that I should have been making sure my writers could produce to a really high quality (native-standard) in the time period I needed them too before I hired them.
The Authority Site System (TASS) course was really helpful for my relationship with my writers. It provided templates for writing guidelines (for every type of content) that I altered to fit my site. With that in hand, it was easy to work with writers as I could immediately check we were on the same page and that they understood my needs.
In the end, the writers I ultimately moved forward with did a wonderful job and I was able to publish 50+ articles in the second 5 months of the site’s existence. Beyond that, I now have writers I trust to create content for me – this is invaluable when making and flipping sites.
With this site, I had a limited budget, so I had to move on quickly to building links and making money that I could invest back into the project.
As soon as the site had enough content, it was time to focus on link building.
Because I dived right in and chose a competitive niche, it was essential for me to acquire a solid number of links in order to make sure the site took off. In a competitive industry, you don’t stand out unless you have a decent number of links.
By looking at competitors in the industry I discovered that 550 to 2000 referring domains is the usual threshold for success. When numbers were this high inevitably some of the links were from lower authority sites but a majority were from high-DR sites. That’s what I needed to emulate!
Before I even started my own link building, this research showed me that building up links as soon as possible was going to be key to my site’s success.
If I wanted to compete with the big players in my chosen niche, I needed those links.
Link building was an uphill battle, and it always will be with a brand new site. But it’s an exciting one and I relished the challenge!
And the best part?
I didn’t follow any of the traditional link building methods. There was no guest blogging and I didn’t lean on old school techniques like web 2.0, commenting or forum postings.
You’ll have two questions I’m sure: Why not? And: What did you do instead?
The reasons I didn’t use these methods are simple. Remember I was both time-poor and tight on budget with this site.
These methods take a lot of time and aren't really scalable either – that time and money sink can’t be streamlined if you're working with a larger site or multiple sites.
And when it comes to guest blogging, posting, etc, time is money because it’s a choice between spending hours on the work yourself and hiring writers who you of course have to pay!
As for what I did to build links instead, I used the following three methods for acquiring links. They all filled different needs for me – for example, the first is very scalable while the second leads to particularly high-quality link opportunities. The three methods are:
- The Shotgun Skyscraper
- Broken Link Building
1. Shotgun Skyscraper
This is a fantastic technique. In fact, after my success with this site using the shotgun skyscraper technique, I would encourage everyone to stop chasing other link building tactics and focusing on this one.
- It’s easier
- It’s scalable
- It’s wallet-friendly
- It works for almost every industry
- It’s outsourceable
The shotgun skyscraper technique requires you to first have excellent content packed with factual info, visuals and other media and as previously discussed that was a priority for me.
The aim is to create content “skyscrapers” that are better than any other piece of content on a given topic.
In order to do this, I analyzed the competition with Ahrefs and looked for highly competitive (high Ahrefs' KD) informational keywords and then identified the pages that had generated the most links in my niche or shoulder niches.
I then created a page on the same topic for my site, always making sure it was a ‘skyscraper’ of a page. That is, I tried to create a better page than the one I was basing it on – a page that towered above the competition!
This meant putting time (and money) into research, having infographics and videos made and making sure the writing and production were top quality.
The next step was to reach out to sites that linked to the successful competitors I based my new pages on.
Here's the handful of results from plenty of links I could earn:
At first, I simply asked for a link, showing them my high-quality page and hoping that would persuade them. This worked some of the time but I discovered quickly that I could improve my success rate by leveraging Pinterest's incentive.
I offered to share their article on my popular Pinterest group board (30-35k followers), making the exchange reciprocal (while not being exchanging link). This was proven as a very successful tactic for me.
I essentially used Pinterest leverage where many site builders would use guest posting or rely on PBN links. It saved me a huge amount of time, energy and money when compared to that option and this was the link growth graph over time:
It's possible to get a high number of low to medium DR links with the shotgun skyscraper technique and this will raise initial search traffic but at a certain point, the growth is likely to plateau if you are relying solely on the shotgun skyscraper technique.
I began noticing this happening to my site after a few months of link building and that’s when I shifted my focus to another link building. I continued to use shotgun skyscraper technique but I knew I also needed to get some high DR links and balance the volume of low and high authority links pointing to the site overall.
Of course, we all know high authority links are the hardest to land right?
I thought so too but on The Authority Site System (TASS) course, I took I learned about a passive link building technique.
I applied them to my own link building efforts and was honestly somewhat surprised when I got results given that the process is pretty easy. In just over a few months it had my site ranking for competitive commercial terms.
What was the process?
It was replying to HARO queries.
I didn’t take HARO much seriously before I took the TASS course so I’ll take a second to explain it to you.
2. HARO or Help a Reporter Out
As the name indicates, HARO is a well-known platform for journalists to get answers to important questions from experts. Usually, journalists are looking for a quote or longer-form answer and the questions vary from simple recommendation requests to enquiries that require longer and more opinion-based feedback.
The best answers (from people who the journalists see as legitimate experts) are used in stories and articles on well-known sites so answering HARO questions is a fantastic way to get high authority links and press mentions.
I could earn some really top quality links (DR ranging from 74 to 91) to my site:
At first, working out the questions I should answer took some time but I soon had the scope of my expertise mapped out. I also got used to writing short, concise answers that were nonetheless packed with both info and perfect pull quotes.
There is no doubt a learning curve to HARO but it’s easy enough to succeed if you commit.
3. Broken Link Building
I’m sure you know the basics of broken link building.
You find links to broken content in your niche that appear on several sites, recreate that content and then ask for the dead link to be replaced with a link to your site.
Of course, this is a win-win, no one wants broken links on their site and you want links to your site. But broken link building has gone in and out of vogue over the years, with some people claiming that it’s a waste of time while others champion it as an easy option for link building.
My point of view?
It can be both.
And by that I mean, broken link building works but it should always be combined with other link building methods and to make it worth your time you need a strategy (Pinterest incentive, maybe!).
In my case, I used Ahrefs Site Explorer again to find broken pages on top sites in my niche. I recreated those pages, only better.
I then emailed every site that was pointing back to that broken page with a link, maximizing my chances of getting links. This simple technique earned me an additional 10 to 13 links with minimal effort.
This isn’t a new idea, it is just broken link building but it’s a streamlined way of doing it and it leads to more results faster.
Revenue Growth Over Time
As you can see from the bar chart below, revenue was on a reasonably steady upward trajectory until October, when it took a huge and unexpected dip. Ouch!
I had to go into troubleshooting mode!
Quickly, I found that the problem was with site structure. When I investigated further, I found out that the problem was of my own making, but to my relief, I also found that it was an easy one to fix!
I sowed the seeds of this issue early by attempting to hide the commercial intent of the website, particularly on the homepage because I knew this would improve the conversion rate of outreach campaigns.
But my attempts to improve one aspect of the site by hiding commercial links – not having them on the homepage – caused issues with another aspect of the site by creating poor site structure.
It then took me a little longer than I should have to notice the problem because my research before I started the site told me there would be a slight dip in interest and in revenue during the fall. This complacency could have been fatal to my site, so keep your eyes peeled people!
In late October I fixed the crawl depth issues using SiteBulb and added internal linking properly using LinkWhisper to make all the pages on site easily crawlable. After that site structure was in place and the crawl depth was no more than 2 clicks for all the pages on site.
Traffic improved gradually at first by the second half of November site revenue was up to September levels. In the end, there was only a 14% difference in revenue compared to September and November and as you can see revenues over the holiday season and beyond were excellent.
Deciding to Sell
I ultimately decided to sell the site for a combination of reasons. Of course, I could have kept working on it and upped the sale price but I felt that after 17 months of work I was close to getting the maximum value/time ratio.
There were also a few personal milestones I wanted a cash injection to help achieve (I know! Not everything is about work, shockingly!) and above all, building this site has inspired me to reach for bigger and better things with my next project.
The sale went through as I began to really put concrete plans in place for some much bigger projects and I will be using the capital from this sale to fund them. So all I can say is, watch this space!
Don’t be afraid of niches that look difficult
You have to be realistic about the niche you choose, but remember that if you choose a niche that is presently underpopulated you’re not only going to struggle to find an audience but all the competition research will be almost impossible.
Find a healthy niche with plenty of keyword possibilities and make sure it has overlap with other niches so that you end up with diverse link building possibilities.
At every stage, it’s important to carry out competitors research
That leads me to my second point. Your best models are your competition!
By always aiming to be better than the competition, I created a decently ranked site really quickly. I didn’t necessarily stick to baby steps, because I was emulating the big kids. And it worked out!
Content is key
Of course, everyone knows in theory that content is key. High quality content – that is, well written, informative, adhering to EAT, with images and videos – is what actually gets your site noticed.
Plan your content, build silos and make sure everything is high quality. If possible, higher quality than your competition.
Think laterally when link building, and never get complacent using a single strategy
My three-layer link-building system was something I came up with while working through potential strategies, and while working through issues (such as the plateau I hit with the skyscraper).
As I mentioned earlier, the three link building methods serve slightly different purposes so using them together makes the most sense. I worked this out for myself through trial and error – you will probably make similar discoveries as you’re building your site. Or you will if you are open to them!
Keep your eye on the ball so you can fix issues quickly – that way, you learn from your mistakes without tanking your site!
At some point, it will feel like your new site is basically looking after itself. You’ll be used to the rhythm of content creation, link building, research… it’ll become like any other job. But this would be a dangerous period!
If I had been checking on my site’s progress, and particularly revenue fluctuations, less carefully then I might have missed my crawl-depth issue. If it had gone on for much longer, it might have sunk my whole project. Luckily, I caught it and learned from it. But if I hadn’t, I might be in a very different position right now.
And if I had been paying even more attention? Well, it might not have happened at all.
Basically, what I’m saying is to stay enthusiastic and stay involved. Problems come up, and it’s your job to solve them as quickly and easily as possible. If it was always smooth sailing building and flipping websites, everyone would be doing it.
Is The Authority Site System (TASS) Worth The Money?
Finally, I want to give my review of the TASS course I took. I wasn’t totally sure that it would be useful when I signed up because I wasn’t a complete beginner and I felt like I might just find that it was basic information I already knew sold to me in the form of a course.
I was really pleased to find that wasn’t the case. This is a great course for both total beginners and people like me with some experience in the industry who are still early in their site-building careers.
The fact that Authority Hacker built and flipped a site couple of years ago but the course content is really fresh, relevant and always updated. The tutors have been where you are, essentially so they’re not looking down on you or spouting outdated information.
The course I took with Authority Hacker massively improved my market research and competing skills and these are a big part of what will make my next project even more of a success than the site I just sold!
On top of that, I now have a much clearer view of site building elements that can often seem quite vague. Like, what is ‘good content' and beyond that how do I make sure I work with my writers, designers, etc to get good content consistently?
The TASS course helped me take a step up and has allowed me to feel confident that my successful site was not a fluke. I developed it carefully, using their system augmented with my own discoveries, and I can do that again! I can do it better next time, in fact.
So for me, 2021 The Authority Site System course (now updated amazingly from 2.0 to 3.0 🤩 with plenty of new over the shoulder videos) from Authority Hacker was definitely worth the money. Just make sure you’re in a position to commit to doing the work necessary to both build a site and take a course seriously because it was a lot of work. But everything meaningful in life is, right?
Let me know, what information was most useful in this case study? What do you want to know more about or think maybe deserves its own more incisive article? Comments are open, so don’t hold back!