What you will learn
- How we got started in online marketing
- The exact sites we built with URLs
- What went horribly wrong
- What you can learn from this
In this episode, we go through our failed websites. This candid discussion shows how even experienced marketers can make horrific mistakes. We hope you guys can learn something from this too!
Sites Mentioned In This Episode
Gael: Hey guys, welcome to the Authority Hacker podcast. In this episode, Mark and I are going to be talking about our failed websites, the ones that we have been building before we actually were successful at creating websites. By the way, how is it going Mark?
Mark: Pretty good.
Gael: Are you ready to talk about all your failures?
Mark: Oh yeah. This brings back some memories actually.
Gael: I think that was fun actually. I am happy I failed, quite a few times. Before we actually get started, I jsut wanted to say that this week is going to be not one, but three episodes of the podcast, coming on Monday, Wednesday and Friday if nothing goes wrong on our side, and that is actually to celebrate the relaunch of Authority Hacker Pro that is opening next week on September 12, so if you are interested in checking out our training, we have about 200 training videos now in Authority Hacker Pro, live webinars, we have a copy paste templates, basically everything you need to build a pretty successful authority site and we’ll show you some case studies later. But, that is opening back on September 12 so if that is what you want, check it out and watch out for our email. Now, let’s get started with the websites; do you want to start with your first failed website, or should I go?
Mark: I’ll go first. I want to say my first ever serious website that I intended at least to run as a business, was, this was back in 2008, and it was the url, I’ll post it in the show notes on authorityhacker.com/fail, which I thought was an appropriate url for this podcast, it was epc.co.uk. I don’t know if anyone remembers, but netbooks back when that was the thing, these small laptops that were actually affordable and kind of introduced I guess laptops to a more mass market user, they were a few hundred bucks each, and when they first came out, Asus had a monopoly on them with this epc, so I made this site. Actually, I copied someone else who had this very similar site, I just sort of learned the basics of affiliate marketing and I straight up copied someone’s site, I wasn’t even using WordPress back then, this was DreamWeaver so really getting into the HTML and all that stuff. Mistake number one was just copying someone else, I think that’s a terrible idea and you and Perrin I know you did a podcast on that, very recently. It’s never going to be as good. Trying to create value is a very important thing. The second point was, I literally had zero clues about organic traffic, I didn’t even know what SEO was back then, let alone how to do it effectively, and I thought that all-
Gael: How did you think you would make money?
Mark: Well, I thought that to make money in affiliate marketing you would basically set up a site, buy traffic on Google ads and then make a commission when people bought.
Gael: On Amazon?
Mark: It was through various affiliate programs, I remember one of them was Office Euro Office of Trade Doubler, so there were small PCs a few hundred dollars, so the commission rates were somewhat reasonable, but I was still haemorrhaging about 50% of everything I invested, so buying traffic straight away although it taught me a little- it was just a quick way to lose a lot of money and I didn’t really have very much money back then so it probably wasn’t the best idea, and so when that failed, I gave up, as many people do and I am sure many people listening to this are familiar with that concept where you try something, it doesn’t work the first time around, so you give up and don’t try and pivot, which is what I did. I didn’t know anyone else who was doing internet marketing, affiliate marketing, I had no one to ask how to do this, and I had a job at the time so I just sort of let that getting out of the way and didn’t really take it too seriously, and gave up at that point. That was my first site.
Gael: Okay. That’s almost as good as mine actually. That was funny actually, so the site was Diesel Belts, dieselbelts.org. Now, obviously that was at the time when exact match domains counted for SEO, I think there were 3,000 searches per month for Diesel belts, and I was like oh that’s perfect, people want to buy belts for their jeans, right, this is a great brand, and I am just going to be able to Amazon affiliate, that was in 2010 by the way. Little did I know that Diesel belt also is a part of a diesel engine [laugh] so to start with, something like two-thirds of the traffic was unqualified. I actually ended up ranking them for keyword, and that was at the time we were gray hats, essentially I was working in that agency back then, and I used the tool called ‘unique article wizard’ for the people that did SEO back then that used to be basically a giant blog network, you would submit once per an article and it would post the same article hundreds of time all around the internet on shitty blogs and link back to your site.
Mark: It worked, though, back then.
Gael: Oh yeah, it did work. I ended up number two, right, so actually that site was making 30 bucks a month or something still, so I would count it as a complete failure but if you really think about it, I didn’t really understand keyword research well and I didn’t really read, id didn’t even Google the keyword I think when I actually started that website. And by the way, the site was one page with just looking like an e-commerce, but then you click and you get redirected to Amazon. And I put some content at the bottom to try to rank. First of all, yeah, I didn’t understand keyword research and I failed at actually targeting a good keyword. Second, because of the branding, there were zero ways to grow past like, I think there were a few sub keywords like ladies diesel belt etc, that I could probably target, never did really well, and after six month because we did gray hat the site got completely indexed and was gone from Google. That was one of my first when I first got a job and first got into SEO.
Mark: Did it make any money?
Gael: Yes, it was making 30 dollars a month or something.
Mark: How much did you spend on it?
Gael: I bought the theme for 40 bucks, and then I paid the hosting and then I paid the tool and the articles, so really basically I broke even.
Mark: Alright, so my next one was it wasn’t too bad , it was I think quite a big step up, it was Never Fly Economy, neverflyeconomy.com which if you go to that right now, the domain dropped ages ago, someone else has taken it over, but basically, it was a blog and this was my first WordPress site, it was a blog about travel hacking and frequent flyer miles and all that kind of stuff, back in 2009 it was really so much easier to do that kind of stuff, and anyone, even a relative newbie could get free first class flights really easily, it still can, in certain situations now, but, it was really quite a good thing back then. And, still, it was my first WordPress site so I was kind of discovering that, I had a basic knowledge of how the internet works and how affiliate marketing works, I had never been successful up until even including this, but, I basically spent a solid month doing nothing else, I didn’t go out, I was working seven days a week just building this site and getting it going. And the problem was, I spent I’d say 75% of that time focusing on all the wrong things, I spent so much time working with professional designer to get it designed and looking great, and I kept going back and forth just really wasting time and money, tweaking little things here and there, moving this a few pixels to the left or to the right, just really, I was far too sort of perfectionist in it. I focused on that, I got a few pieces of content up and going, I started looking into this SEO link building thing, but it was quite difficult and quite hard so I guess naturally I didn’t really have anything to follow or anywhere to really know what was the right thing to do and it was quite difficult to get feedback in terms of rankings and stuff quickly, so instead I built an info product, I spent 3 or 4 weeks doing literally nothing else but writing a 70 page ebook, which, the information was alright but I had no audience, almost no traffic, I didn’t know how to make a sales page, I didn’t follow up, I didn’t do that, I wasn’t even collecting emails at this point, so I mean it was a total waste of time at that point. And, as I said, I was trying to learn SEO but it was just, I think I was doing those forum profile links back then- I mean, I didn’t even touch any of the software stuff, it looked too scammy for me.
Gael: You would actually do the settings in the text file. Then you would just read that text file. That’s how you do it.
Mark: I was spending a lot of time on this internet marketing forum, The Warrior Forum at that time, trying to understand and learn this stuff, but, I am pretty sure that almost nobody on that site was actually making any money whatsoever, and it seemed to just be people who were selling the concept of making money online to other people without actually doing it themselves or being able to show examples of them doing it. Everyone was hiding their sites-
Gael: It didn’t change that much actually.
Mark: Yeah. I haven’t checked that for years bit that was kind of my conundrum there. And, again, I was never sure if I was doing the right thing, whether it was wasting my time and as it turned out I was, and then two and a half, three months later, when it wasn’t really working out, I mean, I still kept it going for a little while but I stopped working on it completely and just sort of let it drop as I am sure many people would have done in such a situation.
Gael: Did you have any peak up in SEO traffic at some point, though?
Mark: Slightly, yeah, without me doing anything to it, and then, I think it was a year and a half later, ended up getting a few articles and once I learned about all this gray hat SEO started building some links to it, and, I just ended up sticking a bunch of AdSense on, I was making about 100 bucks a month.
Gael: You are telling me the guy that bought it has a bunch of terrible links pointing to this site right now?
Mark: Yeah, it was a terrible site to buy, I mean, it was spammed a lot.
Gael: Alright. We are just going to publicly apologize and use that podcast for that and that was our learning will. Okay, that’s cool. The next one, I am going to talk about two more actually, which I started around the same time actually, the first one was terrible branding to start with, called frugalligence.com and basically the idea was to make a frugal lifestyle like save money blog and Frugalligence because a mix of frugal and intelligence, but it sounds horrible.
Mark: I always wondered what that was. I had no idea up until right now.
Gael: Now you know. And so, yeah the idea was to basically what do a lot of mommy bloggers do you know, except I am not an American mommy blogger, quite the opposite, and so first of all, I mean, they don’t make a lot of money second of all, I started with no follow through, we were running the agency back then already, I was quite busy and so I didn’t have the discipline to kind of follow on to posting regularly etc, and that was already the idea of the authority site etc, just unable to execute it properly.
Mark: I think this is a common theme, I guess you and I both suffered from back then, it was like getting incredibly motivated, getting the site up, sorting the theme, getting the basic sort of setup done but then, lacking in sort of measurable follow through.
Gael: I just found content to be really expensive back then as well, mostly because we hadn’t had an experience of sites making the lots of money that we own. And, now I see it as an investment, I’m okay, and also I know how to make money from that content, but the two things were, first of all, I didn’t have that positive enforcement of the experience of actually making that content profitable, and the second one is that yeah, I just wasn’t able to really follow through and I didn’t have the money strategy, I was just writing guides and hoping for the best, and trying to build the Facebook page but didn’t really want to invest in likes, because I felt it was too expensive as well; trying to do everything with zero money which, looking back now, and that is one thing I recommend to our people who start is like, pick one monetization strategy, pick one traffic source and actually make money from that, before you get somewhere else. You should definitely claim your Facebook page, claim your brand around, but it doesn’t mean you have to use it a lot, I mean like I know that we can get traffic on Authority Hacker from Pinterest for example, and we have a profile there with a couple of hundreds of followers that we get from a giveaway actually but like I just don’t have time to grow that right now, I’d rather nail the podcast, nail the blogging, nail the reviews better, Authority Hacker pro as well, than trying to add that to my plate. I think the mistake was trying to do everything at the same time, with no money to outsource, I did outsource content but I think I was paying 40 dollars per article and after 20 articles I was like, well, it’s just costing money and I don’t see the money coming in, and then I just dropped it. That is what happened to that site, it didn’t make any money, I mean, the traffic never really took off. And, I am going to talk about another one-
Mark: I actually have one more, I just remembered. It was actually like 4 or 5 sites I tried to start at the same time, which is never a good idea, but this was back, I think it was in 2010 or 2011, something like that, when micro sim cards were first coming out, and I was doing some “keyword research” and saw all this traffic for micro sim card adapters. Apparently a lot of people were looking for it, hundreds of thousands of people, so I bought the site, bought the domain, bought WordPress theme, made a super thin affiliate site with some Amazon links and did some gray hat SEO to it, and, then you told me that that was a broad match I was searching for and not exact match, and included everyone were searching for the word sim-
Gael: That doesn’t exist anymore, by the way, we need to explain the difference because that is not a tool anymore, the broad versus exact. Broad match used to be showing the search volume, you type micro sim card adapter I guess, or micro sim card I don’t know what keyword you looked for, it would give the volume that every keyword that has these words inside in whatever order has, so it would just add them up right whereas exact match would give you exactly the search volume of that one keyword which is how the keyword tool works right now. Back then a lot of people didn’t understand these different matches and made huge mistakes in keyword research. What happened?
Mark: Basically, rather than a few hundred thousand people searching for these terms every month, it was more like a few hundred, and, they were like 2, 3, 4 dollars each, it’s just a little bit plastic essentially, so yeah, you can imagine that didn’t really go very well, I think I probably made about a 100 dollars on it, which is definitely less than I spent but, yeah.
Gael: Oh well. Cool, the last one I have-
Mark: Just what I actually want to add, that was actually the point we were running the agency at the time, and giving other people advice about keyword research and stuff and I still can’t believe we made such a rookie mistake then.
Gael: I mean, I’ll be honest, it’s pretty frequent in agencies, not just us but I’ve seen people never check the backlink profile clients for the first six months working with them, you know. Whatever, but yeah, it was a different skill set, to be honest, to run an agency and provide a very specific service, versus building a business from scratch, it was a very different one actually. Anyway, the last one I wanted to talk about was actually the ancestor of Authority Hacker that never took off that probably very few people heard of that. It was like in 2013 and the reason I got started is because inbound.org started to be around, if you don’t know, inbound.org is a little bit like Reddit but we were starting like Rand Fishkin and the guys from Hot Spot, and it was very SEO oriented whereas now it’s kind of like online sales in general, and Hubspot type stuff, it’s a little bit less our thing, but back then it was very easy to essentially gain the system being number one inbound.org and get a 1000 visits to your new content, that you just published in that industry, and I was like well, I’ve been doing online marketing, back then it was early 2013, it was 4 years that I have been doing SEO as a specialty, and so yeah, I was like oh I am just going to post random content about online marketing and just use that to grow an audience. Well, first of all, I had started blogging but my blog posts were 600 words and honestly nothing new, it didn’t bring anything new to the table, it was just a worse version of the Moz blog. And, so, while I was able to trick the traffic to come to my page, all I had to do is some kind of catchy headline and that kind of stuff; well, the audience was really not that impressed, we are definitely doing a much better job now on Authority Hacker it seems.
Mark: I remember back at that time as well, us looking at it and it was like wow that is really impressive, you’ve got a 1000 visitors, 5000 over the last month that’s a really big deal, but then at the end of the day it was zero dollars.
Gael: Oh yeah, that site never made any money. I even got interview, written interview with Rand Fishkin back then, that was the highlight of that site essentially, same thing especially because I was like oh he started inbound.org so if I get him on the interview than I can get even more people, probably it can stay there for two days, make us a lot of traffic and so I did that, but, the thing is like, first of all, I was not able to really impress people, people were not like oh this guy seems to know what he is doing, which, I probably did, but I was a horrible writer, I am not saying I am great now but I am better [laugh] and second of all, I didn’t have any plan to retain the audience, so once the inbound.org faded out which it did, you can still get traffic from there but it’s definitely not what it used to be, I literally had nothing left and I had this content that wasn’t exceptional, against very strong domains, I mean you are talking Search Engine [20:29 inaudible] , Search Engine Land, inbound.org itself sometimes was outranking us for our own articles, just the submission. Yeah, it’s just like because we didn’t retain people back then, which I think if we understood more things like opt-in pop-ups and content upgrades and that kind of stuff back then, we could definitely have made some money with affiliate marketing when new products launched etc.
Anyway, that was kind of like my first try at sharing my online marketing knowledge which also was much earlier than Authority Hacker, I think I learned a lot in the last two years of the agency and more importantly, I learned a lot from running our own sites, actually doing our own authority sites, that is when I got a lot more creative and came up with more original stuff, so that is why I think Authority Hacker was a much bigger hit than- the site was called Traffic Tao actually back then, with a horrible Fiverr logo I remember. Yeah, that was a site that made me no money as well, so like Traffic Tao made me no money, Frugalligence made me no money, Diesel Belts probably made me like 30 dollars a month for six months and then just got completely the indexed and never came back. Yeah, we failed a lot.
I think we’re done with that podcast actually, so guys that was a short one but just know that in 48 hours you should get the next episode of the podcast and the next episode should be about seven reasons why you are probably not making as much money as you should be making from your website, and you know, probably giving you ideas on things that you should be doing better and the third episode is going to be about actually how to fix these issues, and earn more from your existing websites if you have a little site that is laying around etc, you might be able to actually make more money, maybe transform it into an authority site if it fits the bill, but that should be helping you quite a bit, so tune in for the episode coming on Wednesday, and remember this whole podcast series is all about the relaunch of Authority Hacker pro we are relaunching on September 12 so thanks for tuning in and I guess we’ll see you guys in two days, goodbye.