#121 – The Struggles of Rebuilding AuthorityHacker.com

Last week we launched our new AuthorityHacker.com website! A new design, rebuilt content, new tech stack, a fresh start.

So far everything looks good:

  • Traffic seems to be fine
  • Time on site is up 22%
  • Pages/session up 15%
  • Bounce rate down 5%

This is the second site we rebuilt this year: the first was HealthAmbition.com.

With HealthAmbition, we had a professional designer and a developer build it, with lots of custom elements.

With AuthorityHacker, we wanted to show that you don’t need all that to build a great looking site. We’re not designers and have very limited coding abilities, but this is probably the best looking site we’ve ever built.

In this episode, we want to share some important things you have to do if you are considering a redesign like this. We also made a site launch checklist you might want to grab for yourself.

First, How We Got Here

We started AuthorityHacker.com in 2014. The Goal was to just get something up.

  • We had a basic Thrive theme
  • Branding was this super generic Shutterstock vector character
  • Actually turned out quite well for what it was

Here’s a tip: start producing content. You don’t need to make it epic on day 1. Lots of people make this mistake and it costs you time. You’ll change it anyway as you grow.

We worked on many client campaigns before this, but were still new to Authority sites back then. So there was a lot of figuring things out:

  • Testing tech / plugins etc
  • Using Leadpages and Thrive
  • Thrive Content Builder to Thrive Architect
  • Lots of plugin conflict potential

We also created a lot of bloat:

  • In the WP database code
  • On the site in general
  • Too many elements
  • Article uploads were too complex and tiresome
  • Mobile responsiveness was not great

Branding was not super nice either:

  • While the AH character was memorable, the branding wasn’t so professional
  • First-time visitors lacked trust in the site (we have actual data from Zeda labs to back this up)
  • Our faces weren’t prominent enough – we’re talking Tim Suolo thinking Gael was a short fat guy :)

Goals for the Rebranding

Tech

Besides fixing minor quirks (e.g ah.com/podcast-2 → change to /podcast), we wanted to simplify the site: make it easy to work on, simplify the process of uploading content, etc.

Technical reliability is also important, especially during launches. We’re using the plugins, tools, themes we are now recommending (e.g in the new TASS)

Level up the Design

We’ve grown a lot as a brand and have become well recognized in the industry. But our design was well below where it ought to be.

You could say we almost kinda seem to know what we’re doing…

You know nothing

We’re now doing more paid traffic – so many people are coming to the site who aren’t familiar with us. First impressions are important for them.

Membership

The old MemberMouse system was clunky, outdated, and a poor user experience. We wanted a sleek setup that would give customers a more premium experience

What Went Well And… Not so Well

Astra + Elementor Theme Builder (Went Well)

  • Really easy to work with
  • Display rules allow you to have different post types

Design Choices

  • Went through many versions, will post some on podcast shownotes
  • When your site is your baby it’s hard to pick an identity and make radical changes
  • Many misalignment with designers
  • Ended up taking the psd we got and kind of tweaking it while working on Elementor

Lead Generation

  • All plugins are bad…..
  • Nothing plugs with Everwebinar
  • Thrive leads: couldn’t even open the editor
  • Convertflow: good idea but complex and clunky to operate, no WordPress post category targeting
  • Convert pro: no post category targeting
  • Opt in monster: clunky mobile design

Re-uploading Content

This was looooong and painful.

  • 300 pages/posts to transfer
  • Had to maintain an error log (broken videos that we needed to fix, issues with blog posts that needed to be updated)

Logo

We went through several ideas. We had a professional designer help us. We had to answer survey questions to build a concept.

We then got presented with multiple options, but we hated them all. So we settled on super basic bold AUTHORITY. It worked because AUTHORITY is a strong word.

The Migration Itself (Featuring a Few Important Tips)

We used a Kinsta staging site:

  • Kinsta is an expensive but great host
  • Allows you to do all of this easily

Check That URLs Are the Same

Make sure to run this check again as the last thing you do before migration. Our SEO Plugin caused us issues in this area.

Migrate Comments Wisely

In WP, they are attributed to the post ID. If you can keep post IDs the same, that makes everything easier. HealthAmbition didn’t and we had to remap them.

Image Optimization Is Important

Size plays a big role in site speed. Alt tags are also good to have. Consider naming so you can find and re-use images.

After Everything’s Live

  • Activate HTTPS
  • Activate CDN (We use KeyCDN)
  • Change podcast feed URL
  • Mailgun
  • Resubmit sitemap
  • Re-check opt-ins
  • Connect customer support plugin
  • Re-captcha on contact forms
  • Check that Google analytics work
  • And many more….

Important: Write a Checklist!

Pilots use checklists, and marketers should too. You think you’ll remember everything….but trust us, you won’t.

We have an entire podcast episode dedicated to checklists and the importance of documentation in general.

What You Can Learn From Our Experience

Don’t try to copy AuthorityHacker if you are just starting out. It’s built for Stage 3, not for Stage 1.

It will take 2x the time and 2x the money you think it will take (like renovations).

Tech impacts your motivation, make it easy to create content.

Simplify your content (Page builder bloat sucks).

You will probably need to overhaul your site every 4-5 years if you actively work on them like we do.

There is more work to do once it’s live. However, remember that you’ve unlocked new potential!

You have done this so that you can work more on the site in day-to-day operations.

What Is up Next

The new TASS course is juuust around the corner for existing member, and we’re creating a new member area as well. We’re also planning on implementing a new checkout system.

Do you want to learn how to build 6 figure authority sites?

Subscribe to join our FREE training and…

  • Learn how to build white hat links to your site without headaches
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15 Comments

  1. Hi guys, im also thinking about rebuolding my site, i mean, there is mess everywhere. I want to simplify things, i want plugin that doest leave mess when i change or uninstall them..

    Oh, btw, this is important.. i see this post on phone, but your social media plugin is covering part of the letter.. even now when im making comment, the first 3 letter in every sentence got covered up by this..

    Im not using browser here, but in-built browser on gmail app, so maybe the issue is on this particular situation only..

  2. Wow, this is some work that you did guys, impressive! I think the new site looks really good and displays a lot of authority (goes well with the domain name :)). It also loads very quickly and the user interface is clear. Can’t wait to look around the site. It was worth all the blood, sweat and tears :).

  3. A good redesign but misses on quite some things.
    One, you are going to miss on many comments. The blue background (free training) after the article looks much like a footer to a normal user. One isn’t likely to scroll past it to the comment box (I also thought I had come to the end of the page).

    Two, your site lacks a favicon just like the previous design.
    Three, I’m not sure if your logo is the best you could settle for.

    1. Hey Daniel,

      Thanks for dropping by.

      For the free training CTA, tbh, I don’t mind, I’ll take an opt-in over a comment :o.

      Favicon, yep, it’s in our todo list

      The logo, we had many variations and found all of them too cheesy, we’re happy with it.

  4. Congrats for the redesign! It’s always a hard thing to bear with and do correctly.

    Just somethings that I noticed: We don’t see your logo anywhere on the home page. And I think it’s important to show it from the start.

    Also, there are no “Blog” or “Podcast” links in the footer (Even if there are two places where to access the blog, many users skip the home page to look directly for the page that interests them).

  5. Guys, your new site looks amazing! I’ve noticed some SSL issues with your site – so probably worth having a look.

    Have you manged to figure out what the Google August update was all about? I’ve noticed that healthambition lost 70% of its organic traffic.

    I don’t want to be rude, but from my point of view it does make your advice a bit outdated or even inaccurate. Healthambition was supposed to be the case study for all your ideas but it went down hill.

    I truly hope that you’ll be able to figure out what was the issue.

    Looking forward to getting some ideas on how to deal with this crazy update.

    1. Hey Dave,

      Thanks for dropping by, yeah there are some mixed content pieces to fix, nothing too terrible but we’ll work them out.

      As for the update, HA is 40% down not 70% as per analytics which still sucks but it’s not a dead site at this point. The reason we still haven’t worked it out is that we believe Google is not done with it. They already did 2 refreshes for it and still, High-quality sites like waitbutwhy.com (site sponsored by Elon Musk, talking at TED etc) are affected negatively by it.

      Google is not done yet with it and until things stop swinging up and down we’d rather wait. As for it making our ideas updated, it’s unfortunate that HA was at the wrong time at the wrong place but all our sites outside the health niche are doing just fine with some even going up with it. Actually, the loss of revenue is a rather small % of our income which is why we’re not that worried by it for now and we can afford to wait. In the health niche, about 95% of websites lost traffic and only a selected few went up (healthline, medicalnewstoday etc). All of which are organizations that no small site can really compete against.

      So yep, it looks like Google is locking down the health niche for now and that unless you’re a huge American organization it will be difficult to compete for the moment but I am waiting for the first recovery stories to really make my mind.

      Does this make the authority site concept irrelevant? In the health niche, maybe, but outside, certainly not. Mark and I’s sites are still doing fine and you can easily find hundreds of AH PRO members doing fine as well.

      What I can’t promise you is that things will always be as they are today. We evolve in a dynamic environment where rules change constantly and we need to adapt to them. The way we build sites today is vastly different from the way we built them 6 years ago (the time at which we started Health Ambition) and will be completely different in 6 years.

      Now even if everything stopped today, was HA a failure? A site we spent maybe $130,000 to build that made us 7 figures in revenue across its lifespan so far and that still pays us way more than what it costs to hold after the update. I’d say I have no regrets :).

      We try to be honest in these podcasts because we believe being transparent is what earns us trust. Both in success and in failure. Many big names lost traffic in these updates and not many know why. It will take time but we will get through it as we have in the last 10 years. Plus, usually, the competitive landscape is much less difficult after these because a lot of people drop off so I’m looking forward to the next few months :o.

  6. The re-design looks shwaaayt!

    It feels more professional and there are some nice little UX touches, like for instance the sub-menu of silo pages under the main nav in the blog archives page. :)

    I’ve got a few points and questions.

    1. Did Quinn give you guys any help in this redesign? I met her briefly at a DCBKK conference a few years ago, and judging by her insanely well-made website (https://zedalabs.com/), she’s an absolute weapon.

    2. Regarding MemberMouse:

    Fair points on the issue with special characters (I imagine you mean characters like the Norwegian “ø” and so forth? That’s been an issue in several membership plugins I’ve worked with).

    But what you said about problems with going to the next module and the user experience isn’t something that MemberMouse has any control over, so I think that’s an unfair point against them; your LMS and theme control that UX component (unless I’m missing something?)

    3. LMSs:

    I had a look at your page source and seems like you guys are using LearnDash, is that right? My team and I have worked with a crapload of LMS systems over the years and I was recently blown away by LifterLMS. I’d heard about them for a while but hadn’t actually gotten my hands dirty. Dude…it’s stellar.

    I reckon you could create a very slick look & feel similar to what Thinkific, Kajabi, et al offer (but with all of the flexibility that WordPress gives you) if you combine a good LMS like Lifter (which by the way has some cool Intercom-like functionality based on user actions to keep engagement and adherence up), ActiveMember360 (looks like you switched to that – AMAZING piece of tech with consistently great support directly from Bob Keen (developer of AM360) and his brother both via email and in their Facebook group.

    4. Regarding the switch to Astra specifically, what motivated that?

    A few of the folks I work with use Astra and it looks solid (hard to tell without getting down and dirty and putting it through its paces) but their value proposition on their landing page is, I think, a case of somewhat misleading marketing.

    Specifically, they advertise their theme as being very lightweight and fast and optimized for performance. That very well may be but if, in addition to the theme itself, you then have to install a page builder and various other plugins to achieve functionality that the theme doesn’t offer out of the box then you invariably start weighing the site down with the additional scripts.

    I thin that’s one of the reasons why @Tung from CloudLiving switched to GeneratePress because it allows you to create some visual effects using native WordPress functionality with an additional page builder which saves on load times.

    I use Divi on all production sites / professional endeavors and it’s pretty dang fast. Our homepage is an upside down landing page similar to yours which has media, and we’ve got a fair bit of plugins installed, and it loads in 1-2s (plus / minus depending on location).

    It’s funny because I’ve been watching the whole page builder game evolving since the OptimizePress 1.0 days and more recently with Thrive, Beaver Builder, Elementor, et al coming on the scene. I was an OP2 user but eventually switched away.

    What happened is that a few years back my business partner Lesly convinced me (read: beat me with a rubber hose until I submitted) to just use Divi for everything, which is what he’d been using basically from the start, and very happily so.

    I was pretty stoked to see that Divi has been able to do absolutely everything we’ve ever wanted to with it, on our sites and on many customer sites. Every-damn-thing.

    “I am Lesly’s complete lack of surprise…”

    In fact, after listening to this ep last night I was inspired to invite Lesly for a Zoom chat to talk about the myriad cool shiz we’ve done with Divi over the years including some screensharing action showing a few use cases and his new watercolor painting membership site he’s been working on with Divi + AM360.

    I popped it up on YouTube if anybody’s curious: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeKfFSbHG1A

    5. Haven’t tried Kinsta or worked with them yet but totally awed by their marketing and growth curve.

    Have you read their post about building their own affiliate program? It’s pretty epic and shows their level of dedication to their users, customers, and brand advocates.

    https://kinsta.com/blog/affiliate-system/

    Based on what you said, it looks like you activated KeyCDN but I’m only seeing a few resources being served from CDN in your source code. You might need to activate it on the application level as well using a caching plugin (definitely recommend WP-Rocket), which makes it easy. Sometimes switching on CDN causes issues like styling breaks so you may want to test it on a staging clone first.

    Now here’s something interesting that we found through testing:

    When our boyz were optimizing our core site we just assumed that using a CDN will result in better load times. But what we found was that leaving the CDN off (our host, CloudWays, uses StackPack as the CDN provider, but I also tested this with CloudFront) and simply using CloudFlare (which is FREE) in conjunction with some selective server level caching (varnish) and application level caching (with WP-Rocket) resulted in better load times than with the CDN enabled. Hmm. Fine by me to not pay extra for a CDN. :)

    I checked this site on GTMetrix (https://gtmetrix.com/reports/www.authorityhacker.com/lccBrKbG) and there are some easy wins that can bring you down a few hundred milliseconds, maybe even a second or more, both on the homepage but also sitewide.

    Ping me if you’d like me to take a look – no strings. I’d be happy to launch into it here but I don’t want to abuse your attention or your readers’ attention any more than I already have haha

    6. For SMTP email, SendGrid > Mailgun.

    I’ve seen a fair amount of issues with Mailgun including 2 SPAM problems that nuked the sending IP so we had to switch. For roughly the same price you can get SendGrid which is the Ferrari of SMTP email senders. But of course, if Mailgun ain’t broke, no need to fix it. :)

    7. Good call on removing YOAST SEO.

    My friend Alec Kinnear from FolioVision who I’ve gotten to know over the years and had on my podcast at one point, has some strong words about Yoast and certain peeps in the WordPress universe…

    Sample headline from his article = “YOAST VIOLATES ALMOST ALL OF THE PLUGINS DIRECTORY RULES – AND GETS AWAY WITH IT”. This is a fun read. :)

    https://foliovision.com/2017/04/review-yoast-seo

    Best,
    Vic Dorfman
    Founder – MemberFix

    1. Hey Vic,

      Thanks for dropping by, and omfg that comment :D.

      Let me reply point by point (thanks for giving them a number)

      1 – Nope but she came to my talk in DCBKK and I submitted the new site to them for feedback, let’s see what they say.

      2 – Mostly MM feels old and clunky but for its defense it did the job ok, AM 360 does feel like an upgrade though.

      3 – I tried lifter LMS but I liked Learndash because I was able to use custom templates to design lessons in elementor which makes it super intuitive to build the exact interface you want for your members.

      4 – I really like Elementor, I understand it could cost a few fractions of seconds in page load but I’d rather get things done faster and 80/20 page speed. Astra plays nice with it, has prewritten css for learndash etc, they were never on the way and have decent performances.

      5 – Kinsta is great we have used them for like 2 years now without regrets, the CDN was quickly implemented, when we do page speed audit we will try to throw more stuff at it.

      6 – Good to know I wasn’t sure.

      7 – Yeah let’s see how SEOPress fares, it’s a bit of a gamble but fingers crossed it will work out :)

      Thanks for dropping by!

  7. Hey Gael,

    First – I would like to congratulate you guys for upgrading your site. In my eyes you are the expert in building authority sites and I referred many of my friends to your sites.

    The thing is that you’ve used HA as a case study for what you preach. I remember how I was amazed with your outreach campaigns and by your top notch content. So from my point of view what you’ve done stopped working. It does cast some doubt about what you are teaching (sorry I need to be honest!)

    The point of the authority model is to invest a lot in your site to future proof it. This is exactly what you did with HA and it doesn’t work anymore.

    In general I am quite disappointed with the SEO industry: there is no one who can explain the August update. Sure there was some impact on non health sites. But almost all health sites dropped massively. I can see a general reaction from many SEO people that it’s a “health niche issue”.

    Today it’s the health niche tomorrow it can be the home improvement niche.

    You guys are part of the SEO industry (one of the top ones in my opinion). So the fact that you can’t explain it does make me ask questions about the validity of your advice.

    Sorry guys for giving you some tough love.

    1. Hey Eric,

      Thanks for your comment on the new site, glad you like it.

      There is a lot to unpack in your comment, I can understand where you’re coming from and it’s fine to feel that way. However, I believe there is a bit of misjudgment on your end I think.

      First, HA still makes more money than Mark and I both need to live our life and more than most people ever dream of making monthly when they start a new site, so it’s far from “dead”. It is a huge bump of the road for sure, about half of the earnings vanished which suck but business is NEVER a straight highway and any kind of business model can see this happen.

      Account bans if you run FBA do happen, Facebook ad accounts get blocked and/or stop showing all ads overnight, Suppliers goes bankrupt for your ecom store, Social media algos change and stop sending you as much traffic as they used to.

      We operate in a highly dynamic/high potential profit environment when we run online businesses and the rules do change. The one way to last here is to adapt fast.

      “So if you need to adapt fast how come you’re doing nothing on HA right now?”

      There are 2 reasons for not taking action right now.

      #1 – The Update is not over

      There has been 2 refreshes of the Aug 1st update and there will be more, this is one thing the SEO industry agrees on. There are chances that the sites that were affected by it recover on their own.

      #2 – Google seems to have picked its champions for health (for now)

      As things look, 95% of health sites took a nose dive and only a selected few went up. All the sites that went up are companies much bigger than us with more staff etc. If the situation remains the same, it’s unlikely any kind of change will make HA come back.

      “So what’s the plan?”

      Well for HA the plan is to wait for the storm to end (i.e updates to stop) then assess the situation. Luckily, we have other projects that actually went up with the update that feel more adequate to put our energy behind right now. When the storm is over there are 2 main directions we can go after

      #1 – Fix HA as one site: If it looks like Google is not favoring just a handful of sites in the Health niche, we have a huge list of fixes that can be applied to HA that should give it a good chance of coming back up

      #2 – Break HA into smaller sites: This is a strategy the guys from dotdash (about.com) have had a lot of success with lately. We could take the sub-sections of HA that have not been hit by the update and make them their own more relevant site with better monetization. That’s something we’ve always been transparent about, if we had to do HA again, we’d make it more focused. Well that might just be the opportunity to fix that.

      “So is the Authority Site Model Dead?”

      If that’s what you want to believe sure. But a good investor knows to invest when blood is in the streets. A lot of people will drop off the bandwagon and as a result, a lot of what we do is likely to get easier especially after such a SERP cleaning by Google.

      After Caffeine people said SEO was over and it came back
      After Panda people said SEO was over and it came back
      After Penguin people said SEO was over and it came back

      See a pattern here? I do.

      “But your whole point was to future-proof your business and now it has failed”

      I don’t know, would you trade 130k usd for $1mm+? If yes then it’s already not a failure. Plus, the site is still earning money now, just half of what it used to and I’m sure we’ll be able to bring that back up in time.

      “Ok so what now?”

      Well, I can understand you are frustrated with the lack of clarity concerning the update, we are too. But tbh, all big updates remain unexplained. What’s the solution to Panda? Nobody really knows, same with Penguin. They are much more complex than you’d think and every time someone comes up with a theory we can find counterexamples to disprove it.

      Yes, there can be bumps in the road with building sites, the same way every other business model has bumps in the road but the reason we’ve done this for almost 10 years now is because we have always been able to adapt and this is something we all need to learn to do well. This is why I push people to be ambitious and make more than what they need to live, so that times like this are not too worrying for them.

      Mark and I have diversified business models, traffic sources and niches and while this update sucks, it’s not threatening at all to our business. This is why we have the 3 stage model of authority sites. If people stop at stage 1 and only rely on SEO then they know they are exposing themselves.

      So Eric, what you want to believe about what we teach is yours and I’m happy you’ve enjoyed our content so far. If you want to jump off the authority site model there are no hard feelings and we’ll be here if you want to jump back in but at least I hope this comment clarifies more of the “why” we handle this update this way.

  8. I think it would be interesting if you can turn HA around in a manner that is completely independent of Google at all, because you never know what Google will do next. That would make an awesome case study.

    To the other Eric, you’re only looking at how one site got affected because of one Google update. You’re not looking at how many sites were saved by these guys because they were not peddling what others are still advocating.

    No matter what you do, you’re always going to get beaten down at some point or other. The questions is how you’re going to get up and still move forward that makes all the difference.

    1. Independent from Google at all I doubt it, but I’d say diversifying traffic more is something we will do in future case studies for sure. It’s always a cornelian choice to go deeper in what’s working for you at the time to increase revenue or diversifying to stabilize. We should have stabilized more :).

  9. A great solution for migrating comments (without cloning the original site) is to use WP All Export and WP All Import plugins.

    I recently had to do this for a client and we needed to avoid cloning the site so we could remove unwanted transients and clean the database since the site has been running for 10 years.

    This approach solved both of our issues perfectly first time.

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