#96 – What Would We Do Differently? Lessons from 5 Years of Building Authority Sites

What you will learn

  • Why you must know how you are going to monetize your site before you get started
  • How creating content hubs make link building more efficient
  • Why mobile design is more important than desktop
  • How link building is the secret to getting regular traffic
  • Why focus is the most important ingredient for success

Over the past few months, Gael and I have been working on a complete rebrand and overhaul of Health Ambition.

This got us thinking: what would we do if we started Health Ambition from scratch today?

In this episode, we will be looking back over the past five years of Health Ambition to pinpoint what we have learned and how we would apply that to a brand new site.

Where Did It All Start?

When we launched Health Ambition, we really didn’t know what we were doing.

It was 2013, and we’d been running a digital marketing agency for around three years. We knew that we didn’t want to spend all our time building other people’s businesses.

So, we decided to start an authority site.

Without doing all that much research, we chose the health niche because we were both vaguely interested in getting a bit healthier.

As I said, we didn’t know what we were doing. There was no clear strategy. We were just throwing things at the wall and seeing what stuck.

There were lots of experiments, and our tech changed every few months as we tested things out.

The site was a great guinea pig, we learned:

  • Email Marketing
  • Amazon Associates
  • Clickbank

But, all this experimenting has taken its toll. All the plugins we have installed, different themes and page builders have left the WordPress install bloated. The site is also terrible on mobile.

All of this means it’s time to make changes.

Monetization and Business Model

We are big advocated for starting with the end in mind. How are you going to make money from the site?

For Health Ambition, we have struggled to find products that we are proud to promote. On Authority Hacker, we actually use all the tools we recommend, but we were not doing that on Health Ambition. So, we need to make money through other means.


So, the best thing to do is to create an evergreen product (a TASS equivalent) on Health Ambition.)


Info articles that answer a question can get a lot more traffic than affiliate content/ reviews.

The articles that answer questions (e.g., health benefits of bananas) can’t really be monetized with affiliate content. So, we monetize them with ads from Ad Thrive.

HealthAmbition.com AdThrive monetization

While they do not generate the same amount of RPM (Revenue per Mille), the additional traffic still makes it worth your while to invest in this type of content.

NOTE: Ad Thrive requires a minimum of 100,000 page views per month before you can apply for their network. Media Vine almost generates the same RPM but only requires 25,000 page views.

In the first year of Health Ambition, we played around with ads, but we didn’t know what we were doing or persist enough to make any money from it. That’s probably money left on the table.

Affiliate Marketing

Our new branding should give us opportunities to do more networking in the health community.

This can give us access to some of the product owners who are running their affiliate programs privately.

While Amazon is doing well for us, we are looking to work on some more non-Amazon affiliate offers.

We have started using AAWP to manage our Amazon links and pull images from the API.

Site Structure

At first, we just did keyword research based on difficult and search volume. It was all about getting as much traffic, as quickly as possible.

We would write about topics with nothing in common as long as it came under the ‘health’ banner.

This meant we were covering a lot of topics in no depth. Now, we would look to cover fewer topics but go more in-depth on each of them.

We create content hubs. These are mini-categories on a subject (e.g., apple cider vinegar).

In these hubs, you can have info content, affiliate content and social media content all covering the same topic. You can then create internal links between these articles.

This shows Google you are covering the topic in depth. It also makes link building more efficient as the benefit of a link to any of these pages is shared through the internal links on your site.

We have seen this method work well for us on a new site we launched last year. You can also find the Content Hub Blueprint in AH Pro if you are a member.


Health Ambition is downright bad on mobile.

We’ve used a number of themes and page builders. The result is elements that don’t work with each other and tend to look bad on mobile.

This is crazy! Around 80% of our traffic comes from mobile. It should be the first priority and then desktop should be the ‘afterthought’ that we just check it looks ok on.

This is the plan with the new Health Ambition.

Note: In the recent AH Pro launch we learned the importance of testing your site works on different browsers.

We use Browser Stack.

It is worth checking this out otherwise you can be missing out on a large swathe of traffic.


Our branding was all over the place.

We had a cartoon logo of a fictional persona. We used whatever shade of green we found, which left us with an odd mix.

HealthAmbition.com branding before redesign

It just looked unprofessional.

On the new site we have a plan: keep it simple.

We will:

  • Use CSS
  • Have two colors max
  • Have two fonts max
  • Use simpler formatting

For our posts, we are going to stop using page builders and use the default WordPress editors. Style will be taken care of in CSS rather than with Thrive or Elementor.

We will only be using the page builder for our static pages and sales pages.


We wanted to present a consistent face of the site, so we created a fake persona. We thought that she would resonate better with our target audience of middle-aged women that two dudes in their 30s.

In fact, we talked about this in a podcast a couple of weeks ago.

We overestimated the need for a persona. It has cost us some opportunities in link building and collaborations.

We are switching over to a magazine style where there is a brand, and each author can use their own name on their articles.

The persona will not be completely phased out, but she will be less prominent than before.

Content Creation

As we mentioned, we are looking at content hubs now (topics instead of individual articles).

We have a set of templates for each style of article:

  • Question posts
  • Extended list posts
  • Review content

Within these templates are clear instructions for our writers. Things like: ‘each sentence must add value.’

This, combined with hiring an editor is the most important thing we have done.

The editor ensures that the instructions have been followed, the content is to the required standard, and the grammar is on point.

If we could start from scratch, developing templates, instructions, hiring an editor and creating content hubs would be how we scaled content.

Analytics and Tracking

It’s easy to place Google Analytics on your site and take a look every now and again at how much traffic is coming in.

But, it’s not that useful. It doesn’t tell you anything.

You can put tracking IDs on your affiliate links so you can understand which pages are bringing in the money. This way you can focus on improving the pages that make you money.

Monitoring things like traffic, click through rate and conversion rate can help you spot issues.

There was an issue where we were sending a lot of traffic to a site, and it just wasn’t converting. We were able to work out that there was an issue with the way we were linking to it and rectify the problem. If we did not have that tracking in place, we would have had no idea that anything was wrong.

Link Building

This was a big mistake.

To begin with, we didn’t build any links (other than a couple of guest posts) to Health Ambition for around two years.

It is such an important part of what we do that we would advise you start building links as soon as you have a few articles up and your site is looking half decent.

HealthAmbition.com Ahrefs referring domains

Now we have several thousand linking root domains, but we would have grown a lot faster if we had started building links from the beginning.

In fact, for our new sites, you can lay the traffic graph and the links acquired graph on top of each other and they are almost a perfect match.


As we said, we experimented a lot in the beginning. This left us with a whole bunch of plugins that ended up causing conflicts.

Plugins can end up being buggy if they are not well maintained over the years as WordPress releases new versions.

When we need something done now, we try to avoid adding a plugin if we don’t have to. For example, we want to add the year dynamically to WordPress so it doesn’t need to be changed every year.

Instead of installing a plugin, we got the person who is editing our theme to make a small change so that when you put in a shortcode, the text will change to the current year

Legal Issues

I would not get too worried about legal issues if you are just starting out.

Why worry about creating a massive tax saving structure if you are not making any money in the first place?

It’s just going to take up time, energy and resources.

The only point of caution is that you should trademark your brand as soon as you start making money. If you don’t a large company can come along, put your branding on a campaign and you’ll find yourself in an expensive legal battle that you probably are not going to win.

When developing a brand, try to make sure it is something you can trademark rather than a generic phrase.

If you’re looking for more legal advice for your authority site, I recorded a podcast with a lawyer that goes into a lot more detail.


Focus is probably the most important factor in determining whether your authority site will be successful.

When we started out we did:

  • Ads
  • Clickbank
  • Amazon
  • A membership site

None of them worked all that well at first because we didn’t focus enough to get good at them and follow through on the execution.

You will see your friends making thousands on Bitcoin or drop shipping or whatever method they choose.

The secret is to just pick one method and stick with it.

We recommend that you avoid shiny object syndrome. We teach you how to pick one traffic source (SEO) and one monetization method (Amazon Associates).

Do this (and maybe throw in some ads on your info content) until you are making at least $10k per month.

At this point, you will have the resources to invest in other traffic sources and monetization methods properly so that you can commit to them.

If you are starting a site from scratch, you can sign up for The Authority Site System. This is our training system that takes you through the entire process, step by step.

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  1. Hey guys,

    Great episode, I’m watching the rebuild closely :)

    Just a quick correction. Mark mentioned ThirstyAffiliates briefly as an alternative to AAWP but said it might not necessarily be compliant with their terms of service.

    This is incorrect, in ThirstyAffiliates now you can selectively uncloak affiliate links but still get all the benefits of a link cloaking tool like categorization, stats etc. It’s the only link cloaker that has this compatibility.

    We also can let you import images from the Amazon API I. Pro. Only difference is we don’t have widgets like AAWP. But it’s on the cards for later :)


    1. Hi Josh,

      Fair enough, I didn’t realize you guys did selective link uncloaking. That’s good news. However, AAWP is much more than just a link tracker. They have a number of visual elements, they can pull Amazon images from the API and it basically the one stop shop for linking to Amazon.

      So there is an overlap, but we recommend using both AAWP and Thirsty Affiliate in our Amazon Associates Site setup guide: https://www.authorityhacker.com/amazon-affiliate-site/

  2. Great podcast! Question in regards to the Amazon Tracking IDs, do you create a Tracking ID for each product category, or use in specific pages/posts? It makes sense to me to create a Tracking ID for various domain names, but it sounds like you use them on a page or product category basis? Thanks in advance!

    1. Great question Jesse. It really depends on what level you want to track at. For the new Health Ambition, we’re doing page level tracking so 1 tracking ID = 1 post. I can forsee us using one tracking ID per link in future tests, but that might be overkill for now to do sitewide.

    1. This is one of the reasons we’re leaning away from fake persons now. It’s tough to find something that doesn’t look like a stock image. If you want to go all out, you could always hire a model.

  3. You mentioned that Health Ambition is not optimized very well fir mobile, but I just looked at it and it seems fine to me. What do you think the problem is?

    1. Mobile has been an after thought. Which is crazy when it makes up the majority of our traffic. We’re fixing this as we speak.

  4. Hello Mark!

    Could you please provide transcription of audio? (My English is bad).

    Can I get a text version of the audio?

    Please sir, help me. I really want to study your lessons :(

    1. Sorry Alexey, we found it wasn’t used enough to warrant the time it took to do them. We may look at doing them again in future, but it’s not a priority for now.

  5. You mentioned you have moved away from Thive theme on healthambitions. Can you remind me what new theme you are using? Which kther ones do you recommend?


  6. Hey guys, are you changing themes in preparation for the WordPress Gutenburg project? I think many of your readers will be anxious about you guys changing over themes after pushing Thrive hard for the last few years. It would be great if you could go into your reasoning for the changeover of themes in greater detail beyond the fact that you guys experienced browser compatability issues. Or was this the sole driving factor? Your feedback would be much appreciated. Thanks

    1. All of our sites still have Thrive Architect on them. We will let you know how it goes without it. The rationale is really just a simplification of our processes. This has nothing to do with Gutenburg. Once we have an actual live site built this way, we will do a full update.

  7. I’m just starting out, so I thought with this title there would be some valuable content. I wasn’t disappointed; very useful. However, I was disappointed in that the “What You Will Learn” points included: How domain rating is currently calculated, why not to use DR in isolation, what to use in addition. I don’t think these points were actually covered, and they are why I decided to listen. I’m glad I did, but I wish you had actually covered the points you mentioned.


    1. Hi Ronald,
      You can find more about the DR calculation here: https://ahrefs.com/blog/dr-score/
      I think the answer really is that DR isn’t the be all and end all metric that most people assumed it was. It does correlate quite well with overall site authority/quality, but due to the way it’s calculated it’s far from an exact metric. There isn’t really any single metric which can be used and DR is no more or less accurate than it was previously therefore I will continue using it in more or less the same way for skyscraper style link building. Obviously, the numbers will change and it will take some time to get used to that.

      We may do another podcast in future about Metrics vs Reality. Stay tuned …


  8. In TASS using Thrive Architect page builder is being taught, but in the current podcast’s transcript (didnt listen to the podcast yet) it is said you wont use it anymore.

    Does it mean we shouldn’t use it anymore either?

    1. It doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t. We’re constant revising, updating and testing new things. We need more time to fully test this before we can make a concrete recommendation. TA works and loads of people have built really successful and profitable sites with it. Just because we are trying out something else, doesn’t mean you absolutely have to switch. Once we’ve tested and validated our new approach, we’ll update TASS and AH Pro accordingly.

  9. Great episode guys!

    Super valuable tips from the experts in this field.

    There is definitely a learning curve to become successful in this online business. It does take time, effort, and money, to build a successful business in any industry.

    I think people need to treat this like a legit business model (niche blogging and digital marketing) if they want success here. It’s not rocket science to understand the concepts and what you actually need to do.

    Thank you for sharing all of this expertise! It helps and inspires!

    Best regards! :D

  10. Hello Guys!

    You guys were talking about having more partners besides Amazon. My question is. Can we use the Amazon affiliates with other online afiliates stores? Is that allowed?


    1. Not sure I understand the question. You can certainly have more than one affiliate program on your site. Amazon Associates is just one of many affiliate programs out there.

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