#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.

Products

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

Advertising

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.

Mobile

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.

Branding

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.

Persona

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.

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.

Tech

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

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

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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