Undercover Success Series #5 – How The AH Team Went from Gray Hat To Multiple Six Figure Site Owners

What you will learn

  • How mastering funnels turned Authority Hacker into the most profitable site that we own
  • How great keyword research was enough for Perrin to make Here Pup profitable
  • How multiple failures on Health Ambition allowed us to develop a model for authority sites
  • Why Perrin always looks for product opportunities when selecting a niche
  • Why all three of us would starting building links from day 1 if we launched a new site

In the final episode of the Undercover Success Series, Gael is joined by Mark and Perrin. Each of them will answer the questions that have been put to the other guests over the course of this week and will talk about one particular site that they have worked on.

But before we get into that, each guest is going to reveal a little bit more information about their background in internet marketing and how they have ended up where they are today.

How Long Have You Been Involved in Internet Marketing?

Mark

It’s been nine years since Mark first started looking into internet marketing.

2008 was the first time that Mark started to look into internet marketing and try a few things out. It all actually started when his mom bought him Affiliate Marketing for Dummies or Web Marketing for Dummies or a book along those lines.

He tried playing around with some Google ads but it wasn’t until 2009 that he really began to look into it seriously.

Mark quit his job to go travelling. It was at this point that he began to really start studying internet marketing properly in his spare time and developed an interest in SEO.

Moving onto 2010 was the first time he really made any money doing internet marketing. This was the year that he met Gael and started a small SEO agency. This began to grow to such a level that in 2012 Mark was able to work full-time in internet marketing.

Perrin

Perrin

Perrin has been involved in internet marketing for around four years now.

In 2013, he was fresh out of grad school with a degree worth its weight in gold – poetry. Initially, he struggled to find a job immediately and started looking at ways to make some money.  

Soon enough, however, Perrin managed to land a pretty good, grown-up job. It was with a big corporation, he was a consultant, it was a job you could be proud of.

Naturally, Perrin hated every minute of it – you actually had to go to meetings!

He went back to finding alternate ways to make money. He started with the high profile books – The Four Hour Work Week, The Millionaire Fastlane, etc.

From there he moved onto the popular marketing blogs – Pat Flynn, Spencer Haws, Quick Sprout, Backlinko – and he was quickly hooked.

For about a year and a half, Perrin tried and failed. His luck changed when Spencer Haws launched a contest for a student that he was going to teach to create a site. Perrin manage to win the contest and started working with Spencer.

In late 2013, he launched his first site and by late 2014 it was making enough money for him to have a full time income.

Gael

Gael

Gael has been involved in internet marketing for around 7 years now.

The origin story goes back to 2007, however, when he was studying for a year in Hong Kong. He loved his time there and knew he wanted to spend more time in Asia.

So, in his final year, Gael had to undertake an internship to complete his degree. He knew that he wanted to return to Asia but Hong Kong was still reeling from the aftermath of the financial crisis.

After giving up on Hong Kong, he somehow managed to find an internship targeted at local students in Malaysia. It was unpaid and the recruiters thought he was a bit nuts. He took the internship and was actually able to live pretty comfortably because of a stipend from the French government for students.

The internship just happened to be at a small SEO agency. For almost the entire internship, Gael had no idea what he was doing. He started reading books to try to learn what on Earth he was meant to be doing.

At the same time, some friends in Malaysia were launching an ecommerce site and Gael was interested in helping out wherever he could. The site ended up doing pretty well and this opened Gael’s eyes to the possibilities out there to make money online.

Soon after, he met Mark in a bar in Singapore and they decided to start their own agency together.

What Site are You Going to Talk About and Can You Give Us a Short Background on it?

Mark

Health Ambition is the first authority site that Gael and Mark created that they really persevered with. Unsurprisingly, it was also the first site that was successful.

HealthAmbition.com branding before redesign

Since 2013, the growth looks like 4 hockey sticks. It started off pretty slow with a couple of thousand visitors per month.

In July 2015, it exploded. Suddenly the traffic went from 7,000 visitors per month to 52,000.

Since then, it has slowly increased. Due to the peaks of the health industry, there is a massive spike every January, then it slowly trails off towards Christmas while everyone is going out and getting merry.

This has been the pattern up until now where the site now gets around 500,000 uniques per month.

Perrin

It probably won’t come as a surprise that Perrin is going to talk about Here Pup.

Here Pup Homepage

This was Perrin’s biggest project so far. He started working on it in 2015 and it has pretty much been his sole focus for the past two years.

The site gets in the region of 200-300k visits per month and is making $14-15k each month.

There is no real seasonality in the dog niche because a dog is for life, not just for Christmas. This means that revenue is reasonably stable all year round.

Gael

Gael is going to be talking about Authority Hacker. We do have more sites that we are working on but we do not make all of these public due to the copycat effect. It helps us to maintain a competitive advantage in the niches that we do decide to work in.

Authority Hacker Homepage

Authority Hacker isn’t huge in terms of numbers. It is getting around 77,000 sessions per month from 44,000 users with an average session duration of 2 minutes.

The traffic growth is around 28% year on year. Again, this isn’t huge compared to something like Health Ambition but this is due to the rate of publishing. On Health Ambition you will see a new post everyday. Whereas, on Authority Hacker, it is a good month if we can get two articles out.

This is due to the amount of work that goes into an Authority Hacker blog posts. Each post is roughly equivalent to around 10 posts on Health Ambition.

Authority Hacker has built a loyal audience that keeps on coming back for more. Traffic comes from different sources rather relying solely on organic search. Around 10% of traffic comes from email and another 10% comes from social (despite the fact that we do very little on social media).

In fact, despite having much lower traffic than Health Ambition, Authority Hacker actually generates more revenue at the moment.

What Was The Business Model For Each Of The Sites?

Mark

When Health Ambition was launched, it didn’t really have a business model.

The main goal was to figure things out. At that time, Gael and Mark still had the agency but they were sick to death of clients.

They wanted to try some real marketing without the pressure of getting results and without the constraints of the corporate world.

The basically wanted to try cool stuff out and see if it worked.

The goals were less oriented around generating revenue than they were around getting traffic. There was no plan, no framework and no structure. They knew they had to go through the pain of figuring this out so that they could develop a model that could be applied to other sites.

It was only really when the traffic made the huge leap to 52k visits per month that they realized that they really needed to start monetizing things.

Firstly, they looked into Google Adsense and it was a huge failure.

The next step was to try Amazon Associates. This did ok but it was in the second year when a review for a Clickbank product – The Venus Factor – that real money started to come in.

The Venus Factor review on Health Ambition
The Venus Factor review on Health Ambition

In fact, The Venus Factor review was making $500-700 per day. This was probably more than the rest of the pages on the site put together and multiplied by ten.

From here, they knew it was a good idea to focus on review and content that they could clearly monetize. The previous year was more about throwing things at the wall and seeing what stuck but not there was a strategic focus on content.

There was one post in particular that Gael suggested and Mark thought that he had lost the plot: How to Stop Farting.

Mark reluctantly agreed and since then, the post has been viewed over 500,00 times and generated tens of thousands of dollars in ad revenue and affiliate revenue from Amazon.

They also realized that they had a number of juicing articles. At first, the decided to monetize these posts through Clickbank but they soon realized that they could create their own juicing info product. This quickly turned into a $2.5k per month product and formed the business model for Health Ambition.

Perrin

Here Pup was more straightforward than that.

After having a site that was slapped with a penalty for using PBNs he knew that this site was white hat all the way. He also knew that he wanted Here Pup to be an Amazon Associates site.

The first year was spent building up content based upon Amazon keywords and there was no ads on the site at that point.

Even when ads were put on the site further down the line, 80% of the revenue was still affiliate. It was built as an affiliate site, has always been an affiliate site and probably always will be an affiliate site.

Gael

Back before Authority Hacker was launched, Gael really liked Matthew Woodward’s site. He wasn’t afraid to jump on a screencast and really show you a tool or show you how to do something.

At this point, there were two sides to the internet marketing blogging community:

  • The White Hats – They talked about white hat theory but really didn’t give any practical advice
  • The Gray Hats – The gray hats were giving out really practical, step by step advice but they were breaking Google’s terms of service

Gael wanted to take the best parts of each of these and combine them into one site: a white hat site that gave practical advice.

He created a few blog posts and they did ok. At this point Gael was really focusing on email opt-in forms and optimizing them to a point where he was getting 10% opt-in.

So, he created a fake sales page asking people if they wanted a course that taught them how to make opt-in forms like Gael. The response was good so Gael set about making the product. He recorded 7 videos and sold them for $19.

This was the inception of AH Pro.

From there, they took all of the processes from Health Ambition, improved them and documented them in videos. This entire process took 4-5 months and AH Pro was born.

Most of the revenue for the site comes from AH Pro and TASS but the reviews also provide a degree of passive income.

What is One Tactic That Really Allowed You Site to Get to Where It Is Today?

Mark

Optimizing and scaling links in a white hat way has made the most difference.

Links take a while to kick in and we didn’t start build links on Health Ambition from day 1 as we should have.

HealthAmibition Ahrefs metrics

Now, however, whenever a new post goes live, we can be pretty confident that it will rank within a couple of days which allows us to see a much quicker ROI on new content.

To build links, we use a variation of the skyscraper technique that we call the shotgun skyscraper. It is basically an improved version of skyscraper that we have optimized the hell out of.

We spent a lot of time taking every piece of the process apart and putting it back together in a better way and now we can build a lot of links pretty cheaply.

To give you an idea, we have built links from over 2,000 root domains with one part time person.

Perrin

For Here Pup it was keyword research that really made the difference.

At this point, Perrin didn’t know how to build white hat links as he had only ever used PBNs and done other gray hat stuff on his previous site.

After 11 months or so, Here Pup only had 11 links. Luckily, the keyword research was so good that some of the pages were already ranking and this took the site into profitability.

This gave Perrin the time to learn all of the link building techniques that would end up doing so well for Here Pup.

Gael

For Authority Hacker, the big thing was mastering funnels.

Actually owning the product allows you to be authentic in emails in a way that you cannot be if you are using someone else’s marketing material, tone of voice or copy.

Being able to own the product, control the launches and the funnels has taken the site to a much higher revenue today than we could have through affiliate revenue alone.

Starting Over, What Would You Do Differently?

Mark

For Health Ambition there are a few things:

  • Monetize from day 1
  • Build links from day 1
  • Have a better site structure and do proper research before launching

Health Ambition started with a few articles and we have just continued to pile more articles on top of that.

The structure is really a mess. With over 1,000 articles on the site, it is also going to be really difficult to re-organize.

If you compare Health Ambition to the demo site from TASS it is night and day. It is so much better structured and this makes it easier to be strategic with content.

Perrin

For Here Pup, Perrin wouldn’t actually do all that much differently.

If he was launching a new site, he would choose a niche and then find a narrow sub-topic that he could start from for relevance.

He would monetize the same way – through Amazon Associates or a similar affiliate program.

Here Pup dog food review monetized through Amazon Associates
Here Pup dog food review monetized through Amazon Associates

Perrin would also focus more on link building from day 1 because it makes such a big difference.

Finally, when choosing a niche, he would be careful to think of possible products. SEO is harder now than it was a few years ago and this trend is set to continue. It is therefore important to generate as much revenue as possible from each visitor and the research has shown that products are the way to do this.

Gael

On Authority Hacker, Gael would start the podcast earlier and not launch it with a Hungarian iTunes account (but that’s another story).

He would also spend more time planning by spending time on content templates and keyword research.

On Authority Hacker, we have podcasts, massive guides, reviews and then shorter content that doesn’t go into the blog feed.

Each of these has its place:

  • Podcast – For engagement. Listeners probably read a blog posts once, liked it and then found the podcast and keep listening.
  • Guides – The big guides are for brand awareness and for generating links. The are sharable assets. This grows the audience but when people share it on their sites, it also generates links.
  • Reviews – These are for direct monetization but Gael also likes doing reviews because he’s into tools. It also helps that Lewis is really good at writing them so we’re are starting to develop them in a way that we can do some pretty cool things with them.
  • Shorter Content – This is to target longtail traffic so that we can capture additional traffic, put a pop-up in front of people and add them to the funnel.

What Do You Regret Doing or Not Doing on Your Site?

Mark

There are no major regrets on Health Ambition.

Sure, Mark admits that things were done wrong and lots of things could have been done better but that was all part of the process of figuring things out.

Every single mistake has been learned from and something better has come out of it.

Personally, Mark regrets taking on a large project that they just weren’t ready for at the time. It was a plan to launch a membership site on Health Ambition with too many products and too many moving parts.

In the end, it just didn’t work and it was a waste of three months or so.

Perrin

There were a few minor things that Perrin regretted about Here Pup but there was one thing that cause major stress. That was sharing his site on a public case study on Backlino.

Perrin kind of knew Brian Dean and wanted to get a link from Backlinko. I mean, it’s a powerful site. Perrin knew that Brian used case studies of people using his techniques to promote his link building training.

So, he sent a Brian an email and they agreed to do a case study.

Almost instantly, the copycats started cropping up.

They were trying to rip off his site, his keywords, his branding – everything. It’s one thing that caused a lot of unnecessary stress.

Another issue was not doing a thorough trademark search when launching the site. This was a small detail that could have helped Perrin avoid legal issues, caused him to miss out on some good opportunities and was another point of stress.

Beyond that, Perrin would have focused more on building links immediately and invested a bit more money up front that would have allowed him to make money faster.

Gael

With Authority Hacker, Gael would also have invested more money up front. Another thing he regrets is not investing more time and effort in the YouTube channel.

It currently has over 500k views but there has been no effort to optimize titles or descriptions. It is a platform that we can be doing a lot more with.

What is your biggest source of Pride? And what do you like the least?

Mark

Mark is most proud of the geeky things. He’s a process optimization guy.

He’s proud of the improved or automated processes that allow team members to save 10 minutes per day. The reason for that is that when you add up that team, it adds up to one week of work per year.

When you multiply this across more than one team member doing the same thing, it really begins to add up.

In the previous business, Mark admits that they made a lot of mistakes recruiting people rather than improving processes. This is something that he is proud they are getting right this time around.

On the flip side, Mark’s least favourite thing is customer support. This isn’t a major hassle, however, as there is a team member that takes care of this now.

Perrin

Perrin is proud of a lot of the design stuff he has done on Here Pup.

He admits that it’s not the most beautiful site in the world but it has come a long way from when he launched it to what it is now.

In that time, he has learned to build better home pages and picked up some CSS along the way.

He is also proud of the systems he has created – including a great content system.

However, Perrin is probably most proud of his own growth. He went from someone putting up niche sites to a small business owner who built and cultivated relationships.

Gael

For Gael, he takes most pride in the product itself.

Examples of some AH Pro Blueprints
Examples of some AH Pro Blueprints

There are now over 300 videos in AH Pro. It is pretty much the equivalent of writing two books. Even better is the results that members are getting. It gives great satisfaction to everyone on the team when the hear success stories like Mauricio’s, Robert’s and Kevin’s.

What Does the Future Look Like?

Mark

For Health Ambition, Mark likes to think of things in terms of what needs to be done to 10x everything without necessarily adding ten times the staff.

So, the future for Health Ambition is to go crazy with scaling everything further. This means scaling content production, link building and adding new categories to the site.

Perrin

For Perrin, things are a little bit different. Here Pup is now 100% sold.

He cannot disclose details of the sale for legal reasons but he managed to make enough money to pay off that poetry degree and have capital left over to invest in new projects.

Perrin has also launched a new site that was starting to do pretty well. The nature of the niche means that traffic has taken a dip the moment but come the new year, we will see what happens with it (probably not in a public case study though).

Finally, with the money left over from the sale of Here Pup, Perrin has the opportunity to form some partnerships, invest in sites and let some other people do the work this time.

Gael

The future of Authority Hacker is simply pushing on more with what we have been doing.

Recently we have been improving the formatting, we have hired an illustrator and we are starting to create complete resources – such as a library of niches to help people choose what niche to start a site in.

We are really looking to increase the success of our members. We are not going to release a new product every six months but instead we are going to keep updating and improving both AH Pro and TASS.

Final Words of Wisdom

Mark

Whatever you do, if you are just getting started – whoever you follow, stick with it long enough to learn it and get it working. Don’t chop and change, just stick with one thing. There is so many ways to make money online but you just need to choose one and work on it until you are successful.

Perrin

There are lots of different business models out there. As you can see from these three sites, all have their successes and all have their failures. Just don’t be afraid to fail and keep optimizing your way to success.

Gael

I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for Gael’s words of wisdom as they are going out in the live webinar on Sunday night at 8PM London time.

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
  • Finally have a proven method to finding profitable niches
  • Get access to our foolproof keyword research methods
  • Learn how to outsource high quality content

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *