Since it’s the New Year, I decided to write a recap of 2013 and what my main goals are for 2014.
Truth be told, 2013 wasn’t that much of a good year for me.
I had a high turnover of sites (including a 7-month partnership that mutually ended), which meant I had quite a lot of money sitting in my accounts but not enough active projects that I could scale.
Most of 2013 was kind of like starting from scratch, building sites from the ground up, which was quite stressful.
It’s strange how even when you sell sites for a good amount of money, you start to panic with no more money coming in on a monthly basis. I wasn’t really prepared for this.
I also didn’t take into account personal costs during the year. For example, $100k in the bank might seem like a lot, but if you’re using up $30k per year in living costs then it can deteriorate quite quickly. I was actually starting to panic towards the end of 2013 because of couple of my main sites were taking longer than expected to make money.
The biggest problem I’ve had over the last 12 months is that I’ve been developing projects from the ground up. I’ve had little incoming revenue, which reduced my confidence to re-invest in growth, as I wanted to maintain a good cash flow. The lesson I learned really is that before you sell a business for $50k or whatever, you need to be willing to re-invest at least half of that quickly in order to get a business up and running again to the same levels.
I’m hoping that as my projects come into their own in 2014, I’ll hit a tipping point where I can start to re-invest larger amounts of money back into my business. This is where I think the true scale and growth will come from.
For example, if you re-invest $2k/month into a site making $3k/month, then it’ll get to $10k/month much faster then investing $750 into a site making $500/month.
Having said that, I did learn a lot of new skills in 2013 including PR, PPC and video marketing. I also took a big step-forward in terms of conversion optimization, UX and increasing page views per visitor.
Looking at my accounts, I did manage to maintain a decent level of revenue throughout the year, based on a mixture of website sales, revenue share accounts, partnership payoff and random websites. However, I was very lucky at times.
A major upside was Nominet’s decision to award all new future .uk domains in 2014 to the .co.uk owners. This not only increases my premium domain portfolio but also gives me the option to re-launch or sell some of my penalized sites on the new domain in the future.
In terms of personal life, I managed to take quite a lot of holidays during 2013 (snowboarding in France, Pesach in Israel, Stag do to Portugal and weekend in Prague). I also moved into a house with some friends in Charlton, plus made some huge gains in personal fitness and muscle building.
The major downside to 2013 was that I didn’t get an office or diversify my revenue from SEO as planned. However I did spend a lot of time trying and I think things will change in 2014. I also visited the Google Campus a couple of times, which was a good experience (you can work in the café for free).
2014 Business Goals
2014 already got off to a great start: I hit 1k traffic on a site for the first time, found a new advertising partnership that increased my revenues and have a couple of PPC project ideas ready to launch next month.
My main goals this year are to build a business around products AND services that I can market outside of SEO, keep building large, authority portals (with return visitors and great content), run active email campaigns with 1,000+ subscribers, and run at least two successful PPC projects.
The main thing I need to do as a marketer is diversify my traffic and tactics more. It’s pointless running large content sites these days that are completely dependant on SEO. You need to build on top of it by collecting emails, providing services and taking advantage of other traffic sources (e.g. invest in great tools that bring return traffic to your site). Premium membership sites, using tools like WishList, are a great example of this.
I’ve already bought domains for two separate PPC projects this week. By the end of 2014 I’d like to look back and see at least 40% of my income come from non-SEO sources.
Other than that, I’m planning to work much harder this year (starting the day and finishing at more reasonable hours) and develop sites where users are actually inclined to come back and bookmark my site.
I’d like to say I’ll get an office but with prices of £5k/year for a desk-alone in central London (plus £1k per year in transport), I don’t think this is realistic unless I find some other affiliates/entrepreneurs to share office space with. If you know any then please get in touch.
November was a quiet but productive month for me. I spent a lot of time adding new pages and coding (including email opt-ins) to two of my main sites as well as going through all the highest traffic pages and improving them.
For example, if I saw 10% of all traffic was going to a certain page then I’d install WP Easy Columns to build nice navigational links and images to deeper posts to encourage page views, similar to how this is presented: http://www.prospects.ac.uk/cvs_and_cover_letters.htm
I also had a very successful PR campaign for one of my gambling sites that picked up natural editorial links form more than 15 authority sites (including CasinoMeiaste.com and CIOL.com).
I came close to buying a new PR tool and setting up my own PR agency at Tabloids.co.uk (offering professional PR as well as reduced-price press releases) however I decided the market probably wasn’t big enough yet. I don’t know many people or affiliates who take advantage of PR on a regular basis.
One of the things that really upset me last month was missing out on an auction for Markets.co.uk that sold for £1k with a snipe bid with 15s remaining. I was the highest bidder all day and had tried buying the domain directly from the owner, however after offering me a BIN she then decided to start an auction without telling me and bundled the entire process up. For example, I knew at least 2-3 people who would’ve paid five times what it sold for if they were given warning of the auction.
Other then that, I managed to start a small side-business that isn’t dependent on SEO and I was asked to be on a panel at the financial affiliate conference in London in February, which I accepted.
Rather then coming up with a new strategy at the beginning of each month, I decided that I’d be better off creating 12-month business goals based on re-investing x amount of profit each month.
Therefore, my business goals to invest around $5k per month back into my business with the majority of that going towards great content, PR and design/coding. I’ve basically stopped investing in frivolous things such as domains until I get my two main sites to a self-sustainable level of growth. This means developing the sites so that they produce enough revenue to hire an editor, writer and coder. This would leave me in charge of project management, marketing and PR.
End of Year Review
If you were to ask me on a scale of 1-10 how well the year has gone based on my original annual goals, I’d probably say 6.5/10.
I accomplished a number of primary goals this year including writing for a major newspaper, working on my first ever partnership with a highly experienced businessman, generating consistent revenues with my sites, learning new skills (including PR, social media and more fixed fee deals) and starting my own agency.
The downside is that it’s been a very stressful year, I haven’t produced even close to the same revenues in white hat SEO and CPM deals that I had done with blackhat SEO in the past, and while I feel that my business has grown slightly I feel like I’ve missed out on several opportunities. I think one of the main things I’ll do next year is invest in faster hosting and mobile-responsive websites.
In any case, I’ll probably provide a more detailed end of year review in the beginning of January.
October was an OK month, I’m working harder now then ever before; recently I’ve started working until about 9pm-10pm at night, which is really starting to strain my eyes. I’ve been reading Bill Clinton’s biography alongside work, which hasn’t particularly helped.
I’ve also just moved to a new house in Charlton, which I’m sharing with a few friends. It’s not going to have Internet for the next few weeks so I think I’m going to have to start looking for offices or places to work.
Anyway, here’s an outline of what I did in October:
- Produced infographic for main investing website that received a good amount of natural pickup and links from authority finance sites.
- Added a good amount of pages (and received expert external contributions) for investing and graduates website.
- Set up an infographics agency on Searchable.co.uk and had a PPC lesson to prepare for next month (also registered InfographicDesigner.net).
- Registered CreateyourApp.co.uk and GadgetInsurance.co for white label businesses.
November’s going to be a murky month: depending on how quickly I get settled and how soon we can get Internet.
My main goals for November are:
- Build up graduates website with more content, pages and sections
- Possibly develop out the job listings section
- Launch another PR in gambling based around a white paper/PR/infographic
- Improve SEO on investing website, possibly add my own section on buying domains
- Install email opt-ins on two sites
- Publish a trading eBook for trading site
- Launch new infographics agency and aim to pick up 1 or 2 clients
November’s also when Nominet will announce whether to launch .uk at the 2nd level, which should be quite interesting. I think if I get the rights to the UK domains then I’ll be looking to sell BuyGold.uk and Investing.uk.
September was a bit of a hangover to the productive month I had in August. I didn’t spend any outrageous amounts on domains or websites, and in general I just grinded away focusing on just two of my sites.
Earlier this week, I also went to the Google Campus for the first time to go to a 2.5-hour talk on “marketing for startups” and do some networking.
The only “business” I did was acquiring ETFs.co.uk (Exchange Traded Funds) for a small sum as well as mobile poker website for $600 that I bought in order to repurpose the content. I was pretty happy with the ETFs domain, especially after doing some research and finding that the biggest banks such as HSBC are now offering them to investors. I also bought LifeAfterUni.com domain for a small fee (in case I want to switch to a brand domain at a later point) and sold MobileSlots.co for the same amount.
I spent most of the month managing writers, planning and uploading new content for my sites. I ran a 5th PR campaign, which didn’t get as much traction as my previous ones unfortunately.
One of the things I was proud of was using PR tools to invite careers experts and recruiters to contribute to my site. This included articles about postgrad qualifications as well as getting some unique graduate profiles published on my site. I also had some success running my own “awards” which contributed to a couple of links. The last thing I did was switch over my site from a CPC advertising network to a CPM model, which should be much better for my bottom line.
During early September, I also secured a deal to work with someone who’ll be offering one-on-one coaching to graduates on my site. I’m quite proud of this since it was out of the box thinking, adds additional value to my site and required a little sales talk over the phone.
Research Alternative Income Sources to SEO
If I’m honest I actually spent most of my time sat at the laptop procrastinating about ways to build a business away from SEO.
Without going into too much detail, I read somewhere that the average UK website receives 35-40% of traffic from search. If we then assume that around 25% of website traffic is direct type-ins, you’re talking about 50-60% of new visitors to UK websites coming from Google (who have 90% market share in the UK). This means if you run a traditional content website, you’re pretty much dependent on Google regardless of how clever you are at marketing.
With this in mind I’ve been trying to think of alternative business models to content websites altogether as opposed to just finding new traffic sources to my existing sites. Ideally I’d like to be in a position where only 30% of my business is dependent on SEO.
I came up with a few alternative business solutions.
- The most obvious idea was to start a consultancy or agency. Although I have an “agency” website at Searchable.co.uk, I’m not really trying to find new customers at all. I’m not a big fan of the performance-driven results that SEO clients nowadays require, and I wouldn’t feel good about basing my entire strategy upon getting lots of guest post links (which seems to be the main strategy for agencies like Zazzle media). The truth is, I now see SEO as part of a bigger, all encompassing notion of inbound marketing. Although I’m happy performing technical on-site analysis, optimization or consulting as individual services, I don’t think I’d have the resources or willpower to provide a complete inbound campaign for less than £1500 per month.
- The second idea was to look into white labelling. The advantage of white labels and product-driven businesses is that you can use traffic sources such as PPC, PR, media buys, affiliates and referrals to drive leads rather then relying content-heavy blogs and SEO. It would also be a great experience as a business model.
- My final, most likely solution is to start a jobs board service on my site, using existing traffic, partners and PPC as acquisition methods. I’ve already been in discussions with a few potential clients to get a “feel” for the idea and I think this will go ahead in October.
- Other ideas I considered included starting an affiliate forum/community portal, an ecommerce venture or getting a part-time job.
I just hired an infographic designer to get started on one for my main finance website. I’m really looking forward to sharing it later (follow me on Twitter @AffiliateFYI) and hopefully it’ll get some picked up by half a dozen sites after doing some personal outreach. I’ll also be asking my AMs to help promote and Tweet it.
It did amaze me how most agencies that I emailed were quoting around $1500 for infographic design. Luckily I managed to find a solid freelance infographic designer who quoted around $300-$400. It just goes to show the huge markup that agencies add to their prices when compared to freelancers (e.g. content, design, coding, services). You’re always better off finding a reliable freelance contact where possible.
Other then that, I’m hoping to get some more experts to contribute to my graduate site, publish some more interesting interviews, and write some more content for my SEO blog Searchable.co.uk.
August was an insanely productive month for my business. I achieved more in the last 30 days then in any other 2 or 3-month period. I also bought a few more domains that I think will add a lot more value to my education network.
Two Successful PR Campaigns
First of all, at the beginning of the month I ran a fairly successful PR campaign for my graduate careers website. It landed my site in a number of national media outlets including the Times Higher Education, the Associate of Graduate Recruiters, BBC China and a number of other student sites.
I also ran another PR campaign for one of my gaming websites, which earned me a few links here and then (including one from the Israeli government’s website!).
As I’ve mentioned in the last few months, I’m spending 90% of my time focusing on just two sites in the higher education and investing industry.
I added around 70 pages to my investment website and have around four writers working around the clock on content. One of my writers has also written for etoro.com, which I think shows the quality of his stuff.
I also added another 75 pages or so to my education website, including a gap year travel, graduate schemes and money section. I spent a few days doing outreach for Universities, which also paid off a bit. I’m now planning to add a graduate schemes deadline date calendar, increase email opt-ins across the site and add some premium CV and cover letter products to sell on the site – all part of a strategy to monetize it better.
New Domains and Building a Higher Education Network
Considering that I own Graduates.co.uk, I managed to do a good bit of business by purchasing Undergraduates.co.uk and Postgraduates.co.uk as a pair. I don’t I plan to actively develop either of these sites yet, however I am planning to move one of my older student sites over to Undergraduates.co.uk in October/November.
Personally I bought these two domains because they add a lot of value and options/scalability to my business. If I ever decide to sell Graduates.co.uk then it gives the buyer new ways to scale the business. It also gives me the option to develop a large education network that adds real value to the community. (Remember that I also own StudentBanking.co.uk, StudentFinanceCalculator.co.uk and UniversityRankings.co.uk).
I also managed to buy 4 dropped domains in the education industry last week from some friends – including a PR4 site. Each of them has strong, relevant backlinkse from Universities, community and education websites so I think I can put them into good use in my business.
Investing in PPC, FB Ads, Lead Generation and Products
My primary business goals now are to create my own line of products that I can market through PPC, FB ads and display advertising. I’ve given myself a set budget of $xx,xxx to achieve this. I basically want to become an expert in alternative marketing channels including PPC and FB ads as well as learn to make money outside of SEO. I already know plenty of affiliates and businesses making thousands of dollars per day in PPC through lead generation so I watch to catch up on everything I’ve missed out on over the last 3 years. There’s a really interesting PPC academy at SearchEngineLand.com which a friend recommended to me here.
My priority now is just to restructure my business into selling and marketing products either through my sites or by building email lists and run campaigns to optimize my email list subscribers. I’m also focused on exploring new ways of monetizing my education websites, which includes graduate jobs boards, premium products, careers services, eBooks, competitions and featured recruiters.