Congratulations! Against all odds, you’ve built yourself a website that earns $1k in revenue, purely from organic search.
When you go from 0-$1k, your biggest challenge is finding tactics that work.
You sift through the bullshit permeating the SEO blogosphere, just hoping to find a useful nugget.
Keyword research, competition analysis, on-page optimization, link building, site architecture, monetization - finding and testing tactics is your all-consuming focus.
But once you build a site(s) up to $1k/month, you’ve managed to cobble together a formula that works - at least for the time-being.
So How Do You Get To The Next Level?
The process of going from 0-$1k is about starting with nothing and figuring out which SEO tactics actually work.
Once you hit $1k, you’ve accomplished the difficult task of creating "something" out of nothing.
Now, instead of always scrambling for new tactics, you can scale up your “something” to take your portfolio of sites to $10k a month and beyond.
What you really need to do is find the leverage points in your own business that will allow you to scale up what's already working.
In order to identify those leverage points, you need to shift your focus from looking outwards for the next big SEO tactic and look inward at what you’re already doing.
I believe that the #1 biggest obstacle stopping SEOs from scaling their web properties to 5 figures a month and beyond is that they remain focused on tactics, rather than shifting their focus to the leverage points within their own business.
The rest of this article will show you where to start looking for these leverage points.
Leverage Point #1: Analyzing Your Data & Doubling Down
You’ve probably heard that the best SEOs collect their own data and figure out what works based on observation.
This sounds great in theory, but when you have no traffic and no revenue, you don’t have any data to analyze.
But at $1,000 a month, even though you're still learning, you have at least some data on what’s working.
You know what linkbuilding you’ve done. You’re tracking your rankings. You have Google analytics data. You know what content is being shared and what isn’t. You know what link building campaigns have helped increase rankings and which ones haven’t.
You can now dive into this data, figure out what’s driving your results, and shift your resources towards the 20% of your input that’s generating 80% of your output.
Not everything will be crystal clear, but now you have something worth diving into further.
This might not seem like much, but its actually huge. You finally have the data you need to double down on what’s currently working and take yourself to $10,000/m and beyond.
Learning From "Pumpkin Hackers"
No one really likes to admit it, but a big part of the SEO process involves throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall, seeing what sticks, and doubling down on what’s working.
It might feel like you’re just throwing spaghetti at the wall sometimes, but there’s nothing wrong with that. If you're only doing things where the result is 100% guaranteed, you're not moving fast enough.
Nick Eubanks of seonick.net (who owns and operates a portfolio of sites doing over 25 million in annual revenue) describes this strategy as “Pumpkin Hacking”, because its the same strategy used by pumpkin “hackers” to grow 2,000+ lb monster pumpkins.
The process goes something like this:
Step One: Plant promising seeds
Step Two: Water, water, water
Step Three: As they grow, routinely remove all of the diseased or damaged pumpkins
Step Four: Weed like a mad dog. Not a single green leaf or root permitted if it isn’t a pumpkin plant
Step Five: When they grow larger, identify the stronger faster growing pumpkins. Then, remove all the less promising pumpkins. Repeat until you have one pumpkin on each vine.
Step Six: Focus all of your attention on the big pumpkin. Nurture it around the clock like a baby and guard it like you would your first Mustang convertible
Step Seven: Watch it grow. In the last days of the season this will happen so fast you can actually see it happen"
You can take this lesson from the mad scientists of the gardening world and apply it to your SEO mindset.
Where is your $1,000/m of revenue *really* coming from?
Is it mostly from a handful of keywords? Mostly from a handful of posts? Mostly from one site?
Is there a tactic you’re spending a ton of time and money on, but it's only generating marginal returns? Is there a tactic where every dollar spent consistently generates a great ROI? What can you automate?
Figure out what is working for you, tighten up your processes, ignore the SEO blogs for awhile, and just double down on the things that are already making you money while aggressively cutting away everything else.
Leverage Point: 2. Systems & Hiring
Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics.
U.S. General of the Army - WW2
This quote describes just how important it is for armies to move rations, fuel, weapons, ammo, and other war materials at an industrial scale. Even the greatest army is weak if their guns have no bullets and their soldiers have no food.
This philosophy also applies to business and SEO.
Having a highly effective set of SEO tactics will only take you so far if you don’t have the systems in place to apply them at scale.
Becoming A “Professional”
When you’re trying to build your first revenue generating website, you don’t have anything that works. To drive any sort of revenue, your focus has to be on uncovering effective tactics.
But at $1k/month, you already have tactics that work. You are ready to graduate from “amateur” to “professional”, and your next mission is to remove yourself as a bottleneck.
You need to build systems that allow you to apply your effective tactics to maximum effect.
You need the logistics in place to grow, so you can go from doing a little bit of what’s working, to doing as much of it as possible.
Start With The Most Routine Tasks
At this point you might be wondering where you should even start?
If you’re still doing everything yourself, the best way to start building systems is by creating documented processes for the simplest routine tasks in your business.
Look at everything you do - content creation, link building, site setup, formatting posts, fixing random wordpress issues - whatever it is, start creating SOPs (standard operating procedures) for the most routine processes.
Once these are documented, hire a freelance VA from a site like Odesk or Elance to take over.
Once you’ve managed to hand off the simple routine tasks, gradually start doing the same to higher level tasks.
Scott Davis wrote a great post about outsourcing and systems here. Jon Haver from AuthorityWebsiteIncome.com also has some useful tips for hiring VAs.
For more in-depth reading material on building systems, I highly recommend “Work The System” by Sam Carpenter. Its not just useful for SEO - the lessons you learn here will be essential for any sort of business.
You can get a free PDF or audiobook here.
Identifying Roadblocks: Fixing Systems That Can’t Be Scaled
Before you hire an army of VAs to remove yourself from the trenches - it’s important that you take the processes and systems you’ve defined and run them on a small scale so you can identify potential roadblocks.
Once you’ve confirmed that everything runs smoothly, you can start scaling up. Otherwise you’re just building on a foundation of sand.
In the old NoHat internships, interns learned to build silos that revolved around a single target keyword, built with wordpress pages (as opposed to posts). A silo for a site about “widgets” might be “blue widgets”, another silo might be “big widgets”, another might be “cheap widgets” etc.
Each silo’s target keyword and main page was added manually to the main navigation area, and subpages targeting long tails related to the primary silo keyword were added as dropdowns under the main navigation bar.
While this system was effective for building tightly focused niche sites that had strong on-page optimization, there were roadblocks that needed to be removed before scaling to bigger sites was possible.
As you can probably imagine, once you had hundreds or thousands of pages, the organization structure would break down for readers who would find it confusing, and manually curating the pages would become too much work.
This applies to 100X to PBNs - systems that work fine for a small 20 site PBN can leave disastrous footprints on a 200 site PBN.
In 2015, scaling up the creation of low quality content is also a recipe for disaster. And if you’re hiring cheap writers to save money and editing everything yourself by hand, that’s not going to be scalable.
I wrote an in-depth article here about how you can create decent quality content at scale as an SEO.
You need to identify and address these roadblocks before they become a problem.
Leverage Point 3: Leveraging Asset Value
Would you spend $100 to increase a website’s revenue by $1/day?
If you answered no, you probably think of your websites as a revenue streams rather than as revenue generating assets.
A lot of SEOs view their web properties as revenue streams, and its a perspective that can potentially limit growth because it stops you from leveraging asset value.
Revenue Stream vs Revenue Generating Asset
If you view your website as a revenue stream, it's difficult to invest a significant portion of your monthly revenue into quality content + building quality links.
Viewing your website as a revenue stream can force you into a limited perspective where spending money on quality content and links is viewed as too expensive - even when its the core of your business!
Spending $100 to create an extra $1/day seems crazy if you view your website as a revenue stream.
The revenue stream mindset:
- Stops you from paying more for good people to take over important tasks.
- Stops you from investing extra time and money into building better quality links.
- Stops you from paying better writers that can create higher quality content and who don’t need to be babysat. Babysitting writers wastes your precious time, and keeps you as the bottleneck in your content creation.
If you think of your website as an asset, you know that pouring back the majority of the earnings into a site can make a lot of sense, because every $1 per day you generate isn’t really $1 per day. It’s $1x30 = $30 in monthly revenue.
That’s $30 in monthly revenue multiplied by 20-30 or more if you sell the asset. That’s $600-900 in asset value created from that single dollar increase!
Viewed from this perspective, spending $100 to create an extra $1/day doesn’t seem crazy anymore.
That’s a 600%-900% ROI on your $100 that will continue to yield a passive income stream of $1/day for a long time.
If you could tap into that asset value, you'd be able to scale really quickly.
Flipping A Site For Cash Flow
Without cash to spend, SEO is a bit of a hamster wheel. You cut costs everywhere - content, links, design & development - then you get slapped the next time Google updates.
It’s certainly not the only way, but one of the best ways to get the cash flow needed to scale up is to flip some of your earlier successes.
This allows you to unlock the site’s asset value, giving you the cash flow you need to grow your assets and invest in building additional sites that can rank sustainably.
Let’s look at an example:
Say you have $5,000 to invest in building out web properties.
Let’s assume that you need to invest $100 for every $1/ day in revenue ($30/month). Let’s assume that after you invest your $100, it takes 3 months to see that $1/day return.
That’s 3 months of waiting and another 3 months to get your $100 back from that $1/day revenue stream.
In our hypothetical example, this means it takes a little over 6 months to breakeven on each dollar you spend.
Let’s see how that math works out over time.
Scenario #1: Scaling Without Site Flip
Expected Future Return
Cash In The Bank
After 1 year, we’re earning $5,000 a month. After 1 year and 3 months, we’re at $8709/month. That’s within sight of our 10k/month goal, but still short.
This might sound pretty good to you if you’re at $1,000 right now.
But wait, after all this time, you still haven’t hit your goal of $10k/month in revenue, despite re-investing every single dollar earned back into the site.
And if you actually need some of that money to pay the bills, you might not be able to re-invest all that revenue, which means you can’t grow at this pace without drastically cutting costs.
Scenario #2: Scaling With Site Flip
What if you flipped your first site at month 8 for a modest 20x monthly revenue? In our hypothetical scenario, you would cash out at $48,000.
This leaves you with a net profit of $40,800 after subtracting 15% for broker fees.
Now lets assume you take 25% of that $40,800 off the table and put it in the bank. You then take the rest of the earnings from that flip and reinvest 75%.
Let’s also assume (since you had read about leverage point #2 in this article) that you’ve built the systems needed to continue deploying cash so that each $100 spent returns $1 a day down the road.
Your trajectory for the first 8 months looks exactly the same as scenario #1, but at month 8 the numbers start to look quite different.
Expected Future Ruturn
Cash In The Bank
At month 15, we have $10,000 in the bank, and we have a site (or sites) earning $14,400 a month.
|Cash in bank||$0||$10,000|
|Month 15 revenue||$8,790||$14,400|
|Month 15 asset value (20X)||$175,800||$288,000|
With the flip, we have $10k in the bank that we’ve taken off the table. Without the flip, we have 0.
With the flip, we are already generating $14.4k a month in revenue by month 15. Without the flip, we haven’t even hit 5 figures yet.
With the flip, we have $112,200 in additional asset value at Month 15.
With the flip, we’re in a significantly better position in terms of current cash flow, money in the bank, asset value, and future growth potential.
We haven’t even included the psychological benefits of having cash in the bank.
Without the flip, our hypothetical broke SEO is going to be constantly stressed that a single Google update, a hacker, a negative SEO campaign - or any other random act of God will destroy everything he's worked for over the last year.
Flipping a site lets you take some money off the table and also gives you “runway” - cash to support yourself while you build your business.
This allows you to focus on longer term returns and lets you get away from the hamster wheel of always needing your projects to generate short term cash so you can pay the bills.
Obviously these are hypothetical numbers.
Real life rarely goes this smoothly, but it illustrates the different results you can get with the same resources, same tactics, same knowledge - simply by taking advantage of 2 leverage points:
- Building systems that allow you to scale.
- Cashing in on the asset value of your website.
You have limited leverage if you view your websites as income streams rather than as the assets they are, or if you’re the bottleneck in every process needed to grow a site.
Is It Time To Sell?
Understanding the “sweet” spot for getting the most value for your site is another powerful leverage points.
You might spend 1-2 years building up a really strong site, but you only get to sell it once, so make sure you do it right.
I reached out to Thomas Smale and his team of experienced brokers at FEInternational.com for some quick thoughts on the current state of small cap website sales (as of April 2015), and its certainly good news if you’re in the niche site business.
[The] majority of sub $100k sites are selling for near to 3x annual revenue – sales prices are strong across the board but there is little price sensitivity at the lower end of the market. More public marketplaces generally seeing 2x or less.
There is a surplus of buyers at the lower end of the market and a relatively limited supply of quality inventory – we reject over 95% of enquiries - this year we've sold over 80% of sub $100k sites in under a week.
At the sub $100k market, Adsense/Affiliate/Amazon sites are favoured by buyers as the business model is generally easy to run.
If you’re thinking of selling a site or two in order to give yourself some stability and bring in cash flow for your other projects, definitely give Thomas and his team a call.
Leverage Point #4: Domain age and authority
At $1k a month, you have at least one aged site with some existing authority. This gives you a huge leverage point you didn’t have when you were working on a brand new site.
Aged sites with existing authority have a big advantage over new sites - an advantage that seems to be increasing with every algorithm tweak.
The so-called Google sandbox is one of the biggest challenges for anyone trying to break into the SEO-driven site model in 2015. But its not a problem for you.
By publishing content and doing laser focused keyword research, you can leverage your site’s existing age and authority to grow revenue quickly.
Here’s a video showing how you can find low competition, high value keywords to target in just 2 minutes with the keyword research software Han and I have been working on.
You can find out more about using AuthorityMetrics to improve your keyword research here.
Leverage point #5: Increase Your Visitor Values
If you have no traffic or revenues, there’s no point in worrying about conversion rate optimization, finding better monetization methods, or collecting email opt-ins.
But at $1,000 per month, you already have some level of traffic.
Now, increasing visitor values becomes a big leverage point.
If you haven’t done any optimization of visitor values at all, you can get instant returns just by doing a little testing. This is especially valuable when your traffic starts to plateau.
I regularly increase revenues on Adsense sites by going back and simply testing ad placements, different ad unit types, or testing image vs. non image ads.
One former NoHat intern recently increased revenue on a site 300% simply by moving his Adsense units from the sidebar to within the content.
A couple weeks ago, I revisited an Adsense site that had been running on auto-pilot for awhile. After a couple days of testing different affiliate offers and creating a simple autoresponder sequence, revenue is on pace to double this month. After further optimizations, a revenue increase of 300-400% is very do-able, even with no additional traffic..
One NoHatDigital team member took a small, extremely niche Adsense site in a foreign market that was generating hundreds of dollars a month and turned it into a business that will likely hit 5 figures/month within the year.
This was only possible because instead of giving up when he couldn’t find a local affiliate program, he hustled to call local businesses and sold leads directly.
Another recent visitor to the NoHatDigital house in Valle increased revenue on a site from the low $X,XXX to $XX,XXX a month just by swapping monetization from Adsense to a highly targeted CPA offer that he started promoting via his email list.
That’s the power of finding the right leverage points. You won’t find them by looking outwards for the next shiny object, you’ll find them by looking inward at your own business.
5 Ways To Increase Visitor Values
1. Test different forms of monetization
Adsense is easy because you can slap it up and monetize anything, but it’s usually not the best way to maximize visitor values.
Start looking for different monetization options by checking out sites like offervault.com, clickbank.com, commissionjunction.com, shareasale.com etc. and look for offers related to your niche.
Look your Adsense ads, and see if there are any products in those ads that have affiliate programs, or where you could reach out to the advertiser directly (or even build a similar yourself, as we'll see in #5).
2. Improve Your Affiliate Payouts
If you have existing affiliate deals in place, don’t be afraid to ask your affiliate manager for a higher rate.
Also don’t hesitate to look for other networks offering similar offers and test each offer against each other. Find the one that performs the best.
3. Build An Email List With An Offer Funnel
Successful Affiliate marketers who drive traffic via paid channels are experts at conversion rate optimization and building funnels that extract as much value from visitors as possible.
The nature of paid traffic forces you to track everything and squeeze incremental ROI out of every aspect of your website.
But most SEOs are lazy when it comes to this, because organic search doesn’t have the same competitive pressures as paid traffic.
Gael Breton of AuthorityHacker.com has a great post here about finding and promoting high converting clickbank offers.
The big takeaway isn’t that you need to necessarily promote clickbank offers, its that you can increase visitor values significantly by building a media sales funnel and matching your visitors with offers that solve a pressing need.
4. Conversion Rate Optimization
If you’re using Adsense, make sure to test ad placements, unit types and sizes, and images vs text. You can find more ideas for improving Adsense earnings here.
If you’re an Amazon affiliate, here’s a great list of tips from Niche Pursuits for increasing Amazon earnings. Or better yet, start thinking bigger with your niche sites and cut out Amazon altogether.
Whether you’re still using Adsense or you have a bunch of affiliate offers, be sure to track and test everything.
Some low hanging fruit to test:
- Copywriting (if you’re creating squeeze pages/pre-sell pages)
- Call to actions
- Email opt-in placements
- Affiliate link placements
- Ad placements
- Ad formats
- Autoresponder sequences
5. Create your own product
This is obviously easier said than done, but the guys at Authority Hacker transformed a single blog post into a $2,500/Month passive income stream (which was more revenue than their entire site was generating via Adsense) by creating and promoting their own ebook.
Now Get To Work
Not many people who started from 0 got to where you are now.
The road from $1k to $10k/month will have its challenges as well. You'll encounter obstacles, setbacks - you might even get knocked back down to 0. But whether you realize it or not, you're more than equipped to handle the journey.
- Figure out what’s driving your revenue and double down on it.
- Distill everything you do into processes and systems that you can hire for.
- Treat your websites like the assets they are.
- Leverage your existing age and authority.
- Optimize your visitor values.
Take advantage of these 5 leverage points, and you’ll be well on your way to $10k a month and beyond.