How I Made a Blog Worth $200,000 in a Year

In my spare time, with an investment of $130
Last updated December 12, 2018
Posted by Luke      30 Comments

Today I’m gonna teach your broke ass how I made a website worth a shit load of money, despite starting with nothing but $130 and a dream.

I made bank and now I’m going to flex on you (a phrase I’ve heard but don’t really understand) for around the next thirty minutes.

That’s roughly how long this post will take to read but it could change your life like I changed mine, so strap in.

Why am I talking like this?

Well…

Apparently the general strategy with this type of post — a story of rags to not-quite-riches — is for me to brag repeatedly to make you jealous of my life and accomplishments.

The aim:

Impress you to such a level that you actually want to be me. 

You’ll sign up to my email list at a minimum and, hopefully, purchase from me.

But the thing is…I have nothing to sell to you.

…And I don’t have a life that will fill you with envy, either. 

I do know a thing or two about making money on the internet, but I guess I’ll stop talking like a 17-year-old rich kid of Instagram now.

Source: Instagram

I get MONEY.

Let’s try that intro again:

In this post, I’m going to break down the steps I took to build a successful affiliate site whilst also helping thousands of people to earn a tidy side income.

I’ll start by taking the unusual step of breaking down the title of this post: ‘How I Made a Blog Worth $200,000 in a Year’

Firstly, what does ‘worth $200,000’ mean?

It means:

I received an offer to purchase the site for $200,000 after around a year of working on it in my spare time.

Whilst I also received two other six-figure offers, I never managed to seal the deal on a sale.

I still own and run the site in question.

So, whilst the site received what I believe to be an impressive enough valuation to write about in this guide, I don’t have $200k in the bank. 

I never did. Far from it.

In fact, whilst the monthly income from the site reached a way higher level than I could’ve anticipated, and was going into the bank, the money wasn’t really used in the best ways.

You won’t typically find someone saying “I kinda fucked up with my money” but you should know I’m not some guru selling you a dream.

I like to be different and I hope you can learn a thing or two from my mistakes, but we’ll get to those shortly.

At its peak, my site was bringing in around $10,000 a month.

It’s lower these days as the industry it’s based in is significantly declining; I don’t expect the area to still be thriving in one or two years’ time.

Going back to the title teardown, you may or may not have noticed somewhere above that I said “after around a year of working on it.”

For some reason, my workload on the site looked a little something like this:

  • Create website
  • Write 5-6 guides
  • Take a 3-month break for no apparent reason

I started the site January 1st 2016 and I stopped working on it around the 15th (of the same month).

Around late March/early April time in that same year, I started to see traffic picking up and affiliate sales coming in, so I decided it was probably worth putting some more time into.

The reality dawned on me:

I could help a load of people out whilst earning a bit of money at the same time, without having to charge anyone a penny. That was a huge win/win scenario that I’d like to repeat here. 

Including the three months I took off, the total time period was around fifteen months from the start to hitting the $200k valuation. 

Why am I telling you that I was lazy, taking time off? Isn’t this meant to be all about the hustle?

Well, firstly, I just want to be as honest as I can…

…and ‘How I Made a Website That I Didn’t Sell for $200,000 But Was Worth A Good Amount After 15 Months (But It Was Only 12 Months of Work!)’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. 

Secondly, I can’t work every minute of every day.

My mind just can’t take it.

I had a full-time job at the time of starting the site. I’m sure many of you reading this will be in the position where you also work full-time and are looking for a bit of money on the side.

I tend to go through phases where I work incredibly hard for a burst of a few weeks, and then I have a period of slacking relaxing to recover.

Admittedly, three months was a little on the excessive side.

Fair play to the absolute ballers that are able to get up at 5am and hustle until the minute they go to sleep, reaping the rewards from a killer combination of focus, determination, cocaine and cheating on their wives, but I prefer to work in a much more casual way, choosing what I do and when, whilst earning enough to live a comfortable life.

I want you to realise that you genuinely can repeat what I achieved.

I only worked for a few hours a week, on average, until the site was successful enough for me to take it full-time (after a year).

And look:

I’m not saying that every one of you reading this will go on to repeat this success.

Results will of course vary, but there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t put a variety of the tips from this post together to increase how much money you have in the bank — maybe substantially — whether that’s as a side hustle or a full-time income. 

I didn’t do everything perfectly.

In fact, I’d probably rate my execution at about a 3/10. Seriously.

Shortly, I’ll walk you through all of the main steps that I can remember taking during the creation and growth of my site.

I’ll break it down into sections; most will include various tips so that you can use my story as a foundation for creating your own successful site, but I’ve also created separate, much more detailed in-depth guides for certain areas, giving you further help and advice for specific topics. You can find those in my website blueprint.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, I want to quickly give you an overview of my experience.

Background

I’ve worked in the world of online marketing and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) since leaving school.

I grew the traffic and sales for the first website I worked for significantly over a year-to-eighteen-month period — then we got hit by a Google penalty due to the business’s SEO practices.

This gave me a crash course at a young age in knowing how to do things correctly when trying to succeed with Google traffic.

Despite the relatively enjoyable learning curve, I actually ended up walking out just a few months later due to a whole range of personal gripes. MONEY.

Judging by their site’s current state, it doesn’t seem like they ever recovered (from the penalty, not from me leaving).

Side note: Walking out of a job without a different one to go to…10/10 would not advise.

I had a couple of online projects that were bringing in small amounts of money (that I’ll talk about elsewhere on this site in the future) but those wouldn’t be enough, especially when I’d just come up with probably the best idea of my life:

I’d embark on the epic journey to spend my entire bank balance on alcohol and gambling.

Desperate for cash and a change of direction, I started freelancing for a bit.

It didn’t take too long before I returned to the world of full-time employment, working for an online marketing agency where I’d be managing SEO for several multi-million revenue clients.

There were some smaller clients too but pfft they sound nowhere near as impressive so fuck those guys right?

At the same time I started working at the agency, I launched a blog aimed at helping people with their own online marketing.

Despite the relative successes I’d seen in my job roles and side projects, I quickly hated my blog and the fact that I was giving out tips to readers without being able to point towards something and say: you can trust me because I made this website successful all on my own.

Some people say you should ‘fake it until you make it’ but that’s never been my style.

After a few months, despite the fact it was growing quite quickly, I announced I would be giving up on the blog in order to pursue a project that actually made money, and that I aimed to return in the future with lessons I’d learned along the way.

I guess this is my return.

And even though I’ve now made something I can point to for success, it still plays on my mind that there are many other people out there that have been more successful than I have and are better than me at what I do.

They could look down on me and point the finger to suggest I’m actually completely clueless or lucky — maybe I am.

This is actually a fairly common issue called Imposter Syndrome, and I’m kicking it square in the face by finally publishing this guide; acknowledging that I actually care very little about what strangers think about me.

But then there are the people I know personally.

I get severe anxiety when I think of someone I know, no matter how well I know them, checking out my site or YouTube channel.

I wonder how much they will be criticising me.

I think this is still related to the Imposter Syndrome, but at the end of the day…why should I care what other people think?

If I can help some people whilst being myself then I’m happy.

Why am I telling you all of this?

I just wanted to let you know, if you had any nervousness about trying to make a success of yourself online because you worry what people will think, that’s completely natural.

I was, and still am, exactly the same…

Even posting this screenshot of my YouTube video makes me feel like I have stomach aids

…But I guarantee that receiving your first positive email or comment from a stranger will feel a thousand times better than how bad you feel when you think about how someone you know will react to what you’re doing.

And when people you know do find out what you’re doing, which will happen when you grow, their reactions are nowhere near as bad as how you play it out in your head a hundred times before you go to sleep at night — just me?

Here’s something simple that I’ve had to accept in order to hit publish on this very post you’re reading now:

There will almost always be people that are better at what you do than you are…

…But that doesn’t mean you don’t have information that’s worth sharing.

So fuckin’ share it.

Throughout the rest of this article, I’m going to be talking about my site in the ‘matched betting’ industry — you don’t need to understand what that is in order to enjoy and learn from the rest of this post, but I’ll give you a quick description anyway:

It’s a technique people can use to turn the odds of bookmakers and casinos against them, by using their promotions and a simple calculator to guarantee a profit regardless of the outcome.

Understood? Cool.

Confused? That’s fine, you should still understand almost everything else from this point forward.

Mistakes, Regrets & Getting Sued

Before I dive into what I did well and how I went about it, I want to start with the things I did badly.

This is something many people won’t acknowledge in their success stories but I figured it could help some of you.

Mistakes and failures are a thing.

Some of this stuff happened after the first year, but I thought it was worth including anyway.

The biggest regret I have with the site — even though it still did so well — is that I just didn’t put more effort into it, especially in the early growth stages.

I’d put some effort in to make it grow, using the strategies I’ll talk about throughout this post, but then once the traffic and sales started to see an uptick, I generally took a step back and admired, thinking “wow Luke, you are so impressive. And gorgeous.”

If I could turn back the clocks, I would have pressed my foot firmly down on the accelerator at the first sign of improvement.

It’s not that I wasn’t working…

…It’s that I was working on the wrong things.

The single biggest cause of me not capitalising on momentum I’d generated was the fact that I’m attracted to starting new projects at any given opportunity; Shiny Object Syndrome.

On reflection (no pun intended), maybe I just have all of the syndromes you’ve never heard of.

Instead of putting time into writing new content for the site that was growing rapidly, or improving other things with it, I instead put time into researching and starting the next big idea that was going to fail because after a few weeks I would no longer be interested in it.

Look:

I genuinely believe you can get interested in a project if it can make you money, but managing multiple projects at a time (where realistically they all require a lot of attention) is where doing that becomes difficult.

When it came to chasing shiny new ideas, I started abandoning the general principles that have given me success so far; small budgets, efficient work.

Almost as soon as the money had started flowing in nicely, I hired two people full-time; my better half, and my friend.

I’d gone from having very small overheads and tasty monthly profits to having two salaries and two lives of people I care about to worry over.

…And then I subsequently failed to become any sort of a manager.

I just wanted to carry on working how I had been working and leave them to it.

It turns out that ‘hire people, do nothing, profit?’ isn’t the best business strategy in the world. Who knew?

Apart from being attracted to new opportunities, and my subconscious refusal to offer any sort of leadership in my company, I also had a lengthy and costly legal battle to contend with.

I can’t go into too much detail about that unfortunately, but what I can say is this: 

The ability for me to be honest and fair will always be more important to me than money in the bank.

With that in mind, I was stubborn and fought with everything I had to retain that ability, rather than be bullied by a big-name company that I knew had a reputation for pushing people around.

I got taught a few harsh lessons during that time, but ultimately I know that I was fighting for the right thing — and I’d keep fighting even if it was going to bankrupt me.

Eventually, the legal issues went away, along with 5-figures from my bank balance that I’d spent on a top defence team.

Some people that were ‘in-the-know’ about my case believed I was paid off.

I was not.

I mean…I totally wish I was, and for lots of money too, but in reality even if that offer would have come up I would have declined it. #principles

Did I really just hashtag in the middle of a blog post? Kill me.

Anyway, now you know about the things that fucking sucked for me during the most successful period of my ‘career’ so far, how about we move back to talking about the more exciting stuff; how I built a successful affiliate site and how you can too.

Choosing a Niche

There was no decision for me to make here as I basically fell into my niche as a result of a personal interest in sports and gambling, as well as looking for money making opportunities.

Those interests aligned with my experience in making websites and working in online marketing for a match made in heaven.

When I realised there was a lack of high quality information that was publicly available around matched betting, I saw my opportunity.

If you’re looking to try and repeat what I did, and you’re thinking about the types of thing you could start a site about, my advice would be:

  • Pick an area you’re genuinely interested in
  • Pick something highly specific (i.e. don’t just start a site about ‘sport’ or ‘football’ as there’s way too much to cover)
  • Pick a content area that other people will be searching for; don’t be a ‘personal’ blogger

I’m aware those tips are generic and vague, but I want to keep this as simple as possible for you. It doesn’t have to be difficult.

You’ll want to do other research about the niche you want to enter too, such as how you could monetise your site — are there products or companies you can recommend that have affiliate schemes? If in doubt, use Amazon’s affiliate scheme.

You don’t have to go with the affiliate route, you could create an online store or choose from a wide variety of other opportunities — we’ll talk about those later. 

For me, I started the site because I had found this amazing opportunity to earn a load of cash (you could easily pull in thousands a month at the time) and I wanted to tell the whole world that they could do it too.

I honestly didn’t put any thought into exactly how much I could earn by doing it, although I did set it up with the intention of earning some.

That’s usually the best way; start something you love and whatever you earn should be secondary.

But for those of you reading that are just looking to earn a bit of money, that’s not always possible.

If you’re not already highly passionate about something you can start a site about, get passionate.

And I mean get passionate, like, get really interested in a subject area. Not like, get passionate, as in, you know, get passionate with another person, which I’ve definitely done before by the way. 

I want to put emphasis on this point I made above:

Don’t be a personal blogger.

It will take you years of work and commitment to even start to get any sort of following by blogging about your life, if you manage to achieve one at all. 

No-one is searching in Google to see how you and your family celebrated your child’s 2nd birthday, and it’d be incredibly weird for a stranger that somehow does find your post to share it anywhere, so don’t waste your time blogging about it.

I don’t think you should incorporate personal blogs into your site at all, even as a secondary to the main content.

I see a lot of crafts, DIY and other similar blogs that add their personal lives into their websites too…it’s just a no from me.

Many people somewhat like me as the guy behind that helpful betting site, for the very reason that I share helpful betting tips — here’s one for you all reading now: don’t gamble.

I very much doubt my audience would want my political or religious views shoved down their throat, or even to see a feel-good blog post about me and my two-year-old child.

I don’t actually have a child so if you did see a picture of me with a two-year-old and I’m claiming that it’s mine, you should probably alert the relevant authorities.

Choose a niche where you can write about things that people are searching for in Google, like I did with matched betting, as this is the best way for you to pick up an increasing number of visitors long-term.

Researching the Competition

The first thing I did before deciding upon a name for the site was to look at what other sites were already doing.

I was already aware that there was a lack of quality, free information.

But that didn’t mean I was the only site doing what I was going to be doing, that’s for sure.

The first thing I did was to search in Google for the main phrases that I’d want my site to be found for, and I took note of 5-10 sites that seemed to regularly appear in the results.

Google search results

I then went through each of the sites that came up (different from the ones in the image above as this is many years on) and I analysed them for three separate things:

  • The areas of content they were covering
  • The quality of content they were providing
  • The backlinks they had to their site

The first point was to find which key areas of content I’d need to write about, along with spotting any gaps for things that I could go on to produce.

All of the sites I found covered the main things I had expected to find, but many didn’t produce separate guides about the smaller things I knew people would be searching for (as I had searched for them previously as a matched bettor myself).

I also made use of a range of free and cheap keyword research tools, to see other things people were searching for and how many were doing so each month.

The second point was ensuring that I could provide better content than what was already out there.

If I couldn’t best what already existed then I’d have a much tougher task on my hands.

But here’s the thing:

I generally believe that almost every guide out there (yes, on the whole of the internet) can be improved.

Perhaps a great guide needs more detail, it usually does. It could even need less.

Very rarely, you’ll come across a guide and think “this is perfect.”

When I was launching my site, I quickly realised that I could provide more detail with my guides than other places were giving and I could make them easier to understand for readers, too.

I usually have to dumb things down to understand them myself, so all I’d have to do was share my simplified explanations with a wider audience.

Design has never been my strong point, so I’d focus on providing great information over making something highly visually appealing.

The final thing on the checklist was to see how many backlinks my potential competitors had. This is important for ranking highly for competitive search terms in Google.

When I saw that the majority of the sites I’d be competing with had less than 50 linking domains — that is, number of websites that link to them — and I already knew I could offer content that they also weren’t covering, I realised I’d be good to go.

If my research showed there were hundreds of websites that all offered world-class content and had thousands of linking domains to each, I’d have had to rethink my plan and work out a unique approach.

Creating a Website & Brand

I’m going to say something here that will make a large number of marketers and designers look at me like I’ve just said I believe in the Flat Earth Theory:

Branding is overrated.

Is it important? Sure, it can be.

But there are certain things that I believe are more important than your name, your logo and your colour scheme, such as:

  • The quality of the information you share
  • How engaging your content is
  • Actually getting started

Seriously.

The amount of people that delay getting started because they can’t come up with the perfect name for their site or business is astounding.

If you keep putting it off, you’ll never have information to share, or products or a service to offer.

Because every domain name idea I could come up with at the time was taken, I eventually settled with basically the worst name imaginable.

It wasn’t brandable at all.

It was 4 words and 21-letters long. Not memorable:

‘Guide to Matched Betting’

*Vomits in mouth*

However, it was known as an ‘exact match domain’ — the brand, and corresponding website address, were words that people would search in Google.

I made a logo in around five minutes in a free online Photoshop rip-off.

It was just the words of the name in a simple font.

No fancy image or clever design.

When it came to creating the site, I used a free theme in the definitely-not-boring colour scheme of grey and white. I still use that same free theme.

I didn’t create a home page for about a year.

When you went to the site you were greeted with the standard ‘blogroll’, meaning it simply showed my most recent posts, and I used free stock photos for all feature images.

So to recap: terrible name, terrible logo, terrible design…but the site went from making nothing to making thousands a month in under a year.

I’m not looking to shit on branding too much.

I will hold my hands up and happily admit that the site would have done even better if the branding was on point.

…And over time, I’ve been slowly improving the brand, too.

I even switched to a better domain in 2018 (a massive risk if you don’t know what you’re doing from an SEO perspective, so try to get a name you’re satisfied with from the get-go) with the name of ‘Beating Betting’.

New branding
The branding still isn’t good. But the site does its’ job.

All I’m saying is, branding is not the most important thing with regards to the success of your site.

If you wait until you come up with the perfect name and logo combo, most of you will be waiting forever.

You won’t make any money if you never get round to creating your website.

The main rules for me when selecting a domain name are ensuring that you can acquire the .com and .co.uk addresses, ideally only include letters (try to avoid numbers and definitely avoid dashes if you can), and keep it easy to spell.

I guess ‘Cliché’ (or cliche, as my domain is free from accents) isn’t the easiest word to spell in the world, but the brand name for this site — if unclear — is meant to be ironic.

I searched for days coming up with names that a million other sites have already done before.

Every potential domain name that I came up with was taken.

The conversation/meltdown with my friend went a little like this:

Why don’t you just put a random animal in the name?

Because I don’t want to put a fucking animal in the name. That’s what every other lazy website does when they’ve ran out of real ideas. I don’t want to stick two random words together and come up with the same cliché website name as everyone else. I’m already doing the same site idea as god-knows how many other people. I mean ‘how to make money online’, really? I may as well call myself clichewebsite.com and be done with any explanation of why I became the ‘income alpaca’ or whatever other stupid name I choose. Wait a second, clichewebsite.com is actually available…

For the record, I think it’s fine to put an animal in your name if you get stuck, and apologies if there is already an income alpaca out there, but there you go — a bit of insight into the naming of this site.

Writing Content

I’ve found that my written content is where I actually do most of my branding.

I always write with brutal honesty and total transparency, in my underwear.

As I mentioned earlier, my honesty has occasionally landed me in hot water.

But on a somewhat regular basis, people have remembered my content because it tends to stands out a little.

You can do this too — just with helpful posts, rather than the weirdness.

You don’t have to be Shakespeare to put together some decent written content.

You just need to ensure what you write could help someone complete a task, or make a purchasing decision, or similar.

I’m fortunate that I’ve been such a massive loser all my life, spending a decent amount of time behind a computer rather than out with friends, meaning I can type at quite a fast rate.

But other than typing quickly, I have no special ability to write well.

I got a B in English at school.

I don’t remember reading more than one or two books in the past decade.

I bought this book to feel smart. I didn’t read it, but you should definitely buy it via my affiliate link.

You don’t need to be a great writer or a creative person to do this.

My advice is to publish 1,000+ word guides (ideally longer) that answer things your potential readers are looking for, along with any additional information you can think of — as long as it’s useful.

1,000 words isn’t a lot and you can get that written fairly quickly. For comparison, you’ve already read almost 5,000 words in this post so far.

Don’t include things that won’t help or engage at least 20% of potential readers as you don’t want to pad a post out with fluff, but do try to cover more than just the bare minimum.

Remember, you need to try to publish things that are better than what’s already out there for your chosen niche.

If you want to have an increasing number of people naturally landing on your posts on a daily basis, you need to write about things that people are searching for.

Writing a post called ‘How Much Can You Earn Matched Betting?’ is much more suitable for picking up search traffic than a post called ‘My Matched Betting Earnings So Far’.

Writing a post called ‘How to Make a Successful Affiliate Site’ is much more appropriate than one called How I Made a Blog Worth $200–wait a minute.

When it comes to the structure of writing, I always try to use short sentences and short paragraphs.

This is a very common technique in the world of online marketing and is proven to increase reader engagement dramatically.

It took me a while to get used to writing like this, but once you’re used to it you will never want to see a wall of text again.

Use subheadings to break up a post — keeping readers engaged for longer, but also bringing in other Google searchers — by asking or answering other questions people are searching for in a very similar area. 

Also put some thought into creating clickable titles and descriptions for when you appear in Google, known as meta titles and descriptions.

Meta information is easily edited via the free Yoast plugin on WordPress websites.

If you show up in someone’s Google results then you have already completed half of the challenge; you’re ranking for the search term and being shown to users.

The next big step is to get that searcher to click your site rather than someone elses.

Fortunately for you, putting two seconds of thought into a title and description is something that many sites fail to do.

Editing how you appear in Google results

Much of your potential for success lies in the laziness of others.

A lot of blog post titles are too long for Google, and they’ll often include the website name at the end too, wasting more valuable characters (though this can sometimes be effective if you’re a well-known brand).

If you already have a good post title but it’s a little long, all you need to do is shorten it slightly and remove your website name from the meta title to make it much more appealing in the search results.

You can then make it more clickable by adding the year and other things to it, e.g. ‘How Much Can You Really Make Matched Betting in 2018?’

I highly recommend that you try to stick to this style of search-friendly content as much as possible, but look…

You can mix things up a bit as you go along.

‘Google-friendly’ content often isn’t the best for sending to your existing audience, or for getting shares on social media, and there are definitely times when you’ll need to try and gain attention by doing other things.

But you do need a base of content aimed at picking up search traffic for months or years to come if you want to earn whilst you sleep.

I hardly published any posts that weren’t primarily aimed at search visitors.

I wish I could have done more for existing readers (and that’s kinda what I’m doing with this whole new website) but you have to make priorities when you’re working with limited time.

Monetisation

The only way I ever monetised the site is through affiliate links for products that I had genuinely used.

I didn’t always recommend that users buy a product or service, but if they did choose to purchase then I would pick up a small commission.

It turns out that when you start generating hundreds of commissions a month, those small amounts really start to add up.

Commissions from a product on an average day. Repeating daily works out to over $30k in a year.

There are three main types of monetised post that I made use of:

  • Tutorial posts that recommend products within them
  • Individual product reviews
  • Group product reviews (comparisons)

The latter two tend to convert at a higher rate because users are actively looking for a product or service recommendation, but the tutorials generally have a much larger audience.

There were plenty of other avenues I could have gone down for further monetisation:

  • Bookmaker affiliate links (big money, bad ethically)
  • Adverts — hate them
  • Sponsored posts — not my thing
  • Selling courses — I like giving stuff away for free
  • Selling tools — too much work
  • Selling products — I just didn’t want customers, actually

Maybe you can put some of those ideas to good use on your site.

To find affiliate schemes, I would simply Google the name of the product or service I was planning on reviewing and add ‘affiliate scheme’ to the search. Genius, I know.

If you sign up to a scheme and get accepted, you’ll get your own unique link to use that will track any sales you send their way.

Getting Backlinks

SEO is a huge and interesting topic that has fortunately kept me earning money for the best part of the last ten years.

However, the basics can be learned very quickly, and you really don’t need to know any dark secrets or powerful hacks in order to get your website ranking for popular search queries.

The hardest part for any site owner is generating backlinks; that is, getting another website to link to you, which is one of (if not the) most important SEO factors. 

I have no doubt that the number one reason my site outperformed competitors was due to the effort I put into getting good quality links.

Linkbuilding is hard, and this task becomes even harder when you’re promoting what appears to be a ‘scammy’ product on the surface, like I was. 

However, when you’re in a niche where getting backlinks is more tricky, you have to remember that it’s the same for every other website in the industry too.

If you’re willing to put in the effort then you can come out on top.

Most sites prefer a ‘publish and pray’ mentality — a mentality that won’t work anywhere near as well as actually getting the word out.

When I was starting, I focused on two main things; writing great guides and trying to get backlinks.

‘Trying to get backlinks’ mainly means ‘sending loads of emails to other website owners and editors’ these days.

Before the email grind, I started by manually building a few of the most simple links you can; creating social profiles on various platforms, and copying a few of the most simple backlinks that my competitors also had.

After that, I tried to think of all the obvious types of site that could potentially link to me.

I’d Google various search terms to bring up relevant websites and contact them all using a pre-written template that I customised to each site and author.

Then I tried to think outside the box slightly, what sites could link to me if I produced something slightly tailored to their audience?

Finally, I thought on the big time — how could I get national newspapers and publications to link to me?

And I always think on the biggest scale, even if it’s not always possible to achieve. 

That’s all a bit vague, so I’ll give you specific examples now:

Unfortunately for us all, the most relevant sites out there for us to get backlinks from are our direct competitors.

Unless you’re in very specific niches (like online marketing, which tends to be extremely friendly), your competitors aren’t going to want to link to you.

I actually avoided contacting my competitors all together for at least a year as I wanted to give them the element of surprise; I didn’t want them to see that I was actively pursuing linkbuilding.

And you don’t want links from any old website. 

They have to be good quality links — bad quality, spammy backlinks can get you a huge Google penalty (see: experience section). 

So, the most obvious type of site I could think of that could give me relevant backlinks that weren’t my competitors were sites that discussed making money online.

I had, what I believed to be, the best method for generating cash online in the UK quickly and easily.

All I had to do was contact all the sites I could find and convince them that what I taught was legit and that they should link to my site as a helpful resource for their audience.

Easier said than done.

Quite rightly, people were skeptical and far from co-operative.

That’s understandable; I was a random stranger contacting sites out of the blue with a miracle scam scheme (at least, that’s how it appeared to them).

And something you should know:

When you contact hundreds of websites with requests to check out your content (or link to you), you’re going to receive some negative responses.

Similarly, if you manage to build a site that has any sort of Google visibility, which you can fairly easily, you’re going to receive emails with these types of requests yourself.

I receive so many that I have no choice but to ignore them, and all of the sites you contact will be similar, so you have to make sure your email stands out if you’re even going to get a response, let alone a link.

Of all the sites that I reached out to, the vast majority either ignored me or declined my request for being a gambling site (even though what I taught wasn’t gambling and I told them this SO MANY TIMES, BUT I AM TOTALLY OVER IT).

I understood their reasoning, as being associated with a potential gambling site could affect how their audience views their site, or could even affect their sponsorship deals, but every rejection still hurts me to this day.

Even the sites that did allow gambling content wouldn’t touch me because my content wasn’t bookmaker-friendly — after all, I was teaching people how to beat the bookies, which would lose them money.

This ruled out major publications as they almost all have revenue-share affiliate deals with bookmakers and casinos.

Affiliate links on a big publication
One of the world’s biggest online publications, the Daily Mail, making money (when you lose money) via bookmaker affiliate links. Each betting ‘tips’ article also includes these links.

So the next challenge was to create content that people would link to.

I needed something close enough to my core content that meant I could attract links from relevant websites, you don’t want links from any old site, but it would need to be far enough away from my core content so that people wouldn’t be too scared to link to it.

Whilst I still received a large number of rejections, I managed to hit the sweet spot with my first infographic; a guide to winning at fantasy football.

Think of it like this:

If you have an affiliate blog post about the best skateboards you can buy on Amazon, other sites aren’t too likely to link to your dressed-up sales pitch.

However, if you created an interactive post about the best skateboarders of all time (that’s the least creative idea I could have came up with, but I’m sticking with it) then it’s much more likely to be linked to.

A few websites related to fantasy football shared my infographic on their site, and a number of random websites that were running fantasy leagues for their fans did too, complete with the important link back to the original source (i.e. my site).

It also managed to also get upvoted nicely on Reddit — helping to get it naturally shared across various forums too.

In the end, it generated links from around 10-15 domains.

Generally, you’ll see sites like mine talking about generating hundreds or even thousands of links with ‘home run’ content pieces.

As you should hopefully be aware, I’m about results that are repeatable to the Average Joe. And Average Joe is better at life than I am. 

In some industries, 10-15 links wouldn’t scratch the surface.

For me, they made a huge difference in my organic (search) traffic.

The infographic went live near the end of July 2016.

July 2016’s organic traffic was around 20% up on June’s.

August was up around 137% on July. 

Analytics data showing organic traffic for August 2016 vs July 2016

Revenue almost directly matched this.

Because I had clickable titles in search, my traffic continued to pick up further over the coming months and because more people were now seeing my content, I would naturally pick up a few more links — usually in the form of forum mentions.

It just shows how important links are to building your traffic naturally over the long-term.

Think of it as a cycle of endless joy, except one that involves email and isn’t actually endless because eventually someone will steal your ice cream when you become too fat and lazy to protect it.

The short-term graft to get high quality links might seem daunting, and it will seem tedious as you do it, but as long as you have monetised and optimised content waiting to rank when the links come trickling in, it should pay off long-term.

The amount of links you’ll need to start ranking for competitive terms will highly depend on the industry you’re in.

Areas like health, fitness and money require many more due to the need to have higher authority and trust to speak in those subjects. Areas like gambling and adult sexy time (which, again, I’ve definitely taken part in before) also require a lot of backlinks because they’re so competitive.

This again comes back to ensuring you choose an appropriate niche with hyper-focus; one you’ll be able to compete in effectively.

Social Media, Competitions & More

Much like my thoughts on branding, I’ll get a lot of people criticise me for this:

Social media is the biggest waste of time you could commit to.

Especially as a new, small site.

Set up a page, be as active as you can, but oh my God do not try to make your social feed your primary source of income.

The reason I like websites, and particularly content that is discovered by organic search, is because they work whilst you sleep. You write a post once and it can earn you money for years.

Social media will probably take you hundreds, or even thousands, of hours to get any real traction in terms of a following — many people fail to do so even after this amount of time.

Even if you build a huge following (you won’t), you’ll be unable to ‘sell’ to your following often, and even when you do it won’t convert at a very large rate.

And the tweet, or whatever other form of post/platform you’re using, will be gone in a day.

In my opinion, social media should be used to interact with any existing following you’ve already built.

There are very, very few exceptions to the above.

My general rule for investing time into social media is simple:

Be a huge company.

The only exception to all of the above is Reddit, and that’s because it’s hardly a comparison; it’s more of a forum than a social media site.

It is well worth the time engaging with a subreddit and becoming a respected community member before eventually looking to share something you’ve created.

Sharing/spamming your link is usually a huge no-no, but if you share enough good non-self-promotional content over a prolonged period of time then you may be able to agree something with moderators to share something relevant of yours with the community.

I even started my own subreddit to try to teach a growing community on there.

I immediately had to ban posting links in my sub because people would just waltz in and spam the place up with their affiliate links on a daily basis.

Traction on Reddit can result in tens of thousands of views, exposure to other websites who may link to you — editors love to use the site for easy content inspiration — and can obviously generate some sales, too.

Initially, sharing educational information with a couple of different subreddits was working for me.

I’d write a long-form unique lesson about matched betting and include a link back to my website or subreddit at the end. It was like guest posting from one subreddit to another.

The link wasn’t included for SEO, as most links on Reddit are nofollowed (meaning they don’t pass any value for search rankings), but instead just to try and increase knowledge of my site and also potentially get some affiliate sales directly.

Unfortunately, my strategy didn’t last long as some people complained to moderators about what I was doing.

However, I can usually get away with including the odd link here or there within comments when it’s highly relevant and genuinely useful to do so. I try to stay active for this reason (and because I love the site, mostly).

You don’t always get good responses when you try this, though:

Teaching people how to actually win? You IDIOT!

I once received a message telling me that a potential competitor was slagging me off in a public chat room, so I checked it out.

Amongst his random insults, he was saying that he assumed I was making all of my money via Reddit.

Whilst seeing nasty comments could have been potentially hurtful to someone…I actually really enjoyed seeing it (the fifth time, after crying my way through the first four attempts).

It meant he didn’t understand my strategy at all — Reddit hardly earned me a penny — and I realised this guy wouldn’t be able to compete with me going forward.

Another way I found some small success was setting up a tutorial group for my Facebook friends.

If anybody I knew wanted to do what I was doing, I’d help ’em.

This tactic can be repeated in a wide variety of niches.

If you’re planning on creating tutorials for anything, there’s probably at least one person on your friends list that wants to learn.

It didn’t work out well enough for me to continue doing it long-term, but it did help some people I know to earn a bit of money whilst also earning me a small amount of affiliate income.

It also meant that those I’d helped could tell their friends about what I was doing on my site — classic word-of-mouth marketing.

I also tried competitions, giveaways and more.

One giveaway was £1,000 ($1,300) cash if Real Madrid won the Champions League final! They did.

The issue here is that you get so many ‘competition whores’ who will put their name in the hat to get lucky whenever they can, without fear of potential contestually-transmitted diseases, and they definitely won’t want you to call them afterwards. Unless it’s for another giveaway.

There were various other smaller things that I experimented with to try and hit bigger wins for exposure, but when you have the beauty of hindsight — and Analytics data — it’s easy to see the things that were by far the best uses of time; written content and backlinks.

Growing & Expanding

The main place I expanded to for increasing my audience was YouTube. 

But the first video I uploaded was 17 months after the site launched.

So whilst YouTube has been good for me in growing further, I feel like it’s not totally relevant to this post that is focusing on that first year.

However, I will quickly say this:

If you think you’re too scared to get in front of a camera and upload to YouTube, I can’t emphasise it further that you don’t need to be.

I am without doubt more introverted than any other person I’ve met and recording videos still feels unnatural to me, and I have an annoying stutter sometimes that requires editing out, but I have accepted the fact it’s something I have to do in order to reach the audience I want to reach.

YouTube is an amazingly powerful platform, make the most of it.

Check back on my old videos if you want to see how bad they can get — and they still earned money via description-based affiliate links and picked up subscribers, too.

This is because a lot of people will watch you for what you have to say, not how you say it.

The views & subscribers might be low compared to some, but this is from 42 poor-to-average niche videos.

The only reason you shouldn’t record videos is if for some reason you want to be anonymous — even then, it’s possible to make some videos without showing your name (use an alias) or face.

If you’re just worried about nasty comments…well, you will get those, but I quickly learned to see the funny side.

For me, the nastier someone tries to be (who is wasting time out of their day to engage with your video), the funnier I find it.

Back to websites:

The main thing you need to be planning is where your website’s content can grow and expand to in the future after you’ve covered the essentials.

You absolutely don’t want to be in a position where you need to write 300 posts just to cover the basics of everything people need to know, just reiterating what I said at the start about picking a very specific niche.

Likewise, you don’t really want to be completely finished on a subject after 5 posts. Although tiny niche sites can work.

I had somewhere between 10-20 posts to write to cover what I call my ‘core’ matched betting content; the content that was central to what my site was about.

The logical place to expand to was content about regular betting; it would give me chance to bring in people looking for normal betting content and then I’d attempt to push them towards something that was a much better use of their money, whilst still being highly relevant. 

As the site was bringing in small amounts of money at this point, I reinvested some by hiring freelancers to produce really generic betting guides for a range of different sports.

I still hate those guides and how I hit publish despite the fact most of them were awful, even though they’ve since been heavily amended by yours truly.

Over the long-term, the guides still turned out to have provided a good return on the investment, although I imagine the low quality could have turned plenty of people away — I think that’s the part that I really dislike about them.

After those guides, areas I had for further expansion were other gambling-related content, such as poker or general casino stuff, along with more fantasy football guides.

A screenshot of my affiliate site, showing expansion into a new area
A 6,000+ word post I put together for online poker players

I still haven’t delved anywhere near as far into those as I could. You can’t cover everything.

On ClichéWebsite, my plan is a little different:

I ideally want to cover a range of top-level guides across a series of topics; succeeding with websites, creating videos, SEO, building email lists, starting online stores, Amazon FBA, Twitch streaming and a variety of other potential online money making methods, and then return to each subject area to expand within them for further success.

The above is not the optimum strategy but I’m fortunate to have an existing audience of people looking for me to talk about a variety of stuff. I want to help as many people as I can (and appease my irritable and stinky shiny object syndrome). 

Analysis & Improvements

There are so many ways you can analyse, test and improve aspects of your website. 

I figured I’d talk briefly here about the few things that I found to be most successful for growing my site.

It’s important to note that these things are extremely useful when you already have a reasonable number of visitors.

A large number of people — I was guilty of doing this myself a lot in the past — fall into the trap of tweaking and adjusting things when still getting started.

You won’t have enough data to draw actual conclusions from.

You’ll be wasting time trying to force narratives, either knowingly or subconsciously, as it’s easier to change what’s already there, looking for a simple surge in popularity rather than having to create new things to grow slowly.

Aim to grow one step at a time. It won’t happen overnight.

Once you do start to get enough traffic and data (I’d say you need to be getting at least 30 visitors a day from Google for at least 3 months) you can use some of these strategies. You may even be able to use these if you already have a site.

One of the main things I did was identify the posts on my site that didn’t have attractive enough meta titles.

Wow, how exciting!

Using Google Search Console, you can see how many people are seeing your site in searches (impressions) and how many people are clicking the link to your site, along with the click-through rate and average Google position they showed in.

With a bit of spreadsheet wizardry — and by this I mean the absolute most simple of sorting because I’m truly terrible with Excel — you can easily find the posts that have poor click-through rates despite the fact they rank fairly highly.

All you have to do after the sorcery above is improve the meta titles and descriptions of the poorly-performing posts to make them more clickable.

I tried to do this every 3-4 months — it only takes a couple of hours — using the previous quarter’s data.

Another simple thing I did was to set up a goal in Google Analytics to track sign-ups to my email list.

By doing this — again, after you pick up enough data — you can start to see which posts people are landing on but then not converting into subscribers.

Once you have that data, you can edit your underperforming posts to give readers of those more of an incentive to subscribe.

I offered a free beginner course on my site that was really helpful for a large percentage of new readers and converted like a mofo, but those that were already experienced (i.e. they landed on a post clearly aimed at more advanced bettors) would never want to sign up for something designed for newbies.

It would be like an artist landing on a post about award-winning paintings and then being offered the chance to find out the best crayons to use.

So, I had to create something specific for those reading advanced-level posts.

My ‘top secret tips for taking profits to the next level’ doesn’t perform anywhere near as well as the beginner course overall, but it is a massive improvement at converting those advanced readers into subscribers.

I would then repeat this strategy for those reading about content in other areas.

This tactic can be done for any type of website, think of e-commerce stores; where are users landing but not turning into customers? Why?

There have been various other website improvement strategies I’ve used that are perhaps a bit too complex to talk about here, but most of the things I do in this area take up no more than a day a month.

Sure, there have been some large tasks as one-offs; improving all of the feature images, for example, but these tasks aren’t going to make huge differences to the bottom line any time soon.

The final thing that I try to improve, wherever possible…

*Motivational background music begins playing*

…is myself.

Do more work.

Learn stuff.

Try out new skills.

Steal a child and blog about their birthday.

Step outside my comfort zone.

If you can learn new things and put them into action under one brand, you are very unlikely to see any negatives from it.

Moving On

Sometimes, you just have to accept when the time has come for you to call it a day.

You should generally have an exit strategy early on; a plan in mind for how you will leave your website or company in the future.

Usually the aim for an exit would be a sale, but that just never worked out for me.

So now I have accepted that I will run the site in my spare time and take on a new project to put my focus on — hey, you’re on that new project right now!

I absolutely loved the fact I got to help thousands of people out via my last site — all without having to charge a penny.

My aim is to do that again right here.

Want me to send you my newest tips?
I'll send you my best new content no more than once a week. Don't worry, I won't send you anything that I haven't personally put my life and soul into.

30 Comments

  • This has come at the perfect time, I just created a niche site yesterday and I’m about to get started

  • What an f-in great post! I feel like I learned a lot and I love your style. Followed you from the matched betting days. Subscribed and looking forward to read more of your new stuff!

  • Hi Luke,

    I have just received your friend’s email in my inbox today. From the link mentioned in my email, I have landed on your post and website.

    Very informative post, 9500+ words are totally worth it. It’s really impressive. Keep it up and keep posting similar content in the future.

    I have already given a link of this post to all of my followers and friends.

    Thanks,
    Yousuf

  • Good article on monetization. BUT….. I am really offended by the language you used. Really not professional at all. If you dream to be like Backlinko, try avoiding these stuff.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Alan! Sorry you were offended, but I’m just here to be me. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment 🙂

  • Great read.
    Totally worth my time

  • Hey Luke,
    Brilliant article, full of useful info & your writing style & humour is right down my street 🙂 Looking forward to reading more.
    Thinking long term, have you any plans to add a forum to the site to create a community for like minded people?
    I imagine it would probably be a sh!t load of work but I’m sure you’d get volunteers to help moderate – just a thought.
    Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Col! I do have plans for a community at some point in 2019, glad to see there is demand already. For now, my priority is content 🙂

  • Great post and useful info!

  • Yeah, Luke….I’d be scared for that two-year-old child, and I live across the great ocean from you.

    Heh. This from the dad of dad’s.
    Oh yeah…the PERSONAL blogger.

    (Little shit)

    Well, I don’t follow those blogs either–but I have a hell of a lot of life experience that no one really talks about. Probably why I get in so many arguments #ParentsDoYourDamnJob

    Glad you’re back in whatever filtered/UNfiltered version we get to associate with you. You have a clever mind and we’ve always gotten along, so this is a two-thumbs up from me.

    …maybe two middle fingers.

    Let me get back to you on that one.

    Never did care too much for specifics anyway–only the principles of a process–because specifics change. I’m grateful you brought up what you did wrong though, cause that’s gold right there.

    So here’s where I’m going to disagree with you, 110%:

    “Social media is the biggest waste of time you could commit to.”

    Naw. It’s a pain in the butt and I HATE it, but it’s never been a waste of time, unless you think sales of ANY kind don’t eventually have to come back to relationships. Now, you may be the genius of SEO or maybe you can do PPC, but I’m not and I don’t.

    People come to me and buy what I have because they heard about me or my books from someone. Usually, from me or something, I’m connected to on SM. It’s about exposure and getting people talking.

    The one’s who are bad at it are the ones that usually have their faces planted into a device instead of learning how to communicate or build relationships.

    Yes, I agree it’s more IN-YER-Facebook, but it’s where the people go, so you learn how to move among the masses.

    The KEY though to social media, is not to go with the trends and what ‘Gurus’ say (what a stupid term–sounds like something to eat with hot sauce). You do SM on YOUR terms…which I’m finally learning. Social Media is just a gate for you to be you in front of the world, so you can be found.

    If you think it’s more than that, well, you know a hell of a lot more than I do…and I also don’t give a shit.

    Just piggyback what you’re doing and make SM a natural flow of the process, not a focus, that’s all.

    Talk soon, Dolphin-Kisser.

    – Jaime Buckley
    JaimeBuckley.com

    P.S. If you don’t allow people to have their name linked in the comments, you’re not only a dick, Luke, you won’t get many comments and the ones you DO get won’t be worth a barrel of spit. I flat out refuse to comment on any site anymore, unless they link my name to my site.

    Allowing other people to find one another through participation on YOUR site is a payment for contributing to the conversation, buddy.

    Remember, no one gives a shit about your success, they care about their own.

    You know that.

    • SO good to have you back along with me on this new site, Jaime! Have missed your epic comments.

      I actually agree with most of what you said about social media. But the time, the traction, the effort…not my style.

      Bottom line is that everything here is just my opinion. I hope that’s clear.

      Not linking to websites from comments is two-pronged for me. Firstly and mainly, I don’t want to get in any hot water linking to a site that I haven’t vetted. Secondly, it encourages people to comment only if they want to comment. Third prong: I’m a bit of a dick.

      I went and edited your comment to include a link to your site, hope that’s OK and appeases some of your disatisfaction!

  • This is much more exciting than the old school event-blogging tactics. Just awesome!!

  • Hey Luke, wonderful stuff here.
    I found yours site after your friend asked me to visit and maybe share (and share I will).
    Your results are impressive, and I learned new things, but what I really digg is your writing style- simple, elegant and to the point.
    And I don’t mind the swearing, though I’d never write like that (I almost never swear offline too).
    Cheers,
    Nikola Roza

  • Hi,
    This is crazy impressive. Congratulations on your success.
    I had trouble with Reddit, so I gave it up. I’m looking to promote. To learn? There are other places I could go although Reddit is still an option.
    I am also still working on analyzing my competitors’ links.
    Janice

  • Great article, been through a similar journey with one of my own personal projects in a similar space but monetised primarily through sponsored posts

    Need to revive it – planning on hiring some help in the new year to do so!

  • Dude! I really liked your writing style! Never knew someone will bring my Instagram stories’ (rants) language into a blog as well.

    Also, I got here and read this post because of that email I received from your friend. (I highly doubt that it’s not your friend but you)

    I like your writing style that much that I will read your blog post anyway even if you are talking about how your cat snatched off your wand.

    Cheers!

  • Great Post. Loved every bit of it.

  • It’s a really outstanding article. And your writing style is cool as well:) Also got an email from your friend, and agree with him – this is awesome stuff. Thank you.

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