What I am Working On

In this post, I want to talk about my current project. For the last couple of months, I have been focusing on building AdSense-monetized niche sites.

Why AdSense

As mentioned in my first online venture post, my first experiment in the world of internet business was affiliate marketing. That project wasn’t a grand success but I learned a lot. Since then, I’ve switched my focus away from affiliate marketing to Google AdSense. This doesn’t mean I will abandon affiliate marketing forever – I fully expect to experiment with it more in the future. However, for now, I feel like AdSense is a better place for me to start for a couple of reasons.

  1. Online advertising is a growing market. I know some internet marketers are down on AdSense, but I feel like there is still plenty of opportunity here.
  2. I believe I can scale the processes of building AdSense sites really well. As I am building my AdSense sites, I am documenting the entire process with detailed instructions. As I fine tune my system, I am outsourcing more and more of the work to my VA. This way, I can build sites at a rapid pace and scale my income accordingly.

Strategies

Disclosure: some of the links below may be affiliate links. This means that if you end up purchasing through them, I will earn a commission. I really appreciate the support of my readers and I am always honest about the products I link to. Please let me know if you have any questions!

I’ve been following a couple of methodologies when it comes to building my AdSense sites. The first couple of sites I built followed the Fatcat Blueprint. This is an ebook I bought several months ago. I learned a lot from this product but I feel like it is a bit out of date now, especially with the recent Google Panda changes. It emphasizes building tiny micro-niche sites that target a specific keyword. One of the sites I built following this plan is actually generating regular income from AdSense at this point so I am happy with the result.

I have also built a couple of sites following a plan outlined in another product called The 100K AdSense Blueprint. The authors of this product just recently released an update that takes into account the Panda update from Google which is great. (They also recently published a blog post explaining the state of internet marketing today which contains a lot of great information.) This strategy differs from the FatCat Blueprint in that it advises building mini-authority sites that target a related group of keywords. I think this strategy is more compatible with Panda and sites built following this plan likely have higher earnings potential than the leaner micro-niche sites. The two sites I have built following this strategy are currently not earners as of yet but I am starting to see them rise in the ranks on Google. I am hopeful with some additional content and backlinking, these two sites will break the top 10 for some of the keywords I am targeting.

I have also been reading Niche Pursuits, AdSense Flippers, and The Online Income Blog and have been following some of the advice and techniques that they advocate. What I hope to do is experiment with a few different models until I find something that works for me.

What is Involved?

So, what is involved when building AdSense powered niche sites? There are a few main steps to follow:

  • Find a niche
  • Generate content
  • Build the site
  • Promote the site

I will probably go into each of the above in more detail in future posts but, to summarize, the first and most important thing is to find a profitable niche to target. This involves learning how to do keyword research. You need to take into account things like the number of searches a particular keyword gets, the cost per click (CPC) advertisers are willing to pay for ads targeting the keyword and the competition of the top 10 ranked sites in Google. I feel like keyword research is more of an art than a science and it definitely takes a lot of trial and error to learn. While some of the resources I talked about above provide specific criteria you can use (such as the minimum number of monthly searches, the minimum CPC you should target, etc.), I am still finding that nothing is really black and white and that you still have to make a judgment call with every potential niche you research. This is something that requires practice and I feel like I am getting better at it over time. Of course, as I launch more and more sites, I will also get a better idea of what works since I am tracking all of the criteria I used when I ultimately decided on a niche.

Once I have decided on a niche for a new site, the next step is to generate content for it. I have chosen to outsource this step completely. I am currently experimenting with two different article sources: Textbroker.com and The Content Authority. I have had great results with both so far. There are cheaper ways to get content written but, especially post-Panda, having well-written content is extremely important and I am willing to pay for it.

I have chosen to build all of my sites on WordPress. Most hosting providers make it real easy to get a site up and running on WordPress. I am also using ManageWP to streamline this process even further. I have created a WordPress site template with all of the settings tweaked the way I like which I then clone to every new WordPress site I build. At that point, I only have to make a few changes on the new site. This reduces the amount of time it takes to build a new site drastically. Right now, I am currently doing all of the site building myself but I am documenting everything I do with the intention of outsourcing it down the road.

The last step is to promote the site. Since this niche site strategy is ultimately dependent on traffic from organic search, it is critical for your sites to make it to the first page on Google for your target keyword(s). On my first few sites, this is where I have struggled the most. Even when I thought I had picked a great niche, I have found it difficult to get ranked where I need to be on the search engines. However, after lots of trial and error, I am really starting to figure out what works and I am starting to see several of my sites rise in the rankings. I am still experimenting with a number of link building techniques and will write more about them in the future. Since this is the most tedious and, for me, least enjoyable part of building niche sites, I outsource all of my link building efforts.

This is Hard Work

One thing I want to make clear is that building niche sites is hard work. I know there are many products out there that claim otherwise but do not be fooled. While no part of it is especially difficult, it still is a lot of work and takes a lot of time. It takes diligence and patience. I am a big proponent of outsourcing but, before you can outsource everything, you first have to put the time and effort in to develop processes and systems that work. After a few months, I feel like I am just starting to get the hang of it.

Experimentation

In summary, I am experimenting with several different techniques and strategies for building AdSense-monetized niche sites. I am documenting all of the steps I take so that I can outsource the tedious or unenjoyable parts of the system. I have learned that there are no shortcuts. This takes hard work. I have seen some success in terms of earnings so far but I have a long way to go before I am where I want to be. But, I am seeing consistent improvement day after day and am confident I will be able to scale this business to the point where I am earning substantial monthly income.

The Importance of Tracking

When it comes to all aspects of life, I believe there is value in making mistakes and in failure. The important thing is that you learn from those experiences and to take what you learn and apply it to your future endeavors. I also believe it is important to recognize your accomplishments. You should understand how and why you succeeded at something and you should not discount your successes even if you happen to be going through a tough time where it seems like nothing is working out for you. How do you do these things? How do you make sure you gain insight from your failures and confidence and knowledge from your successes? In my opinion, the answer is to measure and track everything that you do.

In business, if you are not measuring and tracking, it is impossible to gauge how you are doing. Are you making money? How do you know if you don’t have a clear record of your income and expenses? Are you making the best use of your time? How many hours did you work yesterday and what did you accomplish? When it comes to your online business, why is this site getting traffic and earning income and this other one is lagging behind? Do you know why you chose to build that particular site? Should you let that domain expire and concentrate your efforts on a new site? If you are not able to answer some of these questions then it is likely you need to spend some time getting organized and begin tracking these things.

Benefits of Tracking

There are numerous benefits to tracking. For example, if you have a site that is consistently earning good income, and you had captured what criteria you used to pick the keyword, when you launched it, what links you built, and so on, you can use that knowledge to build your next winner. Conversely, that same information may help you determine why a particular site is failing miserably. Armed with data, you will start to see patterns and can use them to replicate your successes and minimize your failures. It is also extremely helpful to understand what you are spending the most time on. In my opinion, link building, while critical in this business, is not something that I particularly enjoy or is the best use of my time. If I know I spent 20 hours doing link building last week, that should raise a big red flag to me and I should focus on ways to automate or outsource that process.

What should you track?

If you are running a business, you obviously need to be tracking your cash flow, your income and expenses. Depending on your size, you may have an accountant and bookkeeper help with those tasks. If you are just getting started, you might do this yourself using any number of tools or services: Excel or Google Docs spreadsheets, Freshbooks, Quicken, etc. Just because you might be doing this stuff in your spare time doesn’t mean you should be lax in this regard. The best way to build a real business is to treat it like a real business.

Time! Other than your income and expenditures, this is the single most important thing you should be tracking. It is so easy to get caught up working on things of little importance or impact. Before you know it, you can spend hours and hours on some menial task that could have been delegated or outsourced or might not have even needed doing in the first place. Knowing what you spend your time on will help you understand what it takes to run your business and you can begin taking the most time consuming tasks and work on streamlining, automating or outsourcing them. There are lots of time tracking tools available and I’ve tried a lot of them. I currently use a combination of Freshbooks + Chronomate and RescueTime. Chronomate is a Mac application that logs time I spend on specific projects to Freshbooks. RescueTime is a more passive approach and keeps track of how much time I spend on every application and web site I am using on my computer. Other good options worth investigating are: Billings Pro, Harvest, Time Track Pro, Chrometa and Timecop.

Since I am currently focusing on building a portfolio of niche sites, I have certain things I have found are important to track. One of the most important things I found is to capture the criteria and decision making process I use to decide what niche to target. I’ve built sites in the past that have failed miserably and when I look back at them, I have no idea why I decided to build them in the first place. So, now I log all of the information I used in the research phase when I decide to build a new site. This includes things like the volume of monthly searches, the advertiser competition, the CPC, and the competition of the first 10 sites on page 1 in google. Of course, I use tools like SECockpit to automate the retrieval of this information. Once I launch the site, I record the launch date and track all of my content posting and link building activities. I also use an automated system to capture how the site is ranking on Google and Bing over time. Although it is captured in my accounting system on a higher level, I also track all of the expenses (outsourcing, articles, etc.) on a site by site basis. This way, I can measure the profitability of specific sites and compare it to what I hoped to earn during the research phase. This is critical as it gives me a much clearer understanding of when to stop working on a site. After all, building a niche site is a numbers game and you will not build a power earner site every time. All of this information is recorded in Google Docs spreadsheets that I can refer to at any time.

I hope I have stressed the importance of tracking your time, money and progress. It doesn’t take much time to setup a good system and it can pay enormous dividends in your business. What do you track in your business? I’d love to hear other ideas about what to track in online business.

First Online Business Venture

About 2 and half years ago, a friend of mine told me about some money he had made doing affiliate marketing. He told me he was able to build a web site that marketed a product that he did not create but got a commission every time it sold from his site. The idea intrigued me but I did not take any action on it right away. But, as often happens when you become aware of a new concept or idea, I kept running across people online talking about affiliate marketing. Finally, while I was killing time reading my Twitter feed, someone I followed was pitching an online course that purported to teach everything you needed to know about how to make money online through affiliate marketing. When I followed the link to read about the product, I was a little put off by the hype-y copy on the landing page – stuff like how you would make thousands of dollars per month with very little effort. I was hesitant but it wasn’t super expensive and I figured I might as well check it out to see if there was anything to it. After all, I did know at least one person in real life who was able to make something happen with this stuff. So, I bought the course.

The first thing that struck me was that the course materials were of pretty low quality. They consisted of videos and PDFs. The videos were just PowerPoint slideshows with an explanatory voiceover and the PDFs were just transcriptions of said videos. And, it was clear that the narrator did not take the time to pre-script or rehearse the content. He basically just talked off the cuff while he showed the slides and there was a lot of backtracking and long pauses while he thought of what to say next. The slides themselves also looked rushed and had lots of English and grammar mistakes. I thought, “Man, I can’t believe this guy can sell a product like this. So unpolished, so unprofessional”. And, in the back of mind, I thought “Anyone could make a product like this”. In any case, despite my complaints about the poor presentation, there was a lot of material covered and there was some pretty good content in there. Enough to where I was inspired to try and actually implement the system the course covered.

The course basically outlined a system where you would find an affiliate product to market, build a web site around it, and promote the heck out of it so that when people searched for said product, your site would appear at the top of Google and drive people to buy the product through an affiliate link on your site. So, I found a product on ClickBank, built a WordPress site, and wrote several posts covering and reviewing the product. As recommended by the course, I bought a domain that contained the exact product name to help boost it in the rankings.

The next step was to promote the site. This is where things didn’t go so well. The techniques described in the course were extremely tedious and time consuming. Some of the backlinking suggestions also struck me to be pretty grey-hat. One of the suggestions I remember was to create several Yahoo accounts, use one of them to post a question on Yahoo! Answers, use the other accounts to post answers to them with one of the answers linking to your affiliate site. There were lots of other tricks like that one that not only felt shady but would have taken an extremely long time to implement. In the end, all I ended up doing was some social bookmarking and some article marketing by submitting a few articles to article directories with a backlink to my site in the resource boxes. After a couple of months, I still wasn’t ranking well in Google and I wasn’t getting any traffic.

By then, I was pretty discouraged with the system and, at the same time, got extremely busy with other things. I didn’t add any new content or build any more backlinks to the site. As of now, the site is still up and running. I don’t know exactly when it happened but I am actually ranked on the first page of Google for the exact product name and for “[exact product name] review” (positions 9 and 10, respectively). Despite this, the site averages less than one visitor per day. Knowing what I know now, this is hardly surprising as those keywords have monthly search volumes of less than 100 each. I knew nothing of keyword research at the time and the course did not cover it well either. So, basically, I ran into one of the most common problems prospective internet marketers run into: I picked a bad niche. Not only is the search volume extremely low but the product was in the “make money online” niche which is notoriously competitive. In the 2 or so years that the site has been up, I did actually get 1 sale which I consider a minor miracle.

What did I learn from this experience? A lot, actually. I learned some fundamentals of internet marketing and affiliate marketing. I learned a lot about SEO and link building. I learned that none of this stuff is as easy as some of the people hawking products would like you to believe. I learned that a lot of hard work is required. I learned that I have to be extremely patient and persevere despite setbacks to succeed in this business. I’ve also learned a lot since then and I can see, in retrospect, why this particular project wasn’t a resounding success. But, I also can’t consider it a failure as it was a valuable learning experience. And, hey, it did generate one sale!

Welcome

Welcome to the Passive Income Bot Blog. Here is where I plan to document the progress on my quest to build a successful online business. My goal is to create a business consisting of several income producing assets and to run this business on auto-pilot as much as possible, leveraging outsourcing and technical automation.

I am not sure exactly what I am going to be posting here. Certainly, over the next several weeks, I will outline the projects I am working on and the steps I am taking in building out my business. I’ll also likely post updates on the income I am generating, most likely on a monthly basis. Other than that, I think I will just post whatever strikes me – whether it is a tip, question, or other random piece of information. As I gain more experience blogging, I think I will have a clearer understanding of what is useful to post here.

I sincerely hope this blog will eventually be helpful for people. I know it will help me keep motivated and accountable for the work I am doing.