That’s it, you are here again.
The new year is in front of you, full of promises and hopes.
You totally understand the mistakes we made last year and this time, it’s sure, you will get it right.
That’s the feeling I get every January first, usually after getting over the traditional Jan 1st hangover (although I was a good boy this year and feel totally fine this morning).
And that’s exactly how I feel with Authority Hacker today.
While I can’t guarantee we will make all your wishes come true here at Authority Hacker, I think it’s time for a wayyyy overdue update of what’s up with us and where things are going with this blog/site/experiment.
In traditional AH fashion, I will try to be as educative as possible and show you the behind the scenes of an average ‘make money online’ blog.
I hope this post will also motivate you to look deeper at what was achieved in 2015 and adjust accordingly.
We will share our successes and our failures and most importantly our learnings and how we are going to change things in 2016 with this site to adapt.
So let’s start with the beginning: what happened in 2015.
Hard Metrics: 300% Blog Traffic Growth & 900% SEO Growth
We only published 24 blog posts in 2015. This is a lot less than most blogs in the industry but most posts were long and in depth.
This means that every time we hit published, we released on average 5000 words of content, new tutorial videos, mini infographics and often fresh insight to the industry.
As a result, the launch of each blog post was a small event and they did quite well regarding social sharing which spiked traffic every time we released:
Unlike our other sites, another thing I had completely ignored in 2014 was SEO and keyword research.
This year I did not and it paid off.
Focusing these big long posts on topics that had a lot of search volume improved our search traffic a lot (I guess I still got it :)).
As you can see, even after we slowed down the rate of posts at the end of the year (mostly because I focused on Authority Hacker PRO, more on that later), the traffic remained steady.
That’s one of the things I like about SEO.
You work now and reap the benefits for years to come.
Here is a snapshot of the evolution of the traffic to the site in 2015:
Soft Metrics: Weakening Community
Looking at all this feels very positive and I should probably pat Mark and I on the back. After all, I am sure a lot of people reading this must be like “woah, he’s killing it”.
And it’s true if you look at the hard metrics, Authority Hacker did very well in 2015. We generated a healthy 6 figures revenue, we tripled our traffic and can be proud of ourselves as it’s not too bad for a site that’s only 18 months old.
But the truth is, despite the significant traffic growth and numbers going up, I was feeling like something was missing compared to 2014.
Here are a few things that made me feel a bit uncomfortable about where the site was going:
1 – The referral traffic growth is tiny
Referral traffic is what built us in 2014. I did not worry about SEO but I did worry about building cool relationships with inspiring people who had an audience.
These features not only brought us very high-quality links, but they also brought us our best audience members.
I remember being featured in the Niche Pursuits and No Hat Digital podcast brought us hordes of absolutely awesome readers. These people were taking action, proactively trying to learn and teaching me a ton at the same time.
This year, I have been featured in a lot of “expert roundups” and to be frank, these are awesome for link building but because you are featured there alongside 30+ other people usually, the referral traffic is almost inexistent.
2 – The number of cool email interactions and great people introducing themselves to me decreased
When we launched the Authority Hacker blog, I was blown away by the number of people running high quality sites reaching out to us and by the quality of the exchanges I had with them.
In 2015, less so. It’s not to say 2015 readers were less good but a new category of people emerged who I frankly am not trying to attract:
Let’s call them the “please figure it all out for me” people.
They send you this kind of emails:
If you have sent me this kind of email, let me be brutally honest: what exactly do you expect me to reply to this kind of email?
To break down each type of online business available and then to walk you through each of them then interview you in depth to figure out what fits you best, all of that for free?
Nope, that’s the kind of stuff you’ll have to figure out yourself and think about by reading the free content we or other blogs make available.
Now don’t get me wrong, we met some top people this year still and I answer most email questions, but they need to have a scope narrower than “what should I do for a living” without any context.
But Overall I was feeling like we have been losing a bit of touch with the rest of community.
I felt that the advanced people were not seeing us as being as cutting edge as we were in 2014 and interacted less with us (or found us less as they don’t Google stuff).
Plus, when I opened Ahrefs to check where most of our Domain Authority came from this year, I noticed most links still pointed to our 2014 posts that totally carried the blog, once again, that was a warning sign.
As you can see, the soft metrics put the traffic numbers in perspective and despite the clear 2015 growth, I have a lot of notes on how to change things in 2016.
Affiliate Marketing & Tools Reviews
One type of content we did really well with in 2015 was deep product and tool reviews.
As you can see, we only produced 3 of these and 2 of them are in our top 10 of our most popular posts. That’s a good sign
The truth is, I was afraid to do those initially because I did not want to be seen as a sleazy affiliate.
So when I put together our first ever product review (Buzzstream). I went above and beyond to make it something that provides enormous value and produced over 1 hour of link building tutorial videos to go with it.
The response was extremely positive, both from an audience point of view but also from a sales point of view.
Buzzstream pays us recurring commissions and so far we already earned $1,333 from that post:
That’s not nearly as much as we make selling our own products but I do enjoy the passive aspect of it. The only thing I have to do to keep getting paid is to keep that page on the site now.
Additionally, I noticed that it brought the right kind of people on the site: Those who already know about tools and products and are looking to improve their business.
Notice the difference between this comment and the email I shared earlier:
These reviews are a ton of work but tools and automation are things I really enjoy in online marketing and I am looking forward to doing a lot more of these this year, they both make sense financially and bring more seasoned / reasonable marketers on.
The Slow Death of the Authority Hacker Podcast
Perhaps the simplest reason why I have not been invited as a guest on many podcasts this year is because we have not been following through with ours.
And I’ll be honest, the main reason we have not been serious is because we have we did a terrible launch initially.
We still grew our download numbers to around 5000 monthly by the end of 2014 but technically, the feed was set up all wrong, I did not optimise it properly and we lacked visibility on iTunes, which in turn meant that the podcast was not growing.
As a result, the podcast episodes became irregular and the inevitable started happening: it was shrinking up to the point where we completely stopped:
This is a prime example of what not figuring out the tech and planning the growth can do to your business.
The content was great, we had avid listeners asking for more, yet, bad tech meant failure. Duly noted for our next try.
I never really planned on “being a Youtuber” with Authority Hacker, I merely considered Video a cool way to show people how to actually do stuff and Youtube was a great, free public host.
But as time is passing, without any kind of optimisation, our Youtube channel is growing to reach now almost 3000 subscribers and we will cross 100,000 views in the first quarter of 2016 which is not bad for an online marketing channel.
I am almost certain I could give a serious boost to these numbers by optimising our videos properly for popular keywords and certain I could drive more traffic to Authority Hacker from Youtube with proper call to actions.
This is most likely case study material: How much can I grow our Youtube reach by just re optimising existing videos? We’ll see when I get there ;).
Anyway, the average number of daily views also tripled this year despite the fact we only uploaded a dozen videos.
The channel is at a great place now to start a more regular Youtube show and get instant traction. Something to keep in mind.
I will say it right away: Email marketing is where I have the most regrets for 2015. I simply don’t email the list enough and that both weakens the community and severely affects the bottom line of this site.
But let’s look at it from the beginning: email opt-ins:
This is an area where we have always been doing well and one of the things I probably do the best on blogs: maximise the number of opt-ins and it shows.
When most of our new posts contain content upgrades, our opt-in rate is consistently above 10% without being extremely aggressive with forms:
The setup I use on this site is usually:
- on page load opt-in pop up
- in content content upgrade (different freebie)
- scrolling sidebar opt-in form
That’s it. The opt in rate is usually between 7 and 15% and allows a healthy growth of the email list just by generating blog traffic which is relatively easy.
Regarding actual subscribers, the list is not massive, mostly because I aggressively unsubscribe people who don’t open our emails.
But we still stand short of 11,000 subscribers which allow us to reach a decent amount of people when we want to:
Emailing the list
This is beyond a doubt my biggest failure of 2015. I never made time to email properly the list with high-value content that could not be found on the blog and made you guys feel special.
I am sorry for that and I will find some time in early 2016 to fix this issue and get in touch more frequently.
Additionally, as a business, we are missing out on a lot of income for not doing that.
In December I managed to squeeze 2 emails to let you know about the price increase of Thrive Themes which is a tool we heavily use and recommend and made over $1,000 while also saving a bunch of money to those who snagged the deal before the close:
A real win-win that I could be repeating a lot more often if I got my act together on email marketing.
Authority Hacker PRO
Authority Hacker PRO has been 90% of my time in Q4 2015 when it comes to content creation.
This has been a problem I intend to solve for the blog as I want to keep it going as well but I am proud to say in just 4 months of existence we’ve grown the library of training videos inside the member area to over 130.
That is roughly 1 video per day.
Let’s just say that kept our members busy.
And they have been busy.
A lot of them already knew some online marketing but some were complete newbies and had to play catch up (AH Pro is designed for people who already have decent bases, I don’t go over what a backlink is or most basic concepts).
Anyway, 4 months in, here is what some of our members have to show for themselves:
Tung Tran from Cloud Living who is in the group also sent me the results he achieved with his new authority site using tactics taught inside AH Pro:
This is Perrin’s new authority site (from Niche Pursuits)
And Sebastian testing his old opt-in forms Vs recommended formats on AH Pro:
I don’t have income screenshots for these guys but I know they’re all getting up there and I know all their sites have high 5 – 6 figures / month income potential.
From a creator’s perspective, I can say that running a membership site is tough and there are many things I wish I did differently (coming up in a future blog post).
But seeing people replicate the results we had with our own sites using the exact same tactics and templates in entirely different niches is an incredible validation of the authority site model and Authority Hacker itself.
The community itself came together very nicely and I am blown away by the willingness people have to assist each other in succeeding and openly sharing their experience and tactics with the group.
If you are one of the guys in the Facebook group reading this now, I love you guys :).
Launching AH Pro was a huge gamble and to be frank, I spent way more time building the product than I did designing the marketing for it, reinforcing the gambling aspect of it.
But things went well with this one, we have a little over 300 paying members inside the community and the retention rate is excellent.
75% of the people who joined in September are still members today. When I compared notes with other memberships in the industry, this was very very good.
As for total revenue, so far, since September, the site has collected a little over $52,000 in payments:
But given the recurring nature of the business, the value of the sales made in 2015 is most likely around double that figure if you count the upcoming rebills of the members who signed up last year.
Overall, things are starting to cruise fairly well in there and I am getting some help to run things in January which should let me focus more on the blog again.
Coming in 2016
Well, that was a little longer than expected.
Initially, this post was just meant to be a “what’s coming up for 2016” then I thought a bit of 2015 look back would make more sense and then well, this post happened.
You’re welcome transparency lovers!
Now that we have “a bit” of context let’s look at what we have in the tubes for you guys this year :).
As you saw in the 2015 review, we have a bit of a dilemma here. On one hand, traffic growth is clearly on point, on the other hand, the engagement is down when we use long form content exclusively so our solution is…
We are revamping the blog to be case study and tutorials focused only.
That’s right, we are stopping any kind of “long form roundup post” Neil Patel style.
It works for him but it’s not what brings the audience we want on Authority Hacker.
This probably means saying no to a bunch of SEO traffic but we will live with it.
Instead, we will spend our resources expanding our reach using Facebook Advertising and work our way into popular blog guest posting columns and podcasts.
Here are the types of posts you can expect from now on on this blog:
- Authority Hacker Case Study – We share our own experience
- Guest Case Study – We invite community members to post their experience on the blog (if you have a case study to share, send it here)
- Advanced Tools Reviews & Tutorials – Classic AH Reviews
Tool “Unboxing” – Experiencing new tools from the buyer’s perspective
- Advanced list posts – Because sometimes I might not have a case study at hand but some cool resources to share.
- Video tutorial post – Quick & simple posts sharing 1 tip or trick we recently discovered
Overall, the goal of the blog will be to produce fresh insight rather than recycle other blog’s breakthrough.
I have some great case studies from 2015 to share with you guys as well as a several top people already working on amazing resources for you guys such as Jon from Fat stacks Blog or Chris from Rank XL.
These guest posts won’t be your average guest post though, it is an editorial collaboration on the creation of a high-quality evergreen resource.
Now big content did really well for us this year, we are not going to drop it completely but it will come in a different form, most likely bigger, probably with more design bells & whistles but we’ll be back with some of the ultimate guides you love.
This is my main focus this January, the podcast is coming back with a brand new show that will replace the old one.
The old feed will be deleted and the old episodes recycled for the launch of the new podcast.
If you liked our podcast, stay tuned because, before the end of this month, you will have a LOT of fresh episodes to listen to.
Mark and I already recorded 12 episodes and we will launch the show when we have around double that amount ready.
This will make sure that you keep getting weekly content from us and gives us plenty of time to see the episodes coming.
We are also casting a wider net with the show. We won’t just talk about hardcore online marketing tactics (but we will still), we will also talk about things that are related to the lifestyle and mindsets of internet entrepreneur.
Here are a few episodes that you can expect:
- Is SEO Making You Create Boring Content?
- The Productivity Tools We Use To Run Our Business
- Adapting Your Lifestyle To Succeed as an Online Entrepreneur
- Top 5 Reasons For Not Getting Started & What To Do About It
- So if you were a fan of the podcast, watch out for my email, it’s coming soon :).
Soon after I get the podcast going again, I intend to make a weekly video post on the blog to either show you a cool trick or a new tool we found and give a more practical approach to the blog.
I have not yet figured out the details of it but this will come with a complete overhaul of the way we publish and promote videos on the blog. Thankfully, Authority Hacker PRO gave me some practice so I am sure it will be fine.
Shortly after the podcast (probably as I figure Youtube out), I will ramp up the email frequency to give you guys a mix of new content (at least once or twice a week) and micro-updates that are not worth a blog post but still useful to the community.
Once things get going, expect a lot more email from us but each one will be packed with value (or I won’t press send)
While the membership itself is cruising fairly well, I have a lot of work to do when it comes to marketing, there is a lot to do.
The first thing I will roll out is a 100% free training webinar on Authority sites showing you behind the scenes of Health Ambition and how exactly we generate traffic and income to the site.
I will, of course, pitch AH Pro at the end but I will make sure that regardless of whether you buy or not, you come out with a firm idea of how you could emulate our success like the AH Pro members do.
We will also start rolling tripwires out from March most likely.
Wrapping it up
So it is January 1st, I planned on just writing a few words in an email and ended up writing this post to you guys.
This is what you can expect from us in 2016, the first thing to roll out will be the podcast (in the next 2 weeks I hope), things should go relatively fast from there.
I would encourage YOU to look past the stats you see in Google Analytics or even in your bank account to judge how much of a mark you are making and adjust accordingly.
Anyway let me know in the comments: what did YOU learn in 2015 when it comes to your online business.