CP18: Matthew Woodward Talks about SEO & Building a Passive Income
Welcome to the 18th episode of our podcast!
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INTRODUCTION & STORY OF MATTHEWWOODWARD.CO.UK
Martin: Hi folks. Today we are talking about starting an online business and maybe you can become a blog entrepreneur yourself. Today we have on board Matthew, who build up a very decent online business himself. Hi Matthew, who are you and what do you do?
Matthew: Hi guys, my name is Matthew Woodward, I am from the UK originally and I have been playing with things online since the age of around 13, and I am about to be 30. So, I have been doing this for quite a long time now. Before I even knew that you could use the internet to make money, I was writing articles and producing content on a volunteer basis. And over the past 15 years or so, I found myself in various positions in the digital marketing world.
I had a very successful corporate career, running campaigns for some big global brands. And then around 6 or 7 years ago now I took the jump and went full time for myself building a range of affiliate sites and the blog that most people know me for, matthewwoodward.co.uk, which is my award winning digital marketing blog, that basically just shares my experience and knowledge with everyone free of charge.
Martin: How did it all start with starting your own blog, and at what point in time did you think: “Ooh, this is a worthwhile endeavor”?
Matthew: That is a great question because the blog was originally started as an experiment because I am really, what excites me is black hat SEO which is, it is a bit of a controversial topic at times. But really, that’s what excites me. And back then, we are going back 4 or 5 years ago, when Mark Cooks was in charge of the Google web spam team, he was always saying: “Create high quality content, forget about SEO, forget about bad links and so on.” So with that in mind that is kind of what I did. I decided: “Well, if I was just to record the kinds of things I do every day as part of my affiliate marketing, that might be interesting and helpful to people, I am just going to record what I am already doing and publish it and see what happens.”
It turned out people loved that and the feedback was absolutely awesome, so I just focused on creating content. That’s what I was doing everyday but also solved people’s problems that we see coming up on forums like warrior forum and black hat world and so on.
Martin: What kept you motivated in pursuing this, because I imagine for the first 3 or 6 or maybe even 9 months you would have no real or big traffic but you are still spending time in writing and marketing your content. What kept you motivated?
Matthew: Well, actually if you jump on the blog there is a page in the head of the income reports and you can actually see every month from day 1 how much traffic and how much money I had. So I don’t really want to focus on the amount of traffic and the amount of money too much, although I am going to tell you what those initial numbers were because one of the big mistakes many people make is focusing on how much money they have made or how much traffic they have got, which can actually be very demoralizing when there is no traffic and there is no money for a few months. Instead you guys should be focusing on how to get your first 100 subscribers before you even think about money.
But for me, I was very lucky, and also I had the fact that I have 15 years experience doing this. So month 1 was around 2000 visitors, I made about $600. Month 2 was around 4500 visitors but about $4000 profit…
Martin: Not bad.
Matthew: And month 3 I actually jumped $7000 with 6000 visitors.
So you can see on the blog in my income reports how all of that was done, but I don’t want people to really focus on those numbers too much because it can be very demoralizing. For me, if you just focus on first of all getting your first hundred subscribers and then just the feedback that you get, the quality of feedback , the people that email you and say: “Thank you for helping, I had this problem you solved it”, or “I had a blog that was doing no visitors and now it’s doing 100 visitors”. Just those small micro bits of feedback is really what drove me to carry on working on the blog for so many years.
ADVICE FOR ‘YOUNG’ BLOGGERS FROM MATTHEW WOODWARD
Martin: Matthew, imagine, somebody reads your blog and then he says: “Oh, I want to start my own blog.” What type of advice can you give him on how to find really a topic which he can blog on which is maybe even profitable over some months or years?
Matthew: Okay, that’s quite a tough question because everybody is different.
So take on board the advice I said, don’t really worry about the money, kind of forget about the money, forget anything about how am I going to make money from this. You really want to strip it back to play to your strengths or to your weaknesses and those are different for everyone, so it’s very hard to give specific advice here.
But I have a small exercise that I get people to do and essentially what you want to do is to create 5 different lists, and you want to put around 5 to 10 different items on each of these lists.
- The first list you want to create is a list of things that you are good at. That’s going to be different for everyone.
- Then you want to create a list of things that you are bad at. And if you are anything like me, the list of things I am bad at is far longer than the list of things I am good at.
- Then you want to make a list of what you enjoy most. Some people enjoy video games, some people enjoy football, things like that, don’t be afraid what you might think is stupid during this exercise.
- The fourth list you want to do is what do you want to learn about, so things that have interested you. For me personally, I always wanted to learn another language, so I have been learning Spanish, but that would be on my list of things to learn about.
- And finally the fifth list, what problems do you have, what problems do you have in your day to day life, that could be anything from credit card debt all the way through to your car breaking down or anything.
Writing those lists sounds easy but actually when you get down to doing it, it can be quite challenging to come up with things that you are good and bad at. And once you get those 5 lists, what you are good at, what you are bad at, what you enjoy most, what you want to learn about and what problems you have, that really forms the basis to you r niche ideas.
So once I have got my list of ideas, I always try and think about the bigger picture, and I also try and think about the smaller picture. So to tell you what I mean about that is I get a bunch of emails of people saying, “Oh I have built this site and its making no money, I have built this site and having this problem.” The common mistake I find is people limit themselves from day 1. So someone might be like: “Oh yeah, I have made an awesome affiliate website about iPhone 6 cases”, and well, the problem there is they have not thought of the bigger picture, the iPhone 6 will be replaced eventually, which means that from day 1 they have set themselves up to fail. So if you found this awesome iPhone 6 case is niche, what you should think about is well what about the future? And instead you should make a website that specifically about phone cases or electronics protection in general. And then rather than just having topics about iPhone 6, you could also do things like, off the top of my head, the best water proof cases for your tablet, or how to protect your phone on a construction site, or I don’t know, the best cases to take under water photos with your phone. Something like that which then allows you to become the authority if you like on electronic device protection and cases, rather than just focusing on that smaller iPhone 6 cases picture. It allows you to broaden your reach and also extend the life of the business.
Martin: Yes, definitely. I mean I have seen lots of entrepreneurs who are picking too small niche, or a niche that is depreciating over time like you described.
Matthew: Yes, it’s an easy trap to fall into because when you do your niche research and you see all the traffic numbers and the trends they look great, but okay, in a year, it’s going to be very different.
On the other side of the coin, you can go too big of a picture; so you might go okay in your list what do you enjoy most, well perhaps you enjoy travelling. Well the problem is if you are just like okay I am going to build a travel blog, there’s thousands of travel blogs, they all do the same thing, it’s really boring. It’s not many travel blogs that have a unique twist or stand out to me. So if something you enjoyed was travel, okay well that’s too big of a picture, we need to look at a smaller picture. So you might think about looking at just music festivals and then you travel around looking at just music festivals, producing content reviews, etc. Or you might go create a travel blog about moving abroad or opportunities to work while travelling, and so then you are kind of niching down into something more specific.
Another example of what do you enjoy most is food. I love food. Who doesn’t enjoy food? But again that is too broad of a niche, there’s so many food blogs out there, so many recipe blogs out there, it’s boring. So you need to think about niching down, and in food, I mean, I don’t know, cooking for single men would be a better niche to niche down into from food. So you don’t want to go stiff into ceiling but you don’t want to go so broad that you kind of fall into this big sea of blogs already exist. You’ve already got to kind of find that middle ground.
Martin: Yes. From my point of view you always need to find some kind of value proposition why somebody visits and reads your blog. Because if you are just like any other food blog out there with the same kind of pictures and text, why should people visit your site and not other one thousand.
Matthew: Of course, you have got to add that value somewhere. “The cooking for single men” example, it sounds stupid but if you are a single man and you are going out to buy food and you look at a recipe online, the recipes are always 4-6 portions, so that means that you have got to eat the same thing all week or the ingredients go off. Or it’s very difficult to go into a supermarket, buy foods that create enough meals for the week without any leftovers. So just having that slight little twist on it really changes everything.
Martin: And here is a very kind of free blog idea for you guys idea, just start a food blog and make the recipe conditional on some factors like the number of people or so.
SEO & TRAFFIC TIPS FROM MATTHEW WOODWARD
Martin: Okay cool. How do you build the traffic for your website mathewwoodward.co.uk, in terms of the content creation for example? How do you come up with these topics?
Matthew: I had a very simple strategy at the start, and I still do it now. The content creation is above all the most important thing. You should not be thinking about traffic, backlinks or anything else until you have got content nailed. And I always try and focus on building content that helps people and solves problems.
Problem solving content is great because when a new reader comes to your site and you are helping them, that kind of creates this sub conscious relationship between you and the reader, almost immediately without you having to try. They needed help, you helped them, it’s perfect. Problem solving content is often shared a lot as well, so I always focus on solving people’s problems, it’s my entire content strategy.
How you find those problems, well it’s pretty easy because you can find forums in your niche, you can jump on Q&A sites like quora.com or yahooanswers.com which isn’t so much used anymore, or in Facebook groups, anywhere the people post questions. And that is where I go to hunt for my blog topic ideas and once I see regular kind of questions coming up or things where I think: “Yes, I have got the perfect experience to answer that”, that becomes the content strategy, that’s where all the ideas come from.
Martin: Okay. Imagine you have written 100 or 200 blog posts and every week you publish again 2 or 3 blog posts, how are you going about this content marketing, and especially interested in your backlinking strategy because you said before that you are interested in black hat SEO as well.
Matthew: Well, backlinking strategy we would talk about in a minute that would be an interesting talk.
With the actual promotion of the content, well, I tried a couple of different things. So when I created content that solved people’s problems, I always add a social locker of some kind. And a social locker if anyone’s wondering is where you have t like share on Twitter or share on Facebook in order to unlock additional content. And that additional content for me is often just a PDF version of the post. So it takes like 60 seconds to create, put it behind a social locker, and any traffic that comes to your post will help you bring new traffic as they share the post to unlock the download.
So that’s quite an important twist that I put on things because I want to maximize the value of the traffic that I get. And this is another reason why you shouldn’t focus on money because this is just purely focused on getting more traffic.
With that said, I then go and promote the content in exactly the same place as I got the content ideas from. So the same forums, the same Q&A sites, the same Facebook groups, when I see people having problems, well, now I have just created content that solves that problem and I can introduce the solution to them if you like.
Someone might be saying: “How to index my backlinks?” I will right them a decent 100-200 word answer, and then say: “If you want to learn more about this subject, if you have any more questions, please see my more detailed post.”
And it’s really simple, a really simple form of content promotion but when I launched a blog, that’s exactly what I did, that’s exactly what I did to get 2000 visitors the first month, 4500 the next month, 6000 the month after that, that is exactly what I did. I was just balling on forums, Q&A sites, Facebook groups, anywhere where people were asking questions, I was there to answer it with my content.
Martin: Cool. Now, we are learning something about your backlinking strategy. So how do you acquire backlinks that are relevant and uplifting you in terms of search topic?
Matthew: So the great irony of the blog is that it’s an SEO blog that doesn’t use SEO. Because that was the experiment at the start. Matt Cutts was always banging on about, just create high quality content, forget about backlinks, etc. So that’s exactly what I did.
And I have not actually done any keyword research on the blog, any link building or anything. All I have done is great content that solves people’s problems, and then go and engage those people with that content – that’s it, which I realize is very hypocritical.
However, I wouldn’t recommend that approach to everyone. I mean, this was purely an experiment, it’s not how I would normally do things, you should not be taking that as a good example. Instead, you should be looking to do some basic keyword research for your posts. So if someone is asking how to generate traffic to their website, I would do a bit of keyword research to see what is actually the most common phrase that people use? It might be “increase traffic to my website” for example, and then I build the content around that keyword. That is the most important foundation you can put in.
Then for backlinks… Well, there are so many different ways to build backlinks. But one of the easiest ways if you are just starting out and you can kill 2 birds with one stone here is you can get, well actually 3 birds with one stone, you can get traffic, backlinks and content by taking advantage of people’s egos.
So, one of your first posts might be, make a list of the top 10 food blogs, or the top 10 blogs in your niche, and then just list of blogs write two or three hundred words about each blog and just reach out to the blog owners and let them know that you featured them. They usually share it with their audience, usually gives you a backlink, usually gives you traffic, and you have got a piece of content that your readers all love.
Martin: One question regarding that, is the link juice that is coming from those let’s say 20 or 30 bloggers or so also applicable to the new content that you are writing.
Matthew: It depends, some people are going to link to your homepage which ultimately is what you want to do, you want to drive the overall authority of the domain. Some people will link to the post itself, you get into conversations with people and you could just ask them to link where you would like them to link or they might even invite you to write a dedicated post on their site and then you have got free rein on where you link. It really opens a lot of doors and opportunities beyond just link building.
Martin: So when I am starting out and I have written let’s say 20 or 30 posts, should I rather be promoting and getting backlinks for my homepage or am I trying to get back links for a single post.
Matthew: If you have a single post that is targeting a specific keyword that you believe that you can easily rank for, and by all means build backlinks to that specific post. But in general for most people is better to drive the authority to the root domain because as you build links in authority to the root domain, it actually raises your authority of all the pages on the site.
So I prefer that kind of wider approach where you build authority to the root domain which raises all ships, albeit, it raises them slower than if you were to build links to a specific page. So there is not a right or wrong answer there but personally I would prefer to build the authority of the root domain over building the authority of a specific internal page when you are starting out.
Martin: And if you are, let’s say, in the process of having been in the business for 2 or 3 years, what would you have done then?
Matthew: If you are at a stage where you’ve already built a significant amount of authority to the root domain, a great exercise that you can do is, you can use something like SEMrush to fund out which pages and which key words you are currently ranking for. You might have a key word that’s actually ranking on page 2 in position 12, but with just a few dedicated links to that page, it could be very easy to bring that into the top 5 results. So you are then essentially just leveraging the authority you have already built.
If you have got a keyword at the bottom of page 1, ranks 8-10, you can usually bring that into the top 5 just by adding internal links to the page. You don’t necessarily need to go off site and build external links. But you will find as you build the authority to the home page, these opportunities will just come, you will be like: “Whoa, I wasn’t expecting that key word to be on the first page, holy shit.” And then you have to kind of: “Okay well actually I am not using that keyword in the page title, so I could optimize the page title a little bit more, I could maybe increase the key word density, maybe add the keyword in a header and then add a couple of internal links from other pages.” And then you will very quickly find pages like that moving to the top 5 or the top 3 and that’s when the real traffic starts to come.
Martin: So you would rather focus on content optimization first and then getting additional backlinks to a specific article?
Matthew: Yes, because when you are building content that solves problems for people and you are not really too focused on keywords, these opportunities just arise where you are just like: “Whoa, I never expected to be ranking for that term. Well okay, now I know that I am ranking decently for it without trying, now I am going to try.”
Martin: But can you break something. For example, imagine I am having a really awesome article on fisherman’s, I don’t know, and now I see, actually I should be ranking fishermen’s nets in New York for example, and now I am changing the title, and my hypothesis was hey if I am adding this or changing these key words, I will be ranking higher, but actually no, I am ranking lower.
So how do I really balance this kind of trade off on making this experiment, and is this repairable. So if I am making a mistake and the traffic drops, how fast am I seeing this and can I return it and then have the same results as before?
Matthew: Okay, if you are making the home page changes and the internal links and everything, now, everyone needs to understand that SEO is nothing more than risk management. That is all that SEO is; it’s just managing risk. And this is what I would consider to be a very low risk task because you are in control of everything. So if you change a page title, change a key word density, add some internal links and the end result is actually drops in rankings, well you can actually reverse what you have done. And it would take a couple of weeks for you to see the increase or the decrease.
When you are trying to recover from the drop, just because you change it back to how it used to be doesn’t always mean you are going to recover. It could be that you’ve done the damage and it’s not going to recover from that. In this case, I would then go out, I would put everything back how it was and then I would build some external backlinks from authorative sites in my niche and that would then bring it back to where it was or better.
Martin: And how would you do that? So what type of step by step approach would you use to get these external backlinks?
Matthew: Well, back to my statement about SEO is just risk management; some people might go the full black hat approach and build up a private blog network, which in some niches you just cannot compete unless you are running private blog networks, it’s impossible.
But that in itself is a whole headache and scale to learn and it takes time and money, the easy approach would be perhaps leverage some of your relationships to do guest posting, that’s a very easy link building task for anyone to do, regardless of experience of you are new or you have been doing this for years, just leveraging relationships and doing guest posts on oversights is easy for anyone to do, and that carries very minimal risk.
So depending on your level of experience and your knowledge of SEO, you can either go high risk, high reward, private blog networks or low risk but still a decent reward with guest posts.
TIPS TO MONETIZING A BLOG
Martin: Okay. Matthew, now assume we have built an awesome blog with lots and tons of traffic, and although we don’t start with the monetization in mind, now it’s time to monetize because we need to pay the bills. How do we monetize the traffic? And when I am looking at your incoming reports, you have different types of revenue sources for example, and I would be very interested in how did they develop over time and why did you choose especially the affiliate income revenue stream.
Matthew: Okay, actually made a huge mistake with my blog from day 1, a mistake that I carried on making for 2 or 3 years. So I will tell you what that is in a moment.
First I’d like to say, most of the earnings of my blog are based on affiliate earnings as you’ve just said and the reason for that is for me, affiliate payouts allow you to be the product owner without any of the hustle.
For example, if you own a product, like let’s say Long Tail Pro, you have to deal with customer support, you have to deal with updating the product, fixing bugs and just a bunch of stuff. But as an affiliate, I can make a sale of that product and take half of the money recurring for life without any of those problems. So the money is split 50-50, the only difference is I have to deal with all of those problems. And that’s the case with 99% of affiliate programs, you get half of the money of the sale, certainly for digital products. If you are going into something like Amazon you can make 3-8% range, but still you don’t have to deal with any problems, you don’t have to deal with any time consuming tasks like customer support or fixing bugs or anything like that. So that’s why I really like affiliate based promotions.
Martin: The alternative would be just putting Adsense or advertisement on my site and also I would not have this kind of hustle.
Matthew: Yes, you can use Adsense links. But I have done some experimentation with this and once your site has got a decent amount of traffic, I found that it’s better to remove Adsense and replace it with your own banner ads that you sell. So you can use a wordpress plugin like OIO publisher which is a complete self serve banner advertising platform where advertisers can buy banner ads through Paypal and upload their banner and the plugin takes care of all of the headache for you. All you have to do is approve or deny ad. Or you can use something like BuySellAds which is a third party platform which essentially does the same thing but they have got a big market place of advertisers as well.
Martin: What type of uplift did you experience in your experiments when you compare AdSense advertising versus your own hosted advertising?
Matthew: Like 6 times increase.
Matthew: Yeah. However you have to consider the, I can charge a premium for those ad spaces just because of how the blog is regarded in the niche, it adds a certain credibility to the people advertising on the blog, and I charge for that.
So selling your own banner ads isn’t necessarily the best option for everyone. You should certainly be experimenting with it, even when just starting out, and you are getting less than 1000 people a day, ads and after that you want to look at selling your own banner advertisements.
Martin: And Matthew for the future, what type of revenue streams would you like to explore for matthewwoodward.co.uk?
Matthew: Okay, in the future and back to the biggest mistake I made, which was actually not having my own product to sell. So while promoting affiliate products does avoid s lot of the headaches, it was also in other ways restrict you. For example, by not having my own products to sell, I was leaving a lot of money on the table, I wasn’t making the best use of my email list. There are lots of places for people to sign up to my email list all over the blog, and that could be better funneled into my own product. I would also then replace all of the banner advertising and AdSense advertising that I am selling with advertising for my own product, which would be far more lucrative and far more profitable. So when you are just getting your blog off the ground, it can be quite a big challenge to put out a product, but it doesn’t need to be anything sophisticated or special, it could be something that is just a quick $7 PDF cheat sheet for example, maybe a healthy eating cheat sheet or whatever niche you are in. You can usually create one-page PDF check list cheat sheet type of thing with tips and advice or whatever, and start a package and sell it for between 7 and 9 dollars, just a low barrier entry product.
Martin: Did you experiment with this?
Matthew: No, this is one of the big mistakes I made; I didn’t do that. That is something I regret heavily when I look back at it. I mean I am in the position of hind sight right now, so I can look back and say…
Martin: But you could change it. What keeps you from doing this in the next 24 hours?
Matthew: I wish I had time to do it in the next 24 hours, but I have since launched my own product. It was a bigger course, it was priced at $297, actually about private blog networks, I made it available for sale for 5 days and then took it off the market. The reason it was only available for 5 days is I wanted to launch it, I wanted to get students on board, it needed their amount of hands on coaching and helping people through the course when they had questions, so I don’t want it to be always open because I don’t want to always have that time commitment there. And also taken on and off the market really, it makes people buy it when it is available rather than making it available all the time.
But that is the higher end of the market. $297-product – it took me 6 months t make the product, and that’s a realistic investment of time and money for a new blogger.
So looking back, what I should have done is spend a day creating a product that I can sell for $7 or $9 and that would really help me leverage my position earlier on.
LIFE OF A BLOG ENTREPRENEUR – MATTHEW WOODWARD
Martin: Good. Matthew, right now you are in Costa Rica, and I would like for you to describe a day in the life of a blog entrepreneur. So what’s today like?
Matthew: Okay, so a lot of people have the illusion that the blogging lifestyle is beach, laptop, deck chairs, taking it easy, feet up. And honestly that is not the case.
When you are just starting a blog, I mean when I started out I was doing 80-90 hour weeks. If I had time to go to the toilet, that was a luxury in life, like a real luxury. I quite often find myself quite desperate positions from starvation, eating in the toilet, shaking, really not looking after my health while I was growing the blog.
So how does a day in the life of a blog entrepreneur look? Well, when you are first starting out, it is not fun, it is hard, grueling, difficult, long, winded, terrible experience; especially if you are trying to work a full time job at the same time, which I did for a while. I got home at 6pm, I’d have something to eat quickly, 6.30pm – 6.45pm I’d start working, I’d stop working at 2am, go to sleep, back to my job and I would just do that every day.
A day in my life, even right now, it depends if I’ve got really aggressive goals and things I am trying to achieve, I will hit 12-16 hour days back to back without a day off until I reach that goal, I’m just like that. I go in with both feet, I bite down and I just get it done, no excuses, I give up everything, TV, friends, drinking, eating, going to the toilet, everything until I achieve the goal. I am like a dog with a bone. But, it’s also important to remember to enjoy the fruits of your labor. So this past month, for all of May, and this is a great position to be in, for all of May I was like: “You know what, screw it, I don’t care, this month it’s about me. I am going to do the complete opposite, I’ve not got a really big goal I am trying to achieve right now, so I slip into maintenance mode, I do the bare minimum to keep things to come over. Maybe a few hours a week I really enjoy the freedom of the dot com lifestyle, not just in terms of the money because everyone thinks: “Oh yeah, blogging money…”, but also the freedom of time and the freedom of location. I am a British guy in Costa Rica right now. So I am either one or the other, I am either working until my fingers are bleeding or I’m in complete relaxation, I don’t have that balanced middle ground in my life.
Martin: Great. Matthew, thank you so much for sharing your insights and I wish you lots of pleasure in Costa Rica, especially now as you are on the low season, you can enjoy the weather and maybe diving.
Matthew: Yeah, free diving, spear fishing, that’s my love outside of digital marketing.
Martin: Cool stuff. Thank you Matthew.
Matthew: Thank you for having me and just a final bit of advice, if you are starting a blog, please don’t make the same mistake as everyone and focus on the money. I have seen so many great blogs come and after month 3, 4 or 5, they just die, they stop updating them, they get abandoned and when I speak to the people they say: “Well you know, it wasn’t making any money.” And if they would have just carried on for another 2 or 3 months, they would have reached that goal. So please if you are starting out, forget about the money, your first and only goal should be to get you first 100 email subscribers. If you do that successfully everything else will follow in time, so please keep that in mind if you are just starting out.
Martin: Good stuff. Okay, thank you so much, enjoy your time.
THANKS FOR LISTENING!
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Special thanks to Matthew for joining me this week. Until next time!
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