If you’re deep in this SEO game then chances are you got into it for one main reason: the money. If you didn’t and you’re on some philanthropic quest to rank websites for non-profit organizations then good for you, but most of us are out to make a buck, actually a lot of bucks. I myself found SEO several years ago and quickly became obsessed with it as my vehicle to entrepreneurial success and financial freedom. It’s been an incredible journey, one I continue to progress on while still striving to improve my game every day. Before getting started, here’s a brief rundown of my background in SEO and what I’ve accomplished over the years.
2007 – The first “aha” moment happened in college after meeting a friend and future business partner who was banking $50k+ per year on SEO traffic at the age of 20.
2007-2009 – Became completely obsessed with SEO and read everything I could get my hands on. I began taking action building small sites and parasite pages, had my first taste of decent $$ near the end of this grind. Yup, almost two years without making anything, that’s harsh reality folks.
2009 – 2012 – Began to dominate SERPs and started an epic spam run generating over a million dollars in affiliate commissions.
April 24, 2012 – Oh penguin, how you beat my ass. This was judgment day for me, wake up call, lost 90%+ of my portfolio overnight. Sites making hundreds of dollars per day (even had one hitting thousands) gone, all gone.
Penguin – 2013 – Rebuilt, kept spamming, vowed to never depend on pubic blog networks again, with the goal of building the biggest, baddest, spam network ever created. I also started my blog somewhere in this time, it kinda took off, made a few bucks and gave me some laughs.
2013 – 2015 and Beyond – As the industry divided my focus remained on the same thing, doing whatever works to rank sites on Google and trusting nothing but the data I had created myself.
Phew, that brief outline wasn’t so brief after all, and that’s leaving out all kinds of shit. So let’s get started, this is how you make money as an SEO, a search engine marketer/opportunist, straight from someone who has battled through it and been there and back.
Now this is the area I have the most experience in, just making sites and ranking them. These can take on many forms. We will put them in two categories; minisites and parasite pages. You don’t need to stick to one category, you should have a diverse portfolio and also be testing a wide variety of domains/pages with your links.
Minisites: This can be anything from a simple three page site to a twenty page site. That is what I would consider my true churn and burn sites. I give zero shits if these sites go down, we play the game knowing this. Be cheap as hell, make a minimal investment in each site, and keep storming forward collecting as much data as you can along the way.
Parasite pages: As you’re developing your linking strategy/system, you’ll find parasite pages to be an easy thing to quickly setup and test with. You also have the hope that the root domain you’re using will help you rank better than just using a brand new domain and making a mini-site. There are usually a few domains just crushing Google, watching the SERPs will help you unlock these. Then test some spam blasts and see if you can make some magic happen. Keep things cheap as hell across the board so you can run lots of tests, this is how we get enough data to guide us to the finish line.
An authority site is a long term play that you should build something around which you are truly passionate about. Without this you’re likely to fail. Here is a nice quote from Gary Vaynerchuk that sums up my feelings towards starting a “legit” site.
Look yourself in the mirror and ask, “What do I want to do everyday for the rest of my life?”. Do that! I promise you can monetize that shit. If you love Alf, do an Alf blog. You collect smurfs? Smurf it up! Whatever you need to do, do it!”
Gary you’re the man bro. This shit is so true though people, you make some half assed site that has no character, no life, just some bullshit you slapped up to solely accomplish YOUR goals (getting some commissions or business).
Then wonder why it’s not converting…
What is so special about you that makes your generic bullshit any better than the next guys? Nothing. Now make something badass with some value, something people will use the shit out of, and share the shit out of it. Then you’ve got something powerful that you can optimize and dominate faces with.
Oh man, this is by far the area I personally hate the most. If you can figure this one out without a shitload of stress then I commend you. For me, clients are the worst part of this business and damn near the same thing as having a J…O…B. Let’s not forget the reason we got into this, for both freedom financially and in life. Not to be tied down to some pain the ass clients waking you up every time there is some SERP movement, or even worse a big update.
Set the game up to win…
There are so many ways to make money with SEO (hence me writing this guide), but if you choose routes that lead to massive stress it will ultimately lead to failure or even worse, years off your life. Take it from me, I’ve made these mistakes so you don’t have to.
I’m far from an expert in this area and most SEOs respect that about me, but on the other side of that it can be stressful having to 100% depend on your affiliate ranks. So along the way I’ve dabbled with various clients and also ran an SEO audit business for about a year.
Starting out the business looked great. We were going to provide simple turnkey reports for small businesses and bloggers along with a premium in-depth report with follow consulting. Go ahead and take a peak if you’re interested – https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://auditwp.com
Definitely had some good times with this project but overall I wound up busting my ass harder than I ever have in my career and for not much profit. No matter what we did to change our offering/pricing it was always an uphill battle. We still crushed it and delivered some killer reports but it was a struggle, one that taught me I never want to do something like that again.
Popular Models for SEO Services:
Lead Based – Not totally sure how you work this out technically but it sounds good in theory. Basically, you work out a deal with a business owner and they pay per lead driven via search which your geek ass is tracking somehow. I’m going to assume there is some service you can use and then either rank the client’s site or build some minisites and spam them.
Consulting and Reporting – Here is where you just go in and give your two cents, but don’t actually do anything, like a report + skype meeting for example.
Monthly Packages – Ugh, these give me a bad feeling but maybe you could create something non-spammy with some creativity. These remind me of the old days when SEO packages were like web2s and blog comments. Good times, but not so much if you’d like to still be in business today.
Monthly Retainer – You get the client to sign a contract of $XXXX per month for X months and go SEO it up for them with the cash. Having good processes, managing expectations, (insert SEO bullshit and buzz words here), is all key here. Or like some SEOs just completely rip people off and blame it on algo changes, because let’s not forget how scummy this business can be.
I know you’re a great guy or gal and you think your mom is so proud, but news flash your industry is so full of opportunistic snake oil peddling swindlers that it’s like a 99% chance you’ll get scammed hiring an SEO company.
Being an experienced SEO, even I can’t imagine the kind of jackassery that goes on with this side of the business everyday. If you’re an SMB you might as well take your marketing budget to the nearest casino and let it ride, probably better chances of hitting a positive ROI than hiring one of your local SEOs.
So why does my pessimistic view point on the cespool which is the SEO services business matter?
Because understanding the marketplace is key if you want to succeed in this shit show, if I haven’t already thoroughly persuaded you against it ;-)
This is why when I took a shot at it I went for a semi-automated report with premium positioning.
A. I didn’t want to deal with the low budget people, at all, unless I pushed a button and never spoke to them.
B. Premium positioning. Get the big cheese for the least effort really, but you’re still kicking ass and getting paid properly (it doesn’t always work out like that though).
Long story short, if you go down this route be smart about it and don’t offer something stupid that is going to make you kill yourself and not put fat stacks in your bank. Nope, I don’t care what you say. Ask yourself, “What’s our revenue/profit goal and how many customers do we need to get there?”. Never forget about that question.
Start a Blog
(do something cool as fuck or don’t do it at all)
I’ve been growing this blog for several years, I also took a slightly different approach than most bloggers in my space. I really don’t give a shit. For one, I’m a pure affiliate and I answer to nobody, my destiny is based on the results I drive in the SERPs. This is the root of my success, this is why you are likely reading this piece. I’m not just another jackass putting together roudnups, ripping off others, and doing nothing but boring shit. Most people do boring shit and wonder why it doesn’t pick up, because it’s boring shit…you stupid assholes. Once you understand that you’ll start succeeding with your “content marketing”.
Write a Course
Yeah, it’s not rocket science but don’t underestimate the power of a good course which solves a problem in your market. It’s pretty awesome investing your time upfront into a product and watching it sell like hot potatoes with no physical cost. Get good at this, scale it, get rich as hell.
Know of a clever way to hit a golf ball further? Have a natural remedy for insomnia? Come on man, get clever with it. A good course can bring it all full circle. Slap that shit on Udemy and spam some links at the URL, and viola! You’re ranking for “how to hit golf balls at penguins”. And who knows, if you’re really lucky you could have a successful affiliate program pushing your own course. How does that sound? Being on the other side of the equation for once :-)
Create a tool/service
Now if you’re not a skilled developer then you’ve got a barrier here obviously, so find someone who is a skilled developer to build your idea for you. The SEO business is changing so insanely fast that opportunities for tools are popping up constantly.
One recent one that comes to mind is called SERPWoo, started by a couple dudes who saw a nice market opportunity and took advantage of it. Traditional rank tracking tools would only track your main URL showing positions over time, with SERPwoo they track the entire top 20 results with additional data points and insight. Yup pretty damn clever, definitely inspired me to put some more thinking into creating some sort of tool.
Sure I can’t code for shit, but that doesn’t mean I’d completely close the book on creating something like this. With the right idea, some resources, and some serious hustle you can make damn near anything happen.
Resell Products on Amazon
Have you ever considered selling a physical product on amazon and leveraging the massive traffic Amazon gets? How about their drop shipping program? Then take it a step further, how about ranking the actual product page yourself? If you haven’t thought of doing this then it would probably blow your mind at how many people are out there doing it, while making craploads of money. Go take a peak at the backlinks to Amazon.com and see the mass amounts of spamming people have done.
Do the Ecommerce Hustle
If you do this SEO thing then you are confident you can sell shit online right? Well, how about selling your own shit or reselling someone else’s shit through a legit eCommerce (or not so legit) site. Ever hear of China bros? They can produce some shit for very cheap for you, then you can rank and sell whatever it is through your awesomely SEO’d site. This site comes to mind, and alibaba of course.
Create your Own Offer
Man wouldn’t it be nice to sit back while a bunch of affiliate grunts were peddling your product and worrying about the next big algo change instead of you? Yeah I know you’ve thought about it before, don’t lie. Now how you go about finding affiliates is a whole different animal, but we can’t ignore this side of the business on our journey. While this might not be directly SEO related, it was worth mentioning anyway. Sure you could rank for your “niche” + “affiliate program” and some stuff like that but the real takeaway is realizing the power of having people doing the hustling for you. Eli managed to do it, maybe you can too!
Local SEO Domination
There are obviously a bunch of different ways to approach this, here are a couple good ones that I like: The first is ranking your own domain and renting ad space to the local business owners who want to rank the SERP. Let’s take the legal space for example, surely lawyers search the big queries in their area, you could rank it and put a big ass banner CTA for inquiring about monthly ad space. The next one is approaching local business owners and making an arrangement where you drive online leads, either % based or per lead, work it out. The thing I like about this model is you get paid for actually performing and also have the freedom to do what you want.
Ok guys I’m kind of tired now, if this doesn’t get you fired up nothing will. If I left something out and you feel like giving back to your fellow SEOs, drop a comment. Peace out everyone.