It’s been close to two months since I last updated this case study, and there’s a reason for it. It’s officially a year since I started this small niche site experiment. It was my first Amazon niche site last year and with this post, I hope to summarize all the things I’ve discovered that worked and didn’t work for converting on Amazon products.
I’ll share the final earnings this little site made over the past 12 months as well as the cost incurred. Also, I’ll let you know what I plan to do moving forward with this site as I’ll be ending the Amazon Associate experiment on this site to try something new using the same content.
Choosing a Niche
As always, keyword research is key to any niche site. You need to build your site around keywords that are closely related and profitable as well, which is why I mentioned that I picked the wrong keywords and niche last year when the site was still a few months old.
However, there are corrective actions you can make to compensate such as re-theming your site by finding closely related keywords that get better search volume.
Another keyword-related mistake made was targeting NON-BUYER KEYWORDS. Just because certain keywords shows decent amount of keywords doesn’t mean those are the keywords your pages should be targeting for.
Yes, you can pick those juicy, high-volume keywords as the base niche topic of your site, but the long tail keywords are the ones that’ll really give you quick traffic and conversions.
Most of my content for this site were not buyer-oriented until I started with the review pages (which I’ll discuss below). I’m getting decent hits on my information-type articles but they do not turn my visitors into potential shoppers.
Site Structure and Design
I’m not a big fan of the SEO game, especially with Google. I feel that it’s a cat-and-mouse game that nobody really knows what to do and just react to whatever Cutts & Co. decides tyrannically what is “good” for the user’s search experience, so I tend to focus more on usability these days.
The problem is, it’s a chicken and egg thing where I can’t have metrics of whether the site converts or not unless the site’s pages are ranking well enough to get traffic organically since I don’t rely on other traffic sources for my niche sites.
I changed the site’s theme and structure about 6x to find the balance between style, usability, SEO, and conversion. It seems that my current theme (InDesign from Elegant Themes) is working well enough to balance all those things right now.
The front page features product reviews and the info pages that were getting traffic are now linked to review pages as well to hopefully trigger some click-throughs to ‘buyer’s pages’ and reduce bounce rate.
I’ve noticed in the past that if I put in a pop-up that promotes 2 products blatantly like “Our Best Seller – Check Here (links to the review page)”, it converts well even if they don’t last that long on my site. So I’ll be putting that back in the future, but I’ll talk about that later.
Content Presentation and Call To Action
Between the site’s creation last July 2011 until about January of 2012, I was tracking not the traffic, but the exit clicks to Amazon I get every month, but unfortunately, my highest traffic pages were mostly info pages that results to no clicks to Amazon.
I changed the old content pretty quickly and used nicer looking call-to-action buttons as well as added a couple of hyperlinks on the top and bottom, basically making sure that before they hit the “close” button or type another address, they have a compelling link to exit to (Amazon).
Around December or so, I added a lot of good review posts and combined with a sudden “surge” in SERP increase to many of my keywords, from no action of my own, I saw the site getting up to 100 views a day for a month and a half until Panda and Penguin hit.
I installed a free plugin called WP Super Heatmap (download from WordPress) to determine the areas of my site that visitors click around. The plugin is extremely helpful once your site has some age and traffic generated.
The image below shows a popular review inner page of the site. The high click zones (near-red) are the spots you need to optimize for clicks to Amazon, while the green and yellow areas are less clicked (displayed by smaller orb) are the opportunities to improve content and call-to-action.
The surprising data from the heat map shows that the area near the logo and site title (which honestly, is just a small, text logo right now) gets quite a bit of clicks, meaning, the visitors are curious on what the home page looks like.
From this data, I could improve that high CTR section by either adding a banner to Amazon or Adsense if I want them to exit. If I want them to stay within the site, I should improve my home page to have a convincing CTA so that the click won’t be wasted.
Traffic has always been an issue, especially if you’re stuck with a single traffic source, in this case, organic search.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the recent avalanche of updates from Google in 2012 have thrown SEO traffic out of whack for most sites, white hat or not.
I was seeing a gradual increase of traffic from single-digit visitors per day to 20, then to 40, then to 100-150/day in February 2012. Then Penguin + Panda combo hit and traffic started to go back down to about 60/day and it stays at that range today.
Clearly, this isn’t a very safe way to make an income, but since this is just a small site and doesn’t really have a huge traffic potential, SEO traffic is a slow, low-cost traffic source.
Total Earnings and Costs
Now here are the figures for this site. Before I post the numbers, do remember this important message:
The results on this report are atypical.
A better niche and more effort in traffic generation will improve conversions and income tremendously.
Also, I have other sites that fared much worse than this site, but they’re also mainly due to the same mistakes or shortcomings (lack of effort) I’ve listed here. I have several bigger Amazon-oriented sites that I enjoy maintaining that are making significantly more income than this site – remember, this was my first site.
Adsense has been terrible for this site. It almost never gets any clicks no matter what kind of ad unit I insert or even if I placed them in high CTR areas. $10.06 in Adsense earning, that’s for the whole year – waste of website real estate.
Well, this site was made for Amazon, not Adsense anyway, so let’s take a look at that. I use two tracking codes for this site, one code for the text links another for the graphics mainly because this was a case study for me so I want to see which gets more clicks (answer: text links), so the screen captures I’ll post are from two tracking IDs.
The site made a total of $109.03 in 12 months, add the ten bucks from Adsense, the site made just a hair below $120 in a year, which is about 32 cents a day, that’s terrible.
I’ve spent about $35 bucks for off-page SEO via Fiverr services, $10 for the domain, a few bucks for the shared hosting, so all in all, about $50 in net profit.
Nothing to brag about really, but again, this was a newbie’s first site, which brings us to the next part…
Moving forward, here are my plans for this site, but I’m not sure when I can implement it as I’m quite busy with my other sites and other online ventures at the moment, but here we go:
Try Out Other Affiliate Offers
While Amazon has been working great for me, I don’t want to get tunnel visioned and skip any other opportunities out there. I’ll be using other affiliate programs, mainly from Commission Junction or Share-A-Sale promoting merchants that really deal with kitchen, grocery, and coffee niches.
Their commission rates are a bit higher and I can offer discount coupons as well, which is more enticing for the visitor than Amazon
Building a list is part of the plan of using another affiliate merchant. Amazon doesn’t allow direct promotion of affiliated links via email and they don’t offer any discount coupon code for their Associates to use either.
With a list, I can promote more than just coffee related items as the demographics of this market is pretty tight. Many organic food, modern/unique kitchen ware and such items can be promoted directly and be shielded from SEO traffic alone.
Will I still be using Amazon on this site? Definitely, I’ll probably have sections of the site promoting cook books and other coffee-aficionado related items that can only be bought (efficiently) through Amazon, such as books as well as relaxing, moody music for coffee fans.
Things I’ve Learned
- Keyword Research – Go not only for the seed keywords’ potential, but the total number of long tail keywords available that are BUYING KEYWORDS.
- Learn Traffic Generation Outside Google – SEO is way too volatile now. Most of the backlinking and SEO techniques taught in 2005-2010 no longer applies and most no longer work unless you spend quite a bit of money to continuously play the game.
- Identify Traffic Source Potential- Tied up to the previous point. It’s also important to find out what other traffic sources are there for you to do paid traffic to feed your site.
Google Adwords (and Facebook) are quite unfriendly with niche sites like this and you have to find other ways to get buying traffic to your site such as media buying and 2nd tier PPC networks.
- Go Long Term – Find niches that you can scale-up. Start with a very narrow niche but make sure the main vertical niche gives you the chance to cover a wider range of products and topic. With such a strategy, you have to think authority site and not micro-niche.
- Experiment With Themes- Not all themes are the same, and we’re not talking of just looks, but niche appropriateness as well.Things like the arrangement of widgets, the size of headers and the layout all affect conversions.
There’s no one-size-fits-all with themes, that’s why I subscribed to a theme membership program like Elegant Themes, so I can play with a lot of themes without incurring additional costs.
- Create Content That Converts- It’s not enough to provide a good article review, it has to be convincing. By convincing, I don’t mean sales-oriented, but “real”.Your review has to sound like you really used it thoroughly to write the review. You have to mix it up in your site sometimes, reviewing bad products. Always try appear helpful and honest with your recommendation, don’t shove it down your readers’ throat.
If you need help in how to write reviews that convert, just get this guide. It is my Amazon reviews writing bible. There’s no better resource.
- Spend more time creating content and getting traffic- Don’t fret too much on the small details like CSS tweaks, gaming Google, etc. Use your time wisely, write multiple content pages if you found long tail buyer keywords and allocate budget to get traffic.Your site won’t go anywhere without traffic, and traffic won’t turn to commissions if you don’t have good content.
- Mix It Up- Create several Amazon affiliate sites. Some targeting big ticket items (>$150), some targeting low priced products (<$20) as the combination of high, mid, low price products will bump up your volume sales quickly as Amazon has a tier-based commission system.If you can create a low-mid-high combination of sites under the same broad niche, even better as each site can feed traffic to the other.
What this little 20-page niche site has taught me in 12 months have been invaluable.
Instead of reading again and again on what to do and what not to do with site optimization, improving CTR and writing reviews, spend a couple of bucks and keep studying one site whether it’s making money or not will fast-track your journey as an Amazon Associate (or any other affiliate program).