Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be posting several blog posts around a very specific theme:
Increasing the income on my two major niche websites.
Both SecurityGuardTrainingHQ.com and FoodTruckr.com are now generating a respectable income online, FoodTruckr more recently with the launch of its first product in August – a book – as detailed in my latest income report.
Over the past 12 months, SGTHQ has averaged $2,636.29 per month, and the crazy part is that I haven’t updated or touched the site for over a year.
FoodTruckr has earned a total of $4,553.40 since the product launch two months ago.
I’m itching to start a completely brand new project (the entrepreneur’s mind is easily teased) but it would be interesting and perhaps even more useful to see what can be done to intentionally increase the income generated on these existing sites before moving on to my next project.
There is a lot of room for improvement, which makes these two sites the perfect testing grounds for various growth and income strategies.
Below are some specific details for Security Guard Training Headquarters (FoodTruckr’s future will be detailed in another upcoming post) including where it is now, what the goals are, and what will be done to improve the site.
Let’s dig in.
Security Guard Training Headquarters
- Started August 2010
- Average Monthly Traffic: 22,634 uniques
- Average Monthly Income: $2,636.29
- Income Generation Model: Adsense (95%) Affiliate Income (3%) Job Board (2%)
SGTHQ is interesting because to me, it feels like less of a “real business” than FoodTruckr has already become.
The primary reason is because 95% of its earnings come directly from Google Adsense. When you rely this heavily on one particular income source (especially from a third party), it could all disappear overnight, as we’ve seen in the past.
As soon as I started this project, I’ve always had the desire to create my own products to serve this audience.
While doing research, I discovered that each state in the U.S. has a different set of requirements to become a security guard.
This worked in my favor for creating content because I just had to figure out each of the requirements for each state (I used an ancient tool called the telephone) and then write about it, but to create a fully comprehensive course for each state was way over my head at the time, so I decided to keep it simple and continue monetizing through advertisements.
I eventually partnered with a company that offers courses for those studying to become a guard in California, but that was the only state that had any sort of course to promote as an affiliate, and as you can see, it has only contributed to 3% of my total earnings.
Recently, our good friend Spencer Haws from NichePursuits.com (who is also the founder of Long Tail Pro) introduced me to his friend Hayden, who is all about turning niche sites into more authoritative, stand-alone businesses.
Hayden runs an SEO company and also blogs at NoHatDigital.com. He and his team have a massive goal of publicly sharing 100 different online marketing experiments by August 2015.
They’ve already started publishing some of them here.
After talking with Hayden, he was really interested in SGTHQ and saw a lot of potential in it, like I did, and offered to help to improve it as one of the 100 experiments that would be openly shared on his site.
I thought this was a great opportunity, not only to get some inspiration to start working on it again and hopefully improve the results, but by using my site as an example, we’d be able to give you an over-the-shoulder look at how a company like this might improve your own site too.
After spending some time researching more about Hayden, his company, and their methodologies (and I even listened to a couple of their podcasts episodes), I agreed to the experiment, so long as we worked together and they were completely open and honest about the exact approach they were going to take for this experiment.
My (Eye-Opening) Site Audit
A couple of weeks ago, I read the first post on NoHatDigital about the experiment: The Site Audit and Plan of Action.
It’s always great to get a new set of purposeful eyes on your site, however it’s not always pretty. Immediately, they spotted some red flags and room for improvement:
Red Flag 1: The Non-Responsive Theme
38% of SGTHQ’s traffic comes from a mobile device.
That’s a lot.
So of course, the first thing that is pointed out to me is that the theme on the site is not responsive – meaning it’s not friendly to people viewing on a mobile device. This is reflected in the 70% bounce rate from those viewing the page on a mobile device.
On the other hand, those viewing on a desktop bounced at 52%. That’s a huge difference, which makes it clear that we should all be catering to our mobile viewers.
Lesson learned, and I hope you’re already ahead of me on this one.
Action item: Make the site mobile responsive.
Here’s a great resource on mobile responsive websites thanks to Greg Hickman from MobileMixed.com.
Red Flag 2: The Email List
A couple of Hayden’s team members emailed me after going through my site. They had some questions about my email list.
How many people are on your list Pat?
Me: A little over 4,000 people.
Really? So…why don’t I get any follow-up emails?
Me: Um…Uhh…I didn’t get to it yet.
Since the birth of SGTHQ.com, I setup an email list with a lead magnet to collect email addresses from visitors.
I made the mistake of not capturing emails right away on both GreenExamAcademy.com and SmartPassiveIncome.com, so I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
This time, however, I made the mistake of not emailing anything out to my list. The only follow-up email is the one that includes a link to the lead magnet. The open rate for that email is 78%.
Since there are no other emails sent, I’d be surprised if I sent an email today and it had a 25% open rate.
Setting up the list and putting opt-in forms on a site is half the battle, however I failed to take even just a few hours to plan out what would happen when people subscribed to the list.
“I’ll get to it later,” I’d tell myself.
And of course, later never came.
I could have easily sent messages linking back to articles on the site (which would mean more traffic and click-through opportunities for advertisements) or even links to other sites with helpful content.
But I didn’t do it. The email exchange with Hayden’s team members made me think long and hard about this.
I’d never recommend someone setting up an email list and never utilizing it, but here I was, doing just that.
And here’s why…
During the first 73 days of the site, I worked on it day in, and day out, 1 to 2 hours each day. I wanted to succeed because I had very clear goals and an audience (you) watching over me to hold me accountable.
I wanted to get to #1 in Google and generate a passive income from the site, and then when it happened, it was easy for me to check it off the win-list, and move on to the next project.
I reached the end, and so did my enthusiasm for the site. This post that you’re reading now should have been published on Day 74, but my small goals combined with my urge to always start something new left me with a site that’s done okay, but could be done a lot better.
This is why my approach with FoodTruckr.com is much different, which I’ll talk about in a post next week, and it’s also why I’m stopping myself from starting another niche site (or e-commerce business, which has been gnawing at me for the past year!) until I know these are optimized and could be completely stand-alone businesses.
Since monetizing, SGTHQ.com has generated a total of $87,226.19 directly from Adsense alone, but I, alongside Hayden and his team, will be working to get the site to TRIPLE its monthly revenue, and include a more diverse income stream.
And like I said, every part of it will be shared with you along the way.
The best way to follow along is to visit this timeline here.
Yes, this site is about passive income – putting in the hard work now and reaping the benefits later – but nothing is 100% passive and you can always get expert advice, learn more and implement new ideas to have more of your business work for you down the road.
Thanks, as always, for letting me be transparent and honest here on the SPI blog with you.
We’re not done yet though. There are more big-ticket items that can be done to improve SGTHQ.com…
Just because I’d like to not rely solely on Adsense doesn’t mean I shouldn’t optimize the Adsense ads currently on my site.
After I started monetizing with ads in 2010, I did extensive testing on ad placement and colors and found an ad setup that seemed to generate the most income.
They haven’t been updated for years, so I was happy to welcome advice from Greg from NoHatDigital.com about Adsense optimization, who probably has a lot more experience, and many more websites to compare than I do.
Here’s a 4-minute video going through the older version of SGTHQ before the ads were updated:
If you’re running Adsense, watch the video – it’s got some great, simple tips.
Monetize the Directory
In 2011, I hired a developer to create a custom directory plugin for the site.
At the same time, I had my VA scour the web to create a database in excel of all of the security guard companies that offered training in the U.S. that she could find.
She was able to generate a healthy list of about 2000 companies, which then got dumped into the database on the site. Now, anyone can search for a security guard training company near their location.
Companies can also manually add their company to the directory as well.
My original idea was to monetize this directory by selling premium directory listings for companies or by selling leads directly to companies, but I couldn’t wrap my head around how to do this logistically, so I decided to keep it free as a value add for visitors who came to the site.
I’m definitely excited to revisit this opportunity, especially because Hayden and his team saw potential with the directory as well.
Unarmed, Armed, and then…
To truly make this the “ultimate resource” for security guard training, Hayden and his team suggested that more content be added to the site that cover other areas beyond the two major types of training that I have covered already (unarmed and armed security guard training), for example:
- Executive Protection / Bodyguard Training
- Other weaponry training, such as batons, mace, etc.
Although there is far less search volume in and around these types of trainings, covering them will show more relevance and authority to Google within the niche, and of course, it’s naturally useful for those who come across the site as well.
This is a great idea, and I’ll likely be outsourcing the research and writing of this content. I used Elance.com in 2011 for some additional content I placed on the site, and I’ll probably go the same route again, perhaps even use the same person if she happens to still be available.
An Online Store
Part of being a “one-stop shop” for a security guard in training means potentially creating an online store for physical products, and the cool thing is that I don’t necessarily have to (and I shouldn’t have to) store and ship those items myself – I can drop-ship or become an affiliate for a different store, or create a store that is simply a listing of products on Amazon.com as an associate.
Interestingly enough (again, in 2011 when I was hot on this site), I found a company that offers security guard products that actually has an affiliate program.
I hired a developer to (again through Elance.com) to take that store’s listing and create a store using my affiliate links on SGTHQ.com. Unfortunately, after 2 months of back and forth and headaches due to a bad developer, I decided to drop the idea.
Elance has mostly been a win for me, but I have had a few failures on there too. Make sure you due your due diligence if you’re going to hire anyone for anything!
A store seems like a great idea, especially if it’s automated and I don’t have to deal with shipping myself.
Will it work, I’m not completely sure, but it’s worth a shot in my opinion.
Personally, of all the ideas from NoHatDigital, this one scares me the most. A forum would be awesome, but only if it stays alive.
A dead forum is a huge tombstone on a site that says “move along, nothing to see here.”
I’ve tried managing forums in the past, and it’s hard. Hard as heck.
If you have an active community that likes to communicate, then it can run on it’s own, but typically there needs to be staff on board and someone there all-day to answer questions or moderate.
It could be a huge win for the stickiness factor, and there’s definitely an opportunity because there are no active forums that exist in this space.
It’s a huge opportunity, but a huge risk as well.
With that said, the forum could always be shut down and removed if it doesn’t work out.
I’ve struggled with product creation on SGTHQ in the past, but I know more work could be put into the research of it.
Instead of targeting the consumer, I may have more success by thinking about how solutions can be created for actual security guard businesses. Even just looking through most security guard websites, you can tell that they are light-years behind in terms of what a site could actually be used for, and usability.
I could, perhaps, license training programs that an individual company could use in their system. There’s also potential to create the central hub for state-approved online testing, but I’ve have to go through the state for that to work.
I look forward to sitting down with Hayden and his team to think of more ideas for products and expanding income streams.
Obviously, we’ll both keep you posted along the way.
We’re early into the experiment, but thanks to Hayden (and also Alex, who helped to implement some of the quick changes), we’re already starting to see some results.
Since implementing the responsive design on September 20th, the RPM (revenue per thousand) in Adsense increased dramatically. Here’s Hayden’s insight:
We implemented the Responsive change on Sept 20, and it showed a substantial improvement to RPM. The interesting thing here is that it was the Desktop users in Adsense that had a major RPM increase, mobile users stayed more or less the same. This is over nearly 1000 clicks, so unless there is some seasonality that came up, this had a substantial effect ($22 RPM vs $30 RPM on Desktop). Tablet also showed a major increase – literally doubling from $26 to $50 RPMs, though this was only over 100 clicks on each side – a definite improvement but we’d need more data to know whether it was an actual 100% improvement.
To give you some perspective:
- Daily average (for 14 days) before responsive design: $66.04.
- Daily average (for 14 days) after responsive design: $105.31
The really interesting thing I can see in my Adsense dashboard is that the page views and click-through rates were not far off from before, but the CPC (cost-per-click) increased by 45%, which accounts for the huge jump in daily average, and the higher RPMs.
It’s amazing how one little change can make big differences like this.
Again, is your theme responsive yet?
To Finish Up…
As you can see, there are a lot of things that can be done to improve the site. A 3x revenue within 6 months is achievable, but it’s not going to be push-button easy either.
A big thanks to Spencer from NichePursuits.com for introducing me to Hayden and his team over at NoHatDigital.com. It’s just the kick in the pants I needed to take this case study to the next level and thanks to Hayden and his giving and transparent nature (which of course I totally align with), we’ll both be able to help you increase revenue on your existing sites as well.
Once again, don’t forget to follow the timeline here.
Cheers, and I look forward to your thoughts and comments!