Project Cashflow Month Three: Unconventional Link Building

The hardest part of SEO is waiting…

When you’ve done everything you can think of to make Google like your site better, it sometimes feels like all that’s left to do is sit tight and wait.

But your work as an SEO is never really done.

There are always additional steps you can take to increase your chances of ranking higher in the future.

Last month for Project Cashflow, we experimented with a 301 redirect from an aged domain to try and move the needle…

In Project Cashflow Month 3, you’ll learn about:

  • Two more outside-the-box link building tactics
  • Advanced E-A-T optimization
  • Breadcrumb navigation and structured data
  • and much, much more.

Have our previous SEO efforts started to bear fruit?

Stay tuned for the answers in Project Cashflow Month Three…

Link Building

cashflow month 3 link building

Help A Reporter Out (HARO)

You’re probably familiar with HARO.

Basically, it’s a forum for journalists looking to source expert quotes to use in their stories.

HARO claims that over 70,000 journalists and bloggers use the service and that it publishes over 50,000 journalist queries annually.

That kind of volume means that link building with HARO is a bit of a slog. But depending on your niche, HARO can be a rich source of high domain authority backlinks.

Here’s how it works…

HARO sends out three emails a day — morning, midday, and evening EST, with journalist queries sorted by category.

Everyone from solopreneur mommy bloggers to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal uses HARO to source quotes.

Haro general inquiries morning edition

The first step is to identify queries relevant to the site you’re building links for. Some reporters ask you to submit an answer to their question (or give a quote) directly, while others request a bio, author credentials, and a pitch.

If a reporter ends up using your quote, you’ve got a high probability of scoring a backlink to your site.

It pays to check the outlet’s DR before crafting an answer or pitch…

Otherwise, HARO can eat up a ton of your time for minimal reward.

In the education niche for Project Cashflow, we thought HARO might be worth a shot.

freelancer doing haro

So we posted on Upwork seeking a freelancer to land HARO links.

We found a freelancer with some HARO experience and gave him additional training.

We also provided him with a  “blacklist” of sites from which Project Cashflow already has backlinks…

I’m a firm believer that you only need one link per referring domain for SEO purposes.

Our HARO freelancer for Project Cashflow is paid a straight-up fee for any DA 50+ link he scores for Project Cashflow — with no retainer.

A performance only, incentive-based hiring model works to your advantage for HARO — I don’t recommend paying someone by the hour or paying a monthly fee.

Even with the best intentions, someone could spend a considerable amount of billable time answering HARO queries and get you little or no results to show for it.

Wikipedia and Wikidata Links

Another tactic that we’ve just started implementing for Project Cashflow is link building on Wikipedia and Wikidata.

wikipedia and wikidata for backlinks

There is much debate amongst SEOs as to whether Wikipedia links carry any juice…

After all, Wikipedia links are nofollow — doesn’t that negate their SEO value?

I asked my business partner at LeadSpring, Jay Yap, who’s personally managing Project Cashflow, for his take:

“Nofollows aren’t what they used to be. They may (or may not) pass link juice.
It’s up to Google.
Wikipedia links are nofollow, but, in my opinion,  it’s definitely a Trust signal to have links from Wikipedia and Wikidata.”

Given that “anyone” can edit a Wikipedia page, there’s also a common misconception that Wikipedia links must be easy to get.

That’s not really the case.

The days of Wikipedia being a joke are long over. It’s become one of the most trusted (and trafficked) resources and repositories of knowledge online.

One reason for that? Despite content on Wikipedia being almost entirely crowdsourced, editors and other users relentlessly police most edits to pages.

Even Neil Patel — arguably as close to qualifying as a “celebrity” as a digital marketer gets — had his Wikipedia page deleted.

niel patel wikipedia page

But, as is usually the case, there’s a workaround.

Jay posted on Upwork looking for a vendor to supply one Wikipedia and one Wikidata backlink to Project Cashflow.

We ended up paying a straight per-link commission to a freelancer with reliable access to several aged pages on both sites.

Now, we just have to wait for a few weeks to see if the link insertion edits stick.

I’ll update you on our progress in next month’s case study.

In-House Link Building and Outreach

Our in-house outreach team’s link building efforts for January were somewhat lackluster compared to what we’re used to.

That goes not just for Project Cashflow but for several of the sites in LeadSpring’s portfolio.

When your link building efforts are fruitless, there are several potential causes — I’ll share what we did to try to get to the root of the problem.

It’s tempting to blame January’s lack of success on a holiday slump…

link building after holidays meme

But we’ve been in this link building game a long time and never experienced such a slowdown in getting a response from site owners and editors — let alone an actual link.

When your outreach response rate takes an unexpected nosedive, email deliverability is the first thing to check.

You want to make sure that your outreach emails are actually landing in the right person’s inbox.

First, you can test email deliverability using Glock Apps before you even hit send.

glockapps homepage

We also tried to eliminate deliverability as an issue by testing different email platforms and outreach tools, including:

But we saw little or no improvement in bounce rate, open rate, and (most importantly) response rate.

Once you rule out email deliverability as a root cause, the why behind diminishing returns from link building outreach becomes much more difficult to ascertain.

  • Could your email outreach templates use a refresh to make them more compelling?
  • Are editors and site owners being inundated with requests for paid guest posts or link insertions? Do you need to up your offer?
  • What external factors beyond your control (Covid, economic slowdown, etc.) could potentially be reducing your success rate?

Any (or all) of the reasons above could be behind a slowdown. But I’m no fan of speculation, and the more “macro” the potential cause, the more difficult it is to test.

We tweaked our outreach approach and are hoping for better results next month.

Despite the recent downturn in our link building results, we still managed to obtain the following links from DR50+ sites:

We’ve also been working with Authority Builders to obtain more paid guest post opportunities relevant to Project Cashflow’s micro-niche.



In addition, we ordered a second Expert Roundup in an attempt to score more backlinks.

And, regarding the 301 redirect from an aged domain we purchased from ODYS Global in January…

We’ve seen little impact from this link building experiment to date, but ODYS has told us that results can take up to 90 days.

Site Architecture and Technical SEO

Breadcrumb Navigation

The existing on-site navigation for Project Cashflow was a bit of a mess.

So, in January, we put breadcrumb navigation into place.

When you optimize your site by implementing breadcrumb navigation, it’s a win-win.

sample of simple breadcrumbs

Not only does breadcrumb navigation significantly improve UX by creating a page hierarchy that’s easy for your users to understand, but it can also help with SEO.

Google uses breadcrumbs to help categorize and understand the content on your website.

Google recommends that your site structure “provides breadcrumbs that represent a typical user path to that web page.”

sample of complex breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are also crucial if you want Google to show your site’s content in rich results.

rich result snippet featuring breadcrumbs

Rich results are “experiences on Google surfaces, such as Search, that go beyond the standard blue link. Rich results can include carousels, images, or other non-textual elements.”

Rich results stand out from the rest of the search results, making it more likely someone will click on your link.

Structured Data

An additional step you can take when implementing breadcrumb navigation is to optimize your site for structured data.

We put both breadcrumb navigation and structured data into place for Project Cashflow concurrently.

Structured data helps Google better understand the content on your site.

structured data and search appearance

Google mostly uses Schema.org vocabulary for Search — the organization it cofounded with Bing/Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandex.

But Google recommends that you refer to the structured data documentation at developers.google.com rather than Schema.org as not all of Schema’s requirements are used by Google Search.

Depending on what type of content your site publishes, there are many different kinds of structured data guidelines.

Google provides a tool to confirm that your structured data is formatted correctly for search — the Rich Results Test.

google rich result test

Any step you can take that makes it easier for Google to understand the type of content your site offers — and facilitates Google returning it as a rich search result — is a step worth taking.

E-A-T

If you’ve been following Project Cashflow from the beginning, you know how much effort we’ve put into building Expertise – Authority – Trust for the site.

EAT-for-project-cashflow

We expect E-A-T to be more of a ranking factor in the future. Also, given that Project Cashflow is in the education niche, the credibility of the site and the authors behind it must be beyond reproach.

In previous months, we created staff personas with dedicated email addresses and bios.

In January, we took it a step further. With the volume of content that we publish on Project Cashflow, it’s not realistic that only one person — the founder — would be writing all the articles.

So, we created dedicated author personas and About pages for each contributor to the site.

Each author’s About page includes a photo, email address, short bio, and links to all of the author’s articles on Project Cashflow.

With most affiliate sites, we set author About pages to noindex to prevent them from appearing in search results and reduce index bloat.

Person schema type

For Project Cashflow, we created a “Person” schema for each author and indexed the About pages to help Google “understand” more about each contributor.

According to Jay,

“The schema we’ve added gives these fake authors a bit more credibility because all their information is coded in a way that Google will be able to put together more easily.”

As you can see in the example above, Person schema can delve into an enormous amount of detail about an individual. We stuck to the basics like email address, job title, name, gender, nationality, etc.

The next step in making the author personas more authentic is to add social profiles for each contributor. That’s something we’ll get to in the future. Currently, only the company founder has social profiles attached to his persona.

Content Creation

When you’re looking to scale up content creation for an affiliate SEO site, it’s helpful to set a monthly goal for the number of new articles.

For Project Cashflow, our monthly target is 15 new blog posts per month — and we hit that goal in January.

good job borat meme

Of the 15 new posts, 13 were informational supporting content articles, and only two of them were commercial pages.

As you may recall from Month Zero, the primary reason we acquired Project Cashflow was to target one particularly juicy affiliate offer in the education niche…

Of the 13 informational articles we published in January, four of them linked back to the money page for that particular offer.

In Month Two, I detailed how three of our secondary keywords/product categories took a hefty jump in the SERP rankings — leaping 20-40 positions.

Nine of the new informational content articles were directly related (and linked back to) to those secondary product categories.

The reason behind this is three-fold:
  • Creating supporting content for secondary product categories may not directly help you convert traffic for your main affiliate offer. Still, it should help drive more traffic to the site overall. The supporting content also increases the topical relevance of the main money page, helping it rank higher.
  • Despite only having one or two pages dedicated to these three secondary categories, Google still gave us a significant bump in the rankings in the latest core update. If Google likes what you’re doing for a specific keyword, it’s usually a good idea to show it that there’s more quality content where that came from.
  • All of the secondary categories are monetized — not with as lucrative an offer as our main keyword, but an additional income stream never hurts.

Results

I’m not gonna sugarcoat this.

We’ve seen some steady improvements through January 2021 month/end…

But you can always hope for better:

  • Amazon Revenue January 2020: $266.01
  • Amazon Revenue January 2021: $337.95
  • Non-Amazon Affiliate Revenue January 2021: $29.90
  • YOY Percentage Change: + 38%

As I mentioned in earlier installments, it wasn’t until March 2020 that Project Cashflow’s sales started to ramp up under the previous owner.

We’re still a long way off from hitting the monthly average earnings — based on the six months prior to acquisition — of $1,003 p/m.

Given the seasonal nature of Project Cashflow’s niche (and based on last year’s results), I’m expecting to make most of our money between March and August.

cashflow month 3 revenues

By then, we’ll hopefully be getting more traction from our SEO efforts.

As measured by DR, our link building is starting to pay off nicely:

cashflow DR 2018-2021

And we’ve seen some progress in the rankings…

cashflow ranking progress jan2021

Traffic has been slowly trending upward, with an unexplained dip (and recovery) towards the end of January. The upward traffic trend has continued into February.

The dip at the end of  January did coincide with a small Google update, but it’s difficult to say if that was the cause.

project cashflow ranking graph dec2020-jan2021

Overall, results from the first two full months of Project Cashflow are encouraging if unspectacular…

Given all the links we built and technical issues we resolved in Month One and Month Two, I’m a little surprised that we haven’t seen bigger gains as of yet…

But as you probably know, most substantial movement in the rankings — up or down —  occurs during a Google core update.

With Project Cashflow’s current trajectory — and all the SEO work we’ve put in — I feel well-positioned to realize significant gains when the next update rolls out.

Project Cashflow is also in tip-top shape for when search demand for our main money keywords ramps up starting in March.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the intro, the hardest part of SEO is having to wait. But sometimes, the passage of time is your biggest asset.

In Project Cashflow Month 3, we’ve continued to make improvements to the site and executed new link building strategies, including:

  • HARO and Wikipedia/Wikidata link building
  • Breadcrumb navigation and structured data implementation
  • Advanced E-A-T optimization

In other words, we’ve continued to “do all the things.”

I’m confident you’ll see all our hard work pay off in the coming months.

Find out exactly how I approach affiliate SEO in The Affiliate Lab.

And don’t forget to join me again next month to see how much progress we’ve made with Project Cashflow by February’s month-end.

 

Got Questions or Comments?

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The post Project Cashflow Month Three: Unconventional Link Building first appeared on Diggity Marketing.

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