I’m about to interview one of my favorite SEOs in the world, Julie Adams.
I first learned about Julie’s story in The Affiliate Lab, where she shared her experience of quitting the digital marketing agency that she worked at and switching over to affiliate SEO.
Now, she’s making more money in one month than she did in an entire year at the agency!
Stick around for this interview because we’re going to get into not only her story but her entire process on how she ranks websites — from backlinks to on-site SEO.
Basically, everything she does to get her affiliate portfolio ranked today.
Transitioning from Client to Affiliate SEO
Matt: Hi Julie. Before we get started, why don’t you give everyone a little heads up on who you are and what you do in this world of SEO?
Julie: Sure, thanks for having me, Matt.
I’ve been in SEO for about seven or eight years.
I started at the bottom, not knowing much, and worked in an agency.
I began working with content and quickly fell in love with everything that goes into SEO — including the technical aspects, then seeing results and making money.
So, I worked at the agency during the day, then I would go home and do affiliate SEO at night.
So I just kind of stumbled my way into SEO, and I’ve had pretty good success.
Matt: Awesome, we’re very excited to hear more about your SEO story — but why don’t we start at the beginning.
First off, how old are you? Where are you from? Where are you living? What’s the full story there?
Julie: I’m 27, out of Orlando, Florida.
I’ve been here my whole life. I love it.
I’m big into the outdoors and all that — when I’m not doing the techie stuff.
Matt: Born and raised in the South?
Julie: I grew up in the Sarasota/Venice area, so always around the beach.
I moved here when I was in fourth or fifth grade, so I was big into Disney, big into everything that Floridians are into — all that good stuff!
Matt: Awesome! And what kind of education do you have? Did you go to high school, college?
Julie: I’m a college dropout.
I was actually a business finance major. I went to Valencia Community College, got my associate’s degree in business administration, and started my bachelor’s degree.
Then I almost failed one class — and I’m the type of person that gets really demotivated if I don’t absolutely excel at something.
An opportunity came up to work at an SEO agency just as I was about to fail out of that class. I decided to just drop out of school and pursue digital marketing full time.
So my bachelor’s degree is still on hold!
Matt: Interesting, I have a similar personality type.
If I can’t be really good at something, there’s no point in it for me — I’ve quit a million things because of that, so I get that…
How did you get into SEO? How did the whole thing start?
Julie: I honestly stumbled into it.
When I started the agency job, I was working at a movie theater, so I was basically scooping popcorn.
That was my first job. I also did some babysitting on the side, which is actually how I met my boss at the agency.
He recognized that I was pretty smart, needed an opportunity and just kind of scooped me up like popcorn!
I started working at the agency without even knowing what the term SEO stood for.
It was a total mystery to me. I thought it was just these three letters.
I started as an 18 or 19-year old going into this office setting, and my boss basically just said, “You’re in charge of content. You’re in charge of links.”
Initially, I was like, “Great, what does that mean?”
And then I just kind of learned on the job from there, in all honesty.
I didn’t get any formal training or anything like that.
Matt: Interesting, so did they just give you in-house training? Was it mostly based on their SOPs and internal knowledge?
Or did you take any courses or learn SEO from any other source?
Julie: This was when SEO just stopped being sketchy.
People were using spun content and SAPE links and tactics like that.
That was my initial idea of what SEO meant. So, when I first started, I was managing spun content, editing it, writing some content myself and managing link orders.
When I got there, we had no standard operating procedures — it was just, “Do X, Y, and Z, and don’t lose a client!”
Matt: Makes sense… I mean, that’s the basic plan!
Let’s talk a little bit more about the agency.
First off, I’m curious to know why you decided to leave it?
Julie: Money and time.
I’m fiercely independent. I love SEO. I stumbled into something that I really enjoy.
I felt really lucky because of all that, but I was working 40 some odd hours a week.
And as you can probably tell by how I’m describing this agency, it’s small.
I was one of three core employees at the time, and I basically hit the ceiling.
There was no room to grow, there was no opportunity to make more money, there was no really no room to learn anything else — Every day you go in, you do your work, and you go home…
Then I discovered affiliate SEO, probably how everybody else discovers it. I was just hoping to make a little passive income.
I was good at SEO, and I wanted the free time and the money!
Matt: I get that 100%. And you can throw this question right back at me if you don’t feel comfortable with it, but what was your monthly or annual salary at that agency?
Julie: I don’t remember what I started at.
It was definitely around minimum wage because I had no experience — so it was probably eight or nine bucks an hour, whatever minimum wage was at the time.
And I maxed out at about $40k a year.
Matt: And how many clients did you manage for $40k a year?
Julie: The most that I managed at one time was somewhere around 70 or 80.
I personally worked with hundreds of accounts when I worked there, but at the peak, I was managing upwards of 80 accounts at once.
Matt: That’s insane!
I mean, that’s an awesome ROI for the agency, but how about your stress levels? How were you able to handle 80 clients at a time?
Julie: It was really stressful!
I wasn’t always honest about what I could handle, so I would just do whatever I could.
I was basically the brains of the operation. I had people to write content. I had people that would help me put all the pieces into place.
So, you could kind of think of me as more of a conductor…
I built out the plans, and then somebody else would implement them. That’s the only way it was possible…
But it was definitely stressful to be expected to answer questions for 80 different accounts.
Like, “Why aren’t they ranking?”
You can’t pull up a report in a meeting. You were expected to know the answers off the top of your head.
So, that was probably the most stressful part.
Matt: Wow, that’s what they call a trial by fire!
Julie: I’m grateful for that, though, because the number of websites I manage now is just chump change in comparison.
Matt: That brings me to my next question. I’m sure you learned quite a few skills on the job that carried over to your affiliate career.
Can you touch upon that a little bit?
Julie: I mean, SEO, for sure. I had 80 clients to play with.
In the beginning, it wasn’t that many, but I did have clients to play with, and it wasn’t like they were my clients. If I lost them, honestly, I still had a job.
So in that sense, I had room to experiment —it was that kind of environment.
Matt: Got it.
When you were considering making the jump from agency to affiliate SEO, what fears or thought processes were going on in your mind?
Julie: Everything that you can think of!
I have generalized anxiety — I overthink everything. And jumping ship from a comfortable position in an industry that I love was really scary.
Now, I always knew that I would have a job there because, as I said, it was a small company. I actually had to give them six months notice to leave!
So I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t be able to return to the agency…
I was just afraid that I’d have to go back with my tail between my legs — having to admit that I tried something and failed.
Matt: I was thinking about that recently too…
That’s what held my journey as an entrepreneur back an extra year or two.
And it’s such an irrational fear!
What would happen if you actually had to go back to your job. On your first back, do you think your colleagues would say, “Oh, look at her — here she is. Oh, my God. She didn’t make it as a successful entrepreneur.”
Of course not, right?
So people listening, take note — fear of failure is a powerful fear. It probably comes from our lizard brains or some kind of prehistoric social conditioning, but it’s an irrational fear.
No one is going to care at all if you didn’t succeed in your attempt to strike off on your own.
Julie: It’s a fear that everyone has — and it’s something that can help you grow too.
Although I’m uncomfortable with the idea of failing, I try to be uncomfortable in life if that makes sense.
If I’m in my comfort zone, I’m not growing.
So you just kind of have to take the leap, similar to what you did.
Matt: I get that 100%.
So, what was it like the day that you turned in your notice, and you said six months and I’m out?
Julie: So I’d kind of been working on it low key. My boss knew what I was doing. He knew that I was about to sell a website, he knew how much I was going to sell it for, but I don’t think he put all those pieces together.
I sold my first website for roughly $30k… A pretty good amount for somebody in their early 20s and definitely enough to sustain me for at least a couple of months to see if I’m going to be good or not.
The day that I quit was the day that I found out that the site sold.
I found out while I was at work, I got an email, and then I immediately ran into his office — after having my anxiety attack — and said, “I’m quitting. I did this, I want to do this. I can do this. This is proof of concept. SEO isn’t some get-rich-quick scheme that you see on the internet. This money is going to be in my account. I’m quitting. How much notice do you need?”
And he was shocked! He didn’t think that I’d actually ever do it, but we eventually settled on six months. So I stayed for another six months.
Matt: That’s great, and good on you for giving them a six months notice! That’s about 12x what people usually do, so that’s amazing.
Do you genuinely have no clients now? Are you fully affiliate, or do you still keep some clients?
Julie: I would say 99.99% affiliate. I have one account that pays me under $300 a month, and it’s kind of a favor for a friend.
I really just manage their content and do a little bit of their on-page, but it’s by no means substantial.
So it’s a 100% affiliate at this point.
Matt: I heard you say that the trigger point for you handing in your notice is when you flipped your first website.
So, it sounds like you were doing a little moonlighting — working at the agency during the day, working on affiliate at night.
What kind of setup did you have going on that made you feel comfortable? Did you have one affiliate site working in the background? A couple? What did that look like?
Julie: I had one site that I was gearing up to sell, but over the course of a year or two, I started building a new website every quarter.
I wanted to get them out of the sandbox so that by the time I quit, I had not just the $30k from selling my first site, I also had additional income and that residual income replaced what I was making at the agency.
So I had this nice chunk of change from selling the site plus ongoing income, and I needed that to feel comfortable.
Matt: Yeah, I get it. I’d say it’s a conservative way to do it, but that’s exactly how I think too.
Some people might’ve just said, I need the thirty grand, and let’s get going, but you had the $30k and the salary replacement — it’s a no-lose scenario.
Julie: And Florida, the cost of living here, it’s rough — especially in Orlando. Jobs don’t pay as much as they should, and rent’s really, really high.
If I didn’t have the recurring income, I couldn’t live off of $30,000 for very long — at least in Orlando — and still be able to invest in my sites.
So I really didn’t have an option.
Matt: That’s an interesting fact. So, with your small portfolio of sites that you were working on when you’re at the agency, what kind of niches were you getting into?
You don’t have to drill down exactly into micro-niche, but in general.
Julie: At the time, I was basically doing 100% Amazon sites. So, the first site that I started, I don’t actually consider my first website because it was an absolute flop. It didn’t do anything.
I let the domain name expire in the end, but it was a personal thing that I liked: motorcycles. So it was a niche site based around motorcycles.
I used to ride — but it turns out it’s a terrible niche for affiliate!
That was my first website. Then the site that I sold for $30k was in the outdoor niche. When I was doing mostly Amazon, it was a lot of sports, outdoors, home improvement —stuff like that.
Basically, niches where the products were expensive on Amazon is where I was at at the time.
Matt: Did you ever build on any expired domains, or were you always building on brand new domains?
Julie: The first two sites were built before I even knew that expired domains were a legitimate way to do anything, so it was all just fresh stuff.
Matt: How do you do your keyword research?
Julie: At the time or now?
Matt: Let’s talk about now, let’s be more relevant.
Julie: Now, instead of starting with a keyword, I start with a competitor.
If I find a niche that I think is going to be profitable, I don’t just throw whatever I feel might be a good idea into Ahrefs. If I’m not an expert in the niche, I’m not going to have all the good ideas anyway.
So, now I start with finding a competitor that’s ranking and a similar size website to mine. Not a site that’s super micro niche but also not a website that’s super high-authority.
Then I’ll throw that site into Ahrefs and see what pages are generating the most traffic, and then cross-reference that with how expensive the items are, how likely they are to sell online, stuff like that.
And then it’s just Ahref rabbit holes and Excel sheets from there!
Matt: I know the Ahrefs rabbit holes! “Just one more hour. I just want to finish up this spreadsheet…”
Julie: “Wait, this exists? What is this? Now I have 500 more keywords!”
You hinted about niche versus authority sites. Let’s talk about that…
Don’t let me put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you were building niche sites in the beginning — motorcycles, outdoors and stuff like that.
So were you niche before and authority now, or are you still keeping it niche?
Julie: I like to have my domain names such that they have room to grow, but they’re still considered niche sites.
If I were to use a motorcycle site as an example, it wouldn’t be motorcyclegloves.com. It’d just be motorcycle.com or something like that, so that I have room to expand within the niche.
But at the end of the day, yeah, it’s still niche sites.
Onsite Optimization and Content
Matt: Let’s shift from building websites and niches and get into onsite SEO.
How do you go about creating content?
Are you outsourcing it?
Are you writing it yourself?
Julie: At this point, I outsource all of it because I just don’t have time to bust out the amount of content you need now.
When I first started, I wrote it all myself just to save money because good content is expensive. But now, I’m at the point where I can outsource it, which is wonderful.
Matt: Cool, where are you getting your writers from, if you don’t mind sharing?
Julie: I’ve been working with one writer for a long time. As I said, I have a small portfolio of sites now, so I don’t have enough to max her out, but I found her based on a recommendation in a Facebook group or something like that.
Matt: How about other kinds of help? Do you have VAs? Do you have content editors? Let’s just do a brief overview of your team and how you structure that.
Julie: Yeah, it’s small. It’s me and one and a half content writers. I have one girl I use for easier blog topics, as she’s a little bit less expensive.
Then I have a VA that does link building outreach and another VA that handles basically all the piddly work needed on a website.
He publishes content. If there’s anything technically wrong with the site, he can fix it. He can do site-speed optimization, he can do some basic on-page SEO. And if, for example, I do an A/B test and find that a button needs to be a different color, he’ll handle the changes across the board.
Matt: Interesting. One of the most common questions I get asked is how to hire effectively and where to find good people. ..
Can you give any kind of advice on where you can find general VA type positions, where you can find writers and people like that?
Julie: The best piece of advice I can give is don’t be afraid to fire somebody just because it took a while to find someone. You’re going to hire good freelancers and bad ones.
Hire quick, fire quick — until you find the right fit.
Matt: Would you say most of your hires are coming from Upwork or other sources?
Julie: Upwork and then personal recommendations for content writers…
Matt: Got it. OK, let’s get back to the content. How long do you make your articles, and how do you determine that?
Julie: It depends on the competition. Most of the time, it’s around 2,000 words.
I’ve been using Surfer a lot lately, so really what used to be a manual process Surfer makes really easy. I use a lot of Surfer’s recommendations and kind of take it from there.
Matt: Cool, I agree. Surfer just makes things a lot easier and scalable.
Speaking of Surfer, what’re your thoughts on keyword density?
Myth? Real? Do you pay attention to it?
Julie: I think it’s useful in terms of NLP stuff, keyword stuffing — it depends on the SERP, really.
If it’s working in a particular niche, do it. Generally speaking, I think it’s basically dead, but every SERP is different. So you kind of have to go into the SERP and see. But I would say, for the most part, it’s done.
Matt: So, keyword density is dead in the sense that you wouldn’t stuff keywords just for the sake of ranking. But using some kind of algorithm or an API like Google’s NLP can potentially help you make better decisions with your content?
Julie: Absolutely, but even that is based on the competition. So, if for whatever reason, I’m in a niche that’s super spammy and my competitors are keyword stuffing, keyword stuffing is going to work.
You need to evaluate on a case-by-case or niche-by-niche basis…
But I don’t think there’s some magic formula that works across the board when it comes to keyword density.
Matt: I’ve never told this story before because it was a website that I worked on.
But you know what? It’s been a long time, and those keywords are long gone. But I used to have a website ranking number one for “how to brew beer.”
So, “how to brew beer,” all good, we’re number one for that.
But, for the term “how to make beer,” we’re on page five.
How to brew beer, how to make beer. Same exact search intent.
You can’t make beer without brewing it. You can’t brew beer without making it…
Then we tossed our content into a true density algorithm — which analyzes entities on the page and assesses how frequently you use certain words compared to the competition — it turned out we’d used the word “make” on the page 60-something times…
In contrast, the competitor’s average was about 12.
So we toned the frequency down and shot up from page five to number two.
And, I was like, “You know what? I don’t care what people say on Twitter. This density stuff, it’s real. I just saw it work right in front of my eyes.”
Julie: Just to piggyback off that, keyword density is real when related to the competitors that are ranking. You’re not just blatantly keyword stuffing content just for the sake of stuffing it.
You’re stuffing it based on what’s working — or unstuffing it in your case.
Matt: That’s exactly right!
How often do you publish new content, and does that change based on the type of website?
Like, for an established website, do you publish faster or slower?
Julie: For newer sites, I actually publish faster just to get the general relevance built up.
For sites under a year old, I’ll do maybe 10 or 15 articles a month. And then, once it gets to a certain point — typically around 40 posts depending on the niche — I’ll gradually slow down to about one article a week.
That can be buyers guides, that can be supporting content — just keeping things fresh.
Matt: Very nice, very nice.
Let’s talk about interlinking — a blazing hot topic this year.
Internally linking various pages on your sites, what kind of process do you use for that?
Julie: I used to be super, super strict with it. I’ve gotten a little bit looser as I’ve fine-tuned my skills. I like to think of it as topic clusters. So that’s also the way that I keyword plan.
Instead of just thinking of one, two, three different random keywords, I’ll take one topic idea, keyword research that group altogether, and then interlink them all to each other.
Now, the only way that I would go outside of that is if there is a topic in another cluster that naturally relates back.
So it’s kind of a mix of typical technical SEO silo interlinking with a little bit of what “just makes sense” mixed in.
Matt: Speaking of silos, do you ever follow any of the “traditional” silo structures? For example, the top-down silo, the reverse silo, or similar highly structured and planned out configurations?
Julie: I used to use silos like that when I did local SEO — when it was more about services.
But now that I’m fully affiliate, I find that at least in my case, it matters somewhat less.
I usually don’t try to rank for super high-competition keywords — something I’d consider a top tier keyword. I’m generally after tier two keywords, something that’s a little bit less competitive.
So, in order to build out the URL structure and all that, I would basically be making a page that I was going to do nothing with — that I have no intention of ranking.
I basically just interlink pages without doing any elaborate URL structuring, for the most part.
Matt: Do you do any featured snippet optimization?
Julie: I do! But as of recently — and I’m assuming you’ve noticed this as well — featured snippets more or less dropped off the face of the earth.
So it used to be something that I would focus on. I would go do featured snippet optimization like twice a month for all my sites.
I’ve kind of backed off on that, simply because I can’t find snippets for a lot of keywords anymore.
Matt: Let’s pretend we lived in a world that had consistency in the SERPs…
How would you optimize for featured snippets?
Julie: So, in this pretend world, where Google does what we want them to do?
I would Google a keyword and see, first of all, who has the snippet and what type of snippet it is…
If it’s a list snippet that gives me an indication of what Google is looking for. If it’s a paragraph snippet, that gives me another clue.
First of all, I’ll see how they got the snippet — look at what information Google is actually pulling — and then I’ll see where I am in the list of things.
You can exclude competitor’s websites from the SERPs, then you can get a sense of where you fall in line for the snippet.
Once I have an idea what the competition is doing, I’ll do some tweaks on my site and re-index it…
If it indexes quickly, that’s wonderful — I’ll check to see, have I moved up? Have I moved down?
Now, if I’ve moved up, I would keep the change. Or if I stayed in the same spot, I’d keep the change.
If I moved down, I’d revert the changes and try something else until it works.
It’s really all about persistence. If you try hard enough, nine times out of 10, you’ll capture the snippet, as long as you’re in the top three.
Matt: The big trial and error process. The good thing about featured snippet optimization — and I’m sure you found this as well — is that the feedback loop is really quick.
You re-index it, re-crawl in GSC, and you should see whether your change scored you the snippet.
Julie: Exactly. I’ve found Search Console sometimes indexes right away, and sometimes it doesn’t. So if you’re Google’s good books and get indexed immediately — absolutely, you can know right away.
Matt: Any other on-site SEO tips that you felt got good gains for your websites that we haven’t touched upon?
Julie: The biggest thing I uncover when I audit sites right now is how few people optimize the most valuable SEO real estate on a website: your URL, your title tag, and your H1.
So many people have identical Title and H1 tags, which leaves a ton of potential long-tail keywords on the table.
If you’re only optimizing for one keyword, you’re missing out on 20 different things…
Take a couple minutes, go into Ahrefs, see what variations of the keyword there are, and mix up your title and your H1 just so that you can target more keywords.
Matt: Yes, I agree 100%!
As you know, in The Affiliate Lab, we call this The Three Kings,
It’s so crucial that we had to dress it up with a silly name just so you know that it’s essential.
Let’s quickly pivot into offsite SEO…
Link Building and Offsite SEO
What kind of links would you build to a new website?
Julie: I primarily start with basic social accounts. I’m talking Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter — stuff like that.
Not necessarily for the sake of getting a backlink, but just to claim that entity and to be able to link to it from the website, so it looks a little bit more real. But if the social profiles index, great.
Matt: And what comes after those social profiles?
Julie: Well, first, I would wait for the site to get out of the sandbox. I’m not going to link to something that’s not getting any traffic.
Once I start seeing traffic come in, even if it’s just a blog or something that doesn’t have buyer intent, I’ll start building guest post links to whatever’s ranking, just so that it looks the most natural. And if it does happen to be a blog that’s not something that I’m trying to monetize, I’ll use internal links to kind of funnel the link juice.
Then as the site grows, I start building links to pages that have natural traction. And then the more the site grows, the more authority you have, the more that kind of branches out.
Matt: So, you mentioned guest posts. Do you use any other kind of type of backlinks other than guest posts?
Julie: I used to use niche edits before I found out that they were hacked sites.
That was a couple of years ago, but I still pursue true niche edits.
Once a site is getting a little bit of traffic, I’ll tell my VA you can go after guest posts or if you want to insert a link into an existing article, go for it.
But I don’t do that right away just because it’s not really natural.
And then I’m experimenting right now with Tier 2 PBN links. I hear they’re getting good results.
Matt: So you’re doing guest posts and link insertions, we’ll call it a link insertion instead of niche edits to differentiate from the hacked version.
But are you doing outreach for all this stuff, or are you purchasing any of them from vendors?
Julie: Outreach and purchase. Basically, I purchase the links I source through outreach.
Matt: Can you give people some insight on how to get started with outreach? Like an example template you use as the first contact when you’re reaching out to someone to say, “Hey, I’m interested in getting a link on your blog.”
Julie: I have some sort of interesting subject lines, something that isn’t just the run of the mill, “Hello, kind sir, let me build a link.” I try to grab their attention.
If I’m doing it myself and it’s a target I really care about, I’ll include something personalized in the subject line so that they know it’s not spammy.
To be honest, I personally haven’t done outreach in a long time. My VA just kind of handles it.
I didn’t even specifically train him because I didn’t have an outreach SOP built out that I was confident in. I hired a VA who had taken certain SEO courses and gave them the opportunity to prove themselves.
Matt: That’s an awesome answer! That’s what I want to hear high-level operators saying: “You know what? To be honest, I don’t even know what my outreach person is writing these days, because I hired someone who’s doing it better than I could — and I’ve given them 100% ownership of the task.”
Do you know what tools you’re using for outreach?
Julie: When I was doing it myself, I would use BuzzStream just to automate the actual sending of the emails, and then I would do a lot of scraping, using Ahrefs and Google, just basic stuff like that.
Good old Excel spreadsheets too, but BuzzStream was the biggest tool I used.
Matt: How many links do you like to build per month, per site?
Julie: It depends on how big the site is. When I have a fresh site, around five to 10, and then as it grows, I get up to 20, 25. That’s the max that I send to a site right now.
So it kind of stays within that window, depending on how much traffic is getting, how aged the site is, and competitor’s link velocity.
Matt: You always need to know that you’re outpacing your competition, or you can never expect to beat them.
So what are you doing for anchor texts?
Julie: Again, it’s based on competition…
I think it might actually be your technique that I’m using — I’ve been using it for so long now!
You take the sites on the first page of Google, look at their anchor text, calculate an average, and use that to inform what you need to do. And, as I mentioned before with keyword density, it changes per the SERP.
Back in the day, I would think, hey, you need 50% keyword anchors, 50% URLs, or whatever the heck it was.
Totally throw all that out the window! It varies for every single search term. You have to base it off the competition, and then you just take the average.
Matt: Amen, sister, amen!
What about social signals — use them, or don’t care?
Julie: Don’t care!
Matt: That falls in the “don’t care” bucket.
Do you keep track of no-follow versus do-follow ratios?
Julie: No, maybe I should, but I don’t.
I’ve found that they kind of appear naturally as the site grows.
I attract the links that I build for whatever reason, whether it’s syndication sites or whatever.
I tend to pick up no-follow links just by existing, so it’s not something that I really put a lot of effort into.
Matt: How about let’s finish up with any other off-site SEO tips that you could recommend or any other link building knowledge bombs that you want to drop?
Julie: Not a knowledge bomb but a reality check — links cost money. If you’re on a tight budget, you’re going to have to build links yourself…
But even if you’re doing it yourself, expect to pay anywhere from $30 to $60 plus for every single link. Webmasters are on to the fact that charging for links is a good way to make money, and there’s no way around it.
If somebody offers you a $20 link on a website, there’s probably a reason why it’s $20, and you don’t want that. So just be ready to spend money — you have to at this point.
Monetization (and How to Get off Amazon!)
Matt: Perfect segue — money. Let’s talk about monetization. How do you like to monetize your affiliate sites?
Julie: Just good old affiliate links. I played around with ads way back when… I don’t do it now. My thought process is, if I can get a click on an ad that gets me a penny and a half, I’m potentially losing an affiliate click that could get me a couple of hundred dollars.
Maybe I’m just being too cautious, but the risk of losing that potential affiliate click prevents me from being enticed by how much I can make with ads.
Matt: Sure, sure. And with these affiliate links, where are you sending them?
Julie: I used to do a lot of Amazon, probably about 80-90%. When was it? March or April when Amazon did their big cut?
I was about 90% Amazon at that time, and now I’m at about 25%. Now I send most of my traffic to manufacturers that bid the highest and have the most relevant products.
Matt: Good on you. You’ve caught my eye in The Affiliate Lab many times for sharing knowledge bombs, whether you think so or not. One thing I’ve noticed is that you have a knack for replacing Amazon as a vendor and working with brands and manufacturers directly. Can you speak a little bit more about that?
Julie: Whether you’re an affiliate or you’re in local SEO, it’s an industry where people like to hide. You’re going to stand out if you’re willing to be personable and eager to talk to people.
Here’s how I land the preferential deals that I’m able to get…
First of all, I’ll apply for an affiliate program. I’ll send the vendor all my site stats — whether or not I get approved, they get an email right away that lays everything out.
Now, if I have enough traffic where I feel confident, part of that email is, “Hey, let’s get on the phone, let’s have a conversation.”
Then, let them talk about the products, make them feel warm and fuzzy, and then talk about what I bring to the table.
At the end of the conversation, you say, “Hey, is this the best you’re willing to offer? How can I get a higher commission?”
Just get on the phone and talk to somebody at the company. You might not even end up talking about affiliate commissions. Just the other day, I ended up having a conversation with a manufacturer about fishing.
If you take the time to get to know somebody personally, they’re much more likely to want to work with you, and they often have a lot of wiggle room on percentages.
Let’s say a base commission starts at 10%. I guarantee you they can go up to 25% or higher if you make it worthwhile for them and if you keep it real…
Be nice, be likable, and build a relationship.
Many people are uncomfortable with this process, but that’s how I’ve been able to obtain much higher commissions.
Matt: What’s the minimum commission rate you find acceptable to move off Amazon? Amazon has amazing conversion rates, but obviously, money talks…
Julie: I always say 10%, and that’s contingent on it not being another online mall…
Let’s pretend for a second that Home Depot or eBay or whatever offers more than fractionally higher commissions than Amazon…
Platforms other than Amazon that aren’t direct manufacturer sites don’t convert as well as Amazon.
Manufacturer sites generally exist to sell a singular product. They have a beautiful landing page, etc.
With Amazon — you have Amazon addicts, and they convert well — but other online malls don’t have that.
So when linking directly to manufacturers as opposed to other malls, I would say 10% is the minimum commission rate.
Matt: I want to echo what you said. I use 10% as a starting point, and that can go up or down depending on the landing page’s beauty.
If it’s horrid, if it looks like one of those old-school squeeze pages and just screams scam, you’re going to have to give me 30 or 40% — and it’s just a test, right?
Julie: And even still, if it doesn’t convert, 50%, 70%, whatever — it doesn’t matter, it’s still $0.
Matt: For sure. I’m assuming you’re testing as well? I mean, just because you move off Amazon and you find this 10% deal doesn’t mean it’s going to convert well.
So, how do you structure these kinds of tests?
Do you use the new provider for a month and then just see which one made the most money?
Julie: Basically, yeah…
I actually use a shorter testing period — it’s a couple of weeks.
What I do is take my highest performing page — it gets the most traffic, so I can gather the most data in a short amount of time — then I place this new provider either number one or number two, and just watch it like a hawk.
I see how many clicks it’s getting and if it has any conversions. Honestly, my average conversion rate is between 1 and 2% right now, so I’m looking for at least that.
If I start making good money off it, I’ll just switch from Amazon across the board, but I start with one, maybe two pages.
Matt: That makes sense. Do you ever do any A/B testing to test out Amazon versus another supplier, or are they always serial tests? You just replace and then test and then switch back if the performance isn’t there?
Julie: I just do replacement tests because I’m trying to get away from Amazon as much as possible right now. Even if Amazon is better, I don’t trust them anymore. So, there’s no sense in split testing if I want to get rid of them anyway.
Matt: I’m not going to disagree with that. We’ve been preaching against Amazon in The Affiliate Lab since the beginning. In fact, the third lesson in The Affiliate Lab is why we don’t like having Amazon!
Julie: Don’t you have a story where you lost like $90,000 or something crazy like that?
Matt: No, it was $150k. They still have that.
Let’s talk about traffic diversification. Do you get all your traffic from organic search? Do you mess around with any PPC or email marketing?
Julie: Organic is what I know… When I was at the agency, I dabbled in paid ads. And when I say dabble, I mean, I would look over somebody else’s shoulder when I went to get coffee.
It’s not something that I have training in. It’s not something I’m super confident about.
To be honest, with a lot of affiliate deals, unless you have a super, super high commission rate to advertise on Google specifically, it’s pretty low margins.
Now with Facebook, if I have a really high commission product, I’ll do a little bit of advertising on Facebook, but that’s it.
Matt: How about email funnels — like offering a lead magnet, getting them in an automated series, and then building up at least a 10,000 person list. Then anytime you release a new post you’re driving 10,000 people back to that post who could convert.
Do you have experience with that?
Julie: I see a ton of value there because, one, it’s traffic you can control, and, two, it’s traffic that ‘s infinitely growing as long as your list is high quality.
I’m still learning, still a baby there. I think it’s viable, so I’m looking into it now.
Matt: Cool. So nothing is holding you back from email marketing — it’s just a work in progress.
It seems that you’re not scared to try new things, you like challenges — and as you said, you like to be uncomfortable — which is a sign of growth, for sure.
Speaking of growth, what’s your plan for scaling your portfolio?
Do you want to get into more niches? How many sites do you have now, and where do you want to be in the future?
Julie: Right now, I have six or seven sites, so it’s relatively small.
I’ve said from the beginning that… Look, I’m not going to say I don’t love money, but money is not my main motivation — it’s time.
I want to have a portfolio that I can put four or five hours a day into. I don’t care what work I’m doing, but that’s how many hours I want to work per day.
So whether I’m scaling or taking a step back in order to reinvest money to reduce my operational involvement, I’m open to that…
But I don’t want to grow and work more just for the sake of making even more money, because I’m doing pretty good right now.
Matt: That’s interesting. So, if your primary motivation is time, it seems like you’re more interested in scaling your team and phasing yourself out of operations rather than scaling your portfolio.
Julie: Exactly, yes. If I can do four hours of work a day where I’m not doing any SEO and I’m just managing a team, great. That’s totally on my radar. And if I can make more money doing that, excellent.
I know I’m not going to sit here and build a ton more sites with just myself at the helm. So, if I want to grow, I’m growing with people — not necessarily just more sites.
Matt: Let’s say you’re deciding to build a new site. Let’s say you flip a good one, you have some free time, and you want to build a new one…
Julie: I like to stay away from your money, your life (YMYL) niches, because it’s hyper-competitive and it takes a lot more money to be able to compete there.
And also, not that I have anything against anybody that does it, but if I’m not an expert on something financial or health-related, just from an ethical standpoint, I don’t want to touch it.
I don’t want to recommend products that I don’t personally believe in.
So unless I become an actual expert at something in YMYL, I would rather just stay in “safer” niches.
Does that answer your question?
Matt: That works for me! Any regrets moving to 99.9% affiliate?
Julie: As I mentioned, I work four hours a day now. So, I went from working 40 hours a week to 20, 25 maybe.
No regrets. I am so much happier. My work/life balance is great. I’m making more money. I have more time. I’m proud of myself.
Everybody suspects I sell drugs or something, I’m sure. At least all of my family thinks so!
But no regrets, this is the best decision I’ve ever made.
Matt: That’s awesome to hear!
Do you have any advice for people in a similar position to when you were back at the agency or even beginner SEOs that are just deciding between affiliate or drop shipping or staying at a nine-to-five?
What advice do you have for people like that?
Julie: If you’re good at SEO, do it!
But, if you think affiliate is some kind of get-rich-quick scheme that doesn’t require any time or any money — you’re going to waste a lot of both if you try to pursue this.
You need to know getting into affiliate marketing, that it’s going to take money to get started, it’ll take a lot of time, and you have to be relatively good at SEO.
If you’re just getting started with affiliate SEO — great, because you can learn, but don’t expect to fully succeed.
Keep your expectations in check, and don’t be afraid to fail — even though I’m afraid to fail, we’re all afraid to fail — don’t be scared of failure.
Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here, but you’re probably going to fail on your first one or two sites, I guarantee you that.
Matt, you have a couple of failures under your belt as well…
People only see success online. They don’t see any of the failures. So, just keep chugging along.
Matt: How would you recommend getting started? Because you had an excellent experience of starting off in an agency… Would you recommend people get their education at an agency and leave them high and dry?
I’m just kidding!
Julie: I’d say that if you have an opportunity to get what I called “paid schooling” towards the end of my time at the agency — go for it! I learned so much, and maybe you’ll end up loving it.
There’s no better way to learn than to do, and I know you’re half-joking with your question but in all honesty, being an agency gives you a handful of clients to learn with. So, yeah, I would recommend it.
Matt: Got it.
Alright, so before we wrap this up — thank you for this awesome interview.
I’m sure people learned a lot of things — not only about your journey but your process, how you rank websites, what you pay attention to, and how you do things.
I’m excited to announce that you’ll be making more appearances on this YouTube channel and coming up with a series of talks and discussions.
Do you want to talk a little bit more about what we can expect?
Julie: As we’ve been discussing this whole time. I come from a local SEO agency background, and now I do only do affiliate.
So, I have a very wide range of advice to bring to the table. And not only about SEO, but going back to having 80 clients at once…
So much of what goes into success is organization and knowing where to dedicate your time to make more money.
So I’ll be talking about all that’s involved with that, as well as stuff like conversion rate optimization — how to make more money with the same amount of traffic you already have.
I’m going to be bringing all my knowledge and experience to the table — I’m excited!
Matt: I’m excited! And you guys watching should be excited too!
Julie, Thanks so much for your time. It’s been eye-opening.
You’re awesome and congrats on all your success.
Julie: See you again on this channel soon!
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