Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Asen and I’m the owner and founder of Gear Up Hiking - a niche affiliate blog that offers easy and actionable tips for beginner hikers, campers, and outdoor junkies.
We also provide in-depth gear reviews and talk about known and unknown hiking destinations around the world. For example - some hidden trails in Bulgaria or majestic gems in Canada and the USA.
As for the gear reviews, in the beginning, we were primarily focused on hiking backpacks, but after fully covering that vertical, we started writing more general hiking gear reviews. In the past few months, we entered the camping niche too.
A few months ago we were honored to be mentioned on AdventureJunkies.com on their list of the top 50 hiking blogs to follow in 2021. We are number 14.
Nowadays the website averages $1300+per month for the last 12 months and the traffic ranges between 20k to 30k visitors monthly. Currently, the website is worth over $50 000 if I decide to sell it for profit.
While these numbers are far from being super impressive, I’m pretty happy with the direction that the website is heading, especially given the fact that this is a side hustle project that I started with almost zero knowledge about SEO and marketing back in 2019.
And it’s (almost) a one-man show.
I’m also happy about the fact that more and more outdoor brands trust us and contact us by asking us to include their products on our website. And they sent me tons of free products for review.
Currently one of my rooms acts as outdoor gear storage and tons of outdoor products are waiting for me to test and review them.
I love that because I’m an avid outdoorsman myself and I always test those products with passion and excitement.
Here’s a graph from Ahrefs showing the organic traffic growth:
And a graph from Google Analytics showing the traffic for the last month:
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
At the moment, I have a full-time job in an IT company but this just pays the bills.
I turned to affiliate marketing back in 2018 when I read some success stories of young folks who changed their lives thanks to affiliate marketing and niche websites.
There will be times when you’ll want to quit and still you will have to continue because you have that dream to accomplish whatever it is.
I liked the business model and how it was able to provide financial freedom if one is skillful and persistent enough.
So I started my first blog back then. It was an action movie blog. After I spent a year working on it I sold it for $3,000.
I was looking to invest the money in a ready-made niche website that had good potential.
This is how I ended up buying gearuphiking from HumanProofDesigns for $1,700. I liked the site because it was in a niche that I loved and practiced myself. I felt knowledgeable enough to develop the website and obtain the desired escape from the corporate world.
The website had only 10 articles written and two or three of them were ranking on the first page of Google. It wasn’t making any money back then at all.
So I was determined to grow it and flip it for a profit when the right time comes. So I enrolled in an online marketing university for beginners and started digging.
Take us through the process of growing Gear Up Hiking.
At the very beginning, it was just me.
I was doing all the things related to the website including keyword research, content planning, and content writing.
When it came to writing the product reviews, I wanted to stand out.
I wanted my reviews to be as in-depth and accurate as possible, without missing crucial information that would be valuable to the readers.
That’s why whenever possible, I bought some products myself, tested them, and based my reviews on those tests.
That’s one of the reasons why my reviews are one of the longest in the industry.
One of the first posts I’ve written is this one:
I knew that many people around the world suffered from bad knees and at the same time wanted to continue hiking. I did my research and saw that many people are searching “how to hike with bad knees”. So I decided to compile a comprehensive article on the topic. It’s one of our most popular articles right now.
For the gear reviews, because I wanted them to be detailed and accurate, I consulted many friends who have used a certain product and I haven’t.
That’s why I call my friends a part of my team because they contributed to the content immensely one way or another throughout the development of the website.
Soon enough, brands started to reach out and asked me to review and include their products on the website.
Tell us more about your content creation and writing process.
Once I bought the website I made a short content posting schedule that included 1 post per week.
Then I started writing based on keyword research. Whenever I found a phrase that people typed in Google, I wrote an article around it if I believed that the article would rank based on the competition.
Work on your mind and emotions - this business is volatile. Sometimes it requires inhuman patience and cold-bloodedness to keep up going.
Initially, it wasn’t easy to write the content me because I wasn’t used to all the terminology involved, especially given the fact that I’m not a native English speaker.
But I didn’t have a choice so I just kept going.
One of the biggest lessons I learned at the beginning was that this online business hustle required patience, sacrifice, and dedication. It’s not an overnight thing or a get-rich-quick scheme.
It all comes down to building the proper mindset and the right skills for success.
Everyone who does SEO knows that it takes time.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and keep readers?
Initially, my growth strategy was to write as much quality SEO-optimized content that I possibly could.
You need to strengthen your mind and spirit to be prepared for everything until you succeed.
Anyone involved in affiliate marketing and SEO would tell you that it all boils down to quality content that ranks and acquiring good backlinks.
What has worked for me is concentrating on the so-called “low hanging fruit” and “long tail” type of keywords - phrases that people search that have low competition and decent search volume.
So I produced many posts around such topics while trying to maintain my website in good technical shape - I was carrying a lot about site speed, disavowing spammy backlinks, etc.
I didn’t care too much about building backlinks. To be honest, I still don’t. I have bought some links from reputable agencies now and then but most of the time I did blogger outreach myself.
What worked quite well is pitching guest posts based on infographics - I reached out to fellow blog owners offering them a nice infographic that was highly relevant to their content. In exchange, they linked back to my website.
I’ve also landed some good guest posts that helped bring a good amount of referral traffic.
When the website hit $100 per month after the 6-month mark, I started to outsource the writing process to scale.
It was a difficult process and one full of trials and tribulations. It’s difficult to find good writers these days - ones that are experts in the niche and willing to learn and be educated. It took me months until I found 5 great writers that continue to produce content for the website today. I pay them roughly $50 per 1200 words.
The outdoor niche is very visual and Pinterest is a huge opportunity for growth.
I also participated in relevant FB groups and posted my content there. But I found out that it’s not just about posting a link to your website and then calling it a day. I needed to write some catchy descriptions that I knew the members would relate to. Often that included a question.
For instance, this post gained huge social media attention because hikers are often young people in a constant seek of adventure and emotion.
Recently I started using Youtube as a source of referral traffic. I turn short informational posts into videos with the help of a freelancer I found on Fiverr. He also helps me create videos for the reviews posts.
It started to gain traction and boost affiliate sales.
Another growth strategy that worked well for me is joining AD display networks such as Newor Media. It’s great for monetizing informational articles.
In addition, I started to approach brands and offer them to review their products, and include them in my round-up review posts. Most of them are willing to pay much higher commissions than Amazon and other popular affiliate networks. Plus, they always share my posts and sometimes even link back to my website.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I rarely accept posting articles from other bloggers for a fee on my blog but sometimes if the content is good, I do. It’s a nice additional income and a great source for free quality content.
The monthly expenses now vary between $250 - $600 - mostly for writers, Pinterest pins, and backlinks.
One thing I’d like to concentrate on in the future is building an email list. I never considered doing email marketing seriously but I know it’s super important for building your audience.
Currently, the website has 37 subscribers.
To further develop the website, I plan to concentrate more on targeting keywords related to winter camping and hiking. People think that the outdoor niche is more active in summer which is only partially true.
There are plenty of people who are keen on winter hiking/camping and need proper advice and gear for that.
Moreover, I plan on targeting and promoting hiking tours.
There are affiliate programs that promote such tours and the commissions are big since a regular hiking tour is rarely below $1000.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
As already mentioned, doing affiliate SEO requires patience and perseverance. Most of the time it’s an uphill walk.
Often, there are forces that you don’t have control over, such as Google algorithmic updates that can wipe your website overnight.
That’s why an important thing to keep in mind is to stay away from doing black hat SEO aggressively because it’s one of the most common reasons for Google penalizing your website.
Instead, it’s crucial to focus on providing helpful, original, and well-formatted content that both search engines and users love.
I’m proud of the accomplishment so far given the time I spent working on the website (10-15 h per week) while devoting most of my time to my family and job.
Connecting with such brands and establishing trustworthy relationships with them helped in growing and diversifying the income of the website.
Working on the website improved my SEO skills and I learned a lot about the industry and myself as a person as well.
I discovered that I have many qualities but also lack some important ones that I’m willing to build in the future.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Using the right tools is important when running an SEO affiliate business.
I use marketing tools such as:
Ahrefs because it’s the Swiss Army multi-tool for doing SEO - it helps for a lot of things starting but not limited to keyword research, competitor research, finding backlink opportunities, etc.
For on-page optimization I use SurferSeo. It helps in getting on-page SEO right and crafting compelling articles while nailing the correct search intent.
As for freelance platforms - a surprisingly good place for me was Fiverr for finding some of my writers. I say surprisingly because there’s a lot of spam there but I was lucky to vet my writers from there as well as the graphic designers who help in creating infographics and Pinterest pins.
Upwork is also a legit platform for finding quality freelancers.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I find great value in the Authority Hacker podcast, the podcast run by Spencer Haws from Niche Pursuits too.
As for courses, the Affiliate Lab by Matt Diggity is on fire.
As for books, there are so many.
I will mention just two - the one that’s not affiliate marketing related is Atomic Habits by James Clear.
The second one is affiliate marketing related Affiliate Content Secrets: Proven Affiliate Marketing Tips & Strategies You Can Use to Maximize Your Earnings by Stephen Hockman.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I’ll start by making a disclaimer here - I don’t consider myself a success. Not yet. I believe I’m just at the beginning of my online entrepreneurship journey. I’m still on the learning curve and I don’t want to get off of it.
The one thing I learned the hard way is that to make any progress (and eventually succeed in what you want to do is the following:
Set the right expectations for yourself and have one clear goal, then set small achievable milestones
Work on your mind and emotions - this business is volatile. Sometimes it requires inhuman patience and cold-bloodedness to keep up going. Like I said, most of the time it’s an uphill hike. There will be times when you’ll want to quit and still you will have to continue because you have that dream to accomplish whatever it is. In such times, remember why you started. Remember - obstacles are those frightful things we see when we take our eyes off our goals. It’s cheesy but so true. You need to strengthen your mind and spirit to be prepared for everything until you succeed. I went through some difficult sh*it to make it to where I’m right now. Everyone's successful one way or another has a story.
Learn new industry/business skills every day - don’t be lazy. The competition doesn’t sleep
Take breaks regularly
This business is somewhat similar to investing in auctions and funds - one day you could be up and why you could be down. Don’t panic. Work on what you can control and think is right and be patient.
Socialize with like-minded individuals.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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