I Went From Making Extra Income With Affiliate Websites To Building A $360K/Year Business
Hello! Who are you, and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Jerry Low, and I’ve been in the Affiliate Marketing and SEO consultancy business since 2004. I own and operate several websites with a small team, including WebHostingSecretRevealed, HostScore, and HideandSeek. Together, they attract over 700,000 visitors each month.
The websites cover a broad range of topics but primarily in two areas; web hosting and internet security. We try to help regular individuals and small business owners make better purchasing decisions or boost awareness on specific topics.
Affiliate Marketing - estimated to have the size of $17 trillion by 2026, often sees highs and lows depending on what products you sell. I’ve had months where revenue reaches the six-figure level and occasions when I barely make a few hundred.
What's your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?
Like many other affiliate marketers, my initial motivation was purely financial. I started my career as a Rubber Dam Engineer in 2004. It was an interesting field to be in, but honestly, the pay then really wasn’t quite as exciting. I wanted something more realistic with long-term prospects.
By nature, I’m a bit of a geek. I love diving deep into topics that perk my interest, which led to a foray into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and an experiment at affiliate marketing websites. It also proved an excellent diversion from my 9 to 5 job.
Several attempts resulted in various websites about satellite TV subscriptions and even a Forex education portal. While I don’t own these today, they’re an excellent showcase of how a typical affiliate marketer’s initial journey might appear.
It’s usually a tough and dirty beginning.
For starters, I learned everything myself from scratch, beginning with HTML code on text pad and the “Hellow World” webpage. Then came Dreamweaver, but the overall environment was harsh since resources back in 2004 were limited. My primary source of information was a forum named “WebmasterWorld.com.”
Still, I had fun. I think most people who enjoy pushing their limits and “going where no man has gone before” will enjoy the challenge. 12-hour regular days and a short nap served as the prelude to all-nighters of work on my websites that began at 10 pm.
Rinse and repeat for 18 months, and the affiliate cheques started flowing in. Eventually, those cheques allowed me to leave my regular job in 2006. Little was I to know that it was only the beginning of a colorful new career.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and building your websites.
Affiliate Marketing is probably one of the most misunderstood professions of all time on the Internet. Many people see it as the exclusive domain of technical gurus who can snap their fingers and make money magically appear.
Most of the factors that influence the decision to enter a particular market still apply to attracting and retaining viewers.
The truth is that the process is complex and tedious. You need to be prepared to do a lot of research and experimentation. More importantly, you need to clear your mindset and forget the money so you can work towards helping your audience solve potential pain points.
Most of my time still goes towards extensive research. Aside from experience, I rely on data from various sources, including Ahrefs, SemRush, and Spyfu. There’s a lot to learn about search traffic, and it’s something that also evolves.
Besides the audience, you also have to stay on your toes regarding the competition. We can even learn about search volumes from ad bids; the higher the keyword values, the more likely they will be in good search demand. I’m also lucky to have an excellent team to bounce ideas off.
To understand how the whole process works, we can take one of my more recent projects as an example. HideandSeek.online was born from an observation of how governments and big companies have been abusing consumer data and privacy.
Sharp spikes in search for Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) confirmed the observation. Finally, we noted the increasing value of VPN-related keywords, indicating healthy industry growth. The combination of these things made it a logical market to enter.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Today I work with a team of writers and marketers, which speeds up many areas of the launch process. The basic concept, though, hasn’t changed that much - it still takes a lot of resources and effort.
70% of the resources allocated to each project go into building something useful for the website. That includes tools, content, scripts, and more. HideandSeek.online, for example, is anchored around a script that automates performance tests for various key Virtual Private Network (VPN) brand partners.
Having this type of “unique” element sets us apart from players in an established market. It’s best to avoid looking like a lemming and find a way to provide real value to your readers. It also helps provide the site we’re building with more resilience - a “moat,” which makes what we do more difficult to duplicate.
Regardless of these concepts, the content remains something from which no affiliate can escape. Here, you’ll need access to the correct data and the wit to draw proper conclusions from that data. Of course, all of this still needs to tie in with the needs of your targeted audience.
The idea is pretty simple, though. The data can easily show you the areas of interest among audiences. Higher search volumes indicate increased demand, so fill that demand.
The remaining 30% of our resources go into marketing. For us, that primarily means Search. As long as we’ve got the website right, the content will drive some part of our marketing efforts. From there, most growth will be organic.
Occasionally I also look towards other tools like press releases, outreach through guest posts, interviews like this, or even spreading the word through internal contacts. We’ve worked with many people over the years and mostly keep in touch.
Social media is still in the mix, but diminishing ROI for newer sites has pretty much relegated that to the back burner these days.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We build content that aims to offer practical advice, actionable tips, or follow other unique angles that can perk interest. For example, instead of writing an article about web hosting costs, we ran an entire study and published content based on the data obtained. This study allows us to rank for 1,000’s of highly valuable keywords - some at an estimated $20 per click, worldwide (see screenshot).
Another essential element is to build the right network. Guest posting is something that many website owners do for SEO benefits. However, we see it as a way of building better relationships with fellow website owners and attracting viewership from those platforms through the quality of our content.
Affiliate marketing isn’t a business you can go into, pump in a fortune, then sit back and retire. It requires constant improvement, a genuine interest in learning and development, plus a desire for excellence in quality.
Even as we publish what we think is perfect, we regularly go over our content inventory to re-assess and see if there’s anything we can do to make it even better.
How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?
Since starting my company, I’ve mainly focused on the affiliate business. However, at present, there are two business models. The first is the core affiliate business that generates revenue from my websites.
The second is something that works hand-in-glove with the experience gained over many years in the business. WebRevenue helps several SaaS and manufacturing companies improve their SEO to grow their businesses.
At present, 80% of revenue is from affiliate marketing, while the remainder is from that SEO agency work. The main plan in the short term is to continue building and expanding the reach of the newer website in my inventory, HideandSeek.online.
I also hope to streamline my SEO agency work to improve the work process and fine-tune performance even further.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
My main website, WebHostingSecretRevealed (WHSR), is one that transitioned from a side project. When I first started in the affiliate business, I learned a lot about web hosting and related tools. That was where the drive to launch WHSR came from; I wanted to share my experience with everyone who needed help.
The effort you put in does matter, so go ahead and ignore the size of the pond if you have the will to succeed.
At the time, the affiliate business for web hosting was already quite congested and very competitive. What I did went against most guidelines, which typically advise would-be affiliates to find growing or underserved sectors.
Yet my passion for helping consumers overcome the challenges that I faced was strong. WHSR grew beyond my expectation, and I became the small fish in a big pond that grew beyond the norm.
While that’s a bit longer than I expected to share, it serves as an important reminder: No matter what you’ve decided to do, do it with real passion. The effort you put in does matter, so go ahead and ignore the size of the pond if you have the will to succeed.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
As you may expect, I experiment with many tools regularly. However, there are a few that frequently come into play for the entire team and me;
Ahrefs - This is one of the best tools for professional website owners and affiliate marketers. It gives you all the data you need to make the right decisions in many ways, from market research to regular SEO processes.
Asana - As a small company, I (and all members of my team) often find ourselves working on dozens of projects simultaneously. Losing focus is easy, and Asana helps keep us on track and well-coordinated.
Slack - With a remote workforce, Slack helps us keep in touch without being as annoyingly intrusive as a constant flow of voice calls. We can chat in real-time as a team, call if necessary, or simply leave a message on a channel.
Google Sheets & Docs - Despite my disgust with Google’s approach to consumer data, there’s no denying the utility of Google Apps. Sheet and Docs are free to use, allow collaborative work, and are Cloud-based. Perfect for our needs.
Grammarly - My editor uses this to fine-tune his writing. Although he says it’s far from perfect, it does help to improve in various areas. You can teach an old dog new tricks if the dog is willing to learn.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
As a voracious reader, it would be impossible for me to share everything that’s had some form of influence on me. I think it’s safer to ignore the “learning” resources and point you towards something more philosophical instead.
I highly recommend Delivering Happiness by the late Tony Hsieh. He’s truly inspiring, and the book offers both great entertainment and business lessons.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
No matter how tight finances are, remember that no man is an island. Even if you can’t afford to hire more talent, it never hurts to seek professional advice. Once things are more established, finding the right people to work with becomes even more critical.
You need to take on skilled and dedicated individuals willing to do what’s best for the business. When my editor came on board, I found myself freed up to focus on many more things.
My outreach manager is also capable of running that segment with little input from my end today. We’re all able to grow in our zones while cross-sharing important information that helps us improve.
The best advice I can give is to assess people as people, not as a TOEFL scorer or Master’s Degree holder.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’ve recently expanded, so the team is currently full. However, I always have a keen interest in touching base with like-minded individuals who have a strong passion for what they do. Writers, affiliate marketers - just drop by and say “hi!”
For those who’d like to share with us on a more professional basis, feel free to get in touch, and we will consider publishing your work.
Where can we go to learn more?
We’re on various social media channels, but that’s more for our readers to learn. If you’d like to get to know a bit more about me, hop onto my Twitter feed and give me a shout-out.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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