How We've Navigated The Changing SEO Landscape And Still Make $39K/Year

Published: February 23rd, 2024
R.J. Weiss
The Ways To Wealth
from Geneva
started August 2016
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

My name is R.J. Weiss and I am the founder of The Ways To Wealth, a media business that generates its revenue through affiliate marketing and advertising, primarily through Google Search. You can find my original Starter Story here and some follow-ups here and here.

I started the site in 2016 as a side hustle, to earn an additional $1,000 a month, rather than it being my primary source of income.

Although many independent sites take a while to get going, I was fortunate enough to start off fairly strong, and just a bit over a year in, I decided to go full-time into running the site.

Even though I was making just a few thousand dollars a month, I saw a trajectory that if I committed to it full-time for a short while, it could work.

However, things came crashing down in 2019 when I was hit by a Google algorithm update.

Through a lot of focused effort, I was able to recover and the site itself is now very healthy, seeing close to all-time high traffic levels and stable traffic numbers, in what has become a wild world of organic search, with a lot of changes.

Our monthly revenue finished strong in 2023, averaging about $39,000, which is very healthy although not an all-time high.


How has your business changed over the years? What's different today vs when you first started?

The online media landscape has become much more competitive in recent years. Audiences have higher expectations - they want content tailored to their specific situations, not generalizations. They are also more skeptical due to increased awareness of affiliate marketing practices.

To adapt, we have focused on two main areas:

  1. Being highly focused on our content by answering users' questions directly and efficiently, optimizing for the initial page experience rather than long stories.
  2. Increasing transparency in our review process to build trust. This includes showing the data behind recommendations so users can evaluate if we've done thorough, unbiased research rather than just chasing commissions.

A behind-the-scenes aspect that many may not be aware of is that affiliate tracking has become quite sophisticated.

Some of the affiliates I work with track the return on investment (ROI) of a specific partner on a daily basis. With ROI so closely monitored, some partners adjust their payouts based on weekly numbers.

Therefore, sending the right traffic is more important than ever. If not, you risk burning out all your partnerships.

What new strategies are you implementing this year? How do you think those strategies will help your business over the next 5 years?

Our primary KPI has been organic traffic for some time, as it's a good indicator of revenue. However, with more competition and AI-generated content on the rise, it's no longer just about growing organic traffic.

Our primary goal now is to maximize revenue by focusing on fewer pages with the most significant potential to provide a unique user experience.

We've narrowed our focus to 20 to 30 core pages to provide our users with a unique and best-in-class experience. We'll achieve this by conducting extensive research and integrating interactive elements like quizzes and filtering mechanisms to personalize the pages.

As AI takes more clicks away from search results over the next few years, our goal is to offer something AI can't replicate or be so good at that AI will choose to source it when discussing a specific topic.

Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?

Many changes are happening in the media space, such as changes in how people consume content, advancements in AI technology, and algorithm updates from Google.

We have put a lot of effort into growing our brand to be stable despite these changes. While we do have paid ads, they only make up a small portion of our profits, and our focus is primarily on organic search. We use paid ads to grow our brand and our email list mainly.

While many independent sites have been negatively affected by Google's updates, we are proud of the progress we have made over the past few years.

At the end of the day, there is no perfect traffic source. All of them will continue to go through massive changes, so we chose to focus on one and become the best we can be rather than diversifying too much.

What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

Our primary challenge is to increase the rate of content production while maintaining high-quality standards. Our writers must conduct extensive research, and our editing team ensures that the writing, structure, and research meet our quality benchmarks.

We would love to scale up our content production, but given our current size, we cannot compromise on quality.

We have been publishing content since 2016 and have 429 posts, which translates to about one new piece of content each week.

Google assesses a website's quality based on its content's current state. Therefore, even one poorly written piece can reflect negatively on the entire site.

Our ultimate goal is to educate our readers and empower them to make informed decisions. We take this responsibility very seriously, and while we strive to increase our content production rate, we are committed to maintaining our quality standards.

Tell us about how you've changed as a founder. What advice would you give to yourself when you first started?

This is the first business that I have run, and it has been a great learning experience. Having graduated with a degree in finance, worked in financial services, and even holding the CFP® designation, I thought that I was well-equipped to manage my business finances. However, managing personal finances and managing business finances are two different skill sets.

I had to get familiarized with new laws and learn much more about forecasting. For instance, I had to pay five-figure amounts for a website project and, at the same time, ensure that I had enough money to pay personal expenses, pay contractors, and set aside funds for taxes.

These are skills and problems that I had never really tackled, even though I was in finance. I'm still learning them, and I still make mistakes.

My advice to myself when I first started would be to spend more time upfront learning about cash flow planning, tax planning for business owners, and other aspects of being a CFO of your business.

I made quite a few early mistakes, such as undersaving for taxes or needing to fully take advantage of tax-advantaged accounts like a solo 401(k).

Cash flow is what enables a business to remain in business. So, just as much as knowing the next trend in SEO can help sustain your business, having a system in place to manage your business finances is equally important.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

In affiliate marketing, the revenue you earn is highly dependent on the partnerships you establish. In 2022, we were fortunate to have several partnerships that our readers loved, resulting in our site's best year in revenue and profit.

However, in the affiliate space, programs are constantly evolving. Towards the end of 2022, a few of our affiliate partners changed their program structure due to the overwhelming number of leads they received.

While we always strive to maintain successful partnerships, we understand that such changes are inevitable.

When these changes occur, I tend to assume that the revenue I had during the successful partnership is now the new baseline and that I need to find a way to increase revenue to make up for the shortfall. But in reality, trying to make up for lost income can often compromise quality, which is not always the best strategy.

While we are always looking for new and promising partnerships, sometimes they are simply unavailable, and we cannot afford to compromise our commitment to our readers.

As a result, we continue to work hard on delivering great content, improving user experience, and growing our traffic, even if it doesn't necessarily result in revenue growth in the short-term.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

I enjoy what I do and am passionate about learning, creating, and educating. I want to continue doing some form of that long-term.

As for the future of the business, I am uncertain about how the business model will evolve, but I believe that people will always want authentic content from experts.

Although I anticipate many changes with Google, I do not believe AI-generated responses will be preferred for important decisions, such as selecting an investment provider. For instance, an in-depth review of Fundrise, an investment platform for high-net-worth investors, requires expert-created content to gain attention.

Another area we’re trying to grow in is first-hand experience. If you look at all the work we’ve done on testing the top survey sites, where we have first-hand test data on all the platforms, which often equates to attaching spreadsheets to our data, this is something else I can’t foresee people not wanting to go without when making a decision.

So, we may need to explore alternative traffic sources, as younger generations consume content differently. However, short-term, I see us still trying to create the best-written content.

What’s the best thing you read in the last year?

When I went through my Amazon orders, I realized that I have been taking deep dives into the world of Gino Wickman, starting by rereading Traction on audiobooks.

I have also been reading books by Dan Sullivan, such as Who Not How, The Gap, and the Gain, and 10X is Easier Than 2X.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Over the years, I have saved interesting questions to feed myself while journaling.

One of my favorite questions is, "If I were not doing what I am doing right now, and I knew everything I know now, would I start doing it?"

This question is based on the idea of zero-based thinking, which I first heard from Brian Tracy.

Sometimes, we let sunk costs influence our decision-making, which is a problem.

If you are struggling and not getting the desired results, it doesn't mean you haven't learned anything since starting the process. So the idea is that you can use this question to identify what you have learned and let it guide your decision-making going forward without sunk costs getting in the way.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We’re always looking for writers who love doing research.

Where can we go to learn more?

  • Website and join the email list on the homepage