Case Study: 9 Years to Month 1 Journey – Update #0 [BASELINE]

This post may contain affiliate links to products, software or services which may result in my earning commissions at no additional cost to you.

The Journal for this Journey is posted on the BuilderSociety Forum. I may make reference to threads or members of that community in this post. You can read the full thread/journal here.

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I’ve put off writing this for a few weeks now. I started gathering all the data and wrote the outline for it at the end of September. I had everything updated and ready to go within the first few days of October. Then I procrastinated.

I want to start journaling for this new site because I know the value that comes from sharing it. Through journaling, I’ll have the ability to track my progress, ask questions and refine my thoughts. But, I don’t want it to become a time suck – and I’m afraid it will.

I think the benefits outweigh the risks. So here we go.

I’m starting an authority website that’s been nine years in the making.

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TL:DR;

I’m finally building up one of my “simmer sites” that I’ve had for over 9 years. I’ll focus on content for the first year – with a goal of 400 articles by next September. No real monetization, link building, or promotion will happen until year two. 80% of content will be informational & 20% will be affiliate content. The end goal is 1500 articles. The “Finish Line” for this project is a valuation of $1M.

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What is my Bona Fides?

I’ll apologize because this will most likely be the longest update I write because I feel like I need to lay the foundation for the rest of the updates and introduce myself a bit.

[If you don’t care to read a boring but detailed history and me talking in circles, you can skip to the section with the title that’s something like “It took more than 9 years to get here”].

Who Am I?

My “goal” when I graduated college was to “retire” when I was 45. In the beginning, I thought I had tons of time and I would “most certainly” get there. But I didn’t have a plan and life just sort of happened. So, here I sit with most of my career behind me and an overwhelming sense of urgency looming over my head. Don’t get me wrong. I tried the corporate thing. I’m obviously successful at playing the game. It’s not too hard really… just 60% effort can get you in a good spot.

That doesn’t matter though, I still want to retire at 45… but I’m running out of time.

Early “retirement” is the target. As such, I’m developing a plan to get there and identifying the goals that will ensure I make it. I put retirement in quotes because I really don’t want to stop working… I just want to stop working for someone else. I want to do what I want, work on what I want, when I want and I don’t want to commute anymore. With that said, here’s a ballsy statement:

I will quit working for someone else before I turn 46 years old.

It’s going to be quite a journey. That gives me just under 4 years to make a pile of cash (or build something that is worth a pile of cash and has good monthly revenue) and finally pull the plug on employment. The website covered in this journal will help me get there – in addition to several other things.

What’s Up with This Journal & What’s a Simmer Site

I’ve been on this website journey since 2009. Always dabbling, never committing.

For the longest time, I wanted to get a site off the ground and earn a respectable income. But ironically, it wasn’t until I stopped “working on websites”, and instead focused on Merch by Amazon, that I FINALLY learned the skills necessary to have success at this web stuff.

Over the years I have purchased hundreds of domains – they were all in “excellent” niches and were all going to be “epic” websites – but I never finished any of them. Heck, I barely even STARTED most of them! I had over 20 that I built up over the years, with 10 or 20 articles on them, then I’d move on to some new idea. A few made it past this level but usually “failed”.

I wanted to make something happen so bad but my strategy, prior to Merch, was to do a minimal amount of work and hope for LUCK to take me the rest of the way. Luck isn’t in my DNA, I should know better… but I kept trying and after a couple of months on each site, I’d read some other case study or article and decide that I had to start over because “I must have done something wrong”.

Over the past decade, I did this same cycle dozens of times. All I did was leave a trail of unfinished sites all over the internet.

These are my simmer sites. I have over 20 of them. They just kind of sit there, on the back burner, simmering. I add a couple of articles each year to keep them fresh. The “plan” has always been that someday I’d come back to them once success had found me and I had built a team that could “do them justice”.

But I didn’t have the skills to even get started properly – until I started slinging t-shirts.

What I learned from t-shirts:

Website success hasn’t happened yet.

At one point, in 2016, I tried to build three sites at one time. That case study “failed” after a few months. It was too much to begin with, but it was destined to fail because I had already turned my sites on Merch by Amazon.

I had submitted my application to join the platform. After waiting a few months, I decided it wasn’t going to happen, so I tried to do a website case study to keep me occupied while I waited. The case study was motivating at first. I just had to stick with it.

Instead, I got “distracted” by designing and selling t-shirts online when I finally got accepted after 8 months of waiting. Other people were making tons of money and I didn’t want to miss out. The case study, and my three sites, fell by the wayside. Merch was fun and I learned a lot, but it turned out to be the best thing for my websites.

This is where I learned what I had been missing this whole time.

WORK and GRIND.

Both had eluded me with my sites in the past. With Merch, I had to learn how to grind out the work, day after day, week after week, for months. I found decent success (it culminated last year when I earned more than my day job). But then it slowed because I stopped grinding.

I had taken my foot off the gas because I realized Amazon controlled everything (also because my account got terminated, but I got it back). To minimize the risk of them shutting my account down, again, I tried to build my own platforms to sell my shirts.

Several of my simmer sites were in the same niches as my more popular shirt designs. I tried to haphazardly build out 10 sites at once, to build a bit of a moat, and drive traffic of my own (to lessen my dependence on Amazon).

Just one problem… I’ve never even “finished” one site. Ten sites would be half-assed, at best, and would be a major distraction from what was working, at worst.

And they were. Nothing got off the ground. I was half-assing everything at this point. Websites. Merch. My job. Everything suffered because I was trying to do too much. And all I did was focus my attention on Reddit and Discord groups to try and get a dopamine hit by following other people’s successes.

It didn’t get me closer to my goals.

In late 2020, I stepped back, realized this was going to continue forever unless I focused, put in the work and started grinding again.

I logged out of Reddit, Discord and stopped visiting most websites in the space.

I decided to whole-ass it.

Building a War Chest

The biggest site in my portfolio, and the one that I’ve tried to “focus on” for the past year, is slowly dying. Coming out of Christmas 2020 it surpassed 30K pageviews and $1,800 for the month. Since then, it has been on a steady decline. But…

I don’t have the desire to resurrect it currently. I noticed a downward trend in February of this year – with a huge drop coming in August and September.

Just after the first traffic dip, I had subscribed to WordAgent’s new 20K word monthly content plan. I had also bought a lifetime membership for WriterAccess on AppSumo and put down a $4,300 deposit into my account. I had planned on adding a bunch of content to my big site.

But the niche is difficult to outsource. I found that out after ordering the first 5 articles on either platform. It took forever to get them back and they were factually inaccurate on several points. I posted those articles and moved the last 20 articles from the sites I purchased in April to try and give the site a lift (it helped a bit).

It’s a niche I know pretty well but I’m not super passionate about it. It’s drudgery to write articles for it (that’s why I’m not excited about continuing).

That’s as far as I got with it. Literally, months passed, and I just kept building a stockpile of words at WordAgents (affiliate link) and my deposit at WriterAccess (aff link – get $50 if you sign up for a trial) just sat there.

I had around 200K words available to me by late August. That’s when the big dip happened. My traffic & impressions dropped 70% in just a couple of days. In my mind, we are too close to Q4 to try and do anything to recover it. The effects of anything I try now, if they come at all, would shake out in the middle of the hottest buying season – I don’t want to risk it going down more. I’ll just let it sit for now.

Scared yet? There was still hope at this point.

This drop scared me a bit. But it wasn’t unexpected, really. I wasn’t giving it even 30% effort, so I was getting weak, and short-term, results. Then it rebounded within a few days. But it was false hope. And I’d already decided to move on.

Here’s what it looks like today for all of 2021 (the little uptick a few days ago can only be attributed, in my estimation, to the fact that somehow my sitemap disappeared. I re-enabled it and the next day had a little blip up):

Ouch… that’s gonna leave a mark.

Either way, it solidified my plan to ACTUALLY focus on just one site – one of my simmer sites. And build it up into something I’m proud of.

Let the Work Begin

Most people would probably tell me to just double down on my big site. Just about every day I think I should do that too. But I really don’t want to. It’s a mess. Maybe I should sell it. Maybe that’s a bad idea.

Maybe I’ll do a separate journal or even a case study on it in the future if/when I decide to fix it. But for now, it’s not exciting to me.

It has some promise but it’s hard to work on. There’s no momentum there.

Momentum is important and right now I want to go where the momentum is pointing me – with one of my old sites. I want to work on something that is easier to build and is showing promise.

My hope is placed in a 9-year-old site that only has 6 articles on it.

The History of this Site: 2012 – 2020

The site I’m using for this journal was first registered in 2012.

In September of that year, I had a great idea for a website. I was working on a totally different niche site at the time (in fitness) and was having mild success. It was a news-related site and for a few months, I had hit 50K pageviews. I thought I was on the way to something big (there’s a whole story about my ignorance about monetizing, the failure of this website, and my personal history, but we’ll save that for another day).

Anyway, my idea for this new website came after meeting a professional photographer at a networking event. I didn’t want to build a photography website – but the subject(s) that he photographed and his following on social media gave me an idea, and validation, for a site. I bought a very brandable, and broad, domain for the niche. I even created a nice logo and built my social media fortress (registered the name on the big platforms).

The best part – it was a niche I know well and already have a passion for.

I added three 400-word articles that I wrote in an hour. Then I paid some people on HireWriters to spin 6-7 articles for it (because I was trying to focus on my fitness site). Remember, this was 2012, so that was an acceptable thing to do at the time. Surprisingly, it got some traffic (I shared it on social media at the time – StumbleUpon and Facebook, IIRC).

But luck didn’t happen.

I put it on the back burner to “simmer”. It pretty much sat there for 9 years. I added a few articles over that time and messed around with it here and there.

Basically, I used it as a template site. I would test themes and other plugins. If I liked everything, I would export a full copy of the site and use that to spin up a new site.

What Happened to the Site in 2021

In early 2021 I wanted to change the theme on my biggest site. I decided I would go with Astra.

I installed Astra Pro on this simmer site. It was at this point that I realized my Google Analytics code was missing on the site. I think I forgot to replace it after changing the theme at one point. It didn’t matter much since it didn’t get much traffic.

But, In the process, I updated some of the articles (deleting and merging some of them), changed the dates, and added a few thousand words. I probably took the articles from 30% acceptable to 60% acceptable. It was still an improvement.

Within a few weeks, I noticed a trending upward slope in impressions for it on Google Search Console (GSC).

Maybe Google liked my changes.

results of adding content to an aged domain

To test that theory, I added a 2000-word KGR article to the site that I outsourced. Within three days the article was indexed and showed that it had an average position of 12.2 for the primary search term. After two weeks, it had received around 40 pageviews of organic traffic.

Yup, the simmering was done, and it was time to eat.

This is where we are from June thru September 2021.

It was Really More Than 9 Years to Get Here

I read the 4-Hour Work Week just after it came out in 2007. I’d only been in the workforce for a handful of years, but I already knew I hated it. I’ve been on a quest to escape since then. But I’ve been going at it incorrectly this whole time.

In fact, when I think about the years I’ve spent bouncing from one idea to the other, it’s a bit depressing. But it’s also motivating. I know what I must do now. I know how long I need to focus and what it will take to get there.

It’s time to work. 

It’s time to GRIND.

I needed to break down the tasks required to build a successful website, by identifying the most important tasks (hint: it’s mostly content) then setting goals around those critical tasks.

In early September I took some time to make a realistic plan & had a real talk with my wife about what it would take to quit my job and do this full time (what I want). We decided that my target is $15K/month to go full time. It won’t quite be enough to make me feel like “I’ve made it”, but would be sufficient to prove that it could go higher. To fully commit to it. To truly change my life. (and yes, I fully realize that saying that $15K/month isn’t quite enough is a somewhat pathetic statement and almost embarrassing to write – but there it is – and that’s my goal)

To get there I need to shoot for something higher/bigger – but still achievable by myself (if I add a team later, that will just accelerate the timeline).

The 9 Years to Month 1 Journey Goal

Here’s what I came up with: The “9 Years to Month 1 Journey”. I will chronicle my journey (through case study updates and a forum journal) as I build an Authority Site in a niche I’m very familiar with, on a site that’s “aged”.

  • Short-term Goal: focus for one full year on growing just one website & on the tasks I can control
  • Long-term Goal: 1,500 published articles by year 3
  • Target: A valuation of $1M or more.
  • Budget: $20,000 – which has mostly already been spent. The rest of the funds will have to come from the site itself, my own sweat equity, or any other creative “trades” I can do.

To get there I’ll build an Authority Site on a “simmer site” that has been aging and is showing promise. It will be 80% informational content and 20% affiliate content. (I’ll be the face but I’m writing under a pseudonym. It will be a brand with a YouTube Channel (during year 2) & other social channels – this is a long-term project.) Here’s a bulleted list of the things I can control and my strategy:

Year One Goals:

  • 320 informational posts by April 2022
  • 80 affiliate posts by Sept 2022
  • Task: Content will be written in topic clusters
  • Task: Interlink all posts within the cluster (silos)
  • Task: Each affiliate article should be the “top” of the info content silo

Year Two Goals:

  • 800 total posts by Sept 2023 (400 added)
  • Task: Maintain 80/20 split – info/affiliate content
  • Task: Enact promotion & link campaigns starting in Sept. 2022
  • Task: Seek to optimize monetization by testing offers, vendors & programs
  • Task: Circle back to aged content and optimize ala MrMedia’s strategy
  • Task: Start YouTube strategy

Year three goals:

  • 1500 total posts by Sept 2024
  • Task: Do more optimizing

Here are some of the details around monetization and the assumptions I used to come up with my targets. They’re conservative and I know that I should be able to beat them but, as they say, if you aim for the stars, you may hit the moon. Likewise, if you aim small, you miss small. So, I’m thinking big for my target but doing the small things that will ensure I hit the moon or better. Doing the 20% that will give me 80% of the results… on repeat.

That’s better than never getting off the ground.

Assumptions used to “reach” $15,000/month in 3 years:

  • RPM is based on Ads + estimated affiliate content.
  • $30 RPM (will need 500K pageviews/month)
  • ~320 pv/article/month (1500 articles/goal)
    • 400 year one = ~$3,800/month
    • 800 year two = ~$7,500/month
    • 1500 year three = ~$15k/month
  • $1M Valuation @37X multiple
    • $27K/month
    • Will need ~1M pv/month
  • If I can add more content faster, I’ll do it. As it will only accelerate the timeline.
  • This is obviously conservative, and PV/RPMs don’t scale linearly. Realistically, a $50+ RPM on this site after year two seems likely, but that’s not in my assumptions.
  • Major Assumption: I won’t get distracted and I’ll continue to grind for at least one year. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m afraid of this the most. I need to ensure that I’m in a comfortable place in my life in order to pull this off. If things are out of balance, I’ll cut this pretty fast (just based on my history). That’s the primary reason for starting this journal – if I feel “accountable” to provide good updates, that show progress, and share in my learning, then it should keep me motivated.

Monetization:

  • Ads: Ezoic (primary focus for year 1) – eventually AdThrive.
  • Affiliate: Amazon for most items
  • Avantlink/Shareasale – there are a few vendors that have programs on these networks. I’ve already been accepted. I just need to send traffic to see how it performs (but first, I must get the traffic!)
  • T-Shirts/Products – I’ve already got some designs for this niche, but I’ll make more so I can have a full “store” of niche-relevant shirts & other products.

Mantra: No Crap Gets Published & No Shortcuts*

Since I want to be proud of this site – I won’t publish crap. This may slow down my publishing schedule, but it will ensure that every post has the best chance to rank organically. I’ll throw links at it after it’s had time to fight on its own.

I think that lays the groundwork well. Hopefully, this doesn’t turn into another one of those case studies that fizzle out after 6 months…

I know how to do this. With Merch, I was able to grind out over 8,000 live products at one point. Loaded 20 at a time, each day before & after work. At one point, my streak was over 5 months long! I know I can do it. I just have to prep for the soul-crushing work between here and there… that’s why I want to bring you along on my journey! Yay, for you.

I’ll be back soon with my official September Update. Let me know if you have any questions, feedback or constructive criticism.

*unless the shortcut actually works and doesn’t break the first part of the mantra