What SEOs Want to Know When They Can Ask Us Anything
Search engine optimizers (SEOs) are often seen as some of the savviest people in the online world. But even the greatest site-optimizer is going to have some thought-provoking questions.
We handed SEOs the microphone during an Ask Me Anything (AMA) in SEO Blueprint, a private Facebook group for advanced SEOs to sharpen their skills and connect with like-minded SEOs.
AMAs allow topic experts to make themselves available on a community platform to answer anyone’s questions on that topic. The questions vary based on the information seekers, so the answers can be geared towards newbies or veterans of the online world.
In this AMA, our Director of Marketing Greg Elfrink answered some of the best SEOs’ burning questions, ranging from SEO’s impact on valuation on our marketplace, trends in affiliate sites, the best-converting traffic and ads, and where SEO’s competitive advantages are in our different monetizations.
The discussions that unfolded in the group were so relevant to online entrepreneurs at all stages of their journeys that we wanted to share the conversation here. We have included a range of answers suitable for all levels, so there is no need to be a super-smart SEO to take something away from this AMA.
Want to know what the best and brightest are asking?
What new trends are you noticing for affiliate and content sites? For instance, there have been tons of affiliate SEOs talking about adding Ezoic to their sites in recent months. What stuff like that are you noticing? And what’s the most unique monetization you’ve seen on a site?
Greg: I think the big trend today versus 2016–2017 is that the SEOs I know are focusing on building bigger websites. They used to build a ton of brochure-like sites (my least favorite) and power them through private blog networks. But now, many of them are building bigger authority sites (which I like more). So there are fewer content sites for sale than there used to be while demand is still very strong.
I’m seeing more affiliates using display ads, which is great. Affiliates never used to put display ads on their info content because they thought it would detract from affiliate revenue. In my experience I’ve never seen this happen; usually, they cause a lift in revenue. I’m sure there are cases when it happens, but I have never seen it myself. I think that’s a good trend as display ads are an easy win that buyers add all the time to content sites they buy from our marketplace.
As far as display ads go, usually, the value chain most people follow is to start off with AdSense, then use Ezoic and, as they meet traffic qualifications, Mediavine and AdThrive. A friend of mine recently launched PubGuru; I’m not sure how good it is, but the owner is a customer of ours and a good guy, so it might be worth a test.
As far as the most unique monetization of affiliate sites, I recently ran into a guy that runs paid ads to build an email funnel and then invites people to subscribe to a Facebook group dedicated to the niche. Usually, it earns a small, recurring amount, from $6–15 per month. It’s a cool form of monetization that I like a lot because, as long as the group quality is high, with real experts, those subscribers will snowball into creating incredibly valuable user-generated content for you. I’ve seen this happen in paid groups in the online business space with “micro” thought leaders who are basically just big fans of the niche and the group’s community.
Facebook is actually experimenting with a service that allows you to create a subscription group (they want to catch the wave of people doing this).
I think display ads and dedicated groups, combined with creating actual info courses on your niche, are my favorite ways to really up the game of your content site. I’m a huge fan of info courses as long as they’re in an evergreen niche and not a fast-changing niche. A course on an engineering certification? Wood working? As long as the course is truly high quality, I think it’s an awesome form of monetization for a content site trying to become a real media company rather than a brochure site like most affiliates build.
Sarah: Hey everyone! This is Sarah here. I wanted to jump in on Greg’s answer on the value of display ads. He’s right, ads can boost revenue. They can also boost your business’s valuation on our marketplace. We’ve put a guide together on how to increase the sale price of your website through ad revenue, and it’s packed with enough actionable advice to get you started with this monetization. If you’re still in the early phases of building your business, you can check out these AdSense alternatives ideal for those who’d like to explore all their ad network options. Okay, back to the AMA!
What percentage of sites that Empire Flippers sell would you say rely on search traffic for a significant part of their income and growth?
Greg: It depends what kind of monetization we’re talking about. Ninety-nine percent of content sites monetized primarily through affiliate and display ads rely mainly on SEO. Most of them are Amazon Associates sites, so the margins can be small to run paid ads towards them. SEO also tends to be the primary way people build assets monetized through affiliate offers. Affiliates that use only paid traffic and that limit themselves to Ad => Landing Page => Offer never build anything they can sell or that an investor would want.
Now and then, we do see content sites with non-SEO traffic. That secondary traffic channel is almost always Pinterest, which is about as close to SEO-style traffic as you can get on social media, in my opinion.
What were the main traffic sources for the e-commerce sites you’ve come across? And which source converted the best (SEO, Facebook ads, Google ads, etc.)?
Greg: It’s interesting that 99% of traffic for affiliate sites is SEO, but 99% of traffic for e-commerce stores we sell is Facebook ads. Facebook ads are by far the biggest traffic driver, though e-commerce entrepreneurs sometimes employ good email funnels too.
Surprisingly, I still see some e-commerce stores on our marketplace that have never implemented an abandoned cart email sequence or abandoned cart retargeting. I am not sure why they haven’t, but buyers love it when they buy a site like that for obvious reasons.
SEO across all traffic formats tends to convert the highest. The reason you don’t see SEO as often is that e-commerce entrepreneurs don’t like the slow gains from SEO. It makes sense, unlike with affiliate sites, they have just spent a ton of money on inventory, and they want to sell right away, so paid traffic can be attractive to them. Using SEO for your e-commerce store will likely give you a slightly better valuation because very few e-commerce entrepreneurs ever do successful SEO. A buyer would see that as icing on the cake of paid Facebook ads.
In addition to Facebook ads, Google shopping ads have been effective for people, though they are less common.
Sarah: It’s Sarah again! Before we get off the topic of what ads convert best, I thought this case study we did on how to quadruple revenue from paid traffic in less than 90 days would be fitting to check out. It’s a powerful breakdown of the various tests and optimizations needed to realize a 107% return on ad spend.
How do you value social accounts and followings (YouTube, Facebook, Instagram)? By how much do they increase the value of a property, and are they something new owners tend to build out after purchasing a site (this would be interesting to know for affiliate sites as well as for e-commerce and Fulfillment by Amazon [FBA])?
Greg: If they’re fake followers, then they are obviously not valuable at all. We would like to see actual traffic coming from those places, ideally buying traffic or traffic that leads to an email list.
In general, the more traffic sources you have, the more you mitigate the risk of traffic source drying up. One form of traffic isn’t worth more than another; it is all about traffic that converts. Diversity of traffic will increase the valuation, but not by a huge amount, so it shouldn’t be a primary focus for you unless you happen to be amazing at other traffic sources. Most marketers I meet are good at just one or two, and they need to build a team to capitalize on other sources.
Buyers tend to focus on what has already been done in a business. If the business has an SEO foundation, they’ll take advantage of that; if it is a paid media play, they’ll take advantage of that. The first move of most savvy buyers is to optimize what they already have because it is already proven to work, so they will see the best gains the most quickly that way.
FBA, in particular, is interesting. Outside traffic that converts to your Amazon page can be super attractive to a buyer, especially because that outside traffic can boost your Amazon organic ranking into the top spots on the first page. This boost helps a ton when you want to launch a new product and run a quality traffic campaign towards it.
Regarding FBA: Have you seen an increase in building up SEO-focused sites, and maybe YouTube and Instagram, to get external traffic for a competitive advantage (especially against sellers that sell out of other countries)? You said this would increase the valuation, but do you see more and more people doing it, or is this more of a myth to “build an audience”?
Greg: For FBA, we see almost zero SEO-focused sites or external traffic, which is a shame, because they would benefit from them. This goes back to most entrepreneurs being good at one or two pieces of marketing, which they tend to double down on. In the FBA space, those pieces are usually ranking organically and running Amazon pay-per-click. When FBA entrepreneurs start seeing real success, I recommend diversifying off of Amazon’s platform either on their own store or on other marketplaces. Just as a single traffic source might scare a buyer away, putting all your eggs in Amazon’s basket of ever-changing policies can be pretty risky.
Most won’t diversify, though, because they don’t want to work to learn how. They’ll either keep scaling as-is or sell the business. Many of the funds in our space now are pretty savvy about how to break off of Amazon, so these sites are wins for buyers.
We have sold a few FBA businesses that were combined with content affiliate sites, and they tend to get much better multiples.
Whether you build a content site or a Shopify store, the most important thing an FBA seller can do is find a way to collect their customers’ emails. Amazon is trying to make this even harder than it already is. Always own your customer data.
Sarah: Sarah jumping in one last time, everyone. Greg ends on a good point here. Owning your customer data and creating an email list can be a game-changer for your business. We have helpful insight on creating your own email list, so you can start monetizing your data. In regards to valuation, we’ve taken the mystery out of how much your business is worth. Our valuation tool can clear up questions about your business’s value. It’s free to use and might inspire you as to what your business could bring in on our marketplace. That’s all for now!
Any Last Questions?
Our AMA with the SEOs of the SEO Blueprint group ended up with a whopping 134 comments. It was hard to narrow down the best questions when all of them started such engaging discussions. Greg’s fingers were likely sore from all the typing, but the positive feedback he got from the group made it worth it.
We love being able to jump in and help people build their online empires. If you have any questions after reading this AMA, feel free to leave a comment.
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