The goal of this case study is to convert a Gray Hat niche website to a White Hat Site. It’s extremely challenging overall and few people even attempt it. WHY?
Here is a great example of what many people think, and I’m going to pick on a friend of mine, Matt Allen, who stated it well:
There is a lot to unpack in the comment that Matt left on a Guest Post I did on Charles Floate’s blog, but we’ll just focus on the green box. Many, many people have suggested the same thing to me: “Sell the site and start another one right, using White Hat techniques.”
Since you’re reading this, you know I didn’t sell the site and used my guest posting and team building skills to convert the site over to White Hat. It’s hard work; harder than just selling the site, but it’s meaningful work and I’ll learn things along the way.
Be sure to check out the previous 4 posts…
We have one main problem:
Guest Posts need to be published, and they need to publish faster.
The Original Plan
Rob and I started on the project in August of 2016, though the site was about two years old at that point.
The plan was super simple, just four steps:
- Publish 45 guest posts by early January 2017.
- Remove 45 Private Blog Network links by January 2017.
- Put the site on the market at the end of January 2017.
- Sell in 1 – 2 months, or however long it takes.
A Fast Start, Then a Major Stall
The first 10 guest posts were published in about three weeks.
The guest posting went so well at first that we thought we could finish all the links by the end of December. I wasn’t personally doing the outreach, but I outsourced the work to an independent contractor that was a friend of mine. He was running a guest posting service, but was about 9 months less mature than my (now defunct) service.
The first 10 guest posts were published in about three weeks — Faster than expected. He was hungry and wanted to really pump out the guest posts. I got sucked in by the enthusiasm.
The actual results were terrible! By December 31, the total number of links was about 18, far from the 45 that we needed. Worse than that was the lack of improvement:
Before long it was clear that we’d never hit the 45 guest post by the end of January. Only 4 guest post were published in the first quarter of 2017.
The 10X Rule
The 10x Rule by Grant Cardonne is a bit over the top in some ways. But Grant makes many excellent arguements. I reread the book at the beginning of the year as I was thinking about goals for the year.
The main takeaway:
Things take WAY more effort than you think.
We constantly underestimate the amount of work something takes. It doesn’t matter what it is.
Sometimes it’s because we assume the best case scenario will be the result, and it pretty much never is. I usually make that mistake and think things will go as planned.
I totally underestimated the amount of work and time it would take to get the 45 guest posts.
After acknowledging that fact, it was time think about where I made mistakes so that I could fix them.
I messed up in three ways (at least three!):
- I expected the best case scenario to be the result, i.e. I thought we could keep up the same furious pace of guest posting as the first three weeks. I forgot that guest posting gets harder over time, unless you change up your strategies to get new prospects.
- I failed to manage the team effectively. It’s been proven experimentally that people like to have autonomy in their work. That’s one reason why life style design entrepreneurs, digital nomads, or whatever you call them, are usually happier than when they had a corporate job. I let my outreach manager go with his own methods for too long. Then when I wanted to change the approach, he ignored my advice and kept trying to execute his methods which continued to fail.
- I failed to get involved soon enough. I kept hoping things would turn around, that guest posts would start getting published. In January, when it was 100 percent clear that the outreach team needed help, I realized I needed to get back in the game myself and hire my own team. By then it was far too late to catch up and still remain on schedule.
I realized that it would take more effort than I originally thought, and acknowledged three key mistakes.
It was time to move on, move forward, and build the team.
Building an Outreach Team
Rob and I talked about outsourcing some of the remaining guest post that need to be published. That number was 26 by January 19.
The site was making a healthy income, still five figures per month, so we could afford to invest and easily justify the costs. Plus, we made plenty of money in the last quarter of 2016 to more than cover the costs of guest posts.
Hypothetical Guest Post Costs
Let’s look at what that might cost to get 20 guest posts from various vendors. This is based on the assumption that guest posts are legit and high quality, obtained through networking, not a Private Blog Network.
- My old service – $6,000 for an average DA of about 30
- The HOTH – $3,500 for an average DA of about 30
- Fat Joe – $2,100 for for an average DA of about 30
- Love To Link – $3,690 for an average DA of about 30
- Guest Post Solutions – $1,200 for a range of DAs of 20 to 80
I’m admittedly a control freak and want to have things done in a particular way. Most of the time I can back up this obsessive nature with results.
The price ranges are crazy and you can pretty much assume that you get what you pay for. I kept raising my prices, and I still got customers. Eventually, I realized getting my own guest posts and backlinks were far more valuable for me than the money that people would pay me, so I stopped the service.
I thought about hiring independent SEO consultants instead of an agency to help control the prices and ensure real authentic outreach. The problem there is that the costs are still high and SEO consultants have their own idea about what to do. That could be good, but it could be a problem though. I’m admittedly a control freak and want to have things done in a particular way. Most of the time I can back up this obsessive nature with results.
I took a step back to think about what I really needed. I wrote out all the things that an outreach manager needs to do. It turns out that all the steps are basic tasks that are easy to do.
Sure, there are several tasks to complete and they need to be done in the right order, but no single step takes more than a few minutes.
The main steps are:
- Read a blog post.
- Comment on a blog.
- Check if the comment is approved.
- Comment again on the same blog.
- Email the blogger and be friendly.
- Email the blogger and pitch a guest post idea.
- Send the guest post to the blogger to be published.
What kind of person can follow directions, send emails, and be friendly?
Lots of people, including writers, executive assistants, and customer service representatives, and they are normally cheaper to hire than a SEO consultant. The upside is that they won’t second guess my tight, proven process.
I hired two outreach assistants and turned them loose at the beginning of February. I paid them $9 per hour and they worked for about five to ten hours per week. It takes a while to do the relationship building process, up to a few weeks. It took 3 weeks for the first guest post to go live.
After that slow relationship building period, things really took off. It’s the end of March right now, and I’m happy to report that 46 guest posts are live now.
It made me realize that I should have started building my own outreach team sooner. In fact, it would have been really smart if I worked in parallel with the original outreach manager. That’s totally ignoring the fact that I was doing a lot of other things at the time, so it may not have been possible. But in theory, it would have been a really good idea to get the guest posts done faster.
That’s compounded by the fact that Amazon changed the commission structure for its Associates program that cause a massive 35% reduction in revenue for the site. It would have been great to actually list the site at the end of January to potentially not take that 35% hit in revenue and correspondingly valuation of the site.
The Reboot Worked. Time To Move On…
It was a challenge to work on a big guest posting campaign. It took more time and effort than I estimated. Even worse, I was working with a friend (the independent contractor) that kept making promises about the work output that never came to fruition. If it was a contractor that I didn’t know, I would have fired him in October. Instead, I kept dealing with the lack of progress and hoped I could coach him to better practices.
Once I got back in the saddle to build the team, things got better after a few weeks. There was some ramp up time, and the self doubt never goes away. I really wasn’t sure if I’d be able to execute and generate the guest posts we needed with a meager, 3 person team, working 15 hours max per week total.
I’m happy to say that I can build a team that executes fast and has results to show for it. In fact, rankings and traffic have been improving since the outreach team landed some great guest posts.
I started on the project over seven months ago and finally finished my portion of the work. Things aren’t finished yet, and here’s what’s in the next update, The Money Trail:
- The cost for 46 guest posts.
- The cost for content, both Keyword Golden Ratio content and improving content.
- Other content costs, like editors and content managers.
- Understanding the ROI.
- Why the ROI didn’t matter as much as you’d think.
- Some details on how the partnership is structured.