Project Go White Hat – Selling a Niche Site For Over $500,000 (pt 2)

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The last update ended like this:

  • The 10 guests posts scheduled to be published had anchor text that was just asking for a penalty. It was all exact match anchor text.
  • A competitor implemented a Negative SEO attack.
  • My partner is a mystery. Anonymous. But you probably heard of this person.

If you’re just catching up with this case study, here’s the goal:

The goal is to sell a niche site for over $500,000 after transforming it from Gray Hat backlinking to a White Hat site.

You can catch up by reading part 1.

This post has a lot going on – ups and downs, solutions and new problems – so here is what is going on:

  1. The Anchor Text Debacle (with the 10 guest posts)
  2. Taking Massive Action:
    • The $200 investment that yielded $100,000
    • Plan to remove 15 private blog network links
    • Adding more content
  3. Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems or Big Trouble in Little Niche Site (You’ll love the graphic!)
    1. The content team is falling apart
    2. Traffic starts dropping at the most critical time
    3. The guest posting team is failing
    4. Get the Content and Guest Post Templates here. It’s free – just enter your email address.

The Anchor Text Debacle

Here is what happened:

I was shocked to see that the exact match anchor text was used for 7 of the 10.

I have an outreach manager that’s in charge of the prospecting, sending email, sourcing the content, editing, placing backlinks, and anything related to corresponding with prospects. He did a great job with the prospecting and got started fast.

In fact, it only took a couple weeks for him to secure the first set of 10 guest posts. He did this so fast that he didn’t have a chance to have me look over the content first. I’m not a micromanager, but for the first sprint of guest posts I wanted to have a look to approve the quality and see the process.

I checked the status updates in our tracking spreadsheet and saw that all the guest posts had been sent out. The articles were all with the editors of the blogs, ready to be published.

But I was shocked to see that the exact match anchor text was used for 7 of the 10. So that means the anchor text was like “Product X Reviews” for 7 of the 10 guest posts. I knew this was a problem, but waited to make a move. (Remember, it’s a problem since the anchor text of the backlinks would be out of whack. That’s very bad, like crossing the streams, because Google could apply a manual penalty for “Unnatural Backlinks.”)

I needed to tell my partner. (I can’t mention who it is, but you probably know him!)

We do most of our communication with Skype so I chatted with him and explained the situation. We both agreed it was a major screw up – bad enough to potentially destroy the project.

We needed to act. Being a PM nerd, I took us through a risk management exercise to develop a solid response to limit the downside while NOT over reacting.

Brainstorm a Solution

There were a few things that we could do in response to the mistake.

  • Do nothing and accept the exact match anchor text.
  • Try to change the anchor text.
  • Disavow the backlinks once they go live.

Review the possible consequences for likely outcomes

  • Do nothing: The post might be penalized for unnatural links due to the keyword rich anchor text. This would be very bad and could jeopardize the success of the project. Earnings might be impacted immediately if the traffic went down.
  • Change the Text: The blogger or editor might get annoyed and not publish the guest post so the effort and cost to get the guest post would be wasted.
  • Disavow: The links would not be recognized and so the effort and cost to get the guest post would be wasted.

The solution was clear

Ask each blogger or editor to change the anchor text. The risk was the lowest for this option and had the potential for the highest upside.

The plan was simple, email all 7 of the bloggers/editors and provide them with a new version of the article.  The email would say we made some edits to the post to clean it up. If we said anything about the anchor text, then it would seem more suspicious.

Execute the plan and wait

It took a few days to get the changes made but it was overall successful

I met immediately with the outreach manager to start the process. It just took a few minutes to get everything set up. Changing the anchor text was simple.

I like to use long phrases that are keyword rich because that’s what bloggers do. Some of the other posts were edited to include generic anchor text links like, “this post” or “here,” which is also very common.

It took a few days to get the changes made but it was overall successful. 4 of the 7 were changed to something different than the exact match anchor text.

The correction to the mistake was deemed a success overall even though we would still have to wait to see if there were negative repercussions. It seemed unlikely since the exact anchor text links represented less than 10% of the total links to the site. Plus, we knew that more links would be added further reducing the concentration of the exact match anchor text.

Lesson learned: Make sure the team has baseline knowledge

The whole mistake was my fault as the owner of the guest posting part of the work. Sure, my outreach manager was the one that actually performed the tasks but he was not to blame.

It was my fault due to a lack of training – I assumed he knew how important anchor text is for a link building campaign. He didn’t know even though he knew how to conduct a guest post campaign. It’s a subtle difference, but there is a big difference.

Taking Massive Action

We did 3 major things to increase the traffic and earnings. Here are the details.

The simple $200 tweak that boosted the value of the site by $100,000 and monthly earnings by 40% in 60 days


That sounds really impressive, and it is, but it was also very simple.

We improved the content on ONE page.

The most profitable page was bad with poorly written sections and a lack of understanding of the core product. Any person that had a small amount of knowledge about the core product would know that the writer had no clue what he or she was talking about! The content needed a full overhaul.

I used the Research Paper Method (RPM) to develop a strong outline. The RPM instructs you to treat the  content like a research paper. Find resources, lots of them, then outline what should be covered in your content.

Once I had an RPM outline, I hired a writer to do the work. We added the content and the word count went from 2,000 to over 10,000.

The writing and editing cost about $200 for 8,000 additional words. That’s about $0.04 per word. (I know someone is reading this thinking, “Doug. Dude. You are overpaying for your content! I can get it for $0.015 per word. You’re getting ripped off.” I say to this imaginary person in my head, “My friend, you’re focusing on the wrong part. I’m happy to pay my team well, and I’m happy that you’re buying cheap content.”)

The traffic went up by a lot over a few weeks just by adding the content.

After 60 days, the traffic for the site was up by 40% and so were the earnings!

The earnings kept growing:

  • $10k in September
  • $14k in October
  • $19k in November

amazon Sep 2016 Earnings 8

amazon Oct 2016 earnings 7

amazon Nov 2016 Earnings 6 1

Removing PBN Backlinks

This was the main task of the project: get rid of the powerful PBN backlinks and replace them with White Hat Guest Posts.

There were 45 PBN links total and they all needed to be removed before the site could be sold. Also,  we wanted to have them removed early to allow the impact to be felt so the new owner wouldn’t be in for a loss in traffic or earnings.

We decided to keep it simple and just remove an equal number of backlinks per month. That’s to say we want to remove 15 backlinks per month over 3 months.

The backlinks were to a variety of pages throughout the site so we decided to spread out the removal pretty evenly. We agreed to remove 15 specific links for each month.

Sometimes it takes a while for the impact of links to be felt, and that applies to links being added or removed. So we just waited to see what would happen.

More Content, Applying 80/20, and More Changes

Adding the content to the highest traffic page worked so well that we wanted to add more new content and improve even more existing content.

We identified the top 80% of the content traffic wise and figured out that it was just 7 more pages. Instead of a big, scary task of updating 30+ pages and posts, we narrowed it down to just a select few.

We ran the same drill:

  • I outlined more content.
  • My mystery partner approved it.
  • I hired writers to do the work.
  • I hired content managers/editors to process the content.

It’s the same system I used on my other site; it was just on a bigger scale so the impact was amplified.

Additionally, we needed lots of new content so I hired my friend from the Starting from Scratch Case Study, Jim, to find some great Keyword Golden Ratio compliant keywords. (Watch my video about KGR here…)

Like any good internet marketer with a project management background, I hired writers and a content manager to do this work for us. I use the same templates and job postings again and again and teach the same thing in the Five Figure Niche Site Course. Get the templates here for free.

The bottomline is that each new post cost us about $25 for 1000 words in cash outlay. That cost is a bit of a false because it ignores the cost of our time (planning, oversight, etc), and in the corporate world my time is worth about $100 per hour. For my internet marketing consulting time, it’s about $200 per hour. But the good part is that each article probably takes about 5 minutes of my time when outsourced properly. It’s really not much.

Big Trouble in Little Niche Site

A number of things started happening, and they weren’t in the original plan. It was bad stuff – like what Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China went through all those years ago. (Look it up…)

big trouble in little niche site

The image is a dramatization…

The content team is falling apart and most of the writers disappeared. It happened fast and at a bad time.

We were so impressed with the results from the 2-step content growth plan for one of my sites that we looked to do the same thing for this project. We also saw the value of growing the site to increase the valuation when selling it.

So, we decided to add about 50 new posts, some affiliate based and some pure information based. I built a content team with writers, editors, and content managers to handle the work and I served as the project manager for the work.

Everything was going well and some of the team was the same from my other niche site. In that instance, I added about 200 posts to my site and it resulted in a massive increase in traffic and revenue over a few months. It was a great investment of $4,000 for the content.

Then, the content team started slowing down. The average output of the team was about 20 – 30 articles per week, at about 1,000 words per article. That’s a lot of content, but it was necessary to have that additional content to get the site ready to sell.

The production level went down to about 6 – 7 articles per week. That’s a decent amount of content and for a site that only has about 40 posts, that’s reasonable growth.

But it was way off pace. Plus, if you have the budget to push growth, then use it! We had the budget but didn’t have the team to do the work.

I stalled and stalled. I didn’t think I had the time to build out a new team. Not immediately addressing the production decline was a dumb move on my part since this project is potentially worth over $500,000.

Instead, I checked with the content manager to see if he thought the team would be back running at capacity soon. He always said, “Yes – should be good by next week…”

They never were. And our timeline was getting crumpled up and stepped on by all the writers that stopped writing for me.

Well, there was a more immediate problem too…

Traffic starts dropping at the most critical time.

After about 90 days of tremendous growth, the site started losing traffic and we didn’t know why.

This happened right in the middle weeks of December, and that means it’s the busiest time of the year – literally.

500k niche site traffic drop

Each day in December up until the traffic drop, the site was making over $1,000 per day. Traffic drops sometimes for unexplained reasons, but something funny was going on because all the pages that were impacted happened to be the top traffic pages, like 80% of the traffic.

That was troubling since that means the traffic reduction could have been due to the content changes. We thought it may be due to over optimizing for the keyword on the pages or the keywords within the headings on the pages (the “h2” and “h3” tags). We had no idea what the real cause was!

The guest posting team is failing to reach its critical milestones

The outreach team was stellar at first and reached the first milestone of 10 guest posts in less than a month. Way faster than I expected. But the next 5 took longer, over 6 weeks, and things just got slower and slower. There was a stretch of 6 weeks when no guest posts were published.

It was clear that we’d be way off pace to replace all 45 PBN backlinks. I had to do something or we’d never finish our project and never reach the goal of selling the site.

I didn’t know what to do, just that I needed to do something.

In Part 3, I’ll tell you about:

  • The crazy earnings for the retail season: over $19,000 in November and $32,000 in December.
  • The unexpected consequences of changing content. Hint: It made the earnings DROP.
  • Using project management to address the guest posting failure.
  • What happens when you remove 15 HIGH authority backlinks in 30 days.
  • Here is Part 3…

About the author: Doug Cunnington is the founder of Niche Site Project. He shows people how to create Affiliate Sites using project management and a proven, repeatable framework. Doug loves creating systems, using templates, and brewing beer (but usually not at the same time).

17 comments… add one
  • Souvik Mallick

    Hello Doug
    Just gone through both part of your case-study and its amazing. Registered for the webinar too. Looking forward to your webinar. 🙂

  • Jon

    Wow, this post compelled me to read right through parts 1 and immediately onto part 2. I can’t wait to read how things unfold, and feel motivated by the things I could replicate on a smaller scale.

    I revisited the site after reading all of this and reminded myself of the wealth of free resources and information you provide here. Please keep up the good work!

    • Doug Cunnington

      Jon, good to see you here!

      And, I’m happy to hear I compelled you to read on… that was all part of my plan. 🙂

      See you around the blog

  • Quinton

    Great study, dude. I’ve noticed my writers seem to burn out about every 3-5 weeks. The ones who don’t burn out, simply get too busy and keep raising their prices (a good thing for them!)

    One of the unique challenges in our industry.

    You’ve got a lot going on with this project. Will be very cool to see how it turns out. I think working with an exit plan as the primary focus is a solid strategy.

    • Doug Cunnington

      Quinton, thanks for swinging by!

      Writers can be tough, but for me it’s all about expectations. So I lowered some expectations and realized that some people will disappear and disappoint you.

      I’m excited and nervous to see how this will turn out.


  • Don

    Dàmn Doug…Never thought of having a niche site with 200 posts. How many posts does the site have to achieve December earnings?

    • Doug Cunnington

      Hey Don! 200 is a lot…

      Some people call them authority sites at that point. 🙂

      In December, I think the site had about 100 posts or so. But the VAST MAJORITY of the earnings are from ONE page.

  • Chris

    Great post. Looking forward to Part 3 to see what updating your content did to the site.

  • ahmed

    hey please can you explain us more about the Research Paper Method?

    • Doug Cunnington

      Ahmed, it’s basically just researching a topic and writing it out like a school paper.

  • Mike

    Hi Doug,

    I can’t the link to part 3. Did I miss something?

  • Marcel

    Re: Disavowing links. I made the mistake early on while using commentluv- put a spammy link (best-xyz) and a keyword in name. I later changed it. That one URL has about 10 links -all from those comments. It isn’t ranking at all (not top 100) while other posts with similar quality/kw difficult on my site are ranking first page. Should I disavow all those inks to that url …or any other advice? Thanks!

    • Doug Cunnington

      Marcel, I don’t think I’d worry about it generally but since you have other good results, then maybe you should give it a try.

  • Rashon Bryan

    Where do you get 8,000 word of quality content for $200?

    Thanks for sharing your process ?


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