[AFFILIATE STUDY] 114 Customers Reveal Successes & ‘SEO Traps’ When Growing Their Sites

A few weeks ago, we set out on a mission to answer one important question...

"What are successful site builders doing, that unsuccessful site builders aren't?"

It's obviously a difficult question to answer. So, we took to our email list and Facebook groups to ask our awesome customers a few crucial questions.

With over 100 respondents, we're finally able to bring back some solid findings. The people that helps us out ranged from experienced pros and newbies to everything in between. 

Before going on any further, Dom and the rest of the HPD team want to say thank you. It's not easy for us to ask you to take some time out of your busy day to help us put together content, so hopefully these nuggets of information will help you going forward.

Now, here's what we discovered from the 100+ survey responses, interviews and site audits.

Site Earnings vs Time Commitment

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    It's possible to earn $100-500/month with less than 10 hours of work per week.
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    BUT, most people that earn $500-$1000/month are working 20-40 hours at least.
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    The majority of people earning less than $100/month are working on their sites less than 10 hours/week.

"What is the BEST thing you've done to grow your site?"

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    Keyword Research
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    Good Content

The most successful site owners gave a lot of weight to their keyword research and content quality.

But, what determines "good" content? 

That can only be answered by those respondents, but it's also completely different for everyone. Each site builder has their own opinion of good content.

One thing that's for sure is that these top earners are doing their best to create & edit "good" content that meets their quality standards.

We also noticed that successful site owners care more about conversions than traffic. This might be a chicken and egg problem but we noticed that everyone earning more than $100 a month did not use the word traffic and was more focused on converting visitors. This is certainly something to think about if you're not at that $100+ mark. 

Note: The responses to the survey were coupled with a quick background check to see that these people were, in fact, our customers. Those that didn't have an email correlating with our customer base weren't added into the formulation of those key points above.

Everything you just read was just the tip of the iceberg. Along with the survey and interviews, we ran a few site audits and this is what we've learned from all of them. Including others not part of this survey contest.

Most Common Mistakes of Affiliate Site Builders

#1 Buying PBN Links From Poor Vendors

We noticed a lot of people purchasing links from un-vetted vendors. These are typically from places like Konker or Black Hat's PBN Marketplace. It was pretty easy for us to spot these links and to be honest, they didn't look great. Both from a visual standpoint and from a healthy link profile standpoint.

Unvetted PBN Sellers

A good vendor would be considered someone who takes care of the way their network looks, blocks crawlers (like Ahrefs, Majestic, and Moz,) plus will not provide reports. Providing reports to prospects or customers opens up the private blog network to the possibility of being discovered. This exposes everyone that's already using the network and as a customer of their network, you'd want it to be as private as possible.

Solution: Only buy PBN links from a trusted vendors. I know that it's unfair to say that we consider ourselves to fall into that category of a "trusted vendor" but we would also recommend Diggity Links too. The best PBN link building strategy is to use multiple vendors. Which replicates a more natural link profile because your not only getting links from the same network.

#2 Sending Exact Match Links From Low-Quality Sources

We were pretty careful to say sources and not "domains." A number of sites we looked at had exact match links from forums and profiles of those forums. Normally, you'd just create a link from your forum profile by adding www.yoursite.com. These profile links should be reserved for branding and as pillow links (click here, my site, read more, etc.) Not for exact match links.

Solution: Reserve exact match anchors for your high powered PBN links or similar. Your link profile requires a certain amount of finesse and you should be conservative with your exact match links. The reason why press releases are great at the beginning is because you get the opportunity to add branded links to your profile immediately. They aren't as powerful as PBN links obviously, but it's the natural way most professional sites get started online.

#3 Not Working On A Site After It's Built

Purchasing a new starter affiliate site is an amazing feeling. Just like any purchase, there's a rush of endorphins that flood your brain and set you in motion to start preparing for a better future.

Unfortunately, life gets in the way.

In our last success story with Ben, my favorite part was the immediate planning and follow through he had. Our ready-made sites are considered the best leverage you can get for your time, when entering into this business. But, of course there must be follow through.

Ben's site was only 16 months old and earned him an average $700 per month. Now he's set his site up for success because if he wants to take a day off, he can do that and it won't affect his earnings.

We saw quite a few abandoned sites and as I mentioned above...

The people earning $500+ are working on their sites at least 20 hours a week. One thing I encourage people to do is talk to other affiliates (either in Facebook groups or private forums.) Especially ones who are earning a healthy living from their sites. Nothing inspires you to start than by surrounding yourself with people you want trade places with.

Solution: When you purchase your site, start planning what you'd like to do with it. We do offer technical support and strategy support, but it only works if you implement it. Take some time to personalize the look of your site once it's ready. Adjust your theme, add your own touch to the articles, do some internal linking, add extra images, videos and most importantly - keep adding new content.

#4 Creating Multiple Articles That Go After 1 Keyword (Unknowingly)

This is known as "keyword cannibalization." For the most part, I'd say 99% of people aren't aware that it's happening with their site. When you aren't crystal clear on which keyword you want your article to rank for, it can confuse Google. From that situation, it could also spawn internal linking issues where you're using two different anchor texts consistently for a single article.

Solution: Be laser focused with the keywords you're targeting for your articles. Stop trying to rank for multiple keywords that don't make sense. The only time it makes sense to optimize your article for multiple keywords is when the SERPs are the same. For example, "best food for dogs" and "top foods for doggies" might have the exact same search results. Which you'd try to plug into your article. This is the same as using LSI graph.

If you're trying to stuff "best dog food", "dog brand X vs dog brand Y", and "dog brand X review" all into one single article, it's not going to help you reach the top position for ANY of those keywords. You need to be very specific for that keyword.

#5 Poor Page Structure

Yes, sometimes a sites topic is just naturally boring.

But, I think it's a good reminder that anytime someone ventures onto the internet, they're looking to be either entertained or educated. Both of those reasons should meet in the middle and form "engagement", right?

It's the sort of metric where people are staying on your page, clicking around your site, and preferably through to your affiliate link.

We noticed that the structure of a number of monetized pages could be better.

Screenshot from Jamie's Amazon account, an HPD customer - Read the full story here.

Although our first thought, when creating a money page, is to drive the click as fast as possible. It's important to note that the layout of the page is the foundation to that. Try not to put a wall of text right at the very beginning.

If someone is arriving to your page via an organic search, they want the information immediately. Not in a couple seconds, but right now. Or at least a glimmer of the answer...

Whenever you get the opportunity, try and do a real experiment of tracking down your page in the SERPs and I guarantee you'll get some instant first impressions (aka things to change.) This real life click through should tell you how boring your content might really be.

Solution: Add comparison tables to the very beginning of your articles, give call-to-actions near the top, provide a table of contents and most importantly - add some videos. Here is a template for you to create your money pages.

#6 Not Moving To HTTPS (& Finishing The Job)

Making the move to a securely "encrypted" site is something Google has mentioned favouring. The reason for this is because the Chrome browser is going to start highlighting prominently when a site isn't HTTPS.

Whether this switches around search rankings permanently, we don't know. However, the move to follow the big Gs orders are really simple. One thing to keep in mind is that if you have a bunch of social shares, you won't be able to keep those since your switching over your domain. If you've got 200+ shares on Pinterest, then once you switch to HTTPS it'll reset back to 0. But, I'm guessing that if you're on Pinterest then most of that sharing is automated so you'll get back to a significant number in no time.

Another aspect of this mistake is that people don't finish the job. Many people will start the process of switching to HTTPS (with their host) but don't finish setting it up correctly.

Solution: First thing would be to see if your host provides a free SSL certificate. Most do and are moving towards that setup. If it's not free, you're in the early stages of your site, and you intend on possibly taking transactions on your site, then it would be a good idea to setup. The time it takes to setup varies. Sometimes a host will have a one-click experience, while others require a few more hoops. If you aren't setup for a host or are looking to switch, we recommend SiteGround because they have a really simple HTTPS process that is just a few clicks.

#7 Not Testing Different Monetization Channels (or Products)

Some of the sites we saw had huge traffic numbers. One larger than HPDs even. However, many were still only monetizing through Amazon associates or only had Adsense setup. From here on out and in the future, the number of affiliate programs and ad platforms will expand. It's worth testing different ad networks and affiliate programs to see which can garner better results for your site.

To take it one step further. Sites using the Amazon associates program weren't exploring the full potential of it. It's worth diving into your affiliate account and optimizing your posts for the things people are actually buying. If it's related, of course.

Solution: Test different monetization options. If you're promoting a Clickbank product and no one is buying it. Then switch out the offer and start driving your traffic for the next month to an alternative product. Often times, it's not your site but the offer that needs tweaking. The same goes for ad networks.

#8 Not Being Consistently Proactive

Without getting too deep into the "motivational woo-woo." The key to any successful affiliate site is consistency. In fact, the key to anything in business is just that.

No matter which niche you're in, there's going to be competition. After all, looking for competition on purpose is one of the keys to proper keyword research.

Many sites we reviewed were adding content for short periods and then letting it sit. While I understand the theory to let your content sit and bake in the rankings for a bit. It's definitely not favourable to pause your sites content growth.

Don't Stop Working on Your Affiliate Site

SEO does take a while to start working in your favour, however, the more content you create - the more topical relevance you will receive and Google will start to favour you based on that topic.

Solution: Block sections of time every day something important with your site. Most of the time, that's something to do with your content plan. If you don't have a homepage yet, but you've got a whole bunch of articles in the cue to be published. I'd work on the articles first. Many websites survive very well without a proper homepage and blog roll. For years, ThePennyHoarder.com was just a blog roll and was making millions of dollars per year. Here's a picture of their homepage from January 2017.

While you may not like this idea at first, I guarantee you that the sum of all your articles is going to be infinitely more useful than a homepage. Always do the most important stuff first with your limited time.

What Are Successful Site Owners Focusing On?

#1 Following Through With Their Plan

I would say that every success story we've interviewed has mentioned deriving a plan right away after they purchased a site from us. The wheels started in motion way before the site was delivered. Once they received their site, then the customization started. It's important to groom your site to your own branding preferences and really make it feel like your own. Then these individuals started cranking out content that's keyword focused and followed the best on-page practices available.

#2 Avoiding Risky Temptations

All of the sites with high ranking monetized keywords contained no links back from "weird" PBN pages. The backlink profile looked pretty clean and although some of them were clearly purchased links, it wasn't enough to set off any alarms. Good links cost money, while careless links cost almost nothing. Careless providers are willing to let anyone join at a very low cost and this degrades the safety of the network.

Being smarter with your keyword choices is alternative to link building. For example, Doug Cunnington's Keyword Golden Ratio is something you could use. 

But even then, smart keyword choices aren't as powerful as good backlinks.

#3 Building Relationships For Their Site

The last point goes very smoothly with this one...

If you aren't into grabbing PBN links then your best bet to increase backlinks is to do an outreach campaign.

The internet, in it's simplest form, is just a collection of peoples thoughts and actions. From that stand point, it makes sense to start building relationships online. After all, it's what normal people use the internet for, right?

Outreach is main reason why HPD has done so well in a short amount of time. Dom reached out to people systematically and still does more networking than anyone I know.

Just because you're building an affiliate site, it doesn't mean you should be relying purely on Google to rank you "organically." Often times, people that don't understand what we're doing will say that it's not a real business. In some cases, I might agree with them. But if you want to grow your site faster than anyone else in your niche, then you have to treat it like a real business. Not a side project. This means taking on full ownership and responsibility of your sites growth.

The fastest way to get noticed by Google is to have real people notice you. Be intentional with your outreach and if you use tools like GMass or Mailshake, it becomes a lot easier to scale that process. A conversation could lead to several things: a link, guest post on your site, guest post on their site, early access to a future product, etc.

We can't stress it enough that you want to be willing to do more than your competition. This often means simply reaching out to influencers to get your site noticed.

What Should You Do With This Information?

The best thing you can do right now is take one of the mistakes or successes in this article and implement it. Make it part of your weekly goal.

I wouldn't try and implement all of these right away, just choose the one that stuck out the most to you.

If it's reviving your site because you've left it alone for months, then it means going into your content plan and starting that process again.

If you've purchased terrible links from Konker or Fiverr, then consider disavowing those links.

If you have tons of traffic, but no conversions. Consider researching a new offer that has a higher Gravity (Clickbank) or lower Best Sellers Rank (Amazon.)

To pass on one final tip that I've learned to remain long-term focused...

Get a piece of paper and draw a cross in the middle of the paper. Dividing it into 4 quadrants.

Action Plan For Meeting Goals

Credit goes to Aaron Fletcher for showing me this goal setting strategy.

Insert these titles at the top of the 4 squares: 3 Year Goal, 1 Year Goal, 90 Day Goal, & This Week.

Start writing down your goals for each (along with specific dates), but do not fill in "this week's" goals yet.

After you're done writing down your 3 and 1 year goals, plus your 90 day goals. Take a sticky note and place it inside of "this week's" area. Then write your weeks goal on that stick note.

Then next week, review your overall goals again and switch out the sticky note with a new set of weekly goal until you've hit that 90 day date.

This should help you stay focused. I'd say most affiliates already know the path to success, they just need to keep their eye on the ball. Hopefully this study has helped you filter out a lot of noise too.

Thanks again for your input into the survey and interviews. If you've got a comment or some extra tips for the HPD community, please leave them below.


  1. Matthew Lambert

    Hey Guys! Thanks for another great post.
    I was wondering what do you recommend as a reasonable 90 days goals for a newly launched site?

  2. Great post, as usual!

  3. Ted Begnoche

    Hey guys, excellent article and great insight, thanks very much. I have a few things I can focus on now and I appreciate it.
    One question, do you think it hurts your chances for selling the site later down the line of someone were to buy PBN links?


    • I think you’re asking about whether a site would be “sellable” if it had PBN links? Yes, definitely. A good percentage of the sites on Empire Flippers have PBNs on there and often times sites with PBN links are the quickest flip.

    • * Good PBN links that is haha. But the broker would be checking that on their end because they don’t want to present a site to their buyers that has a bunch of low quality PBN links.

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