UPDATED DECEMBER 2016
This post was originally going to be reserved just for my customers, as a way of helping them take their amazon affiliate websites forward after getting them set up.
After giving it some thought, I decided to make it a public post, since so many of you will benefit from it. There is still plenty of private content and tutorial videos reserved just for customers though.
I have to tip the hat to Mike at nichesiteazon.com as well, because he released a similar post a few weeks after I decided I was due to write my own, and he reminded me of a few things I'd forgotten.
Sometimes it's hard to remember just how difficult it is being a newcomer, and I know that one of the hardest things for you all is visualizing the bigger picture and understanding what steps lie ahead.
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"What should I do next?" is probably the question I receive the most often, and this post is going to address your first 6 months after launching an amazon affiliate website.
Why Six Months?
Well, if I did any longer, the post would be a million words long! But I chose 6 months because this is typically the time that people start to see some movement with their sites. Six months is the unofficial ending period for the sandbox (more on this later), and it's a time when page one rankings and income start to become more consistent.
Once you've reached this point, you basically just have to scale.
What is the Google Sandbox?
The 'sandbox' is a phrase used to describe the period in a new site's life when it doesn't get a lot of joy ranking in Google. It's no secret that Google doesn't tend to "trust" new sites, and as a result, it can be difficult for young sites to get themselves to page one, even if they have great content and a fair amount of backlinks and other metrics.
Imagine the sandbox to be a kind of handbrake put on your site, which is slowly released between 4-6 months after your site is first indexed.
You CAN still get traffic and rankings during this period, but it's a lot easier once your site has aged. However, the days of building a site and ranking it in 1-2 months are long gone.
There is also a mini-sandbox in the first month of a site's life, where it seems almost impossible to get anywhere and content takes a long time to get indexed.
This is fair enough, given how many people start a site and then abandon it, Google wants you to prove that you're serious about your site.
To be honest... you'll be so busy getting your site up, creating content, and adding links that you may not even notice the sandbox.
The General Strategy for an Amazon Affiliate Website
I've often said that you need to work hard to succeed with a niche site, but the work you need to do isn't actually that hard. The general strategy most niche marketers follow falls into two main categories; adding content, and link building.
There are offshoots of course, things like social media marketing, paid advertising, email marketing, and all the rest, but in terms of getting Google rankings, let's just focus on content and links.
Build Content that's Relevant
Adding content works on several levels. First of all, you're increasing the number of keywords that you can rank for. The more keywords you can rank for, the more traffic you get. Simple stuff.
On top of that though, you're also keeping your site fresh and alive. It's not the most important ranking factor, but it's well documented that Google prefers sites with fresh content to those that are static (local businesses or service-websites might be an exception to this rule, but not niche websites).
There's no hard and fast rule of how often you should post or how long your posts should be, as long as you're keeping the site fresh. Generally when a site is newer you'll want to post more often.
Thirdly is something a lot of people don't think about, and that's topical relevance. Google doesn't just look at an individual post, it looks at a site as a whole.
If you've written a post about a particular subject, but the rest of your site doesn't mention it much, or at all, then you'll have a hard time ranking that post, no matter how many links you have pointing to it.
When you have four, five, or even more posts on a given subject though, and they're all interlinking and organized nicely, that creates topical relevance which helps Google determine your site to be an authority on the subject. Google likes authorities.
One thing I've found even here at HPD is that if I want a particular post to rank, I often need to add relevant supplementary content that points to the post. This isn't the case so much anymore, because Google has already established my topic and how relevant the site is.
When your site is new though? You definitely want to build relevance.
Follow a Link Building Strategy
Say what you want about link building, nothing moves the dial in Google rankings like quality, relevant backlinks. Most niche marketers are aware of this and the ones that have the most success tend to follow a link building strategy. Whether that's purely outreach based, a little more grey hat, or plain spammy depends on the marketer and their risk aversion.
As with content, there's no hard and fast rule to how many links you'll need. Google rankings are relative. You can rank for some terms with NO links, but the more popular a term is, the more likely it is that you'll need links.
The general rule here is to build links in a smart way until you get the rankings you desire. Don't go overboard though. Just because I say you might need more links than your competitors, doesn't mean I'm telling you to start building a thousand low-quality links from fiverr.
Quality is definitely more important than quantity.
I recommend Rank Guardian for anyone from beginner to advanced.
What About Social Signals?
It's true that social signals can increase rankings to some extent, and it's equally advisable to build social signals to your site as a way of diversifying your "trust" profile and making your site look popular.
However, I tend to favor just sharing your content on social networks and growing social signals naturally. You really don't need many, and if you're earning them organically, it means people are visiting your site.
Remember, visitors are the people who buy stuff, not Google search bots.
The Six Month Strategy
I'm going to split this into three general periods; month 1, months 2-3, and months 4-6. As you may have guessed by now, these are not hard and fast periods and your mileage may vary!
In this month you'll want to make sure all the basic things are taken care of. Things like getting your site indexed, added to Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, and getting some social pages set up (Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter etc).
You can also start a content strategy and build some foundation links towards the end of the month.
Create Your Content Strategy
When a customer receives a niche site from us, it has 8,000 words of product reviews, "best of" posts, and some additional pages (privacy, about, contact etc). This is a good starting point for your site too.
Once you've got these core "money pages" up, you can start slowly adding informative and supplementary content. This is things like "How to" posts or other related articles.
For example, let's say your first few posts were something along the lines of "Best straight razor", "Best safety razor" and "Electric razor reviews".
These are core "money" pages and you'll want to rank them. So in month 1 (and for months 2-4 as well) you can add content that compliments them well. In this case it might be keywords like "How to shave with a straight razor" or "The benefits of using electric razors" and so on.
Remember to link them to the key pages to add that topical relevance and build their importance in Google's eyes!
For frequency, I'd say to aim for a minimum of 1 new article a week, but 2 or 3 is fine too. If you CAN'T do this many, then you should probably look into outsourcing the content. You really do want to get the bulk of your content added during the first few months.
One thing I'd like to point out is that it really doesn't matter if your posting schedule misses a beat or occasionally lapses. It's not going to kill your site if you post three weeks in a row then miss the fourth. Don't post too erratically, but don't stress yourself either.
For the first month, aim for a minimum of 10 new pieces of content. 500-1000 words per article is fine.
Link Building Begins
I really wouldn't build too many links until the site is at least a few weeks old. The only links I'd recommend building are "foundation" links from your social media accounts. Sign up to Twitter and put a link in your profile, and do the same for G+ and Facebook.
You can join others as well, such as Tumblr, Pinterest or LinkedIn. Don't over think things like adding a logo or background image at this stage, just get the accounts set up with naked urls pointing to your home page (this means no anchor text, just the pure url like https://humanproofdesigns.com)
Here's an example:
You could also start doing some of the following foundation link building, but don't go overboard:
- Blog commenting on relevant blogs (Again, just use your site name, not a keyword)
- Social bookmarking (Digg.com, Delicious, StumbleUpon, Reddit, etc)
- Sharing your content on your social accounts (FB, Twitter, Pinterest etc)
Start figuring out where your audience hangs out online. Are there popular forums, Facebook groups? Reddit threads? Which other blogs are popular in the niche? You don't necessarily need to start contacting these people yet, but make a note and start reading. You'll learn a lot about your niche and its audience, and you'll get good outreach opportunities later.
These are the months where you lay the foundations. Think of them as the seeds you sow in the spring, that you'll reap later when the sandbox is gone. You should ultimately be continuing your content strategy, and ramping up your link building efforts during this period. You can also start outreaching to other bloggers and posting some link bait content.
Don't do anything too aggressive though. Less is more.
Supplement Your Commercial Content
I would continue to build out supplementary content and "how to" content at this stage. 1-2 posts a week is ideal.
In addition, I suggest starting to build out link bait posts. This is things like:
- Lists of good bloggers/websites/forums/facebook groups in your niche
- Resource pages
- Expert roundup posts
The idea is that you start mentioning other bloggers in your posts and letting them know about it, and they might well link to you in turn. It will get you on their radar at the very least.
I've got some extensive training in the customer area on these posts as well, so I won't go into much more detail today.
Do you only need to publish content based on keywords? No, definitely not, but if you still have keywords to use up, then absolutely!
Link Building - Connect, Pay, Promote
At this stage you can start to build some quality links to build upon the foundation ones you built in month 1. I'm a big fan of using The Hoth at this stage, and sometimes start as early as week 2 or 3. The Hoth is a link building service that will create some web 2.0 domains (things like wordpress.com, blogger.com etc) and then send mass links to them to boost their quality.
I've written a review here, so not going to cover much more again. I would suggest buying a $60 or $250 package and building your first decent links to the homepage and 1 or 2 inner pages (the key money pages mentioned earlier). Don't make every single link have the same anchor text. Mix up "brand links" (your domain name or naked URL) and keyword links "Best straight razor".
Again, the more aggressive you are, the more likely you will to get your site penalized, so bear that in mind. Don't go for links from somewhere like fiverr either.
Towards month 3 and 4 you may start making good connections with other bloggers, especially if your link bait posts are going down well. Why not approach a few of them for a guest post opportunity? You may even have landed a few links as a thank you for mentioning them previously.
Once more, there are a few videos on getting guest posts in the customer area, so I won't go into much detail here. What I will do is point you to a few good resources here and here.
I would say that if you could build 5-10 quality links a month during this period, then your site should start to look good by the end of month 3.
After you have one or two Hoth links, go ahead and get the Rank Guardian service. Tim and Mike are very hands on and will deliver you fantastic results.
I would also recommend you to consider buying some PBN links from Jon Haver at Lightning Rank. The 5 bolt package is the best on a monthly basis.
Keep reading other blogs in your niche and interacting with their communities. If you're active in forums and Facebook groups, people will start to trust you and you'll be able to drop some links to your informative articles in there too. Obviously use common sense here though.
If someone is asking a question in a forum/group and you've got an article that answers it, give them the answer and link them to your post to learn more.
Additionally, use tools like semrush to see how you compare with your competitors and use something like sourcehunter.org to track your rankings.
In these months, you really want to start working more on promoting your site, outreach, and link building. You can start to be a bit more aggressive with your link building efforts, but keep it within reasonable limits.
Content That's Balanced
At this stage I'd say it's fine to slow down slightly and post once or twice a month unless you want to post more. You could also start having guest bloggers of your own posting on your site. Host blogging is a good way of becoming an authority (since the experts are writing on YOUR site), and getting influencers to share your content.
By this stage you should have a fair amount of content on your site, a mixture of which are keyword targeted, link bait, and money pages.
Start adding more product reviews and "best of" posts as well. You'll find that you're getting a lot more love from Google at this stage, and you might even be earning relatively consistently too.
Link Building for Organic Search
I would definitely recommend adding PBN links at this stage, but I know some people prefer to avoid the risk. That's your call, and something that people have to decide for themselves.
The good thing about PBN links is that you get to fully control the link, make sure it is from a quality, authoritative source, and you can add them as you please. This is why they work so well. I would add 5-10 links to a mixture of your homepage and inner pages (with a mixture of anchor text) per month during this stage.
As well as these links, you'll want to focus on outreach efforts. While PBNs can give you a great boost, getting proper white-hat links from legitimate sites is golden.
If you can secure 1- 2 guest post spots a month, then you're going to be doing good things for your rankings too. At this point, you should have been interacting with other bloggers for at least three months, so you should be making connections.
If you want, you can also go for another Hoth package, but the money would be better spent on PBN links.
What's also important to consider is that if you've been mentioning other bloggers, are active in groups and forums, and have been consistently adding content, you'll be naturally attracting links too, and that's something that will start to happen organically.
The Social Strategy
Without wanting to make your brain overload from too much information, I'd like to suggest you should also be somewhat active on your main social accounts (FB, Twitter, G+). We've found Facebook Groups (that you control) and Pinterest to be very automated ways of doing one-to-many content promotion.
At the very least, you should share all your new posts on these accounts, and if you can invest more time, then you should be interacting with other bloggers too. Share their content, follow them and follow their followers, and you'll slowly start to notice a bit of traction with social.
This is something you can start in week 1 and continue right through to month 6.
Moving Forward From Month 6
At this point, I would say you should have some good rankings, starting to get earnings, and thinking about how to scale. Here are some things for you to try at this point:
- Repeat the previous 6 months and scale it up more!
- Learn how to tweak conversions to increase income (read this)
- Build more links and make more connections.
- Think about outsourcing a lot of these things.
- Deciding whether to scale, or start another site to double up!
As I said before, the work you need to do isn't particularly difficult, you just have to work hard at it. The above guide is a decent strategy and will make sure you're covering the basics. Feel free to ask any questions below.
One thing I'd like to add is that if you have more time and want to post more, outreach more, build more links, or add in an additional strategy, that should be fine. This is a great base to build on, but more things can help too.
Generally the best thing to do is follow the guide, learn from what works and what doesn't, and then rinse and repeat.