I worked for an SEO agency before I started freelance writing.
Now, I talk the talk… but don’t walk the walk much. This affiliate site started as a mini-experiment: to see if I still could do SEO (so I could really write about it for my clients.)
I bought the domain from scratch which meant it had no pre-existing rankings or authority. I also made a matching Facebook and Instagram profile–again, both from scratch.
Now, I’ve clocked in 1.75M impressions and almost 90K clicks from organic search in just 13 months, with less than 25 published posts.
Here’s how I did it.
How I picked my affiliate niche
Anyone can write about how well they’re doing with their affiliate site. But in my opinion, it all boils down to your niche. The less competition fighting for your keywords, the easier it will be to rank.
That’s where I hit the jackpot.
My niche is around a specific breed of dog that I own. Hugo is a Sprocker Spaniel, and before I bought him last August, I looked everywhere to find advice relating to his breed.
I couldn’t find it anywhere–except a handful of Facebook Groups. Some of which are 10K+ members strong.
My exact thought was: why is nobody cashing in on all this demand? So I did.
I picked a domain that binded all of us Facebook Group members into a single category: Sprocker Lovers. We all loved the breed, and nobody had that domain already. It also meant I could cash-in on breed-related keywords since the word is in my URL.
If you take away anything from this case study, let it be this: I could sit here and say that I’m an SEO genius, and that I’ve cracked a super competitive niche to get thousands of visitors.
Truth is, the niche plays a huge part. There’s little-to-no competition for my first set of keywords–but the demand is still there. I think that’s the foundation of any successful niche site unless you have years to invest into growing it. (I didn’t.)
How I grew to 7K+ monthly visitors with less than 25 posts
That’s what tends to shock people.
We’re told that “more content means more chance of ranking. WRITE MORE.”
That can be true (and is true for some competitive niches.) But on the whole, less high-quality content is better than tons of low-quality shit that nobody wants to read.
Here are three things I did to rank my affiliate site with very little content:
1. Go deep on pillar/cluster pages
I love the pillar/cluster content model. It works by creating a main, overarching pillar page for your topic, and supporting clusters. Each page interlinks between one another using keyword-rich anchor text.
My theory: if I can rank for these breed-related keywords first, I’ll build that authority and recognition with Google. They’ll know that I’m the go-to website for that specific dog breed. So if anyone searches for any other dog-related content specifically for that breed, I’d be first choice.
The first page I created was a Sprocker Spaniel Breed Information pillar page. It talks about everything someone would want to know about the dog–including their history, appearance, and temperament.
I wrote cluster pages that built around that main breed information page, including:
- Types of Spaniel
- Spaniel crossbreeds
- How to find a Spaniel puppy
Those pages drive more traffic, rank for more keywords, and are valued much higher than any other content I’ve published:
Keywords I’ve targeted on those pages are my biggest drivers of organic traffic, too:
The takeaway: Make pillar pages a priority if your affiliate site is brand new. Write about a topic you want to rank for, and create supporting content around it. Link between.
2. Find a promotion channel that works (and push it)
Your content won’t work unless you put it to work.
Sure, you can optimize it for SEO and the rest of it. But unless you actually go out there and say “hey look what I’ve got!”, don’t expect anyone to take notice… including search engines.
The key to growing an affiliate site is to find a distribution channel that works for you–and nail it.
For me, that’s Pinterest. I’ve got 120K impressions within the last 90 days, and an engaged audience of 4.5K people. That’s almost as much as organic search:
My strategy isn’t anything ground-breaking, either.
I use Canva templates to create 3-5 vertical graphics for each blog post. I upload them to Pinterest, using the corresponding URL as the source.
What I do differently, though, is schedule my Pins. Not everything gets posted as soon as my content goes live. Instead, I found the times Pinterest users are more active, and used the scheduling tool to promote my content during that time.
Here’s the results from my top-performing Pins, click-wise:
I’ve got tons of different Pinterest boards, each of which has content re-pinned. Not everything I post is my own content–that’s why people follow my account.
But, I do have a blog-specific board that only shares content from my site.
Those pins alone have had 64K impressions and 1,200+ link clicks. Not bad for 30 minutes of extra designing tagged onto the end of my writing process:
The takeaway: Test different distribution channels and think about where you’d hang out if you were your customers. One will be a clear winner. Double-down on that and make it a priority.
3. Work on image optimization
I didn’t get image optimization until I started this site.
I didn’t think people actually used it. (If they did, I still didn’t think they’d click the results. I thought they were there to browse and look at fun memes.)
So, I used this site as my test. I optimized the images–using keywords in the alt text–on my main pillar page to see if it made any difference.
It did. Hugo now claims the first and second spots when you search his breed in Google:
Sure, I love that my dog is the first two results for his breed. (We’ve even seen people post to the Facebook Groups I’d mention earlier saying, “where can I find a dog like this?”)
But it’s not just for vanity. It drives traffic to the pillar page–making it another type of distribution channel that works.
The takeaway: Optimize images–especially the featured images on your pillar page. Rank for them in image search to drag-up your overall rankings.
What about guest posting and link building?
LINKS LINKS LINKS.
If you want your site to be successful, you need links. Right?
True. But again, it depends on your niche. And like I said, I hit the jackpot with mine.
At the time of writing this, I’ve only published five guest posts. The highest DR was 90; the lowest 10. The rest are scattered in between. Nothing ground-breaking… But I’m still doing well in organic results:
It proves that you don’t always need tons of links to start getting results. But it helps, nonetheless.
Using this as inspiration for your own affiliate site?
The bottom line: the niche you choose is a major deciding factor in how quickly (or well) you’ll rank.
I could’ve created an affiliate site about business software, and it’d have taken years for me to get the same results with the time and effort I’ve invested into this one. Big brands with even bigger budgets could’ve outranked me easily. Not with this niche.
The rest still stands, though. Pillar pages are key. Finding a distribution channel that works is like unlocking another kingdom. And more people use image search than you think.
Now I wanna know: do you have an affiliate site? What tips have you used to get results?
If you want more goodness on how I’ve grown this affiliate site, listen to my chat with Ramli John on the Growth Marketing Today podcast. We talk about how I find content ideas, my distribution tactics, and prove you can get meaningful search traffic with little content: