Today, we have an interview with RJ Weiss. He is the founder of The Ways To Wealth, a personal finance blog that gets 250,000 pageviews/month and makes $10K/month in profits. Personal finance is a really tough niche to start a blog. There is a ton of competition, and keywords are super difficult to rank for.
What’s amazing, though, is that the blog we’re discussing today is not even RJ’s first successful personal finance blog. He built his first one to 100,000 visitors per month, sold it, worked on other things, then decided to do it all over again. So it’s safe to say… he knows how to build profitable sites in tough niches.
In this interview, we’ll go through everything from his traffic numbers, monetization strategy, his income numbers, and how he’s able to succeed in one of the most competitive industries online.
Hi, RJ. First question: how did you get started in online business?
I started my first finance blog in 2009, which I was able to build to over 100K unique visitors a month and sell a few years later. Admittedly, I didn’t get much for it because I didn’t know how to monetize a blog well. However, I did acquire some valuable skills that allowed me to take over digital marketing at the company I was working at. In 2016, with a lot more experience under my belt, I got the itch to start another personal finance blog. That lead me to start The Ways to Wealth, which I now run full-time.
What’s the story behind The Ways To Wealth?
The itch I had to start another blog came in 2016 reading over a niche site duel Pat Flynn ran. As such, I followed his blueprint to start and grow a site. It laid a decent SEO foundation, however, the site really didn’t take off until I was able to figure out Pinterest around the 8-month mark. Starting to see results from Pinterest gave me the confidence that I really could grow this blog. Things really took off then a year after launching when I started to advertise on Facebook. The blog now gets around 250K views a month primarily from Facebook, Pinterest, and SEO.
How come it took so long to start another site? 2016 is a long time after selling your last site. I know you said you started to take over digital marketing at the company you worked at, but outside of that, was there any particular reason why you didn’t just start another site on the side?
I had a few sites that failed between selling my first site and starting my second. This included a commercial loan lead generation and a niche site discussing training for nurses.
During this time, I did freelance quite a bit which kept me busy. I took on clients for copywriting, landing page optimization, and managing paid ads for local businesses. After struggling to make money with a high traffic blog in the past, it was nice to get paid upfront by the work. However, a bad experience with a client who refused to pay, really got me motivated to start a site.
Another thing that really motivated me was seeing the income reports of personal finance bloggers like Michelle Schroeder-Gardner of Making Sense of Cents. I read the entire archives of multiple blog income reports, which gave me a lot of confidence.
Chris’ notes: It becomes a lot easier to build a successful blog around a topic you’re passionate about or at least have some interest in. A lot of beginner internet marketers build sites around topics they have no business being in. Unless you’re really experienced in growing out high-traffic sites, you should choose your niches based on what gets you excited personally. After you get 1 or 2 successful sites under your belt, you can start choosing your next projects based purely off of opportunity and growth potential.
What is your average monthly revenue today? How long did it take to get to this level of income?
The last three months I’ve had a combined $50K in revenue with 30K net. These are month’s 24 through 27 after launching.
And how are you monetizing the site?
65% affiliate marketing and 35% ads.
Let’s go back to the beginning. What did the first 6 months of starting this site look like?
Throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. Eventually, I learned that Pinterest combined with affiliate marketing could provide the initial surge in traffic I was looking for. Meanwhile, focusing on SEO for long-term growth.
Was this the first time you dabbled with Pinterest? How long did it take you to see some success on Pinterest?
This was my first time using Pinterest both personally and to drive traffic.
I started learning about the platform around January of 2017. It took until April until I saw some decent traffic.
For 2018, up through October I’ve seen on average around 70K visitors a month now from Pinterest.
That’s amazing. I notice a lot more people giving Pinterest a try these days. Mainly because of success stories like yours. Do you have any words of advice for people wanting to give Pinterest a try for the first time?
While it’s a social media site, Pinterest works more like Google than Facebook. From time to time, I’ll get a Pin to go viral but the majority of my traffic is from people searching Pinterest for keywords I’ve optimized for.
One thing I do different than many blogs is create multiple Pins per post. Many times a post covers more than one keyword. When that’s the case I’ll create multiple Pins for each problem I think the article helps to solve.
I went a bit more in depth here: https://www.thewaystowealth.com/make-money/pinterest-traffic-tips/
How long did it take you to make your first dollar with The Ways To Wealth?
I made my first dollar pretty quick from Amazon as I was posting a lot of book lists from famous investors. However, it was six-months until I broke $100.
How did you first start getting traffic to the site?
As I was following an SEO model, the first thing I did to build traffic was create a resource worth linking to. That resource was a list of the best investing books. What I did was create 20+ readings lists from the best investors of our time and curated the books that got recommended the most. The post got linked to by Zero Hedge, which for a blog with almost no traffic was huge.
Chris’ notes: For those of you wondering, Zero Hedge is an investment site with a DR 83, with 40 million backlinks from 56,000 referring domains 🙂
Did you outsource any content in the beginning? How about today?
Not at first. Today I work with a ghost writer to publish about 50% of my content, about 1-2 posts a week.
I feel like outsourcing content is one of the biggest things that people struggle with. Can I ask how and where you found the right writer to work with? Did it take a long time before you found someone good to work with?
I found the writer on Upwork, which I’ve had a lot of experience both as a freelancer and someone hiring freelancers.
Fortunately, the writer I’m working with now was the first writer I hired. What I feel like really helped was having a site that was already making money. This way I can justify to myself easier hiring someone who had a higher rate.
What are the biggest challenges you faced while growing this site?
The biggest challenge I faced was getting over that six-month hump where I was putting a lot of time into the blog and not seeing any monetary returns.
Chris’ notes: This is the time when most people give up. Because they think that something must be going wrong if they’re putting in all this work and not seeing thousands of visitors per month. In the early stages of a blog’s life, it’s all about building. Your focus should be on building and not checking your rankings and analytics everyday. RJ’s blog saw little results the first 6 months. Today, it’s a 6-figure blog. Don’t give up in the first 6 months. Instead, just focus on building things the right way and preparing your site for the next growth stages to come.
Did you ever feel like giving up on this site? If yes, why?
No. I found out the company I was working for was going to sell a few months after I launched. As such, I had a goal that by the time the sale went through I would be earning enough to work full-time on the blog.
That’s awesome. Really inspiring that you had such a tight deadline but made it work no matter what. What did your schedule look like at that time? How long were you able to work on your blog each week while still working at your job?
I worked a full-time job but I had a lot of flexibility in that job. Some days I would work from home or part-time in the office. I stayed on to the end to fulfil my obligations and to help with the transition but I still had time during the workday to work on my site. Before I went into work, I’d do my writing for the day. I’d try to get an hour in, which had me waking up around 5 A.M. I’d then get the quicker tasks in when the opportunity came about during the day.
Chris’ notes: If you have a busy schedule, I love what RJ is doing here. As someone with a day job, it might be tough to find 4 hour blocks of time you can sit and work on your site. But a half hour here, an hour there, and a few hours before bed time… it’s definitely possible to find at least enough time to get your site off the ground. It’s all about time management, and sacrificing other leisures.
What are your goals for the future?
I view the site as a long-term business I want to grow. Many personal finance sites have exited for more than a million dollars this past year. While I have no plans to sell, I feel there is quite a high-ceiling in this space.
If you had to start over, is there anything you would do differently?
I’d start advertising on Facebook from day # 1 to start building traffic.
What kinds of ads are you running on Facebook?
I run paid traffic on Facebook that’s optimized for landing page views. The ads are for article on my sites monetized with affiliate marketing and ads.
Have you noticed that it’s getting less profitable, or is it still a big traffic source for you?
Year over year costs have almost doubled. A year ago I would get on average .03 to .05 per landing page view. Now I’m happy with .05 to .07. At this rate, I’m still able to drive traffic profitably but margins are getting smaller.
Opposite question. If you had to start over, what would you do the same? What’s been really helpful?
I did a lot of keyword research, looking for posts with a lot of demand and not a lot of supply. Many of these pages still rank very well today.
Could you elaborate on that? Do you mean you looked for keywords with high search volumes, but weren’t very competitive?
Some of my posts that do well in search today are some of my original posts. These are posts that I properly optimized that day even though I had no chance of ranking for them.
I say this because one mistake I see new bloggers make is deciding to not bother with keyword research from day one. This isn’t a big issue with RankXL readers, however, it will saves new bloggers a lot of time down the road.
Even just a few minutes seeing how competitive a keyword is on a freemium SEO tool like KWFinder will pay dividends down the road.
Chris’ notes: I love this approach, and is one of the things I talk about a lot when discussing content strategy in the early stages of a blog. Too many people are publishing ONLY content they think they can rank for RIGHT NOW. That severely limits what your site can look like as a RESOURCE. You can’t build the #1 resource in your chosen niche by just targeting topics with tiny long-tail keywords. You need to create big guides on the biggest areas of interest around your niche. You may not rank for them right away, but you will slowly rank for them overtime as you build up that authority.
Do you have any words of advice for people just getting started with creating content sites?
Focus on creating the most helpful piece of content on the Internet for each of your keywords. Sometimes this might require a 5,000 word post. Other times, it might just require explaining things in a better way then what’s been said. While there is a lot of competition today, there is always room for quality content.
Final question: What does your day look like typically? As someone who works on growing sites full-time myself, I’m always interested to hear how others are scheduling their days 🙂
My goal is to clock out three 90-minute blocks of time during the day to work on my site. Then, reserve an hour or of what I like to call admin work, e.g. such as email, social media posts, and link outreach.
What this looks like on an average day is starting at around 8:00 A.M., working till around 9:30. Head to the gym for an hour, then work from about 11:00 to 12:30.
My mental energy is pretty drained in the early afternoon, so I’ll eat lunch here, relax a bit, and put in that hour of admin work. About 3:00 or so, I’ll get my last burst of the day and try to get in another solid 90-minutes of work.
I have a wife and two kids, so the rest of the day is spent with them.
While this is my ideal workday, it’s not always this perfect. One of the reasons I wanted to work from home was the flexibility. There are some days where I don’t adhere 100% of this schedule.
Where can we learn more about you?
https://www.thewaystowealth.com/investing/best-investing-books/ (this was the post that gathered a lot of links earlier on)