2015 was the best year of my online career. By far.
I learned and accomplished more last year than all of my time spent in internet marketing combined.
The 2 major highlights being…
1. Growing my niche sites business to over 5-figures per month.
2. Starting the RankXL blog, and reaching 6-figures in the first 13 months.
While the spotlight of my blog posts have always been on my niche sites, I’ve been getting a lot of requests lately if I could talk about how I grew the RankXL blog.
It’s not something I really talked about before, but RankXL just recently passed its first birthday a few months ago so I think the timing’s right to do a one-year(ish) review.
Why start a blog in the first place?
Having a personal blog has always been something on my “to do (someday)” list. I always thought it would be cool to own a blog with my own name behind it.
I love to write, and never grow tired of online marketing, but I could never find the time or any strong motivators to start one.
Until December 2014.
Start your own money-making blog with my in-depth step-by-step tutorial.
2014 was the first full year I worked for myself online.
And while it was great to work from home, and have a web-based business I could work on anywhere and anytime, I quickly took that freedom for granted and started slacking off.
Before I quit my job, I worked harder than I ever have in my life.
About 6 months after I quit my job, I hate to say it, but I was lazier and less focused than I ever have in my life.
I needed a serious kick in the butt.
Since I discovered internet marketing, my goal was to hit $100/day. That was the number I figured would allow me to quit my job.
And I spent all day and night thinking about, and working towards that target.
But it wasn’t the thought of making $100/day that made me work so hard. It was the dream of quitting my day job.
Once I hit that goal… I foolishly kind of felt like my work was done. I didn’t have that drive anymore to reach the next stage.
I didn’t know what the next stage even was.
I lost focus on what I needed to do to grow, and there were many days where I would sit at my computer all day long, but not get any actual work done.
And months went by before I finally realized that if I continue down this path, it would eventually lead to me having to find another day job I hated.
Setting new goals, regaining focus
At the end of the year, I decided I needed to set new goals.
I needed goals that would motivate me, goals that would change my lifestyle if I hit them.
I’m not a very materialistic person. The thought of buying a Lamborghini isn’t going to motivate me to work day and night to grow my business.
But a monetary goal with a specific plan to use it to improve my lifestyle? That’s something that would drive me.
Long story short, I did a lot of things towards the end of 2014 to help regain my focus and improve my productivity, and one of them was starting the RankXL blog.
It was to act as a self diary, somewhere I could write freely about my projects and the things I was working on.
And that’s how RankXL was started.
I had no idea at the time that it turn into such a large part of my life and business.
A year of learning, experimenting, growing
2015 was a year of learning.
Although I’ve been working with SEO and niche sites for years before starting RankXL, it was my first foray into the world of blogging.
The business model of this blog (and most blogs out there) is very different from what I was used to doing.
Before starting RankXL, everything I did revolved around SEO and Adsense.
But with RankXL, everything revolved around list building, and setting up sales funnels using an email autoresponder.
Just a year ago, I had very little experience with email marketing. I had never done anything past sending a broadcast through a free account on MailChimp.
I had never set up an autoresponder, I had no knowledge of what a sales funnel was, and I had never taken list building seriously.
Fast forward a year, RankXL now has 7,000 email subscribers, and I’ve optimized my sales funnel to the point where almost all income/sales are automated by my autoresponder.
The first 6 months
In the first half of the year after starting the blog, I barely paid attention to traffic or list growth.
The blog was mainly started as a self journal kind of project, and not as a serious business venture.
As a result, I didn’t really care if people read my blog, I didn’t care about SEO, and I didn’t care about growth.
The only thing I did to promote the blog was link to it from my forum profile signatures, and that got me around 5 subscribers per day.
But luckily, a lot of people who read the blog became fans.
Looking back now, in my opinion, it’s mainly because the stuff I wrote about was personal.
If you look through my blog posts, I don’t have “epic” 10,000 word tutorials. That’s not the reason why people were interested in my blog.
They were interested in my projects and the tutorials I shared because they were things I was actively working on. Even though my articles aren’t very long, they’re unique.
I didn’t write generic articles about SEO or traffic building tips.
Every article I wrote was directly connected to me.
I didn’t blindly publish articles like “How To Get More Traffic With Twitter” because I had never used Twitter for traffic.
Instead, every strategy and tutorial on the blog was based around what I’ve done and tried myself.
And I gave my own advice and opinions about them.
After a year of running RankXL, if there’s one piece of advice I can offer about starting a new blog, it’s to have a voice in each piece of content your write.
People follow blogs because they’re interested in what the person behind it has to say.
Anyone can start a blog about how to build traffic to a website and write generic articles about the best tips on building traffic.
Even people who don’t know anything about building traffic in the first place can pay hundreds of dollars for a professional to write their articles for them.
What differentiates a blog that builds traction and one that doesn’t is that the former will offer their own advice and opinions based off of their own experiences and experiments.
It’s like Nathan Barry says: If people read through your article and can’t tell that it’s your content, then you did something wrong.
(That may not be the exact quote. I can’t find where I heard it from, but it made a mark on me the first time I heard it.)
This is a crucial point if you want to grow a new blog and get it off the ground, and it’s one I always try to remember when I’m writing a new blog post.
You need a unique voice, and express your opinions. It’s what makes people want to subscribe to you and anticipate your next blog post.
Ask yourself after every blog post… Is this something that will make people want to read MORE of my content in the future? Or is it just a generic tutorial based around a topic that you don’t have experience enough to comment about?
By month 6, I had grown a list of about 500 people.
Those aren’t impressive numbers. But for a blog where I did next to no promotion, I’m proud of it 🙂
Pretty soon, I started getting a lot of emails from readers asking questions. And few people even started asking me for coaching.
I had no idea what coaching would even consist of. And I didn’t really want to spend my days coaching people rather than working on my own projects.
So I decided to create a training course instead.
It seemed like there was a pretty high demand for it, and my list was really responsive…. so why not?
But I had no idea the work that was in store for me.
I can write about the technical things in a separate blog post but long story short, it was a major major project that took way longer than I expected.
The next 6 months
After launching the course is when the blog started to take off, and it’s also when I started to take everything a little more seriously.
I released it early June of 2015.
That’s only 6 months after starting the blog, and with a list of only 500 people.
The problem was… I knew nothing about how to sell.
I was still a major newbie with funnels, email marketing, and product launches.
And I made a ton of mistakes when launching the course for the first time.
For one, I didn’t have a launch at all! I didn’t even know what a proper launch process was.
After the course was completed, I just emailed my list saying, “Hey. A lot of you have been asking me for coaching. Instead, I just created this course. Here’s the link to the sales page.”
And that was it!
But that’s not the most embarrassing part.
I dropped the price drastically within 10 minutes after launching it.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I sent the email, but I was half-anticipating sales to roll in.
When it didn’t, I cut the price to nearly 50% of the original price thinking it was too expensive!
Embarrassing…. when I think about it now. And kind of funny too how clueless I was.
Although opening day sales were lower than I wished, it wasn’t a complete flop, though.
In the first month, the course did $9,100 in sales.
How did I manage to make that much in my first month with just a list of 500 people, and without even having a launch?
While I had a lot to learn about product launches, there is one thing I did well: Recruiting great, experienced affiliates.
Having a blog did help, of course, as it gave me credibility and affiliates could check out the blog and see that I’m not just a guy who quickly threw up an individual course to make a quick buck.
Being able to recruit affiliates not only resulted in a lot of extra sales, it helped the RankXL blog grow as well since more and more people were exposed to the RankXL brand.
Learning about list building
Like I mentioned earlier, when I launched my course I only had a list of around 500 people.
This was 6 months after starting the blog.
In the next 6 months after that, that number grew to 6000 — 12x growth in the second half of the year!
For one… it was only after launching the course that I realized that to sell products online, you need an email list.
And autoresponders (sales funnels), if set up effectively, can automate all your sales for you.
So I began studying my ass off, and running experiments using the RankXL blog and my training course as the guinea pigs.
I started analyzing a number of blogs. Specifically, blogs with giant email lists. If they sold a product, even better!
I looked for things like:
How did they optimize their blogs?
What strategies were they using to build their list?
Why are they doing what they do?
What do they sell?
How do they sell it?
What is their sales copy?
And the things that most interested me…
How did they set up their email funnel?
Why are they using X as an incentive?
How does it tie in with what they’re selling?
What was the purpose of their emails, and the order they’re sent in?
How was it systemized?
What can I try out myself?
If I noticed someone was using a strategy I liked and wanted to try myself, then I would find EVERYTHING about it online.
For example, Bryan’s success and methodical approach with product launches was fascinating to me.
So I not only read his blog posts about them, I would Google him to read/listen to every interview, podcast, and guest post he wrote about the topic.
Then I tried it out for myself.
In January of this year, I decided to test it out and made a change to the way I sell my course.
Instead of being open year-round, I would close it and only open it 3-4x per year.
The result? My highest earning week ever of just under $40,000 in sales.
I still have a lot of different funnel experiments I want to try, so I’ll have to play around with them to see if launches really are the most effective way to sell an online product at my price point.
But point is… I would learn a TON of new things doing research this way.
Learning something new, and then taking action on them right away.
You hear it all the time. Take action.
Because you need to try things yourself and fail in order to get the experience necessary to succeed.
I’ve tried dozens of different strategies on this blog.
A lot of them didn’t work out. But I learned something new and important each and every time.
And the times it did work out, it was usually because I could use the lessons I learned from other times to make smarter, more educated decisions in the future.
So how much did RankXL make?
Since the blog was started last year, its made $130,000.
For a side project that was never even intended to become a serious business in the first place, that’s way more than I could have ever expected, and I’m certain that those numbers would be a LOT lower if it weren’t for my constant testing and experimenting with strategies and funnels.
The crazy thing is it wasn’t even monetized for the first 6 months.
These aren’t all profits, of course.
Only about 70% of that is profit, the rest going to affiliate payments.
How does the blog make money?
About 80% of my revenue came from my training course, The Niche Site Course.
The rest of it came from affiliate products I promoted, and various smaller products that I created and experimented with throughout the year.
The best part about having a blog
One of the best parts about starting the blog is that I feel less alone in the work that I do.
Internet marketing and making a living online is still something that not many people know about.
I can tell my friends and family everything about SEO, niche sites, and internet marketing, but they always seem to quickly forget and revert to one of two titles for me:
1. Web designer
2. Someone trying to build the next Facebook
It’s not their fault. Internet marketing is a foreign concept to them, and it can be difficult to comprehend.
As a result, there aren’t many close friends or family members I can have deep conversations with about my work.
My work was my own. I did it alone. I dealt with ups and downs alone.
And there were many times it would feel really lonely.
It’s something that all people who work from home experience, some more severe than others.
But after the starting the blog, I feel it’s opened up a lot of doors for me. I’ve been able to befriend a lot of other smart marketers, and feel more like part of a community.
This is a feeling that participating in forums never gave me, and that’s the thing I’m most grateful for after starting RankXL.
RankXL would not be where it is today if it weren’t for the existence of certain people/blogs.
Jon Dykstra from Fat Stacks Entrepreneur
Gael Breton from Authority Hacker
Matthew Allen from Dumb Passive Income
Spencer Haws and Perrin Carrell from Niche Pursuits
Tung Tran from Cloud Living
Matthew Woodward from MatthewWoodward.co.uk
Hayden from NoHatDigital
Dom Wells from Human Proof Designs
Neil Patel from QuickSprout and NeilPatel.com
Servando Silva from Stream SEO
Glen Allsopp from ViperChill
Nathan Barry from NathanBarry.com and ConvertKit
Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income
Kenny Leng from Online Fanatic
Eddie Gear from Broke Bloke Blog
Codrut Turcanu from CodrutTurcanu.com
Mike Bradford from Niche Site Azon
Jon Haver from Authority Website Income
Stuart Walker from Niche Hacks
Jeff Schuman from Team Schuman
Alex Park from ( TBA? 🙂 )
I was fortunate enough to connect and build relationships with some of you, and every conversation/chat has been unmeasurably helpful for me.
I not only learned a ton, but it gave me the confidence and encouragement to grow RankXL from a side-project to a real business.
You made me feel like part of a group, rather than just someone working solo in a field that nobody really knows about.
I’m sure these names are all familiar to everyone, but if you’re seeing any for the first time, definitely check them out and subscribe to their blog.
2015 was a big year.
From a start to finish growth standpoint, I don’t know if I’ll ever have a bigger year.
So what’s in store for 2016?
Where is RankXL headed in the future?
Honestly, I have no clue.
For the past few months, I really haven’t been giving this blog much attention. I think I wrote a total of 3 blog posts this whole year.
RankXL is still more of a guinea pig for my learning and experiments than it is a serious business.
And while it will probably take a while for it to catch up to my niche site business in terms of earnings, RankXL is quickly catching up to it in terms of priority.
I’ll be publishing more frequently the rest of the year. I do love blogging on RankXL, and if there’s one regret I have about it it’s that I didn’t start it sooner.
Whatever I do online, I’ll try and write about it on the blog and share my experiences with you.
That way, you can learn from my mistakes, findings, and successes and get from point A to point B a lot faster.
And of course, if anybody needs some advice or wants some help, always feel free to contact me.
I still remember a few months after I discovered internet marketing, I found Pat Flynn’s blog and emailed him a question.
He emailed me back, and I was so thrilled!
I wasn’t really expecting a reply, and was so grateful he took time out of his busy schedule to respond to me.
I went on to send him like 5 more emails about simple questions like “should I use www or non-www?” before I finally realized I should just join a forum to ask basic questions.
But he patiently answered all my questions.
And I never forget about that.
It gave me inspiration and hope to give this internet marketing thing a try. I wasn’t alone.
With this blog, I hope to be able to pass on that feeling to as many people as I can.