In 2016, I wrote an article. By 2020, that article brought in enough revenue by itself to pay my rent, along with the rest of my bills. No joke.
Turns out, a well-written article with tons of organic traffic and a handful of affiliate links can meaningfully improve one's life. SEO for the win, baby.
But alas, today's post is not a happy story. Because I took that article for granted and neglected it. I assumed it would always be there for me, spitting out money with minimal effort. And I was wrong.
Over the last 6-12 months, the traffic to that article has dipped to 1/5th its previous levels. And now one of the sources of income I rely on for playing the long game with Ungated is nearing extinction. The voice of scarcity in my head is cranking up, and I’m freaking out a little bit.
But hope is not lost. It’s time for a clean up mission. It’s time to fight. And hopefully, on the other side of this adventure, is an SEO Redemption Story™.
Prelude - Our Story Begins
If you’re curious, the article in question is your basic "best companies in X category" post. And my category happens to be music licensing companies for filmmakers and creators. (Yes, I linked it that way for SEO reasons.)
I wrote this piece back in 2016 when I was doing freelance marketing work for one of the companies on the list. And throughout the years, I updated it yearly as new players entered the market, the entire industry shifted to subscriptions, and so on. Traffic increased substantially.
Around 2018, I started monetizing the article with sponsorships, then a bit later, with affiliate links. And damn, I wish I'd started the affiliate thing sooner.
At its peak in late 2020, this thing was pulling in upwards of $2500/month just with affiliates. Not to mention an additional $200/month from a company that sponsors the article, along with another several thousand bucks a year from another one of the companies (they pay me to keep it updated).
Since I started monetizing, it's no stretch to say this one post has brought in somewhere in the neighborhood of $40-45K. Maybe a bit more.
As someone who's always kept expenses relatively low, and lives somewhere cheap (Tucson), that's my rent and groceries and bills covered. With one damn article. Still kinda blows my mind, tbh. The internet is rad.
However, when I stopped actively working on the Filmmaker Freedom business in mid 2020, I stopped paying attention to everything on that site, including my golden goose of an article. I stopped looking at the traffic, the search rankings, the competing sites, etc.
After 18 months of negligence, a handful of competing sites were able to outwork and outrank me, and as a result, my traffic dried up and my financial gravy train ground to a halt.
Where once I was making upwards of $3K a month from this one income source, I'm now down to around $500 a month.
My big wakeup call came early last week. I'd reached out to the company who pays me to keep it updated, and they informed me that the traffic had dropped precipitously, and that they couldn't justify the payments anymore.
A hefty chunk of revenue I had been expecting and planning for... Poof. Gone.
As is my custom when I receive bad news, I spent the day feeling sorry for myself, soothing with mindless TV, imagining how I'd soon be homeless, etc etc.
But after a call with my friend and confidant Minnow Park I made the decision to fight this thing, tooth and nail. And to perform a bit of alchemy and spin this embarrassing drama into the very article you're now reading. I'm killing so many birds with one stone right now.
Needless to say, I will not be going gentle into that good night.
Why I Care So Damn Much About This Article
To tell you the truth, I don't enjoy these types of scrappy SEO games. They quickly devolve into ruthless marketers creating cheap, commodity content for search engines, and not humans. Which is why I do exactly zero of that kind of thing on Ungated, and never will if I can help it.
However, sometimes we have to do things we don't much enjoy in order to build the future we want for ourselves. Building savings and investments in youth leads to financial security later in life. Moving our bodies and eating our vegetables helps us be healthy and vital in old age. Etc.
The decision to fix this article, for me, is a case of eating my online business vegetables. It's a short-term sacrifice that leads to a much higher likelihood of a rad, prosperous future.
My goal with Ungated is to play long, infinite games. I'm intentionally taking my time, and planting seeds that may not bear financial fruit for months or years. Sure, there are plenty of things I could do to monetize Ungated more aggressively in the short term. But those things would undermine the long-term game I want to play, which is building a cheerfully subversive, non-coercive membership business, rooted in deep trust and connection with my fans.
Being in a place of financial stress completely undermines those plans. Living in scarcity makes it harder, if not impossible, for me to show up in the world how I want to—generous, patient, kind, curious.
This is why most of my income comes from coaching and consulting, and why I still take the occasional freelance writing gig. It creates financial space for me to take my time and experiment with Ungated. But having that article performing well, and pulling in reliable monthly income, is the ultimate point of leverage in my financial life.
This is especially important because my plan is to start traveling the world later this year. I don't know how coaching and consulting will hold up under those circumstances. But affiliate revenue? It's perfect for this future nomad.
So yeah, there's a lot on the line here. Fighting my way up in the search rankings is about a lot more than just making money. It's about giving myself the space to live how I want to live, and build Ungated into the business I know it can be.
If I can spend the next 2-3 weeks optimizing the crap out of that article, and then I reap the rewards for years to come, that's the most no-brainer investment of time and energy I can imagine. And even if it doesn't work out, it's a small time commitment, and I'd always regret not at least trying to fix this.
The Battle Plan
I've never fought to move up in the search rankings before. This is a new type of project for me.
So as is the case with everything I'm doing on Ungated now, I'm treating this as an opportunity to experiment with a bunch of things, and see what works. Here's the game plan for how I plan to spend the next few weeks.
Hire an SEO Consultant
Even though I can call myself a decent SEO generalist, my gut says this is the type of endeavor that demands real expertise.
So on Monday, I put out a call on twitter for recommendations for SEO consultants. And that's how Justin Borge of Help With Your Hustle came into my life. I checked out his site, we started DMing, and soon enough I'd booked a consulting call with him.
Turns out, Justin's a stand up guy. He's not into any of the shady, black hat shit that gives SEO a bad reputation. And I was particularly impressed that he didn't make big, splashy promises, or even guarantee any specific results. In a world where everyone's incentivized to pretend they have control and certainty, I appreciated that Justin just told the truth. With a beast as fickle and opaque as the Google algorithm, there are no guarantees.
Anyhow, after our first call, I promptly hired Justin to go in and do some technical, on-page optimization for the article. That includes...
- Fresh keyword research
- Massaging the content to include both old and new keywords
- Improving the header structure so the article is more legible to Google's crawlers
- Internal linking from other pages and posts on my site
- Image optimization for page speed
Justin said he could handle all of that in about three hours, and frankly, I'm thrilled to death. It's the kind of work I probably could have handled myself, but it would have taken me 20 hours, and countless google searches, to get through it. Plus it would have sucked ass.
The older I get, and the more I work on this business, the more I absolutely love hiring domain experts to come in and work their magic. Being a generalist is great and all. But hiring can be win-win, where everybody gets to do what they love, and the finished result is better that what you could accomplish alone. And right now, I need the best possible results.
Other Experiments In SEO Warfare
Beyond Justin's help with technical on-page optimization, there are a few additional things I'm doing to push the article back up in the rankings. Those include...
- Optimizing the Filmmaker Freedom website for speed and ease on mobile. After seven years, this site is a bit of a Frankenstein's monster, with a bunch of redundant pages and bits of code and design quirks and whatnot. I'm gonna clean that shit up and make sure the site is as lean and speedy as possible.
- Give the article content a much needed upgrade. I'm going to shorten the intro section so that people get to the meat of the content much quicker. This should improve reader retention and bounce rate. I'm going to study all the other articles competing in this space, and make sure my piece is better and more informative in the ways that matter to readers.
- Generate some fresh backlinks. Lastly, I'm going to try generating new backlinks to this piece. For instance, see the link above in this article? I'm also going to enlist some of the companies I've worked with who would benefit from this article ranking higher, and see if they can hook a brother up with some fresh link juice. We'll see.
Periodic Updates On The SEO Journey
To be honest, I have no idea what to expect from everything above. It could be that the article immediately jumps back up in the rankings (unlikely), or that over the next 6-12 months, it slowly climbs its way up (far more likely).
So with that in mind, I want to document the progress I'm making over here. Down below are quick snapshots of the key metrics, which I'll come back and update regularly.
The Starting Line - December 1st to 31st, 2021
- $587 in affiliate revenue
- 2.4k pageviews
- Nowhere to go but up! 🤞
January 1st to 31st, 2022
- $1440.32 in affiliate revenue (+243% from last month, but it's worth noting that this is mostly from Q4 of 2021, so it's not indicative of my SEO efforts working yet. Probably won't have good revenue data until March or April.)
- 3.1K pageviews (+30% compared to last month)
- Feeling good about all the work that went into this article in January!