I'm going to talk a lot.
If you came here for 'list of what I learned', scroll to the bottom
To start out, this is probably one of the most anti-climatic moments I've had in my whole career so far.
I envisioned when I'd hang up my hat on BestClearomizer.com that it would be received with triumphant shouts of congratulations and well-dones
Instead, the site has officially traveled full circle. Back to it's days of 'infancy' in terms of site traffic. The same articles that helped us first rank in 2014 are actually one of the few articles left ranking #1 in Google 5 years later.
It's so telling of the industry in which we were apart of. Being the first website to write and rank for 'vaping tanks', we started the affiliate review site in late 2013 -- long before the mainstream caught on to vaping.
By the middle of 2014, we had serious competition. Vaping360 and VapingCheap were our main 'search competitors'. From then on, we always shared the 'search pie' with these two review websites for the better part of 2 1/2 years.
We called it 'Co-opertition'
We all shared majority stakes in certain buyer intent keywords ranking at the top of Google. 'How' we went about converting visitors on our websites made 5 figures worth of difference.
We would connect with each other and share our future strategies and where we thought the industry was going (even as main competitors). We learned valuable insights from each other while we all rode the wave of an industry going from 1B to 10B.
In April 2014, I wrote an article reviewing "E-Juice". Within a month, we started ranking #1 for the term, "Best E Juice" + all the long tail searches that come with it.
To date, this is still the most lucrative buyer intent search term in the vaping industry. I know this, because my site has also ranked #1 for 'best box mod' and 'best vape mod'.
If you noticed, the term "BEST VAPE MOD" alone gets 27,000 searches/month, while "BEST E JUICE" only gets around 8,000.
So, how could I possibly believe 'best e juice' is a more lucrative keyword to rank for?
"Simple. It's supply and demand"
See, in the vaping world you need juice. In fact, most heavy smokers that use vaping as a method of quitting cigarettes can vape through 3 ml/day.
The most popular bottles sizes are 15 and 30ml.
At best, that'll last you 10 days. However, most vapers don't like vaping just one flavor a day. So they'll grab a few to try out.
As you can already see, E Juice sales starts to add up quickly. Compared to a new box mod for $150; which you might buy once, maybe twice a year.
A heavy vaper might spend that in a month or two on juice alone.
This is why my website made much more money promoting E Juice over Vaping Hardware.
The sales were much more frequent.
This was the picture TJ and I took when we received our first check from the website. We received this check on May 14th, 2014. A full 5 months and closer to 300 hours before we received our first check.
We went on to selling over $250,000 in vaping products for our affiliate partners to finish 2014.
2015 was our best year as we helped sell over $600,000 --which became our first year hitting 6 figures for ourselves.
During the summer of 2015, we made a fatal website error --changing the URL permalink of our most popular page (e juice page)
In SEO terms...this was a rookie mistake.
By the time 2016 came around, our web traffic was on the decline. But the cat was out of the bag for vaping -- everyone was trying it, the industry exploded. Which also came with a fresh and heavy dose of competition.
At this point, going hard for the past 2 years working 60+ hour work weeks building the site, TJ and I were hitting a brick wall mentally.
But we pressed on. We pivoted to other vaping terms while trying to stay 'future-proof' with FDA regulations looming.
We started ranking #1 in Google for "DIY E Juice", and wrote the authority piece (200+ word Ebook) of the industry on how to create your own E-Juice.
During 2014 & 2015, we had gathered over 20,000 email subscribers.
Promoting our newest ebook to our email list helped propel our earnings through 2016. But, when things didn't turn around fast enough -- we started to burnout.
And we burned out HARD.
I started focusing on other projects, trying to amass the same success we had in the vaping industry.
Although I had alot of success in my next project, it wasn't to the size or scale of the vaping industry.
In 2016, we still managed to squeak out 6 figures in revenue from the website. We decided to try and sell the website.
If you didn't know, website flipping is a lucrative business. You can receive 25-40x your monthly profit for your website.
We decided to get an evaluation and try to sell our website through the best guys in the business, Empire Flippers.
We initially received an evaluation of $325,000
...but we stalled. Thinking we were entitled to more.
We decided to hold on to the site and ride it out, since the site was still making money.
That was an even worse decision. We were still burnt out, and ended up just working on the website 'here and there' for the next two years....
....eventually losing 80% of it's initial evaluation.
That was at the end of 2016. We are now sitting in the middle of 2019.
Since 2016, I have distanced myself further and further from the industry.
Only recently have I taken notice of the website again. Mainly to write about my experiences, knowing that this type of experience doesn't happen everyday.
And then I noticed that we were about to reach 7.5 million total pageviews.
Knowing it would probably be the last 'significant' milestone the website would have, which was the main motivation for me writing this article.
Our Traffic Analytics page literally looks like a mountain -- and the experience definitively felt like one.
But I have come out on the other side of this experience -- 5 1/2 years later -- with a renewed appreciation of being 'in the trenches' of a startup. The ups. The downs.
At the end of 2016, I got married. I had my first child in February 2017. My second child will be turning 1 year old next month.
There was a huge pivot in the past few years in lifestyle, perspective and what I want to do.
With all that being said...
Here are the biggest lessons I learned growing an authority site over the past 5 1/2 years in an emerging industry:
1. It's not going to look perfect
In fact, it's probably best it doesn't. Success doesn't look nice and neat. Even with clear strategy, it sometimes looks haphazard and sloppy. Don't let that stop you from doing it.
2. Learn some sort of 'hard skill' set during the process
For me, it was SEO. I learned SEO with my business partner, friend and roommate from watching Brian Dean's Youtube Videos, listening to Pat Flynn's podcasts and reading random SEO and content marketing blog posts.
With SEO, you can generate qualified visitors to your website and selling becomes that much easier. It's pre-qualified lead generation.
3. Don't Do It Alone
I'm a complete advocate of working with at least one other person in your first business, preferably someone smarter than you --that's what I did.
It helps for motivation when you are down and tired to have a helping hand. It lightens the load and makes it more fun.
I had an AMAZING business partner, who happened to be my high school friend and roommate. TJ is a really smart guy. He had skills I didn't at the time. But working together didn't just 'multiple' what we did by 2. It became an exponential growth.
4. Google Everything
When I needed to figure out how to Install WordPress, make a background transparent, or what CTR, LVC or CPM meant, I googled It.
You NEED to be able to critically think but also self-learn when building out your business and website.
5. Optimize and Split Test
We were able to make MORE money by split testing our affiliate offerings.
In short, we tried out different merchants to see which ones converted better or had a better cookie rate, or had a higher commission percentage.
From there, we were able to figure out who made us 'the most' money and go with them as a long term partner.
6. Embrace Coopetition
At the end of the day, because I was friendly with our main search competition, I was able to negotiate a higher commission (from the default) from a mutual merchant in the industry.
That conversation with our 'competitor' ended up making us more than $10,000 over the course of the website just because we knew what our competition was being paid.
7. Become a Content Creator
No matter what you're trying to do, you NEED to create content.
Whether that's video, audio or written word. No Excuses. It needs to be done.
8. Have Fun
Last but not least, have fun. If you're not having fun building a business, you're missing the point.
Being a shell of what it once was, my website will always be the site that got me to where I am today, and has provided me with an invaluable set of skills and experiences no one will ever be able to take away from me.
That's more important than what industry I choose or how much money I make.
I enjoy writing on topics such as SEO, Lead Generation and Digital Marketing Trends.
If you got value from this article, I would love for you to tweet me @RichPriebeJr and let me know your biggest takeaway 😉