Barbehow Case Study 1, Year 2, Quarterly Update 2: Boosting Earnings & CRO
My efforts to boost the site’s affiliate earnings have been paying off! In Q1 of 2023, the site made 1.35 times more from affiliate programs than display ads.
And the trend of affiliate earnings is precisely where I want it to be: the site’s revenue from affiliate links has been increasing MoM since January.
All of this comes from only 16 best-X-for-Y posts and 1 product review. I plan to publish a dozen more commercial posts, then sit back and observe how the site will do this summer — its second BBQ season.
Ready for the numbers, wins, and breakdown? Read on!
Win #1: Redesigning the Site to Boost Earnings
In the final days of March, I redesigned the site from this:
Notice that it’s still using the same theme, a heavily modified version of WordPress’ default Twenty Twenty-One theme.
As far as Google’s web crawler is concerned, the CSS style sheet has changed, but the underlying HTML markup (and, therefore, the site’s DOM structure) hasn’t changed all that much. (They say you shouldn’t fix what ain’t broken.)
What has changed are:
- The logo
- White spaces between elements
- Category names in the navigation menu
- Sidebar content
It sounds minor, but here’s why this can make more of a difference than some of you may think:
The articles on the site are now easier to read. The new design uses a sans-serif font family. Sans-serif fonts are generally more legible than serif fonts on high-resolution screens, which everybody has these days.
The site’s UX elements have been tightened up, meaning there’s less white space between the titles, excerpts, featured images, content, and comments.
This makes it easier for your eyes to quickly absorb the information on larger screens, and you won’t have to do as much scrolling to read the text on smaller screens.
These two tweaks can and probably will lead to improved engagement signals for users browsing the web, which can contribute to the site’s SEO success.
How to Quickly Redesign Your Site Like an Expert
I’m no UX designer, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with many outstanding UX designers over the years, it’s that you need matching and contrasting colors for a design to work.
I use a free tool called Coolors to generate color palettes (a.k.a. color schemes) for my websites.
The site’s new color palette consists of a light pink background, bright-red links, and product boxes with bright-red buttons and dark-blue borders.
The background has the color of pink butcher paper — the type you wrap smoked meats with — by all means, a nice Easter egg and credibility booster for readers who know. But it’s there for a reason, and that reason is called CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization).
See, the pink background makes the Affiliatable plugin’s product boxes stand out on all devices, so the product boxes are easy to spot for all readers, especially those who scroll and skim:
Notice the presence of red, bolded links every 1-2 paragraphs under each product box:
It’s not the color that matters here; I’ll be testing out different colors to see which one works best in the coming months.
It’s the fact that the links stick out.
I am a data-savvy guy, and I track user engagement on my websites with Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics.
On average, I know that 25% of the clicks on affiliate links on my sites come from these in-content links.
In other words, if you’re not doing this in your product roundups, you’re missing out on ¼ of potential traffic to retailers and partners!
You can thank me later. 🙂
I’ve simplified the site’s navigation menu to two self-descriptive categories: “Articles” and “Buying Guides.”
There used to be a third category called “Local,” but it only has five or six posts, and I haven’t gotten around to growing it just yet, so I kept it but removed it from the navigation menu. I moved the “Glossary” page, which provides dictionary-like definitions of BBQ terms with lots of internal links, to the footer menu.
The posts are sized to a maximum width of 728 px, the same as the widest horizontal ad banner I use for in-content placements (728 x 90 px). Additionally, the sidebar has a width of 328 px and an unlimited height, which can fit the widest sidebar ad banner at 336 x 280 px.
Design-wise, I have now optimized the site’s earning potential with enhanced usability, conversion rate optimization (CRO) for affiliate links, and strategically-sized ad placements.
No, this won’t be a game-changer. But these tweaks and improvements add up over time.
Win #2: ChatGPT Helped Me Get 76% More Clicks in Google
In March, I did a little experiment.
I asked ChatGPT to help me come up with click-worthy titles for 10 of my site’s aged and underperforming posts to improve their CTR (Click-Through Rate) in Google’s SERPs.
I used the following prompt:
I am a BBQ blogger. Help me improve my articles’ CTR in Google’s SERPs. I’ll give you the titles of the articles with the lowest CTR, and you’ll generate 5 click-worthy title ideas for each. Can you do that for me?
I gave it the titles of my posts one by one, and, as instructed, it gave me back five variants for each.
After a bit of editing, I ended up with this:
The results speak for themselves:
- 28% more impressions
- 76% more clicks
- 0.16% higher average CTR
- +4.87 points higher position
In the previous 14 days and with the original titles, these posts had 41 clicks, 9.42k impressions, an average CTR of 0.44%, and an average position of 29.86 in Google’s SERPs.
In the first 14 days with the new titles, they had 72 clicks, 12.1k impressions, an average CTR of 0.6%, and an average position of 24.98.
… All of this because I changed the posts’ titles!
Yes, there’s more work to be done to bring the average position of these posts down to a level lower than 10.
Nevertheless, the fact that I got pretty significant gains with ChatGPT’s help shows the immense value of using generative AI tools as a sparring partner for your sites’ SEO.
I’ll update another 15 posts in April, then 20 or 30 more in May, and tell you how it goes in next quarter’s case study update.
Metrics over Time
Ezoic Big Data Analytics
The site had 43,048 visits and 48,499 page views in Q1 2023.
The site had 31k clicks and 1.29M impressions in Google’s SERPs in Q1 2023 with an average CTR of 2.4% and average position of 18.
|Month||Clicks||Impressions||Average CTR||Average Position|
From January through March, the site made a total of $930.96, of which $402.89 (43%) from display ads and $528.07 (57%) from affiliate programs.
Although the product boxes have buttons to other retailers or D2C (Direct-to-Consumer) brands, once again Amazon Associates was the highest-converting affiliate program.
Other Affiliate Programs
Who I Am
Thank you for reading (or scrolling?) this far.
Since 2007, I have been building, buying, investing in, and selling websites. I’ve been in and out of this business, sometimes full-time, other times as a side hustle. Wherever life takes me, I somehow seem to find my way back to this game.
How do you know you can trust me?
I have experienced pandas and penguins. I owned Facebook pages with millions of likes back when Facebook pages brought traffic and earned passive income from niche sites before it was cool (back then, we called ourselves “webmasters”).
More recently, I started a website under a new domain name in August 2020 that reached 150,000 monthly page views and a DR of 26 in Ahrefs in May 2022.
Here’s a screenshot of that hockey-stick growth, with a few bumps along the way and followed by a plateau, that everyone likes to tell you about:
I am a Certified Ezoic Expert, an Ezoic Premium Publisher, and a member of Ezoic’s Premium Accelerator Program.
I am not the most public person on earth, and I prefer privacy to the spotlight. However, if you like what I have to say and want to get in touch with me, you can do so on my website AskDim.com (ask as in “ask me a question”).
Dim, just wanted to say your case study updates are excellent. I appreciate how you logically break down and explain what and WHY you did something on the site…the redesign wins, for example – great stuff that I can use on my sites. Keep the updates coming!
Cheers, Thomas, and thanks for following along!
how did you got 7k keywords ranked out of 191 articles?
Most articles on this website rank for many keywords since they’re informational. When you divide one by the other, this gives us an average of 36.6 keywords per article, which isn’t all that much IMO.
Thanks for the detailed case study Dim, but can you tell me the plugins you used for your ads display? And the plugins you use alongside the WordPress default theme? Thanks once again
The site’s monetized with Ezoic Ads, so I insert ads with a combination of Ezoic’s Chrome extension, their WordPress plugin, and their automatically inserted AI placeholders (with insertion rules specific to the theme).
Product boxes for commercial content are inserted with Affiliatable, and I use Yoast SEO for adding schemas and no-indexing categories, tags, and certain pages. The rest of it is pretty much custom-coded WordPress plugins for specific things that I use across all my sites, really, like adding code to headers or tweaking the comment form.
Great case study mate! Any general thoughts on the emerging flood of AI content into the affiliate space and how it affects small publishers and owners?
I think the business model of affiliate sites as we know it today has 2 to 5 years left in it. Eventually, AI will change the game so much that affiliate marketing will be very different from what it is today.
In a way, AI has already done it. As Rand Fishkin recently said, AI content is the new bottom. If you can’t produce informational or commercial content that’s *at least as good* as what tools like ChatGPT, Content at Scale, or Autoblogging can, what’s the point of producing it at all?
And we’re still in the early days.
What happens when an AI tool is able to generate an entire blog based on a prompt? What used to take months of work and tens of thousands of dollars of investment would soon require a few seconds of patience to wait out the response to a prompt.
My take is that it’ll have serious implications for everybody in this business.
But it’s not just affiliate sites: AI is eliminating the barriers to entry into EVERY corner of media, big and small. And this is devaluating the assets of all the players in it.
Take photography. To sell a dozen stock photos, a photographer needs know-how, a high-end camera, and the time and money to travel to a scene or stage the scene in a studio. Now, they can just prompt Midjourney. And so can everyone else. We no longer need photographers, or their stock photos. And we definitely don’t need stock photo sites, the middlemen.
Music, too. You could argue that musicians no longer “own” their voice because anyone can train an algorithm on their music and produce new music without their — or their label’s — involvement. The same will happen to actors when companies like Runway and Nvidia figure out how to produce lifelike film at scale.
Doors used to have doormen, and elevators used to have operators. If most people in media are awaiting the same faith is a very important question, and my guess is as good as anyone else’s at this point in time. But I can’t shake off the feeling that there will be change, and it will happen at a bigger scale than most anticipate (and likely faster).