(Warning: at just over 3,200 words, this is easily the longest article I’ve ever written. Future articles won’t be nearly this long and tedious, but this is an important part of the story of this site, and needs to be told in its entirety.)
I recently read an excellent article on failure, and it helped me to resolve how I was going to explain something that not a whole lot of people have gone through online.
You see, the first question I asked myself when I started this project was:
How are you going to help others build their businesses when your own online business failed…twice?
And indeed it’s a tricky question, until you dig a little deeper. It’s also a question I want to answer publicly, since my intention is to be as transparent as possible.
So here it is, a very public failure, and the learning that has come along with that failure…
As I mentioned in my last post, I made my first $1.60 online in April 2003. Throughout 2003 and early 2004, I built a collection of sites that were similar to my original site. They weren’t as successful as that first site, but combined they made a few hundred dollars a month.
By early 2004, I was cruising along, earning several hundred dollars a month, occasionally hitting $1,000. My goal was to keep building these little passive niche sites until I was earning enough to leave my job, which was predicted to end in the spring of 2005. My early sites were monetized by affiliate programs, while later ones were monetized by this brand new invention called Google Adsense.
Adsense was an amazing thing when it first came out. No one had to buy anything, and you could still make money! I loved it right from the start. I saw Adsense as easy money. In a sense, falling in love with “easier” money was the first subtle step off of the golden path.
Little did I know that the Emperor from Star Wars was lurking behind the shadows, waiting to draw me in.
Traveling the Path to the Dark (Black Hat) Side
In the spring of 2004, a truly amazing new piece of software was released. It was called Traffic Equalizer, and what it did (at the time) was sheer genius.
Though Google had introduced the “Florida Update” in November 2003, keywords still mostly ruled the search kingdom, and keyword stuffing still worked fairly well.
Knowing this, a software developer by the name of Jeff Alderson figured out that the ultimate way to build a keyword-rich web page was to build a page full of search engine listings. After all, it made sense that a top 10 page of keyword results would be full of that specific keyword, right?
He then created a program that accepted any keyword you entered, scraped the top 10 results from a search engine, and built a web page on your site covering that keyword.
His software allowed you to literally build a 10,000 page site in less than an hour if you had 10,000 keywords to give to it.
The search engines, having not seen anything like this before, were ill-equipped to do anything about it. Traffic Equalizer pages shot to the top of the rankings for almost any mid-level keyword you could throw at it. Those who had the requisite business knowledge and could quickly scale out became almost overnight millionaires.
The temptation was too great to resist. I jumped in with both feet.
The Rise and Fall of an Internet Marketer – Part I
While I didn’t become an “instant millionaire” as some others did, my income did climb very quickly – to the point that when my job ended earlier than expected on December 15, 2004, I joined what was (at the time) a very small group of people who were making a full time living on the internet.
I did manage to have my first 6-figure income year in 2005 (with a still best-ever $390 Adsense day in July 2005), but by fall, the writing was on the wall – Google was wise to our game, and our sites were starting to sag in the rankings and make less and less each month.
I knew that the ship was sinking, and that I needed to get off of it. This would have been the perfect time to go back to building my little passive niche sites (which were still chugging along, though ignored, and making several hundred a month).
But as I was preparing to do that, I stumbled upon a little website of a guy who was writing groups of 10 articles at a time, and selling them to people to re-use. This gave me an idea. I contacted him and asked for permission to use his idea (which he granted). I then determined that I could write 250 articles each month, and sell them to a limited membership of people (300 was the number I settled on) for $47/month.
So I set about building my first-ever sales page, and tried to find some launch partners. This wasn’t too difficult, as the internet marketing world was so small at the time. I was fortunate enough to have Allan Gardyne and Andre Chaperon as my primary launch partners. Article Lightning launched to the public on October 25, 2005. Within 24 hours I had filled almost half the memberships.
Allan And Andre launched the site to their readers on October 28th.
I went to bed that night, and woke up the next morning to 339 subscribers.
I quickly put up a waiting list page, and pondered what to do next. I had just launched what would become the forerunner to the PLR article market, and I was in way over my head.
Things got off to a great start the first few months. Members were happy and I was supplying them with good content.
On December 20, 2005, I got a call that my grandfather had very little time to live. I got on a plane to see him one last time, but he passed away while my plane was in the air.
I was devastated. We were very close, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. The combination of his passing and just missing out on an opportunity to see him alive one final time drove me to the depths of depression.
By mid-2006, it was clear that Article Lightning was in trouble. The quality of articles had slipped, my depression meant that I had zero interest in promoting the site and finding new members as some drifted away, and most importantly, better funded and more experienced businessmen were entering what was now known as the “PLR article” space.
These people were marketing machines, and took the concept in directions I had never dreamed of. Though I finally woke up in late 2006 and attempted to rebuild, the damage was done. In April 2007, I announced to my remaining 75 members that I was shutting the site down.
By this time, I had sold most of my little passive niche income sites, deeming them “too small” for a guy who had found two different ways to earn 5-figures a month. In the spring of 2007, my bad breath affiliate asked for full control of their site back.
(Originally in early 2003, they had offered to let me use the site, which they owned, to see if I could make some money with it. But the agreement was that at some point in time, they would ask for the site back. They did this in January 2007. I can’t complain. I was able to make almost $20,000 from “their” site over the course of nearly 4 years.)
Without many options and with most of my income gone, I took a job with my affiliate partner as the Affiliate Account Manager. I thought my previous experiences would lend themselves well to the job.
I was wrong.
After 6 months, it was clear to both of us that it just wasn’t a good match, and I ended my time with them in early 2008.
I wasn’t sure what to do next. I thought about getting a job, or maybe going back and building some of those little passive niche sites (in the summer of 2007, I built a new bad breath site to replace the one I had to give back to the affiliate partner, and it was making about $400 a month by this time.)
But far more interesting to me was this little loophole I’d just found in Google Adwords…
The Rise and Fall of an Internet Marketer – Part II
I had long been amazed at the amount of money some internet marketers brought in in certain industries. But my biggest fascination at the time was in the area of anti-spyware software. Stories of people earning 6-figures per month were rampant, and I decided that I wanted to take a shot at it.
At first, I tried some of the typical lead-in, presell techniques and had zero success. Then one day on a whim, I decided to clone the vendor’s site and run it as my own on the Content Network in Google Adwords.
Like the Article Lightning project before it, I had accidentally tapped into something that I didn’t fully understand, but all of a sudden it was 2005 all over again. I had my first $1,000 day on April 11, 2008 (my 38th birthday) and it resulted in my second 6-figure earning year (after doing it the first time in 2005, my income had drifted to about $40,000 in 2006 and 2007).
I still remember exactly what was going on when it all came crashing down. It was November 2008, election day in the U.S. My dad was at the VA hospital recovering from surgery, and we were watching the Presidential vote tally on TV. I hopped onto my laptop to check my income for the day. What had been $300-$400 a day on a consistent basis was only showing $65 that day.
I knew immediately that the jig was up. Just like in 2005, I had used a loophole in Google’s system to earn a living, and that loophole was now closing.
By February 2009, my income from that venture dropped to zero.
With about 6 months worth of living expenses in the bank, I knew I had a little time to rebuild, so off I went. I took a look at that little passive niche website that continued to chug along, earning me $400-$500 a month despite having been totally neglected for well over a year, and thought about expanding it or building more like it.
But I’d always wanted to write and sell my own ebook, and that seemed like a more interesting opportunity at the time, so off I went. (I hope by now that you’re picking up the common thread that has woven itself throughout this story!)
The Article Bully Domination System
I’m very proud of the Article Bully project, and wish it were still mine. I learned a lot and would do so many things differently now.
(Full disclosure – though my name is still on the product, I no longer own it. This has been a source of contention between myself and current owner for some time now. I link to it here for the sake of being transparent and offering the complete story.)
I spent four months planning, outlining, and writing The Article Bully Domination System. It was a product born of what I knew to work, and had seen work in my own limited testing. But mostly it was written about the website of my closest friend online, who had stayed focused and built up a huge authority website over the course of (at the time) 8+ years.
I knew his system inside and out, and since he had no interest in writing about his methods, I chose to do so. Amazingly, he was completely fine with this. His attitude was, his material was good enough to stand on its own and withstand the potential onslaught of competitors. (An attitude that eventually took a strong hold inside of me as well.)
I released the book in June 2009 to very good reviews. First month sales were over 5-figures. It helped a lot of people, and I derived more joy from that than anything else I’d ever done online (a bit of foreshadowing for the future).
Oddly enough, the only negative review I received was from Chris Knight – the owner of EZineArticles.com. I thought this odd, as the process laid out in the book was exactly what Chris proclaimed that he wanted – submitting only quality, focused content to article marketing sites to receive quality backlinks in return. The great Panda update of 2011 revealed that EZineArticles had developed ulterior motives as the years went by. Like many of us, they became overly focused on higher levels of income, to the detriment of nearly everything else.
In fact, by mid-2009 it seemed like everything in internet marketing had become all about the almighty dollar. The landscape was changing. Internet Marketing was hitting the mainstream, and new products were flooding the market. My sales tailed off dramatically in July, more so in August, and by September I was in panic mode. My customer base wan’t large enough to support a funnel of products, and I was struggling to bring new people in.
It was also about this time that the FTC actually got involved with setting guidelines around what internet marketers could and could not “promise”. It all began to feel like a circus to me, and I wanted out. I didn’t want to be involved with what was quickly becoming the 21st century version of snake oil.
So I sold Article Bully to another internet marketer in September 2009.
Flailing, Resignation and Change
By this point, the only income I had left was – you guessed it – that little passive niche site, still humming along with no love from me. It finally dawned on me that the answer to my long-term, stable income problem had been right in front of me all along, and that I should have just kept on building those little sites for all those years instead of chasing the “next big thing”.
Unfortunately, this realization came too late.
I had run out of money, and I had also run out of time to rebuild my online income. I had to go find a job. But by late 2009 the economy had completely tanked, and unemployment in my area was at 13.5%. I had also been out of the workforce for 5 years. I sent out over 150 resumes, and didn’t receive a response from a single employer.
Had bad was it? Until now, only my wife knew this. I applied to In ‘n Out Burger (a west-coast fast food burger chain) at nearly 40 years old, and begged them to let me sweep the floors.
No one there returned my calls or responded to me either.
To pay the rent, I had to do the one thing I didn’t want to do. It still breaks my heart to this day.
I sold my beloved little passive niche website.
The proceeds from the sale meant I had enough to pay the rent through April 2010. However, by this time I was so jaded from my online experiences that instead of thinking about rebuilding yet again, I was totally focused on landing a job.
I found one on April 26, 2010 – just as the last of my money ran out.
For 18 months, I worked (fairly) happily as a Human Resources Generalist. But several things were eating away at me.
I knew the right way to earn a long-term income online. I had done it consistently since 2003, and didn’t fully realize it’s power until it was too late.
I also truly loved the helping/teaching experiences that I had (briefly) through the Article Bully project. I had long dreamed of starting a blog to help others, but between a lack of self-confidence (“why would anyone want to listen to me?”) and a fascination for the latest “shiny new super-secret Ninja technique”, I could never get anything off the ground.
The social web 2.0 revolution also caught me off guard, and being fairly introverted, I fought it for the longest time.
As time rolled on though, and as my mind cleared from the years of chasing “easy” online money, I started to see the whole period of time with greater clarity. My successes, both short and long term, were easy to see. The mistakes and missteps were glaring. I had learned SO much over that time, and had experiences to share that few others could possibly know.
I knew I had to come back, one more time.
“Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”
That brings us to today. It is Wednesday, February 22, 2012 as I write this. For the previous 6 months, I’ve been dabbling in a few passive niche websites in my (very) limited spare time. Between my work schedule and commute, my job takes 55 hours a week of my time.
In spite of that, I’ve still managed to build 3 little websites that have averaged about $150-$200 a month over the past several months – using methods that are 95% the same as the ones I used in early 2003.
After nearly a decade, these same old time tested methods still work. Nothing fancy. No secret techniques. Just a few select tools and a plan – a plan that I will be sharing with you here. I will present a site building plan that I will also be using in real-time during the months ahead.
But instead of following someone who has never done it, you will be following the plan of an internet marketing veteran who has had both success and failure, been lauded and bloodied along the way, who understands both the joys and the pitfalls of “living the dream”, and who has a story to tell, lessons to teach, and a plan to (freely) share.
At its best, internet marketing led me to having a beautiful home in the hills over looking Las Vegas, with a brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycle in my garage. At it’s worst, I was begging for a job at a burger joint.
Difficult as it many have been at times, I would not trade my experiences for anything in the world. Without them, I would not be standing (err….sitting) here in front of you today. I would not be able to offer what I plan to offer to all of you.
This site will be 100% free. Nothing will be for sale here. The only item I will ever “sell” will be a free ebook for the price of an email address. Expect to see that in late April 2012. I will eventually list 4-6 products that I use in my own business on a regular basis with affiliate links. If you choose to purchase these products, I will receive a commission payment that will help facilitate my continuing efforts on this website, and I will be forever grateful.
I will also transparently track and release my income every month – not only from my passive niche sites, but from this blog as well. I want to be another example in a (happily) growing cadre of people who freely give their best to their readers, expecting nothing directly in return.
I hope my story (and this site) will resonate with you for many years to come.
Okay, enough of the autobiographical stuff. Let’s get started!