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The risks to an affiliate website and how to defend against them

The rise of NoCable.org caught me off guard. I examine the inherent risks to running an affiliate website and how to defend against them.

  – Chris Cagle

Insane Traffic

SWOT Analysis is an industry standard that reviews strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats. The speed of which NoCable.org increased it's visitors and reach definitely caught me off guard. I never had a reason to consider my SWOT analysis for this site until it was potentially too late.

I built NoCable.org because I was in the process of ditching DirecTV and I needed information. I needed to know which size antenna to buy. I needed to know what broadcast channels I could expect with an antenna. I needed to know I wasn't crazy for ditching my $140 cable bill for antiquated technology.

Well, apparently, there are a lot of others out there with the same exact questions that needed answered. NoCable started as a hobby project and quickly morphed into a whale.

You see, I've been developing websites for a really, really long time. I've probably owned 35 different domains over the course of the last 15 years, and some have had light success, and others were a quick disappointment. None have ever grown to the size of NoCable.org. And it's still growing.

This got me thinking... what are the risks of running an affiliate website like this one? Here are the top 4 I've come up with, and what I can do help mitigate them.

1. Changing Affiliate Terms

This issue has hit a few bloggers especially hard in the past, from lowering commission rates to altering terms that have made something no longer OK to do. Remember, the more your website makes from affiliate revenue, the greater the risk here is. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read and double-read the terms of the programs you've applied to - especially of those programs that have a history of being very finicky.

Even when abiding to the rules of the various terms of service's (TOS) you are using, sometimes things can hit you hard. For instance, due to no fault of anyone, Amazon Associates decided to lower commission rates a couple times unexpectedly. Any website or personal business that depended on that revenue took an instant and direct hit.

I think the only way to mitigate the risks of something like this would be to use as many different affiliate services as possible. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Finding other revenue streams other than affiliate programs would also be a start, which leads to...

2. Lack of Diversification in Revenue Sources

I think I am alright here (I have multiple streams of revenue at this point), but I think there is always room to improve. About 70% of the income generated by NoCable is affiliate related, the rest being advertising and some other miscellaneous items. That 70% is also split between a few different sources, but it is heavily weighted towards Amazon. I feel pretty good about where I am at right now with this split.

I would certainly like to change that, and I have a few plans to accomplish this goal in 2017. These plans include Fulfillment by Amazon, or FBA, which has us becoming a seller on Amazon instead of only an affiliate. I've also setup DFP earlier in the year to handle direct advertising sales. Direct ad sales have proven to be a major factor in increasing my RPM in the first half of the year, but I have not gotten enough of those yet.

I think as my traffic continues to increase (fingers crossed), some of these other revenue options will likely have a better chance to becoming major parts of the balance sheet. However, right now, I am working to optimize the sources that I currently have in place. I feel there is plenty of room to grow within them.

3. Lack of Diversification in Traffic Sources

Organic Search

I know my way around SEO, so it is no surprise that search traffic takes up most my traffic now. Any website owner knows that it only takes one Google SERP update to wreck your traffic, so staying away from any shady SEO practices is paramount.

I have taken great precautions initially when building my backlink profile and have since focused on creating quality content that should entice people to naturally link to me. This is hard to get rolling (what do people want to link to?!?!), but has been much more effective lately rather than me reaching out to other websites asking for a reference back to NoCable.

Newsletter

NoCable also has a newsletter, which I am extremely bad at utilizing. It is currently growing much quicker thanks to the free service over at MailMunch, but I'm not even sure how I plan to use it for the rest of 2017 other than giving away free things. I quickly need to figure this out.

Social

Currently I only have a Facebook profile, and have not yet gotten on Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram like some other sites in the cord-cutting niche. To be honest, I am not sure the value they would bring anyway. I have been working hard at Facebook over the last few months, to good results, but social is still relatively miniscule compared to my other sources of traffic.

I have tried in the past to get someone on UpWork to manage my social profiles so I could focus on development work, but that turned out to be a huge failure. I didn't spend too much on the person, but she was wholly unqualified. Do not underestimate how bad your posts can look when you don't take the care of creating them yourself. Next time - if there is one - I need to be extremely picky with who I choose.

I think that if I am to move away from SEO being my largest traffic producer, social and newsletters need to take the lead on that. It is funny how newsletters and social don't work for me, yet they are the primary traffic sources for my wife's business.

4. Stale and Expired Content

I developed a couple other sites in Q2 of 2016, that have already seen their content get stale. One site maps out electric car charging ports, which can see charging locations be added and/or changed quite frequently. The other site is a solar panel information site that draws most of its information from the legislative information of each state. These laws and incentives all have the chance to change yearly (and likely will).

NoCable luckily is based on the evergreen topic of "cord cutting". While there are new things coming out regularly (DirecTV Now, Roku Ultra, etc) the basis of what's needed will always stay current for me.

To me, I need to continually add additional content to account for different search terms, and to add to the growing suite of information NoCable.org provides potential and active cord cutters. This could involve TV guide listings, local antenna installers or something else I have not thought of yet.

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