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How I Broke (and Fixed) a Cushy Passive Income Stream

Recently a great monthly earning niche site of mine completely went down the tubes. I’m slightly embarrassed to say it took 46 days of wondering what the heck was going on before I slapped myself in the forehead and figured out how to fix it.

No, it wasn’t a trivial broken affiliate link problem. (I’m not that dumb…I checked that on day 45.)

But seriously, I remember startling myself awake and staring at the ceiling with the answer on that 46th day. I had been completely ignoring a basic part of human nature on my site!

But I’m jumping ahead too quickly… Let’s take a look at exactly what went wrong, what I learned about content that really sells vs fluff content that turns visitors off, the importance of simple stat analysis, and how you can benefit from the story of my site’s 46-day vacation from success.

The Site…

In a nutshell, the site is a “how to” website that teaches how to do something, and sells hosting on the site. Hosting is a complimentary product that makes what I’m teaching on the site possible. All the earnings you’ll see below are from hosting.

Here’s a snapshot of earnings for 46 days before I broke the site…

Passive Income Stream

Please click on all images to view a larger version

Firstly, you can see above that I’m showing a 46 day period. I found it made the most sense to look at what happened in 46 day periods- 46 days before breaking the site, 46 days while broken, and 46 days after fixing it.

Secondly, you’ll see the earnings are at $1,300. This is pretty typical for this site. Some days will get 2 sales. Sometimes there will be sales two or three days in a row, other times there are a few days in between.

Thirdly, taking a look at the traffic, one can see it varies wildly from around 40 visitors a day up to 82 visitors being the most for this period. This type of daily traffic is pretty typical.

October 1st… I Decide I Can Make This Site BETTER

I’m wrong.

But nonetheless, I did some serious changes to the home page.

I realized there weren’t many links AT ALL to hosting companies on the home page. What was I thinking?

There was 1 link above the fold to a secondary page on my own site, and 2 text links to hosting way down at the bottom of the page! Then another link to the same secondary post on my page. Lastly there was a link in the sidebar to a hosting company, below the fold.

That’s only 2 text links to a hosting company, and a sidebar link below the fold. I’m making sales every other day with those links? I gotta have more!

To top it off, I wasn’t making a sales “pitch” on the page whatsoever. I wasn’t directing traffic where I wanted them to go in an overt way. It was immediately obvious to me that adding a little call to action would increase clicks to links, and increase sales in the process.

My “Improvements”

I ended up adding many more links to the page. I moved the sidebar ad above the fold…makes sense, it’s what you are supposed to do, right?

I also added a text link above the fold to an actual hosting site instead of to a secondary page that rates hosting (like before). I added call to action links all over the place. I basically stepped up the game of the page.

Can you spot the information I HAVEN’T talked about? What links were generating the sales in the first place?

October 2nd. The Site Is Broken

Take a look at the next 46 days of stats…

Passive Income Stream

You can see above that sales were few and far between.

It took 9 days to make even one sale! Of course, you can see that traffic was dying down as well, so I thought it may have been a traffic issue. I decided to let it ride.

You can see that it took 11 days for another sale. Then 3 days. Then there was a whopping 23 day drought in sales!

Are you wondering what type of crack I was smoking that month? Me too. It certainly wasn’t my normal blend.

It’s amazing how bad things have to get sometimes before finally noticing and taking massive action to fix it.

WTF? (What’s The Fix?)

Like I said before, I remember startling myself awake one early am and staring at the ceiling with the answer. My wife asked me what was wrong, and I said “I know exactly how to fix the site that sells hosting!”

I just had to answer a few questions…

Question #1- Where were all the earlier sales coming from?

I needed to figure out the exact links that people were clicking on that generated sales. More importantly, I needed to know which links before the site was broken.

Answer- 100% (ALL) of the ‘pre-broken’ sales were coming from the interior page linked to the home page.

Whoa… This was a huge slap in the face.

All the sales came from one of 3 links on the “Our Hosting Recommendations” – type of page that I linked to from the home page. This page gets traffic from the home page, and that’s it.

Question #2- Where were the sales on the broken page coming from?

Answer- The home page.

2 of 3 sales came from the home page. Interesting.

Question #3- How do I look at the earlier content and compare it to the messed up, non-converting content now?

I obviously needed to take a look at both pieces of content side by side to see what was happening.

Answer- Just like all smart people, just check the regular back ups of your entire site. Oh wait, I didn’t do that!

So what did I do? I went to the Internet Wayback Machine and looked for my site. It just happened to have one single snapshot of the site. The snapshot was from July, my highest earning month! I couldn’t have been more lucky!

Question #4- What’s the difference between the broken content and the earlier content that converted sales?

Answer- The content clearly changed from a soft “pre-sell” linking to a secondary page that did the selling, to a “hard-sell” on the home page.

The conclusion I came to was that I was completely turning off the visitor. I wasn’t establishing any trust by helping them in any way. I was just going after the sale, thinking of traffic numbers, conversion rates, and other metrics instead of helping out the visitor.

People must have been coming to the site wondering “how to” do said activity and thinking, “Whoa, easy buddy on the selling! I came to learn, not to buy! I’m leaving…”

As I stated earlier in this post, I was ignoring basic human nature- People that help us out wholeheartedly, earn our trust very quickly. We listen to recommendations of people we trust.

Oppositely, we get totally turned off by people who don’t make an effort to give value, and still ask for something in return.

Alright. I got it. Time to change it back!

November 16th. I FIX The Site

After a quick cut and paste job on the home page from the original site on the Internet Wayback Machine, things were immediately fixed. Check out the stats below for the next 46 days.

Passive Income Stream

Notice the immediate success from day 1 after the content swap out! (The sale has since been returned, but at the time it was a sight for sore eyes.)

You can see the traffic is overall up a bit, but only 4.3 visitors per day in 46 days so that’s unlikely a factor.

However, 12 out of 14 sales happened on the interior recommendation page! Once again, the helpful soft-sell content seems the driving force of conversions.

4 Important Lessons I Took Away

Lesson 1- Make sure sales can be tracked to exact pages and semi-exact locations. For Amazon, that means lots of tracking ID’s. For Commission Junction, that means adding tracking ID’s to links, and using different links for different places. (Also…ahem… I’ve reminded myself to actually look and see where sales are coming from before making any rash changes!)

Lesson 2- If making changes to content, either use a split testing service online, create a full site back up with a plugin, or even go so simple as cutting and pasting the original content into a document and saving it on the computer for future reference. That original content may be very valuable!

Lesson 3- Take a hard look at how content engages the visitor to the site. Is the content helping the visitor? Does the content completely address the problem the visitor has, with the visitor in mind first and foremost, not the sale? Or does the sale dominate the foreground, turning off the visitor?

Lesson 4- Properly framing the content for a “How-To Website” can be a powerful sales tactic. I’ve taken a good look at this site and a couple other “How-to” pieces of content I have and decided to use more of my How-To Formula for other niches.

Sales have been great for this site ever since, and the next 46 days looks like it will actually be better than the last. I just had my first $400 day for this site…and as you can see below, again, all from the secondary page! Again, the soft sell is paying off.

Passive Income Stream

I hope this story can help you out in some way.

Perhaps a site in your arsenal has been broken for some time and you’ve mistakenly attributed the downturn to other outside forces, like a “weak niche”, or “weak keyword”. Perhaps a little analyzing of stats is all you need to figure out the strengths or weaknesses on a site.

Or maybe a close look at the content is needed to see how it truly resonates with visitors. If you can’t figure out what’s wrong, heck, take a guess! Make a change. Oh yeah…just keep track of exactly what you did!

I’d love to hear how you test new things on your sites below. Have you ever seen a big difference in performance like I did?

Jeff Carson went from serial golf course employee to full time affiliate niche blogger, product creator, and blogger. He and Dave Toomey teach what works for them at their blog, CommissionClassroom.com.

My thoughts: When Jeff initially sent me this piece, I liked it because it highlights one of the biggest mistakes we make as entrepreneurs, which is that we often forget to test or monitor what we implement as it seems an after-thought. However, testing is critical because it allows us to make changes along to way to achieve the objectives and results we have envisioned for ourselves.  Before implementing anything, it is important to have clarity about what it is that we want.  If we know what we want, we can test various approaches to see which one takes us to our destination.

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27 Responses to “How I Broke (and Fixed) a Cushy Passive Income Stream”

  1. Ryan says:

    I’m not sure if this was a guest post from Jeff or from you Sunil???

  2. Jeff says:

    I just wanted to give a quick thanks to Sunil for publishing this! I love the blog and glad to contribute.

    Jeff Carson

  3. Sandy says:

    nice post. this information is very encouraging for a new comer interested in building a business online. it’s good to know that mistakes can be worked rather quickly online.

    • Jeff says:

      Yes Sandy, and those mistakes can be fixed even quicker if you go into making changes with a plan! (…unlike my “what the heck did I do” approach outlined above :) )

  4. Anthony says:

    Jeff – At what point do you know that you have done everything you could to make things right and move on to another business online? There are many people that keep testing forever.

    • Jeff says:

      Anthony- If you mean “at what point do you move on if the site isn’t making money, even after testing and testing?”, I would say if I was getting 50 to 100 visitors per day from a #1 ranking in Google for a targeted keyword and I wasn’t making much money, then I’d move on! No sense wasting time in a niche I obviously can’t figure out how to tap.

      BUT if I wasn’t to the #1 spot yet, I’d make sure to get there to see the potential. The conversions really increase at that spot.

      Another way to read your question…”Do I move on because I have tested and tested and can’t increase the income?” For me personally, I’m going to expand this site by 30 to 50 posts and see if I can increase the income. It’s showing potential, so there’s no sense quitting now!

      Thanks for the question.

      Jeff

  5. Geoff says:

    Hi Jeff, I’ve made similar mistakes in the past, it’s easy to do! I really like your idea of soft-selling though.

    Another thought about why it might be a good idea….soft-sell pages might rank better in search without any affiliate links in them thus bumping up your views, but still converting when you move along to your sales page.

    • Jeff says:

      Yes Geoff, that is a good point. Although I have quite a few Amazon pages that rank well with link after link after link…lol.

      But yes, the soft sell approach is very effective.

      Jeff

    • Sunil says:

      Geoff – are you saying this because of PR leakage? If not what is / are the reason(s) ? Can you point me to a resource that speaks to this?

  6. Gera says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Very interesting lesson to have in mind! I apply this concept when it’s possible and it’s the better way: help and help others, then you build trust and eventually the sale can come.

    Even, I apply the idea to myself before a purchase, which content is better a non-value site with hard sell or a deep-full post of an honest review with tips & problems about the product? No doubt, the second is the best.

    About to make a backup before a “good” change guilty ;) and not enough split tests also, need to improve those points.

    Cheers,

    Gera

  7. David says:

    Great post and enjoyable read! I am wondering what the site name may be? I would very much like to visit.
    Also, you mention “Amazon pages”, can you give an brief explanation of this idea?

    Best regards,

    David

    • Jeff says:

      Hi David – Well, it is a niche site that targets one specific keyword, and I get all my traffic and income from ranking #1 for that keyword…so I don’t want to share the website name!

      Otherwise, I will have all sorts of smarter people than me that read this blog taking me off the top spot! :)

      About the “Amazon pages”, I have a lot of web pages (niche sites and pages on bigger blogs) that rank well, but have a TON of links to Amazon on them. Basically I am just trying to make a sale through Amazon, because it makes sense on that page to recommend those physical products. That’s what I meant…

      Jeff

  8. rory says:

    Thanks for the candid post Jeff. As a website owner, I am thrilled to be able to see a post that actually make sense to new and seasoned Internet Marketers. I have been utilizing tracking codes for a while, and yes, I have seen an increased income from analyzing and making sure you are utilizing Links in the right area.

  9. Beau says:

    Jeff, this was a very interesting read. I’m glad to hear you got your site back to where it was and then more!

  10. David says:

    Jeff,

    I’d love to learn more about Amazon pages, do you have any resources readily available that you can point me to?

    Best regards,

    David

  11. Hi Sunil, found out about your blog from your guest post on Ana’s trafficgenerationcafe.

    Jeff, great article and really appreciate the candor and honesty. That’s a very refreshing thing to see these days!

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