Affiliate Marketing Example: From Pandemic Side Project to $40k a Month


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matt oney

This week’s guest took inspiration from a previous guest — Alex Goldberg from FinvsFin.com — but more importantly, took action.

In episodes 367 and 410, Alex broke down the model of the modern comparison shopping site: in-depth product reviews and comparisons that help buyers make informed decisions, and earn affiliate commissions on those referrals.

Matt Oney from ZenmasterWellness.com saw what Alex was doing and how much he was earning, and knew he could do something similar.

Tune in to the Side Hustle Show interview to hear:

  • How Matt chose a niche for affiliate marketing
  • the creative way he builds backlinks
  • the methods he used to turn his side hustle into a full-time income stream

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The Idea to Start Zenmaster Wellness

Matt got an inside scoop into the health and wellness niche due to his friendship with Alex. Matt himself was passionate about mental health, and he was a savvy shopper.

So the idea of creating an affiliate marketing-based review website in a niche he was passionate about was a no-brainer.

Competitive Analysis

Matt didn’t do a deep dive into how competitive the telemedicine niche was.

But after publishing reviews of some relatively new brands, he ranked number one for his focus keywords — a rare feat for brand-new domains.

“It was very much a right place right time benefit for me,” Matt says.

Getting Initial Traction

When Matt started his business, he’d comb email newsletters for brands in his niche that he could cover on the site.

He’d sift through his initial list for any direct-to-consumer brands, write reviews of their products, and reach out to them.

One of the first articles Matt put out compared three at-home smart gyms. He was one of the first to that piece of territory, and it led to a spike in traffic.

He eventually got into affiliate partnerships with all three companies, and three months after he published that article, he saw his first dollar of affiliate income.

Nowadays, brands reach out to him, not the other way around.

Creating Affiliate Partnerships

If a brand doesn’t have an existing affiliate program (which is often the case for new brands), Matt talks to them about possibly setting up something custom through Google Analytics.

He learned this strategy from following Alex’s journey with FinvsFin.com, and it allowed him to build relationships with brands and limit the competition.

This requires some handholding, but it’s been lucrative for Matt so far. He finds it’s also a great way to educate up-and-coming brands about affiliate partnerships.

What’s Driving Traffic/Sales Today?

If a brand reaches out to Matt and his content calendar isn’t too backed up, he’ll try to fit them in within the next couple of weeks.

But if his calendar is full, he gives brands the option to cut in line for a fee. Matt says brands are usually more than happy to pay to get new content about them published sooner.

What he doesn’t do is sell placements on listicles as that can affect the overall integrity of his articles. So if a brand hasn’t reached out to cut in line, Matt looks at certain metrics.

  • AOV (Average Order Value) – This tracks the average dollar amount spent whenever a customer places an order on a website.
  • Search volume – Matt looks for keywords with at least 400 searches per month, but keywords with 800 or more searches per month are even better.
  • Incognito browser test – In place of keyword competitive metrics, Matt likes to do a gut test, where he plugs a keyword into an incognito browser and checks the SERP. He then guesstimates how many page views and affiliate revenue might come from that keyword. This test also gives him a realistic sense of who he’s up against.

Matt has put out around 50 articles so far. Despite that modest number, his articles have driven traffic to his website because he pays attention to content quality.

“My approach to publishing content has pretty much always been I like to write in a way and create content in a way that I myself as a reader would enjoy,” Matt explains.

For example, he presents pricing information in an intuitive way for potential buyers. This way, he’s not only putting out quality content but also differentiating himself from his competitors.

What’s a Typical Day Look Like?

Matt is always thinking about how he can grow his site, so he makes a serious effort to update articles, especially if he notices a dip in site ranking or conversion rate.

“If we want to be creating the best content out there, we can’t just update content when a brand changes their logo or when there’s a serious pricing change,” he says.

Matt did everything himself when he started the site, from writing articles to publishing them. Now, he outsources his research to friends and edits their work before publishing it.

He also hires freelance writers through Draft.co to pump out articles for the site, which his in-house content editor checks before publishing.

Dealing With a Decline in Traffic and Revenue

Even as a relatively new business at the time, Matt pushed good numbers, so he thought he didn’t need to reinvest his profits.

Now, in light of a dip in his site traffic, Matt wishes he’d reinvested his profits sooner. But he’s not too worried because there are a ton of factors that affect site ranking and traffic.

For example, many of the new, up-and-coming brands Matt features on the site fail. That can mean that what used to be a keyword with 1,000 monthly searches now have zero.

The more noticeable decline has been in revenue. At their peak, Matt saw over $40,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR). They’re now back down to $15,000-$20,000 per month.

But Matt’s not too bummed out. Hitting $40k in MRR gave him the confidence to leave his job, which had been taking a toll on his mental health, and pursue his side hustle full time.

“All money aside, it’s been such an incredible learning experience and growing experience,” Matt says. “I’m just grateful for that and that alone.”

Building Backlinks

Matt builds backlinks mainly through HARO (Help A Reporter Out), an online service for journalists to gather feedback from the public.

He pays health and wellness experts (e.g., personal trainers, nutritionists, and dietitians) a monthly fee to serve as medical reviewers of his content.

Those experts answer HAROs on their own behalf (because they have their own brands and businesses), vetting articles and creating legitimate value for other sites.

help a reporter out

For example, if someone writing an article on calf-training exercises for a health and wellness site posts a query on HARO, one of Matt’s experts can jump in and answer that query.

If the writer decides to use their answer, the expert can go, “If you include my piece of feedback in your article, I’d love a backlink back to our website, ZenmasterWellness.com.”

Matt gets some 90+ organic backlinks to his site this way.

Tools and Tech

The tools and tech Matt is using to run his business are:

  • Ahrefs – This is Matt’s SEO tool of choice.
  • Keyword Planner – This is the keyword research tool Matt uses for more accurate search volume.
  • Google Workspace – Matt says Google Workspace continues to be the best collection of productivity and collaboration tools in his opinion.
  • CloudApp – Matt uses this tool when he needs to record his screen and send it to a team member.
  • GeneratePress – This is the SEO-friendly WordPress template Matt uses for his site.
  • Elementor – Matt uses this website builder platform to edit his site.
  • Slack – This is the platform Matt’s team uses for internal communications.
  • Superhuman – This is the email client Matt uses. It promises to deliver fast email experience and improve user productivity.
  • Cron – Matt uses this calendar app to manage his team’s tasks and meetings.

Any Surprises Along the Way?

The biggest thing that surprised Matt was the fact that all he had to do to start and grow his side hustle was put the time in.

“Nothing that I do is rocket science,” Matt said. “As long as you’re going about things the right way, good things will surely follow at some point in time.”

What’s Next?

Matt is focused on scaling the business this year.

In fact, he recently hired a virtual assistant to help him manage the website and the design component of the business — something he had not previously focused on.

“I’m just looking to scale wherever I can, delegate different tasks outside of myself, empower people, and teach them everything that I know.”

Matt’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

Trust the process.

Links and Resources

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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

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