The Content Upcycle Method (aka the incredibly true story of how I made $4,752 from 1 blog post in 1 month)
This post is about how I’ve learned to make money from my blog via affiliate links, so of course it contains some affiliate links. What this means is if you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission, at no cost to you. Affiliate links help me keep this site running so I can continue to share useful information with you for free!
I’d like to think I know a thing or two about upcycling. After all, I won 3rd place in Etsy’s nationwide Upcycling Contest back in 2007 and my winning design, an outfit made from FEMA blue tarp, was even featured by MAKE and Boing Boing.
So it makes sense that I’ve been able to use the same upcycling mindset to turn some of my best blog content into a money making machine. Here’s my story…
I’ve known about Amazon Associates pretty much since I started Miss Malaprop in 2006, perhaps even before that. And while I earned my first affiliate commissions via Amazon Associates in August 2007, it wasn’t until the last few years that things really started taking off for me.
Quite frankly, I fumbled around for a long time without a clear strategy or understanding of how to make affiliate income. But now all of that has changed… In December 2014 I not only broke the $1,000 mark, but I made a total of $1,941.53 from Amazon Associates, compared to $259.80 the previous year.
In December 2015, my Amazon earnings totaled $6,324.96, though $4,752.50 of it was from just one blog post:
That’s a long way from where I started:
The Content Upcycle Method made it happen.
The basic idea of the Content Upcycle Method is this:
Find what’s working and make it better.
My most profitable post didn’t start out that way, and it hasn’t always looked the same.
This post started as a much simpler roundup of maybe 10 funny white elephant gift ideas, and it originally lived on a different site, called Cool Stuff We Like, which I’ve since merged with Miss Malaprop.
Over time, I noticed that post getting traffic in Google Analytics, and took the opportuntity to update it, tweak it and make it better. Over the last few years, I’d spend some time each fall updating the post and removing any dead links or out-of-stock products. I added more products and continued to build upon the foundation of a pretty good post to make it a really great post.
A couple years ago, I even used the Thrive Content Builder plugin to revamp the post to be even more shoppable. By arranging rows of curated product photos that clicked through directly to the pages where you could purchase them, I made this blog post feel more like an e-commerce page, making it super easy to convert browsers into buyers. And my earnings skyrocketed because of it.
It took me a really long time and a lot of trial and error to figure all of this stuff out. But hopefully by sharing my story I can save you some time.
Here are a few more things I learned along the way…
Affiliate marketing does not, should not, have to be sleazy or spammy.
When I first started out, it was hard to find really good information about how to be a successful affiliate marketer. Sure, there was Problogger, but Darren Rowse had earned most of his Amazon Associates money through his site Digital Photography School by linking to cameras and other expensive photography products.
There was also a lot of spammy advice out there for creating affiliate income. (There still is.)
I read articles that told me to find hot-selling, high commission products to promote like acai berry weight loss pills. (Seriously?) Sure, people might be buying this stuff, but the thought of trying to sell something that may or may not work felt unethical and totally icky to me.
There had to be a better way, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it work for my own site. You see, back when I started my blog 10 years ago, my goal was to eventually open a retail store (both an e-commerce site and a brick & mortar) selling handmade products and eco-friendly goods. While Amazon carried a handful of the eco-friendly brands I liked, there was no clear way to earn affiliate income by writing about most handmade goods. (These days there’s Amazon Handmade, plus Etsy has an affiliate program, so it’s become a lot easier!)
Every once in awhile I’d do a review for a new book about green living and include affiliate links, but I wasn’t posting about products that were available through Amazon with much consistency. I also tested some of the banner ads and product ad widgets that Amazon provided, with no luck.
Finally, I decided to start promoting products that I loved, but that I might not normally write about on my main site. I learned about Squidoo, a site where people could write “lenses” or pages about pretty much anything they wanted. Squidoo no longer exists, but creating product-focused “lenses” there taught me a whole lot about earning money through Amazon Associates.
I also created a second site, Cool Stuff We Like, which I treated like a sandbox, a testing ground to experiment with new types of posts.
The key to the Content Upcycle Method: always be testing.
Giving myself the freedom to experiment and write about all different types of products on Squidoo and Cool Stuff We Like really upped my game. As I noticed that a certain type of product was really popular, or a certain type of post performed really well, I could take that knowledge to tweak old posts, make them better and create new content.
When I first started Cool Stuff, I would usually write a short post about a single product. I also set up an Amazon aStore on my site. (Those are pretty much useless, I quickly learned.) I’d regularly check my Google Analytics to see what posts were most popular and which products were getting organic search traffic. These days, I also set up Hotjar heat maps on my most important pages to see how people are interacting with them.
One thing that building Squidoo lenses taught me was the value of long-form product guides. If I noticed that a particular type of product was getting some Google action on Cool Stuff, I would create a lens on Squidoo around that theme that included tons of products and useful information. (Note: this long-form product guide strategy works well for both e-commerce shops AND affiliate bloggers.)
For example, I had a post on Cool Stuff about Beer Bottle Mustache Charms. I noticed that post had started getting a lot of organic search traffic, and I knew that the mustache trend was really big at the time. So I created a long lens on Squidoo about cool mustache stuff… everything from funny mustache t-shirts to Hello Kitty themed mustache stuff to mustache baby pacifiers.
While the mustache trend has waned in popularity and I no longer have lots of content dedicated exclusively to mustaches, I did upcycle a few of the most popular items into other guides, and the Beer Bottle Mustache Charms are a featured item in my most profitable blog post, Funny White Elephant Gift Ideas.
Now, one of the reasons why Squidoo no longer exists is that many people took this concept way too far, and many of the lenses there started getting pretty spammy.
There’s a big difference between creating a carefully curated list of products around a specific theme with the intention of truly helping your readers find and discover them, vs just throwing in every product under the sun that fits a certain description.
Always ask yourself, “Would I buy this for myself or gift it to a friend?” Which brings me to…
Think like a magazine editor.
Become a curator of products and make it easy for people to find products that they’re already looking for but that are currently hard to find by simply searching Google or Amazon.
For example, one of my most profitable posts to date is my post about 5 Craft Show Must Haves. I started selling at craft shows back in 2004, and it took me a really, really long time doing them before I discovered some of my favorite tools of the trade. In recent years, I noticed that while I was doing shows, other vendors kept asking me where I got my director’s chair or where I found my fitted tablecloths. My display and setup process has evolved a LOT over the years, and these are products I definitely did not have when I first started doing shows. So I created this blog post with the idea of helping other people by sharing the specific products I use, that make my life easier when I do art markets.
Just like my craft show set up evolved over time, so has that blog post. Since first publishing it, I’ve closely monitored its performance, always looking for potential new ways to tweak it to provide more value for visitors as well to optimize it for more affiliate sales. (I’ve also upcycled some of my older blog posts about craft shows into a book, called How To Make Money At Craft Shows.)
Optimize for SEO and include the search phrases potential visitors would use.
I also have a very specific aesthetic when it comes to my personal style, whether it’s the clothing I wear or how I want to decorate my home. It can be hard to find interesting products on Amazon or other e-commerce sites, especially if you’re not familiar with the specific brands that cater to your style.
There are tons of great products that are buried on Amazon or in Google searches because the e-commerce vendors who sell them have tagged and described the items in such a way that they never come up in searches for qualifying adjectives like “cute” or “cool.” By doing the legwork and gathering awesome products under a specific theme, you’re helping your readers and making it easier for them to shop.
(Note to e-commerce entrepreneurs: this is another reason why SEO is so important! You have GOT to learn the terms your ideal customers are searching for and include them in your product listings!)
When upcycling your existing content, don’t forget to use a technique that Brian Dean refers to as W.A.G. or “Write. Ask Google.” Do a Google search of your primary blog topic and pay attention to the phrases that Google autosuggests as you type, as well as the “Searches related to…” section at the bottom of the search results page.
If any of these phrases are relevant to your blog post, try to include them naturally in the blog content. (But don’t force it, and never resort to keyword stuffing, i.e. repeating keyword phrases over and over in a non-sensical, spammy way.)
If you wanna make some serious bank selling products online, learn how to become a Pinterest rockstar.
I’ve been on Pinterest since almost the beginning. I think I joined after reading Victoria Smith post about it way back when. But it wasn’t until 2013 that I started putting some serious effort into it. That’s when I saw Moorea Seal give a presentation at Texas Style Council about how she grew her Pinterest following to 916,000+ followers.
When I saw Moorea speak, in August 2013, I had about 1,200 followers or so that I’d gained organically over the years from pinning mostly for fun, without any real strategy behind it. After her presentation, I got serious about optimizing my board titles, board descriptions and pin descriptions for search and getting really niche with my boards. By the end of 2013, I’d tripled my Pinterest following, and as of this writing I have over 12,000 followers.
I can say, without a doubt, that Pinterest has been critical in growing my affiliate income as it is one of the top traffic sources for my site. Here’s an example of how much traffic Pinterest sent to my site in December 2015:
Growing my personal following on Pinterest was important, but even more important was creating Pinterest-optimized images for each of my posts.
Vertical images perform best on Pinterest because of how the site is laid out, so I began to create tall images with multiple products grouped together:
I update the graphics for each of these posts periodically, to swap out any products that are now sold out or discontinued, but the popular older pins continue to live on.
The power of Pinterest is that you can get tons of traffic to your website from Pinterest without ever even having a Pinterest account of your own. If you create Pinterest-optimized images that people will naturally want to share and bookmark for themselves, it’s possible for one of their pins to go viral and send your site massive amounts of traffic.
Even if you’re not a designer by trade, you can easily make beautiful pin-optimized images: Canva offers a Pinterest template that is super easy to work with, and their Design School features TONS of free resources to learn from.
Once you’ve created those beautiful, vertical images that will perform well on Pinterest, you’ll need to add them to Pinterest and enlist some help to spread the word. That’s where Tailwind’s Tribes feature comes in handy.
Tailwind offers a lot of cool features that will help you gain more traction in your Pinterest marketing. You can batch schedule your pins to lots of different boards at once, but have them go out at different intervals so that your Pinterest-worthy content is being seen at different times by different people.
The Tailwind Tribes tool is particularly handy for getting your content seen by more people. Tribes are basically communities of people who are all pinning images that have a similar theme. There are tribes for fashion, travel, beauty, and pretty much every topic you can think of. I even host a tribe for the Badass Creatives community.
Whenever I’m speaking about Pinterest, I always describe Tailwind Tribes like the “give a penny, take a penny” jar at a checkout line. Basically, you add your own images that you’d like re-pinned by other people to the Tribe, but in exchange, you should be re-pinning at least as many pins from other Tribe members as you’re contributing to the group.
Givers GET, and Tailwind Tribes makes it easy to help out other Pinterest users and share each other’s content.
Want to learn more about how to increase your website traffic with Pinterest? Check out my Skillshare class, The Power of Pinterest.
The Content Upcycle Method is NOT a get rich quick scheme.
I’ve realized over the years that my strengths lie in the long-game. The reason I’ve been able to figure out the power of content upcycling is because I’ve stuck with it, and tested, tested, tested.
All of the methods outlined here, including content upcycling, SEO, affiliate marketing and Pinterest are a marathon, not a sprint. You have to be patient and commit to doing the work if you want to see the big payoff.
It’s important to remember that it took me a lot of time and trial and error to figure out the exact types of content and methods that worked for me. My hope is that by sharing this information with you, I can help you speed up your own process. While I discovered these methods after I closed down my old e-commerce store, the same tactics could be used for an online shop as well as an affiliate marketer.
(It’s also important to note that some of the links mentioned in this post are affiliate links – that said, I only share tools and products here that I’ve used or would actually buy myself. If you click on an affiliate link here, it doesn’t cost you anything extra, and it enables me to continue to providing valuable information like this post to you for free.)
Making money with affiliate marketing, including Amazon Associates, is kind of like investing – it’s the power of compounding where it really gets profitable. It takes some serious time and effort to build up enough links to Amazon products to make lots of cash. That said, it is TOTALLY doable.
While some product categories on Amazon offer a fixed advertising fee, ranging between 1-10% commission, most products fall under their volume-based advertising fee rates, which means the more products you sell, the higher the commission rate you earn. The volume-based commission rates reset at the beginning of each month, so you will start off the month selling products at a 4% commission, but if you sell tons of goods, you could be raking in an 8.5% commission on each product sold by the end of the month.
This is why it’s so important to keep upcycling your best content and to create tons of links, doorways if you will, to get people onto Amazon’s site. Even products that net you only a few cents in commission still count towards the total number of products you’ve sold in a month, so they will help build up your overall earnings.
The other brilliant thing about Amazon is that there are SO many things available to buy. That’s good for you for two reasons: it means more types of products to link to, and it also means that once people get to Amazon they often realize there are other things on the site they need and want to buy. I see all sorts of stuff show up in the list of products I’ve made commissions on each month… some are mundane household necessities like cleaning products or curtain rods, and others are as weird as enemas or sex toys. (Seriously, people have purchased all of those things through my Amazon Associates links. And I never linked to ANY of those products.)
Have you found success with the Content Upcycle Method?
I’d love to hear about your own experiences upcycling your content. Reach out and let me know how it’s worked for you!