Last October, CNET’s parent company, Red Ventures, held a cross-department meeting to discuss the AI writing software it had been building for months. The tool had been in testing internally ahead of public use on CNET, and Red Ventures’ early results revealed several potential issues.
For some affiliate marketers, 2020 has been extra cruel.
One of the most popular and accessible affiliate networks, Amazon Associates, cut referral commissions for a number of categories, resulting in a drastic cut in revenue for a huge number of sites.
If you’re part of that number, you’ve got a couple of options. Either stay put and accept less money in your pocket, or look for a pivot to regain what was lost.
In this post, we’re going to introduce a couple of options if you were hit by the commission cuts. In particular, how you can diversify your business and sell physical products with Amazon FBA.
Amazon Associates’ 2020 Commission Changes
First, a short introduction to the aforementioned commission cuts.
As of April 21, 2020, the rates for most product categories were altered pretty dramatically. Among the hardest hit:
- Furniture, Home, Home Improvement, Lawn & Garden, Pets, Pantry all went from 8% commission to 3%
- Headphones, Beauty, Musical Instruments, Business & Industrial supplies from 6% to 3%.
- Grocery from 5% to 1%
- Health & Personal Care from 4.5% to 1%
You can imagine the impact for a site making all or most of its revenue through affiliate commissions for products in these categories.
The reception from affected affiliates has been as you’d expect. Some even went so far as to launch a petition to reverse the rate change, which as of writing, gathered nearly 20,000 signatures.
Along with a drop in revenue, this correlates to a drop in sale value for sites which rely on Amazon Associates’ commissions. So cutting bait and getting out of the game won’t nearly be as profitable as it once was.
Alternatives to Amazon Associates
While Amazon may be a one of the most popular and accessible affiliate networks, it’s by far the only one. It’s also not the only monetization method for a niche or authority site.
Other affiliate networks are one place to look for a pivot. There are competing online marketplaces, such as Walmart, eBay and Target, all of whom are challenging Amazon’s hold over the e-commerce game, and will be eager to pick up on some of the disgruntled Amazon Associates marketers.
Then there are affiliate networks that put you more in touch with brands themselves, as opposed to a marketplace. These networks include ShareASale, CJ and Rakuten. The advantage of these affiliate programs is often a substantially higher commission compared to Amazon Associates, even before the rate cuts.
The downside is you have less variety than Amazon – you may not be able to find all the best products in your niche with their own affiliate program. Many programs also don’t have the site-wide cookie that Amazon does, which allows you to earn commissions even when someone buys a product several clicks in.
Many affiliate sites are already making money by serving ads. However, if you’re not, and your income was primarily through Amazon Associates, it’s something to seriously consider.
Google AdSense is one of the biggest and most notable ad programs, currently used by more than 10 million websites.
Ad platforms like AdSense or Ezoic are popular because all you have to do is paste a bit of code on your site, and they will optimize and run ads, and you get paid for it. It’s a low-effort way to start monetizing your site traffic.
The major downside is that it takes away some control over the look and feel of your site. Some site owners would rather not show ads, which can look spammy and out of place. It can also have a negative impact on site speed, again hurting customer experience and potentially SEO.
Sell Your Own Products via FBA
Another alternative is to move from only promoting other peoples’ products, to selling your own.
This is obviously a bigger pivot than the previous options. Switching to another affiliate network just requires you to find new affiliate programs, swap out some links, and potentially re-write some content. While signing up to AdSense or Ezoic requires just a change in site design.
Selling your own products requires more work to get rolling, but has the payoff of higher revenue and more control over your business in the end.
What is FBA?
FBA is Fulfilled By Amazon, Amazon’s fulfillment network for the third-party marketplace. It presents a convenient shortcut for anyone who wants to start selling products online, by taking care of a lot of the cumbersome tasks involved in taking products from Point A (supplier/manufacturer) to Point B (the customer).
With FBA, you arrange for products to be shipped to Amazon’s warehouses, where they handle storage, packing, picking, shipping to the customer, as well as returns and customer service.
This allows you to focus on marketing and getting your products in front of people – much like affiliate marketing, except you have much more control over, and return from the revenue stream.
So why would you want to pivot and sell your own products?
To start with, there’s no need to choose one or the other. You can absolutely monetize your site with a mix of both. There’s nothing wrong with having a bunch of articles reviewing products that you earn affiliate commissions on, as well as having your own product(s) you promote.
This is actually an extremely effective way to run your business. It gives you a much more diversified source of revenue. Anyone whose eggs were all in the Amazon Associates basket prior to April will surely know the value of diversification.
Selling your own products gives you more control over your business. It gives you something to promote that you actually own, rather than renting part of the revenue from someone else (Amazon, for example).
Affiliate revenue is great because of the low overhead and passive income, but it’s smart to supplement that with a more solid revenue model.
As for why FBA and Amazon in particular, over selling directly on your site? One reason is the ease at which you can sell products online with FBA. You almost certainly need to hire a team to manage sales and fulfillment if you’re responsible for the whole package, from storage to order management and shipping.
But with all that Amazon takes care of for you with FBA, you can often operate as a solopreneur, as many affiliate marketers are already.
Another plus is the customer base Amazon has. This is why FBA, at its core, is very much like running an affiliate site. The hardest part is getting initial traction. Once you do, whether it’s ranking in Google Search or Amazon Search, people are going to find you by themselves, and you’ll make money passively. No need to worry about customer acquisition.
Why Affiliate Marketers Are in the Perfect Position to Launch on Amazon
Pivoting or diversifying to selling FBA products is particularly interesting for people running niche sites, as they’re in the perfect position to get quick traction on Amazon.
The biggest problem for FBA sellers, and the reason many people struggle to get off the ground, is getting traffic to products.
When you first launch a product, it has zero visibility. In order to get your product to rank and sell, you need sales in the first place. Which you can’t get if no one can see your product.
For most sellers, this means pumping a large sum of money into Amazon Ads, Facebook Ads, Google Ads, or full-price rebates to get the initial sales kick needed to start selling organically. Launches are not cheap – the days of starting an Amazon business with $200 and a dream are over.
Now imagine you have a successful website that already gets a lot of organic traffic. You’re in a unique position to launch products on Amazon, because you already have a customer base.
No need for huge advertising costs for your product launch – simply put your product in front of the people who are already coming to your site.
Even better if you have an email list, a targeted Facebook audience, or any other assets you can use to drive traffic.
This is a position that other Amazon sellers dream about, while they’re sinking thousands of dollars into every product launch, just to scrape the sales necessary to get to the front page.
How to Start Selling on Amazon FBA
There are some steps to start selling products with FBA that are different to what you’re used to, but it’s not as big a learning curve as you’d think.
The biggest step is sourcing your products and dealing with suppliers – however, if you’ve been running a site for a while and outsourcing content, this isn’t too much different to ordering content and dealing with writers. The fundamentals are all the same.
Here are the broad strokes to starting out with physical products on FBA.
Pick the right products
First thing is, you need to choose what to sell.
Obviously you’ll want to sell something that’s part of your niche. Ideally it will also be something you have a decent amount of content on.
For example, let’s say you’re going to sell testosterone supplements. If you have content that ranks well about testosterone and testosterone supplements, you can pivot your content to promote your own product. You’re well-positioned since you have a targeted audience looking for what you have to sell already.
You’ll also want to do a little market research. Sure you may be ranking for “best [product name]”, but if there are a lot of well-known products here by big brands, it’s going to be hard to get much traction for your product.
Use an Amazon product research tool to check the demand for products on Amazon search. You’ll want to make sure that the product(s) you choose have keywords with a lot of search volume, and that the products ranking for these keywords aren’t too ingrained in the SERP.
Reviews are a good indicator of competitiveness. If you’re up against products with thousands of reviews, it will be tough going.
If you can find a category with high sales potential and products ranking have low reviews, you’re on to a winner.
Source your products
Next, and probably the task with the most effort required, is sourcing a manufacturer for your product.
The most common way to find people to supply products is SaleHoo or Alibaba. These marketplaces have just about every kind of product available in wholesale, direct from the manufacturer or supplier.
The first step is to search for the kind of product you want to sell. You’ll see the cost per unit for each product, as well as minimum order quantities.
From here you can contact the supplier to make an order, as well as discuss alterations to your product.
A few things you want to keep in mind when sourcing products are:
- Cost: you need to ensure that, after shipping costs and all Amazon fees are applied, you still have a healthy profit margin while selling your product at a competitive price.
- MOQ (minimum order quantities): some products might look like they have a really attractive price, until you realize you need to order at least 10,000 units. Low minimum order quantities means less risk, and less overhead required.
- Check the supplier’s history and ratings, to ensure you’re getting something from an experienced and qualified supplier.
You should order a sample before committing to an order, so you can see for yourself what you’re going to get, and what changes may need to be made. Additionally, pay for an inspection service when you make an order, to ensure the products that get shipped to Amazon are top quality.
Use your knowledge of the niche to make the next best-seller
There’s one more product creation step after deciding what to sell and finding someone to make it for you – differentiating yourself from the competition.
You don’t have to create something completely new from scratch, but you also don’t want to sell something right off Alibaba with your label slapped on it. Chances are, someone else on Amazon is selling the exact same thing.
What you want to do is come up with a small improvement or two and have your supplier make the changes. This is another area you’re in a great position to launch your own product.
If you’ve been producing and publishing content related to your product already, you’ll be aware of some of the common pros and cons for competing problems. Find a common thread in the negatives column of all your product reviews? There you go, you’ve got a great idea for a selling point over the competition.
List & optimize for Amazon search
Once you have your product ready to go, you’ll need to list your product on Amazon.
A big part of creating your product listing is optimizing your keywords for Amazon search. Again, if you’ve been running a site and optimizing for Google SEO, this won’t be an unfamiliar process.
Much like Google SEO, you want to sprinkle keywords throughout your listing copy, so the search engine knows what your product is about. The highest-volume, most targeted keywords should be featured most prominently – your product title is the most valuable real estate.
Don’t forget to research as many long-tail keywords as you can, and include these throughout your product listing. Doing so will help you appear for more searches, leading to more organic traffic and sales.
There are many keyword research tools out there to help you find and prioritize keywords. You can most likely use the same tool you used for product research to decide which keywords to target high up in your listing copy, as well as to find long tails.
Promote your product launch
Finally, you need to let people know about your product. Relatively speaking, this is the easy part for affiliate marketers.
Most sellers don’t have traffic streams at their disposal for product launches. Even seasoned sellers. That leads to needing to spend a huge chunk of money to get in front of people.
With a niche site getting traffic, this is not a worry. You’ve got the traffic, now you just need to send them to your product.
A great idea is to add a popup to your site (or to a collection of pages, depending how niche your product is), offering a discount to your audience to purchase your product on Amazon.
If you have an email list, send out a couple of blasts to your list.
Of course you’ll also want to mention your product in any related content. Have a “top 10 [x]” post for your product? Put yours at #1.
These are ways you can start generating sales right away on Amazon while still breaking even. Most Amazon sellers only dream of product launches that are also profitable.
If you want to go all-in on your product launch, and you’ve had a Facebook Pixel on your site collecting data, you can run a Facebook Ads campaign to promote your launch as well. Facebook Ads can take a lot of money to run, but if you’ve already got a targeted collection of data (such as Pixel data or an email list), this cost is cut down significantly.
To sum up, Amazon is a great traffic source for selling products online. The problem is that, usually, it costs a lot to launch a product and rank high enough to be able to tap into that traffic source.
This is why affiliate sites are perfectly positioned to start selling their own products via Amazon FBA. You have your own way to generate traffic (which the majority of Amazon sellers don’t), as well as knowledge of the niche and related topics.
By using one traffic source (your site’s traffic) to tap into another (Amazon search), you’ll multiply your earning power, while building a more diversified business that isn’t at risk so much from snap changes like Amazon’s affiliate commission cuts.
CNET pushed reporters to be more favorable to advertisers, staffers say
The AI system was always faster than human writers at generating stories, the company found, but editing its work took much longer than editing a real staffer’s copy. The tool also had a tendency to write sentences that sounded plausible but were incorrect, and it was known to plagiarize language from the sources it was trained on.
Red Ventures executives laid out all of these issues at the meeting and then made a fateful decision: CNET began publishing AI-generated stories anyway.
“They were well aware of the fact that the AI plagiarized and hallucinated,” a person who attended the meeting recalls. (Artificial intelligence tools have a tendency to insert false information into responses, which are sometimes called “hallucinations.”) “One of the things they were focused on when they developed the program was reducing plagiarism. I suppose that didn’t work out so well.”
Of the 77 articles published on CNET using the AI tool since it launched, more than half have had corrections appended to them, some lengthy and substantial, after use of the tool was revealed by Futurism. CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo, EVP of content and audience Lindsey Turrentine, and Red Ventures vice president of content Lance Davis defended the tool in an internal meeting with staff in January but said the company would pause the use of the tool “for now.” In a follow-up blog post, Guglielmo said publishing using the AI software was on hold until CNET was confident it could “prevent both human and AI errors,” but she was clear that this wasn’t the end of AI tools in the newsroom.
“Expect CNET to continue exploring and testing how AI can be used to help our teams as they go about their work testing, researching and crafting the unbiased advice and fact-based reporting we’re known for,” Guglielmo wrote.
“Everyone at CNET is more afraid of Red Ventures than they are of AI.”
But the controversial use of an AI system to generate stories even in the face of known issues with plagiarism and accuracy is merely the most visible outcome of Red Ventures’ ownership of CNET. Under the ownership of Red Ventures, a private equity-backed marketing firm that’s bought up more than a dozen digital publishers since the mid-2010s, staff at the storied tech news outlet say they have been fighting to protect CNET’s editorial independence and rigor amid a push toward sponsored content and affiliate marketing by its new corporate owners. As one staffer told The Verge for a previous piece, “Everyone at CNET is more afraid of Red Ventures than they are of AI.”
Multiple former employees told The Verge of instances where CNET staff felt pressured to change stories and reviews due to Red Ventures’ business dealings with advertisers. The forceful pivot toward Red Ventures’ affiliate marketing-driven business model — which generates revenue when readers click links to sign up for credit cards or buy products — began clearly influencing editorial strategy, with former employees saying that revenue objectives have begun creeping into editorial conversations.
Reporters, including on-camera video hosts, have been asked to create sponsored content, making staff uncomfortable with the increasingly blurry lines between editorial and sales. One person told The Verge that they were made aware of Red Ventures’ business relationship with a company whose product they were covering and that they felt pressured to change a review to be more favorable.
“I understood a supervisor to imply in conversation that how I proceeded with my review could impact my chances of promotion in the future,” they say.
Red Ventures ignored an emailed list of questions from The Verge about its AI tool as well as CNET’s editorial independence and ethics, advertising, and staffing. The company instead offered to send a short statement about CNET’s editorial integrity but refused to provide it on the record attributable to anyone.
This apparent breakdown of the traditional barriers between editorial and advertising content is worlds away from CNET’s history, according to former staffers. Now more than 25 years old, the site has long been known for its thorough news coverage and comprehensive reviews program, which examines everything from laptops and phones to bookshelf speakers and home projectors.
“[The reason I came to CNET] was the opportunity to be able to tell the truth no matter what,” a former staffer says. To them, working at CNET was different from other journalism jobs, where journalists can be honest but may need to self-edit. “You get to tell the truth [at other jobs], but a lot of times, you’re not allowed to say things that you really feel.”
But the CNET operated by Red Ventures is a very different place than the CNET it acquired in 2020. CNET, along with other Red Ventures-owned publications, is loading up on cheap SEO-driven articles to game Google’s search algorithm and fill search results with content designed to deliver affiliate links to readers. As a result, CNET’s independent journalism and the people who produce it — the thing that once made CNET valuable and rank highly in search to begin with — feel that they are being pushed out in favor of whatever and whomever else makes Red Ventures the most money, according to multiple former employees.
“When you’re [covering] products and not people, it’s really easy to be like, ‘This new Apple thing sucks.’ I just thought that was a refreshing change of pace to be able to say things as they are,” the former staffer says. “And that continued all the way until Red Ventures took over.”
After Red Ventures scooped up CNET for $500 million in 2020, CEO Ric Elias promised the outlet would be able to continue to be an independent publication known for its robust offering of reviews and in-the-weeds tech news coverage. CNET staff had nothing to worry about, Elias told The New York Times. There was a “nonnegotiable line” separating the journalism from the money, and CNET’s staff of tech journalists could call him on his personal cellphone if there were ever a problem.
“I told them, ‘There’s a red line,’ and they’re like, ‘OK, we’ll see,’” Elias said.
That skepticism now appears prescient. Former CNET staff say the guardrails that keep editorial content independent, like a divide between revenue teams and journalists, or a clear chain of command among leadership, were repeatedly breached after the Red Ventures acquisition. “Most of the time, [Guglielmo] seemed to just be relaying orders” from Red Ventures, a former staffer says. In turn, journalists were placed in difficult positions as they tried to fend off the encroaching influence of the business side.
Former CNET staffers describe being asked to work on ads for companies that the outlet covers, including Volvo and home security company Arlo and having to push back against such requests from executives at the company. Three people told The Verge that they believe resistance to Red Ventures initiatives caused various CNET staffers to lose their jobs, with one saying that the pressure to be a “yes man” was a “collective experience” for some teams.
Multiple former CNET staffers point to the demise of the CNET Smart Home as an example of Red Ventures’ overreach. The Smart Home — a four-bedroom, five-bathroom home in Louisville, Kentucky, that the outlet had purchased in 2015 to test and produce videos on home products like robot vacuums and thermostats — had become something of a brand in and of itself. Since Red Ventures’ takeover, Smart Home staff repeatedly refused to work on sponsored content, saying it went against the integrity of their work. Readers look to tech reviewers for honest, unbiased assessments of companies’ products and services, and working on content that is paid for by these same companies can cast doubt on a reviewer’s ability to be independent.
“It’s a culture that if you disagree with them, they’re going to get rid of you and replace you with a zealot.”
In 2022, a Red Ventures executive named Marc McCollum stopped by the Smart Home for a short walk-through. McCollum, according to his LinkedIn profile, led the acquisition of CNET Media Group. A former staffer says he played a key role in the transition, with a focus on increasing profits.
Shortly after McCollum’s visit, teams working out of the Smart Home learned that the company was planning on selling the house, and people working at the house believed their jobs would be at risk if the space were sold. But McCollum indicated that the company may be able to keep the house if it secured a lucrative advertising deal with GE, which had expressed interest in using the Smart Home for a commercial, multiple former employees say.
Hoping to avoid layoffs, some CNET staff pitched in on the GE deal in early talks and planning, and Red Ventures inked a deal. But CNET editorial staffers refused to shoot the ad itself, and contractors were ultimately used to work on the commercial, a former staffer says.
The GE shoot was ultimately moved from the Smart Home to an off-site location due to space limitations at the house, a GE Appliances spokesperson who would only identify themselves as “Whitney” told The Verge via email. GE was not aware of Red Ventures’ plans to sell the house, “Whitney” added.
But by the time the GE ad was released in September, many staff on the Smart Home team had already left the company. Seeing the “writing on the wall” — that the house would soon be put up for sale — some people were able to land new roles, a former staffer says; others were laid off that summer. The house was put up for sale shortly after the GE ad anyway, eventually selling in December for $1.275 million, according to Zillow.
“It’s a culture that if you disagree with them, they’re going to get rid of you and replace you with a zealot,” a former employee, who was laid off, says of Red Ventures. “Somebody that’s absolutely a true believer, [that] drinks the Kool-Aid.”
Former CNET staffers say their colleagues have also been pressured into appearing in ads for companies the outlet covers despite the murky ethics of using reporters in sponsored content. On-camera video hosts were uncomfortable with the idea of being in ads and pushed back against it, according to several former staffers. Using recognizable journalists for video content that’s paid for by advertisers can blur the lines and make it hard for viewers to tell what is and isn’t an ad.
In one recent video, titled “Moen Unveils Innovative Smart Sprinkler Product at CES,” a CNET host takes viewers through the company’s booth at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, interviewing company representatives and testing products. The video is an ad, but the host doesn’t say that, and neither the video description nor title included a disclosure until recently. The only disclaimer was a small pop-up that YouTube inserts when an uploader has indicated there’s a paid promotion in a video, though CNET doesn’t actually specify what in the video is promoted. Moen did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the nature of the sponsorship or its labeling. After The Verge asked Red Ventures about the ad, a disclosure was silently added to the video’s description.
One of the key priorities for Red Ventures seems to be the company’s focus on affiliate links, which pepper its portfolio of sites like The Points Guy, Bankrate, and CreditCards.com. Over time, a focus on affiliate revenue has crept into CNET’s editorial decisions, causing frustration among staff.
In one meeting after the Red Ventures acquisition, a former employee says editorial staff were shown how much the company earned through affiliate categories like home furnishings with the suggestion they keep it in mind when producing future content. CNET staffers were also told that a separate commerce team would begin writing video descriptions that included affiliate links, which many people worried would suggest on-camera hosts were endorsing specific products.
“Red Ventures’ big mantra is that they help people make life’s most important decisions,” a former staffer says. “And yet all of their influence has been to get people to make decisions that are going to be the most profitable to Red Ventures.”
CNET staff say that the proximity to revenue made it harder to maintain the editorial standards
“It’s very demoralizing. It’s actually soul-crushing. All you want to do is your job and you’re being told, ‘Don’t cover this,’ because the revenue potential is not there,” another former staff member says.
Advertising is what keeps most digital media companies afloat, and affiliate marketing is common across the industry. (The Verge earns a commission from affiliate links, as do other Vox Media-owned outlets, like The Strategist.) But in many newsrooms, there is a strict separation between the people dealing with advertisers and the people producing the news. At The Verge, for example, editorial staff never work on ads, and reviews writers don’t know how much parent company Vox Media earns through specific affiliate marketing links.
But under Red Ventures, former CNET staff say that the proximity to revenue made it harder and harder to maintain the editorial standards promised to audiences.
“I do believe that the journalists who are doing the work at CNET are extremely ethical. I think that they have a lot of integrity, I think they work really hard,” they say. “But I think that they are under a great deal of pressure to make money for Red Ventures. And that’s just never a good situation for journalists.”
Though the AI tool generating stories for CNET, Bankrate, and CreditCards.com was formally announced just weeks ago, Red Ventures’ “experiment” with enlisting artificial intelligence has been underway much longer. Like other publishers who’ve incorporated automated tools into their work, the Red Ventures proprietary AI software was sold to the newsroom as a way to more efficiently produce “the boring stuff” so writers could use their time instead and work on bigger projects. In actuality, enlisting artificial intelligence to write SEO bait accelerates the speed at which Red Ventures-owned websites can churn out search-optimized content loaded with affiliate links, cutting down the need for human writers — and the reporting they produce.
For Sarah Szczypinski, a former journalist on the CNET Money team who left the outlet in early 2022, the association with CNET in light of the AI-writing saga has been frustrating. Though Szczypinski quit many months before the AI-generated articles began appearing, people have started contacting her after the news broke, wondering if she, too, had used AI tools for her stories. Szczypinski maintains she wrote her stories on her own, without automation tools.
“The leadership team gave no thought to what these unilateral decisions would do to the people working there, especially the people who are journalists and need their readers to trust them,” Szczypinski told The Verge. “We still have lives to live and careers to forge. And we can’t do that with something as damaging as this hanging over our heads.”
In late January, Szczypinski contacted Red Ventures and CNET, asking to have her author page and bylines pulled. Her name has been scrubbed from dozens of articles, now replaced simply by “CNET Staff.”
Throughout the time Red Ventures has owned CNET, the outlet’s leadership has promised readers time and again that its journalism is as strong as ever. Even as Guglielmo, Turrentine, and Red Ventures executives dodged questions from readers, staff, and reporters about the AI system, they pointed to CNET’s track record built over decades as evidence of trustworthiness. Audiences trust CNET for tech news, reviews, and recommendations, they reasoned, so they can trust CNET for how to move forward with artificial intelligence.
But even the more public ways CNET has tried to elicit trust from its audience have been hollowed out by a relentless drive toward optimization and gaming the search algorithm at the expense of the very work that had made CNET valuable.
CNET’s public ethics policy has not been meaningfully updated in years — it still lists CBS as its parent company — but last year, the publication added nearly a dozen links detailing exactly how it tests and vets products to a hyper-specific degree, with separate posts for how CNET reviews everything from credit cards and TVs to vacuums and more. One way of looking at these posts is to provide readers — and potential customers — with as much detail as possible about CNET’s methodology.
But for Red Ventures, these articles are just more fodder to boost its bottom line: Google likes when publishers demonstrate “experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness,” and the search algorithm factors in articles like these when it ranks search results. Articles packed with words like “unbiased,” “credible,” and “thoroughly vetted” are great for Red Ventures’ SEO-heavy strategy.
After all, Google can’t tell if it’s true.
Top 10 Best Paying Jobs in Real Estate Investment Trusts in 2023
If you’re interested in the real estate market or college majors that make the most money but aren’t sure about a specific role, exploring the best-paying jobs in real estate investment trusts could be a great option. Jobs like the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Operating Officer are already well-known within the REIT industry as some of the best-paying jobs. However, we’re going to dig a bit deeper with our list.
Let’s discuss the job opportunities available at real estate investment trusts, including estimated salary ranges, job responsibilities, and qualifications for each job.
The 10 Best Paying Jobs in Real Estate Investment Trusts
Real Estate Acquirer
A Real Estate Acquirer is one of the best-paying jobs in real estate investment trusts. After conducting research and analyzing the numbers, the Real Estate Acquirer takes over the process. This person manages the negotiations and acquisitions of a REIT. Their goal is to make sure that the company is paying a fair price for its properties.
|Job Responsibilities||Understanding the right price to pay for each property or piece of land
|Qualifications||Finance, business, or economics degree
Soft skills like expert negotiation
Composed personality under pressure
You don’t have to be a real estate agent to work for a real estate investment trust!
Real estate attorneys are very important to real estate investment trusts. Working for a REIT can be one of the most lucrative jobs for lawyers who already specialize in corporate law, the legal requirements of the real estate industry, or contracts.
A real estate attorney will work closely with the real estate agent that’s handling the deal, company executives, real estate brokers, and more.
|Job Responsibilities||Manage all the legal paperwork and real estate documents behind operating a REIT, closing each deal, and managing properties
Represent the REIT during negotiations
|Qualifications||Law degree with a license to practice
Exceptional negotiation and problem-solving skills are required for real estate attorney jobs
A REIT Investor is one of the best-paying jobs in real estate investment trusts. They spearhead real estate investing decisions from the acquisition of the real estate properties right through to selling. They also develop real estate business ideas that could be good investments.
In addition to managing these real estate investment decisions, a REIT Investor also manages investor relationships. Nurturing these investor relationships is important to sustaining the business and earning future deals.
|Job Responsibilities||Leading the acquisition and selling processes
Building and managing investor relationships
|Qualifications||Bachelor’s degree in finance, economics, or business|
An Investment Analyst is one of the highest-paying jobs in real estate. They analyze various real estate properties to determine which ones will be a good investment for the REIT. They’re very important in the real estate sector because they advise higher-ups on the company’s investing strategy.
Investment Analysts provide value for decision-makers within real estate investment trusts. They do this by providing them with their recommendations on investing in a specific real estate property.
|Job Responsibilities||Research potential properties to see if they’re a viable option for real estate investors to acquire
Collaborate with the finance and acquisition teams to provide insight into properties
|Qualifications||Bachelor’s degree in business or finance
Superior research and analytical skills
Site Acquisition Specialist
A Site Acquisition Specialist handles the details of each property purchase. This includes the contractual obligations and technical details of each deal. They must understand building codes, leasing capabilities, entitlements from local governments, and more.
|Job Responsibilities||Manage the details and technicalities of each acquisition to make sure all legal and contractual requirements are met|
|Qualifications||Bachelor’s degree in business, finance, or economics
Attention to detail
Knowledge of building codes, leasing requirements, and more
If you want to learn how to make a million dollars, whether through a lucrative career in real estate investment trusts or your own business, we have tips for you.
VP of Marketing
There are other ways to work in the real estate industry besides becoming a property manager!
Not only is being the Vice President of Marketing one of the best-paying jobs in real estate investment trusts, but it’s also fun. The VP of Marketing promotes the business itself to bring in new clients and investors. After deals are made, this person would also be responsible for marketing the properties.
|Job Responsibilities||Creating and executing marketing campaigns that bring in new business and acquire new investors
Marketing properties with either B2B or B2B tactics
|Qualifications||Degree in marketing, public relations, or communications
Creativity and business savvy
A REIT Analyst is crucial to the success of real estate investment trusts. After conducting thorough research, a REIT Analyst will advise real estate investors on the potential of each property.
Their reports provide insight into potential real estate investments. They include thorough research and strategy for each residential and commercial property. The information provided in the investment reports will help determine which real estate investments are good decisions to attract investors.
|Job Responsibilities||Research economic factors and analyze potential acquisition and investment opportunities
Provide the intended strategy for viable properties
Collaborate with the acquisition and finance team
Real Estate Broker
Think of real estate brokers as a level up from being a real estate agent. Brokers are licensed, which allows them to work independently and employ their own team of agents.
Working as a real estate broker for real estate investment trusts means you can employ your own team of agents working on closing deals for the REIT. This can either be done in-house or as your own separate brokerage.
|Job Responsibilities||Analyze the real estate market in order to be able to expertly negotiate deals
Manage your own team of real estate agents
|Qualifications||Real estate broker license
Soft skills like expert negotiation
Property Developers are responsible for hiring and managing contractors while staying on budget for commercial and residential properties. One of the more complicated jobs in real estate, they see the project from its planning stage through to completion. Working as a Property Developer or a Real Estate Developer is one of the most important and stressful real estate investment jobs.
|Job Responsibilities||Manage multiple complex projects simultaneously from acquisition to completion
Ensure the successful and on-budget completion of projects
|Qualifications||MBA (preferably in business or real estate)
Superior project management skills
Previous experience that’s directly relevant to this role
Working in property management is one of the best-paying jobs in real estate investment trusts that you can work toward with only a high school diploma.
Property Managers in the real estate investment industry have varied roles depending upon the needs of each REIT. For example, a Property Manager could handle apartment complexes, commercial buildings, or shopping centers, satisfying the demands of property owners, occupants, and investors.
|Job Responsibilities||Managing residential and commercial properties|
|Qualifications||A bachelor’s degree is recommended but not required
Relevant experience is recommended but not always required
Expert managerial skills
Different Types of REITs
Now that you have a list of the best-paying jobs in real estate investment trusts, let’s explore the different sections of the REIT industry you can specialize in.
Medical real estate investment trusts focus their efforts on commercial real estate like hospitals, clinics, research centers, and other healthcare facilities. As the medical industry is also a lucrative industry, working for a medical REIT can offer professionals some of the best-paying jobs.
Debt Real Estate Investment Trust
A debt REIT focuses on providing loans to its real estate investment clients who want to acquire residential and commercial real estate. This type of real estate investment trust makes its money from the interest on the loans they provide to other real estate developers and investors.
A merchandise real estate investment trust focuses on the retail industry. This includes malls, supermarkets, and department stores.
These types of real estate investment trusts can act as the property manager for malls and other shopping centers and provide financing for property buyers and lessees.
Domestic Real Estate Investment Trust
The domestic sector of the REIT industry deals with creating communities, apartment complexes, and other housing developments.
A real estate investor backs an equitability real estate investment trust. These types of REITs will find opportunities in the form of residential properties like apartments and commercial properties like resorts. They then present them for approval by their investors. After the real estate transaction is approved, the REIT will manage the project and provide a portion of its profits back to its investor.
What’s it Like to Work for a REIT?
Working for real estate investment trusts is a fast-paced environment continually changing as new acquisitions and sales occur. It involves traveling, managing relationships, and familiarizing yourself with an ever-changing portfolio of properties.
The people you’re going to work with are highly experienced and good at what they do, which creates an environment of hard-working people who want to advance and earn more. It can be a motivating and competitive environment. Depending on your personality and preferred company culture, this can be a good or bad thing.
Benefits of Working for a REIT
While it does pay well to work for a REIT, what other benefits does it provide?
Additional benefits of working for a REIT include:
- Added job security: Even as the economy and industry fluctuate, one of the biggest benefits of working for a REIT is knowing your industry and job will always be needed. Even when the market and economy fluctuate, there will always be a need to manage, develop, acquire, lease out, and sell residential and commercial properties.
- Opportunities to advance your career: As you continue developing your skills and gaining more experience, there are ample job opportunities for advancement within the REIT industry.
- Flexible work environment: Many REITs provide employees with a flexible work environment, allowing them to make their own schedules while still getting their work done.
- Additional earning opportunities: A REIT already provides well-paying jobs, it also typically offers bonuses and stock options that empower employees to earn even more.
Final Thoughts on the Best Paying Jobs in Real Estate Investment Trusts
In addition to offering some of the best-paying jobs, working for real estate investment trusts can provide job security, advancement opportunities, and a fast-paced working environment.
Now that you have more information about the types of well-paying jobs available in the industry, you can decide if working for real estate investment trusts is right for you!
How Forrest Webber Grew to $40k Per Month After Replacing Rental Properties With Websites
Want to take your digital assets to the next level?
It’s pretty tough without a team and systems in place.
And that’s why today’s podcast episode is such a potential goldmine for site owners hoping to scale.
Forrest Webber got into the online world with minimal experience with online businesses.
But he used his talents in leadership to grow a team and portfolio of 20 websites that now generates up to $40,000 in revenue per month.
And his approach to growing online businesses is one that will surely interest a lot of listeners.
He shares great tips on:
- Finding the right people to delegate important work
- How to effectively lead people
- Website KPIs
- And more…
So if you’d like some advice on how to treat your websites like a scalable business, check it out!
Topics Forrest Webber Covers
- How he pivoted from real estate to websites
- Similarities and differences between real estate and digital assets
- How much gets published across his portfolio
- Succeeding with an investors mindset
- The unique way he’s building his SEO company
- Lots of great book recommendations
- How he’s scaled his portfolio
- Acquiring an eCommerce site vs content site
- Management strategies
- Full-time vs contract writers
- Importance of being diversified
- The network effect
- Tips for ambitious site owners
- And a whole lot more…
Links & Resources
Forrest also offers special discounts for the Niche Pursuits audience – simply use coupon code NICHEPURSUITS at checkout:
- Get Content (25% OFF)
Increase your posting frequency with SEO-optimized blog posts from a pool of writers with 5+ years of experience. Save up to $350.
- Get Backlinks (15% OFF)
Land traffic-inducing links in niche relevant websites – vetted and trusted. First link for $100.
- Content Management (15% OFF for life)
Delegate your content strategy to us. From research and SEO to writing and uploading. Take the deal today – take advantage of it for life.
- Affiliate Content Kickstarter (15% OFF)
Grow a second stream of income by taking advantage of your pre-existing traffic. Product reviews, powerful CTAs, unique design elements for CRO. Publish content that converts.
- Website Operator (10% OFF for life)
You give us a bare-bones blog and we’ll take it to the stars, while filling your pockets. Take the deal today – take advantage of it for life.
- Turnkey Affiliate Websites (15% OFF)
Full-blown website with keyword research, starter content (up to 100k words), 10+ permanent backlinks, and more. Save up to $1500 (that’s right).
Tip: You can initiate your orders up to two months from the day you made the purchase. Don’t feel like you HAVE to use the services right now.
Watch The Interview
Read The Transcription
Jared: Welcome back to the Niche Pursuits podcast. My name is Jared Bauman, and today we’re joined by Forrest Webber with digitail.co, which is a SEO agency for blogs. Welcome Forrest
Forrest: Thank you. Thanks so much, Jared.
Jared: Yeah, I was, we were talking at the outset about how this has been a long time coming.
We’ve been working on this interview and getting it, getting it here for several months now. I’m really excited for what we’re gonna go through. You you have multiple things you’re involved with. You run an agency for bloggers. You also build websites on your own. Why don’t you get us started? Give us some background.
Tell us about the evolution of
Forrest: all this. Yeah, thanks for your patience. I had a injury for a couple of weeks, but we’re back now. We’re back. Yeah, so I started the website I think about five years ago, but it started for me when I was in college. I learned a little bit about how you could make money blogging and so I started one minute money.com, which was a total waste of time because I dumped it after 30 days because it didn’t take off like it should, right?
But I moved into finance and real estate, so undergrad and finance grad school was real estate and all of my co students went off to work in big cities. But I was in what Forbes considered the most undervalued real estate in the nation town, which is College Station, Texas, GIGO, Maggies, woo.
Jared: Hey, you’re even an egg can tell what.
Forrest: Colors on us, right? . So there was a local broker who wanted to move into student housing development, which is exactly what I wanted to do. I kind of had the privilege of discovering really early that I love to learn, but I don’t love to work. So I knew by 30 I wanted to be retired. So I got into real estate and just wanted to find what is the quickest way to own the most rental properties you can.
So we did that together for two and a half years. I think I raised $3.5 million of private equity capital, and that gave me partnership interests and some student housing apartments. So the reason why this is important, It taught me how to create a business with the operations segmented from the actual growth work.
And I wanted to do the same thing on the website space. And fortunately the market kind of took off in college station. So when we sold the apartments, I cashed out, you know, close to a million dollars of cash, paid a bunch of taxes, , and then a one quick side note. But I got to bring that capital in to the website space with me.
Hmm. So it’s given me a huge accelerator and allowed me to skip some of the early technical stages that other people work through slowly, and that works out with pros and cons. But the quick side note, so 2015, I just closed out most of the real estate stuff I’d worked on, and my first daughter was born a little over three months early.
Hmm. While I was displaced in Seattle with my ex-wife. And that kind of brought everything home for me because, you know, there’s a lot of people that wanna work in the digital nomad community, but having to work from a hospital for 108 days really shows you what a privilege it is to get to do it. So that’s just a little side note from mm-hmm.
my background, so then I’ll move on real quick. I took that capital, came into the website space, started investigating brokers. I really didn’t know that there were online assets that could be treated just like rental properties. And that’s what I did before. But once it hit me that you could purchase.
Assets for two to three PE ratios like price to earnings ratios on historical documented earnings. And you know, I’d seen proforma income statements in the commercial real estate world for years and nobody’s truthful on ’em. And in the website space you almost have to be, cuz there’s so much publicly available data.
So when I started looking at that as a asset class, it really drew me in and I had huge visions of going all the way through this thing with just private equity groups and that kind of thing. And it turns out you can kind of do it just as a solopreneur and I prefer that. So that’s what I’ve done.
Jared: So I, I just wanna bend your ear a bit on it before we get into the, the details of the interview, because, you know, when I explain what website building is to like a, somebody outside this community, I oftentimes will use real estate as an analogy, you know, and I’m like, it’s just kind of like real estate, but in a digital world.
And usually the light bulb kind of goes off for people. How accurate is that? Is that analogy that I give? And so many of us give, like, you’ve been heavily involved now in both real estate from a investment standpoint and now websites and, and we’ll call it from an investment standpoint, like how much similarity is there between the two?
Forrest: I think it’s a great analogy. I mean, it’s easier to think of something physical, so oftentimes, You know, link building is a practice that a lot of people stay arms length from, and I try to explain link building as building those infrastructural components like roads or sewage or water to your property.
And I think it works great. Yeah.
Jared: Yeah. It’s, it’s so true. It’s, so, I I, I, I want to hear about the operational things you’ve brought over from, from managing real estate projects, but we’ll, we’ll get into that. So, let’s see. That was, I mean, several years ago at this point that you made the transition. Yeah.
Maybe talk to us, actually give us a snapshot of where you’re at today with your websites, and then also let us know when you started your SEO agency as well.
Forrest: Okay. Awesome. Yeah, let me pull up this data. So I have a portfolio of about 20 websites. That we’ve published as of a couple weeks ago before I got that black eye that prevented the former interview, Jared , we had published 13,298,000 words across these 20 blogs.
That’s about 8,000 articles with an average monthly word count on these 20 blogs between 9,000 a month and 30,000 words per month. Average article link is 2112, but that also varies depending on the blog too. And I have, let’s see here. Yeah, that’s, that’s the figures here. So that’s the portfolio. Most of these were acquired, but, but in the last year or two, we’ve been building from scratch, so some of ’em are newer.
Jared: Okay. Okay. So pretty good size portfolio. I mean, that’s enough to manage, you’re publishing that many words per month. That’s a good, that’s a good operational challenge to take on . Yeah.
Forrest: Yeah, and to be honest, I mean, I’m not the expert at operations. I’ve always looked to, you know, hire someone that I can, I can grow alongside and, and grow in the knowledge side, but just direct.
And so the biggest victory for me so far has been hiring a, a really great director. Really?
Jared: Yeah. Yeah. So you have somebody in place that basically directs the operations when it comes to all 20 of these websites? Yes. What is your role then on the, on the site? ?
Forrest: So my role now, Essentially is, is to be like an investor, kind of like he pointed out earlier.
And I think to a degree that is one clarification. I am probably more of an investor in business-minded individual than someone who’s great at understanding off page technical SEO and that kind of thing.
Jared: Yeah, yeah. Like what kind of revenue or or profit numbers are you comfortable sharing with? Yeah, I can share that portfolio of 20.
Yeah, there’s, I mean, it’s a good number of sites.
Forrest: Yeah. Obviously it depends on if it’s quarter four or quarter one . Right. But we we average about 30,000 a month and display ad revenue between media, vine, and Zoic. That’s been as high as 40. You know, it’s in, in quarter one. The year before last, it was down to like 16,500, but that’s kind of our range.
And then we make around five to 12,000 a month from Amazon. and we have a few other affiliate programs we’re a part of, but we’ve never invested a ton of time into managing the affiliate commissions, the conversion rates. We just signed up for Aate with Monica Lint and she showed us how her platform works and we’re really excited to do that now.
Jared: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We had her on, oh, I don’t know how far back now, maybe nine months ago, but she is great. She had some great tips to share.
Forrest: Her software’s so powerful and it’s just, it’s beautifully designed too. Have you looked at it?
Jared: I poked around and thought, oh, man, I should really do something with this and then haven’t done anything
Yeah, she, you can go through, I mean, dozens of iterations for a, a page revision based on the data and just review. You can look at all the data for what changed between last month and this month, and it. Wow.
Jared: I will have to check that out again. I’ll have to check that out. So, okay. So before we dive in, when did the SEO agency come into play and why?
If you have this beast of a operational Yeah. 20 websites to manage it and to run and to grow. Yeah. Even if you’re not doing the operations, what’s the need? And when did the Seo o Agency come into play?
Forrest: Yeah, great question. And it’s, it’s kind of personal for me because, you know, when I mentioned that at age 20, I knew I wanted to, you know, retire early and kind of get out of work.
There’s actually a couple books that inspire me. One’s called Work Less, live More by Rio Robert, client Work Less, live More. It’s about semi-retirement and then how to Retire Happy Walden Free by Ernie Zelensky. And I think I have kind of an old soul, so I, I just wanted to retire, enjoy Slow Life, you know, and that first company in the real estate industry.
We built a self-serving entity. The management that we took on that was third party was just to help us pay bills. This time I kind of did it in reverse. I wanted to build the operational team first, make sure we had services that could be relied on first off. But then it’s, it’s that shift from, you know, I’m not midlife yet, but the, the crisis of my daughter being born early really shifted me from pursuing my personal happiness at cost of all other things to a meaningful life.
There’s another book, I love books. My first acquisition is hooked to books.com. There’s a book called Swamp Lens of the. From Misery to Meaning at midlife and it’s by a union psychologist. And basically I just wanted to build something that could serve other bloggers. So the agency came about a little over a year ago.
Okay. And it’s, it’s like Rent My team. This is the team that built the portfolio that keeps operating it today. Just used the same resources.
Jared: That’s awesome. There are so many similarities in crossover. I mean, I have an agency myself, . Yeah. Yeah. We do a lot of SEO work and we do website building as well.
When we got started, we kind of flipped the model a bit in reverse order of what you did. We started the agency and then realized, You know, we got all these people that are working on websites and really good at it and some months as an agency you’re slower in certain areas. Why not put that time and that effort towards our own website and our own portfolio?
So I understand what you’re talking about. We just did it in reverse order. .
Forrest: Yeah, exactly. I think both ways work. You know, we did that in the real estate side. We started up front with third party and then moved to self-serving. Eventually fired all the clients cuz we didn’t like client work. Well, you know, for me, since I’m not the one at the helm of the operations, like director wise, I can’t exactly brag that I’m just so servant hearted and just want to talk to clients about problems all day long.
That’s not the case. But I do think the fact that my partner is located in the East, I think that if it’s, if it’s his own family or if it’s his. He has the most incredible service leadership at, at everything he does. And it’s not, it’s, it’s just obvious. He does it because he cares and it’s really special.
So we wanted to open that up to more people. And, yeah, just really quick, I noticed you, you put a tweet out or something saying you were looking for an acquisition, your agency, and I was like, that’s so cool, man, that y’all are bringing in assets while you do work for others too. So I appreciate
Jared: that. Yeah, that’s great.
That’s great. Yeah. Well, we’ll see if definitely got some people interested, but it’s a, you know, it’s, it’s a good model. I, and I never have made the connection like you just did between property management in a real estate world versus managing on your own. So that is so cool. I think there’s a lot of people out that out here that are listening that I’ve interacted with over the years that have messaged me and talked about how.
You know, we, we talk on the podcast about whether to start building your own websites outta the gate. Go maybe work for an agency and cut your teeth, right? Or once you have that experience, maybe serve clients while building your websites to help with cash flow. So it’s, it’s really good to just talk through how, you know, another example of someone who is building websites, but also using the same processes and the same operational strengths to also serve clients.
It’s just, it’s cool. It gives people a lot of, you know, inspiration or at least thoughts to think about and consider .
Forrest: Totally. Yeah. Have you ever heard the quote, never lift a hammer? No, I have not. If you picture like a construction site in real estate, if you’re general contracting and you walk up on site and there’s problems going on and you take over the process forever, they’ll look to you for it.
So for good or for bad, I’ve always employed that strategy. Never lift a hammer. Always work on. You know, what is the problem and how can I empower this person? You know this stuff, but there’s a a Harvard Business Review book called On Managing Yourself, and there’s a chapter called Who’s Got the Management Monkey, and it’s about how you can either give all your time away as the leader and manager, or you can confine those spaces.
And always make clear who’s back the monkey is on. So that’s how I try to handle operations is let someone else do them, but step in, you know, step into the office, analyze the problem, walk through it with them.
Jared: Yeah. Well, you’ve scaled nicely. You’ve scaled nicely. Let’s transition and talk about how you scaled.
I wanna hear more details about it because, you know, we, we kind of left with you having this idea that you wanted to move into the website building world, and then we kind of arrived really quickly at the fact that 20 sites into millions and millions of words, . Now you did tease, you had some capital that you were able to go in with.
Talk us through, just from a very high level, the approach you took to getting in this world. And I’m a, I’m particularly interested in how you learned SEO o coming from a background that didn’t really have any of that in the real estate world.
Forrest: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s a great question cuz it’s gonna point out so many flaws and mistakes and learning lessons that I made.
So the first acquisition I made was a $17,000 Empire Flippers website, September, 2017,
Jared: back when they were still selling sites that low.
Forrest: Yeah. Back when they would sell something at that price level and it was like $575 a month of revenue. And I was a spreadsheet guy from real estate and thought the management would be comparable.
It turns out it’s a lot more active and a lot more intensive. Requires way more knowledge than real estate management in certain ways. And I had a friend that was just a super. Ambitious individual and we decided, hey, you can just, you can just manage it. You can do everything. You’ll produce the words, do the link building, you’re the whole team.
And as it grows, you’ll get a split of the equity. Well, two months in and maybe four articles in, you know, he’s like, Hey, this is not really gonna work for me cuz I have a full-time job and my cuts $6 and 47 cents from last month. You know, and we we had to move toward, okay, well then we need to make a couple more acquisitions.
So I then made $109,000 acquisition on a website that was on the uptrend. And it had about 4,400 a month in Amazon affiliate commissions, but no display ads. And the next acquisition was about two weeks later. It was 127,000, plus 9,000 in accounts receivable. And so that jumped me up to above 10,000 a month in revenue.
So you are right there is kind of a fast four button for me. You know, I went from zero to 12, 500 in revenue in like two months. So then we started hiring just like anyone would that wants to build an internal team. We, we did five and Upwork and did quizzes and tests and interviews and I was just learning on page SEO at the time.
So I would edit the articles or have the other manager guy, he just, he kind of begun realizing he needed to pursue other opportunities at that point. So I would go in and edit the articles and publish ’em and it’s the slow learning curve of, of basic SEO upfront for me. So that went on for a few months and then I wanted to scale more content, so I hired content refined cuz John Gillum was a big inspiration for me early on too.
He’s the founder of Authority website Income. Motion Invest. He’s a co-founder of, he now has originality ai, which is brand new. Mm-hmm. . And I’m, I’m super interested to hear what you think about some of the new news, Jared, at some point too, but back to the question. Mm-hmm. scaling for me, the first six months was a really fast job cuz I had to outsource content links really quick.
Jared: The, I’m just trying to put myself in your shoes, owning, you know, several hundred thousand dollars worth of website. And, you know, probably not really knowing a lot about seo, admitting that, oh man, a website’s a little bit of a different beast than a than a duplex or, yeah, sure. You know, like when the water breaks you call a plumber, but boy, when the, when the website, it gets hit by an algorithm, you know, it’s like, who do you call, kind of thing.
So what, like maybe just for someone who, whether they’re in the same shoes or they’re struggling to fast track themselves to learn how to manage a website, and I know the route you took was maybe different than a lot of people, a lot of people would’ve put their head down and just learned s e o and you, you sought out to actually hire people to put in place there.
But how did you, how were you able to do that without sinking the ship with actually a, a growth mindset in
Forrest: mind? It was even scarier than I’ve let on actually, after that third acquisition. I, I had not decided yet to only pursue content sites, so SEO is important to me, but really at that point I was, I was as basic as thinking, I wanna buy websites that make money.
So Empire Flippers had a listing for 294,000. There was a a women’s online, primarily Instagram run, e-commerce boutique, and I decided to buy it. Hmm.
Jared: Good fit. Yeah. So, I mean, I don’t know much about you, but probably a little bit difficult to slide yourself right into the content production there. I
Forrest: hired a marketing agency out of Austin, and they had a retainer that was like half the revenue.
The revenue was 10,500 a month at the time. And when I bought it, it was kind of on an upswing, just the short story, two weeks in. You know, I’m, I’m thinking what have I gotten myself into? Daily sales, I think had dropped from 1500 to about $75 a day. Oh boy. And I’m going, oh my gosh, this is a nightmare. I had, I still had a couple properties left from real estate, two duplexes near campus, so I sold one of them and cashed out like another 200,000 from that just to kind of cover my losses.
I fired that first agency. He was a close friend of mine. It was hard to do. And then I hired another agency and they were digging so deep into it, they started to think, Like maybe you got scammed. So I had to have a, a call with money Joe, the c e o of Empire Flippers just to go over it. So it was scary.
I mean, the, the short end of it is that it wasn’t, it wasn’t easy or fun and I doubted everything for like six months. We put five to six months of losses on the operational side in for that e-commerce boutique. And that’s when I started looking at the other blogs I had that were getting no attention and they’re still growing or holding steady and their rankings are being consistent.
And I’m like, okay, well then maybe I just need to do content site portfolios. And that’s how the transition happened
Jared: for me. Interesting. Wow. That would be, that’d be very frightened. Where, where did that site, where’d that poor e-comm site end up? The capital loss on the taxes? a write off, you call it?
Yeah, just a write off. You know, I, I mean, it’s interesting to talk to you about because it does, there are so many parallels in real estate to website building, but, but I, but you’re very right, as someone who has some investment properties as well, the management of a website versus the management of properties are so vastly different because in real estate buying and identifying the property is really the, the secret.
And then running it, you can really get, there’s already well-built teams of people that if you want, you can get to help run, you know, an investment property, but much different in terms of the website space. That’s a, that’s a really interesting kind of coming to know that you had to go through the hard way.
Well, okay, so how’d this whole thing round out? I mean, I’m curious where you turned the corner on, on these websites and when things started getting profitable and what started making your operations profitable?
Forrest: Yeah, so I mean, after that big flop, I decided to not buy more e-commerce sites. I’ve always still had.
A lingering interest in having a product that was scalable from a, you know, lifetime value of a customer calculation angle. To be able to determine like what’s the acquisition cost of a customer, what’s their lifetime value, and then to have that paid ad spend, like gas pedal you can just hit, which feels like you can print money.
But after the e-commerce website flopped, I didn’t even try anything in that realm for about a year and I spent all of my time then regrouping, kind of reforming the business plan. I had that manager who we had structured some deals together for his compensation and because of that big e-commerce flop, I think he was, Just starting to question things.
So we had a conversation, decided to part ways and I looked for a new director at that point. And when I found this director, I looked for actual background and marketing experience, someone who’d worked for a blog before. And so I found someone through some friends that run like a 2 million page view per month publication style website, really high editorial standards.
And so we started attacking it from that angle, like let’s have the best publishing standards out there. Really a content high end. And she was a great director for me for the time. She worked for me for about two years and we built a team of say, 10, mostly administrative VAs. And then we outsourced writing to either contract writers or to agencies.
And then we would edit them, publish ’em. Do our own interlinking, she and I, and that worked really well for us. It’s just kind of like the average team you would think of if someone has three or four or five websites and have maybe a partner plus a few contractors that write on the team. And we did that for a couple years and then she decided to go back to grad school and pursue something else that she was more passionate about.
And it worked well for us because I had just acquired a website from a gentleman by the name of Mohammed Kaiser, and he is a, he has a background in link building. He’s run an SEO agency for about 10 years and used to manage a staff of 185 and wow the uae so, You know, genuine managerial, operational background, leadership skills, very professional.
I noticed his professionalism and communication really early on in the transaction. And after he sold me the site, I said, would you like to work, you know, part-time on contract for me helping me run half of these sites? And he did. And he was unbelievable. I mean, our, our standards went up on every K P I we had.
So I hired him full-time and he’s the. .
Jared: Wow. And so today you’re running 20 sites and you know, publishing odd lot of content. Maybe give us, give us some insights that you’ve learned in the journey. And again, I’m thinking about that person who wants to start to remove themselves from some of the day-to-day, wants to bring on a team or has a team at this point.
Yes. And knows that they need to make some iterations and some changes.
Forrest: Absolutely. Great question too. So I, whenever I think about scaling with, with people like managerial scaling, there’s a couple of books I mentioned I wanna mention again, on Managing Yourself. The Harvard Business Review book. That one’s really great.
There’s a book called the ETH Revisited. Yep. By Michael Gerber. I really appreciate that one. He breaks down three personalities inside every business person. Three business personalities, the technician, the manager, and the entrepreneur, and the technicians. The one handling the technical details of the work.
Maybe it’s the writer writing and performing on page seo. The manager’s the one measuring the results. I think forget the, the quote author of this one, but it says what’s measured and proves. You might know that one. What’s measured and proves. So I, when I started working on a managerial aspects of my business, I had two major reports that are due every month.
So one of them is the KPI report, key Performance Indicators. So we’ll look. How did our published articles do? How are our rankings doing on each blog top to bottom? But in the beginning it was also just how many articles were published at all. Like, did we get the number of articles we wanted to get done this month?
Done? And it wasn’t always easy to do that. Mm-hmm. . So a K P I report every month. And then I have another process that a consultant taught me called Start, stop, continue. Because for me, I mean, one of the things I love about the website space is that there’s an infinite amount of things to learn. And I considered that an advantage.
I thought I, I mean now I’ve learned over time I’m not nearly as smart as I thought I was compared to others. You know, I, I think when I first thought about the website space as an investment, I thought, oh my gosh, if I just buy these and use my brain, everything’s gonna explode. The ceiling is. Through the roof.
You know, you gotta
Jared: try hosting this podcast, man. You just feel dumb every week with some of the people we have on here. , .
Forrest: Well, you start to realize it’s not true. But back to the point, there’s an endless amount of stuff to learn and there’s an endless amount of shiny object syndrome and what can we try that might work to really be a flywheel opportunity for us?
And I had to come up with a system to contain myself because hiring a director, then you feel like, oh, I can just tell them to do all these things. J, try this thing, try this thing, try this thing. And then they get nothing real done. So K P I report and then start, stop, continue report, which is what new ideas, do we want to start this next month?
Do we think are opportunities worth pursuing? Which things are we gonna stop that we tried out last month that aren’t working? And what are we gonna continue? Cuz it actually worked and you have the two reports to look at it together, you know, this data with these efforts. Yep. And then, you know, software systems to scale your organization and management.
The, that side of it I’ve, I, I can do well at for a little while, but one of the reasons I hired a director and always insisted on having a manager is cuz I’m not super organized personally. I’m good as a solo person organizing my own thoughts and details, but a whole team, I really struggle with it. So I’ve gone through base camp, click up, Asana, Trello, all those.
And I would say those are huge. If you’re good at that. If you’re not good at that, I would suggest finding someone that’s a compliment to yourself who’s really organized and let them pick how they want to do it and just manage them.
Jared: Mm-hmm. . So you’ve obviously achieved scale on the back, we’ll say on the back of, you know, operational efficiencies hiring, scaling, managing that today.
What does your website process look like? What does an average website look like for you guys, and how are you actively building those today, right, with your team?
Forrest: Good question. Well, just on the content side, this is the side that I am not the one directing this part, but it typically looks like, you know, if we’re gonna, if we’re dealing with a, either an acquisition or a preexisting, you know, content based site that, that a client wants us to operate for them, then we go in and do a full scale audit on the SEO side, look at the link profile, do a content audit, and get our minds wrapped around where it’s at now presently.
And then we just look at for the future, you know, what are the goals we have on that k p report for the client or for ourselves. And then if we do need more in-house resources from a human capital standpoint than we do interviews locally. I used to have riders all over the world, and I still have some, we, we have about half of our riders displaced, but then half of them are now consolidated into our branch office, which has been huge for us.
Not just, not just from the oversight angle, but also the buy-in of the riders. If they’re full-time for us than they do a lot better job and they can actually watch their performance and care about it too. But whenever you’re talking about forests myself, what does it look like for me? We have a stateside senior designer.
And my primary ghost writer lives in Greece. And those three, me, the writer and the designer, work together a lot on creative projects. So we’re the creative team. If there’s something like trying to scale from a content site to also offer email marketing and products in communities, that’s gonna be our creative team.
Jared: that stuff. And do you guys have targets for these websites? Is it like a a build or buy and then hold? Are you trying to be selling websites every year along with acquiring websites? Just curious about the model for what you’re
Forrest: building. Yeah, I, I, whenever I did the real estate thing, it was the same, same question.
I got a lot. Cuz I don’t, I don’t sell a whole lot. I usually just try to keep it and grow everything. And I know that’s different than some people, but for the most part, yeah, we’re aiming to grow them indefinitely. Now I know that’s a little silly cuz it’s not gonna happen. We are gonna sell. Pretty much every website we build or buy, but we don’t think of it like we’re gonna exit in two years or three years, except on the seedling sites that I’m doing in my own portfolio now.
So the portfolio and numbers I shared earlier, that’s just mine. My personally owned 20 sites. And then we have our client side too, and all their websites that we operate and manage, though some of them have agendas and they wanna sell in a certain time period. But some of ’em are business owners who have had us create passive, turnkey, monetized blogs just like you and I think about all the time.
But they can turn into lead generation models for their businesses too. Mm-hmm. . So the exit is converted into a lead gen model for their business. .
Jared: That’s smart. That’s smart. All right. Share with us some operational tidbits that we probably don’t know because we’re not, you know, running sites at scale like you, or we’re not sit, we haven’t removed ourselves operationally from the day-to-day process.
There’s gotta be some insights you get to get because instead of being the technician, instead of being the manager, you kind of get to look at things from a high level. What are, you know, what are big mistakes operationally you see website builders making these days?
Forrest: I’ll, I’ll give you the most honest answer.
I, I think that most of the, most of the people I know that are operating niche websites or content sites are doing the right things. They’re following the right advice. They might spend more time kind of not, not confident. They might not know if it’s gonna work. I mean, if they’re one of the leaders, like that’s.
Already kind of made it, that’s not necessarily true. But if people are between zero and 2,500 a month on a site and it’s just one site they have, they don’t have two yet, then it seems like it’s gonna fail. Or maybe something might go wrong or a core algorithm update might mess with their site. And those are all true.
But the, the difference from my side is that I’m diversified and I think that that’s the way I suggest people go too, to start spreading across multiple sites, even if it was joining a team and forming like a small network or alliance where you have 10 sites that you’re all working on together in some shared way.
Yeah. This is not an operational technical insight like you want, but this is just what’s coming up for me. There’s a concept called the network effect that’s on Wikipedia, and it talks about the value added to. System when there’s a new member that joins, not from economies to scale or cost reduction, but from the value of the, the added member, like the telephone.
Mm-hmm. , you know, whenever the telephone was invented. Each traditional telephone makes the telephone in general more valuable for everybody. Right. And I, I personally think especially with the rise of ai, that smaller, newer content site operators should think about the network effect. I’m not saying you have to go join a little team and put all your shared equity in the pot, and then no one knows whose group project it really is.
But I do think if you’re a young content site operator, you can’t really think yet like an entrepreneur unless you’re
Jared: a part of a. So I’m hearing you say is that there’s a ton of value you know, in having multiple websites that you manage. And, you know, if you’re not at a point where you can get to those operational efficiencies, you know, even consider trying to find a way to mimic those operational efficiencies.
Forrest: Yeah. Which sounds a little crazy, but that’s what’s coming up for me right now. I think in the early stages, the only other technical advice I could give would be kind of like Michael Gerber suggests and the EIF revisited to map out the, the hierarchy of your whole organizational system of what you want five years from now.
So if it has the chief executives and the board of directors and then managers, subordinates and all that, map it all out and write role descriptions for every single. Role and then write a contract for every single role and sign every contract yourself. Or if you have a partner, each of of you sign on the roles you’re gonna take on.
But to treat those three distinct personalities inside yourself, the technician, manager, entrepreneur, as already there from day one. And to think of it like you’re already there. So start moving into the state of consciousness that you want to be in in the future now, and then work as though you’re already there.
So treat the subordinate forest like, Hey, why didn’t you get that article done today? You know, it’s time or whatever you, whatever you need to do in your own mental playground, do that because thinking toward the future and then creating it with your energy, I think is the name of the.
Jared: Split personalities all over the place.
Forrest: my gosh. Yeah. I , .
Jared: Let me let me take it from a really high level question and now get into a nitty gritty question. How do you decide operationally where to put time across the 20 websites that you have and the projects that you’re going after? I mean, you’re monetizing through both, you know, ad revenue through affiliate revenue.
How do you assign your, your team out in terms of a website? And, and, and, and how do you like, prioritize what content gets written and, and the comp complex? Cuz it gets complex, right? Like each website is complex and then when you have 20 of them, I’m curious how you make those decisions on a, on a micro level.
Forrest: Great question. We have shifted a couple of times even in the past 12 months, but again, I’ll shoot you straight. Those decisions were initiated by the director. Brought to me, we conversed, we analyzed, and then we made a decision. But it’s, it was still, you know, his idea and his follow through too, so full credit given him.
But one of the things we shifted was we sort of had a model where we treated my portfolio as though it was a client, or each website was a client. So they need those two cylinders of content and link building, and then they need someone somewhat overseeing, you know, the manager, the managerial SEO director, needs to look over everything every now and then and make sure everything’s tightened and things like that.
But what we found is that on some of the websites that needed higher quality links, in particular, our link building strategies needed, Another tier up. So we regrouped and formed small teams for each blog now. So every blog has kind of like a director of its own, and those people get training in multiple departments instead of just one.
So each director of a blog is trained in how to do harrow links, how to reach out themselves and things like that. And that so far not only gets better results for us, like we get more links built, but they generally have a lower cost too. That’s one shift we made. And honestly, I wish I could tell you guys more.
Like I, I wish there was a video I could, I could send you from MQ on how he did that cuz the technical super nitty gritty things, I don’t know the answer, so
Jared: Fair enough. The, the, the, the true answer from being the entrepreneur of the business, right? ,
Forrest: just like I look at the reports and I do, you know, if we need to have a conversation.
And I need to analyze it with him. We do, but it is largely driven by him. Now
Jared: you, you’ve mentioned the word or the, the acronym, K P I or key performance indicator many times, and it sounds like you have gotten accomplished it really managing from a dashboard, if you will, and really understanding what’s important to the business and trying to stay in your lane in the management role.
What are your KPIs today? Are they still the same two KPIs you referenced earlier and why did you pick the KPIs that you have?
Forrest: Yeah, so in the reports, I just look at number of words, published, number of articles, published revenue from which categories. And then sometimes we make, you know, investments into building links to certain cornerstone articles or newer important silos.
So I’ll, I’ll review KPIs that, that have to look at like those high level things. And then if there’s a special report that’s just the last page, like here’s a special report when we do new things, like we just started producing video for YouTube last January. That’s kind of a new process. So I’ll step in more and build a new report for that.
But you know, for new stuff also, I’ll just sometimes go in and click around and find it myself, cuz I don’t want the app to spend too much time on it. But yeah, I look at RPMs for each site over time, mapped out on a X YIs over time. I do sometimes go in and look at the fine details of which individual pages have higher RPMs than others, and toy around with experiments with paid ads.
One time I had like a Facebook ad to a DIY gardening blog that somehow was costing me like less than a penny and a half per click, and the RPM was at 28 or 30, so I thought, oh my gosh, I can just send traffic here and retire, you know? But it only lasted for like a month.
Jared: Must have been a good month. .
Forrest: It was a small, small.
Jared: I, we, I just got done interviewing an individual who’s talked about Facebook ads for bloggers. So that episode will either have already gone live by the time this one does, or be going live very soon. A little tease there. Nice. Very interesting insights. You might wanna tune into that one.
Forrest: will. I mean, if you can build more value per visit, you know, not just like the display ad, but if it’s a high value page, I can totally see how you could scale
Yeah, it’s it was very fascinating. Opened my eyes and certainly got my, got my wheels turning. Okay. So those are the KPIs you look at. Talk to, I, I really would like to learn from you as we start to wind this down a bit because I think. Our industry, all industries are, are like this. But you know, we get back into technician mode very easily where a lot of us do website building because we have a passion for it, because we enjoy it, because we actually enjoy all the technical side of things and it’s very easy.
E even if you’ve made the decision to step back and hire people to help you, it’s very easy to get back into it. And this might not necessarily be hiring an SEO director or an operations director. It could even be getting in the business of the writers that we hire. It could be, you know, getting too deep into maybe link building with someone you’ve hired or et cetera, et cetera.
Right? Like, what can you share that’s helped you? Truly stay out of other people’s business and empower them as leaders rather than kind of getting in the way of what they’re doing because, you know, you wanna get back involved.
Forrest: Yeah, man. Great question. And it’s not, it’s not easy for me all the time, but I do think one advantage I have as being extraordinarily lazy in a certain way, like for real, I think the fact that I have had this clarity, like I don’t really want to be doing a whole lot of technical work in my life.
I love learning, but it’s this weird thing for me where as soon as I mentally master something, my energy just plummets. It’s like I can’t lift a finger to do something in that world. So, you know, embrace your inner lazy a little bit. That’s one small reference, but I think when you said earlier, you know, staying in your lane, I don’t think that language a lot, but that’s a great way to say it.
It’s like, you know, respect, respect them, respect that they’re gonna have a learning process that generally might be slower than yours. It might, they might learn at half the pace that you learn at, and that’s totally okay. In fact, they might end up being more of an enduring worker than you because of that.
So the last thing is that, I don’t know about you, Jared, but for me, the times I’m tempted to jump back in to technical components of the business are usually insecure moments. Not insecure in myself, but I’m insecure in something. It’s like this, this area seems like I’m, I’m having less confidence that it’s gonna succeed.
So therefore I need to. Take it over. No, I need, I need to be the one that thinks about it really the hardest, and I’ll probably care about it the most, but it doesn’t mean I need to do something, you know?
Jared: So it’s much easier to stay outta the way when something’s going really well, .
Forrest: Exactly, yeah. It’s like got your reports, all the lines are pointing up.
But when they point down, and maybe if I had a stressor earlier that day or earlier that week, those things impact me the most on that exact topic. Like, that’s totally been a journey for me that you’re talking about. So yeah, I just notice it first, like, oh, I’m feeling insecure about this. Is this really, is there a due cause that this person is not capable of handling that?
And usually the answer is no. They are. They may have had a bad day too. .
Jared: Mm-hmm. . Mm, that’s good. Where, so where are things where are things going with with, with, with, with your portfolio you looking to grow it? Are we gonna see 40 sites next year and 60 the year after? You know, like what, what’s, what are the plans?
What, what, what is the five year goal you referenced right down five years from now, what’s the five year goal?
Forrest: My five year goal, I’d love to have one of my, the blogs, I’m, you know, I’ve started from scratch. That’s more of a passion interest type website. I’d still love to build a couple, you know, product ladders that offer real value to a community that I align with and care about.
I still really want to do that. We’re focusing the creative teams energies on the agencies right now. So it’s still pretty new. It’s a year old, but we, you know, we started serving clients and one thing that occurred to me is in my business background with real estate, I did try a couple. Side gigs after Felicity.
My first daughter was born early. I mentioned I tried some consulting and I tried buying a small business locally, and I didn’t really enjoy either too much, so I moved into this. But I’ve never actually built a business with clients. I’ve never grown apart from utilizing capital or capital relationships and then just doing the American leverage thing where it’s like, oh, well, weighted average cost of capital is six and a half percent when I average the debt and the equity and the return on investment for websites is 30% per a year, so I’ll just retire now.
I really actually want to have the challenge to like, okay, I had this. Person I met and that created a relationship that’s really valuable for them and built the business by $25,000 of value. That’s awesome. And that’s felt rewarding in all new ways for me. So the next five years probably look mostly like, you know, the portfolio is the engine for everything we do online.
Yep. I would love it if this next year, in the first six months, we grow the agencies to the point where they’re larger than my portfolio. Hopefully some of those owners own portfolios of their own, and each one is, you know, planting new seedling sites all the time. But I want to diversify the mediums that constantly produce.
So more YouTube videos, higher quality pages, and that kind of, I want to do the product ladder on some of my personal blogs. And I think the next goal, you know, maybe three or four years out, although everything seems to happen slower than I anticipate would be some software sales or some tech like, I think that a WordPress plugin develop for portfolio owners that shows those KPIs we’re talking about.
And even more granular details, like how is each writer performing? Can we give them a score based on how their articles ranked? And just like a dashboard inside WordPress, or if that makes it too heavy, take it outside. But developing something for portfolio owners like me would be a.
Jared: I could use that plugin if you ever get around to it.
Wouldn’t that be cool? That would be cool. That would be good. Especially if it had some pre-baked KPIs that would help, you know, management. Wow. Forest Tower has gone by in a hurry. I really appreciate Yeah, I know. I really appreciate you coming on. It’s, it’s we’ve had some different website operators who do it at scale on over the last couple of years, and I’m always fascinated by how different each of the conversations ends up going, because you guys all have a different angle that, that you seem to take on it.
Your angle is fascinating to do this interview because it’s so operationally focused and so leadership focused and I really enjoyed hearing a lot of the insights you shared about, you know, kind of some best practices for leadership, for managing, for scaling, for operations. So it’s really been a treat having yawn.
Thank you for coming and, and, and spending this hour with us.
Forrest: Gosh, thank you man. I hope it’s helpful to
Jared: somebody. And again, your, your, so your agency, which is set up for bloggers, is dig.co. That’s d i g i t a i l.co. Did I get that right?
Forrest: Yep, that’s right. And then if you add a back slash affiliate, then there’s a page there for people too.
Jared: Okay, good. Well, we’ll get that in the show notes. Anywhere else that that you’re active that people can follow along with y on?
Forrest: Yeah, we, we launched Force weber.com two Rs and four two B’s and Weber in June. and , that’s gonna be, you’ve said that before . I know, I always have to say that, but we’re gonna put a lot of energy and focus into that site to help both the new blogger and the new blogger who wants to become a portfolio owner.
So check that out too. Sign up for the emails and I’ll be in touch there. Okay.
Jared: Very good. Well force, thank you so much. Look forward to catching up with you in a year or two and seeing where that where that portfolio is in, in the meantime all the best. Thanks.
Forrest: Thanks man.
Jared: Thank you. Introducing niche sites.com.
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Again, it’s niche sites, plural Niche sites.com/trial. Go claim your free content today. I wanted to let you know that today’s episode is sponsored by Search Intelligence. Here’s a short clip of Ferry from Search Intelligence showing you how their agency built digital PR links to a client’s. In
Forrest: this video, I will show you how we landed a placement on B BBC and dozens of links in massive regional online publications such as Words Online, daily Posts, and many more.
This PR campaign was about the easiest place to pass your driving test for the first time in the uk.
Jared: This is how we’ve
Forrest: done it. We simply went to D Value website, found the latest car driving test data by test center, and downloaded the data in a CSB format. Once we had the data, all we had to do is to look at the number of total tests per test center, then look at the number of first time passes to calculate the percentage of people who passed their test for the first time.
Once we had the percentage. We created a press release with our findings. Then we went to Rox Hill and found journalists who talk about driving tests and also looked for journalists who write in regional publications in the uk. In total, we have found about 1,800 journalists and sent them our press release by email within less than a day.
Our story got picked up by PBC Cornwell, life Wells online, and dozens of other publications in the UK providing our client a tsunami of back links. Perfectly relevant to the audience of the client who is a specialist in learner driver car insurance. I hope this video is helpful and it shows you how you can also build links with freely available data from official sources.
Jared: If you want similar link building PR campaigns for your website, head to search-intelligence.co.uk and get in touch with them now.
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