Transcript: Helpful Content Update, AI Projects & Future of Niche Sites – Shawna Newman – DS497

Doug: Hey, what’s going on and welcome to the Doug show. My name’s Doug Cunnington and we’re hanging out with my friend, Shawna Newman from skipblast. com. We’ve done many interviews in the past to hear about projects. She’s working on her sites and just really reports from the field. So that’s what we’re going to get into today.

We’re going to talk about an AI site, a project that she’s been working on for a little while, or at least multiple sites. I’m not sure. Shawna usually has a lot of sites. Working in parallel, we’ll talk about a site that was hit by the helpful content update in the recovery plan. Plus probably a little bit on just the future of niche sites, authority sites, content sites in general.

So Shawna, welcome to the show. How’s it going today?

Shawna: Pretty good. Happy to be back as always.

Doug: So, what’s been going on? It’s been a few months since we caught up and there have been a few updates. We had the holiday season. So, yeah, what’s been going on with you?

Shawna: Well, I had one site that was completely decimated by HCU.

And it seems like, you know, every month or so, something new comes along and it falls a little further. Which, you know, I sent you some screenshots and we’ll see when we look at the last 30 days that It’s still dropping. Part of that is because I’ve done absolutely nothing to recover it, but I’ve been testing some stuff with other sites that did get hit.

I’ve also been doing a lot of AI content testing with a bunch of my sites. Seeing a lot of success with that and working on growing growth cupid.

Doug: Very cool. And we’ll link up to the previous interviews. So people can sort of dig in and find a topic that they’re specifically interested in, but generally.

At least for a little while you were building sites up to a point where you could sell them for around six figures And you were sort of hanging on to them right now because some of the multiples are lower That was sort of your focus for a little while. Is that kind of a good description?

Shawna: Yeah, that’s been my whole thing Well, I guess since I’ve had success with this many years ago, more than 10 years ago now just kind of just doing it to build capital to invest in other projects and things like that.

And then after the pandemic, it became more of a buyer’s market than the seller’s market. So I was like, I think I’m just going to hold on to things for a while, grow them a little more than I usually do. And then when multiple start building back up, then I’ll start cashing out.

Doug: And we’ll circle back around to that topic of like niche sites in the future and all that kind of stuff.

But that for people’s reference, that’s kind of what you focused on in general. How many sites do you have in your portfolio? And you can classify them in different ways because everyone, this is going to be a alarming number.

Shawna: I think the last time I was on, I told you I had about 70. I would say right now I have over 100.

However, I do want to caution that most of that number is for testing. I do tons of testing, you know, everything from can I launch a site with AI content that’s not edited and get success to what happens if I send a bunch of junk backlinks to a site? Will it rank? And if so, for how long? So I would say of that over 100 Maybe 30 percent are sites that are actually bringing in, you know, money from display ads and affiliate programs and the other stuff.

I do like info products So the bulk of it is testing The rest of it is that actually income generating but every so often, you know We see a test really hit and then that moves over into the other column.

Doug: So, okay Well, let’s talk about the site that was hit By the helpful content update. Give us a little history about the site and then what happened.

I’ll, I will share the graph for the people that are watching on YouTube so folks can see the actual details here.

Shawna: Yeah. So that site has been live for about 10 years now. Whenever I started it, I started just as a pure affiliate play, did really well. And then I do what I usually do. It was, I leave the site alone to go work on other sites.

And then just over the next few years, it kind of. Brought in some good money without me doing anything. Then it started falling. And so I thought during the pandemic, okay, I’ll start building this back up again, because I’m going to be holding sites for the long haul. And at the height, this site got up to over 150, 000 monthly sessions.

It was bringing in almost five grand a month just from display ads alone, healthy affiliate income as well. And then HCU came along and just crushed that dream. Yeah.

Doug: Yeah. And. Can you give us any, any more details that other than that?

Shawna: Yeah, I don’t really know like why it got hit. It was kind of a broad niche.

So it would be something like parenting. So like it wasn’t like super niched down. So I had tons of topics to cover. I had tons of number one rankings that I’d held on for years. We did a lot of actual research on our own to find data for these blog posts that didn’t exist on the internet anywhere.

A lot of calling businesses to get it. So I actually think it was helpful content. But now there’s like a city data forum from 2007 that has one of our spots and we’re like nowhere in the top 10. So I’m not really sure why it got hit when it actually did have like up to date information. Now, one thing that I did neglect on the site was link building though.

I’d done a lot of link building probably in the first five years. So it was probably some link rot happening there. Maybe we lost some links that I hadn’t noticed. But my strategy has always been, if things are running along fine, then don’t worry about it. And, and I, I’m of the mindset that HCU is primarily link based.

So I think that’s probably what happened with that. Okay.

Doug: And let’s let’s dig into that a little bit more. So you, you have done some. research. You have a bunch of sites that you do testing on. So what percentage of your sites or tests were impacted by HCU? Just ballpark.

Shawna: Yeah, so this site was hit the hardest.

Then I would say I had like maybe five to seven other sites that did take a hit, but not quite the hit. So we’re talking like 20 to 30 percent among those sites was the hit for those. Um, now a lot of those sites were kind of not staying in their lane. I was trying, you know, other content on them that didn’t really fit on there, but Google would rank it.

So I’d be like, Hey, I’m going to double down on this, you know. So they probably deserve to get hit but like I said, the main site that took the biggest beating didn’t really didn’t deserve to get hit, I don’t think.

Doug: Interesting. So what evidence have you seen that makes you think it is mostly related to links?

Shawna: I mean, there’s the obvious thing of all the high DR sites, you know, taking the spots and stuff like that. But every time I look at sites that have gotten hit when I’ve done like audits, you know, that people have hired me to do, I find that one thing remains the same, which is there’s an old school tool called Majestic.

I don’t know if people are actually still using it much anymore these days. It’s pretty good for backlinks, but what it’s primarily known for is what’s called trust flow and citation flow. And trust flow is a score based on the quality of the site’s backlink profile, whereas citation flow is a number that is based just on quantity of links.

And to have a really healthy site, you don’t want your citation flow to way outnumber your trust flow. Ideally your trust flow is higher than your citation flow. So with every site that’s been hit, including my site that got decimated, The trust flow is way lower than the citation flow. Now I think this could kind of happen naturally with all those spam links that, you know, every site gets kind of cluttering things up.

So that kind of tells me you need to always be, you know, doing some link building, just kind of like maintenance link building, I guess you would call it, to kind of counteract that. But part of that trust flow score is how quality are the sites that are linking to you? So I’ve been testing this with some of my sites and I’m finding that often you only need one really good link to really boost that trust flow higher than your citation flow.

For instance, I have a site where I got a DR62 link. And that site, I identified it not only because of the DR, but because that site had a higher trust flow than citation flow. So prior to getting that link, my site was only like a 4 citation flow and a 14, um, I’m sorry, a 4 trust flow and a 14 citation flow.

That one link flipped the trust flow to 15. So now my trust flow is better than my citation flow. So I expect coming soon that that site will start ranking for more and more stuff. The only anomaly here I don’t know is do I have to wait until HCU was run again in an update for me to see that change or will it, you know, start happening immediately?

So I just got that link last week, so I don’t have any data on that yet.

Doug: Interesting. Yeah. I feel like most of the chatter, though I don’t pay too much attention, but most of the chatter has been around, like, actually looking at the content. It’s not link related. It’s like on page stuff. Or, yeah, just some other thing that you can control on your site and it’s like, Oh yeah, make it more helpful.

This and that. But like the problem with that is it’s very easy to go find examples that disprove it. And at least we need like the majority of the evidence to point to that. But I hardly hear anyone talking about links aside from like, like pure SEO folks that like always like. They only talk about links anyway, right?

Shawna: Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Doug: So, yeah. Do you, have you heard more chatter from perhaps those more pure SEO folks that care about links?

Shawna: No, not really. It’s really weird. Like I, I know there are a few people who are really banging on the drum of, you know, power up your backlinks with tier two and you’ll be safe. I don’t really mess with tier two links because one, I hate link building.

So I want to do it as little as possible. So for me, it’s all about finding the best links. So I’m not, I’m not messing with any of that. It may work fine. It’s worked in the past. I see no reason why it wouldn’t work. You know, PBNs, of course, are still working like gangbusters as well. But few people are talking about that also.

But you know, specific to HCU, I do think it is links. Because I also had some sites that had original content again with the original research part of that small percentage that got hit where I’d done zero link building. They’re now gone from page one and there’s nothing to answer that content like that user query, you know.

So I really think if I start building links to those sites, for instance, they will also recover. So I think it’s also interesting that HCU seems to be more of a page level. Demotion than a site level because that site that got decimated of mine. I still have some number ones very few, but still some

Doug: so do those Pages have more links

Shawna: No, they don’t but there’s nothing else out there meeting that intent so I think for those particular pages that is what it is

Doug: and it’s funny that the Maybe they are the like the leak building agencies aren’t out there Saying, Hey, look at all this evidence that shows that like sites that have more backlinks seem to have done a better job here.

Again, maybe they’re out there saying it, but. Obviously helps them sell more,

Shawna: right? Right. Well, and I think the key here is it’s not really a quantity of links. It’s that quality thing that TrustFlow measures. So and if anybody has never tried Majestic, you, you can get a free account and do three searches a day to check TrustFlow.

Doug: So it was one of the original. Uh, tools that I was using back in the day. Can you talk a little bit about the criteria that Majestic uses for TrustFlow? Do you have any insight on like what they tell you or is it their secret formula? Yeah,

Shawna: I don’t know if they actually give any of the information away.

I can tell you the site that I’d found that I got the link on from my site that raised my own trust flow was the backlink profile that site had was very topically relevant. So there weren’t a lot of links from sites that weren’t in the niche. It also had a ton of links from the niche relevant forums, which I find really interesting because, you know, that’s like an old school link building tactic.

And that site in particular that I got the link from, it didn’t get hit by HCU at all. So, you know, looking at his backlink profile too, I think, also gives us a clue as to what it takes to survive HCU.

Doug: Interesting. Okay. Anything else on, on that site as far as like what happened and everything?

Shawna: Yeah, I’m just going to be testing things.

One of my other things I’m going to test is changing the URLs of the hit post, which I know Jamie IF recently sent out an email talking about doing that to get discover traffic. But that was something I’d hit on when I realized it was more of a page level type of penalty. I haven’t actually done that yet.

I’m also going to copy all of the content new to a fresh domain. Without changing anything, just to see what happens.

Doug: And like, leave both sites up, right?

Shawna: Oh, yeah, yeah. I actually have several sites where they have identical content and they’re both ranking. So, Right.

Doug: So, what do you think is going to happen?

What, like, what, what makes a positive or a negative test?

Shawna: Hopefully when I move the content, it will rank on that new domain. And then eventually I’ll have both sites ranking once the one recovers. I also really think changing the slug will work. One thing I’m not sure on though is for the pages that have backlinks existing, will the 301 follow or do I not 301 that?

So that’s something I’m going to have to test as well.

Doug: What does that tell you? Because it seems, you know, just talking this through, it’s like, oh yeah, I’m gonna. Publish the same content in two places And I think probably both of us, both have the potential to rank. So what, what is that? What do we take away from that?

Shawna: Not to believe anything Google says and the more times they say it, the more they don’t want you to do it. Kind of like link building. I mean, come on.

Doug: Okay. Yeah. I can’t wait to get an update on that. So let me ask you this. So did you, I can’t remember, did you say you have done this before and like both sites are ranking?

Oh yeah.

Shawna: Yeah. Right now and more than one niche, I have two sites with identical content ranking. Not a single word changed.

Doug: Okay. And obviously folks, you know, tread lightly with this.

Shawna: Yeah. Like if you only have one site, don’t run crazy tests like this. Please don’t.

Doug: And, and you own both sites. So, uh, also people, you can’t just copy someone else.

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah,

Shawna: yeah. Don’t do that. Yeah. You get

Doug: in trouble for that. Yeah. Okay. I can’t wait to hear back on that test.

Shawna: I’ll probably regret saying that out loud. Right. People are going to tank their sites. So what’s

Doug: your. What are your other plans? Anything else for recovery? You mentioned a couple of things you’re going to test, but anything else you’re going to do?

Shawna: No, because I feel like Google kind of lost the plot first of all. So I like, I don’t think what we’re seeing is what they intended. And I think the proof of that is how long it’s been since we’ve had an update since they were doing them so regularly. I also have such a large portfolio that I can let a site completely die, which I know I’m fortunate to be in that position.

But often in the past, I’ve had sites get hit by previous updates. I’ve done nothing. And then years later, they’re number one again. So I would just hold onto it and just wait it out would be my like last resort. Okay.

Doug: Yeah. Yeah. Some of the updates seem kind of ridiculous and just from a quality standpoint, like how do you think, say the last few updates at the end of last year, 2023, what do you think of the results these days versus what they were?

Shawna: I think it’s really hard to get up to date information in the niches where you need it. Um, like I said, with my site that got hit the worst. Like, I feel really bad for people who are searching for information that they can’t find. Like, you know, I have family members who know that I do this. And, you know, over the holidays, they’re like, Help me with this.

I can’t find what I’m looking for. And so, I feel like when we have people who aren’t, you know, SEOs and site builders noticing the problems, that tells us how bad the problem actually is. So

Doug: I found it interesting. I did a roundup a few weeks ago and it was in response to the verge article, which, you know, got, got a lot of attention, but I was surprised to hear from some SEOs that were saying, Oh, the results are actually, they are better than they used to be.

It’s a moving target. So like on any given day, it could be different, but I wasn’t convinced. And it was a great roundup because. No one agreed. There were a couple of people that were kind of on the same page, but like no one quite agreed. Some people said, uh, the updates were terrible. Other people said, Oh, the results are actually better than they used to be.

And you know, people just need to, you know, do a better job with SEO. So yeah. What do you think? Any, any thoughts?

Shawna: I feel like for most results, you’re getting like the same top, like Forbes and stuff like that. So you’re not, like, getting really any, like, differing opinion if you’re seeking real reviews. Now we have all these SEOs spamming Reddit, so you can’t even use Reddit anymore to get honest reviews.

And I feel like if I was someone who was just, like, not in this industry, What I really want to take advice from like Reddit user dildo 287, you know, so like, I don’t know how they’re going to fix what they’ve done, you know, so it’s just not good for my, at least for most niches. I’m sure there are some niches where it’s fine, but

Doug: I think that is important to know, like.

A lot of times, especially our conversation, Shawna, like we were talking more on the maybe affiliate and content side of the equation versus some people are doing like, like lawyers and Santa Barbara kind of SEO. And it’s a different, it’s a different thing. Yeah. But overall, yeah. Like it’s tough to take advice from whatever, dildo lover 69 or whatever you say.

Always always tough to go through a thread on Reddit. And I actually need to interview someone who knows what they’re doing over there. Cause I’m just like, I, like, I, I have no idea. So if you know anyone, let me know. Okay. So let’s talk about your AI site in AI testing. I know you have several sites, but can you explain and set up.

The scenario for what you’ve been testing and some case study that we could talk about.

Shawna: Yeah, so I have a lot of sites that I’ve used AI content on. Like right now I would say I have more sites with AI content that than I do like all original content and every single new site I’ve started in the last, I don’t know, six, six to nine months is full AI content.

So within that, there’s everything from 3. 5, not edited at all to the newest one, which is what, like four turbo or something like that. Very, you know, very edited, very human touch. Basically, the GrowthCupid team, what they do is the four turbo, edit and phrase, run through Grammarly, run through Copyscape.

So I have stuff like that, as well as, you know, that really shitty AI content. And what I’m finding is, for most niches, there’s no difference. You can rank the shitty 3. 5 non edited, and you can rank the, you know, big human touch stuff that GrowthCupid does. One thing that I have found, though, is that if you can get an age domain, Then you’re gonna see those rankings pretty much day one.

It can be done though with a fresh registered domain, you know, your 10 domain Bulk upload a bunch at once within a few weeks. You’re already getting traffic. So that’s the kind of stuff that I’ve been doing I’ve also like played around with a lot of those AI content detection tools just to see and they’re not getting any better though so for me like I don’t really see the use case for those.

I feel like those are more for people who like maybe you’re a freelance writer and you want to make sure that the stuff you’ve actually written doesn’t get falsely, you know, flagged or whatever like that. Because I don’t really think, I don’t think Google can tell. And even if they can, I don’t think they care that much unless it’s like really, really terrible spammy stuff.

So, you know.

Doug: And then if you have a bunch of links and maybe you’re alright anyway.

Shawna: There it is. There it is. That’s why the age domain part

Doug: works. And shout out to Otis. I’m an affiliate for them. We’ll link up. But they have some great domains. I don’t know where you source your domains, but can you share that at all?

Shawna: Oh yeah. I’ve used ODYS um, the other one I think is called SERP domains, um, the real big one. I can’t think of the guy’s name. He’s really nice, but basically just wherever cheaper. I also do some of my own domain hunting on good Eddie auctions. Cause that’s always, of course the cheapest way to get it. But yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Doug: Okay, cool. Yeah. And people get checkout Otis. There are like blueprints and such where. People like myself, I’m a mentor over Otis. So a handful of other folks that work with Otis on some capacity, we’ll like talk about domains that look good, look like they have a good opportunity and that sort of thing.

Okay. And just to clarify some of the. Vocabulary you use. So you said 3. 5, so you’re talking GPT 3. 5 and then 4. 0 and then four turbo and all that stuff. Okay. And for, for the, the content that’s not edited at all, what kind of results have you seen? You said, uh, anything will work, but I’m just curious.

Cause I mean, sometimes in the tools are getting better, but sometimes. That content isn’t great, other times it’s passable, so what can you tell us about the 3. 5 content?

Shawna: I’ve made thousands of dollars from that type of content each month and still am. Um, make just as much money, though, from the edited.

But I do want people to know, though, if you are intending to use display ads Raptive and Mediavine both require that your AI content is human edited. So if you upload a site with them or whatever that has unedited content and they find out you can lose your monetization with them. So if you’re gonna do the stuff that’s unedited, it’s probably best if you stick with affiliate stuff.

And in my testing Koala ends up doing the best Amazon affiliate buying guides. So that’s what I would do if you’re looking for a way to test this out yourself.

Doug: And as far as the human edited, what’s the process with your team in general? So people get an idea how much work that takes

Shawna: Um, well, I don’t know if everyone’s going to want to do everything the growth cupid team does. We have a list of what are like the common telltale signs, you know, that it says it’s come from AI.

So that’s going to be things like delving into something in the realm of. Uh, the way they do their numbering. Firstly, secondly, lastly, things like that. So we look for that kind of stuff and that gets edited out immediately. We’ve noticed a lot lately that there’s been a lot of spelling error showing up in our AI content that we’ve created, which is really odd.

Obviously putting that in grammarly. Which is pretty cheap for a yearly subscription. We’ll flag all of that for you. Grammarly can also help you with any other kind of problems in that, so we always use that. You’re probably going to want to fact check anything that is listed as a fact in the article.

Because don’t be surprised if the same fact is mentioned twice, but different. So it might say, like, in 1292, and then it might say in 1483, you know. We see that a lot in the content that comes out. So it, it loves to contradict itself, basically. It also tends to do a lot of repeating in the introduction, as well as the first section.

So what we often end up doing is just rewriting the introduction completely, assuming that the information that’s in that first section is something we want to keep. It’ll also just go off the rails sometimes and write about something completely different, so if you’re publishing that unedited, you’re gonna have that problem on your hand more than likely.

And it’s not as much of a problem as it used to be although if you are using 3. 5, it’s gonna be more likely than not. Um, plagiarism issues. Grammarly will pull that up for you as well, but I’ve found that Phrase is more sensitive, even better than Copyscape. So you can put it in Phrase, and it will not only tell you things that are directly copied, but things that are considered too similar.

Doug: So, okay. And that’s mostly with the, the 3. 5 version?

Shawna: Yes. Yes. It’s not as big of a problem with 4 or 4. 5. Okay. That’s not 4. 5, it’s 4 turbo, sorry. 4 turbo.

Doug: All right. Yeah. And that is with Koala, right?

Shawna: Well, we use Koala, we use Zimrider, and we use Kappa. So. Okay.

Doug: So variety, but you could pick which version you’re using.

Okay, great. Have you used Claude at all?

Shawna: No, and I know we talked about this last time, and it’s still like on my list of things to do, but I know I’m supposed to write better, I think is what you said, right?

Doug: That’s what they say. I don’t know. I mean, it’s done fine, and there was a period where Claude would take in, More tokens, you could accept more tokens and upload like a 200 page book and it would analyze that and work with it.

And from a text perspective, it did a good job on that. And I found it to work just fine and maybe a little bit faster, but the tools change all the time. And sometimes like. I’m using BARD and it’s super fast and other times it’s, you know, offline just for a few minutes, you know, so, okay. Do you do any like additional research or anything like that?

Shawna: Yes. The more like technical the topic is or like we’ve done some product reviews recently for a guy who has a piano site. And so it’s like we get information like what’s the current pricing? You know, we have to go out there and we have to find that. It’s always wrong. Whatever comes from the AI is always wrong for the pricing for whatever it is that we’re pulling.

There’s also usually like new features that have been added. The AI doesn’t have, and we’re having to add that kind of stuff. And, um, so basically, you know, we basically don’t want to give anything like that, that would obviously hurt the site owner. And it’s those kinds of details. We find that time and time again, AI is getting wrong.

Doug: How big is the team at GrowthCupid?

Shawna: Just five. I’m trying to keep it super small so we can keep things super lean.

Doug: So, okay. Yeah. That sounds like y’all are pretty busy then.

Shawna: Yeah, yeah,

Doug: yeah. Okay. So what, what else can you tell us with the AI sites and tell us as much as you can, as far as like revenue and traffic and stuff like that, because we kind of glossed over it, but the point I went.

To convey is it’s serious money, even though perhaps it’s volatile, but yeah,

Shawna: I fully expect for every AI that I have that’s making money right now, as well as in the future. I fully expect it to die like a sudden death at any point because that’s just the way it is with Google. But it’s making crazy money right now for so little work.

Not only so little work, so little upfront cost. I mean, if you’re using something like Cuppa or Zimrider, you’re getting articles for like a dollar. They have bulk modes. Just try it. The upfront cost is so low. So my highest traffic site is getting over 2, 000 page views a month. And the lowest one now that’s earning money is right around 20, 000.

They take off fast. They rank quickly. When you bulk upload like that, you’re basically starting out with insane topical relevance, assuming you don’t stray, you know, too far from the lane that your site should be in. And it just works right now, and it works like crazy. There’s actually a guy on Twitter, I can’t remember what his handle is, but he’s been buying up cheap sites on Flippa and MotionInvest.

And using that bit of like age domain quote unquote authority that they have to do the same thing. And he said it’s worth it because one in every three pops like crazy. So there are other people out there who are ranking and banking on this while they can. And like I said, if you can get an open AI API key so that you can use Kappa or Xemwider, why not?

I mean, it could be crazy money. And when you’re doing it with the affiliate stuff too, it’s even better money because You know, traditionally with affiliate, if you’re, you know, if you’re expanding beyond Amazon, you need less traffic to earn more money.

Doug: So, and can you mention the, the traffic numbers again?

I am not sure if I misheard or if you misspoke over

Shawna: 200,000 page views for the top one and 20,000 for the one, the lowest earning one right now. Okay. I have some that are new or they’re not earning anything yet, but yeah.

Doug: Got it. Okay. So 200, 000 page views per month. Got it. Okay. Very crazy in. I, I’m curious what you think.

So I have a site, you know, me, I’ve neglected sites, right? So like I’ve, I’ve just moved on, but I have a couple sites that have aged that actually, I mean, they have suffered from the link decay that you mentioned earlier where, and I haven’t published anything new in a long time, but there’s a lot of content on there.

Thank you. The domain is old. I think it was an age domain when I got it. And then a 301 some previous project to it. So it has like some good links. It has good bones underneath, right? Right. If I, if I was going to try to publish AI content on, on it, what would you recommend the game plan be if you had to outline a little bit?

Shawna: I would pop it into Ahrefs, or SEMrush, or Majestic. See what Google likes the most for what you’ve been writing about. Take that subtopic and hammer the site with content. Just hammer it. That’s what I would do.

Doug: What threshold? Of like publishing content. Cause I feel like there’s some power in the velocity of publishing or something like that.

Maybe it’s topical relevancy. And if you really hammer that, like you’re talking about, but like how many articles do you think it would take to see movement and. What should I aim for?

Shawna: So, what I used to do was seed a site with almost 2, 000 articles right from the start and then start kind of dripping them out.

As time has gone on and the sites have not gotten hit, I assume that we’re closer and closer to Google using insane content velocity as a signal to target sites. So what I’m doing now is I’m doing a hundred posts. Then a few weeks later, a hundred more. So I’ve slowed down my velocity when I’m launching the new sites, just to kind of keep me under the radar, because I feel like if I was a big company starting a site, like a Hearst media, I would probably seed it with a hundred to start with, and that would keep me under the radar.

So that’s what I would do.

Doug: Well, this site already exists and has probably say like four or 500 articles on there already, but I just haven’t touched it in say like three years.

Shawna: Yeah, I’m doing this with a sites like that as well, hit it with a hundred, see what happens and then keep it regularly where you’re doing that.

Just like, like that’s just me now. Cause now I’m like, I’ve been doing this for a while now. The time is the clock is going to run out at some point. So I want to, I don’t want to be in that first wave of AI sites that gets hit.

Doug: Okay. That’s how long do you think it’ll be? What do you predict?

Shawna: Well, the last time, I feel like the last time something like this was really working like gangbusters was PBNs back when they first got big.

And it was like a good one and a half years where nothing happened. So I’m kind of banking on that same kind of timeline.

Doug: And then like the funny thing is. Because there’s so much more content because of the AI tools, like maybe it’ll be even longer because yeah, because I can’t keep up. Yeah, like you mentioned, I mean, it’s a complicated problem.

And if people if they’re like, Hey, yeah, yeah, content is okay. Even if they could detect it, like, how did they distinguish like the quality content other than like, visitor metrics?

Shawna: Yeah. Now, if I was single and had money to burn, I would buy up several age domains, and I would send like, Thousands of posts a month to a site, but you know, I have responsibilities.

Can’t be that crazy.

Doug: Yeah. It’s yeah. It’s interesting. I always get. You know, I have a couple of the projects that I just let sit and every now and then I’m like, there could be an interesting little case study in there, but there’s, there’s a lot of stuff I could work on and it’s all an opportunity cost at this point, but yeah, ticking time bomb.

Okay. Well, we’re kind of delving into.

Shawna: Did Chatgpt just write that?

Doug: I never used that word, but you mentioned it earlier, so we’re talking a little bit about how long. This gravy train might last, where do you see niche sites and content sites going in general, maybe focus on the next 12 months or so,

Shawna: you know, I’ve been banging the drum of diversifying traffic as well as monetization for a few years now.

So I feel like more people are going to have to kind of jump on that bandwagon. Just because Google is so much more volatile than it used to be. I think you can certainly start a site and get just organic traffic. I think it will take you a little longer than it used to these days. I don’t think it has the longevity that it used to.

Just focus on that. I really think you have to really think about it as more of building a community. Where, you know, I’m, I’m building a, you know, maybe a, a Facebook page where I’m sending the traffic. I’m building a Pinterest. I’m building a Facebook group where I can target people and sell them and send them back to my site.

I’m doing a YouTube channel. I think you really have to think about all of the spokes in the wheel and target them all, which, you know, is really hard if you’re a team of one and you’re just starting out and you don’t have a lot of resources. Your only resource you really have is time. So I think you have to figure out if that is you for your niche, where would your community hang out the most?

Are they going to be on Facebook? Are they going to be, you know, on YouTube and really focus on growing? That is another traffic channel for your site. And then once you’re seeing really amazing traffic from it, You move on to the next place that way, you know, if Facebook traffic drives up, it doesn’t matter.

You get in Pinterest traffic, things like that. So I think people can see even more success than we’ve ever seen with niche sites, but only if they are going to adapt and pivot to this bigger, you know, thinking of bringing things in that they weren’t bringing in before.

Doug: That’s tough, especially for a person who’s starting out, like you said, there was a time.

Well, when I got started in like 2013, it was, you know, PBNs had been around for a little while, but then they started to get a little more popular. So I was in that tail end where you could use them. Things were great for a little while we’re being reckless. We’re using it back then. And it was crazy. And you really could, you could rank much faster and you know, then you would get like a manual penalty and like slowly either people stopped using them or they were just a little.

More stealthy with their VNs, which continues on to this day, right? So where would you recommend people like get started? Cause there are a lot of different ways you can get traffic, right? So what would be your recommendation if you were like guiding someone on how to get started or where?

Shawna: Yeah, I mean, the first thing I would tell them is to figure out where that, like I said, where their audience hangs out, you know, if that’s YouTube, then I’m sorry, you’re going to have to learn how to make YouTube videos, you know, whether you outsource it or learn it on your own, if it’s Facebook, well, then you need to figure out, well, are they hanging out in like niche Facebook groups, or are they just like visiting pages where they Yeah.

Getting that constant dopamine hit of different posts that are relevant to them. And then once you figure that out, you need to reverse engineer what’s working for other people and using Facebook as an example, it’s great for reverse engineering because if you have competitors that are running ads.

You can see those ads. You know what’s working for them. The longer they’ve been running an ad, the better it works. You just copy the same ad for your page, you know. You know, and the great thing about these alternative traffic sources is you can market them directly. You know, you can go directly in your Facebook group and say, Hey, you know, I’ve got this new e book.

That’s relevant for your niche. And just for, just for group members, we’re running this discount and things like that, you can collect your email addresses that way. So you just have to take that core mindset you’ve learned from niche sites and just kind of reframe it. You know, how can I take this skill that I have of gathering emails on my site and make it relevant for Facebook, make it relevant for YouTube and things like that.

Doug: Do you have. email lists and email marketing for many of your sites?

Shawna: I have neglected it for most of my sites, to be quite honest. Instead I have focused more on the alternative traffic streams in terms of YouTube, Pinterest and Facebook, Facebook pages primarily. I, I think I was on maybe with you or Alex back in 2022 and I was talking about Facebook pages and like now everybody’s talking about Facebook pages, but it’s the same thing I’ve been doing, which is.

Buying cheap likes to the page using buffer to have that constant stream. Like I said, I’ve dopamine hits for new people who like your page. So,

Doug: okay. Interesting. Can you talk about Pinterest a little bit? Cause I, I never got much traction over there, even in a couple of niches that should have, and this has been a few years, but not, not my area of expertise, but what do you see over there?

Shawna: Yeah, it doesn’t really work well for every niche. What tends to do the best is being super aggressive and like people say, you can’t be super aggressive if you have a brand new account. I’ve experienced the exact opposite. And the guy Mike who does Stupid Simple SEO has been posting on Twitter, like hammering a brand new account and seeing crazy success.

So, and when I say hammering it, I mean do 20 pins a day. Do 10 pens a day, do 30 pens a day, do, like, just hammer it. And you can use a tool like Pen Generator to make those pens, you make it super fast. That particular tool also has an AI writer so it can write your descriptions for you all at once.

Of course, you’re going to get better looking pens if you’re going to use Canva, which you, if you’re paying for the pro version of that, you can pin directly to your boards. You can also use Buffer as a scheduler. I really like that as well as just the native Pinterest scheduler. So just, you know, hammer it, you know, maybe start out with 10 pens a day and work up as you have more content on your site.

Do a different image for every pen. Try pens that are just like a colored background with text. You really got to test what works best in your niche. Sometimes it’s just an image with nothing on it that’s just like people like, what is this? And so they click on it and they click through to your site, you know?

But as you are starting that new Pinterest account, like I said, do some variety, test it out, see what get you, you know, the clicks back to your site. And that’s the key thing I think people miss out on. They get really excited by millions of impressions, but then they only have a few clicks back to their site.

The only metric that matters on Pinterest are the clicks back to your site. So that’s what you’re looking to do. And when you sign up for a new account, within a few days, they hit you up with a hundred dollars in free ad spending on Pinterest, find some topics you think will do well immediately on Pinterest, take that free 100, promote them, get that initial traction of people coming to visit your site, then cancel the ads.

Those pins, in my experience, still tend to bring in good traffic. So that’s how you really jumpstart your Pinterest traffic.

Doug: Let’s do some quick hits then. What about YouTube? So you do faceless YouTube channels, right? Tell us more about that.

Shawna: I am fortunate that my wife is an indie filmmaker, so she does most of the editing for my faceless videos.

You can do it super cheap though, on your own, you can teach yourself and everything. You can get free stock footage on FreePic actually has some video stock footage. There’s tons of sites that have free stock video footage that you can use. You can use it commercially, it’s no big deal. A lot of the programs like ClipChamp, uh, it’s very inexpensive.

It comes with some stock video footage that you can use as well. Unless you want your channel to end up demonetized, assuming you actually get monetized, don’t use an AI voiceover. I know that pull is going to be really strong to kind of not do the work yourself, because recording voiceovers and then editing is really hard.

But once you do it and learn that skill, you’ll be thankful. But like I said, you can do it through ClipChamp, that’s a really cheap one you can use. DaVinci Resolve is another cheap video editing thing you can use. I’ve even seen people use Canva to make the videos, that works just as well. And worst case scenario, make a slideshow in PowerPoint or whatever, and then record that to make yourself a video.

Just start somewhere. It’s gonna be terrible the first time you do it, but the more you do it, the more things you’ll learn and the better you will get. So

Doug: And I’ll plug a tool that I use pretty much every day now is Descript. And It has transcription in there. So if you are doing like audio video interviews or whatever, like it’ll transcribe it for you, but it has a full library of like video, like memes, images, sound effects, it has music, everything you need, and you can.

Convert it to like short form and put captions in there and you could do long form videos. I use it for all my stuff and it’s very helpful if you actually do a, a face, uh, what are you going? Not a faceless, a face YouTube channel, a regular YouTube channel. They have a feature now. I don’t know if you’ve seen this, Shawna.

But it’s called the eye contact feature. Oh, nice. So I can read over here and my eyes are not looking at the camera. But it just changes where my eyes are pointing and then I don’t need a teleprompter. And it doesn’t look weird? It looks a little bit weird, but some of my friends haven’t noticed they were like, have you been using it?

And I’m like, yeah, I’ve been using it. And it’s just, I think my eyelashes look a little too long, look a little too pretty. And uh, but otherwise I’m like, you can’t tell at all. It’s awesome. So if you end up doing just talking head videos, like you could read it and no one will even know. They’ll, they’ll think you memorized the whole thing.

Shawna: One thing I do want to add for anyone doing video who’s new to it, don’t think that any video you find online is free for you to use. When I was hiring video editors for GrowthCupid, because we offer a YouTube faceless as a service one of the guys that I, that I trialed sent me back a video. I had him do a travel video and he included a clip from Rick Steves.

And he was like, it’s on the internet, it’s free to use. And I was like, dude, no. So, there has been like a tons of channels in the recent weeks, I don’t know if you’ve seen this, that were faceless, that were not only demonetized, they were deleted. And it was for reusing material. And I assume it was likely things people thought they could use, because I found it on the internet.

So I don’t want anyone to put in all that work and lose their channels.

Doug: Yeah, kind of, it’s, it’s weird too, because there’s We’re not lawyers, so everyone check with your lawyer, but fair use is a thing and it’s like you can’t get permission from like fair, fair use or whatever. It’s like it’s only proven in court.

So like you could try to use someone’s stuff and maybe you would win the case, but you could end up in a kind of a bad situation. Bad situation where you have copyright strikes on your channel and it impacts a lot of things. So yeah, don’t do that. The best way to do it is like get permission from the channel, like, Hey, I want to use a clip.

Can I use a clip? And if it, if it’s truly relevant, then usually they’ll, they’ll say yes. Or you can potentially not use a clip, but you can maybe like read a quote. Like that’s usually pretty safe, like you’re not using the likeness, you’re not using the audio, you’re just reading the quote, typically that’s fairly safe.

We’re not lawyers. No. Can’t, can’t emphasize it enough. Okay. So y’all, y’all do. Faceless YouTube channels. Like what, what is the service? Like who’s the right customer for that kind of thing?

Shawna: Most of our customers have been people who have tried to do their own faceless channels and realized how difficult it is and then come to us and say, you know, we tried, we made three videos.

Here’s our channel. Please ignore them. Make us 20 completely new videos. And so, those are, those are ideal. We’ve done a lot of e commerce clients so that’s been going really well. But we have the capability to do niche sites, so, you know.

Doug: And, like, what are the videos like? So, would it just be, like, B roll clips, maybe some slides, like you mentioned, along with voiceover?

Like, what, what is actually on those videos? Yeah, it

Shawna: is voiceover. We aim for six to eight minutes so that, cause I, I feel like that magic number for getting mid roll ads is about that length. So we want people to be, you know, have the opportunity once they get monetized to get those mid roll ads in their videos.

So, like I said, We do the script writing for the videos. We aim, like I said, for six to eight minutes. Then we pull in premium stock footage that matches the script. And we try to make the videos basically, if there’s something that exists already on the topic, we try to make it better. We did one for a travel client on Stonehenge.

And I was like, man, I’m ready to start a Stonehenge channel. This is amazing. It’s like a documentary. So, so we, we, like it’s high, low, like we charge a premium price for it because the video editors are using Final Cut Pro. Like, these are people who are really skilled in what they do. So, you know, if you want like a 50 video in script, we are not the service for you.

Got it.

Doug: Okay, cool. We covered a lot of stuff today. I think I kind of got distracted. We talked about like where niche sites are going a little bit and any other predictions? Cause I mean, basically when we’re, before we hit record, the reality is a lot of people that were moderately successful to even very successful got hit by helpful content.

So there. either discouraged and quitting if they had kind of a smaller site or I’ve talked to a handful of people that were making like 20 to say 50k per month and obviously that’s a lot for them to walk away from so they’re working on recovering it And they don’t know if it’ll work, but that you know, they need to work on it So it’s kind of a low point in the content site world and I like hear it and I see it and I see the Things people are working on so any other thoughts about where things are going

Shawna: You know, it’s the same thing as usual.

I think backlinks matter. I know that’s like super controversial with niche site owners and builders. But I think the key is they matter more than ever. And I think that is going to continue to be the case. And like I said earlier, it’s not just backlinks. It has to be the right kind of backlinks.

It has to be quality ones, best if they are topically relevant. And you know, without a doubt, there’s going to be someone who leaves a comment about how they’ve been ranking a site with no backlink building. I think your time is short-lived. I have those sites too. They were great for a while, and, and they always, they always decline.

There’s always someone else out there building backlinks in your niche who is going to take over the spots that you have. And like I said, backlinking is tedious. I hate doing it myself, that’s why I built the team to do it for me. But it is something that you really need to start working into your, you know, your system for building your site.

And I think you’ll be surprised at the benefits you get from, proper link building.

Doug: Yeah, and when I, I don’t audit too many sites, but usually when I would take a look, I mean that, that was the thing. It’s like, do you have any backlinks? They’re like, no, I have no backlinks. And I’m like, there’s probably this, like you have content, which is fine.

But like there’s whatever dozens of sites in the niche and they have links. So even if they didn’t even do a great job or they’re not super relevant, it’s more than you. And all things being equal, like. There’s a little more of a push and I mean, Google uses links.

Shawna: No, no. I mean, the other scenario here is you give up on the organic and hope it comes back and focus exclusively on social traffic.

And I know there’s people who are doing that right now and seeing success. So if that’s an avenue someone wants to take them, it’s working now, but Pinterest, YouTube, they all have algorithms just like Google. So how long will that one new traffic stream work for you?

Doug: Yeah. Oh man. It’s so complicated. Well, let’s, uh, let’s wrap up and I want to know the services and things that people can find over at growth Cupid.

It’s, it’s your agency, right? So you, Okay.

Shawna: Yeah. So we do human edited AI content including we will post it to your site with images if that’s something that you want. We do backlinks, of course. We do faceless YouTube channels. We do Pinterest management, including that aggressive Pinterest management.

We offer like growth audit and strategy guides. I actually do those for everyone myself so far. So that’s like super white glove. We’re actually getting ready in a few months now to open a link marketplace so that you can select the exact site you want links on and get them yourself. Um, we’re gonna have a big promotion when we launch.

Hopefully we’re going to have crazy low prices. I’m hoping for some links that are going to be under 100 that are actually quality. I know we have some we’re going to have at that rate, so that’s something people to watch out for. And we’re actually testing podcast as a service for backlinks. I know we, we touched on this the last time I was on so that’s going to be a future service that we’re offering.

We’re just trying to fine tune it right now.

Doug: That’s awesome. Yeah. I, I’m going to have some content and maybe a workshop on like. Using podcasts for link building and, or, I mean, there’s, there’s only a couple of ways, but I mean, like pretty high barrier to entry, but if you could like crack the nut on that, it’s very effective.

And yeah, we did talk about it last time that people followed the thread. Like, I think they know what we’re talking about. So awesome. Well, where, where should people find you?

Shawna: Skip Blast is where I sporadically blog. And I’m on Twitter X, whatever we’re calling it now. So one of the best places.

Doug: Okay. We’ll link up to that stuff. And we’ll also link up to GrowthCupid if they want to check out any of the services and stuff that you offer over there. So thanks a lot, Shawna. Appreciate it.

Shawna: Yep. Thanks.

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