podcast

Doug Cunnington, Niche Site Project | sleon productions Podcast, Episode #39

Doug Cunnington is the head of Niche Site Project which helps people create niche sites using project management. Doug specializes in Amazon Associate niche websites and has had great success.

Doug Cunnington Links
https://doug.show/
https://nichesiteproject.com/
https://www.youtube.com/c/dougcunnington

Full Transcript

Santiago Leon
Hello, hello. And this is the sling on productions Podcast, where we interview entrepreneurs, small business owners, and people who have impacted the world. We have had previous guests concerning with passive income like Ron Stefanski with Google AdSense. Today we have Doug connington. And he deals with Amazon affiliate marketing. Hey, Doug, welcome to the sleep productions podcast.

Doug Cunnington
Thanks for having me here. And yeah, runs a great guy. I’ve known him for four years. So I’m glad he put us together made the connection here.

Santiago Leon
So Doug, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Doug Cunnington
Yeah, so big, big question, but I’ll break it down. Since we’re talking entrepreneurship, and I had a corporate background, I really wasn’t interested in starting my own business or making money online, anything like that, I have an engineering degree and the corporate worker bee kind of job. So I was doing management consulting and project management for software companies kind of, you know, just on the IT side, and I had a pretty good job. But I accidentally found this podcast called Smart Passive income in 2013. got really obsessed with what Pat Flynn was talking about. And I ended up, you know, starting a few websites, which were total flops, and I made a lot of mistakes. ventually, I figured out a few things that were working and went deep into, into affiliate marketing, and just building websites and SEO, in 2015, I got laid off from that job. So at that point, I was really enjoying the side hustle aspect of niche sites and building these just websites in general, so decided to give it a chance to go full time. And that’s been, you know, almost six years ago. So I’m really enjoying working for myself, and just the shift from, you know, worker bee into, I guess, an entrepreneur, and someone who, you know, works for themselves. So really enjoy it. And that’s sort of the fast version, the short version,

Santiago Leon
niche websites have been a thing that I’ve done in the past 10 years. And you’re able to make passive income, either through ads or through affiliate marketing. But Doug, when did you realize that this was the real deal that you can make passive income through niche websites?

Doug Cunnington
Well, like I said, initially, it was just through Pat Flynn, and Smart Passive. And he talked a lot about affiliate marketing. And I believe at the time that I found him, he was already making, you know, a huge amount of money referring people to different topics, a lot of times, it was web hosting. So I was familiar with the concepts. And a lot of times, I mean, you know, with podcasts, you interview people, and then you, your listeners will jump off and hear other folks that they’re interested in the projects are working on. And then I started like checking out some other folks who are doing like Amazon affiliate marketing, specifically. So that was the first kind of website that I was actually successful. And I mentioned a few flops, so I had probably five or six of those, but I did it quickly. And you’ll hear people mentioned that they recommend that you, you know, take action, go ahead and fail quickly. And you know, don’t make those mistakes again, and keep improving. And I think without knowing that was a really good trait to have, I was taking a lot of action really quickly, probably a little sloppy from time to time, but I was learning from my mistakes. And my corporate background in project management gave me a good foundation for continuous improvement where I was really trying not to make those mistakes again. So I mean, really, within, I would say six months or so I was making like thousands of dollars on affiliate marketing. Now, there were ups and downs along the way, of course, but I think I got traction fairly quickly. And that gave me a lot of positive momentum. And I knew it was possible to make, essentially a full time income. And after I got more involved with affiliate marketing, I realized Not only is it a full time income, it’s more than I could make at a very good job. As you know, people could look up what an IT project manager makes with 10 years of experience. It’s pretty good, right? And I realized that I could do even better working for myself, and be happier, have more free time. Doug, can you tell us your first couple of niche websites they started early on?

So yeah, I’ll tell ya. About a flop and then I’ll tell you about the one that worked out a little better. So initially, when you get into anything new affiliate marketing, or maybe you get into I don’t know, pottery or some other hobby, right, whatever it is, you come and you don’t know anything. There’s a lot of vocabulary, there’s perhaps tools. So with affiliate marketing, or SEO, there’s some technical things you have to look at, there are tools and applications and just a whole new set of vocabulary. Very exciting, it’s great to learn something new, because you’re learning, right? It’s exciting. So I didn’t know how to use the tools properly, or do keyword research properly. And I was trying to find, you know, keywords that were low competition and profitable at the same time, sort of the perfect combination. But I ended up doing the keyword research incorrectly, I didn’t understand the vocabulary, I didn’t understand how to use the tools. So you know, my initial sight was never going to work out because I picked, you know, the wrong keywords, the wrong niche. No one was buying anything, there were no advertisers, there was no money in the area that I went into. So I know that now, it was a valuable lesson to learn. And then after a few months, I was actually chatting with my wife, actually, through the whole thing. I was talking to my wife about all this stuff. And you know, eventually. I mean, she’s a good sport. But eventually she’s like, Alright, that’s enough. But before she ran out of, you know, not patience. But before she heard enough of it, I was like, hey, help me brainstorm some different keyword ideas and product focused items where people are actually spending money, there’s companies making money at it. And there’s advertisers too, right. So we brainstormed and figured out a good product line. And it doesn’t matter what it is. And I usually don’t mention specific products or anything, but let’s say it’s like outdoor products, right? very broad things that you would see like a Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Rei or something like that, right tons of products. And once you take that approach, where you’re looking at the market, and you understand there is money there, there’s some cat competitors out there, you don’t have to create the market, they’re already there, the markets already there. And there were plenty of products on Amazon. So from that standpoint, picked a better niche. And I understood that it could be profitable, because there were products and there were other people that were successful that were ahead of me. So that was a key thing to understand competitors aren’t, aren’t bad, they help you understand that the market is there, and that it’s possible to work within that market. So

Santiago Leon
those are one of the ways to make passive income online is through affiliate marketing. The other way I know is Google AdSense, Doug, do you think those are the top two to make passive income, Google AdSense and Amazon affiliate marketing?

Doug Cunnington
I think. So there’s a lot of other business models, and I’ll just throw out a few as well. So drop shipping, there’s fulfilled by Amazon, which is basically Amazon ships, the products and they deal with the supply chain portion, you supply the products, there are info products, there’s online courses, you can do a YouTube channel, so there’s a few right off the top of my head, and any of them are fine, I will tell you, any of them are fine. Doesn’t matter. Like if you’re great on video, do YouTube, if you have like some skills and supply chain and maybe running ads, and maybe drop shipping is great for you. So I will say any one of them is better than the other. They all have pros and cons for me. The affiliate marketing area is the first one that worked out for me. So I stuck with it. And I’m very much a go really deep onto a topic. And just, I mean, I’ve been doing it for like five years straight, which I mean, there’s a long time in internet years, but at the same time, there are other folks that have been doing it, you know, even longer and people can be successful in a short amount of time. So all that to say, you can figure out what you like to do. And stick with that. And I think there are some businesses where like, for example, drop shipping, you would need to set up systems and hire some people to handle customer service for you. Maybe you need to hire a manager and someone that understands how to run the supply chain and have the relationships with a company so any of them are fine. Affiliate Marketing does allow you to have pretty in AdSense to because your content websites to have a fairly simple setup. And you can check out for example, in 2019 I took roughly three months off some of it was like that Mostly off off grid doing a road trip from Colorado to Alaska. Other times it was just visiting family. Here in 2020. I think I’ve taken about not quite as much time because I didn’t do a massive road trip. But you know, I’ve taken at least six weeks off. So you can pick your poison. One thing I’ll caution people on is I mentioned all those different business models, don’t jump around from one to the other, like every six weeks, because then you’re going to end up very frustrated, you’ll make beginner’s mistakes, and each one of them, and you’re better off if you stick with one for some stretch of time. I don’t know how long it should be. But if I had to throw out out of time, I would say like, six months, like stick with something for six months, see how it goes, give it a chance, like don’t jump around too much.

Santiago Leon
Amazon affiliate marketing, people get paid through commissions. I’ve heard from different people that Amazon commissions are pretty low. Some say they’re good, but they’ve been learning like these past couple of months due to the pandemic came tell us how are the rates and what has been your experience with it,

Doug Cunnington
the trend is going down. So in 2017, Amazon lowered their commissions pretty significantly and changed. And that was March of 2017. Then in 2020. In April, they changed them again, in both times, it dropped roughly, I would just ballpark it at 30 to 50%, depending on, you know what products you sold, they change the commission rates based on the category of the product. So that means it varies greatly from one affiliate to another. And like I said, the trend is going down. I mean, Amazon is now much bigger than it was and a lot more powerful. So as associates and as affiliates for Amazon, we have, you know, little recourse. It’s not like we can email Jeff Bezos and say, Hey, you know, what, can you bump up the commission rate that that is, you know, probably a decision that he even thinks about, but for us, it could be a big deal that or, you know, earning our livelihood from Amazon, or, you know, side hustle money, that sort of thing. So you do have some issues with that. However, even if there’s other affiliate programs, for example, if you work with maybe a smaller company directly, or other affiliate programs like Rei, right, since I mentioned them earlier, typically, even if the commission rates are a lot higher, Amazon will still end up earning you more money because of the sheer volume of sales and the low friction, right? I can pop on my phone, look up an item and hit like one button and potentially right, it could be delivered like this afternoon or tomorrow morning. Like it’s so fast and so convenient. And almost every winner already has their credit card number in Amazon. So the friction is just so low, where if I’m ordering from even a trusted retailers like walmart.com Yeah, like Walmart, right, which I have no issue with Walmart and I, you know, shop there occasionally, like, there’s a little more friction, because I don’t necessarily have all the information in there. So I would say, you know, most of the time, Amazon still a good choice, and I’ll throw into the mix. One thing that I’ve been pushing more and more in the last few months is look for digital products. So we’re talking software and courses. So whatever your niches right, so you mentioned podcasting equipment, Santiago, right. Yeah. So there are courses, obviously, on podcasting, there’s a ton of courses on podcasting, and then there’s software that you can refer people to, that you could earn a commission on. And the great part with digital products is they have a lot of margin because you can sort of infinitely scale selling digital products. So instead of a one to you know, 8% commission rate for digital products you may be getting, you know, 25 60% I mean, you can get huge commissions. And a lot of times you know, those products are relatively expensive, especially when you’re thinking about, you know, courses, they could be hundreds of dollars, thousands of dollars for courses.

Santiago Leon
Also, one thing that I always hear a lot are the rules with Amazon, that you have the label like hey, like you got put like a parentheses, possibly making commission for this product. And then there’s another rule. I’ve heard recently that you’re not able to put these links on a email newsletter. Um, how stringent are these rules? Is it a big deal that you have to be careful everywhere you step or it’s just you know, it’s a couple of things. There’s got to follow.

Doug Cunnington
They’re very stringent. However, it’s unclear how well they’re enforced, because there’s not like an automated way that they check these things. So there are some key rules that people, you know, make the mistake on most common, right? So, improper use of images, right, you have to use images in the right way. You have to you like, download the ones for sorry, not download, if you download the images from Amazon and then upload it to your website. That is improper, right? It seems like that’s the way to do it. And we used to do that, when I got started. But roughly a few years ago, Amazon started to enforce that rule. So it had been a rule, but they just didn’t enforce it. And then people started getting kicked out of the program. And again, we have very little recourse because there’s so many affiliates out there, and Amazon so big, so you do have to follow the rules. Another common one is around pricing. You’re not supposed to list the price of the product, unless it’s pulled via software, right. So Amazon has what they call an advertising API, which allows your website to you know, grab the latest pricing, and then display it. And I think it has to be, you don’t have to go read the rules. But I think it has to be like under 24 hours, right? So it needs to be pulled within the last 24 hours so that it’s accurate. All these things are really, so that the customer Amazon has a congruent and like pleasant experience, purchasing and getting the product. So the issue is right, if someone sees a price listed on your website that you hardcoded and they were expecting it to be, you know, $80 and they go to Amazon. And now that webcam is $150. Well, they’re not going to be happy about it. And they’ll think that it’s sort of like false advertising. So there’s some other rules like that, as far as the disclaimer, saying, Hey, I could earn a commission. That’s an FTC rule. And then Amazon does give you, you know, specific verbiage. And, you know, generally, just saying, Hey, I’m an affiliate is not even enough, because some people don’t know what affiliate means. So it’s important to say, I can earn money or earn a commission, and you have to put it in plain language that, you know, a person off the street that is not involved in affiliate marketing will also understand. So yeah, there’s a handful of rules, and they will literally kick you out with, like, very little notice. I’ve actually gone through an audit before, so I was selected for one of the random audits that they do. And they give you about five days to answer eight questions, which ended up being you know, several spreadsheets, you know, thousands of words of like information. So it’s only eight questions, but it’s, you know, it’s pretty powerful questions. It’s like writing a, potentially like an essay for, like, application for school or something like that. But I got, I got through fine. I had a couple little things I needed to tweak. But it was very stressful.

Santiago Leon
Besides Amazon, what other affiliate programs have you seen out there? They’re like, legit, I know that Amazon has like the best friction, like everyone has Amazon account. And they order from phone for like, you know, two clicks. But what other ones? Have you seen that? Okay, they’re legit, they have good payouts, and they’re kind of popular.

Doug Cunnington
So I would go to some of the bigger affiliate marketplaces. So shareasale Commission Junction, you’ll hear people call that CJ CJ calm. And impact radius is another big one. And I would check those out. And what you’ll find is just dozens and hundreds of retailers that work with those specific platforms. And it varies depending on the product and the company and all that the cookie period, you know, sometimes you get a 60 day cookie or a 30 day or seven day whatever it may be for that company. And usually it’ll be a higher commission rate than what you would get over on Amazon. And you know, for the all of those are legit those are you no big huge companies and you’re able to find specific retailers in your specific niche that can work with you.

Santiago Leon
Traffic, what are the best practices to bring people traffic to your site, and obviously click on that affiliate product.

Doug Cunnington
So I get most of my traffic like 90% from Google. So Google organic search, and I actually spend a lot of time on keyword research and finding keywords where people are likely to make a purchase. So usually someone is doing some research. I was recently upgrading my camera gear. So I’m a I’m a bit of a like a tech camera geek and I like all the gear And I spend a lot of time on YouTube. And I love all this stuff. So I was doing research for, like full frame DSLR or mirrorless cameras. So I actually ended up going the mirrorless route. But when I was searching for it, I was I was googling terms like, best mirrorless Canon camera. And I was literally doing research trying to figure out, you know, the specs like, Are there any new cameras out there, and that really indicates like buyer intent. And that’s what you’re looking for, right from the affiliate standpoint. Now, the other side of the coin is informational topics. And it’s important to have, in my opinion, is informational topics. And a lot of times you could find, you know, really obscure longtail keywords, where maybe someone is googling how to process raw images from a mirrorless. Camera, right. So long phrase, and then to tie it back into, you know, the software that I was talking about. So someone’s googling how to process raw images, you can go through the step by step process. And along the way, turns out, you need software to process a raw image, some of its free, right, you can get free software to do that sort of stuff. But the best software that is easiest to use is paid. So even with your information or content, you’re able to recommend products in a helpful way that helps the visitor do things better, or faster, or cheaper, whatever it is. So those are those are the two areas and you just have to think about you know what products you want to push and then look up keywords around there. And then there’s almost always how to content informational content for the given products or the given niche, which is something that Ron Stefanski talked about a few weeks ago about Yeah, it says right how to articles pretty much what are people typing? Now, what Keyword Tool Do you usually use? I know that the Google search is a pretty much a good one itself. But do you recommend unders or you would just stick with the Google search. So I I’ll tell you some of my favorites. But I always preface it with, you know, just pick a tool and stick with that one, you’ll learn how to use it better, you won’t have to learn new things all the time. And if you start using different tools, you’ll see different data coming out different metrics coming out, which can be confusing, so just pick one and stick with it. For keyword research, I personally like kW finder the best right now and have for the last couple years, they do a very good job from a usability standpoint. And there’s a platform of you know, other products, but they excel in the keyword area. Some of the other favorites are SEMrush and H refs. Those are more full suite of you know, search engine marketing tools versus you know, just the keyword research. And I I think they’re both useful for keyword research, but kind of in a different way. So as you’re layering on your your skills, and you need to do different kinds of keyword research, I think sem rush and hrs give you a really just a different way to look at the advanced keyword research where you’re doing competitor analysis. And they are more expensive since they’re they’re more like professional tools.

Santiago Leon
Which products right now, do you currently recommend for users to maybe dabble with? They’ve you’ve heard that become very popular? And which products would you avoid? That’s way too competitive. You don’t want to mess around with that industry.

Doug Cunnington
Okay, so this is a question I’ll usually try and dodge but I’ll, I’ll see what I could tell you. So one danger is a lot of people make their livelihood from these websites, right. So I don’t want to out someone’s you know, niche because it could, you know, damage them and hit them monetarily. However, at the same time, there’s like so many websites in every niche, and there’s really room for everyone to do all sorts of stuff all the time. So I think sort of the broad categories of you know, home products and outdoor products are very good. One of the reasons why is there’s just so many products, and I recommend if people are looking at specific, you know, I hear people talk about micro niche sites, and I think that’s a poor way to look at it. Like you shouldn’t look at this as like, Hey, I’m just gonna cover a very micro area and I think it’s just terminology and they heard it somewhere. But when someone says yeah, I’m going to do a micro niche site and it’s going to be you know, wire of wireless mouse site. You have nowhere to go like you’re just covering why with mice, and then if you try to expand to laptops or other sort of, you know, computer and high tech devices, like you miss your branding, right, it’s too narrow. So with that said, if you just go browse on Amazon, different departments, you’ll see home outdoor. I’m running out of stuff. So you have automotive and high fitness computers. Yeah, fitness, there you go fitness. And then I’m looking at, you know, camera gear and video gear. And if you just look at it in that way, basically, everything and like, you could pick anything, almost just head to that department. And then you start with maybe one product, maybe you do start with mirrorless, DSLR, or mirrorless, cameras, or DSLRs. And then you’re able to add other products in there that are related, that are within that department. And as far as things to avoid, I often give the example of like big appliances, right, you could buy a refrigerator or washer dryer set online from Amazon. But most likely, you’re going to go to your big box store in your neighborhood, and open the door and you know, touch the icemaker and mess around with the product. And usually you get free shipping, most of the time from those big box stores. So while those big products might seem like a good choice, because they’re so expensive, you don’t sell many of them. And people are probably just tire kicking, they’re probably not going to go purchase a refrigerator from Amazon, they’re probably going to go to Lowe’s or Home Depot or Best Buy.

Santiago Leon
How do you see the future on I mean, with affiliate marketing in the future, like the next five years, do you think it will get a little bit more easier to make more money? Or do you think it’d be a little bit more difficult because now Amazon’s getting bigger.

Doug Cunnington
I haven’t thought about that super closely. I think the way I view it is Amazon is probably going to continue to trend down. However, as content creators and marketers and publishers, in general, we have traffic and we have eyes on our sites. So that is an asset. And it’s really up to us to figure out how to monetize it better. So perhaps there can be another competitor that comes up, maybe Walmart steps up, and they’re able to, although I think they just cut their commission rates as well. But there’s, there’s room here for another player to come and maybe, you know, you do find that it’s better to niche down into, you know, very specific high end outdoor products. So Rei is the best affiliate program to work with. So I think it’ll be a matter of understanding the best way to monetize and, and doing it in a diverse way so that you can shift when the market changes. As far as it being easier. I think there are you know, there’s more and more people getting interested in side hustles. But it doesn’t matter what it is like when I when I got started. People were saying hey, there’s there’s no room affiliate marketing is saturated, or podcasting, right, podcasting is saturated now, or YouTube, or blogging or whatever, like whenever you’re starting something, there’s going to be a set of people who say it’s saturated, it’s going on to like, it’s been going on for too long, and there’s not room for new people. But there’s always new people getting into it. So I think we’re gonna be fine. And you know, our interests Will you know, me individually. I know, my interests are shifting. I’ve been doing this for a little while, not a super long time. So you heard me mentioned, I’m like spending more time on YouTube, and podcasting and some other stuff that are newer to me. And I’m trying to stack on like these different skills where you can do affiliate marketing, on YouTube, or on your podcast. So I think it’ll be a cool skill set, you know, moving forward, what’s the best way for people to reach you online? So you could pick your poison. And you know, if you if you dig podcast, go over to Doug show, you can find it in Well, that’s the URL, but you could find it in all the big directories if you like video, could check out the YouTube side. So you could find it there. And if you’d like reading niche site project,

Santiago Leon
a lot to look for and the next couple of platforms of course, Doug, what are your future plans?

Doug Cunnington
A while later today, I got a couple meetings and I’m probably going to go work out and in a greater sense. Yeah, I’m not really sure I kind of look at maybe like every quarter so and right now I’m sort of focusing on putting out some smaller courses, a lot of my audience, you know, wants to get, you know, specific courses, how do you do link building? How do you grow a site that sort of plateaued and stagnant and I like putting together the content. I keep looking at like camera gear that I have around here. And I like creating just the course material. So pretty fun to, you know, write the scripts, do the courses and then have people go through it and get results.

Santiago Leon
Well, Doug, thanks for coming on to the slant productions podcast Any closing words?

Doug Cunnington
Yeah, you know, thanks for having me on of course. And if people want to you know, check out some of the templates and stuff that I use I just given away freely you just got to sign up for the email list. And I didn’t check this with you earlier saying Yeah,

Santiago Leon
well it is.

Doug Cunnington
Yeah, okay. Yeah. So you can get like the keyword Golden Ratio calculator and all the templates that I just mentioned for content I just give it away you know, people usually find a huge amount of value in it you just sign up niche site project comm click the green button, enter your name and email, I’ll send you other emails and marketing stuff. And if you don’t want to, you know, keep getting emails from me, you can always unsubscribe, but usually people dig that stuff. So yeah, thanks a lot. If you know people have not started taking action, I would just say go ahead and get started. You’ll learn new stuff. And it’s very exciting. You know, once you get a little momentum and traction,

Santiago Leon
and there you have it, guys, you can make passive income writing good content, promoting products make a commission out of it. Yes, it will take some time. And but definitely worth it. And Doug, I appreciate you coming on to the slam productions podcast. Thanks

Transcribed by https://otter.ai