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In this episode, I chat with 20 year marketing veteran and super affiliate, Zac Johnson. Zac talks about how he grew his ZacJohnson.com affiliate blog into a 30,000 monthly unique views, plus how he generates various income streams and his monetizations strategies through his different blog properties.
Mark Thompson: Welcome to today’s episode, I am joined here by Zac Johnson. Zac is a full time internet marketer and is also a professional golfer, so thank you for joining Zac.
Zac Johnson: Oh definitely Mark, thanks for having me. I’ve got to get to the course in about an hour.
Mark Thompson: I’m sure you get that all the time, I mean you know obviously your name is the same name as a professional golfer. Do you get that once or twice?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, every once in awhile I’ll get it. It will be usually like the older crowd because most people really don’t follow golf, or the younger audience. The good thing is he actually has an H in his name, so he’s Z-A-C-H and I’m Z-A-C. I pretty much dominate the whole first page for my name, but he does creep up in there every once in awhile.
Mark Thompson: Well seriously Zac is a full time online marketer, he’s been marketing online about twenty years now. He does it through blogging, if you go to ZacJohnson.com you can check out, he has tons and tons of content. He also has Blogging.org that he’s starting to build up. Just tell me about how you got started with blogging and making money online.
Zac Johnson: Yeah, so it was back in the mid nineties, around 1995, 1996 that I was in High School and I started using the internet, figuring, “Hey there’s got to be a way to make money with this.” This continually evolved over the years, first way I started to make money was actually being in the AOL web diner chat room and I was making graphics for my own websites. Other people were like, “Hey wow, you made a banner, can you make me one?” I was like, “Yeah sure I can make you a banner, just send me a dollar.” This was years before PayPal or anything was around. I’d make a banner, I’d send it to them right away, and some people would send me a dollar in the mail and others wouldn’t. That was actually how I made my first dollar online or whatever.
This actually led to finding out about Amazon.com. I would send like six figures in sales to them through their affiliate program. This was still while I was in High School, so this was starting to get pretty serious. With Amazon you would only earn like a small commission, but through that I actually found about affiliate marketing on a CPA basis where I was getting paid for every time someone signed up for something. I might get two dollars if they fill out a sweepstakes form or something versus them have to actually pull out a credit card with Amazon. This kept growing in size, I would make my own websites, do my ad campaigns, and in 2007 I decided to launch my blog at ZacJohnson.com because I didn’t want to be reliant on being an affiliate marketer. I wanted to use all of my expertise to show other people how to do the same thing and actually grow a brand of my own.
Mark Thompson: Okay. You started ZacJohnson.com in 2007, how often do you write content? Do you have a specific angle for each post that you do so that it relates to obviously monetizing that content that you’re writing?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, so a lot of the content on the site is case study based, and it’s really a big mixtures. There’s case studies, there’s reviews of other networks, different ways to make money online, and really my story of what I’ve done over the years. I also have my own podcast, so I try and do that every week or two where I’ll release publications on that. The cool thing is it all intertwines with each other because the podcast is actually good friends that I’ve made over the past twenty years where I get to connect with them and engage with my audience more. People are coming to the site, whether they’re searching online for how to start a new paper clay marketing campaign, they might find my content. The cool thing is I can actually track that people came to the website, read what I have to say, put that into action, and it’s generated at least five million dollars in new advertising resources just from people learning how to do that.
The content, it’s not really like I have a set schedule trying to put something out there just for the sake of it. It’s more about putting content every time out there that I really feel it’s necessary.
Mark Thompson: Okay, and so your monetization strategy is part of reviewing products and making a commission as an affiliate, then the other side would be do you allow paid placements on your site?
Zac Johnson: Yeah I have paid placements for banner advertising, networks come to me a lot for reviews on their network, then if I do a case study or whatever that can also be referral based. Back when Never Blue was an affiliate network they got acquired a couple times over so they’re not really around anymore as Never Blue. I used them as case studies and said, “Join this affiliate network, promote an ad campaign, promote it through paper click marketing, follow these steps,” and that resulted in millions of new dollars for their ad network from people actually walking through those processes. I would get like a two percent commission of that, so it works out to a decent amount of money if you get people to follow through and take action.
Mark Thompson: How are you finding the different products to promote and review? Are they contacting you, or do you reach out to the different networks?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, it’s a little bit of both. A lot of people come to me now that my name is out there but I’m always trying to figure out new ways to make money as well. Recently there’s been a lot of people making money with T-shirts, having them custom designed and then doing ad campaigns on Facebook. That’s through a company called T-Spring, and a bunch of other ones popped up. It’s an interesting store because really anybody can do it, it’s just a matter of going through the steps. I recently had someone do a case study on that because it’s relevant to the content, and I’m always working on new things as well. Whenever something new and exciting pops up I can put it out there. A lot of people are like, “Why would you do that? If you’re making a lot of money with this then why would you tell someone?” Well the truth is ninety nine percent of the people are going to read it and never take action on it, you don’t really need to worry about losing a lot of money.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, so true. You’ve been running this blog since 2007, what’s been the biggest challenge for you since starting it?
Zac Johnson: I would say the biggest challenge is teaching people what it actually takes to get there. I kind of had a following in the industry when I first started the blog because I was speaking at conferences since about two thousand, I’ve been in the industry since ninety five. In 2007 I really started to put my name out there through guest blogging and what not, I got my name out there. So many other people come in and they think they’re going to register a domain name, throw content on their site, and then think that they’re going to make money over night. There’s over a billion sites on the internet and you’re just going to get lost in the mix if you don’t actually put all the promotion and time in there. Now the focus is creating the content, making it easy for people to walk through the process step by step, and as a business model I figure out different ways to monetize it along the way.
Mark Thompson: Okay, how did you do that? How did you differentiate yourself? Like you said, there’s over a billion websites out there, how did you get exposure when you were just starting out?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, so what I like to do is today I get interview requests all the time, I get questions emailed to me, I actually take the time to answer those personally. I write on a bunch of different websites, and it’s actually me writing the content. I go the extra mile to make sure that I’m out there. I don’t care if someone has two readers on their website, or twenty thousand readers on their website, I’m still going to take the time to put my name out there, do their interviews, and really show that I care about their success and what not so I can have different case studies out there, people can walk through the process of exactly what I did. I make it easy for people to follow, I have a trustworthy brand that people know about, and I’m reaching new audiences all the time by actually taking the time to do the guest blogging on different websites.
You can do that just by creating really good content and then contacting different sites. So many people are contacting sites out there and they’re really just trying to sell back links within their articles. You can tell what type of links they are and what type of articles and spam emails when you get them. You have to build up those relationships and share peoples stuff on Twitter before contacting. Really, just don’t try and take advantage of the opportunities you have.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, so you’ve spent a lot of time and resources building your personal brand, have you had an issue with scaling your business at all? Obviously you’re one person, there’s only so many hours in a day. I mean, are you the one writing all of the content, are you looking to scale out past your own personal brand?
Zac Johnson: Yeah I do have a handful of different websites, I pretty much write all the content on Bloggingtips.com, I have a bunch of other people who contribute to the website. I don’t really have to worry about that one as much. On ZacJohnson.com it really comes at a point where it only needs a new article maybe once or twice per week just because there’s so much content there already. In terms of the podcasting I do maybe one or two episodes a month, so it’s bi-weekly. It’s really figuring out what’s next in the environment. Over the years I’ve done my own websites with lead generation, I focused on email marketing, and I even was in the world of social media back when MySpace was out there. I created a resource site which did extremely well, and now there’s things like Facebook advertising and mobile marketing.
It’s always about finding what’s next, taking what you have in place and how you can adapt it to that next audience. It’s not so much about changing the game and starting from scratch every time your business starts to die, it’s more about figuring out how you can take what you already did and found success with and then integrating it to what’s happening next.
Mark Thompson: Okay, yeah that’s great advice. In terms of a next step do you have any products that you currently sell? I know because one thing that I’ve noticed from my blog is that I was only able to reach a certain ceiling with affiliate marketing but once I started creating my own products and I was the vendor, that’s when I was really able to start generating a significant amount of money. I guess the first part of the question is do you have any products or to use that something that you’re looking to get into?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, so what I focused on, based off the success of the blog is teaching people how to get started and make money online, whether it’s through a website, or ad campaigns. I took that same model and actually created blogging.org which walks people through the process of how to do all of that. Right now I’m well known in the affiliate marketing industry but I’m trying to get out there to the audience of people that really aren’t out there yet, they’ve heard maybe how to start a blog on the TV or how they can start a website and maybe make a few dollars in the mean time. That’s a whole new audience I’m going after, which is really fun because I get to kind of start doing it all over again from scratch. I don’t need to have a presence out there, I just need to be able to explain it to them and walk them through the process.
There’s actually two products here, the one is a free product where I walk them through the process. Then the other one is a course that I made where I can actually give people access to over a hundred different videos I created that walks them through the process of basically how I started out leading, to where I am today. Which walks them through choosing a niche, how to become an authority in it, having a monetization plan in place. The way I actually promoted that was by targeting my existing audience through Facebook advertising, and my mailing list, getting people onto a webinar, and then they can pay, it’s about a five hundred dollar fee to get access to all that types of content.
Mark Thompson: Okay, yeah I noticed you do have an email list, you tell people to hop into the super affiliate tips. Do you have an auto responder sequence that is drip fed content after they’ve signed up?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, I’m actually working with a couple different auto responder series. One of them is actually a thirty day blogging series where it walks them through the process, dead simple, it goes to a video and they can actually have the option to purchase a course for two hundred and ninety seven dollars and not have to wait the full thirty days. They get a bunch of bonuses in there as well. The other one through Zac Johnson, that’s mainly reflecting back on previous articles that they normally wouldn’t find if they just hit the website. It also gives them access to my different podcasts, and all of the stuff that I really find the most quality in. It’s over a thousand pages of content on the site so it would be hard to really weed out the best ones to do it manually. That auto responder goes for about a year and a half and it will just keep giving people new content.
Mark Thompson: Oh my God, wow. Do you feel the need to monetize the lead early on in the relationship?
Zac Johnson: I’ve seen that the engagement is most important. More times than not people will try and shove products down your throat and say, “If you want to get started do this right now.” Instead I think it’s more important to build that trust and relationship because if they’re coming across my website they’ve probably already seen maybe ten or twenty different marketers already and they have a good idea how it works. There’s no point in me trying to promote something to them that they might already be like ten times past already. I definitely want people to keep coming back to the site.
Again, going back to the podcast, doing stuff like this, this just provides so much more engagement than someone reading content. Now they know more about me, they know more about you, and they have more of a trust factor so that there’s a good chance if I do come out with a new product or recommendation down the road that it will have that much more value with them.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, I agree. Building the relationship always seems to be the most difficult thing for people just because it takes the most time, right?
Zac Johnson: Oh yeah, of course. Twenty years in the industry I’ve seen it all. It’s crazy to see, to think like twenty years ago just how different it was, even just a few years ago. People that are trying to rush into this, make a million dollars over night, it just never happens that way.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, okay so twenty years in the industry, you’re starting a brand new blog from scratch, what do you do?
Zac Johnson: I would try and find who my audience is and how I can cater to them. So many times people are always up on the stage at a keynote or whatever saying, “Follow your passion and the money will follow.” That really is never the case, because I can make a site … I love playing basketball, so if I make a website about basketball, big deal. There’s ESPN, why would anybody come to my website? A better way to angle this would be, “All right I like basketball, I like to play, and if I ever want to jump higher and dunk I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there that would want to do that same thing. How could I possibly make a business out of this?” Well I could create a website with exercises and then use an affiliate program to jump training. They have a lot of them on Click Bank right now, then if that worked out I can even create my own product and really go a reverse JV process where I go out and find sites to promote that product.
In the end it’s more about creating a product or a business that you know you can actually scale and target your exact audience.
Mark Thompson: Okay, so have the monetization strategy front and center and then build a site or a brand around that strategy. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, exactly. It’s not even just about creating content it’s more about the content promotion. You can create a website today with maybe five to ten pages of content and you don’t really need to do anything else after that as long as you’re focusing on the content promotion. That goes back to doing guest blogging on other websites. If you have a site where you’re teaching people how to jump higher all you’ve got to do is reach out to a bunch of different sports and basketball related websites, you get some high quality back links in there, that’s your first level. Then you can reach out to huge sites like Huffington Post, and then find all the people that are contributors to Entrepreneur Inc and what not, or Men’s Health Magazine. Start pitching them all, spend a lot of time on that area, and you get to that next level and you’ll see that you can really rank a website very fast in the search results when you start focusing on the content promotion and not just the content creation.
Mark Thompson: Okay, so what do you do? You’re brand new to an industry, how do you reach out to Huffington Post, or say you’re in the SEO space of Search Engine Journal to get them to talk about your brand, or your site.
Zac Johnson: Yeah so, what’s working really well right now is creating collaboration posts. Again just to keep things consistent we’ll go with a website focused on jump training, or how to jump higher. You can do an article on the top fifty best dunks in NBA history, create this amazing article that people would love, and then reach out to all the writers out there that are writing maybe about each of those persons. Or, right now Kobe Bryant is in his final season in the NBA and you can do top ten moments of Kobe Bryant’s career. If you’re creating this really great content and people are out there, they’re going to share it and they’re going to reference and go back to it. If you go to any site like Men’s Health, or Entrepreneur Inc, it shows the contributor who’s writing that article, and it usually links to their Twitter account. You can contact people through there and it’s really not as complicated as people make it out to be, it’s just time consuming.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, what about the types of content? I mean, everything seems to be going to video and I mean, do you feel that traditional text based blogs are going to die or are going to be a blast from the past?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, I think a lot of people are using video but at the end of the day Google is still so reliant on text and they’re not really … of course you’re going to see YouTube ranked every once in awhile, but still the content that’s ranking at the top is mostly text. It’s a matter of creating content that’s better than the competition so if someone is ranking at the top of Google and their article is all text you’d want to focus on making a high text article but then maybe creating a custom info graphic that you can throw in their with it, throw a video in there, just make it better than the competition out there. You’re probably going to rank higher if you get those incoming links as well, but definitely the video engagement is there. There’s over a hundred million hours of video being watched every single day on Facebook, and then YouTube is a whole other beast. If you’re not taking advantage of it you’re missing out.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, it’s a double edge sword right? You want the user to be engaged, you want shares. Video seems to be the best type of content for that but then from a search engine perspective they obviously still like text. Maybe getting your podcast or your video transcribed?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, that’s one option. If you’re going to rely on video you also want to make sure that you’re not totally dependent on YouTube or whoever is hosting your videos. There’s a lot of people right now that have millions of followers on YouTube and if YouTube ever decides, “Oh hey, we’re just going to cut the amount of money we’re paying you in half,” then you really have no platform in place to say, “Okay forget you guys, I don’t need YouTube.” Try and get people back to your website, make sure you have a social following, build up your email list, and never be reliant on another platform.
Mark Thompson: If you are hosting videos or doing video content do you recommend them putting it on Amazon as three and then embedding it onto your own website?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, most of the time what I do is I upload the videos through Vimeo premium account and I host it on my website. I’m setting them as private anyway, but if I was going to be doing it through YouTube I wouldn’t mind hosting on YouTube but I would want to make sure that I’m continually send them back to my website, or branding the videos so that it had my URL in it, always have that option there to get them back to the site.
Mark Thompson: Right, so maybe using the description box underneath the video just to get them back and then obviously onto your email list, and all the different monetization areas you have on your site.
Zac Johnson: Right.
Mark Thompson: Okay, so in terms of content creation, obviously you’ve been creating content for over twenty years now. What type of advice or tips do you have for creating content efficiently?
Zac Johnson: I would say focus less on creating a lot of content and focus more on creating high value content that can continue to work for you for like, not so much years but at least months to come. There’s no reason to rehash an article ten times, like how to peel an apple, or whatever. Just like stupid stuff that’s been talked about a million times. Instead create something that other sites are going to link to, and the formatting … I could tell you use like H1, or H2 header tags, and images and what not. That’s all pretty basic, at the end of the day it comes down to the end value that you’re providing. If you think that your articles not that great and you’re not getting much value out of it your audience is probably going to hate it too. Create something that provides a lot of value, put it out there, and then focus on that content promotion, share it on your social networks, and make sure you’re getting other sites to link back to you. If you don’t do any of that you’re just going to get lost in that audience of a billion sites out there that are basically talking about the same stuff that nobody really finds value in.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, you mentioned social sharing, how much time do you spend on your social media with Facebook, or Google+? Are there specific networks that you look at?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, I really spend most of my time on Twitter and Facebook, and I know there’s a ton of traffic on Pinterest and what not. I just never really got into those spaces, so the easy thing is just adding the social binds to your blog post where people can share it, but also do some paid promotion for each of the campaigns whenever a new blog post goes live. Then I also use a service called MeetEdgar.com, and that allows me to automate the process whenever a new blog posts goes live that will actually keep getting shared with all of my different social outlets for as long as I like. I really don’t have to manually do that because it’s now in a scheduling system where it can kind of go by itself.
Mark Thompson: Mm-hmm (affirmative), and that’s probably a leverage point for you from a money stand point to say, “Hey I’ll do a review on my blog, I have this many RSS leaders and this monthly visits. Guess what? I’ll also put it on my Facebook fan page that has another however many likes, and Twitter follows,” and that kind of stuff right?
Zac Johnson: Yeah definitely, you already have that base in place and if you can figure out how to grow your social following, whether it’s through a software that’s following other people, you might get a certain percentage back. Once you get to like around twenty thousand plus people they’ll start sharing that content for you and it’s almost pretty much viral at that point. You keep putting it out there, other people find out about it. It’s not just them re-tweeting it, they also reference it within their articles as well. Definitely something advertisers want to see.
Mark Thompson: Okay, and so ninety nine percent of blogs are powered by Word press, what type of tools, plugins do you use on your site?
Zac Johnson: I like to use, well we can skip the most basic ones because those are pretty much, you can just Google and say, “Top Word Press Plugins when starting out.” I like to use a bunch of different ones like Pop Up Domination was one I used in the past, that’s actually grown a lot in size. Now there’s Opt In Monster, and then there’s Sumo Me. A lot of these places offer tools that you can setup where a pop up window will come up on your page, you can customize it, and you can grab the email address and then it would get sent over to AWeber and put them in your auto responder series. Stuff like that is really important, and a lot of them offer free versions where you can test it, then if you upgrade you get more stats and you can fully customize it. I think that’s one of the most important plugins out there and just really different ways to get people to navigate through your website more such as using relate website Word Press posts plugin, it’s called Related Word Press Plugins. You can put that at the bottom of your post and that will actually bring people to more content throughout your site.
What a lot of people are failing to do is put a call to action at the end of each of their articles so that when they read the article they just leave the website. What’s the point in that? Instead you can say, “Click here to sign up for an offer,” or you can give them more content where they can just keep reading through your site. Those are two of the different things I like to do.
Mark Thompson: Yeah we love to do that, we always put an opt in form at the end of the post. We’ve seen just from watching on Heat Map Tracking, we can see people are reading an article, well what do you want them to do after it? Either read more content or get them to opt in, right?
Zac Johnson: Yeah, the Heat Map thing you mentioned, that’s crazy too because in the past there was the Heat Map where it would show click areas but now you can actually watch video of peoples cursor while they’re on their website. It’s pretty funny to see them kind of get lost sometimes, you can see what they missed out on and say, “That’s obvious to me because I designed the website and the content.” Then when the average person comes to your site you can really learn a lot from it.
Mark Thompson: Yeah, totally. My last question is about scaling, so you want to do what you do, right? Become a full time blogger, make money online. Do you feel that it’s better to just stick to one property and scale it out, or once it gets to a certain point continue to maintain it but then move on, create another property for a different audience?
Zac Johnson: In most cases I would say to try to focus on one property, for a few different reasons. The one would be that I see a lot of people try and create maybe five to ten different websites and then they really lose focus, they can’t put all of their link building efforts into it, and focusing on high quality content. Then you never know if Google is going to come out and penalize something and maybe wipe out half of your sites. If you have one website you can build a brand, make sure there’s always a constant supply of links coming to it, focus on getting the best promotion. You don’t want to have to do that five to ten times, now granted if you have a big site like ZacJohnson.com, which is what I currently have. I can then reach out into another area like blogging.org and manage two sites because they seamlessly go together with each other.
Someone comes to ZacJohnson.com and they say, “Oh wow, look at this business that this guy started based off of blogging.” Then they see a banner or a link on my site that says, “Hey want to start a blog?” It sends them off there. They’re very relevant but I would definitely focus on creating one website and trying to be the authority at it. Then if you do want to scale out into a different area make sure it’s something relevant to what you already have in place.
Mark Thompson: Mm-hmm (affirmative), awesome. What’s the future looking like for Zac Johnson? What do you have on the horizon?
Zac Johnson: The cool thing is in this industry you never know what’s next, so you never really know what’s around the corner. Right now my main focus is on the brand ZacJohnson.com, and of course scaling out Blogging.org to reach new audiences and then create new software products and online training courses that people can use within that platform. It’s basically building the brand ranking for new keywords and reaching new audiences.
Mark Thompson: Awesome, well thank you so much for coming on the podcast, this has been awesome. I know I’ve been following you, you’re actually one of the first guys that I actually was following. Guys like you, and Johnathan Volk, I don’t know if he’s still doing his thing but I remember following you guys, and reading your content, and that you were kind of my inspirations for starting my own blog. I really do appreciate you coming on and hearing about everything that you’re doing.
Zac Johnson: Hey thanks, that’s great to hear, I really appreciate it. It’s been awesome to be here too.
Mark Thompson: All right, thanks Zac.