Q1. Max, tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to becoming an online entrepreneur?
I’ve always been interested in business and entrepreneurship and from an early age (around 14) I was buying and selling things on eBay. I found that the internet and it’s possibilities very intriguing and this led me to start building more websites and businesses online.
Q2. While you were a student you financially supported yourself thanks to affiliate websites you set up. How did you first hear about affiliate marketing, and when did you decide to try it out? Would you recommend students give affiliate marketing a go?
I fell into affiliate marketing after coming across a website with information on how you could set up your own website comparing phone contracts – it was free to set up, so I did it, and after some posting on forums I made a sale. From this I researched more and started making my own websites and using affiliate marketing to monetise them.
One of my first sites was MobilePhoneDeals.org.uk, which lists the deals on the latest phones, I built the site in WordPress and joined several Affiliate Networks to find the merchants. Over time I added blog posts and slowly built links, I did neglect it for a few years but have recently refreshed the look of the site and will continue to update it.
I would recommend affiliate marketing to other students but it’s not to be seen as a quick cash generator, it takes months of hard work before even the smallest results are seen. It used to be a lot easier and putting up a small site, and spending a few hours a week on it was bringing me in several hundred pounds and I had quite a large collection of these types of sites. However, gone are the days that this method works.
Q3. What has been the best thing about running affiliate sites?
One of the best things is the ability to work from anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection, I utilised this massively while travelling around South East Asia by working in cafes in Cambodia, to beaches in Bali and hotels in Hong Kong. Another great thing is the commissions you can earn, it’s great when someone spends a lot of money through one of your sites and you earn a nice healthy cut of it.
Q4. What has been the worst thing about running affiliate sites?
It has to be the dominance of Google, although it’s great when Google likes one of your sites and ranks you, but if it decides to drop your site (Google Slap) then it can have devastating results. I found this out when a main earner for me went from earning several thousand pounds every month to making me under £100, after Google hit my site.
Q5. You have set up affiliate marketing websites, where you promote other businesses products in return for a commission, when you generate a sale. However, have you tried selling products yourself online? How has this worked out for you, and compared to your affiliate sites, what additional challenges did this result in i.e. customer support issues, etc?
I’ve recently gone into selling products myself with my website PrintedTshirts.co.uk and it’s quite a different game. There are a lot of things you don’t have to think about in affiliate marketing such as customer service, delivery, product quality etc which are essential when you’re selling products yourself. So far it’s all gone quite smoothly and it’s quite rewarding when you get feedback from customers.
Setting up payments was quite a hassle, as many methods require merchant bank accounts. However, I found that Paypal Payments Pro allows you to have any business account and allows you to keep customers on your site when paying (instead of sending them off to Paypal site). In terms of delivery of items, I actually outsource all the printing/delivery.
Q6. You now run a variety of websites that target different markets, from footwear, skip hire, baby high chairs, fashion, Cashback, etc. Why or how have you ended up targeting such a wide variety of markets? Was it planned?
In reality it’s not always the best idea to spread into such a wide variety of markets and if I started again I’d do things a bit differently. However, certain areas popped up as opportunities for me and I took them, some worked out well, others not so well.
Q7. Do you still focus on niche websites? If so, why? What’s your strategy when you launch one?
I’ve gone away from niche sites, it used to be easy to put up a 5 page site and rank for a few terms and make a nice bit of money but not anymore. Good content, decent site and good seo is now the key in my eyes to build something that people, Google and other search engines will like.
Q8. You’ve developed numerous websites. How do you know when to quit if a website isn’t performing as expected?
I generally give it around 6 months, this will give me a general idea how the site is performing in terms of initial traffic, conversion rates and revenue, if after this time it’s very poor I’ll leave it alone, if it’s showing promise I’ll put more effort into it.
Q9. Do you decide on the type of website you want to set up, and then look for a suitable domain name, or is the type of website you create determined by a good domain that you have managed to get hold of?
Both, if a great domain comes along I’ll go into that area and if I see an area with potential I’ll then go looking for a domain name. My ecommerce domain was actually purchased in a domain auction for around £1000. Previous names I’ve owned include the .co.uk FridgeFreezers where I contacted the owner and ended up purchasing for low £xx,xxx. I later sold this on for a small profit.
Q10. From what I’ve seen, you have .com, .co.uk and .org.uk domain names for your websites. What is your strategy when it comes to registering domain names for your website? For example, do you prefer keyword domains? If so why? What’s your preferred domain extensions i.e. .co.uk, etc??
I’ve always preferred keyword domains and there’s several reasons for this, one is that these keyword domains can instantly give your business a bit of an advantage in terms of customers/visitors seeing your site as a dominant player in the market, another reason is that they are memorable and finally one that isn’t applicable now but Google used to give extra weight to these domains making them easier to rank. My preferred extensions are .co.uk for UK based sites, .com for non country specific and .org.uk if they are niche sites and the .co.uk is not available.
Q11. How have you managed to own good keyword domains? For example, do you bid for them in domain auctions or do you contact the owners directly? Or have you just been lucky and managed to register the domain names first?
A few in auctions but mainly from contacting owners directly, I remember when I first invested in a domain which was around £15k that took me quite a long time to get the courage to go for it. Contacting owners allows you to negotiate and get a price you’re happy with, I was too late to register anything half decent that was available although I did get a few names that I sold on for several hundred pounds.
Q12. What’s the worst domain name you’ve ever bought?
Hands down it was when I went to buy a .org.uk and thought MountainBikes was available, turns out I registered the .org.uk for MoutainBikes – a misspelling!
Q13. What systems do you use for setting up your websites i.e. CMS’s such as WordPress, etc and why?
I use WordPress for quite a few sites such as MobilePhoneDeals.org.uk as it’s incredibly fast to set up and easy to customise, keep updated and build a large site from. I’ve also have some fully custom CMS’s, and more recently as I’ve been going into Ecommerce I’ve been using Magento, which has proved a task to learn how to use it, but now I can use it pretty well.
Q14. How do you drive traffic to your websites – and what’s the most effective?
I’ve recently been teaching myself SEO as opposed to paying people/agencies to do it for me, I’ve quickly realised that I can accomplish results that companies charging £500+ a month say they can in 4 months in about half the time and for about 5% of the cost! SEO when done correctly ends up in traffic which is free which is always great. I used to focus a lot on PPC, which back in the day used to give instant results and instant profits but the costs have spiked so much now in most areas that it’s extremely hard as an affiliate to make a profit.
Q15. How have you been teaching yourself SEO? Are there any books, websites, software, resources, etc you can recommend for anyone also looking to learn SEO?
The main method has been reading blogs, there are so many blog posts out there that list information on good practices, acquiring links and more importantly things not to do! If you want to learn I’d highly suggest the blogs from www.seomoz.org/blog and www.seobook.com/blog aswell as searching for more specific areas. i.e if you search “on site seo guide 2013” or “top seo tips” those kind of searches will find some great resources.
Q16. For anyone wanting to turn a great idea into an online business what advice would you give with regards to web design, domain names, social media, promotions, etc?
Firstly research the idea, has it been done before ? if so is there room for you, another key is how competitive is the area, if it’s a credit card comparison site you’ll find it ultra competitive and hard without a big budget to break into it.
My top tips if you think your idea has potential is to plan the site and what you want and make sure a web designer fully understands what you want, get plenty of quotes and check the portfolio of the web designer to see if the sites work/look as good as you want it.
My final main bit of advice is that it’ll take time, don’t expect to build a site and 2 months later be having loads of visitors, loads of followers, sales etc it’s very unlikely you’ll see that in the first few months so just power through them looking at the end game.
Q17. What are you future plans?
I’m moving away from affiliate marketing and concentrating on ecommerce in 2013 as well as a couple of start ups I feel have big potential, ideally in the next 18 months I’ll have developed one of the ideas into one that achieves outside venture funding to be one of the next big things!
Thanks Max, from everyone at Easyspace. Good luck with your ecommerce and startup projects in 2013.
To find out more about Max Bramwell visit his website Bramwell.co.uk
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