Kelvin: What’s up everybody? Welcome back to the Human Proof Designs podcast. I’m your host Kelvin Mah. Today, we are with Chris Parker of whatismyipaddress.com. This site is exactly what it sounds like. It tells you what your IP address is, but this site gets six million visitors every single month, is generating nearly $1 million of revenue, and is 19 years old. We’re going to learn the whole story; we’re going to have Chris take us all the way back 19 years, to the very beginning, and then all the way to when he went full time 14 years after. This was side income for him for quite a while until he ultimately decided to make the jump. Well, that’s pretty much it. I don’t want to take too much away from Chris, so let’s dive right in. What’s going on everybody? We are live with the Human Proof Designs Broadcast inside of the private Facebook group that we have here. Today, we are with Chris Parker from whatismyipaddress.com. I guarantee you somebody listening to this podcast would’ve been on your site. Welcome, Chris.
Chris: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Kelvin: This is the man behind the machine we will call it.
Chris: Hey guys!
Kelvin: Chris, where are you anyways right now?
Chris: I’m located in Southern California but halfway between LA and San Diego.
Kelvin: Very cool, very cool. Tell us a little bit about whatismyipaddress.com, if it’s not obvious.
Chris: Well, it tells you your IP address. The primary use of whatismyipaddress.com is to actually tell people what their IP address is. You might go, “Well, don’t people know that?” And the answer usually is, if you’re inside your own network, you actually don’t know what your public facing IP address is. Our website gives people the ability to be able to see that and see some information about that like what their ISP is, where they’re located, and throws it on the map.
Kelvin: Okay, very cool. How did you start this site?
Chris: It originally started as a solution to a technical problem that I was having at a company that I was working for. Like the site name says, I was trying to find out the IP address of the company internet connection and this was back in pre-Google days. I was on maybe it was AltaVista or Lycos doing a search to result for a website that will give me that information. There really wasn’t a site that I could find easily so I thought, “I’m kind of a geek. I’ve gotten always on internet connection at home and few extra boxes. Let me put together a website that does that.” I thought, “Well, what should I call it? whatismyipaddress.com, that sounds good, answers the question.” Very simple code, people went to the website, it just showed them their IP address, no banners, no ads, no links, no content, just about 15 characters.
Kelvin: How long ago was this?
Chris: That was back in 2000. It’s just been over 19 years now.
Chris: Thank you. Just about time for the 20-year anniversary party.
Kelvin: I guess you’ll go with your wife to Paris or something like that.
Chris: That sounds like a great idea. I’ll suggest that to her. It’s on our bucket list.
Kelvin: Awesome. Tell me about the beginning of this website. Because a lot of our audience is mostly search engine people, SEO people, in their eyes, that’s an exact match to me if I have ever heard one. But I don’t think that you went in thinking that so tell me a little bit about the beginning of the site and how that all got started.
Chris: Like I was saying, I was never planning on starting us up as a business. It wasn’t, “Oh, I’ve got this great business model. I’ll tell people their IP address, I’ll throw ads on it, I’ll throw links on it to affiliate programs.” I was kind of very far away from where I originally started the site. It was totally a hobby. After putting the site up, I thought, “People probably have questions.” So, we put email address on there so people can ask me questions. I started evening as a weekends, responded to the every now and then question, and then started seeing that, “Gee, a lot of these questions are just the same question over and over and over again. I don’t want to copy and paste the same answer. How about if I just put some facts up on the site?” That was the genesis of the content. It was starting to fill out and answer those questions.People will ask me, “How do I change my IP address?” “If you’ve got a router, here’s how you do it. If your computer’s connected straight to the internet, here’s how you do it.” A number of different techniques if you are Windows, if you are on Mac, here’s how you go about doing that.” Okay. “What can people find out about me from my IP address?” I’ll add a little bit of content around that. “How do I hide my IP address? Because I don’t want people to know what my IP address was.” That was a later piece of content that lead into affiliate marketing. But I was just trying to be helpful and add content and thoroughly answer questions that people had. I think that’s what initially really helped the site to do well because it was purely beneficial content, no ads, no nothing. People would just naturally, in the early days of the internet, linked to useful information, much more judicious or much more friendly so than people do now.
Kelvin: How does people find your website?
Chris: At the beginning, the early days of the internet, it was a matter of initially going out to all the directories, DMOZ, Yahoo!, these are websites, they were human curated directories. Some of them were pay for submission, pay $20, $50, $100. I think that was the start of the genesis was making sure of that I was in all those directories at the beginning. As search engines were coming online, making sure I figured out where the submit your URL link was and got it submitted to the search engines. These days, search engines are much easier at discovering content, you don’t have to tell them where it is. If it exists, and one person links to it from somewhere in the world, even if no one links to it, very frequently it gets indexed very quickly. Back in the old days, it was 30, 60, 90 days from the time that you submitted a page to when it might actually show up or actually might even get updated.
Kelvin: This might be a small tangent but I’m going to ask it anyways because I think it’s awesome. Being a search engine nerd, when you started this website, I think there are about 19 search engines that started before Google came about.
Chris: Sounds about right.
Kelvin: Did any of those search engines stick out to you and you thought, “Oh, this is going to be the one before Google.”
Chris: At that time, I don’t think anyone ever even thought of there’s going to be this one dominant player in search. It was a lot more that you had search engines that were good at different things. You might have a search engine that was good at surfacing technical articles and things like that. They seem to be more niche-y than they are today in terms of, well, I know this one is good at this type of results, this one’s good at that type of results. Depending on what you’re searching for, you’d use a different search engine because you knew one would be better than the other in that area. Obviously, being in Google are pretty consistent about what they surface and maybe they prioritize a little different, but the ability to index the internet has significantly changed from the old days.
Kelvin: Awesome. How does this site make money?
Chris: Yep. There’s two main ways the site makes money. The one was the first that I started doing which was display ads. I was initially working with a company I think called FastClick at the time where there’s a little 468×60 banner at the top, or the bottom of the page, or both at that time, that they would find the advertisers and pay me a couple cents a click or couple cents a page view. That moved into Google AdSense which was a much nicer, easier, ‘set it and forget it’ type of thing.When Google started dealing with AdWords, they really started getting a ton of advertisers very quickly. It was easy to make quite a bit of money. There’s funny jokes of the most expensive search phrase or search word to have on your page was Mesothelioma, which is the cancer that you get to due to asbestos exposure. People were building pages, Mesothelioma, Mesothelioma, Mesothelioma, so they get these really expensive $10 per click ads on their page. That doesn’t work anymore.Predominantly, started out with banner ads, it was a couple of different flavors of doing things. One of the first affiliate programs that I joined was GoToMyPC which seemed to be a natural connection to my website, people are trying to find out their IP address, maybe they’re trying to connect with their machine at home when they’re away, this should be a great product to promote so my little 88×31 banner ad on the page that just said, “GoToMyPC,” and people would click on it and I’d make a couple bucks everyone signed up for the product. That was the, “Oh, I can actually really start making some good money off this site, not just from affiliate programs but by providing useful content and getting beyond just those facts.”
Kelvin: Very cool. If you can think of milestones for your site in terms of revenue, how would you break it down?
Chris: I think probably the first milestone was, I’ve made enough money to pay my internet bill. Back in the day, a 1.5 megabit synchronized DSL connection was $200 or $300 a month or something like that. To me, once I started actually being able to pay my internet bills, I was like, “Wow. This is kind of cool.” I think from there, the first $1000 month was pretty cool. Once I started getting to the point where it was enough money at the end of the day to take a vacation and go somewhere once a year, was a milestone. $10,000 a month was a milestone; $100,000 a year was a milestone. There’s a big milestone coming up soon. But I think one of the more recent milestones was that ability for me to transition from it being a side hustle to being a full-time job.My full-time employer was struggling financially. It was like, “We can’t afford to keep you on. We’re going to have to let you go.” My wife and I talked as well, “Can I make enough continuing to grow the site above beyond we’re currently was at. Can I keep growing a site or should I just get another day job and have that be the primary source of my income?” We set up some milestones even with in that of like, “Okay, let’s look at 30 days, let’s look at 90 days, and let’s look at a year if I can hit certain earning numbers within those time frames then yes, it’s a viable option for this to be a full-time job.” That was about five years ago. Obviously, I’ve hit those milestones. It’s a blast working from home and not having to live according to somebody else’s schedule. I think the next milestone that I’m striving to hit and hopefully I’ll hit it this year is $1 million a year.
Kelvin: Nice, nice. Hopefully we can somehow try to get you there. I don’t know how. But you’re on the show.
Chris: Everybody on the internet just go there and click on one ad.
Kelvin: Everyone go to What Is My IP Address and go to specifically his. That’s a good point. You do have competitors.
Chris: Yeah. There have been a number of competitors over time. I think right now, there’s one other site that has probably about the similar amount of traffic that I have.I think they launched about a year or within a year of when I did before I did. They’d been number one for a while; I’ve been number one for a while. There’ve been a few people that have risen through the search results due to black hat techniques and taking that number one spot in terms of traffic and then fallen by the wayside. I really have one in terms of traffic wise, one significant competitor. There’s definitely probably three or four people out there with about half the traffic that I have and then there’s probably about a million other sites that will tell you your IP address.In some sense, it is really competitive in terms of it’s something that anybody can put up a site that actually tells people that. In some sense, it’s a commodity with what is my IP address aspect of it. But it’s hard to breakthrough. I think at this point, it’s really probably very hard to break through the search results to get into the top five these days just based off longevity; I’ve been around almost 20 years. The other guy has been around 20 years. What I look at as a more competitive thing is when I’m trying to compete on affiliate offers and compete in an online privacy and security vertical, there’s definitely a lot more competition. There’s people with significant budgets for advertising that I’m trying to compete within that space. But the IP address space, I’m near the front into that line. It’s worked really well.
Kelvin: You left your job when the site was about 14 years old, I believe.
Kelvin: That’s a while.
Chris: Yes. This, by no means, was a huge success overnight. Not to say that I wasn’t making a fair amount of money probably for maybe five, seven years before that, there was a decent amount of money coming in. I personally, and my wife, are both somewhat risk averse and I wasn’t confident that if I quit my day job, I could double or triple the income on the website. It was, “Well, if I can have a full-time job revenue and a side gig that generates a full-time job worth of revenue, hey, that’s nice. If the economy does bad, I’m not left holding the bag.” Kind of that not putting all the eggs in one basket mentality.
Kelvin: You don’t regret transitioning this to a full-time career earlier?
Chris: I think there are time that I do regret. That I thought, if I looked back it at now, and said, “If I had applied all the techniques that I’m doing now, if I’d applied those 20 years ago, maybe I could be retired by now.” I think each person is on their own journey and each person has to decide their own risk tolerance. If you’ve got a family and kids, you might not have the opportunity to quit your day job this early because there’s just a lager dependence on your income. Or if you’re more risk averse like I was, you’d rather have that safety net of having both going at the same time.Having made that switch, I don’t regret having made the switch. I really enjoy working from home like I said. I probably could have done other couple years sooner, but it’s worked out the way it’s worked out. You can’t go back and change the past.
Kelvin: Absolutely not. What did the site look like when you left your job? During the transition, what did the site look like?
Chris: You mean consumatically or make up of content?
Kelvin: Let’s talk about traffic-wise and maybe even revenue-wise.
Chris: I think at the time that I left my job—I don’t have the numbers in front of me—it’s probably about half the revenue than it is now. It’s definitely grown the revenue significantly in the last couple of years. But I’ve also grown my expenses an awful lot last couple of years as well. I have contractors writing for me, I have graphic artist, when I make podcast appearances, I have people that transcribe that for me. I have graphic artist. I recently hired a business coach. There’s a variety of things that have significantly increased expenses, I’ve had denial service of tax against the site over the years that have taken me down for days or weeks at a time, and I’ve beat the bullet in doing the denial service mitigation which can be very expensive because I know that, “Well, if the site’s down for a week, Google, at some point, is going to slap for me for that.”While that particular outage maybe cost me less revenue than what I spent on the annual cost of denial service protection if my site were to fall off the index entirely then there’s a large portion my income gone. It’s kind of look at this as insurance in keeping the site but along with providing a good user experience. I think why having 40 hours a week to work on the site and that consistency of like, “Okay, how do I make this a little bit better? How do I make this a little bit better? Time and effort that I can spend on running AB test. How can I get this converting a little bit better? What other ad network can I start working with?”When you’re at home you can actually start taking phone calls from people. When you’re working at another job, your boss doesn’t like it when you, “Oh, hold another second, let me take this phone call. It’s a revenue opportunity for my website.” There are certain things that are just hard to do when you have a daytime job, so being able to do those during the day I think really helped accelerate the growth because I was available to make those calls, take those calls, or even be willing to accept them at all.
Kelvin: During that period when you are about to essentially take that first step into entrepreneurship, which is very interesting considering that the site was already generating a pretty healthy amount, I think people will be happy with. When you took that first step, and you looked at your site from all different angles, where did you see the improvements that you could have make? What was the game plan going in?
Chris: My game plan going in on making that transition was there’s a lot of opportunity for me to write or work with writers to create more content for the website and better content, more thoughtful content, content where there’s been more keyword research done and content related to affiliate products that we could market that we’re good fit for users on the site. A part of it was the display revenue is there. I think the big opportunity in the last couple of years has really been the affiliate revenue. To be able to find products and services that are related to some aspect of why the person is using the site and really being able to make a good case of, “Here’s a good product, this will solve these types of means, good for these types of situations,” and be able to present one or more affiliates within that space.
Kelvin: Was it just content then? Was that essentially the first thing that you wanted to knock out or were there any other things beyond that?
Chris: Definitely have built new tools on the website, programming a tool, something that takes more time and effort that’s a little harder to do on the nights and the weekends when you’re a little bit distracted. That gave me the freedom to invest the time and effort to build something that might be unique, that might be particularly functional or something that one of my competitors was doing that I didn’t have or something else, and I just lost it.
Kelvin: Maybe affiliate stuff, I guess that would have been some opportunities. However, you did mention it previously.
Kelvin: This wasn’t one of the questions that I’d put on there, but it’s completely fine because I’m sure you can answer it. But you talked about content and content processes are really interesting, at least for me, and I think for a lot of people in our audience. I’m always saying that if you’re going to pick a niche, which I guess you picked a niche by random in a sense, but if you’re going to methodically think about building a publishing business, which is what people are doing mostly in the audience here. I kind of tell them, “Try and find something that’s is really easily outsourced. Because you’ll have a better time finding writers, even there’s a lot of writers, you’ll just find better content.” In your experience, has it been easy finding writers for a topic that is technical as yours?
Chris: No. That’s actually been a problem. One of the reasons why content is more expensive for me, probably than a lot of other people, is that not only do we have technical content, but we’re trying to make technical content understandable for people who aren’t technical. I have to have someone who either understands the technical or that I can explain it to. Then they can turn around dumb it down is not the right phrase but simplify it, and try to remove all the technical babble in it. It’s actually been a challenge to be able to find people who can write in that manner.
Kelvin: How have you been trying to attack that issue so far?
Chris: I’ve tested, probably, 20 or 30 different writers. I now have three or four that I worked with and an editor who’s really good at taking the complicated and making it easy–trying to make sure there’s a consistency and voice. Every writer writes a little bit differently. We don’t want users of the site be going, “Huh? That doesn’t feel right. That doesn’t phrase things the way the site normally phrases things.” The editor helps makes sure that there’s this nice consistent voice. He’s got a good ability to be able to say, “When you’re technical and you read something that’s supposed to be technical and it’s kind of isn’t, you can read into it, kind of with your background and your knowledge.” Anyone who’s well-versed in a subject will kind of go, “Oh, I know what they’re talking about. They’re trying to say this.” But he’s got a really good ability to be able to read and say, “Without having all that background knowledge, does this make sense?” He’s been very helpful in that respect.
Kelvin: That surely makes sense. To find these writers, are you going on to freelancer marketplaces? Are you going to writer job boards? Are you posting jobs up? Are you reaching out to people posting on Medium? Where are you finding these people to fill these needs for yourself?
Chris: A long time ago, I used textbroker.com. I think it was called Textbroker. I don’t use them anymore. I’m kind of leery about people that approach me. I probably get one or two people a day approaching me saying, “Hey, I really like to write for your site. I know all about balloons. I’m like, “My site has nothing to do with balloons.” I don’t even response. “I’m an expert on all subject matter.” “No, you’re not.” I get a lot of throwaway people trying to, usually is, they’re
trying to write for SEO to get links back to their own site and stuff like that.It was not too long ago; I was approached by someone who had work in cybersecurity for 20 years and had just retired. He was just looking to give back some of the knowledge that he’d learned over his career. He was like, “Hey, can I write for you for once a month? I don’t need any links. I don’t need a by-line or anything like that. I just want to keep active and I just want to be current.” Usually with these things, I assume that they’re kind of lying to me. I was like, “Well, what would you like to write about?” I generally don’t offer than that because I want to see, are they familiar with what my site is about? Have they done the research? Some of them would come back and say, “Oh, yeah. I’m writing for whatismyipaddress.com. I’m going to write about dogs.” “Obviously, you don’t understand.” But this guy came back and said, “Hey, here’s a couple of topics I could write on. How about I start with this one?” He sent it over to me. It was actually nicely written. I have my editor looked at it. He was really happy about it.I had a number of people start writing for me just because they’ve approached me. There’s other people that I’ve seen them writing somewhere else and approached them and said, “Hey, would you like to work for me? Can I pay you to write for me?” I’ve had a number of referrals of, “Hey. I know someone who could write about this for you.” I’ve generally had better results with referrals from other people more than I have job postings or soliciting guest posts. Usually, it’s referrals for me.
Kelvin: Very interesting. I’ve really liked that just because we’ve talked about finding a subject to build your site around. It’s easily outsourced. But of course whenever you go through those hurdles to do the outreach–ask for the referrals–you are building a moat around your business with the team you have. Were you are editing content at the very beginning yourself.
Chris: At the very very beginning, I was writing. For stuff that I was less familiar with or didn’t want to write about, I would go out to a fairly inexpensive service; have someone write it for $5 or $10. If the page did well in terms of drawing traffic, I would potential go back in and edit. If it continued to do well, I’d very often go back and have a more experienced writer just entirely rewrite the article making sure we’re still talking about the same thing, but rewrite it so that it’s better.We still go back and do that on a regular basis. We look at content and say, “Hey, it’s been a year since we’ve looked at these content. What can we do to make it cleaner? What can we do to clarify things and maybe have changed a little bit?” Or things that we’ve just learned. “Oh, gosh. In an article trying to be authoritative, we’ve really missed out on this and that. Let’s make sure we include that or just use terminology that people are using,” so we need to update it for keywords and stuff like that.
Kelvin: Where did you learn all these stuff?
Chris: By doing it. That’s what you get over 20 years of practice. I think I’ve probably learned a lot in terms of coming back and rewriting the articles or my editor coming back and rewriting the articles. I hired a business coach who also is a well-known in SEO, Stephan Spencer. He’s really given us just a fire hose worth of things that we need to look at when we’re writing–ideas. Are we using all the related words when you’re talking about, let’s say, you’re talking about mowing your lawn. Are you talking about grass clippings? Are you talking about allergies? All the things that are tangentially related to that content to make sure that Google sees that, “Yes, this is an authoritative topic about this because they’re mentioning all the appropriate phrases and usage linguistics around it.”
Kelvin: Right. Trying to cover the whole topic in a single piece of content.
Chris: Yeah. Moving away from the 600-word content to the 3,000- to 4,000-word content.
Kelvin: Do you have a system right now in place for updating a content? Do you have signals that tell you, “I think we should be working on this piece of old content.”
Chris: I don’t have a system in place. I do periodically review what pages are generating ad revenue, what pages are generating traffic, and looking back at it and say, “Is this something that was written a couple of years ago? Is there a call to action that we could add to, move them to some other place in the site, is there an affiliate product now related to this that we might be able to talk about?” Sometimes there’s definitely times we’ve gone back and looked at content, “Wow, that’s really bad.” We just need to remove it from the site all together because it doesn’t meet our standards anymore. It’s like, “Well, we just need to rewrite it.” We kind of worked through it but is there a clearly defined documented process for reviewing existing content? No. Maybe there should be.
Kelvin: Maybe. Your site is pretty old at the time–it’s about 14 years old–whenever you take the dive and start putting in content on there. Did you notice that it was easier for you to rank for these maybe more difficult keywords because of the authority that your website already had?
Chris: Yeah. That was kind of the revelations a number of years ago was, I couldn’t write about anything that was tangentially related to IP addresses, linked to it from our homepage, and it would rank in the top five search results pretty consistently. That has been part of the logic of like, “Okay we need to use this authority to start ranking for more keywords, more phrases, more concepts that are tangentially related.” I think initially, it was like, “I just want to talk about IPv4 addresses, IPv6 addresses, changing IP addresses, hiding IP addresses, and starting to branch out and have a wider reach of content that’s not always so closely tied, but it still makes sense that it’s related.
Kelvin: Okay. Does most of your traffic come to the homepage?
Chris: Yeah. Probably half of the incoming traffic comes into the homepage at this point.
Kelvin: What do you do to get people to not leave?
Chris: That has been probably the biggest difficulty in terms of that homepage content because people are specifically coming there, “I’m just here to get my IP address and leave. I’m not here to do research. I’m not here to educate myself. I’m not here to figure out what the best product to buy is. I’m here for my IP address and I’m gone.” We’ve tried to draw more attention to what does that IP address reveal about you. We’ve actually gone overboard in things that you can do and in things that you can see on the homepage to get people to go other places on the site and try other tools. We’re actually just gearing up to start A/B testing, taking a lot of that content off the homepage in order to provide maybe one or two very clear alternatives to the plethora of things that you can do on the homepage in hopes that those things will be a little bit more clear to people. “There’s this.” “I can do this before I leave.”
Kelvin: How has that gone?
Chris: We’re in the process of building it. Hopefully, in the next month or so, we’ll start testing it, and see if we’re able to draw traffic away from the homepage by doing that.
Chris: Historically, though, it has not been particularly effective.
Kelvin: Let’s talk about ads because I’m sure there’s people on this podcast is already screaming, “Why aren’t you talking about ads?” What can you tell us about your business in terms of ads? How is it structured on your site? Did you move around stuff? Tell me about everything you know about ads.
Chris: Okay. For the longest time, the vast majority of the income on this site has been display ads. We’ll talk about display ads first. For most people, if you’re looking for a simple solution, AdSense is probably a phenomenal set it and forget it. If they accept you, you can very easily, “I want an ad here. This size. That size.” And move on. If you’re a vertical that has advertisers, you should get a fair amount of revenue or a good revenue earning on those ads.There have been a number of things that have happened in the last few years of products that can compete against AdSense that people are using, a platform called DFP, DoubleClick for Publishers. I think Google has now recently renamed it Google Ads, I think that’s what they’ve renamed the platform, or Google Manager. One of the two. It’s a platform where you could load in a bunch of different networks that would pay you. I know that this network pays me about $1 per 1000 impression. I’ll set up to compete against AdSense for this.That had been the model for a number of years. There’s a newer technology called Header bidding that has come into play that allows a little bit of competition to happen in the browser, and in the ads server side, to be able to service some of those higher paying ads to compete against AdSense. You might have an ad network that I’m looking for someone in Southern California who’s this age ranged and we know that this IP address represents that person or based on other cookies, and we’re willing to spend a ton of money to get an ad in front of this person. If that can service up and compete against AdSense, you can make an extra 20% or 30% on your display revenue by implementing a variety of Header bidding partners. There’s usually a limit that kind of six to eight partners that bring competition in against your existing display ads.
Kelvin: I am, by no means, an ad expert. I certainly probably going to come from this from the same angles as someone in the audience. From what I’m hearing is that there’s two types of ad technology really. You’ve got DoubleClick, I guess it’s the ad inventory, I think you mentioned. They’re trying to basically compete on who’s going to show up there. Then, you’ve also got this other type of technology which you’re saying is newer called Header bidding which is a smarter type of ad placement that looks at the person’s specific attributes like where their IP address is located, their sex, and stuff like that. That allows the advertisers to warrant paying a higher dollar amounts. Am I getting this all good?
Chris: Yeah. It’s probably more based on cookies. The ad network has seen this type of person, so we’re willing to pay for someone who we’ve cookied before, maybe it’s a little bit of retargeting is in there. But yeah, they have demographics that they can tell based on your IP address–the likelihood that you’re X, Y, or Z. If you’ve visited a bunch of sites all run by the same ad network, it has the same ad network on it, they see you going from site to site and are able to say, “Oh, gosh. This guy’s been on a lot of sites about cameras.” We might be able to categorize that. If we have advertisers looking for people who have a predisposition for buying camera products, we’re going to be more willing to put a camera ad in front of that person regardless of whether the site they’re on is about dogs or it’s about cameras.
Kelvin: That’s actually a good thing to know because that was a huge shift in the way that advertisements works. Because before, every time you’re doing your keyword research, you’d see, “Okay. Well, this is the CPC for this niche.” Some people will go towards that to build their sites whereas now it’s different. It’s really kind of this remarketing style of ads.
Chris: Yeah. That hurt me a lot in the early days because there weren’t people that were like, “Hey, we want to target people that are looking up their IP address.” And because it was a technical site, there weren’t ads for, “Hey, you want to buy a Cisco switch?” For me, even though I could write content, it didn’t necessarily do very well in terms of the ads until the more recent ad technology that’s come about with behavioral targeting of the user versus just targeting ads based on the site that it’s on.
Kelvin: Is What Is My IP Address making ad revenue based on clicks or you’re making ad revenues based on impressions?
Chris: These days, I don’t know that you ever really know how you’re being paid. It’s all really going to be transparent in the backend. It doesn’t really matter if I’m getting paid $20 for 1000 impressions or if I’m getting paid $20 for a single impression that happened. One click that took 1000 impressions. I don’t know if that necessarily makes sense to chase. I definitely see a lot of people doing that. They’re chasing their earnings-per-click and their writing content, kind of like the Mesothelioma example that people are trying to chase that click. But I think a lot more of advertisers are moving towards the buying intent and things like that that make click and impression a little bit more vague.
Kelvin: We’re talking about this kind of ad technology. Do you have, at least from what I gather, so Header bidding, that’s just the type of technology, do you have a preferred ad network that you like using?
Chris: There’s a couple that I’ve worked with over the years. I ultimately ended up switching to a managed solution called Freestart. They manage all the relationships. I don’t have to worry about 15 different vendors that I’m billing. They have different payment terms and different relationships that have to be managed. I’ve got 15 reps that I’ve got to keep happy, as opposed, to just working with one person over Freestart.There’s a number of platforms that allow that multiple vendor integration, Sovrn has a good platform. AppNexus has a good platform as well as Index Exchange. Those are probably the big three kind of in a Header bidding space where they’ll provide a fairly simple series of code edits that you can put on your site, “Here’s where I want my ads.” As you work in to build new relationships with new Header bidding partners, there’s just a little bit of upkeep in terms of mapping vendors to add spaces and things like that. It’s usually not too technical.
Kelvin: There is a certain bit of work related to do all these. I would imagine a lot of people at least in our audience, they’re working with Mediavine most of the time or Media.net or AdThrive and things like that which I think is a bit of a more like a managed solution.
Chris: Yeah, in some sense, those are managed solutions.
Chris: These days, those people probably are pulling in Header bidding as part of their platform. Ultimately, people just kind of need to test on a regular basis to figure out what works best for them. Definitely, ad networks, up until I switched to the managed solution, there was one ad network that I’d work with for over 10 years. Everybody else have their peaks and valleys. If you’re not moving out of them while they’re having valley, you’re leaving money on the table. Those are the things you just kind of have to watch and test to make sure that, “Partner A is still doing good or Partner B had to do a little bit better. I need to work with them a little bit more and this other person and a little bit less.”
Kelvin: By peaks and valleys, are you saying in terms of their own inventory that they can supply on your site? Is that what you mean?
Chris: Yeah. I think some of it is just depending on the contracts that the advertisers that they’re able to sell ad space to. If their sales department is on fire, you might be getting paid out more. It depends on what you’re looking at—supply or demand. Depending on which side of the equation you’re on to define supply and demand. If they’ve got a lot of advertisers that are just hungry for inventory, that’s naturally ultimately going to get paid more. If their sales team is not doing so hot this quarter, this year, the amount of advertisers that are looking for that ad space is lower, and you’re going to make less money. You kind of never really know other than watching your numbers where that’s happening.
Kelvin: It’s very interesting too. Listen, on our end, we are mostly in the affiliate space. To hear more about all the workings that are going on in the ad side, it sounds like it might even be more complicated because there’s way more handshake deals basically going on.
Chris: Yeah. There are definitely things that can be a lot more complicated and things that can be a lot more easier in some respects. It’s a different game. It’s a different process. The display ad market is going through—the last couple of years—have been lots of new technology. Everybody has been coming to the space, “We’ve got this now.” There’s a lot of players. There’ll probably be a massive consolidation in the next couple of years down to three or four people or three or four companies, hopefully.
Kelvin: Have you found that this shift in this evolution in ads to be a benefit to you?
Chris: I think at times it’s been a benefit; at times, it’s been a detriment. I think if you’re not keeping up with the technology, the technology shift’s going to hurt you because you’re now behind the curve. You’re not putting the best practices now. That can hurt you. For my vertical, the type of site that I’ve had, it has been very beneficial for me. It’s really helped me to see display revenue growth when lots of other people are talking about, “We’re just getting less and less money per impression. It’s just getting harder and harder to get more revenue.”You’re seeing things like these sites that have three sentences on it and 16 ads. It’s like, “Well, I need to make more money, so I’m just going to slap one more ad on the page. I’m just going to slap one more ad on the page,” and at some point, more of the landscape is more about ad space than it is about content. You’re like, “Why did I even come to this page?”
Kelvin: That actually happened to me yesterday. I went on to a website and it has something to do with coffee. Basically, you go on there. It was decent content except when I got there, they’ve got the banner at the bottom there. Then, they’ve got a video that comes down kind of like a lightbox there, but behind that video, they also have an email lead box, basically. There are three things…
Chris: “I’ve got to close that.”
Kelvin: I just left.
Chris: That’s ultimately what a side operator’s got to look at is the low engagement you have on the site because you’re chasing people away from your good content. It’s really finding that balance between keeping your revenue where it needs to be and serving your visitors. If you chase all your visitors away, it doesn’t matter how many ads you have on your page or how profitable those ads are, if they’re not willing to come to your site, it’s irrelevant.
Kelvin: What kind of engagement metrics would you be analyzing?
Chris: Every site, I think, is going to be a little bit different. I think you’re always looking to engage or looking to increase your time on site for visitors and reduce your bounce rate. In most industries, that works. In some sense, I’m not sure that necessarily applies to whatismyipaddress.com because if you hit the homepage and you get exactly what you want, you’ll leave, that’s a success.But then a lot of content sites, the more time that you spent on those sites is a sign of engagement. You can run heatmaps seeing how far people are scrolling down on your page, what are they clicking on, what are they poking at. “Okay, how can I change up my content adding videos, adding imagery, bold, italics, different colors?” Just to keep users engaged as they’re scrolling down the page.
Kelvin: I guess, yeah. When you’re dealing with the site with tons of traffic which we never really went over, actually. I think you’re doing about a million visitors a month. Is that correct?
Chris: It’s 6 million visitors a month. It’s a lot of traffic.
Kelvin: Yeah. Let’s switch gears. Let’s talk about affiliate offers. How much of your revenue is from affiliate content versus your overall ad revenue?
Chris: I just looked at it in prep for those calls. It’s about 65% display and 35% affiliate right now.
Kelvin: Oh. It’s fairly balanced in a way.
Chris: Yeah. I’d love to get into the point where it’s 50%-50%. If I turned off one or something happened in one channel or the other, I would be losing more than half of my revenue because of it. I’d like that, “Don’t put your eggs in one basket,” philosophy.
Kelvin: I think a lot of your revenue is probably recurring. Is that correct? Your ads or your affiliate revenue.
Chris: It depends on the partner. I personally kind of prefer ongoing revenue. You usually make less in any given indenture of time. If you might have a particularly aggressive CPA model that might pay you $50, but it’s a one-time payment versus $5 a month for the life of the product. For some affiliates, it’s a cash flow problem. If they’re spending money driving traffic to the site, they need to actualize the full commission upfront because they’ve got an ad bill coming to. It’s one of the dangers of affiliate marketing, the affiliate space, is watching cash flow.I personally think that ongoing subscription model is ultimately best for everybody because it puts everybody’s experiences in alignment. If the user’s happy and continue to use the product, everybody makes money. If the vendors’ keeping their customers happy, then they’re making money. If the website builder is producing content that keeps customer on the books because they’re representing the product right, ultimately, I think that works out and a better experience for the customer, the affiliate, and the advertiser. It all works out really well.You’d think you get into problems when you have really high CPA deals, “Let me just get them on the books. I don’t care if they last. As long as they make it pass the cancellation period, I’m okay.” It’s a dangerous place to be as affiliates. I think when the advertisers are young, they’re often looking to buy market share so they’re willing to spend a lot. But at some point, they start looking at their bottom line and going, “We’re paying this affiliate an awful lot of money, but his customers aren’t staying on the books.” Even if we’re paying it all upfront, “Gee, when we look at the numbers, we’re actually losing money with this affiliate. Let’s just cut him off entirely.”
Kelvin: Yeah, for sure. Being an affiliate has a lot to do with relationships with your partners and with your vendors.
Chris: Yeah. And you’re users also. You have to represent the products appropriately to your users. Your users trust you and that recommendation.
Kelvin: Did you do keyword research at the beginning when you started building out this affiliate content side of your site?
Chris: Initially, no. I didn’t do keyword research. It was just a couple of vendors in the online privacy and security space approached me and said, “Hey, we have a product that we think will do well with your audience.” It was a great forethought on my end that resulted in my entrance into the space. It was advertiser-driven saying, “Hey, we have a product we think would work really well here. Can we test it? Can we try it?” I tried it and I was like, “Oh, I can make some good money doing this. Let me start working on building out content to talk about all aspects of these products and services.” It’s why it’s now 35% affiliate revenue versus 5% or 10%.
Kelvin: What can you share about your whole experience writing affiliate content for the site? Are there any tips or anything that you can share with people?
Chris: One of the things I’m kind of surprised that in talking with other affiliates that they don’t do is go to your affiliate. If you’re a good affiliate for them, go to them and ask them, “What should I be writing about? What type of content converts well for your customers?” Some of the advertisers will even produce content for you. I would take that with a grain of salt. I’ve had a number of my partners write content that is absolutely horrible, wrong voice and just, “Oh my gosh, it’s just a bunch of gobbledygook. No one will understand what that means.”I’ve had other advertisers write content that has been some of my best performing content for them. You need to trust that they know their space, ask them about it, and say, “Hey, what should I be writing about? What do you think I am missing out on?” Most affiliate managers want to have that back and forth relationship. They’re looking for an affiliate that wants to grow the business and ask them, “How can I grow the business? What do you think I could do better?” They’re coming from the position where they see all of their affiliates and they know, “This guy’s doing this and it’s working really well. This guy’s doing this and it’s working really well.” You’re doing this and, “Ehh, it’s working okay.” They can generally offer some really good insights as to where you should be potentially putting some more focus where you are not.
Kelvin: Awesome. I haven’t heard that one yet. I haven’t tried that one yet in terms of asking the […] getting their feedback on topics because they can see a lot more than you.
Chris: They definitely have a bigger picture than us an affiliate have. I also think it’s a matter of, if there are multiple programs within the same vertical—Company A, Company B, Company C—is not putting all your eggs in one basket. I definitely found over the years that there’s a lot that goes into conversion rate outside of your control. Sometimes they make changes on their site that helps. Sometimes they make stuff that hurts. They have TV campaigns which can hurt or help depending on how you look at it. Sometimes, popularity of particular brand names ebb and flow as well.Most of the affiliate programs that I’m currently running in the online privacy and security vertical are not the ones that I initially started with; those ones have just not performed as well over time. It’s always good to watch performance, to have some level of A/B testing in there where you’re knowing, “Gee, with this particular vendor, I’m making x dollars per page view or x dollars per click.” That number’s starting to trend down when you look at someone who’s trending up and replacing that.When you have multiple vendors in the same space, you can sometimes swap stuff out almost one for one. Other times, you have to rewrite content or write new content that talks specifically about the speeds and feeds of that particular vendor. But a lot of vendors can often be interchangeable.
Kelvin: A lot of our audience is in the Amazon space, I would say. They’re reviewing these physical products. I think it’s just mostly because Amazon is a beast. They’ve got 40% of all US ecommerce but there are other affiliate networks out there and those are the ones you’re probably on. Do you have one that you prefer?
Chris: I don’t know if people heard of Commission Junction, cj.com, Impact Radius is more of a platform to get informational products like Clickbank. I’m generally looking more for the direct relationships with my vendors. That’s probably another thing that people can look at doing is, if you’re currently working through Commission Junction to work with a particular vendor, if you’re doing really well with them, you might want to see if you can go directly to them and make a little more commission.I generally try to do direct relationships because the people at any particular ad network are going to have less experience about offering me how to grow my business as opposed to the company directly.
Kelvin: Okay. That’s good advice. I want to switch gears again. I want to talk about SEO. SEO is quite competitive for you. You mentioned there’s some black hat sites that ended up outranking you and your main competitor. What tips can you share about SEO given how competitive it is?
Chris: Don’t take shortcuts. That’s probably the biggest thing. If you think it’s shady or it looks like it might be shady, don’t do it. It’s not worth. Any short-term value that you get out of, “Hey, let me go to forums, sign up for a bunch of forums, put the link to my site and my signature, and posts lot of contents in forums.” That worked for a while. But sites that had that as the predominant source of their links eventually got slapped and it hurt them in the long run.I think it’s about good practices, identifying user intent, “Why is the person coming to my page?” If I’m looking for someone, “Where’s their journey? Are they just starting to learn about the product? Or are they now at the point where I’m about ready to buy and I’m making comparison between products that I’m ready to buy,” and writing content for those specific places and the journey, making sure that your keywords matched that place in the journey, that your page titles, the description, and searches match where the person is in their journey. What are they trying to do? Where do you try to get them out on your journey? If you get the wrong one, then there’s a mismatch and it won’t be as effective.
Kelvin: That is why I love SEO is because regardless of the fact that we are socially trying to work with this machine, it really is about zooming out and taking a look at what the actual user is going through in their journey.
Chris: With writing content for What Is My IP Address, it’s about the user. “Is this helpful to the user? Write for the user perspective. I’m not writing for a search engine. I’m not writing for a bot. I’m writing for user experience. I’m working really hard to think about user experience.” For me, that served me well over the last 20 years.
Kelvin: Awesome. I know we’re running out of time here. I do have two more questions for you.
Kelvin: One question is, if you have any final tips on CRO, maybe bang them out, let the audience know. Conversion Rate Optimization?
Chris: Conversion Rate Optimization is not something that I’ve spend a lot of time on. Everything that I’ve read, heard, and listened to people talking about is try, try, try. Always be integrating. Start looking at someone whose site is successful, copy what they’ve done, and just slowly iterate different variables to the process.
Kelvin: Awesome. The final question is really up to you. Do you have any final bits of advice or anything like that you want to share with the audience before we go?
Chris: I think, you talked about deciding what to write about based off of chasing the money. If you’re going to do it long-term, it has to be something that you’re interested in. You talked about making sure that other people can outsource the writing about it. But if it’s something you’re not interested in, I don’t think in the long run you’re going to be able to hang on. I think one of the reasons why my site has done well because it’s a topic that’s interested in me. I’m a geeky, tech person. It’s been easy for me to think of content ideas. I’m familiar with the topics. I think the familiarity and the joy that you get from what you do helps when you have a bad day.
Kelvin: Definitely. Chris, thank you for coming to the Human Proof Designs broadcast here. I guess that is pretty much it for the end of the episode. We’ll see everybody next week.
Chris: Thank you so much. I had a great time.
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