In this episode Colton speaks with Dan Fries of Next Ventures (https://nextventures.group) and BlueTree.ai (https://bluetree.ai) about his journey from “serious science” to buying and selling businesses. The also discuss how Dan scales his team vertically instead of horizontally, and some lessons he’s learned along the way.
Dan co-founded Next Ventures in 2016. Previously, Dan built a publishing business in the cognitive health space. He oversaw dealflow for Wired Investors, a PE firm for internet-based businesses. Dan has experience as an entrepreneur, operator, and investor (https://nextventures.group), and specializes in buy-side PE business brokerage. Prior to founding Next Ventures, Dan worked at the Dana Farber Institute at Harvard Medical School, co-authoring several publications in the field of translational oncology and bioinformatics.
SKIP TO THE GOOD PARTS:
- 1:04 – 3:54 Dan describes his journey from being a scientist to getting into digital marketing.
- 7:26 – 10:13 Dan shares a bit about what Next Ventures is and how it got started.
- 14:17 – 15:07 Dan shares how he applies his skill set of content marketing to increase revenue with different sites.
- 18:31 – 21:08 Dan talks about the culture they’ve established at Next Venture.
- 22:52 – 27:28 Dan shares about the parallels between finding success and having quality content.
- 33:31 – 34:54 Dan talks about the changes and opportunities now with the new way affiliate marketing works.
- 37:22 – 38:18 Dan talks about looking for sites that have upside potentials when in search of new revenue.
- 42:33 – 43:32 Dan shares a bit about his new agency, Blue Tree.
- 44:00 – 44:42 Dan shares his information on how to connect with him.
Colton Moffitt 0:13 Hey Everybody, thanks for joining us today, we’ve got Dan Fries. He’s the founder of Next Ventures. This is a portfolio of digital companies that focuses exclusively on digital data privacy, gaming and commerce. We’re going to talk about how to succeed with affiliate content sites, particularly with a focus on organic traffic, and SEO. So thanks for joining us today, Dan.
Dan Fries 0:32 Thanks for having me on the show. I really appreciate it. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Colton Moffitt 0:36 Great. So I want to start with your backstory because it’s kind of interesting. You were pretty involved in what we consider serious science, you know, not so much just reading the alternative health blogs, no offense, anybody but you serious science. And then you got into publishing some stuff about cognitive health. So before you transition into being a developer, so why don’t you tell us about that process and how you went from being a scientist to doing the publishing business and how you ended up as a developer.
Dan Fries 1:04 Yeah, you know, that’s an interesting way of describing it serious science. But that’s probably the best way to describe it being that we’re in a mix of online publishing where claims are dubious at times. I went to university to become a doctor, I studied medicine, and biology and out of school, I went to a post baccalaureate research program in Boston, and I was studying to be the translational oncologist, which just means someone who’s trying to find cancer drugs. And I was working in a lab, I was working on different papers. And what I found at the time, was that the other students who I was working with were all very, very intelligent, probably much smarter than me. And the doctors themselves are also some of the best In the world at what they do, but they didn’t seem super happy. And I don’t know if that was just a reflection of where I was at, but nobody really seemed really happy with life. And the type of science we were doing translational oncology was basically finding drugs that were hyper personalized to each patient. And they were extremely expensive for the patients. And at each conference, there’d be some old doctor in the audience who would, you know, after the presenter would unveil their new drug and how it’s going to revolutionize medicine. He or she would say something like, you know, why don’t we just spend a few billion dollars on preventative health as opposed to developing new drugs you know, that was 10 years ago now it’s it’s almost natural thing that you know, people should have healthy lifestyles to avoid cancer and heart disease and stuff like that. And health is I think people are becoming more health conscious. But back then, this personalized medicine seemed to be the thing that was going to cure cancer and now recognize that it’s it’s definitely not. So that was happening in the time of my life where I was starting to, you know, be more open to alternative lifestyles. And to be honest, I read the four hour workweek when I was working in a lab. And it opened my eyes to the possibility of geo arbitrage and remote work. And I was the guy in the lab who was basically telling all the other students like, Hey, don’t go to med school, like, I live on a beach in Thailand. It wasn’t very well received. But you know, long story short, I quit my job. I took my sort of science background and convinced a marketing agency to hire me as an analyst. So I’m just Chicago to be working in web analytics role. And then from there started learning digital marketing at a few of my own clients. And once I was comfortable, you know, doing enough digital marketing or at least faking it, I quit my job and started traveling.
Colton Moffitt 3:54 And that took you out to Hong Kong, Thailand, you’ve been going all over the place, so how did that progress from, you know, you were you said in Chicago to deciding, hey, I’m going to go take the show on the road, just from the marketing clients that you had said, now’s the time to do it.
Dan Fries 4:10 Yeah, before I left, I joined a community called the dynamite circle. Probably a lot of your listeners are familiar with that community. It’s just a private community of online entrepreneurs and sort of internet business owners of many different types. And I joined that community prior to leaving because I had listened to their podcast, which used to be called the lifestyle business podcast. It’s now called the tropical MBA podcast, but I had a few friends in there who were living and working in. We’ve done similar things and then left the US to Canada to live and work in Thailand or Vietnam. And at the time, Saigon was a very sort of hot place to live for bootstrappers and, and, you know, solo consultants and so my first stop after quitting my job was my first job was Vegas, and then After Vegas I, I flew out to to Saigon and met a few people I knew my internet friends out there and then started this whole online business journey. And so that was about six years ago. And it took a few years of struggling and trying to build things before I had a few successes. And then about three years in, I was able to sell one of my niche affiliate websites, took that success and started building a building more and then, over time had built a portfolio of several of these sort of content affiliate sites.
Colton Moffitt 5:38 Gotcha. Okay, so that would be what we’re going to talk about more Next Ventures. Before we get into that, though, you’d mentioned that at the time Saigon was kind of this hub for that sort of thing. Do you feel that that has shifted so if anyone’s listening and they’re planning where to go next? Would that be wise, unwise, how do you feel about that?
Dan Fries 5:57 It’s hard for me to say I don’t keep as much of a finger on the pulse of what the hotspots are, I don’t know if you call my digital nomad hotspots or digital working hotspots, but the pace of movement now is much more so than it was five or six years ago, there’s way, way more remote workers. And, you know, it seems to me that as soon as a blog post about city gets published, because travel so cheap, and so many people are already sort of freelancing or working on freelancing stuff on the side. There’s a flood of people that that arrives in a year. So I think there’s still a lot of people in Saigon and I think it’s still a very great place and the city itself is thriving. It’s going through a bit of a Renaissance. And so yeah, I think that’s definitely a great place to start. But, um, it’s been a while since I’ve sort of call it home. So I’m not sure how it’s changed since then.
Colton Moffitt 6:52 Yeah, I’ve been there last year, and I’m, if you haven’t been there yet in, who’s listening can anticipate that somebody will almost run you over on the sidewalk. Other than that is great, good coffee good people. So let’s talk about Next Ventures, you started to build this portfolio after having had some, some not so successful attempts that then you started having more success you were able to sell one I imagined. Tell us more about that and how you progress from your more experimental trying to make it work to a systematic approach to acquiring these assets?
Dan Fries 7:26 For sure. Yeah, so, I think it’s an important distinction to make about Next Ventures and who we are. That we’re not – we do have a portfolio we are, well, we are constantly looking to acquire businesses and websites and domains. But at our core, we are still we still have that bootstrappers experimenters ethos, definitely want to talk a little bit about that, because I think that’s what sets us apart. But coincidentally enough Next Venture started when I know met at another SEO, who was basically at a similar stage to me building lots of websites trying lots of different things. And funny enough, we met at a roadside chicken restaurant in Washington city in Saigon using beer. And we decided to work together. And the first business that we started was that was about the end of 2016. We actually just exited a couple months ago. But so that was it. We were two people, similar lifestyles, similar sort of values and similar stage of life. And we just partnered together. And so Next Ventures is a partnership between myself and his name is Sia Mohajer. We actually spoke at the Chiang Mai conference about some of the strategies we use. I think what sets us apart is we’re extremely hard workers, and we’re definitely more talented operators, anything. We’ve done some investing in website sites and into our own portfolio but outside as well into other assets. We have a acquisitions team at Next Ventures. So we look to acquire websites where, you know, every online broker we have every perspectives that they have. We’re constantly building that database of data. But we try to maintain a core focus on our operator skill set the tactics and tweaks and management that constantly improves our own portfolio, not only because I think that, that’s our edge, we have the edge we see versus other portfolio builders that are going from a builder to buyer transition where I say maybe even operator to investor transition. We’ve been able to leapfrog a lot of people at the same level because we’re I think we’re really so focused on how do we operate things better. And not only does it help us grow our own portfolio, but it opens our eyes to different opportunities that we might not have otherwise seen from an investor perspective, because we know that such and such tactics work very well, we now see certain websites as very attractive buys, as well.
Colton Moffitt 10:13 Gotcha. That’s interesting. I saw that you guys are working with over 110 different affiliate programs across your portfolio.
Dan Fries 10:21 Yeah, it’s probably grown even in the last month, as we’ve taken on a few different sites in different niches. But yeah, I mean, it’s an 80/20 thing with those programs, but probably even closer like a 90/10. where, you know, if you have even if it’s a bit large Amazon affiliate site changes are 20% of the pages are bringing almost all the revenue and it’s the same with affiliate programs. You know, you have a few pages of the programs that are your moneymakers. And then all the others you’re sort of obligated to review because they’re there.
Colton Moffitt 10:50 Yeah, I gotcha, particularly when we’re doing due diligence, and I’ll come across say they’ve got 15 or 20 different affiliate programs. Well, congratulations on the exit. By the way, it sounds It was a few years, couple years in the making, and always nice to wrap something like that up, you had a buy side focus in general. And you had worked with wired investors in the past. So when you have your mindset coming into this being from an operations perspective, you also kind of had the transactional brokerage type perspective and the buy side perspective, how does that influence your investment strategy versus your operations strategy to the extent that they can be distinguished?
Dan Fries 11:35 Yeah, it’s a really good question. So when I work for Wired, what we were certainly looking for was websites that integrated into their existing portfolio. That was the strategy at Wired and that’s still what we do at Next Ventures but let me give you an example. So to better illustrate that is Wired had maybe still has sites in the sort of like how to start a blog. And hosting niche. And it has a proprietary CPA with one of the house well known host. That was just through a warm relationship. It wasn’t any thing based on sales volume or anything like that. And what is a really high CPA that was sort of typically reserved for, like, super affiliates…people doing like tens of thousands of sales per month. And so if you find a site, any site in that same niche, promoting the same offer, or maybe not even the same host, but another host or another equivalent of a host with a CPA, that’s a third of that, or even a half of that. Then if you ask your affiliate partner, Hey, can I if we apply this can we use the same CPA? They’re almost certainly going to say yes, because you’re sending them more business. And that’s a very easy way to to extra revenue. So that’s one example. They did that not niche. One of the other people at Wired that I work with was a guy out of the UK. He’s really young. And he was also quite savvy in the pet niche. And he had negotiated the a special rate with chewy.com and so the pet niche is now is massive and getting bigger. But at the time, there was still affiliates hadn’t quite realized the potential of it just yet. And this was like, I mean, I’m Amazon converts very well, obviously, but Chewy gave a really, really good deal. And so, you know, we were able to buy a couple other pet sites and immediately, you know, 1.5 to two x the price so buy side I’m always looking for that. That unfair advantage that I know, like, without a doubt, I’m getting something that’s so obviously a win that it’s there’s very little risk from a buyer perspective. From an operator perspective, I guess operator wins aren’t as clear cut to me, what I tend to think of as a juicy, say, from an operator perspective, if I’m coming up, I’m looking to acquire it and looking to acquire some equity in the business, I’m thinking of what is generally the thing that’s missing, that I have that fits with my skill set. So my skill set is content marketing, PR and SEO, I’m looking for sites that generally aren’t. They’re missing that piece of the puzzle. It could be a SaaS business that doesn’t have a content strategy, but has a really strong website. So you know, the site might be a domain authority, or domain rating, mid 80s, which is very, very strong, but has no content. And I know for a fact that because that sites so authoritative, if I just smash it with lots of content, that that could bring in customers, you know, you can start adding a lot of revenue to the bottom line. So that’s sort of how I tease them apart. When I’m thinking of thinking like an operator. I’m thinking, Okay, where can I apply my skill set when I’m thinking more like an investor, I’m literally looking for the drop dead simple, unfair advantage that I can come in and just make a small tweak and then immediately add a lot of revenue.
Colton Moffitt 15:08 That’s interesting. And it helps you kind of protect yourself from any downside in order to make sure that you’ve already kind of got your profit built into the deal. But of course, as an operator, you’re also looking to, to really get yourself some efficiencies across your portfolio if possible. And I know that you wanted to talk to us today about scaling teams vertically versus horizontally, how best to go about that, and in a way to apply that to the entire portfolio versus sometimes you get relationships with contractors as you acquire a site, but they’re not really integrated. So I’d like to hear more about what you say on that.
Dan Fries 15:42 Yeah, that’s a great question. And there was just a big SEO conference in Thailand called the Chiang Mai SEO conference. It’s sort of the premier, the non industry conference, if that makes sense, it’s like there’s no Moz people there. There are some White Hats, but it’s a mixture of like Gray and Black and everything under the sun. And it’s put on by Matt thinking it’s a great conference. But one thing I took away from talking with a lot of other SEO content site portfolio builders like myself, is that everybody struggles with this question of how to structure your team. And I remember I talked with Gail and Mark from Authority Hacker back in 2015, and was living in Budapest, and they were there as well. And they were struggling with this question back then. And I think they still struggle with it a little bit to this day. So all that said, you know, our processes I’m going to lay out here is definitely a work in progress. But we tend to try to structure everything in a way that we have fulfillment teams for every type of marketing that we do. And then we have site managers. So the site manager, sort of like they’re basically like the de facto CEO. So if you’re, if you’re a group of investors, you’re a private equity firm, and you’re going to acquire a company in a particular industry. You probably know a CEO or C level people that would be really good to manage that business. That’s sort of how we think about it on a much smaller scale. So we have really talented site managers who’ve like, basically cut their teeth, by being with us for many years learning all of our processes. And once they’ve done one site well, and got it into sort of management mode, it’s a lot less of their time, they could be managing that site. And we can get them to move into another site in any different niche and quickly repeat the process of building it up getting it designed, well setting up the social media automations doing all the keyword research, setting up the link building processes, and they basically establish all those systems for a new site. So that would be an example of its kind of vertical integration, right? There is one person one site, it’s like a money site manager so to speak, but then they can tap into the team. We have like a social media team will have the writing team, why the link building team and we’re different types of link building. So they tap into all those fulfillment teams. They get what they want. But ultimately, you know, we have one sort of boss and each site and then the teams of fulfillment of the different marketing channels are sort of horizontally spread across the entire portfolio.
Colton Moffitt 18:12 Gotcha. That makes sense. And when you were growing into this, did you run into any kind of hiccups? Were there models that you tried before that didn’t really work? This just kind of evolved naturally when you’re acquiring sites and you have certain contractors that already are working on things? How did that actually take shape over the years?
Dan Fries 18:31 Yeah, good question. I think we found for ourselves, again, this is just for us, that the culture and Next Ventures if there is one is basically sort of like a move fast and break things kind of culture. we thrive on really direct, extremely honest and often brutal feedback. And almost every person that’s been with us now for several years or more, and we’re 100% remote, so we feel that this is this kind of feedback super valuable because a lot of stuff can get lost in communication when you when you don’t have a lot of face to face time with people. But all those people basically went through like a trial by fire phase where we really laid into them, there’s there might even been yelling and, and a lot of we’ve lost probably a lot of good people this this way. But the people that sort of come out on the other end, they respect us, and they’ve learned a lot and they’ve learned to deal with criticism and bounce back from it. And so our best site managers are the ones who were laid out there, their Eastern Europeans, they were sort of younger, very ambitious, very smart, high aptitude. We saw a lot of potential in them. But there was a there was a period where at some point where they sort of made it slacked off or they did some kind of sloppy work and really laid it all laid into them quite heavily and then they just bounce back and we’re even better. So almost everybody who’s done with us and has done that. The mistakes that we made, were trying to hide expensive out of the gate. So I don’t think there’s a yes, this is a right or wrong thing. And it really depends on where your businesses at. So for some people hiring $150,000 a year editor manager is definitely the right move and work sort of, you know, we’re approaching that level. But for us, we don’t really gel well with like the fire fast fire fast kind of mentality, we knew is that with some roles, like our writers, and certainly people are not promising in the first few months, then it’s likely they’re going to let them go. But we’d like to, we like to train people over the long term. And we’ve seen that we spend time with people, they tend to improve and get better and better. And so a lot of the people that started as sort of VA’s, but we’re really smart and sharp, are now our management team. So I guess, a mistake we made, it could be, you know, thinking that we’re just going to hire somebody and they’re going to be good upfront without much training or even if they plug into a training system from this from from from a team perspective for sure that that was, that was a mistake we made.
Colton Moffitt 21:08 Interesting. You mentioned the hire fast fire fast thing. And I see that come up quite a bit. But the context that you’re doing business in, I think sometimes that gets lost in the discussion this handed out in slack channels or on LinkedIn, Facebook groups, advice is appropriate for hiring in the context of a funded startup that has money to burn but is not accountable to public shareholders is a little bit different from if you have a smaller bootstrap operation, this needs to be profitable and you can’t really go try somebody for three months at 150 grand a year and then decided it wasn’t so great. It’s a very risky thing to do. And the management principles that work for these multinational consulting firms to apply to publicly traded companies that don’t necessarily work at the startup level or at the kind of cash flow box. profitable small companies level either. So it’s an interesting difference there. It’s interesting how you guys managed to find what works for you. And that kind of work environment. Some people thrive in it. You know, as you said, the yelling, the pressure, the trial by fire, some people really need that, as a matter of fact, and other people would absolutely cry themselves to sleep. I have anxiety attacks. So I’m sure you’ve gotten better at figuring out up front who those people might be.
Dan Fries 22:26 Yeah, definitely.
Colton Moffitt 22:27 So you focus on quality in SEO and why that matters. Because you know, you’ve mentioned Hey, look, there’s Gray Hat and Black Hat and anybody who’s been around SEO knows that there are a variety of things you can do to get more traffic quickly. And then there are things that you’re supposed to do if you’re going to make public blog posts about it. And then there’s what actually happens, so why don’t you give us your thoughts on that quality versus quantity situation?
Dan Fries 22:52 This is a really good thing you would want several hours discussion in another podcast, but I mean, this is where our head is all day every day is how to do extremely high quality SEO work. And I think it’s, it’s, again, this is a differentiator for what sets our portfolio apart. When we talk about quality. I’m specifically referring to links and content content quality. It’s pretty easy to tell most people listen, consider this is good writing. This is captivating. This is engaging, and it is informative. It might be funny, but links know you have to know SEO to know what a really quality link is. But we adopted this mindset. Maybe first just to explain when we build links, we do a type of link building that is basically editorial guest posting. But guest posting is probably the wrong connotation because it’s not a one off guest posts. It’s like every site that we reach out to is basically a major media outlet of some kind. We’re talking like, not necessarily the New York Times like you know, top 10 news organizations in the world but like huge magazines. In our niche, maybe technology, big data, IT, cyber security, stuff like that. And we want columns on those that we can repeatedly link to our sites over and over and over again. And doing this is quite difficult because they don’t accept guest posts, they only accept the columnist, they often want to pay the writers which is good, but can introduce some issues as well, we’re trying to get paid. But that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re trying to get columns on these really, really strong websites and then continually linked to ourselves or we still have a portfolio of clients from those columns. And so getting those is very high touch, there’s a lot of email back and forth that goes in the content itself has to be very well written getting links in them, particularly if the sites are averse links can be very tricky. And so all that said is the types of links we get are substantially higher quality than most other affiliates that we’re competing against. And we adopted this mindset because alongside building our portfolio, we had a couple clients from a previous consulting life who were and still are basically the top top affiliates in some of the most competitive niches on the internet, and I would come to them with possible sites that I was writing for. And they would repeatedly shut down the sites because they said, No, we only want the absolute best links and that sort of differentiate them from their competitors as well. And is one of the reasons why they do so well, is that they just have very, very high quality standards. So we sort of adopted that mentality, also seen higher but it perfectionist ourselves. And I don’t necessarily think this is a good way to approach it for everybody. Because there’s ways that people build these content sites are extremely effective without being extremely anal about link quality and in having really high standards around people build some really great sites on PBN and then slowly phase out of the PBN. Some people do really good job with like massive scale guest posting campaigns. But that said, I think the game is changing substantially. I think PBN are really be around for a while. But I think like the lower tier to medium tier guest posting is not. It’s either not effective now or is like negatively effective. And this is a huge risk. So I think it’s put us in a very good position where now we have this sort of snowball of momentum, all these columns we’ve built and these processes for getting these columns. And yeah, so I mean, you said low quality sites are getting squeezed more rapidly. You know, I think that is a testament to the fact that we’re seeing sites like Business Insider rankings for stuff like best Blender reviews, and New York, New York mag are ranking for stuff that’s like best beard trimmer. So these, these sites have realized that Google has the Google’s algorithm thinks that they’re relevant for just any topic. So because the display ad budgets are being squeezed, they’re saying let’s smash our sites with all sorts of Amazon affiliate content and recoup that revenue. And so that’s why you know, the blenderreviewguy.net despite the fact that he might have a beautiful sight and you know, actually test all the blenders himself. Business Insider comes along and publishes one 500 word article that crushes him for his main keyword. So I’m not gonna put a business out of other conditions overnight. So yeah, I think to continue succeeding as an affiliate, and particularly succeeding well and making a lot of money with big authority sites, you really need to, to be more aggressive, and think a little bit high level about the types of links that you’re going for. And that’s what we try to do.
Colton Moffitt 27:29 Yeah, that sounds like it would be time and resource intensive, but the long term risk management benefits are absolutely apparent there. Particularly since every time there’s any update the Google side of things, everybody’s like nervous Oh, no, what’s gonna happen? And if you’re feeling that happening on a consistent basis, that’s not a great way to build a portfolio over the course of years. So quality focus is key. However, I’m curious since you guys are so SEO focused, the organic traffic is obviously ideal in that context, but do you diversify your traffic source as much as you try to build email lists? And how are you addressing that? Or do you not bother?
Dan Fries 28:10 Yeah, I think that the answer this is it depends on the site. We’ve had success building a news plus affiliate site. Because all the sites we build our like, essentially large brands, if we publish news, industry news, and that news, a, it’s a good traffic play, because you can get into Google News. And to get into Google News, you know, it just a lot of tracks a lot of potential traffic, one of your new stories to blow up and you get 100,000 people overnight. But it’s also really, really good linkbait if you if you keep in mind that a very, very small percentage of any journalists that reaches your site, whether it’s just strictly affiliate or news plus affiliate, but particularly with news is just looking for a citation. You know, it somebody that has a content quota that they’re writing for their site, let’s say it’s, let’s say it’s a journalist for Business Insider. And, you know, they have thousands of thousands of journalists that have a very strict code of how much content they have to pump out each week. And so they need to find sources for their content. So they just go, and you know, like, like anybody writing an article, you try to find something to link to that makes sense. It isn’t a competitor. And so if you just have lots of news content, it’s actually a quite an effective link building strategy without doing any proactive outreach. And then that traffic, that you know, the link equity parlays into better rankings for your affiliate content. But news traffic aside, we definitely for sure, an email list is like the number one thing for us outside of just SEO traffic. We don’t do like a hyper segmented, email lists or like offers or anything like that. It’s just not part of our core business, but we have had success with is just capturing the email with a very, very basic opt in like, hey do you want discounts on the thing that you came here for which whatever the site is about you and discussing that opt in is quite high as usually either new content, you know, call to action or exit intent pop up. And then we regularly just send them like a weekly or bi like a more like twice a weekly deals email, Hey, did you know that there’s a discount on this thing, we have our reviews, just find some discounts in the niche, put our affiliate link in there and then just send these out and that actually the one we just exited that out and about 20% of the revenue to the site. So that was and it was and we clean the list regularly. So just definitely email you know, the money’s in the list. It’s a definitely a super effective way to to diversify. Also with News You Can you know, you can build a Twitter account that sort of a Twitter its own publishing platform, you just publishing all the news that you’re putting out and then occasionally throwing in like maybe once every 20 tweets throwing in like your affiliate content, but just sharing industry stuff. I’m not sure how well that converts, it’s probably more of a branding play. We found that social media is its own beast that everybody’s aware. So to do it to do it properly, you really need somebody that’s like a, knows social media and it’s going to really go hard on it. But yeah, SEO plus email. That’s our bread and butter.
Colton Moffitt 31:23 Cool. Yeah, that’s definitely something that we looked at quite a bit. And as far as the social media stuff, we’re interested in working with people who know more about it. We see a lot of Pinterest stuff happening. Obviously, Facebook and Instagram have been really big for a long time, but it is a it’s one of those things where we certainly don’t shy away from anything that’s over dependent on social traffic because it seems so fickle, and I know that’s ironic, talking about SEO for the most part here, but nonetheless it’s the devil you know. So what do you think is happening in SEO now and and where’s the industry headed in light of what you said about this focus on quality SEO is obviously usually responding to shifts in Google and their policies and their focus. So I’m curious to see what you think on a macro level where things are going to be at the next five years?
Dan Fries 32:13 Yeah, good question. There’s a really good report that I think you probably link to in the show notes here called AWIN report (https://www.awin.com/ca/market-insights/the-awin-report)… A-W-I-N is a large affiliate network and they just published like a state of affiliate marketing, and they bring on like major, major agencies and major, major brands. And what I’m seeing now and what I’ve considered with some people is marketing agencies, let’s say 20 years ago in the online marketing space, they just didn’t want particular thing, paid traffic or SEO, and then quickly became Okay, you need to offer a suite of services. So all the best marketing agencies, it’s integrated digital marketing, but if you take like the top 10 in the US, what they’ll they’ll have huge clients like, you know, household names like Pepsi, Coke. Yeah, yeah. Stuff like that. They’re clients come to them and say, okay, we we know this affiliate stuff is important. And how do we take advantage of that. So, agencies now have a it’s like SEO, PPC social affiliate. And they’ll go with these large brands and actually help them build affiliate programs. And this is not new, but it’s now becoming more ubiquitous, where big brands are starting to court affiliates more and more and more, because they are they have a very close relationship with customers. So on one level, there’s an element of affiliate marketing is is dying, but not dying is transforming because these major media sites can now see that they can quickly publish affiliate content that they hadn’t published before best, whatever, whether it’s a blender, a piece of software, and they’ll immediately rank without any link building and they’ll crush everybody. So on that note, becoming an authority site, it’s harder, but if you’ve sort of been able to get to the authority level, then you’re in a really, really good position. So the barrier to entry is much, much higher. But if you can get past that barrier, then you’re sort of like in the club. And that’s sort of what I’m seeing with particularly affiliate marketing. But I think there presents a huge opportunity. And this is an area that I’m super excited about is looking for looking for niches where there isn’t a huge affiliate presence. So there could be there could be traditional businesses like energy utilities, gas, finance, whatever, that are just 100% offline or have just a basic corporate website. But that could benefit tremendously from tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of websites that already have content about that, but there aren’t monetizing. You reach out to those people, you court them, you build an affiliate relationship. I think that proactive ability to build affiliate as a channel is basically going to be where the SEO industry is headed generally over less next few years.
Colton Moffitt 34:53 That’s an interesting angle on things. So really looking at it from the perspective of the maturity of the affiliate market model you have different sorts of referral marketing that’s been around with larger brands for a while, but they didn’t necessarily incentivize it on a commission basis or they’re working with publishers, their angle was more like you know, invite a friend get ten bucks or whatever. So, this this shift towards affiliate marketing being used by the larger brands, do you feel that that was perhaps brought about by Amazon and the Amazon Associates program sort of legitimizing publisher oriented affiliate marketing, when, for instance, Clickbank, or Commission Junction or something, they didn’t necessarily do that quite as well, in terms of legitimizing it on mass level.
Dan Fries 35:39 Yeah. 100%. Amazon gave people the ability to monetize traffic about just about any product. And so it’s now I think it’s well understood for people doing product searches…that they’re going to arrive on some site that’s a review site or curated review site of some kind. And I think Amazon was definitely a key part of that for sure.
Colton Moffitt 36:06 That’s something that I’ve kind of noticed because I didn’t really become aware of Amazon Associates stuff until I think 2009 or 2010 I’m not sure exactly when it started. But that was sort of new at the time, it was interesting. And still, at that time, though, affiliate marketing in a general sense, had kind of a little bit of a black eye, relative to other aspects of marketing. So it’s interesting to see how that shifted over the years and how it’s been perceived differently. You know, we had talked a little bit about some of the mistakes, some of the challenges from the hiring to the team development and, and your attempts at making other content sites work earlier on, you know, when you’re in Saigon and such, what were some of the key mistakes, you know, maybe just one that taught you the strongest lesson, and you’d like the people who are listening or watching this to take away
Dan Fries 36:59 Yes, so from a from a buyer’s perspective, just without sharing our entire strategy, like we find, like I’m sure a lot of SEOs are doing are looking for sites that have a lot of upside potential. So these can be expired domains that can be auction domains, that can be abandoned sites, sites that are still alive, but I like clearly not been updated in a long time. And what we are doing this basically trying to find these and then repurposing them for some sort of commercial type site affiliate site of some kind. And why this matters is because if you find one that works, you basically, let’s just run the numbers we spend for our extremely high quality links, so to speak, we spend anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per link in terms of all that goes into it, and potentially more, and that’s the market value for some of those is, is two to three or four x that so we can sell those for a lot as well, but let’s just put as $500 to link. Let’s say you find a domain a particular niche that’s abandoned, that has 4000 referring domains of which let’s just say half are really, really good 2000 times 500 – what is that? a million dollars? So you’re looking at basically you saved a million dollars and several years of grind that you would have had to do in building those links. If that link equity is sort of with upheld, and that’s the big question, is are you buying stuff that the links still has juice, so to speak, or if you buy it and the links have gone stale, or Google doesn’t recognize them for whatever reason, and there’s a lot of reasons why that happened. Then it’s sort of a done. And so in approaching these, we had a couple ideas on how to minimize the risk, one of which was we find the site if it’s live live sites are ideal for a lot of reasons, asking them to publish guest post or some test content, so to speak. And one of our most ambitious buys to date, this was about a year ago. We were really gong-ho, we structured the purchase agreement to access rose a lump sum plus a larger now. And we had considered asking them to let us do some test content. And we said nah, they’ll never let us do that. So lets not even ask, we don’t want to ruin the deal. And it turned to be a done. So we lost a very large investment in five figures. And we’re still paying for it. Because we still do. We’re still in the earn out phase or the payout phase. But now, we’ve been through about eight others since then. And they’ve all agreed to do test content. There’s a bit of friction, but it’s worth it. Because if a site is super relevant for what you’re trying to turn it into, let me give an example. Let’s say you have a site that’s like, let’s say it’s an old dentist, organization or dentist conference, and you’re trying to turn it into a dental lead gen site, or maybe a site about dental products and you tell it when you publish something like best electric toothbrush, and it doesn’t rank immediately or within at least a couple of days…that site, you should not proceed with it. And so the test content is really important with that model. And, you know, I think we were just it was a new thing for us finding these strong domains, and we’re really excited about it. And we were worried that we’re going to lose the deal. So I think just, you know, crossing all your T’s dotting all your I’s and trying to know whether the site is going to be good beforehand is extremely important. You know, like I said, live sites are preferable, because if you have an expired domain, you don’t know if those links are even still valuable, you know, SEO tool like AHREFS or SEM Rush, your Maz is going to tell you that the domain is strong, because it has those little links, but it’s not going to tell you those links are still good. And if you publish content, it’s still going to rank so expired domains are like the most risky. Auction domains are a little bit better, because they they’re still indexed. So they like the site is technically still indexing even though it’s like, sorry, parked domains. Parked domains are still indexed. auction domains may or may not be indexed. So there’s all these different ones at the end of the different ends of the spectrum. But if you have a site that’s still alive, it still has traffic that’s like product market fit in a sense. Whereas if you go live traffic and has cash flow, that’s an actual website business. And you know, as product market fit, because people are paying for it, but you’re also going to be paying a premium on that. So if you can find stuff that like, has the upside potential of half a million or several million dollars based on the link equity, try to test it as much as possible. And you can avoid getting burned like we did.
Colton Moffitt 41:33 Yeah, that’s a really interesting move. I think that’s going to be valuable information for people that are listening and I appreciate you sharing that. Obviously, it sucks to lose any money, especially if it’s been five figures for something that you felt like you should test and then you ended up not doing it. That kinda reminds me of a time when I thought I’m just going to leave the car for a second. Put your backpack in the trunk not Don’t be weird. Don’t make it weird. Came back window smashed, backpag is gone, so, listen to that gut feeling listen to it when when your concern, test, do test things, and, you know, re listen to this episode if you’re not sure how to go about that process. So, you know, you mentioned the value of those links. And I know that you guys have a business called Bluetree.ai. Is that a similar thing? Can you tell us about that? And how that how that works?
Dan Fries 42:23 Yeah, thanks for mentioning that Blue Tree is an agency that we have, and because our core portfolio up to this point and bootstrapped and so we were building these types of links for ourselves because we’re in competitive niches, and we attracted the attention of a lot of other affiliates who want similar links. So it just evolved naturally. We didn’t set out to build an agency but we get we got so many inquiries for high ticket links that we decided to put up a website, make it official And so yeah, now we do get inquiries through there. And most of our clients have come through referral. We picked up a couple clients, I spoke at DC BKK, this year and a couple clients there. And as I said, My business partner spoke at Chiang Mai. And we got a client or two there. So if you’re the type of business or I guess portfolio owner, who has sites in very, very competitive niches, and as a large appetite for strong links, then you can definitely help because that’s, that’s our that’s what we do.
Colton Moffitt 43:32 Cool. That seems like it’d be a bit of a difficult thing to wrap your head around if you’ve never done it before. And sometimes it’s best to to work with people who have good, proven experience doing it. So do check that out it’s bluetree.ai if it’s something you’re interested in, you know, you guys also have your Next Ventures website at nextventure.group. There’s a careers page you’re looking for a couple different people, if that’s still active, I’m not sure. So why don’t you tell us about how people can best get in contact with you and learn more if they’re interested in working
Dan Fries 44:00 Yeah, sure man. It’s just [email protected], the website is actually nextventures.group – So that’s the domain name, so [email protected] – we look for, again, sites that sort of integrate into our portfolio. We’re also looking to partner with or acquire other agencies that have similar processes to ours. So link building SEO agencies on our list as well, just so we can accelerate the process that we already have in place and sort of combine them. But if you if you want to ask anything I talked about here or just want to talk about SEO or link building, feel free to shoot me an email. I’m focused on this stuff all day every day. So I like to I like to meet other people who are doing the same stuff.
Colton Moffitt 44:42 Well, thank you. It’s been very informative. It’s a lot of valuable information. I appreciate you inviting people to get in contact with you. Congratulations again on the exit. Congratulations on the success so far and I will talk to you soon.
Dan Fries 44:55 Cheers man.
Colton Moffitt 44:57 Domain Magnate is a leader in buying and selling online businesses with a proven track record of expertise gained from over 300 deals since 2004. To learn more about how we can help you acquire or exit and profitable online business today, head over to domainmagnate.com for more details.
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