How I Built A $3.5K/Month Authority Site With A Full Time Job
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Patrick Hess and I am the creator of Bar Games 101, a website about a wide variety of games to play with your friends and family.
We feature articles about classic bar games like pool, darts, shuffleboard, and foosball, as well as many other games that are fun to play at home or while traveling, including board games, cards, and dice games, backyard games, and traditional tabletop games.
Our blog posts aim to explain how to play and get better at these games, mostly for beginners, while also helping our audience discover new games to check out and the best gear to use.
As our library of game-focused content expands, traffic is increasing as well, with over 200K monthly unique visitors and revenue over $4,000 for the month of August.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Back in 2016, I was researching some ideas for a new online side project with low start-up costs. The goal was actually pretty simple: to develop a website about a fun topic that could, eventually, earn some passive income and help pay the bills.
I’ve built several websites over the years and use content marketing and SEO to boost sales and generate leads in my day job. So, I wanted to apply this same skill-set to a completely different field.
I have a legal background and currently, work as a business development executive within the industrial sector. Needless to say, I was looking for something on the lighter side.
Using one of my favorite SEO tools called Ahrefs as well as the basic Google keyword planner and Google trends, I started brainstorming some topics and doing keyword research. I wanted to find a niche that was broad and interesting (or at least that I had a bonafide interest in), but not overly competitive.
- A broad website or blog niche allows for several related sub-niches, more topics to write about over the long-term, and more potential traffic for different types of monetization (i.e. display ads, affiliate revenue)
- But if I picked a competitive niche like fitness or gadgets, it would be harder to start ranking.
- Yet, if I picked something based on the search metrics alone, but was not genuinely enthusiastic about the subject matter, I knew I would eventually lose motivation.
I had recently played shuffleboard, one of my favorite games, in a bar. As this was already fresh in my mind, I started researching the subject matter and related topics like pool and darts. And I quickly realized there were several ‘long-tail’ keywords in these game categories with decent search volume and relatively low competition.
I learned a lot about these niche selection and keyword research techniques from sites like Niche Pursuits and Authority Hacker, plus more sites mentioned below.
Based on the number of topics to write about and estimated traffic from solid blog posts that would hopefully rank well, it seemed like an authority website model about the overarching theme of “classic bar games” had strong potential.
Plus, I’ve always loved a good bar game.
I grew up with a pool table in the family room (my Dad was, and still is, an avid player). My brother and I played countless games of pool against each other and with our friends during our childhood. I also enjoyed many darts matches (even played in a few leagues) and games of foosball and shuffleboard in bars over the years.
And, most importantly, it sounded like a fun project to work on in my spare time. So I decided to run with it and build a website.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I started by focusing on my favorite classic bar games that I would enjoy writing about. Then I came up with a list of topics that covered different aspects of the pool, darts, shuffleboard, and foosball.
If you’re doing research for a web project, don’t forget about “offline” sources. I find some of the best information in textbooks and manuals.
These were basically “how-to” guides that would teach a beginner how to play classic games like 8-ball, 9-ball and cutthroat pool; cricket and 01 darts; other dart games like around the world, killer and shanghai; the rules of knock-off shuffleboard; and a summary of tips on how to play and get better at foosball.
Although I generally knew how to play these games, I still needed to do a lot of research to get the rules right, and then communicate this information and advice in a useful and digestible format. I also came up with a complete list of all the bar games I could think of, and then drafted an outline for a very long post on the subject.
Next, I found a Wordpress theme and design I liked and set up a self-hosted Wordpress blog with a simple category structure. Then it was just a matter of writing and publishing the first round of articles.
At this point, I wasn’t even thinking about monetization for the website. I’ve learned from a couple of earlier (failed) projects not to get ahead of myself.
I just wanted to create something that could stand on its own as a useful online resource about classic bar games.
Then, if that resource started to get some traction, I would start thinking about how to monetize it.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The first step for this project was picking a domain name. I liked Bar Games 101 because it conveyed the original purpose of the website: to teach people how to play classic bar games. I already had a hosting account with Siteground, so I simply registered the domain with them and installed Wordpress.
Other than the domain registration and hosting costs, which were minimal, the only other upfront costs to launch this project was to hire a graphic designer for the logo and to find a premium Wordpress theme to build out the site.
I sort of know my way around Photoshop, but my skills are very limited, so it was a huge help to find a talented graphic designer on Upwork. She created a great set of logos using the color scheme I wanted. For the theme, while I’ve used several premium Wordpress themes and frameworks in the past (including Genesis, Divi, etc.), this time I discovered GeneratePress. It’s lightweight, well-documented and supported, and easy to customize; perfect for my needs with this project.
Total costs to get the website up and running, including the graphic design, were about $200, plus all the time it took me to write the first round of articles and design the website. I quickly set-up a couple of social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest) and then hit publish on all the articles.
Admittedly, I did a very poor job of getting the word out for this site. In fact, I did virtually zero outreach: no link building, no advertising, no networking whatsoever. I just built the site and then hoped that it would start seeing some organic search traffic based on the quality of the articles, search volume, and overall interest in my chosen bar game topics and keywords. After working all day and with family responsibilities, plus some other projects I was working on, I just didn’t have the time or energy to promote the site. So, no big surprise here, it took quite some time to generate traffic to the site.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Several months after publishing the first set of articles and creating a “resource” about classic bar games, the website eventually started seeing a couple hundred visitors per day. We even earned a little affiliate revenue from a post about finding the best electronic dartboard. But I was running out of topic ideas to write about within the original category structure, and traffic plateaued. Momentum was fading quickly.
Luckily, I revisited my original list of bar games and realized that there are way more games that the site could and should cover than just the standard mix of pool and darts.
The idea to expand the scope of games on the site might seem pretty obvious, but it took me a while to see the potential of appealing to a much broader audience.
From that point on, I started researching tons of new game ideas and outsourcing articles to a handpicked group of writers. Researching new games, assessing potential search volume/competition, and either writing or outsourcing articles on a regular basis have been a very effective strategy for increasing organic search traffic, and earning new and repeat visitors to the site.
For example, a few of the most popular articles on the site include long, in-depth posts about a unique mix of games, including the best 2 player card games, the best single player card games, how to play dominoes, axe throwing 101, the best dice games to play at the bar, how to play horseshoes, and how to find the best cornhole boards.
We also have several posts about new board games, as well as games like air hockey, skeeball, beer pong, flip cup, bar trivia, bocce, polish horseshoes, adult card games, backgammon, ring-toss games, different versions of monopoly, bachelor party games, and many more.
Discovering and learning about these new and traditional games is now a critical part of the job; not a bad gig!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Currently, the website sees over 200,000 monthly visitors and gets well over 300,000 monthly views. From that traffic, the site now earns an average of $3500 per month based on advertising revenue from Mediavine and affiliate sales (primarily from Amazon Associates).
As you can see from the screenshot below, traffic really picked up in 2019 over the last few months (the spikes represent an uptick in weekend search volume due to the nature of the site) and is growing monthly.
I believe the increase in traffic is due to the fact that the site has aged a little and has earned more authority in Google, as well as my commitment to researching new games and publishing consistently.
Back in November of 2018, the site exceeded 25,000 monthly sessions. At that point, I applied to Mediavine, an ad management program that works with publishers in several different blog verticals. This brought in a whole new stream of passive revenue for the site. If you have a blog that gets decent traffic (at least 25K monthly sessions) and want to monetize with ads, I highly recommend applying to Mediavine. They are very supportive of their publishers and offer access to a large community of knowledgeable site builders and content creators.
I now reinvest some of the revenue back into the site for content creation and a couple of premium plugins. Currently, my total monthly expenses are around $350.
One of my goals over the next couple of months is to clean up the site and consolidate articles to focus on improving the overall quality and time spent on the site. I have also started to work on my conversion optimization rate (CRO . . . just learned that one) for the top affiliate posts.
In addition to optimizing existing posts, I also look forward to publishing new guides about a bunch of different games, including vintage board games, traditional pub games like “shut-the-box”, and ancient international games like Mancala.
Also, one of the best things about this website is hearing from actual game creators, as they are often looking for a place to write about and promote their ideas. And we have the perfect audience for them! It’s been great to feature some of these new games on the site, such as a new dice throwing game called DAGZ, a Kickstarter project called OTR, a fun cornhole-golf hybrid called Chippo, the creators of an axe-throwing company, and a new board game called Hobbes. I plan to feature more new game creations in the coming months.
Ultimately, I’d like to aggregate all of this content into a comprehensive e-book (i.e. “The Bar Games Bible”) with rules and instructions for modern and traditional bar games. And I think the next phase with this site may include also more video, but I have a lot to figure out before then.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One thing I picked up in creating this website was that I spent way too much time trying to design and optimize for desktop visitors. The reality is that over 80% of my traffic comes from mobile visitors. This means that all design and formatting decisions should start with mobile as the primary viewport, rather than the other way around. Since I come from a certain B2B background where most content marketing still targets a desktop audience, this was an eye-opener for me.
Keep it fun. If you’re working on a side hustle, pick something that’s fun or that you’re truly interested in. This can make all the difference in pushing through the initial phase.
Second, it’s really hard to find the “right” writers. But once you do, stick with them. Even if they cost a little more. I’ve learned that it’s worth it to pay more up front for a quality work product and have less editorial work on the back-end. There are a lot of talented writers out there, but many do not know how to write for the web, or at least how to write for your specific audience. It’s worth the time to communicate your goals thoroughly and try different writers out before finding the right match(es).
Along these same lines, the decision to start delegating work to others has allowed me to scale the site a little more than expected. I have a tendency to try to do everything myself, but it’s not an efficient or sustainable way to build an actual business. Which brings me to my next point.
It’s important to treat a project like this, however small it is and even if it’s a side project, as an actual business. Once I started tracking expenses, reinvesting towards outsourced content, and taking content strategy seriously, I started to see things improve and it kept me motivated.
As a bonus, this project has also validated my belief that the games we write about are still fun and relevant. Whether it’s the personal interaction, competition, or even mental stimulation, people are still interested in learning how to play ‘analog’ games. Despite all of the digital options, we have today, there’s nothing better than getting away from the phone or computer and playing a game of pool or round of darts with a few friends, or even a few rounds of rummy or Jenga with a family member.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
For website creation and content management, I use Wordpress as CMS and GeneratePress as the theme. I know there are some skeptics out there, but I love Wordpress and use it for several projects at work and in my spare time. And, if you’re looking for a really nice lightweight Wordpress theme for your next project, definitely check out GeneratePress.
I use Siteground for hosting and recently signed up with Cloudflare to boost speed and increase security on the site.
I also use WP Rocket for caching and site optimization, a plugin called AAWP (Amazon Affiliate Wordpress Plugin) to create and manage many of my affiliate links, and Yoast SEO to configure basic SEO settings in the Wordpress backend.
For SEO analytics, keyword research, site auditing, backlink monitoring, and much more, I use a tool called Ahrefs. It’s an amazingly powerful tool that, once harnessed, will give you tons of insights into potential keywords and optimization strategies. I use Ahrefs for several projects.
For finding freelancers and outsourcing content, I’ve used Upwork and Problogger. I’ve also had really good luck finding writers through platforms like WriterAccess and Express Writers.
I use Canva for image editing and Mailchimp for email campaigns (something I would like to focus on in the future, but up until now has not been a major part of my strategy).
One final tool I’ll mention is Wordable. This is a handy tool that allows you to export from Google Docs directly into the Wordpress editor. I’m still testing it out, but it is already proving to be a big time saver.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
For marketing advice, I’ve read enjoyed a few of Seth Godin’s books. Currently, I’m reading “This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You See”.
For an inspirational biography, I would definitely recommend “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life”, by Walter Isaacson.
Other books that I found helpful were “The 7 Day Startup”, by Dan Norris, and “Virtual Freedom”, by Chris Ducker. The latter is a must if you are unsure about why or how to outsource some of your tasks.
The website that started it all for me was Copyblogger. That’s what got me interested in content marketing several years ago, and I applied those lessons to a number of projects in the B2B space. All still highly relevant today and useful for any type of web project.
Other blogs I read to learn about site building, affiliate marketing, SEO and entrepreneurship are RankXL, Authority Hacker, Niche Pursuits, Backlinko and the Ahrefs blog. I also like the blog at Orbit Media to learn more about website design and content marketing.
I really like the Money Lab podcast. The hosts provide very practical information for anyone trying to build a web based or content business. Plus they’re really funny.
I also enjoy listening to the NPR podcast How I Built This with Guy Raz for inspiration.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Not sure if this is helpful or particularly insightful, but these are some basic things I’ve learned through trying to create an online content-based side business.
The first piece of advice is to be patient. If you’re trying to build a content business like this one (on the side), unless you have some secret formula for instant success (which some claim to have), it will take some time to see results. Just build a solid foundation and plan out your long term strategy.
Then, be persistent. If the initial results are mediocre but you believe in your idea and have strong analytics to support your belief, don’t give up. Trust in your research and try to stay motivated to push through. This is where I failed numerous times. You get sidetracked or jaded, and then move on to something else before the project has had a chance to succeed.
You also need to be flexible. If you’re too rigid with your original plan, you might miss out on opportunities to expand or modify your original idea and move past that initial plateau.
Keep it fun. If you’re working on a side hustle, pick something that’s fun or that you’re truly interested in. This can make all the difference in pushing through the initial phase. If it’s something you enjoy working on, then you simply treat it has a fun hobby. Then, when it has some legs, you can treat it like a business.
My final tip is: do what works for you. What I mean by that is, if you’re as time-crunched as me, don’t try to apply everything you hear or read online to your business. If everyone says do link building and outreach, but you only have time to do some research and write articles, just start with that and get something built. If you try to do it all up front, it can be overwhelming and counterproductive.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Always looking for writers who are interested in researching and writing about games. This would be a freelance opportunity that pays per article. Contact me if interested. If you have experience in graphic design, or even creating or editing videos, that would be a bonus. I also may need a VA in the near future to handle basic Wordpress updates and other admin tasks.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
AFH Media LLC has provided an update on their business!
3 months ago, we followed up with AFH Media LLC to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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