I have lost count of the number of times that I have seen people reaching out and asking questions based around the various tools and services that I use to run my affiliate blog network. As my YouTube channel is growing at a steady rate right now I am seeing more and more questions being asked so I have decided to just publish this post going over the various tools and services that I use.
I also have a dedicated article on the various Fiverr gigs that I use on my affiliate blog network too. Although Fiverr can be a minefield when it comes to outsourcing, there are some gigs out there that can save you time and deliver a solid product for cheap.
Depending on your needs and what you are actually planning on doing with your blog you will not require all of the following tools and services. Additionally, if you already have an existing blog that is already online then there is a good chance that you will already have some of the services in the list too. I have a short bullet point list of what I use below and then I will go into each of them in more detail.
- Backlinks – Niche Edits. – Use the coupon code “Shaun” for 15% off.
- Backlinks – Manual Forum Posts.
- Hosting – Sitegrounds.
- Domain Registrar – Namecheap.
- On-Page SEO Optimisation – Surfer SEO.
- Outsourced Articles – Buy Sell Text.
- Amazon Affiliate Plugin – AAWP.
- Social Media/YouTube Image Creation – Canva.
- Rank Tracker – SERPRobot.
- WordPress Theme – Astra.
- Time Tracking For Productivity – Rescue Time.
I am currently still in the process of testing this new niche edit service (Use the coupon code “Shaun” for 15% off) that I use so my service provide may change in the future.
If you have the time available, you can do the manual outreach to try and secure these yourself but it takes an absolute ton of time and effort to find these links so I just outsource them to an agency. I usually use my niche edits to pass link juice, authority, and typical relevance to my money pages with a keyword-relevant anchor text.
A niche edit is essentially a webmaster going off and editing an existing article on their domain to add a link to your domain. In that sense, it can be similar to a strategy known as broken link building but the difference between the two is that broken link building has always had a link there, potentially for years linking to a blog that is now offline. With broken link building, the webmaster may have just noticed they are linking to an offline blog and updated it to another relevant one. A niche edit is a fresh link added to the page potentially making it easier for Google to workout and to potentially remove it from your link graph in the future.
The advantage of a niche edit over a guest post is that the actual article has been published for a long period of time so it has already managed to age in and is more likely to offer a benefit to your target article in a shorter period of time. In addition to this, niche edits do not require a new article to be typed up for the service so are usually cheaper and easier to secure as webmasters are often looking for quick and easy cash. On the flip side of this though, the disadvantage of a niche edit compared to a guest post is that it is easier for Google to work out what’s happening and potentially discount the niche edit link from your domains link graph and not allow any link juice to pass.
Manual Forum Posts
I currently have an initial test order in with this manual forum service as they are around 30% cheaper than the one I previously used while delivering a very similar quality of link in their initial samples.
Manual forum posts, and I can’t stress the manual and posts in their name enough are pretty much as you would guess, niche relevant forum posts made by a human with content that makes sense on a forum with a good moderation team ensuring that it is free from automated spam posts. These are forum posts, not forum profile links that some other people sell and again, if you have the time available, you can go off and find a bunch of forums to manually post on yourself but I outsource it.
The difference between a forum post and a forum profile link is that a forum post is in an actual post in a thread on a forum that has other members actively engaged in the conversation. Sometimes the people I outsource these to will actually have a conversation with themselves if required using different accounts and a vpn to ensure each account has a different IP logged against it and multi account strategy has a number of advantages.
Not only does it increase the chances of Google actually indexing the forum thread as it has more posts and content in the forum thread but as its a conversation, it is also more likely that the forums moderation team will not remove the link. In addition to this, the fake account in the conversation will often quote the post with your link in it so if the moderation team for the forum does delete the original post with your link in it, the quoted version of the post may still remain. Although this may sound very basic, I have purchased hundreds of these manual forum links now and there have been plenty of times when the original post with the link to my domain has been deleted only for the quoted backup version to be left in the forum thread and still provide value.
Due to the nature of forums, you can usually expect around a 50/50 split in links between do follow and no follow but manual forum posts aren’t really used to pass link juice although my own personal testing definitely suggests that they are surprisingly efficient at it. They are usually used to diversify the anchor text ratio for your post, increase the number of referring domains that are linking to your domain, and to help pass topical authority. Due to the nature of forums, you have to accept that there will always be some level of link loss over time but the service providers take as many steps as possible to reduce the chances of this happening and usually try to over-deliver on your ordered link count to try and compensate for it.
In addition to this, all of the manual forum post services that I am aware of are based around monthly subscriptions but you can make an initial order and then instantly log into your PayPal account and cancel the rebill for the links next month and they will still build your first month of links and send you the report with their work. This is due to these manual forum post services being designed around higher competition long term link building campaigns rather than the smaller affiliate blog projects where you may only need one month’s worth of links.
Although there are a few blogging platforms that offer a free hosting solution such as WordPress.com or Blogger, in my opinion, these should be avoided and you should go with self-hosted WordPress from the very start. This means that you are going to need a hosting provider and there are an absolute ton of them out there but choosing the hosting provider for your blog can be a total minefield.
My affiliate blogs are split between two hosting companies, the first, and the main one that I would recommend that any of my readers use is Sitegrounds with the second hosting company that I use for my own blogs being Cloudways. When it comes to their performance, price, and their customer service, both hosting companies are pretty much neck at neck in my experience and can be a solid hosting provider for you.
The only reason that I would recommend Sitegrounds to my readers over Cloudways, especially if you are brand new to blogging is that the user interface for setting your blog up on the Sitegrounds system is much easier than with the Cloudways system. Even if you are brand new, you can easily be ready to go and have your name servers ready for your domain name registrar within minutes whereas it can take considerable more with the Cloudways system depending on your level of experience.
Another plus for going with Sitegrounds is that their SSL system is extremely easy and user friendly. Once your domain is setup, you click the security dropdown on the righthand side of their dashboard menu, select the HTTPS Enforce option and then click the button and everything is set-up. Unfortunately, the Cloudways SSL system involves having to install plugins on your domain and has a much more complex process.
One thing that I do want to point out about Sitegrounds is that you really do have to read the small print below the prices of their hosting packages. The image above shows the small print that they have below their price plans and as you can see, although they do clearly say that the “special prices” are only for your initial invoice, I often see people on Reddit complaining about the rebill prices of their Sitegrounds hosting package but you are able to kill two birds with one stone when it comes to this.
Another common problem that I see with people who are new to blogging is that they give up and end their hosting package before their domain has had a chance to get out of the Google Sandbox period that can usually last four to eight months. This is totally normal and nothing to worry about but it is essentially a time period where your domain won’t be getting traffic from Google until it has aged. You can keep your hosting fees as cheap as possible by signing up for an initial hosting package of six months or more to get as much out of the entry-level hosting prices as possible, this also allows you to keep your blog online for cheap while it ages in if you do feel like giving up.
Another option that some people take advantage of is the special offers section on the Web Hosting Talk forum although I would only really recommend this in extreme circumstances. Although you can get some very cheap hosting on the forum, it is usually far from user friendly to set up and many of the companies advertising there can go out of business with little to no warning causing problems with your blog if you have not been taking your own backups. If you do have to go with a one of the hosting services from the Web Hosting Talk forum then I would highly recommend that you transfer your blog over to Sitegrounds as soon as possible or just go with them from the very start to save time.
When it comes to my domain registrar I always use Namecheap as they are cheap, offer free whois protection and offer excellent customer service. The more well-known services such as GoDaddy tend to be overpriced while also charging you for your whois protection on top of their initial fee too. Just for anyone who is unaware, whois protection is a system where your domain registrar uses their own details for the domain registration in place of your own. This prevents people from scanning the various domain databases out there, getting their hands on your email and phone number and spamming you offering “SEO services” that are essentially just a scam.
Even if you don’t end up going with Namecheap who offer you whois protection for free, I would highly recommend that you always enable the whois protection option on your registrar of choice as it is definitely worth having. Unfortunately, once your details have been scanned and added to the call or email lists, it is essentially impossible to have them removed and they will often be sold to other agencies if the initial agency are unable to convert you into a sale ending you with constant telephone and email spam.
I also see a number of people ask if I use a fresh domain or an expired domain for my affiliate blogs. These days, I always use a fresh domain myself and although I have used expired domains in the past, in my experience, they are overpriced and not as effective as they once were. If you are new to blogging, you don’t need to worry about this, it’s more of an intermediate tactic but I would always recommend that you run any potential new blog name through the free Wayback Machine service prior to registering it.
This allows you to see any history for your potential new domain name prior to actually purchasing it. Although the chances of registering a domain that has been previously used and is potentially penalized is microscopic, I have actually managed to do it twice now. I usually check the domain name that I want in Namecheap to see if it is free, if it is available, I then check it in Wayback Machine to see if it has any record of it being previously used and if it has never been used, then I register it.
Tools such as Surfer SEO are far from needed if you are brand new to blogging and you can easily get off the ground without it. I managed to get to around $3500 a month without it and many other people manage to make much more than I do without using the tool either. That said though, Surfer SEO do offer a $1 trial that lasts for seven days letting you try it out to see what you are getting for your money.
The tool offers you a solid template for building out your articles and in my experience, their content build is the best on the market right now although in my opinion, it is over priced at the time of writing in my opinion if you are just starting out and are planning on typing your content yourself. Unfortunately, right now, Surfer only offer bundles of the various features that they offer in their toolset meaning that if you so only need their content editor then the price is drastically inflated although they do have plans in the works to offer a top up credit system to fix this.
The tool is very simple and easy to use allowing you to put your target keyword into its content editor and then let it do its thing. The Surfer SEO crawler will then go off and scan the top pages of Google currently ranking for the keyword to workout common phrases, words, tags, and media that they have in common and then build out a template for you to work towards to offer the best possible on-page SEO advice for your content. The content editor on tools such as Yoast are based around extremely dated techniques that haven’t worked in years whereas Surfer SEO’s content editor actually goes off and gets you the live actionable data from the internet.
The image above shows you an example of how the content editor on Surfer SEO can be used to generate you actionable data for your article that will then update in real-time as you type your article up in the tool. As you can see, they use a traffic light system of red for too few keywords, amber to show that you are within range, and green to show that you are matching the average usage of the word by the competing articles currently ranking for the term.
As I said, tools like this are not essential if you are starting out and you can try and get a SEO Hero rough idea of the words and phrases the competition are using but it is slow, and often offline. Depending on the time that you have available to commit to publishing your content, it is probably a better idea to just go with the $1 trial of Surfer SEO and use it for the week and build out your templates and complete as many of them as possible before the trial runs out.
Again, if you are just starting out then there is absolutely no need to outsource your article generation to freelance writers but when you get to your scaling stage, it can save you an absolute ton of time to outsource your articles to a writing team to free up your time. I currently use Buy Sell Text and their content is excellent for the orders that I have put through to them so far.
I have also used freelance writers from platforms from Fiverr too and they actually have some surprisingly reputable writers on there these days. That said though, back when I used to use writers from Fiverr, they were publishing tier one content that would be used for backlinking to my money site articles rather than to produce content that would be used on my primary domain.
Over the years I have lost count of the number of writing services that I have used but two more that do come to mind is Upwork that can be a solid option but it takes an absolute ton of time and effort just to find one solid writer. More recently, writers seem to be randomly ghosting clients too making it a pain to use. I have also used iWriter with some success but their platform has its issues too and their rating system for writers seems to be randomly made up as I have had terrible content from their more expensive writers and excellent content from their cheaper writers.
This is another tool that I use that is not needed when you are just starting out but if you have the budget available (less than $50 for a license at the time of writing) then I would highly recommend it. AAWP is the market-leading plugin for allowing you to quickly and easily make comparison tables, affiliate links, product boxes, and a number of other features with your Amazon affiliate ID automatically added. On top of this, their geo-targeting feature will automatically send your visitors who click your links to their required Amazon storefronts for you. For example, a visitor from the USA will be sent to Amazon.com, someone from the UK will go to Amazon.co.uk, and someone from Canada will go to Amazon.ca.
Although I do have a video on my YouTube channel going into how you are able to make your own version of this, it can take a large amount of time and takes a bit of jerry-rigging to get it to work smoothly depending on what you are trying to do. The free version also uses the Amazon one link system that does not include a number of the Amazon storefronts, most notably for the English speaking markets Amazon.com.au meaning you miss out on any potential commissions for visitors to your domain from Australia.
On the flipside of this though, AAWP does require access to the Amazon API for full functionality and you will need to get three qualifying sales via your affiliate links within the first four months of signing up as an Amazon affiliate to get access to their API. The main reason that it is beneficial to have access to the Amazon API and AAWP as soon as possible is that the tool uses a ton of shortcodes that you will have to go back and manually add to your content in the future if you add it to your domain later in the process.
Canva is an excellent little tool that allows you to edit image templates directly in your web browser to quickly and easily product social media cover images, YouTube thumbnails, featured images for your blogs, and a number of other things too. It is a freemium tool and they offer a ton of value with their free plan and at the time of writing, I only use their free plan as they offer so much functionality that I have not had the need to upgrade so far.
They have a ton of template setup for the more popular uses of the tool allowing you to simply add your custom text, images, and colour scheme and be good to go. The system is also quick, easy, and very straight forward to use so there is no need for any prior experience with image editing to get the most out of Canva.
I have used SERPRobot for as long as I can remember and although it costs you around $5 per month when first starting out, the data the tool provides on how your keywords are climbing in the SERPs serves two purposes. Firstly, it shows you that your articles are on their way to the first page of Google to get traffic helping to increase the chances of you sticking with your first blog rather than giving up.
Second, being able to see keywords that are climbing early lets you try to look for patterns on the first page of Google for that keyword to try and workout why it is climbing quicker to try and find more. The more keywords you have climbing theough the SERPs the more likley you are to find some that will land in the top three of Google and then you can look for patterns on them too.
Although it’s not something you ever want to happen to your blog, having a rank tracker setup for your domain will likely give you a solid indication of the pages on your blog that may be hit by an algorithm update from Google too. Although your analytics can offer some of this information, they are less accurate when first starting out as you will only get traffic when you are getting higher in the SERPs making it harder to work out keywords that are climbing quicker than others.
There are an absolute ton of WordPress themes out there and in my opinion, you should always be looking to go with something like Astra for affiliate blogging. I only use the free version of the theme and have no plans to upgrade to the premium version either. The free version of the theme is lightning fast, easy to set up, and easy to customize too making it a solid option. I have uses a number of other themes over the years but most of them are bloated and slow resulting in slow page load times that can end up being a pain.
Rescue Time is another freemium tool that I use to track my productivity that I am a huge fan of as it offers actionable data on what I am doing so I can try to adapt my habits better to reach my goals. I know that Apple and Google have their own versions of these kinds of tools now but at the time of writing, Rescue Time has the advantage of offering more customization and categorization of how you spend your time with their free plan.
For example, as I am in the UK I use Amazon.co.uk for shopping so have it marked as unproductive time but the default for Amazon.com is also unproductive time but with Rescue Time, I switch it to being recorded as Productive as I use it for product research for my affiliate blogs. To date I have never had to pay for their premium to either but if you are using multiple computers then you may need the premium package to use it to the best of its ability.
I also want to quickly share the image below from Rescue Time that is my highest recorded productive time period for a single day to date. Due to so many people trying to sell ebooks based around the dream of blogging being easy, I just want to show that you have to grind, often for many years even before you see a small return for your efforts.
I also use a number of free and freemium tools to run my affiliate blogs that I go over in the video below that may be helpful to some readers.