Podcast 20: Why Sam of FinancialSamurai.com is Bullish on Blogging – How to Build a Successful Blog in a Competitive Niche

Podcast 20: Why Sam of FinancialSamurai.com is Bullish on Blogging – How to Build a Successful Blog in a Competitive Niche

Several months ago, I ran across a blog that I really enjoyed reading in the personal finance niche.  Before I was running my business full-time, I worked in the finance industry for several years, so I’ve always been interested in investments and personal finance.

As I researched this blog a bit more, I realized that it was doing quite well!  According to its “About” page, it was receiving over 200k unique visitors a month and I could see that there was a very active community.

I’ve always been intrigued how people build their blogs into successful businesses, so I contacted the owner of FinancialSamurai.com and asked him if he’d be interested in doing a podcast interview with me.  He agreed.

So, on the podcast today, I’m excited to share the interview I had with Sam of FinancialSamurai.com.  Financial Samurai is a personal finance and investments related blog that covers all the topics surrounding saving, investing, retirement planning, and more.

In my interview, I dug a little bit into Sam’s story of how he was able to engineer his own layoff so he could work full-time on FinancialSamurai.com at the age of 35.  In addition, we dive into how he was able to build a blog of such significant size in an extremely competitive niche.

The personal finance niche has got to be one the most valuable and highly competitive niches that are out there.  However, Sam has been able to build a significant following and financially do well.  In the podcast, you will find out how he was able to do that.

No Keyword Research or Link Building?

There are a couple of things I want to point out that really surprised me about the success of Sam’s site.  First, he doesn’t do ANY keyword research!  At first, I found this hard to believe; but if you listen to the podcast, you’ll see why it makes sense, and why it still works to get traffic from Google.  In a nutshell, Sam can do this because he understands the market he is in, and what topics would be interesting to his audience – he’s already in tune with them.  I can accept that :).  (But I do think he could tap into even more traffic with some additional keyword research).

Secondly, Sam has done NO link building.  In fact, he didn’t even know how to check how many links he had – I had to tell him on the podcast.  However, as you can see or from what you hear on the podcast, FinancialSamurai.com has TONS of backlinks – way more than any of my sites.  This hands-off approach reminds me a lot of the interview I did with Frasier Cain here.

However, because Sam is out commenting on lots of other blogs as a way to interact (not as a link building tactic), he’s getting the blog links obviously; but I believe this is also getting his name out there where others then reference his site.  So, just because you are in a competitive niche, doesn’t mean you have to do any “manual” link building.

What’s Covered in the Podcast

During the course of the interview, we covered a number of topics and referenced other resources.  Here’s what was discussed:

  • What Sam did professionally before he started FinancialSamurai.com
  • Why he decided to create the site
  • The definition of retirement
  • Sam’s journey to quitting his job
  • How much traffic Financial Samurai is getting (6k to 10k unique visitors a day)
  • Where the traffic is coming from
  • Link building – the fact that Sam doesn’t really do any or pay attention to links much
  • How others can replicate the success
  • Yakezie.com – a personal finance blog network founded by Sam.
  • Why Sam is VERY bullish on blogging, and he believes there is so much money to be made in blogging.
  • Why people should dedicate 3 to 5 years to their blog first, and then they can enjoy the financial rewards for many years to come.
  • Follow Sam on Twitter: @financialsamura

If you are interested at all in starting a blog and want to build it into something long term, I highly recommend that you listen to this interview.  Sam has a great perspective and an interesting story.

As always, if you have any comments of questions, please leave them in the comments section below.  Either Sam or I will stop by and do our best to respond.

Listen to the Podcast

If you enjoy the interview, be sure to leave me a review here!


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38 Comments for this entry

  1. Matt Collins says:

    Hi Sam,

    I just checked out your site FinancialSamurai.com and I am hooked already. Just started reading the ‘The First Million Might Be The Easiest’ article and I agree with Spencer – you are definitely in tune with your audience. Congrats on such a great site. I haven’t even got to the podcast yet! Great post Spencer.

  2. Mike says:

    I read FinancialSamurai.com regularly and have to admit it really is a great personal finance site with great advice.

  3. Spencer – thanks for getting Sam on the podcast. That was an awesome conversation the two of you had. I’ve always looked up to and considered Sam one of the “big players” when it comes to internet marketing and blogging.

    I agree with you Spencer, that Sam could definitely benefit from using keyword research and SEO more on his site. But he makes a good point. Why bother when what he is doing is obviously working?

    Sam definitely has a unique writing style that I think is better than most. His ideas and the ways he presents them is very captivating. I think this is the number one reason for his success – along with his consistency as far as publishing a couple of times per week and his willingness to reach out to others in his niche (even the newbies).

    • Financial Samurai says:

      Matt, you’re probably right in that I’m leaving some traffic and revenue on the table. Perhaps this can easily fixed if I hire someone to “optimize” my site? Any idea how much such services costs? But what if things go in reverse?

      I’ve done what I can to keep things simple and logical on my site. I do have a fear of tinkering things which aren’t broken. Let’s see if traffic recovers post the summer slowdown. If not, I’m willing to experiment more on Internet strategies.

  4. Michael says:

    I have read through Financial Samurai before I listen to this podcast and I can say that this website has a lot great content and advice. I cannot believe I stay that homepage for 10 minutes just reading the content itself.

  5. Dan says:

    Great podcast episode Spencer and Sam!
    I’m still a blogging newbie, but this episode confirmed once again that:
    A) Boring titles perform better than witty titles
    B) Quality content is more important in the long run than heavy SEO

    I’m learning a ton with every episode and article that you post, Spencer. I do appreciate all the advice and work you put into this site every single day!

    • Financial Samurai says:

      Dan, I should have mentioned in the podcast that I recommend logical post titles for then most part and then unique content that consistently makes people think or jolts them into having to contribute their thoughts.

      Write what you want to read, bc nobody wants to read boring.

      • Dan says:

        Yeah, boring was probably the wrong word to use. Logical in the sense of what people are actually typing into the search engine is better :)
        It’s so tempting to use witty titles though, so I have to keep reminding myself in the future to stick to what works rather than trying to write “Magazine cover headlines”.

  6. Travis says:

    Thanks for doing this interview Spencer.

    In my opinion, this has been one of the best podcasts you have ever done.

    Such great information that really confirms that if you just provide great content that the readers will come.

    • Sam says:

      Travis, let’s hope things continue to be this straightforward online. We’ve probably got to always be aware of kinks in the system though and adapt accordingly.

  7. Doug says:

    A very inspiring story indeed. Spencer, you are not afraid that Sam’s story will hurt your LTP business? LOL

    Seriously, Sam’s approach requires in-depth knowledge of the subject he is passionate about. And his website’s domain authority is very high, so keywords don’t really matter any more. Backlinks are natural and regular visitors come back directly. So I guess there are two types of sites. Some sites require KW research to rank and some don’t.

    Thanks again for such an interesting story! and well done, Sam!

    • Spencer Haws says:

      Thanks Doug :)

      I think the point is that you just need to understand your market. Sam seems to have internalized it, others of us need tools to help us research to get in touch with our market. Definitely an awesome approach that Sam has taken!

    • Sam says:

      No problem Doug. I’ve only got so much energy until I burn out so I figure I might as well spend it all on writing as many pillar posts as possible until I do and not much else.

      If I had the patience and skills to do more SEO activity I would. But I don’t. It starts to feel too much like work for me, which is what I always try to avoid now that I’m free.

      Cheers!

    • Nathan says:

      It’s also about different business models too I think. For our ecommerce sites for exanple, keyword research is vital for their success, whereas for our blog about ecommerce, we don’t use any keyword research. Both models are perfectly valid, but need different approaches. I would think Spencer would most likely have a similar approach to his niche sites vs nichepursuits.com.

  8. You are getting a hand on podcast! I can see how you are improving, though sometimes you are still tongue tight :)

    Nevertheless, love your interviews! Thanks for sharing so much with us.

    Do you really mind sharing your income one day, just like Pat? I’m curious how much are you earning. Be it high or low, it doesn’t matter.

    Thanks!

  9. MMD says:

    That was a great Podcast interview. I have known about and been reading posts by Sam for some time now, and to finally put a voice to the name was pretty cool.

    I can definitely agree that FS and even Yakezie have defined themselves as definite niche websites within the personal finance blog community. Sam’s encouragement to write long, well thought out posts has helped me to challenge my own writing style and my opinions on what is truly quality content.

    • Thanks MMD. I’ve got to do a better job monetizing the Yakezie Network. I’ve started a new advertising network initiative this fall. Let’s see what happens over the next 6 months. Hardest part is just starting.. .more work begets more work, and that’s exactly what I don’t want. If I did, I wouldn’t have left my job last year!

  10. Mike says:

    To be pithy, that was a really fascinating interview. I enjoyed it quite a bit!

  11. Iain says:

    Great podcast. I really liked how Sam challenged some ideas that you have Spencer and then explained his reasons why.

    I really liked the back and forth between the various subjects.

    Great job guys

    • Thanks Iain. Although I do wonder what I’m missing out on given the SEO industry is so huge. Could things be better? They probably always can be. I just don’t have this constant urge to optimize, and just write b/c I’m satisfied with current results. Gets tiring always trying after a while!

      Sam

  12. CJ says:

    Nice interview Spencer! Thanks for taking the time Sam!

    Couple thoughts after listening. Sam, you’re clearly a super bright guy, and that’s undoubtedly why you’ve been super successful. After all, content is king and you have an admirable ability to write excellent, relevant content due to your vast experience.

    What surprises me though is that you, being a financial “numbers guy,” are operating essentially without a quantifiable editorial strategy. It’s interesting that you’re not strategically selecting topics to write about. With tools like LTP or simply Google’s Keyword Tool, you can definitively determine if the topic you’re considering is going to be a popular subject. I guess it just feels odd that you’d leave this more or less to chance.

    That being said, I do believe that once you’ve built a following like you have, it becomes less critical to seek out strategic keywords—followers are going to read whatever you publish and now that your site has so much authority you’ll rank easier even with non-optimized articles.

    I do think that keyword research is critical for people just starting out. It makes too much sense to give yourself an advantage of knowing what has the best chance of driving search traffic. On the other hand, the moral of your story Sam, for me, is that people should use a strategy with the least amount of barriers for them to create awesome content. If keyword research is preventing you from creating remarkable content on a regular basis due to the additional time commitment or the creative hinderance, don’t do it. As many have said here, the only long term SEO strategy is creating authentic, awesome content. Google is always going to be refining their algorithm to seek out content that fits that description. And that’s what you did, Sam. Nice job and thanks for sharing your story—cheers!

    • Spencer Haws says:

      Great thoughts, CJ…thanks!

    • Hola CJ,

      I could be a numbers guy, but I dislike the operational side of things and would rather just sing to my own tune. My site has always been about writing in the moment with whatever is on my mind. It could be topical, like the Presidential Election or something random like a woman I met at a bar who had an amazing story of love and loss to tell.

      But over time, I have been able to focus my content on five pillar categories:

      Retirement
      Real Estate / Mortgages
      Investing
      Career / Employment
      Autos

      As the revenue generating categories. Now I’m focused on building up:

      Insurance
      Taxes
      Product Reviews
      P2P Lending
      Credit Scores

      But the remaining five are less natural to me except for Taxes in that I don’t write that much content about them. I’ve got to make a mental focus to try and write about such a topic a couple times a month so that in one year, i’ll have 24 more posts to such categories. Just takes time, but as you can see, it then starts to feel like work, which is what I don’t want to feel.

      At the end of the day, I’m writing about what’s on my mind and not so much about a popular topic that is out there. There are always questions and concerns that I’d like to figure out from the online world.

      Cheers, Sam

      • CJ says:

        I hear you Sam. It’s so hard to create great content on a regular basis. Thanks again for hopping on the podcast and sharing your story!

  13. Todd says:

    This podcast was great! It gave me more inspiration for my financial blog. Keep the awesome podcasts coming! Thanks Spencer.

  14. Joe says:

    Great interview Sam. Can I ask, how did you get that initial traffic the first two years? Did you just start writing and traffic started coming in? Or did you do take some time of action specifically geared at gaining traffic?
    I did not hear this important question asked. Perhaps it was asked and I missed it. Thanks.

    • Hi Joe,

      I was and still am a big fan of blogging first, so I’ve always been reading and commenting on other people sites. After a while, other bloggers took notice and started highlighting my work and it went from there.

      I do have some more unique concepts such as The 1/10th Rule For Car Buying which was adopted by many in the PF sphere. Just over time things build along with Google.

      Big media starts picking up your site if you give it a long enough time as well e.g. LA Times picked up an article I wrote called “Get An Umbrella Policy, Your Teenager Is Going To Bankrupt You!” etc.

      Just got to stick with it and eventually someone, somewhere will take notice. Three years of consistency should be more than enough to make in the thousands a month.

      Best,

      Sam

    • BTW, just today I talked to a TV show producer who is thinking about starting a new finance related TV show. I’ll give it a go. You never know!

  15. One thing I want to note about money is that I spent my entire career figuring out to make money with money. After 13 years, I didn’t want to pursue that avenue of income creation anymore. Instead, I wanted to just write and if money started coming in, fantastic. I’d do a little tweaking and stuff to keep revenue going.

    But I want to write just to write. If there is subsequently a good affiliate product I like that is related to the post, then I’ll add it in. If not, it’s fine because I’m more interested in getting my thoughts out and hearing from the community.

    I really believe this strategy is more viable for the long run sustainability of your blog, largely b/c it’s more natural and you look at your blog as an enjoyable part of you rather than work. And given survivorship is more than half the battle in my opinion, you’re going to get to that viable income generating level because of it!

    Best,

    Sam

  16. very nice to see you on Spencer’s podcast Sam. there are very few I know who are as prolific and work as hard as you do on their online business. congratulations to much deserved success.

    I was looking for one thing particularly which I feel the readership/”listenership” can benefit from. you talk about 2-3 years or even more of investment of time/consistency to reach viable income levels, but what does that time frame equate to in terms of posts / content. does that mean 300, 500, or 1,000 posts?

    the reason this question is important is so that aspiring bloggers/IMs can put things in perspective in terms of the different approaches one can take to get to the same end goal.

    for example, there are many sites/blogs that are significantly thinner/smaller in terms of content. yet the authors do a masterful job at promoting the content they already have in place. they too are very successful, some more while some less than you and the financialsamurai blog.

    in your case, the focus is less on content marketing (you are not on YouTube, iTunes, etc) and more on prolific content creation – almost like a machine spinning out mass content. the end result is that you too are more successful than the above example in some cases, and in others less. both approaches can get one to the same end goal and elaborating on this is very important in my opinion so a reader can weigh out the alternatives.

    for example, if the person enjoys marketing more, then he or she could focus more on that. but if the person would rather only focus on the content, then having some sort of an idea of how much content they need to produce and put out there over the 2 to 3 year time frame is very important.

    in any case, thoroughly enjoyed the discussion. you reinforced many of the details that I personally like about your blog and approach to blogging/internet marketing if you can even call it that given your focus on the produce and creating excellent content.

    you and I have talked about this before – “focus on excellence, and success will follow”. you have certainly proved it.

    • Sam says:

      Good question on what one year means. From the content side, I would say one year equals about 160-200 posts = 3.5 posts a week on average. After 5 years, I don’t see how anybody could not be making money with a portfolio of 1,000 posts. The random offers will just come.

      Good point on marketing, and doing stuff you like. I plan to naturally turn on the marketing a little through TV in 2014. My perhaps most irrational fear is that I will get inundated and lose my own freedom again. I fear gettig caught up in the machine and just want to live a carefree life for the most part.

      Cheers

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