How Mark Valderrama Grew His Aquarium Site to $20k & 300k Visitors Per Month
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Mark sat down with me to share tons of valuable insights into how he's grown Aquarium Store Depot.
He discusses how it was originally supposed to be a drop shipping and eCommerce store when he started back in 2017 but had to pivot to an affiliate focus to not compete with Amazon 2-Day Shipping.
He followed some courses to learn about SEO, but it wasn't until he joined The Affiliate Lab by Matt Diggity that he started to find success growing an affiliate site.
He eventually grew the site to generate more than his full-time job but has kept both.
And today Mark shares his wealth of knowledge and experience in affiliate marketing and content creation, providing valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs.
He discusses the importance of passion and quality in niche writing. And how being passionate about the topic you choose to write about is essential to creating engaging and high-quality content.
He also dives into the differences between content sites and YouTube creators. And shares some of his thoughts about what the future of affiliate marketing will be like.
Overall, it's an interesting discussion filled with valuable insights and strategies for those just starting out or even seasoned pros.
Don't miss it!
Links & Resources
- Aquarium Store Depot
- The Affiliate Lab by Matt Diggity
- Flodesk | Design emails people love to open. Sell online.
- Skyrocket your organic traffic with Surfer
- On-Page SEO Optimization Tool Helps You Rank
This Episode is sponsored by Link Whisper
Watch The Interview
Samara: Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Niche Pursuits podcast. I'm here with Mark Valderrama, and Mark is the brains behind the website, aquarium store depot.com. And so every month, Mark's site is getting around 300,000 visitors and he's making $20,000. Thanks for coming on the podcast, mark.
Mark: Thank you very much.
Samara: So let's start at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about your website.
Mark: The website. Okay. So it started back in. 2017, I believe. And it was originally gonna be an e-commerce site. So to give you a background on myself, I've been in the aquatics industry since I was 11. I started at a very young age.
I had this bright idea with my brother to have a clown fish tank with an enemies, and we got gifted an aquarium, and we just started from there. Okay. And then as soon as I was legally able to work, I started working at a pet store and at At aquatic department. So I used to maintain a lot of fish tanks and just kept doing that and doing that throughout college and then just kept tanks throughout the whole time.
So I've been in the industry for over 25 years at this point. Okay. So the e-commerce idea was, okay, I'm gonna start an e-com site, I'm just gonna drop ship a bunch of stuff. I had several suppliers I signed up right away cuz they knew about me and. Was doing that for a little bit and then Amazon two day came about and pretty much ruined the business.
So, okay. I had to pivot and at the time I was starting to get into blogging and started to write a lot of my notes down just on my own experience on fish keeping. But I didn't know anything about SEO at the time. They were just jumbled notes. And then I got more and more knowledge about that through.
A course that I got from another SEO named Ryan Stewart. I learned more about outreach and I learned more about content creation and just took it from there. And then shortly after him, I found another person named Matt Dig. And Matt Dig has this course called Affiliate Lab. And Affiliate Lab walks you through a lot of different ways of growing an affiliate site.
And that's how I got really into affiliate marketing. I started dabbling into it after the. E-commerce piece started going away. Mm-hmm. Because I had all this content, I had, I had visitors at the time, I think I had about 20,000 visitors at the time. Okay. I said, I gotta do something with this cuz people aren't buying my stuff, but they're looking at my content and they're commenting and they're sending me emails with various questions they have.
So they're engaged. So what I do with this, and so I just started dropping some Amazon affiliate links. I think I made, I think I made $70 the first. Month that I did it. And I said, okay, that's, that's not bad. Let me see what else I can do. Cause I just tested a few pages and it made money and then it just gr and grew from there.
And at one point I thought to myself, okay, if this pays for my car note, I'm happy. And then it got to the point where I said, okay, this thing might pay for for my mortgage. And then I started paying for my mortgage. I said, okay. Wow, that's crazy. This thing might make more than my full-time job. And then I started making more than my full-time job.
I said, okay, this is really crazy. Did I start dealing with this?
Samara: That's fantastic. Yeah. Okay. So what year did you originally create your
Mark: site? 2017, I believe. Okay.
Samara: And so when you originally started it, you didn't really have a background in seo. You just kind of learned as you, as you went
Mark: along? Yeah, I learned as I went.
Samara: That's fantastic. And so today, is it still e-com and information, or how is it structured at the moment?
Mark: We are mostly informational and have, we still have a little bit of remnants of the drop shipping piece. We just don't do very much. There's, I think, two or three products that we actually do drop ship and we drop shipping because nobody really sells 'em and nobody, okay.
Nobody in general fish stores or through online suppliers really sell them cuz they're out in the UK or some other country like that. Okay, so that part still functions? Yeah, that
Samara: part still functions. Okay. Any bespoke products that
Mark: you've ever worked on you'll have to explain to me what a bespoke product is.
Samara: So have you created your own products that you felt there was like a market
Mark: needed? Oh, yeah. Yeah, I've done that before. Yes. Yes. I used to have one of the first algae turf scrubbers. And that, that, what that is, is it's a, it's a device that grows algae within a isolated area in the aquarium. And it, what it does, it sucks up a lot of the nutrients like phosphates and nitrates.
Okay. And it's really good for creating a self-sustaining tank. Created that, but then the supplier or the manufacturer, he used to do it with me. He went out of business and so I didn't have anybody to really make it and I just stopped doing that after that. Okay. Because at that time I think there's like three or four players and I said, that's not really a apply to me finding a manufacturer when I have all these other people I can sell with.
Samara: right. Okay. That sounds like a lot of work as well to kind of create your own product and find the supplier. Yes. And, and sort that out.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I also had aquarium lights for a little bit. That was good. But then Covid killed it cuz the factory that was working on it lost a, a number of their workers and they went outta business.
Oh no. Yeah, it was, it was ugly. Coder was pretty ugly for that part of the business. Yeah,
Samara: definitely. Definitely. Okay. So mostly fo focusing on informational content? Yes. Okay. What kind of affiliate programs do you work
Mark: with? We have about a dozen affiliate partners. Okay. So there anything from a general place like a Amazon or a PECO to specific private partnerships?
I'm pretty sure I'm the only niche site on the internet that has an agreement with a partner like Saltwater Courtroom. Okay. Cuz they will only do business with people who actually meet them in person. And that's been the key to a number of partnerships I have. I have a few other private partnerships that I'm.
I'm not really comfortable disclosing. Okay. Because then other competitors will find out. But I, I'm comfortable with Saltwater Aquarium because he just won't deal with anybody unless I meet him in person. And I can't imagine many competitors actually wanting to meet someone in person to sign an affiliate agreement.
Samara: so how does one go about getting a sort of an exclusive partnership
Mark: with, with someone? I meet them at trade shows. I actually go to trade shows and people know who I am and I just talk to 'em, tell 'em about my site. They. Look at my metrics and usually they're surprised cuz a lot of the times I have more traffic than them.
Samara: Yeah, that is very interesting. Do you often go to trade shows? Do you still go to trade shows or? I still go. It's kinda a strategy
Mark: in the beginning. You're still going? I still go. Yeah. I mean, it's a business ride off and I get to meet people, so why not? Nice,
Samara: nice. This is a like a true passion project, right?
Yes. This is something you've been doing
Mark: for a long time. Mm-hmm. Okay. Yeah, people know me and I wanna get to the point where I can be a keynote speaker. I just haven't gotten there yet, cuz for a lo for the longest of time I didn't really put myself out there. Okay. For a number of years, the website was a faceless website, which is what you normally see with many affiliate sites, cuz most people would just put in a fake avatar or there'll be like an AI image and it's not even a real person.
And half the time they're backed by VC money. And I didn't do that f I didn't put myself out there for a while cause I had a full-time job and the full-time job was very restrictive on somebody who makes money on the side. Okay. So I didn't make it public. Okay. Until recently where I stopped carrying because I, it now it makes more money than my full-time.
It doesn't even, doesn't even matter at this point. Okay. Do you still have a full-time job? Yeah, I still do. And it's extremely flexible and they, and they appreciate it or they actually support what I'm doing.
Samara: Really. So they know about your
Mark: website now, obviously they know about it. Yeah, they know about it now.
They don't really care. It's more like, at this point whenever you're ready to leave or whenever we don't need you, like we're just mu mutually part and we're both okay with that. Okay, cool. So, and I still get my work done. So they don't, they don't care.
Samara: Right. I mean, that makes sense. Mm-hmm. And this has basically driven your, your shift towards kind of becoming the person behind the website.
Mark: Okay. Yes. It also allows me to be a lot more I guess you could say reckless with how I invest money. Mm-hmm. Because I have a full-time and at the end of the day, and if I tell myself, okay, I'm gonna, I'm gonna run outta loss today cuz I want to invest more in the business, I can do that. Of course.
Samara: Yeah. Yeah. That security. Yeah. Yeah. So what would be the advantage to being a keynote speaker?
Mark: Just more brand awareness. Okay. More brand awareness people. Know more who I am. I mean, I, I do have some books that I've worked on in the past on the industry. So there's two books written by Wiley Publications.
It's called the, I think it's called The Complete Idiots or Complete Dummies Guide to Saltwater and Freshwater Creams. I'm the technical editor for both of them. Mm-hmm. So I work with the authors on both those books to get those revised for the third edition. Okay. So I've done that before. I could probably write a book at this point if I wanted to.
I just haven't really gotten the time. Right now I'm mostly looking at diversification cuz there's a lot of big changes on the search engine algorithm. Okay. And with a lot of those changes, it just puts me more into diversifying and just securing what money I make now and enhancing it. Okay.
Samara: what do you mean what kind of changes are taking place and what is that? How's that driving your, your,
Mark: there's a lot of algorithm changes on cert search intent. Mm-hmm. So I've seen a number of my competitors just get completely smashed by Google and then exit the business or sell to another site.
Wow. Yeah. It's, it's been pretty crazy. I think the last six months has been very unstable for, for many websites. Okay. I mean, e even outside of affiliate, I mean, there's some e-commerce sites that have gotten smashed.
Samara: Okay. So your plans to diversify, what does that include?
Mark: YouTube is one of them. So right now we're on YouTube and I have about, I think 5,700 subscribers at this point.
Mm-hmm. I've only been doing it about three months now. Okay. Really focused on it. So it's, it's growing fairly fast. Obviously it doesn't make as much as blogging but it's another good avenue. So my whole thought of is, my whole thought was, well, if it makes 20 or 30% of what the blog makes, then I'm pretty happy there.
Right. And then I'm starting to look into Instagram, but Instagram's gonna be more of a personal brand project. That's gonna be me more diving into coaching and course creation later down the road. Okay.
Samara: Okay. That's interesting. And so is your YouTube channel monetized? Yes. Okay. And how often do you publish content to your blog and to your YouTube channel?
And how does that work? We
Mark: usually do about 15 to 30 pieces of content a month, depending on how busy I am with the block content. And for the YouTube channel, I think we publish about anywhere from 10 to 15 videos a month. Okay. Okay.
Samara: And so who, who's we? I mean, is there, is there a whole team of people, working team behind you in the room to the side that we can't see?
Mark: Or how, how does, how does, yes, there's a whole, I have a whole bunch of VAs. Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So VAs, I have a few writers who have aquarium experience and they write for me. And I, I, I review everything. The YouTube production team, we have a script writer who goes through my blog, writes the script, I review the script, and then after the script, I have several voiceover actors.
Date of the voiceover, and then we have a editor who runs the whole thing. I tried doing voiceover before, but I suck at it and it takes forever. Okay. So I, I, I worked with a mentor who's really good on YouTube channels and he told me in the beginning, he's like, Hey, you probably should try it faceless until you grow big enough where it doesn't matter and you can go faced given the amount of time it takes you to voice over the content, which makes sense to me.
It's like it doesn't make sense for me to go spend. Like a whole day of recording content when the YouTube site itself is in its infancy. Right.
Samara: Okay. So that may might come a little bit
Mark: down the road. Yeah. Yeah. That's the help is I get big enough where I can start doing live streams, but we're not there yet.
Samara: So that might be in the future for you. Yeah. Okay. So you oversee everything, but you have a team of kind of virtual assistants and writers and, and other people kind of working on your, your content for both channels? Yes. Okay. Excellent. Are you using social media at all? You said you're gonna get into Instagram, but do you use any other form of social media
Mark: outside of YouTube?
I don't. Okay.
Samara: Okay. So tell us about your earnings. What's your, what's your, how much, how much are you making from your, your aquarium? Storm depot,
Mark: we go anywhere from 12 to 12 to 20,000 a month depending on the season. So higher season will go over 20 and lower season. We. Go a little, we, we dip to the lo-fi figures in a month.
Samara: Okay. And you said you're getting about 300,000 visitors per month?
Mark: Yes. 300,000 visitors a month right now. And growing. And growing, yes. Yeah. Fantastic.
Samara: Can you tell us a little bit about your content creation process? Do you, are you doing keyword research? I mean, how much content do you have published at this point?
I mean, since you've been around for so many years, you probably have. A ton of articles. And so what does it, what does it look like?
Mark: At the moment, I have over 400 pieces of content that I've written so far. Okay. And content creation. At this point, I don't even, I don't even use H refs at this point. Okay. I used to for keyword research, but I've gotten to the point now where I can pretty much write about anything.
So if I see a training topic, say on YouTube or from a competitor, and I, I think to myself, Hey, that might be something to write. Or I just come across something that I'm doing myself. Like I had a friend of mine who accidentally killed their beta fish because they forgot to change the water with water treatment.
Okay. And so they put in pure tat water, ended up killing beta fish, and I wrote a blog article on that. So I do that kind of stuff now, and I'll do like a little bit of keyword research and say, okay, let's start keyword for this, and then I'll just do that. And then I'm doing a whole bunch of. Care sheets just to spread out the topical authority.
Mm-hmm. Since there's a lot of creature, there's a lot of aquatic creatures that people keep, and I've never really written much about how to specifically take care of the fish. Okay. I've mostly written about how to take care of the tank and what equipment to look into and what makes a good piece of equipment, what doesn't, or even the history of it.
But now I'm working on, okay, so if you want this fish, here's what you need to do. So I'm doing a lot with that right now. Oh,
Samara: interesting. Okay. So there's probably, I mean, a whole lot of possibilities there if you're gonna talk about different types of
Mark: creatures. Yes, yes. And even on the YouTube channel, I think once we cover most of the blog content, we'll probably get into more type of viral content, such as here's this interesting ocean facts.
Like we did one about eels a while back, which I'm surprised didn't do very well. Okay. Because I, I figured it would've gone viral cuz I thought it was really funny, but it just never did. I, I didn't understand why. Maybe we just weren't big enough when we published it.
Samara: Okay. Yes, people love to hear about, about eels.
I dunno. Maybe, maybe down the road it will, it will
Mark: pick up some traffic. Yeah, it's, it's a funny subject that may not be appropriate for this podcast, but it's really funny. Okay.
Samara: I'm gonna have to check it out. Okay. So do you address the same topics on the blog as on YouTube? Do you repurpose your content on the blog for YouTube or are you kind of appealing to different kinds of publics on the two channels?
Mark: We mostly republish the blog content on YouTube right now. Every now and then I'll find something on YouTube that I haven't covered on the blog, and I'll make a video on it, and then I'll just link it to one of my blog posts and I embed it in there. Mm-hmm. But generally, I would say 80% of the time it's off the blog right now, cuz we have so much blog content, right?
So it's really easy to just go into the blog and we already know the search intent because they're, they're ranking on Google, right? And we just make the, we just make the blog or we just make the YouTube video off it. Okay. Do you
Samara: have an email list that you kind of promote your content to?
Mark: I do. I don't really work in it that much.
I think we have, it's not that big. It's only 5,500 subscribers on, on email. It took me a while with email because I, I was conflicted about it cuz I didn't know what to do with it. Right. And it gets pretty expensive when you have a big email list. Mm-hmm. And you have to really justify theri. But then I found this one.
Vendor called Flow Desk, which I really like because Flow Desk has an unlimited cap on how many subscribers you can have. Mm-hmm. Okay. So what I did is I just loaded up all my email subscribers. I actually started taking it seriously once I knew that I wasn't gonna get charged for having extra subscribers.
So I, I would've had a lot more email subscribers. I just wasn't growing it until I found Flo desk, cuz I didn't really see the point in pain so much. Okay. Because I was using Claveo before and I think Claveo with that many subscribers was over a hundred dollars a month, and I didn't really see the point in paying that much if I wasn't making a hundred dollars a month promoting emails.
Samara: course. Okay. And what's the price per flow desk? How is
Mark: this, how's this working out? It's I think 39 a month and it's unlimited users and unlimited emails. Okay, okay. That sounds like a better deal. A better deal, especially once you have a really big subscriber list.
Samara: Yeah. So are, is your goal to kind of grow in the future and, and monetize
Probably. I'm just, I don't really see the point right now. I'm still, I'm still conflicted on it. I'm just growing it. I get daily subscribers every day. I just dunno what to do with it. Okay. I, that's the one thing I haven't figured out is what to do with emails.
Samara: Okay. That's another way to dive, diversify.
Yes. If you're looking
Mark: kind of, yeah. Yes. I just haven't figured it out. Okay.
Samara: Have you ever had an issue with a Google algorithm update? I
Mark: have. Tell us about it. I've been hit twice before and recovered successfully twice. Okay. Typically, the issues that I've had had to do with headers was the big thing.
Okay. So what happened was, because I use FQ section, the keywords would get spammed on the headers because that's what FAQs tell you to write. They tell you to write on the subject and put an H three on it. And that's a big no-no with the algorithm updates. So what happened is every article that I had a F FAQ section on got completely dropped out of Google for a few months, and then I had to go in and update 400 pieces of articles or 400 articles.
And then once I did that, everything was fine.
Samara: Okay. Did you have to go back and remove
Mark: the FAQs? No, I just edited them. Okay. No, I just edited to get rid of the primary keywords and then everything came back up. Okay. So
Samara: that's one Google Rhythm update.
Mark: That was the second Google. That was the second one.
Google Mark one. Right. So now that was the second. That was the second one. Okay. The first one. The first one. I don't even know why the first one. I was just down for half a month and then it came back. All right. I, I didn't do anything. I just, I just wrote more content. Okay. Okay. Yeah. Stay
Samara: the course. Yeah, stay the course.
Yeah. Pray that it will work out. I mean, those are all good strategies, pretty much. Right. Yes. So have you done any active link building for
Mark: your website? I have before. Yeah. Yeah. So I used, used to do my, I used to do my own outreach based on Ryan Stewart's course he used to have this course called White Hat Link Building.
Mm-hmm. Which was all about how to get guest posts and digital pr. So I've done some digital PR in the past. I have a writer now who does a lot of digital PR for me now since, since I, since I am my own brand, it's so much, it's much easier for him to do PR for me. Okay. So that, that's why I also don't believe in faceless content or faceless websites.
Mm-hmm. Because I, I personally feel it's harder to do digital PR if you're not a person on the site. Right. I mean, you can do it if you have a fake LinkedIn. I've been seeing that before. People set up fake LinkedIns and get fake followers, and then they do art outreach with the fake profile. But it's just not a thing that I do.
It's, it's, it's very gamey. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, let's be
Mark: right? Yeah. I mean, even on my YouTube channel, I'm actually on my YouTube channel on the, on the intro. Mm-hmm. I've been on some videos too, but I just don't think I look that good on camera yet. So maybe with some training, as I make more money on the site, I'll, I'll get some training or I'll probably be better once I do a course, cuz I'll feel a lot more, more in my person to actually be on camera after that.
Samara: Right. More confident. Yeah. Yeah, totally. Any, any major links that you've scored in your several years in
Mark: business? The biggest set of links I got was done by, on my own, and it was during the pandemic because I used to sell a product called Clark and Phosphate, which is like, which is, it's this wonder drug in the aquarium industry.
It, it can cure a lot of different Sears ailments for marine animals. Mm-hmm. And I procured it from a, from a lab. And so what I do is buy a kilo because nobody, nobody can use an entire kilo, take you like a year or over a year to actually use the thing. So I'd buy a kilo and I separate them into little batches that I would sell them to people, right?
Mm-hmm. And I had a, I had a guaranteed purity analysis and outside stuff in the lab. So it was, it was very legit. And what happened was our last president Made a statement saying that chlorine was being researched as as a possible cure for covid or treatment for cure for Covid. Right. Well, there's three different types of chlorine and chlorine phosphate is one of them.
And the one he was, the one he was mentioning, he was mentioning was hydroxychloroquine. But when everyone heard chloroquine, they thought to themselves, oh, I gotta get my hands on this chlorine stuff and chlorine phosphates so common. Let's go get that. And so they looked at my side and I had a bunch of people message me saying, Hey, I want to use it for my grandpa or my grandma who's got covid?
Can you sell it to me? And I would tell 'em, no, I'm not gonna sell this to you because we use this for fish. We don't use this for humans. If you want, if you want to get this for humans, you need to go get a prescription from a doctor because the period, so the wrong
Samara: chloroquine. So it's the
Mark: wrong, wrong, yeah, it's the wrong chlorine.
Yeah, it's the wrong chloroquine. And also it's. Almost pure active ingredient. So if anyone took it, they were at overdose, which is exactly what happened to this guy in Arizona. He ended up securing it from somebody who was selling it. He sold it to some, to a person and that person ingested it, thinking it would cure code and he ended up dying cuz it's, if you buy the right chlorine substance, it's like 98, 90 9% pure.
So he overdosed and he died. Mm-hmm. And what happened is, It became big news about this Arizona guy and a BBC reporter reached out to me cuz they saw that I was selling this site, or they saw that I was selling this product. And she contacted me and she said, Hey Mark. So I know I'm this reporter from bbc.
I'm looking into this this death of this guy in Arizona who what do you call died from I, Justin Clark again. Did you sell it to him? So she, I mean, she gave very accusatory. She's like, did you sell it to him or did you or have you inflated your price because people are selling it for ridiculous amounts.
I said, no, and absolutely not. I don't really see the point in price gouging people. It doesn't make any sense to me. Right. And she's like, well, I don't know if you know about this. I didn't know about this at the time. I didn't know that somebody died about this. Mm-hmm. Cuz generally I don't really follow, I don't really.
Take a lot of time to follow mainstream news because my, my full-time job, that's literally what they do. Okay. They are a peer group and they work with Fortune 1000 executives to to talk about really hard current events and someone dying from Clark and wasn't on their radar, but we're talking about a lot of other things during the pandemic.
Mm-hmm. And. She talked to me about it and I said, okay. Wow. I didn't know some guy died about it, died from it. She's like, yeah, we're doing, she's like, we're doing like, can you tell us more about it? And he's like, have you gotten people contacting you? And I was like, yeah, people have, and I tell 'em it's not for human consumption.
And she told me, he's like, well, what have they told you? And I said, well, I got us some really interesting emails. Do you really wanna know? She's like, yeah, I wanna know. I was like, well, I've got in death threats about, Oh my God. People who've been wanting to buy a Clark and I refuse it, I, I refused to sell it.
And then they started sending me theft threats saying that they wanna kill me because I'm being evil and not selling them to, to them to help their gra grandpa save their life. And she, she told me, well, I wanna see these emails. And so I sent the emails to her. She looked over at them and she told me, okay, so here's what's going on.
We're doing a MSNBC nightly special. And it's gonna be an expert panel. And it's all about misinformation on the internet and we really love to have you as part, as one of the guests on the panel. And so that's how I ended up on MSNBC Nightly News. It's, you can still find it on YouTube. Okay. And that interview got me so many back links.
I was featured on Buzzfeed. I was featured on Life Hacker. I. I went on slate, a few other things, and it was just crazy. I probably got about 20 or so very, very powerful links from it. Oh my God. That is insane. Yeah. Oh, and then after that Shopify tried to ban me because I was selling a pharmaceutical in their mind.
Mm-hmm. And so they asked me to take down the product, or they were gonna ban me completely at Shopify. And so I ended up leaving Shopify. I went to WooCommerce. And then I updated the product page into a blog post. And then I talked all about that experience about Shopify trying to ban me and what Chloric and phosphate is, and all the links to those articles, because originally all those articles were leading to my product, right?
Mm-hmm. Uhhuh because they kept talking about my product and they, they kept looking to me, right? So I just redirected it to the, the blog post. And the blog post talks all about how Clarkin isn't a cure for, or clarkin phosphate isn't a cure for covid. Now Zach, it talks and it talks about how it was abandoned.
Samara: that is, that is a good link holding story. That is crazy. Do you still sell this stuff on your, on
Mark: your, on your But no, I stopped. I stopped selling it cuz it's a pain in the butt. Okay. It's a pain in the butt. And also because it's been a pain of butt in the, since Covid. Mm-hmm. So since Covid, it's been very hard to procure it and it got to the point where the labs.
We're saying, well, because people have been using Vahe consumption, we don't wanna sell anymore cuz we're gonna get in trouble. So unless you're vet a veterinarian now, we don't want to sell it to you. Yeah. And since I'm not a veterinarian, I don't get it. So
Samara: it works. Okay. Well that might be a safer vet for everybody.
Mark: My god. It's just most people can't get it from veterinarian cuz most veterinarians don't really care about fish at the end of the day. Okay. They're not gonna, a, veterinarian's not gonna see your, your, your goldfish typically because he's sick. It's your, your, your fish is likely gonna die before you see the, the veterinarian.
Right. It's just the way things work. Unless you have a massive prize-winning coy or these footlong sick lis, a veterinarian usually isn't gonna go see your fish. Mm-hmm. It's just, it's just the way, the way it works. Okay. That is a crazy story, mark. Thanks.
Samara: I love it. Any other, I mean, I mean, what link could compare to that, but have you had any other kind of big link building wins?
Mark: I'm trying to remember if I had other ones. Oh yeah, I did. I, I mean, I had an interview on Huffington Post a while back. Okay. It was right before Tank got canceled and before what got canceled before Tanked. It's a, it's a reality show that talks about custom aquariums and these guys in Vegas would make these really cool.
Yeah, they make 'em for celebrities and things like that. Cool. But I got, I got one about that during fi when Finding Dory came out. Mm-hmm. Because I re, I reached out to them actually and I said, Hey wanted to reach out for, reach out to you guys cuz I remember when I worked at a fish door and when Finding Nemo came out, everybody wanted to put NEMO in a goldfish tank and Nemo does not belong in a goldfish tank.
Actually, most fish, no fish belongs in the goldfish tank. I don't care what people say, they just don't. Right. Okay. But they wanted to put a saltwater fish in, in freshwater, in a goldfish tank. That's what most mothers wanted to do for their daughters or sons. Mm-hmm. When they would come to me asking me to, because they wanted, or when they would come to me and ask, Hey, I wanna get an nemo, because they didn't even know what the fish was.
It was a clown fish, but they didn't know what it was. They just called it nemo. Right. And I, I talked to one of the reporters and said, I really wanna do article finding Dory and what the Dory Fish is and why people shouldn't buy it, because I remember this during nemo. And everybody wanted a clownfish.
Now everybody's gonna want a blue tang. And a blue tang is a much bigger fish than a clownfish. It is a fish that grows nearly a foot long and requires a fish tank that's at least six feet long. Wow. And nobody, no lay person who's gonna come asking to buy Dory is gonna have either the money or even have the desire Right.
To have a fish tank that large to house a fish like that. Mm-hmm. And so we ended up writing an article on Do the Dory Fish and what it was and alternatives to the Dory Fish and things like that. And I ended up getting on Huffington Post. That was, that was like one of my first digital PR experiences.
Samara: That's a nice one. Yeah. Yeah. I believe you got a back link to Reddit. Yes, I did. Tell us, tell us about
Mark: that one. I was fr I'm friends with one of the admins on the aquarium Reddit subreddit. Okay. And at the time I asked if they wanted something specific for their sticky post and they said, yeah, we really want a list of aquariums and, or sorry aquarium societies in the US cuz people are curious where they all are.
And so I just wrote an entire list of them all over the country and said, well, is this gonna work? And they're like, yeah, that works perfectly. And I've had that, I've had that subreddit post for ages. Very nice. Yeah, that's a
Samara: great idea. Some sort of directory on Reddit. No. Yes. Hmm. Very nice. Very creative.
So you said a little bit about Flow Desk is one of the tools you use. You used ATFs. Are there any other tools that kind of you absolutely need to keep your business
Mark: running? Surfer would be another one. It's really good. Yeah, it's really good for optimization, right? On page AI has been a really good one.
I think on page AI will save you from algorithm hits. Okay. Why? That's a total, you don't look into. They look into like header spam and keyword spam. Mm-hmm. So, s surfer SEO can get you optimized mm-hmm. But can also get you in trouble with the new algorithm changes and on page ai, it prevents you from getting into trouble with the algorithm.
Okay. So that's another one. All right. Any other tools
Samara: that you use that you can recommend, recommend to other
Mark: entrepreneurs? Let me see. What else do I use? I mean, I, I use Asana to manage a lot of my VAs. Okay. So I don't, I don't email them or work exclusively through work or whatnot. I, it's all throughout, it's all through Asana.
I just add people when I need stuff. I know other people use Discord, but I don't really use Discord for business right now cuz I, it's, it's, it's, it, it'd be too much and I don't think most VAs would be down for using it. So we just use sun. Okay. All right.
Samara: Can you tell us about your biggest challenge as an entrepreneur?
Mark: The biggest challenge. Hmm.
I can't think of one right now. I, I, I think the biggest one is probably jumping into new ventures, cuz, because at some point, at some point in a blog e either one or two things happen. Either you want it or you, you start writing now things to write cuz you've covered almost everything. Mm-hmm. Or your site starts hitting a cap on how much money you can make, which I still have it in the site, which is, I'm surprised.
I, I always thought to myself, there's no way an aquarium site's gonna make this much money. I thought to myself, well, maybe an aquarium site at most makes three K a month. Like, there's no way it's gonna make as much as it did. And now it's at, right now it's at over 20. I said, there's no way in hell it should make this much.
Samara: Yeah. Especially it's, it's so niche, right? It's so niche. Right. And there's so much
Mark: traffic. Yeah. But I guess I've.
Samara: I guess, I think you can, you can sorry. Increase your earnings beyond
Mark: 20 K or Oh yeah, it definitely could. Yeah. Especially with YouTube, because there's some, there's some sponsors and even though I, I have, I've never taken a sponsorship that's like, one of the things in my site that I always talk about is like, I don't take any sponsorship so I can, I, I'm at liberty to talk bad or good about any product that I feel like because I don't have sponsorships, which is actually, most affiliates have the same thing too.
Which is the difference between a lot of content sites versus a YouTube creator. A YouTube creator relies a lot on sponsorships. Right. But a content site, we can talk, we can say anything about a product. Mm-hmm. If we wanna say a product's bad, I, I can say a product's bad, but the funny thing is that a lot of affiliate marketers don't talk bad about products.
Yeah. And I actually have talked bad about products on my website, which is rare. Mm-hmm. There's ways to do it. There's ways to talk. Bad about a product or just say it's not the best, rather than just say everything's good and hope everyone buys it, which is what I usually see from contact marketers.
Yes, of course. But I have no issues saying a product's bad. I have no issues saying, especially on the, especially on I, I've done it before. I, I've gone on, I've gone on my cell box on a few review posts that I've done where I said, Hey, especially for freshwater, I always say like German and Italians are the best for when it comes to freshwater equipment and if you wanna go cheap, you can go buy something from China, but just know it's probably not gonna last and it's probably gonna be really bad.
Mm-hmm. And I'm oftentimes conflicted on the saltwater industry cuz I always say in my blog that the freshwater industry gets the best equipment because the best equipment in freshwater is all made in Germany and Italy. But saltwater still isn't like that. Even the best lights you can buy are still made in China, which is just crazy to me.
Yeah. Like we still do not have German made equipment or Italian made equipment for the most part. And saltwater the most popular stuff is still made in China, which is weird when you think about the freshwater side, where you don't even deal with saltwater corrosion and whatnot. But you have these products that have been engineered for years in Italy and Germany that are extremely reliable.
Mm-hmm. I have discussions even on my blog and no, no real content marketer talks about this in my space cuz I, I know the industry. I even talk about, of course, the history of like the escrow motor, which is a motor that's used in return pumps. And I would talk about how that motor really perfected the Ehim and Higgin brand like many, many years ago.
That that motor is Italian made. And lasts forever. Like you will have aquarium sum return pumps last for 20 plus years and people are still using them and they, they run 24 7 and nothing's wrong with them. And then when DC motors came about, well all the DC motors were made in China cuz they're cheap.
Mm-hmm. And they have three points of failures, whereas an ac, an AC return pump has won. And it really wasn't until we had a true Italian made DC pump that. DC pumps were reliable. And of course the first manufacturer who did this was cj. And CJ has always been the one of the big iron clan, reliable return pumps in the saltwater industry.
And they make all their products in Italy. And when that happened, I was all over the moon about that. I said, everybody needs to buy CJ Pump if you're gonna buy a DC pump. And this is just stuff that no lay affiliate marketer talks about in my industry course. Like I actually know this stuff. And yeah, other people don't.
Samara: abundantly clear. Yeah. And that's probably part of the reason for your success, if not probably a major part of the reason for your success because you know the industry inside and out and that probably shows across your website. Yeah. Yeah. Nice strategy Mark. So what, last question for you, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs
Mark: if they're gonna start something like I'm gonna do Yeah.
Right. Do something that you actually love or you're passionate about. Mm-hmm. I've had people before contact me for mentorship, and it's pretty common, which is why I'm thinking about doing more course creation nowadays. Mm-hmm. Cause I got a lot of people, people will contact me and say, Hey, I wanna start an affiliate blog.
I, I, I wanna start it on tech, or something like that. And I said, well, do you really have interest in that? And the first thing they usually tell me is, no, not really, but I think I can make a lot of money. And so I'd stop him right there. And I said, okay, so you wanna do something because it makes a lot of money.
You have no real. Incentive other than you just wanna make a lot of money. And they said, yes, that's correct. I said, you picked the wrong niche then. And they would say, well, why not? It's gonna make a lot of money. It's like, that's fine, but, but know that that's the only thing you're gonna write for probably the next two years while you're growing.
Mm-hmm. And do you really just wanna write about something that you don't care about or have no interest in learning, or have no desire to actually become an expert in the space? Right. You're just gonna go hire some guy in Upwork and just hope that. He's the best writer for you. That doesn't sound very healthy for a long term prospect.
Mm-hmm. Because the way I see it now, especially, especially with affiliate marketing, with all these things in Google and going on Google, is that Google's really pushing content creators to be influencers. That's what they want at the end of the day, and that's what they feel are gonna be most trustful trustworthy.
So if you're not going the influencer route, which means you become an expert in the face on camera and whatnot, you're probably long-term gonna fail in affiliate marketing. Or that, or you just have so many expert writers where it doesn't matter. But then you're also paying a lot more for content.
Exactly. Right? Yeah. Or you're paying, or you're paying people to sign off on your website like a, like you get a veterinarian or something like that. Right. Which is what I've seen some competitors do. Yeah, I've seen that as well.
Samara: Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. That's great advice. That's really good advice. Yeah.
Mark: I've had people before I've mentored I sit people down, and this is why I'm thinking about doing a lot more coaching nowadays.
Mm-hmm. Because I think to myself, I was like, well, I actually actually make money online. Like I should be able to coach people because some of the advertisements I see on YouTube, they don't even make as much as I do. But then they're calling themselves expert experts and I sell myself, well, I make more than them, so maybe I actually have something to offering for a while.
I told myself, there's no way I can, like, I don't make that much. But then I see these people who make only 4K a month. Advertise courses. And I said, okay, so I make more, I make five times more than them. I should probably do something. Totally. Totally. And and I've, I've done it before. I've done it for free.
And I talked to one guy and he, and I said, so what's your passion? And he's like, I don't really have any passions. I said, so what do you, what do you like to do for fun? It's like, oh, I just like to play video games. And I, I, I can be very blunt. And I l I I, I talked to him, I said, Okay. I'm gonna be very blunt here, but you need to go have a life and make a life before you actually decide to do something as a business.
Because if you're just playing video games all day, unless your goal is to be a Twitch streamer mm-hmm. Then there's no real prospects for you to write anything on the BlogGo Spear because it doesn't seem like you have any other passions other than you like to play video games and watch tv. Right. I've just been very blunt like that.
Samara: Well, that's probably gonna nice. Yeah. I mean, You know, ha having built your aquarium empire as you have, I'm, I'm sure you're definitely in, in a space to kind of help others and that would be great diversification Yeah. For you to kind of branch out into that.
Mark: Yeah. It's gonna be interesting when I do it, cuz I'm probably gonna make another website and I'm probably gonna have to talk to every digital PR website or every digital PR outreach link that I've gotten reached out to all them and said, Hey, I'm doing a personal brand too.
Can you link to my personal brand now? Mm-hmm. So it's almost gonna be like a reclamation link building project when it happens. Okay. Look at that strategy.
Samara: Yeah. Very nice. Fantastic. Super interesting. Mark, thank you so much for coming on and telling us about Aquarium Store Depot and your projects and your success and it's been really interesting.
Thank you so much. Thank you.
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