Podcast 141: How Deacon Hayes Built a Blog to Over a Million Visitors and $100,000 a Month
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Today, I'm excited to bring you another interview for the podcast! I had the opportunity to chat with Deacon Hayes from WellKeptWallet.com and discuss how he's grown such a large website.
I first met Deacon at Traffic and Conversion Summit in Feb. of last year. (Shout out to Steve Chou for introducing us!)
Deacon and I have been connecting privately to chat business and share strategies, and I figured it was time to have him on the podcast so he could share some of his wisdom publicly.
I love the story of Well Kept Wallet for a couple of reasons. First, Deacon has been able to grow the site to over $100,000 a month in revenue! But secondly, his site was not an overnight success. In fact, it took him about 5 years to grow the site to over $1,000 a month.
So, the first lesson here is that often the rewards come to those who stick with it.
However, Deacon also has some great SEO tips to share. Most of the traffic to the site is coming from Google, and so I wanted to dive into the details of what is workings in terms of his SEO strategy.
You might be a little surprised to learn that Deacon doesn't do any link building anymore. To clarify, yes his site has tons of links that have come over the years…and in the beginning he did do more outreach, PR, and link building. But now that he has the authority, he doesn't worry about that anymore.
His focus is on content length, depth, and quality. I love the tips he shares, so I hope you'll have a chance to listen to the entire interview!
Read the Full Transcript:
Spencer: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Niche Pursuits podcast. I’m your host, . Today, I’ve got a great guest with me here today. I’ve got Deacon Hayes. He’s somebody that I’ve connected with over the past year or so. We met at the conference. It’s been almost a year ago I think at this point. He’s doing a lot of great things with wellkeptwallet.com and other projects as well. I wanted to have him here on the podcast.
Deacon, welcome to the show.
Deacon: Hey, Spencer. Thanks for having me.
Spencer: Absolutely. Like I said, we connected, I think it was at Traffic & Conversion Summit was the first time we met, almost a year ago. I’ve kind of been following along with what you’ve been doing and it’s good stuff.
Deacon: Thanks man. That was an interesting conference. I definitely had some takeaways from it. It’s been exciting to grow the site over the past eight years. Great to connect with you and share some insights on that.
Spencer: Yeah, definitely. Before we jump in to Well Kept Wallet and how you’ve grown it, give us an idea of what you were doing before you started it.
Deacon: Believe it or not, I was selling wood flooring.
Spencer: Oh, really?
Deacon: Yeah. For luxury homes. But this was back in 2008, 2009. There wasn’t a lot of people spending $40,000-$80,000 on wood floors, which is the kind of the market that I was in. It was very much cutthroat, 100% commission. You eat what you kill, that kind of thing. It was […] is grind. I’m cold calling builders and architects and designers. That was where I was right before I started the website.
Spencer: Okay. Was this down in Arizona? I think you’re in Arizona right now, right?
Deacon: Yeah, it’s in Arizona. Fortunately, since we don’t snow or a lot of the seasonal stuff like it, it was a pretty easy gig in a sense of like you can drive around and have no problems doing it. But it was long days and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to try to make even just an average salary.
Spencer: How does somebody go from selling wood floors to owning a totally digital business about money, finances, retirement?
Deacon: At that time, my wife and I got married and we decided, “Okay, let’s combine our finances and figure out where we’re at.” We had $52,000 in debt and that was outside of mortgage debt. To us that was like, “Hey man, we’re just starting.” We’re in our 20s and we have a negative net worth. Between houses going upside down and plus the $52,000. Like, “Okay, we got to figure this out.” I’m a big fan of learning from other people. I Googled personal finance experts, found Dave Ramsey, found Ron Blue, Howard Dvorkin, Robert Kiyosaki.
I started to pick and pull. I was like, “Okay, really, the thing that made the most sense for us was Dave Ramsey. He’s very practical. Let’s do the debt-snowball, let’s pay it off in 18 months.” that’s what we did. We decided to really just go all at it and we developed a plan to pay off our debt in 18 months and we paid it all $52,000 off.
Deacon: It was exciting. I was like, “Man, this is so much more fun than selling wood floors. How could I do this for a living? How could I help people achieve their financial goals?” and I find that much more worthy. That’s when I started Well Kept Wallet.
Spencer: Okay. Did you have any experience building websites before? Was this your first crack at it?
Deacon: I think back in the ‘90s, I think there are Lycos sites or something where you can basically create your own website. You can copy and paste that counter in there or like a calendar. I just messed around with stuff. Then fast forward when MySpace was around, I created a layouts website called Layouts For Life, thinking that there’s a lot of people searching for MySpace layouts and things like that.
I dabbled, but nothing that ever made any money. It’s one of those things where it’s like, it’ll be nice to make a website that had made money, but I never thought that was a reality really until the past few years.
Spencer: Yeah. You started Well Kept Wallet. What was the year that you started Well Kept Wallet?
Spencer: 2010, okay. A little over eight years ago-ish. It was personal finance blog, right? You were maybe writing about your own experiences, what worked well for you to pay off your debt and sharing some of those strategies, was that the main idea?
Deacon: Yeah, exactly.
Spencer: Okay. How long before the site started making money? Let’s say maybe $1000 a month, how long did it take you to get to that point?
Deacon: This is crazy. There’s a couple of instances where that happened and then it went away–it was kind of these learning experiences. In 2013, three years in, I got a local TV Station, like a FOX10 to come out to our condo, film us and talk about paying off out debt. Believe it or not, I made $2000 in AdSense over the next couple of days. I was like, “This is incredible.”
Spencer: Just from the traffic spike?
Deacon: Yeah, just from the traffic spike.
Deacon: But here’s what I learned with media exposure is, it only has a very short lifespan. It have been picked up by all these FOX affiliates around the United States and that’s why we got so much traffic, but after that was gone, the AdSense was back down to like a couple a bucks a day. There wasn’t really stable income back then. It wasn’t probably until 2015 where we’re probably making $1000 a month.
Spencer: Like five years in. That’s a lot of work, that’s a lot of time. Were you still selling wood floors or did you moved on to a different career over those five years?
Deacon: What I ended doing was I was a financial planner.
Deacon: So I thought, “Okay, I’m going to go become a CFP and do this legit route.” But then there was all these aspects of it that I still didn’t like. Like, “If I need to go on vacation, I had to run it by my boss.” I remember one time, it was Black Friday, my wife and her family, they wanted to go Disneyland. We’re like, “Okay, we’re going to go during this time.” and my boss says, “You still need to work that day.” And I was like, “Really? On Black Friday?” She’s like, “Yeah. The stock market’s open. I need you to do the trades.”
Spencer: Oh, man.
Deacon: I’m like, “Really?” I still feel like a slave. I felt like I didn’t control my time. Even though I felt like I was a step closer to helping people with their finances, I felt very restricted. I did that for a few years and then realize, “Okay, I need to do something else.” and started focusing more on the blog full time.
Spencer: Okay. It takes you about five years to get to $1000 a month. How long did it take you to get to—I hope that you’re okay if I share this—but six figures in a year or $10,000 a month?
Deacon: Yeah. It was actually really quick. I think the reason is because of intentionality. When I was a financial planner, I was like, “Okay, I got to focus of my career, not my blog.” so that’s what I’m focused on.
Deacon: When I had the focus of the blog more full time, it was like, “Okay. Well, how am I going to push the needle that much further?” It was less than a year to go from $1000 a month to six figures a year.
Spencer: Wow. To clarify, you quit your financial planning job to specifically work on Well Kept Wallet, and the site wasn’t making enough to cover your normal salary.
Deacon: Correct. I’ll add a little bit of a caveat in there, so it’s more clear, I did create an SEO company during that time. Well Kept Wallet wasn’t doing much, I didn’t really know how to monetize it, although it was getting some traffic, so I did create another business to offset the loss in income if you will. It wasn’t my sole thing at the time, but it became my sole thing over time.
Spencer: Okay, that makes sense. Doing some contract work, doing some SEO work that helped you pay the bills, but also gave you a lot more time so you could focus on Well Kept Wallet.
Spencer: That makes sense. Very good. Are you willing to share how well the site is doing now? Share whatever you’re willing, people love income numbers, if you’re willing to share that, or traffic numbers, whatever you’re comfortable with.
Deacon: I set this crazy goal for us to do $1 million in revenue this year, and we will definitely exceed that. That’s a huge deal. But what I also realize is when you do huge numbers, you also have huge expenses, right? We’re doing Pinterest ads, and Facebook ads, and hiring people. I just have to clarify like that’s not profit, but it’s definitely a good living. We do over a million uniques a month visitors to the site and so the goal is to continue to provide the best quality content, so I hired an editor that has written for Time Magazine and Bankrate. We’re trying to up the quality game because then we know that Google will rank us more if we have better written content and good authors and that type of thing. It’s been a fun journey and continuing just to figure out how can we continue to help more people when it comes to their finances.
Spencer: Yeah. Congrats on the successful site. Doing $1 million a year in revenue from one site, that’s huge. That’s a big accomplishment, so I just want to say congrats.
Deacon: Thanks, man. You’ve definitely been an inspiration as well as Pat Flynn and some others that have lead the way to say, “Hey, this is possible.” I appreciate your encouragement along the way.
Spencer: Absolutely. Where is most of the traffic coming from? You mentioned a few different sources there, is it mostly from Google?
Deacon: Yeah, it’s going to be about 70% from Google and then the rest is going to be from social media for the most part. So yeah, that’s really my wheelhouse and happy to answer any questions about that.
Spencer: Yeah. I would like to jump in to that. What really has been your main strategy for growth? Since most of the traffic is coming from Google for SEO.
Deacon: Yeah. The main thing is word count. I think a lot of people don’t realize that anybody can write 500 words, anybody can write 1000 words. But to write a 6000-word authoritative post on a given subject, that just takes so much time, energy, effort. I calculated that it costs us about $1000 to write a piece of content. If you’re just going out there thinking, “I’m going to rank number one for a really competitive term,” and you’re just going to slap some content up there and it’s going to rank, it’s just not going to work.
Really, we look at like what is Google seeing. We use a tool called the SEO Rambler, and unfortunately, it only works like half the time. I think Spencer knows that.
Spencer: Yup, unfortunately. I do.
Deacon: But it tells us a lot of data. What’s the domain authority of the websites, what’s the word count, what’s the reading ease, what’s the page speed. Those four things are the main factors I look at. It’s reading ease, word count, domain authority, and page speed.
Spencer: Are you looking for low competition stuff? How do you judge that? I’m going to assume, correct me if I’m wrong that maybe previously you wouldn’t target things as difficult, but as your domain authority is increased, maybe you’re targeting more difficult things. How do you gauge what you’re able to target in terms of keywords?
Deacon: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Early on, we’re targeting low-hanging fruit, long tail keywords that we can rank for. Now, we're going after really competitive stuff because we just have the authority and the team to write the quality content. It just taken an analysis of where you’re at and say, “Hey, if your site’s not as established as a lower domain authority, go for those longer tail keywords that aren’t as competitive.”
One of the things I didn’t realize is how authoritative our site was. That’s why we weren’t making money because I wasn’t going after money keywords; I was going after just things like cheap party food ideas, and like, “Well, I'm not going to make much money with that.” Really kind of shifting focus of how are we writing content because if I’m going to spend $1000 to make a piece of content, it needs to make at least $1000 back. I have to have a monetization strategy in place even before writing the content.
Spencer: I have a ton of questions here and listeners are probably shouting, “Hey, ask this question.” so sorry if I don’t get to your question here. There’s a lot of good stuff. But you said the main thing, you simply said word count. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say word count, that’s what it’s all about. And then of course, you follow it up, there’s these four things that you’re looking up, pagespeed, domain authority, page authority, those sort things. Specifically with word count, are you just making it longer than everybody else? Is that as simple as that?
Deacon: That’s over simplifying. But it’s a metric that I think a lot of people miss. I saw a couple years ago, Neil Patel did some random study of the average ranking position in Google on the first page was 2400 words, right? I just looked at my content, and at that time, I think it was probably around that 2015, 2016, we were publishing under 1000 words. I’m like, “Okay, this is not ranking. Neil Patel says that I should write at least 2400 words.” We started doing 2000, 3000-word articles and they would rank. Now, we’re like, “Oh, maybe there’s something to this.”
Obviously, if you have content that’s not relevant or you have bad linking strategies, all that stuff, the word count’s not going to matter. But I think the reality is it’s almost like a base metric of saying, “Okay, if the number 1 position is 5000 words, then I need to figure out how to make 5000 quality words for that subject.” Outline like, “Okay, what is this product? What are the benefits? What are the disadvantages? What are testimonials?” Just flesh out what are all those details in order to give me that 5000 words that I need.
Spencer: Right. That makes a lot of sense. How much content are you producing? How many articles per week? Or month? Whatever metric.
Deacon: I got really excited, so we’re doing 1 a day, so 30 a month and then stuff wasn’t ranking as much. I was like, “Okay, what’s happening?” I feel like it was hard to produce that much quality content in long form content. We scale back, we do about four new pieces a week, that’s 16 a month, and then we republish old articles. We go back through the archives and find stuff that was only 1000 words and add another 1000, 2000 words to it and update it for 2018.
Spencer: Are you finding that updating strategy works pretty well?
Deacon: Oh, yeah. Works incredibly well. I use a tool called SERP mojo–I’m an android guy. What I’ll do is, I’ll track where we rank in the search engines. I’ll check that after we do an update and it’s amazing. It will go from number seven and number three in Google within a couple days. Just going through the archives and updating stuff can really boost your traffic.
Spencer: Yeah, it really can. I’ll second that. I went back and I updated a bunch of articles on Niche Pursuits earlier in the year, and some of those went from getting only 10 or 20 visitors a day to over 100 a day. Which is huge, like a 10-fold increase in some cases. Just by going back and updating some of the contents.
I second that. People should be doing that. It’s an important tactic to be doing of a regular basis. Where is the money coming from? I know you’ve got this play ads and some affiliate stuff but maybe give us a breakdown.
Deacon: Yeah. What’s interesting is most of it comes from affiliates, the second most would be an ad networks, so display ads, and then the third would be sponsored campaigns. The one that I love the most is affiliate because I feel like the ad networks can be, although they are lucrative and the ads are good because they’re relevant to the user, it’s just not a great user experience. At some point, I’d like to get rid of them, but they’re definitely doing really well right now. We’d minimize them, that’s the thing. If you look at my site, I don’t have one in the header, I don’t have one on your mobile device. I try to minimize them as much as possible. There’s in content ones, those do really well, but the affiliates is where most of the money comes from.
Spencer: Okay. Give us an idea. What kind of affiliate programs are you promoting?
Deacon: We help people make money, save money, and pay off debts. I literally just went in to each one of those categories and said, “What are brands that will help people make money?” so Lift, Uber, DoorDash, AirBnB, Instacart, there’s so many of those, even survey companies and things like that. We really have a vast, I’d say probably 20 different companies that we do really well within the make money category.
Save money, it’s like coupon apps I bought on Ebay and those type of things. And then getting out of debt, helping people refinance student loans and credit card debt consolidation, that kind of stuff, so companies like, Credible or Upgrade or SoFly. That was helpful or me too, was kind of honing in, what are the categories that we want to write about and then who are the top 10 affiliates in each one of those categories and that helped me hone in on like what should we be writing about so that we can make money with it.
Spencer: Yeah. That makes sense. In terms of other SEO strategies, what about link building? Do you have a big ongoing outreach or link building campaigns, that sort of thing?
Deacon: I don’t, I don’t. For the longest time, I did no link building anymore. My initial thing was PR. We built up the authority by sharing our story with anybody. I would do radio interviews, TV interviews, podcast interviews, anything to get word out of like, “Hey! We want to help people get out of debt and here’s our story and we have some great resources in our site.” that was how we did it. I don’t want to say link building is dead, but it’s not as relevant if you already have the authority. If you don’t have the authority, it’s like the number one thing you need to do.
If you’re starting with the domain authority of one, you need to go out there and hustle and do as many things as you can: guest post, interviews, that kind of thing. But yeah, we don’t really have much of an active one. But I will say, we do have one thing that we’re doing and it’s a test—so I don’t want people to think this is part of our success—but we have a scholarship for $1500 that we’re giving away. We’re submitting that to a bunch of colleges and getting the edu links. There’s a lot of mix things about that, “Those links aren’t really valuable anymore.” that kind of thing. That’s about the only active thing that we’re doing, but we’re doing it more for the scholarship than for the link building.
Spencer: No, that makes sense. People probably are familiar with this scholarship link building strategy. People have kind of been of doing that for a couple of years. Sounds like you actually are doing it really for the scholarship. It can go one way or the other in terms of effectiveness, but that is interesting to hear. I like the way you put it. If people have a new site that has no authority, really, they do need to focus on link building. They need to get some authority to be able to rank well in Google. But once you have that authority, you almost don’t have to worry about that as much.
That’s sort of the same approach I have with Niche Pursuits, one of my sites as well is, I’ve got the authority there. When I publish stuff, it usually ranks pretty quick if I’m targeting the rank keyword. I don’t have to worry about that. That is interesting to hear that you’re not actively, for the most part building a lot of links and you can get to a point where you don’t have to worry about that as much.
Deacon: Yeah, and it’s so much better. I remember writing guest post, takes a lot of time and doing interviews and all that stuff, you’re just blocking out lot of time to do that stuff. Now, I just do it because I enjoy it. I’m on this podcast because I think what Spencer’s doing is awesome and I am a huge fan. It kind of switched my focus from, I’m not doing this stuff for the links anymore, I’m doing it just to spread the message, help more people, that kind of thing.
Spencer: Yes and we appreciate it very much, of course. What else works well in terms of SEO? Anything else, maybe a deeper content strategy, or just anything else that you have seen drive some success for your site.
Deacon: I think relevance is key. I told Spencer, I bought another site in the same niche and started writing content and it didn’t rank as well. I started to see that Google views websites kind of in the silos, if you will. Really, just figuring out what does Google recognize this website for and then writing more content around that will get you results a lot faster. It’s one of those things where it was a learning experience of , “Okay. I want to rank for these really lucrative terms for this site, but Google doesn’t recognize this site for that.” I can do one or two things: I can spend a lot of time building up the authority around that specific category or I can write in this other category that Google ranks for and figure out ways to monetize it. I'm going to do both, but to get the quick wins I’m really writing more of that content that I know Google will rank.
Spencer: How do you determine that? You’re basically talking about topical relevance. How do you determine what your site Google views as topically relevant for?
Deacon: It’s more like what ranks quickly. I’ll just give you an idea. For instance, net worth. I kind of struggled with this because I’m like, “Man, it seems so random. But like celebrity net worths,” but people are really interested in those. This website that I own ranks really well within a week for those types of post. But if I want to write content about ways to make money from a home, Google does not rank it. If it does it’s on like page six. I just realized, okay, I can write more of this content and figure out how to monetize it while I’m building up the authority in the other category. It’s just how fast does Google rank certain types of post, gives me an indication of what type of site Google views my site as.
Spencer: That makes a lot of sense. For people that are just starting out, let’s say they’ve got a brand new site. What would you recommend that they do in terms of topics that they talk about? Because obviously, we look at Well Kept Wallet, you’re talking a lot of different things and covers really a broad spectrum, even though you’ve condensed it down to save money, make money and to retire earlier or something like that–sort of these three main things. Somebody that’s brand new, how should they hone in of like that laser focused topic? Should they start something more broad like you’ve done?
Deacon: One of the best action items you’ve got was to just find the top 10 affiliates in that niche and then figure out what those categories are from there. I can clearly see the make money and the paying off debt were the ones that are the most lucrative and that are going to help people the most.
The average person that refinances a student loan with Credible saves $18,000. That’s an easier sell because they know like, “I'm going to get a lot of value from signing up from this affiliate.” Those type of things really help me hone in on like, “Okay, figure out those top 10 affiliates if you’re new.” and the way to do that is look at who’s ranking. I could probably figure out pretty quickly what affiliate relationship Spencer has by looking at what he ranks for and then going in those posts and hovering over those links and seeing which ones are affiliate links and which ones aren’t. Same with our site, you could do the same thing. Go to your competition—or I shouldn’t say competition—just go to who’s ranking and see who they have affiliate relationships with and that’s a good place to start.
Spencer: I think that’s some great tips. You did mention that you just recently purchased a site. I’d like to talk just a little bit more about that. The site is generating revenue of seven figures a year now, Well Kept Wallet. Why are you going out and buying additional sites?
Deacon: The main thing now is finding other people that are passionate about a given area, like a topic. I have a couple of friends, one’s interested in electronics and one’s interested in mental health, and saying like, “Hey, I don’t really know much about those categories, but I know about building websites, I know about monetizing websites. ” I love to help other people succeed, it’s one of my passions. Figuring out how to use those talents and abilities that I have to help others succeed. That’s the main thing. We’re already comfortable making the money we’re making, we’re not only making it for the money, we’re doing it more for the impact.
Spencer: That makes sense. Why buy a site instead of building something from scratch?
Deacon: Yeah, that’s a really good question. Because I tried it and it’s a lot harder. It’s funny because you forget the first six years. You feel like an overnight success because like I said, we run from $1000 to $100,000 pretty quick. But the reality is, it took six years to get to a point where that was even possible. Buying a website just takes off a lot of those initial years that it would take to build that authority and the link building that it takes and that kind of thing.
The other thing is domain age. If you can buy a site that’s been around for 10, 15, 20 years, it’s going to rank a lot quicker than a brand new website. That was just our thought process.
Spencer: That makes a lot of sense. Obviously, I purchased a couple of sites this year for that very reason. You’ve got that existing authority and you can really just start focusing on producing the content, following some of the strategies that you mentioned: word count, what are you topically relevant for, and then producing great content there, and you can rank quickly in Google. There is still a draw for some people to start a site from scratch, if they’re just starting out, and that’s just fine. They just need to hustle a little bit.
Any final tips or strategies, things that are working well, doesn’t necessarily have to be SEO but if there’s any additional SEO strategies or just anything else that’s worked quite well in growing Well Kept Wallet.
Deacon: Here’s a weird one–creating a proforma. I heard about that in college and it just sounded so business-y or like corporate-esque. But I did that, and I really think that’s a huge part of our growth because basically, I just put an end goal. Let’s just say you want to make $1 million in the next 12 months, so you put $1 million at month 12, and then you work backwards. You’re like, “Okay. How much do you need to do in month 11, how much you need in 10?” and then you get back to month one which is right now. You say, “Okay, now I know to get there, I need to do $100,000 this month. How am I going to do that?” You start to pull the levers to make that happen.
Where before, I was just arbitrarily like, “Okay, I just want to make more money next month.” You’re only going to go so far with that type of strategy versus just saying, “Hey, no. I’m actually going to project out how much am I going to make a year or two or five years from now.” Work backwards and every month except for two months I think we hit our goals. The reality is, I was bummed out for those two months from like, “Hey, we’re still doing good, right? It’s still going in the direction we want to go.” I definitely encourage people to do that. I just use the Google Spreadsheet and some simple Excel formula so it wasn’t anything fancy.
Spencer: I like that. I don’t know that I’ve created an official proforma. I did that a lot in business school but after I'm running my own business. I do still project out goals, but I really love what you’re saying about projecting out revenue and then breaking down those goals into monthly bite size pieces, giving you something to shoot for. I think that’s great advice.
Where can people follow along with you? Is there any other place besides wellkeptwallet.com that you like to send people?
Deacon: Yeah. That’s the best place or Twitter. My Twitter handle is @deaconhayes.
Spencer: Perfect. Deacon, I appreciate you coming on the Niche Pursuits podcast. It’s been a pleasure.
Deacon: Yeah. It’s been awesome. Thanks for having me on.
Spencer: Right. Thanks a lot.
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