Authority Website Income

Mid Year – Six Figure Challenge Update

It has been a long time since I announced this challenge and too long since I have provided a detailed update on what I have been doing.

In this post I share exactly what I have been doing to date and the results I have achieved so far. Including what I have learned (good and bad), my path forward and many of the precise details of the site…

  1. Cost per article
  2. Monthly burn rate
  3. Income
  4. Traffic
  5. Org Chart etc

Like I talked about in my latest income post I have very clearly realized there were way too many goals for 2015 and my online business. I have not focused enough on this project to make it the massive success I was aiming to at the start of the year.

However the progress has been solid!

So far I have averaged triple digit % traffic growth month over month and the site is continuing to grow largely with organic traffic.


The Team:

Knowing the busy periods I would have this year I was aware I would need to build a team and have them completely run the website (at least that was the idea).

The team I built is shown below including their hourly cost.

To build a completely separate team I created a new team in ODesk (now upwork) and myself or the project manager hired/fired 26 people to get to the team shown below.

Key Learning – Everytime I build a team online I learn the same lesson! Hire/Fire FAST and only keep “A” players. It is always better to have high turnover since hiring/firing is almost free than to try and tolerate/improve a sub-par performer.

Even with the 26 hired/fired the team we only had a few solid positions filled (Project Manager, Writer 1 and Writer 2 and one VA who was already on my team). The promoter(responsible for outreach), graphic designer and research VA never were “A” players and I should not have kept them around for as long as I did.

The team worked well but when the Project Manager decided to move on a month ago the entire process came to a grinding halt and I am now left with only the 2 “A” player writers and my existing solid VA.

Key Learning – When I was active with the site and having my weekly meetings with the project manager things were moving along well. Once I removed myself from actively pushing the site it fell flat. Weekly one on one meetings are critical to have with any employee in a position that requires pushing the business forward!


What Has My Core Strategy Been?

Although I have had a lot of strategies I have been wanting to deploy the core of my model has been only a couple tactics…

  1. Publish HIGH quality content relentlessly (3 months of 1 post per day)
    1. Content is the engine of this website and it was the primary focus of the Project Manager who focused heavily on hiring/firing writers until he had 2 that were producing quality articles for a little over $1/100 words.
  2. 301 Building Block Strategy (using powerful expired domains)
    1. This strategy was a large success for this website and something I will continue to do to build out the site and attack new niches. To see the exact details of this strategy have a look below…
      1. Part 1 –
      2. Part 2 –


What Hasn’t Worked

Key Learning: Many of my tactics (guest posting, epic post creation and outreach) requires a completely functioning team with each player contributing to the success/failure of different strategies. With sub-par performers in the outreach position the process did not work very well!


  1. Outreach (blog commenting, guest posting and link outreach)
  2. Niche Dominating Epic Round Up Post Creation & Outreach

Big disappointment here! These tactics were what helped build up my original case study site (My Case Study Website URL is Now Hidden) which was started the same day as and grew to a $3k/month site. But my ability to successfully delegate the management of these activities to my Project Manager and outsource the execution of them to a new VA failed!



  1. Cost

The total cost to date for my Six Figure Challenge site has been $3,508.92 in labour on ODesk and another ~$500 in 301 Building Block sites for total costs to date of $4k. The overall cost is less than I was planning on spending which I don’t see as good news. I was expecting to run with a burn rate of $1,000 but never fully spent that amount and when I stopped pushing and my PM stopped working the costs dropped off drastically.

A little data export from my UpWork team and a couple pivot tables later here is the detailed cost breakdown by position which lines up with the org chart above.




Other Facts:

  • Number of Articles Published = 114
  • Cost Per Article Written = $8-$15
  • Average Cost Per Article Published = $26/article (cost to get article fully published)
  • Number of Team Members Hired/Fired = 26


  1. Traffic

Traffic is definitely going in the right direction! The vast majority of the traffic is now coming from organic.

Within 6 months I have now grown the site to regularly have over 500 organic visitors per day in a competitive niche! This I consider a success.


  1. Income

Like I mentioned from the start the goal would be to grow the site without a lot of focus on monetization in order to prioritize gaining traction. Although monetization was not the primary goal I certainly have been testing it out to see what works best. So far I am a little disappointed in the earnings per visitor I have been seeing but there is a lot of room left for me to improve these numbers.

My earnings per visitor has not been keeping pace and it is concerning. Moving forward I will need to address the dropping earning/visitor to have a profitable/scalable business.


What is Next:

I am not giving up on my six figure goal but I need to focus my efforts on fewer parts of my business and there will be a lot of work going into turning LightningRank into a larger business fulfilling SEO agencies expired domain and PBN needs (non agencies are still welcome to enjoy the ranking benefits).

So although it is less likely with my shifted focus I am going to hit my six figure target I am going to continue to grow this website but with a simplified strategy. To be clear I am not walking away from the goal of building a six figure website this year!


What Is the Modified Strategy:

  1. Lower Published Cost of Content– By setting up a system to remove the cost of the project manager from the equation I can cut my cost of published articles in ½
  2. Publish 3 Times/Week– Using two great writers and one great VA the team will be much leaner and will be able to do the basics required to continue to grow this site.
  3. Continue 301 Building Block Strategy (when it makes sense)– It has worked well so far and I will continue to leverage this strategy to tackle new markets with this site.
  4. Focused Monetization– The drop in earnings per visitor needs to be addressed and I believe more specific CPA offers aimed at certain categories will help. Identify popular pages/categories and apply some category specific monetization strategies to try and drive up the earnings per visitor.
  5. One-Off Strategies When I Have Time to Personally Manage– When I want to do a specific campaign (guest posting, epic post creation and outreach, broken link building, “award” creation and recognition etc) I will personally manage it with one of my key VA’s executing the work.

With all the changes above I believe I will be able to continue to keep the site on the growth trajectory it is on, cut costs and if all goes well improve the earnings per visitor of the site.

What do you guys think? Is it weak sauce that I am scaling back this project? Is there another option I haven’t considered to continue to grow this site?

About the Author Jon

I am a 33 year old husband, father of 3, engineer and a huge fan of developing systems to build useful and profitable websites. The reason I build online businesses is to provide financial independence for my family and yours AND so I can spend time outside skiing and biking with my family.
Jon Gillham, Online Entrepreneur

Leave a Comment:

Tony says July 27, 2015

If you need a new PM, I’m available.

    Jon says July 28, 2015

    Thanks for reaching out Tony, right now I am going to run without one and see how it goes but I appreciate the initiative.

Al-Amin Kabir says July 27, 2015

I must say your ‘Cost Per Content Published’ is too high, and making it 1/2 is a realistic target to achieve. Good luck with the project. Keep going 🙂

    Jon says July 28, 2015

    Thanks! agree the cost/article published is too high. That is going to be cut substantially now by removing the PM and having the articles from my best writers go straight to my VA for publishing.

Si Nation says July 27, 2015

Hey Jon, thanks for sharing, it’s good to hear how difficult building out authority sites can sometimes be. Too many times niche sites are sold as being really easy, all you need is great content, right? That and a hell of a lot of work and focus will get the job done.

    Jon says July 28, 2015

    Definitely agree lots of work and focus is required. I tried to remove myself as much as possible from this process but that aspect of this project was not successful.

Tung says July 27, 2015

It’s good to see your update Jon! Your system really works to increase the traffic very quickly. With some optimization, I’m sure you can drive the earnings further.

    Jon says July 28, 2015

    Thanks Tung, hope so!

Kat says July 27, 2015

Thanks for an enlightening post! I’ve just started outsourcing parts of my business, and I realised that I haven’t been firing poor performers nearly enough. (Right now I have one VA who hasn’t responded to my messages in over a week, and I still don’t want to drop her. It sounds silly when I say it, but I keep thinking “what if she had a family emergency or something?”)

I have a couple of questions about your quick hire quick fire approach.

(1) How do you deal with having to train so many workers from scratch (which takes considerable time and money), knowing you will just fire most of them?

(2) When you hire a new worker, naturally it will take them time to get acquainted your business and get up to speed. If a new worker is slow, making mistakes, or lacks certain specific skills, how long do you keep them around before deciding they’re not worth training up?

    Jon says July 28, 2015

    Hi Kat

    I think you are facing some common issues.

    Let me try and answer my take on it…

    1 &2 I have several team members who are responsible for training. I personally don’t get involved in the training. The training is very rough and hands off…complete this task, now this task, now this task… if they ask 100 questions during the training/test tasks we know they won’t work out so end their contract with minimal $ or time invested.

    Hope this answers your questions.


Art Manville says July 28, 2015

Thanks for the post. However, I question your basic strategy for creating your abundance. Which seems to be paying the least amount of money you can for the best work you can find. This creates a lot of churn in your business and a lack of continuity. I am not into paying top dollar and love to outsource to countries where people appreciate an opportunity. But your rates look cheap. And it can be hard to create abundance when you think like that. IMHO.

    Jon says July 28, 2015

    Hi Art, interesting thought and you might be right! I do look to cut costs across the board and my cheapness has definitely hurt me at times.

    One thing I think I lead on is having a lot of churn and while this is true I do have a few key team members who have been with me for over 7 years!!

    But I don’t want to dis-miss your point and you might be right about the abundance mindset. Thanks for the comment.


Theodore Nwangene says July 28, 2015

This is a very interesting post Jon,
I was wondering what’s up with the case study some days back before I
got your email about this post.

Seriously, I never thought the project will take you this long before
the money start coming but it proves one thing, no good business comes
easy so I’ll advice you don’t give up.

So far so good, I think you’re still on the right track. Just do a few
optimization and. everything might start working out fine.

One question though, I was wondering if your VA’s has a specified
number of hours they work per day/week or do they have to work as long
as a particular project get done?

Thanks for sharing Jon.

    Jon says July 28, 2015

    Thanks for the comment.

    For each VA I have a set number of hours per week and look for them to even those hours out across the week not work them all in one day.

Mel Dixon says July 31, 2015

With any new project there’s always a likelihood you’ll have to modify or recalibrate your targets. You learn things and come across issues along the way, that you won’t have considered beforehand.

It’s all about learning on the job!

Although, of course, there’s a fine balance between being realistic and making excuses…

Joseph Ho says August 1, 2015

Great progress I am surprised you hired so many VA for this project!

Taposh Kapuria says August 3, 2015

Thanks for your great strategy. I am going to publish one 700 words article per day for 3 months on regular basis. Will share it on social media after publishing. Still, i don’t know is this will help me to get 100 visitors for my website. Waiting for a reply.

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