How This Sneaky Affiliate Site is Making Six Figures Per Year - Behind the Scenes

cwingz

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No matter how sophisticated Google’s search algorithms become, there are always some clever SEO folks utilizing loopholes, and gaping ones at that, to benefit their sites and generate six, and even seven figure revenues. Today, we’re going to take a look at one such site.

Meet: MusicCritic.com

Before anything else, let’s take a look at its Ahrefs overview:

1*hUb1gX1V2SqDAHhasJpENw.png


You can tell from their organic traffic graph that their traffic was almost zero before July 2017, and they’ve seen experienced a few big spikes in organic traffic after that.

But… they claim to be in existence since 1998?

1*vK9xhXXSzyaj6FOeRvnLyg.png


In reality, the original brand was having the domain: music-critic.com, which the current owner likely bought after it expired (or through a domain auction), and redirected to a newly registered domain, i.e. musiccritic.com (without the dash in the original domain).

1*ykLuDiLGApWSKzvsJIBABg.png


Here’s how the original website looked, according to this Archive.org snapshot from 2008:

1*ugFWYuMfsnbaGCq1akeQ0g.png


See, no existence of ‘gear reviews’ (i.e. actual money-making posts of the current site, that are filled with affiliate links to Amazon). The old (and actual) site looked like a genuine website dedicated to reviewing music itself from bands and solo artists, whereas the current one is full of typical ‘best blah blah’ affiliate reviews:

1*poE3e1C7MDxX4COFj0l0iQ.png


Apart from this blatant misrepresentation and abuse of the reputation of the old brand by them, let’s take a look at a specific type of link building being extensively used by them which is nothing short of pure spam (and should even be illegal).

Enter, Hacked Links — these are links placed within existing articles/pages of established websites (usually powered by WordPress), obviously without the knowledge of the respective site owners. Example below:

1*vjW_HIyKOD6fW3p3mRxcIQ.png


Anyone can tell the “Music Critics studio headphone guide” link was inserted later in place of what the author actually read. And sure enough, the following Archive.org snapshot from 2015 confirms the same:

1*NRrlnRjC3lrZgxAP9Yz3ow.png


This is just 1 hacked link, and there are hundreds, according to Ahrefs.

So, are these hacked links working? Surely! As of now, MusicCritic.com is occupying the #1 spot on Google for the search term ‘best studio headphones’, which has an average monthly search volume of a whopping 6,600 according to Ahrefs!

1*xqhkTu32gB8uOipq6SVpFQ.png


I could go on and list a ton of other similar backlinks that point to various pages of their site, but since anyone with access to Ahrefs or any other competitor analysis tool can do the same, let’s analyze why they bothered to:
  1. Purchase an expired (or auction) domain and exploit the existing reputation of what was once a legit website on music reviews.
  2. Publish hundreds of affiliate content targeting extremely lucrative keywords with high profitability.
  3. Engage in one of the shadiest forms of link building (hacked links), which should also be illegal.
Short answer: the revenue generated from the combination of all this.

Let’s do some quick calculation:

Total monthly visitors (according to Ahrefs): 275,000
Average conversion rate (Amazon): 5% (13,750; fairly conservative)
Average price of product sold on Amazon: $50 (fairly conservative)
Total gross sales on Amazon in a month: $687,500
Total estimated earnings in a month (6% commission rate for musical instruments): $41,250!

In reality, they’re likely making quite a bit more than that, as Ahrefs tends to report lower traffic than what sites actually get, plus Amazon affiliate sites get credited for all random sales as well, apart from the products being recommended.

I hope it all makes sense now.

Source: Medium.com
 

hippo123

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Not surprised IMO.

I have seen tons of affiliate sites that are ranked by such "edited links".

But kinda a dick move to out your competitor's website?
 

cwingz

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Not surprised IMO.

I have seen tons of affiliate sites that are ranked by such "edited links".

But kinda a dick move to out your competitor's website?

Is it a well known fact that those "edited links" are in fact all "hacked links"? I was unaware about this, at least.

It's not my competitor, btw. I mentioned the source of the post as Medium.com at the end. Full link: medium . com/@seo.junkie/how-this-sneaky-affiliate-site-is-making-six-figures-per-year-by-fooling-google-f90773b392ff
 

MisterF

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Is it a well known fact that those "edited links" are in fact all "hacked links"? I was unaware about this, at least.

It's not my competitor, btw. I mentioned the source of the post as Medium.com at the end. Full link: medium . com/@seo.junkie/how-this-sneaky-affiliate-site-is-making-six-figures-per-year-by-fooling-google-f90773b392ff

Would be interesting to know how much they have spent on the site and the links.
 

hippo123

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Is it a well known fact that those "edited links" are in fact all "hacked links"? I was unaware about this, at least.

It's not my competitor, btw. I mentioned the source of the post as Medium.com at the end. Full link: medium . com/@seo.junkie/how-this-sneaky-affiliate-site-is-making-six-figures-per-year-by-fooling-google-f90773b392ff

Not all are "hacked links". It could be that the owner of that website is really reaching out to all these websites and "inserting" links on them.

I think there was an article on this once, it turns out that the affiliate site owners were buying WP-plugins at scale and inserting their links on websites that had these plugins. They even prevented crawlers from crawling that page that had the inserted links (apart from Google bot) so that Ahrefs or other 3rd party link tools could never pick up these links.
 

semiprodota

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They also use review schema when they shouldn't. I guess that increases CTR. I wonder what the odds of getting a manual action for that is.
 

SEOmethod

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well looks to me that whoever is behind this site knows what hes doing, i mean ... making such money within a month and having that kinda organic traffic im sure its blackhat method
 

cwingz

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Regarding whether they're really hacked links or not, I don't think consensually placed links would harm the actual context of a paragraph just to add a paid link (in the example, the meaning of the sentence was altered beyond comprehension just to make room for the link).

I also first saw this in a FB post, where the OP (who's also the author of this article) mentioned that he emailed a couple of site owners just to be sure, and he got the below replies:

" 1. "Thanks very much for alerting us to this link. We removed it and took some extra security measures."

2. "oops! thanks for the heads up, there's a few of these lying around :)" "
 

smacker

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You can buy links on old sites and networks.. they just place them on old content. No hacking needed. Pretty normal thing this, find a good expired site and try piggy back the authority with something new.
 

cwingz

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They also use review schema when they shouldn't. I guess that increases CTR. I wonder what the odds of getting a manual action for that is.

Exactly. I had an affiliate site in 2016 get a manual penalty for displaying schema rating stars on pages that weren't individual product reviews.

well looks to me that whoever is behind this site knows what hes doing, i mean ... making such money within a month and having that kinda organic traffic im sure its blackhat method

Definitely!
 

TheVigilante

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It's sneaky so he's making money but it has to end sometime right?

But the damage has been done
 
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This has been going on for years, hacked links are what you think about when you think of black hat SEO.

Its why I refuse to use WordPress for my sites it makes them so damn vulnerable to mass exploitation!
 

krishnaverma

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cwingz

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It's sneaky so he's making money but it has to end sometime right?

But the damage has been done

I guess so.

This has been going on for years, hacked links are what you think about when you think of black hat SEO.

Its why I refuse to use WordPress for my sites it makes them so damn vulnerable to mass exploitation!

Indeed. I can't believe how many high-DR, completely legit sites that I found to have been hacked simply by going through the backlink profile of that site. Common point? Every single one of them is built on WordPress.

Great share OP. Do you mind sharing the FB group?

I think it was "The Proper PBN Group", which I think is owned by a person with tremendous reputation around here. ;) Perhaps, that's why I can't seem to find the original post over there anymore. Maybe these links are being supplied by providers from that group who've been promising something similar (editing existing posts to insert backlinks) lately? Who knows! They call those "niche edits" and claim that they're outreach-based links, but that doesn't make sense when they're advertising things like "100,000 quality sites in our inventory" and stuff like that which scream "large-scale hacking".
 

Geasy

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I guess so.



Indeed. I can't believe how many high-DR, completely legit sites that I found to have been hacked simply by going through the backlink profile of that site. Common point? Every single one of them is built on WordPress.



I think it was "The Proper PBN Group", which I think is owned by a person with tremendous reputation around here. ;) Perhaps, that's why I can't seem to find the original post over there anymore. Maybe these links are being supplied by providers from that group who've been promising something similar (editing existing posts to insert backlinks) lately? Who knows! They call those "niche edits" and claim that they're outreach-based links, but that doesn't make sense when they're advertising things like "100,000 quality sites in our inventory" and stuff like that which scream "large-scale hacking".

Yeah I've seen that too as I am part of that group but I've never thought that might be the case. Have you ordered from them? If they provide a report then it is fairly to figure this out.
 

cwingz

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Yeah I've seen that too as I am part of that group but I've never thought that might be the case. Have you ordered from them? If they provide a report then it is fairly to figure this out.

I haven't, but I guess they do provide reports.

I had a quick look at the backlink profile of one of their service sites itself (DFYLinks.com), and seems like it itself is using hacked links.

Example 1: https://www.nevadabusiness.com/2018/04/marketing-web-experts-re-elected-to-ncet-board/

"McClellan, marketing projects specialist at RSCVA, was re-elected as NCET’s vice president of social media.

Her 13 years of experience in marketing positions include work as an media and SEO manager, in charge of buying PBNhttps://dfylinks.com/pbn-packages/links (links to DFYlinks.com/pbn-packages/) and maintaining the social media presence, interactive media business partner with Renown Health and as an online marketing coordinator with Atlantis Casino Resort Spa."

Example 2: https://www.zoho.com/social/journal/google-is-finally-dead-good-news-is-theres-something-better.html

"This works on the premise that if you got your keywords in place, had a sizable number of people/brands in your circles and vice versa, Google would then drive search traffic to your Google+ profile without the need for any backlinks (links to DFYlinks.com/backlinks-packages/)."

Do you think companies as large as Zoho (7,000 employees globally according to Wikipedia) would risk getting their sites penalized by intentionally selling links from their blog? You be the judge.
 
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