Hi everyone, Welcome to another interview in our influencer interview series.
Today I have interviewed Mark Webster co-founder of Authority Hacker. He is one of the affiliate marketing veterans, who has vast experience in creating and managing the impact in the digital arena. As you all must be knowing, Authority Hacker is one of the leading SEO websites, having a strong community. Mark is also the co-host of a podcast which is similarly named The Authority Hacker podcast, along with his co-founder, Gael Breton. Let’s hear from Mark on his amazing journey and the key learnings he has for you all.
Cloudways: Hi Mark, Thank you for taking the time out for this interview. Let’s start with the introduction: How and why you got started in online marketing?
After graduation, I found myself extremely dissatisfied with my corporate job. I looked at the people who had been working there 10 or 20 years and thought “I don’t want to live this life”. I wanted more freedom but most importantly, to work on something interesting. I found various resources about online marketing and so decided to just get started. In the early days, there was a lot of trial and error (mostly error). I started several sites that all ultimately failed. But I had small successes along the way and those failures taught me a lot. Eventually, I built up enough knowledge and experience to become successful. This was 11-12 years ago and back then there really wasn’t so much good information out there about how to do it.
Cloudways: Would you like to share the journey of Authority Hacker? How it started and how did you make it an industry-leading educational platform for online marketing.
My business partner, Gael, and I actually ran a digital marketing agency together prior to starting Authority Hacker. We had a client that we did a really great job for. We got them so many leads that they were fully booked for 6 months and couldn’t take any more bookings. So they fired us!
From that point, I knew we had to ditch the agency stuff and start building our own websites. We started an affiliate site in the health space and as that started to take off, we created Authority Hacker. The idea was to build a blog for us to document everything we did and learned. Turn out people liked that and so our following started to grow.
We eventually started building training courses with everything we learned. I think people liked the detail we went into and that we practice what we preached. Being from Europe, we also shy away from some of the more in-your-face marketing tactics that other course creators use. Fake countdown timers are a big pet peeve of mine. People liked our style and started getting results from our courses and it just snowballed from there.
Cloudways: How did you come up with this name? What was the vision behind formulating it?
That was my idea actually. The term growth hacking was starting to become popular around the time we started it and I really liked the idea of having hacking/hacker in the name. We’re quite methodical but also love finding cool tactics that give outsized results.
Also around the time we started, there was a wave of really poor quality affiliate sites. We wanted to differentiate the sites we build, so we used the term authority site. We didn’t invent that term, but we did help popularize it. The idea with an authority site was that you put considerably more effort into building a high-quality site, with really great content that helps you grow a real audience/following.
The goal was to make an awesome site so that it would do well on Google. Rather than the affiliate site model at the time, which was to do the bare minimum possible to rank on Google and hope you didn’t get penalized in the next update.
Cloudways: What are the challenges that beginners experience and how does Authority Hacker resolve them?
Originally we just had AH Pro, our advanced course for site owners. But we started to have a lot of people join who didn’t have a site with traffic yet. Unfortunately, without an existing site, you can’t really use that course. So we decided to make a beginners course to teach people how to build a successful site. The idea was that if we did a good job with the beginners’ course, then we’d created a whole bunch of customers who would be happy to join AH Pro, once they had some initial success.
Beginners face a whole host of challenges. Most of the information you need as a beginner can be found on the web for free, somewhere. But finding it all, figuring out which advice actually works and which you should avoid, is difficult. The problem is there is so much information out there, much of which is conflicting information.
We noticed a lot of beginners suffer from shiny object syndrome. They start with one business model, then hear about someone who had success with another model, so they drop everything they did and try to start the shiny new idea. This is a surefire way to failure. So with TASS, we created a single track for people to follow. It’s like paint by numbers, but for site builders. Much of the power of this is that we only cover the stuff that matters.
Beginners also need extra support and guidance. Most course businesses do a reasonable job of the content but have quite poor support. They view it as an afterthought. Support is very much at the forefront of our minds for the beginners’ course. Fast response times, experienced support staff and even predictive messaging are all built into our support system. For example, we know that certain people have difficulties at certain points in the course, based on past customer feedback. So we manually reach out to people to offer a helping hand as they progress through these difficult stages.
Cloudways: In 2015, You sold out your marketing agency and launched a 7-figure business, Authority Hacker, by utilizing all the insights that you gathered from your agency. Could you tell our readers some of your tactics that helped you in building the 7-figure empire of the affiliate education system?
We didn’t have a specific product idea in mind when we started Authority Hacker, We did know that growing an email list would be key to this business, so that’s something we did from day one. When testing out product ideas we experimented with a simple sales funnel for a $29 product. Only after we validated the idea with a cheaper product, did we spend the time in building the larger product which eventually became Authority Hacker Pro.
In the early days, we used a lot of growth hacks. Giveaways were a big one. Because each launch we would get SaaS companies to donate a license to our giveaway. We’d promote this giveaway to our audience and so the SaaS companies got great exposure. We used Gleam.io to host the giveaway and this allows people to get extra chances to win if they share it with their friends. We got thousands of extra leads using this tactic.
Aside from all the growth hacks, the fundamental reason why we were able to grow our revenue past 7 figures so quickly is that we built a great product that we continually improve and update. We chase product quality, rather than money.
Cloudways: Could you explain your Go-To Model for your online course? What is your 10x sales strategy that made you a successful entrepreneur?
We use an evergreen funnel model for The Authority Site System (TASS) and we use the launch model for AH Pro. Both have their pros and cons.
I really like the technology that is available for funnels these days. Tools like DeadlineFunels allow you to create real scarcity in your funnel – none of this fake countdown timer BS. It’s also nice to wake up in the morning and see you a bunch of sales overnight while you were asleep.
For AH Pro, we use a launch model where we open it up a couple of times per year. A lot of work goes into making these launches successful, but this also means it’s a lot of pressure to get it right. One time we had a problem with a plugin on our sales page that cost up north of $50k in lost revenue. Ouch!
The thing which made the biggest difference though was raising our prices. AH Pro used to cost $38 per month. We changed to a one-off pricing model and now charge thousands. This isn’t a made cash grab though. We need to charge a premium if we are going to invest so many resources in updating and improving the course. We typically add several hundred videos per year to our courses and that’s something you just can’t do when you are charging a rock bottom price.
Cloudways: Managing a pool of 6000+ customers is difficult. What tactics do you use for smooth customer service management so there is less churn rate?
We want our customers to be happy, so we start by offering a 30-day no-questions-asked refund guarantee. Even if people don’t like Gael’s accent, they are still entitled to a refund if they want. I think this is important for building trust with our customers.
And this isn’t something that we try to hide after the purchase. We remind people that they are entitled to that, should they not like the course.
We worked a lot on customer service communication over the last few years. Our average response time is now measured in hours rather than days. We hired support staff with experience and taught them online marketing. So we have actual experts staffing our customer service inboxes.
But to be honest, that’s just doing to the bare minimum in my opinion. Sure, you can get by with a decent churn rate and refund rate like this, but I always suspected there was more to it. That’s when we embarked on our “Customer Delight” program, coined after Joey Coleman’s Never Lose a Customer Again.
The aim of this program was, and still is, to create lasting impressions on our customers. From personalized welcome videos recorded for every single new signup to surprise, personalized gifts for our most active members, there are too many things to mention here, but what we do is pretty simple: we create an experience that surprises and delights our customers.
Cloudways: In your point of view, What are the main areas affiliate marketers should focus on in the beginning? Should they depend a lot on tools?
So many people just jump into the first niche that springs to mind. Don’t do this. Spend time (and money) researching the niche. Look at the trends, opportunities, follow the money, reverse engineer other sites, look at job ads in the niche, ad sites being bought/sold. Really get to know it before you commit to it.
You don’t need a lot of tools, but I do highly recommend Ahrefs for niche research. It’s not cheap but a couple of hundred bucks can save you months (or years) of working on a project that is never going to pan out.
Research multiple niches too, that way you will start to form a more objective view by comparing niches.
Cloudways: What are your strategies for building domain authority and double the quality traffic to the blog?
Very high-quality content + a steady stream of good links.
You want to be writing the best piece of content on the internet about whatever topic it is you are covering. Not only that, but you need to be really careful to match search intent.
Google the keyword and start breaking down the structure of other articles that rank. Look for commonalities and try to craft yours in such a way that you meet the need Google thinks exists, but also improve on what everyone else has written.
If you get this bit right, building links is much easier. But it is still a grind, especially in the beginning. We’ve had a lot of success using HARO for link building. Guest posting is another good option, though you have to be careful with some of the strategies and sites out there. Always aim for quality over quantity.
Cloudways: Describe a time where you made a mistake while positioning Authority Hacker at its beginning stage. What did you do to fix the issue?
When we first started our podcast, we weren’t sure what people wanted to hear from us. Some of our early episodes included topics about travel and being a digital nomad. We quickly learned to follow the data and that our viewing numbers were much better when we shared actionable tactics with our audience.
Cloudways: Being an online marketing veteran, what advice would you like to give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Get started now! Even if you fail, you’ll gain valuable experience. But you miss 100% of the chances you don’t take.
“So, we would be asking some rapid-fire questions from you to understand your perspective of life, happiness, and success.”
Here we go!
- Your Motto in Life – If you wake up unhappy too many days in a row, change something.
- Your Favorite Book – Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers
- Source of Motivation – I’m a bit OCD, so I get strangely motivated by seeing our KPI numbers go up. That could be traffic, links, or the average support time response. I just love seeing the numbers go up.
- Your Entrepreneurial Achievement That Stands Out – Making the choice to sell our agency and start Authority Hacker.
- Your inspiration – A couple of years ago we were filming a few testimonial videos with students of ours at a conference. One guy named Charlie was having a tough time in life and couldn’t find a job (he got rejected from McDonald’s, twice!). He found our course, started a website, and was now making a lot of money, traveling the world, and loving his life. Hearing his story gave me goosebumps.
- Ideal vacation – I’d really like to ride a motorcycle across Vietnam.
Earn at your own pace.
Refer customers and set up your passive income stream
Cloudways: We would love to see how your workstation looks like. Would you like to share a picture?
Cloudways: Thank you, Mark, for taking out your time. The valuable insights you shared would help many entrepreneurs step up in the dynamic industry of marketing. Lastly, Who would you recommend we interview next?
Spencer Haws from Niche Pursuits!
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Usman is a Digital Marketer at Cloudways- A Managed Cloud Hosting Platform, where he looks after affiliate partnerships and helps digital nomads in generating passive income. He is a foodie by heart, who loves to explore new eateries around his vicinity.