Sugarrae Interview

Last night I had an opportunity to interview super affiliate, conference speaker, SEO expert, blogger and popular Twitterer, Rae Hoffman, AKA Sugarrae.

Alone or with her website publishing company she has managed to dominate and profit from all sorts of competitive niches. This is one lady you need to be listening to if you want to make serious coin from affiliate marketing.

Read on after the jump to hear about networking, creating super performing affiliate sites and how to properly approach social media.

Chris Thanks Rae for agreeing to be interviewed :)

I know you are busy flying around the world

>
Rae
lol, no worries… yeah, my friends call me
carmen sandiego all the time
>
Chris
heh

When I see your name I usually expect to see
presentation notes

>
Rae
why is that?
>
Chris
You seem to have done every conference?

Or is that just my perception

>
Rae
lol, well, PubCon I do regularly… I owe
that series a lot

I’ve done SES I think twice … it was a bit
too corporate for me, in all honesty

I’m doing SMX this week, but it is a Q&A
panel – I mentioned on my blog this past year that I will no longer be doing
formal presentations – only clinics and Q&A’s

that said, yeah, there was a time when I did
almost every single conference as far as flying out for the networking at
them

but I’m tired… on top of that, I’m doing
more "industry shows" for industries one of my companies owns a lot
of sites within, like the CTIA show coming up in April

so you’ll probably be seeing me at a few less
seo shows in the future than you have in the past

>
Chris
That’s a shame but I can understand it :)
>
Rae
yeah, it’s a tough life we lead ;)
>
Chris
Do you think that networking helped you?
>
Rae
oh, definitely

my first pubcon

it was Boston 2003

I had been an affiliate for quite a while
then

a good friend convinced me to go

I learned a lot of things at that conference
– one of which was that I was indeed fairly good at what I did

the second was that the affiliate marketing
world had very few women represented that year

and the third was I made not only contacts,
but also met people who now, five plus years later are some of my best
friends – both online and off

I came home with such fire too

that feeling is something that I think starts
to pale the more conferences you do

>
Chris
I have done way fewer networking events than
you but I have had similar positive experiences of networking
>
Rae
I miss feeling that kick in the ass

but am still meeting tons of great new people
via each one

>
Chris
Do you think you can get some of the benefits
online?

or has to be face to face?

>
Rae
I think you can get some of the benefits, but
definitely not all

looking someone eye to eye has a lot to do
with it

take the mad hat …. I knew of him from
online and because he commented on my blog

but I finally met him for the first time at
this past pubcon

now he’s on my IM and someone I’d trust to
have a business conversation with

you need human interaction for that type of
trust to develop in a decent time frame

that said – I have a few "online
only" friends that I’ve been in touch online with for years and years
now

who have a trust level with me

but it took way longer to earn (and I’m sure
that was both ways)

>
Chris
Yeah I can see that
>
Rae
the other thing too

is that some people are much different online
than off

someone told me at this past PubCon that I
was "exactly like my blog"

as if it were an unusual thing

I’m not sure if that was a compliment or not
though ;)

>
Chris
heh, I think compliment

Did you make direct profit from all those
conferences?

In business deals or consulting?

Or was it more contacts

>
Rae
Well, direct as in walking home with a signed
deal that day?

no

But have I made money off the relationships
I’ve built at conferences – yes, way more than the conferences have cost me
over the years

I don’t do much consulting

I’m very limited in that regard

as hokey as it sounds, I speak more to give
back to the community

if some of the old schoolers hadn’t been
willing to make posts on public and private forums in the early days and
throw me on their IM’s

I wouldn’t be where I am now

I’m very grateful for the free education I
received from the early goers… but at the same time, they also never gave
me a formula… they put the pieces on the table

and it was up to you to put the puzzle
together

>
Chris
If you do not do much consulting, would you
say your job is full time affiliate marketer?
>
Rae
I’d say I’m a full time monetizer ;)

I probably take on four audit clients per
year

outside of that, I build websites, give them
a POD, get them an audience and figure out how to monetize them

>
Chris
POD = Point of Difference?
>
Rae
yes… why people should visit your widget
site over every other

every site I have has some kind of hook to it

meaning "oh, yeah, widgetworld.com – you
guys are the ones who have the [insert something others in that niche aren't
doing here]"

everything else is the core basics any site
in the niche needs

but with one, two, three or however many
POD’s we can find from the rest

>
Chris
Like Ryans PopCrunch show – something that
makes you take notice, right?
>
Rae
exactly

oh, popcrunch – you guys are the ones with
the snarky show with sarah east, right?

it seperates him from every other celebrity
blog

>
Chris
Yup
>
Rae
same thing – with sugarrae – for a long time,
people would go "oh, you’re the site with the spy chick and the
‘colorful language’ right?"

I didn’t intend for that to be a POD – but
sugarrae is a personal site – so the POD was me and my style … with a
corporate or commercial site, you need to work a bit harder and usually with
a bit more thought into developing a POD

>
Chris
I advise people to choose their positioning,
differentiation, and also have "flagship content" – content that
goes out and brings people back
>
Rae
exactly… that flagship content – to me – is
what I mean by POD – what are you doing differently

imho

the days of building thin aff sites is
nearing its end

>
Chris
so you have your brand, the armed and dangerous,
plus you have the knowledge you share
>
Rae
yes, there are exceptions

but I’m choosing to focus on long term
survival

aka, the affiliate evolution

lol, armed and dangerous

>
Chris
How do you choose a new niche? Do you
"follow your passion" or go where the money is?
>
Rae
I’d say I’m smack dab in the middle

I don’t care how much I like something, if
there is no money in it, I’m not building a site for it

vice versa – I won’t bore myself to death for
some money

I go where I see traffic, money and the
ability to create a POD

now, some may take that to mean I stay away
from competitive industries

which would be completely false

the large percentage of my sites fall into
competitive to heavily competitive categories

we just find a POD and do our best to exploit
it

>
Chris
When you started did you intend to do the
affiliate thing?

Or did that come later?

>
Rae
no, totally not

I started because I had a child with serious
health issues

I got a computer to research his condition as
a gift from my dad

and built a webpage about my son

long story short – for the first few years, I
was running the first international support group on the condition my son had

totally volunteer

I marketed the hell out of that site – but
had no idea I was "marketing"

I was just trying to get the people who
needed us to find us

>
Chris
So the content and traffic were a consequence
of your passion, and obviously POD
>
Rae
yes

but after several years

I was hoping there was a way the site could
become a source of income due to all the time I was spending on it

I fell into affiliate marketing as a result

I decided I wasn’t comfortable monetizing the
support group site

but decided to give building some new
websites a try

the full story is here

>
Chris
You had learned the ropes at that point?
>
Rae
yeah… I ran into some "pro"
marketers early on

they took me under their wing

and started showing me the ropes of
commercial marketing

again, always by teaching me to fish and
never by handing me a meal

I’d give you their names to put in bold, but
they’re both private guys

but I owe them the world

>
Chris
It is always golden when you find someone
like that
>
Rae
I finally met both of them via my first
PubCon after a few years of being an apprentice to them online

yeah, they were rocks in the early days

>
Chris
is that partly why you give back with the
conferences?
>
Rae
yes… that first pubcon was what showed me I
actually had a *skill*

family referred to my new career as me
"playing on the computer all day" – even once the money started coming
in as a result of that "play"

>
Chris
If you were to start now, what would be your
approach? How do you choose a new niche? Do you "follow your
passion" or go where the money is?
>
Rae
you know what’s funny….

I start over again every once in a while –
just to keep myself fresh

for instance

I just bought a brand new domain… I’ve
given myself a marketing budget of 1500 dollars out of pocket (meaning
earnings from the site can be reinvested – just no more than 1500 out of
pocket) and the rule NOT to pull links in from my other sites if I have
related ones…

I’ve set goals for it to reach within a year

friends think I’m nuts when I do things like
that

"why handicap yourself?"

well, I don’t for every site obviously – and
never for the sites owned by my publishing company – which has a partner –
but every once in a while

it’s good to get your ass back in the
trenches

and know you’ve still got it ;)

>
Chris
Keeps you sharp?

I guess also confirms your strategy

>
Rae
yep

things change

>
Chris
You know for real what works
>
Rae
old sites can get away with having nothing
but reciprocal links and still rank

a new site? not anywhere near as much

>
Chris
How did you select this new domain and niche?

Are they middle of the night inspirations?

>
Rae
lol

I have a rule

no buying domains after 2 am

>
Chris
:) I need that rule
>
Rae
the number of useless domains I own as a
result of a great idea at 3 am is nuts ;)

usually, picking a niche isn’t too hard – as
I said, I tend to go after the more competitive areas

>
Chris
Even with the amount I have lapsed I have
well over 30 unused domains because of "great ideas"
>
Rae
choosing the POD is much harder

but finding smaller niches is usually a
result of one of three things

1. total dumb luck

2. experience in an area due to personal
reasons

3. the hundreds of business cards I get at
conferences

"what the hell is _____?"

I look it up, check the traffic, check the
money and/or affiliate opps floating around it

though, I have a rule of not poaching client
industries… but since I don’t take on many clients

and refuse clients where I’m a competitor of
theirs

that’s never much of a problem

>
Chris
Do you have a qualification process you
follow or go by gut instinct?
>
Rae
a little of both

I check traffic, number of advertisers,
competition backlinks, competition monetization

but nothing scientific

traffic advertisers

line them up largest to smallest and start
where the lines start connecting near the top )

>
Chris
So a little competitor analysis but you kind
of already know which industries you will be able to work?
>
Rae
yes… since knowing finance is a profitable
industry isn’t much of a result of any type of analysis
>
Chris
Are there industries you just won’t touch?

Like many people will not do porn pills poker

out of distaste

>
Rae
haha… there’s a story from years ago, where
a bunch of us were sitting around a table at an event

and that question was asked

and I said I didn’t do gambling

and someone said "yeah, I don’t like the
idea of that industry either"

and I said, "oh, it has nothing to do
with morals – it’s because I can get better ROI in other industries due to
the competition and the industry being a little unsteady as far as
longevity"

>
Chris
:)
>
Rae
so I guess the answer is, yes, there are
certain industries I won’t touch… but not due to distaste as much as for
business reasons

that said, I obviously have some standards

like, I wouldn’t do beastiality (though you’d
be surprised the traffic that industry has)

but if it’s legal

doing it or not is merely a business decision

>
Chris
What kind of sites do you routinely build?
Mini-sites vs blogs vs one big authority site?
>
Rae
kind of a hyrbid model

we like to have up to date and fresh content
(blogs) but also have timeless information and be an authoritative source as
well

picture several mini sites and a blog that
make up an authority site

>
Chris
When you say several mini-sites, are they
connected as satellites?
>
Rae
no, never

we don’t "game the system"

if a site has a natural connection, we’d
connect it

so as an example

lets say our main topic is red widgets
(sorry, webmasterworld has me trained well ;))

we’d have a blog covering all things relating
or important or tied to red widgets

but then we’d also have a section reviewing
red widgets, and we’d also have a section discussing accessories for red
widgets and we’d also have a section where we’d answer reader questions about
red widgets and then another section about how to use red widgets

each section could stand as it’s own site and
contains a lot of great info

but we merge them all together under one
umbrella

and market it as once force

>
Chris
So less buy-red-widget.com more widget-world
>
Rae
no, less buy-red-widget.com and more
redwidgetworld.com
>
Chris
right
>
Rae
if red widget world goes well

we eventually build widgetworld

and instead of covering red widgets on widget
world

we simply link to red widget

they are two totally distinct sites

massively different information

nothing is duplicated

and we only build redwidgetworld’s for sub
sections of a main niche that have the traffic and audience to deserve the
effort

>
Chris
When it comes to conversions, the actual aff
sales, is that mostly done through reviews or do you have specialist tools
like price comparisons, and such?
>
Rae
we’ve built price comparison tools

when the sites have enough traffic where we
make sales of the banner space

we have some merchants that build us
customized stores

they also make sales based on
articles/research/reviews we publish about them

we have some sites where we won’t even run
cpm ads because the aff ads make enough that the cpm for the space would
"seem" insane to an interested advertiser

>
Chris
So you link to the merchant in content as
well as more salesy pages?
>
Rae
well, not "sneakily" in content

we’ll usually create a page tailored to that
merchant somehow

and link to that from within articles

we want to be transparent

we want to earn and retain trust

we’re going more for a fewer sales from a
larger audience type thing

our credibility is the most important thing

its why we earn the links to rank where we do

we also don’t not cover content based on ads

meaning – we cover whatever a consumer would
be interested in – whether it monetizes or not

any content that isn’t "highly"
montizeable (meaning past adsense) is still created – it helps to strengthen
the highly monetizeable pages

long term, long term

I don’t build any site without a long term
vision

>
Chris
So these are more editorial sites and you are
not chasing the "buy" terms?
>
Rae
the business plan is here in black and white :)

these days, you need to deliver some
editorial value to truly be a resource and rank because you deserve to and
not because you’re chasing an algorithm

I can still rank buy-red-widgets-online.com
and have an insane conversion rate

but for how much longer?

and what is the exit strategy with a site
like that?

>
Chris
So you build your resource site and grow the
content

Does social media come into play?

With traffic and links?

>
Rae
yeah, social media plays a part – for sure

but not for the reason so many social media
amateurs and detractors think

we don’t submit every article we do to digg
and go "yeah baby, one more backlink from digg!!"

I don’t care about the backlink from digg at
all

or any social media site

we use social media to put our brand in front
of the masses and build outside links

example… if we write a killer piece on
hacking your red widget to also act as a blue widget that is 3000 words,
complete with a video and picture

you think I care if I get a digg link?

that would be a complete failure if all I got
was a link from every social media site

what I am looking for is a big site with tens
of thousands of feed subscribers to pick up our link and go "hey
readers, check out this cool ass post"…

I’m looking for social media users to see it
and go "wow, cool site" and hit the subscribe button on our rss
feed

people like to complain affiliate marketers
game the social media system

we do and we don’t

we can push our story to the homepage of digg
– sure – but if it doesn’t belong there (and half the time, even if it does)
the diggers will bury it within seconds

the purpose of social media – to me – is
about putting us in front of thousands of people – a lot of which are members
of the linkerati

and hoping to god they like us enough to hit
subscribe or blog about whatever fantastic thing we’ve done

>
Chris
Good advice
>
Rae
most people don’t truly get social media

they think they do, but they don’t

>
Chris
So long term aff sites and authoritative
blogs are not so different after all
>
Rae
the best is when they’re one in the same :)
>
Chris
Excellent point to finish on I think :D

thanks for your time, I appreciate it

>
Rae
you’re welcome

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Comments

  1. I learned a lot, thanks

  2. Ryan Caldwell says:

    OMG, OMG, this is priceless. Performancing hearts sugarrae;-)

  3. candyaddict says:

    Awesome interview – great info!

  4. Markus Merz says:

    And, as Ryan said, priceless advice.

  5. I could have used more specifics. Speaking in generalities doesn’t help me that much. david@marinellsoft.org

  6. Chris Garrett says:

    @DS – If you have specific questions list them, I am sure if we ask nicely Rae would be happy to answer some more in a future interview

  7. very inspiring rae, very informative too.

  8. I totally loved the “conversational” format of the interview…well executed!!!

  9. Ryan Caldwell says:

    Would love a few sphinns!
    http://sphinn.com/story/31138

  10. I like your format, different than most. POD you might say

    And thank you Rae for the vote of confidence!

  11. Ryan Caldwell says:

    Thanks TheMadHat. Hope to see you around here more often;-)

  12. Anonymous says:

    Republicans are soooooo stupid. So are men.

    Suzanne
    sales.process@marinellsoft.org

  13. I think they also make sales based on research we publish about them

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