Case Study: Building A Brand On

I used to do a lot more case studies on my blog and lately I’ve received some great feedback that my readers are missing these! The more I think about it the more I realize that I’m missing them too, not sure why they went-away, but I’m bringing them back! For those that haven’t been reading my blog since 2007 I thought it would make sense to discuss how my development and monetization strategy has evolved over the last four years.

  • In 2007 I started building-out exact-match domains – I quickly found that much less SEO work was needed to rank well and had some very strong performers in the tax-space
  • In 2008 I went crazy building mini-sites, while I had a few successes I didn’t see this as a great long-term business model. I was also doing everything myself which was becoming quite overwhelming.
  • In 2009 I changed my strategy and hired a team to build the sites and write the content, I also started building bigger sites and moved from a focus on Google Adsense to a focus on Affiliate Marketing
  • In 2010 I started putting a much bigger focus on Direct Advertising and started replacing my affiliate ads with direct ad deals where I had much more control over the revenue stream
  • In 2011 I have made an even bigger iteration and focused on building businesses rather than websites. My strategy is much more focused on coming-up with a solid business model, ways to engage customers, get feedback, and create real products and services rather than information sites.

There, phew – now that you’re all caught-up, let’s move forward with building a brand on First, how I got the domain. I won this domain in an expired domain auction on NameJet for around $1,500. The first thing I did was put a WordPress site on it and wrote some a few articles a month to start getting the site indexed in search engines. I find this is a great first step when you’re building a brand, this can allow you to research and learn the market while creating some good content on your site.

This is a strategy that Michael Jackness uses as well. This is also a place where WordPress can help you save a lot of time. I’m not saying that you should build all your brands on WordPress, but I am saying that when you’re in the initial content-building phase this can be a great way to get started. If you really want to accelerate this strategy you can use Scribe SEO to analyze every article you write to make sure it’s fully optimized for search engines.

While articles were going-up on I started to do some market research. I’m not a major kayaker myself but I am a lover of adventure sports and have been kayaking several times. The best place that I’ve found to do market research is Twitter. I started reaching-out to people on Twitter who were actively posting about kayaking. I asked them what they were looking for in a kayaking resource and what was missing online.

kayaking directory

This drove the creation of our directory which has now become the most extensive and up-to-date kayaking directory online. Kayakers had a major issue with outdated directories and wanted an easy way to find kayaking stores and tour companies. To build the directory I had a team-member reach-out to every single store directly, let them know who we are, what we were building, and asked that they verify all of their information.

The great thing about directly contacting these stores is it helped us become known in the space. We started forging relationships with Kayaking companies around the US. After the directory was finished we went back to the community and asked what else they wanted. Real-life kayaking stories and trip reports came-in first place followed by classified ads. Kayakers were sick of buying and selling kayaking gear on Craigslist, they wanted a more focused source.

kayaking blog

We added the blog to our site this year and actually hired one of the most active Kayakers on the planet Guy Hoffman to be our flagship writer. Right now Guy is writing a weekly article and the response has been great, and I also find myself glued to the articles, pictures and videos!

Behind-the-scenes we’re working on building our Kayaking classifieds ads feature as well as a new redesign of the site. I make sure to spent my time working on the business and not in the business. When we uncover a new feature I tell the team what we want to build rather than building it myself. This is critical if you want to create a business rather than another job for yourself.

Now for monetization, there are three main ways this site generates revenue:

  1. Directory Listings
  2. Affiliate and Google Ads
  3. Direct Advertising

Going forward we’ll be adding more monetization models to this as we build-out our classified ads section along with a full-featured Kayaking store utilizing the brand-new Outdoor Play affiliate program. Outdoor Play was the first company to ever sell Kayaks online and we are very excited they’ve added an affiliate program and data feed we can plug-into!

I know this was a lot of information so let me highlight some of the key elements to building this brand:

  • It all starts with content, we added content from the very beginning so that the site had a use from day one. WordPress was a great platform to get started on and we moved to a custom site design based on PHP and static HTML all hand-coded specifically for the site.
  • Reaching-out to Kayakers has been a key step for us to determine what our customers are looking for and how we can deliver features that they will use, enjoy, and share with others.
  • Connecting directly with businesses in the space has helped us grow the brand and make strong relationships with people that will be our partners for years to come
  • Focusing on more than one source for monetization has allowed the site to make money in a number of different ways
  • Adding a blog to the site has allowed us to connect with a pre-existing audience and share expert advice

As always, feel free to ask questions, or provide feedback in the comments section or via email. I’m excited about doing weekly case studies like this and sharing my experience building brand and businesses. For me building a business is a lot of fun and I find myself learning something new every single day!

Morgan Linton

Morgan Linton