When you think of affiliate content sites, you probably expect to hear about supplements, electronics or digital products.
How about aquatics?
Mark Valderrama was able to translate his passion for aquariums into a thriving website that attracts almost 400,000 visitors per month!
His website, Aquarium Store Depot is a comprehensive resouce for aquarium enthusiasts. Over the years, Mark has also branched out to related subniches and his blog covers tips and guides on fish life, as well as reviews covering everything from aquarium sizes to heaters, air pumps, and protein skimmers.
Even though Mark began blogging in 2015, his website has seen over a 7x increase in organic traffic since December 2022!
You’re probably wondering what SEO magic he conjured to land these results.
Surprisingly, Mark stuck to a simple but effective plan that was part gut part best practices.
We’re taking the covers off his unique content strategy that got him these results with Surfer. Here are 5 steps that you can adopt to recreate Mark’s success.
1. Pick a niche you like
Mark has been an aquatics enthusiast since he was 11 years old!
His primary reasons for starting Aquarium Store Depot were not influenced by money or business motives.
His journey began during a time when there was limited information about aquariums online.
Mark's passion drove him to seek knowledge, ask questions, and learn through experience.
Aquarium Store Depot started as a way for Mark to share this information with the community.
Why should you pick a niche that you genuinely like?
There's nothing wrong with pursuing topics for business and affiliate reasons, but when you're truly interested in a topic, it shows in your content.
Readers are more likely to trust and engage with content when they sense the author's genuine expertise and passion.
Unlike paid advertising, where results can be seen almost immediately, SEO requires patience and consistent effort.
Choosing a niche you genuinely like can help you power through the sandbox period or when you're not seeing results.
If you are in a competitive niche that has numerous players vying for the top spots in search engine results, it might take longer to see tangible results from your SEO efforts. If you don't really care about the niche, it's easy to lose interest and give up.
But if you really care about the subject, you'll be driven to try new things, adapt, and keep going until you start seeing results.
You can follow Mark’s strategy by tapping into topics that you have a genuine interest in. Use tools like Google Trends and Answerthepublic to gauge public sentiment and determine if these are good niches to start a blog in.
2. Fill information gaps
Mark found that there was insufficient information about aquariums on the internet. Aquarium Store Depot was launched in 2015 as a result of the need to fill that information gap with his aquatic knowledge.
Today, his blog fills many information gaps, offering insights that might not be readily available elsewhere. With over 700 pages, Mark has managed to cover several topical clusters on different types of fish and aquatic animals, as well as their care.
However, when I asked him about his keyword research process, I was surprised to find that he conducted little to no research.
At least not in the traditional way.
Mark’s extensive knowledge as a hobbyist helped him map out relevant topics inside his head.
So instead of identifying keywords as a traditional SEO would, he went ahead and covered topics that he knew were important to the aquatics community.
This in-depth topical coverage was instrumental in filling information gaps and helping position his website in search engines as an authoritative figure.
By addressing topics that are underrepresented or not thoroughly covered online, websites can demonstrate authority in a particular niche that distinguishes them from competitors.
Tapping into both high-volume keywords and long-tail queries can also result in higher organic search traffic.
Because Mark understands the subject so well, he was able to use this as an advantage for the content.
Fortunately, access to automated SEO tools like Surfer Keyword Research can also help you plug information gaps on your website without being an expert.
Take the example of our website.
Surfer will analyze the keywords your website has covered against its expected topical map, to identify information gaps.
In the left panel, you will find clusters that search engines expect to find on your website. We’ll touch on the right panel in a moment.
For example, looks like we’ve only covered 2 out of 5 recommended articles for the cluster “keyword search volume.”
The first number depicts our coverage of that cluster followed by the keyword difficulty and the monthly search volume for the entire hub.
You can use this feature to ensure that your blog has sufficient topical coverage in the subjects you want to rank in.
When a site has detailed, useful, and easy-to-find content that fills in knowledge gaps, it fits with the search engine's goal of giving users helpful and relevant information.
3. Create consistent and quality content
If you read through Mark’s articles, you will find that they’re high quality well written blog posts, with insights and expert tips.
He wrote most of the content himself in the early years, and has only recently begun to work with external writers.
His enthusiasm drove Mark to research deeper and present information in a way that resonated with his audience.
Google has repeatedly told us that high-quality content that effectively meets the needs of users is more likely to rank higher in search results.
Instead of manually finding important keywords, Mark used Surfer’s Content Editor to identify secondary keywords and related phrases that should appear on his articles.
He used Surfer’s Content Score metric to track keyword optimization and which keywords were most important to his content.
This helped him focus his energies on writing blog posts that were truly reflective of his knowledge and expertise. As a result, the quality of articles on Aquarium Store Depot is top-notch.
Content that truly aids users is more likely to be shared, referenced, and linked back to, generating organic backlinks that further enhance its SEO value.
However, quality content can be time-consuming and expensive to create.
Mark started his website in 2015 and has over 700 pages on it, which is a remarkable feat in itself.
If you look at his publishing frequency, he has managed to maintain a fairly regular schedule but really upped things in 2020.
A healthy publishing frequency can also force Google to take a closer look at your website and its content.
If you are publishing high quality content frequently, this can lead to improved rankings for new and existing pages.
Of course you and your clients may want to see quicker results.
Instead of writing hundreds of articles, you can use the power of generative AI to recreate Mark’s success today.
Surfer AI can create high quality blog posts that are optimized for search engines at a fraction of the cost and time of a human writer.
Unlike other AI content writing tools, Surfer’s articles include relevant keywords and phrases while drawing research from already ranking pages for your target topic.
Take the example of an article for the keyword, “best fish for 5 gallon tank”.
In under twenty minutes, you will have a fully optimized article of over 2500 words, complete with takeaways and an FAQ section.
Here’s a snippet.
Now imagine the time and resources it would take to manually write 700 articles like Mark did.
Theoretically, you could generate these in a month using Surfer AI.
Even less, if you are inclined to.
This consistent output of quality content is a significant factor in Aquarium Store Depot’s SEO success, helping the site rank higher in search engine results.
4. Authenticity and expertise
Mark's deep-rooted interest in aquatics, which started when he was just 11, has given him over 25 years of experience in the field.
This extensive knowledge, combined with his authentic love for the subject, positions him as a credible and trustworthy expert.
As a result, he has become a sought-after resource for advice and guidance in the aquatics industry.
And has been consulted by industry journals and publishers.
Mark’s association with industry-specific brands and the media mean that his website satisfies Google’s Search Rater Quality Guidelines for experience, expertise, authority, and trust to determine credibility
These relationships with industry stakeholders have led to collaborations that have further enhanced his blog's credibility and reach.
5. Building trust and relationships
Mark's passion has allowed him to form several partnerships within the industry.
These relationships are not just about business; they are built on mutual trust and respect.
He told me that he personally reviews all the gear covered on the website and has hands-on experience with them.
He was able to use his experience and first hand knowledge to demonstrate that his interests went beyond just generating affiliate income from his partners.
In fact, Mark went out of his way to forge these relationships.
Instead of taking the easier route of emailing affiliates and partners he wanted to work with, Mark attended trade shows and conferences so he could meet them in person.
His widespread recognition has also led him to earning several high authority backlinks from the likes of WIkipedia and Huffington Post for example.
As a powerful ranking factor, these backlinks have helped catapult Mark’s website to top rankings in several topics.
When you're genuinely passionate about your niche, networking becomes more natural.
You'll find it easier to connect with industry peers, participate in relevant forums, and collaborate on projects.
These authentic relationships can lead to high-quality backlinks, guest posting opportunities, and other off-page SEO benefits.
Between December 2022 to September 2023, Aquarium Store Depot went from about 52,000 visitors per month to 380,000 organic clicks per month.
Organic search continues to grow at a steady pace as of September 2023.
Note that Mark’s blog is not a brand new website that saw immense growth in 9 months. Remember, Mark began his website in 2015 and had been blogging for a while.
However, it appears that he implemented an effective content strategy sometime in 2022 to focus on topical coverage and a higher publishing frequency.
It looks like Google partially favored his website so the moment Mark was able to send the search engine positive SEO indicators, his site took off.
This is why a strong SEO strategy is crucial to the success of your business.
You can recreate the success of Aquarium Store Depot by adopting a similar approach to topical coverage and content velocity.
Although Mark ignore traditional keyword research almost completely, his knowledge of the subject meant he had already mapped out topical clusters in his head. You can do the same with Surfer Keyword Research.
His website focussed on creating valuable helpful content that readers would actually benefit from. There’s no substitute for high quality content and this has resulted in several partnerships and collaborations for Mark and his site.
Search engines rely on answering queries with as little churn as possible. Useful content can help aid their purpose, thus ranking you higher.
You can recreate Aquarium Store Depot’s success by creating content hubs with well written content, but also satisfying E-EAT guidelines for SEO.
If you would like to reach out about your results, talk to us on Twitter or X.