SEO & Affiliate Marketing Tips from Sleepopolis Founder Derek Hales
By: Carli Evilsizer | June 21, 2018
Remember hearing about a crazy lawsuit between Casper and mattress review blog, Sleepopolis? We are following up with Sleepopolis’ founder Derek Hales to see what he is up to now and hear a few of his exclusive startup digital marketing tips.
Before creating Sleepopolis, Derek was pretty familiar with the world of content marketing and SEO. In fact, he spent several years working at a digital marketing agency where he specialized in search engine optimization and digital marketing strategies. Derek launched Sleepopolis.com and spent the next 3 years building it into the largest sleep resource on the internet with 1,000,000 page views per day. With 85% of the page views coming from organic traffic, it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about SEO.
Now Derek is working on a new review site, ModernCastle.com, where he reviews household goods like vacuums and even couches from startups, like Burrow and Joybird. If your startup needs some guidance on SEO, Derek was kind enough to share his ideas on which digital marketing strategies startups should implement and his best SEO and affiliate marketing tips.
Digital Marketing Tips From Derek Hales
Derek Hales is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ModernCastle.com. Over the last 3 years he has been methodically testing products for the home, compiling information, creating reviews and creating helpful resources for his readers. Derek believes great reviews start with great testing and he creates specially designed tests to provide a level of objective data so he can create reviews without the subjective opinion and focus instead on hard facts. Before ModernCastle.com Derek founded Sleepopolis which he sold in 2017.
1. Tell me a bit about your background!
"Let's see...I was born in Florida, but spent most of my life in Kansas. I've always been a nerd in love with the internet, PCs, and games. I built my first PC when I was 12. Built my first website at 15. Wrote an ebook and authored a notable gaming blog at 19, which helped to really cut me teeth on web design, HTML, SEO, and online marketing. After college I moved to Arizona where I accepted a position at iCrossing, one of the top digital marketing agencies in the US. I worked there for 4 years helping fortune 100 clients improve their search engine optimization and online strategy. In September 2014 I launched Sleepopolis, and in February 2015 I left iCrossing to pursue Sleepopolis full time. Since then I've been working on my own websites and projects that I find the most compelling. In July 2017 I sold Sleepopolis to a 3rd party. And lastly, in September 2017 I started my current project, ModernCastle.com."
2. What is it like testing and reviewing products for a living?
"Incredibly fun and rewarding. I feel fortunate and blessed to be able to work for myself and with a small and exceptional team. Being able to physically touch, use, and test such a wide variety of products is a cool experience. There are many products that I originally had a lukewarm impression of before testing. However, the testing process helps to really put those products into a more true perspective. Beyond just testing the products, going through the process of building our reviews is always eye-opening. For any review we try to really think through the types of questions users will have, the information they want to read, and the images and videos they want to view. That process is always a creative and engaging experience for myself and my team."
3. So, how did you build Sleepopolis into the largest sleep resource on the internet?
"On most any site I build or work on, I ask myself, "If I was searching for information on this topic, what exactly would I want that page to look like? What information would I want to find on it?" Armed with that picture in my mind, I built that. That's the high level strategy. Just figure out what your users want and give it to them. It might take longer to make, but it's going to be what works in the long run. Beyond that, there are 3 core pillars I always come back to. The first, technical excellence. As a website grows so does the complexity, and potential for technical issues. Always ensure the site minimizes technical issues, for both the sake of users and search engines. The second, incremental improvement. You don't have to build the absolute perfect website on day #1, but what you do have to do is make it a little better every single day. I never allow myself to be satisfied with a project. A project is never done. It's always evolving, always improving. Whether you're improving the design, content, technical proficiency, video, imagery, or something else, there is always room for improvement. Lastly, you must be a relentless self-promoter. This isn't Field of Dreams. If you build it, they might come, but they might not. Your outreach strategy needs to be as robust as your content. If no one knows you're there it may not matter that you built it at all."
4. And how is your new project ModernCastle.com going?
"So far so good! We've got off to a solid start. I'm happy with current review series and the design/layout (though I can tell you both have gone through a virtual endless series of changes and improvements since we launched). We started the site focusing on vacuum cleaners; a product category that we really thought lacked good reviews. We'll continue to test and review vacuums, however, we're also currently expanding into smart home, mops, and furniture."
"Take SEO and your content strategy seriously.
SEO is perhaps the greatest ROI any startup can make."
5. Let’s dive into marketing! What are the best digital marketing strategies for startups?
"First, take SEO and your content strategy seriously. SEO is perhaps the greatest ROI any startup can make. Hire a competent consultant, employee, or agency. Second, identify who your stakeholders are and reach out to them. Those could be customers, journalists, bloggers, social media users, businesses, or others. The outreach message may vary for each type of stakeholder, but the goal is the same, get them the information they need so they will take action. The actions of each stakeholder will also vary, but the end result is helping to spread your message and your brand. Lastly, be transparent. This is less digital marketing specific, but one that seems to come up time and time again for many start-ups. Don't try to cut corners. If you feel compelled to hide a particular fact about your product or service, chances are high that you will one day pay the price for that. So be transparent. I feel like society today appreciates honesty and the ability to admit a mistake far more than perceived perfection."
6. What is one of the biggest mistakes most startups make with their digital marketing?
"Undervaluing SEO. Most business owners seem to understand the value of SEM, display, social, affiliate, TV, radio, and other channels, however, SEO is perhaps the most ignored and undervalued channel."
7. What should e-commerce startups know about affiliate marketing?
"Simply put, don't ignore your affiliates. Many times your affiliates want to be an affiliate because they already love your brand. These are your brand advocates and brand loyalists. A little care into your affiliate program can go a long way."
8. Any tips for startups looking to begin implementing affiliate marketing into their strategy?
"If you're just getting started, I would recommend utilizing an affiliate network. Yes, there are costs there, however, the immediate access to a broad network of affiliates and turn-key reporting and tracking system is more than worth it. ShareASale.com is currently the best platform, in my opinion. However, PepperJam and Rakuten aren't far behind. If you're less concerned about access to an existing network of affiliates Impact Radius can be a good option."
9. Why is it so important for startups to implement SEO into their marketing strategies?
"It's arguably the best ROI of any marketing strategy you might implement. SEO work you complete today will pay you tomorrow, the next day, and virtually every day in the future. Additionally, it's simply how a large percentage of your customers are going to find you. Like it or not, the web revolves around Google. You can pay Google endlessly for PPC traffic, or you can build the content that users want to see."
10. What is your best SEO tip for startups?
"Use WordPress and install Yoast SEO Premium (WordPress plugin). Using WordPress helps minimize most technical issues and obstacles. While Yoast SEO sets a strong level of baseline optimization site wide (assuming it's properly setup, if you don't know how to set it up, pay someone who does)."
11. Do you have a favorite startup?
"One of my favorites that I personally use is HQ Trivia. It has been incredibly interesting to watch as they've grown. I still don't know how they will be profitable, but their growth has been impressive."
12. What is one thing you wish startups knew about working with bloggers?
"I'm not sure if this qualifies as a "thing to know", but more a suggestion for start-ups and companies who want to work with bloggers. Don't try to overly control what the blogger writes about your product. Yes, get your product, app, software, or service into their hands. Yes, offer them suggestions, product information, and images. But beyond that, let them create an honest and genuine commentary on your product. True and open reviews are far more beneficial than reviews that are clearly being manipulated by the company. It doesn't take too many fake reviews for your 3rd party review trust to be entirely shot."
Startups: Take SEO Seriously
If your startup hasn’t implemented SEO into your digital marketing strategy yet, you are making a big mistake. Here’s the top tips from Derek to keep in mind when considering building out SEO and affiliate marketing strategies:
Don’t undervalue SEO, pay for an expert
Be serious about outreach & sharing your content
Consider utilizing an affiliate network
Be kind to your affiliates, they are your most loyal customers!
Let affiliates create honest and genuine reviews