Interview: How A Young Marketer Went From $20k Debt To Earning Over $15k/Month

Oh man! I am super excited to introduce you ladies & gents to my good and trusted friend, Karan Labra, whom I have known for years. I believe we both connected on Facebook after knowing each other in the IM/MMO circle… years ago.

But why am I this excited? Because this guy is young, smart, doesn’t let anything get in the way and his story IS truly incredible. It’s trrrrrue: (I do stretch my words like a sweet drawl sometimes, shush you!)

Why is it that Karan pushed through despite a debt over $20,000?

Karan Labra: SEO Guy

Let’s be frank: with the economy tanking in 2008, a lot of us went through hard times. Most people wallow in their misery but here we have a young internet marketer, shooting from $0 to $15,000 per month!

So, how did Karan do it? What’s his secret ingredient?

secret ingredient

Okay, soooo, I got to pick his brain. Lucky me 😉 & now lucky you! Let’s learn a thing or twenty from this smart guy!

1. Hey Karan, so before we delve into specifics, tell me about your successes related to earning an income online?

Sure. Growing up, I was always fascinated by computers. Mostly because of games, that enabled us to do what appeared to be unachievable in real life, GTA FTW! [Edit: Moon here… GTA for the win, absolutely! On Karan with this one!]

Anyway, I might have never gotten into internet marketing if there wasn’t a clear financial crisis that my family was going through. I got to know about a senior who was doing pretty well with a small web hosting and SEO company and he’s been my unofficial mentor with everything-business since. [Edit: Note 1-Find a mentor or accountability partner!]

Long story short, I went from making my $0.04 daily income from paid-to-click sites to $1000/days in around 3 years where I did everything from recruiting referrals for PTC sites to writing $2 articles, ranking and selling a website for $3000 in under 10 days and ranking for keywords like “How to make money online” and “How to lose weight”, etc.

2. What’s the most you have earned through online income within a month and tell us about that site/project in detail. We love real world examples here…

The best month I had was just before I decided to take off. I made around $17,000, majority of which ($12.5k) came from my primary project which was a web hosting affiliate site; the rest from various projects that I had built in the past.

Karan's Affiliate Income

Well, this was back in 2013 so there wasn’t much to it. Using PBNs at bulk was still a good strategy so all I did was build out a test website on weebly.com, bought some 20-30 sitewide links from local bloggers on a temporary basis and I was ranked at #2-3 within a few weeks. Once I had cashflow from there, I went on to build a dedicated site, build up a dedicated PBN of 40-50 blogs and link to the new site using that.

I believe there wasn’t any algorithmic penalty because it got me ranked and this is the reason why I struggled with results after resuming my SEO strategy. Google had caught up to that and I was too disconnected from the field to notice that.

[Editor’s Note: See how slick Karan was here? He went with a temporary, cheaper solution to test something. Once he made money, he invested into his own PBN and dominated as a hosting affiliate. Uh-mazing!]

3. You took a break for a little while. Be honest–why?

My daily routine looked something like this: wake up, watch the commissions I’ve raked in the past 24 hours, order a few gigs on Fiverr, have fun, go to sleep.

As you can see, for a 20 year old guy who’s just made a bunch of money after literally going through a financial crisis…It was a pretty good life. Everything was easy. It looked easy.

But passive income really doesn’t work that way. I got overconfident and started working half-heartedly on every new project that came across my mind. It was a disaster. I lost a lot of money, nothing worked because I had no experience in delivering the services and products I was trying to build and everything fell apart.

I basically called it a “break” to comfort myself but the truth is that I just got lazy. I’ve spent the past few months burning the last of my funds, testing theories, building websites and failing. But I’ve finally figured it out.

This time I’ll use my powers for good 😉

4. What would you say is the biggest change in SEO today versus back a couple of years ago (pertaining to your projects)?

The biggest SEO change that I see the obvious one that Google has become a lot smarter. It can identify that a new site simply does not get a bunch of authority links without attracting a few hundred links from not-so-authority sites. That’s just how organic reach works. This was one of the key mistakes I was making when I got back into the game after my “break”.

Apart from that, I love how Google understands content and the overall intent of the page. This is probably why we see more authority sites ranking in the SERPs as opposed to smaller niche sites. While one could argue that tightly focused two-three page sites can be ranked, and they sure can since I have a few. They are ranking for keywords that the authority sites aren’t even trying to compete for.

As a consumer, I love what changes they’ve made. As an SEO, I still find them impressive because they really amp up the quality standards with every update they roll out and a lot of SEOs throw in the towel. That just opens up more markets for me.

[Editor’s Note: Positive outlook with every Google update. Observe & change strategies].

5. Let’s discuss your main project right now: what is the niche? How are you monetizing it? How old is the website? Have you generated any revenue from it? If so, how long have you been generating any $$?

Well, I’m currently involved in a few small projects. Nothing too major since I’m still in the process of improving my strategy.

However, the first one is an Amazon niche site that is focused towards health and fitness. I’d been focusing on mine when I was OFF SEO and I’ve really grown passionate towards it. So, it was a natural niche for me. I love writing for it.

The site is still in the infant stages. I’ve ranked top 3 for a couple of secondary keywords while the primary ones are still on second page, growing steadily.

The revenue is not much to boast about but it did around $600 in March and around $700 in April. The plan is to grow it to $5000-$6000 per month and then sell it so that I’ve some funds to grow my other businesses.

Karan's Amazon Affiliate Earnings

Apart from that, I’m working on something more tangible i.e. a new wedding photography business. There’s a lot of local search volume and it can bring in a very steady stream of clients and revenue to further grow it with other marketing channels and build my team.

So, that’s pretty much all I’m focusing on for the time being. However, I am working with a lot of individuals for the smaller projects to later build them into a team for my major scale projects.

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6. Is this your first Amazon niche site? How did you do keyword research? Is it extremely product focused or do you also have informative and entertaining articles sprinkled in (what’s the ratio)?

This is not my first Amazon niche site. However, this is the one that I’m actively working on. The first one I built was around 2 years ago as a fun side project to see how their program works.

I didn’t focus too much on keyword research for this. Just went with 3 primary sets of products with varying competition so that I can test my hypothesis and see what kind of link volume is required for each to rank each set of keywords, what kind of time frame each takes, and how does the authority that the site gains from links built for one page affect the others.

The improvements in rankings have been completely different from what I had expected. Interesting stuff.

For now, I’m working on building an authority type website around sports and fitness products. The site started out with my primary affiliate pages but as it started gaining organic rankings, I’m moving towards building a more information based website/blog to differentiate it from Made-for-Amazon websites.

[Editor’s Note: Stand out from other affiliate sites and don’t leave it at just reviews. Include other useful content which will help with organic long tail keyphrases and bring in visitors naturally].

I’m also testing out infographics as a content outreach strategy, however, due to lack of focus I really haven’t had much success with it in terms of link building. But this is something I’ll definitely work with in my future projects.

7. What’s been the main backlinking strategy for this site? Please share any automated tools etc?

The primary backlink strategy has been a mix of PBN links and manually created Web 2.0s, minor blog commenting along with a bit of Reddit mentions and Wikipedia citations.

I’m running my tests with guest posts and other combination of link building tactics. In my observation, the only thing that matters is the consistency of incoming links. Of course, you need quality links but the there needs to be an organic balance between high authority and fresh links.

The only automation tool I use is FCS networker for building Tier 2 web 2.0s for the purpose of indexation.

8. How much time & money have you spent on setting up the site, VAs, tools, keyword research, etc?

When it comes to building affiliate sites, I handle the keyword research and site content myself. However, all my web 2.0s and PBN content is handled by a single VA. The costs haven’t gone upwards of $1500 for now.

However, I just moved my site to WpEngine and I’m in the process of acquiring some powerful websites in the sports niche so I’m looking to spend another $500-1000 in May.

9. What about backlinking? When did you start creating these? What was your main strategy?

Earlier, all I had to do was set up 70-80 PBN sites and use them to build links for my main site. If required, I would buy a few Fiverr gigs and send another 100-200 guest posts and the site/videos would rank.

The strategy still works today but the frequency of links you build matters a lot. Building too many links too fast will result in a definite algorithmic penalty and your site will be stuck somewhere in the hundreds for months.

From a personal experience, last year in October, I decided to build a small affiliate site in a very low competition niche. The top ranking site barely had 2 pbn links and a few spammy links so building a dedicated network of 20 PBN sites sounded like a sure shot way to get ranked. That’s exactly what I did. The site sat at #300 for 4 months.

I finally decided to remove all the links and 2 days later, it showed up on #15.

I had a very similar observation in another niche. The only difference for this site was that it was in a very competitive niche (an easy $1000/day when ranked at #1).

So, now my link building strategy is a little more laid back. I still use PBNs but I’m working on building out a more sustainable link building strategy that is focused towards attracting natural links from other authority sites in my industry.

I start building links from the first day itself but the composition is a lot different now than what it used to be 18 months earlier.

10. Did you experience a plateau in rankings shift? Did you consider giving up working on the site?

Yes, I have given up on a lot of projects and this is a key factor why most of my projects failed when I got back into SEO.

The time it used to take to rank has dramatically increased and I didn’t factor that in when testing my link building strategy. This led to a lot of premature failures and sites burnt.

When you hit a plateau, do not give up on the website. The fact is, Google is just an algorithm that takes in a certain values (be it 200+) and gives you an output.

One of the key factors that it does consider is links and as I stated in my observations above, it can make or break your plateaus. Grab a cup of coffee, consult a few SEO friends and see where you went wrong. If the growth graph has been steady then maybe you just need to build more links and wait it out.

11. Interesting observations, Karan. Let’s say you have a website a month or two old. Can you roughly show us what your backlinking strategy would look like the first 30 days? Perhaps upto 60-90 days?

Sure. For the first 30 days, I’d start with building up a consistent stream of fresh links like 1-2 web 2.0s per day linking to different pages on my site. Along with that, I’d build 4-5 pbn links, again linking to different pages, find citation opportunities on Wikipedia, create a few profiles on sites like Forbes and find relevant posts on Reddit and build some links there.

After the first 30-45 days, I’d go with building a few more pages on my main site that target long tail keywords with decent volume (1,600-2400 searches per month) related to my primary keywords and increase the daily web 2.0 to 3-4 along with 1-2 new authority (PBN, Guest posts, infographics syndication, paid posts) links per week for every money page on my site.

12. PBNs seem to be a big one for you. Is it a concern that your PBN may be targeted by Google?

Sure it is. There’s no doubt that they’ll be as aggressive as they can towards killing this loophole.
But the point is to not fight the inevitable but work around it. The approach that’s currently being taken towards building PBNs is essentially flawed and leaves huge footprints.

13. How about you give us inside details on how you set up your own PBNs?

I work on building or restoring sites in my niche that are dedicated to linking to just one site. I think the right way to build a network is to leave no footprints.

Go with Different registrars, different whois info, different hosting providers, use fresh content and avoid repeating links to the same sites from your network.

I generally go with a network dedicated to one single website.

It can get expensive that way but when you look your site ranking for the next 8-10 months without a hitch, you’re going make that money back and selling it would mean a 12-18x income.

When it comes to SEO, it’s all about ROI for me. Do not shy away from building a strong, protected PBN and pay attention to the details.

14. OK, so Karan, let’s be honest again 😉 Given what the SEO space looks like these days, how much money do you think one needs to put into their website to give it a good chance to succeed?

Honestly, my advice would be to save $1000, find a bunch of low competition keywords, set up a website targeting all of them and build links to these pages differently. Do everything yourself and see what works and what doesn’t.

Before you start investing, you need data on what works and why. Lack of data cost me $30,000 in the past one year in failed websites and lavish business expenses.

Once you have the strong data on what’s working. You can get the funds by flipping the site, build a more efficient process by hiring VA’s, delegate repetitive work and spend your time on work that requires a higher level of skill or is critical to the success of your site.

Rinse and repeat unless you can find, train and maintain your personal army of assistants to take care of the whole process for you.

15. Moon here, chatting with you all again. When I asked Karan to describe or show his workspace, he showed me a simple image… so there you have it. Most of you have the equipment he owns, overseas (for me), in India. One thing you gotta bring of your own? Your blood, sweat, & tears… those can’t be purchased anywhere else!

Karan’s workstation? Apparently random workstations:

Karan's workstation

Notes From This Interview

  • Success takes time! It took Karan three years to get to a very nice income
  • Work with a mentor or accountability partner
  • If you don’t have money to invest, focus on cheaper (but effective) solutions. Once $$ starts rolling in, focus on the long term solutions (which involve more of an investment)
  • Every time Google updates its algorithm, make your observations, & adjust
  • Don’t create “review” sites; also blend in smart content for organic, longtail rankings!
  • For the love of God, work hard!

Thank you so much for your time, Karan, and for sharing details. If you have any questions for Labra or me, please leave a comment here. Oh, sharing this interview will make you as awesome as this lady:

lady riding dolphin

Umm, a "share" equals a one knot untied on Sspeedy :P