Interview with Fraser Cain of UniverseToday.com

I was very excited to get a chance to interview Fraser Cain for you.

Fraser is pretty special in my opinion because he runs UniverseToday.com. He’s able to generate an absolute ton of traffic to his site, to the tune of millions of unique visitors per month. Not many people can say that. And I think it’s a massive accomplishment.

His site is an incredibly valuable resource for anyone interested in space exploration. And due to all the traffic he receives, he’s able to earn a substantial amount of money from Adsense (well into the 5-figure a month range).

Fraser’s UniverseToday.com site shows you an actual example of how to run a long-term, high income Adsense business. He’s gone in a completely different direction from many seeking quick profits from Adsense. He’s focused on one site and built up a community around a broad topic.

He strives to produce the type of content people want to read and learn from and in the process, it’s brought him an absolute ton of traffic along with a high, steady income.

I think anyone interested in the content publishing model can learn a lot from Fraser (myself included). He was kind enough to answer several questions for me on how he got started.

If you read the interview you’ll see it actually took him a while to start bringing in a whole lot of traffic and earning (longer than most of us would like to wait), but please keep in mind, Fraser started UniverseToday.com as a side project initially.

Interview with Fraser Cain

Lisa: I know you’ve been interviewed several times for UniverseToday.com and I’d like to ask you a few questions on that business, but I noticed you’ve done all this other really cool stuff too. Like you’re the co-founder of Absolute Software (software to help recover stolen laptops).  Are you currently involved with that business anymore?

Fraser: Nope, I left Absolute Software back in 1995. We founded in in 1991… more than 20 years ago.

Lisa: It sounds very cool and from looking around at it.  Can you tell me a little about how you got the idea for that business?

Fraser: I came up with the idea when I got my first laptop and was worried about getting it stolen. I had the idea that it would be cool if the computer could call home if it ever got stolen, and then I could see the caller ID and pass the number along to the police. The company grew from there.

Lisa: It was definitely a long while ago, but how did you market it back then?

Fraser: We mostly marketed it through direct sales to large corporations and educational institutions with a lot of computers to protect. Keep in mind, this was even before the World Wide Web.

Lisa: And a few years after that you started UniverseToday.com?

Fraser: That’s right, I started Universe Today in 1999 while I was working for a web development agency in Vancouver called Communicate.com. I wanted to try running a website on the site to better understand the day-to-day operations of running a website, to give my clients better service. But I actually loved running the site so much that it eventually became its own career.

Lisa: Would you mind sharing a few statistics on UniverseToday.com? Like number of subscribers, monthly visitors, etc …?

Fraser: The site gets about 3-4 million visitors a month, and gets as many as 5 million page views a month. There are approximately 75,000 RSS subscribers, 20,000 Twitter followers, 15,000 Facebook fans. I’m also followed on Google+ by about 135,000 people.

Lisa: Also, I’m just curious, about how much content is on that site?

Fraser: At this point, I’ve probably got 15,000 articles on the site.

Lisa: I have a lot of readers who are thinking about starting a business online and hearing how your site brings in millions of visitors and well into 5-figures a month which is fantastic, but I’m sure it started like others, struggling to get its first few visitors.  If you remember, about how much traffic was it bringing in about a year after you started?

Fraser: I don’t remember how much traffic exactly, but almost none. Maybe a few thousand a day, with a couple of thousand people on my email mailing list. The site took about 6 years before I was actually able to quit my day job and earn a living from it.

Lisa: If ever it was slow going with UniverseToday.com (especially in the beginning), how did you convince yourself to keep working on it?

Fraser: I have a crazy work ethic and a willingness to do monotonous work for long periods of time. But I always try to measure what I’m doing with objective metrics. One of the first things I focused on was building a daily email newsletter list. I decided my goal was 10,000 subscribers. Once I got my first 1,000, I had a good idea of how much work it was going to take to get to 10,000. Then it was just a matter of grinding away until I got there. That’s still really the way my brain works. 🙂

Lisa: You’ve said you don’t build links to UniverseToday.com. So I just want to clarify this.  Do you mean you haven’t done a lot of the typical link building strategies or have you literally done nothing as far as promoting the site? Like have you ever told another webmaster about the site?  Have you written press releases?

Fraser: I promote the site all the time, but I’ve never gotten links with the goal of manipulating the search results. And I really do this rarely. If we’re doing to do some kind of live event, like the recent NASA MSL Curiosity Landing, I’ll release a press release so people will know about our coverage. But in those cases, I’m usually getting people to link over to YouTube or Google+. But in general, I don’t ask for links, don’t negotiate for links, or even think about links in any way. If they happen, they happen, but I’m not spending one second of effort making it happen.

Lisa: If you were to start a site from scratch tomorrow what would your strategy be? Especially as far as the promotion end of things. What would you do to get it noticed from the sea of the millions of other sites out there?

Fraser: I think that monetizing content through advertising is a brutal business to be in, and I don’t think I’d go into media again. I’d sell a real thing, like a book, or a software company, or a telescope factory. Then I’d use all the same marketing techniques to build up traffic and customers.

If I was starting from scratch, I’d put 100% of my effort into creating the best possible solution to a problem that I can manage; whatever that problem is. Once you’ve got the best solution, you can start marketing it.

Lisa: That’s a great strategy.  Can I ask, how much emphasis do you put on building your email list?  Or do you think other contact points work better for your market (like google+, your RSS feed, facebook, twitter, etc …)?

Fraser: I don’t put a lot of emphasis on building my email list any more. That’s probably a mistake, and I should fix that. 🙂  But I’ve been putting most of my effort into Google+ and YouTube recently. I deeply believe that Google+ is one of the most important future marketing channels that exist, and marketers ignore it at their peril.

Lisa: It seems we share the same philosophy with regards to building a site to rank for a ton of keyphrases and not just a handful.  I’ve found this to work great. What would you say to other new online business owners to try to convince them to adapt this strategy?

Fraser: The current focus on links and deceptive practices comes from flaws in Google’s search algorithm, and it makes total sense to attempt to capitalize on this. Many people have made a lot of money, so I’m not going to knock them.

But for me, I want to have a single website that I can work on for the rest of my life, so I need to come up with a strategy that can stand the test of time. I don’t want to follow short term tactics and try to outthink Google, I need to adopt Google’s compass and try to align my website with the directions Google is going. Creating a vast resource of space-related content makes sense from that perspective.

Lisa: For me, I actually create a piece of content with one primary keyphrase in mind (that I put once in the headline and at least one time in the body copy) and then I pick several secondary keyphrases that go in the body copy one time too.  I don’t worry about keyword density other than having the phrases in there at least once. Do you have any tips for how you include keyphrases in your content?

Fraser: I think we’re on the same page. I use the key phrase as inspiration for the article. I’ll do a bunch of sample searches for the key phrase and look at the landscape to see how well the question has been answered. What would I want to see if I searched for that key phrase? I try to be as comprehensive with my answer as I can. I do try to use related key phrases at least once in the article, but again, the quality of the article is what’s most important. In many cases, Google’s semantic algorithm does a pretty good job of matching a keyword to an article, even if you don’t actually use the specific keyword in it.

So… don’t over think it. Write for humans, not search engines.

Lisa: It looks like you publish several pieces of new content every day.  So I’m sure you outsource a lot. How do you find and keep people who really care about the content they write?

Fraser: I’m really lucky, and have a lot of influence in this industry, so people find their way to me. We’ve got as many great writers as we need to work with.

If I had budget, but didn’t have writers coming to me, I’d seek out bloggers and hire them to write for me.

If I had influence, but no budget, I’d probably bring in a lot of guest posts.

No budget, no influence? Write it all myself. 🙂

Lisa: What type of quality control procedures do you have in place?

Fraser: I have an amazing senior editor who tasks out stories to the writers and edits their work. We’ll often pair up and edit each other’s work before publishing. The great thing about the web is that you can fix articles after you publish based on comments from readers. It’s embarrassing, but it helps keep you honest.

Lisa: I know you have a keyword tool at KeywordStrategy.org that you built first for yourself and now you offer to others.  It’s very cool and I haven’t seen anyone else offering anything like it.  Can you tell us about your KeywordStrategy.org application and its features?

Fraser: Sure, we built Keyword Strategy as a way to keep track of my content marketing efforts. Anyone who’s targeted a lot of keywords knows that the process becomes unmanageable after a few hundred keywords. So the tool lets you gather tens of thousands of keywords related to your website, and then track all the key metrics that matter to you. You’ll never be stuck wondering what to write next.

Lisa: Do you want to let us know about any upcoming features to the KeywordStrategy.org tool?

Fraser: We’ve created an amazing tool for managing the specific keywords, but now there’s a whole new ranking signal of personal authority coming – specifically Google+ and their author rank algorithm. A lot of our thinking is how to track that layer as well. Not only will you need to track which keywords you’re targeting, but the personal authority of the writers covering those topics… yikes!

We’ve got a free 30-day trial you can use to try out KeywordStrategy.org. If you’re a traditional link builder, you probably won’t see a lot of benefit, but if you focus on collecting and targeting keywords, I’m hoping you’ll realize it’s exactly the kind of tool you didn’t know you needed. 🙂 If you’re a total keyword packrat like me, I think you’ll get a lot of value out of the tool.

6 replies
  1. Facebook Game Hints
    Facebook Game Hints says:

    Great interview. I’ve actually been a fan of Fraser’s listening to AstronomyCast regularly hosted by Mr. Cain and Dr. Pamela Gay. I get the UniverseToday email regulary and enjoy it from a personal interest perspectived. It’s great to read about the business side of the site and just how successful a site can be if you’re committed to “mononous, daily” grinding work. Hard work and perserverance does equal success. It almost feels like the best way to rank in Google post-Panda/Penguin is to just build a logical, smart, engaging site for humans and worry less and less about intricate Google-busting strategies. Good stuff!

    Reply
  2. Owen
    Owen says:

    Excellent interview, Lisa,thanks for sharing. Pick a topic and build a authority site around it.
    I use Market Samurai for keyword research. It seems to do the trick for me. Apart from SEO, one needs to implement various traffic generation and converting tactics. I wouldn’t like to wait for 6 years to make any real money, but one year of building the site is reasonable.

    Reply
    • Admin
      Admin says:

      Hi Owen – When reading how things worked out for someone else it’s always fun, but not always a good idea to assume it would be the same way for you (which I don’t think you’re doing, but just want to point it out). So whether someone says it took them 2 months or 6 years to grow a business they could quit their job for, it’s THEIR story, their life. It would be totally different for you.

      One thing about UniverseToday.com is that it’s a site built on something Fraser really seems to love; astronomy. And let’s just say for 1 million unique visitors per month he makes $10,000 from Adsense that month. That’s actually a terrible conversion rate (and I’m sure he’d say the same). I’ve been fortunate in that the markets I’ve picked have helped me earn that much money from Adsense with a fraction of that amount of traffic. Under even a tenth of that … so less than 100,000 unique visitors a month = over $10,000 in a month from Adsense. So if he were able to drive that much traffic to a site in a market that paid better (which may have been about the same amount of work) he could have been at the same income much sooner.

      But that’s often the difference between doing something you really like or not. I’m not saying that’s what he should have done or what you should do, but it’s just stuff to think about. The fact that he likes what he’s doing has definitely played a role in how he was able to stick it out when it was tough at first and how he’s still willing to get up and work on it today (because he could just sell that site and cash out on it).

      Anyway, I think his site is awesome and I’m glad he’s doing so well with it and that he took the time to do the interview.

      Thanks for commenting Owen … Lisa

      Reply
    • Lisa Parmley
      Lisa Parmley says:

      Even if it did take him several years to make his business earn a good profit it’s a lot better than not doing anything and never seeing the success you hope for. Sadly that’s what most people do.

      Reply

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