Behind the Scenes of the 6-Figure Bird Watching Blog

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Scott Killer

This week’s guest left his high-paying — but not super satisfying — career in insurance to run a bird blog full-time.

Scott Keller started BirdWatchingHQ.com as a side hustle back in 2016 and has since turned it into a full-time income with half a million monthly pageviews and more than 1 million monthly YouTube views.

But like all businesses, it’s been an evolution to get to that point.

Scott started out chasing high-ticket affiliate commissions but pivoted into creating one of the best bird watching resources online with multiple revenue streams.

Tune in to The Side Hustle Show interview to hear:

  • what’s driving traffic for Scott today
  • the creative ways Scott has grown his email list to over 50,000 subs
  • how you can borrow some of the same tactics for your business

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The Idea to Start BirdWatchingHQ

Scott wanted to start a website and started out with the idea of finding expensive items on Amazon to refer people to and make affiliate commissions.

“I came across binoculars. People tend to spend a lot of money on binoculars,” Scott told me.

There are two main categories of people who buy binoculars:

  1. Hunters
  2. Bird watchers

Scott had done some hunting before, but he preferred to watch birds and was interested in the topic — so he decided to focus on bird watchers.

Scott said that’s how he came up with the idea to start BirdWatchingHQ.com and that he was going to focus on writing binocular reviews.

Learning the Ropes and Early Mistakes

Being new to blogging, Scott admits his early strategy wasn’t the best.

Scott said he started out writing a bunch of 300-word articles on 7 different types of binoculars.

He then started leaving comments on other blogs in the hope that people would notice and visit his site.

It didn’t work.

“The big thing is that I tried,” Scott said looking back.

Getting bored of writing about binoculars, Scott decided to start writing about birds – and that’s when things started to take a turn for the better.

Creating Content and Learning How to Rank on Google

Scott explained that there are two types of bird watchers:

  • There are those who go “birding” which means they are going out and actively looking for specific species of birds.
  • And those who just watch birds casually.

Scott decided to start by writing content for people who go birding as this was something he did himself when he had time.

However, Scott explained that he was writing content about things that he was interested in, and wasn’t getting much traction.

It was only when Scott found Brian Dean’s blog, Backlinko, that he realized how he should be writing content that will rank better and be better received by visitors.

Brian explained that you need to be, “Putting yourself in the shoes of whoever is reading your article,” Scott told me.

Scott started making his articles more visitor-focused and much easier to read and more skimmable. He also went back and re-did those early binocular review articles.

Those earlier articles started ranking and bringing in traffic, and this was when Scott said he started paying more attention to SEO.

Scott said he also started making his titles more intriguing, improving his content so it’s more engaging, and he started seeing organic traffic as a result.

Competitive Analysis

Scott didn’t do a deep dive into how competitive the birding niche was, but he did look at competing sites.

“I just never saw one I didn’t think I could do better than at the time,” Scott told me.

Scott said most birding blogs at the time were the “Dear diary” type blogs. There weren’t many blogs trying to help people with birding, which is what he was doing.

Learning About Keyword Research

Scott said he was starting to see articles ranking and bringing in a small amount of traffic but it wasn’t until mid-2017 that he started doing real keyword research.

Looking in his Google Search Console, Scott said he could see most of his posts were bringing in 10-20 visitors a month.

Using Google’s Keyword Planner, Scott said he could see this was because the keywords he was targeting were only getting around 10-20 estimated searches a month.

This changed when he spotted the keyword, “How to attract hummingbirds”. Scott said he liked the topic and could see it had an estimated volume of 10,000-20,000 searches a month, so he decided to target it.

He also started uncovering more keywords, which were essentially questions that had verified search volume he could answer.

Scott said this was one of his “Aha” moments that helped him understand how to do keyword research and generate more traffic through SEO.

Today, Scott uses Ubersuggest and KeywordsEverywhere to do his keyword research and find keywords with volume.

Gaining Traction and Outsourcing Content

When Scott started finding keywords about various birds, he didn’t even have a bird feeder in his backyard.

He admits he was learning as he went along and bought bird feeders to learn more about the birds he was writing about.

He also used a bunch of freelance writers at the time as he wanted to produce as much written content as he could to get some traction with his blog.

Today, Scott has one permanent writer and also writes articles himself.

Publishing and Emailing Schedule

Scott’s publishing schedule is four articles a week. He writes two articles himself, and his writer also writes two.

Most of Scott’s articles are what he calls “email articles”. What Scott means by this is that he’s targeting content that works well in an email sequence, so he can also send them out to his email list.

Scott has set this up as almost like releasing a course over the duration of a year. He’s then going to repeat this email sequence next year.

Scott sends an email every Monday and Thursday and is using ConvertKit to manage his list.

Building an Email List

To capture emails, Scott is using a quiz that pops up after 30 seconds on his site. He’s tried various other lead magnets and techniques, but this quiz is what works the best by far.

Scott asks 10 questions testing a visitor’s bird knowledge, then gives them the option to sign up to his list to get their results.

Scott said this is working out well and he has a 2-3% opt-in rate.

New subscribers get 3-4 welcome emails in a sequence introducing them to BirdWatchingHQ. They’re directed to some of the most popular articles, and introduced to the live cams and some other resources.

Scott uses software called Interact to manage his quiz pop up.

Setting up Live Cams

Scott has a large backyard that backs up onto a swamp area and some woods. He gets a lot of birds and other interesting creatures passing through his yard.

In 2019, Scott was thinking of ways to produce different and unique content. So, he decided to set up a live camera feed in his backyard.

This helps him validate that he’s doing the things he’s talking about on his blog, using the feeders he’s recommending, and so on.

Scott set up a YouTube channel as a way to maintain live feeds, and today has several live streams of his backyard.

It’s proven to be really popular. Sometimes there are hundreds of people watching live and chatting to one another in the live chat feed on YouTube.

The RPM isn’t great for ad revenue on live cams, it’s about $2 per 1,000 views as there is only an ad shown when someone first joins a feed.

But it’s an additional income stream and his live feeds are watched all over the world.

Growing a YouTube Channel

Scott started a YouTube channel because he needed somewhere to stream his live feeds.

However, he’s since grown his channel to more than 71,000 subscribers by also uploading videos.

Scott has uploaded a lot of videos explaining how to identify different birds, which he says have done well.

He’s also made videos playing the different sounds birds and other animals make which also get a lot of views.

Revenue Streams

The revenue streams ringing the cash register for Scott are:

  • Display ads – Scott is using AdThrive to display ads on his site and this accounts for about 75% of his overall revenue. Scott said his RPM is typically in the $35-$40 range.
  • Amazon affiliate – Commissions for referring visitors to Amazon products is Scott’s second-largest revenue stream accounting for 10-15% of his revenue.
  • Other affiliates – Scott recommends other affiliates for some products.
  • YouTube – Scott makes ad revenue on his live cams and YouTube videos.
  • E-commerce – A couple of years ago Scott set up an ecommerce store and dropships some of the products he recommends.

Diversifying With an Ecommerce Store

Scott set up an e-commerce store to diversify his revenue streams and not depend on Google as much.

He’s faced some challenges with his store, and told me “It does decent, but it doesn’t do great.”

The main challenge Scott has run into is that most of his products are also available on Amazon, so he loses customers there.

In fact, Scott said he’s currently running tests to see if it’s worth his time maintaining his store or just sending people directly to Amazon and taking an affiliate commission.

The products in his store are either dropshipped or fulfilled by a print-on-demand service. Scott is using Shopify to power his store, and SPOD to fulfill his print-on-demand items.

Scott found some designers on Upwork to design his shirts and other merch and has some cool designs.

However, he doesn’t plan on coming up with any new designs in the future and is considering winding down his store.

Going Full-Time With BirdWatchingHQ

Last June, Scott left his job at his insurance office.

Scott said it has been a year in the making and he could have made the leap sooner, but he wanted to do everything the right way and have a good safety net.

He got some curious looks from his colleagues and he found it a difficult decision emotionally, but it was the right decision.

What’s a Typical Day Look Like?

When I asked Scott what a typical day looks like, he referenced the book Deep Work by Carl Newport.

In Deep Work, Carl explains that 3-4 hours of deep, uninterrupted work is when someone is their most productive, and this is how Scott works.

Every morning, Scott locks his office door or goes to a coffee shop and spends a few hours without interruption working on content creation.

In the afternoon, Scott spends time with his family, hiking, working out, replenishing his bird feeders, and brainstorming new ideas.

This is quite the contrast from being chained to his desk for 8 hours a day as an insurance agent!

What Would You Do Differently?

Looking back, Scott said he would, “definitely just double down on producing as much content as possible” to speed things up.

Content is what has been the main driving force behind his blog. Scott was spending a lot of time writing back when he started, but he said he could have worked harder.

What’s Next?

Scott’s plans going forward are the same as when he looked backward, to double down on content as that’s what’s moving the needle and bringing in the most revenue.

He also has an idea to buy a property and turn it into an Airbnb with bird watching stuff set up in the yard.

That’s a big goal that’s somewhere down the line, but for now, it’s “more content, and more content,” Scott told me.

Scott’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

Focus and patience.”

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