How we built a profitable NoCode side business with affiliate marketing
– BY STEVEN GUNN /
updated: May 24, 2021
In this post I’m going to share with you how we built a profitable NoCode side business, how it all started, the specific challenges we face and what we’ve got planned ahead. I will be revisiting the post monthly, to add updates on growth and share the results.
We built a profitable side project using Webflow. It’s not raking it in, but is increasing monthly (last 3 months we generated almost £30k in sales for retailers). We added Jetboost to give it some power and manage the website data using Airtable, alongside Parabola for live price updates. We’re going to be focussing on SEO for long term growth. Lastly, you don’t need to copy what everyone else is doing, find your niche (for us it was mattresses) put the groundwork in and stick with it. So, what are you waiting for?!
Back in Oct 2019 I received a call from a client, he wanted a new website building. He had several websites one of which was a mattress comparison website built by a web developer. So why the new website? Well the current website had no CMS and the developer, his business partner, was moving to Canada and unfortunately wouldn’t be available to work on the project for some time.
The client tried a Wordpress theme, and like so many themes, the demos look fantastic, but in reality they don’t always fit the use case. I could go on and on here, discussing the many issues people face with Wordpress, but I’ll leave that for another post! Let me quickly add, there are some fantastic Wordpress websites / products / designers / agencies out there, but they’re Wordpress pro’s – they know it inside out – however, for many people, it’s a pain in the arse!
Step up Webflow! I’d already been using Webflow for some years, loved it, and really wanted to prove you could build solid, real world businesses & projects with it. So I recommended we design & build it in Webflow. The usual hesitation and client comments ensued (which you still hear today in the NoCode space) ‘will the website rank with Webflow?’ ‘What if Webflow just disappears – poof?’ ‘Isn’t Webflow just for portfolio websites?’. Yes. I’m certain they won’t. And definitely not! After discussions the client was excited and we agreed to build it using Webflow. We planned to add more functionality as and when budget allowed.
Fast forward 5 years, well, it feels like it (I’m talking about you, COVID!) and the client is now my business partner. After working for several months on client projects together, we decided in December 2020 to collaborate on the side project too, and during the Christmas holidays we gave www.mattressunboxed.co.uk some much needed love, with all the trimmings (Hooray for Jetboost).
Mattress Unboxed provides mattress reviews & comparisons, mattress discounts and more recently, live retailer prices and sizes. Previously the website was running in the background, making a few hundred pounds a month, but with several other businesses competing for the owner’s time, it received little attention and growth was slow.
The graph below shows users from December 1st 2019 - March 31st 2020 (orange line) compared to December 1st 2020 - March 31st 2021 (blue line).
How is it making money? From affiliate sales. If a customer clicks out from our website, through an affiliate link for one of the retailers we are showcasing, and makes a purchase, we get a commission. The commission varies by retailer and sector, but in our niche it ranges from 2-12% of the transaction value. There are of course other revenue streams for us to explore in future and other channels to promote (social, email etc), but our focus currently is on affiliate commissions through the content on our website. Which is why SEO has formed a crucial part of our project.
Side note: we see many affiliates solely promoting products through Amazon’s Associates program. For our project, utilising product comparison, it was crucial to have a range of retailers and to do that we had to sign up to a multitude of affiliate networks. Amazon has restrictions on who can use their product feed API (based on volume of sales), and we don’t currently hit that threshold, so they make up only a fraction of our revenues to date.
The Plan – Focus on SEO
100% of the revenue is made up of affiliate commissions gained from organic search traffic. Therefore, it made sense for us to focus our efforts on this and put an SEO strategy together.
How were we going to get this ranked amongst competitors? What were the most important things to focus on? Why should Google even rank us? Will it make some decent money? Or at least a respectful amount of residual income. After all, we want to make money from our side projects, right?! I took a break here from writing, made a cuppa, jumped on Twitter for 10 mins and up popped a post (below) from Gregory John. Talk about perfect timing! He’s totally right. This was part of the reason I wanted to create this post, to show others that you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing (did somebody saaaay, Job Board).
I see lots of makers get into the NoCode space, bang up a project because they can, or simply because everyone else is, and then expect miracles. But sir, when Lambo?! Provide value and you’ll make money. Back to the post… we sat down and started to research.
We looked at competitor websites, some of which were receiving over 50k visits a month, whilst Mattress Unboxed had 1k visits. We knew we had our work cut out, but that opportunity was there to be had, in the form of increased traffic and sales. We focussed on search terms & trends, content ideas related to mattresses & sleep and ways to receive quality backlinks in order to drive traffic to the website. Basically a long term SEO strategy. We also looked at what pages were already ranking and performing well (example below) and focussed on improving these further, and improved the overall design and user experience to help customers and Google clearly understand the website.
A quick word on SEO
A lot of people think SEO is some fancy add-on once your website goes live. It’s not. SEO, content, website design & development, accessibility (and lots more) are all vital parts of the same engine, and should be considered from the very start. It’s great to see prominent makers like Pat Walls promote SEO. Voices like his in the maker space really help to bring attention to the importance, and effectiveness of SEO as a long term strategy for your side hustle, and business in general. Aleyda Solis also provides excellent SEO insights & content.
It’s no surprise everyone wants to be top dog on Google. According to Search Engine Journal the 1st organic position has a click through rate of almost 30%, with the 2nd & 3rd positions falling behind at 15% and 11% respectively. With SEO you have to play the long game, yes, there are some quick wins and things you can do to get a head start, but overall, it’s about quality, relevant content and putting a lot of groundwork in at the start. You’ll reap the benefits later – get comfortable with delayed gratification!
This is where I find a lot of makers go wrong. Especially ones that have come into the space with no prior knowledge of design, SEO, web development, building products, serving customers, or business in general. I’m not criticizing them, I just feel if they spent a little more time considering their project, what value they're actually adding, potential customers, and finding a niche, instead of following what everyone else is doing, they might have more success. Yes NoCode is making it easier than ever to launch a product and make money online, but don’t waste your time building things that nobody wants. It can be demoralizing! Take those small, regular wins and eventually that snowball will grow into a snowman. Just don’t let it melt.
What we changed
Before January 2021 Mattress Unboxed never had any type of search functionality or live prices. This feature is rarely seen amongst the competitors, mainly because it can be time consuming and difficult to implement. That’s something we targeted as a point of difference for us, and where NoCode comes into its own. Here are 3 NoCode tools we added to improve functionality & management of the website & the graph below shows when initial changes were implemented.
As a long time Webflow user I’ve known about Jetboost since its launch. It allows you to quickly add real-time search, dynamic filtering, and more to your Webflow site – without writing code. My only disappointment with it is that I never used it sooner. Man, does it make your life easy! Not to mention improve your website dramatically. I don’t code much, so I can’t imagine what I’d have to do to create something like this on a website.
We use Jetboost for the homepage search functionality, as well as the mattress discount & offers page. We also integrated it with our bespoke ‘Filter’ menu where we display the amount of items available depending on your choice of selections. Jetboost is very simple to add to your website, even more so if you know your way around Webflow. I can’t remember how long it took to add, maybe 30 minutes or so - we had a lot of items to link. Chris Spags – Jetboost founder – is super helpful which adds an extra layer of quality to the product. I can’t recommend it enough. If you’ve been considering adding it to your Webflow site then definitely give it a try.
We’re currently working on a solution to pull in live product feeds from each retailer using Parabola. However, this can be difficult to implement. The feeds provided by retailers are usually all different and don’t contain the information you need. Therefore a lot of manual work is usually required to go through the feeds and refine until they’re suitable.
If we manage to create a solution for live feeds, it will allow us to push 1000’s of products directly to the website, and update price changes for each mattress, in real-time, without having to do any of it manually. NoCode we love you! We currently use Parabola for pushing & pulling content from Airtable & Webflow, which has also saved us a lot of time.
Whilst I'm super comfortable using the Webflow CMS and find it relatively easy to update content, it’s not perfect. We’ve experienced major performance issues, mainly with the designer, but at times, with the CMS too. Side note, performance issues with the Webflow designer & CMS usually only happen with large websites – Mattress Unboxed has a lot of CMS items – we’ve not experienced these issues with smaller websites. Webflow have been aware of performance issues for some time and are working on improvements. Hooray to this!
However, my business partner is a spreadsheet man. He prefers Airtable. So it made sense for him to be able to manage the website from an interface he’s used to. So far this has worked well, although there are some small (yet very big) details to consider… Rich Text elements! We haven’t found a way to push the styling of these directly to Webflow from Airtable which is a pain to say the least.
Website design & development
I updated the website design. I won’t go into too much detail here on my design process other than to say I created some designs in Figma, and then jumped over to Webflow to develop it.
A couple of things to note… the design you see now is not the design I did in Figma. Sometimes, ideas you have for the design don't work in real life once developed. After testing, it might not be as user friendly as you expected or certain elements become superfluous. So I ended up re-designing & developing it directly in Webflow.
One major design consideration with our website, is there’s lots of content. Not a couple of lines of text here and there where you can mock it up like a Dribbble designer’s dream. The website can’t really function like an abstract portfolio. It has to load as quickly as possible, be easy to understand & navigate and provide value to the customer. And just to make life easier, compete against websites that have almost 50x the traffic, so we’ve got to get ranked highly on search engines too!
In a perfect world, we’d all love to go wild with a design and never have to worry about search engine rankings, usability and accessibility, but unfortunately we live in the real world and it’s our responsibility to make the web as accessible and inclusive as we can.
As a designer, there are sections I’m not happy with, and will never be – it’s just the way I am. However, done is better than perfect. We also have limited time to spend working on the project - a few hours per month. Even with its flaws the website is making money on a regular basis, which is a win I’m more than happy to take.
Where we’ll be making improvements
The website is very much a work in progress with plenty of room for improvement. Below are some key areas we’ll be focussing on.
There are sections throughout the website where we need to improve the experience for customers using assistive technologies such as screen readers and braille displays. We’ve been working with Jonathan Holden, an expert and champion for web accessibility, to run the website through various tests and will update and improve where required.
Design & Layout
Various sections throughout the website could be improved, for example the customer testimonials on the mattress review pages do not provide a great user experience.
This is a biggie for us. We need to get the balance right for SEO and for a customer. With a lot of affiliate marketing websites there’s a tendency to create content with the sole intent to get ranked highly on search engines. We’d prefer to focus more on the customer and their experience on the website, and still get ranked.
Additional retailers, brands and products
Currently we only showcase a fraction of the mattresses sold online in the UK, so we are keen to continue adding as many mattresses as possible, covering all the major brands and retailers. Anyone who has worked with multiple product feeds from different retailers will appreciate the challenge this poses - Parabola has helped us format and refine feeds so we can pull out the information we require, however many feeds don’t contain the relevant data in the first place, or the retailer doesn’t have a feed for affiliates to use. So there is a lot of relationship building with retailers required!
Functionality / other tools
Nocodelytics is shaping up to be another powerful add-on for your Webflow site. We use this, but have yet to fully explore its capabilities. We will be diving in soon and sharing updates here.
It’s always exciting designing & building a website, especially where customers make purchases (or in this case, referring customers to a retailer to make their purchase). It takes a lot of trust to be able to make sales online, and we’re very proud of that. There’s definitely a lot of challenges (mostly at the start) writing content and trying to work with product feeds, but we relish the challenge and we’re seeing gradual growth despite not yet getting around to any type of backlink strategy. We’re looking forward to seeing how we can improve the website’s online presence further over the coming months and can’t wait to share those details with you!
Looking to start a NoCode project? Maybe you're looking for a Webflow expert / agency? Get in touch – we'd love to hear from you.
We increased the number of mattresses available on our comparison tool by 211, from 391 to 602. Users to our website increased by 36% from 2390 to 3254 between March and April. On course for 4311 in May.
We tested automating price updates using Parabola to pull in live pricing data from affiliate network datafeeds into Airtable. This was successful for some networks, although we had issues with others due to inability to unzip the data files. Many thanks for Daniel Vanchieri at Parabola for helping us refine some of the automations.
We tested the Data Fetcher Airtable app as an alternative for processing the problematic datafeeds. A huge thank you to Andy Cloke at Data Fetcher for very quickly creating a solution for us when initial testing failed.
Investigated the beta version of Finsweet's NoBull Airtable app for managing data and content updates to Webflow – came up against a couple of bugs. Big thanks to Rohan Ganachari and the Finsweet team for investigating this – looking forward to the updates to resolve this.
Rest of May and into June
Look to refine our datafeed automation process to aid with the onboarding of new retailers & mattresses, speeding up the process considerably. Continuing to add more retailers and brands to our site, and continue with accessibility updates & refinements.