Shawn Hill, the founder of The Grilling Dad and co-founder of Blog Accelerator, is a seasoned SEO expert. Within a span of just 24 months, he successfully grew and scaled a blog into a six-figure venture and has a wealth of experience running some of the world's largest websites.
Can you share a bit about yourself and your projects?
I started this whole journey, trying to make some extra money, and I didn't have a lot of experience to have with SEO. I knew what it was so I just learned everything I could. I asked a lot of questions in forums, I asked a lot of Facebook groups, and I got a lot of really bad information. Like a lot! That led me to ask people I knew who had successful sites “Hey, can I pay you to teach me?”.
One thing led to another and introductions led me to a guy named Shane who had a course. This was the guy that I co-founded Blog Accelerator with. While going through his course, I was building my own niche site, and the goal was, can I make $1 online? Because if I can, then I can make $500 a month, and that $500 a month can create a lot of breathing room.
We knew at that time, our 7th child was on the way on the way and things changed quickly We had three kids and things were comfortable but then we had twins in the house, and it was not our plan to adopt them. Their grandmother was raising them because the mother was addicted to heroin, so we were taking care of them temporarily, then the grandmother died. So they became permanent.
Once the seventh was born, my wife and I had a routine where I would just stay up really late, like one or two in the morning, which was right around the time the baby would wake up, need to be fed, diaper changed all of that. So I had until the kids and my wife were going to bed until like one or two in the morning to work on this site.
How did you come up with this particular business model?
As the site started to grow and hit certain milestones the guy I was learning from says, “Hey, once you hit $10,000 a month, people will pay you to teach them how to do this”. I hadn't ever considered that. It kept going and got to $25,000 a month and then I just talked to him. I said, “I'm not trying to toot your horn, but I can't make a better course than what you already have. Have you thought about allowing me to sell on your site or partnering?” and that's where Blog Accelerator came from.
It helps people at a really affordable price, it's $119 bucks a month and you get the entire course. Plus the community, plus a weekly mastermind. We wanted it to be affordable so anyone can get it. You don't have to fork over $500 or $1,000 just to get access to the knowledge. I would have made it free. But we found out that people don't take action on things that are free.
Did you raise funding or were you bootstrapped?
Most of the courses were done already so Shane went in and he updated a few, we created a community, with several talks back and forth. We forecasted out two or three years of what it will look like, the numbers we think we will hit, and whether we're going to advertise or just grow it organically. It’s completely bootstrapped right now. We're right around 30 members and we've done no advertising. I don't promote it all that much.
How do you get new members?
I just added it a week ago to my bio on Twitter, and people are flowing through naturally and signing up. When I was on the Niche Pursuits podcast, I mentioned it and a lot of people were looking it up and wanting to join.
But we didn't have a link in there and when they were Googling it, it was taking them to some other weird page because we haven't tried to rank anything, that was never the goal. So some learning curves and things we didn't consider. But we haven't promoted it much. I think I've mentioned it once or twice in my newsletter.
What kind of challenges did you encounter along the way?
I think the biggest thing was to not talk talking about it more publicly. Getting interest upfront. We didn’t have a hot list to sell to, or to launch from, or even a pre-sale. We didn't do that at all. Once it was ready, and we had a couple of people join, there wasn't really a game plan as far as getting people in.
We focused so much on making the product great that we didn't spend much time on customer acquisition strategies. I think I was falsely confident that I could send one tweet or one email and 20 people would sign up, and that's just not the case.
But you do post some YouTube videos?
Shane, the co-founder, he's great. He's doing really well with his career and he's got some equity in the agency he works with. He manages a team of 20 plus people and is really great at scaling six-figure-per-month sites. So he's making YouTube videos that are mainly educational, that naturally flow into Blog Accelerator.
I'm just tweeting and building a personal brand and not really being promotional and things are coming across organically that way. There are so many things I wish I could talk about and I just can't because I'm still working at Forbes. There's so many insights and best practices. A lot of really good SEO tips I could give but I'm not allowed to.
If you were starting now, what would be your advice to somebody else doing this?
I think with niche sites specifically, I would go heavier on branding really early on. At Forbes I was working with MarketWatch, Better Homes and Gardens, and all these other big sites, and the thing that they all have in common is they are great at branding. People know their names, and they're everywhere, so I think that's really important.
When you’re getting media mentions organically, and getting all these backlinks, but also unlinked brand mentions, I think Google is smart enough to understand that those are important. So I would go pretty heavy on brand focus on social media, and then also just putting out top-quality content.
I've kind of gone back and forth on the Grilling Dad where some of the content is great, and some is mediocre at best. I still haven't done any AI content. I've hired writers that didn't have a lot of experience and published anyway just to get it out there. So I think I would take my time, and produce less but better.
That's a lot of what my time is now. I've got a backlog of around 50 posts that still need to be edited and published and instead of cranking through new ones I'm taking my time to actually go back through some of the old posts.
What's tools or software can’t you live without?
I can't live without Ahrefs. I'm in there all day, every day so I would say that's the biggest one I was using Clearscope for a while and I do really like it, I just don't use it as much now. It’s a writing tool that grades your content against other content similar to Surfer SEO, but more editorial and less technical.
I miss writing so I wish I had more time, so I would also do that. So just kind of reflecting back on that other question. I would make the time and that's where I’d spend my time since I enjoy doing it.
Do you have any podcasts that you regularly watch or books that influenced you?
Being on the Niche Pursuits podcast was really cool. Being able to be on that side of it, not just watching it. I've watched every podcast episode of Seeking Profit with Andrew and Emil. It's great and about 15-20 minutes long. It's very actionable but conversational. It really feels like you're just sitting in a room with some friends talking about digital SEO, so I love that one.
As far as books, Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss changed my life completely. Split The Difference by Chris Voss was really good. There's probably a few. I read two books a month, every month. I have been getting more into fiction and also some like memoirs.
This is so off topic but I really like reading books about government agencies like the ATF infiltrating biker gangs. There’s probably 10 or so instances where this has happened, and you get to hear that perspective of them going undercover and being able to take the gangs down.
What's the ongoing plan for your projects?
The plan is slow and steady. We've talked about potentially doing a podcast together, Shane and I, but neither of us want to rush it because we want it to be great. We want to make sure we're dedicating the amount of time that we do have to the current students so they're getting, as much help as they need. Shane is at the VP level in his job, and I'm working at Forbes which is a demanding job as well.
No plans to quit Forbes then?
People ask me all the time, “Are you going to leave your job?” and I just don't have a reason to leave. I still enjoy doing what I do, I like working here. Healthcare's great so I don't have to worry about that. I know Shane likes his job and the things that he's able to do. It's just really, really rewarding being able to use your skill set and then show the output.
I have thought about this and as bad as it sounds, with branding being so important to me, it's gonna sound really cool when I say “I quit my job at Forbes to do X”, whatever that ends up being. I think it'll go over well whenever that happens.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
There is actually another one out there and we don't do much with it. It's called Inclusivity.ai. You submit your text and then it tells you if you're using non-inclusive language, and then offers an alternative for you. It's very slick, and very, very easy to use. I think it's free for your first three or so tests and then it's super cheap after that.
We didn't want to promote it much because we understand the landscape of talking about inclusive language and both of us being white males from the US like, like, yeah, what do we know about inclusivity!? We think it's a great tool for the good, and we're not going to try to make money, but if people want to use it, it's there.
Is it true that you made a tool on chat GPT and sold it to Originality.ai for $10k plus a bologna sandwich?
Yeah, for sure. It was amazing. That was fun. It was a total of 39 hours from buying the domain to selling. That's the plus sign of ADHD as when you hit hyperfocus nothing can slow you down.