The Gent Within Case Study
Hello, Bulldog here. As Opossum mentioned in his last post, I will be showing you my approach to auditing an ecom business with a case study (I have been doing one every day for months).
Although this case study focuses on an SEO-driven content site, many of the principles will apply to any ecom business.
While I won’t be able to provide an in-depth analysis of everything I’d like, I will do my best to touch on the most important points.
Let’s get into it.
Know the limitations of your tools and information
Before we begin, I will reiterate some of what Opossum said in The Good Body case study.
That is: unless you have access to info on the backend of a business such as Google Analytics, Mailchimp dashboard, etc., the conclusions you can draw are limited.
The traffic numbers from tools like SEMRush are estimates based on sampling. Having compared them to GA numbers from my own sites, SEMRush can be off by 40% or more.
As for estimating click-through or conversion rates: good luck. While you might play around with numbers to get a general idea of what is possible, tiny errors can lead to massively different outcomes.
One hack here is to do case studies on businesses that are listed for sale on Flippa or where the founder has shared numbers on a podcast. Then you have some backend data to compare your analysis to.
Regardless, case studies are a great way to gain an understanding of how different ecom businesses work, how they get their traffic, make money, and so on. The exact numbers are cool to have but not critical for most of our purposes.
With that out of the way, today I am going to analyze a men’s content site called the Gent Within, which mainly focuses on menswear but also ventures into subjects like dating and fitness.
Part 1: Basic Information
According to domainIQ, gentlemanwithin.com was first registered in May 2015 and has not changed hands since.
And if we check the Wayback Machine, there is no recorded capture until August 2016.
That makes sense. It can take a while for the Wayback Machine to index a site.
From this information, we can conclude that Gent Within has probably been publishing since some time in mid to late 2015. And it had no previous domain history or backlinks to boost SEO.
Looking at the post sitemap, there are 308 posts, which equates to one new post every 9 days on average since May 2015. 199 of those posts have been updated within the last year, which is great for SEO.
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Ownership & Operation
This rarely happens, but whois actually lists who owns gentlemanwithin.com: “Khoi N. –the same name listed all over the site (beginning in 2016) and on the linked social media accounts.
Looking at blog post authors, the sitemap, and content on linked social media accounts, it appears that Khoi is doing everything himself (aside from a guest post here and there) and is personally featured in much of the content.
It’s possible he has a VA in the Philippines or uses an editor for certain things like his YouTube videos, but this appears to be almost like a personal brand for him.
Note: the more you blur the lines between a brand you’re building and your personal brand, the harder it will be to sell. Potential buyers may not think it’s worth the risk or they’ll offer a low multiple or require an earn-out or other transitionary terms to make sure the business can thrive without you.
At least the social media handles are under the brand’s name instead of his personal name. I have seen a lot of people make that mistake.
Part 2: Traffic & Content
In total, SEMRush estimates 162.3k page views for the most recent month. Here is the breakdown:
Note that the “Direct” category makes up a pretty high percentage. In reality, it will rarely be that high for a site that gets this much traffic.
“Direct traffic” is ideally from people entering the URL into the browser or clicking from something like a PDF. But it’s actually a catch-all for all unattributed traffic like links that are tagged “noreferrer noopener.”
Considering the social media following of Gent Within (especially Pinterest), I think it’s possible that SEMRush is way off with their traffic estimate there too (more on that later).
As for devices, SEMRush shows that 41% of traffic is from desktop, and 59% is from mobile. Note that as of 2022, 62% of all web traffic is mobile. So when you are auditing a site, you should browse on both mobile and desktop to get the full picture.
The SEMRush AS (authority score) of Gent Within is 49. That’s pretty good. Although it is not an exact proxy for how Google ranks a site, a higher score (out of 100) generally correlates with being able to rank content easier.
SEMRush first recorded organic search traffic for Gent Within in March 2017. Gent Within has grown steadily since then with a few major spikes and dips.
When you see drastic variations like that, they are often (but not always) related to Google core algorithm updates.
Of the 346 pages SEMRush has indexed, the top 20 (6%) bring in 70% of traffic! Skewed distributions like that are normal. This is one reason it’s important to write and publish consistently. It’s hard to predict which posts will end up doing well. It also takes time to build up topical authority.
A lot of the highest-traffic posts here are money posts (meaning they link to products and earn affiliate income).
Best t-shirt brands for men
Sneaker trends for men
Best chukka boots guide
Essential shoes for men
From a keywords perspective, Gent Within ranks in the top 3 for some valuable keywords like “chukka boots,” “mens jean brands,” “Thursday boots,” and many others with commercial intent.
After digging through the backlink profile, there doesn’t seem to be much manual link-building.
Except for a few like this:
That site–themodestman.com–is partly run by a guy named Ryan Hallstrom. Ryan has also written guest posts for the Gent Within, so they clearly have a relationship.
I don’t know menswear as a niche, but I would definitely consider answering HARO queries and doing more link-building in general. Gent Within doesn’t have many high-authority backlinks.
For being a small (probably one-man) operation, Gent Within is surprisingly active and consistent across social media platforms. Seriously, I’ve seen sites owned by juggernauts with full teams completely abandon all but 1 or 2 social media platforms (not always a bad thing).
Facebook: 2.9k followers, not too much engagement
There is also a private FB group with 8k members (but only 14 posts in the last month)
Instagram 11.4k followers, 50-300 likes per post (meh)
Twitter: 1k followers, very little engagement
TikTok: 1.4k followers, very little engagement
YouTube: 23k subs, 70k-110k monthly views, $28-$444/mo (according to Socialblade, not including affiliate deals)
Pinterest: 67.1k followers, 2.9m monthly views (not bad!)
Earlier, I mentioned that the estimated social traffic seemed low at 0.44% of the total. That’s because I have a site of similar size with a smaller Pinterest account that drives literally 12% of traffic.
Pinterest can be great for aesthetic niches like this. Also, “pins” are evergreen. An Instagram post disappears from peoples’ feeds in a day or two, but a pin can pop up again and again for years. With Pinterest, you’re not quite as stuck on the content hamster wheel.
Looking at all the activity across channels and considering Khoi is probably a solo creator, I’d think about cutting a few social media channels for now (probably Instagram and FB) and doubling down on other things.
In lieu of this case study, I signed up for the Gent Within email list about a week ago, and the emails have been about 1) new posts, and 2) Black Friday deals for a bunch of men’s fashion brands (with affiliate links).
There are tons of different email CTAs and lead magnets all over the site. And different email sequences depending on which you go for. Sometimes the CTAs are contextually relevant, sometimes they are not. For example, when you go to the home page right now, there’s an email CTA that takes up the whole screen.
Personally, when this is the first thing I see, I leave. At the very least, the copy and image could be improved. Who cares about simple, actionable style tips? Will the ladies like me more? Will men respect me? I don’t know what angle would be best here, but this isn’t it.
Part 3: Monetization
The two main sources of income appear to be affiliate and advertisements.
Looking at SEMRush, the vast majority of outbound links are affiliate links. It’s great to see that they’re not all Amazon Associates links.
Amazon provides affiliates with some of the worst terms in the game. And because they’ve achieved market dominance, they’ll probably get even worse in the future.
A few more affiliate links:
As I mentioned earlier, some of the highest-traffic posts for Gent Within are affiliate posts. That’s great! But how well do they convert?
Diving deep into that is beyond the scope of this post. But I will say that posts like Best Chukka Boots do pretty well, though there’s a lot of room for improvement. Look at sites like Wirecutter for inspiration. They have pretty much mastered the “best x product” post format.
We can see in the footer and on the ad logos that Gent Within is a member of the Mediavine ad network.
The ad experience is pretty bad–even on affiliate-monetized posts. When I turn off my adblocker, it gets laggy and my MacBook’s fan starts cranking like an antique Maytag washing machine.
With this ad experience and niche on Mediavine, I wouldn’t be surprised if Gent Within were doing $40+ CPM or roughly $6500/mo on ads alone at 162.3k pageviews/mo (162.3 * 40 = 6492). That might sound crazy, but I’ve seen CPMs that high and far higher on similar sites.
Note: As of 2022, 42.7% of the World (and growing) uses an adblocker (less in the US). So when you audit a site, make sure to look at it with adblocker on and off. Also, with current trends, it would be wise for ad-focused site owners to think about diversifying their income.
Other Monetization Methods
YouTube (ads and product endorsements/affiliate codes)
Email (affiliate deals)
Unknown: could be selling emails or other data, backlinks, product reviews, guest posts (several of these things are offered on the work with me page)
I’m going to be lazy here and just say any math I could do would be bullshit, but $100k-$300k/yr is a reasonable range.
Part 4: Suggestions For Improvement
Assuming I’m right that the owner of Gent Within is a solo creator, it looks like he has created a job for himself more than a business. It is virtually impossible to publish on that many channels simultaneously and do them all well. I would not be as worried if organic traffic were a lot higher and there were more writers on the site. But to me, it looks like premature diversification.
I would immediately do an 80/20 analysis and cut down on social media activity substantially. I would consider focusing more on written content until organic traffic has doubled (or more), creating SOPs, and eventually, hiring writers to free up time and attention to work more on the business instead of in the business.
The ideal (in my mind) would be to turn this into a more sellable authority site in the menswear/lifestyle space. Part of that would require decoupling the personal brand from the site’s brand.
I have seen too many creators get burned out because they build an unscalable content business with 100 daily tasks that “must” be done. Then they end up selling for a low multiple and doing something else. Seriously, it happens all the time.
I’m not positive that’s what is going on, but I’m seeing enough familiar patterns that it’s worth considering.
Some Incremental Tactics
Focus more on link building: experiment with HARO etc., and do more backlink outreach
Perfect affiliate/money posts by studying sites that do it well and iterating
Focus on growing email list and cut down on the insane number of different CTAs / improve messaging on the ones that remain
Start figuring out how to decouple personal brand from site’s brand
Thank you for joining me in this case study. I hope you learned a thing or two. Leave any questions or comments, and I’ll do my best to answer.
Also, thank you to BowTiedOpossum for creating this Substack and for allowing me to write this guest post.
Opossum back now. I’d like to thank BowTiedBulldog for this guest post. If you enjoyed this, go follow him on Twitter. Stay tooned for this weekend when I’ll release the first in a series of WordPress 101 to try to take the confusion out of making sense of it all.
On my list going forward is a similar guide for getting to know Shopify.
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Disclaimer: Nothing written here should be construed as legal for financial advice of any kind. These are opinions and observations, written by an anonymous cartoon Opossum, built up over years working in e-commerce & affiliate marketing.
Great post! Love the in-depth analysis from Bulldog. Tetra would be proud. I agree with focusing more on the organic search traffic before spreading thin on different social media platforms (since it could be a one man shop). Except Pinterest since that seems to get more views for him. Good stuff!
This post is freaking exceptional!!! I'm a new follow and this is very well sone - going to search now - but you've mentioned "manual" backlink building. Have you written on that in the past? It seems like the most difficult thing to do for a site - especially when you consider most social posts are "nofollow", and not really valuable (I think). Great stuff!