This is an interview with Brock McGoff of The Modest Man.
Hey, Brock. Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
I run a small portfolio of “digital properties” that includes themodestman.com, theslenderwrist.com and a YouTube channel.
I started my first site as a side hustle in my late twenties, before I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Like many other web entrepreneurs, I discovered the idea of passive income and location independence through Tim Ferriss, and I was totally enamored.
Before I went full time with my business, I was working in digital marketing and SEO with a large company, so I’ve seen the content game on a very large and very small scale (it’s surprisingly similar).
What was your life like before becoming self-employed?
After graduating from a big state school with a degree in psychology, I worked various corporate jobs just for the money. I’m not cut out for the 9-to-5 desk job grind, so I was never a great employee.
At one point, I quit my job and went to South America for a few months. I also quit another job and tried to be a full time musician / recording studio owner. That was fun, but I didn’t make any money.
I experimented a lot with various side hustles before I discovered blogging, affiliate marketing and content creation.
Once I started making my first few dollars online, I was hooked.
What inspired you to get into fashion blogging?
I was working at a small communications agency that was sort of hip (you know, we had a Nintendo in the office and beers after work, etc.). The dress code was smart casual. I remember one colleague who always looks so sharp. And I remember realizing that, unlike him, I was not a well-dressed man.
I started reading everything I could about menswear in an effort to improve my appearance and, ultimately, confidence.
At the same time, I was just getting into blogging and affiliate marketing.
These two interests converged with The Modest Man.
Did you start other blogs before The Modest Man?
I did. These were really just “affiliate sites” without any real passion behind them. I bought some courses from Warrior Forum, a big “make money online” forum back in the day, and did keyword research, then created micro-sites around specific, often obscure product categories.
I learned a lot about SEO working on these sites, but I didn’t enjoy the content creation process at all.
I remember one month where I made over $500 from 3-4 sites, and I was so excited. Then my sites got hit by one of the first big Google algorithm updates, and I thought, “this isn’t sustainable.”
I wasn’t proud of the stuff I was producing. I wanted to work on something more meaningful and long-term. I wanted to find a niche I enjoyed, something that had staying power.
So I took everything I learned about WordPress, Amazon Associates and SEO, and I applied it to one site: themodestman.com.
Since I was actually interested in the niche, I had much more endurance to work on this project until it got some real traction.
Who is The Modest Man serving and how did you come up with the name?
These days, TMM attracts a general men’s audience: guys interested in dressing better, shopping smarter, and improving themselves overall.
When I first started, I had a hyper focused niche: shorter men. There were many other “fashion blogs” out there, but none focused on this specific build.
I basically wrote the type of content I wished existed.
My first domain was shortmanstyle.com, but I quickly decided to rebrand to something less lame and with more room to grow.
“The Modest Man” hints at the original niche (for men of modest height), but it’s a much stronger brand.
I highly recommend thinking long term when you’re coming up with a brand or domain shopping, especially since having your keyword in the domain doesn’t matter at all anymore.
How did you grow the traffic in the early days?
It was 100% SEO, and mostly on-page. I did do some guest writing, but it was different back then. These days, the term “guest posting” is a dirty word. It’s been abused by spammers because it works so well.
The type of guest writing I did was legitimate. Some of the first sites I wrote for are run by guys who are now very close friends. I reached out to everyone I could find in the men’s fashion niche and just made friends with them (before I asked to write for them).
But I mostly just studied SEO and applied on-page best practices to everything I published.
I also tried my best to make really good content. Like, actually good content. In-depth articles with original thoughts and imagery, infographics, and eventually video.
People can sniff out garbage content, and they’re more wary now than every (rightfully so).
For the most part, the cream does eventually rise to the top, even these days.
How many page views does the blog get?
TMM hovers around 500k PVs per month. TSW gets about 250k PVs per month at the time. Both sites get mostly organic traffic from Google search.
When did you start using Pinterest as a fashion blogger?
I’ve dabbled with Pinterest for years, but to be honest, I’ve never cracked that code. I know bloggers in the same niche who get tons of Pinterest traffic, but for me, it’s also been a small portion of overall traffic.
Read also: How I Increased Traffic by 778% in 2 Months with Pinterest
What are some Pinterest strategies that are working best for you now?
The only thing that’s really worked is creating high quality “infographics” like this one. You don’t have to do much with these; they tend to get a lot of attention on Pinterest on their own.
How do you come up with new blog post ideas?
These days, I do plenty of competitor research on Ahrefs. I like finding the junk affiliate sites who are good at keyword research but have no soul in the game (i.e., no passion for the content, no real expertise) and looking at their content strategies.
These are usually lower authority sites who publish a TON of low quality content, backed by really solid keyword research.
So I know my sites can outrank them for the same topics, and I know my team can make much better content than they can (because we’re spending way more time and money on our content).
I also listen to readers. If I get the same question 3-4 times, that’s a good topic.
Also, after being involved in a niche for a long time, you develop a sort of intuition for content. Ideas just come to you in the shower, on a walk, in bed at night when you’re trying desperately to get some sleep…
So there’s no shortage of article ideas!
What’s your current content strategy for the blog like?
I have a small team of writers, both full time and freelance. I also have people who help with formatting, on-page SEO, creating affiliate links, scheduling and publishing posts, etc.
We publish about 5 new articles each week across both sites, and we update/republish at least 2 old articles.
New posts are formatted and optimized according to detailed SOPs that have been tweaked over the years.
How did you earn your first $1,000 as a blogger?
My first $1k came from the Amazon Associates program.
What was the first way in which you monetized The Modest Man?
Free to join, low barrier to entry affiliate programs like Amazon Associates.
Eventually, I learned about premium ad networks and joined AdThrive, which has been a significant source of revenue over the years.
Currently, affiliate makes up about 60% of overall revenue.
YouTube is mostly monetized with sponsored content.
How has the blog’s revenue grown over the years?
I only made a couple thousand dollars in the first 1-2 years. Then it was $30k in a year, then $70k.
Nowadays (10 years in!) the business generates enough revenue to support a small team, including the equivalent of ~4 full time salaries.
What are your current income streams?
Affiliate programs, display advertising, sponsored content, and some digital product sales (in that order).
At what point did you add YouTube to your online business?
I added YouTube about 3-4 years in, but my focus on YT has waxed and waned over the years. YT has never been a majority of the business from a revenue perspective.
What has worked best in terms of growing your channel?
You should ask someone with more subscribers and views 😂
But seriously, you just need to publish a LOT of videos, and you really can’t ignore the “packaging” on YouTube (i.e., the title and thumbnail).
Unlike websites, YouTube has a viral component to its algorithm. SEO can play a role, but it doesn’t have to.
One tried and true YT strategy is to look at what the competition is doing, and just do your own version. Try to make the best video about whatever topic you’re covering. Don’t half-ass it. Use a good mic and a decent camera (good audio is more important than video).
And be ready to make 100+ videos before one takes off!
At what point did you start outsourcing? How big is your team right now?
I started seriously outsourcing about 3.5 years ago. Hiring writers for the blogs was a pivotal step. Hiring a “right hand man” was also extremely helpful.
As this point, I can take a week off and not check email or Trello, and everything runs smoothly.
The team consists of my, a full time writer/editor, a half time operator, a full time formatter/web producer, and various freelance writers and specialists (e.g., graphic designer, video editor, etc.).
Tell us about the Slender Wrist. When and why did you start that blog?
I bought TSW from its founder, who I knew from YouTube. We both covered men’s watches, and that niche is a pretty small world.
I noticed that he stopped posting new articles and was mostly focused on his YT channel, so I asked if he’d like to sell me his blog.
He declined but eventually got back in touch and wanted to sell. We reached a quick off-market deal, and I “ran my playbook” on the site.
I love watches, and we were already producing watch content for The Modest Man, so it was a really natural fit for the portfolio.
To my surprised and delete, TSW grew very quickly. It actually sort of took off after a site redesign and a focus on new content.
I’m really proud of the content we publish on TSW, and it feels great to have a site that’s growing quickly in the portfolio.
What are the current metrics of the website and how long did it take you to get to those numbers?
The site gets about 250k page views per month (it was getting about 30k when I bought it). Bolstered by holiday sales, December was close to 5 figures revenue, which will be a nice milestone.
What are some other businesses/websites you run now?
Other than TMM, TSW and YouTube, I have various social media accounts associated with these brands. I also run fulltimeblog.com and manored.com, both of which are on the back burner at the time of writing.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve had growing a blog in the early days?
Traffic. Starting a new site from scratch is just tough. Sure, the startup cost is virtually $0, but you also have 0 traffic and revenue.
SEO is amazing, but it takes a while to start working. So you need to have patience. “Blogging” is not a get rich quick business.
What mentors, books, podcasts or programs have influenced your business journey?
Pat Flynn (Smart Passive Income) in the early days. Tim Ferriss got me into this whole passive income / digital media business. I’ve listened to all the podcasts, read most of the popular business books.
But honestly, a lot of it is just distraction. Most people know what they need to do (or should do). The hard part is actually doing it.
How has the men’s fashion blogging industry changed since you entered it?
It’s WAY more crowded now, and visual media (YouTube, IG, TikTok) are much more prominent.
Blogging and influencer marketing have converged. Now, bloggers can be influencers, and vice versa.
This is great because there are some huge influencer marketing budgets. It’s bad because you have to be the face of your brand.
SEO is mainstream, so it’s a lot harder to get organic traffic. Other publishers are wary of outreach and guest posting.
So it’s just harder to grow a new site from scratch, unless you’re willing to put a lot of time and effort into link building, which is sort of a drag.
What’s next for you and The Modest Man?
Since the content machine is well-oiled at this point, I try to spend my time on tasks and ideas that may move the needle in terms of traffic and/or revenue.
For example, creating a new digital product, obtaining high quality links via HARO, testing a new Pinterest agency, finding/evaluating a new writer to cover a specific category, etc.
I do spend some time managing the team and troubleshooting issues that come up during the content publishing process, and I still do most of the work for the YouTube channel (everything other than editing).
But I try to spend time on higher level, more strategic things.
In terms of next steps, I could imagine selling one or both sites and focusing on a video-first media brand (think long form YouTube videos that are repurposed for social media).
I could also see getting involved with an e-commerce brand in the men’s lifestyle space, or building our the website portfolio with additional niche sites that cater to the same general audience.
Newsletters are also interesting. I think there’s room for some targeted newsletters around men’s fashion, fragrances and watches.
But these are all ways to make money. Personally, I’d like to spend as much time as I can with my family, visiting friends, exercising and doing creative projects that aren’t necessarily monetizable.