Hi. I’m Rob Merlino. I am a happily married father of five (one left at home). I started my first website, The Hot Dog Truck, on February 4, 2007. At the time, I owned a hot dog truck. I bought the hot dog truck in 2004 as a side hustle because I was in the mortgage industry and saw the housing bubble coming. In 2006, when the bubble burst, I became a full time hot dog man.
On that fateful day in 2007, I was looking to start a website for my truck. While fiddling around with Blogger, I managed to come up with a halfway decent design in a few hours. While putting the site together, I got to finding out about Adsense as a way of monetizing a website, so I signed up and slapped some code in there.
A few days later, I read an article in The Boston Globe about earning money online. I was intrigued. After doing a bunch of research, I found The Rich Jerk, an online marketing course. It was pretty expensive (I had five children living at home and four of them needed braces), so I found some websites that had free information.
The first thing I learned was that, at the time, Google ranked pages on a scale of 1-10. I also came across some groups of bloggers that engaged in link sharing schemes to boost page rank (this is totally “illegal” in Google now). By aggressively backlinking with hundreds of other bloggers, I was able to rank my page at a 7 in a couple of months. This boosted search engine traffic and, consequently, clicks on Google Adsense ads. In month 5 of blogging, I got a check from Google for a hundred bucks and change. It was like a million dollars at the time.
Around 7 months after starting, I found a company called Pay Per Post. They were link marketers. In those days, getting found on Google was all about the number of links to your site. Now their algorithms are more sophisticated and that kind of behavior hurts your rank and search engine visibility. Anyway, Pay Per Post set up a platform that paid bloggers to write posts about companies and provide a link with certain anchor text. This would boost that company’s page rank and search engine visibility.
Blogging for Braces
I always wanted to be a writer of some kind and I am pretty good at it – or at least better than most. This Pay Per Post thing seemed right up my alley. The best part was, because I had a page rank of 7, I could earn anywhere from $75-$300 per post and you could post three per day. I got right to it! One day, I actually made $900! Most days it was $225 plus. I made enough money to pay for my kids’ braces and then some. This lasted until February, 2011 when Google did their infamous Panda update which totally “banned” this type of linking activity and severely penalized sites that engaged in it. In fact, BMW had done so much of this type of linking, they no longer ranked for the search term “BMW!” (They’ve since fixed that)
Rob Merlino and Hot Dogs
While I was doing all of that, in 2008 I spun off a site from The Hot Dog Truck and called it Hot Dog Stories. It features my visits to hot dog joints all over the USA and Canada. Picture a low budget Diners, Drive Ins and Dives with me, Rob Merlino, as Guy Fieri and featuring only hot dog joints. I enjoyed doing the videos and became known as “The Hotdogman.” Lots of would-be hot dog truck operators sought out my advice, so I created How To Start a Hot Dog Business as a resource. When someone asked me a question, I sent them there.
At around the same time, our country was in a giant recession. People were losing their jobs and looking for new ways to make money. How to Start a Hot Dog Business was ranked 1 or 2 in Google search and getting tons of traffic. It was about this time I discovered Affiliate Marketing. I signed up for an ad network called Clickbank and I started putting Amazon links in my websites.
In Clickbank, I found a “how to start a hot dog business” course that sold for $99 and paid a 74% commission. Between March of 2008 and September 2010 I sold 2136 of those courses from traffic sent to the offer from my various hot dog sites. In 2010, I hurt my knee pretty bad and sold my hot dog truck. It was OK, because I was still doing paid posting, but the earnings from the course dried up and the author pulled the course.
In 2009 I attended Affiliate Summit in Las Vegas for the first time. I got a free pass from a fellow blogger who is a friend to this day. While there, I learned SO MUCH and made a lot of great connections and new friends. I still attend every year and I am on the advisory board. I also met a gentleman who would change my life.
Hacked by Google
All in all, things were still good until February, 2011. That was when Google did their dreaded Panda update which penalized the type of linking I described a little earlier. My Hot Dog Truck site went to zero page rank and I no longer had the opportunity to earn $75-$300 per post. Then, a funny thing happened. Companies I posted about began to contact me about removing the links to their sites. I said “sure, that’ll be $75.” All told, I removed just over 1100 links. Unfortunately, by the end of 2011, my blogs weren’t generating much income, so I got something Rob Merlino hadn’t had in five years: a job.
A Hernia and Shark Tank Blog
I was about to be promoted to sales manager for my job when I went to Affiliate Summit in January of 2012. While there, the gentleman I referred to earlier asked if I would write for his new blog, Shark Tank Blog. I agreed that I’d start when we returned from Vegas and we shook on a partnership. Unfortunately, before leaving, I got a severe inguinal hernia. I had to go see the doctor the day I got back. Since I wasn’t infected, they scheduled surgery three weeks out. I couldn’t drive for those three weeks or for four weeks post surgery. Needless to say, I lost my job. The good news is, Shark Tank Blog took off. We were making good money, but my business partner was driving me nuts. The following year, at Affiliate Summit, I bought him out.
Since then the show and the blog have grown. When people ask me what I do, I like to tell them “I’m Rob Merlino and I have a business that’s a blog about businesses that appear on a business reality TV show.” Life has been good up to this point, but now, I want it to be AWESOME. I am investing in tools, education and my health – both mental and physical – to take my online income to the stratosphere. I will be sharing that journey with you here, on The Awesome Life Blog.