Test-Guide specializes in providing free study resources for more than 100 standardized exams including practice tests, study guides, prep course reviews, and more. Test-Guide is the largest provider of free practice tests helping millions of users each year pass their exams.
Throughout our interview with Dave, he expressed that experimentation and trying new things are the most important traits an entrepreneur can have. He explained that various technical skills may also be more important, but what is the use of having technical skills if you do not put them to use and experiment with new things and ideas?
Dave’s story begins in early 2009. “I was working for an online education provider and recognized the void in the test prep industry — there were very few free resources available to students on the internet. If they could find a free resource, there was always some angle; you had to either enter an email or sign up for something,” said Dave.
That prompted Dave to start Test-Guide.com. His main goal when starting the site was to make enough money to pay for lunch every day. After the site gained a lot of traction early, Dave realized he may have something special.
The site originally had a few practice tests and some general articles, but as the number of users on the site grew, so did the number of practice exams. Dave quickly met his goal of paying for lunch everyday- he had a new goal in mind. With side income, he wanted to be able to pay for his kids’ activities.
Early successes and failures from 2009 to 2013 taught Dave how to use experimentation to help the business thrive and soon enough, he had another (bigger) goal in mind: leave his corporate job and do this full time.
In early 2013, Dave took a leap of faith and quit his corporate job. Though scary at first, the experience has been rewarding. He is able to run his own business, work on his own time and help millions of students pass their exams for free.
Experimentation is Key
No pun intended, there is always something being tested on Test-Guide.com. Whether it’s a small experiment like running an A/B test on a specific page, or completely overhauling the advertising system, Dave and his team are always experimenting.
Here are two major experiments Dave has tried out that have paid off big time.
While on family vacation, Dave decided to launch some Google Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns. His main goal was to see if the campaigns would be profitable enough to advertise for the site while attempting to increase traffic and revenue.
“My wife and kids love the beach, but I could only spend three to four hours before tiring out, so I would sneak off to the room and open up my laptop,” Dave explained while chuckling to himself.
Dave had heard people talking about PPC ads and how they could help a website, but he wasn’t expecting to win big. Breaking even was good enough, and he wanted to get some credit card points out of it. When reviewing his first campaign, TEAS Practice Tests, to his surprise, it was a major hit. That same day, he added a couple more campaigns.
Dave continued to add more campaigns, and at one point, he was spending more than $100,000 per month on campaigns. This would have never happened had he not experimented with PPC campaigns on vacation.
Dave’s next big experiment came in the affiliate marketing space. We asked Dave to briefly explain affiliate marketing. Here was his response:
“In the world of digital marketing, affiliate marketing is a big industry. Without overcomplicating things, if your site sends a user to another site and they buy something, you get a commission. To increase traffic and revenue on Test-Guide.com, I create affiliated relationships with other sites.”
Dave had previously tried this in 2016, when he attempted to create relationships with other companies, but the experiment didn’t turn out how he expected.
Fast forward to March 2020 and the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Test-Guide’s advertising revenue was cut in half. Companies were afraid and stopped spending money on advertising. To combat this problem, Dave decided to give affiliate revenue another go.
Dave and his team decided to jump into an affiliate marketing strategy at full force. They needed it up and running in under one month. The Test-Guide content team created hyper-focused content around what people were searching for. An example of hyper-focused content they created was the Best SAT Prep Courses.
While the team was creating content, Dave was busy securing partnerships – “I spent most of that first month personally securing affiliate relationships with some of the biggest test prep providers in the industry. I would send emails, call any number I could find, and send messages to executives on LinkedIn.”
Lastly, Dave had the analyst team create a reporting system to track all of these affiliate relationships.
According to Dave, this experiment started slowly, but picked up some headwind after about three months. The major difference between this time and 2016 was the planning phase. The Test-Guide team had a plan in place and the horsepower to make it happen. Dave also attributes some of the success this time around to giving the experiment some additional runway and letting it run its course.
Dave’s Failure with Experimentation
Since 2009, Dave talked about having his fair share of failures and mishaps when experimenting with new things. “The biggest take away when failing is learning why it failed, what you could have done differently and how you can use the failure to improve,” explained Dave.
Links help inform Google’s search engine what sites are helpful and legitimate. If you know anything about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or building websites, you know that links are so important.
Google put a manual penalty on the site and the traffic dropped off the map and he had lost everything.
Initially, Dave was discouraged from this failure, but tried his best to learn from this failure and fix it. He answered the questions he wrote above:
- Why did this experiment fail?
- What could he have done differently?
- How can he use this failure to improve?
- After this mishap, the Test-Guide team follows every best practice there is. They ensure they are following proper guidelines, keeping up-to-date on policy changes and reaching out to experts when necessary to avoid another situation like this.
Although they suffered a setback in 2012, Dave is grateful this happened when it did. “The site was relatively small back then and I was still working my corporate job. I was able to learn from this experience and ensure it did not happen again,” said Dave.
Test-Guide’s Keys to Success
Test-Guide has tried many different things throughout the years. All of their successful experiments have common themes according to Dave:
- Try new things: If you never try new things, you will never grow to your potential. Complacency should be your worst enemy as an entrepreneur.
- Let it play out: – Let your experiments play out. Give them some time to develop and work. This is one of the reasons our first crack at affiliate relationships did not work.
- See what others are doing: Look at what others are doing. This is how I got the idea to start Test-Guide. I saw other companies offering free material and supporting themselves via advertising. No one was doing this in the test prep industry, so I took advantage.
- Failures will happen: Failures are bound to happen. Make sure you are learning from your failures. Do not be afraid of failures — this will hold you back.