Laying the Groundwork
The thing people won’t tell you about setting big goals is how small progress can seem along the way. That’s how I felt mid-way through February, until I took a step back. I have a lot of irons in the fire, and moving all of them forward takes time. I wouldn’t have 99% of those irons in the fire at all if I hadn’t set a high bar.
2021 Goal: Double niche site income within 12 months.
Though I’m not sure how each of my efforts will pan out this year, I’m confident that I’m working on the right things. (Check out January’s update to learn why.)
Before we get into the weeds on this month’s progress (and pitfalls), here’s a quick reminder of why I see so much potential. In just over two years, I went from knowing nothing about affiliate marketing or SEO to building a site that routinely pays for my mortgage and hobbies.
That’s pretty darn cool–and more than enough reason to keep on keepin’ on.
This Month in a Nutshell
If you’ve been following my affiliate journey for long, you know I don’t check earnings until the 15th of each month. Trends are clearer, and two weeks of earnings are a lot more motivating than two days.
Mid-month, I was right in-line with expectations. I was able to see ad revenue ticking back up, as Mediavine told me it would. Amazon held steady. Best of all, traffic hasn’t reverted to pre-holiday levels — it has remained on a growth trajectory.
Note: When comparing the numbers, keep in mind that February is a short month. There are 2-3 days less earnings and traffic than other months.
This Month: $3,790.19
February ended less than $10 away from $3,800, and only $1.69 away from my second highest month to date (November 2020). If February had been a normal length month, it certainly would’ve surpassed last November’s earnings and topped $3,800.
This Month: 79,403
Organic traffic is the Holy Grail of affiliate marketing, so I watch those numbers closely. The more people Google sends my way (for free), the more eyeballs I get on my ads, the more people sign up for my email list, and the more affiliate sales I drive.
Partway through February, I was able to reach a new milestone — 4,000 visitors per day.
I saw more traffic in a single day than in my entire month of January back in 2019.
I also got super close to earning $100 in a single day from ads alone, a feat many Mediavine users like to celebrate. My highest earning ads day was $97.41.
I’ve included charts showing February and lifetime traffic. Though visitors ebb and flow throughout the month, overall traffic is trending up and to the right. That’s just what I want to see.
There was an interesting traffic blip mid-month worth mentioning. One article saw a dramatic boost in DIRECT traffic, not organic. Nearly 1,500 visitors went to this page on February 16, when traditional traffic is 1-2 people per day. The boost in traffic lasted a full week before returning to normal.
Sadly, I haven’t been able to track why this happened. All I can come up with is that someone may have shared the post on social media or in another blog post. Wish I knew!
This Month: $1,350
I kept February expenses in check for the most part, and the larger expense is an investment in future web development improvements.
- $125.00 | Upwork writer payment for draft guide copy (will turn into my first paid digital content offering)
- $25.00 | Nonprofit donation on behalf of a diversity program contributor
- $1,200.00 | 10-hour block of freelance web developer time for miscellaneous projects
Activities & Accomplishments
One of the things I did with Doug last month was take my giant list of ideas and prioritize a sub-group of tactics that were most likely to help double site income. I created a Gannt chart (#nerdalert) to clarify what should happen when.
There’s a common saying that no battle plan survives the first shot, and that’s equally true for affiliate marketing plans.
Right off the bat, some of my plans changed.
Honestly, I felt guilty about that until I regrouped with Doug mid-February. He reminded me that it’s fine to ditch things that aren’t going well — or that I’m simply not enjoying — and swap in things I’m more excited about.
Specifically, I swapped the Knowledge Directory and Mini Course #1. I’m also likely to remove the tech series and replace it with physical product development.
So, what did I end up focusing on most in February?
Focus Area: Delegating Content Optimization
MarketMuse shows me a TON of data I can’t get from Google Analytics or Search Console. In fact, I have so much data that it can be a bit paralyzing.
In January, I started playing with the Optimize Application within MarketMuse.
You choose any blog post on your site, then the tool analyzes your content against, well, the entire internet.
To the right, you’ll see keywords or phrases that other high-ranking content is using. You then update your own copy to incorporate missing terms — or add new content (like FAQs) for missing topics. As you alter your post, the color fields change to indicate how you’re matching up against the competition. Your content score and word count also change in real time.
I call it “the video game” because it’s addicting.
The downside is that, like video games, you can end up losing track of time and spend hours making tedious, manual copy tweaks. I decided to try delegating this task to a new person. She understands my niche and was recommended by an existing freelancer on my team. I made a couple short video tutorials, granted her system access, and she ran with it!
Focus Area: Digital Info Products
I decided to start by creating a branded template in Canva that could be used for a series of guides I want to create. I’m a visual person, and it helps me to see how something will look — then fill in the content.
Granted, as Doug said during our February check-in, that wasn’t a necessary step.
I could’ve thrown together something “less perfect” and already had something launched by now.
The nice thing about creating the template is that it gave me something concrete to hand to the Upwork writer I asked to draft the first guide. She knows exactly what I’m after, and the content I get back shouldn’t require much effort to get it into final form.
Next up will be figuring out how much to charge for the guide, as well as how to deliver the asset once people purchase it.
I also took a few hours this month to brainstorm a list of ~60 free lead magnets (for building my email list) and paid info products. Having this on paper makes it easier to pluck out an idea to work on whenever I have spare time.
Focus Area: Blog Content Sprint
My Spring sprint focuses on “cluster content” based on MarketMuse data. This means I’m focused on creating clusters of 5 posts about related sub-topics that will increase my authority for bigger topics with greater opportunity.
For example, maybe you have a really meaty article about how to remodel a basement. You want to increase your site authority with Google so it sends more people to your awesome post.
You could add a cluster of related articles that will make you appear like more of an expert on basement remodels. Interlink all the posts, then be patient. Over time, this approach should help the core post rank better — and you’ll get additional traffic to your cluster posts at the same time.
Focus Area: Knowledge Directory
I ended up flip-flopping the timing of the first mini course development and the Knowledge Directory. My idea is to promote ~50 existing educational resources from other experts in my niche in a searchable directory.
There’s a ton of quality content out there already, and it’s content that my audience would find valuable. It could be a great way to “bridge the gap” before I have online courses or other paid offerings of my own.
My freelance team member created a target list of 50-60 resources. Then she began manual outreach to each content creator asking if they’d like to be featured in our directory. While she’s handling outreach, another team member is drafting the listing copy for each resource.
It doesn’t cost anything to be listed–the only requirement is that the creator has an affiliate program. We promote their materials to our 70K+ monthly readers for free, and we benefit anyone who purchases using our affiliate links. It’s a win-win.
Meanwhile, I looped in a developer to figure out the directory logistics. Whether we use a plugin or custom code the tool, my priorities are that it looks really slick, is mobile responsive, and can be searchable.
Focus Area: Physical Product Brainstorm
If you paid close attention to my earlier Gannt chart, you know physical products weren’t on it. But that plan has changed!
Inspiration struck during a visit with my brother-in-law this month. He runs his own business selling physical products via Amazon (and other outlets). The more we talked, the more ideas I came up with that my audience might love.
Plus, with his expertise, my knowledge barriers to entry would be way lower.
Two products, in particular, really got me excited. I haven’t stopped thinking about them, and I’ve decided to give a couple physical products a shot this year and see how it goes.
- Knowledge Directory: I wasn’t sure this idea would go anywhere. The content creators we wanted to feature might not have (or be willing to create) affiliate programs. We might not be able to find enough quality resources. It might be more trouble than it was worth. As it turns out, though, our prep work is paying off! I’m pleased with the response, and we should actually be able to launch a high-quality directory this Spring.
- Content Sprint: Recruiting, training, and working with freelance writers can be intimidating. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort to create a process, you can build relationships with talented folks worth their weight in gold. The Spring sprint has run very smoothly, and I’m confident that the SEO strategy behind my content decisions is sound.
- Delegation: I added a great new freelancer to the team this month, and she’s been helping with MarketMuse optimization and putting article drafts into WordPress. This saves me a lot of time, and I don’t end up with a bunch of blogs sitting in my inbox waiting on me. Plus, my freelance editor ensures new content is high quality and error free before it goes live. Meanwhile, I’m only working with Upwork writers I’ve used before, so I have a great rapport with them and know their work will be solid.
What’s Not Working
- Tech Series: I admit it… this isn’t working. While the concept of a product review series is sound, and I have plenty of ideas for topics, I’ve learned I’m not good at this type of content. Everything is taking way longer than I planned, and I can’t figure out how to efficiently do videos to accompany each post. With Doug’s blessing, I’m putting this idea on the back burner and moving onto other things.
- New Affiliate: In December 2020, a big-name brand asked if I wanted to join their affiliate program. I was happy to be approached, they provided several items for me to review, and I swapped Amazon links for their own. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen much of a return from this program (~$45 over three months).
On the Horizon
A lot of the prep work we’ve put in during January and February should start paying off next month. (At least, that’s the hope!)
For March, I plan to:
- Launch the knowledge directory project (fingers crossed!)
- Continue optimizing existing content using MarketMuse (delegated)
- Offer my first paid (inexpensive) digital product
- Kickoff first mini course creation project
- Begin working on my first physical product
This month has taught me to trust the process. I shouldn’t expect to see wild income or traffic growth yet (and I’m not). But the effort I’m putting into my process, team, and content now should begin paying dividends by late Spring or early Summer. Stay tuned for more updates!