If there was one good thing that came out of the 2020 roller coaster, it was a renewed appreciation for my two-year-old niche site.
Many of my main marketing agency clients understandably paused projects during the pandemic. I didn’t feel right drumming up new business when so many folks were struggling to make ends meet either.
Instead of growing my other business, I battened down the hatches and worked on my niche site, which generated $2-4K every month like clockwork — despite a pandemic, Amazon commission cut, and Google updates.
Before I state the goal, let’s look at the current state of my site.
By the time last summer rolled around, I decided it’d be worth “buying myself a year” to focus on the site full time. I wanted to know if I could generate enough traffic, momentum, and sales to replace my services-based agency base salary with passive income.*
*If you’ve been in niche marketing more than five minutes, you know “passive income” actually takes a TON of work.
2021 Goal: Double niche site income within 12 months.
So I reached out to Doug for a holiday coaching session. To prepare, I created a detailed presentation about site performance, potential growth areas, and available resources.
Here a few of the slides I shared during our coaching call:
Every month, I’ll publish an update showing what I’m up to and how I’m tracking against my goal. Hope you’ll come along for the adventure!
This Month in a Nutshell
December 2020 was my biggest month to date, bringing in $5K for the first time ever. (Thanks holiday shoppers!) That’s why I headed into January with a mix of excitement and trepidation. It seemed highly unlikely earnings would continue at that level once the holidays were over, but part of me dared to hope they might.
Spoiler alert: They didn’t. [Insert crying emoji]
As a rule, I don’t check earnings until the 15th. When I check mid-month, I have a better sense of where I’ll end up — and there’s enough earnings to remind me the site is working.
When I checked in on January 15th, I was disappointed — if not a smidge panicky. None of my revenue sources were tracking on par with December, and my ads were off target by several hundred dollars. In fact, at the current rate, I’d be lucky to reach August 2020 income levels at this rate.
Not the best way to kick off the first month of my journey toward $7K per month. Then I took a deep breath and looked more closely at the numbers.
Compared to a year ago (January 2020), I already surpassed that entire month’s earnings in 15 days. Site traffic was also higher at day 15 than it had been in all of January one year ago.
The site was still doing really well. My expectations simply had gotten higher.
In the end, January earnings were comparable to August and September 2020. But that isn’t the number I’m most excited about.
This Month: 77,261
Not too long ago (summer 2020), I was fighting to reach 2K visitors per day. Now, I’m routinely seeing daily traffic above that — and sometimes creeping over 3K per day.
January’s traffic trended steady with what I saw throughout December, which was awesome. It’s simply that less people are purchasing through affiliate links or clicking on ads post-holidays.
In fact, I ended the month about 5,000 visitors higher than December’s holiday boost.
Without the seasonal January ad spend slump (more on that later), I should’ve crossed $4,000 with this level of traffic.
This Month: $2,690
Though I haven’t yet spent all these funds, I did commit to them — so I count them in January’s tally. For example, Upwork writing assignments often have multiple milestones (e.g. each article in a series), but the system only withdraws the first milestone’s expense up front.
- $1,680 for 28 Upwork articles (1,000 words at $50-70 each)
- $1,000 for a 10-article series written by an influencer in my niche
- $10 for Keywords Everywhere credits to do research
If you’re new to hiring writers on Upwork, check out my step-by-step guide here.
Activities & Accomplishments
When I first thought of the “double income” challenge, I envisioned simply publishing twice as much content. If ~300 articles was generating $A, then 600 articles should generate $B. Right?
During our coaching call in December, Doug explained there could be better/cheaper/easier ways to get from A to B.
Here’s the slide I made of all the ideas that I *could* pursue in 2021. The ones he recommended focusing on this year are highlighted in yellow.
Here’s a quick summary:
Though I won’t be doubling my content, I will still be strategically adding throughout the year. I’m going to batch efforts into a few “sprints.” I’ll use Upwork writers I’ve already worked with, along with a few new guest writers.
Proprietary Math Tool
The goal is to gather a bunch of data and create a brand new pricing tool to help people estimate a particular type of expense. I love that it would likely attract inbound links. I don’t love the idea of finding source data and doing all the back-end logistics. It’ll probably require hiring experts to handle the development.
Last year, I acquired a small (undervalued) blog within my niche. The content I purchased wasn’t SEO rich by any means, but it let me test the process of bringing articles over to my site, polishing them up, and optimizing them.
The screenshot below shows traffic from my acquired posts over four months — just over 6,000 visitors. That’s not a huge surge, but it is a steady stream that I can grow by further improving that content. Plus, I was able to increase my email list by a few hundred folks from the acquired brand.
Tech Series & YouTube Videos
I want to create a series of blogs discussing and reviewing tech products in my niche. Each article would ideally feature at least one video, so I could also start driving some traffic from YouTube.
More Affiliate Programs
Diversifying risk is a priority. Amazon and ads are my two primary income drivers, but I’m keeping an eye out for new programs.
I haven’t created any paid digital content of my own. Even a couple low-cost deliverables could be a nice income boost since I don’t have to share that income with anyone else.
I love the idea of creating “mini courses” that solve specific problems. They can be offered at lower price points, but still provide value. At the same time, I can be mapping out a larger “transformational course” throughout the year.
I’m going to create a directory showcasing other people’s educational content. The goal is to start with 20-50 existing paid online courses, tools, and resources within my niche. For each one, the creator should have (or join) an affiliate program so I can earn income from sending customers their way.
Optimize Existing Content
The goal is to improve content I’ve already published so that it ranks better, versus buying or writing brand new content. This is especially valuable for articles that are almost on pages 1-2 and need a little nudge.
So, where did I focus in January?
Focus Area: Optimize Existing Content
Doug suggested looking into MarketMuse, a tool which offers article-specific direction about how to optimize your copy. I ended up purchasing the PLUS plan, which lets me run 50 optimization reports per month. (I bought it in December, which is why it isn’t counted in January’s expenses.)
I’m also wrapping up a project to improve the articles from my 2020 blog acquisition by adding SEO-rich FAQs to each one. This should help them begin to rank for longer tail keywords.
Focus Area: Blog Content Sprint
I spent a lot of time prepping for my first content sprint of 2021. From keyword research to writer outlines, I finally have my 4 Upwork writers lined up to complete 28 articles in Q1. I also sent the first 5 outlines to my niche influencer for the first half of her series.
Many of these articles are part of a new concept I’m trying called content “clusters.” This was a MarketMuse suggestion that is supposed to help boost my site authority on topics that have the best potential to drive traffic and rank. We’ll see if it works!
Focus Area: Email Engagement
Wait, this wasn’t on the priority list! True, but I’m wasting the value of my subscribers. They signed up for info, advice, and updates. To date, that meant a single automated welcome email.
This month, I had someone from my team create an actual 10-part email drip campaign. If my subscribers feel like they’re getting more value from me, they’re more likely to engage later once I have my own digital products.
- SEO Strategy: Even though doubling content isn’t the main way I’m going to boost my income this year, my SEO strategy is working.
- Diversity Program: In the summer of 2020, I launched an initiative to share more diverse voices and imagery on the blog. We started featuring influencers on social media every week then doing manual outreach. It’s slow going, but at least a dozen people have written articles and contributed photos. In return, we donate to diversity-focused nonprofits of their choice. Everyone wins.
- Media Guide: In 2019, I began writing spotlight articles about podcasters and vloggers in my niche. Not only has the site begun ranking for more keywords, it’s much easier to do “warm” outreach. By sharing what we’ve done to promote them, more influencers are excited to engage with us.
What’s Not Working
- Tech Series: I wanted to kick off this series right away. But, I’m learning that every post takes longer than I think — and doing video is hard. I thought a friend could help complete 2-4 product videos per month. So far, we have zero. I thought I could whip out a product review every week, but it took forever to learn a single product and take photos. Now I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the entire idea of this series.
- Delegation: Sometimes, my delegation dreams come true. Other times, my team sends an email out to my entire list filled with image placeholders. Ugh.
- Quick Optimization: I had grand intentions of using MarketMuse to optimize 50 articles per month on a few lazy mornings. Well, never gonna happen. It turns out to be a really manual process. I briefly tried delegating updates, but that didn’t work out. So I have to figure out a better way to use this awesome tool without doing it all myself.
- New Year Ads: Remember when I kind of panicked on January 15? A big part of that was seeing my lower ad income — especially with the same traffic numbers as December. I had no idea what happened. Luckily, I decided to reach out to my ad platform support and ask for advice. Their response really lowered my blood pressure and reminded me why I love Mediavine:
“The revenue dip you are seeing appears to be a seasonal dip which typically starts at the very end of the 4th quarter or the beginning of the 1st quarter. Q1 always sees a dip industry-wide, and although a drop is expected at the start of a new month, Q1 is where it hits the hardest because it’s the month that advertisers spend the least out of any month of the year. It also seems especially dramatic in Q1 since spending is highest during the holidays.
Generally it is expected that we have about a 40-60% decrease in RPM. Eric wrote this blog post about the Q1 Ad Revenue Slump if you’re interested. You can also take a look at this excellent post from Brad, our VP of Ad Operations, that talks a little more about seasonal trends to help plan for the entire year. The only other time it really hits a slump like this is in July.
Budgets are decided on a quarterly basis, and then monthly within the quarter, with the last month of the quarter typically being the best, because advertisers are more conservative in the first two months.
In the meantime, I’m going to double-check your ad settings and ad placements to make sure everything looks good on our end and get back to you on that as soon as I can.”
On the Horizon
Surprise! I’m already behind where I wanted to be going into February. But, I’m going to show myself some grace and do the best I can.
For February, I plan to:
- Publish the first tech series blog and video
- Optimize at least 20 pieces of existing content using MarketMuse
- Develop my first digital product (either paid or as an opt-in motivator)
- Get my team going on the first mini course creation
- Organize my week better so I’m more efficient at getting things done
After a slow start to the month, I can now look back and realize how much progress I actually made. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by everything I want to do this year, I’m going to focus on empowering my team to help out. With a solid plan in place, a lot of caffeine, and my mentor by my side (thanks Doug!), I’m optimistic about the year ahead!