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Aaaand We’re Back on Track
If you didn’t catch last month’s update, allow me to sum it up for you in a single word: fiasco.
From a 50% traffic plummet in 48 hours to a huge spike in page load speed, May 2021 left much to be desired. Neither the site speed agency or my developer had any idea why stats tanked—or how to stop the bleeding.
Worse yet, I discovered zero site backups had been created for six months.
A couple weeks into this debacle, I heard a story on The Michelle Obama Podcast that really resonated with me. She was interviewing Conan O’Brian about marriage, and he brought up the BMW quality assurance process.
He said once a new car is completely assembled, it moves down the line to a final checkpoint called a shaker rig. It’s basically a big machine that violently shakes the car in order to test the suspension—any parts that aren’t completely secure come flying off.
You can probably tell where I’m going with this analogy.
My site looked great and seemed to perform well. Yet, when it got a “stress test,” a bunch of important parts flew off.
- UpdraftPlus Backups: Not reliably created—and no one noticed. Also not easy to restore from files.
- Original Site Speed Agency: They couldn’t troubleshoot any of the issues that happened after changes were made—and they may have caused the issue itself.
- Developer: Lacked urgency and ability to troubleshoot site speed or traffic problems. He also wasn’t comfortable restoring from a backup. Yikes.
- Mindset Reality Check: There’s no sure thing when it comes to making money online.
So you’re probably wondering, “How grey is your hair now?” Answer: pretty grey.
But there is good news. I understand what went wrong, got it fixed, and the site is back on track. PRAISE BE.
What does back on track mean? It means June was the first time earnings surpassed my monthly stretch goal of $7,000. That’s what I need to hit—and sustain—to reach my bigger goal.
2021 Goal: Double niche site income within 12 months.
Keep reading to see how we solved the mystery, righted the ship, and plan to #buildbackbetter. (Thanks, Joe.)
This Month in a Nutshell
Most of my time in June was spent trying to find clues and solve the traffic/site speed mystery. This was frustrating on several levels: 1) I’m simply not qualified to troubleshoot deep technical issues and 2) I was pretty much on my own to do it anyway.
The data point that confused me most was actually earnings. Despite drastically lower traffic and way slower site speed, June income was holding steady—even trending slightly upward.
I certainly wasn’t complaining that revenue hadn’t tanked, as I anticipated it would. But it just didn’t make sense. After many hours of research, worry, and troubleshooting (along with $1,485 for a new site speed expert—more on that later), the pieces finally fell into place.
The site speed “improvements” implemented in late May actually broke my Google Analytics tracking, which in turn broke my ad platform tracking.
(Quinton, you were right after all!)
We’ll get into the weeds in the rest of this update, but suffice it to say—crisis averted. Whew.
This Month: $7,309.97
Were I not still feeling the “May(hem) hangover,” I’d be doing a happy dance about June earnings right now.
For the first time, the site topped $7,000 in a single month—the amount I need to reach and sustain to double my income!
This time a year ago, I made $3,335.70. Go back two years, and the site earned $1,086.65. Though my affiliate journey has a slow-and-steady vibe, it continues trending in the right direction.
To put it in perspective, I need the site to earn $250/day in order to meet my 2x income goal for 2021.
In June, I averaged $243/day—up from $214/day in May.
(Fun Fact: This month, alone, the site paid for the *new* site speed expert, a cross-country trip, and content and support for my second online course. Plus, I added several thousand dollars to mutual fund investments.)
This Month: Over 105,630*
Lifetime: Over 1,420,412*
*May/June traffic was underreported, so these aren’t accurate numbers.
Now that I know Google Analytics was misreporting traffic numbers for late May through mid-June, I don’t place much stock in the figures I do have. Come July, we can get back to analyzing a full month of correct data.
The important thing is that I’m confident the site is still attracting more than 100,000 visitors per month.
Not only does this level of traffic mean more affiliate and ad income, it gives my team a great talking point when reaching out to bigger niche influencers. Bigger names mean more backlinks and direct visitors, so it’s a win-win.
For example, we hit a new single-day record with 5,746 visitors on June 16—the day a new top-tier influencer sent an email to his list linking to his guest post.
Though we didn’t sustain that level for long, the site quickly settled back to 4,400-4,800 visitors per day, which is still slightly higher than we’d seen the first half of May. I’m super happy with that, and it makes me confident that the reporting we’re seeing now is true.
Remember: Reporting between May 25 and June 15 is NOT accurate.
On my informal change log, you’ll see a few telling entries:
This Month: $3,874.30
If you’d asked me at the end of May whether I should spend another dime on the site, I’d have paused to think about it. Now that I know traffic and earnings didn’t actually go up in a giant dumpster fire, I’m loosening the grip on my wallet a bit.
Here’s where my funds went in June:
- $675 | Course Content (Upwork writer) for 3 remaining modules on my first course
- $417.50 | Knowledge directory support (creator outreach, course descriptions, etc.) and administrative support (new drip emails, putting new blogs into WordPress, etc.)
- $119 | Teachable platform subscription (monthly) for future online courses
- $1,037 | Pre-payment to the team helping get my second course off the ground (user journey mapping, system setup and content input, email drip campaign development, etc.) I won’t have any content costs for this course, and I have a writer trading copy for marketing services.
- $1,485 | Approximately 15 hours of time with WPGuys (site speed troubleshooting, optimizations, and hosting transfer)
- $10.80 | ManageWP Upgrade for daily site backups
- $55 | UpdraftPlus Support Case (This was for access to their support team for 3-days of case resolution – we asked about why there were no backups for 6 months… and they don’t know. So helpful.)
- $75 | Donations to nonprofits for diversity program participants
I now have several thousand dollars into preparing my two courses, so I really hope people buy them once they launch! The other major expense was hiring WPGuys, but I’d have paid even more to regain my sanity.
As a reminder, I was willing to invest up to $15,000 this year to help reach my goal of doubling site income.
This month I topped $13,400 investment in the site, which I’ll admit happened a lot faster than I planned.
Once I’m through July, I’ll reassess whether to bump up that number given monthly earnings are reliably $6-7K now.
Activities & Accomplishments
I always like to begin this section with a recap of my plans for 2021. Things are going pretty much to plan, except I haven’t put any focus on the homepage redesign or lead magnets yet. May’s issues took all of my brain space, and I simply haven’t gotten to those items.
My first course was also slated to launch July 1, which I am obviously not going to hit. I lost a few weeks nailing down a content writer, but I’m not terribly concerned. It’ll get done this month.
So, what did I end up focusing on most in June?
Focus Area: Troubleshooting Traffic & Site Speed
Figuring out what was going on with site performance was priority uno for June. Aside from Doug, who graciously fielded my calls and emails, I was very underwhelmed by the response of the original site speed company that made tweaks in May and my developer.
I seemed to be the only one researching, asking questions, and offering ideas—not the “experts” I’d hired to handle technical things for me.
On June 14, when I felt particularly brave, I turned on WPRocket Lazy Load for images only. (Turning lazy load on for iframes or videos will break most ad platform code, so DON’T do that!) My developer had previously used a different plugin—Smush—to turn on more Lazy Load in May. We had to turn it back off almost immediately when the site got really buggy.
Trying it with a different plugin was risky, but I felt more confident knowing I now had reliable daily ManageWP backups that could restore with a single click. Luckily, I haven’t seen any issues after turning this on, and site speed did improve almost immediately.
But that wouldn’t solve the underlying performance issues. I needed help.
My saving grace was finding Matt Suffoletto on Upwork and LinkedIn. He runs a company called WPGuys that specializes in speed optimization and WordPress support. I filled out their discovery call request form with an overview of what happened, and Matt hopped on Zoom with me the very next day.
Within the first two minutes (no joke)—and without accessing the site backend—he theorized that either the original site speed company or my developer had deferred Google Tag Manager script via WPRocket. That would have caused Google Analytics to show traffic dropping dramatically—and also explain why earnings didn’t.
He said it was likely I didn’t actually lose traffic at all. [Cue brain explosion]
That would have been the absolute best case scenario, so I signed on the dotted line and prayed he could fix it. AND HE DID.
By the next day (June 16), analytics showed a major traffic spike then settled back to pre-crisis levels. Could it really have been that easy? If it was, why hadn’t the other company or my developer figured it out? This leads to my next focus area.
Focus Area: Finding a New Developer
This one makes me sad, but it has to be done. As Doug kindly pointed out, I’ve been paying some $120/hour to be my technical expert—and he couldn’t fix the issue or restore the site.
I created a detailed job description and posted it to Upwork. Click here if you want to use my template to find a developer of your own.
Now I just need to sort through the applicants and actually choose one.
Focus Area: Online Course Prep
It may not be the smartest approach, but I have my first two online courses in the works simultaneously. Each will be 4 units with 4 lessons each, and I have zero experience making courses.
“Build it and they will come” from Field of Dreams comes to mind.
For some reason, I’m not too worried about jumping in head-first. If I can just get good content together, package it up nicely, and deliver it in a user-friendly way, I believe the numbers will work out eventually.
Courses are a long-term investment, and I’ll likely have to tweak my sales process over time. That’s OK—it’s all a work in progress.
Focus Area: Outreach & Guest Posts
My outreach manager is out on maternity leave currently, but she made some good progress in early June. We got another guest post from a top-tier influencer in my niche—after months of follow-up. Persistence is the name of the game when it comes to outreach.
On June 16, you can see how a single influencer email can boost traffic.
We’ve also continued getting a great response to our diversity program. We added a handful of new guest posts this month, as well as adding more diverse photo contributions across our existing posts.
- Google Analytics: Finally, it’s fixed! Knowing I have accurate data once again is such a relief. It allows me to make smarter decisions about every aspect of my site.
- Outreach: I love the steady drip of guest content and engagement we have, and every new connection results in a new backlink and/or social share. You never know where these relationships will lead, but we have good traction and a proven process now.
- Email List Growth: Growing our email list continues to be 99% passive. I do want to circle back to lead magnets (from my project plan), but it’s nice to know our Mailerlite popup can generate 300+ new signups per month. We added 9 emails to our automated drip sequence in June, which puts the total at 19.
What’s Not Working
- Knowledge Directory: I was hoping to build on last month’s three sales—alas, there were none in June. It’s clear that I haven’t cracked the code on this idea yet, but it’s also not costing me any money to keep it up. If you have any creative ideas, let me know!
- (Somewhat) Site Speed: WPGuys is currently testing optimizations on a staging site (what a novel idea!) before pushing them live this week, so I hope to see faster load times after that. It’s way better than it was in late May, but it’s still not great.
- Third Digital Guide: I *still* haven’t finished my third digital guide. If I was seeing a huge appetite for the other two, I’d probably be more motivated to prioritize this task. June had 4 sales ($36 revenue), which is fine but not wildly impactful. I do want to check this off my list in July though—for real.
On the Horizon
The biggest push for July will be finalizing and launching my first course. Though I have a team helping me, I still anticipate a lot of work polishing content and QAing the user experience.
Now that things are back on track, I have more brain space available.
Speaking of which, here’s what I plan to focus on next month:
- Launch first online course for July launch
- Prep second online course for tentative August launch
- Finish site speed optimizations with WPGuys
- Transition site hosting to higher-quality platform (WPEngine)
- Promote and SEO-optimize the knowledge directory
- Promote and add third paid digital guide
- Add at least one new email lead magnet
- Onboard new developer and work through initial wish list
To say I’m relieved that May’s performance issues turned out to be false reporting is an understatement. My Fear Factory (i.e. brain) was darn sure irreparable harm had been done, and May was the beginning of the end.
This feels like the right time to revisit my favorite affirmation card:
I’ll close with a BIG thanks to Doug and WPGuys. Without them, I never would have gotten to the bottom of May’s rollercoaster performance. If you don’t have kind and knowledgeable people in your corner, now is the time to find some. When you encounter bumps in the road (and you will), they’ll be your best assets!