Traffic Down, But Earnings Up
Heading into September, I tried not to have any expectations. After years of near-constant site growth, this summer’s slump hit me pretty hard. It felt like the site must be ‘broken,’ but I couldn’t figure out why or how to fix it.
Instead, I found myself waiting anxiously for the next disappointment or backend issue. About one week into the month, though, I had a bit of a mindset revelation.
My site had far exceeding my original expectations. Earnings were still strong, even if not as strong as previous months. And most of my stress was self-induced.
Enough already! It was time to enjoy the fruits of my hard work, recommit myself to diversified revenue growth, and let things play out however they were going to play out.
After all, I still have a pretty lofty goal for this year.
2021 Goal: Double niche site income within 12 months.
Maintaining a positive mindset is obviously easier said than done, especially for a naturally anxious person. I’m going to work on it, though, and that’s step one.
As luck would have it, September was a better month than I’d feared. It’s given me renewed hope to see the downward trend halted and some revenue returning. Perhaps the upcoming holidays will be a pleasant surprise?
Before we dig into this month’s activity in detail, check out my lifetime earnings chart.
This Month in a Nutshell
September is a short month (30 days vs. 31), but earnings still climbed north of $6,000. While revenue didn’t rival my June high of $7,300, the uptick had “stopped the bleeding.” My fears about plummeting earnings hadn’t come true—and that stress had been for wasted. Note to self.
I was particularly relieved to see Amazon earnings tick up ~$400 this month. Whew.
My tendency is to constantly worry about setting up “future me” for financial security. That’s not a bad thing, and I like being able to save for the future. On the flip side, I often bypass expenses or experiences that could bring “present me” joy now. I want to find a better middle ground.
Over the last couple months, I’ve been considering a significant personal purchase. It could bring me a lot of joy over the next 10 years, but it would mean less contributions to my retirement fund.
For once, I’m going to prioritize “present me” and not feel guilty about it. The whole reason I run my own businesses is to lead a better life. After 18 months of pandemic and political stress, I’m ready to be happy again!
This Month: $6,205.24
You’re reading that right—earnings hit a MAJOR milestone in September.
The same site that generated $14.80 in its first full month (November 2018) just crossed $100K in lifetime earnings.
That is bananas! It all started when I listened when a friend sent me a podcast episode that featured Doug as a guest. I’d never heard of affiliate marketing before that moment, but I was immediately intrigued. I reached out to him and asked to pick his brain over coffee. He (thankfully) accepted, and the rest is history.
I hope my story shows that anyone can learn new things, build something of value, and reap the rewards of their hard work. The journey certainly isn’t without its ups and downs, but it is worth it.
If we zoom in on September revenue, specifically, you’ll see that Mediavine ads averaged $109/day. I remember not too long ago when I hit $100/day in ad earnings for the very first time. Now, I’m making more than that every day of the month.
Amazon earnings were better than last month, though still $700 shy of June’s record high. But, holidays are approaching, and I’m crossing my fingers and toes that Amazon will boost revenue a lot in the fourth quarter.
In order to meet my 2x income goal, I need the site to consistently earn $250/day. In September, I averaged $206/day—up from $188/day in August.
(Fun Fact: This month, the site paid for the incremental spend on infrastructure above what I planned to invest this year. Plus, I still had $3K left to put into a mutual fund for “future me.”)
This Month: 114,968
Even during the summer slump, at least traffic kept growing. In fact, over the lifetime of my site, traffic has only decreased 6 out of 36 months. Well, now 7 months.
For the first time in four months, traffic declined by ~10K visitors in September.
But here’s the good news: earnings went up despite the fact traffic went down 8% from August. In addition, the site saw its highest single day traffic number thus far—5,016 visitors on September 26.
I also got some helpful news about the weird spike in home page traffic I’d been seeing for two months. Doug wasn’t sure what was happening either, and we worried it might be bots. When I asked my developer, though, he didn’t see any signs of that.
“As far as the home page traffic growth goes, I do not think it’s bots. The large majority of your visits are search referrals with a very low bounce rate. Even the direct traffic only has a 24% bounce rate for the last week.” – My Developer
This seems like a good time to reflect on the fact that the site’s first full month, it attracted a whopping 70 visitors—total. Now, it averages 4,000+ visitors PER DAY.
Remember: May and June traffic was underreported due to a Google Analytics error.
This Month: $2,468.33
Back in August, I crossed the level of investment planned for 2021—$15,000. Everything after that is incremental spend, and I still haven’t decided whether to throw a lot more money at the site or let it coast.
For September, I still had significant development expenses (we’ll talk about it), as well as Upwork costs for my holiday content sprint.
I’ve currently put $18,663.61 into the site this year alone. That’s more than $3K more than I wanted to.
Here’s where my funds went in September:
- $120 | Flywheel monthly hosting
- $25 | Nonprofit donations for our diversity program
- $1,740.33 | Developer hours*
- $119 | Teachable Pro subscription
- $120 | Physical product copywriting assistance and admin help
- $144 | Grammarly annual subscription (used for plagiarism checks)
- $200 | Holiday sprint article copywriting
*$500 was an Upwork deposit on a future block of 10 development hours.
To be clear: $18,000 is no small investment. It’s somewhat calming to remember that’s 3 months worth of site revenue at this point though.
Activities & Accomplishments
I always like to begin this section with a recap of my plans for 2021. Things are going generally to plan, except I still haven’t put any focus on the homepage redesign or lead magnets—and my first course launch is still running behind.
Given the additional development costs I didn’t anticipate, the homepage design, math tool, ebooks, and blog acquisitions will have to wait until next year.
So, what did I end up focusing on most in September?
Focus Area: Holiday Content Sprint
After months of annoying technical issues and infrastructure fixes, I’m so happy to be working on something I’m good at again! I’m confident in my SEO research, and I’m working with a writer I’ve used for a couple years.
The holiday sprint includes 25 articles focused on buyer’s intent that *should* be able to rank in time for the 2021 retail season.
By the end of September, I got four of the posts live on the site. Another four are drafted and ready to put into WordPress. Next month, I’ll focus on getting my writer the rest of her outlines.
Focus Area: Online Course Prep
In September, my team finished prepping our first online course—including the creation of a 6-email sales drip campaign, associated landing pages, and final course QA. We also landed on a price point of $149 for launch.
This month, I also created a BETA program and affiliate program for the first course.
Additionally, I finally received draft content for the second course from the topic expert I engaged to write it. I wish I could say it was in great shape and worth the wait. Unfortunately, the content was only 50% complete—and that 50% was pretty darn messy.
It’s going to take a ton of work to get the second course ready for prime time. Ugh.
We’re also planning to add some video to the second course, and I’m sure there will be a learning curve for that. I have to find a better way to get course content from idea to launch in the future.
Focus Area: First Physical Product
I’m excited about this. In September, I worked with an illustrator to scope out design work for the project. One of my writers also helped get 50% of the copy drafted for the card deck.
This month, I even got a sneak peek at sketches for the front of the packaging!
I have zero experience selling physical products. Plus, I obviously haven’t cracked the code on selling my own products to my audience (more on that later). The good news is that my brother in law runs an entire business selling products through Amazon—so he can help me when it’s time.
Focus Area: National Brand Collaboration
This is another project I’m pumped about. In September, I landed a side gig writing copy for a national apparel brand in my niche. They originally reached out about doing some product reviews on the site, but we really hit it off.
Now, I’m friends with their marketing lead, and I think we’ll end up doing a lot of different things together.
If you take nothing else away from this story, keep doing your manual outreach. You never know where it can lead!
They’ve already sent me ~$400 worth of apparel to try and review, and I plan to apply earnings from the copywriting gig to my personal joy purchase (discussed earlier).
- Early Content: I placed a huge emphasis on content creation during the first two years of my site. That’s really paying off in both traffic and income, and I passed 450 articles in September. By the end of the year, I imagine we’ll hit 500 posts!
- Gift Focus: For the holiday sprint, I’m partially focused on KGR gift articles. I wrote one such post in September, and within weeks my Etsy affiliate revenue jumped 4x August levels. That has to be related.
- Ads: Thank goodness for ads! This has been an incredibly reliable income stream all year, and I absolutely love the team at Mediavine. September saw the highest single-day ad revenue yet at $133.19, and I also decided to turn ads on for the home page since it’s been seeing higher traffic. As a user, I understand ads are somewhat annoying. But, the core requirement of the site is to earn income to support my life—and that means more ads.
What’s Not Working
- Knowledge Directory: I admit it—this idea isn’t working. It’s earned about $25 over 4 months, which is a real bummer. The silver lining is that I have a smart person on my team who is game to take this sales challenge on. She’s going to come up with some fresh ideas for generating more traffic and revenue. We’ve already done the hard work—getting 60+ educational resources into the library. Now we just have to solve the sales puzzle.
- Paid Guides: When I launched the first two PDF guides, I thought we’d see a big uptick in earnings. Well, over 6 months, I’ve only made $225. That’s fine, but it’s not a game changer by any means. In September, I finally launched the third guide… and saw zero sales of that one. I also promoted one of the first guides in a sponsored email and on a local group’s Facebook page. Nada. If you have proven methods for boosting digital guide sales, I’m all ears!
- Custom Ad Tool: At the beginning of September, my developer finished building a custom ad inserter that allows me to feature a custom graphic “ad” within all blog posts site-wide. To start, I tried a promotion for the Knowledge Directory. I had hoped this would boost sales a bunch, but we saw a dismal $1.10 in revenue all month. To add insult to injury, the inserter code didn’t play very nicely with my theme, and we ended up having to fix a handful of formatting issues. I clearly don’t know how to drive meaningful sales from anything except SEO-rich content 🙁
On the Horizon
In updates past, I talked about not having a clear measure of “success” for my 2x income goal. Would it be hitting my monthly target at all (like in June)? Would it be hitting that every month? I didn’t know.
I’ve now decided to measure success by tracking how many months of 2021 double 2020 income level from the same month. So far, 5 of 9 months have met that benchmark this year.
Here’s what else I plan to focus on next month:
- Getting 3-5 BETA testers for our first course
- Getting 10-20 affiliates for our first course
- Launching our first course publicly
- Finish publishing holiday content sprint (25 articles)
- Implementing team member ideas for boosting Knowledge Directory sales
- Cleaning up draft content for the second course
- Filming video for the second course
- Finish core illustrations for physical product
While not everything went smoothly this month, I was certainly less stressed about it. There’s only so much I can do to set up the site for success month-to-month, and I want to focus more on celebrating the success I’ve already experienced.
As we approach the holidays, though, let us all send strong revenue prayers up to the Google gods.
It’s been an interesting year, and I’m really enjoying documenting the journey with all of you. If you have ideas, feedback, or suggestions for what you’d like me to try next, please comment on this post!