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Welcome to the Summer Slump?
My now-fixed Google Analytics reported solid traffic the entire month—over 4,000 visitors per day. With that activity, I anticipated new record income above $8,000.
When I checked earnings mid-month, though, it was a different story. Revenue was down 30-40%. Weird.
Cue heart palpitations. As I dug into the numbers, it became clear that while ads were lower than in June, the vast majority of lost ground was from Amazon affiliates. In fact, Amazon earnings ended up at February 2021 levels. It was pretty baffling given how well the site appeared to be performing.
Here is the July Google Analytics summary:
All data points showed positive movement, yet my affiliate income was lackluster at best. In this update, we’ll dig into some mysterious clues and progress reports. Don’t expect a clear conclusion though—I still don’t know why earnings were significantly lower.
As a reminder, my entire goal this year is to consistently 2x my site income. I hit my monthly revenue goal for the first time in June and hoped it would set a new bar for continued growth.
2021 Goal: Double niche site income within 12 months.
Quandaries aside, my site still made a meaningful amount of income in July. I’m proud of what I’ve built, and I’m not slowing down anytime soon.
This Month in a Nutshell
July turned out to be one of those months that simultaneously felt busy—and like very little actually got finished.
I onboarded a new developer, but his hands were largely tied while we tried to get new hosting and complete the site speed optimization engagement from May.
Meanwhile, I added some new emails to our drip sequence that are designed to boost Knowledge Directory affiliate sales and my PDF guide purchases. Two articles went up on the blog targeting visitors with a stronger ‘buyer’s intent’ for online courses—an idea from my last coaching session with Doug. I probably won’t know if either tactic moves the needle until August or September, but I’m hopeful.
Fun Fact: Over its lifetime, the site has earned the equivalent of an entire year’s ‘salary’ from my other traditional business.
This Month: $5,962.78
Maybe I got too excited last month when I passed $7K for the first time. Just a few months ago, I would’ve been thrilled to reach June’s income level. But, higher milestones, higher expectations!
July earnings ended up 20% lower than June, which was surprising given strong traffic.
DOUG’s NOTE: July 2020 had lower earnings from Amazon, too. Check out the graph above and you’ll see it. The ad revenue was growing so it hid that fact overall. So I think it’s a seasonal niche for affiliate revenue in Julys. It looks like August might recover based on the historical trends.
This time a year ago, I made $2,695. Go back two years, and the site earned $1,057. Even though this month didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, it’s clear massive progress has been made in the long run.
To put it in perspective, I need the site to earn $250/day in order to meet my 2x income goal for 2021. In July, I averaged $192/day—down from $243/day in June.
(Fun Fact: This month, alone, the site paid for my mortgage, a Fight Camp boxing system (!!!), and all my new developer hours.)
This Month: 122,260
July is the first full month since May where I trust my traffic data. Well, kind of. There was still some weird stuff going on.
Remember: Reporting between May 25 and June 15 is underreported.
After checking earnings mid-month, I reached out to Mediavine about my lower ad revenue. Traffic was consistently high, so I was pretty confused.
Here was their response:
OK, that made sense. But then it got more complicated.
Sure enough, something really strange was happening with home page traffic.
I went into Google Analytics and dug into the home page reporting only. It spiked June 17/18 and never went back down to previous levels. June 17/18 was when the new site speed company ‘fixed’ our Google Analytics code.
Could that have caused this? It was also the day after a big influencer in our niche sent an email linking to his guest post. Maybe that spiked traffic?
As Doug so eloquently put it: “Holy crap. That’s very weird…”
Furthermore, if home page traffic actually grew—and sustained—more visitors, did that mean some of my other pages dropped a bunch? I didn’t see any obvious evidence of that.
Overall traffic data had returned to the level I was seeing before the May mishap. But earnings were 20% down (by end of July). The bigger bummer is that I suddenly feel less confident about traffic numbers since “the fix.”
The data is sending a message, but I can’t decipher what it is. (If you have ideas, let me know!)
This Month: $746.50
Heading into 2021, I had zero reservations about investing up to $15,000 this year. As I near $14,000—six months in—I need to reevaluate whether it makes sense to pour even more money into the site.
Here’s where my funds went in July:
- $75 | Additional copy for one of my upcoming course modules
- $50 | Nonprofit donations for our diversity program
- $52.50 | MarketMuse content optimization
- $450 | Developer hours
- $119 | Teachable Pro subscription
Given I’ve had to hire a new developer (more on that later), upgrade my hosting, and have my first course coming up, it won’t take long to burn through the rest of that $15,000. Then what?
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. Finding, onboarding, and prioritizing projects for a new developer has eaten a lot of time I’d hoped to put into other activities.
Embarking on a home page redesign will be expensive and time-intensive. At this point, I’m not sure whether to bother with it or bump that project to 2022.
My first course was supposed to launch July 1, which obviously didn’t happen. It’s still likely weeks away, and I feel like a fish out of water creating and marketing a course. I just hope someone buys it!
So, what did I end up focusing on most in July?
Focus Area: Onboarding a New Developer
As noted in last month’s update, I decided to find a new developer. I created this Upwork job description and got a lot of responses. I ended up choosing someone with deep WordPress experience and extremely positive reviews, and I’ve spent the last few weeks getting him up and running.
I put together a prioritized list of projects, and he has suggested additional improvements for the long-term health of the site.
Specifically, we talked through every plugin in detail. We’ll be removing some, directly coding functionality into the theme for some, and simply tweaking settings on others. He’ll also be resolving some compatibility errors. (I don’t even know what that means, but it sounds important.)
I’d hoped to be further along with his projects by now, but we’ve been waiting on two things:
- Custom hosting plan from Flywheel: This took roughly two weeks of hounding their support team, to the point my new developer had to step in to make progress. The good news is moving from Bluehost to a superior Flywheel plan *should* increase site stability, security, and speed across the board.
- Site speed optimizations: I’ve been waiting for these to get done since mid-June. It’s been hard to get status updates from the new company (ugh, why?!), and I had my developer take over those communications too. The good news is we should wrap this up next week. The bad news is my developer believes I overpaid for what they’re delivering—which is essentially plugin-based tweaks.
I’ll be happy when we’re through next week and can move on. Spending thousands of dollars on site speed projects and developer hours wasn’t part of the 2021—and it’s a big reason why I’ve blown through most of my investment budget so quickly.
Focus Area: Online Course Prep
One of the (many) things I admire about Doug is how quickly he can churn out new content, including online courses. I’m sure it gets easier and faster the more you do it, but the process of getting my first course done feels slow. But we are making progress!
All the content is drafted for my first course, and my team is working on getting it into Teachable. From there, I’ll need to review, create things like worksheets, and help get a launch plan in place.
While I know that branching out from affiliate and ad income is the wisest choice, change doesn’t always feel good. I find myself worrying a lot about whether the content is “good enough” and whether anyone will buy it.
Fingers crossed the time and money invested to create the course pays off!
Focus Area: Expanding the Knowledge Directory
When we launched the Knowledge Directory, it featured ~30 courses. We had twice that in progress, though, and this month I finally caught up. There are now 60+ online courses and tools from experts in my niche, and we receive affiliate income for all sales.
Wait, you’re probably saying. It looks like you didn’t sell anything for the second month in a row…
That’s true, and I’m a bit bummed. But that leads us to the next activity.
Focus Area: Buyer’s Intent Course Blogs
Now that I’m not in “crisis mode” anymore, I have some extra brain space to invest in sales-boosting activities. That included things like getting another 8-10 emails added to our drip campaign featuring Knowledge Directory courses (and my own paid guides).
We did sell seven of our own guides in July (highest yet), and I’m committed to growing that income stream.
I also signed up for the free trial of Mangools*, a suite of SEO tools designed to make keyword tracking, research, and SERP analysis. *SAVE 10% Discount code “nichesiteproject” and I’m an affiliate so I get a commission.
I used it to find some long-tail keywords that might attract potential course customers in more of a buyer’s mindset.
My hope is that adding more SEO-rich blogs promoting our affiliate courses will boost sales long-term.
I wrote two articles in July that are “best of” type blogs about course topics.
Focus Area: Baby Steps
It’s easy to beat yourself up when projects fall behind, or other ’emergency’ tasks eat up your time. For me, the summer site speed/traffic debacle meant I didn’t get to focus on site acquisitions or physical products.
In July, I decided a few baby steps were better than none at all.
So I enlisted a team member to start drafting copy for my first physical product—an educational card deck, of sorts. I also followed up with an acquisition prospect to request more information.
- Ads: In a month where Amazon affiliate income was disappointing, I was so glad to have ad earnings. Though they were also lower than June, it was consistent with May and quite respectable.
- Paid Guides: It was nice to see a little more traction on our two paid guides this month. I’ve put very little effort into selling these, but I plan to step that up soon. My developer and I are working on a solution to easily add different course and guide calls-to-action within existing blog posts.
- Organic Traffic: Though I’m still nervous about the weird home page traffic data, overall traffic for the site remained above 4,000 visitors per day all month. The vast majority is organic, which is exactly what I want. Our SEO is working!
What’s Not Working
- Knowledge Directory: Similar to the paid guides, I haven’t put much effort into promotions aside from some drip emails and a sidebar graphic. Doug is a fine of testing and starting small/easy. I trend the opposite direction—get an idea, build it the way I want it to be for good. Neither is wrong, but my way sure does take longer to see results.
- Site Speed Optimizations: This is taking forever, between Flywheel delays and waiting a week between email responses from the new site speed company. I really hope Flywheel will be worth the investment, which is way more than what I’ve been paying for Bluehost.
- Summer Slump: The past three months have been my least motivated of the entire site journey, despite June’s record earnings. May was so stressful and frustrating that I haven’t felt my typical level of excitement to work on the site since. Lower earnings in July didn’t help, nor did unforeseen site speed and development spending. All that said, I’m not going anywhere—this is a project I truly love and believe in. It’s also important to admit that not every day is going to feel awesome and fulfilling, and that’s okay. There are ups and downs, and after two years of constant improvement, I was long overdue for a downer!
On the Horizon
I said it last month, but I really mean it—I really want our first course wrapped up and launched. It looks like all the content will be in Teachable by the end of this week, then we can shift focus to supplemental resources, marketing materials, and testing.
There are a lot of balls to keep in the air, and the course is only one of them.
Here’s what I plan to focus on next month:
- Prep second online course for tentative August launch
- Finish site speed optimizations and migrate hosting to Flywheel (finally)
- Add call-to-action functionality to theme to easily promote courses and guides (developer)
- Add at least one new email lead magnet, likely using same functionality created above
- Address some little technical items (e.g. home page banner disappeared, bump up mobile font size)
Brighter days are ahead, especially once I can stop dealing with technical issues and site speed and get back to what I do best—SEO, content, and marketing!
If you’re in a Summer Slump of your own, remember that your site should be able to make money even when you don’t work on it. That’s the whole point! Cut yourself a little slack on days when your heart isn’t in it. Sometimes life comes first.
Building and running websites isn’t for the faint of heart. There will be technical issues outside your control. Google will love you one day, and not the next. Stay focused on the big picture goal for your site. For me, that means consistent and impactful monthly income that allows me to retire sooner, spend more time playing and less time working, and have some fun along the way.
What’s your ‘why?’