Growth Trifecta Case Study (February 2022)

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Welcome to February—a short month in the midst of Q1, which is enough to make most of us affiliate marketers sigh.

While I know ad revenue is notoriously lower during the first quarter of the year, and Amazon earnings fall after the holidays, it’s still jarring to see lower earnings and traffic. If you’re breathing into a brown paper bag, too, know that you’re not alone.

In January, I kicked off my 2022 Growth Trifecta Plan. It combines a big content sprint, improving existing articles, and boosting revenue from my own products.

As you’ll read in this update (or watch on Doug’s YouTube channel), most of my focus during February was getting the content sprint underway.

Let’s get into it!

The Site in a Nutshell

Whether you’ve been following along since the beginning, or are new to this case study, here are some key stats for my site.

lifetime site earnings

Earnings

  • This Month: $4,398.16
  • This Year: $9,307.55
  • Lifetime: $132,617.96

*Reminder: February is a short month with 3 fewer days than normal.

Traffic

  • This Month: 94,637
  • This Year: 204,079
  • Lifetime: 2,327,541

*Reminder: February is a short month with 3 fewer days than normal.

Expenses

  • This Month: $2,877.48
  • This Year: $4,869.57
  • Lifetime: $41,624.21

February Updates

Where did I spend my time (and money) for February? Let’s take a look.

(Ongoing) Affiliate Programs & Ads

In addition to the three-phase growth plan activities, I keep a close eye on affiliate and ad earnings, my primary income drivers.

After January earnings failed to reach $5,000, I figured February (being a short month) was unlikely to do so either. Indeed, Amazon earnings were down $400 from last month, and ads were down $100. Oof.

Then again, when I compare this month to February a year ago, I saw an 18% increase. 

If you read January’s update, you’ll recognize this earnings calendar from my ad platform Mediavine. Though historically better than January, ad revenue is still usually low for February. I had hoped to see ads tick back up accordingly, but it wasn’t to be. This was likely due to lower average daily traffic (3,300 visitors/day in February vs. 3,500 visitors/day in January).

Doug says not to worry about the downturn. (I’m trying.) The same amount of traffic I saw this month drove more than $6,000 in revenue last April, though, so I’m not sure what’s going on.

The best thing I can do is press on with my growth plan and hope the numbers turn around in March.

mediavine

Focus Area: New Content

In order to create and publish hundreds of new articles by mid-year, I needed help—a lot of it.

My original goal was to tackle the following:

  • 400 new articles published by the end of June (6 published so far)
  • 25 guest posts published this year (1 published so far)
  • 25 Knowledge Center feeder posts
  • 50 new articles published for Q3 holiday sprint

Right off the bat, Doug suggested I not spend time/money on feeder posts for other people’s coursesSo I crossed those off the list and included several topics to the list that will feed into my own courses instead.

In February, I also had a former Upwork writer step into a Content Manager role. She was excited to take on more responsibility, but we hadn’t worked together in this capacity before. So I spent several weeks (between other projects) putting together her training materials, sample outlines, setting up shared folders, and creating a detailed content tracker in Google Sheets.

Luckily, I had a large list of topics drafted from research Doug and I had done a year or two ago. Though it took a while to whittle down the list and input all the details into the tracking spreadsheet, at least I wasn’t starting from scratch!

My Content Manager and I then hopped on a Zoom call for an hour to walk through the process step by step. Over the next week or so, she familiarized herself with the spreadsheet content, added sub-categories to make it easier to assign articles to writers with relevant backgrounds, and began vetting Upwork applications.

I left the hiring process *entirely* up to her, and she’s done a great job choosing writers, assigning and reviewing trial articles, managing deadlines, and deciding which people are a good fit for future articles. She’s also creating all the writer outlines, running drafts through Grammarly’s plagiarism checker, and gathering images.

It’s hard to trust other people to do what you usually do, but it’s the only real way to grow. Though it can feel tedious in the moment, the time I put into creating clear training materials always pays off. 

Best of all, my Content Manager says she’s loving the work 🙂

In addition to her help, I asked one of my team members from my other business to put articles into WordPress. I hate when new content sits in my inbox waiting on me, so it was time to delegate that task. She got her own set of training materials, but now I’m totally hands off getting copy and images into WordPress.

In case you’re curious which tasks I still do myself, they include:

  • SEO research and topic selection (includes key sub-headers and FAQs)
  • Routing drafts to/from the site’s editor (my dad)
  • Doing a final review in WordPress
  • Adding affiliate links (when needed)
  • Hitting publish!

February certainly had a ramp-up period for the new team, but now things seem to be humming right along.

My Content Manager has hired 7-10 writers so far, we’ve published 6 new posts, and she has writers lined up to handle ~10-12 articles per week.

To hit the 400-article goal by the end of June, we’d need to average 25 posts per week. After receiving feedback from a couple of writers, though, we may need to increase our rate per article and lower the number of posts (to stay within budget).

It’s been a few years since I did a big sprint, and COVID + inflation seems to have driven up price expectations—at least for decent writers. It’s also become clear that the Content Manager role ($50/hour) will likely take much more than the 100 hours I (blindly) estimated for the sprint. I’ve already paid out the first 20 hours, which does include all her training and ramp-up time, as well as her writing 3-4 articles herself.

I may have to be flexible with the “400” article number and be satisfied with getting better writers (hence, better content) for, say 300 articles—plus paying for more Content Manager hours.

Could I outsource everything to offshore writers and project managers for $10/hour? Probably, but that’s not how I run my business. I want high-quality, native English speakers with deep personal experience in my niche. I want a Content Manager I know who can handle things without me. And I want one someone I trust doing inputs in WordPress.

All of that means higher expenses, but ultimately (hopefully!) lower stress. You’ll need to decide what your priorities are for yourself.

Focus Area: Existing Content

With nearly 500 articles on the site heading into 2022, there’s plenty of room for growth with my existing content. If I can quickly improve posts that might be on page 2 or lower on page 1, it could result in a boost in rankings and more traffic.

My goal is to put 100 existing articles through a consistent improvement process this year. 

But how do I know which 100 articles to target? Which ones are lost causes vs. low-hanging fruit?

In a normal world, I would’ve gone through Doug’s course on the topic, dug into my site analytics, and come up with a plan. Unfortunately, January and February have been… insane. A confluence of work events has resulted in 1-2 am work nights the majority of every week, and I started to feel really overwhelmed about biting off one more thing.

Yet, I know improving existing content will be key to the growth of the site.

So I swallowed my pride and asked for help. Doug kindly agreed to tag in and help create my target list of posts. Want to learn how he did it? Check out this video and this one.

As for the specific tactics, my process will look something like this:

  1. Add 3-5 new FAQs to each post (source from “People Also Ask” in Google).
  2. Refresh (or tighten up) the article introduction and/or product review content.
  3. Add more images to boost overall ad revenue and keep people on each page longer.

Focus Area: Selling Products

My first course launched in Q4, and I wrapped up draft copy and video content for the second course in January. I’ve since handed off that content to a team member to clean up and put into Teachable. I’m awaiting an ETA for when we could launch the second course and hope for sometime in April.

Meanwhile, we’re planning our first quarterly promotion for course #1 from March 15-25.

I’m also promoting one of my digital guides on a side-wide ad, and there were two sales in February. We’ve also added several emails to our drip sequence.

The email list grew by 220 people in February, bringing the total to 4,371 subscribers.

Growing the list is critical if I want to meet my goal of 10% revenue generation from my own products this year.

Other Activities

What else was I up to this month?

  • Acquisition Site Content Analysis: As I mentioned in January’s update, I purchased a small blog and am in the process of figuring out what to do with the content. I’ve outlined approximately 65 of 165 articles that have the potential for ad or affiliate income—once the posts are lengthened and improved. That’ll be the next step.
  • Acquisition Site Content Transition: My editor has been cleaning up the 65 priority articles, and a team member is inputting them into WordPress this month. For the other 100 articles, I’m asking my developer to find a way to mass-export/import the content and create redirects for each post. I’d love to have this fully wrapped up in March.
  • Considering Other Income Streams: If revenue and traffic stay low (hopefully not), I may need to consider additional income streams to justify the investments I’m making in an expanded team and new content. One idea I’d like to discuss with Doug is putting together a media kit for sponsored site ads, emails, and posts.
  • Monthly Copywriting Retainer: My site resulted in a partnership with a big apparel brand in my niche, and they’ve put me on retainer to write email and social copy each month through 2022. Though not income directly generated through the site itself, I do consider this work closely related.

Parting Thoughts

Overall, I’m pleased with how the broader team is working and new content has begun to flow onto the site. It’s just a tiny sliver of how many posts we hope to add, but I think the process will accelerate once we have the right process and people in place.

I find it challenging to mentally justify budgeting a $20-30K investment with monthly revenue at current levels.

Then again, I’ve built up the site to its current level doing exactly the type of work I’m doing now—adding SEO-rich content and diversifying my income streams. I just need to trust that what got me here will help get me to the next level!

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