This time one year ago I was nursing a New Year’s Day hangover somewhere in a suburb of Sydney, contemplating that I would be back in a ‘normal job’ within a few precious months. The year that unravelled couldn’t have been any further from my expectations.
It was a couple of months later that I decided I would give full-time blogging a shot instead of that ‘normal job’. In May the work started in earnest, and in July, Lisa and I launched Career Gappers.
In this month’s business report I will detail what’s happened in December – and there have been quite a few developments, including some exciting news – but I will also reflect on the journey we’ve taken over the last year, and our goals for 2019.
As always, here are December’s highlights to kick things off:
- We reached 9,053 monthly page views, smashing our target of 8,000
- Our traffic from search engines maintained at 1,278, a good result for what is a notoriously bad month for travel blogs
- We had 1,000 page views in a single day for the first time
- Our Pinterest average monthly viewers peaked at 221,932 before dropping back down over the Christmas period
- Our domain authority score (DA) increased another notch from 22 to 23
- We made some progress with affiliate marketing, making sales on Booking.com, Rentalcars, GetYourGuide, and both our UK and USA Amazon accounts
- Finally, the exciting part – we had a guest post approved on a major travel website with a DA of 66. It will be published and distributed to 300,000 email subscribers and 100,000 social media followers.
We’re thrilled with this progress and it sends us into 2019 with a solid platform upon which to grow a profitable business.
What’s more, we also managed to take some quality time off work in December to spend the festive season with family and friends, and we had our very own Career Gappers office Christmas party!
The big win, and why it’s a big deal
When Lisa and I refined our business strategy back in September, we set ourselves a target to be featured on a minimum of five relevant websites with a DA of 50+ by the end of June 2019.
That’s why one of the priorities I outlined for December in last month’s business report was to pitch guest articles to high-authority external platforms.
After identifying several that would be a good fit, making contact and submitting a couple of complete articles, we got our first ‘yes’. One of the platforms responded to say they loved our article, and approved it for publication.
This means we will soon be featured on a well recognised travel website that has a DA of 66, and our article will be shared with hundreds of thousands of their followers. One down, four to go.
Why is this a big deal? First of all, getting a link from a site with such authority is a major boost to our blog’s SEO credentials. It also brings some valuable high-level exposure.
Even better is that helps to establish us as a credible source of information on travel career breaks. For a fledgeling business like ours, this is gold dust.
Receiving that email of acceptance right at the end of the year felt like such a huge boost for us and a vindication for all of our hard work. Worthy of a celebratory drink for sure.
Another record month for website traffic
In December our website traffic continued to grow at a rapid pace. We exceeded our target of 8,000 page views for the month, ending on 9,053. This is especially good considering that December is a notoriously bad month for travel bloggers.
We did run a small paid Facebook promotion again. This was towards the end of the month when we were already past our target, and it added around 300 page views to the total. We used it to promote our new article about the barriers to taking a travel career break and build our email list.
One article in particular made a standout contribution towards December’s good figures. We published an interview with a New York firefighter as part of our series highlighting the stories of people who have taken life-changing travel career breaks. The article went viral and helped us reach 1,000 page views in a single day for the first time ever.
A third of the way through the month we were on course to reach 10,000 page views, but we were stopped in our tracks by the dreaded December lull. Our traffic from search engines fell off a cliff as people’s online activities became subsumed by Christmas.
We ended the month with almost exactly the same amount of search traffic as November. After Christmas Day the figures picked up again, and we’re confident we’ll hit the upward growth curve again in January.
Content production: slow and steady
Another of our priorities for December was to complete our core South America content. We didn’t quite get over the finish line, but we’re very nearly there. Our new content during the month included articles on Buenos Aires, Lima and Florianópolis.
We published nine new articles in December in total. We also devoted a lot of time to writing guest posts for other blogs to build our backlink profile. This helped us to increase our domain authority (DA) by another notch to 23.
Positive progress with affiliate marketing
My last couple of business reports addressed some problems we’d been having in getting conversions from our affiliate links. In December, we made some breakthroughs that send us into 2019 with a lot more optimism.
During the month we signed up to GetYourGuide’s affiliate programme, and started placing links into old articles strategically. Within the first few days we made a sale from one of these, bringing a commission of 20 US dollars.
We also made some successful conversions across other affiliate programmes. We made sales on booking.com and rentalcars, as well as both our UK and USA Amazon affiliate accounts. The two sales we made on Amazon Associates USA took us past the required threshold to avoid account closure.
These are all small steps, but the fact we’re now making conversions is encouraging. As we continue to build our website traffic and improve our sales funnels, we should see some real success soon.
Networking and learning
December was a good month for connecting with other travel bloggers and online entrepreneurs. Early in the month, I went along to a get-together of the London Digital Nomads Meetup group at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, London.
A few days later, Lisa and I helped to organise the first meetup of the Travel Bloggers Club in London. We hosted an alternative walking tour of East London, and spent a great evening getting to know some awesome bloggers.
Events like this are such a good opportunity to connect with people who have similar goals and values to us, and to keep on learning.
Continuing my blogging business education, I completed reading the Make Traffic Happen e-book SEO The Easy Way in December and have begun to implement my learnings to our articles. I also continued to work through the Adventure In You Fast Lane Blogging Course, which has been incredibly helpful in understanding monetisation strategies.
Income and expenditure
While we made several affiliate sales in December, we won’t be paid for any until we cross the qualifying thresholds for the respective programmes. We’re getting close to this now, and expect to receive our first affiliate payouts within a couple of months.
Our increase in website traffic means we are edging towards qualification for the Mediavine advertising network. We ended the month with 6,300 sessions, a quarter of the way to reaching the qualifying requirement of 25,000.
We actually turned down a paid sponsored post opportunity in December. I was contacted by a marketing agency who wanted to commission us to produce some content about Soho (London) for a client. We declined because it wasn’t the right fit for our brand, and the pay wasn’t enough to justify the work it would require. But the fact we’re beginning to be approached by agencies for paid work is another good sign.
Expenditure in December 2018
December’s expenditure consisted of the standard running costs, plus an exciting new investment:
- Spanish classes with Happy Languages: £169
- Photoshop monthly subscription: £9.98
- InDesign monthly subscription: £19.97
- ConvertKit monthly subscription (email marketing tool): £22.74
- Phone bill: £39
- Gadget insurance: £13.99
- Facebook promotion: £30.26
- TOTAL: £305.35
We used some of our business budget for me to sign up for a course of Spanish evening classes with Happy Languages in London. Many of the countries we focus on are Spanish-speaking, and so it will be an invaluable asset to learn the language. It’s also a fun challenge for the new year.
December’s expenditure brings our total business investment to date to £3,824,07.
Roundup of 2018 achievements
So where does all of this leave us at the end of the year? While we are not yet making regular income, I am proud of what we have achieved, and excited about what lies ahead.
I would class the following as our standout 2018 achievements:
- We have launched a brand that we love, and built our domain authority from 1 to 23 in just five months
- Since the launch in July we’ve had over 30,000 page views on our website
- We’ve established a solid social media foundation, with over 4,000 followers across our various platforms
- There is evidence that we are genuinely helping people to take life-transforming travel career breaks – we’ve received many emails and messages of support from people who have found value in our content
This is plenty to be happy about. We have worked incredibly hard to build this platform, and it’s a fantastic foundation from which we can go forth and prosper in 2019.
What next? Aiming high for 2019
It’s so important to remember why we are doing all of this in the first place. The experience of taking a career break to travel was a life-changing one for me and Lisa, and we want to inspire others to do the same.
Much more than this, we want to build a world where the benefits of travel career breaks are recognised everywhere, and people are empowered to take them at any stage of their working life.
Now that we have a good platform for promoting this message, the next step is to build a community of engaged, like-minded people. We haven’t decided on the mechanism for this yet – it could be a Facebook or LinkedIn group, a Meetup community, or a combination of things like this – but this is the direction we are intent on taking.
By the end of 2019, we aim to achieve a full-time income from the blog. The following are ambitious targets we are setting to enable this:
- Website DA of 40+
- Over 50,000 monthly sessions
- Over 1,000 email subscribers
We will introduce long-term targets for community-building once we have undertaken some research and planning in the weeks ahead.
Priorities and targets for January 2019
In January we will continue to focus on increasing our website’s authority credentials. Building new backlinks will be central to this work. At the same time, we will press ahead with pitching features to major relevant platforms on the coat-tails of our recent success.
I also plan to start pitching for speaking opportunities. This could be another way to position ourselves as career break travel experts, sow the seeds for building a community, and generate more backlinks.
These are our specific targets for the month:
- 10,000 page views and 7,000 sessions
- 200,000 average monthly viewers on Pinterest
- DA increase to 25
We are now switching to Google Analytics instead of WordPress to measure our website traffic, as it’s a better-recognised measurement, and comes with far more powerful analytical tools.
One more thing: we have no intention to stop travelling. In January we are heading to Malta for five nights, where we are collaborating with a scuba diving centre. In April Lisa has two weeks of leave from work booked over Easter, which we will use to go away somewhere (we don’t yet know where). Later in the year we have a week in France planned for our friends’ wedding.
Beyond this, who knows? We would love to return to South America for more travel in Chile and Argentina, and to visit Colombia and Ecuador. Our travel mobility will of course depend on our circumstances, and how things work out with the blog.
Our ambition has not dimmed. The new year brings a world of possibilities, and we can’t wait to grab hold of them.
But first, I’m going to take tomorrow off. Because rest is important, and because I can.
Happy New Year everyone, and may all your dreams come true in 2019.