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Blogger business report: February 2019

In the shortest month of the year we passed one of our biggest milestones yet: we’re now proud members of the 10,000 club.

After a stuttering start to the year, we’ve finally found our groove. We smashed all of our targets for February, and we’ve created a refreshed strategy for content and monetisation.

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As always, we’ll get started with our headline stats for the month. This is what we achieved in the 28 days of February:

  • We reached 10,051 page views, smashing our target of 9,000 and hitting five figures for the first time
  • Our referrals from search engines reached 3,490, exceeding our target of 2,800
  • We had 1,099 referrals from Pinterest, exceeding our target of 750
  • Our domain authority (DA) climbed another notch to 25
  • We made sales on several of our affiliate platforms – Amazon, RentalCars, Booking.com (but not quite enough to reach our first payout)

So, let’s talk about that big traffic milestone…

Joining the 10,000 club

February was our seventh consecutive month of website traffic growth. We also hit a big milestone: we surpassed 10,000 page views for the first time!

Let’s take a look at this in the context of the last 12 months (you may notice that the charts below look a bit different to previous reports; that’s because the plugin we were using to create them has introduced charges for certain features, so we’ve switched to a different free tool):

As February only has 28 days, this means we have averaged 359 page views per day in comparison to 304 in January. So, how have we achieved this increase?

Looking more closely at the data, we can see that our growth has focused on two areas, which also happened to be our two main priorities for February: search engines and Pinterest. Let’s consider these one at at a time.

Organic search traffic growth

After a huge increase in search engine traffic from December to January, it grew again in February. We reached 3,490 referrals from search engines for the month, as you can see below:

Search engines are now the biggest single driver of traffic to our website.

Something interesting we have noticed is that our traffic is spread broadly across a lot of content. There isn’t one particular post (or group of posts) getting the lion’s share of the traffic.

The post that performed best in February was our article on diving in Malta, which received 444 page views; less than 5% of the month’s total. Looking deeper still, 27 of our blog posts each accounted for between 1% and 5% of the month’s overall traffic. This makes a lot of sense when considering our content strategy to date.

In the early stages of a blog’s life, it has very limited ranking power. That’s why, as a startup, over the last few months we’ve optimised for keywords with low-to-medium search volume, for which we would have a chance of outranking the competition. What seems to be happening now is that as our domain authority (DA) is growing, a lot of these articles are hitting the top pages of search results, and each bringing in steady trickles of traffic.

In February, we passed another milestone as our DA climbed to 25. Now that our website’s rankability is getting healthier, we can begin to compete against some bigger fish, and target more fruitful keywords that we previously avoided.

Over the next three to six months, if we continue to work on our DA and aim higher with our keywords, our search traffic should snowball and propel us to the minimum qualifying requirement to apply for the advertising network Mediavine.

Working over a Saturday morning coffee at Gallery Café in Bethnal Green, London
Working over a Saturday morning coffee at Gallery Café in Bethnal Green, London

Pinterest

Our Pinterest referrals grew by 50% in February, from 734 to 1,099. There’s not actually a lot to report here, except that a continuation of our existing strategy is working.

Last month I reported that we had made some adjustments to our pin designs, which had resulted in better click-through rates on individual pins. We’ve rolled out this approach and produced lots of new pins, which has spurred on the growth in website traffic from the platform.

At the same time, we’ve seen a recovery of our average monthly viewer stats, which had been dropping – it’s now back up to nearly 200,000. We will keep an eye on this as a secondary metric, but maintain our primary focus on referrals.

Blogging challenge

I mentioned last month that we would be taking part in the Travel Bloggers Club 7-day blogging challenge. We completed this successfully, publishing an article every day for a week from 4th February.

Taking part in the challenge and engaging with the blogging community was a lot of fun, and helped kickstart our traffic for the month. It wasn’t the biggest factor in our overall traffic growth, but without it we probably wouldn’t have reached the 10,000 page views milestone.

Over the course of February we published ten new articles in total. Focusing most of this work in the challenge week enabled us to devote much of the rest of the month to other areas of priority, like guest posting, creating new lead magnets for subscriptions, and…

Monetisation

Our positive progress with website traffic opens up opportunities to monetise our existing content. So far, we’ve only made trickles of affiliate sales across various programmes (which have yet to reach payout thresholds) along with the odd consultancy and freelance work.

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve taken time to review and refine our monetisation strategy to capitalise on our traffic growth and give us a clearer focus.

Affiliate programmes

February followed a predictable pattern; we made a handful more affiliate sales (a car rental, a hiking jacket, a couple of hostel bookings) but nothing is really taking off.

Towards the end of the month I took a day to go through some new sections of Adventure in You’s Fast Lane blogging course, which has precipitated a rethink of our affiliate strategy.

While we will continue to recommend products and services across a range of different affiliate programmes, in the weeks ahead we will prioritise two specific high-value programmes. This will involve creating dedicated content to advocate these brands (one adventure packages, the other insurance) and building clearer user journeys that lead to sales.

Advertising networks

As I have stated above, our major aim for advertising income is to qualify for Mediavine. The requirement for this is to reach 25,000 monthly sessions, so we still have some way to go in this regard (note that sessions are different from page views – you can find out more about that here).

In the meantime, there are other advert networks we can consider that have lower traffic thresholds, or none at all. We’ll review this over the next month and decide whether we try one of these, or simply hold out until we can qualify for Mediavine.

Westminster Abbey London
Westminster Abbey, taken during my travel photography course on London South Bank in February

Email subscriptions

February has been a funny old month for our email subscription list. While we created and implemented three new lead magnets midway through the month, our signups have slowed down significantly. We only had six over the course of the whole month.

Needless to say we will investigate this, in particular the placing and timing of our signup forms, and experiment with different methods. 

Planning a trip to Italy

In April we will be heading out on the road again for a two-week road trip in Italy. We begin with three nights in Venice, followed by a week in Umbria, and ending with a few days in Puglia.

We’ve been working hard behind the scenes to create a content plan for the trip and set up collaborations with some local businesses. We’ve got some exciting agreements in place, which we plan to use to build our portfolio of brand partnership case studies.

Italy guide books
We’ve gone back to basics using guide books to plan some of our April Italy trip

Travel photography course

Earlier in February I went on a travel photography course on London’s South Bank, which Lisa bought me as a gift a few weeks back. My tutor was the fantastic Lara Ingram, and it was an excellent education for me– I picked up a lot of new tricks and insights into photography theory.

I’m looking forward to applying these new techniques to enhance the quality of photography on the blog, and the Italy trip will be the perfect opportunity to get started.

Expenditure in February 2019

Alas, another month has passed with no blogging income, but as I’ve already outlined we are making progress towards our goals, strengthening the foundations and constantly revisiting and refining our monetisation plan. We maintain belief that we will get there.

February was a more expensive month than usual:

  • WordPress business plan renewal: £240
  • Awin affiliate programme signup fee: £5
  • Photoshop monthly subscription: £9.98
  • InDesign monthly subscription: £19.97
  • ConvertKit monthly subscription (email marketing tool): £22.69
  • Phone bill: £39
  • Gadget insurance: £13.99
  • Facebook promotions: £41.29
  • TOTAL: £391.92

The main reason for our bigger outlay this month was that our annual WordPress business plan was renewed. This came as a bit of a surprise as we signed up to it on 18th March 2018, but it turns out they bill for it a month in advance to avoid any disruption or lapsing.

February’s expenditure brings our total business investment to date to £4,356.80.

I went on a travel photography course on London South Bank in February
One of the snaps taken on my travel photography course on London South Bank in February

Priorities and targets for March 2019

Growth is not always linear. In March, we intend to take one step back in order to take two steps forward.

The last two months have made it clear that SEO is the most important and effective source of traffic growth for us. Therefore, we plan to increase our focus on it while scaling back in other areas.

In particular, we will wind down our involvement in post-sharing groups on Facebook. While this has helped to boost our overall traffic numbers – which is priceless for a new blog – it’s not not a big source of growth and takes up a lot of time.

We will reinvest most of this time in SEO: creating new optimised content, revitalising old content, measuring our progress and adjusting accordingly.

At the same time, we will build new content to support the two priority high-value affiliate programmes I mentioned above, and integrate them into our email journeys.

A side effect of this plan is that we expect our traffic to take a minor hit in March. We will get less referrals from social media (other than Pinterest), and it will take some time before we see results from our new and revised content.

As such, we are setting modest targets for March:

  • Maintain 10,000 page views and 6,500 sessions
  • Increase to 4,000 referrals from search engines
  • Maintain over 1,000 referrals from Pinterest

Domain authority change coming

You may notice that I have not stated a target for DA increase as per previous months. This is because Moz has announced that on March 5th, it is implementing a major algorithm update to DA for the first time in years.

As we don’t have any idea how this algorithm change will affect our DA, there is no point whatsoever in setting a target. We will continue to work on improving our rating using the methods we’ve applied to date, and once the effects of the algorithm change are clear, we will reevaluate.

Focused content: niching down

As Lisa and I have been to over 50 countries between us, there’s a large scope of destinations we can cover on the blog. It’s tempting to cast the net as widely as we can. However, we’ve decided that it will be better at this stage of our journey to double down on the region we’ve focused on most heavily to date: South America. In particular, in the coming weeks we plan to flesh out our content on Peru and Patagonia.

This narrower focus will build our expertise on these destinations and enable us to be much more targeted with our affiliate marketing. Once better established, we can then replicate the model in other regions later.

The next month will be a particularly exciting time for reasons we can’t share yet. For now, I’ll say there’s been a pretty big development in our lives that will involve a significant lifestyle change (and in case you’re wondering, we’re not expecting a baby!). All will be told next time. Until then, it’s full speed ahead.

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Each month we report on our progress and cashflow as we attempt to build a thriving travel blogging business. This is our business report for February 2019. #blogging #incomereport #businessreport #startablog #travelblog

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