January 2019 began with a whirlwind of positivity and motivation, amid the clouds of the new year hangover. Once the dust settled, what ensued was a fairly stuttering month.
These are our stats for January, which show a mixed picture:
- We reached 9,429 page views, our highest ever (but short of our target of 10,000)
- Our visits from search engines more than doubled to 2,725
- Our Pinterest average monthly viewers dropped by nearly half to 133,000
- We had our first guest post on a major travel site published
- Our first collaboration post was published
- Our domain authority score climbed from 23 to 24 (but short of our target of 25)
While there are reasons for both concern and celebration here, being the optimistic creature I am, I would like to hone in on one statistic: our traffic from search engines has more than doubled in one month.
Why is this more important than everything else? Let’s begin…
A big step forward with SEO
In December, while we saw a big increase in overall traffic, our referrals from search engines stagnated. We put this down to a seasonal pre-Christmas slump, but with a palpable sense of uneasiness in the back of our minds. We don’t like it when the graph stops going up!
After a January revival, though, this is what our search traffic looks like now:
The needle swung in January after one specific event. In last month’s report, I made a big deal of the fact we’d secured a guest post slot on a major travel website. (We are defining ‘major travel website’ as those with a DA of higher than 50).
It turns out that our celebrations were not misplaced. Immediately after the article went live on 10th January, our DA increased and we saw a sharp increase in search traffic.
The reason this is fantastic news is that we’ve always seen SEO as the most important driver of website traffic in the long term. Every single one of the successful blog case studies we reviewed in our original competitor analysis sourced the lion’s share of their traffic from search engines, and only a small proportion from social media.
January was the first time that search engines accounted for more referrals to our site than any other source. This is a significant moment, and evidence that our SEO strategy is working.
A more focused backlink strategy
The big takeaway of our progress in January is that high-quality, authoritative backlinks from relevant platforms are clearly a recipe for success. Moving forward, we will refine our focus to prioritise obtaining more of them.
This means that we will:
- Ramp up our efforts to be featured on relevant platforms with a DA over 50;
- Significantly raise the minimum DA requirements for our guest-posting in general, in order to improve our overall backlink profile.
Our website traffic: the general picture
So, I hear you ask – if our search engine traffic has increased so much, why has our traffic barely increased overall?
Considering the fact our Pinterest average monthly viewers dropped by nearly half in January, you’d think that may be the reason. But it’s not… our traffic from Pinterest actually increased. While our pins have been seen by fewer people, they’ve been performing better after we made some design adjustments.
So what’s the answer? On the face of it, the referral sources where we’ve seen a traffic drop are Facebook and (to a lesser extent) Instagram.
Looking more closely, we can apportion the bulk of this drop to the fact we had a major spike of traffic from these platforms to a specific interview feature in December, which we haven’t been able to repeat in January. In fact, we didn’t publish any new interviews at all this month.
But let’s be honest
While our progress with SEO has been great, and the fluctuations in other traffic sources are easily explained and rectified, I don’t want to sugar-coat an up-and-down month.
We did not hit any of our three main targets for January, and we need to be honest about that. It’s the first time this has happened. Most importantly, we need to figure out why, and put it right.
The targets for January were:
- 10,000 page views and 7,000 sessions
- 200,000 average monthly viewers on Pinterest
- DA increase to 25
Let’s take them one at a time…
Page views target
I’ve already discussed how we weren’t able to replicate December’s social media traffic success in January. One way to look at this would be to say we should have recognised that the viral sharing of one article last month was a one-off, and that we shouldn’t have set our sights so high for January on the back of it.
I’d rather look at why that article was so successful, and think about how we can do it again in future.
The article in question was one of our interviews with inspiring people who have taken travel career breaks. We love doing these because they’re right on brand, and the whole reason we’re doing this in the first place.
The interviewee for that particular article happened to have a strong social media following himself, and so it attracted a lot of attention when he shared it.
Therefore, a logical way forward would be to seek out influencers who have powerful travel career break stories to tell. This is easier said than done, but it gives us something to focus on. However, this will be a smaller priority than our ongoing SEO efforts.
I should mention that we did have one notable success with social media referrals in January. Towards the end of the month we published our first ever collaboration article, a selection of the best hikes in Europe by 25 travel bloggers.
This was shared widely by all the contributors through their own platforms, which resulted in a nice traffic spike for us. We’ll look to do more of these in future (as long as they’re on brand).
Pinterest average monthly viewers target
First, let me explain what ‘average monthly viewers’ actually means. I should have probably done that before now, right?
Average monthly viewers is basically the number of times our pins have appeared on someone’s screen. Other platforms call this metric ‘impressions’. On Pinterest, this doesn’t just include our own pins from Career Gappers – it’s everything we pin.
One of the ways we’ve built our growth on Pinterest has been through engaging in groups whereby the members share each other’s pins.
This month, we’ve spent less time doing this, which means our average monthly viewers figure has dropped. But at the same time, our website traffic from Pinterest has gone up – and that’s much more important. It’s the whole reason we use Pinterest.
We’ve increased our traffic from Pinterest despite spending less time on it, by working smarter and improving the performance of individual pins through better design.
In summary, we don’t really see this as a missed target, more a side effect of a change in our approach. We will alter our Pinterest targets in future to focus specifically on website traffic; this will ensure we’re using it in the right way.
DA increase target
This is the easiest of all to explain, and the least to be worried about. After an initial surge in August, our DA score has been creeping up slowly every month.
In the knowledge that our big guest post would be published in January, we set the DA target slightly higher as we expected it to give us more of a bump. While we did increase our score one notch to 24, it stuck there until the end of the month.
As we shift our focus to obtaining high-quality backlinks, we expect to see some momentum building in our DA score over the coming weeks and months.
A trip to Malta
At the end of January we went away to Malta for a five-day travel break with Lisa’s parents. It was lovely to get away and take our foot off the pedal for a while; we mostly restricted our work on the blog to before 9am each day.
While this was mostly a leisure trip, we did gather a lot of content for the blog, which you will see in the coming weeks.
There was a little bit of business involved too. We entered a mutual collaboration with a local business based on exchange of services. We’re putting a lot of energy into making a success of this, so we can repurpose it as a case study for future partnerships.
Malta was actually our second trip of January; a week earlier we took an overnight bus down to Cornwall for a weekend to see my mum. In February we’re going to see my dad and step-mum, as well a weekend in Norwich with our friends – it’s always important to take a break and spend time with loved ones.
Email subscriptions growing
Our work on email marketing has been fairly light-touch since we produced a batch of lead magnets in October. We’ve been sending a monthly email to our subscribers, and our subscription figures have been growing steadily.
The lead magnets have been working a treat – we’re picking up new subscribers pretty much every day, whereas we were lucky to get one a week before.
As our target is to reach 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year, we’ll be taking measures to crank up progress on this in February. More on that later.
A new working space
This may seem like a footnote in the grand scheme of things, but we’ve been making a constant effort to strike a good work–life balance. Having a comfortable working environment is a big part of this.
In Tower Hamlets – the area of London where we live – we’re lucky to have a local council service called the Idea Store. This is essentially a giant library and working space that is free for the public to use. It’s fast becoming my office, and I’m finding that I am far more productive if I keep switching up my workspace.
But what about income?
I’d love to say that the money has started flowing, but we’re still not there yet. It’s small steps, but we have made some progress in January:
- We achieved the number of sales to qualify for the full Amazon Associates programme, and we’ve been accepted
- We made another sale on booking.com, taking us close the threshold to receive our first payment
The major milestone we’re aiming for, however, is to reach the traffic levels required to qualify for the advertising network Mediavine. Once we reach this, it will give us a solid base of regular income from which we can build and diversify.
This doesn’t mean we’re going to completely ignore other income streams in the meantime, though. We’re constantly reviewing our affiliate marketing set-up, and seeking ways to improve our conversions.
One focus in the coming weeks will be to begin selling travel insurance. We’ve signed up for the World Nomads affiliate scheme as our preferred partner, and will dedicate some time in February to establish a framework for it on our website.
Expenditure in January 2019
January was one of our lowest-spending months to date. Our outgoings were as follows:
- Photoshop monthly subscription: £9.98
- InDesign monthly subscription: £19.97
- ConvertKit monthly subscription (email marketing tool): £22.61
- Phone bill: £39
- Gadget insurance: £13.99
- Facebook promotion: £8.71
- Drinks in creative working space: £5
- Non-sterling transaction fees: £0.62
- TOTAL: £141.43
January’s expenditure brings our total business investment to date to £3,872.91.
Priorities and targets for February 2019
I’ve already given a strong indication in the sections above where our priorities lie in the weeks ahead. But let’s put it all together.
In February, we plan to recalibrate our efforts to focus on the areas that will bring us the most effective traffic growth. This means ramping up on SEO and introducing a specific target for search engine traffic, while maintaining a view of the overall picture.
Our targets for the month are:
- 9,000 page views and 6,000 sessions
- 2,800 referrals from search engines (100 per day)
- 750 referrals from Pinterest
- DA increase to 25
Wait… why is the overall traffic target *less* than what we achieved in January, I hear you ask?
Remember, of course, that February has only 28 days, and so we’re still targeting a daily increase. But we’re also anticipating February as a month of groundwork in which we won’t see huge growth. Instead, we’ll be laying the foundations for rapid, sustained progress in the run-up to summer.
I haven’t included a specific target for email subscriptions in February, but it is firmly on our radar. As the lead magnet strategy has been effective in bringing new subscribers, we will create another big batch of them to use, tailored to specific articles. We’ll look at introducing a subscription target next month once this is in place.
Note: I said in last month’s report that we would switch in January to using Google Analytics for reporting on our data. While we’ve started making this transition, we’re still using WordPress for this month’s statistics, as I noticed some discrepancies in our Google Analytics data that need to be investigated to ensure we are reporting accurately.
The 7-day travel blogger challenge
In February I will be participating in the Travel Bloggers Club 7-day blogging challenge along with 19 of my fellow travel bloggers. I love being part of this community, which I joined over a year ago now, when I was just beginning to take blogging seriously. It’s been a fantastic way to connect with other bloggers and support one another in achieving our goals.
The challenge begins on Monday 4th February, and idea is simple: publish a new or updated blog post every day for a whole week.
This will be an opportunity to get through some of the large backlog of content we have planned. By focusing these efforts into a single week during February, I will clear time afterwards to work on the other priorities I’ve outlined above.
I look forward to the challenge, and to sharing the experience with my fabulous travel blogging peers. Here are the other people taking part – they’re doing some fantastic work, so check them out:
- A World In Reach
- Diana’s Healthy Living
- Five Family Adventures
- Hello Yeshi
- La Vida Belle
- Musings and Adventures
- Namaste Solo Travels
- Nina Out and About
- She Roams About
- The Travel Bunny
- Why Not Ju
Finally: January marked the beginning of another journey. I took my first two Spanish classes! I’m in a wonderful focused group of three people with an excellent tutor at Happy Languages in London.
In the first lesson, I was fascinated to discover that the Spanish words for ‘career’ and ‘race’ are the same – carrera. This opens up a whole new world of branding opportunity if we ever launch Career Gappers in Spanish…
Is it time for you to take a break from the race?
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