When you’re trying to build a startup business with no staff and limited funds to fall back on, life events can slow you down. For the past few weeks, the blog has taken a bit of a backseat to bigger priorities. But despite a significant reduction in working hours, our positive progress has not wavered – and perhaps there’s a lesson about work/life balance we should take from that. As such, this month’s business report takes a slightly different angle to previous ones.
Before getting into all of that, true to form, here are our headline achievements for the month:
- In March we reached 11,692 page views, well beyond our target of 10,000
- Our referrals from search engines reached 5,914, smashing our target of 4,000 by almost 50%
- We had 1,339 referrals from Pinterest, exceeding our target of 1,000
- Our domain authority (DA) climbed from 25 to 30
- We’ve been commissioned to write a guest article for a major travel website with a DA of 82
- We have discovered a new income stream and come the closest yet to making a monthly profit
At the end of February’s report, I said: “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.”
After a whirlwind of a month I can now reveal…
The big news: we’ve moved out of London!
To be more precise, we’ve moved to Lincoln. It’s the city where Lisa grew up, and where her close family still live.
For our readers outside the UK: Lincoln is about 250 kilometres north of London in an area of England called the East Midlands. It’s a beautiful, historic city; its cathedral is the fourth-biggest in the UK and was once the tallest building in the world, while Lincoln Castle is home to one of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta, an 800-year-old charter of rights that provided the basis for English law.
So, why have we moved? We love London, it’s an amazing city, but wow, it’s an expensive place to live. Not least for a couple depending on a single salary while trying to start a business.
We weren’t living beyond our means, but our situation meant that we couldn’t really enjoy the benefits of living in London. With limited disposable income, we couldn’t really go out to eat, see bands, go to the theatre, or even to the pub. And we were paying crazy money for a room in a small shared flat.
All of this made us ask, what was the point? The only thing tying us to London was Lisa’s job.
Lincoln was the obvious choice because we already had family and friends there. So a few weeks ago, we made the decision to go for it, but with no pressure. We didn’t have to move straight away – we could wait until the right job opportunity came up for Lisa.
And then it came. She applied for one job. Got an interview. Got the job. On the same salary as her London job too, which meant that we’d be able to get a place of our own and still have a lot more disposable income than we did in London.
I write this two days after we got the keys to our new flat. It’s all happened very quickly, but we’re excited and ready for another new adventure.
A busy month all round
Moving house wasn’t the only distraction in March. I’ve been doing a bit of freelancing and online side-hustle to bring in some extra money. We also took a day trip to Cologne in Germany to celebrate my birthday, and we’ve been putting the final touches to our Italy road trip plans for April.
Following the chaotic events of Brexit has also been time-consuming. I was among the million+ people marching in London for a People’s Vote, and I’ve been editing an article for a major UK magazine.
Taking all of this into account, my time spent on the blog in March was about 50–70% of my usual capacity, and Lisa hasn’t been able to do much at all outside of her work hours. This meant that we needed to have razor-sharp focus and make optimal use of minimal time.
I built a workplan for March to make sure we were focusing our time on the right things. The four main points of this were:
- Hone in our destination-based content on Peru and Patagonia. Rather than spreading ourselves thinly over various parts of the world, we felt it would be better build our repertoire and expertise around the two places for which we already had a strong foundation.
- Focus our affiliate marketing on two programmes with the highest earning potential.
- Drastically cut down our time spent promoting content via Facebook sharing groups, which we expected to create a short-term traffic downturn but free up time to build more sustainable sources
- Raise the criteria for writing guest posts to relevant, high-authority platforms exclusively
We’re pretty pleased with the results of this more focused approach…
Record website traffic again
We set a modest target to maintain March’s website traffic at the same or slightly lower levels as February, knowing that we would have limited time and that we wouldn’t be able to rely on the usual boost from Facebook sharing groups.
Much to our surprise, however, our traffic continued to grow, resulting in another record and one of our biggest monthly increases, as you can see in the graph below:
As we expected, our referrals from Facebook dropped – almost by half, in fact. But a continued surge in search engine traffic coupled with an unexpected 22% rise in Pinterest referrals more than made up for this.
We had more referrals from search engines in March than in the whole of 2018:
There may be a few factors at play here. Seasonality is one, as December–February is not typically a good time for travel blog traffic (although it is the high season in Patagonia).
But the emphasis we’ve been placing on SEO is surely at the heart of this progress. Several months of building optimised, high-quality content and a good backlink profile is translating into results.
We didn’t produce much new content in March; just six new articles, which is the least we’ve published in a single month. This goes to show that growing traffic isn’t about churning out new content. Quality and focus are much more important than quantity.
Domain authority on the march
When we launched the new Career Gappers domain back in July 2018, I did a bit of research into how long it might take us to grow our domain authority (DA). Opinions differed, but the general ballpark was that it would take somewhere between one and two years to reach DA 30.
We raced to DA 20 within three months, but then, as expected, it slowed down. DA is an exponential metric, so the higher you get, the harder it is to grow further.
At the end of February we had reached DA 25, and a couple of days later 26. Then, on 5th March, Moz launched its highly anticipated algorithm update to the metric, with bloggers and digital marketers looking on nervously. On the day, many bloggers saw drastic changes to their DA, both positive and negative. We were very happy to see ours jump up a couple of notches to 28.
A few days later we climbed again to 29, and then right at the end of the month, after a few more guest posts went live, we made it to 30.
This progress looks set to continue. We’ve been given a paid commission to write a guest article for a major travel website with a DA of 82, and we have more guest posts set to go live.
Domain authority is only a guide; Google pays no attention to it. But it’s a good indicator of how well you can expect to perform in search engines, and which keywords are realistic to target. Joining the DA 30 club is another big milestone that we’re very pleased to have under our belt.
We changed very little about our approach to Pinterest in March. We’ve simply focused on creating good pin designs, reviewing our performance and engaging with group boards.
Although we’ve reduced our time on Pinterest, our referrals have grown:
Issues with transitioning to Google Analytics
I have mentioned in recent business reports how we are planning to transition from WordPress Jetpack to Google Analytics for measuring our website traffic. Google Analytics is seen as a much more accurate measure, and is used as a reference by advertising networks like Mediavine.
We’ve had Google Analytics set up for a few months now and we’re already using it as our primary tool for analysing traffic data. But for now, we’re still reporting on Jetpack, as there appears to be a problem with our traffic data.
It’s well known that Jetpack and Analytics use different algorithms to measure traffic, and that there are disparities between the two. But we’ve been seeing disparities that make very little sense, and we need to investigate them before we report fully from Analytics.
For example, in March we saw a big spike in traffic to an article from Facebook, which was clocked in Jetpack but not Analytics. Also, while our traffic growth has shown to be steady month-on-month in Jetpack, it has been fluctuating quite wildly in Analytics. Something isn’t right.
We’re determined to get to the bottom of this as soon as we can, and this means hiring someone who knows more than we do about Google Analytics to take a look.
This month we took another step towards our first big monetisation target, the threshold of 25,000 monthly sessions to apply for Mediavine. If our search engine traffic continues to grow at its current trajectory then we could make it within three months.
Last month I said that we would explore alternative advertising networks with lower traffic thresholds to join in the meantime. We’ve made limited progress on this (it’s one of the things that has fallen by the wayside amid March’s distractions), but our initial research suggests that alternative networks generally offer less flexibility and may not yield a good enough return to warrant the effort. Instead, for now, we are trying out some affiliate banner adverts placed strategically into high-traffic articles.
Affiliate marketing: sharpening our focus
In March we embarked on a more targeted approach to affiliate marketing, which I outlined in last month’s business report. Similar to how we are focusing our destination content on two specific regions, we are prioritising two affiliate programmes.
The programmes we have selected fit two specific criteria: they are highly relevant to our brand, and they are high-value earners (meaning that a single sale makes a significant amount of money).
For each of the the two programmes we have created dedicated content and integrated them into our existing articles where appropriate. It’s early days, but we’ve already had nearly 100 clicks on our affiliate links across the two programmes. Once we start converting this into sales, we’ll be in business.
Looking at the broader spread of affiliate programmes, we took more positive steps this month. We made 16 sales in total (8 on Amazon, 4 on Hostelworld, 4 on Booking.com) which is a big increase from 4 sales in February. This doesn’t add up to a lot of commission yet, but as our traffic grows and we optimise our articles for sales, we will continue to move in the right direction.
Selling images: a new source of income?
A couple of weeks ago we accidentally stumbled across a new potential source of income. Lisa received an email from an organisation in New Zealand who had seen one of our photos on her Flickr account, and wanted to use it in a publication.
They offered to pay 100 NZ dollars (about £52) to use the photo, and we accepted. A nice and unexpected little boost for the month! It’s also prompted us to begin looking into the possibility of selling our travel photos through a service like Shutterstock.
It’s a “watch this space” for now, but we’re hopeful this can bring in some extra funds over the next few months.
After a slowdown in email signups in February, things picked up again in March. We acquired 23 new subscribers, taking our total to 199. While that’s nice, these are still very small numbers in relation to where we want to be.
In January’s business report I stated that our target is to reach 1,000 by the end of the year. We clearly won’t achieve that on our current trajectory. Our website design and user journeys will need to work a lot harder if we want to achieve a four-figure subscription list. With this in mind, we’re fast coming to the conclusion that it’s time for a makeover.
At the moment, our website homepage functions primarily as a navigation point, highlighting featured content and recent posts. This isn’t really necessary when SEO is our main driver of traffic, as most users arrive directly on the article they’re looking for rather than the home page.
So, in the next few weeks, we’re planning to explore new design themes to refocus our homepage on building a community and reinforcing our brand’s core message. We aim to have a new design live by the middle of the year.
Income and expenditure in March 2019
March was our lowest-spending month to date. This, combined with the £52 we brought in through the photo sale, means we came the closest yet to turning a monthly profit.
Our outgoings were as follows:
- Photoshop monthly subscription: £9.98
- InDesign monthly subscription: £19.97
- ConvertKit monthly subscription (email marketing tool): £21.97
- Phone bill: £39
- Gadget insurance: £13.99
- Non-sterling transaction fees: £0.60
- TOTAL: £105.51
Therefore, our overall profit/loss for March was -£52.91. With an article commission about to come in and affiliate sales getting closer to payout, April could be the month we finally cross into the black.
March’s expenditure brings our total business investment to date to £4,370.96. We will likely reach the £5,000 mark in June/July.
Priorities and targets for April 2019
Just as March was disrupted by moving to a new city, April isn’t going to be a smooth month for blogging either. That’s because we’ll be spending half of it on the road. On 13th April, we’re heading to Italy for a 15-day road trip.
Although we’ll be using much of the trip to gather blog content, it’s not going to be business as usual. We’ll be doing very little of our typical day-to-day work while we’re away.
This shouldn’t affect our website traffic too badly, as we’ve now got a steady stream coming in from search engines. But at the same time, we can’t set our sights too high for growth this month. These are our targets for April:
- 12,500 page views
- 7,000 referrals from search engines
- 1,250 referrals from Pinterest
Once we start getting sales on the board with the high-value affiliate programmes we set up in March, we will introduce additional targets for monetisation.
Italy road trip
We’ve put a lot of work into getting some partnerships in place for our Italy road trip. We’re going to be working with a range of local businesses to produce content, including city pass schemes, wineries and campsites.
In return we’re getting a lot of complementary services on our trip, and our itinerary is jam-packed with our favourite things. As always, we can’t wait to be on the road again.
Reflecting on our work/life balance
I began this report by saying how we have managed to achieve all our targets this month and more, despite a big cutdown in our working hours.
I’ll finish with a few words on what we can take away from this. And the most important thing is focus. We could spend every waking hour of the day on the blog, but it would be futile if we weren’t doing the right things. We would just tire ourselves out in the process and produce suboptimal work.
What I’ve found this month is that by having smaller pockets of time to devote to the blog, I’ve been forced to focus on the things that matter the most, and cut out the less important tasks. This has translated into better results. And if that’s the outcome when the remainder of our time was absorbed by a house move, imagine how effective we could be if we dedicated our downtime to less stressful things?
When the fog clears from our house move and the Italy road trip, we need to maintain our clear focus. And we can do that without overworking. Our new living environment is an opportunity to look after ourselves better, and to organise our time in a way that will produce our best work, not the most work.
A new chapter has begun. Let’s make it a good one.