A month ago, there was a slightly downbeat tone in our October blogger business report. I am glad to say we’ve turned that around. So strap in, get ready and read on for some blogging positivity. Well… with a few minor grumbles thrown in as well.
I’ll begin, as usual, with this month’s highlights:
- We reached 7,345 monthly page views, smashing our target of 6,000
- Our traffic from search engines has grown by 49% and exceeded 1,000 page views for the first time
- The total traffic to one article (published in September) surpassed 1,000 page views during November
- Our Pinterest average monthly viewers figure reached 152,200, exceeding our target of 150,000
- Our domain authority score (DA) has increased another notch from 21 to 22
- We have established contact with several tourism boards in our countries of focus
On paper, the positive progress with website traffic is our main reason to be cheerful. As long as this figure keeps growing, we are heading towards success.
However, that wasn’t what was getting us down last month. Our traffic has been on a constant upwards curve since we launched Career Gappers in July.
The October blues was about the struggle to get our income streams off the ground. So, let’s talk about that first, and, in particular, how we’ve gotten past the stress of it.
Playing the long game
It’s now been six months (!) since we returned from our travel career break. This fledgling period of our business has been a slow realisation that building a profitable travel blog in 2018 doesn’t happen overnight.
Nor does it happen in a few months, unless a very particular series of circumstances work in your favour. (For example, you find a niche you are passionate about, it’s highly monetisable, you have a captive audience and you’re already familiar with lots of products and services you can sell as an affiliate. And maybe you’re incredibly good-looking as well.)
In the last month we have accepted that it’s just going to take longer than we expected to start making regular income.
This moment of acceptance is both a relief and an opportunity.
It’s a relief because we’re not going to worry about the fact that we haven’t made any income in November, or that we’re not likely to in December either. We’re just happy that we are building an audience and moving in the right direction.
It’s an opportunity because we can commit 100% to making decisions that are solely in the long-term interests of the business.
So, rather than scrambling around now to try and get some sponsored posts or write off-brand affiliate sales articles to make a few bucks, we can keep focusing on building our brand, traffic, DA and network of contacts.
We are lucky to be in a position where we have the time to do this. In November, Lisa was awarded a permanent contract for her job at Diabetes UK. This means that we have a stable income to support our efforts with the blogging business, and we can stay in London indefinitely.
Successful influencers should be honest
As a travel blogger striving to get a business moving, it doesn’t help that there are so many false messages out there about how easy it will be.
I’m targeted by so many adverts for courses, webinars, books and conferences that promise to make me rich quickly. If you’re an aspiring blogger reading this, it will probably sound familiar.
Easy hacks to make your website traffic explode! Ten steps to your next 20,000 Instagram followers! How you can make $10,000 a month blogging in six months!
I’ve been suspicious of these kind of adverts from the beginning, and now I’ve learned to just roll my eyes at them.
There are no easy hacks. Anything that involves cutting corners is likely to be a business killer in the long term.
Many of the people selling these resources had their initial success several years ago when it was much easier to build an online business. The competition is so much more fierce now than even 12 months ago.
It’s not impossible, and I have every confidence that we’ll make a success of it. But to tell anyone it’s easy, or quick, or both, is just plainly disingenuous – and these people know it.
The path to monetisation
The business plan we wrote in June (and have since refined) set out our strategy for how we will monetise Career Gappers. The basic framework of this hasn’t changed.
We are, though, still figuring out the best ways to use the traditional blog monetisation methods while remaining true to our brand and values.
Display advertising is perhaps the most straightforward. It is directly linked to the volume of traffic we can generate. Once we reach 25,000 monthly sessions (which are different to page views, more on that below) we will be eligible to apply for the advertising network Mediavine. For many bloggers, this is a major milestone in stepping towards full-time income.
Before we reach the required threshold for Mediavine, there are other advertising options we can explore. We’re looking into this, and will likely begin featuring adverts on the site at the beginning of 2019.
Affiliate marketing is a trickier proposition, as I discussed in last month’s report. The challenge for us is to find affiliate partnerships that work, and to write content targeted at people who are in buying mode. We are very extremely concerned about maintaining the integrity of our content, so we are beginning to experiment cautiously.
Selling our own products, such as an e-book or toolkit, is something we are still considering, but it’s very much on the backburner for now.
In the long term, we see brand partnerships as having the greatest potential for income generation. Once we have built a loyal and engaged community of people who want to take travel career breaks, we will have a lot to offer brands and tourism boards.
WTM London: building relationships
At the beginning of November, I attended the World Travel Market (WTM), a huge international travel trade show at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in London.
I went along for two days having obtained a free media pass. This was a great chance to network and make contacts with tourist boards and travel companies who may be open to working with us in future.
This thing was huge. I spent the first day alone doing the rounds at the South America section.
The most exciting outcome of this was the exchanges I had with the Chilean tourist board. I had discussions with different representatives of Chilean Patagonia, who were very interested in following what we are doing.
Over the two days I was also able to establish contact with tourism representatives of several countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Malta, Montenegro, Myanmar, Slovenia, Norway, Poland and Vietnam.
We’re not sufficiently established yet to secure serious partnerships with these organisations, but it’s a great step at this stage to connect and make them aware of us.
What kind of blogger gets a ‘yes’ the first time they ever pitch a brand partnership? Nobody, ever. This is the first step in a long journey. We will stay in touch with these guys and make sure they notice our progress as we grow.
Connecting with a great sabbatical advocate
In the last few weeks, while doing research into career breaks, I came across a website called yourSABBATICAL. The site, based in the USA, was created by the mother-daughter team of Barbara and Elizabeth Pagano to promote the benefits of sabbaticals, and support businesses in implementing programmes.
While it hasn’t been active for a while, I found a lot of incredibly useful and inspirational content on yourSABBATICAL. I decided to get in touch with the creators. I was thrilled to get an email back from Barbara the next day, and she suggested that we speak.
At the very end of the month – literally a couple of hours ago as I write this – I had a very uplifting Skype conversation with Barbara. She told me about the background of yourSABBATICAL, and suggested some resources and platforms that may be of use to us. We’re going to stay in touch.
Website traffic: onwards and upwards
November has seen our website traffic levels raised another few notches. We had set a cautious target of 6,000 page views for the month, having reached 5,763 in October, but with plans to spread efforts across other priorities in November.
We’ve not only exceeded this target, but also broken the 7,000 barrier as well. At the end of the month, we amassed 7,345 page views in total.
There is one caveat to declare here. We ran a small paid Facebook promotion (£30) of an article in the middle of the month. Judging by our analytics, this gave us an extra 464 page views. Even so, we would have comfortably exceeded our target without this.
Search traffic continues to rise
One of the main drivers of our continued traffic growth is our SEO strategy. The traffic we received directly from search engines in November reached 1,274, a month-on-month increase of nearly 50%:
Our top-performing article, which is ranking on page one of Google results for our target keyword, has become our first post to exceed 1,000 page views.
We slowed down our efforts to build backlinks a little in November, but we’ve still seen our DA score increase another notch, from 21 to 22.
A steady month for writing
Despite the time out to attend WTM and a long weekend trip to see our friends in Glasgow, we still managed to produce plenty of new content in November. In total we published 11 new articles, and two more are nearly ready to go.
Our new articles include:
- Our cornerstone article for Chile, a two-week itinerary
- A feature with a former teacher who started her own business after taking a travel career break, the first in a new series of interviews
- Our recommendations on practical gifts for travellers, an affiliate article (which hasn’t performed too well yet)
On top of the new articles, we also published a page explaining career gaps, which was a significant piece of work to put together.
We haven’t been able to spare the time to write any more guest posts for other sites, although some we previously submitted were published. We plan to pick this up again in December as a priority.
Email marketing: wheels in motion
After our efforts in October to lay the foundations of our email marketing machine, the wheels have begun to turn.
In November we sent out our first proper email newsletter. We’ll continue these monthly for the time being, with a view to increasing the frequency in future.
We also completed and implemented another lead magnet, and it’s our favourite of all: a career break travel planner. We’re giving this away to readers of relevant articles.
These efforts have seen our email subscribers grow from 96 to 136 in November. That’s an increase of 41.7%, albeit starting from a low base.
Social media: a Pinterest renovation
Our target of reaching 150,000 average monthly Pinterest viewers in November was an ambitious one, spurred by our rapid progress in October.
It didn’t start too well. For the first couple of weeks our figures stagnated, hovering around the 100,000 mark. Lisa wasn’t happy about this, and, as she does, decided to take action.
Around the middle of the month, Lisa set our other social media activities aside and commenced a major reorganisation of our Pinterest boards, having identified this as a potential source of the problem.
In doing this, we assumed we were sacrificing the month’s target, as the downtime would mean a dip in our already-stagnating viewership.
But then, within a couple of days of Lisa’s board reorganisation, things started to move. The figures started to go up again! Just in time, we crept just above our target to 152,200 average monthly viewers.
Instagram: begone with you!
While Pinterest continues to delight us, Instagram still brings nothing but woe. This month we couldn’t even hit our meagre target of 1,800 followers, having started the month on 1,725. We limped to 1,778 by the end of the month.
Granted, we haven’t given it nearly as much attention as other areas, which we said last month would be the case. But it’s still a frustration.
We will continue to maintain a presence on Instagram, but we’re scaling the resources we’re allocating it down to a minimum for the foreseeable future.
In the new year, we plan to divert our attention to building a community on LinkedIn. This is a much better fit for our business model than Instagram, and it will give us something different to offer brand partners in future.
Income and expenditure
This section will be quick and easy to report, as I’ve already indicated above. We didn’t make any income in November. We did make an affiliate sale on Amazon, but we don’t get paid for that until we reach a threshold of $100.
Expenditure in November 2018
November was another low-cost month. Our outgoings were as follows:
- SEO: The Easy Way by Make Traffic Happen: £16.42 (Black Friday deal)
- 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
- Drinks in working spaces: £9.10
- Transport for WTM London: £4.90
- Non-sterling transaction fees: £1.07
- TOTAL: £137.16
Everything here is general running costs, except for my transport for WTM, and the Make Traffic Happen e-book, which we bought on a Black Friday deal.
I’m excited about getting started on that – it’s by the same guys who hosted the workshop I attended in the Czech Republic back in July. Without their help, we wouldn’t be making the progress we are on SEO.
The ‘drinks in working spaces’ came from a day when I had to take our car out for its MOT. For anyone reading this outside the UK, this is an annual test that your car has to undergo to check that it’s safe for the road. It’s usually an expensive business. It cost us nearly three times the amount of our month’s business costs to get our little wagon passed for another year.
We’re bracing for an increase to our running costs in the coming months. Any fall in the pound as a result of Brexit will negatively affect us. Many of the services we use (such as ConvertKit and Tailwind) are charged in dollars, so if the pound drops again we’ll have to pay more.
November’s expenditure brings our total business investment to date to £3,425.50.
Priorities and targets for December 2018
In December, we have three very clear priorities:
- Pitch guest articles to high-authority external platforms
- Identify and make initial contact with at least ten potential brand partners for 2019
- Complete our core South America content
This will take us into the new year in a very exciting position to grow the business. Towards the end of the month, we will also hold a mini-review of our objectives for 2019.
I will continue to make time for working through Adventure In You’s Blogging Fast Lane course and the Make Traffic Happen e-book.
Targets for traffic and social media
We are aiming higher once again for our website traffic in December. Meanwhile, we will be happy to maintain our Pinterest performance at the current level while focusing on the priorities outlined above:
- 8,000 website page views
- 150,000 average monthly viewers on Pinterest
December will be the last month we use page views as the sole measurement for website traffic. From January 2019, we will also measure and set targets for sessions.
When someone visits our site, that counts as a session. If they visit three different pages, then we get three page views from that one session. If the same person comes back to the site later, that’s a new session – it doesn’t matter that they already visited. Google explains more about this, and other terminology, here.
In January we will also switch from using WordPress to Google for analytics.
We’ve stopped setting targets for Instagram, for the reasons I have already explained. In the new year we will replace this with two new measurements: email subscriptions, and another relating to LinkedIn once we have established a strategy.
Travel Bloggers Club meetup in London
In mid-December, the first ever meetup of the Travel Bloggers Club is taking place in London. Lisa and I are working with the group’s creator to organise the event.
The Travel Bloggers Club, a Facebook group, is a fantastic community that enables travel bloggers to connect and support one another. Not only has it been instrumental in helping us to grow Career Gappers, we’ve made some great friends too. I’ve been volunteering as a group admin for the last few weeks.
In November we saw several of the group’s members at WTM, and then later in the month we went out for drinks with Mark and Kylee of These Foreign Roads. We always come away from hangouts with other bloggers feeling positive and motivated. Bring on the London meetup!
The next time I report on our progress, it will be 1 January 2019. Have a great festive season folks, and we’ll see you on the other side.