Every blogger knows that you have good days and bad days. Moments of inspiration, others of despair. Times when you feel invincible, and times when you feel like what you’re trying to achieve is just impossible, and your workload insurmountable.
At the end of October, we’re feeling a bit of everything at once. Blogging is HARD WORK. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
On paper, it looks like we’ve had a good month. Here are some of the highlights:
- We achieved 5,763 page views, breaking our record once again, and exceeding our target of 5,000
- Our traffic specifically from search engines has more than doubled
- Our Pinterest average monthly viewers figure has exceeded 100,000
- Our website domain authority has grown from 19 to 21
- We made our first batch of Booking.com affiliate sales
- We reached the top page of Google search results for a cornerstone article published in September
So, why are we feeling like we’re hitting a brick wall?
Let’s take a step back for a moment. When we arrived back in the UK five months ago from our travel career break, we envisioned that by the end of the year, our monthly traffic would be in the tens of thousands, and we would be well on the way to establishing solid income streams.
This wasn’t just a speculative dream; we did the research and produced a business plan outlining how we would achieve it.
And nor has it been a failure. Our stats continue to move in the right direction. But, as you might expect with starting a new business, there have been unexpected challenges.
Taking the decision to rebrand the blog in July meant that we were essentially reset to zero three months ago. I have no doubt that it was the right decision, but it has meant rebuilding from the ground up. Postponing short-term gains in favour of long-term sustainability.
I never doubted that we would be able to build an engaged audience and drive traffic to our website. Both Lisa and I have been doing that in our professions for years. But monetising it is a different story.
In particular, we are struggling to get our affiliate marketing income off the ground. After the excitement of our first sale in last month’s business report, we have struggled to build any further momentum.
So, what are we going to do about it? Give up?
I’ll come onto our plan of action, but first, let’s take a look at the month’s progress in a little more detail.
Let’s get this out of the way… Instagram sucks
As I did in the last report, I’ll get this month’s big downsides out of the way first. Better to end on a high, right?
While there’s a lot for us to be pleased about in the list of achievements above, there is one glaring omission: Instagram.
In September we saw strong growth in our Instagram follower base from 1,216 to 1,602, which prompted us to elevate our October target to 2,000. And then… we plateaued.
We started off reasonably well, reaching 1,700 within the first week, but then watched in horror as the figure slid back down. We weren’t doing anything wildly differently, so it was difficult to pinpoint a reason for the slump.
After discussing the situation with other bloggers, it seemed that we were not alone. Instagram has been making efforts to clear the platform of bots, and many accounts have seen their followings decline, or at best stagnate, as a result.
We staged a minor recovery, and ended the month on 1,725. A long way off our target, but at least we’ve seen some growth.
And yet, here’s the thing… we hate Instagram. It’s getting harder and harder to find genuine, original content among the noise of narcissism, hedonism and fake filters. This article by Hyperallergic on the alarming homogeneity of Instagram travel photos perfectly sums up the unfortunate direction that it’s taking.
We see it as a necessary evil to grow a presence on Instagram so that we have a greater arsenal for securing brand partnerships later on. But we’re going to be assessing the way we use the platform, and the place it occupies in our business strategy.
For now we will continue to work on it, but it might be that other platforms have a bigger potential for connecting with our target audience. (Career gappers – um – LinkedIn?) Watch this space.
Email marketing: laying the foundations
Last month I stated that we would take our foot off the gas on content production in October and prioritise email marketing and SEO. That’s exactly what we’ve done.
On the email marketing front, we’ve been working hard to produce ‘lead magnets’ (or ‘content upgrades’ as they are sometimes known). These are free giveaways that readers can access by signing up to our email list.
So far we’ve produced content for nine of these, of which four are live already. This includes a series of ‘brief guides’ on travel destinations, as well as travel planning resources. At the same time, we have reviewed our email welcome journey for new subscribers and made some adjustments.
It’s early days and the lead magnets haven’t been live for long, but we are seeing the subscriptions begin to roll in. Our email open rate and click through rate are also well above average, at 53.15% and 5.91% respectively.
Website traffic growth: momentum gathers pace
As I already stated at the beginning of the article, in October we broke the 5,000 page views barrier for the first time. This continues our positive month-on-month growth trend, as you can see in the graph below:
Our total figure of 5,763 page views in October is an increase of 24.93% from 4,613 in September, and not far off double August’s total of 3,040. Our target for the month was 5,000, so we’re very pleased with this.
SEO efforts beginning to show fruit
The volume of traffic coming specifically from search engines is showing an even starker increase. In October we reached 857, more than double September’s total of 418:
We have placed SEO at the heart of our content strategy, and our efforts are beginning to return results. In particular, several of our articles on Patagonia – which we published mostly over August and September – have reached the first page of results on Google. Our cornerstone Patagonia itinerary and travel guide is ranking on page one for ‘Patagonia itinerary’.
As we continue to build backlinks, mainly by guest posting on other blogs, we have increased our domain authority (DA) score another couple of notches from 19 to 21.
At the same time, we expended a lot of effort in October revisiting old articles and improving their SEO construction.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but this is very promising progress. SEO appears overwhelming at first as there is so much to learn, and it can feel daunting to compete with established blogs and authoritative websites. But we’re beginning to see that if you put the work in, you reap the rewards.
Content production: keeping the cogs turning
While content production has taken a back seat throughout October, we’ve still kept the blog ticking along with new articles. We published seven new articles in total during the month.
This focused on completing our work on Bolivia, culminating in our Bolivia itinerary and travel guide, which went live on 23 October.
We’ve also had two new guest posts published on other blogs during October, and submitted more that will go live next month.
If Instagram has been a disappointment in October, Pinterest has been the exact opposite. Our target for the month was to reach 50,000 average monthly viewers. We’ve smashed this, peaking at slightly over 100,000.
Pinterest contributed 562 (nearly 10%) of our website page views in October. In fact, more than half of our all-time referrals from Pinterest came during this month.
This growth has been driven by a few simple strategies we’ve implemented:
- Revisiting old content on our website and creating new pins where we didn’t have any
- Joining and engaging with group boards
- Using Tailwind to schedule pins
- Collaborating with other travel bloggers to support one another’s content
Income and expenditure
Now it’s time to address the subject I touched upon at the beginning of the article.
First of all, I’ll make one thing clear: all of our projected income streams are closely tied to website traffic volume. As our page view stats grow higher, so will our earning power, and at this stage we don’t expect to be earning bucketloads.
But it’s not quite as simple as “build traffic and watch the money flow in”. We need to be building our earning capacity in a smart way, and our setup at the moment is far from satisfactory.
We’re getting plenty of clicks on our Amazon affiliate links, but we’re not seeing conversions. We didn’t make a single sale on Amazon in October.
So, what’s the answer? The problem appears to be that we are not capturing users at the right stage of their buying journey. We’re working to put this right by improving our understanding of user intent, and building user journeys that lead towards conversions.
I’ve taken time to work through the relevant sections of the Adventure In You Blogging Fast Lane course to start fixing the problem. In November, we will begin to craft articles geared towards making affiliate sales. We are not expecting instant results; just like SEO, it will take time to get it right and see the effects. But I am sure we will get there.
Income in October 2018
It hasn’t been all doom and gloom on the affiliate marketing front. We did manage to make our first batch of commission on the Booking.com affiliate programme. In total we referred eight accommodation bookings during the month, amounting to €88.38 (£78.34) commission for us.
Seven of these bookings appear to be a single person, who booked accommodation for their entire Patagonia trip after reading our itinerary article.
This commission, however, is not included in this month’s income, as we won’t receive the payment until the booking has been finalised (i.e., the person doesn’t cancel their stay).
Our sole received income in October was a fee of $30 (£23.47) for one of the guest posts we contributed.
Similarly to last month, we did make some significant savings as well. In exchange for photography services and a feature spot in an article, we received free accommodation for four nights at a guest house in Vilnius. In total, this saved us around £120.
Expenditure in October 2018
October has been, by far, our leanest month to date in terms of business expenditure. These were our outgoings during the month:
- Photoshop monthly subscription: £9.98
- InDesign monthly subscription: £19.97
- ConvertKit monthly subscription (email marketing tool): £22.14
- Phone bill: £39
- Gadget insurance: £13.99
- Non-sterling transaction fees: £0.60
- TOTAL: £105.68
As such, it is the first time we have operated on general running costs alone. The landmark milestone of a month in which our income outstrips our expenditure is looming closer.
October’s expenditure brings our total business investment to date to £3,288.34.
Priorities and targets for November 2018
In November, we plan to focus the lion’s share of our efforts on four key priorities:
- Expanding our email marketing activities
- Improving our affiliate marketing setup
- Building backlinks to specific articles
- Growing our Pinterest reach
While brand partnerships are not yet a priority focus, we expect them to provide a core source of income further down the line. In addition to our key priorities, this month we will make our first approaches for brand partnerships so we can begin to build a portfolio.
I will be attending the World Travel Market (WTM) international travel trade show in London on 5–7 November, which will be an opportunity to network with brands and tourism boards, and build contacts for potential future partnerships.
Targets for traffic and social media
While our targets to date have been ambitious and we’ve been successful in achieving them, we are approaching November with some caution.
It’s tempting to keep raising the bar higher on website traffic, but this would risk detracting from the month’s priorities outlined above. We also need to consider external factors out of our control; November is not a good month in terms of seasonality for travel content.
With this in mind, we’re looking to consolidate our recent success and grow steadily in November:
- 6,000 website page views
- 150,000 average monthly viewers on Pinterest
- 1,800 Instagram followers
These are realistic targets to aim for while focusing on building a more solid foundation for email communication and income generation. Once again, it’s time to get to work.