Blogging

Blogging business report: April–June 2019

Introducing a new quarterly format for our regular reports as we attempt to grow a successful blogging business.

It’s hard to believe that we’re half way through 2019 already. Honestly, where does the time go? It’s also nearly a whole year since we launched Career Gappers, so there is a lot to reflect on. We are proud of the progress we have made – not least another record month for website traffic in June 2019 – but this is still only the beginning.

At the end of June we took a week’s break in France with a group of friends for a wedding. I didn’t even open my laptop for a whole week! Anyone who works online should try this, seriously. It was so refreshing to be disconnected for a while, and simply enjoy great company and beautiful surroundings. We’re now back in the UK, refreshed and revitalised, and ready to ace the second half of the year. So let’s get started…

New quarterly report format

I mentioned in last month’s report that we would be shifting to a slightly different format going forwards. Rather than publish reports every month, we will now spread them out across the year into four quarterly reports.

This report – the one you’re reading now – will serve as a transition from the old format to the new. As we’ve already reported on our progress in April and May, here I will focus mainly on June’s activities. At the same time, we’ll begin to look at our performance and trends over a wider period.

Moving to quarterly reporting will free up more of my time to focus on blogging. We remain strong believers in evaluation and transparency, but a whole day out of every month to collate and write a report is a little too much when we have such limited resources.

Another benefit we hope to gain from reporting quarterly instead of monthly is that it will encourage us to think of the bigger picture when setting targets and working towards them. Monthly traffic targets have been helpful, and we’ve grown very well. But sometimes we’ve found ourselves chasing to try and hit a target when that’s not necessarily the best thing for the business in the long term.

Using longer periods will enable us to step back and think more strategically when we have inevitable slowdowns, rather than chasing our tails. That can only be a good thing.

Analysing our traffic: a change of tools and metrics

I have outlined in previous reports that we have been intending for some time to switch from WordPress Jetpack to Google Analytics in measuring our website traffic. There are a few niggles that have held us back in making this transition, but our new report format seems like the right time to do it.

As most bloggers will know, Google Analytics is the industry-leading tool for measuring a website’s performance. It is the go-to measure for pretty much every type of organisation we are aiming to work with (for example, advertising networks all reference it for traffic).

We were a little late to the game in getting started with Google Analytics. WordPress’s own analytics tool required no setup, and we prioritised other things in the early stages of the blog. We knew we would switch eventually, but we didn’t go through the setup until late in 2018.

On top of making this switch, we will now also move to a different metric for measuring traffic. Until now we’ve been using page views, which counts every single time a user views a single page on our site. Instead, we will now measure sessions, which counts each visit to a website. Google explains more about the differences here.

As an example, if you read this article, and then read two more of our blog articles before leaving the site, you will count as one session and three page views. Overall, the number of sessions will, of course, be lower than page views. However, as sessions are the marker used by advertising networks like Mediavine and Ezoic for qualification requirements, we feel it is a more suitable indicator to use.

If you read on below, we tie a bow in our analysis to date of page views using WordPress Jetpack with a final report on June’s performance. This will mark the end of this measurement approach; from now onwards we will report on sessions using Google Analytics.

Alex and Lisa at Sweastiefest wedding
At our friends’ wedding during a week away in France at the end of June

June 2019 performance overview

This month we reached new heights with our website traffic, scraping past our overall target of 18,000 page views. Here are the headline stats:

  • We reached 18,010 page views, our highest yet
  • Our referrals from search engines grew to 10,494, our highest yet (but short of our target of 12,000)
  • Our referrals from Pinterest grew to 2,214, our highest yet (but short of our target of 2,500)
  • The blog’s domain authority (DA) maintained at 31
  • We made more affiliate sales of tours, accommodation and insurance

In the nearly-a-year since we launched Career Gappers, our traffic has grown consistently every month:

And although we didn’t hit our ambitious target for search traffic in June, creeping past 10,000 monthly referrals from search engines is another nice milestone to pass:

Articles on European destinations have performed particularly well in recent weeks thanks to the summer peak. When the summer season is over in the northern hemisphere, we hope this traffic will be replaced by a surge to our content on Patagonia, which will be entering the high season for hiking.

We continue to grow steadily on Pinterest:

This month we have been experimenting with new pin designs ahead of a brand refresh later in the year.

Now, let’s take a look at our overall performance in the second quarter of 2019…

The chart below shows our website sessions measured in Google Analytics from the beginning of 2019. As mentioned above, we only have data from towards the end of last year, so this is a convenient place to start:

The trajectory of our website sessions hasn’t been as smooth an upwards curve as our page views, but we can see here that we’ve grown sharply in the second quarter of 2019 after flatlining in the first.

We believe there are two main factors driving this positive movement:

  1. The summer season in Europe (our three highest performing articles in May and June were all Europe-focused)
  2. Focusing our time on optimising and improving old articles rather than simply churning out new content

In June, we saw streams of traffic coming to articles that we had optimised in May, which had previously been stagnating. As we move forward we will develop a more structured cycle and process for keeping old articles updated so we can keep them ranking.

L'Ancienne Écurie du Château Lézian
We stayed at the beautiful Château Lézian with a group of friends, hosted by a lovely family

Monetisation

Advertising

As you can see in the graph above, we are now knocking on the door of the 10,000 sessions threshold to qualify for the advertising network Ezoic. In the next few weeks we will have to decide whether to go for this now, or hold out until we reach the 25,000 sessions required for Mediavine.

The main concern we have about Ezoic is that we’ve heard several bloggers say that it slowed down their site and caused a drop in traffic, something that isn’t reported to happen with Mediavine. We will need to be reassured that we can maintain our site speed if we’re to go ahead with it.

It’s often the case that bloggers at roughly the same stage as us experience a ‘snowball’ in traffic. As the blog hits a certain level of authority, multiple articles begin to climb onto the first page of Google rankings, and traffic goes up exponentially. This was the case with most of the successful blogs we reviewed in our competitor analysis before we launched Career Gappers.

This is why it’s very tempting to hold out until we qualify for Mediavine. If we experience a sudden snowball – which is what we’re aiming for with our SEO strategy – then we could leap over 25,000 sessions very quickly.

Affiliate marketing

In the first quarter of 2019, we had 3,099 clicks on our affiliate links across all our platforms, and 21 conversions (sales). In the second quarter – April–June – these numbers both doubled, to 6,370 and 42 respectively. 

One thing jumps out when looking at this data. Our conversion rate is very low, at around 0.7%. Growing our traffic will always help, but improving our conversion rate will be the key to accelerating our affiliate income.

With this in mind, I had a call in June with a representative of one of our affiliate partnerships. They were very happy to talk through some strategies for improving conversion rates and share examples of articles by other bloggers that have been converting successfully. After making some very straightforward adjustments to some of our top-performing articles we have already seen an upturn, with a new conversion almost straight away.

This bodes well for our prospects. Just as with our blog content, we will now prioritise our efforts on affiliate optimisation rather than article churn.

One final thing to mention here. I write this a few days into July, having returned from our trip to France. On Wednesday 3 July we landed our first high-value affiliate conversion! We sold two big tour packages, making a commission of $121.

This win comes just three months after we got started with two high-value affiliate programmes, as I detailed in March’s report. It’s a huge boost just when we needed it, and gives us new momentum as we get back to work after a break.

Brand partnerships

While we see advertising and affiliate marketing as the pillars of our blogging business in these early stages, we are also beginning to explore opportunities for brand partnerships. We now have a well established blog with lots of high-quality content, and our ‘exchange of service’ partnerships in Malta and Italy provide us with a portfolio to show potential partners.

In June, we were approached by an adventure company that we think is a very good fit for our brand. We’re now in discussion about a potential collaboration. We’ve also been following up with the contacts we made at the WTM conference in London back in November, with some promising discussions – we will return to the conference later this year and hold further meetings.

Income and expenditure

In future, this section will focus on our incomings and outgoings over three-month periods. As we already covered April and May in previous reports, we will just look at June this time.

We are still yet to reach an affiliate payout threshold, so we didn’t receive any income in June. The conversions we have made to date are spread across several platforms. We are now focusing more keenly on a smaller group of platforms and we are within marginal reach of payout on two of them, so we expect to report affiliate payouts at the very least in the next quarterly report.

Expenditure in June 2019

June was our lowest cost month to date. There were our outgoings:

  • Photoshop monthly subscription: £9.98
  • ConvertKit monthly subscription (email marketing tool): £23.06
  • Phone bill: £39
  • Gadget insurance: £13.99
  • TOTAL: £86.03

We slimmed down our expenses by cancelling our subscription to InDesign, which we weren’t using a lot. Lisa can access design software for free, and there are also free online tools we can use.

We are also reviewing our ConvertKit subscription and looking at some alternative options for email marketing, although if we do change it probably won’t be until much later in the year.

June’s outgoings bring our total overall investment in the business to £4,762.69.

Chateau Montus cellars
We visited the winery at Chateau Montus with a group of friends for Lisa’s birthday

Priorities and targets for July–September 2019

Our blogging focus remains the same as what I described last month, so we can keep this section short and sweet. We are concentrating on three specific areas of content: Peru, Patagonia and taking a career break.

For each of these three niches we are analysing and revising old articles, writing new articles for higher-volume keywords, and building new email marketing sequences. We are close to completing this process for Peru, after which we will move on to Patagonia.

These are our main targets for Q3 of 2019:

  • Complete our content and marketing cycles for our three focus niches
  • Double our monthly sessions to 16,000 (using September as the final measure)
  • Reach affiliate payout thresholds for three platforms

If we can double our monthly sessions in Q3 and then again in Q4, we will qualify for Mediavine by the end of the year. It’s possible we will achieve it sooner, but this seems like a reasonable and achievable target. In the mean time, we will make a call on whether to try out Ezoic.

If all of this goes smoothly – fingers crossed – we will move onto refreshing our brand and website design in Q4.

That’s all for now. See you in three months!

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Every three months we report on our progress as we attempt to build a thriving travel blogging business. This is our business report for April–June 2019. #blog #makemoneyblogging #incomereport #newbusiness #blogger #blogreport

8 comments

  1. Loved reading through this as usual. It’s great to see the growth and seems like it will just be a matter of time before a break-even point is reached. I know that this isn’t going to change your world but I have heard good things about https://www.photopea.com/ as an alternative to Photoshop.

    I can’t wait to read through the next report, good luck with the next couple of months.

    1. Thank you Steve, always great to hear your feedback! Will check out Photopea. We just made another big sale yesterday so it’s looking like July will actually be our first month in profit!

  2. Haha. Try running a Mediavine site through a site speed tool. They are as slow as they get. Most of them are just low-level bloggers so they don’t know what to look for.

    That said, Ezoic actually has a site speed app now. It made my site faster after I started using it. Just my 0.02 – as I made just as much with Ezoic as I ever did with Mediavine.

    1. Thanks for this feedback Ben. It’s very interesting to hear, and we will probably try out Ezoic when we qualify. Fingers crossed!

  3. Hi Alex, i find it so interesting to follow your journey and see you guys growing, thanks for sharing. It provides great inspiration for my blogging journey which is also in early stages as usually these reports are written by established blogs!

    1. Thank you so much Kieren! Glad you are finding it useful. Next report coming at the beginning of October 🙂
      Good luck with your blogging journey!

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