Is it possible to feel like you are moving forward while standing still at the same time? That’s been the story of the last three months; not just for our blogging business, but also life in general as we emerge from a pandemic. In this report, we reflect on a time when the world has slowly, surely and painstakingly begun to open up again.
After the first quarter of 2021 saw our recovery pick up pace, the second quarter has been more stagnant. But there have been some very promising developments too. So, let’s get into it.
As always, I’ll begin by highlighting some of our blogging highs and lows of the last three months:
- Our website traffic plateaued in April–June after a sharp recovery in the previous quarter
- We made over $3,000 from affiliate sales and advertising, despite travel bookings remaining low
- Accommodation bookings began moving in the final two weeks of the quarter
- Tour and activity bookings remained non-existent
- We reached 1,000 email subscribers
- We made our first affiliate sales for our second blog
Among all of this, the biggest recent challenge has been time management. Circumstances keep changing, and so we’ve had to keep adapting.
Balancing blogging with freelancing and consultancy
In our previous report I mentioned that I had taken on some freelancing and consultancy work to bring in some extra income. This situation has now intensified.
Lisa has been enjoying a busy time in her job recently, and so it’s been harder for her to devote much time to the blogs.
I’ve taken on a new consultancy contract to help out one of my former employers with an exciting project. This will take up two days a week of my time until at least September, and on top of this I am retaining some flexible freelancing work for another client.
These developments provide us with invaluable additional income while we hold out for international travel to begin opening up significantly. Until that happens, there is a very low ceiling on what we can earn from blogging.
It’s been fun to get involved with something a little bit different. The downside, of course, is that it has extremely limited the time I can devote to maintaining the blogs in the meantime.
Last year, apart from the odd side hustle here and there, I was pretty much working full time on Career Gappers. At the moment, I am spending one day a week on Career Gappers and one day on our second blog, Lincoln and Beyond. So it’s quite the change.
The road out of the pandemic is clearly a long one. During this period of slow recovery, the best we can do is to tread water, keep the blogs afloat and be ready to swim hard when the time comes.
Beginning to travel in the UK
These last three months have seen a significant unlocking of life in the UK. When I last wrote at the end of March, all pubs, restaurants, hotels and ‘non-essential’ shops were still closed. They are now open, albeit with some restrictions still in place.
We have been making the most of the opportunity to start getting out and about again. And we’ve both had our first jab! Even while business is slow to pick up, this does feel like progress and gives us a sense of direction.
Over the last three months we’ve been on four camping trips around the UK, and have two more lined up soon.
I also went to Cornwall for a couple of weeks to see my Mum. This was a blogging trip too; I used much of the time to gather content on Cornwall and begin work on our first in-depth UK content for Career Gappers. I managed to knock out a 5,000-word blog post on Penzance in a day.
Attending physical events again
A big milestone came at the end of June. I attended an in-person blogging event for the first time since WTM London in November 2019.
The event was a Traverse social in London. It felt a bit surreal being back in a loud bar surrounded by people. Strange at first, but amazing to see real people and have actual conversations again.
Traverse also held another virtual event earlier in June, a return of the Waypoint conference after its success last year. This gave me the opportunity to speak with more tourist boards about our workations campaign.
Workation trips still in the pipeline
With borders slow to open and the Delta variant of Covid spreading worryingly in the UK, we’ve had to keep our plans for international trips on hold. There has been no option but to keep playing a waiting game.
We’re still working with tourist boards behind the scenes to plan workation visits to destinations in Europe later in the year. The first of these looks likely to be in October at the earliest.
Website traffic plateauing
After seeing such a strong recovery of website traffic in the first quarter, we had hoped we would be able to keep building and growing. It hasn’t quite worked out like that.
Although we’ve maintained our sessions over 20,000 each month, we’ve hit a plateau since April:
There are a few obvious reasons for this. One is that travel-related searches on Google are still way down. Another is that I haven’t been able to keep old content updated as much with limited time.
Digging into the data, though, I found another underlying explanation – and it’s a fairly encouraging one.
Removing an outlier
In our last report I detailed how we have rebuilt our traffic by creating some new content on remote working that was not travel-specific, while still being relevant to our workations campaign.
Looking at the analytics, we can see that one single article we published in the final quarter of 2020 has been responsible for a huge amount of our new traffic. In fact, this article has accounted for nearly 25% of our total website traffic in the first half of 2021.
Compare this to the six months before the pandemic, when our top-performing article at the time accounted for a little over 4% of our total traffic.
This suggests that our recovery has been somewhat skewed by the performance of one article, which has dipped a bit since March due to increased competition. If we consider this article an outlier and remove it from the equation, everything else has been steadily and continuously growing so far this year.
I scribbled a line on the graph below to give a rough indication of our traffic recovery if we treat the top-performing article as an outlier:
This isn’t an exact science as I haven’t looked in detail at the other ways that article has affected our overall traffic. But it’s clear that our overall numbers have been heavily influenced by it.
Our search engine rankings for travel content have not dropped. So the point is simple: when travel searches grow again, our traffic will surge. And this may well be a swift process when it happens.
An email marketing milestone
A little bit of good news is that in May we surpassed 1,000 email subscribers. This took us longer than anticipated, but the numbers are now ticking along nicely with our automated funnels in place. As our website traffic continues to pick up, this will only keep growing.
Small signs of confidence returning
Until very recently, we saw almost no movement at all in travel affiliate sales. Zero. A slight increase in traffic to travel content was not converting into bookings, until…
In the last couple of weeks, we have seen signs of a turnaround. At the end of June we had a flurry of accommodation bookings. We’ve also made three affiliate sales for travel insurance over the last few weeks, one of which was for $130 commission.
These are small steps, but very promising ones, after more than a year of sparse returns.
Growing our second blog
It’s now eight months since we launched our second blog, Lincoln and Beyond, focusing on our home city. Going forward, I’ll include a section in our quarterly reports on our progress with it.
Hitting the search rankings
Building traffic to a new blog is a game of patience, as it takes time to establish domain authority and start ranking in search engines. We’ve documented this journey extensively over the last three years with Career Gappers.
Our SEO efforts on Lincoln and Beyond are now beginning to show some fruit. Here’s a look at our monthly website traffic so far:
We’re now getting about 100 hits a day from search engines, which isn’t bad going after just a few months and only a few hours a week to spend on it. Our first articles are beginning to show a strong presence in search results.
This will only keep growing as we are able to add to our portfolio of content.
Engaging with local businesses
SEO hasn’t been our only strategy for building traffic to Lincoln and Beyond. As we are blogging about a specific location, it gives us an opportunity to engage directly with local businesses and involve them in our work.
The main thrust of this has been a series of features about how local tourism and hospitality businesses have been adapting to new circumstances and innovating in a post-pandemic world.
This has proven very popular and effective. By encouraging the businesses we feature to share the stories, we’ve been able to extend our reach.
As a new business starting with zero followers, harnessing local voices and external platforms has been a powerful way of getting the word out.
Building our brand locally
In the first few months we’ve also made an effort to get onto the press distribution lists of major local venues and organisations. An outcome of this is that we were invited by Lincoln Cathedral to attend a special opening of a new café and shop.
The cathedral shared our resulting article on their social media accounts. This kind of engagement is really helping to establish our brand in the area.
First affiliate bookings
It’s nice to see our website traffic growing, but there is no milestone as rewarding as making your first sale. We finally achieved this on Lincoln and Beyond right at the end of June – not once, but twice!
We made two affiliate sales, both of them for hotel stays in Lincoln. Both were unfortunately cancelled, most likely for Covid reasons. But it’s great to see some conversions come in, and we’re sure there will be more in the weeks to come.
Income and expenditure
In March, as previously reported, we exceeded $1,000 in booked monthly affiliate commission on Career Gappers for the first time. We haven’t been able to repeat this since, but we’ve come mighty close.
Here’s a look at our monthly booked affiliate commission over the last year:
Most of the commission in 2021 has come from non-travel content. With travel bookings beginning to pick up again, we can be optimistic for growth in the second half of the year.
Our advertising income through Mediavine remains far lower than would be expected in ‘normal’ times. Having said that, in June we had our best month yet, reaching just over $220.
Between affiliates and advertising, we made a combined $3,142.55 total income across the second quarter. Considering the ongoing travel restrictions and my time on Career Gappers limited to a day a week, that’s not too bad.
Outgoings: some costs going up
This was how our spending on Career Gappers was distributed between April and June:
- Regular monthly costs:
- Photoshop monthly subscriptions: £29.94
- ConvertKit monthly subscriptions: £96.78
- Non-sterling transaction fees: £2.64
- G Suite subscription: £12.42
- Phone bills (includes settling up remainder of old contract to get a new phone): £224.51
- Annual subscriptions:
- Domain renewals: £28.78
- Events and trips:
- Transport and accommodation for Traverse Social in London: £62.70
- Transport and entrance fees on Cornwall trip: £130.11
- Replacement SD card for camera: £24.75
- TOTAL: £612.63 / $848.73
Surpassing 1,000 email subscribers means that our monthly ConvertKit payment has gone up from $29 to $45. I also had to pay off the remainder of my old SIM-only mobile contract to upgrade to an iPhone 11, and the new contract means my phone costs will be higher going forwards.
On top of this we invested £145.60 / $200.67 into Lincoln and Beyond. This was mainly our G Suite subscription, domain renewal, and costs for a couple of local experiences.
Goals for July–September 2021
The next three months will be dominated by freelancing and consultancy work for me, and so we cannot set our sights too high for blog growth during this time.
Our main aim is to keep both platforms ticking over as restrictions continue to ease. Being realistic, travel in Europe will not recover significantly until the summer 2022 season, and it could well be even longer than that in South America.
With this in mind, our priorities for the upcoming quarter are more about setting a minimum output than achieving growth targets, which are still impossible to pinpoint amid ongoing uncertainty. These are some base levels we want to hit:
- Complete our new content funnel on Cornwall
- Update a minimum of one old blog post each week on Career Gappers
- Publish a minimum of one new blog post each week on Lincoln and Beyond
- Secure arrangements for at least three workation trips in Europe for October–December (pending restrictions being eased)
By the end of the year I intend to go back to full-time hours, split roughly evenly between the two blogs. And while we have some extra income, we are setting funds aside to invest once international travel restrictions ease. We will reassess the situation at the end of the third quarter.
Our long-term ambitions for building a blogging business have not diminished; we’re still adjusting to a very different world. But if there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is to appreciate the things we do have.
So, while we keep steadying the ship, we’ll also keep enjoying life – the company of our family, our friends, and the place we live. Let’s see where we are in another three months.
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