February has been a busy month for me working on my blog despite it not appearing to be on the face of it. I had some epic goals at the end of last month and I’m wondering what the hell was I thinking when I look at them today versus what was achieved.
When I look back, last month was an epic month in terms of traffic and income results. I hoped that I could continue the momentum but it has not been the case.
I forced myself to deal with technical issues on the blog which were escalating with increased website traffic. This load was causing my site to go down a number of times over the last few months which was just unacceptable.
Focusing on this has impacted my ability to keep a consistent blogging schedule, something I’ve struggled with for months for varying reasons. That said, I’ve managed to do a lot behind the scenes.
I’ve also needed a little breathing time because of the life challenges that prevented me from keeping to a consistent challenge. January and February saw me reach some milestones in terms of some of my ongoing challenges. This relates to one of my biggest debts. I’ve sprinkled some details in a recent post about peer to peer lending.
The relief from some of the ongoing stress hit me. My energy levels dipped, not helped by a busy few weeks at work, and so I needed some time to just chill out. I’ve previously learnt the hard way what happens when you drive yourself into the ground. So I allowed myself a week or two of not even thinking about the blog and coming home from work to veg out.
Outside of this down time, I’ve been working heavily behind the scenes with technical aspects and optimisations. I’ve been working on increasing ad revenue. I’ve also been tweaking opt in forms again, as well as creating better content upgrades to encourage sign ups to my mailing list. I’ve had some great results, which I’ll share with you below.
All in all, I’m hoping this is taking two steps back to move three steps forward.
Read on, as always, I’ll give you all the details.
But first, for those that haven’t seen my income reports before:
Why I’m Publishing Monthly Income Reports
Want to know why I’m publishing my income reports? Start at my income reports page. I’m hopeful these reports will motivate, inspire and encourage readers like you to start being sensible with your cash. The aim of the blog is to help you find ways to get out of debt or earn extra income.
My online income reports detail my activities for the month. I share what I’m doing, what’s working, what’s not working and how much I’m earning. It’s a journey, I hope you will follow along.
Please sign up to my mailing list to keep up to date on my progress.
February 2017 Online Income & Traffic Report
Here are last month’s goals, crossed out items are ones that I’ve achieved:
- 4 new posts published
- 40,000 page views
- 7,000 Pinterest Followers
Optimize and enhance more old pins on Pinterest Optimize and enhance old posts Mailing list increased to 5,000 subscribers
- Clean up the mailing list of cold subscribers
Continue working on a product
As you can see it’s not the best of achievements this month. That’s not to say I’ve not had wins. I made a decision to focus on other, more pressing concerns, early in February. There’s actually been a lot going on behind the scenes. Looking back I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve achieved. It’s been a productive month for sure.
I switched my hosting to Bluehost
The first of those was changing hosting companies. I used to host with Everleap. Everleap is not the ideal WordPress hosting platform. When I was a web developer, and when I owned an e-commerce site I used to host all my sites with this company. I’ve worked with them for well over a decade. They are awesome, in general. But, without getting too technical on you, they are Microsoft Windows based hosting and that’s not ideal for WordPress.
In the last two or three months I’ve experienced my site going down due to server memory problems, particularly as traffic intensified. I had sorted those issues but I considered that these may resurface as traffic increases. After making a bunch of changes to my site I was out of further options other than to upgrade my memory allocation. With Everleap this is pretty expensive in comparison to other options. And so, it was on the cards to move on that issue alone.
But then a situation with AMP pages made that call for me.
AMP pages, if you’re a blogger, beware!
The second factor that prompted the migration to a new hosting company was my somewhat foolish activation of an AMP plugin. I say foolish because I activated a plugin without backing up my site or database.
I should have known better!
If you are a blogger, please learn from my foolish mistake!
For those of you wondering what an AMP plugin is. AMP stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. It’s effectively a streamlined version of your site that is served up to mobile devices. From an SEO perspective (Search Engine Optimization), AMP versions of a site are a good thing. Google ranks faster loading websites higher, among many other criteria. AMP pages are streamlined versions of web pages and therefore load MUCH faster. Theoretically these pages can give you a boost in Google rankings.
The problem for a blog is it strips out your ads (loss of revenue). I’m sure there’s a way to fix that, but I didn’t have the time. It also screwed with my plugins, most importantly my mailing list opt-in forms, which broke.
The plugin that I installed created AMP versions of all pages on my site. Doing so creates different urls for these pages. If you visited my site on a mobile device the plugin would redirect you to an AMP version of the page.
About 80% of my traffic comes in from mobile!
The AMP page, quite frankly, looked horrendous. Admittedly I could have modified the template that creates these pages but AMP has very specific markup (code), which I don’t know. Eighteen years of web development would imply I could learn this quickly but I don’t have time, or the inclination right now.
Looks aside, the AMP versions of the web page stripped out images and completely messed with opt-in boxes to the point where they weren’t working. My whole strategy for this site so far has been building traffic and an audience as well as focusing on building my mailing list. If people can’t subscribe to my mailing list I’m dead in the water!
24 hours after installing this AMP plugin I realised optin rates to my mailing list were on the floor. There was a problem!
I quickly uninstalled the plugin. The problem continued.
In fact, it got worse!
I spent a couple of days digging into code and analytics trying to find out what was going on.
Google Analytics was telling me that people were still visiting the AMP urls. To cut a long story short (and this took the best part of a week or more to find out) the urls had been indexed on Pinterest.
Now here’s the thing I didn’t understand; and still don’t. All pins on Pinterest were redirecting to the AMP urls. This was despite the fact that the urls on the pins were clearly NOT the AMP urls.
My only thought wa the that the plugin had left some code on my site that was redirecting traffic to the AMP pages, but Google Analytics was telling me the traffic was going directly to these pages, not via a redirect.
When I contacted Pinterest (and the plugin creator) both said this was because the AMP urls had been shared. However, this was not the case. All mobile traffic, all 80% of my total traffic, was going to these AMP pages!
Using some Pinterest developer tools I was able to check which urls were being shared on Pinterest and there were no AMP urls at all. This was weird!
I had other ideas on what this was but there was no way Pinterest was going to find a solution just for me. They were pretty useless in their response to me in the first place. My only hope was to work out a solution on my end.
Here’s where things got painful for me.
I’d removed the plugin. Therefore the AMP pages no longer existed. This meant that all traffic trying to visit those urls over the course of that week was hitting a 404 page not found.
80% of around 12,000 visitors were hitting a page that wasn’t there.
Let me explain this in another way for all of you who just got lost on all those details. Imagine you own a shop and someone prints 12,000 maps to tell a bunch of tourists where your shop is. The map is wrong and so when the tourists arrive in the location your shop isn’t there. They leave, right?
That was what was happening!
This was not good.
I could have reactivated the plugin while I resolved the issue. Had I done this I risked the AMP urls being shared more. In terms of building my mailing list the traffic was pointless anyway because my mailing list opt-ins were broken on these pages.
My only option was to create a 301 redirect on these urls. For those that don’t know, a 301 redirect is a polite way to tell a bot that the page no longer exists in that location and it has been permanently moved to another location, namely the place you redirect a user (or bot) too. This is best practice when you move a page.
Back to my example of the tourists, that’s like creating a sign post in the location the incorrect map points too that tells the tourists where your shop actually is.
So here’s where I hit my next problem.
I had my website on windows hosting, which meant running a 301 redirect on a php website (WordPress) was not as straight-forward as it normally should be.
I finally decided it was time to shift hosting companies. I’d had some problems with my site going down for a day or two a couple of months in a row. So, I shifted to Bluehost, which I feel awesome about.
My partner hosted her blog on Bluehost and had no problems. I recommend Bluehost as a result and because it’s SUPER CHEAP to start a blog. It makes me feel pretty awesome that I host my site on there also.
Switching to Bluehost was straight-forward and I’ve been very happy.
Mediavine, a new ad platform I’ve joined (I’ll tell you about that in a minute), came to my aid and created a script for me to redirect my traffic. The mess was delaying me switching on with them after they’d got me all set up so they pretty much ran to my aid to get me on board.
Thank you Mediavine!
This resolved my AMP plugin woes. Thank goodness!
Optimizing my site for speed
One of the other wins this month was trying to improve site speed.
Site loading time is a factor in SEO and so I spent quite a bit of time optimising my site. Here are the things I did to improve my site speed:
Optimised all images
I optimised all images using TinyPng. I installed their plugin and paid to have the plugin optimise all images on my site. This reduced the overall image load time by 33%, which was impressive considering I already optimise my images.
Removed unnecessary plugins
I removed all plugins other than the essentials from my site. Any plugin that I didn’t use every week was removed.
Plugins can add all kinds of crap to your code that slow it down, not to mention the processing time they take up on your server. Admittedly some of them were minimal in their impact, but sometimes it’s worth getting a little anal about one hundred milliseconds here and there. They all add up!
Removed mailing list boxes from my sidebar
The mailing list box on the sidebar was taking up a massive amount of space and not really converting. So, I took it off. I may at some point test some other options, perhaps using SumoMe plugin where I can do some A/B testing.
The power of measuring elements on your site means you can cut out what’s not working and enhance what is with complete confidence.
Completed a switch from Rapidology to Bloom
Last month I told you had some problems with Rapidology and ConvertKit.
Nathan at ConvertKit introduced me to Bloom. Bloom is, at the core, exactly the same as Rapidology. You wouldn’t notice the difference because it looks the same and works the same.
I finally completed that switch this month finalising the migration of all my optin boxes over to Bloom. I uninstalled Rapidology (and had to manually cleared out the database table where all the Rapidology data is stored, because they don’t clean up after themselves). This meant less code on my site and one less plugin creating processing overhead.
Installed a caching plugin
This was another factor in switching to Bluehost. I had tried to install a caching plugin before on my site and it broke my Rapidology optin boxes. I needed to use a caching plugin, this would drastically improve the performance of my site.
Switching to Bluehost meant that I could give this another try and particularly since I was switching to using Bloom.
I carefully installed the plugin. This time I backed up my site and database – oh I learnt from that damn AMP plugin!
Then I spent close to two hours going through and manually applying individual settings and thoroughly checking all my optin boxes so that I was sure it wasn’t breaking anything this time.
It’s now working beautifully!
I’m currently seeing a 25% improvement in page load times across the board. There’s probably still room for improvement, but that’ll do for now.
My social media activities really comes down to Pinterest at the moment. I admit, I have my eggs in one basket again. I’ll take a look at Twitter, Facebook and others again sometime soon. I’m just struggling for time and Pinterest is just too easy if you know what you’re doing.
Traffic has been down on Pinterest. For February it’s down 42% on the previous 28 days and 48% vs January. Here is what the chart for February in terms of the impressions pins to my site received. I got an average of 81,818. Last month I got 117,137 so it’s down almost 40,000 impressions per day. That seems pretty significant.
Here’s what the click through rates chart looks like:
It’s a similar trend. Down to 539 per day vs 898 last month.
So what has happened?
I reduced efforts on my pinning strategies whilst I had the AMP pages issue. What was the point in working to drive traffic to the site when it’s broken?
I think the AMP page issues have been a major factor in the decline. I can’t confirm this but if Pinterest is anything like Google the presence of a 404 page not found error when clicking through from a pin can not have been helpful to the ranking or exposure of my pins in people’s feeds. I would have expected Pinterest to pick this up and demote my pins. Ensuring pages exist and that they are serving up pins that contain no broken links leads to a good user experience on their site. So it makes sense that there has been impact to my traffic.
Despite fixing the problem traffic from Pinterest has been since. Hopefully the 301 redirects will address that and I’ll start to see some uplift, which I’m beginning too with no more pinning efforts. This kind of alludes that my thoughts may be correct and the dust is settling.
Still, I can’t complain about traffic levels. There was still 11,430 sessions from Pinterest alone in February, equating to 14,630 pageviews!
I optimised more pins for my emergency fund this month. Last month I told you how these pins had gone viral, getting over 28,000 shares between two pins. The issue was that these weren’t converting to heavy click throughs. Consequently I redesigned these pins to contain a call to action. I created two designs. Inside the month both got equal repins, around 700. Whilst that’s not bad it’s no way near the same share count. Time will tell if these pins are likely to pick up.
Site traffic has halved compared to last month. Last month was pretty epic at over 37,000 page view, my best month yet. I had hoped to keep up with that at 40,000 page views this month. That was one of my goals. It wasn’t to be.
All the issues mentioned above are likely to contributing factors. A lack of blogging schedule won’t have helped either. So it’s hardly surprising traffic dropped.
Had I published more posts I could have let my mailing list know and created traffic from that source also. But I had no confidence they would not be redirected to those damn AMP urls at some point. My time and energy were absorbed into fixing that issue also.
So how did I do, despite all this?
Here are the usual stats:
As you can see pageviews reached 20,343.
This is not bad, considering.
Bounce rates are up to 10% from 7.5%. Again this is not surprising given the difficulties I had with the AMP pages.
Pinterest traffic, I suspect, has been impacted so I’m expecting things to level off for a month or two.
I’m aiming to hit 20,000 pageviews again in March as things recover.
Mailing List Growth
The good news is my mailing list has continued to grow. The list grew by 588 subscribers to 5097 this month.
Looking at the graph above it should come as no surprise that there was a dip in opt-in rates here and there, given the problems I experienced with the site.
Much of February was resolving these issues and migrating from Rapidology to Bloom. It was on February 19th I had the site back on it’s feet.
I chose to spend an hour or two optimising my inline opt-in boxes in Bloom, since I’d been working on that. These are the opt-in boxes that sit in the middle of page posts asking people to join my mailing list. As you can see I increased my opt-in rates and this had a positive impact on growth.
For this reason alone I’m not too bothered by the massive drop in traffic compared to last month.
You don’t have to be reliant on traffic quantity to move the needle in the important areas.
One of my goals last month was to improve some old posts. I did this by improving this post and creating a new content upgrade for an older post, much like my other emergency fund money challenge that was doing well.
Once I got my hosting issues resolved I put some time into promoting this old post. The addition of a content download aided further growth of my mailing list.
Despite this growth I’m still not leveraging this list enough. Largely because I’ve spent most of my time fixing and migrating this month. I haven’t spent enough time writing posts and so really, I haven’t had much of a reason to email the list to encourage my subscribers to return to the site.
My blog plan created in January and February should have seen me leveraging this list more by now and working toward my own product. This plan required more engagement with my list. I’m off kilter and need to pull my efforts back in line so I’m heading toward the right goals.
Finally, I had a goal last month to clean out cold subscribers from my mailing list. This wasn’t done and I perhaps need to get onto this in March, or April. Doing this will reduce my cost with ConvertKit and clear out subscribers from my list who are not engaged at all.
The income from the site hasn’t been too bad. In a running theme this month I’ve been doing a lot behind the scenes.
Increased traffic levels over the last two months had allowed me to sign up to Mediavine. This was a goal on my plan to get signed up with them this year. Google Adsense, whilst improving, was not pulling in enough money to cover my growing expenses.
Mediavine is a publisher network that effectively act as an ad management service. Being with them means I can focus on other aspects of my site and leave the display ad optimization to them. I’m expecting they will increase the income I earn from displaying ads on my site compared to Google Adsense.
They had particular requirements to join their network which I reached last month. I had my application accepted in early February. To integrate with them I had to make a few changes to code on my site. I then had the problems to contend with which prevented me from switching over to them. I switched over in early March.
It takes 90 days for them to optimise ads on my site and promote me to advertisers. So the jury will be out on this revenue stream for some months.
Early indications however are showing that I will see an increase in ad revenue in the first month, which is great.
My income for this month was $66.85.
That’s down by about half compared to last month. Again, it’s not unexpected. I’m thinking there is much I can optimize to increase this figure.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Google AdSense – $39.06
- $5 Meal Plan – $10.50
- Boardbooster – $5.00
- Profit Accumulator – $11.79
- Tailwind – $0.50
My RPM (revenue per 1000 page views) dipped to $3.29.
Last month it was at $5.06. I’d say that was disappointing, but it’s not unexpected.
Expenses are up this month. I used TinyPng to optimize images, ConvertKit has now pushed past 5000 subscribers taking me up another tier on the payment plan. I’m still using Boardbooster. I also had to pay for Bluehost hosting, this was for 3 years of hosting which equates to less than $5 a month. That’s incredible value!
If you want to start your own blog with Bluehost you can get a free domain name with your hosting for the same price if you click through on my link. I have also created a page to take you through how to set up your blog with Bluehost in as little as 10 minutes.
Finally, I purchased a lifetime membership to WebTextTool on AppSumo, a tool that helps with writing and SEO.
So all up this has been an expensive month. Here are the details:
- Boardbooster – $22.17
- ConvertKit – $104.97
- TinyPng – $7.47
- Bluehost – $178.20
- WebTextTool via AppSumo – $39
That’s a whopping $351.81.
Ouch! A lot of those expenses won’t be there next month. As I mentioned, Bluehost is paid up now for the next 3 years. Tinypng was a one off. Boardbooster is a monthly amount, but I dropped down a tier at the start of March.
ConvertKit is the most costly monthly expense that will be reappearing. I need to get those cold subscribers off my list and drop down a tier. I also need to reaching out to my subscribers more.
If you’re new to blogging there’s a lot of these expenses that you just don’t need. You can create and maintain a mailing list at a reduced price with MailChimp. I use ConvertKit because they make it easier to send out content upgrades.
So overall I’m at a loss this month of $284.96.
It’s been an interesting month for sure. I honestly feel like I’m heading in the right direction, particularly with the mailing list growth.
Next Month’s Goals
I’m already mid way through March when writing this. I’ve taken a week or two of time out again, so I have two weeks left in this month to put in some effort.
My biggest goal is to get some posts published. I’ve got a bunch that I’ve started. I just need to be diligent in sitting down to write.
With Mediavine managing ads on my site I can increase revenue by working on growing traffic. I think that can be best achieved through posting consistency. My hope is that the revenue from Mediavine covers the cost of ConvertKit – at least that’s the goal.
I also want to start to pull my blog plan back on track. That’s the primary goal. There are things to do behind the scenes in that respect, but I think I need to turn focus on getting some writing done. Writing, at least for me, takes up a fair amount of my time, so I also have to balance this with a realistic expectations. Here are my goals for March:
- 20,000 page views
- 3 new posts
- Work on product and get back on track with my blog plan
- RPM (revenue per mille) above $4
Wish me luck!