I wrote a post around this time last year about what I would be working on in my blogging business heading into 2020.
Whew – if only I knew then what 2020 had in store for us!
It's cool to look back and read it because at the time, I was making around $7-8k per month as a digital content publisher slash blogger.
Now I'm earning around $10-11k per month.
But boy was I wrong about how I would spend 2020. I pretty much gave up on everything I laid out in that post last year and went in a different direction.
That's not a bad thing. I have a clearer picture than ever of how I can grow to $15k per month and beyond – it's just not the path I thought I would take last year.
In short, last year I wrote that I would spend 2020 focusing on affiliate revenue:
- Testing new marketplaces and affiliate offers
- Doing conversion rate optimization
- And trying to better monetize my informational content.
I did spend some time on those things, and saw some wins and losses, but overall those minor tweaks weren't really moving the needle in my business.
Here's where I ended up, what's working for me now, and what I'll be pushing even harder on going into 2021:
Publishing, publishing, publishing
I think at this point I've proven out the basic model of how my business works.
At last check, every article I publish on one of my established sites — the majority of them informational in nature and earning money through ads — earns around $20 per month on average.
So the simplest way to grow the business would be...
Publish more content!
It's so simple. Almost too simple. You almost want it to be more complicated – if only I could find the perfect affiliate offers, or turn my site into a membership site, or create a course to sell, etc.
But with my Mediavine ads performing as well as they do, it makes the most sense to keep publishing and growing my audience.
I still write the occasional "affiliate" post – like Best ofs, Reviews, etc. But most of what I write is pure informational. These posts hold up better overtime, usually keep their rankings and traffic easier (without a million other affiliate sites gunning for them), and are more fun to write.
The only problem with the publish, publish, publish approach is that my time is extremely limited.
Which brings me to...
Outsource, outsource, outsource
I have dabbled with hiring writers here and there the entire time I've run my sites, paying for anywhere between 0-3 articles per month over the past couple of years.
But in 2020 I began to slowly ramp that up.
I found some writers I really like and have been giving them more and more work. I've also been adding to the roster of writers I work with when I need to.
(Initially I did well finding writers on Reddit but r/hireawriter has gotten a lot more strict and expensive. Lately I've been working from a pool of applicants I received from a ProBlogger listing.)
At this point, almost everything I publish on my sites is outsourced. If I'm lucky, I write 1-3 posts per month myself and commission about 20 or so.
So you could say the ratio has completely flipped.
And it's had to!
Right now, my wife is working from home, my oldest daughter is in school 4 days a week, and our newborn is home with us until it's safe to send her to daycare.
I'm lucky to work more than 2-3 hours per day a lot of days. I just don't have the deep working time needed to write good content.
I've even brought on an editor to take a first look at content, get it formatted in Wordpress, and mostly ready to publish. She also helps me create the briefs/outlines that I send to writers, and some other editorial tasks.
This is great because it means there's always work being done even when I'm busy or distracted, and I'm publishing more now than I could by writing full-time myself – but just barely.
(When I'm on my game, I can be pretty prolific. But it's hard to keep that pace up month over month.)
In 2021 I want to push it further and crank up the publishing velocity. I will probably never publish hundreds of articles every single month, but a few dozen good ones could fuel a lot of growth.
The only downside is that this is EXPENSIVE and you have to manage people, but as I see it, it's the only way to get where I want to be.
I really never want my sites to become article farms.
You know them, you've seen them.
As much as I want to publish a lot and see serious growth in 2021, it can not come at the cost of putting out quality information.
I'm experimenting with different ways of improving my content quality across the board and hopefully separating myself from competitor sites who are cutting costs and corners with cheap content.
I include expert quotes in most articles now. A basic HARO query or a short email with an expert I've spoken to before can add so much texture and authority to what would otherwise be just a regurgitation of existing articles
I'm starting to add some custom graphics to posts that are performing well and have high "link or share" potential
I'm giving writers better and more detailed briefs to get back better content. I don't just give the keyword and word count anymore – I give background info, links to include, a general outline, and sometimes even talking points.
What I'm publishing now is lightyears ahead of what I was publishing in 2018.
Crack the YouTube code
There are definitely some dangers in relying on mostly Google traffic to written content monetized with ads.
Tons of danger, actually!
So one area I want to branch into, effectively, is video – and YouTube specifically.
On two sites now, I have YouTube channels with content going up regularly.
It's been a challenge because a) I don't really have the time or skills to film things myself, and my house is never quiet or empty – and b) it's not safe to really go anywhere or get face to face with people.
I'm experimenting with different kinds of content and learning a lot.
My goal is not necessarily to have a huge YouTube brand, but if I can build up a few channels that are earning halfway decent money every month and driving traffic/awareness of the website, that'd be a big insurance policy.
Diversify & mitigate risk
And speaking of danger, it's always on my mind.
I've been spanked by random Google algorithm updates before.
(In November 2019 both of my main sites lost over half their organic traffic overnight for no reason.)
It's something you always have to be aware of and fight against.
YouTube and video content in general is one way I'm working to diversify.
The other is I do think there's a good chance I'll start another site at some point in 2021. IMO, getting smashed by the Google gods is mostly random and you want to give yourself a lot of chances to survive.
I am also a little bit concerned about the inevitable death of third party cookies, which some people say could hurt publishers' ad revenue by as much as 60%.
I'm a little more optimistic than that, but it's on my mind – so it's doubtful I'll be completely abandoning affiliate content anytime soon.
I'm always jumping on a good affiliate opportunity if I see one and I may do a little more of that as we get deeper into 2021.
2020 has been a struggle but I'm really proud of how the business has grown this year.
I've had less time to work than ever before, and the end of 2019 saw me almost throw in the towel on this business model after some devastating turns of bad luck.
But here I am! Surviving, maybe even thriving.
I hope to keep up the momentum in 2021, though there will undoubtedly be setbacks. I'm feeling the urgency to grow and give myself a little bit of cushion in case things do go wrong.
The most important thing, the thing I can't get distracted from, is putting out lots of high-quality stuff that people want and need to read/watch.
Time to get back to work!