Hi, it’s Jake with my monthly report on Operation Digital Nomad, our quest to monetize our slow travel blog and turn our year abroad into a sustainable lifestyle. This is the second post in the series – don’t forget to check out the original announcement. As I stated last month, our (extremely ambitious) goal is to earn $4000.00 a month through our website. And because sustaining the slow travel lifestyle is a part of the lifestyle, we thought it would be a good idea for me to share how it’s going each month.
We’ll get to the bottom line first:
Net Income: -$296.05
I’ll break that down into income and expenses.
- Adsense: $3.21
- Total: $3.21
We made $3.21 using Google Adsense. That’s not terrible considering that we only posted a few banners on our site, and only started about halfway through the month. We didn’t have any affiliate sales, but we expect that to change soon, which I’ll discuss below.
- Cloudflare: (Monthly – Content Delivery Network) $20
- Yoast Premium (One Time – WordPress SEO plugin + support): $150
- Professional Photographers of America (Monthly – Trade Association and Camera Insurance): $27.92
- Amazon S3 (Monthly – Image Hosting): $0.15
- Siteground (Yearly – WordPress managed Hosting): $91.20
- Adobe Creative Cloud (Monthly – Software Subscription: Photoshop, Lightroom and More): $9.99
- Total: $299.26
We don’t include any of our living expenses, or expenses that we would incur even without Operation Digital Nomad. That’s why things like lodging don’t show up, even though our focus is on slow travel. We treat it like our rent because we aren’t paying for a home back in the U.S.. This month’s expenses are a quite a bit higher than usual because they include some one time expenses associated with revamping our website after moving it from Squarespace to WordPress (discussed later).
If you have questions about any of the expenses listed above (i.e., what is a content delivery network), contact us or ask a question in the comments. If there is enough interest, we will publish a whole post about it.
We would rather have a positive net, but we aren’t alarmed by the expenses outweighing the income this month. First of all, the expenses would exist whether we were trying to monetize the website or not. That means that $296.05 is $3.21 less than we would have spent otherwise. Second, this is the first month of blog monetization. There is a lot of room for improvement on the income side of the equation. If it takes off (which it has to in order for Operation Digital Nomad to work), $300 in expenses will be small compared to what we hope to bring in. Here’s what we’re working on to get in the black:
More Banner Ads:
Income generated from our banner ads was modest, but we only started using them about halfway through the month. We also only put ads in a few places – one ad pretty far down on our home page, and a few in a couple of our blog posts. One thing we’ll be doing is putting them in more of our posts and elsewhere on the site.
The terms and conditions for using Google Adsense prohibit me from sharing any data other than revenue (such as click rates or impressions), which is too bad because it’s kind of interesting.
Because of the highly visual nature of our website, we worry a little bit about the effect of ads on our viewer experience. I’ve become fairly desensitized to ads while browsing the internet, but I’d love to hear what people think about the appearance of our site. Either comment below or send us a message through our contact page.
I’m working on putting together a resource page for the benefit of our readers who might be interested in trying any of the things we do. It’s going to contain helpful resources that we make use of on a regular basis. A few of those resources will have affiliate links that will earn money if someone clicks on them to make a purchase. Affiliate links can be risky if you over use them. We have to be very careful to do two things 1) Only use affiliate links for products and services that we actually really like. 2) Include products and services we really like, even if they don’t have affiliate links. At the end of the day, we do value our readers’s trust than a few extra cents.
(Update: Our resources page is now up and running!)
Increase Blog Traffic:
This is the big one. All of the other things we do for income depend on this step, and (of course) it is the hardest one by far. There are a number of things we are doing to improve our blog traffic. That’s the next section.
Switching from Squarespace to WordPress
For a long time, our blog was hosted on WordPress. But when we started our journey in Dubrovnik, Croatia, we quickly realized that time was going to be of short supply. The downside of a self hosted WordPress is that there is a lot of backend work to be done that takes time away from actual blogging and day to day life. We decided to switch to Squarespace where the backend work is almost entirely taken care of for you.
But hands free in our case, also meant forgotten. We started putting much of our energy onto building our Instagram account, and the blog backend was out of mind. Six months later while we were camping on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, we discovered a new (and major) problem. After our year in Europe, we’re planning on spending most of 2018 in China. Dannie casually googled to see if Squarespace is supported there and the answer was an alarming “NO” (that means for the last six months our blog wasn’t showing up to the audience of a whole country, even harder to blog once we get there). Then we started to dig up more information about Squarespace and found serval other downsides that we hadn’t thought of.
Squarespace is not great for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In other words, it isn’t good at making your page attractive to search engines like Google, Bing or Baidu (In China), who are trying to figure out which pages will be most useful to people looking for content. The best blog post in the world won’t do us a bit of good if nobody can find it. That’s why SEO matters.
Also, it renames your images when you upload them. We didn’t realize this until recently, and we never would have used Squarespace if we’d known from the start. The image renaming is a big problem for a photography heavy blog because a photo called “image5678.jpg” does not have any information that Google can use to direct people to our website. We export every single photo for the blog with SEO naming, and I remember back in the day we actually got a fair amount of traffic from Google Images. Not lately! This leaves us with the monumental task of going back through all of our old posts and re-uploading the images with better names. It’s tedious work, but we’ll get it done eventually.
So after six months with Squarespace, we found ourselves on the Isle of Skye, with little or no internet access, faced with the daunting task of switching back to WordPress. On top of that, we weren’t very excited about having to go back to doing everything ourselves again either. Even Dannie, who worked in graphic design for over 10 years hates maintaining a self hosted WordPress blog.
Luckily, we found several options for Managed WordPress Hosting. With Managed WordPress Hosting, a lot of the backend stuff like security, backups, WP support and other maintenance tasks are taken care of by a WordPress specialist at the hosting company, which leaves you with more free time to do the actual blogging. After a few hours of pouring over reviews, good and bad, we picked Siteground. Switching from Squarespace was a pain, but so far it seems to be worth it. We now have the full SEO control we are used to, along with 3rd party plugins available to WordPress, but with much of the stressful technical stuff out of our hands.
Our semi-weekly newsletter has been fairly successful. As of now we have an open rate of 45% and a click through rate of 15%. As our Newsletter readership grows, that could lead to a substantial amount of traffic. Speaking of newsletter readership, did you know that we have a semi-weekly newsletter to keep you up to date on our slow travel adventure and Operation Digital Nomad? You could scroll down to sign up for it. If you do, you’ll enjoy travel stories, photography tips and blogging advice that are exclusive to newsletter readers.
Until recently, most of our social media traffic came from Facebook and Instagram (go follow us!). We put most of our effort into Instagram, which made sense since it is such an photo-centric platform and we are an photo-centric family. Facebook drove slightly more traffic, even though all we really did was announce when a new blog post was up. Even though Instagram is our favorite platform, we have been disappointed lately in the way it’s algorithm has been effecting our engagement. We do our best to be good users, but we often feel like Facebook (owner of Instagram) is shaking us down, trying to get us to pay for sponsored content.
We have been tragically absent on Pinterest. This makes no sense, since it is another image heavy network, and one that is known to drive large amounts of traffic. Even without pinning all month, we had 4 sessions on our blog from old pins! Just imagine the potential if we put some effort in on that front. Go follow us on Pinterest now so that you can be the first to see our exciting new pins.
The big surprise in August was StumbleUpon. We didn’t share every post on StumbleUpon, but StumbleUpon provided the majority of our August traffic. Check out this chart:
Can you tell which days we posted content to StumbleUpon? Stumbleupon.com and corp.stumbleupon.com are the desktop and mobile versions of the site. As you can see, between the two of them, they make up the bulk of our traffic. Only direct traffic is close, and that includes anyone who goes directly to our website (including ourselves), as well as anyone from a source Google Analytics can’t identify. So expect to see us posting a lot more stuff to StumbleUpon in September. If you are on StumbleUpon, you should follow us!
The only downside to the traffic from StumbleUpon is that the bounce rate is so high (bounce rate refers to people who see a post but leave without interacting with the page). That means that most of the people who find us there never explore the site. We’ll redouble our efforts to make sure that we’re tagging our post as well as we can, so that it’s being shown to the right people. Click through rates are really important when it comes to Google rankings, which brings us to the next step in bringing more traffic to the blog.
Update: I recently learned that StumbleUpon has very strict policies about self promotion. As far as I know our account is still in good standing, but if I continue posting on StumbleUpon I will at least make sure that I post mostly other people’s content. I actually do like StumbleUpon anyway. Sure they’re making promotion a little harder for me, but at least they’re being honest about it (Instagram!).
Optimizing our site for site for search engines is key to bringing in new traffic. I’ve been delving into Google Webmaster Tools, seeing how many people find our page through google searches, and what kinds of searches get them there.
In August, we had 149 clicks from google searches, which is an improvement from the 112 clicks we got in July. As I mentioned above, switch from Squarespace is going to give us more control over our SEO, so we’ll be going through renaming our images. While I’m at it, we signed up for Yoast SEO Premium, and I’ll be editing the posts to make sure that they are more Google friendly. Over time, we hope that will get more people discovering us and coming back too see where we are and what we are up to.
Produce More Content:
Obviously this is the most important thing. In August, we published a total of ten blog posts. Here’s a list of the posts we published, and how many raw page views each one got (statistics might have changed since the writing of this post):
- Our Anniversary in an English Castle: 11 pageviews
- Scotland’s John Muir Trail: 76 pageveiws
- Mountains and Midges at Skye’s Fairy Pools: 85 pageviews
- Our Own Amazing Race: 35 pageviews
- A Quick Guide to Avignon in Spring: 16 pageviews
- Our Best Photo of the Roman Colosseum: 92 pageviews
- Fort Saint-Andre, Day Trip From Avignon France: 50 pageviews
- Operation Digital Nomad: July, 2017: 75 pageviews
- La Fuste and Lavender in Valensole, France: 56 pageviews
- Pont Du Gard Picnic: 65 pageviews
Of course, I don’t think that the number of pageviews each page got has anything to do with the quality of the content at this point. First of all, the biggest differences in August are caused by whether or not the page was promoted on StumbleUpon or not. Our most recent post, Our Anniversary in an English Castle, for example, is my favorite from the month, but received only 11 pageviews because our terrible campground wifi made it almost impossible for us to promote it. On the other hand, Our Best Photo of the Roman Colosseum, while also excellent, got liked many times and was displayed more on StumbleUpon, most likely because of its catchy title, and thus performed better with pageviews.
The lessons learned here are to always promote on social media, and to be aware of how the title and first impression of a blog influence how people engage with it. Luckily it’s never too late to promote a post on social media, so any day we don’t have a new post ready, we can promote an old one that needs a little love!
Now, ten blog posts a month turns out to be quite a bit of work, especially under challenging circumstances. But. It. Is. Not. Good. Enough. Our goal right now is a post every weekday, which should work out to over twenty per month. This means we’re really going to have to streamline our efforts if we also want to get out there and do our photography and keep our daughter happy and healthy at the same time. Heck, we’d like to stay happy and healthy too! Even if each post continues to get the same traffic they are getting now (a pessimistic thought), doubling the number of them and putting ads on all of them instead of two of them, should increase the revenue by a factor of ten. But I’ll bet we can do even better, even if it takes us a while to get to a post a day.
Digital Nomad Lifestyle
The middle of our three months tent camping in Scotland might not have been the ideal moment to start Operation Digital Nomad. Not only is the wifi terrible (I mean, just really, really bad) with no cell phone data, the cramped quarters of a tent and rainy, windy and buggy conditions make it kind of difficult to work. On the other hand, it was the ideal moment, since the best moment to start anything important is the one you are in right now!
The Isle of Skye was pretty tough going. We knew it was going to be and we dealt with it as well as we could. The scenery was amazing when we were able to get out there, and you can expect to see some pretty nice photos showing up on the blog pretty soon. Dannie and I are getting better and better at dividing the labor. Mostly this means one person working while the other keeps Lisa away from the keyboard.
While we have been camping, I’ve started doing most of the dishes, which seems fair since Dannie does most of the cooking. In the dish room, I’ve noticed that other campers like to talk about where they have been, where they are going, and how long their holidays are. When they ask me questions, it’s often a little bit awkward. I tell them we’ve been slow traveling for 8 months now, it usually gets a stunned reaction. I never know how much I should explain. I can’t go into all the details of what we’re doing in the time it takes me to clean a pot!
Thanks for Your Support!
Operation Digital Nomad won’t get off the ground without readers like you following our slow travel adventure. Just by reading this post, you’ve done us a huge favor (and hopefully you’ve gained something in return). If you really want to see where this takes us, you can follow us on your favorite social network (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or StumbleUpon), or better yet, get exclusive content – including stories and tips about travel, photography, and blogging – by scrolling down and subscribing to our newsletter. Thanks so much. I’ll see you next month when I put out the next update!