Hi, there. It’s Jake with my monthly report on the progress of Operation Digital Nomad, our attempt to monetize our slow travel blog. We are still (very) well short of our (very) ambitious goal of earning $4000.00 a month. This month’s focus is going to be on Blog Traffic. Normally I cut right to the bottom line and then provide a little analysis, but this month I’m going to start out by telling you follow this link and watch a video of Lisa trying to help us pay our way.
Ok, that was probably enough time. Now that we’ve drawn inspiration from her work ethic, we can get down to business ourselves. Here it is!
Net Income: -$56.74
- Adsense: $1.49
- Lisa’s Fried Pizza Sales: $0.00
- Total: $1.49
Examining this information we can see that we really ought to do two things. 1: We should diversify our blog income to include more than Adsense. 2: We should explain to Lisa that collecting money is an important part of the food service industry. (If you didn’t get that last joke, then you never watched the video. Go! Watch it now!)
Update!! We’ve just published our brand new resources page which could become a potential source of income, assuming people are interested in products and services we use to make family travel, photography, and family travel photography so very easy and fun for ourselves (more fun than easy). It’s probably the kind of thing you’d want to take a look at.
- Cloudflare: (Monthly – Content Delivery Network) $20
- Professional Photographers of America (Monthly – Trade Association and Camera Insurance): $27.92
- Amazon S3 (Monthly – Image Hosting): $0.32
- Adobe Creative Cloud (Monthly – Software Subscription: Photoshop, Lightroom and More): $9.99
- Total: $58.23
As you can see, our blog expenses didn’t change much. For some reason, our image hosting costs went down by ten cents despite the fact that we were hosting more images than ever. I’m not going to argue with that. Because our expenses remained nearly constant, we can actually compare our net income to last month’s fairly easily for once. Our net income improved from -$57.79 to -56.74. Since a penny saved is a penny earned (it’s not – savings have diminishing value) one way to look at this is to say we improved by $1.05.
That’s a positive way of looking at it, but an even more positive outlook would be to ignore the expenses and look at the income alone. If the expenses are fixed, then all we really need to focus on is the more flexible income. Last month, the blog earned $0.54 from Adsense. That’s fairly predictable since we essentially took September off from blogging. This month’s gross income of $1.49 is a 276% improvement. Since October was also spent in a pretty relaxing manner – partially because people kept getting sick – this shows that a small change in effort can amount to a bigger change in profit. A slightly less optimistic outlook is to say that we still need to improve by 3908% in order to break even.
Improving Our Web Traffic
Obviously Adsense by itself isn’t going to bring us to where we need to be (and we’re working on that) but the key to success with any revenue source is going to be blog traffic. Ad banners need eyeballs on them, sponsored posts need readers to get sponsors, and if we want to sell our own products or services, we need people looking around our site to find them.
To monitor our web traffic and its impact on Operation Digital Nomad, I use two main sites, both of which are operated by Google.
The first, and possibly the most powerful, is Google Analytics. Google Analytics allows me to see how many people view each page of our website, when the view it, and where they came from. This really helps us determine what kind of content our readers find valuable and how it’s being discovered. Here’s a screenshot with a lot of information:
It’s not too complicated really. As you can see from the graph we got varying amounts of traffic on different days during October. This particular graph shows the number of pageviews we got. A pageview occurs whenever someone sees a page or a blog post on jakeanddannie.com. It’s safe to say that pages that get more pageviews are more popular and should be emulated in the future. Looking at that jagged line, the first thought I had was “what happened on October 19?” To find out, I can just zero in on that day to see how we got 177 pageviews – substantially more than our monthly average:
It turns out October 19th was the day we published Dannie’s blog post, Fixing Our Mindset in Glencoe, Scotland. Looking at the breakdown, you can see that that one blog post received 33 pageviews, which is pretty good, but by itself it doesn’t account for all of those pageviews. To solve the mystery, we’ll have to go a little deeper.
A few spaces to the right of the pageview count, we see the bounce rate. The bounce rate is the percent of viewers who see that post and then leave the blog instead of visiting another page. Our normal bounce rate is higher than I’d like it to be, but for that post, it was a respectable 55%. That means that people who read that post went on to read other content. The post, a nice wellbeing piece about working around unsolvable problems isn’t particularly full of links to other pages, which means that the readers went out of their way to find more content on our blog. That’s a big deal! To confirm this, I looked at the behavior flow chart from that day.
This first chart shows the people who viewed that post immediately after arriving on our home page, which is why it contains most, but not all, of the 33 page views. As you can see, quite a few of those viewers went on to read another page, and another, and another. I can’t fit it all into one screenshot, but I was able to scroll right and see that one person even viewed 11 pages after reading that post. Good for them! From this data, we can conclude that either that post makes people so interested in our journeys that they feel compelled to keep browsing, or that Dannie’s post attracts the kind of people who are likely to find our blog interesting.
In addition to telling you which content is popular, Google Analytics can also tell you where your readers are coming from. Here is a screenshot showing the various ways readers came to our blog last month:
This page is displaying sessions instead of pageviews because that is the relevant statistic here. A session occurs when a viewer arrives on our blog and ends when they leave our blog, regardless of how many pages they visit while they are here (but the more the better). In October, a plurality of our sessions were direct, meaning that there was no information about a previous page. Direct viewers either typed our website url in directly, followed a link from an email or text message that didn’t give the needed information, or were untraceable for some other reason. Those viewers are great because they are people who are already interested in us enough to intentionally seek us out.
The next largest group came from social pages like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. Those viewers are great too because they either follow us on social media (this is your queue to click on those links above and follow us right now), or they are friends with someone who follows us and liked our content enough to share it with them. I have to admit that social media is one of the areas we need to improve the most, and it will probably be a big part of next month’s report, unless something really interesting happens in the meantime.
The next group that makes up a substantial part of our traffic is called organic traffic. Organic traffic could basically be renamed Search Traffic – in other words, it’s Google, the world’s most popular search engine. Organic traffic is the hardest to get and it might be the most valuable because it is almost entirely new readers who might one day become followers. Also, the more people who find our site through Google searches and find it useful or engaging, the higher Google will rank our site in future searches and the more traffic we’ll get.
These viewers also tend to be the most profitable. People search on Google because they have a problem that they need to solve. Sometimes they need information. For example they might want to know the best angles to photograph the Roman Colosseum, or they might want some ideas for a day trip from Avignon France.
Referrals are viewers that come to our website from another website. If someone else links to us, their readers can follow that link to find our website. Likewise, when we link to another website our readers can become referral traffic in their Google analytics report. Like organic traffic, referral traffic is very valuable because it brings us new readers and improves our rankings in future searches.
This last graph is the most encouraging one I have for you. It compares our traffic sources in October with our traffic sources from September:
Though direct traffic still makes up the largest portion of our traffic, the others are gaining, especially organic and referral traffic. As a percentage of our traffic, organic went from 9.1% to 23.7% and referral traffic went from 1.2% to 5%. This bodes very well for the future. Improving organic traffic is the number one key to expanding our readership, which is the number one key to success in Operation Digital Nomad.
Google Search Console
Speaking of improving organic traffic, the second site that I make great use of is Google Search Console. Since one of the best ways to grow your site is to get new users who find it through Google searches, the Search Console is invaluable. It tells you how many people are finding your site through google searches, which pages they are being directed to, and, to a certain extent, what they searched for to find you.
Here is a graph that will explain why Google Analytics showed an improvement in organic traffic:
See that? A 119% improvement from 41 to 90 clicks per month. A click is when someone sees one of our pages displayed as a result of a Google search and clicks on it. The solid blue line shows how many clicks we got an a given day in October, and the dotted line represents September. It certainly is nice to see the recent line looking like mountains over last month’s foothills.
Here’s another graph showing the number of page impressions. Impressions are the number of times someone did a search on Google and google showed them our page, whether they clicked on it or not. There’s a distinct improvement here too, even if you discount what appears to be an anomalously high point on the 16h. In October, 54% more people saw our content in search results than in September.
But why would a 54% improvement in impressions result in a 119% improvement in clicks? The answer has to do with position. Every search engine has to show you search results in order a certain order, starting with which results they think you will find the most useful (actually, they show you ads first, but there’s not much you can do about that, other than buy ads yourself, which we are thinking about testing next month, just for kicks). Think about how often you do a search and wind up clicking on the first result showed to you. Now think about how often you scroll through, click for more results a few times and choose the 100th result. No comparison, right?
This graph is a little harder to read, but if you look at the totals in the corner, you can see that our average position improved from 50.6 to 36.1. That means, in addition to showing our posts in its search results more often, Google also displayed them an average of over 14 positions earlier! Of course, being number one is the best, but every improvement makes a difference. And since this is only the average position, that means that some of the results were in fact displayed much earlier – sometimes right near the top.
But there’s a lot more to the Search Console than self congratulations. Just like in Google Analytics, you can dig deeper to see which pages did the best, and why. Here is a list of our top performing posts. I juxtaposed the number of clicks with the number of impressions that they got so that we can get into another important statistic, Click Through Rate (CTR).
Our top performer here was the home page (represented by “/”), but that’s kind of boring. We’re interested in what content was the most productive. Our most clicked on page from Google searches was our review of the Ergobaby Omni 360. That’s great, because that post has affiliate links, and we make money if someone buys an Ergobaby carrier after clicking on one (now if only someone would do that…). As you can see people saw our post in search results 159 times and clicked on it 6.92% of the time. That’s not bad, and it’s not too surprising either. People who are looking for baby products like to read lot’s of reviews, and our post was clearly a review of a specific product.
Another post with a great CTR was 5 Airbnb Tips for Family Travel in Paris. That’s another great post to get visitors to because it has a coupon code that will give the user (and us) discounts on future Airbnb stays. It’s also not surprising that it got clicks because the title is very clear about what the content will provide, and it is likely to show up in very specific searches. Indeed, as you can see below, it is very on topic for the kinds of searches it shows up in.
And finally, I want to point out the high click through rate of Off Season Travel in Dubrovnik, Croatia. It has a CTR of over 13%! This post suddenly started doing well in the Fall after getting very little traffic all Summer. Any guesses why? That’s right, all of a sudden people are planning there Winter travel, and they want to know what destinations will be like when they get there. When they do a search for “off season” and “Dubrovnik, Croatia,” our post is likely to show up, especially since it is a less common search and thus there are fewer people targeting it with their writing. It helps that once again, the topic is very specific and useful. Of course, once the off season passes, it’s popularity is likely to drop until next Fall.
So the lesson here is that there are three kinds of posts that do well. Posts that are useful. Posts on a specific topic, and posts that have less competition. If they have all three, that’s even better. As a comparison, our post about photographing the Louvre Pyramid gets more impressions than any other post (557 in October), but with only 3 clicks it has a paltry CTR of 0.54%. It has too much competition because lots of people write about the Louvre.
And finally, you can also see how your photo’s do when people search Google Images. Because we have a lot of photos on our blog, we get some image traffic as well. The click through rate is much lower because Google Image searches display like a billion images at once, but the volume is so high a few clicks are inevitable. As you can see from this graph of clicks and impressions, the trend is very encouraging. And as you can see from the pages that receive the traffic, it’s once again about timely, specific content.
Blog Traffic Conclusions
So, while we don’t have as much traffic as we eventually need to, we are improving in the right ways. We are attracting more new viewers to our site through organic and referral traffic, and in turn we have had an increase in ad revenue (albeit a statistically insignificant one).
Looking at how well the seasonal blog posts did even inspired us to go back and put out a few more posts about destinations we visited that are likely to be getting seasonal searches soon. Here is a list of the blog posts we published last month in the order of popularity (pageviews received to date):
- Fixing Our Mindset in Glencoe, Scotland (57 pageviews)
- Review: The Ergobaby Omni 360 (51 pageviews)
- Operation Digital Nomad: September, 2017 (45 pageviews)
- October in Paris with Baby Lisa (37 pageviews)
- Photographing the Old Man of Storr on Scotland’s Isle of Skye (37 pageviews)
- Pont Alexandre III in Fall, Rain or Shine (28 pageviews)
- A Day in Portree on the Isle of Skye (28 pageviews)
- Photographing the Louvre Pyramid in Fall and Spring (26 pageviews)
- Farewell to Summer (14 pageviews)
Coming Soon on the Blog
We have a lot to share about our travels, but our perspective is only a small part of the spectrum of experiences out there. With that in mind, I’ve started reaching out to other travelers, bloggers, and interesting people we’ve gotten to know in the last year. I’ve been conducting interviews with them in their respective areas of expertise, expect those to start showing up on the blog fairly soon.
We’re also going to start publishing some of the photos we took in Prague last month. A lot of people have been asking for those and we don’t want to disappoint. We’re in Budapest now, and we’ll try to get to those photos in a more timely manner as well.
In the meantime, I want to thank our readers one more time. Every time you check in to see how we’re doing or where we are now, it brings us a little closer to our goal. It makes us feel really nice, too! This is going to be an amazing month, and we can’t wait to share it with you.