It’s Jake again, with our monthly installment of Operation Digital Nomad, the series in which we update you on the progress we have made monetizing this travel blog. As you will recall, our goal is to earn $4000 a month through this website, and we are keeping you informed on how much we make (or lose).
By the way, this article contains affiliate links. If you click on one and wind up making a purchase, we will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Commissions like this help support our travels and our website. Thank you!
In this review of our October activities, I’m also going to go over some other interesting things that have been going on, including the reemergence and transformation of our e-mail newsletter, and how we kind of missed halloween. The Fall has been very busy for us. We were saving a lot of our photography expeditions in Yunnan for the Autumn months because we wanted the tourism season to end, and because the Summer is the rainy season. We’ve been very busy, and we’ll be putting out a lot of content in the next few months.
But first, the bottom line…
Net Income: $-59.92
- Google Adsense: $1.76
- Affiliate Sales: $0.00
- Photography Sales: $0.00
- Digital Product Sales: $0.00
- Total: $1.76
- Cloudflare: (Content Delivery Network) $25.20
- SiteGround: (Website Hosting) $34.95
- Amazon S3 (Image Hosting): $1.53
- Total: $-61.57
So those aren’t great numbers. October was slow on our blog (relatively speaking), and combined with a some of our other activities, that resulted in a very lackluster performance revenue-wise. Of course, a lot of the revenue that we missed out on, like affiliate sales and digital product sales, should have been earned passively by our website, but given our previous sales rates, a month of zeroes is not outside the margin of error. (I can tell you now that our November report will be a lot sunnier. And I can also tell you that it wasn’t quite as slow as the numbers make it seem.) Have a look at this very unattractive graph of our net income since we started Operation Digital Nomad in August of 2017.
Not looking good, right? Our blog expenses -things like hosting and whatnot – are relatively constant, so the losses can be attributed entirely to an absence of income. Here’s a breakdown of our income by their sources over the same time period:
We normally get a nice little chunk of change from photography sales, but that didn’t happen in October. The sad part is, it definitely could have. We had sent out some photos to our usual clients, and for whatever reason, they just never got around to making any purchases. Once I contacted them (after the end of the month), they immediately purchased some, which could have otherwise turned this negative month into a positive one.
But what about passive income that doesn’t require me to go emailing anyone, doing extra photo shoots, or putting up online galleries? That’s a little harder to explain. Have a look at the graph below:
I’m thinking that maybe October isn’t a very busy shopping month. We had plenty of people clicking on our affiliate links, but no purchases being made. Perhaps it’s just that awkward period after back to school shopping, but before Black Friday and Christmas season. Even the revenue from banner ads was down. October is also one of the slowest months of the year for travel planning, so it’s possible that advertisers also weren’t excited about shelling out cash for automated ads on travel sites. Whatever the cause, $1.76 is not a gross income to get excited about.
Blog traffic was down in October, but that was pretty much what we had predicted. If you read the September, 2018 issue of Operation Digital Nomad, you’ll see me point out that according to Google Trends, October is one of the slowest months of the year for family travel related searches. It honestly should remain slow until the end of December, but we are working so hard this fall that I think we should outperform expectations. Our site has really been gaining in reputation with search engines, and even though October was slower than the month before, the difference was very small compared to what one would expect.
The way I see it, holding our ground during the off season is the same as growth. Have a look at this graph (below) of our traffic compared to other travel blogs using the Google Analytics Benchmarking tool. Please note that I intentionally chose to compare our site to larger travel blogs instead of similarly sized ones. Comparing to smaller sites not only introduces more volatility in the competitors’ data, it also makes the graph harder to read because the lines intersect to often. (Also, comparing ourselves to larger sites provides more motivation!) The goal here was to see how we compare over time, rather than how we compare overall. The graph starts on January 1st, 2017, and continues to the end of October.
You’ll see that not only are we (the darker line) gaining ground quickly, we are not experiencing that same post-summer dip in traffic that other sites are. That means we are continuing to gain on them, even while staying the same. This is the only graph I’m gong to include in the blog traffic portion of the report this month, because it pretty much encapsulates how I’m feeling about our progress in this regard. I’ll just add that search traffic from Google continues to be the dominant source of eyeballs on our website, bringing in 82.7% of our readers in October.
Here are the new articles that were published on the blog in October:
- Chinese New Year Celebrations at Fo Guang Shan in Kaohsiung, Taiwan – A month earlier, we wrote our guide to visiting Fo Guang Shan, Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s enormous Buddhist monastery. In that article, we covered transportation, lodging, and etiquette. In this article, we went over what you can expect from the one month long Chinese New Year festivities. This one has some fireworks!
- Why Christmas in Vienna, Austria is Better for Adults Than Kids – Vienna really does have some great decorations and activities for the Christmas season, but during our visit in December, we couldn’t shake the feeling that Lisa wasn’t getting as much out of it as we were. In this article, we talk about some of the reasons why traveling adults might enjoy the holiday season in Vienna more than children.
- Operation Digital Nomad: September, 2018 – Much like this article, only a month older.
- Our Lady of the Rocks and Perast: Bay of Kotor, Montenegro Day Trip – In this article, we talk about exploring the bay of Kotor in Montenegro by boat. We were out to get some great photos, and with the help of our private ship captain, we got some! We go over how to hire a boat, what the trip is like, and what it’s like to visit these two iconic locations during the off season.
- The Yunnan Ethnic Village in Kunming, China – Kunming is a hub for traveling around Yunnan Province, and if you have a day there before you go out to explore the region, the Yunnan Ethnic Village is a family friendly park for getting acquainted with the many Chinese ethnic minorities that inhabit the region. In this article we go over how to get there, what to do, and how to have a more enjoyable visit.
- Lion Hill and Wangu Tower in Lijiang, China: A Photographer’s Guide – One of our favorite locations in Lijiang, China is Lion Hill. It’s a surprisingly peaceful park where you can escape the noisy maze of the old town and enjoy a little nature and exercise. At the top of the hill is the beautiful Wangu Tower, which provides some of the best views in the region. This article is our guide to exploring and photographing the park.
- How to Visit Mufu Palace in the Old Town of Lijiang, China – Mufu Palace is one of Lijiang’s most popular attractions. It’s beautiful palace complex with gardens, amazing Chinese architecture, and a buddhist temple overlooking the valley. Well worth a visit if you can find it (and with this article, you’ll be able to).
And here are the articles that got the most traffic October:
- Review: The BabyZen Yoyo Travel Stroller (426 pageviews)
- Finding the Best Angle on the Roman Colosseum (393 pageviews)
- YES, You Keep Your U.S. Passport While Renewing Overseas (159 pageviews)
- Why One Day in Jiufen, Taiwan is Not Enough For Photographers (149 pageviews)
- Visiting Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan (120 pageviews)
- How We Took Our Best Photo of the Roman Colosseum (92 pageviews)
- Photographing the Louvre Pyramid in the Fall and Spring (87 pageviews)
- Where to Photograph Provence Lavender Fields (76 pageviews)
- Our Experience Staying at Airbnbs in Paris (60 pageviews)
- The Best Roman Forum Photography Angles and Locations (58 pageviews)
If you’ve been keeping track (and I know that you have) you noticed that the BabyZen review is now crushing the list. There seems to be an uptick of interest lately, and we’re really pleased. Now if somebody would just buy one through our affiliate link, that would be great. We were also very pleased to see that our articles on renewing a U.S. passport overseas and on visiting Fo Guang Shan have started really taking off. This is a trend that you will see continuing into November when you check back next month. And finally, I am excited that our lavender field guide is still getting some action even in late fall. This bodes well for next July when the lavender is actually in season.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Email Newsletter
So, back when we first started doing Operation Digital Nomad, Dannie and I also started an email newsletter. It was… bad. We really weren’t sure what we were trying to do with it, but we had read that most successful online businesses had one, and we figured we should write one too. The only thing was, we just had no idea what kind of content we were going to put in there. We wanted the content to be useful and interesting so that people would sign up for it and read it, but we also didn’t want to sacrifice our blog by putting our best content into newsletters that wouldn’t show up in online searches, and couldn’t bring in new readers.
We put out a couple of emails that were basically family updates, and then we just sort of stopped doing them for about a year.
Then, in June of this year, I put out an email in which I just told the story of how Lisa puked all over a family banquet in China. The only thing that made it relevant to our readers was that it happened in the middle of a conversation Dannie and I were having about how travel was making our family more open to new experiences, and Lisa’s willingness to try new foods was an example (or so we thought for a few seconds).
It wasn’t anything that I could make a useful blog post out of. It was just kind of funny and telling. But when I sent it out, a staggering 57.1% of our 15 subscribers opened it. My first reaction was: “Wow! We have 15 email subscribers?” I guess if you leave a sign-up form on the blog for a year, you are bound to get a few, and if you never send out an email, no one will ever have a chance to unsubscribe. But my next thought was “Wow! A 57% open rate is really good! Is it possible that our subscribers actually want to hear from us?”
So a little later, I sent out another email with content that was entertaining but not especially useful. This time, it was an open letter to Slovenia (that was not actually an open letter because no Slovenians would ever receive it), in which I apologized for our family snubbing them, even though we visited every other country in the region. To my great shock, an amazing 80% of our 16 subscribers opened that one! That meant that not only had we picked up a subscriber since the previous month, but of the people who had opened the June newsletter, at least a few had enjoyed it enough that when they saw another one in their inbox, they actually clicked on it.
All of a sudden, I realized that if I just sent out emails that I actually enjoyed writing, people would actually enjoy reading them. So now, once or twice a month, when I feel like I have something to talk about and time to do it, I just send out a quick story or fun theory that I think our family and travel minded readers will enjoy. I slap on an tantalizing subject line, and so far we are enjoying an open rate that would make any business green with envy.
We’ve also started getting more readers ever since I revamped our sign up page. The first thing I did was put up a list of all of our previous newsletters so that people could see what they were missing if they hadn’t signed up yet. The links to those newsletters are password protected, but anyone who signs up and gets the password can read all the old newsletters in addition to the new ones that will show up in their inboxes.
I also pointed out that our password is easy to guess (go ahead and try), with the goal of getting people curious enough to engage by guessing. This combination has worked well, and we’re up to 20 subscribers as of this writing. In fact, because we now have a page on our blog that mentions Slovenia, someone from that country found it while doing an on page search for that keyword, had their interest piqued by the subject line “Our Apologies to Slovenia,” and signed up (I know because they emailed me). That means that my open letter from Slovenia has now been read by at least one Slovenian!
Now, in keeping with the general theme of breaking norms with our newsletter and having surprising success, I will not beg you to go sign up for it. Seriously, there’s no need to go to our newsletter sign up page, get the password in your welcome letter, and then read October’s newsletter called I’ve Been Left in the Dust, or my Open Letter to Taiwan about their addiction to Stinky Tofu. And if you clicked on one of those last links without signing up first, don’t bother trying to guess the easy password – it’s probably not the one your thinking of… or is it?
Trick-Or-Treating is Not Big Here
As you know, we’ve been in Dali, China for almost a year now, and I suppose Lisa probably thinks of it as home by now. Of course, growing up in another culture means she misses out on some of the cultural experiences that Dannie and I grew up with. Case in point, Trick-or-treating. They do have some Halloween celebrations here, but it’s mostly stuff for adults, and a few decorations at bars and stuff. Going door to door and begging for candy is just not going to happen.
In fact, we were actually on the road in Lijiang on Halloween, so we didn’t even have a costume for her, unless you count the traditional looking Chinese clothes we bought at souvenir shops there. Of course, being a three year old, she didn’t know that she was missing anything, but at some point in the future, we hope she gets to try it before she becomes to old to enjoy one of our favorite childhood memories.
As always, I want to thank you for reading this and for following us on our journey. These posts aren’t my favorite to write, especially on slow months like October, but when I see that people are reading them, they do become especially rewarding. Knowing that people actually care about us – as opposed to just how to get to some attraction or another – makes us feel really special. We wouldn’t have a chance at succeeding in our mission without the awesome people who read our blog, take the time to comment and ask questions, and just otherwise get involved. You people are the best.