Hi there, it’s Jake with the September, 2018 issue of Operation Digital Nomad, our monthly report on the progress we are making toward our goal of supporting ourselves through this travel blog. We’ll consider it a success once we are earning $4000 a month through this website. We have a long way to go.
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 months report, after we talk about the numbers, I actually have a few topics I want to discuss. One is improvements we have made to the website over the last month, and how we think they are making things better. Another topic is how our readers have actually been making a difference in the areas where we are actually succeeding. I’ll also talk about how fate was screwing with our travel plans in September, which in turn screwed with the rest of our life.
But first, the bottom line…
Net Income: $-38.86
- Google Adsense: $3.97
- Affiliate Sales: $0.00
- Photography Sales: $14.26
- Digital Product Sales: $4.48
- Total: $22.71
- Cloudflare: (Content Delivery Network) $25.20
- SiteGround: (Website Hosting) $34.95
- Amazon S3 (Image Hosting): $1.62
- Total: $-61.57
Boooo! I was hoping we were done with red ink forever, September’s blog earnings were outpaced by the expenses. In fact, it canceled out the earnings we made in August (not that that’s how money works). Our expenses were actually exactly the same as the were the month before, we just sold less stuff. Maybe it’s because our readers had tapped their bank accounts for back to school season. After all, this is a family travel blog, and maybe the last thing families are thinking about in September is going on a trip.
But excuses aside, here’s a little graph to show how our income has fluctuated over the last year:
Like I said before, the expenses remained constant since last month, so here’s a look at where our income came from so that you can see exactly where things went wrong:
And as usual, let’s have a closer look at our sources of passive income:
This looks less bad, and as you can see, the underperformance of our affiliate links is the most concerning part. A lot of our pages that have affiliate links were getting a lot of views (as you’ll see in the next section) but nobody was making any purchases in September. Given that our affiliate income usually came from one to three sources, I suppose this isn’t that much of a statistical anomaly, it’s just a bit disappointing to look at. On the plus side, our banner ad revenue was up a little, and we sold one of Dannie’s lavender presets, even though lavender season has been over for some time.
Later in this article I’m gong to talk about improvements that we’ve made to the website this month. One thing I’m planning on doing soon will be to go through some of our product reviews and other articles containing affiliate links, to see how they can be improved in ways that will convince people to make purchases when we have recommendations to make.
Normally I wait until the end of this section to get to the graphs, but here’s a graph of the number of pagieviews – as counted by Google Analytics – we got in September compared to the year since we started Operation Digital Nomad.
This isn’t looking too shabby. It looks even better when you consider that the early traffic we were getting was mostly fake – the result of not using enough filters to eliminate pageviews from ourselves or from spambots.
September was our second busiest month on record, falling short only of July when our Provence lavender guide was absolutely killing it. Come to think of it, this totally invalidates half of my explanation for why profits were down this month. It can’t because people weren’t looking for travel information – there the were looking at our website. They just weren’t buying much.
Where did that traffic come from? Mostly it came from Google. Let’s head over to Google Search Console and have a look at our search traffic over that same period of time.
It would be easy to look a this graph, see that it doesn’t look like it’s going up anymore, and be alarmed. In fact, this graph of our Google Images traffic is doing the same thing:
But I’m not really alarmed about it, and I’m actually very confident that both of those graphs are going to start accelerating upward again in the fairly near future. They are not going to look like big hills that go from nothing, to a peak, and back down to nothing. Here’s how I can tell that most of that hill is caused by our hard work and good content, and not by the seasons (although they do play a role). By looking at where we were one year ago today, you can see that the hill doesn’t really line up with the season.
Last year at this time we were getting basically nothing. This year, we are still almost at our peak. Let’s go ahead and look at how searches for a term like “family travel” – which might fluctuate along with people’s searches for our strongest pages – performs from season to season. Here is a graph from Google Trends for those words over the last five years.:
It’s a little hard to read because the labels are too far apart, but it shows that September is normally well into the annual fall trough, and that we should have almost bottomed out by now. Given that we are going to keep on producing content and improving our website in other ways over the fall, but that searches like this one don’t get much worse than they are now, it seems to me that we should either stay level or even improve slowly over the next couple of months before spiking again around the new year.
Let’s look at some more graphs that might be illuminating. Here is a graph for the word “hotels”:
If searches for the word “hotels” indicate that people are thinking about traveling, then we are about halfway down, which would indicate that by December we might be as low as an average of 25 clicks from Google per day. But I don’t think so.
Hotels get used a lot for business. Our readers are family travelers and slow travelers, so I think this graph of searches for Airbnb (use this link when you sign up to save $40 on your first booking) is more helpful. Searches for Airbnb have already almost bottomed out for the year, just like searches for “family travel,” but unlike family travel, they also show an upward trend over the years.
New and Popular on the Blog
Anyway, here is a list of the articles we published on Jake and Dannie in the month of September:
- Visiting Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan – Why did we spend four nights at a Buddhist Monastery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and what was that like? That’s what this articles is all about. Also, it has some fun photos of Statues, architecture, and a certain adorable toddler.
- Photographing Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand – We see plenty of temples her in Dali, China, but the world is a diverse place, and the ones we saw in Thailand were pretty different. The best one we saw on our first trip to Bangkok was Wat Pho, and we decided to write a photography guide for our readers.
- The Island of Torcello: Venice, Italy Day Trip – We finally got around to writing this guide to visiting the island of Torcello in the Venetian lagoon. We saved this island for last because it is the least visited… and because it was our favorite one! You should go there, but first, you should read this article.
- Family Packing List for Bangkok, Thailand in July – We don’t usually do packing lists because part of the way we were slow traveling full time for the last year and a half was carrying everything we owned on our backs. No list required. But when we went to Bangkok in July, we finally got to pick and choose. Have a look – we also go over some of the packing mistakes we made.
- Operation Digital Nomad: August, 2018 – Much like this article, only older.
- The Best Roman Forum Photography Angles and Locations – Due to the popularity of our photography angle post about the Colosseum, we thought people might also enjoy having one about the nearby Roman Forum.
- Breakfast at Cafe Central in Vienna, Austria the Morning After Christmas – We got up early the morning after Christmas, just to get some photos of this iconic Vienna cafe without crowds. Also for cake.
And here are the 10 articles that go the most pageviews in September:
- Finding the Best Angle on the Roman Colosseum (473 pageviews)
- Review: The BabyZen Yoyo Travel Stroller (344 pageviews)
- Visiting Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan (250 pageviews)
- Why One Day in Jiufen, Taiwan is Not Enough For Photographers (105 pageviews)
- Photographing the Louvre Pyramid in the Fall and Spring (98 pageviews)
- How We Took Our Best Photo of the Roman Colosseum (91 pageviews)
- YES, You Keep Your Passport When Renewing Overseas (91 pageviews)
- Photographing Split Croatia’s Marjan Park (89 pageviews)
- Our Experience Staying at Airbnbs in Paris (87 pageviews)
- Photography Tips for Gondola Rides in Venice, Italy (84 pageviews)
Early this Summer we were feeling very proud of ourselves. We have to do a visa run every two months (a visa run is when you leave a country where you are staying for a long time so that you can have your passport stamped and return to the country to avoid overstaying your visa), and for the first time since arriving in China, we had booked our flights, hotels, and Airbnbs a whole four months in advance.
Our first trip, in September, was going to be a week in Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto, Japan. The second trip was a longer one, in November to Chiang Mei, Thailand where we were going to stay inside the Old Town and focus on researching, celebrating, and photographing the city’s famous lantern festival.
Chiang Mei is still on – as far as we know – but our trip to Japan hit a snag. A week before our departure, Osaka was hit by Typhoon Jebi, which flooded the airport, wiped out the bridge, and otherwise devastated the city. We kept an eye on the situation, and there were signs that perhaps the airport would reopen in time for our trip. But two days before we were set to leave for Osaka, we got an email from the airline informing us that our flight had been canceled.
We got our money back, and our hotels were all refundable as well, so the money wasn’t really an issue. Obviously, our problem paled in comparison to those whose lives were really uprooted by the terrible storm – the worst to hit Japan in decades. But we did have a problem. We had scheduled our trip so that it was as close to the end of our 60 day stay in China as possible in order to use our resources (time and money) efficiently. This meant we now had two days to find a new destination and book flights and hotels.
Feeling at a loss, we just decided to go to Bangkok again because 1) We were already familiar with the city and we’d have to do less research, and 2) the flights there are usually pretty cheap.
Our trip to Bangkok was successful, but there was still a sense of disappointment. We – and Dannie in particular – were really looking forward to going to Japan. It’s a place we’ve been wanting to visit for a long time, and we had carefully planned out everything we wanted to do while we were there. We were pretty sure it was going to be one of the highlights of our year. Luckily, the year isn’t over, and we still have more visa runs to do.
In addition to producing new articles for our readers, there are other improvements that we need to make all the time in order to make sure that everyone who uses our site is having a good experience, and that we are doing as good a job as possible finding new readers.
In recent months, we’ve spent a fair amount of time tweaking things here and there, and sometimes even giving a page a complete overhaul.
Updating Old Posts:
As time has gone by, Dannie and I have gotten a lot better at writing useful and interesting content. Sometimes, we’ll look back through one of our old articles and find that it’s really… well… bad. Maybe it’s poorly written with lots of typos. Maybe it’s poorly formatted with all of the photos just tagged onto the end of the article. Maybe the content isn’t optimized for search.
Sometimes, we just find that we left out crucial information or learned something new since it was written, or we go back and add links to relevant articles that hadn’t been published yet at the time. Here are some of the articles that we’ve gone back and improved recently.
This article was in desperate need of a revamp. The main photo was good (as the title suggests) but instead of a walkthrough of how the photo was taken and edited, the article itself was more of a narrative that seemed as though it was more about making our visit to the Colosseum seem exciting than it was about solving a problem for our readers. I spent a good long time fixing this problem by turning into the helpful guide that the title describes.
This post is an old one, but I noticed while going through some of our analytic tools that it was showing up in a lot of Google searches but not getting any clicks. Taking a look at the article itself, and the description of it, it wasn’t hard to see why. The photos all had bad names that didn’t help with search results. It was formatted awkwardly with the images not lining up with the text. And it had no description to help searchers decide whether it would be useful or not. I fixed all that, and I also added some updates so that anyone who read it had easy links to follow if they wanted to learn what Dannie, Lisa and I are up to these days.
This is another old article from back before we left on our big adventure. Vegetarianism has influenced us in lots of ways while we travel, and we reference it frequently. Whenever we talk about, for example, how hard it is to find vegetarian food in a given city, or where to buy good fresh produce, it’s nice to have an article to link to for background information. This one needed some improvements since formatting errors (resulting from switching from WordPress to Squarespace and back to WordPress) had left it almost unreadable. I don’t think the article will ever be a smash hit on Google, but it’s nice that it can now be useful to our readers.
When we wrote our recent article about The Best Photography Angles and Locations for the Roman Forum, we discovered something we had overlooked months ago. Our similar article about the colosseum was missing an angle we had found while waiting in line for the Forum. We added that photo and a description of how to find it to the original Roman Colosseum article.
Our Newsletter Page
Back when we first started Operation Digital Nomad, we signed up for MailChimp, created a sign up form, and sent out our first newsletter (to ourselves, my Dad, and one other person who had signed up). Then, we totally forgot to write more newsletters for almost a year.
We left that sign up form on our website though, and even though we were neglecting the newsletter, somebody would occasionally sign up for it. A couple of months ago, I signed into MailChimp just to have a look, and lo and behold, there were actually enough people that signed up that I wouldn’t feel like I was talking to myself.
So I started writing newsletters again. But I wasn’t really interested in doing the little weekly updates that we originally thought the newsletter would be for. Now I am writing only when I feel like I have something interesting to say, but which I feel wouldn’t be appropriate for a blog post.
To help our readers decide whether they want to sign up for our newsletter or not, I now have all of the previous newsletters listed out and linked to on the sign up page, and anyone on the list gets a password so that they can read the old ones if they seem interesting. I already know for a fact that it’s worked on at least one person, so head over and look at the headlines to see if you are tempted as well. I also encourage you to try to guess the password which you really ought to be able to do.
Our most opened newsletter of all time (so far) is: Stinky Tofu: An Open (Not Open) Letter to Taiwan.
Our Readers are Making a Difference
I know this was a long read, but I have to say one more thing.
Cause and effect are hard to pin down sometimes, but every once in a while I get the feeling that a success we are enjoying is partly due to our amazing readers. I want to talk specifically about our blog post: YES, You Keep Your Passport While Renewing Overseas.
This article doesn’t have amazing photos or an exciting story. It’s just designed to answer a simple question that I had a hard time researching while we were traveling to Shanghai. At first it got no traffic at all. But then, when one reader commented on it to say that they’d found it useful, it suddenly saw an uptick.
I always try to make our articles as useful as possible, but for whatever reason, readers felt compelled to comment on this one to say thank you. The visibility of the post accelerated, and now, this piece that I almost didn’t write was our seventh most popular article in September. I’m pretty sure that Google takes comments into account when determining search rankings, and so I’m also pretty sure that the readers who took a minute out of their day to give us feedback had a big influence on this very website.
Dannie and I are so grateful everyone who reads our website, but especially to those of you who take a moment to engage with us and help us along. If any of the articles I’ve mentioned throughout this report looked interesting, please do give it a read. And if you like it (or don’t like it) say so in the comments. Or better yet ask a question. Every little engagement brings us closer to our goals.
Your the best. Thanks for reading.
Oh, and go sign up for our newsletter already!