2018 in Review (and Plans for 2019)

2018 was a great year for my online publishing busines. There’s so much that I’ve learned and applied, that I decided to come back to this blog and add a proper 2018 In Review post.

This post has two parts. First, I’ll share my insights about current trends in the web publishing industry. Then I’ll talk about my own little corner of the web. How my business strategy evolved, what my sites are doing and where they’re headed.

Web Publishing Industry Trends in 2018

I was going to say that “like any industry”, web publishing keeps changing.

Actually, this industry is so tech-related that it changes as fast as the high-tech industry does. And that’s very fast.

Here’s a quick review of the main changes as I see them. Certainly, there have been others, but for me, these were “game adapters”, if not actual “game changers”.

For me, the three main trends in 2018 were –

  1. Google favoring authority websites.
  2. Advertising rates going up.
  3. Search results becoming even more accurate, with an emphasis on user intent.

1. Google favoring authority sites

In 2018, outbreaks of measles expanded pretty much everywhere in the world.

I’m bringing measles up not just because I’m very interested in epidemiology (I am!) but because I really think that it influenced Google’s policies. Here’s how.

Measles is a disease that shouldn’t be around anymore. There’s a very effective vaccine against measles and if everyone were to vaccinate their babies as they should, we would have complete herd immunity against this highly-infectious disease.

Fear of vaccinations has been around ever since Edward Jenner came up with the smallpox vaccine. However, up to the late 21st century, people relied on their health practitioners as a source of medical information. That meant parents weren’t really exposed to anti-vaccine propaganda.

Then came the Internet. And Google. And anti-vaxxers finally had a way to reach the masses. And they did. Setting up numerous outlets for their misinformation about vaccines, anti-vax websites came as high up in search results as actual medical sites.

With vaccinations, all it takes is a little bit of doubt to paralyze worried parents and make them avoid the procedure.

These websites did just that.

Measles is the most infectious pathogen known to humankind. It only takes a small percentage of the population avoiding vaccines for the disease to rear its ugly head again within a few years.

And it did in late 2010’s. Finally, a large enough number of unvaccinated babies and toddlers accumulated for an epidemic to break. And this is the result –

Measles cases spike globally due to gaps in vaccination coverage

Back to Google Updates

So, what does this have to do with web publishing? IMHO, this was one of the major reasons for the latest Google updates affecting YMYL websites.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, YMYL stands for “Your Money, Your Life”. For Google, this means websites where information could affect your health or your finances to an extent that they need to be more carefully guarded.

As of 2018, Google requires a site to be more authoritative in order to get high up in the search results. Try searching for “measles vaccine” these days. Everything on the main page is from an authoritative site, beginning with the CDC. And that’s a good thing.

2. Adverting Revenue Went Up

If you’ve been in web publishing for more than a couple of years, you probably noticed this trend. It was stronger than ever in 2018.

What happened here?

I’m not an expert, but from what I can see, more and more ad agencies incorporated header bidding technology into their systems.

For web publishers, this means you just need to hook up with a decent network that applies header bidding and has access to the Google Ad Exchange. Do that and your average revenue per page will instantly skyrocket. It will likely triple from anything you were getting by using Adsense alone.

You do need to have a certain level of traffic to be accepted to these networks. The best one for relatively new sites is probably Ezoic. They may be able to work with you even if you only have 30K monthly pageviews.

Niches don’t matter as much

Another factor which affected higher ad rates is focusing on the user rather than page content.

When Google launched Adwords/Adsense, it was all about contextual ads. Ads that match the content on your web page. Which meant some niches were more lucrative than others.

Advertisers paid more for keywords relating to insurance, loans and expensive products. So, if your website was about any of those topics, it would earn more money per visitor, compared to a site about something like crochet where products are cheap.

In 2018, niche matters far less, at least where CPM advertising rates are concerned.

Advertisers have much more information about your visitor. They chase web surfers around from one website to another.

Let’s say you’re looking to buy car insurance. You visit Geico’s website to check for quotes. From now on, Geico ads will follow around everywhere. Even on crochet websites.

And that’s great news for people who make websites about crochet. Or celebrity gossip. Or caring for goldfish.

Whatever the niche, if your audience is adults with credit cards, you could get a lot of money from companies like Geico who chase their potential customers around the web.

Clearly, there are other ways to monetize a website, so your niche can still matter. A well-balanced content website is often monetized through info products, affiliation, lead generation etc. In all of them, niche choice is still important.

3. Smarter algorithms seek user intent (killing keyword hunting)

Google is definitely getting smarter when it comes to understanding what people are asking about.

Forget about searching for specific keywords or key phrases. When we look at a search string, we have to think “user intent” first. And then, it’s perfectly ok to provide a detailed page that answers what the user really wants to know. Even if they don’t know how to put that into words.

For example, when someone is looking for “things to do in New York City”, they’re not really looking for the ultimate list of 1000+ things to do in the Big Apple. That user is probably a visitor who’s looking for a shorter, concise list of places to visit in New York City. They’re probably trying to come up with an itinerary for a trip lasting 2-3 days – maybe a week. They want to make sure they don’t miss out on anything crucial.

Google understands that.

That’s why all of the results on the main page offer limited, curated lists of attractions in that destination. Even Trip Advisor, a website that has 1144 attractions currently listed for NYC, offers this as their search result:

This is the #1 result, preceeded only by Google’s own list of best places to see in NYC

It doesn’t even take sophisticated AI to figure this out. Google only needs to follow user behavior. Clearly, people who are searching for “things to do in X” have a preference for concise useful lists that can help them create an itinerary. They spend more time on these pages and don’t bounce back.

Google is also understands words very well

Which means synomyms are just that, synonyms. As are complete sentences.

When I started out in SEO, some 15 years ago, we were taught that there’s a difference between these two queries:

  • How to find my cat
  • My cat is lost

You were supposed to try and guess which phrase more people used and fewer sites competed over – and target that exact phrase. This is no longer the case (and hasn’t been in years).

The bottom line is, it’s now more important than ever to understand your niche and figure out what your users really want – not just hunt down the exact phrases that they type into Google.

My Web Publishing Business in 2018

Now that we’ve covered industry trends, it’s time to share a short summary of what 2018 was like for my business.

And it was fairly huge.

You may have noticed this blog pretty much died out during 2017. The reason for that was a major change in the business setup for my flagship website.

That change required me to spend most of 2017 and early 2018 working hard on that website. With great results. Traffic almost doubled and revenue quadrupled!

This required a series of projects, including a change in platform, design, revenue generation methods – pretty much everything. It was pretty hectic!

Everything stabilized in early 2018. I found myself with a single website that was a fairly reliable source of income and required about 10 hours a week to maintain.

At that point, I decided it was time to branch out and start developing more websites. Here’s why –

  1. Keeping all of your eggs in one basket is never a good idea. All it takes is for Google to hit your site really bad, or for hackers to target it to put your entire business is at risk.
  2. For me, working on just one website is too boring. Maybe it’s my ADHD, but I just crave the excitement of new projects.

My New Business Strategy

With that in mind, I re-assessed my portfolio. Other than my flagship site, I always had other sites “on the back burner”. I reviewed those and focused on one of them as having enough potential. The others were dead ends.

To that website, I gradually added a few new websites throughout 2018. Two were launched in March 2018, and another in August and one more in October.

What’s different now?

Before I tell you some more about the new websites, let me tell you about the more important change I made in 2018.

I learned to outsource.

Sure, I knew the technical aspects of outsourcing, but for years, I held back on doing that because I felt I could do everything better. But the one thing I can’t do on my own is scale.

This was a long process that required some business coaching. I found my coach back in 2017 and had weekly, and then bi-weekly Skype calls with her where we constantly reviewed and improved how my business operated. We parted ways in the summer of 2018 because we both felt I had reached a point where things were progressing very well.

My business coach, Marina Darlow, deserves a shout out. If you’re serious about your business and are looking for ways to improve, check out her website.

So, what does outsourcing look like?

The end result of outsourcing is that I moved from producing an average of 10K words a month to over 100K. Which roughly translates into 60 new posts per month, across the board.

The three elements that I added in 2018 were –

  • Hiring a full-time VA
  • Getting a team of freelance writers in place
  • Creating a streamlined workflow

Hiring and Training a VA

First, I finally have a full-time VA. I found him through OnlineJobs.ph and we started working together exactly one year ago, in January 2018. He’s a fantastic VA. Intelligent, proactive and very easy and pleasant to work with.

I work closely with my VA on a daily basis. I invested in training and it’s really paying off. He’s now in charge of entire aspects of the business, including social media and adding media to posts.

Establishing My own team of freelance writers

I now outsource writing on all of my blogs. I have a dozen freelance writers that I work with on a regular basis. Together, they bring my total content production to over 100K words per month.

These writers just write. That’s what I pay them for. I do the editing, affiliate linking and media (with the help of my VA).

The real challenge here is managing incoming content. Coming up with a good workflow was essential.

Creating a streamlined workflow

Explaining the ins and outs of my workflow will take an entire post. And I may just do that sometime.

In a nutshell, I use Clickup as my project/task management tool. My VA and all of the writers have their own accounts in my Clickup spaces.

I create lists of post topics with descriptions which the writers can then assign to themselves. Once they’re done writing, they re-assign that content item to me for editing. I then edit and assign the task to my VA to add media and affiliate links as may be necessary.

Overall, I spend as little as 5 minutes editing a simple content item. Up to an hour with longer and more complex posts. I would say the average is about 15 minutes per item.

My Current Portfolio of Sites

I would love to post regular monthly reports about my niche sites here. I’m not sure I’ll have the time and attention span required to do that on a monthly basis.

Maybe quarterly.

Let’s start with annually, for 2018. Here’s a short summary for each site, along with plans for 2019.

Site #1

This is the oldest site in the group. It’s a travel blog that I started back in 2016. In 2018, I moved from writing all of the content in that blog myselt to outsourcing at least some of the posts.

This site is a mix of a personal travel blog and a more general travel niche site. I still write some of the posts myself but most are ghostwritten for me.

In March 2018, that blog had a total of 52 posts written in the previous couple of years. By the end of 2018, that number went up to 98 posts in total.

In terms of traffic, this blog appears to be seasonal (which makes sense for the niche). This is what overall traffic looked like in the past two years (2017 and 2018 combined) –

Overall, the blog doubled its pageviews in total, from
201,273 throughout 2017 to 428,269 in 2018.

I plan on growing the content for this website extensively. Aiming for 250 posts in total by the end of 2019.

Site #2

This is the first site I actually launched in 2018, back in March. It’s an affiliate type blog, focusing on a specific type of product and I’m still not sure if that’s a good path to follow or not.

This blog currently has 55 posts. About half are product “reviews” and the others are more thorough product guides.

Here’s a traffic screenshot for this site –

The plan is to publish a few more posts that are currently in the pipeline and then let the site rest during most of 2019.

Site #3

I plan on making this one an authority website with at least 400-500 articles down the road. It’s a classic content site in a rather broad niche, so there’s a lot to cover yet.

I started this site in April 2018 and it currently has a total of 94 posts. This is what traffic looked like in 2018 –

For 2019, I hope to add at least another 150 posts to this website, bringing it to the 250 posts range.

Site #4

Launched in August 2018, I consider this one a very small site. It covers a micro-niche within a larger niche and I started it because a friend who’s a professional in the field was available for writing the content.

Or so we thought.

He wrote the first few posts and then life took over and he was no longer available. He finally decided that this project was a no-go for him last month, and that’s when I made the writing tasks available to other writers.

As of now, the site only has 16 posts published. I hope to double it in size in early 2019 and then let it rest for a while. I want to get a better gauge of its traffic and monetization potential before I invest more.

Site #5

This content niche site was launched in October 2018, so fairly new. It’s in the pets vertical and currently has 67 posts.

As is expected, it has under 1,000 pageviews a month, so I won’t bother with screenshots with this one.

I don’t plan on adding too many posts to this one in 2019. Once we publish the three posts that are being worked on these days, this blog will be sitting there, gradually gathering traffic. Again, we’ll see how it does in the middle of 2019 before investing more.

Site #6

This site is still an embryo. I have the domain ready and I’m working on a post list.

No traffic for now (well, no site there yet!) but I have great plans for this one in 2019. Hoping to start adding topics to the production line in February and have my writers focus on this site for most of the year, bringing it to a total of ~200 posts by the end of the year.

I’m excited about 2019!

There’s so much I could still talk about here! Hopefully, I will do that later in other posts. I’ve learned a lot in 2018 and I can’t wait to see how these sites do in 2019!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thanks Anne,

    For all your sites the traffic keeps going up.
    Do you build any links.
    How do you analyze the competition when you do keyword research.

    1. Hi Jeremy,
      I dabbled with link building via guest posts for the travel blog. There were four or five of those and I’ve come to the conclusion that it was too much time and effort. Other than that, no link building whatsoever. I just focus on creating the best possible content and eventually links come in on their own accord. People just link to content that ranks, I guess.

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