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The past few weeks were pretty strange in the web publishing industry.
A couple of events messed up reporting across all sites, making me hold off on this monthly installment.
Here’s an overview of what happened.
Inflated stats in Google Analytics
Sometime in August, I noticed an increase in traffic across many of our websites. It was a fun morning, as I congratulated myself on the success. Finally, Google was taking note and seeing just how great our content was.
Then I realized that our revenue did not go up as was expected.
Digging in some more, it soon became clear the surge in traffic was coming from two countries: Czechia and Seychelles.
Mediavine and Adthrive were not paying us for the traffic because no ads were being served to those “surfers”.
Our server admin investigated some more. As far as I could understand, this was a strange parasitic script attaching itself to our GA code. Nothing was hitting the server, but Google was still logging pageviews.
Filtering on the server level was pointless. We had no success filtering via Cloudflare either. I know many publishers said they had, but it didn’t work for us.
At some point, that additional “traffic” died out. It lasted longer on some sites, for some unknown reason but by September it was gone.
I have since created a view in Google Analytics that allows me to “filter” out traffic and get more “clean” stats. It isn’t perfect, but it’s something.
This is what it looked like this month for site #2 on my report –
We’re still getting some traffic from these countries, but that seems to be genuine surfers. The fake traffic dies out on August 18.
For several days – until I figured out the additional view solution – it was very difficult to tell how much genuine traffic was getting to our sites. Instead of checking GA, I switched to relying on data from the ad networks.
And then this happened.
The data crash on the ad networks
One of the first things I do when I get up in the morning is to check the previous day’s revenue on our Mediavine dashboard. I do that to make sure everything is ok across the board.
That number changes over the days of the week, so I know roughly what to expect every day. I disregard small fluctuations. RPM is never stable anyway.
During the last month of August, I was on edge. Just like many publishers were. Google had announced a major update.
While we typically do very well during updates, the fact that they bothered to say anything felt ominous. We make a point of creating helpful content for users, but hey, it’s an algorithm. Who knows what it thinks is helpful?
So, I was more nervous than usual when checking our stats every morning.
On August 31st, I took a look at the stats and my heart sank. The number was half of what it should have been.
I figured maybe Google’s big algorithm change kicked in and some of our sites crashed.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long to figure out that –
- Our traffic looked just fine.
- It wasn’t just us. Everyone was reporting a major loss of revenue.
As it turned out, Google’s Ad Exchange was the problem. They failed to update the stats, affecting reports across all display ad networks.
Almost two weeks later, we’re still not seeing accurate numbers for August 31st.
And so, while lecturing us all about how we need to be helpful to users, Google managed to screw up traffic stats as well as revenue stats across the Internet. Good job, Google.
So, there you are. I’ve been waiting to see the final numbers, but I’m beginning to wonder if we’ll ever get them. Might as well go ahead and post this month’s report “as is”.
This month’s report is based on traffic numbers that disregard traffic from Czechia and Seychelles.
And if you’re wondering how our sites faired during the Google update, I’ll add a few words about that at the end of this report.
New here? Here’s A quick recap
My husband and I own a portfolio of more than 20 content sites, monetized mainly with display ads. Our web publishing business makes around $190K in monthly revenue.
I documented our progress in this blog, including detailed monthly reports covering all our sites. In 2022, I switched to reporting traffic and revenue on four new sites.
You can read the initial report here. That post includes more information about our web publishing business and an FAQ. Please check it out first if you have any questions.
Our system in a nutshell
We have a simple system –
- Find suitable topics.
- Create good content.
- Scale by outsourcing, using an effective workflow.
I blogged here about the workflow.
If you want to learn how to find suitable topics and produce the right content, check out the courses on my resources page.
I won’t repeat each site’s story – only the basic stats. Please refer to the initial report to learn more about a site.
- Niche: General (the site does have a unifying theme)
- The first post was published on April 2, 2021
- Number of published posts: 221
- Monetization: Display ads + Amazon
We kept on adding content to this site during August. Not too much – just 1-2 posts per week.
Traffic increased with a record number of more than 73K pageviews. That’s not from the very new content but I wonder if maybe Google was rewarding the activity.
Unfortunately, RPM during August was exceptionally low across the board. August is typically not a high-RPM month but this year the numbers were lower than anticipated.
From everything I’ve been reading, it looks like inflation and fear of an impending recession caused advertisers to lower their expenses on online ads.
That’s why despite an increase of 6% in traffic, the site only had an increase of 3% in revenue. Still, growth is growth, so overall I consider August to have been a positive month for site #1.
- Niche: Home & DIY
- The first post was published on June 11, 2021
- Number of published posts: 239
- Monetization: Amazon & display ads
Site #2 was stable in August – with almost no further growth in traffic. Unfortunately, the lower RPM combined with the lack of growth meant a decrease in revenue (by almost 10%).
- Niche: Pets
- The first post was published on May 18, 2021
- Number of published posts: 119
- Monetization: Amazon
- Special circumstances: I created the site on an aged domain I’ve had for about 20 years as an in-house experiment. I knew the domain was clean, and all incoming links were on topic.
Site #3 experienced some additional growth in August. Even though we haven’t added content to this website, traffic was up by 3%.
Unfortunately, that was not enough to offset the lower RPM, so revenue was down by almost 10%.
- Niche: Home & DIY
- The first post was published on August 23, 2021
- Number of published posts: 214
- Monetization: Amazon
Site #4 keeps slowly growing but is still at the low end of the traffic spectrum.
Last but not least, our late bloomer.
Site #4 was stuck with little to no growth for many moons. It seems to have kicked in sometime over the spring and has been growing ever since.
In August, traffic was up by more than 50%! Go site #4!
Revenue was up even more dramatically, but that’s because we started monetizing this site in the middle of July.
So, what happened during the Google update?
Google’s Helpful Content Update (HCU) is a strange one!
We’re still unsure about its effect. For several of our sites, the roll-out coincided with seasonal effects and Labor Day fluctuations. Also, Google said this one would take a while to fully roll out, so who knows what exactly is going on?
So far, we seem to be doing ok. Our biggest sites are stable and showing some increase in traffic (probably due to the constant content production).
Smaller sites seem to be stalling and that includes the sites covered in my reports. It may be too early to say if they were hit or not – but it is a distinct possibility.
I guess we’ll have to wait for the dust to settle. Next month’s report should be interesting!
Thank you for reading so far and I hope you found the report helpful.
Many readers left me positive comments over the last few weeks. Thank you for that!
Let me know how your sites did during August and what your thoughts are about Google’s HCU. Keep the comments coming – and thank you!