Q3 Content Sites Status Report (Inc. Traffic and Revenue)

Woohoo! We are now officially in Q4 – typically the quarter with the highest CPM rates so an exciting time in the year for web publishers.

This also means the third quarter of the year is over and it’s time to take a look at the numbers.

What’s this all about?

Just over a year ago, I launched a content sites project with a portfolio of blogs in various niches. In 2019, I am documenting my progress in quarterly reports published in this blog. The Q1 report, with some additional information about the project, is available here and the Q2 report can be found here.

Note: I have another large site that isn’t covered in this report because it’s a community (forum) site. I try to keep Yeys.com dedicated to my new content sites venture. My point is – I am an experienced web publisher and I have a constant stream of revenue which allows me to invest in new websites. This isn’t something I would recommend for others to do, especially if they’re new to blogging.

Why am I posting revenue reports?

I find progress reports by other publishers helpful and motivating. This is my way of contributing back by sharing my own stats. In a way, this is also about accountability. These reports make me sit down every quarter for a much-needed assessment.

Obviously, I check the numbers more frequently than that. Looking at stats is addictive, so I can’t help myself and review them on a daily basis. I’m sure everyone else does the same.

The thing is, the daily numbers grow by such small increments, it can actually be frustrating rather than motivating. Soaring above those daily figures is the only way to really see what kind of progress has been made. 

My web publishing strategy and our team

My strategy is simple –

  1. Find underserved queries on the internet.
  2. Publish the best possible answer to the query.
  3. Monetize.

Multiply this by dozens of posts a month, across several niches, scaling up by outsourcing.

I currently employ two full-time VA’s and about to hire a third one (we’re currently interviewing). I’m also helped by an editor (10 hours a week minimum, and now looking to get that up to 20+), an awesome server admin/Wordpress wizard on a monthly retainer (if you’re looking for one, let me know – he’s looking for more work).

And writers – gotta have writers! We’ve moved from 20 regular freelance writers to 45. These freelance writers produce 2-3 posts per week each. (If you’re curious about how I manage post creation, you can read here about my workflow).

Oh, and last and so-no-least: I’m thrilled to share that my best friend, who’s also my business partner in all investments and profits and my life partner, has joined in as well. While he’s still toiling away at his office day-job, my husband has become more involved with the business. He has created some awesome management tools for us to use, as well as taken over what I like to call “operations research”, i.e. analyzing the results to see what works and what doesn’t.

How many sites are we talking about?

The number of sites in our portfolio is something that’s constantly on my mind. If you read my post here, you’ll see what I consider the pros and cons of adding new sites.

We’ve been working with six sites up until quarter 2 but that is now changing. Our current strategy goes like this –

Add one content site to the mix every quarter with 100-200 posts. Then let it steam for an additional half a year, to see how the niche feels.

If it’s going well, keep pushing content and making it into a large authority site. If it doesn’t – no harm done, we have a smallish site in the portfolio that will pay for itself within a couple of years. We can always sell these smaller sites as time moves on. So, at this point, we’re staying away from small niches.

We’re looking into topics that have the potential to grow into 500-5000 posts in the future. I sort of revealed the new site that was launched in Q3 in my post about YMYL sites. It will be joining the reports moving forward.

So, this is where we stand now –

(Potentially) Large niches sites

  • Travel
  • Automotive
  • Home Improvement
  • Gardening
  • Finance (new site)

Small niche sites

These were “carried over” from previous years before we devised the current strategy.

  • Pet Accessories blog (a specific type of accessories)
  • Pets blog (specific small pet)

Ok, time to take a closer look at what happened in Q3 with each of these sites.

1. The Travel Blog

The total number of posts by the end of Q3: 162

This site was established in June 2016. It started out as a personal travel blog but I have since pruned some of the earlier content. I still try to keep a personal tone in this blog, so while I do outsource the bulk of the writing, I write the outlines, the intros and the summaries for most of the posts. This slows down the production though, as I don’t have the time to deal with too many posts to that extent.

Q3 Figures for this blog

The “Posts#” column shows the number of posts added per month. I grayed out the previous months of the year but still left them in the table, so you can see the growth throughout the year.

As for monetization, about 75% of revenue comes from display ads, managed via Ezoic. The rest is a combination of Amazon and Booking.com affiliation fees. Revenue increased on all fronts, including Booking simply because the niche is so seasonal.

Traffic dropped during the quarter, as did revenue. To some extent, this was expected, as travel is a very seasonal niche. What’s more, when we look at the stats per post, it’s clear that “summer destinations” took the hardest hit. Other posts are doing ok and some are even increasing in traffic, so I know Google isn’t mad at us or anything.

Execution vs planning

In the Q1 report, I said that the plan for this blog was to keep growing it at a rate of 100 posts per year, or about 25 per quarter. We failed to meet the goal in Q2 but did manage to publish a total of exactly 25 posts in Q3! Yay!

Goals for Q4

We’re going to try to shift the balance towards more winter destinations in this blog. If that works, maybe in 2020 we won’t go through a very noticeable winter slump.

The goal right now is to post 15 posts in the travel blog each month, so a total of 45 posts in Q4.

2. Automotive Niche Blog

The total number of posts by the end of Q3: 337

I started this blog in April 2018. The niche is vehicles. We started out with a specific type and move on to cover other types as well. The content is mostly informational with a few “best X of Y” product lists.

Q3 Stats for this blog

The site makes about 75% of its revenue from display ads and 25% from Amazon affiliate links.

Overall, we’re very happy with the numbers. Both with the constant increase in traffic and the relatively high CPM rates.

The blog used to be monetized using Ezoic but we had some issues with their script in July, and so moved the site to Monumetric. Meanwhile, Ezoic fixed the rogue script, so we’re tempted to return there. Monumetric is ok, delivering similar rates to Ezoic’s but Ezoic’s new Big Data reports are tempting, so if the rates are similar… Both companies offer great support, in my experience so far.

Execution vs planning

The plan was to publish 30 posts per month in this blog. This was not an easy feat but eventually, after hiring more writers, we managed to meet the quarterly goal and surpass it.

Goals for Q4

This site is the best we currently have in terms of traffic and revenue. Since it’s moved out of the sandbox phase, anything we publish here has a good chance of ranking well-enough within weeks, rather than months. With that in mind, we’re going to keep pumping quality content here – with a very ambitious goal of 60 posts published per month.

3. The Home Improvement Blog

The total number of posts by the end of Q3 is 185.

Launched in early 2019, this site is relatively new. The posts are a mix of informational and “how-to” posts, with inspirational picture posts and a few “X of Y” shopping guides.

Q3 Stats for this blog

Awww, it’s like watching a baby take its first place. The site is clearly gradually coming out of the sandbox.

Mind you, we’re not out of there just yet – with 185 posts generating only 10,000 pageviews. Those are still sandbox-level stats, for sure. Still, when you look at it per post, we’re seeing a nice pattern of growth compared to Q2.

What’s more, CPM rates seem to be good! A combination of Ezoic display ads and Amazon brings the site to a nice $30 CPM range. Sweet! 

Execution vs planning

We had planned on producing 25-30 posts per month in this blog. Clearly, mission not accomplished. 

Goals for Q4

Unfortunately, the site is too young to provide good feedback as to which types of posts work and which don’t. So, we’re still in the “leap of faith” stage here, producing what we think is great content – but without sufficient data to show us if we’re right or not.

However, the high CPM rates are encouraging in their own right. What they mean is that even if we get it wrong with some types of content, the site should have some good cushioning and is very unlikely to lose money. With that in mind, the goal for Q4 remains a total of 25+ posts per month.

4. The Gardening Blog

The total number of posts by the end of Q3 is 205.

This site was technically launched in September 2018 but was moved to a new domain in April 2019, due to an adjustment in niche focus. The content so far has been a mix of response posts, addressing specific gardening questions, gardening guides for specific plants, inspirational photo posts, and some (Best X for Y) product posts.

Q3 Stats for this blog

I didn’t think changing the domain name would affect the site but looking back, I think it may have. This is just a hunch, but I feel like a site with 100+ posts should have more traffic than that a year after launch. Of course, it’s always possible that the content sucks, the competition fiercer than I had evaluated – or both. This is also probably a seasonal niche, which could account for part of the lower-than-anticipated traffic stats.

Execution vs planning

The goal for Q3 was 30 posts per month. As you can see, that goal was not only met but actually exceeded. That’s not a good thing, for two reasons – 

  1. With no good feedback/data – we’re working in the dark here, making these posts riskier compared to posts published in an established site.
  2. Over-production here means fewer posts in the other blogs.

Why is this happening? I’m not sure if it’s a universal thing or just happens to be the case with our current writers, but many of them seem to enjoy writing about the topic. As they picked up tasks, I kept adding to the pool of topics awaiting writers. It’s taken me too long to realize we’re over-producing in this blog. 

Goals for Q4

It’s too early to tell, but it looks like the CPM’s in the niche aren’t as high as I had hoped for. With that in mind, and considering the site has been growing too fast, my goal for Q4 is actually to limit production to about 10 new posts per month. 

5. The Finance Blog

This is our brand new site. Only launched in August, it currently has a mere 31 posts in it. It is deeply ensconced in the sandbox with literally no traffic coming in just yet. Obviously, we’re lightyears away from monetization.

The finance niche is very different from the other niches we work in. For one thing, it’s what most would consider YMYL. Also, monetization down the road may be tricky, involving leads more than anything else. That doesn’t mean it’s harder, only that I don’t know it well enough to say much about it now.

Goals for Q4

We’re going to grow this blog slowly and gradually, alongside the current sites. It’s going to get a total of 10 posts per month during Q4.

6. New blog!

I mentioned that our strategy is to launch one new site each quarter, growing it slowly with the potential to become an authority site someday.

This one isn’t only in the sandbox, it’s still hasn’t been delivered. But the due date is Q4 so I thought I’d mention it here. The niche is going to be fashion and style and we plan on allocating a total of 10 posts per month to this baby blog.

7. Pet Accessories Blog

Moving on to the two smaller sites. 

I started this site in March 2018 as an experiment. It focuses on a certain line of products (imagine something like dog crates or cat collars). The content is a mix of

  • high-quality thorough guides relating to aspects of the topic (how to choose, how often to clean etc). I wrote most of them myself and I do know a lot about the topic. 
  • Medium quality “Best X for Y” lists. I try to provide some added value to these by including tips for choosing the right one etc.

Q3 Stats for this blog

The total number of posts by the end of Q3 remained 78.

This blog is monetized mostly via Amazon (80%) with some display ads (20%). 

The decline in traffic in August and most of September was due to a fall in Pinterest traffic. Google traffic was increasing at a solid rate up until the latest core update a couple of weeks ago.

Interestingly, the decrease in Pinterest traffic never affected revenue, which basically means Google traffic converted better.

With that in mind, I am concerned with the drop in Google traffic. We lost about 30% of that search traffic with the core update – ouch! Still not showing any signs of improvement. I have no idea why this site got hit and I’m hopeful that traffic will improve again. If it doesn’t – we’ll have to take a closer look and see what can be done.

Execution vs planning

There were no publishing goals for Q3 and indeed, nothing was published, so we’re good on that front.

Both traffic and revenue increased, in a completely hands-off passive site, so that was nice to see. Even if the site doesn’t recover, it should still be making at least $400 a month which isn’t bad for a passive source of income.

Goals for Q4

We may need to re-evaluate the site and see whether updating some of the content will help regain the lost traffic. But no plans to publish anything new.

8. Pet niche blog

The total number of posts by the end of Q3 stayed at 100. No new posts added.

This is an interesting little project focusing on a specific type of small pet. I started working on this site in October 2018 and built it up to exactly 100 posts. Most of them are response posts but there are some tip lists and “best X of Y” posts.

Q3 Stats for this blog

Traffic kept increasing in Q3 and the site seems unaffected by the recent Google update. Whew! It’s monetized via Amazon and Ezoic, with relatively low CPM rates. Unlike the other pet blog, the focus isn’t a product but overall pet care, which I guess accounts for the lower conversion rates and overall lower CPM.

Execution vs planning

We stayed at zero new posts – as planned. I did spend a few hours working on this blog, mostly adding internal links. I think that helped increase traffic a little bit. Definitely something to try with the other sites too.

Goals for Q4

No new posts to be added here (simply because I feel we’ve covered everything). It should be interesting to see at what point traffic will plateau. 

Q4 Content Plans Across the Board

So, this is what we end up with as the production plan for Q4 –

Overall revenue in Q3

The revenue from all blogs for Q3 was $14,531

Revenue in Q2 was $9,283.

The increase looks nice and smooth, from one month to the next.

How much did we spend in Q3

I don’t have specific numbers here because frankly, I don’t take the time to follow expenses that closely. I believe I do have a fairly good estimate though.

In terms of expenses, here’s an estimate for Q3 (three months) –

$750 – hosting expenses

$600 – plugins, SEO tools etc.

$1,000 – stock photos

$3,000 – VA fees (one VA until the middle of the quarter and then two VA’s)

$2,500 – Editor fees

$15,000 – writers (I keep track of the number of words published and pay 3 cents per word, so this should be an accurate estimate).

That comes to a quarterly total of $24,350.

So, the “profit” is -$9,819 and yes, it’s in the red. 

We’re very happy about that!

We consider content an investment rather than an expense. The more content we publish, the more potential profit the business will have in a year from now.

If we were to cut content production in half, including half the VA and editor hours, we would be showing a profit by now.

Instead, we’re pushing to produce more content than ever before. This is a long-term game, so we want to invest as much as possible now, for better results down the road. And yes, it’s risky. Investing always carries some risk with it. We just think the ROI here is well worth the amount of risk we’re taking. 

Final Thoughts

I can pretty much repeat the summary I wrote for the last quarterly report!

This has been an exciting quarter in an exciting year! I won’t lie – this gets scary at times. Spending so much time and money on a project for so many months is scary. It’s a leap of faith, in many ways. I am grateful to have the full and active support of my husband in this venture. And I am thoroughly optimistic, or I wouldn’t be pushing on. Looking forward to seeing what Q3 Q4 is going to look like!

There! I only had to replace Q3 with Q4. This game is still as exciting as ever!

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