A while ago, one of my Facebook friends stated that courses and programs meant to teach you how to make money online are all scams.
Money can only be made by having a “proper job”, he claimed. No one really makes money from publishing content or promoting affiliate offers. It’s all a scam, intended to pull in innocent people looking for “easy money”.
I had a good chuckle when I replied and said that he’s wrong, and in fact, I was one of those people who actually made good money from websites. I didn’t go into detail on Facebook, but I’ll say this here:
Considering we made a profit of more than $15,000 a month for the past two months, I am pretty sure I make more money than he does with his “proper job”. It’s not “easy money”, for sure, but it is a legitimate business.
I know several other people who are making a good amount of money from websites. You probably know a few of them because they report their earnings and sell their own courses. Jon Dykstra now makes $70K in monthly revenue on a regular basis. Morten Storgaard regularly makes more than $25K a month from his main site. I mention Jon and Morten because their methods are the most similar to our own and so I’m happy to recommend their courses. They are also great guys all around. Here’s a link to Jon’s course, and a link to Morten’s course.
If you’re new to web publishing, I’m sure the numbers sound very exciting. And they are.
I just looked at our numbers, when preparing to write this post. Even with our less successful sites, we’ll be able to recuperate the investment and make a 50% profit after three years. And that’s without taking into account selling them. There’s only one site that isn’t making enough to cover the initial investment, and that’s our YMYL experiment site.
The other sites are either profitable or on their way to becoming profitable. Of course, assuming nothing goes wrong with them in the next 2-3 years. And by profitable, we’re talking anything between 50% and 400% profit within three years of publishing the content.
This brings up the question –
Why not put YOUR money into niche sites?
I’ve seen many variations on this question in forums and online webmaster groups. Someone has money available they wonder whether creating or buying websites would be a good investment. After all, so many people are making a lot of money, why can’t they be one of them? 50%-400% within three years sure sounds much better than the ROI in Real Estate or ETF’s.
As much as I like to encourage people to follow their dreams and get into this business if you’re considering this simply as a way to invest, my advice would be: Don’t.
Unless you know what you’re doing you can easily lose all of your money.
What if you were to buy a great online course, like one of those I just mentioned above? Wouldn’t that guarantee success? Buy the training, invest the cash and make a fortune, right?
After all, success stories are all over the internet. Dozens of bloggers share their revenue numbers and these numbers are very impressive.
Here’s the thing though. There is a strong survivor bias at play here. You are looking at data from very specific cases, chosen specifically because they were so successful.
What’s the survivor bias?
Also known as Survival Bias or Survivorship Bias, this phenomenon refers to getting to conclusions based on a narrow subset of cases that have made it through some sort of baptism by fire. From Wikipedia –
Survivorship bias or survival bias is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility.
Here’s a one-minute video about why you should not fall into the survivorship bias trap.
Marketers often rely on this bias. Take weight-loss diets, for example. Whatever the plan, app or method, you’re not likely to see a message saying something like “95% of those who followed our diet have lost more than 20% of their body fat and retained their goal weight for five years”.
Why? Because I’ve never heard of any diet that actually shows anything remotely near that level of success. According to actual studies, if diet marketers were to use real statistics, it would probably look something like –
50% of people who followed this diet managed to lost up to 15% of their body weight during the first year. Only 1% managed to keep that weight off five years later.
Would you buy that diet plan?
So, instead, they are going to rely heavily on the survivorship bias and show you only their most successful cases. In fact, this is what I’m seeing on the main page of WeightWatchers.com
These stories are probably all true. I have no reason to believe they’re not. And yet, they don’t necessarily reflect your actual chances if you’re about to get on the weight watchers plan. The page showcases five success stories, implying an average weight loss of over 60lbs. They also imply that every one of their members is successful. So will James there! He doesn’t show any weight loss just because he’s only just rolled into the program.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually think Weight Watchers is great. It’s one of the best weight management plans out there. They promote a real change in lifestyle using evidence-based behavioral tools. Kudos to them for not being just another fad diet. All I’m saying is that their main page creates the illusion that each and every one of their members are likely to lose dozens of pounds. And I suspect that’s not always the case. Surely some people fail to achieve that kind of weight loss. If I may hazard a guess, I’d say most don’t.
Ok, let’s get back to web publishing.
Does that mean you shouldn’t get into web publishing?
Obviously, I think web publishing is pretty awesome. I make a good chunk of money every month from publishing web content.
My point is this –
When considering a potential future investment in websites, don’t rely solely on online success stories. For every success story out there, there are hundreds of people who tried and failed. That shouldn’t put you off trying, but it should deter you from pouring money into this business before you know for sure that you can leverage those funds to make a profit.
What are your chances of making it?
What makes me think it’s hundreds of failed sites for each success story? Isn’t that a pessimistic take on things?
Over the years, I’ve seen so many people trying to get into this business. Like many other bloggers and web publishers, I often get people around me asking me to “teach them” how to do this. As if all I have to do is sit down with them for a couple of hours and then they’ll be on their way to establishing their own magical source of passive income.
Back in the day, I used to think they might be able to. With a chosen few, including my brother-in-law and a couple of friends, I actually gave it a chance. I sat down with them for a few hours each, telling them everything I knew. Or at least, as much of it as I could in a few hours. In one case, I tried to help so much that I bought a domain for them and installed WordPress on that, to give them that initial push.
That didn’t help. Not a single web page ever came to be from these efforts. Well, there was that generic “Hello World” WordPress post on that one site, but that doesn’t really count.
It’s not just my friends and family though.
The Niche Pursuit Project Stats
Spencer Haws is a successful web publisher with a fantastic blog at NichePursuits.com. If you’re reading this post, you probably already know him and his work, so let me cut to the story at hand.
In 2018 Haws launched a new site, to be used as a public case study once it became established. The Big Reveal came in June 2019 and not surprisingly, the site was successful, making over $1,200 a month, with a very impressive growth curve. Spencer Haws knows how to create successful sites, and that’s great. But did that level of success reflect what others could have achieved?
Here comes the interesting bit.
Back when he launched the project, Haws encouraged his followers to join the journey by creating a website around the same time. As he candidly revealed his methods and encouraged them along the way, you’d think the shared sense of camaraderie and the opportunity to pick the brains of an experienced guru would make this a great opportunity for people to succeed with their first site, right?
Well, here are the numbers.
Over 1,000 people signed up for the project. They actually took the time to make that first step. They were asked to provide monthly reports of their progress, to be published along with Haws’ monthly reports of the case study site. The numbers of incoming monthly reports dwindled month by month.
Can you guess how many people still reported as participants 10 months later? 800? 500? 200?
The number was actually 25.
And not all of them were making money or even had a fully operating website at that point. Haws shared a table with the numbers in the post, and it makes for a sobering read. One person got his site to more than $30K in revenue per month (albeit with a significant investment in both content and links), and two others made it to just over $4K. The other participants reported smaller revenue numbers, with most being under $100 a month.
In fact, if you average the numbers and take a total of 1,000 participants, you get to $1.86 in monthly revenue 10 months into the project. And that’s in revenue. When you take into consideration that quite a few people probably went through the first phase of buying a domain and buying some hosting, we can safely say that most people lost money.
Of course, it’s possible that most of them made tons of money and just never bothered to keep on reporting. I somehow doubt that. People love to brag and had they been making money, they would probably have kept on reporting.
Don’t let me discourage you
Honestly, that’s not the purpose of this post. I still think web publishing is totally awesome. In fact, if you keep reading, I’ll be sharing my own very positive stats in a few paragraphs.
If you have a passion for business and a passion for web publishing, I still think this is one of the best business models out there.
You actually can build a hugely successful business, bootstrapping a small initial investment into a cash-generating empire.
All I’m saying is that you should walk into this with your eyes wide open, fully knowing the odds and the risks involved. Specifically, if you have a cash sum to invest, don’t go pouring it into a website unless you know what you’re doing. Only invest large sums after you’ve seen some success of your own, and know how to leverage that investment.
Don’t let the online success stories fool you. Yes, they are all real (to the best of my knowledge). No, it doesn’t mean this is an easy way to make money. Yes, you will have to go through a major learning curve and then work hard to make your web publishing business a success.
And you should really like and enjoy this game. It’s anything but a passive investment, and you’re unlikely to continue if you don’t enjoy web publishing.
Our January 2021 Mini Report
Now that I’ve done my best to explain why I think you should be careful, let’s get back to the fun part!
Time to get to the dopamine-inducing traffic and revenue report. Starting with a quick recap –
I’m Anne and together with my husband we own and manage a portfolio of 15 content websites. Our team includes three editors, six VA’s, and over 60 freelance writers. We publish around 400 new posts every month, investing a total of around $30,000 into our business.
During 2019 and 2020 I published detailed traffic and revenue reports, detailing our journey from making zilch (and losing quite a bit) to the current point where we make more than $15,000 a month in profit.
I no longer publish detailed reports, simply because I don’t have the time for that anymore. Instead, I try to publish one post on Yeys every month and tuck an overview of the previous month’s stats at the end of that post.
Traffic and Revenue for January 2021
We’ve had a great Q4 in 2020, with traffic reaching record highs of 897,260 pageviews for our niche/content sites in December.
Revenue in December was super high thanks to those famous Q4 RPMs. We made a total of $47,435 from our sites in December. And yes, I still can’t believe I’m actually typing that. That is a LOT of money.
We knew RPM rates drop in January by around 30%, so we were mentally prepared for lower figures. We figured we’d be lucky to get $35,000, which would still mean we’d be in profit.
What we didn’t anticipate was the boost in traffic. Our content sites reached a total of 1,347,343 pageviews in January!
And so, despite the drop in RPM rates, our overall revenue remained high. Almost as high as December, at a total of $46,205.
Note: One of our sites is a much older forums site, so we’re not including him in the traffic chart, as it would obscure the traffic growth of the blogs. We do include that site in the overall revenue calculation. It receives just over one million pageviews a month, but RPMs for forums are lower, at around $5-$7. I’ll let you do the math.
Why such an increase in traffic? In Setpember we started increasing our monthly production volume. Most of the additional traffic is probably thanks to that –
There as one anomaly in January’s traffic. One of our sites that typically gets 15-18K visitors a day, had a post featured in Google Discover. On a single day, we had 120K visitors to that site. The effect lasted for a few more days, still pushing the numbers up, though not as dramatically. Fortunately, our server held up with no issues. That was definitely a nice bonus. Interestingly, the Google Discover audience didn’t do anything for our Amazon revenue, but it did bring in an additional $4,000 in display ads revenue on that day.
You could argue that being featured on Google Discover skewed our stats for January. Fair enough. For me, this is just part of what happens when you put enough posts out there.
So, there you have it. Things are going well so far in 2021. I hope they’re going well for you too! Leave me a comment and let me know.