Why I no longer promote on social media (and the August Report)

I’ve tried promoting on Facebook and Pinterest over the last three years, with varying results. Recently, I’ve made the decision to put a halt to all social media promotion.

I thought this would be a good topic for a post, sharing my reasons with others and hopefully, encouraging discussion in the comments. I learn so much from commenters on this blog and look forward to seeing what people think about social media promotion.

I also have some Ezoic news to share today. Oh, and yes, August has finally ended, so there’s a mini report to share too, further down the post.

Table of Contents

Ezoic Customer Week (and Survey)

Before I get into the social media section, here’s something that may be relevant to many of you. Starting September 13, Ezoic is holding a special event they call “Customer Week”.

During this week, Ezoic will be announcing some new and exciting features and offering webinars with Ezoic executive staff. You can sign up and see updates on Customer Week here.

They’re also collecting testimonials from their customers. If you’re with Ezoic and would like to take a minute to submit your feedback to them, here’s a link to their testimonials contest. They’re giving away 25 Timbuk2 tech backpacks for winners, to make this worth your while.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an Ezoic affiliate (here’s my sign-up link) and I am also a member of a small group of publishers that Ezoic likes to get together once a month for updates and program announcements.

And now, back to the social media discussion.

Promoting sites on Social Media

Over the years, I’ve tried many ways of promoting sites on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course, Pinterest – I’ve sunk many hours and a lot of money into them, in an effort to get more traffic.

For me, Pinterest had the best ROI, followed by Facebook. I never managed to get anything back from Twitter or Instagram.

Why promoting on social media is important

I promoted my sites on various social media platforms for two reasons.

First, I wanted to increase the amount of traffic coming into my sites. I figured since I’m investing in creating these beautiful posts, why not drive more traffic to them?

The other reason was that I wanted to diversify my traffic sources. Not just add to them, but make sure that my traffic – and therefore revenue – isn’t coming from one source only (Google, in this case).

While I still believe that diversification is important to reducing risks, I will no longer actively seek to promote on any social media platform. At least for the foreseeable future.

This is a good point to remind everyone that I’m just sharing my own experience here. I’m sure there are many people who are still making a killing on social media. As with everything in this biz, your mileage may vary.

The social platforms’ strategy

Web publishers have an interesting relationship with social media platforms.

Ideally, this should be a give-and-take relationship that benefits both sides.

When we promote on their network, we’re creating content. Hopefully, it’s quality content, in the form of gorgeous pins, or attractive Facebook posts. Better content means their users hang around for longer, driving up their profits.

In return, the social network allows us to link back to our sites, and divert a certain amount of traffic back to our sites.

The social network monetizes the content we give them, and in return, we monetize the traffic that they send us. At its best, there is a mutually beneficial equilibrium, where both sides make enough money to keep the symbiosis going.

The Honeymoon Phase

It seems to me like these platforms start out with a long phase during which they encourage web publishers to create content for their platforms by providing more traffic back to our sites.

For years, Facebook used to favor page content in their algorithm. All you had to do was –

  1. Create a nice Facebook page.
  2. Constantly feed it with quality posts, with links back to your site.
  3. Encourage your blog visitors to like your page.

Voila. Facebook would make sure your followers see your updates in their feed. Many would click through and you got your traffic source.

Every web asset (including those by brick-and-mortar companies) had to have an awesome Facebook page, with lots of content. It made sense because that page drove traffic to our sites.

Facebook established itself as the must-have social media platform in everyone’s marketing strategy.

A similar process happened with Pinterest.

During its first years, Pinterest devoured pins by web publishers. We all learned to make attractive pins that made their user experience better. We did that because it sent us a decent amount of traffic back.

And so Pinterest too became a “must-have” source of traffic in some niches.

The relationship goes sour

At some point, the social platform becomes stronger and the relationship goes sour.

A few years ago, Facebook adjusted its algorithms. Posts from pages, or pins from users, don’t show up on users’ feeds as frequently.

At least, not unless you pay to have them featured.

Free promotion on Facebook – and now on Pinterest too – is becoming harder by the day. These social networks outgrew their need for content and moved into the monetization phase.

This brings me to the main reason for me to stop playing the game with these two networks.

Traffic declined substantially

It’s that simple. These networks don’t send nearly enough as much traffic as they used to.

Facebook does its utmost to reduce the exposure of your content. Outgoing links get demoted in users’ feeds.

Pinterest reduced the number of places where your link is showing up. More clicks for the user to get to your site. More hoops to jump through. Users may pin your awesome pins, but they don’t click through like they used to.

Not enough control over content

When I publish on my sites, I have full control over my content. I can keep it or remove it as I see fit.

Whenever you publish on a network, be it Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube – you’re at their mercy.

All your hard work can be reduced to zilch if they decide to ban you.

Why would they? Who knows.

Unless you’re a paying customer, you’ll have a hard time figuring out what happened, let alone fix things.

I always prefer to own my content and own my traffic. To the best of my ability. And yes, I realize Google owns most of my traffic these days, but in my experience, it’s more reliable than any social network.

Prioritizing resources

In the end, the decision to stop pursuing social media came down to prioritizing resources.

Publishing over six hundred posts a month, we simply couldn’t keep our social media efforts going as before. I had to make a quick decision – cut down on social media, or cut down on the number of posts.

I could have opted for hiring more VA’s to handle the extra load but decided it just wasn’t worth it.

The ROI for publishing more content is higher than the ROI for social media promotion. We’ll probably end up hiring more VA’s but when we do, they’ll be working on getting more content published.

When will I pick up social media again

The ability to diversify traffic sources is still very appealing.

Maybe if a new social network shows up, and woos publishers during its honeymoon phase, I’ll jump back in. Or possibly one of the existing networks decides to change its ways and send more traffic out.

It could happen, and I’ll keep an eye out for that.

My guess is that switching back to social media won’t happen in the foreseeable future.

Having said that – the foreseeable future in web publishing could be as short as a few months…

I’d love to hear from others about how they do on social media. I’m sure some web publishers can make it work well. I couldn’t. At least, not to the point where it becomes more cost-effective than publishing new content.

And with that conclusion, let me share my stats for August.

The August 2021 Traffic And Revenue Report

August was the same kind of “boring awesome” as previous months. Traffic keeps increasing, and revenue follows suit. This month, we had slightly slower growth in traffic, but RPM rates were higher than in July, so overall, a similar increase in revenue.

Traffic on the niche/content sites went up by about 8% from 2,103,744 to 2,270,995 pageviews.

We have an additional forums site that we’re keeping out of this chart because it has different traffic patterns. That site brings in an additional 1.3 million pageviews every month.

As for revenue, we went from $83,783 to $90,196. That’s an increase of almost 8%, corresponding to the increase in traffic.

Our expenses in July

As always, this section is more about estimating our costs than tracking actual expenses. I also try to break it down to running costs and investment in content.

This is getting exceedingly more difficult though. As we’ve become an LLC and have expanded production, there are more overhead expenses.

In previous reports, I used to focus on expenses that would be relevant to readers. For example, I didn’t take into account the cost of computers, desks, and chairs. They all show up in our company P&L though. Should I include them here, or not? I’m not sure.

Maybe I should have an additional annual report with more figures. I wanted to mention that though, to explain why the expenses here are mostly estimates.

Running costs

These are the costs we’d have to pay even if we don’t publish a single post. I haven’t specified them in a while, so here’s a rough overview of the breakdown of monthly costs. Some of these are based on annual payments, divided by 12.

Hosting and server admin fees – $800

Software (paid plugins and other tools) – $200

Insurance – $120

One VA (I’d keep that if we were to stop publishing) – $720

Accountants – $500 (we actually pay accountants around $1100 a month and will be paying a few additional thousands at the end of the year for filing. But we won’t be paying as much if we were to stop producing content and scaled down to “skeleton crew” mode.)

That comes to a total of $2,340. These would be our expenses if we decided to stop content tomorrow.

As usual, I prefer to round this up to $3K in general expenses. That’s on top of the cost of each post. It’s probably a bit too much, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.

Investment in Content

So far, I’ve put the production per post costs at $70 per post. That number includes –

  • writer fees
  • editing fees
  • VA fees
  • Stock photos
  • Additional overhead

In August we offered writers a $10 bonus per post, to encourage more writing. So for this report, I’m going to calculate $80 per post for expenses.

And that bonus worked – we published a record number of posts. 601 to be exact.

All in all, our content investment in August came to $48,080.

Adding our running costs brings us to a total of $51,780 in expenses.

The Bottom Line

$90,196 in revenue and $51,080 in expenses brings us to a total of –

A total of $38,416 in profit

That’s about $3,000 less than what we made in July, but as long as this is the result of increased investment – rather than a decline in revenue – I’m pleased.

What September holds

Traffic and Revenue wise, September was off to a surprisingly good start. I was expecting the usual beginning-of-month slump in RPM, combined with a holiday weekend traffic decline.

Knock on wood, the last five days have been very good. If we keep up the current pace, we’re on track to making $97K in revenue this month. Who knows, if RPM rates and traffic keep increasing, we may be looking at our first six-figures-month? This would be three months earlier than expected.

I plan on taking some time off from work this month, for the best of reasons. When we moved to the US, we left our 19-year-old son behind to finish his master’s degree in computer science (yes, he’s one smart cookie).

Being away from our Ron is the most difficult thing about this move. Both our sons were homeschooled, so we’re very close and not at all used to being apart.

With the rising covid numbers, we weren’t sure whether we’ll be able to see him this fall. Thankfully, the third Pfizer dose came to the rescue! We’re all fully vaccinated now with three doses, so I think this is as safe as you can get these days for an overseas visit.

My son will be here until the third week of September. I plan on sinking my teeth back into work as soon as he leaves, hoping to avoid separation blues.

And here’s a teaser: I’m working on a special project with Jon Dykstra that will involve Yeys.com and his Fat Stacks course community.

Stay tuned for more info in my next post! We’ll probably announce everything in the Fat Stacks forums first, where I’m an active participant. I would link to the forums, but it’s a members-only area. If you already purchased the Fat Stacks course, you should have access. If you haven’t, here’s my affiliate link.

You can read here why I recommend this course. I wouldn’t be here to report almost $100K in revenue today had it not been for that course.

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. Patrick

    Love this Anne! I, too, have reduced our social media presence for the exact same reason. However, I am curious as to your thoughts on the amount of Google Juice we are losing from the reduction in social media backlinks. I have always found it easier to gain serp traction with a flurry of social media popularity for a post than by simply having Google find and index it. Do you think a lack of social media signals will affect rankings?

    1. Anne

      Hi Patrick,
      That’s an excellent question. I honestly can’t see a difference between the Google success of posts that we pushed on Facebook/Pinterest vs. those we didn’t. That could possibly be due to the fact that very few of our pins/updates ever went very viral. We do still add a pinnable image to each post, with overlaying text, so people can pin the posts. I just won’t waste our precious VA time on actively pinning or updating our Facebook pages.

  2. Vance

    Hello Ann, another great report to learn from you!
    About the bonus for your writers, how often do you do that to stimulate them? Do you have a framework to do so? I can feel that my writers lost interest after some time. Thank you.

    1. Anne

      Hi Vance,
      I still haven’t decided. I’ll have to make up my mind by the end of the month. I’m considering all kinds of options, including for example, bringing on some writers on the payroll. Could be either full-time or part-time (I can think of pros and cons for each option). I’m basically looking for a way to increase production while also maintaining more stability.
      Most writers do lose interest after some time. There are those who don’t. I need to find a better way to attract those writers and keep them as part of a long-term core of the writing workforce.
      For now, the bonus definitely stays until the end of the month. I have a feeling we’ll continue with it until the end of the year, but not sure just yet.

      1. Roland

        Just want to say Anne that you, your team and family are all an inspiration. The work ethic that’s required to achieve this level of success isn’t lost on me. I thoroughly enjoy reading these, keep it up!

        1. Anne

          Thank you so much, Roland. I am very proud of our team and try to do my best (not always successfully!)

  3. Andrea

    Thanks, Anne for this!! So strange timing! I am thinking to jump into FB to start diversifying my blog traffic. I need probably to rethink this.

    Looking forward to your project with Jon and reading your insight in the community!

    All the best Anne (you and Jon are just incredible!)

    Regards
    Andrea

    1. Anne

      Hi Andrea, great to see you here!
      I’m not saying not to do Facebook, but I would suggest trying several strategies to see if you can find one that actually works for your site/niche, before scaling and pouring more money into it. Just a thought. Good luck!

  4. Hugo

    Interesting discussion.

    If you’re only in it for traffic > monetization > direct ROI, social media is not a good use of time, in my opinion.

    Yet, I’m still spending lots of effort growing the Instagram page of our website, which started at ~1,5k and is now ~3k in about 2 month’s time. This takes me ~1 hour a day, every day of the week. Looking at it from an ROI perspective, this time is much better spent just publishing content. The traffic I get from the IG page is abysmal, <5 clicks per week.

    However, I want to grow a brand, something that pops up in Google in multiple areas. I want my followers to engage in more ways than one. I want to build my moat. And I want to have an additional asset that increases the value of my brand. And I want Google to see that we're actively engaging with our audience through our socials.

    These are all things that are not directly measurable in $, but I hope will eventually pay off as the brand grows into something bigger.

    1. Anne

      Fair enough, Hugo. I agree that this could be worth your time if you’re planning to build a brand. I’m more focused on traffic. I do have one site that’s 20 years old and has more than a million monthly pageviews. I’ve been trying to brand it forever and put a lot into that over the years. It’s helped with repeat traffic – maybe – but did nothing to move the traffic needle. Though this may be due to the fact that the niche is so saturated that smaller SEO-hungry sites have already mapped out the longtail hanging fruit. The brand recognition that we do have (and we do, to some extent) doesn’t help much. I hope you have better success in your niche!

  5. Quinton Hamp

    Forums is something I don’t see talked much about, and I’ve been trying to uncover SEO best practices. Do you mind covering some questions I have on forum settings?

    – Forum platform (Xenforo, etc)
    – # of posts per thread (or threads per page)?
    – forum.domain.com or domain.com/forum
    – noindexing of certain thread types to maintain site quality?

    Thanks in advance for your time on any of these areas. Congrats on your success.

    1. Anne

      Hi Quinton,
      I don’t think I’m an expert on forum SEO. I can tell you what I do with our forum, FWIW –
      1. Xenforo
      2. 20 posts per page
      3. domain.com (the main page is the main forums page)
      4. We index everything. I don’t like to noindex pages on a site (and I have a feeling Google “Sees” them anyway)

      In the end, I think the two major factors are the overall domain authority (not just the number, but the quality of the links in the niche), and what kind of discussions you have going on. The more discussions that target good longtail queries, the better are your chances at grabbing some search engine traffic.

      As a forum owner, your best strategy IMHO is to make sure you have a good lively community that attracts people in the niche and generates quality threads. Then give it time, and let the search engine find which threads are the ones that target good queries with good results.

      Good luck!

  6. Audra Mari

    These reports are very motivating.

    I have a few questions related to editors.

    1. How do you compensate your editors (per hour, per word, per article, etc.) and how much on avg?2. How do you hire Editors and from where?
    3. Do you have SOPs for editors?
    4. What are the expectations from an editor in your team?

    1. Anne

      Hi Audra, I’m glad you like the reports!
      1. We pay our editors by the hour. We trust them to report their hours but yes, at first we used spreadsheets to determine how long they spend on each article. We do set up benchmarks for them too (half an hour per article as a target average).
      2. So far, we’ve just promoted our best writers into editors. They can still write if they want to, but usually they’re too busy taking on editing tasks.
      3. We have guidelines for editors, telling them what to look for. These are simply a checklist version of our guidelines for writers. By the time they become editors, they know what to look for (based on their experience as writers).
      4. To check that articles follow our guidelines (that includes covering the subject thoroughly), perform their tasks in a timely manner, and be nice to writers and to others in the company. They need to be firm but very polite and friendly at the same time.

  7. Kua

    Thanks for sharing this information, Anne. I’ve been binge-reading your content today.

    One thing I struggle with is managing content creation costs. I recently had writer create a 2400-word article that really was a masterpiece, but it cost me $160. It’s very hard to scale with those numbers.

    You mention (in various places) that you pay your writers hourly and that an article costs you around $70-80 for 1500-1800 words. Can I ask how long it normally takes a writer to produce an article that size?

    1. Anne

      I actually pay by word at this point. We pay 3 cents per word. Articles cost around $50 in writers fee, but there’s also editor fees, VA’s fees and the cost of photos. So it gets to around $80.

  8. Onetwo

    Which tool do you mainly use for keyword research and what factors do you consider when picking them? Do you look at any traffic estimates and competition?

    1. Anne

      I’ve tried various tools and wasn’t too thrilled with any of them. I don’t think the traffic or competition estimates are nearly accurate enough. I just run through the alphabet soup and use my common sense and intuition.

  9. Viral

    Hi Anne,

    This is amazing, your journey is truly an inspirational one. I have been in the niche websites business for around 10 years now, but only just learnt about yeys.com and yourself a week ago, thanks to Jon at Fat Stacks mentioning you in one of his videos.

    Am I correct in understanding that you built a business that generates $100K in revenue per month over a roughly 4 year period? That is incredible!

    Let’s say that someone has $15K to invest in content starting today, and along with their own time, they are able to publish a site with 500 articles within the next 6 months. Let’s say it takes an additional 3 months for them to get out of the sandbox.

    So if each article gets 300 pageviews per month on average, and the site has an RPM of $25, by month 9 they would be earning roughly $4K per month.

    Now let’s say they reinvest all of this capital into building new sites, each month. After another year has passed, they would have reinvested $48K and would have been able to build 3 more 500 page sites. They are now 21 months in.

    Now let’s say that at the 24 month mark, the new sites are all fully out of the sandbox and they are generating $16K in revenue per month.

    Again, they reinvest all of their earnings into building new sites. Over the next year they build out 12 more new sites, each with 500 pages of content.

    At the 36 month mark, they would have a total of 16 sites, and maybe 6 months later, are earning a monthly revenue of $64K (of course, there are way too many factors that come into play, but this is just a general estimation).

    Does the above seem realistic to you, and is it similar to what you did over the last 3 years, to get to where you are today?

    Eagerly awaiting your response 🙂

    Thanks!

    1. Anne

      Hi Viral,

      Yes, we have $100K in revenue per month (will probably go over the $100K mark this month). I guess it’s taken roughly 3-4 years, but I started with a lot of experience already. I’ve been in web publishing in some form or another for more than 20 years, albeit not full-time. Also, we started with investing probably over $100K in the first couple of years. It was a leap of faith at that point, that few choose to make (and rightfully so, it can also fail!)

      As for your suggested plan, I don’t know how to publish 500 good posts for only $15K that fast. I’m not saying that can’t be done, but only that I don’t know how to do that. I also don’t know how to get a site out of the proverbial sandbox within 9 months. It usually takes my sites a year and a half to get to an average of 300 pv per day per article (and not all of them ever get to that point). And it’s easy to fail if you don’t know how to find the right topics to write about, or produce the kind of content that can actually rank. You could end up sinking money and getting nowhere.

      Overall, I think your plan is extremely optimistic. You have to either invest a whole lot more or wait longer – or probably both. It’s not similar to what I did because I never sold a website. I just kept on building and investing out of pocket until we got to the profitable point. I grew the investment based on cash flow profits, but it’s taken a while to get there.

      There is a LOT of work involved in the kind of scaling you’re talking about. I had to hire about 10 full-time employees to get to the $100K per month point. There’s no way I could have done this on my own, at $30 per article.

      You’re very welcome to read through the revenue reports I used to post, especially over the first year, to see the kind of investment and growth patterns I had.

      1. Viral

        Thanks for your reply Anne, your insights are much appreciated. A couple more questions I had:

        1.) I have read through all of your articles on this site over the last week. It looks like you don’t do any link building, right?

        So if someone was theoretically able to build a decent number of high quality backlinks to their site, this should have a fair amount of impact in terms of how quickly the site gets out of the sandbox and brings in traffic correct? Meaning, the 1.5 years you mention could potentially be shortened with backlinks, if done correctly?

        2.) In an earlier response you mentioned that you don’t like keyword research tools. So does this mean that for the thousands of articles you have on all of your various sites, you primarily used the alphabet soup method to generate keyword/title ideas?

        Thanks!

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