Will my blog be successful? Taking that Leap of Faith in Web Publishing

One of the most frequent questions from people who begin their journey in web publishing is whether or not they’re going to make it. Will they ever be able to make a living from blogging? Sometimes they’ve been working on their site for days/weeks/months now without making as much as a single buck. This can definitely be disheartening.

Newbies usually seek the advice of longtimers at that point – and I get to see that in forums. Some ask for concrete advice, asking for people to review their sites. Others just need to share their feelings. I can relate to those feelings. Let me tell you a secret – even someone who’s been in web publishing for 20+ years still experiences the very same feelings.

Yes, I make a full-time living from web publishing. You can view my income reports here but they don’t include my flagship site which has been supporting our family with a full income for years now. My point is, I KNOW for a fact that you can make a living online by publishing content websites. And I still get frustrated and even scared when launching a new website.

In fact, I’ve just been going through a similar period lately. If you’ve been following my journey you know that we’ve recently taken our web publishing business to the next level. We (husband and I) scaled up the business by recruiting more writers, content editors and VA’s. That means we’re investing a lot more. And that’s scary.

Taking the Leap of Faith

Even though we have sites that already bring thousands of dollars a month, I sometimes get worried. Just because 2-3 of our sites are successful doesn’t mean the others will be too. We’ve been pouring tens of thousands of dollars into content that has yet to rank, bring in the traffic and get monetized. Who knows when that will happen. If it ever will.

In sales, they call this FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. These feelings can creep up on you as an entrepreneur. And they can be nothing short of debilitating – if you let them.┬áThat’s the crux of starting our own business – be it a brick-and-mortar store or a website.

You have a business plan, you’ve done your market research and run the spreadsheets and are positive that this could work out really well and make you tons of money. No matter how experienced you are, you’re still going to have to take a leap of faith at this point.

Remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? In that movie, Indians Jones reaches a deep chasm that seems impassable. His instructions tell him that –

Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.

Which means he has to take a Leap of Faith. He needs to overcome his fears and trust that somehow, he’s going to be able to cross over by taking a step from that point. As he does, it turns out there’s actually a hidden bridge there, camouflaged to look like the rock.

Not to geek out over Indiana Jones here, but don’t we all take a similar leap of faith with our sites? We know success awaits on the other side but it takes courage to take the step and move out there, relying on an invisible bridge to carry you over.

How long does it take for a site to be successful?

This is where it really gets painful. A new site – much like any new business – is going to take a while to become successful. If you’re hoping for Google to be your main source of traffic – and most of us content web publishers do – then this could be a slow process.

The Sandbox Effect

The sandbox effect means that for the first months of your site’s life, Google considers it a toddler, and won’t let it play with the big guys. It’s limited to the sandbox, essentially having a very hard time competing over traffic.

This isn’t some mysterious “site age” component in the algorithm. If you buy a domain, put it online with a single page and leave it be for a year, that won’t help you avoid the sandbox effect.

This is how the Sandbox Effect actually works –

  • A new site has low authority in the eyes of Google but that doesn’t mean it’s getting zero traffic. It can still compete over long-tail queries that other big sites don’t answer so well.
  • If you hit the right content gaps, over time you pick up more and more longtail traffic. The more posts you have the more traffic you’re getting.
  • Eventually, other people begin to link to your pages because they find them when they research stuff for their blogs. You gradually begin to acquire natural links.
  • Your site authority eventually increases thanks to these links and now you can compete for the more popular queries. Voila! You’re out of the sandbox!

This takes time.

How long will it take your site to become successful? That depends on the following –

  1. How many posts you have on your site.
  2. How old these posts are.
  3. The quality of the posts (the better the quality, the higher the chance for backlinks)
  4. Whether or not you targeted the right long-tail queries.

Can you speed up the process?

This goes into the whole debate about whether or not you should actively build links. In principle, quality links should speed up the process and get you out of the Sandbox faster. However, there are caveats –

  1. Link building is time-consuming. And that’s time you could be spending on creating more content.
  2. Some forms of link building are risky. They’re either gray hat now, or they may become so at some point.

Keep in mind that Google says that they’re expecting to see a natural growth in your link profile. A sudden increase in the number of links pointing to your site is going to look suspicious (because it probably is black-hat). You can’t build a new site, buy 200 links to it and hope to score. In fact, that’s a recipe for getting your site severely penalized.

Which gets us back to square one. This is a slow process, and it’s going to take a while for your site to be successful.

Will my site ever be successful?

See, if we had a guarantee of success, it wouldn’t be a Leap of Faith. And no, not all sites succeed.

To some extent, this is a question of how you define success.

Let’s say you have a site with 100 blog posts on it. What’s your measure of success for that site?

Maybe you’ll be happy with making $200 a month from that site? Think about it. If the traffic sticks for three years, then you’ll be making $7,200. Let’s say you wrote all of the content on your site and it took you three months (about one post a day). That’s not too shabby for spending a couple of hours a day for three months, right?

On the high end of the revenue spectrum, you may be expecting to make $3,000 per month from that site. That’s not entirely impossible. Assuming an average of 1,000 pageviews per post per month, monetized by $30 CPM, you’re at $3,000 per month. Sure beats $200 a month.

So, expectations vary and with them the measure of how successful a site actually becomes.

I can share our overall benchmark if you’re interested.

As a rule, we consider a site to be successful if it makes an average of $7.50 per post per month. That means a balance of 500 pageviews per post on average, multiplied by $15 a month per one thousand posts. So, for a site with 100 posts, we expect to see traffic stable at 50,000 pageviews and $750 in revenue. Assuming a cost of $80 per post, the site returns the investment after one year of full traffic. After that, it’s pure profit.

So far, our mature sites have done better than that. They seem to be bringing in only slightly more traffic than anticipated, but usually with higher CPM rates (when you consider both affiliate and display ad revenue).

But will that hold true for the newer sites?

After all, CPM rates depend on the niche, and the traffic depends on the type of posts we’re creating for those niches. And since we’re still in the sandbox and have no feedback from Google to rely on, we’re fumbling in the dark here.

That’s scary. Especially when you’re pouring thousands of dollars into content production for these sites.

Burnout issues

I LOVE researching new niches and researching the first batches of queries. It’s like digging for gold and finding nuggets here and there. It’s exciting!

I also love creating the initial content plan. Coming up with silos and designing what the site will look like in terms of content once it has 1000 posts. That’s exciting too!

My absolute favorite part? Creating a business plan for the site. How many posts we’re going to have? How much traffic we’ll get once posts age properly? What kind of a revenue stream are we looking at? What will expenses look like? When will we break even and at what point will profits start taking over? We calculate all of that, per site and per our entire setup. And looking at the predictions for 2-3 years from now – now that is EXCITING!

Then I start working on the sites. Spoiler alert for our next report: we’ve published over 200 posts over the past month. That’s a LOT of work that soon becomes tedious. Yes, I have writers and editors and a team of VA’s that handle pretty much everything. I still have to feed the machine with topics (I’m in charge of content plans), and oversee the entire operation, answer their questions and generally make sure that our production line is working properly.

And that is, well, not so exciting. It was at first, but now it’s not.

Now, you may just be starting out with this (I’m hoping someone is actually reading this – leave me a comment if you are and let me know what you think!). So, for you, the tedious work may be writing. Or it may be outsourcing writing to a content agency. Whatever it is, to get content production humming along, you have to get your hands dirty somehow, and deal with production. Again and again. And again. For months on end before you’ll see any results from a new site.

Working with very little excitement can be very hard. At least it is for me. This is where I risk getting burned out. Confession time – this has happened to me last week. I had to take a couple of days off, just to recuperate. I usually love my work, but experiencing burnout makes me hate it.

And it brings FUD in again. For two days, I was flooded with fear, uncertainty, and doubt. I’m not talking about panic attacks, just regular fear, and doubt. What am I doing here? Will these sites ever be successful? Or are we just pouring out money that we’ll never see again?

What helped me overcome FUD

I’m past that phase now, so let me share what helped me overcome that patch of FUD. I decided to create this list of tips so that I can get back to them if it happens again.

1. Get a support group

I am incredibly fortunate to have my husband’s full support in this. Moreover, he is part of the operation now, taking on some of the chores (he has his own day job, so his time is limited) but mostly functioning as our Board of Directors. He goes over the reports with me, helps me analyze things and figure out our long-term strategies.

As I recently discovered, this also makes him into my support group for FUD matters. When I was having my doubts, he was there to encourage me. He reminded me of how solid our plan is, and of the cushioning buffers that we have in place. Our assumptions are conservative and based on solid data that we have from 3 sites already. And the best part is that even if we do only half as well as we plan on doing, we’ll still be making good money. It’s going to be very hard to actually lose money here.

The point is – he was there for me, anchoring me back to our plan and helping me past the bump. Oh, and he never pushed me to work when I didn’t feel like it. For two days, I read books, watched Netflix and did my thinking, without any pressure on his part for me to get back to work. That was exactly what I needed.

If you don’t have a supportive spouse, find another support group. Forums can help, at least to some extent. Or a friend who’s interested and willing to listen. Just share and get that emotional support.

2. Check out other people’s reports

Relying on our data rocks, but looking at other people’s reports helps as well. There are other publishers out there who share their stats and I go back to these to get inspired again. Here are a few of my favorites –

Spencer Haws shares reports from various projects here.

Jon Dykstra posts detailed monthly income reports to his mailing list (you can sign up here).

Ron Stefanski publishes monthly progress reports here.

They all do a similar thing to me – publishing content websites. Reading their reports is great, not only for the nuggets of advice shared but also for validating our own business concept.

3. Reward yourself for doing – not for achieving

Those first months when you work on a website with no traffic and no revenue are hard. You put in a lot of hours with nothing to show for it. Knowing that this is the same for pretty much everyone, that helps. Still, you need to find a way to generate positive signals that show you how much progress you’ve made.

For me, it’s focusing on the number of posts we actually manage to publish per month. We have a nice colorful chart that gets updated as soon as a new post is published. That provides a nice boost of dopamine in its own right.

4. Focus on your successes

If you’re new to this, then this can be harder. But if you already have a successful site or two, spend time with these sites. Look at the old graphs and remind yourself how hard the early stages were. I go back to a successful site and look at its traffic chart from day one. It reminds me that the sandbox is real. This is what it looks like –

Site Traffic coming out of the sandbox

The site was launched in May 2018. For the first 9 months, there was barely any traffic to speak of. And then traffic started growing.

And remember –

This IS hard. You’re not imagining it.

But what if you actually fail?

I mentioned earlier that not all sites succeed.

Maybe the niche was too competitive. Maybe you targeted the wrong queries. Maybe your posts just weren’t good enough, or where just the wrong type for this specific niche.

It can happen.

In most cases, if you publish enough posts, keep formats varied and wait for long enough – you will eventually succeed. At the very least, it’ll pay for the time you’ve put in. With any luck, you’ll be seeing higher profits.

However, if you only published 10 posts and then lost hope, your site will most probably never take off. Unfortunately, this can happen even if you published 200 posts but they all sucked. For example, you decided 100 words per post was enough and still tried to target competitive keywords. Not very likely for someone to do in 2019, though. Most of the publishers who actually “fail” are those who never managed to get their site past the 30-post mark.

If you publish at least 100 posts, keep your formats varied and long enough and then give it time, it’s actually fairly hard to absolutely fail to get at least 20,000 pageviews a month to that site. Which should fairly easily mean at least $200 a month. Would you call that a success? I would, actually.

Which brings me to my last point.

Not every site is a hit – and that’s ok

Maybe you’ve been reading about people who get an average of 1,000 pageviews or more per post to their sites. Or people who manage to earn a CPM rate of $40+. Maybe their even the same people (you lucky bastards!).

Don’t let those reports set your expectations too high. Not every site is a hit. If you read income reports, you’ll notice that some sites do better than others. This doesn’t necessarily reflect on how awesome we are as web publishers. It just means that not every site is a hit.

And that’s ok. I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. I’ve had over 400 domains at some point. Over the years, I developed hundreds of sites. Many of them succeeded. Some I sold, others just died out when the online environment changed. And yes, many never made it, to begin with. They failed to generate the revenue I was aiming for. That happens to the best of us.

If you love web publishing, you’ll just carry on making sites because it’s just too much fun. And eventually, you’ll cross that chasm and reach success.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. I’m just starting out. I’ve read a couple of your articles, and I’ve gotten a lot out of them. Thanks for writing! (I found your site by way of the Project 24 forum and just got notified from the email list.)

    I’ve been looking at the niche site business model for over a year. I find it really fascinating. I finally picked a niche and got a domain. I’ve done a lot of keyword research, and I’m about to start getting the articles. I’d like to outsource, but I know it’ll it be valuable to write some content myself. Need to force myself to do that. (I got a TON out of your article on hiring writers! Awesome article!)

    I’m very interested in your revenue per post analysis. $15 per 1000 views sounds like it might be on the low side. I could be wrong. I’m curious about your business model. Do you get most of your revenue from ads or affiliate? What’s your ad network?

    1. Hi Rich,
      We do try to be conservative in our estimates. Some sites end up getting to $30-$40 CPM but some sites stay at $8-$10. There’s also a seasonality factor. CPM rates are high in November-December and then hit the floor in January. Our actual average is probably around $17-$18 across the sites. The revenue is a mix of display ads and affiliate. We use Ezoic and Monumetric at this point. I actually just upgraded to Ezoic Premium, so we’ll see how that goes. You can see all of the details and the specific breakdown for each site in the quarterly reports.
      Best of luck with your site! And I agree, it’s good to write at least a few posts, so you can show to your writers what kind of style you’re going after.

  2. Great post as usual Anne. I would love more details on how to go about figuring out how many posts you will have for each site. It seems like every niche I research has an almost limitless number of posts that could be created. I have been trying to start with 100 per site as a minimum because that tends to be enough to flush out an idea and get traffic coming in but I would love to hear how you make your determination.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, April. And that’s a great question! I think a lot depends on how many sites you have and how much time/resources you’re putting into web publishing. I think that larger sites are actually the smarter way to go these days, and if you find that your niche accommodates that size, then go for thousands of posts per site. Just build them carefully around silos, and don’t spread yourself too thin across sub-niches right away. I actually blogged about this topic here. I think you’ll find that post interesting too.

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