Results from a Blog Experiment: 365 Days and 5,000 Posts
[The 2nd Anniversary Post is here! 9k+ posts and over 7M views!]
Last year, on March 8th of 2015, I started publishing posts on a brand new blog that was completely unaffiliated with any of my existing properties and sites. This was, like most things that I do, another wild experiment.
I didn’t really have any super-serious goals but I did have a few explicit ones (or rather, I had three core questions that I wanted to have answered):
- Could I do it for one year?
- Could I gain traction (e.g. growing number of pageviews, return visits) without using any existing marketing channels?
- Could it make any money?
Having done a number of blog experiments in the past (check this one out from 2012) and knowing that I’ve been blogging every single day for the past 15 years, answering the first question was kind of easy — consistency is the most important weapon in writing, or any creative endeavor for that matter and I, if anything, have been consistent.
I knew that I could, both physically and mentally, but the answer to the question was much more nuanced: Could I do it in addition to all of the other responsibilities that I had at the same time? Those responsibilities included (but were not limited to) being a dad, a husband, a startup cofounder, a friend…
Committing to something for a year is really hard and I haven’t always been able to complete these yearly challenges. For instance, I said that I would try vlogging for a year in 2016 and I quit after 10 days — that junk was so hard to do! I don’t like failure but I’ve learned to be comfortable with it, if that can be said.
But, I started, registered a new domain name, and began hitting the “Publish” button over, and over, and over again. As of right now, this blog has 5,453 posts published which is just short of 15 published posts a day:
So, to the first question… yes, I was able to blog daily for a year in addition to my many other responsibilities. Check.
And, like all good experiments I made sure to begin to track data points on Day #1 and used both the the Jetpack plugin on a self-hosted WordPress install and also Google Analytics so that I could have two systems tracking data to cross-check and ensure accuracy.
Okay, I can’t help myself… I have to sidebar for a moment… … …
I’ve said this 1,000 times before and I’ll continue to repeat myself (since I get new readers fairly consistently) but the only thing that matters when writing (publicly, privately, for personal use or professionally) is that you write. Period. Nothing else really matters.
Writing is an art form, a creative exercise, and the only way that you get better at it is doing it. Just. Do. It. If you need any additional thoughts then this is one of the most important posts that I’ve written on this topic and you should read it, bookmark it, use it. It’s foundational.
And, the only advantage that I have is that I’ve been doing this longer than most. That’s it. I’m not smarter than anyone else… Hell, I’m not even that much more motivated that anyone else. All I know is that the “trick” to doing anything is just doing it.
And, if you want to become a bit better at it (whatever “it” is) then you just keep doing it and don’t quit. I tell my two children this all the time and I add this point because I think it’s important and true: Repetition can make you better but it won’t make you perfect and it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be the greatest.
You will be a better you and you will learn a ton about yourself in the process. Okay, back to the stats!
So I started and I didn’t stop. I never missed a single day and the results are encouraging. Google Analytics, over the course of the year show a clear “up and to the right” trend and doesn’t appear to show any signs of stopping.
Total pageviews, sessions, users, pages per session, average session duration, bounce rate, and % new sessions are seen in the chart here as well. Also very encouraging.
Any blog that banks over 1,000,000 pageviews in a calendar year (especially the inaugural year) has something to smile about.
But, when you begin to dig in deeper and into the finer details, the potential for a blog like this based on the organic growth figures (and a few other incredibly-powerful signals and indicators) can make your head spin (more on those things a bit later).
Now, WordPress Jetpack relayed a slightly higher figure of > 1.3M views but that’s most likely because I forgot to update the Google Analytics in the backend for a few days time.
The real figure doesn’t really matter to me as long as they are close and in the same ballpark (this is why you should have a variety of systems and analytics devices installed).
I think it’s also worth noting that I didn’t have any comments activated for the blog. Many properties bank on the potential for digital dialogue and conversation as metrics for success and for pageviews and for monetization.
I just don’t believe those things matter as much as they used to but that’s all I’ll say about that. Besides, there are much smarter people with much smarter things to say about the merits of having comments or the advantages/disadvantages of not having comments on a blog… so I’ll just let the experts do their thing (I’ll keep publishing anyway).
So, what else happened over the last 365 days? Well, it seems Google really began to favor the site and continued to index every single post that I threw out there:
I kept things wide open from the robots.txt side of the house and didn’t ever remove and/or delete any post that was published.
In addition, the organic traffic that I driving views continued to escalate — this is probably the most exciting thing about this particular experiment since I didn’t actually advertise or market the site via my own existing channels.
In other words, I didn’t advertise this site on my personal Twitter account and I didn’t user any other existing social media to help “spread the word” — my intent was to see if the property, itself, could eventually be caught virtually and without prompt.
Could organic SEO really be efficacious without jumpstarting it or priming the pump? I was keen to find out!
As you can see, the amount of traffic has continued to climb thanks to Google’s efforts through organic search. For anyone who knows, organic returns and traffic can produce some of the highest advertising dollars in the right circumstances and when optimized well. Naturally, this is an exciting statistic to behold.
Okay, so as it relates to the second question, check, the site could gain traction and continue to grow in size and viewing without leveraging any existing marketing channels. Sweet action.
IMPORTANT SIDENOTE: This piece of information and data point should blow your mind and clearly show that anyone can build up an incredible blog property without some large following or subscriber base or marketing strategies or tactics. You can literally start from “Ground Zero” and build something that you can be proud of, that’s getting attention, and that can even make you a few pennies. There’s nothing stopping you!
Okay, okay, okay… so… that perfectly dovetails into my final question that I had posed at the beginning of the experiment… … … …
… which leads me to my final question: Could this property make money? To be sure, I knew that any property can (and I was certain that this property cold make a few greenbacks) but the more nuanced and specific questions were how much and with how much effort — that was yet to be determined.
I started putting a few Google Adsense blocks around the site in May of 2015, just two months after I started publishing.
I made $1.88 in the first week, not bad.
But the longer I kept them on there the faster the amount grew and continued to pace upwards in a very nice trend.
You would think that I would keep them on there if the trend was so positive but I decided to remove the advertisements just a few months later so as to try to advertise on of my indie software projects.
My hypothesis was that I could maximize the traffic into software sales and for all I know it did… I think. The problem is that it is generally impossible to calculate and know for certain because Apple doesn’t allow or offer deep level analytics and you simply can’t track conversions to the App Store. Drat.
So, whatever momentum I had built on Google Adsense quickly bottomed out until I removed those advertisements for my indie projects (recently) and put the Google Adsense buckets back in.
You can see the rise that’s already begun to build again:
So, the question of monetization was fairly easy to conclude as well. But how much time did I spend on optimization? Well, it’s worth noting that my efforts in this particular area were very minimal.
In fact, that might be a stretch as I did zero optimization for Google Adsense or any other form of monetization (and there are a ton of different ways to make money off of a blog and/or website… trust me, I know. This post can help as well as this one and even this one, even though all of them are a bit old…).
I have two advertisements active currently, the first one was a responsive class that I installed on May 22, 2015 (and then removed a few months later) as I had shared above and the second is a default text class advertisement which I started in February of 2016, last month:
So, the uptick back north was based on moving back to full-site Adsense integration (less the indie app adverts) and the new addition of one more block (Ad links, responsive).
Again, no optimization here and I even used the “minimal” default version and went with that out of the box:
It’s worth noting that the average monthly income statement was pretty systematic and consistent throughout the entire year, despite some significant spikes of traffic, as you can see below:
There were a few months early on where I was seeing upwads of 22,000 pageviews a day — it was really blowing my mind.
What really happened during those hectic few months? Google was making some significant changes to their search algorithms and I was, for a time, on the very nice receiving end of those updates and then things normalized, as you can see in the end of July and then August of 2015.
I was a bit disappointed with the turn of events relate to the algorithm changes but this was an experiment and I wasn’t banking my personal livelihood on an experimental blog. I took it on the cheek and then, over the months to follow, saw a gradual return and rise as the site continued to organically receive more attention, traffic, as Google got their algorithm straight.
I suppose if there is any “lesson learned” it is that you are subject to the whims of the internet and search engine gods and there’s really nothing you can do about it.
Actually, this wasn’t a surprise to me as I have long-held the belief and understanding that any tactic for financial optimization on the web is temporary and fleeting; only those who continue to perpetually optimize will always stay on the right side of the curve.
The question, for all of us, is whether this is the best use of our time and whether we can ever optimize optimally. I, for one, do not believe this to be possible but I also know that I’m generally not interested in becoming anything close to an “expert” in blog and site monetization strategies. If I can cover the cost of my expensive servers then I feel good about that.
Consequently, this means that you shouldn’t really trust my opinion on blog advertising — I really don’t know much about what I’m talking about anymore; I used to, but, I don’t anymore. Sorry. All I know is that you can make money.
So, where does this leave me now with this year-old blog? Honestly, I’m not sure, but I still plan on publishing daily and I suppose this blog post is somewhat of a commitment to continue to write and publish for another year. I’ve got a good system going and the money isn’t terrible either.
And… wow, look at that… this post is 2,300 words already and I’m tired and want to go to bed. I have a ton of other statistics for my own use but it’s getting late and I no longer want to bore you fine folks.
So… if you have any specific questions please feel free to ask them via Twitter and make sure you link to the post so that others can benefit from your question and the answer. I promise I’ll try to respond.
[The 2nd Anniversary Post is here! 9k+ posts and over 7M views!]
Originally published at John Saddington.