It’s time again for my monthly income report! If you’re curious what this is all about, I started a back-end overhaul of the business aspect of my blog on August 1st, and I want to share my results with you monthly. Why share? Well, a few reasons:
- Accountability: I want you all to hold me accountable. Keep me in check if I stray off the straight and narrow. Turning your blog into a money-making venture is often a delicate balance between authentic and smarmy, and I really want to err on the side of authentic—and I’m hoping you guys will help keep me there.
- Transparency: I think it’s hard to be authentic when all things financial and traffic related are hidden under a cloak of mystery. I’m hoping by sharing my numbers and stats, we’ll all feel a little more comfortable with the business side of my blog.
- Motivation: My goal is to make the work I put into this blog “worth” my time financially. The problem is, I love doing what I do here so much that I’d do it for free. That doesn’t really light a fire under me to work on the business side! By sharing my financials every month, I hope to motivate myself to keep on keepin’ on the road to figuring out how to make this blog financially efficient.
- Inspiration: Maybe along the way, I can figure out a thing or two and help inspire some other bloggers out there to find out how they can make their own blog more successful and profitable. That’d be super cool.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, a note: because of how some of my ad networks report, these income reports will run about 45 days behind—which is why you’re just now seeing the numbers for July. Keep in mind, I didn’t start this income project until the beginning of August, so the numbers in this report are from before I started working hard to boost my financials. Okay, onto the stats.
Disclaimer: Some of these links below are affiliate links—meaning I get a few pennies if you happen to purchase through my link. I use and recommend all of these products. Let me know if you have any questions.
- BlogHer — $262.20
- souvrn — $147.41
- Adsense — $107.61
- Swoop — $88.10
- Today’sMama — $73.69
- Amazon Affiliates — $50.21
- ZipList — $12.70
Total Income: $741.92
Thoughts on Income
July is pretty commonly accepted as one of the absolute worst months for ad revenue in the year, and that’s definitely reflected in my ad revenue for this month. It’s probably no surprise that seeing the numbers come in for July was one of the motivating factors to get me to start this whole monetization overhaul—it became glaringly obvious that my blog wasn’t financially sustainable with its current model.
I spoke about diversity of income sources last month, but my need to diversify really hit me like a ton of bricks this month. Because there was an industry-wide lull in ad sales in July, and because almost all of my income sources are ad networks, I took a major hit this month. If I had a few other non-ad network sources of income, they could help me balance out any major dips in ad revenue that happen throughout the year.
I started transitioning my recipes over to ZipList earlier this year, and it’s been an incredibly slow process (my newer recipes are in ZipList, but the vast majority of my recipes are still housed in my older recipe delivery system). As I get more and more recipes in my ZipList account, I’m noticing my revenue from them creeping up! That’s very exciting and pretty motivating to get off my bum and get my other 300+ recipes transferred over to ZipList.
Curious how revenue works on ZipList? Well, when you partner with ZipList they create a customized recipe box website for your website. So whenever someone interacts with the ZipList website, they are doing it through your customized portal that shows ads that are linked to your account.
For example, say someone wants to save my Vegan Coconut Milk Ice Cream recipe to their ZipList account. They click the “Save” button the recipe.
And get a pop-up to save the recipe to their ZipList account. See that add there? That’s generating me revenue! Yay!
I also get revenue from a leaderboard add that shows if you access your ZipList recipe box from the buttons at the top of my sidebar.
I hope ZipList creeps higher and higher up on my revenue list as I get more and more recipes put in it.
Total Expenses: $313.38
Note: I’ve decided to include food costs at a rate of 30% of our total grocery bill. I figure about 1/3 of everything I cook in a month ends up on the blog. And the vast majority of those dishes require speciality ingredients that would be more pricey than if I was doing “regular” grocery shopping.
Thoughts on Expenses
Let’s Talk Hosting
I want to take a second to chat about hosting companies, because I love, love, love my host! I’m with AcceleratedWP, and I pay a little bit more than you can get with some of the big name hosts, but I get such better service that it’s totally worth the extra cash. I used to have a…uh…rocky experience when I was with one of the big name hosts. My site would go down all the time. They were always throttling my site so it loaded super slowly for a lot of people. And whenever I’d have a technical problem, they’d offer to help—but only if I paid them a hefty sum. About a year ago, I switched to AcceleratedWP, and it’s been like night and day for me.
My site hasn’t been down once. My load times became super fast. And my favorite part, they have given me the most reliable, helpful customer service I’ve ever had with a tech company. Because they charge a little bit more, they consider themselves a full-service WordPress host—which means they make sure everything stays running smooth for you. They keep your site secure. They make all your WordPress and plugin updates for you (and make sure nothing breaks). They do backups for you. They fix technical issues that might pop up (but rarely do, because they also monitor your site constantly to make sure it’s healthy).
I became an AcceleratedWP Ambassador last month, but even if I wasn’t working with them, I’d still be singing their praises! I am so happy I decided to spend the money and go with a full-service host. I’m learning more and more than with blogging, just like most things in life, you get what you pay for. And my experience with the cheap hosting companies were exactly that—cheap. To me, the peace of mind of having the technical side of my blog taken care of is totally worth the extra cash.
Take Home Pay
Since this whole project is about making my work time more efficient, I thought it might be helpful to figure up a formula for calculating what I’m earning each month in regular-job terms. In the formula, I subtract my expenses from my income, to get a profit. And then I subtract 30% of that number to account for taxes. That number is my take home pay for the month. To figure the hourly wage, I estimate I work 100 hours per month on my blog, so I divide that take home pay by 100.
Take Home Pay = .70(Income – Expenses)
Hourly Wage = Take Home Pay/100
This month’s take home:
Oh man. It sounds so sad when you break it into an hourly rate! One of my biggest struggles with this monetization project is a block in my own mind—I have to get used to treating myself as a valued professional in this field. If I don’t see myself as valuable, then no one else will. And “selling” my work for three bucks an hour is not giving my work the kind of value it deserves.
Another way to put my monthly numbers into perspective is to figure up the RPM (revenue per mille). This is the amount of money that the blog makes per thousand impressions. It’s a good number to know, because it helps you understand how effective your income sources are, regardless of your traffic. A blog with only 100 visitors a week, but with a high RPM is actually a lot more financially efficient than a blog with a million visitors a week but a low RPM. It’s not all about traffic! My RPM for July was:
This is where is starts to become obvious that July was a much worse month off than June was. While the income numbers for the two months were only about $50 off, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In July, I had a 10% increase in pageviews over my June numbers—but I made less money, which is why my RPM dropped from the $2.52 of June.
As a frame of reference, decently-earning blogs have RPMs of at least $5. Excellent-earning blogs make $10+. And you’ll even see some rockstar blogs making $15-$20 RPM! I have a long way to go.
Here are a few screenshots from Google Analytics from July.
Top 10 Referring Sources
10 Most Popular Pages
Thoughts on Traffic
- I’m not sure how bloggers gained traffic before Pinterest existed, because man, I am sure glad it’s around now! Pinterest is consistently my top referrer (and by a lot). That’s why I’ve been really pumping a lot of time and energy into increasing my Pinterest strategy over the past few months. I haven’t seen a lot of gains (more on those in upcoming reports), but I think the work I’m doing is laying the groundwork for even more referrals from Pinterest.
- Three of my top 10 most popular posts this month are “how-to” posts. I love developing recipes, but sometimes it’s really fun to break out of the box and write more how-to posts about things that are part of my day-to-day life (like prepping food or making popcorn). It’s good to know those posts perform well!
Next Steps & Other Thoughts
Truncated RSS Feed
This change has been, without a doubt, the most controversial of any of the changes I’ve made ever on my blog. Last month, after agonizing over it for years, I decided to try out truncating my blog post in my RSS feeds. What’s that mean? Well, previously, I used to provide my entire blog entry in my RSS feed. So if you read my blog through Feedly or Bloglovin or any other RSS feed reader, you’d get the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle.
But last month, I made the switch to where the post cuts off after the first photo and a paragraph or two, and then prompts the reader to click onto my blog for the full content of the post.
Why do this? Well, it’s simple really, and 100% financially driven—views in a RSS feed reader generate absolutely no income for me. If you read my blog in Feedly or Bloglovin, you don’t see any ads. I don’t get any revenue from those impressions. When I was treating my blog as just a hobby, that was fine! My main goal was to just have fun and be creative, and getting my work out to the most eyeballs as possible was part of that. But now that it’s important for me to make my blog financially sustainable, that model just wasn’t good business sense anymore. I was giving my work away for free. And that’s pretty much the worst business decision an entrepreneur can make.
I got some negative feedback about the change—I totally get it is a bit more cumbersome to read my blog now—but after explaining that small changes like these need to happen or Wholefully might have to go dark, most understood. I also got a ton of positive feedback, too! A few people said that while they were frustrated at first, they actually now really enjoy reading my blog in its native form on my site! And so many people told me that they didn’t mind the extra click if it helped me out. One friend of mine even likened it to trying to shop local. A lot of us will go out of our way to try to support local businesses in our community, and while I’m probably not a local for you, I consider you guys part of my community. And I’m asking you to go a little (teeny, tiny) bit out of your way to help support me. You can literally help save my business with that one single click.
I also understand that changes like this are calculated risks. I’m going to lose some readers over it. And that’s a bummer, but I have to assume that those readers I lost weren’t really all that interested in my content to begin with. I believe that if someone is truly engaged with my content, a simple click won’t be enough to deter them (at least, I hope that’s the case). I’ll report back more in the next few income reports with the numbers, but I can tell you already, that I’ve seen a dramatic increase in my clicks from the common feed readers—people are clicking! Thank you!
Advertising Waterfalls & Overhauls
Last month, I talked about implementing advertising waterfalls. I’ll be sharing a lot more data on this in August’s income report, but I wanted to just drop a quick note to tell you that, holy cow, I was losing so much cash by not having waterfalls set up! I’ve seen an incredible increase in my ad revenue over the past six weeks. I absolutely cannot recommend this eBook by Kiersten Farse enough. I am so grateful to this book for teaching me all about waterfalls. I just had no idea how much money I was leaving on the table!
I’m actually still working on tweaking my waterfalls (and I’m even testing with a company who monitors your waterfalls for you—I’ve given them complete control over almost all the ad spots on my blog), but I’m so happy with the results! Like I said, I’ll be talking a lot more about this in upcoming months when I have the exact numbers, but I think you’ll be surprised by how much money I was losing by just running one ad network.
I’m slowly diving into the world of affiliate marketing. What is affiliate marketing? Well, say a blogger recommends a product to you. When you click the link to the product, it has a special affiliate code in the URL that tracks your click. When you then buy that product, the blogger gets a small percentage of the sale at no cost to you. It can be a really efficient way for bloggers to earn money, but it can also feel really smarmy if it’s done wrong. I think it’s vital to disclose when affiliate links are being used (see the disclosure at the top of this post), and only really promote products that you truly believe it. My philosophy is that I only post affiliate links for products that I would want you to buy even if I wasn’t making a commission. Like that link up there to that eBook. I do get a commission off any sales from that link, but even if you don’t want to buy through my affiliate link, that’s cool, because I really want you to read that book!
Affiliate marketing is a huge, giant, massive aspect of the online world, and honestly, it’s a little overwhelming to get the hang of. There are affiliate programs for pretty much everything you could think of. To make sure I can wrap my brain around it, I’m currently just trying to use affiliate programs for sites/services that I use the most—and then I’l add on more as I can figure out how to fit them in. Right now, I’m focusing on affiliate programs through Amazon, Zulily, StudioPress, AcceleratedWP, and Oh My Veggies.
I have no desire for my blog to become a dumping ground for affiliate links, but I also have no problem getting a little bit of a kick-back if I’m the one that referred a new customer to a company. I do know that some folks get skeeved out by affiliate links, and if that’s you, I recommend looking for a browser plugin that’ll strip out affiliate referral codes (they have those for most of the modern browsers).
I’m still keeping up with my increased presence on social media. I have signed up (and pay for—more on that in next month’s report) two services that help me streamline my social media marketing—CoSchedule and ViralTag. CoSchedule is what I use as my editorial calendar, and I also use it to schedule Facebook and Twitter updates. I use ViralTag to schedule my pins. I’m really loving ViralTag! I can schedule my own pins, as well as other people’s. I really like being able to schedule pins during prime Pinterest usage time.
I do most of my “for fun” pinning in the wee hours of the morning while I’m nursing—not the prime time to get to people. With ViralTag, I can schedule my pins to go up during high-traffic times on Pinterest—say during Monday Night Football. I see such an increase in repins, likes and pageviews when I pay careful attention to the times I post to Pinterest, and ViralTag is helping me with that. I like that I still get to use Pinterest for fun, but I also can leverage it as a social marketing platform for my brand.
A Lesson in Sponsored Content & Going with My Gut
I’m sure you’ve noticed the uptick in sponsored content lately, and I hope you’re enjoying it. Like I said last month, my goal is to make those sponsored posts fit seamlessly into the overall content strategy of my blog (like this recipe for Almond-Crusted Chicken Strips I did for Blue Diamond this past month).
Most of the time, it’s pretty obvious when a sponsored content opportunity either fits or doesn’t. But there are a few that fall somewhere in between that I often struggle with deciding to either pass up or accept.
This past month, I ended up accepting an offer, and I had a good idea of how to incorporate it into my blog and still offer readers a benefit, but something about it still felt off (even though it was with a well-respected company that I’m happy to promote). It didn’t feel quite right. But I proceeded because I thought maybe I was just being oversensitive. Then, the day before the post was to go up, the project ended up falling through, and instead of feeling bummed about the lost revenue, I found myself totally relieved! And that right there was a sign to me that I should have never signed the contract in the first place.
Even though it probably wouldn’t have been a problem for anyone (it’s not like I was shilling cigarettes), it didn’t feel right to me, and I should have accepted that feeling as legitimate from the get-go. I love my blog, and I love that I can make a nice living from it without me feeling “yucky” about it—and I intend to keep it that way!
Feeling Overwhelmed with Possibility
I’ve been feeling incredibly overwhelmed lately with the sheer volume of things I want to do to for my blog. I know I just need to approach it the same way you’d eat an elephant—one bite at a time! I’ve been doing a little bit of work on a bunch of different things (a redesign, eCookbooks, reworking my ad strategy, social marketing, partnering with brands, etc.), and I think I need to devote myself to one project at a time instead of jumping around. This month, my goal is to take my list of improvement ideas and prioritize them. And then, once I’ve figured out what comes first—work on that and only that until it is finished.
I think the site redesign might be #1 on the docket, because I hate how my site is displaying right now! This design was just never made to work with this many ads, and it’s making it a really cumbersome user experience. The design I’m working on displays the same number of ads, but it in a much more elegant and unobtrusive way. Right now, the way my site is serving ads is just a band-aid until I can get my new, clean, fresh design up and running—thank you for being so patient with me.
So that was the last report on pre-project income—next month, I’ll be showing you the first month’s numbers, and I think you’ll be really surprised by how big of a change one month’s worth of work made! I’m really happy with the difference. I’ll also go into a bit more detail about the big changes I made to see the uptick in income.
Thanks for reading! And please, feel free to chime in and offer suggestions and ideas. I’d love for this to be an open conversation about blog monetization. As always, thank you so much for your support. It really does mean the world to me!