It’s time for my first income and traffic report! If you’re curious what this is all about, I wrote a whole post last month about why I’m starting to post these reports each month, but the reader’s digest version is:
- 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 June. Keep in mind, I didn’t start this income project until the beginning of August, so the next two income reports will be with numbers pre-project. 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 — $349.91
- souvrn — $166.72
- Adsense — $96.45
- Swoop — $91.89
- Today’sMama — $61.42
- Amazon Affiliates — $35.45
Total Income: $801.84
Note: I went back and forth about whether or not to include my freelance blogging and food writing income in these reports. I ultimately decided to not include the totals, because while they are indirectly related to this blog, those amounts will not adjust of change based on changes I make here. So, for example, if I launch a blog redesign, I’m not suddenly going to get a higher advance from my publisher on cookbooks. I’m choosing to only include direct income sources from the blog.
Thoughts on Income
I need diversity!
The biggest thing I noticed—almost all of my income is from ad networks! I only have one income source (Amazon Affiliates) that isn’t an ad network. And that’s a bummer because ad sales are on a steady decline. I’m in need of some serious diversification!
BlogHer has recently incorporated some viewability rules and it required some serious blog reworking on my part in June. Basically, the new requirement is for their ads to be fully in view for one-second before a user scrolls or navigates away from the ad. Advertisers are really looking for numbers of at least 50% viewability—meaning 50% of users see the ad for one second before scrolling away. Unfortunately, my viewability numbers were in the low 30% range! Which meant I was in danger of getting my ads nixed from the BlogHer Network (which would be no beuno—I love working with BlogHer).
Because of these new viewability rules, I made two changes. First up, BlogHer gave me permission to move my main ad “below the fold” so it was closer to a block of content. Since I usually start off my posts with a big ole photograph, folks were scrolling right past the ad to start reading. Now, the ad aligns better with where readers pause for a second to read. I increased my viewability of that ad unit up to 55%. Which is good, but unfortunately, a lot of the high CPM campaigns BlogHer is currently running require a 70% viewability score. So I have some more work to do to get it up that high.
Also in response to the viewability requirements, I implemented a new sticky ad in June on my blog at the bottom of the page (called the “tune-in bar” by BlogHer).
I have to be honest, even though this ad unit has a really high CPM, I really am not a fan of this ad. It’s not really a problem when you’re viewing my site on a large, desktop monitor, but when you check it out on a smaller, wider screen (like my laptop) it really cuts into a lot of premium real estate. It also hasn’t been giving me the viewability scores I had hoped—it’s averaging around 45%. I’m guessing most folks do exactly what I do when it loads—immediately close it!
These viewability requirements have definitely given me lots to think about with how I place ads in the new design I’m working on. Unfortunately, the new requirements means that my BlogHer ad income has plummeted this month because my site isn’t serving the high-paying ads. Part of it is the new viewability requirements, but also part of it is the summer slump for ad sales. Hopefully I’ll see some increases over the next few months as we cruise into the holiday season. And even more so once I figure out how to get those viewability numbers up!
Total Expenses: $298.46
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
Spend Money to Make Money
Blogging might seem like it’s cheap (and it can be), but what I’m starting to realize is that it is one of those areas of where it really is true that you have to spend money to make money. I’ve always been afraid to pump money into my blog, for fear I wouldn’t get it back out, but I think that mentality has been holding me back. I’m not talking about running out and buying a Canon 1D or anything (I wish), but I do think that putting a little more cash into products and services that are more tailored to my needs might serve me well. You get what you pay for. And I’m “paying” for a lot of free services. Right now, my expenses are low, but I expect them to increase over the next few months.
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:
Womp. Womp. That’s a pretty sad number. Like I said before, I’m not looking to get rich off my blog, but it would be nice to be able to make at least a livable wage off the work I do here. And even though I live in a rural area with an incredibly low cost of living, $3.52 an hour ain’t gonna cut it.
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 June was:
Another not-so-great number. 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 June.
Top 10 Referring Sources
10 Most Popular Pages
Thoughts on Traffic
- One goal I didn’t mention in my earlier post on this topic—I want to increase my traffic! I think that probably goes without saying though. Have you ever met a blogger that didn’t want to reach more people? I’ve honestly never done a whole lot to garner new visitors, I just pretty much hoped people would stumble onto my blog and stick around, but I know there are a lot of things I can do to increase my traffic, and I plan on doing that over the next few months. Not only will it help with my income, but I also think it’ll be awesome to meet and interact with so many new people.
- Just outside of the top 10, were the posts I wrote about June Bug. It’s good to know that when I write the occasional posts about being a parent, they aren’t going to alienate my readers. I know those kinds of posts aren’t of interest to everyone, so it’s nice to see some proof that they aren’t going to bother everyone.
- The most popular post this month was a simple little recipe I wrote up about flavored water (really, does it get more simple than flavoring water?). While I’m sure the content appealed to some readers, I think what really made this post popular was the photography. The photographs turned out beautiful for this post, and I think it really helped the post spread on Pinterest. It made me realize that I really need to pay attention to my photography more often and work on getting better. My lower quality photography is almost 100% laziness. When I take my time and set up a good shot, I’m actually a decent food photographer (check out these photos from my upcoming cookbook). I just need to put more value into the photos I shoot for the blog.
One of the ways I plan on diversifying my income sources is to begin offering more sponsored content. I’ve always been hesitant to do sponsored posts because it can be a slippery slope. I don’t fault bloggers who accept sponsored content opportunities, but I think if you want to remain an authentic voice, it can be a tough balance to strike. The fact is, no matter how many disclaimers you post saying “all opinions are my own”, you are going to be influenced by the sponsorship. Because of that, I feel like the key is to accept that bias and only work with companies that fit in with your blog brand. My litmus test for accepting sponsored opportunities is this question: if I wasn’t getting paid to do this post, would this kind of content be on my blog? If the answer is a no, then I don’t accept the opportunity. And secondary to that question, I also like to ask myself: what value does this post give to my readers? I honestly feel like there is a way to give valuable content to readers and still meet the promotional objectives of a sponsor. If I’m just doing a post for my own gain, then to me, it’s purposeless. It might take some creativity to meet both objectives, but that’s what makes this blogging thing fun! I think my recent posts for Ball Canning and Blue Diamond Almonds are both good examples of posts that both fulfill they company’s objectives, and offer something of value to my readers.
I’ve been contemplating what kind of frequency I felt comfortable with posting sponsored content. Before this little project, I’d rarely do more than 2-3 sponsored posts a year. For now, I’ve given myself a limit of one per week, and preferably less often than that (bloggers don’t always control launch dates of sponsored content). I’m hoping that just as long as I stick to my requirements, I make sure all sponsored content is both authentic and valuable to my readers, a higher frequency won’t be an issue. And I’m open to adjusting that frequency if it isn’t working for me or my readers.
As far as the logistics of securing new content, I’ve done one simple thing—I started reading my emails. Ha! I’m a member of numerous promotional networks (like Clever Girls Collective, PopSugar, Pollinate Media). Each week, those networks shoot out emails asking bloggers to apply for sponsored programs. I’ve mostly just ignored those emails in the past, unless something really stuck out to me. But now I’ve started actually going through the opportunities with a fine tooth comb, reading the requirements, and figuring out how it can fit in with the brand of my blog. Just by replying to those calls, I’ve secured six sponsored posts over the next two months. And I’m excited about the post ideas I have to fulfill each one!
I’ve also changed my process for replying to promotional emails. I get no less than a dozen emails a day from various companies asking me if I want to review products. 99% of them I politely decline. Before, I just flat-out declined them, but if the company happens to be someone I want to work with, I’ve started pitching them some ideas for sponsored content, plus including a copy of my (newly redesigned) media kit and rate sheet. I haven’t booked any gigs yet from this, but I have had quite a few companies mention they are interested for future campaigns. Who knows if that’s just PR talk or not, but either way, it’s getting my name and marketability out there.
I’ve resisted making “pinnable” images for my posts for years. Even though I’m a designer who has extensive education in typography, I tend to be a bit of purist when it comes to food photography, and I always shied away from emblazoning a recipe title over my photos. But, over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to look outside of myself, and be more of a Pinterest observer. And what I noticed? Even when I myself was just passing time on Pinterest, I gravitated toward pinning recipes that had pinnable graphics. There is something about a clear, easy-to-read note on the image itself in the Pinterest interface that makes it much more eye-catching to me than just an image with the “regular” description filled out. And it is much easier to scan through your boards and figure out what is what with text on the image, as opposed to needing to pause and read every description. I’m assuming that’s a pretty common user behavior across-the-board.
So I got over my snobbery when it comes to pinnable images and started making pinnable graphics for my posts. And I immediately noticed an uptick in my pins, re-pins, and referring traffic. I decided to hide these pinnable graphics from the post itself with a little bit of handy-dandy code, but you can still access the graphic when you go to pin (you can also see the image in the RSS feed). I like this compromise. My post still has nice, clean photography, but I get the marketability of a pinnable graphic on Pinterest.
My plan is to (slowly) go back and make pinnable images for my most popular-on-Pinterest posts to help leverage the popularity. I’ll also keep making graphics for any new posts that go up.
I’ll talk a little bit more about this in next month’s report when I have a bit more data, but I’m in the middle of implementing ad waterfalls for all the ad spaces on my blog right now. What’s an ad waterfall? Well, it’s something that’ll give you the most earning potential for each ad spot on your website. Say you have one ad spot. And you’re signed up with one ad network. Chances are, that ad network can’t fill your ad space 100% of the time. In fact, it’s pretty common for ad networks to only be able to fill spots 50-70% of the time. The rest of the time, they either show house ads (meaning, you don’t get paid) or ads that have an incredibly low payout or even nothing at all. Which means that you could be losing income for 30+% of your views!
An ad waterfall is a method of setting up numerous ad networks to backfill when the one before it can’t supply an ad. The idea is you set up your highest earning ad network first to give it the opportunity to display a high-earning ad, and then stack them down in decreasing order of earning power. I’m still working on my stacks and my list of ad networks, so I’ll get back to you later on how this is going for me. In the meantime, if you’re interested,I highly recommend checking out this eBook by Kiersten Farse. It’s a quick read any only costs $15, but I can already tell the information in it will make up for that cash many times over again. She does an excellent job of explaining ad waterfalls (and a lot of other stuff you can do to monetize your food blog).
I have been learning so much about the world of blog income that I just had absolutely no clue about before. I have to admit, it kinda grinds my gears that I didn’t do more research about advertising when I first monetized my blog four years ago. I think about all the thousands (probably) of dollars I lost out on just because I didn’t have a simple thing like ad waterfalls set up, and it makes me sad. Oh well, as my Mama says, when you know better, you do better. And now I know!
I’ve been working off-and-on on a new design! Not only am I itching for a new brand, but I also am completely overhauling the backend of the site, and adding and fixing some functionality issues (just wait ’til you see my brand new recipe index—it’s killer). As far as the look, I’m trying a new thing for me—clean and simple! My style tends to be obnoxiously bright and busy, but I really want to showcase my blog’s content, not it’s design. I want to put my effort into creating beautiful photos, crafting engaging content, and developing delicious recipes and fun projects. And I want that effort to be the spotlight of my blog, not the blog’s design itself.
If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably noticed an uptick in my presence over the past few weeks. I’ve never done a very good job of leveraging my social media followers because, honestly, I was always afraid of becoming “spammy”. But then I realized that folks follow me on social media because they actually, uh, like me (probably), and want to hear what I have to say. And if they don’t, that’s what the unfollow button is for! I’m still developing my social media strategy, and plan on continuing to work on it for the next few months, but so far, my social media engagement has skyrocketed. On Facebook alone (which, admittedly, I was sorely neglecting beforehand), I’ve increased my likes by over 300 since the beginning of July, which is a lot for a little blog like mine.
Of course, I’m also keeping an eye on unlikes and when users hide my content on Facebook. I’ve had an uptick of those unfollowing me and hiding me, but I think that’s only to be expected when your page suddenly goes from almost no content to posting content multiple times per day. Those might have been people who didn’t really have an interest in my content to begin with. Or, they might be people who find my increase in posting annoying. Either way, the response has been overwhelmingly positive to my increase in Facebook presence, so it’s worth it to lose a few folks who aren’t fans of my new strategy. I’d much rather be reaching out to 100 super engaged followers instead of having 10,000 followers who aren’t all that interested or engaged.
My plan for the next few weeks is to continue to build my audience on Facebook, but also leverage my followers on other social media channels, as well. I’m admittedly more of a Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest kinda gal, so a lot of my effort will be put into Facebook, since it’s lagging behind, but that doesn’t mean I want to neglect the other social media channels, either.
Another part of my diversification strategy is to offer eCookbooks for purchase. I love the idea of making my own product to offer to readers—not only because I get complete creative control, but also because it also gives me a higher level of financial solvency. My product, my profit. I’m slowly working on plans for two eCookbooks. One will be short and sweet freebie that I will offer readers for completing an action (signing up for email updates, following me on Facebook, etc.). Because I’ve never published a digital cookbook before, I figure offering a free one would be a good way to help garner some customer confidence in my product. You’ll get a chance to try out one of my products for free before shelling out any cash for one of the premium cookbooks.
The second cookbook is actually based on an idea I pitched to my publisher for a traditional cookbook, and we came close to publishing it, but in the end decided it wasn’t quite enough content-wise to fill out an entire on-the-shelf cookbook—which makes it perfect for the land of digital publishing! I’m so excited about it, and my hope is to launch both books sometime this fall.
That was a lot of text, are you still with me? I promise these income reports wont always be this long-winded—I just really wanted to share with you all the exciting things I’m thinking about. I actually have a ton more I want to talk about, but I’ll save it for next month’s report. 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!