I’ve been doing these monthly income reports for a while now (feel free to check in here if you’re looking for more info on why I’m doing them), and I have to say, one of my major goals for writing them was to motivate myself, and man, is it ever working. I am so proud of how far my monetization strategy has come in just a few short months. When I first started this, I went into it thinking that if I could just make a little bit more cash to justify the amount of time spent, I’d be happy. But now I’m starting to see that this might actually be a viable career for me (combined with my design business). A career that I am excited and inspired by!
A caveat about September’s income report before we get into the numbers. One thing I’ve learned during this process is that, like most other things, online advertising in cyclical. The year is divided into four quarters. And within each of those quarters, the first month is the worst, and the last month is the best. Also, each quarter has its own behavior. So when you’re doing month-to-month comparisons, it can be hard to get a clear comparison because you’re comparing apples to oranges. A more accurate way of comparison would be to compare like months, so say last months with other last months (March, June, September, December). So when you look at that September total up there, keep in mind that is for the last month in a quarter. And, I can promise you, October (the first month of the next quarter) won’t be nearly that high.
Okay, onto the numbers.
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.
- Sponsored Content — $1185.00
- The Blogger Network — $991.18
- BlogHer — $644.17
- Amazon Affiliates — $141.97
- Amazon Ads — $141.52
- souvrn — $120.10
- Swoop — $58.63
- Yellow Hammer Media — $50.98
- Adsense — $27.73
- Today’sMama — $25.00*
- ZipList — $8.31
- Zulily Affiliates — $7.80
- How to Monetize a Food Blog eBook Affiliate — $7.50
- GourmetAds — $0.74
Total Income: $3410.63
*I haven’t received my statement for Today’s Mama’s September earnings, so this number is just an estimate based on traffic and previous month’s income.
Thoughts on Income
One of my biggest struggles with this whole process has been seeing value in my own work. Sometimes, I still see myself as just a hobbyist, but the truth is, I’m no longer just in this for kicks. I’ve published two cookbooks. I’ve worked with major brands. I have business cards. I’m a professional, and it’s high time I started charging clients accordingly. I’ve finally started to get the gumption up to just ask for some more money when I honestly feel like I deserve more. The worst they can tell me is they can’t afford it, and almost every single client I’ve contacted asking for a more reasonable rate has come through with flying colors. They can’t always accommodate my requested raise, but any little thing helps. And as my readership, social clout, and skills increase, so will my arsenal of evidence for why I deserve a higher rate in the future. I’m learning that just asking (and putting value in your own work) can be one of the most important tools a professional blogger has.
Au Revoir ZipList
ZipList (the service a ton of bloggers use to house and display their recipes) sent us an email this month telling us they are calling it quits. Which, honestly, isn’t a huge deal for me, because I was still so new to ZipList, I hadn’t had a chance to transfer all my content yet. I am a little bummed to see the income source gone, but it also wasn’t a huge part of my income yet. I’m more sad about losing the potential income.
Affiliate marketing is worth looking into.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve barely dabbled with affiliate marketing (which is when a link you click is tied to a referral code, and if you buy after clicking that link, the original referrer gets a small kickback on the purchase), but I don’t think I quite realized how powerful affiliate marketing could be for my monetization strategy until I put up this post. I didn’t write that post to generate income—in fact, it was an afterthought to even put the affiliate links there—but it ended up generating a pretty large uptick in Amazon affiliate revenue for me in September. In fact, it was a 420% increase in my Amazon affiliate revenue from August to September—that’s definitely not something to ignore anymore!
I’ve tried to be more diligent about using my affiliate code when I link to products in my blog (which I’m just doing naturally—I have no interest in being a dumping ground for affiliate links), but I’ve also started thinking about new ways I can use the power of affiliate marketing, while still providing a service for my readers. I get asked all the time for product recommendations, so why not provide that and maybe make a little extra cash while I do? I’m still working on my redesign (more on that below) and I’ve come up with a few ways to place affiliate links in my new design. First up, I want to add a few spots in my sidebar that are affiliate-driven. I also plan on curating a few pages, that link to my favorite kitchen items. I’m constantly sending emails to folks who have asked what slow-cooker/knives/random thing-a-majig I recommend—so it should be really helpful to have it all in one place.
I also would like to add a little widget at the bottom of all my recipe and craft posts that includes recommendations for items specific to that post. Not only do I think it’s a great way to drive affiliate income, but a large portion of the comments I get on posts are “where did you get that?” or “what kind of ____ did you use in this recipe?” So hopefully a widget like this could go a long way to answer some questions, too.
- Food Expenses — $213.52
- AcceleratedWP (Hosting) — $30.00
- ViralTag (Pinterest Scheduling Service)— $29.00
- Facebook Advertising — $20.00
- CoSchedule (Editorial Calendar)— $10.00
- DropBox (Cloud Storage)— $9.99
Total Expenses: $312.51
Thoughts on Expenses
Facebook advertising fail.
If you’re just a casual Facebook user, you might not know this, but the algorithm that decides to display content (or not display it) in your news feed is a thing of mystery. It’s also finicky, and, honestly, kinda a jerk. You can put the wrong word in a post, and suddenly Facebook will only show that post to 5% of the people who like your page. Or you can share something totally random and it gets seen by every single person on your page. And sometimes, you can become de facto blacklisted. Where no matter what you do, you can’t escape from Facebook jail, where your content is only seen by a tiny percentage of the people who actually would like to see it. It’s frustrating. So frustrating that a lot of bloggers have all but abandoned using Facebook as a way of reaching their readers.
Luckily for me, I’ve stayed out of Facebook jail, and I get a decent amount of readership engagement (and click-throughs) on Facebook. But I totally jeopardized that in September by doing something stupid—I paid to boost some posts. Dun. Dun. Dun.
I was just experimenting. I figured, at worst, I would lose a few bucks, and at best, I might gain a whole bunch of new readers. And while the boosting of the individual posts did help each post (see the dark orange versus the light orange in the graph below), what I’m concerned with is what happened after the posts—my reach for the posts following the boosted posts were in the toilet. It was almost like Facebook was like, “Hey, sweet, this sucker paid us some money. So let’s see if we can squeeze some more out of her!”
Thankfully, my reach has seemed to recover, for the most part (although, I’m still way below my numbers pre-boost), but even with the recovery, I’m still on the fence about Facebook advertising. The fact is, my content was shown to more eyeballs. But the unfortunate thing is that it’s incredibly hard to see how that translates into dollars and cents. I have no idea if those new people who saw my posts actually clicked anything. And if they did click it, if they waited long enough on my blog for my ads to load. And if they did wait, if they had ad block software installed or not. Or if they subscribed to my blog. Or added it to their reader. Or what. It’s difficult to put worth on “post reach” in the context of this monetization project.
I’ll probably stay out of the Facebook advertising game, and instead work using more organic channels to boost my post reach (like interacting with readers and other pages, and sharing content), and leave my hard-earned cash for something more concretely helpful.
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. In previous reports, I’ve figured out an hourly wage, but since I don’t have an accurate count of how many hours per week I spend on the blog (maybe I’ll do timecards for a week and see?), I’ll be abandoning that metric for now.
Take Home Pay = .70(Income – Expenses)
This month’s take home:
That’s a nice steady increase from August’s total. In fact, we’re closing in on the amount of take home pay I had from my first job out of college, so that’s something, right?
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 September was:
That is an absolutely spectacular RPM! I am thrilled with this number. If I was able to stay at the rate every month, I would be a very happy blogger. 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.
Here are a few screenshots from Google Analytics from September.
Top 10 Referring Sources
10 Most Popular Pages
Thoughts on Traffic
- Pumpkin is king in September! You know how I was complaining about new content not making it into my top 10 posts in last month’s income report? Well, this month, my number one page (other than my homepage) was my Oatmeal Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies. That, in and of itself, is impressive, but when you take into consideration that I posted those cookies on September 24th, it’s even more exciting. That means only six days of that post being out for public consumption sent it up to the top of the popularity list. Pumpkin is definitely king of September!
- Slogging away sharing my posts on social media and on the food photography sites is definitely paying off. I can now say that there is a steady upward trend in my traffic that I’m seeing. It’s exciting! Sometimes scheduling pins or being part of content sharing groups can be tedious, but it’s working (and I’m actually getting to meet a ton of new bloggers that I love interacting with).
Next Steps & Other Thoughts
Figuring Out When to Post
One of the things I’ve been working on lately is figuring out the optimal posting schedule. Since the dawn of this blog, I’ve always posted Monday-Friday. It’s what worked for me when I was working full-time in an office. I’d recipe develop and photograph on Saturdays, and write, write, write on Sundays. But even though I haven’t had a job in an office in two years, I’ve stuck with that schedule. But one graph in Google Analytics started me rethinking my posting schedule. I actually have yet to be able to find this in the depths of the GA website (so much information), but it’s front and center in the GA iPhone app, and it’s so helpful.
That graph right there shows all my Google Analytics pageviews (which, admittedly, I installed GA two years into my blog, so it isn’t my all-time pageviews, but it’s still a good sample), and how they are clustered by day of the week and time. With this chart, it is easy to see that Sundays, Mondays, Tuesday, and Wednesdays are my most trafficked days—and almost always from after 12pm until about bedtime around 10pm. Based on this chart, I started to adjust my posting schedule. I now post Sunday-Wednesday with original content—recipes, projects, etc. And then on Friday, I’ve begun posting some sort of round-up to get through the weekend or a personal post that I love to write, but maybe isn’t super interesting to a lot of folks. To put it simply, highly-shareable content goes on highly-trafficked days.
It also has me considering moving my posting time to somewhere in the afternoons. My new posts go up at 6am every day, with the thinking that is before most folks are at a computer, and can be there waiting for them when they do finally open their laptop, but maybe that’s not the best strategy.
This graph has also informed when to post items to social media. I assume that people are also viewing social media at the same time they are viewing blogs, so I’ve started weighting my social media posts to the afternoon and evening. I, for so long, was scheduling posts and social media based on how I consume content, but I’m beginning to realize that I wasn’t a typical user. Time will only tell if scheduling content to go out at highly-trafficked times will boost traffic or not. Stay tuned.
Recipe Index Redo
If you’ve ever tried looking for a recipe on my blog, you know that my Recipe Index is a hot, hot mess. The biggest part of the redesign I’m hoping to launch in the next few weeks is an overhauled, easy-to-use Recipe Index. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly tedious, because I have to go through to each recipe (all 350+ of them) and tag and categorize them so they display properly. But the work will be totally worth it. I know that having my recipes in such terrible shape has been holding me back and losing me traffic. I’m so excited to get that fixed!
That about wraps it up for September’s report. Since September is the end of a quarter, and I know not all months will be this high, I’m cautiously optimistic about this month’s total. It is so nice to see a number that is actually a livable wage, but I also know that earning passive income like this has an ebb and flow to it, and I won’t always have great months like this one. I’m super curious to see how quarter four (October-December) goes, since it’s supposed to be the best quarter for blog income. Thanks for reading!