The end of September marks the first birthday of Wealthy Nickel!
It’s a little weird talking about blogging on my blog. Sure, there are plenty of “blogs about blogging” out there that want to sell you all kinds of secrets on how to rank #1 on Google and make $100,000 a month.
But my little corner of the internet is dedicated to personal finance and helping you, dear reader, to get your finances under control and on the path toward financial independence.
Why Write a Blog Progress Report?
One of my favorite things to talk about is making extra money, specifically through side hustles. So there is some intersection between the side hustle project that is my blog and personal finance.
Plus, while I’ve highlighted the trajectory and success of what I would consider a mega-blogger who made $400k+ in a year, I thought it might be instructive to show you what blogging looks like for a normal guy writing on the side of his day job and learning things as he goes.
Blogging can be a great side hustle to earn some extra income, but you have to be patient, and be prepared to put in a lot of work before you ever see your first dollar of profit.
What follows is some of the highlights of my first year blogging – how I’ve grown, one thing I never expected, and how much money I made.
Year One Goals for Wealthy Nickel
Before Wealthy Nickel, I had never run a blog before or done anything remotely similar.
I guess I did have a small website that I built with Wix that generated motivated seller leads for our real estate side hustle, but I learned almost zero transferable skills from that (other than this – don’t start a blog on Wix!)
I had three main goals for my first year, and they were pretty simple:
- Write one post per week
- Get to 10,000 pageviews in a month
- Make $500 total net profit
I honestly didn’t have a lot of strategy to get there, because I had no idea what I was doing. But I had read enough that I knew growing a blog is harder than the gurus make it sound.
Blog Growth Strategies
Since “build it and they will come” is not a sound blogging strategy, I needed some sort of plan, however fluid.
The array of options for growing an audience is dizzying, and I knew of bloggers having success with every one of them.
- Organic search (SEO)
- Guest posting
- Backlink building
- Email outreach
The one thing I knew is that I needed to focus on a just a few things, or I would burn out quickly as a part-time blogger. After a little playing around with several platforms, I decided to focus the majority of my effort on two things: Google search, and Pinterest.
1. Google Search (SEO)
I wanted the blog to eventually generate the majority of its traffic from organic search. As a small upstart, it can take months to start ranking in Google. But I started early on to identify keywords I could write articles about that were “easy” to rank for. Most of these keywords didn’t get a lot of searches – maybe 50 – 500 per month – so the big bloggers didn’t necessarily go after them.
While not every post was written with a keyword in mind (for example, this post will probably never rank in Google), I tried to write at least half my content with low-volume keywords in mind.
Talk about a learning curve. I didn’t even have a Pinterest account before I started my blog. I knew nothing about Pinterest other than when my wife sent me pins of things she liked for our home decor or clothing – or finding her “wedding” board when we were engaged to scout out what kind of rings she liked 😉
What I did know about Pinterest is that other bloggers had had massive success building traffic with Pinterest. But like everything else, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes of a successful Pinterester (is that a word?) than it seems.
The glory days of generating blog traffic from Pinterest are mostly over. From 2013-2016 or so, it was apparently very easy to drive traffic by joining a lot of group boards to expand the reach of your pins. By 2018 when I started blogging, Pinterest had ratcheted down its algorithm to curtail a lot of the unintended consequences of the emphasis put on group boards.
Going in, my strategy was to create a few dozen personal boards with specific topics like “Make Money”, “Save Money”, and “Side Hustle Ideas”, and to join as many group boards as possible. I would create 1 – 3 pins for each new post and pin them to relevant boards.
I am not creative or an artist by nature, so other than actually writing content, I probably spent more time on Pinterest than anything else. But it did pay off.
While the bulk of my energy was directed toward SEO and Pinterest, I did a lot of other things to build the blog over the last year. These included:
- Guest posting – Reaching out to other bloggers to create a post on their site. I quickly found that I had a niche in real estate as I had quite a bit of experience there. I didn’t keep track, but I probably wrote at least 15-20 guest posts over the last year.
- Link building – Either through HARO (Help a Reporter Out) or connecting with freelance and staff writers for larger publications directly, I was able to get some links and quotes in major publications, which helped the overall “authority” of my site
- Social media – While most of my social media presence has been on Pinterest, I did a fair amount on Facebook and Twitter as well. I found that joining relevant Facebook groups and helping answer questions, sometimes with a link to an article I wrote if it made sense, helped to drive some traffic
- Email list building – Every blogger I ever talked to has said they wished they started building their email list earlier, so I at least had a way to subscribe early on. It’s only been within the past few months that I’ve really focused on growing my email list though.
Year One Achievements and Fun Facts
When you’re in the middle of the day-to-day grind of pushing out blog posts, it can be hard to see the progress. But stepping back and looking over the past year, it’s been a fun ride!
1. My 3 Most Popular Articles Accounted for 40% of Overall Traffic
I wrote over 50 posts in the first year, but 3 of them ended up driving over 40% of my total pageviews:
- The 3 Best Cash Back Apps That Make Me $500 Per Year
- Dave Ramsey’s Recommended Budget Percentages
- 30 Day Money Saving Challenge – How to Save $1,000 in a Month
While not my best traffic drivers, here are some of my personal favorites:
- Why Should We Tithe? The Compound Giving Effect
- An Accidental Empire – How We Got Started in Real Estate Investing
- Is Investing in Real Estate Worth It?
2. Went from 274 Pageviews per Month to 30,000+
October 2018 was my first full month of blogging, and I got a whopping 274 pageviews. Worse than that, I’m willing to bet that half of those were me checking in on the site.
5 months later, in March, I hit my 12 month goal of 10,000 pageviews per month – 7 months early!
After achieving that goal, I set a new one – 25,000 sessions per month.
This wasn’t an arbitrary goal. I found out early on that many personal finance bloggers ran Mediavine display ads to generate some income, and their minimum criteria for acceptance into the program is 25,000 sessions per month.
It took me awhile longer, but in July I hit 25,000 sessions, applied for Mediavine, and was accepted in late August.
3. Over 135,000 People Visited the Blog
It’s a little crazy to me, but in the first year over 135,000 individual people visited the site!
That is a football stadium worth of people (plus some) that have given a piece of their time to reading my content.
Reflecting on this statistic makes me want to produce the best content I can, so that I can hopefully help each and every person who comes to my site looking for an answer to their particular problem.
4. My 2 Main Traffic Generation Strategies are Paying Off
When I talked about my growth strategies above, I said that I focused the majority of my time on Pinterest and Google SEO.
While both took awhile to start paying off, I was able to use Pinterest to generate some initial traffic while waiting for Google to finally notice me.
It took 6 months before I started gaining any significant traction in organic search, but now it is neck-and-neck with Pinterest for my #1 traffic source.
Combined, Pinterest and Google have accounted for almost 65% of my total sessions over the first year. Rounding out the top 5 are Direct (i.e. Google Analytics couldn’t figure out where the traffic came from), Reddit, and Facebook. Those 5 sources made up 85% of all of my traffic.
5. The Blog Made Over $2,000 in Revenue
Over the first 12 months, the blog earned $2,112 in revenue!
Most bloggers would stop there, and make you think that running a blog is free. But there are expenses that go along with it. Some of them are controllable, or optional. But since my main goal is long term growth, I’ve chosen to invest most of my profits back into the site.
I’ve incurred $1,398 of expenses, for a total net profit (before taxes) of $714. That’s still pretty good, and beat my Year 1 goal.
Here’s a general breakdown of my profit:
Income – $2,112
Expenses – $1,397
I use Siteground for my hosting, and have been pleased with their service and performance.
Siteground is a little more expensive than Bluehost, which almost every blogger recommends (*cough* because they pay out the largest affiliate commission *cough*), but if you plan to grow your traffic to 10-20,000 pageviews per month you will quickly outgrow Bluehost. Siteground has plans that grow with you and won’t slow you down until you are well beyond 100,000 pageviews per month.
I signed up for 3 years of hosting, and 1 year of my domain plus privacy protection for $170. And I just recently renewed my domain and privacy protection for the next year for $40.
Premium WordPress Theme ($100)
When I initially started the blog, I decided to go with a premium WordPress theme from Genesis for $100. While there are certainly a lot of great free themes out there, I have enjoyed the flexibility and speed of my theme.
I purchased a 12 month subscription to Tailwind, which is a Pinterest scheduling and analytics tool, after a few months of blogging.
I credit a lot of my success with Pinterest to Tailwind, for the simple fact that it allows me to set-and-forget my Pins. I can create a batch of pins and schedule them to go out over the next several weeks. I still do some manual pinning, but one of the main success drivers with Pinterest is being consistent, and using Tailwind I make sure I am pinning fresh content every day.
If you want to check out Tailwind, you can get one month free using my referral link. If you sign up through my link, I will also get a free month 🙂
Email Marketing Platform ($72)
I’ve been using Mailerlite as my email marketing platform, which is free for the first 1,000 subscribers. I’ve only recently surpassed that and had to start paying for the service.
Even as a paid service, it is cheaper than most out there, and it has provided all the functionality I need such as list segmentation and automation sequences.
If you’re looking for a good email marketing platform, I’d definitely recommend it, especially if you’re just getting started (it’s free!)
I’ve tested a lot of different marketing ideas to attract new readers including giveaways, Facebook and Pinterest ads, and other paid services or tools. I consider this expense to be an investment in the future growth of the blog.
Computer Stuff ($267)
One of the benefits of running a side hustle is you can write off business expenses (obviously check with your tax accountant first). Last month I ended up buying dual 24″ monitors, and I am loving the added productivity!
Accounting Note: For you accounting nerds, I am using cash-based accounting. So I don’t record revenue until I actually receive it in my bank account. This is different than most blog income reports, and is significant because there is usually a 30-90 day lag in getting paid for ad revenue or affiliate commissions.
For example, I started running Mediavine ads in August, but I have yet to see a single dollar of that revenue 2 months later. On the plus side, I pretty much know what my next few months of revenue will look like. I am currently owed almost $1,500 from various affiliates and display ads.
Year One Lessons Learned
I wouldn’t say I knew enough about blogging to go in with any major expectations. But still, there were some surprises along the way, and things I learned in the process.
1. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
Be consistent. A lot of the things I’m doing now with 30,000 pageviews a month are the exact same things I was doing in the beginning with 300 pageviews a month.
Some of these things include:
- Publishing at least one new article per week
- Optimizing posts for SEO
- Creating and posting new pins on Pinterest regularly
- Looking for backlink opportunities
Some of these things I did for 6 months or more before I ever saw any benefit!
And while Pinterest has been good to me in the long run, it can be a uniquely frustrating platform because it is unpredictable what will take off and become popular. If I had given up before starting to see results, my traffic would be a fraction of what it is now.
2. Blogging is a Team Sport
I always thought that bloggers sat in front of their computers, typed out posts, and waited for people to arrive at their site.
But the further I get into blogging, the more I realize it’s the same as any other business – who you know is at least as important as what you know.
I’ve been lucky enough to find a tribe of bloggers that are either at my level or a little ahead of me, and I’m part of a couple of “masterminds” of sorts. We help each other with questions, ideas of what’s working and what’s not working, and accountability to keep going.
As an introvert, I thought I wanted it to be just me and my computer, but as it turns out, the community I’ve found has been at least as rewarding as growing the site itself.
3. Everything Is Constantly Changing
If there’s one constant, it’s that you can’t count on anything to stay the same. The strategies that worked even a year ago don’t necessarily work now.
For example, pinning to group boards on Pinterest to generate tons of traffic is basically dead. And Google is forever tweaking it’s algorithm causing organic search traffic to fluctuate.
I like to build systems and them let them run, but with the blog you have to check in often to make sure the rules haven’t changed.
Blogging Goals for Year Two
I don’t know if I’ll do another detailed report at the end of Year 2, but I do have some goals for my next 12 months:
- Consistently get 50,000+ pageviews per month – I’m already at around 30,000 so maybe this is too easy. But this is just a side hustle for me, and I don’t have a lot of time to ramp up the number of posts I publish or my outreach/marketing efforts. Hopefully I’ll look back in a year and wonder why I set the bar so low.
- Double my organic traffic – My organic traffic started growing significantly after 6 months of blogging, but the last few months it has stalled. I want to focus on building up my Google SEO and continue growing my organic views.
- Make $10,000 net profit – To make $10k, I’ll have to make more per month than I made the entire first year. This is a stretch goal, but I think it’s achievable. There are a lot of monetization strategies I haven’t pursued yet.
Even after a full year of blogging, I still feel like I’m trying to figure out who I want to audience to be, and what my unique angle is.
I love helping people discover personal finance principles for the first time, and I also find I enjoy talking about making money more than frugality. I also have experience building wealth through real estate, so a decent chunk of blog posts have been dedicated to that. Whatever I do, I want to keep producing quality content that truly helps the readers.
Whew…if you made it through all of that, you must either already be a blogger, or interested in starting a blog yourself!
If you’re still reading, leave me a comment below on how your blog is going, or what your plans are for your first year. I’d love to connect!