December 2016 Income: The End of the Year Rush
Welcome to my once a month income report for bloggers and freelancers. If you’re new here and want to catch up on my progress, feel free to browse my previous income reports here. If you're looking for help on how to start your blog, or how to increase your web traffic, check out my resources page!
Wow, I am REALLY late with this month's income report – I'm so sorry!!!?
How was everyone's holidays? I honestly can't believe the craziness that is January. I have been blessed with more sponsored blog and social media work than EVERRRRR and it was especially crazy due to the fact that I took a vacation from December 23 to January 9, so I was really behind in getting back to the grind.
However, a few returning clients and some proposals done right means I had more opportunities than ever this month. But, we have to save all of that for January's income report. I know, I know.?
In the meantime, let's talk blogging income for December, and how I had to rush around like a crazy person to get everything done on time to truly check out of my virtual office and go on a 2-week long vacation.
Here’s a breakdown of my income from this month: (3404.55)
- $2350 sponsored blog, social media and video posts
- $1054.55 advertising (Mediavine + AOL)
Here’s a breakdown of my expenses from this month:
- $30 Adobe Creative Cloud (I have the student discount for Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Premiere Pro)
- $107 WP Ultimate Recipe Plugin
- $75 for paint supplies, wood stain and wood boards from Home Depot and Michael's craft store
- $9.95 Crowdfire social media app (so I can continue to grow my social media and unfollow those who unfollow me)
Okay, so this month I had an unexpected increase in advertising thanks to a backlog of payments due from AOL. When I made the switch to Mediavine, the network asked me why I took the ads down and I told them I switched over and hadn't received payment for almost a year. Magically, I received a $750 cheque about a week later. I know, I'm a horrible accountant and one of the biggest things I want to get on top of this year is keeping better track of my money.
To be fair, AOL never provided me with any statements tallying how much I made from their ads, or when and why, whereas Mediavine is fantastic for letting me know exact RPM on certain days, how much I've made that month, etc. So, it's far easier to track my ad income now. In any case, I've always treated ad income as bonus income because my traffic has never been high enough to net me a significant amount of money. Right now I average about $300-400 a month in ads from Mediavine. Sponsorships are my bread and butter at the moment, but of course I'm always trying to build traffic further in order to bring in additional income!
December was absolutely insane in terms of wrapping things up and scheduling for my vacation. Now that I've transitioned from full time grad school to full time work on this blog, I know I have to set boundaries and structure for myself that would otherwise be set for me in a full time job. For instance, I would get stat holidays off at an office and about two to three weeks vacation per year, as well as weekends off.
I have tried very hard to give myself this very same schedule as both employee and employer (oh, the life of the self-employed am I right?!) Each year I want to take a one week vacation around my birthday in August, and I also want to take a 10 day to two week vacation around Christmas. I figure they are each spaced about six months apart so that gives me equal time to work before I take a bit of a break to recharge each year. So this year, I was very firm with myself on taking a vacation around the holidays.
That said, I was literally on the computer on December 23 until 10pm at night, having not even had dinner yet, rushing to get everything finalized and scheduled so I could be off for two weeks.? I planned to post recipes twice in the two weeks off (once per week as opposed to my usual 3 times per week) and was nervous about traffic and missing out on work opportunities, but you know what? My Pinterest and Google traffic for previous posts pulled me through the holidays!
It was really great to know that I can walk away from the blog for a little bit because I was at the point where I was getting so burned out working 12-15 hour days. I'm in build mode right now in terms of traffic so I constantly work like a mad woman promoting everything and getting my name out there more, as well as building more compelling content and creating better recipes.
I did take a bit of a pay cut for December because I wasn't spending the time seeking out sponsored opportunities, and I found that a lot of companies were starting to shut down by mid December so it's good to know for the future that December will always be a high-spend month (with gifts and all that) and a low-income month at the same time. I also didn't want to take on new work considering my vacation time and the fact that I would have to have any sponsored posts wrapped up by a certain time or be publishing during my vacation. I just didn't want the stress so as of December 10th I stopped seeking out new opportunities.
That said, $2300 still ain't bad for 10 days of seeking sponsored opportunities (sidenote: if you're looking to make more money doing sponsored posts Jenny Melrose's Working with Brands course taught me everything I know about pitching!)
Email and social media specifically are the things that stress me out the most about being a full-time blogger because people expect you to constantly be “on” and available at all times. So, I made it a point to not reply to emails and to schedule all my social media. I also took a 2 week vacation from Instagram.
I didn't travel anywhere during the two weeks, but I needed the time to be mostly away from the computer and my phone, and spend some quality time with family and friends, and also get back to the work I love most on the blog, the creative stuff!!!
I literally planned my editorial calendar while watching endless re-runs of Grey's Anatomy on Netflix and spent the whole vacation nurturing my creative side. I went shopping for some new props at IKEA and Home Sense, I went and got crafty by purchasing some boards at Home Depot and paint from Michael's, and I spent a lovely couple afternoons watching Private Practice re-runs making six of my own food photography background boards. There is something so therapeutic about painting, seriously. I basically took the time to do all things I have wanted to do creatively for the blog without interruption from the things I don't always love. Though this remains my full-time job it's also a hobby, so I learned that it's more important than ever to keep that fact in mind too!
After I did all this, I looked at my bank account, and my student loan account. And instead of making a large payment from November's income to my student loan account at the beginning of January, I went out and bought the Canon 6D with a 100mm 2.8 Macro lens!!!!!
Oh yeah, I have actually entered 2017 with a bang!???And while I was super nervous about spending all that money, it has been worth it so far. That will be a whole other discussion in January's income report!
All that exciting, crazy stuff aside, the whole lesson with vacation that I have learned as a self-employed person is that it can be quite stressful to prepare for. There were also emails that came in that I was very tempted to answer, but I told myself under no circumstances other than dire urgency would I respond. Turns out, I only had to respond to one email near the end of my vacation and it was basically just to verify a deadline for my first week back. Not too shabby!
This whole experiment has just given me faith that I CAN go away and enjoy life screen-free at some points, I just have to prepare in the right way and have everything scheduled in advance.
Now let's talk web traffic!
Here’s a breakdown of my traffic from this month:
Due to a new recipe plugin I installed that duplicated all my recipe URLs (I didn't read the instructions properly the first time I installed it), my Google traffic has absolutely tanked. However, it's become sort of a blessing in disguise because it has taught me alot about SEO and how to use Search Console, and that you don't need to pay anyone a lot of money to figure it out.
It's also become an important lesson for me on hopping on the bandwagon of “expert trends”. While perusing a certain Facebook group I saw all this talk of upgrading to a recipe plugin with JSON markup as that is supposedly what Google is going to prefer in the near future. Of course I want to ensure I'm up to date with everything, and at the advice of an SEO expert who occasionally chimes in on the group, I bought WP Ultimate Recipe plugin.
Now don't get me wrong, I like it. I didn't follow the instructions, which duplicated all my URLs. That was my fault. I have corrected the problem, but I am still undergoing a significant penalty from Google for these duplicate title tags and URLs (eg I had these two URLS on my site for about three days before I figured out the issue: thegirlonbloor.com/buffalo-wings/ vs thegirlonbloor.com/recipe/buffalo-wings/). I have gone from 400-600 hits a day from Google to about 150 a day. It's pretty devastating.
Part of the reason I continue to be penalized is because even though my recipes are completely marked up properly, Google is choosing not to display most of my thumbnail photos, and there's nothing I can do about it. So even if I have recipes on page 1 for some keywords, people aren't tempted to click on them. I've been told this will rectify itself over time, but it's obviously a huge setback in the progress I had made with Google.
Google is also supposedly going to prefer sites that are SSL certified, which will make things pretty difficult on bloggers who decide to do it because they have to now redirect all their URLs and change all their social media URLs. For the tiny bump it'll give you, I say it's not worth it. Plus, the way I look at it is if you spend more time worrying about how to rank in search engines, you're probably not spending your time creating beautiful recipes and photos, which are the reason you will get more traffic in the first place. I would rather worry about creating a community and good recipes as opposed to pulling my hair out over what the latest SEO trends are, and this plugin issue has been a real eye opener on that. There's no way you can manipulate rankings, even if you are optimized for everything.
I am honestly pretty bummed about it, but a lot of people say that it takes you three months or so to recover from a Google penalty and I'm hoping I start to bounce back sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I will continue to create good recipes with my new camera and get more traffic from other sources, which will eventually give me some good backlinks and authority back with Google. If I still had the Google traffic I had in the fall, I would be getting 400-600 hits a day there and the same amount with Pinterest. Without the penalty, I would probably be sitting at about 70-75,000 page views a month instead of the 55,000 I'm currently sitting at. But at least my overall traffic has stayed exactly the same over the past 3-4 months instead of lowered.
Pinterest traffic has finally started to take off a bit which offsets the damage that has been done with the Google penalty, and I'm noticing even more of a return in investment with my new camera because new recipes are getting a lot of traffic from Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram lately. Like WAY more than usual. Of course you will see the final results of that in my January income report that I will put out later this month. I also have a Tailwind Tribe which helps immensely with Pinterest traffic if you care to join it. 🙂
I have not been getting regular features from any big sites like Buzzfeed, HuffPost, MSN, etc. for a while now, and while that also kinda stinks I'm really quite okay with it because I get to see what my overall traffic is without the influence of any giant and temporary boosts from referrals that would skew results of what my average traffic is.
I'm ultimately hoping that the big three – Google, Pinterest and Direct traffic – all continue to slowly rise as they have been doing over the course of the year that I have been professionally blogging. It's fantastic that I've been able to make this my career and make decent money on my blog without huge traffic, and I'm constantly learning about what I can do to stand out and market my blog better. Branding is going to be a huge thing for me this year, as well as continuing to improve my photos. I always see it that no matter how much you learn, you can always learn more.
Now let's talk goals!
What I Accomplished in December:
- Continued to build strong editorial calendars by season with recipes that have been well-researched for SEO
- Changed ad networks to Mediavine (and BOY has it ever increased my ad revenue!!!)
- Continued to create weekly recipe videos
- Started watching my Teachable videos so I can start making more money off passive income; they had a Black Friday deal where they also threw in a bunch of marketing e-courses to learn how to build an email list and a profitable course, sales funnels, etc.
- Made some custom food photography boards
- Organized my food styling props drawer to help me get better in my styling and photography
My Goals for January:
- Continue to chip away at my Teachable courses
- Start to develop my blogger crash course for 2017 as a passive income stream
- Collect market research to better understand what kind of recipes my audience wants; could also use this kind of info for e-books and e-courses I want to put out in the future
- Continue to increase my web traffic by creating more Google-friendly recipes
- Read more inspirational books for entrepreneurs
- Start pitching my Master's thesis to magazines! (unrelated to the blog I know, but I could probably fetch $3000-4000 if it gets published in a big magazine)
And there we are, the end of Income Report #10. Thanks so much for reading!
And finally, is there anything you believe I missed this month? If you have questions or comments I would LOVE to hear from you in the comment section and talk all things blogging!
*For the first time in my income reports, I have added affiliate links for Jenny Melrose's course and Tailwind in this post – they are both two tools I have used and really believe in. If you click and make a purchase on either of these links I will make a percentage off the sale!