Blog Income Report: March 2017

One of the key features of writing about the details of an online business for those interested in behind the scenes stuff is the income report. Here’s the latest income report for High Yield Savings Accounts.

There’s some good news and bad news. First, the good news. Revenue increased from February to March, and I didn’t do too much, if anything, to influence that.

The bad news is that I didn’t do too much, if anything, to the site lately. I could write about how busy I’ve been with travel and other responsibilities, but I know there is some potential I still need to tap in this site. And I can only do that if I set aside some time to work through it.

I did at one point a couple weeks ago spend a half hour improving just a couple of articles that have had the highest amount of traffic over the past several months in an attempt to make those articles a little more attractive to readers. I also added some graphics to bring one or two articles in line with what is expected for shareable content today.

At some point this past month, I also added Social Warfare to the site to make social sharing much more straightforward for any visitors who do happen to come across the site when searching for information about high yield savings accounts. There is, however, still a lot of work to do to improve old content and create new, relevant articles to be published going forward.

More bad news: Bankrate, a company that provides advertising for the site by providing data tables for financial products, has completely dropped the ball. After I reached out to the account representative, he did confirm with the previous owner that I am the new owner of the website, but our contact has not responded to messages from me or from my assistant before or since that time.

I still imagine there is a trickle of income coming in from rate tables, but the goal for now is to build traffic and eventually replace the tables with whatever type of advertising will do the best.

QuinStreet has also not responded to my messages about their advertising on the site either in my attempt to transfer the ownership of those accounts over to me.

Here’s the March report.

Revenue by Source Mar. Feb. 2017*
highyieldsavingsaccounts.net
  AdSense 0.05 0.02
  BankRate Savings Table 0.00 0.00
  QuinStreet Checking Table 0.00 0.00
  Total $0.05 $0.02
 
Traffic Mar. Feb. 2017*
highyieldsavingsaccounts.net
  GA Page Views 540 305

* Data reflect a partial month.

A 150% increase in revenue isn’t bad, you know, if the increase wasn’t based on 2 cents. But again, the site’s moving upwards, and the results will depend completely on my efforts to make the website into something that people want to visit.

And the BankRate and QuinStreet tables could be adding a few cents — or maybe even more — to the revenue. I just won’t know, and at this rate I won’t find out. You only matter to these companies when you’re driving traffic, so that’s going to be my focus.

Going up, but it’s a work in major progress.

Blog Income Report: February 2017

One of the key features of writing about the details of an online business for those interested in behind the scenes stuff is the income report.

I used to publish these reports on a monthly basis at Consumerism Commentary, though it was a full income report, mixing business with personal income, because that was the purpose of that website. I also published a monthly net worth report to help track my own finances.

I stopped including business income when I was preparing to sell the website. That kind of information should be privileged at that point.

Here we are again, starting from the very beginning, with High Yield Savings Accounts.

The sale notice for the website indicated it was currently earning $15 to $20 a month on AdSense and pay-per-click tables (tabular data from financial advertisers — the QuinStreet and BankRate rate tables).

The reality is that with numbers so low, it doesn’t really matter if they are accurate. $20 a month might as well be nothing.

And so it might be. Here we are with 15 days of AdSense, Analytics, and revenue in February.

Revenue by Source Feb. 2017*
highyieldsavingsaccounts.net
  AdSense 0.02
  BankRate Savings Table 0.00
  QuinStreet Checking Table 0.00
  Total $0.02
 
Traffic Feb. 2017*
highyieldsavingsaccounts.net
  GA Page Views 305

* Data reflect a partial month.

Well, we can just call this a baseline.

(Want to really put this in perspective? At the end of my ownership, Consumerism Commentary generated over $200,000 in monthly revenue, with final months over $250,000, and minimal expenses. And I was comfortable with the sources of the revenue. But by that time I wasn’t revealing my income in monthly reports. I should have marketed myself as an online-business expert at the time… it seems to be an interesting way to take advantage of the success and have a different type of income source. But I wasn’t interested. And I still don’t want to sell “courses.”)

The truth is, I have no idea what kind of revenue the BankRate and QuinStreet tables are generating. It could be more than zero.

QuinStreet believes the table has been deactivated (but it’s certainly still displaying ads and driving whatever minimal traffic there is and probably even getting a conversion here and there). I’m still trying to get in touch with BankRate.

So I’ll continue to wait to hear back from these representatives. Maybe we’ll see some progress transferring advertising accounts over to me and getting a handle on what they’re producing, if anything.

But none of this matters a great deal until traffic increases. The site is basically starting out completely unknown. But the domain name has an eight-year history. Again, I see a lot of potential here — and that’s why I made the investment. It’s an uphill climb, and I think it with be worthwhile.

There was no new content added to the site in February, and there may not be in March, either, as my next focus is to clean up existing articles.

And I’ve got my work cut out with this project, dealing with articles like, “Online Savings Accounts Feature the Highest CD Rates.” What does that even mean? So. Much. Potential for improvement. (No offense to the previous owner or other editors. I do understand the strategy; maybe it worked.)

I’m also not going to promote any of the revenue-generating pages until I’m sure I know where the revenue is going.

It’s a methodical approach that plays out over the long term and recognizes that this is one of just several projects in which I invest my time. Of course, none of this really matters if the global economic system collapses. Just kidding. Kind of.

Welcome to the starting line. We can only go up from here.

Balancing a Mobile-First Design Strategy With Revenue Considerations

Yesterday, I designed a new logo, created a new site header, and changed a few colors here and there for High Yield Savings Accounts. This wasn’t at all part of a longer-term design strategy for the site, but I wanted to do it, mostly because I wanted to have some higher-resolution graphics at hand so I could start setting up social media accounts and other items.

The Facebook page, for instance.

That site uses a barely-modified Thesis theme (or framework) for WordPress. There’s nothing wrong with Thesis per se, but it is dated and does not support mobile displays well out of the box. Compare that with WordPress’s new default theme, Twenty Seventeen, which is designed for mobile devices first, but still looks great on wide, larger displays.

I installed JetPack and enabled the mobile theme extension so at the very least, the site renders on mobile devices with some legibility. In general, heading towards mobile-first, responsive layouts is the right approach for all content websites.

What is a mobile-first design strategy? Well, most websites since 1994 have designed with a CRT-monitor 3:2 aspect ratio or a 16:9 HD display in mind, both large enough (and with adequate resolution) to display a fair amount of information horizontally. As small mobile devices became capable of browsing the internet, web designers were faced with a challenge of fitting all that wide information on a much smaller, much lower-resolution display, that’s usually oriented vertically.

So they found ways to stuff the information onto a smaller screen. Differentiated style sheets and new coding standards helped browsers manipulate information to fit into displays of all sizes, but that still doesn’t work all the time.

Instead of taking a website and shrinking it to fit mobile devices, a mobile-first design strategy creates simple layouts that will look well on any size browser window. As a window size increases when moving from mobile to desktop, the design takes advantage of the increased available space by moving and adding elements. It results in a much cleaner look, and it works well especially for blogs and other text-focused websites.

And that’s the approach I’ll take when I map out a new design for the site. But now that I enabled Jetpack’s mobile-friendly feature, there isn’t a strong, immediate need for a complete redesign. That task is on my priority list to work on after I review and update a significant amount of content.

I will not hire out designers for this project. I can do most of the work myself, and will do until the site generates more revenue.

On the revenue note, not everyone agrees with the importance of a mobile-first design strategy. Advertisers who use product tables (like this high-yield checking rates table) find that the quality of traffic using mobile devices is inferior to the quality of traffic using desktop browsers. One account manager stated that mobile traffic generates one-tenth the conversions (successful sales vs all click-through traffic) of full-screen traffic.

Thus, the advertisers have no incentive to care or think about how to make product tables render effectively on mobile devices.

In my opinion, they should. Mobile devices are not just the future of the internet, they’re here now. 20% of the traffic on highyieldsavingsaccounts.net is mobile. That’s low, but only because the site isn’t mobile-friendly. Search engines don’t like sites that aren’t mobile-friendly. Adulting.tv is mobile-friendly with a responsible layout, and almost half of all that site’s traffic is from mobile devices. (It’s a vastly different audience, too, which accounts for some of that difference.)

And yes, someone shopping for — and ready to make a deposit into — a new bank account is more likely to be doing their research on a full-screen computer than on a mobile phone. But the percentage of serious customers using mobile instead of a computer will continue to increase. Companies that connect products with customers need to find a way to reach mobile customers in a way that will work.

In order for the site to be a success and to optimize the investment, I’ll need to maximize the performance of the advertising. (In a future post, I’ll write about the reason advertising is my main focus, rather than creating a product to sell or pursuing some other type of revenue.) This will involve experimenting with design elements on both desktop and mobile devices.

Discussing Result-Oriented and Production-Oriented Goals

You may want to start with the introduction to figure out what the hell I’m talking about.

Whenever I start a new project that involves reaching an audience, I like to take some time to think about the project from a broad perspective. Discussing goals is never a waste of time. This may be my first website endeavor where the primary motivation is based on profit. It’s fine to pursue a project with a primary directive that’s money.

Look at real estate. Sometimes you want to buy a place to live; sometimes you want to buy cash flow. This site, highyieldsavingsaccounts.net, is about creating a consistent cash flow. Its present state is little to none, but there is strong potential. Like a fixer-upper, the site’s been vacant for a few years.

There could be an argument for demolition and construction from the ground up, instead of putting it back together piece by piece, and that’s something we’ll discover together.

Before thinking about goals for a project, I like to figure out why I’m doing what I’m doing. In this case, I’m just looking to create some cash flow that doesn’t come from my financial investments and doesn’t require a lot of “work” work down the line. (Sounds like everyone’s dream, right?) I don’t believe it would every be truly “passive income,” but that’s the direction I’m heading.

Regardless of the financial driver, the site needs a purpose. I think it’s pretty clear: “to help readers make the best decisions about their own money management, primarily with savings accounts, which will in turn improve their financial lives.” So that is the guiding force behind every decision I make, whether the decision involves an advertising deal or producing new articles or other content.

I’ve spoken with hundreds of bloggers — literally hundreds — over the years about goals for their own businesses and communities. Before we talk their goals focus on two things: traffic and revenue. (They speak about revenue because for most bloggers, expenses are so low that revenue is just a good measurement as profit.) I think these metrics are great for targets, and thus motivation to work hard, but it’s difficult to use traffic and revenue as real goals.

Because once you hit those goals are you going to just stop and be done with it? Not if you think you haven’t tapped the site’s entire potential.

These are results-oriented goals. It’s important to track them and analyze how the decisions you make affect them. But there’s a lot that’s out of your control, especially if you’re a one-person business. You may want tons of search traffic, but you don’t control Google’s algorithms. You can make choices that seem to be proven to work, but sometimes they just don’t.

I like goals that you can mostly or fully control: production-oriented goals. Volume of content. Time spent on outreach and marketing. Media appearances. And then you can put production goals on a timeline. Or you don’t have to. For now, just a few days into this project, I’m not going to drill down into specifics yet.

Overall, my financial goal for highyieldsavingsaccounts.net is for the site to produce enough passive-ish income for the investment to pay for itself within one year. If it takes longer, fine. If it doesn’t take a year, even better! Longer term, I’d love for this site to be part of a portfolio that generates enough revenue to cover my living expenses. (And if and when I do build that portfolio, it’ll be documented here.)

Do I need to “build an audience?” To an extent, definitely. But this site doesn’t need to be another Consumerism Commentary, Get Rich Slowly, Budgets Are Sexy, or The Penny Hoarder. It just needs to offer great resources to help those who find it.

I could present targets for visitors, traffic, or audience size, but they’d all be arbitrary, so why bother?

On the production side, once I clean up the existing content, having a steady stream of new articles is important to the site’s vitality. But I’m balancing this with other work that keeps me busy. My first production target is to publish one article a week.

And that’s totally achievable.

After all, it’s been less than 24 hours, and I’ve already launched a new website and written six fairly substantive articles for Money Blog Rehab.

Photo: Flickr/Lauri Rantala

Cleaning Up Links and Future Content Strategy

You may want to start with the introduction to figure out what the hell I’m talking about.

When I sold Consumerism Commentary, I think it had something like 4,500 posts. That was over the course of 8.5 years. The idea of sweeping through all that content was a little overwhelming for me, so I never really did it. High Yield Savings Accounts has only 174 posts. That is a much more manageable number — but it also speaks to the site’s current weakness and growth potential.

I went through the site, post by post. The goal was to eliminate links to questionable sites. And by going through the site, post by post, I learned more about the previous content strategy.

Many articles were written by contributors who were looking to get links (none were “nofollow” links) onto the site. I expect these were in exchange for a one-time payment. Some had links in the body of the article, some were links at the end in the author’s bio. Common themes for the sites being linked were debt consolidation and credit repair. Some of these contributors were based in the United Kingdom, so some articles were written with British English spelling, European currencies, and references to English laws.

I removed many, many links. And I removed one “carnival” post. This is a round-up post, one article with a long list of links to other websites. Bloggers participated in carnivals in camaraderie and an effort of cooperation, but they’ve fallen out of favor by SEO experts, regardless of how relevant and helpful they may be for readers. They’re called carnivals because they traveled from one host blog to another, just like a traveling carnival.

Today, link round-ups like carnivals are seen as a hindrance to being evaluated by search engines as a top authority. This bugs me primarily because I founded the Carnival of Personal Finance many years ago to bring the community closer together, and to foster a cooperative environment of sharing audiences and links.

To eliminate the bad links, I just removed them from the posts, making sure what was left still made sense. I removed full bios of guest contributors because even their names could be a bad signal for SEO if they’re known participants in link schemes. For the carnival post and a few other posts, I set up a redirection (response code 301) to the site’s home page to eliminate the article presence in search engine indexes.

While going through the articles, I added a few links — very few — to other sites. I didn’t remove any links to the previous owner’s current sites.

Additionally, the vast majority of posts on the site are what I’d consider to be “thin content.” I consider thin content to be short articles that don’t have any lasting value to readers over time. Consumerism Commentary had a significant amount of thin content. Good sites today are generally those with substantive, substantial articles.

After, I used a WordPress plugin (WP Link Status) to process all links within the posts on the site to check for broken links. That helped me find more links to delete. Dead links can bring down the authority of a website.

The next sweep will involve looking at the top 35 posts or pages on the website (the top 20%) based on Google Analytics traffic since transferring the website. The plan is to expand and update these articles.

Following that, I will find the thinnest content and eliminate it, though there might be a few chances for me to completely revamp an existing thin article and expand it into something that would be helpful for readers going forward.

And only then will I really begin an effort to add new content to the site. There is a huge opportunity in this step.

Priority: Transferring Advertising Accounts

You may want to start with the introduction to figure out what the hell I’m talking about.

My first priority after transferring the website was to replace existing “passive” advertising with my own sources, or transfer the site’s third-party advertising accounts to my own, or provide updated banking information to make sure I wasn’t missing any revenue.

But the set-up for this started before I even purchased the website.

When the seller contacted me to inform me that I was the winning bidder, I started this process immediately. I registered a business entity (limited liability corporation, High Yield Media LLC) with the state of Pennsylvania and applied for a tax ID number from the IRS. Once the approvals came in, I opened a checking account at a local branch of a national bank.

The easiest change was updating the Google AdSense code on highyieldsavingsaccounts.net with my own AdSense code. It’s bringing in mere pennies at the moment, but AdSense revenue correlated well to full site traffic.

After updating the AdSense code, I updated Google Analytics as well. That way I can fully track website visitors.

The site contains financial product advertising based on data from third-party services that provide an interface with advertisers. Primarily, these take the form of “rate tables” on several pages on the website. For example, there are high yield savings account interest rates (provided by Bankrate) and checking account interest rates (provided by QuinStreet). I have existing relationships with these companies, but that doesn’t always make it easy.

QuinStreet seems to believe the table isn’t active (it’s still linking to QuinStreet, but I guess they flipped the switch to stop paying on any sales). I have an active account with QuinStreet, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Bankrate, after an initial positive contact, seems to not be responding to my email. Traffic to these pages is very low. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t want to bother with them at the moment.

These pages are trying to compete in a saturated marketplace, where large companies make a significant investment in being at the top of search engine results for their corresponding search terms. Consumerism Commentary, my previous monster financial site, thrived at a time before the search results favored big brands with significant resources.

Moving forward, I will need to figure out where it is worthwhile to put resources of time and effort and what I can do to prove that this website is an authority. That must come before focusing on some of the longer-term advertising strategies.

Web Hosting for High-Traffic Websites

You may want to start with the introduction to figure out what the hell I’m talking about.

Once I was able to clear some technical hurdles on the seller’s side, transferring the blogs posts, images, and database for highyieldsavingsaccounts.net to my own web server was a breeze.

First, I’ll describe my current hosting set-up — and that wouldn’t be fun without history and context — and then I’ll get into the transfer process. Warning: This post might get a little technical.

I built and hosted my first website in 1994 or 1995. I was a freshman at college, and every dorm on campus was wired with ethernet and connected to the internet. The University of Delaware was an early pioneer of connectivity. While reading Usenet newsgroups — it might have been rec.arts.drwho or rec.arts.music.drumcorps — I saw other people were signing their messages with a string of characters beside their name. It wasn’t Geek Code; the strings started with “http.”

Searching more newsgroups, I discovered that this was a web address (URL) and then I learned that the World Wide Web was a thing that existed. I download Mosaic and viewed some websites (“home pages”). It was like gopher, but with graphics. And I was a SysOp of my own bulletin board system before heading to college, so I knew right away I needed a website of my own.

I installed WinHttpd, learned HTML by looking at the source code of other websites, and named my computer pkfloyd.dksn.udel.edu. I built my home page and it told the world a little bit about me and had a GIF of Penfold from Danger Mouse.

At some point, the university stopped allowing students to run websites out of their dorm rooms. I wonder if that had something to do with porn.

I found other ways — eventually buying my own domain name: harlanlandes.com.

At that time web hosts were popping up, and one of the most popular out there was Dreamhost. Shared hosting was perfect for mostly-static websites. I had a “blog” in the early days as much as you could without blogging software. Every time I wanted to publish a new post, I edited the HTML manually. Then came Blogger. Then came Movable Type. With Movable Type came more resource-intensive software for blogging. The shared hosting solutions, where web hosts stuff as many websites as possible from as many customers as possible onto the hardware, needed to be more powerful.

I moved from Dreamhost to MediaTemple. I moved from a shared hosting option on MediaTemple to a virtual private server. And when Consumerism Commentary was in its prime, I moved from MediaTemple to Amazon AWS. When I started with hosting in 1999, it cost less than $5 a month at Dreamhost. When I sold Consumerism Commentary, my hosting fees were almost $500 a month with Amazon.

Today, my sites don’t generate nearly as much traffic now than they did when I sold Consumerism Commentary, but I still host them on Amazon AWS, doing the server administration myself. (The plan is much less expensive now that I don’t need the power for a high-traffic website.)

And that’s the hosting set-up to which I moved highyieldsavingsaccounts.net after I made the purchase. It shares the server (m4.xlarge) with other sites, but I am still not using anything approaching the server’s 16 GB RAM and 300 GB hard drive capacity.

Incidentally, if you’re looking for a super fast server and a unique IP address, I would be happy to host and administer your site.

The seller and I used Backup Buddy, a WordPress plugin, to seamlessly move the site’s assets to my hosting set-up. While the plugin was generating the backups, I assigned a subdomain of one of my existing domain names to be a placeholder for the new site. I mapped that subdomain to a subdirectory on my server where I would be placing the purchased site’s files. I prepared a new MySQL database to hold the site’s data.

I uploaded the Backup Buddy export to my server and ran the script. Everything worked as expected, and the identical site was now available at the subdomain I configured.

Once this was complete, the seller and I initiated the transfer of the domain name. This is another straightforward process, but that didn’t stop me from screwing it up for the first attempt. I blame the typos on my keyboard. Anyhow, another day or two or three, and the domain name transfer was complete. I changed the DNS records to point to my Amazon server.

Now the domain name was accessing my web host, not the seller’s host. The final step was updating the database to use highyieldsavingsaccounts.net instead of the temporary subdomain I created for the transfer. Once complete, I gave the OK to the seller to eliminate his files and shut down service on his host.

The process took a little longer than I would have liked, just like the length of this post, but that’s mostly my fault for having a significant number of things to do besides concern myself with the transfer. But it was done at this point, and the site was exactly the same as it had been under the seller’s ownership.

Preliminary Research and the Purchase

You may want to start with the introduction to figure out what the hell I’m talking about.

The bottom line is that I didn’t spend too much time researching the purchase, but I still feel good about the price I paid.

Here’s what I knew. The well-known and popular financial blogger, J. Money, has been helping other financial bloggers buy and sell their sites on the smaller scale. After being the seller in a major deal, I’ve been low-key looking for a small piece of web property to drive a little bit of income.

It’s not that I need the income at the moment. Yet, I wouldn’t turn it away if it were presenting itself to me. And after many sales notices, this was the first one that I immediately thought would be a good fit. The URL is very good, and its revenue opportunity aligns with the strategy I’m familiar with. The vertical (deposit accounts) is one that slowed down when another (credit cards) picked up velocity, but I believe these things are cyclical in broad terms. The price was right given my thoughts on the site’s potential and my willingness to invest (or make a bet).

I used no fancy SEO tools to analyze the site. I trusted the seller — a blogger I’ve known for years — and his word regarding traffic and revenue, both of which were low enough to not be significant even if the numbers were off by 100%. I bid the seller’s asking price and won the auction. It remains to be seen if there were any other bidders, but it doesn’t matter; I bid what I was comfortable paying.

I drew up a basic Asset Purchase Agreement and sent a check by mail. The site was technically mine. It took some time for us to organize the domain name transfer and the eventual transfer of the website assets — and it’s that time that is and will be the primary investment in this business, more than the money.

Things always take longer than you plan, and that’s true even with transferring the site from one host to another. That’s normally an easy process, but we hit a few snags.

The next post will address the transfer process and my web hosting set-up.

Introduction to Money Blog Rehab

Late last year, I purchased a website. Money Blog Rehab chronicles my attempt to turn that website into a good investment.

Here’s a little about me.

In 2003, I founded one of the first — if not the first — independent personal finance blogs, Consumerism Commentary. Its purpose at the time was to help me learn more about money management. I was about two years into a journey to fix the financial problems that stemmed from a combination of bad choices on my part.

I wrote about online resources, the financial industry, money management techniques, and financial news and trends, while updating readers on a monthly basis by sharing my balance sheet (net worth statement) and income statement.

Then, the recession hit. Suddenly, the world was more interested in the topics I was writing about. A community of financial bloggers was born, and the website became a business. Eventually the business performed so well that I was able to quit my day job. It continued to flourish, and it reached a point that I perceived as a peak, and I sold the website.

The sales process took many months, involved an experienced brokerage company to handle the sale and brought in bids from a variety of companies. The eventual buyer was a large publicly-traded online marketing company, QuinStreet, the same company that was the impetus for the sales process in the first place. The final price was more than 12 times the initial unsolicited offer.

(QuinStreet has since sold the site to a private buyer.)

Since selling the website in 2010 (and the subsequent expiration of an agreement not to compete with my sold business), I’ve been looking for the right opportunity (and right price) to take advantage of the experience I had building a success financial website from scratch. That opportunity arose in November 2016.

I purchased highyieldsavingsaccounts.net and finished the transfer of assets towards the beginning of February. I bought it mostly for the domain name. The potential for the site is much greater than its achievement thus far, and I think I can make changes to make the investment worthwhile.

I’ll document my progress and strategy on this website. Progress will be slow; this is one of many projects to which I’m dedicating my time. Strategy may be haphazard; I’ve never been too much of an organized person. But with this perspective, readers and followers will get a chance, perhaps, to see what works and what doesn’t — and even offer suggestions of their own.

Now that you’ve read the introduction, continue with these posts.