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Another month, another big drop. Hopefully, September will put an end to this downward trend. In August we ended up making $31,200.79, which was down from $39,429.59 in July.
Like I mentioned in the last income report, the downward slide that we’re currently experiencing isn’t due to an algorithm update. In fact, we didn’t see any impact at all during the last week of August from the Helpful Content Update that Google recently launched.
In our case, the revenue drop is tied to two things: seasonality and decreasing RPMs. Two of our sites are outdoor sites, and those have been steadily declining over the past two months, while our other sites either stayed flat or went up slightly in August.
As far as RPMs, if you’ve ever needed a reason to put some effort into optimizing your posts for higher RPMs, just look at what a difference a slightly lower rate can make. Our RPMs were down in August another 2-7% across our sites, and just those small percentages made a significant impact on our total revenue.
I’d like to say that we expect our income to start going back up next month, but with the current US economy, we don’t really know what kind of RPMs to expect right now. I do think our traffic will be fine, and growing our traffic is our main focus.
Now before I jump into the details, here are my usual disclaimers:
- First, I’m not a one-man show. I work as part of a small, four-person team.
- Second, all of the revenue and traffic figures below exclude anything tied to passiveincomeunlocked.com, the Passive Income Unlocked YouTube channel, and The Passive Income Unlocked Protocol (our course). I keep these separate, as I don’t want the totals to artificially inflate what we’ve built with our niche sites from the ground up.
Changes and Updates
As most of you already know, the big thing that happened in August was the announcement and launch of the Helpful Content Update by Google. Unlike most updates, Google pre-announced this update and gave us a nice list of bullet points about what they’re targeting.
Because Google was so upfront about this update, most people were expecting it to have a massive impact on search rankings. Initially, the opposite seemed to be the case, with very few people reporting significant changes in the first week.
In our case, we didn’t see any noticeable changes on any of our sites during the first week, but we have seen significant drops on our two newest sites right at the beginning of September. I’ll wait until next month’s report to expand on this, as the update is still in progress at the time of this writing.
Even if you aren’t impacted by this update, you shouldn’t ignore Google’s list of things that they are targeting with this update. They’ve made it pretty clear that this is the direction that they want to go and that they’ll continue to improve their algorithm over time to meet their goals.
I’ve said in the past that we don’t pay much attention to algorithm updates, mostly because it’s always a guessing game as to what Google is targeting. This time is different. Google gave us a pretty clear game plan, and we’re not going to take it lightly.
With that being said, we’re not going to make any significant changes across our sites, especially considering that we already do most of the things that Google says they’re looking for. However, we do intend to put more focus on some of these things going forward, things like limiting fluff, keeping a narrower focus, etc.
These are all good things in the visitor’s eye, and that’s what it should be about anyway. Create sites for your visitors, but do enough on the SEO side to make sure your articles actually rank and can easily be found by those visitors.
Next, let’s jump into the numbers.
Sites and Posts
We’re spending a considerable amount of money on outsourced content each month, and we have no plans to change that anytime soon. What we do plan to change, based on Google’s recent recommendations, is to get a higher number of articles out of that expense.
Since we started publishing, we’ve always taken the “write more than your competitors” approach (within reason). However, over the last year or so, we’ve scaled back on that approach significantly.
Basically, we started noticing that lots of shorter articles were appearing at the top of the search results, and logically, most of these topics didn’t need huge articles to begin with. On top of that, one of the biggest challenges for us has always been with getting articles full of fluff when outsourcing content, so going shorter means less fluff.
We had actually discussed doing a case study earlier this year where we produced mostly shorter articles, ones that truly only contained what was needed for each article. We decided to hold off, but have gradually been moving in that direction anyway.
With all of this being said, I don’t see us shifting to writing 300-500 word articles or anything like that. I just don’t see us going higher than 2,000 words very often, as we rarely come across keywords/topics that truly need that many words. We might also dip below 1,000 (down to 700 or 800 words) for topics that are really small.
To get back to my initial point, our hope is that we can get all of our sites up to 1 post/day without increasing our expenses, simply by cutting down on the really long articles that tend to ramble on and be full of fluff. This will reduce our cost per article and produce better articles for our visitors, which is a win-win.
Here is a breakdown of the numbers for all of our sites:
Our traffic declined a bit from July, but not as much as you would expect based on the revenue drop. When we look at each of our sites individually (which we’ll do further down), the only two sites that dropped were our seasonal sites.
All of our other sites were either flat or went up. Our case study site went up by 34% to just shy of 20,000 pageviews, but since that’s a small percentage of our overall traffic, it didn’t move the needle much for us.
Here’s a breakdown of the total pageviews by month:
This isn’t something I’m going to include in every income report, but to mix things up, let’s also take a look at the traffic report from Analytics for each site for the month.
Site #2 (seasonal)
My Backyard Life (seasonal)
Site #6 (case study site revealed in our course)
As you can see, none of our sites seemed to be impacted by the algorithm update in August, and the two sites that did go down were due to a natural seasonal decline. September is a different story, but I’ll dive into that more next month after the update is finished.
Our revenue took another sizeable hit last month, again due to seasonality and lower RPMs. The seasonal drop on two of our sites was expected, but seeing RPMs drop going into the second month of a quarter was unusual.
Typically, RPMs drop the first month of each quarter then go up in the second and third quarters. With the second month of Q3 being lower than the first, we’re not sure what to expect going into September. At this point, if we can stay flat, we’ll be happy.
Here’s a breakdown of the revenue totals by month:
Here is a breakdown of our ad revenue from Mediavine for last month. NOTE: the “Live On” date represents the date that each site was launched with Mediavine ads, not the date it was created:
After display ad revenue, our next largest revenue source is from Amazon Associates. Last month, we made $1,161.25 from our US account, and a small amount of revenue from the UK and Canada ($60.10).
Here is a screenshot showing our Amazon Associates revenue from the United States:
Other Revenue Sources
We also made a small amount of money from the following:
- Print on demand: $27.70
- Other affiliate programs: $43.89
- Digital products: $31.60
Our expenses for last month came in at a total of $8,707.22. As usual, the bulk of our expenses can be attributed to outsourced content.
If you’re wondering why we outsourced 100% to Textun this month, it wasn’t because we decided to stop using Content Pit. Instead, it was just a matter of timing.
We have been placing one order with Textun at the beginning of each month and another with Content Pit at the end of each month. Content Pit was running a few days behind in August, so we ended up placing another order with Textun at the end of the month to keep our expenses consistent and moved the Content Pit order to the beginning of September.
This is actually the biggest reason we don’t like to use a single writing service. If one falls behind, we want to be able to shift to another to make sure our publishing frequency doesn’t slip.
Here’s a breakdown:
- Rocket (hosting): $100.00
- Bluehost (domain renewal): $101.97
- Shutterstock (stock images): $169.00
- iStock (stock images): $133.27
- Content Pit (writing service) – use PIU10 for 10% off your first order: $0.00
- Textun (writing service): $8,074.50
- Upwork (writing service): $77.18
- Google Workspace (business email): $30.00
- SendOwl (digital sales platform): $15.00
- PayPal (fees): $6.30
Total Expenses = $8,707.22
If you take our total revenue of $31,200.79 and subtract out our expenses of $8,707.22, we’re left with a net profit of $22,493.57 for the month.
Future Plans & Goals
As I mentioned above, we don’t plan to make any significant changes going forward, but with everything that Google outlined with the announcement of the Helpful Content Update, we do intend to put more focus on certain areas.
For one, we’re going to put a focus on reducing fluff, mostly by shortening our articles going forward (we likely won’t go back and edit existing content). Instead of worrying about the number of words in competing articles, we will mostly base word counts on what we think is necessary to cover a topic thoroughly.
Also, we’re going to try to narrow the focus of our sites a bit by going back and covering existing topics more thoroughly (instead of adding more new topics). We have a lot of random articles on all of our sites that likely are not helping our topical authority. We will be going back to build more articles around those topics.
Luckily, we were already moving in this direction all year, so there’s not much that we’re actually changing. Google basically confirmed that we’ve been on the right track all along.
Seeing such a significant drop for the third month in a row is definitely disappointing, but since the drop was due to something out of our control, we’re not too concerned about it. If you only focus on the end result, you’ll drive yourself crazy. Instead, we like to focus on things we can control, like the number of posts we publish, whether or not we’re adding internal links, etc.
We’re actually very happy with the direction that Google seems to want to go with this new update (although the results so far in September are surprising), and we’ve already been going down that path with all of our sites all year. Our traffic has been stagnant since the May core algorithm update, but with the changes we’ve been making, I think it’s only a matter of time until we start seeing some significant growth again.
If you were hit by the update, let us know why you think you were hit and what changes you’ll be making going forward.