Back in March 2020, when the world was full of uncertainty, I was busy watching the traffic from my travel blog disappear by 90% within a few short weeks. At the time – and now – I had no idea when (if) life would return to normal, and needed something to both distract myself and diversify my income in the event the pandemic lasted longer than the two months everyone was originally expecting.
That’s why, in April 2020, I launched a new website: Follow the Butterflies. It was actually my fourth site, following the launch of Discover Sausalito in January 2020 – but I had almost entirely abandoned that site entirely already due to the pandemic. Focusing on all things Harry Potter, FTB became an escape from my other work, a hobby blog and passion project to help me stay productive even as my whole career trajectory changed.
Now, 18 months on, FTB is a healthy little blog. It certainly has room to grow, but it’s still a site I love working on and am excited to share with y’all. This is the first post in the series – I obviously didn’t do case study reviews at the 6-, 9-, or 12-month marks (though I may do abbreviated versions of them retroactively at some point in the future); in it, I’ll review everything happening with this site and my plans for the future as it approaches the two-year mark.
What are these Case Studies?
As a reminder, I’ll be doing case studies for every site I’ve created, at the 6-month, 9-month, and 12-month marks. Then I’ll switch to every six months for the next year; you can expect reports at 18 months and 24 months. If a site reaches its two-year mark and I plan to continue writing, I’ll switch to annual reports. Here are the ages of each site and its current status:
- Valerie & Valise – 8 years – annual w/ monthly recaps
- Space Tourism Guide – 3 years – annual
- Discover Sausalito – 21 months – semi-annual
- Follow the Butterflies – 18 months (this post!) – semi-annual
- London on My Mind – 9 months – quarterly
- Great Plains Travel Guide – 8 months – quarterly
- Soup Whoop – 7 months – quarterly
- Jordan Traveler – 6 months – quarterly starting at 6 months
- Eat Like Bourdain – 5 months – quarterly starting at 6 months
- True Crime Pods & Solar Smarts – 4 months – quarterly starting at 6 months
(Links will take you to the full list of reports about that site!)
I thought about doing 3-month reports, but as you’ll see below, I don’t believe there’s much to report when a site is that young. I might occasionally call out a site if it’s doing something really unique before six months, but that wouldn’t be a regular thing.
Here’s a quick glance at the stats for FTB at the 18-month mark.
|Date First Published||April 1, 2020|
|Articles Live (as of 10/1/21)||54|
|Publishing Cadence||Weekly or Biweekly (Wednesdays)|
|Monthly Pageviews (last month)||7,374|
|Monetization/Amount Earned (total)||$853|
History & Status of Follow the Butterflies
I was inspired to start Follow the Butterflies after discovering another, abandoned Harry Potter blog. It was my first “pandemic project” and I wondered why this other blogger – who seemed to have a great idea and growing audience – would abandon her site and Youtube channel. I’m still not sure, though she now runs a huge Harry Potter meme-focused Facebook group – and maybe that’s enough for her with her blogging goals. I had bigger hopes for FTB, though.
As one of my oldest websites, Follow the Butterflies was the first site where I launched using my 10-10-10 strategy. I also started it as a “spin-out” site from my main travel blog, Valerie & Valise; I used 6 articles from V&V to seed FTB.
(As a reminder, that’s 10 daily posts, then 10 weekly posts, then 10 posts at a cadence of my choosing.)
I’ll admit that I wasn’t as consistent as I could have been in the final ten posts – and haven’t been super consistent since. On average, I post 2-3 times per month, sometimes more. This is why FTB has only a handful more posts than London On My Mind in its most recent (9-month) report, despite being 9 months older.
Content Niche Structure & Effectiveness
In terms of strategy, FTB has been very different than other sites I run. It’s a lifestyle blog, covering travel, food, home decor, and more. Initially, I had the following categories:
- Magical Journeys (Travel)
- Magical Equipment (Affiliate/Product Posts)
- Magical Flavors (Food & Drink)
- Magical Experiences (Party/Special Occasion Planning, Virtual Travel, etc.)
I’ve since added two more categories: Magical Creations (Crafts) and Magic at Home (Home Decor).
This means that it is by far the most widest-reaching site I have, in terms of niche. Instead of focusing the site by niche, I’ve obviously focused by topic; every single piece of content on the site is related to Harry Potter. I think this is part of the reason the site has struggled to gain a foothold: it’s not clearly niched by Google, making it hard to show expertise, and it’s focused on a very competitive topic.
Here are two graphs to show you how many posts I’ve written in each category (left) and how much traffic each category is bringing (right):
As you can see, the number of articles I’ve written in each category actually map pretty closely onto the amount of traffic each category brings to the site. The one exception is Magical Creations, which is a brand new category so doesn’t have any traffic yet.
My top posts, based on average traffic for six months, are:
- The 8 Best Harry Potter Afternoon Teas (Magical Journeys)
- How to Make Felix Felicis (Liquid Luck!) (Magical Flavors)
- The 15 Best Harry Potter Airbnbs Around the World (Magical Journeys)
All this to say, I’m happy with how FTB gets traffic; it’s not disproportionately bringing traffic to one category compared to others – which is why I’ve continued to have a really diverse range of topics I’m publishing on.
Data-Based Progress Report
At 18 months old, I’d obviously love if Follow the Butterflies had loads more traffic – and the slow pace of growth has made me wonder how much effort I should put into the site.
However, I started it for fun, as a hobby blog to give myself something new to focus on during the pandemic. It’s still one of the most fun projects I’m running, and I always enjoy sitting down to write or work on a draft from my copywriter. I like to think that readers find it enjoyable too – it’s a little bit silly, definitely nerdy, and very committed to the magic of the Wizarding World.
Looking back, I think part of the reason this site isn’t huge in traffic isn’t huge is because it isn’t huge in articles. I don’t know if it will ever reach the Mediavine threshold, but I’m willing to keep trying. I’m still planning to plug away at this site in the next six months for sure, and my goal is to stick with consistent content 3-4 times per month. This site isn’t a rocket ship, but it is enjoyable work and lets me explore another one of my passions; sometimes that’s a measure of success in itself!
I started collecting emails back in the first few weeks that Follow the Butterflies was published, and have grown my email list to about 150 subscribers. This isn’t great – and I’d love to find something more effective to collect emails.
I started with a slide-in form with a PDF freebie (“Need more Liquid Luck? Sign Up to Receive my Felix Felicis Recipe”) and switched to a quiz (“Which Potion Should You Make?”) with redirects to other pages on the site. My guess is that neither of these is effective because the site is so broad – I’ll need signups for each different category or silo of content.
That said, I’m not super worried about email list-building right now. I’ve actually been focusing my strategic energy on brainstorming a YouTube strategy. I think that the same content strategy that worked on the site could do well on YouTube and potentially grow a community there faster – and be monetized more quickly too. That’s my goal for the next six months: come up with a content strategy and implement it starting in January 2022.
Of the roughly $850 earned by FTB in the last 18 months, 22% of revenue has come from Ezoic ads, while the other 78% comes from affiliates.
I decided to monetize Follow the Butterflies with Ezoic ads in April 2021 (at the 12-month mark) because I wasn’t sure the site would ever grow to Mediavine levels. For the most part, Ezoic is not an effective ad network, but it’s better than nothing.
My main affiliate networks are Amazon and Etsy (via Awin); I also use Skimlinks for some products when that’s my only option.
I’m actually pretty happy with this, given how very different this site is from other sites I run. To be making money on a “hobby blog” is always nice. I’d love to see traffic and income grow, of course, but for now, I’ll keep doing what’s working for the small audience I have.
Other Strategic Plans
At this point, my two areas of focus are on growing traffic and starting that YouTube channel I mentioned. I don’t have any other big ideas on my radar currently, though that may certainly change by the two-year mark!
Do you have any other questions about this recap for Follow the Butterflies? I’m happy to share anything that I forgot to include!