Most people are surprised to learn about the third niche site I started; it’s not a fun project like Follow the Butterflies or a fast-growing site like London On My Mind. Instead, it’s a small local niche site I started for the destination I called home at the beginning of the new decade: Sausalito, California.
I launched Discover Sausalito on New Year’s Day 2020 to – for complete transparency – create a local resource site that was 10x better than the other unofficial Sausalito tourism site currently on the web. (It’s worth noting that Sausalito itself also doesn’t do a great job at tourism, so just creating a functional site with good SEO was a huge advantage and opportunity.)
Unfortunately, we all know what happened in 2020, and Discover Sausalito has continued to struggle for the past two years. While it’s powerful at ranking on Google and has good SEO opportunities still, I’m taking this opportunity at the two-year mark to think about my strategy going forward. This case study covers the history of the site so far, and what I plan to do next.
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 – 4 years – annual
- Discover Sausalito – 2 years (this post!) – annual
- Follow the Butterflies – 21 months – semi-annual
- London on My Mind – 1 year – semi-annual
- Great Plains Travel Guide – 10 months – quarterly
- Soup Whoop – 9 months – quarterly
- Jordan Traveler – 8 months – quarterly starting at 6 months
- Eat Like Bourdain – 7 months – quarterly starting at 6 months
- True Crime Pods & Solar Smarts – 6 months – quarterly starting at 6 months
(Links will take you to the full list of reports about that site!)
Here’s a quick glance at the stats for Discover Sausalito at its first anniversary:
|Date First Published||January 1, 2020|
|Articles Live (as of 10/1/21)||29|
|Monthly Pageviews (last 30 days)||3,859|
|Maximum Pageviews (in last year)||4,001 (October 2021)|
|Average Pageviews per Post||158|
In the rest of this post, I’ll dive more into the history of the site and where I hope it goes in the year to come.
History & Status of Discover Sausalito
Discover Sausalito has had a rough life, to be completely frank. When I started it in January 2020, I did not do my standard 10/10/10 launch plan, and I think that hurt the site’s growth potential even before the pandemic kicked off and killed travel in general.
Since then, I’ve only published intermittently – at best. There are big gaps in the publishing schedule, as evidenced by the dashed blue line in the graph above. For most of 2020, I let it sit and considered abandoning it completely as California stayed in a permanent state of lockdown. Once I moved out of California, I was actually able to start thinking creatively about the site, and only started producing new articles in the latter half of 2021.
Discover Sausalito is a local niche site, so I aim to answer every question travelers might have about visiting Sausalito. This means I have categories like Things to Do, Where to Stay, and Getting Oriented. I’ve also recently added new categories like Events & Occasions (which can be great for getting seasonal traffic – my New Year’s Eve post did very well!) and Beyond Sausalito (for big keywords about destinations nearby like Alcatraz, Angel Island, Tiburon, and Muir Woods).
For the most part though, my content strategy is still informed by the keyword research and competitor analysis I did way back before launching the site. I have plenty of topics left if I ever want to start publishing again – but more on that soon.
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):
Takeaway #1: Seasonality is great…
In the above graphs, you can see that Events & Occasions have a huge differential compared to how many posts I’ve written in that category. This was in part due to the time that I pulled the data: my previously-mentioned NYE post drove a ton of traffic in December, which rounded out my data set for the year. In short, it brought in great traffic (woo!) but it also skewed the data a bit (boo!).
Takeaway #2: …but is a Flighty Temptress
While it’s awesome to have a big boost from seasonal traffic (or events-based posts), I think there’s a danger in relying on those types of posts too much. After all, I didn’t start DS to be a news site – I started it for travelers. This means I’m very wary of which keywords I go after in that category, and try to only target events/seasons keywords that are perennial rather than annual.
Additionally, there is a ton of seasonality for this site based on the weather. However, I have zero control over that so it’s just something I keep in mind if the site is doing “poorly” – it might just be cloudy lately!
Takeaway #3: The Pandemic is Different Everywhere
In some ways, writing about California travel is a lot like writing about international travel right now – nobody’s doing it. That’s not to say people aren’t visiting California, as they are, but rather that local restrictions continue to make it tricky for the travel industry to recover.
When I originally set out to start this site, my goal was 10,000 sessions per month (note: this was back in the day when Mediavine admitted additional sites at the 10,000 sessions mark); this site has hobbled along for two years without reaching half that – but the keyword volume is definitely still there if people ever start traveling again!
In the annual recaps for each site, I like to spend time addressing the bigger picture. Here’s what I have planned for DS, which might surprise you.
Taking a Break
It’s weird to use these case studies to report a major strategic change like a hiatus or stopping a site altogether, but I like to think it’s helpful for you reading to see how I make decisions about my sites – even when it’s not full steam ahead.
In the case of Discover Sausalito, I’ve become acutely aware of my limited time resource, and the likelihood that this site will receive enough traffic to be effectively monetized and earn back on the time I’m investing (and the expense of my team working on the site). The reality is that it will likely never do that, and I especially need to focus on some of my other sites with “better potential” in the meantime.
Learn from Local
This isn’t to say that it was a bad idea to start DS – I still think I had a huge learning experience, and it has changed the way I think about niche sites. Local niche sites, especially ones specific to a city or individual place, are very different than other niche sites even within the travel sector.
I’d like to think that some of my early learnings from this site helped inform a better strategy for London On My Mind, which I started a year later. That site has become one of my priorities due to how well it’s doing even as Discover Sausalito has taken a backseat… or maybe it’s now stuck in the trunk! 😂
Reevaluate in Q2 or Q3
It is my goal to come back and evaluate the potential for DS at some point this year, hopefully before the mid-point of the year. I have managed to accomplish many of my goals, and the site is strong in Google – often outranking TripAdvisor, Yelp, and other local sites with more tenure. It still has potential, even though I’ve moved away and it isn’t as big of a traffic opportunity as I originally hoped. I look forward to reevaluating it and reporting back at the three-year mark.
Do you have any other questions about this recap for Discover Sausalito? Let me know in the comments; I’m happy to share anything that I forgot to include!