Follow the Butterflies 4-Year Report
[FINAL REPORT]

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a hard time letting go of the websites and projects I start. Usually, I’m starting something new because I’m passionate about a subject and know (or at least think) I could help others by sharing my enthusiasm and expertise. Such was certainly the case for Follow the Butterflies, a site I started during a dark chapter and fostered despite it not being anywhere near as successful as other sites I have.

A lot has changed since I started FTB back during the pandemic, and the landscape for independent publishers like me is very different. This is the first site – of several – that I am letting expire at some point in the next year. Below, I’ll share why.

Follow the Butterflies Hero

Saying goodbye to a site – one that I’ve spent four years on! – is really hard for me, but ending FTB is especially bitter in my mouth. Sure, I could have done more to grow the site when it was doing well, but the reason it “failed” had very little to do with my effort, expertise, or authenticity. Follow the Butterflies is my first casualty of the Helpful Content Update, and won’t be the last. Hopefully, I can keep most of the bitterness out of my voice as I share this site’s final report below.

What are these Case Studies?

As a reminder, I do case studies for almost every site I’ve created, at the 6-month, 9-month, 12-month, 18-month, and 24-month marks. If a site reaches its two-year mark and I plan to continue writing, I’ll switch to annual reports; currently, all of my sites are more than two years old!

Here are the ages of each site, and a link to the case studies I’ve written about each one:

Now let’s dig into the specifics of Follow the Butterflies and my plans for it.

Fast Facts

Here’s a quick glance at the stats for FTB at the three-year mark.

Date First PublishedApril 1, 2020
Articles Live (as of 4/1/24)76
Publishing CadenceNone
Monthly Pageviews (last month)8,778
Highest Pageviews (30 day max)26,323
Google Traffic77% (last 12 months)
Email Subscribers574
Monetization/Amount Earned (lifetime)$9,950 (29% from ads)

How do I keep track of all these stats? I’ve got an organizational system!

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History & Status of Follow the Butterflies

FTB 4-Year Chart

It’s wild to look back on Follow the Butterflies, because I launched it on April 1st, 2020 – it was my first “pandemic project” and one I undertook mostly as a way to stay sane while locked down at home. Over the first three years, it showed slow but steady growth; at its peak, almost 30,000 pageviews per month was pretty good considering how competitive it is for every single keyword that has anything to do with “Harry Potter.”

Unfortunately, Google decided to destroy this site as part of the Helpful Content Update; it had a peak month in August 2023, then began a straight downhill slide in September 2023. As with most of my sites, I think this was undeserving – I wrote from personal experience and passion about a hobby I love, and I didn’t make much from the site over the course of its lifespan… yet still its traffic has dropped to about 10% of what it was pre-HCU.

Now, I have to be honest: I wasn’t creating a lot of new content for the past two years, so it’s not surprising that the site stopped growing. But the traffic loss the site has experienced in the past six months is algorithmic, not organic; Google decided my content wasn’t good, and stopped ranking me well for it. At this point, I don’t plan to continue working on the site, and the domain will expire at the beginning of April next year.

Strategic Takeaways & What’s Next

I could sit down and think about strategic takeaways for Follow the Butterflies, and I’ve done that in past case study reports about this site. Honestly, I don’t want to do that this time: I was focusing more on this site in the first half of the past year, and then Google made an executive decision about my site’s performance and there is nothing I can do to change that. As you can probably tell, that really pisses me off, but ranting about it (yet again) isn’t going to change anything.

Instead, I’m cutting my losses – on FTB and other sites too, as you’ll see in case studies going forward. If Google wants to destroy the quality of the internet by ranking Reddit and generating bullshit AI answers, I don’t want to play that game; I’d rather let the site lapse and walk away knowing that – for at least 3.5 years, I created something I loved and that people found interesting and helpful (no matter what Google says).

All that said, this is the last case study update I’ll write for FTB. There are no takeaways, there’s no postmortem; there’s just another casualty of Google’s monopolistic hold on the internet and the destruction of independent publishers.

Thanks for sticking with me on this one during the rollercoaster this past four years, and thanks to all the readers who gave me their attention, trust, and enthusiasm when this site could still get traffic.

Do you have any other questions about this final recap for Follow the Butterflies? Let me know in the comments; I’m happy to share anything that I forgot to include.

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Valerie has been blogging since 2001, and has been running her oldest travel blog for a decade. You can find her across the internet on her various niche sites, but she started Site School to help fellow bloggers grow and create better content.

2 Comments

  • Brenda

    Hi Valerie,

    I’m really sorry to hear your sites were hit so hard by the algorithm changes and I agree, it’s completely unfair what Google has done.

    I do want to know why you would let the domain expire though? I understand cutting your losses on the site and not adding any new content, but wouldn’t the expense to keep the site running be very small? I’d think you could at least generate a trickle of ad revenue and though it’s unlikely, another algorithm change in the future could always bring traffic back.

    Just curious on why you would fully delete the site rather than keep it running.

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      Valerie

      Great question, Brenda, and it’s something I’m struggling with. I have a hard time thinking any site will recover – I think Google doesn’t even know what its actually doing, and they keep giving us hope because to do otherwise would require acknowledging that they destroyed so many sites permanently and without warning.

      I may end up leaving the site up, but I am also a bit of a perfectionist about my content, and I hate the idea of people finding out-of-date or incorrect information… but I also can’t justify spending any time updating the site. I suppose you’re right that the site is earning enough to cover its basic costs, but I’m not sure I want the space in my head and heart dedicated to the project anymore.

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