Great Plains Travel Guide 2-Year Report [CASE STUDY]

I know you’ve been waiting on bated breath: I put one of my sites, Great Plains Travel Guide, on a full hiatus six months ago, and haven’t published a word on it – or about it – since.

Is my site dead in the water?

Did traffic drop to zero?

Or did it explode in popularity because winter is clearly the best time to visit the Great Plains?

I mean, you can probably guess the answer to that last question, but I wanted to come back and address the other two in this case study update. It has been two years since I first launched GPTG and seems like a good time to come up with a strategy for what’s next. Ready to read all about it?

🎧 Want to listen instead? Check out the audio version on the Site School podcast!

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, and 12-month marks. Then I 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:

(Links will take you to the full list of reports about that site!)

Fast Facts

Here’s a quick glance at the stats for Great Plains Travel Guide at its second anniversary:

Date First PublishedMarch 1, 2021
Articles Live (as of 9/30/22)76
Publishing CadenceStill on winter break
Monthly Pageviews (last 30 days)14,856 (February 2023)
Maximum Pageviews (in last year)22,145 (July 2022)
Google Traffic86.1%
Email Subscribers0
Total Monetization$131

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.

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

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History & Content Strategy

GPTG 2yr Chart

I started GPTG two years ago – at the beginning of March 2021 – with my standard 10/10/10 launch plan. I followed weekly posts for the first six months, then fell to an inconsistent pace for another two months. I then decided to take a few months off as traffic was stagnating in the off-season.

Based on the idea that the Great Plains are a highly seasonal summer destination, I then began publishing aggressively in April 2022, and posted/updated 1-2x per week throughout the summer. Then, as we entered September and the beginning of the slow half of the year, I announced that the site is on Winter Break. I’ll be honest: this was a big risk. Google has long been known for punishing sites that stop publishing… but also, I wanted to run an experiment since the site is so seasonal and has pretty low stakes.

After having taken a six-month break, it’s time to look again and answer the following questions:

  • How did GPTG traffic perform when I wasn’t publishing?
  • Do I want to start publishing again?
  • What is my long-term goal for GPTG and how will we get there?

As you’ll see, my strategic takeaways answer all of these questions – and my plan for the remainder of 2023 might surprise you!

Strategic Takeaways

I love writing these case studies because each site I run has such a different trajectory and life of its own. The takeaways I have for GPTG are so wildly different than the ones I have for other sites β€“ and I always feel a really good sense of clarity by sitting down to write these case study updates.

Traffic Didn’t Take Big Hits for Taking a Big Break

I’m actually quite surprised at how well traffic held up considering I haven’t published in the past few months; my average pageviews per month was about 15,000 for the past six months, compared to 16,500 in the six months preceding that.

Obviously, this isn’t a perfect comparison since I increased the number of articles I was producing last summer and haven’t published anything new lately – but it also shows that you can take short breaks on your site without suffering too much.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking more than six months off of any of my sites if I planned to try and revive them, and it depends on the exact niche you’re writing in and where your traffic comes from, but at least the Google hammer didn’t come down in the six months I haven’t been publishing.

(This is actually similar to the long break I took about a year after starting my Eat Like Bourdain site, so is a second point in favor of “take breaks when you need them” as a good business policy.)

I Want to Sell This Site

A few weeks ago, I was feeling seriously burnt out, and sat down to figure out how to prune my work and create space for new projects. I mapped all of my sites and projects onto a grid comparing “Joy” and “Money” (similar to this concept). In the end, this site fell into my lower left quadrant, in that it doesn’t bring me much joy or money.

Sites in that part of my grid are categorized as “Sell” sites – they make money, so they have value to potentially be sold for, but they aren’t making enough to keep. (They also bring me little joy, so selling them will be a better outcome than keeping at a project I’m miserable about.)

It was strange to acknowledge that I might sell any of my sites some day. I know lots of people spend time growing sites just to sell them, but that’s not me: I start projects I’m interested in, and then keep at them… forever…? Anyway, I’ve clearly reached a point where I can’t add any new projects without offloading some, and this grid was a really helpful way to figure out which ones I actually want/need to let go.

I Need More Content & Income Tenure First, to Sell Later

Unfortunately, GPTG doesn’t have enough traffic or income to be at a good selling point right now; I’ve only been on SHE Media for 3 months, due to some technical issues with them that prevented me from getting ads running for about six months before that.

Most prospective buyers want at least 12 months of income and data, so they can feel confident in the trend of the site they’re buying. To that end, I need to get back to creating content and let that income keep coming in until the end of the year at least. Then, it’s sell, baby, sell.

What’s Next?

As you’ve probably guessed from my takeaways, my plan is to work with my writer – and potentially try some highly-edited AI content – for the next six months/summer season to expand my content and potentially grow my traffic again. I’d like to get to 100 total articles, and just see where the income ends up. I’m also going to work to update a lot of older content that has been languishing and could use a lil refresh to get back to Google’s best graces.

To be frank, my main goal is just to maintain traffic and income, so that I can show a year’s consistent income on the site before listing it to sell. If new articles bring new traffic (and thus new income), that’s great – but the goal is just to get to 12 months of income (December 2023) then list the site and see how long it takes to sell.

It might seem weird to keep working on a website that I’m no longer connected to creatively – but this is one of the many paths you can take with your site, and it will certainly be interesting to go through this process and try to sell a site.

I suppose it’s entirely possible that GPTG will start to grow like crazy, getting a ton of traffic and income, and by the time I sit down to write my next update (at the three-year mark), I’ll have a different strategy entirely. But my guess is that it won’t – we just won’t be adding enough new content for monumental growth.

In any case, that’s where I am with GPTG. Do you have any other questions about this recap for Great Plains Travel Guide? 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.

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