Q1 2023 Check-In: Accountability on All my Sites

In the last few months, I’ve come to realize that while Site School may never be a big part of my business, it has an important role: it helps me stay accountable. Both to myself, and to anyone who wants to read and learn how to grow their business.

As part of each site I run, I do case study recaps – usually at 6/12/18/24 months and then every year thereafter. During these, I set areas of focus for the coming period/year between recaps. But I wasn’t really checking in on those much – and then was actually surprised I wasn’t completing them.

Q1 Accountability Hero

I’ve been trying to come up with a system to help me stay more accountable to those goals, and this post is the first in a series where I check in quarterly on all of them.

I really like the stoplight system I once saw Rand Fishkin use as part of his SEO predictions posts each year; I think it’s a clear way to measure how you’re doing (or did) when evaluating things. So I’ve added a stoplight to each of the goals or areas of focus I set for every site, and then counted them up here.

In total I have 25 areas of focus across 8 sites (which frankly, typing it out, sounds ridiculous!):

  • 🟒 (success/achieved) = 7/25 = 28%
  • 🟑 (in progress) = 9/25 = 36%
  • πŸ”΄ (failure/so far) = 8/25 = 32%
  • ⚫️ (abandoned goal) = 1/25 = 4%

Given that each site is at a different stage of growth and a different length of time since I set these goals (for example, one site only set goals last month, while others have had these goals set for almost a year), I think this is pretty good. I’ll be curious to see how they change in my next quarterly check-in (since this is the first one!).

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Valerie & Valise

Valerie & Valise is my big tuna: my oldest, largest, and best-earning site; it’s also the one I spend most of my time on, understandably. It passed its ninth blogiversary in October, so it’s been about six months since I set these goals:

  • 🟑 Getting all Pre-Pandemic Posts Updated – This was a big goal I set back in October, and as of right now, I have just 10 posts published before March 20, 2020. Some I have scheduled already, while others should probably be rehomed or deleted. I will continue to pick at this, but am less concerned about it going forward since the vast majority of “outdated” content has been updated. (Now I’m tackling the rest of my posts from the “during the pandemic” window.)
  • 🟒 Quick Turnaround on Partnership Posts – I crossed my 9-year mark on a trip to Nevada, and have taken just one more partnership trip since then; for both trips, I had almost all of my content produced within the first month after each trip. I managed to stick to that with my recent Texas/New Mexico national parks trip too – I produced 7 posts from that trip in the first two weeks after I got home.
  • 🟒 Identify and fill in gaps in my Alaska content strategy – Picking away at this, I am trying to complete a series of posts for each major city/town, so I can create ebooks about them. Once that is complete, I’ll dig back in to come up with other ideas.
  • 🟒 Improve Email Marketing – Maybe it was subconscious, but as I started working on this report, I actually got derailed to finally set up email systems for the majority of my audience. 86% of readers should now see some sort of email collection form during their visit, which feels like a good accomplishment.
  • 🟒 Optimize Affiliate Marketing – Sometimes, a task is a lot of work – other times it’s quite easy. Thanks to my friend Amanda, I rolled out the “LetMeAllez” script from Stay22 – and it has dramatically improved my hotel bookings/commissions. Hopefully, cancellations are going to continue dropping, so that income will realize.
  • ⚫️ Re-Tool Product Strategy – Reviewing my 9-year recap, I’m not actually sure what I meant by this. So… I’m going to dismiss myself from this goal and continue with my Alaska eBook strategy as planned.
  • πŸ”΄ Grow YouTube Channel – Here’s my main area for improvement: I did a big seminar series in January which helped grow my channel a lot. I would really like to get in the habit of posting videos weekly; I’ve got them scheduled out for the next 12 months. I also need to start to remember to save and shorts when I make reels, since that’s an easy win.

While I’ve done a pretty good job, there are some good opportunities for growth in the next six-ish months before my 10th blogiversary. I look forward to reporting massive YouTube success by then. πŸ˜…

Space Tourism Guide

Back in November, my second site – Space Tourism Guide – crossed its five-year mark. It’s hard to believe that my two main kids are all grown up! In my five-year recap, I set out three main goals:

  • 🟒 2023 Content Updates – I had a very aggressive Q1 and updated a ton of content that needed minor but essential updates. This is now part of my annual plan – though damn, it’s a lot of work!
  • 🟑 Keep Making Rainmakers – This is my main content strategy for 2023, and to be honest, I’m not sure what will happen after that. I’m focusing on a couple of large series of posts for stargazing destinations, and will then go into a less aggressive content strategy while I figure out what to do next. (And start scheduling 2024 content updates!)
  • 🟑 Building More Me in the Brand – One thing I realized about STG was how – despite being the only site on the topic and literally writing the book about the same topic for a major publisher, nobody really knew it was me or who I was. I started by improving my email welcome series to include an introduction, and have been a bit more aggressive in my EEAT introductions to put myself into the site.

To be honest, STG feels like it’s moving more toward a mature status for the rest of this year. I don’t know what I’ll be suggesting when it comes time to write my six-year recap, but I really look forward to saying I’ve completed these goals.

Discover Sausalito

It’s hard to believe that my third site – Discover Sausalito – is already three years old – almost all of my sites are coming into maturity! In my three-year report, I set the following goal:

  • 🟒 Minimal Content Maintenance – On the whole, DS runs a bit on autopilot: it doesn’t need much to stay accurate each year, and there aren’t a lot of posts that could become outdated.
  • 🟒 Keeping Things Updated – Just like with STG, I built a system that allowed me to update a large series of posts at the beginning of the year; this will need to continue going forward, though not until early 2024.
  • πŸ”΄ Monetization…? – Inspired by a desire to monetize that I put in writing, I came up with one more content push: 24 articles that will hopefully get this site to a level where I can apply for SHEMedia. That’s my goal by the end of the year. If I don’t hit that level, I will put this site on the shelf, keeping it only minimally updated and active for the future.

I look forward to reporting back at the four-year mark to tell you whether I’ve been able to achieve monetization or not.

Follow the Butterflies

As I write this, I am due to release my three-year report for my Harry Potter site – Follow the Butterflies – as that hasn’t come yet, I’ll look back at the goals and areas of focus I set in my two-year report last year instead:

  • πŸ”΄ Consistent Content – While I had set a goal for creating content in the past year, I absolutely did not do this; I haven’t published a new post other than a few holiday gift guides in the past year. I have created a new plan for the coming year; we’ll see how well I stick to it!
  • πŸ”΄ Podcast Growth – At my two-year mark, I was excited about my Harry Potter Podcast, The Glittering Bell Jar. Unfortunately, that creative project ended up failing after its second season (book), and I don’t see it restarting again.
  • πŸ”΄ Grow to Mediavine – As one might guess when not publishing content, my traffic didn’t grow, and I didn’t make it to the level of applying for Mediavine. This site is monetized on SHEMedia though, so at least that’s something.

You can check out my forthcoming three-year recap for my new goals and focuses for the coming quarter/year.

London On My Mind

Back in January, my London site – London On My Mind – passed its two-year mark, and continues to be one of the main sites that I focus on each week. Here are the goals I set for the coming year in that recap:

  • 🟑 Scaling my Content Team – As part of helping this site grow – especially in such a competitive niche – I know I need more content. I had originally imagined hiring a new writer to help me and my main writer, and even tried out a writing team to increase volume… then ChatGPT took the content world by storm. Now my writer and I are looking at how we can create incredible, helpful articles using that to augment her writing/editing abilities and my expertise.
  • 🟑 Email Email Email – As with V&V, I think building a good email strategy is going to be essential to weathering the storm of AI. I’m working to get in the habit of sending weekly emails, and setting up a better onboarding system to get people signing up at higher rates and creating traffic that way.
  • 🟑 Social Media…? – Also taking a lead from V&V, I’ve begun focusing on the part of social media I seem to understand: building a Facebook group and Facebook page. I’ll continue focusing on these… though I’d still love to build an Instagram page too… I just need more video content!

Obviously, still plenty of work to do here, but I’m making progress and hope to have positive reports in 9 months at my next recap.

Great Plains Travel Guide

I only wrote my two-year recap for Great Plains Travel Guide last month, but it put me on a very different path than any of the other sites at this point. Specifically, I decide to sell this site, hopefully by this time next year. I do have some work in the meantime:

  • 🟑 New Content & Updates – After taking a break for six months, GPTG will need a solid summer season of new content and traffic in order to be appealing to a buyer. I’ve come up with a content update plan with about 25% new content mixed in that should help lift the site and keep it healthy this year.
  • 🟑 Get Listed to Sell – Once I’ve got 12 months of income history (December 2023), I can start preparing the site to sell. That means reviewing all the posts, getting the spreadsheets in order, and generally just sprucing up the site so that it’s appealing to buyers as an investment.

It will certainly be interesting selling a site – I have an idea of how much I’d like to earn, though I’m very open to just learning from the process. It is also possible that I will get the site onto Mediavine in the next six months, which may affect how I feel about selling it vs putting it into a very light content maintenance program.

Jordan Traveler

Though it’s pretty far down on this list – only because it’s one of my newer sites – my Jordan Traveler site has actually been one of the strongest performers in my portfolio, given its size. It is a great earner on affiliate content and drives pretty good traffic/income during a season when most of my other sites slow down (winter).

Here were the goals I set a few months ago in my 18-month recap; the two-year recap will be published next month:

  • πŸ”΄ The Full Email Monty – I really need to get on this one; it’s just been a lack of focus that has prevented me from setting up an email collection system and starting to send emails. Given that the site is receiving 50,000+ readers a month, this is just poor form on my part. (As part of writing this, I got distracted and rolled out a subscribe form across the site πŸ˜…)
  • πŸ”΄ Affiliate Content Push – Like some of my smaller sites, I have a pretty stripped-down content plan in place for 2023; I feel like I’m just doing too much to push hard on every site all at once. As such, I never came up with a good affiliate strategy for JT… maybe in 2024?

I have a feeling that my goals for this site will be pretty similar in my next recap, at least with regards to email.

Eat Like Bourdain

I’m going to be honest: it’s been hard to balance all of my sites, but the one I’m always struggling to prioritize is Eat Like Bourdain. I set a very aggressive schedule to “finish” the new content on this site by September 1, and it’s just more than I can handle with … seven! other sites on my plate. (Wait, eight – see below.)

Nevertheless, for being less than two years old, this site has been one of my most enjoyable and successful projects, and I really look forward to seeing how big it grows when it’s all “done.” (It’s worth noting that it will grow up to a certain point, stabilize for a while, then start to decline over time. That’s why I’m pushing so hard to finish the content plan!)

Anyway, in my 18-month report, I set out the following goals:

  • 🟑 Content Sprint to the Finish Line – As part of setting that goal, I reached out on Reddit and found several writers to help me; I have been working with them to increase how much content is published on the site – and it has made a real difference. It also feels good to be able to pay people for their work because the site is earning enough (even though it means I “earn” very little right now.)
  • πŸ”΄ Launch (or Kill) the Enthusiast Podcast – This project has been a thorn in my side for months now. I have a plan for using the interviews I’ve already recorded to try and see if the project has wings – I’d love to work on a Bourdain podcast at some point, but I don’t think I have the bandwidth or the confidence in my idea at this point.

I’ll be publishing my two-year recap in June, which will be a good point to adjust before my next quarterly check-in.

D&D Community

As part of the AI-pocalypse, I decided to try starting a new site with a lot of AI help: it’s all about Dungeons & Dragons. I also got a crazy good domain: dndcommunity.com.

This site is only about six weeks old as of publishing – and it’s going to take a long time to see if it’s working by Google standards. But, I will be starting to share recaps at the six-month mark, and will eventually add it into my quarterly check-ins here, so I wanted to mention it now.

Other Sites Not Mentioned

You might notice a few other sites I didn’t mention, and I wanted to address those here. I’ve decided to retire a number of sites I started in 2021, including Soup Whoop (my failed food site), Visit Niihau (my micro Hawaii site), and True Crime Podcasts (a cool idea I just don’t have time to focus on or a good monetization plan for). I won’t be doing recaps of those sites as I’m not publishing them anymore.

This post was mostly for me, but I hope you found it interesting. There are always more things to work on! Have any questions about my various quarterly goals? I’m happy to answer in the comments!

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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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