Q1 2024 Check-In: Accountability on All My Sites

I’ll be honest: I’m still shocked it’s 2024. Maybe it’s having a newborn, or maybe just the weird perception of time as I age, but I’m definitely in a time warp right now, and am as surprised as anyone to be writing my recap for the first three months of the year… already.

Every time I write a case study update for one of my sites, I set goals or areas of focus, and that’s what this post focuses on: accountability to those goals that I’ve stated as important to each site’s growth and success. I’m a firm believer in accountability, so consider this me “showing up” even as it’s been a weird quarter for me personally and Google continues to smack bloggers making it hard to predict or plan for the future.

Q1 2024 Accountability Hero

While I don’t include Site School in these recaps or case studies, I find myself coming back to this site to write updates because they hold me to account on my own goals – and that’s the purpose of these quarterly check-ins. I haven’t made as much progress in this quarter as in the past (newborn, as I said!), but I still found value in looking at each site one-by-one and the goals I’ve set for it. I hope that you find value too.

As a reminder, I’m using the stoplight system Rand Fishkin uses 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 17 areas of focus across 8 sites, and here’s how they’re doing:

  • 🟢 (success/achieved) = 5/17 = 29%
  • 🟡 (in progress) = 6/17 = 35%
  • 🔴 (failure/so far) = 2/17 = 12%
  • ⚫️ (retired goal) = 4/17 = 24%

This feels like a pretty good split, though there’s always room for improvement! Ready to dive into each site and see how I’m doing?

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Sites I’m Focused On

I’ve reorganized this post with new headers; now you can see the sites I’m actively focusing on in this section, rather than having all the sites mixed together whether I’m focusing on them or not.

Valerie & Valise (October 2013)

Back in October, I set two areas of focus – I called them “predictions we would all need to focus on” in my Q4 update – which has turned out to be alarmingly prescient in light of Google’s massive March Core and Spam updates (following on the heels of the autumn of terror with all those updates in late 2023). Being a blogger is harder than ever right now, and I still think these goals are worth focusing on – even though they’re far from the areas of focus I normally have for my sites (like content, monetization, etc.).

  • 🟡 Be Inimitable – It’s clear that Google wants brands to rank well; this is exceptionally hard to build in today’s noisy media environment – even most influencers are a flash in the pan. Nevertheless, I’m working hard on my social media presence to try and establish myself as a person behind V&V. This has included weekly recap posts, lots more personal story-telling and opinions, etc.
  • 🟡 Diversify Content Forms – In the Q4 recap, I mentioned this could be “videos, podcasts, books, audiobook, etc.” I’ve continued adding ebooks, but haven’t had time to focus on much else due to being on parental leave for most of Q1.

As I’m starting to shift back into work gear, I’ll continue to work on these as I have the bandwidth – in addition to managing the content, monetization, etc. of the site.

Space Tourism Guide (November 2017)

The goals I set in November (and first checked in on last quarter) are still at the top of my mind for Space Tourism Guide, though I’ll admit that I’m less interested than ever in working on this site and don’t have huge plans for it in 2024… Here’s an update nevertheless:

  • 🟢 2024 Content Updates – I mostly accomplished this in Q1 with the remainder of updates scheduled so I foresee no issues completing this goal through the year.
  • 🟡 Continue Filling Rainmaker Gaps – I’ve got these scheduled as well; I haven’t started working on them, but that will begin now in Q2.
  • 🟢 Take a Well-Earned Break – If there were a “light green” dot, that’s what I’d put here. I’m definitely taking a break from STG and enjoy not thinking about it… that doesn’t seem to be revitalizing my interest in the topic, though!
  • 🟢 Integrate SATW into my Site – I need to audit and add more promotional spots to articles for the new edition of Dark Skies, but the book successfully launched and I’ve got it in my shop as an affiliate link. It’s a low bar, I know, but I did it!

Unfortunately, STG also seems to have been impacted by Google updates in the past six-ish months, so I’ll be focusing more on how to keep this site healthy as the year goes on.

London On My Mind (January 2021)

For the most quintessential example of how the Helpful Content Update hurt sites last fall, I present to you: London On My Mind. This site got hammered hard, losing about 70% of its traffic, and that has shown no signs of coming back despite some work to improve the helpfulness of the site. I’m still working on the site actively with new content and updates, but I’m not sure how long it will be financially sustainable.

Additionally, LOMM hit its three-year milestone, so I set new goals:

  • 🟢 Manage Expenses vs Growth – The hardest part of managing LOMM in the past six months has been accepting that the writers I just hired will need to be let go. I’ve been doing that gradually, but now have a plan to reduce my costs back to where they were before the HCU so that hopefully the site can at least operate at cost rather than at a loss. As for continuing to grow, that will require focusing more of my own time and energy to keep producing new content and updating old content.
  • 🟡 Keep Trying New Content Types – One thing I’ve come to realize about the HCU and March Core Update is that it’s hard to stand out from the crowd; LOMM is one of dozens? hundreds? of London travel blogs. I’ve had to brainstorm new types of articles to try, and will continue to do that this year in the hopes of finding some avenues where readers enjoy the helpful articles I’m writing and Google actually wants to rank them.
  • 🟡 Triage Low-Performing Articles Quarterly – Ah, a good discrete goal! I did a big audit in Q1 and removed almost 40 articles (the site has about 240 remaining). I’ll continue to do this in the hopes of improving the site’s helpfulness and maybe someday Google will remove the penalty and let me rank again!

As I just set these goals in early Q1, I’ll be focusing on them for the remainder of my quarterly updates this year!

Jordan Traveler (May 2021)

As one might expect, Jordan Traveler has had a rough go in the past six months. Initially, I thought the issue was related to the war in Palestine, but it also seems to have been demoted (likely in favor of Reddit/forums) in the October 2023 Core Update – this is something several of my sites experienced. I don’t think the HCU hit it, but traffic is obviously way down; that plus the fact I’m focusing on less new content this year means it’s definitely not doing well, and I’ll need to start coming up with a plan in the remainder of the year.

  • 🟡 Comprehensive & Self-Sustaining Content – I have a content schedule set through the end of the year, so I’ll be plugging along at that. Afterward? No idea!
  • 🔴 Build Off-Google Traffic Sources – I think I could be doing much better at this, so I actually switched from yellow to red. While I did get my email system set up and humming along, it’s not really driving traffic. Additionally, I think the other missed opportunity is in growing my Instagram account and trying to drive traffic from there. Instagram seems like it could be very powerful for this site, if I just had the time and energy to only work on Instagram all the time!

I’ll be setting new goals in May, so these two will likely change during my next update. I’m not quite sure what areas of focus I’ll choose next!

Eat Like Bourdain (June 2021)

The calendar is rapidly marching toward the three-year milestone for Eat Like Bourdain; for now, I’m still focused on the goals I set at the two-year mark:

  • 🟢 Always Be Publishing – As of the start of 2024, I have officially published a guide for every destination Anthony Bourdain visited – the site is “complete!” There are still some other fun topics I plan to sprinkle into the content calendar, but mostly, I’m focused on updating each post annually until people stop caring about Bourdain (still going strong, 5+ years later!).
  • 🔴 Instagram?! – I always have this hovering in the back of my mind, but haven’t had the time and energy yet… maybe before setting a new goal, I’ll get around to a proper content schedule and see some growth!

While I’m not actively creating a ton of new content for this site, it is by far my most successful in the spate of Google updates. I enjoy working on it, especially now that the relentless march of (new) guides is now done.

Sites On Hold

I’ve created this new section for the sites I’m not currently focused on – and/or have no plans to in the future. It’s strange to slowly start walking away from projects I’ve spent literal years on, but Google’s updates have required me to re-focus on the sites that are more productive, and less on those that have been heavily impacted and are unlikely to recover.

Discover Sausalito (January 2020)

As of January, Discover Sausalito is now a four-year-old site. In my case study update for that site, I didn’t set new goals, but rather laid out three options for how the site move forward:

  • Walk away
  • Clean up and maintain the content as little as possible
  • Consolidate the whole site into V&V

In a classic Valerie fashion, I did something different – I took the top traffic articles and moved them to V&V to see how they would do. So far? Better than, if not the same as, they had been on DS. I don’t know what I’ll do with the remainder of the site, but for now, I’m okay with this plan and will probably continue to migrate articles over slowly as it makes sense, until the site doesn’t make sense to maintain at all.

Follow the Butterflies (April 2020)

In my last accountability update, I mentioned that Follow the Butterflies got hit hard in the Helpful Content Update (HCU). I’ll be publishing a 4-year update for the site in the next few weeks, but for now, it’s worth noting that I retired both of my goals from last year in my Q4 update:

  • ⚫️ Consistent Content – As the site isn’t growing, it doesn’t make sense to focus on creating new content.
  • ⚫️ Maybe Mediavine? – Without focusing on new content, the chances of the site growing – even to reach the new smaller-threshold Mediavine ad network – is not going to happen.

Also, I have no plans to focus on this site going forward or set new goals, so I’ve moved it to the “sites on hold” section of this post.

Great Plains Travel Guide (March 2021)

After taking a hit in the HCU, Great Plains Travel Guide has really struggled on top of being on “winter break” from about September/October 1st to March/April 1st.

  • ⚫️ New Content & Updates – In my three-year update, I mentioned that I’m not sure that GPTG is a site worthy of continuing to focus on, so I’m retiring this goal and have no plans to start publishing again in 2024 at this point.
  • ⚫️ Get Listed to Sell – As I mentioned in the last update, I am not longer planning to sell GPTG as it has lost its value.

While I originally intended to re-focus on this site in Q2, I’m currently focusing my energy elsewhere. I’ll continue to check in on this site going forward, but I won’t have any quarterly goals.

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.

However, it’s worth noting that for some reason I’ll never understand, Soup Whoop has actually done better following the Helpful Content Update than it was doing before. I’m still not focusing on it – I’m just not a food blogger! – but it goes to show Google is totally drunk in every direction when it comes to evaluating sites right now.

I also launched – and then immediately quit – my Dungeons & Dragons site, D&D Community, back in March/April 2023. While I haven’t been focused on blogging to support the site’s growth, I did buy the branded Instagram account, and that’s actually been a good place for partnerships and creating fun content… and it’s growing organically thanks to the strength of the brand name!

I mentioned in my Q4 update that I had one more content site I wanted to start; I did buy the domain – GlobalTikiTour.com – and wrote one article. This site aims to compliment my matching Instagram account… are you sensing a theme of how I’m approaching sites going forward (Instagram + Site as a brand-building bundle).

As I start to step back and retire some sites, these updates might get less cumbersome to right – but I hope that you found this helpful. 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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