Q3 2023 Check-In: Accountability on All My Sites

Can I be completely honest? I’ve been stuck on what to do with Site School! I don’t set goals for it as I have with my other sites, and I haven’t really focused on it in the past quarter since finding out I’m pregnant (!) and focusing on other sites in preparation for the impending addition to our family.

Nevertheless, I do have a goal to check in on all my quarterly goals, and the easiest – and most beneficial – way I’ve found to do that is in these posts, so here I am! If you’re curious, my Q1 and Q2 check-ins are pretty interesting; you can track my progress and work in real-time, and maybe get some ideas for goals you might want to set for your blog(s) too.

Q3 2023 Check-In Hero

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 24 areas of focus across 8 sites (which frankly, typing it out, sounds ridiculous!):

  • 🟢 (success/achieved) = 15/24 = 64%
  • 🟡 (in progress) = 3/24 = 12%
  • 🔴 (failure/so far) = 3/24 = 12%
  • ⚫️ (abandoned goal) = 3/24 = 12%

I was a bit more aggressive this quarter in moving things out of the yellow bucket – as we reach the end of the year (or the anniversary of that site) on some of them, I just know which ones I’m going to accomplish and which not. In total, I’m accomplishing far more than half of the goals I set out though, and that’s a good feeling! (Not equally for each site, but certainly across my portfolio.)

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Valerie & Valise

Greyed-out goals in this section have not changed since the last accountability check-in.

It’s hard to believe it, but as I write this recap, V&V is about to cross its 10-year mark at the end of the month. Holy cow! Little did I know I started this site, it would become my primary project and income source. This will be my last time checking in on these goals before setting new ones for the coming year – and decade!

  • 🟢 Quick Turnaround on Partnership Posts – Between July and now, I’ve worked hard to get my partnership posts done, with the exception of the YouTube videos… I just haven’t had the energy or mental space to make videos since finding out I was pregnant in late June! But since the posts are all done, I’m excited to turn this one green!
  • 🔴 Grow YouTube Channel – As I just mentioned, I haven’t made any progress on YouTube – and I know I need to focus there. I just… can’t. I have a weird delusion that I’ll have time and energy once the baby is born, so I’ll probably re-set this as a goal for Year 11 and see if I can ever get this goal from red to yellow.
  • 🟢 Getting all Pre-Pandemic Posts Updated – As in my Q1 check-in, I still have 10 posts from before the pandemic that aren’t updated; I haven’t prioritized these as 8 of them are outside my niche, and the other two don’t make sense to update without re-visiting the destination. As such, I’ve actually changed this goal to green; there are no posts of real value left to update.
  • 🟢 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.

What other goals should I set for Year 11? Let me know your ideas in the comments!

Space Tourism Guide

Greyed-out goals in this section have not changed since the last accountability check-in.

Next month, STG turns six – all my kids are so grown up! At this point, I feel confident that I’ve accomplished the goals I set for this site this year, and it’s time to start brainstorming what might be next. To be honest, I’m pretty stuck: I haven’t felt passionate about this site in at least a year, and will have completed a lot of the posts I wanted to create for this site to feel “complete.” As such, I need to think about what goals will actually serve the site going forward.

But anyway, here are the goals I set last year, as a reminder. (None have changed since July.)

  • 🟢 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 – At this point, all of the rainmakers – stargazing city/state/national park guides – are scheduled and will be completed by the end of the year. As I have a good system running on this site, I feel like it’s fair to mark this one as complete.
  • 🟢 Building More Me in the Brand – After doing some work to add more “me” onto the site, I feel like I’ve exhausted the low-hanging fruit; I’ve also begun to drift further from this project/brand, and am less concerned about finding more opportunities to do this – so I’m marking it complete.

Discover Sausalito

Greyed-out goals in this section have not changed since the last accountability check-in.

At almost four years old, I’ve been happy with the success of DS, small as it has been. As mentioned in my last check-in, this site just won’t ever grow big enough to really reach the levels for any decent ad network, and I don’t want to kill the site with ads at this size. As such, I’ve adjusted my thoughts about my final goal for this site this year.

  • 🟢 Monetization…? – Acknowledging that I’ll never hit Mediavine levels, I’ve decided to salvage what I can, and rolled out the “LetMeAllez” plugin with Stay22. Now, I’m at least earning enough to cover the site’s cost and brought it back into the black overall after years of running at a loss. That feels like a win, even if I’ll never earn enough to make up for the time I’ve spent! 😅
  • 🟢 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.

By the time of my next check-in, I’ll need to start brainstorming new goals – but for now, I’m marking myself as successful for this year on this site.

Follow the Butterflies

FTB is one of three sites that got hit in the Helpful Content Update (HCU) and it pretty well destroyed the site – I’m down about 50%. This is a bummer as it was really moving in the right direction to step up to Mediavine in the next few months (especially as Q4 is the strongest time for this site!) but Google giveth and Google taketh away, as they say.

In any case, here are the goals I set before that update and its impact, and what I’ll try to stay focused on even as I try to claw back up to where I was.

  • 🟢 Consistent Content – After publishing 10 posts in the 13 weeks of Q3, and with 10 more posts scheduled in Q4 (and a whole bunch on my “someday” list), I feel like I’ve been able to finally bring this site back from the brink of non-publishing death.
  • ⚫️ Maybe Mediavine? – I’m retiring this goal as I don’t see it ever happening at this point (after 3.5 years and with a huge setback!). The site is monetized on SHE Media and I’m going to leave it there.

As mentioned, I have some new article ideas sitting in my Asana, probably enough for another year of content including updating existing content. We’ll see if I have time to work on this site post-baby!

London On My Mind

Disappointingly, LOMM is another site that got hit by the HCU – just as I was really ramping up my effort here to try and help it grow as big as V&V someday! London is a far more competitive landscape than Alaska, and bloggers in this space are always competing over the same sets of keywords… so I’m going to need to get creative in the next year to really see the growth I want.

Here are my current goals on the site, which will (like DS) get reset in January when this site crosses the three-year mark.

  • 🟢 Scaling my Content Team – Unlike at the end of Q2, I swung the other direction from scaling down content and have actually hired two writers dedicated just to LOMM. I’m also publishing once per day now, consistently. This is where the site needs to be, to grow the way I want it to.
  • 🟢 Email Email Email – I’ve also been able to commit better to email for LOMM, and sent 9 emails in the 13 weeks of last quarter. That feels like a solid win and something I’ll be able to maintain.
  • 🔴 Social Media…? – I am switching this goal from yellow to red, only because when I originally wrote it, I specifically meant that I should focus on Instagram, and I haven’t done that at all. I have however been good at focusing on my Facebook Page and Group, so that’s a success (but not the intention behind this goal, so not reflected here!).

Great Plains Travel Guide

GPTG is the third and final site of mine that got hit by the HCU, though to be honest, it’s the one I’d most expect to have taken the hit. Unfortunately, a big traffic drop means that I probably can’t list the site to sell as I had hoped… and I do have some ideas for content next year too. Right now though, the site’s on winter break, which is a great part of this site’s strategy to help me stay fresh on it.

  • 🟢 New Content & Updates – As mentioned, this site is now on winter break, but we did have an ambitious summer content season and I’m happy with how the site did.
  • ⚫️ Get Listed to Sell – I’ve changed this one from yellow to black as I don’t currently plan to list and sell the site. This could of course change in the next six months but my guess is that between the HCU hit and being on break, it’s going to wait another year at least!

While I won’t be resetting goals until March when the site turns three years old, these ones are good to reflect on.

Jordan Traveler

I am quite pleased that JT did not get hit in the HCU as A) I do think it’s one of the more helpful sites, and is B) pretty unique in its comprehensiveness in a low-competition space. Additionally, Q4 is the best season for this site, so I’m grateful it didn’t also take a hit when my traffic and income is (expectedly) falling elsewhere.

I set the following goals in May so this is my second check-in on them:

  • 🟡 Comprehensive & Self-Sustaining Content – After a busy 2023, this site will switch from a much higher proportion of new content to a higher proportion of updated content in 2024. This is part of my plan for how to make this site more passive but still maintained and helpful. I won’t change this one to green yet though – we still have a few articles to finis this year.
  • 🟢 Build Off-Google Traffic Sources – The other morning, I woke up all fired up and sat down to write my Jordan welcome series at last. (It had been on my to-do list for months!) Now I’ve got an 18-email, 12-week welcome series that serves as the primary email strategy for the site. I don’t plan to send regular emails after that since most people don’t stick around on my list after they visit Jordan – but this at least starts to diversify away from Google a little!

Eat Like Bourdain

Last but not least, my little Bourdain project – which is finally nearing its conclusion! ELB has been a publishing machine this year, and we’re not done yet – I still need to publish 54 new articles before the end of the year, but I’ve got writers helping me out and we’ll get it done! (Then the site goes into a 99% update cycle where every article gets checked annually – something I can entirely outsource!)

  • 🟡 Always Be Publishing – I still haven’t been perfect at publishing daily (I’m almost a week behind right now!), but I have worked hard to try and get there and will have to accomplish this goal in Q4 to “finish” the site. (“Finish” meaning we have an article for everywhere Tony visited.)
  • 🔴 Instagram?! – As with all things Instagram, I’m just so “meh” about it. I did do a few good posts in Q3 after visiting London and Copenhagen, and have lots of content I could still share… just a lack of focus on the platform as a whole. In any case, it’s still on my list and definitely an area for improvement.

Thankfully, this site was not hit by the HCU either and I’m excited to push to the end of the vision I had and then sit back a bit and reap the benefits of all the hard work me and my writers have done.

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.

I also launched and then immediately quit my Dungeons & Dragons site, D&D Community, back in March/April. I have been really torn about working on this project in the future – we’ll see if I ever have the time and energy!

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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