Q4 2023 Check-In: Accountability on All My Sites

Here we are, at the start of a new year; this is the first year I decided to post quarterly check-ins across all of my sites in one place (here’s Q1, Q2, and Q3, if you’re curious). While I check in as each site crosses a milestone in the corresponding case study for that site, it’s also nice to sit down and look at all my sites at once. I have always bee a fan of “productive procrastination,” and checking in on goals is definitely one of my favorite ways to do it.

In this post, you’ll see sites at very different stages, and what I’m focusing on for each one. Some are relatively young (2-3 years old) whereas others are more mature; some have very discreet goals while others are focused on more nebulous ideas. In any case, I hope you find it helpful to see what I’m thinking about – and maybe this will inspire you to come up with some areas of focus for your site(s) too.

Q4 Accountability 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 19 areas of focus across 8 sites, and here’s how they’re doing:

  • 🟒 (success/achieved) = 7/19 = 37%
  • 🟑 (in progress) = 7/19 = 37%
  • πŸ”΄ (failure/so far) = 2/19 = 10%
  • ⚫️ (retired goal) = 3/19 = 16%

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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Valerie & Valise

It still boggles my mind that I started my little Valise Magazine over 10 years ago; today it goes by a different name (Valerie & Valise) but it is still my pride and joy and where it all began. That said, a lot has changed in this decade, and my goals have continued to shift as a result. This year, I set two main areas of focus – actually, it was more like I set them as predictions we would all need to focus on, but that includes me too, so here they are:

  • 🟑 Be Inimitable – I would say this is the hardest part of thinking about what Google might want from site publishers in the future: they want a recognizable brand/persona around which readers place trust. This is so hard to do, especially as a “one woman (or man) show.” I think I’ve done a decent job of this throughout the past few years, and continue to lean on those channels I’ve built for that (like Facebook), but there’s always room to improve.
  • 🟑 Diversify Content Forms β€“ In my 10-year check-in, I mentioned this would be literally different forms: videos, podcasts, books, audiobooks, etc. I didn’t make much progress on this beyond creating my full “Alaska City Guide eBooks” collection (15 books) and getting it cross-listed on Amazon. I’ll take the win there (small though it might be), and hope to have more time to focus on this goal in Q2-Q4 of the coming year.

I don’t expect to make much progress on these (or any of my goals) in the remainder of this new quarter, because of taking time off, but I’ll still check in next time.

Space Tourism Guide

Since my last accountability check-in, I have set new goals for Space Tourism Guide, too. Here’s what I’ve set for the coming year on this site, which is lower on my list of priorities but is still one I want to maintain:

  • 🟒 2024 Content Updates β€“ One thing I’ve learned in the past few years is that the content we used to think of as “evergreen” rarely is – everything needs maintenance. At this point, I have a content plan through July which helps keep everything on an annual update schedule that needs to be; the majority of content that needs to be updated between January and March is already done and scheduled, so I’m marking this green for this quarter.
  • 🟑 Continue Filling Rainmaker Gaps β€“ I wrapped up 2023 by finishing several important series: my city and state stargazing guides; there might be other cities I add in the future, but it certainly feels like the main ones in the U.S. are covered. Then, after the articles I’ve scheduled through July, I’ve identified a number of other articles my team and I can start to focus on, to fill out a few more gaps I’ve found in my national park stargazing guides series.
  • 🟑 Take a Well-Earned Break β€“ I set this as a focus so that I would actually do it: as part of my parental leave plan, and just feeling a bit burned out, I need to step back from STG for a while and have been planning with my team to make that happen.
  • 🟒 Integrate SATW into my Site β€“ The second edition of my Lonely Planet astrotourism book will be published in February 2024; I’ve already added it to the site and have scheduled an email announcement while I’m offline for baby time. Once I come back in April, I’ll start seeing if there are any other opportunities to promote the book.

With my many shifting priorities in 2024, I think these goals will be achievable and still maintain the site as a valuable resource for readers.

Discover Sausalito

Discover Sausalito is four years old as of this month (January 2024), but I decided to write this accountability report before setting new quarterly goals, so I could wrap them up. Here’s what I was focusing on in the last year:

  • 🟒 Monetization…? – I originally started this site to reach Mediavine when the requirements for second+ sites was just 10,000 sessions per month; that is no longer the case, and I don’t believe this site will ever reach the new level required (25,000 sessions per month). Instead, I’ve added some affiliate monetization and it has really helped make this site a viable small part of my portfolio, especially in light of my other goals…
  • 🟒 Minimal Content Maintenance / Keeping Things Updated – After pumping in some new content during 2023, this site feels pretty holistic; that means my only job in 2024 and beyond is to keep it updated and accurate, which I’ll do with help from my team.

If you’re curious about my new areas of focus for this small site in 2024, check out my latest DS case study (Year 4).

Follow the Butterflies

In my last accountability update, I mentioned that Follow the Butterflies got hit hard in the Helpful Content Update (HCU). As such, I haven’t really touched it since then, beyond a small series of posts that tend to do well in the holiday season and are affiliate-heavy.

  • ⚫️ Consistent Content – Since my last update, I have published exactly 10 articles (6 updates & 4 “new” posts) – all within 4 weeks. I have chosen to let go of this goal for the time being.
  • ⚫️ Maybe Mediavine? – I retired this goal back in Q3 because, between the HCU and this site’s generally poor performance, I don’t think I will ever reach Mediavine levels. Let’s normalize it: Retiring goals is okay – it’s not always a failure!

FTB will hit its 4-year mark in April 2024, but I won’t set new goals before the next accountability update, so it will probably look a lot like this one.

London On My Mind

Like Discover Sausalito, London On My Mind hits a milestone this month: it’s three years old! I will be publishing a case study update soon, but for now, I’ll check-in on last year’s goals one more time.

  • 🟒 Scaling my Content Team – After increasing my writing team in the last quarter, I’ve been hard at work keeping them busy, but I’ve been making adjustments along the way. Unfortunately, due to LOMM getting hit by the HCU, I’ve scaled the team back to try and keep the site financially viable, and we’re publishing less frequently. I still feel like I accomplished this goal and set myself up for success in as much as I had control to do so.
  • 🟒 Email Email Email – This is one area I feel proud about in the past year: I set up an email system, welcome series, and started sending emails consistently. I sent 12 in the 13 weeks of the quarter (keeping in mind a week off for the holiday), and I’ve reduced to a monthly schedule during my parental leave – but already have all the emails scheduled for that too.
  • πŸ”΄ Social Media…? – While I just said we should normalize retiring goals, we should also be honest when we fail – and I definitely failed at this goal. I know that social media would help my site grow, but I just don’t have the time or energy to focus on social media for this site/brand right now, with everything else going on.

As of publishing, I haven’t yet thought about what my new areas of focus might be, I do plan to continue having some attention on LOMM in 2024 and it’ll be interesting to see what my brain comes up with when I do! You can take a look at them in my latest case study, which will be here when it’s published.

Great Plains Travel Guide

After taking a hit in the HCU, Great Plains Travel Guide hasn’t done much – I take a break every winter from about September/October 1st to March/April 1st. That said, this site will roll over its 3-year milestone during the coming quarter, so I’ll be assessing these goals one more time (now) before setting new ones for the coming year.

  • 🟒 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 originally planned to sell this site in Q4 but decided against it earlier in the year when I saw its performance – and then it got hit by the HCU. I don’t know if I might revive this goal in the future, we’ll see!

Jordan Traveler

On the whole, I’m happy with how Jordan Traveler performed this year, though it definitely took some hits in the final quarter of the year: while I don’t think it was hit by the HCU, I think it did take a knock in the October Core Updated and(/or?) was deeply impacted by Israel’s war on Palestine.

We’re halfway through the year checking in on the goals I set last May at the site’s 2-year mark:

  • 🟑 Comprehensive & Self-Sustaining Content – Like many sites, I’ve been working with my team to schedule a series of updates and occasional new content through this first quarter; that’s almost entirely done for JT; I’ve also got new ideas for when I come back online, to keep some freshness on the site too.
  • 🟑 Build Off-Google Traffic Sources – I changed this goal back to yellow as I successfully got email set up in Q3, but didn’t do much to move the needle this past quarter. I think I’ll have my photo editor work on pins for this site in the coming quarter while I’m on parental leave; that might help the site diversify a bit more before I turn my attention back to other options (social media πŸ˜…).

Eat Like Bourdain

I can’t believe it – okay, I can, because I’ve been terrible at sticking to timelines – but Eat Like Bourdain is still not done! I have a big goal to finish it literally next week before starting parental leave, and then this site will be on a 99% update cycle (after coming back online in April, I have a few small article ideas that I can start to mix in for additional freshness).

Here’s a look at the goals I set back in June at the site’s two-year milestone:

  • 🟑 Always Be Publishing – This is still!!! yellow as I have about 20 articles to finish – over 75% of which are already written and just need photos. I’m going to be busy next week to get them all done, but I swear this one will be green when we get to the Q1 accountability check-in!
  • πŸ”΄ Instagram?! – I love doing social media for this site because it’s actually fun, but I just don’t prioritize social media in general for any of my sites… so the goal stays a failure for 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.

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!

Lastly, I have an idea for one more niche site that I’d love to have launched before parental leave, but that’s just not gonna happen. I hope to set this as a goal for Q2 (so still a few months out) and add a new fun/hobby site to my portfolio at that point.

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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