Time flies when you’re having fun, right? That’s how it feels with my second site, Space Tourism Guide. I launched this site four years ago this week – and the time has just flown by! From its earliest days on Medium to migrating onto WordPress, to a Lonely Planet book deal to today’s healthy, stable site, STG has come a long way… and still has far to go.
In this recap, I’m sharing a case study report on the four years that STG has been running. I haven’t ever done a report like this about STG, so unfortunately I don’t have that record to look back on (like I do with my main travel blog), but I plan to do these going forward to share my insights, my strategies, and how a mature site can continue to grow long beyond its launch stage.
What are these Case Studies?
As a reminder, I’ll be doing case studies for every site I’ve created, at the 6-month, 9-month, and 12-month marks. Then I’ll 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:
- Valerie & Valise – 8 years – annual w/ monthly recaps
- Space Tourism Guide – 4 years (this post!) – annual
- Discover Sausalito – 22 months – semi-annual
- Follow the Butterflies – 19 months – semi-annual
- London on My Mind – 10 months – quarterly
- Great Plains Travel Guide – 9 months – quarterly
- Soup Whoop – 8 months – quarterly
- Jordan Traveler – 7 months – quarterly starting at 6 months
- Eat Like Bourdain – 5 months – quarterly starting at 6 months
- True Crime Pods & Solar Smarts – 4 months – quarterly starting at 6 months
(Links will take you to the full list of reports about that site!)
Here’s a quick glance at the stats for Space Tourism Guide at the four-year mark.
|Date First Published||November 15, 2017|
|Articles Live (as of 10/1/21)||152|
|Publishing Cadence||Weekly or Twice Weekly|
|Monthly Pageviews (last 30 days)||103,636|
|Average Pageviews per Post||698|
While this site might not seem particularly big, I’ve always been proud and happy about starting this site. It’s the first of its kind focused on space tourism and astrotourism and helped me to land my Lonely Planet book deal back in 2018. Even if it doesn’t grow any bigger, that will always count as a success in my book!
History & Status of Space Tourism Guide
I originally started the first version of STG back in February 2017 on Medium. The site didn’t do well and I ended up migrating to WordPress in November 2017; this is when I pivoted to launch an SEO-informed content strategy and started to see real growth, which is why I count the site as starting at that time.
After launching, it was my quickest-growing site ever (even with all my new sites) and was the first site I qualified for Mediavine; my travel blog Valerie & Valise qualified as a secondary site, if you can believe that!
The site grew like crazy for the first two years, peaking out at 108,000 pageviews in October 2019. I was hit by the November 2019 Google core algorithm update, and again by the pandemic when travel sites (which this one semi-qualifies as) got hit.
In the two years since, STG has a very cyclical traffic pattern throughout the year. It peaks around October annually and dips to its lowest point in February or March each year. This is actually a mirror image of the majority of astronomical events in the calendar: most occur between September and December, and the fewest astronomy events occur in February and March.
I’ve only ever exceeded that October 2019 peak twice (October 2021 and December 2020, the latter thanks to the Great Conjunction), but I decided to put my foot on the gas in October 2021 to start producing a lot more content to try and grow the site even more.
My content strategy is almost the same now as it was four years ago when I launched Space Tourism Guide. I focus on five core areas of astrotourism and space tourism:
- Aurora Guides
- Eclipse Guides
- Rocket Launches
- Space Tourism
I’ve gotten more granular throughout the years, creating subcategories like City Stargazing and National Park Guides. I’ve also added a few new topics including Solstices, Space Gear (astronomy equipment), and Space on Earth (which includes topics like NASA facilities, space museums, and more).
For the most part, everything I write fits into one of those categories – and they’re all space-related. I’ve occasionally been tempted to try other topics (astrology, astromythology, etc.) but have thus far kept it tight and it’s working well!
Here are two graphs to show you how many posts I’ve written in each category (left) and how much traffic each category is bringing (right):
Takeaway #1: Sites can be affected by factors you never imagine, like the weather.
As you can see, Stargazing guides are my bread and butter – they’re over 50% of my articles and 50% of my traffic. Aurora guides are also pretty powerful, though highly seasonal. In fact, I’ve discovered that STG has a ton of seasonality and even gets affected by daily events, weather, and other granular factors. For example, I can tell you when the skies are clear in Seattle based on my traffic, and I always know when there’s an increase in solar/aurora activity based on how my Northern Lights in the U.S. post is doing.
Takeaway #2: Your niche might not be your niche; I thought I was starting a travel site but I actually built a hybrid travel-local site.
While STG seems like a travel site, this data shows that actually isn’t: it’s a topical niche site with enough expertise that it ranks on local keywords. The vast majority of people find my site through the keyword “stargazing near me” which brings up the relevant article I’ve written for their nearest city.
Takeaway #3: When you find what works, run that strategy as long as you can.
When I first started STG, I decided to write a stargazing city guide for the 30 biggest cities in America. Now that I’ve completed most of those, I’m continuing to make city guides for smaller cities. While I won’t write a guide for every city in America, there are lots of cities big enough to have good search volume when astronomical events are happening or the skies are clear.
This is similar to the Rainmaker strategy I’ve been employing on V&V for a few years now, and is very effective.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been writing on STG for over four years now! At this point, I’ve been very happy with how well the site has done: it provides a healthy income stream to supplement my main site, and I think it still has room to grow.
2022 Content Updates
One big part of my strategy right now and for the next few months is checking all of the content on the site and getting it updated for 2022. After four years, there are articles that will look outdated based on the published date alone; many also have less-than-best practices for SEO that need to be fixed. Most of these fixes don’t take long but will improve the overall quality of the site and signal to Google that it’s ready for whatever 2022 has to throw at us.
As mentioned above, I plan to continue creating a lot of content, especially in my stargazing core area. I’m working to build out guides to all 50 states (10 currently done) and all 62 national parks (17 currently done) as well as adding a second round of 30 new cities – including some international ones. These topics alone will take plenty of slots on my content calendar in the next year.
Advertising represents 93% of the income I earn on STG. To try and diversify, I started a series of posts in the past year focused on affiliate round-ups: best binoculars, best telescopes, etc. I plan to finish this series (it’s about halfway done) and add a few more helpful affiliate-oriented posts too, to try and boost my affiliate income.
Email & Product Strategy Overhaul
As part of some professional development and education, I’m working through Love Your List 2.0 by Kate Doster. While she doesn’t help with product design specifically, I’m hoping to spend time in the coming year revamping my product offering and getting better at email marketing – including weekly newsletters – to sell more products. (Product income represented <1% of my total income this year.)
I obviously have a lot of ideas for how STG can continue to grow – now it’s just a matter of finding the time to do it all!
Do you have any other questions about this recap for Space Tourism Guide? Let me know in the comments; I’m happy to share anything that I forgot to include!