A little over 10 years ago, I was sitting on the floor of my parent’s living room, unemployed and fresh from my MBA in London. Uncertain exactly what I wanted to do next, my mom asked me: “if you could do anything, what would it be?”
I’d be the manager and editor of a travel magazine, I replied, an answer a bit more clearly articulated than I’d even known before she asked.
“Well, you know how to start a website. Why don’t you do that and put your writing and marketing there, and then you can use it to apply for the jobs you want,” she suggested. And thus Valerie & Valise was born a few weeks later (under the title Valise Magazine, if you’ve ever wondered about the domain…)
It’s now been a decade since that conversation, and V&V, as we call it in my house, has grown to become my full-time role and one of the primary supports for my (growing!) family. Unlike in past years where my V&V recap was a bit more free-flowing, I’ve decided to do this 10-year report in the same style as all of my other site case studies; you can read an AMA on my site of many questions I usually answered in past reports.
What are these Case Studies?
As a reminder, I do case studies for almost every site I’ve created, at the 6-month, 9-month, and 12-month marks. Then I 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 either continue semi-annual or switch to annual reports. Given the ages of all of my sites, I publish annual reports about each of them currently:
- Valerie & Valise – 10 years (this post!)
- Space Tourism Guide – 5 years
- Discover Sausalito – 3 years
- Follow the Butterflies – 3 years
- London on My Mind – 2 years
- Great Plains Travel Guide – 2 years
- Soup Whoop – 2 years
- Jordan Traveler – 2 years
- Eat Like Bourdain – 2 years
(Links will take you to the full list of reports about that site!)
Here’s a glance at the stats for Valerie & Valise at the 10-year mark.
|Date First Published||October 21, 2013|
|Articles Live (as of 10/01/23)||348|
|Publishing Cadence||3-5x yer week|
|Monthly Pageviews (last month)||264,035|
|Highest Pageviews (30 day max)||365,602|
|Google Traffic % (last six months)||83.9%|
How do I keep track of all these stats? I’ve got an organizational system!
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History & Status of Valerie & Valise
While I don’t have a traffic chart dating back to 2013, I thought the table above was the most helpful: it shows V&V over the years, and gives you a sense of how seasonal my site is throughout the year.
Additionally, if I could characterize the different chapters of my site, here’s how I’d break them down:
- From 2013-2017, I was fumbling in the dark; I had limited knowledge of SEO and didn’t get much traffic – it wouldn’t even be visible on that chart above even if I did add it!
- From 2017-2018, I started mastering SEO; you couldn’t see it right away, but I started to make real strides in growing my traffic.
- From 2018-2020, I had gone full-time and was flying on my blog; along with freelance work, I was able to be fully independent from a traditional job.
- From 2020-2021, like so many, I had pandemic woes and stagnant growth.
- From 2021-2023, travel began to recover and I had great growth, peaking this year!
As I hope it’s clear from the chart and the breakdown of each chapter, this has been a long journey, and I didn’t see overnight success to get where I am now… There were lots of mistakes and lots of learning and there’s still plenty to do if I want to keep growing.
Over the years, I’ve shared many strategic takeaways in my various recaps and reports for V&V… it’s hard to not repeat myself as I look back over the last year and what’s worked so far.
In addition to some takeaways from this year (and reflecting on a decade of doing this!), here are some of those past learnings and takeaways I’d highlight for you to read again:
- Diversify your income beyond “traffic-based” revenue streams like advertising and affiliates (Year 7)
- Build your audience off-algorithm too (Year 7)
- Too many places are still focused on vanity metrics (Year 8)
And a few new ones for the list:
What’s Old is New Again
Back in my 3-year blogiversary – 7 years ago, in 2016! – I wrote about how “Content is King and Traffic is Queen, but the Monarchy is Failing.” Specifically, I called out how social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram were disrupting the travel blogging “way of doing things,” which was to write on your site and people will find you.
Things do look a bit different now, but it’s impossible to deny the role that social media has played on reshaping the entire landscape of media consumption on the internet. I’m far from an expert on most of those platforms (though I do think Facebook is once again powerful!), and I’m lucky most of my audience skews older and thus isn’t on TikTok or Instagram as much – but I am also always aware how I need to be doing more on those platforms to continue to grow.
The Only Constant is Change
While there have certainly been periods of stability in the past decade, at least from my perspective on this site, it’s also true that nothing has worked the same way forever: the way we write posts has changed, the way we do social media has changed, the way we email has changed – and not just technologically.
Coming into this blogging world with (and staying in) a mindset of openness and willingness to learn is crucial for keeping up with the industry as it grows and evolves. This has, at times, been a struggle for me – but it’s also one area I continue to work on so that I can grow and continue to help the community I’ve built.
What’s Next for Valerie & Valise
I’m writing this post later than I intended, and publishing it a month after my original goal… for those of you who have blogs, you know this adds additional context, as Google has released a series of updates in a row over the past six weeks: the Helpful Content Update (HCU) in September 2023, the Spam Update and the Core Update in October 2023, and the Core Update and Reviews Update in November 2023.
I’m the first to admit I’ve been fortunate to not be “hit” by any of these updates, but they remind me that the future of blogging is very uncertain. You might make it through one update only to get hit by the next. Google’s new features or AI content might undercut your site and the traffic it receives. Other changes – cookies, ad spend, you name it – could destroy your income even if you have lots of traffic.
What’s a blogger to do?! Here are some thoughts I’ve had over the past few weeks…
One thing I think became clear from the HCU is that being an individual, “brandable” expert is critical for Google understanding whether you can actually help readers – and thus whether you should be ranked. The only way to insulate yourself is to create an online persona and presence that AI can’t copy, that your competitors can’t copy, and that is always challenging you but also elevating you to new opportunities.
I’m not saying I do this very well at this point, but it does underscore some advice I’ve been giving for a while:
- You need to be in your content, as in physically in your photos and videos
- You need to create original content that has never been published (or published in that way) before
- You need to shine through everything you do, even if it’s similar to what your competitors create
If you can do something that’s so you and thus so unique that your competitors can’t imitate you and AI/Google can’t fake you through new tools, you’ll still do okay.
Diversify Your Content Forms
For a long time, I’ve talked about diversifying your traffic sources (email, social, etc. in addition to Google), income streams (affiliates, products, etc. in addition to ads), and even your traffic sources (multiple sites, influencer partnerships, etc. in addition to a single website). Now I’ve got a new mantra I’m trying to drill into my own mind: diversify your content forms.
What I mean specifically is coming up with new ways for people to consume what you create, whether that’s books, audiobooks, podcasts, or videos, in addition to written blog posts. Everyone learns in different ways – that means everyone consumes content in different formats. Creating content that addresses those different ways of consuming is how you help insulate yourself from the whims of Google and the threat of AI.
Do you have any other questions about this recap for Valerie & Valise? Let me know in the comments; I’m happy to share anything that I forgot to include!