Well I’ll be! Today is the 7th anniversary of the first time I hit “Publish” on this wee little site. Since those early days (when this site was called “Valise Magazine”), it has been a rollercoaster: the early years were fun, the middle years were stressful and I thought I might quit, the past few years were fun again as I finally started to see success, … and then 2020 happened.
As I look back over the last year for my blog, it’s impossible to ignore the impact of the pandemic. But it’s also been a year where I’ve been fortunate to continue exploring the world, sharing my stories, and seeing business success from that.
Join me on a journey that looks back on the past year through – and a fun giveaway for my blogger friends reading this post and wondering what the future might hold.
What’s Changed Since 2013
Gosh, what hasn’t? Last year, when I wrote my sixth blogiversary post, I shared some insights into how SEO and Influencer Marketing have transformed the blogging world since I started back in 2013. (Those are still accurate if you’re curious.)
In addition to an increased need to both sculpt oneself as an expert, authority, and influencer, the biggest change in the past year has obviously been the Coronavirus pandemic.
I don’t need to dig into details of how the disease has ravaged the travel industry, destroying many blogger’s entire livelihoods in a matter of days. My traffic dropped 50% from February to March and another 45% drop from March to April – a 73% loss in total. I was lucky to start seeing recovery right away as some stubborn Americans continued to travel to the most “foreign” place they could: Alaska; my July traffic was back to February levels and I’m still “up” month over month from 2019.
Other blogger friends haven’t been so lucky and are still down – primarily due to their expertise in certain destinations that aren’t yet open for global tourism (or which aren’t welcoming American tourists).
Through all of this, I’ve been stable enough to take away a few lessons:
- Diversify your income beyond “traffic-based” revenue streams like advertising and affiliates – when traffic dried up, most of us lost all of our income too. Those income streams are easy to build and optimize; work hard to come up with others that don’t rely on a single pageview to produce income.
- Even with amazing planning and strategy, it’s a crapshoot – nobody could have predicted the impact and response to the pandemic, and it’s just luck that some bloggers have expertise in markets that have allowed them to recover. If you’re struggling still, there are many others like you. Travel will recover eventually if you can wait it out.
- Build your audience off-algorithm too – email marketing (and eventually paid traffic) are going to increase in importance in the 2020s. Start working to build them up now if you can.
I’ll cover more lessons like this in my “Lessons Learned” post at the end of the year. (You can read that post for 2019 now if you’re curious!)
My Blog from Year 6 to Year 7
There are a lot of different ways to compare this year to last year, but I like to look at four major areas of my business: travel, traffic, income, and community.
Hah! What travel??? Actually, I’ve had a pretty good year of travel despite all that’s been going on. This year, I:
- Spent 97 of the last 365 days traveling (27% of the year!)
- Explored the following destinations:
- London, England
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Mayo County, Ireland
- Seattle, Washington
- The Norwegian Cruises Encore ship
- Palm Springs, California
- Mendocino, California
- Salt Lake City & Moab, Utah
- Fairbanks & Anchorage, Alaska
- Mt. Shasta, California
- Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, Arizona, and California as part of our Honeymoon Road Trip
- Door County, Wisconsin
- Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
- Lubbock, Texas
- Crescent City, California
Looking back on this list, I’m actually surprised how much I traveled. It happened in three general groupings: pre-pandemic, for our wedding/honeymoon, and press trips in the last few months. Still, given the pandemic is now in its seventh month, it still surprises me that I traveled for a quarter of the past year!
Interestingly, I also feel like I had a good “balance” of travel this year, compared to the almost 40% I traveled last year – but just like last year, it was often in a bunch of back-to-back trips rather than spread out.
- I had 800,555 pageviews from October 21, 2018 to October 20, 2019.
- I had 974,783 pageviews from October 21, 2019 to October 20, 2020.
That’s a 22% increase in traffic, despite the pandemic disrupting traffic for over half of the year. While I’m so close to my goal of 1 million pageviews in a year, I did exceed 100,000 pageviews in a month three times in the past year.
- I made ~$37,000 between October 2018 and September 2019.
- I earned ~$103,500 between October 2019 and September 2020.
This is my first time putting that in writing – I had no idea that I have actually earned six figures from this blog in the last year until just now… Wow!
While I know plenty of bloggers who’ve managed to grow to six figures in 2-3 years (great for them), I’m pleasantly surprised and proud that I pushed through my fatigue in the 3-5 year window and can now show the perseverance has paid off.
If you’re reading this and feeling a bit down about your own blog, you’re not alone. I’ve been there. Keep going; as I said back in my 4th blogiversary post: blogging is a marathon, not a sprint.
Last year I tried to quantify my community growth, which is hard to do – total followers/subscribers/readers doesn’t translate into a community. Here are some stats I do think are worth sharing since they show me who is actually engaged with the work I do:
- I received 515 emails/replies from readers this year. Yes, I read and save every single email I receive from readers in a “Community” folder in my inbox, so I can always go back and find our correspondence if they email again.
- I received 256 comments on blog posts this year. That’s up 18% from last year, in line with the ~20% growth in traffic. This probably means there’s a certain percentage of people on the internet who comment on blogs – and it’s steady from year to year.
- I helped 15 people plan custom Alaska itineraries. This is one of my favorite things that I’ve added to my blog in the last year because it allows me to work closely and individually to provide Alaska suggestions.
- Two of my readers booked my (cancelled) Jordan tour! This tour was designed for my space tourism site, but having any readers book at all was a delight. Hi, Margaret and Pete, I hope you’re well, and we get to travel together soon when it’s safe!
In my earliest years as a blogger (omg, I’ve been doing this so long that it feels weird to say “in my earliest days” anymore…), I used to run a giveaway every blogiversary to celebrate. This me build up a newsletter list – of completely garbage subscribers! 😂
This year I’m doing something different, just for my blogger friends out there. The prizes you can win are all for bloggers specifically, because I feel like I’ve been around the block long enough to be able to give back.
Here’s what you can win:
- Access to the Blogging Organization Success System (BOSS) (Value: $47) – This is the short course I’ve created to help bloggers get organized and really tap into their data to improve strategy.
- The Course Completer (Value: $27) – I built this mini-course to help you complete the BOSS course – or any other course you’ve invested in. Helpful if you, like me, buy courses and never finish them!
- Photolemur License (Value: $35) – I use Photolemur to easily edit photos for my blog; it’s a simple tool that basically operates like a light version of Photoshop with a single, vibrant preset. (Thanks to the folks at Photolemur for providing this prize!)
- One month of free Mentorship (Value: $250) – I work directly with bloggers one on one; you’ll receive one month of mentorship with me for free!
In total, that’s over $350 in prizes, all aimed at helping you become a better blogger! 💰
How to Enter
You can also earn an extra entry by sharing the link to this post on your Twitter (make sure you’re tagging me, @valerie_valise) or your Instagram stories (@vstimac).
Note: If you sign up to enter, you’ll be added to my specific Bloggers email list only. I won’t send you all of my other emails, just when I have monthly recap posts or other blogging-specific posts and resources to share.
What’s Next for Year 8?
So what’s next as I move out of the seven-year itch (not a thing I experienced this year, though admittedly I had other things on my mind!)? Well, I obviously plan to continue blogging in the next few years!
In past blogiversary posts, I’ve shared my learnings and strategies, but this year I’m going to handle it differently. As I did at the beginning of 2020, I’m going to leave my learning and strategy thoughts until the turn of the year. The posts will look a lot like they did this past year:
- 5 Important Lessons I Learned as a Full-Time Blogger in 2019
- 9 Components in My Travel Blog Strategy for 2020
So if you’re curious what I’ve learned, the insights from my recent community survey, or what strategy tweaks I’m planning to make – stay tuned for those in late 2020/early 2021!
I do want to discuss my larger long-term strategy as it feels like I’m now quite close to my 10th blogiversary! (Time flies…)
Here’s what I’ve been mulling on:
- I want to build out V&V to become a comprehensive resource for the American West. I haven’t decided yet whether that includes guest posts or traveling a lot more myself to the places I want to expand into (specifically: Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico)… Either way, you’ll likely see a lot more about those destinations in the next three years.
- I want to grow to over 200,000 pageviews per month or 2 million pageviews per year. The pandemic threw a real wrench in my trajectory (understatement) but I think this is possible with the existing strategy I’ve been using for new areas I want to explore and write about.
- I want to insulate my income against the inevitable death of organic traffic. We’ve been seeing Google erode organic traffic for years, and it’s time to start preparing my business against that. Again, a bit fuzzy on what it might look like, but it’s a big enough problem that it’s going to take time to strategize and do the work.
Okay, that’s it for me for now. Time to go enjoy a glass of champagne. If you have any thoughts, feedback, comments, drop them below – I’d love to hear from you!