Blogging for bucks: Year 2 report – growing to greatness

This report is for Year 2 of my “blogging for bucks” endeavor in which I turn my love of research and writing into a profitable hobby. Read about the first year here (it’s a much longer and more detailed post than this one and covers all the “how to get started” stuff).

When I started blogging for affiliate bucks in summer 2013 I said all of the following:

  • “I’m starting too late”
  • “All the good ideas are taken”
  • “The Internet doesn’t need another blogger”
  • “The people who actually make money off this know tricks and secrets I’ll never know”
  • “I’m going to shill products I don’t give a shit about, and it’s going to be boring writing about them.”

Then I went ahead and did it anyway.

Turns out, none of the above was true. 2015 was an excellent year, bringing in more than twice 2014’s haul.

pile-of-candy

I made $12,600 this year from the Amazon Affiliate program and Google Adsense. Just like in 2014 (my first full year blogging), nearly half of that money was made in the last three months of the year (I love you, holiday shopping season). It wasn’t all for me, though: the IRS took about a quarter of it as their cut in tax season (ow).

2015 Amazon Earnings screenshot
(my earnings are the bottom right number)

2015_amazon_affiliate_earnings

I still firmly believe that this is a viable make-money-online strategy that anyone with the willingness to learn, research, and write can do. It’s not too late to start. It’s not even very labor intensive, as evidenced by this “coasting year” still making a decent profit. Most of the work you’ll do is upfront when you set up a new site and load it with your (well-written) content.

To be frank, I ran out of blogging steam for most of 2015. I didn’t write but a handful of articles and I didn’t start any new blogs until December. I was busy with my brand new job and some major life changes.

But if 2014 was the year of sowing, then 2015 was the year of reaping. As the blogs aged, more people found them – and they liked what they found.

2015 Blogging Year in Review

January 

I started my first full-time programming job in January 2015. This was a career change many years in the making and I didn’t have any spare brain cells for my blogs after work each day.

The sites coasted through January – I added no new content and I didn’t promote anything.

But sales didn’t drop with the conclusion of the US holiday season, curiously enough: January 2015 brought in almost as much ($739) as December 1014 ($819). My guess: people go buy themselves the stuff they didn’t find under the tree.

February and March

Sales dropped these months, reaching their lowest point of the year in March ($386). The holiday gravy train had to end somewhere, but I don’t think this was some flaw in my blogs – I think people just don’t buy that much in these months, or they don’t buy that much stuff in the niches my sites are in. Traffic more or less held steady, though, across all sites.

April, May, June, July, August, September

In April sales began to climb again, peaking in August with $1,166! I continued my do-nothing approach and added very little new content during these 6 months (I added 1-2 articles to each of my top-performing niche sites). I put some minimal effort into updating existing content to keep it fresh, though. On Gizmo Blog, this meant keeping up with manufacturer updates to products and industry news.

I think the moral of the story here is to not “give up” on a site. Leave it up, sites are cheap. Even my worst performing sites making $1-2 a month pays for their own domain by the end of the year, and all the while they’re aging like a fine wine (in Google’s eyes).

It’s okay to keep adding content at a snail’s pace, updating here and there, tweaking things along the way. Maybe if you want to make five or six digit earnings every month then you need to add content weekly or daily or whatever, but I definitely didn’t add anything meaningful to my already-established blogs and I was rewarded with a decent “side income” for my complete lack of effort.

October, November, December

Here they are: the three months that make 48% of the year’s income. November was the top-performing month, bringing in $2,076, but December was almost as good, bringing in just $30 less than November.

In honor of the shopping season, I did a few things to help buyers find me:

  • Added a 2015 holiday buyer’s guide and top sellers list for each niche site
  • Tweeted those lists (regularly) from each site’s associated Twitter account

Honestly, I’m amazed that a collection of neglected sites did so well. Imagine what they could’ve done if I’d been adding content all year long!

Year in summary (a pie chart!)

As the chart illustrates, Gizmo Blog accounts for a full 66% of my Amazon Affiliate earnings, and Craft Blog the next 20%. That means a full 86% of my earnings come from just two sites. Better diversifying my Amazon Affiliate income is one of my goals for 2016 – I don’t like having too many eggs in any one blog basket.

2015_amazon_affiliate_pie_chart

“Other” includes this blog, TILCode, which made a grand total of $7 off Amazon Affiliate earnings in 2015 :D (Thank you, whoever bought a book or two through this site.)

What about SEO techniques?!

I chatted with a number of people about blogging for side income in 2015 and the most common question they asked me was, “what kind of SEO do you do?”

The short answer is, I don’t do any.

I pick a product, research it (sometimes I buy it and use it myself), basically obsess over it, and tell people why it’s better than its competitors in a 1500-2500 word review.

I pick products I like myself – stuff I’d buy if I had unlimited funds, or stuff I already own. That’s it! People who want to know this information – people on the cusp of making a purchase – find me through Google and go through my site to Amazon to make their purchase, which I then get a cut of at no extra cost to the shopper.

There are a lot of techniques out there that promises results (paid links, WordPress plugins, content strategies, backlink strategies) and I can’t vouch for any of them. I mean, maybe there’s something out there that would turn my $2,000 months into $5,000 months, but at what cost? Hundreds of dollars in bought backlinks that Google would eventually sniff out and knock me down in the search results for? I’ve been content to build my sites myself and let the natural links come in at their own pace. YMMV.

2016 goals

  • Better diversification – 86% my Amazon Affiliate income comes from just two of my sites, so I want to get that down to 50% by EOY by growing income from other sites.
  • Alternative revenue source – virtually all of my passive online income comes from Amazon Affiliate program. It’s a great program but if it ever goes away, I’ll be pretty sad and won’t have anything to back it up.
  • $18k in earnings – that’d be nice!
  • Set up my blogs as a legal business entity, as per my financial adviser’s advice and because it’ll make tax season easier and more in line with what the IRS expects from a “side business”
  • Optimize sites – load times are bad (>6 seconds in some cases), they’re mostly on shared hosts, I get a lot of “Error Establishing Database Connection” problems (my VPS seems to get overloaded with one site in particular) – there’s just a lot of technical performance things that could be better
  • Actually add more new content to sites

And that’s it for 2015! Onwards to 2016, where I hope to do a better job of adding content and optimizing the sites for even better earnings.

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