How We Grew Our Blog Exactly? – Transparency Report #4

This is the fourth edition of our transparency report. This series is meant to share all the interesting details going on behind the scenes at CodeinWP (business-wise). Here’s the series’ dedicated category if you want to see any of the previous reports. We’re publishing this just to be transparent about our dealings, and also as a form of giving back to the community and sharing how we do business. In this edition, I talk about everything that happened at CodeinWP in May 2015:

Edited by Karol K.

How we grew our blog

As I look into the archives, the first post on the blog dates back to April 2013, which means that the blog is little over two years old right now.

Since then, it’s been a long journey. Like you would expect, for the entire first year of the blog’s existence hardly anything was going on. I mean, sure, we were (mainly I was) publishing content and reaching out to people via social media, but we didn’t see any noticeable traffic numbers until we were more than 12 months into this thing.

Fast forward one more year and now we’re getting around 60,000 visits per month. What’s more interesting is that in May, we got 50 percent more traffic than in April. Glancing over the stats for June, it seems that the results are going to be even better.

But I’m afraid I don’t have a standard “look at me” kind of story for you here.

I don’t intend to tell you that you can grow your blog with content alone and that the only thing you need to do is to be brave, keep posting every day and good things will come.

They won’t.

There’s one thing missing.

Any guesses what that might be?

Okay, in our case, the equation to building this thing up is this:

Good Content + Patience + Budget = Exponential Traffic Growth

About the “exponential growth” thing. The expression is becoming somewhat of a cliché these days. People imagine it as a synonym for “becoming hugely successful.” But it’s not at all the meaning. This is what exponential growth actually is:

graph

Exponential growth is when nothing at all happens for a very long time, and only then you eventually start experiencing things growing rapidly. But that second phase isn’t possible without the first one. The place where most people fail is not having enough patience to get through that period of nothing going on. So while they could have made it to the rapid growth part, they fizzle out somewhere at the beginning stages of the journey.

Patience is important, that’s for sure. But good content and patience alone won’t get you very far. Or maybe they will, but it’ll surely take much longer … probably requiring more time than you have to spare.

Rather early on, I realized that I simply need to be willing to invest if I want to truly explore the possibilities and test how far I can take this blog.

I also made peace with the fact that if the blog is to stay afloat for a longer period of time then it needs to be making money for itself. Investing endlessly into something without any returns is just insane.

So at the end of the day, we needed content that would both educate, and also could be monetized in a way that made sense.

The tough part about publishing educational content, and that’s for any blogging niche out there, is that often the things you’re teaching are your audience’s first exposure to that topic. It’s a classic case of “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Therefore, not all educational topics have much search engine impact, purely because the people who could have been interested in them don’t even know about the topics’ existence, so they don’t google looking for them.

What this all comes down to is that being the thought-leader in your field isn’t always the best business strategy, at least if you’re counting on the search engines to help you out.

So I made a decision to focus on two primary types of content:

  • content that gives back to the community and explains various WordPress-related issues (tutorials, guides, etc.),
  • and content that is useful mainly for someone coming from the search engine and looking for a specific solution.

Before I get into how this was done exactly, here’s how the search engine traffic has been growing during the last six months:

blog-graph

(Again, this is just search engine traffic, and I’m not showing the first 18 months purely because there was hardly anything there.)

Now, it just so happens that most of this traffic lands on the posts that were designed specifically with SEO in mind. The way we’re doing this is by looking into the keywords related to the topic of WordPress themes, and then publishing lists of themes that cater to a specific category.

For example, after seeing that Bootstrap themes are on the rise, we published this post listing the top free Bootstrap themes. And right now, it’s our most visited post from the search engines. We published a range of other posts following the same idea, and we’ll continue doing this into the future too. More articles like this:

Note. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression here. This isn’t about search engine traffic just for the sake of it. Let’s keep in mind that there are actually real people behind those numbers – real people who type in a given phrase into Google because they want to see a list of Bootstrap themes (or other type of themes), so catering to their needs seems like a good approach to take.

We usually publish around one list post like this for every one or two tutorial/how-to/news posts.

The cost of running the blog

Let’s just get right into this.

In total, we’re spending around $200 per article just to get it created.

Note. Most articles are a lot cheaper to create, but every once in a while we publish something bigger that raises this average amount. Either way, $200 seems like an honest average number.

Then, we spend around $300 on promotion (again, average). Those promotional tasks include things like:

  • Facebook ads (all forms of those),
  • newsletter ads (for instance, our best-performing article is How to Simplify/Change the WP-Admin to Get It Client-Friendly, which got its initial traction by promoting it in the sidebar.io newsletter),
  • direct outreach (roundups helped a lot here, after reaching out a couple of times and asking/begging to be included, our good articles now get regularly picked up without needing to pitch them),
  • social media promotion, etc.

This makes it a total of $500 to get a post launched, so to speak. On the average, we publish 6.5 posts every month. So in the end, this means $3,250 spent monthly on content creation and promotion.

Of course, we didn’t invest that much right from day one, but as we started seeing some results, we shifted gears and started spending more on bigger, more in-depth and ultimately better content. After all, no promotion in the world can help you if your content isn’t good. Promotion allowed us to get noticed among other sites, but then we started earning organic links and exposure purely because of the content quality.

Okay, so how much of that $3,250 investment are we able to earn back through the blog.

Up until just few months ago, the most we were able to earn was $1,000 in a single month, and during the first year or so, it was more like $0. Nowadays, however, the blog revenue sits at around $3,000-$4,000, which means that we’ve finally started breaking even (about time!).

About this revenue. It mostly comes from affiliate marketing (links to other theme stores and online products), and by promoting ThemeIsle’s own themes. We’re not selling anything on the blog directly at the moment.

I guess the message I’m trying to convey here is that nothing comes without investment in the modern age of online business.

I am almost certain that we wouldn’t have been able to generate similar results if it hadn’t been for those $500 spent per article. In the end, we’re still not a very big blog, at least compared with some of the more established players in this market, but we have plans to ramp things up and introduce other products and offerings in the nearest feature. This will help us diversify and drive people through a larger number of different channels.

I hope that in the next few years we will have built a nice ecosystem around three main areas:

  • education (providing content, tutorials, courses, videos, possibly books),
  • products (themes and plugins),
  • services and tools related to all of the above.

Speaking of expanding …

New additions to the CodeinWP family!

We’ve acquired three exciting plugins:

Intergeo Maps

A simple, easy and quite powerful Google Map tool to create, manage and embed custom Google Maps into your WordPress posts and pages.

Visualizer: Charts and Graphs

A simple, easy to use and quite powerful chart tool to create, manage and embed interactive charts into your WordPress posts and pages.

(This one you might have seen in this post.)

WooCommerce Compare List

WooCommerce Compare List plugin adds ability to easily compare products of your WooCommerce driven shop.

Revenue breakdown (May 1st – Jun 1st)

Here are the numbers for May:

rev-may

Comparing to the previous month:

  • # of customers: 774
  • revenue per customer: $87.34
  • total revenue: $67,601.13

Which gives us (approximately):

  • # of customers: +13.6%.
  • revenue per customer: +4.5%.
  • total revenue: +18.7%.

As you can see, the number of customers grew noticeably compared with the previous month, but it’s still a little under the number we had back in March (which was 954). Just to remind you, we had somewhat of a business model change in April and it resulted in a 19 percent drop in the number of customers (while still increasing our total revenue). Read all about it in report #3.

Just like with our blog, we’re adapting a similar strategy with ThemeIsle too. Which means producing great content and products. We’re constantly releasing new themes (both free and premium) and constantly updating our top-selling themes, effectively making them better. This is what accounts for the growth this month (at least IMO).

Looking at our bottom line growing feels great, but it also creates a lot of stress and pressure on me to be able to pay everyone’s salaries each month (and those have to be growing as well if we want the company to grow), prioritizing and picking the right project to take care of next, and just keeping things safe and manageable overall.

Every month, a big chunk of the earnings gets invested back into the team, products, and content on the blog. It’s the only way to continue improving what we do. The blog is certainly one of our biggest bets and I’m confident it should stay like this for the long term.

Okay, I guess that’s it for this edition of the transparency report. I hope it’s been informative and that you’re still on board for next month. Thanks for reading, and as always, thanks for supporting CodeinWP!

Don’t forget to stay updated with what we have going on. Everything shared here:

  • A perfect example of how to create a successful blog.
    Thanks for the transparent report.

    Keep it up the great work, guys!

  • joelataylor

    Nice article … can I ask what utility are you using for your revenue breakdown stats?

    • Hey Joe,

      I am using Mixpanel for analytics and basic CRM.

  • Investment is indeed required to make a blog successful, but I would like to know how a blogger with little money can survive in such competitive age?

    Suppose If I have only 40-50 USD to spend per post on my blog. How should I spend to get max benefits?

  • While you mention promotional costs you forgot to factor in the increasing server costs? I’d be interested to know how you scaled with your growth. I did a search on your nameservers and they led back to your site, so I gather they’re your own? By the way they led me to your about page and there are 4 broken images, though it does look like an abandoned part of your site. vertistudio.com led me to https://www.codeinwp.com/about-us.php

    • Hey Carl,

      First of all thanks for pointing this out, I just broken some redirection at some point, now it should be ok .

      Regarding the server costs, obviously for codeinwp costs are quite low and can easily be hosted on a shared server, for themeisle, since we create accounts for free users as well and now we have 40k+ along with a lot of other ecommerce data, required quite good servers.

      In total nowadays we pay around $600/month, however we can do fine probably with less than $100, I just don’t have time to optimize our things 🙂

      • codeinwp hosted on shared? You must have a forgiving host running WordPress, an Alexa score of near 25K, with traffic 60 K a month! Who are you with?

        • Hey,

          We are now hosted on a dedicated server, however we have a plenty of other stuff, I am sure that a good shared hosting like SiteGround should work well.

          • I use Digitalocean and it’s pretty good because you can scale up and down if you get a spike in traffic. I sometimes get over 120k visits a month because of spikes. I have heard Siteground is good but I don’t like their marketing. Makes me mistrust them.

  • Absolutely amazing on how in 2 years you have grown. Content is the key and people will begin will realise this.