This blog post is made up of two email newsletters published in a series on April 2 and 3, 2020.
I’m having a deja vu moment come April.
In January I wrote about how ad rates were bad which was normal for January.
But there was hope because ad revenue would steadily climb for much of the year until it’s beautiful zenith in November and December.
Instead, it’s April and my ad revenue yesterday was horrendous. Traffic was great. Ad revenue per 1,000 visitors was as bad as any bad day in January.
Coronavirus happened of course. But April is the start of Q2. In March as the economic catastrophe unfolded, many businesses decimated their advertising budgets for Q2.
There’s no cashflow anywhere.
Companies and individuals are in survival mode. Expenses are getting slashed. Marketing budgets are history.
If April 1 is any indicator, my ad revenue will be down 35% to 40%. Could get worse.
I too have slashed costs. I’m spending way less on content. I’m creating some content myself. It’s a good opportunity to produce content that’s hard to outsource that I’ve been meaning to get published for some time.
Desperate times. Desperate measures.
But I’m a cockroach.
Surviving online since 2012.
I’ve endured worse. Google Penguin, while not a global economic catastrophe, was bad for every website owner affected.
The Facebook reach apocalypse was bad as well. Worse for some people, but I felt it.
But I made like a cockroach and survived.
Those creatures know survival. They’ve been around 300 million years.
During times like these, you need to embrace cockroach survival capabilities. Many of us do.
- Belt tightening.
- Work hard. Perhaps harder than you have. I know I’m more focused.
- Trim (hack) the fat (as in unnecessary expenses).
Here’s what I’ve done in cockroach mode.
1. Downgraded every recurring cost software plan that I could. I retained only what I absolutely need. In some cases I cancelled. I went through every single expense and cancelled/downgraded anything not necessary. This is something I do annually to control expense creep but the Corona situation prompted me to do it now.
2. I’ve dramatically reduced my content orders. I anticipate a 50%+ reduction for April.
3. I’m digging into my sites looking for some good KW opportunities. I’ve found many. I’m madly going after them. I’m producing content myself again – the stuff that’s difficult to outsource due to the custom specifications of it (long story).
4. I’m grateful as can be that I still have an income. While reduced significantly, I’ll be fine. I have tremendous sympathy for every business owner who has or will lose it all as well as anyone who is suffering a lay off.
Most online publishers are taking a hit
I talk regularly with several colleague publishers with big sites and plenty of traffic. Their ad revenue is down at rates similar to me.
The ad networks are regularly telling their publishers it’s a blood bath. I appreciate the ad networks telling us this, although it’s not much of a surprise.
Take a look at Google’s stock price. It’s down big time. On Feb. 19, 2020, it was $1,524 which was an all-time high. Today it’s at $1,106 which is a 27% drop. Historically, Google’s stock does not go down.
Facebook peaked at $222 on January 17, 2020. Today it’s trading at $158. That’s a 28.8% drop.
This entire situation is temporary. Will it be a fast recovery? I don’t know. I’ll let the economists argue over that.
2 things you can do right now to combat plummeting ad rates:
1. Focus on growing traffic
The way to combat revenue per 1,000 visitors declines is to get more traffic. Easier said than done, but it must be a focus. I’m laser focused on it big time working very hard at it. Interestingly, the harder I work at it and the more focused I am, the more opportunities I find. Every niche offers seemingly unlimited traffic opportunities.
2. Test non-ad revenue streams
Three of the clusters I’m building out like a madman right now offer non-ad revenue opportunities. They’re 3 different affiliate plays. One is software. One is lead gen. One is digital products.
It’ll take time for these revenue streams to kick in and I don’t expect a fortune, but it’s something. Overall, these clusters add some seriously good user experience to my site as well so it’s a win win.
3. The importance of saving money
Okay, three things to focus on in this business.
Cockroach survival in business means putting money aside for when disaster strikes. I realize if you’re starting out this isn’t possible. But if you’re working a job and doing this on the side, set up a slush fund. If you’re 100% online, save as much as you can.
Running an online business is volatile in the best of times. When the money is good, sock some of it away. I do so via automatic withdrawals. I view it as an expense that I must pay every month. I don’t touch it unless it’s a matter of not eating.
And then there’s freelancing
If cash flow is unsustainable, consider freelancing.
If you publish a site and write well, you have skills.
Freelancing is great because you get paid fast. It solves the cash flow problem.
When I transitioned to online full time, I did content marketing and lead gen for a couple of law firms. That’s what saved my bacon when Google Penguin hit.
Aren’t there fewer content orders these days?
And aren’t there plenty of laid off folks jumping into the freelance writing gig?
But that’s not the full picture.
I spoke with a full time freelance writer who is busier than ever. She told me that many established freelance writers are not able to take on as much work as normal because they’re taking care of kids who are not in school or daycare
Many freelancers choose that line of work because it fits in perfectly with being a primary childcare provider. Flexible hours. Decent pay.
Now with daycares, preschools and schools closed, many freelancers are not able to take on as much work.
Does that mean there’s a massive shortage of writers?
Probably not. I’m not hear to paint a super rosy picture of freelancing right now because it’s not. What I’m saying is there is work available.
But, and this is a big but – you need to good at the service you offer. If you can’t write well, forget about freelance writing. Content publishers are discerning. If you are better at graphic design or content strategy, off-site SEO or video production, go that route.
If you do some freelancing on the side, go with what you’re best at otherwise you’ll just spin your wheels.
If freelancing sounds appealing as an interim cash solution, take some time mastering a skill then hang a shingle at any of the freelancing sites.
Here’s to better times a’coming.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.