$200,000 Ad Revenues with a “New Blog – 12 Lessons Learned

The Smokies - 12 lessons learned
They say it is no longer possible to be successful with blogs.

Yet this Business Insider article showed how a few friends who got together and started a travel blog, The Smokies, as recently as April 2020, earned $200,000 in passive income (advertising) in 2021.

Interestingly, the article explains quite extensively how they did it but does not share any lessons learned so that we could reproduce their success.

With my obsession to analyze everything, I offer you my interpretation of the reasons for their success.

But first, let’s get the facts straight:

  1. Morgan Overholt is a freelance graphic designer.
  2. She started the blog, The Smokies, on April 1, 2020, with her sister (writer/graphic designer) and her husband (software developer/data analyst)
  3. The blog is about regional tourism in the Great Smoky Mountains region, a mountain range along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.
  4. They devoted all their Sundays to the project.
  5. They created content, posted on social media, and bought $5,000 worth of Facebook ads.
  6. They joined Commission Junction, a third-party affiliate program, in May 2020, and Mediavine, an ad monetization network, in June 2020.
  7. They then subscribed to SEMrush, to develop their referencing (SEO) because they realized they needed more than social media to bring them traffic.
  8. In November 2020, they switched from Mediavine to AdThrive, which only accepts sites with more than 100,000 views per month.
  9. As of December 2020, they had $14,000 in ad revenue, just nine months after launch!
  10. They reinvested the money they made, hired a virtual assistant, increased the number of articles from freelance writers, and bought social media ads.
  11. In the spring of 2021, they discovered the “low competition keywords” strategy and “Google stories”.
  12. They also developed a system to rank their content based on results to choose their topics better.
  13. They doubled their income with video ads on their site.
  14. In August 2021, they made $35,000, which allowed them to take some money out of the project and work on it on weekdays rather than Sundays.
  15. In 2021, their advertising revenue reached $205,000 with 5 million visits – less than two years after the launch.

If you go to their blog, you will realize that from an aesthetic point of view, it will not win any design awards. It is a basic blog that you could build in 2 hours.

Now my analysis – 12 lessons learned from their success:

  1. It was not a solo project but a team project.
  2. They had professional expertise that they could use (writing, analysis), which reduced the sums they had to invest.
  3. They spent a lot of time on it.
  4. They did not hesitate to invest and reinvest to grow.
  5. They went to look for external resources during their growth.
  6. They covered topics that other blogs were not discussing and employed an SEO strategy related to lower-level competition words.
  7. They have a name that directly corresponds to their subject. We believe that Google considers domain names in its algorithm, although it does not say so.
  8. They have a subject for which people are researching online and, therefore, which generates traffic (tourist region in the USA). It seems obvious, but the fact is that if your subject does not interest anyone, it will be challenging to generate income.
  9. They’ve adopted an all-too-often-overlooked principle of investing in marketing and advertising during a recession when fewer companies are doing it, and ad prices are falling. One of my mentors told me this years ago, and it remains true!
  10. They favored the content over the aesthetics of their site. I can’t recommend not caring about design, but the thing is, their site proves that content is more important than design.
  11. Their incomes match figures provided by other sources. It takes about a million views to generate, in net advertising revenue, the equivalent of a salary of $50,000, and in their case, $205,000 with 5 million views. Note that in the hierarchy of what can generate revenue, in proportion to traffic, ads are at the bottom of the list, affiliate programs a little higher, then products, then services.
  12. They demonstrated the impact of video ads. Those doubled their income.

Finally, what happened in 2022? We don’t know. The article dates from February 2022, and we are now in February 2023.

In the article, Morgan wondered if she wanted to replace her graphic design business. Based on my experience of maintaining a tourist blog about Vermont for several years, I can testify that you can get bored writing about tourist events and places. And you are constantly on the road to being able to cover topics of interest, which can become fastidious. Today you can read some of these articles on my blog Simply Christine.

Want help with your web strategy? Contact me at christine [at] strateege.com
Are you looking for an SEO expert? Contact Sébastien Hélary, from Carpe Omnia.

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