Welcome to my April 2012 income report!
Every month I write a detailed report about my online businesses.
I do this not only to help me keep track of my progress, but also to show you what’s working for me, and what’s not.
In my monthly reports I always include an extremely detailed breakdown of the income I’ve earned online and I conclude with some of the more important things I’ve learned during the month.
I do this to motivate and to be transparent. Plus, I personally feel that if a person is publishing information about making money online he or she should show all sides of the equation so that the readers can make honest decisions based on honest information and common sense, not on hype.
If you’re just starting out online, please understand that making money via the internet is definitely not an overnight thing, and it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to pull it off.
A lot of people will attempt it and many people will fail, but I absolutely know that it’s possible.
I struggle through trial and error every single day, but as long as you have a goal and constantly work towards it you're giving yourself a chance.
Thanks again for your support, and I hope you enjoy this month’s report.
Important Goings-On in April
Most of April was dedicated to a passion project I've been working on, Crooked Arrows, a lacrosse movie that actually had it's world premiere last night in Syracuse and had an amazing response from those in attendance (over 1400 people). It premiers in Baltimore today, and then in Boston on the 14th, which I'll be attending myself!
I'm the Director of Web and Social Media for the independent Hollywood film and have been prepping a lot of the website and social media properties so that we can get some good numbers in the box office come May 18th.
I won't get into too much more detail, but I'm proud to say that we just surpassed 100k likes on our Facebook Page and I used my experience in the iPhone app industry to help create a fun little application for the movie that has already been featured by Apple.
Although this definitely isn't passive work, it's work that I really enjoy—and it's my other, more passive businesses that allow me to explore life a bit and try new things like this.
Going back to my primary businesses, I can say there was a lot of “movement” this past month—both good and bad.
Google's Penguin Update
Google has been pretty notorious lately.
In March, they de-indexed several private blog networks which killed the rankings of several niche websites that were relying heavily on these networks to boost backlink authority. All of my sites held up, which was nice.
Then last month, they seemed to be on an Adsense account banning spree.
I noticed a ton of chatter in different forums around the web from people who were recently banned from Adsense. Even a few people in the SPI community announced that their accounts were banned too, and many who are in the niche site arena have probably heard that Spencer from Niche Pursuits was also banned from Adsense—which is a shame.
I'm actually good friends with Spencer (who is also the creator of the popular keyword research tool, Long Tail Pro) and know that he wouldn't put his business at risk by doing anything that would justifying a ban from the ad network, but it still happened anyways. [Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive compensation if you purchase through this link.]
It's hard to tell exactly why this going on (Google isn't very communicative about these things) and that's the scary part. It just seems like it could happen to anyone at anytime, so the best thing to do is make sure you're not relying entirely on Adsense for an income because it can all be taken away in a flash—even if you seem to be doing everything right.
So far, my account is still alive and kickin'.
Then, in the later part of April, Google came out with Another Step to Reward High-Quality Sites, aka. the Penguin Update.
In short, the Penguin Update targets webspam—primarily sites that they feel are gaming the system in ways that are against their guidelines.
What's interesting is that this update is not about improving search results, but rather penalizing manipulative sites.
For example, Google is willing to penalize and drop down a site that could be considered the best site about a specific topic simply because it's involved with bad link practices. This is why many search engines results have what seems like poor quality sites ranking high up on the page, and why many people who have had sites just sitting there doing nothing for a long time may have suddenly seen a jump in the rankings.
Google is definitely sending a message here and is willing to have poor search results—maybe only temporarily—to make sure people follow the rules.
There are a lot of mixed feelings about this update and it has killed a lot of people's rankings, even those who were not involved in any bad link building schemes—but at the same time many people's sites are doing better than ever!
Traffic and rankings for my most profitable niche site, securityguardtraininghq.com, have not shifted at all, which is reassuring.
In fact—I got back the #1 spot for my primary keyword, security guard training, which I had lost for a couple of weeks and talked about in last month's report, but even that drop didn't effect my traffic much.
Here's a snapshot of traffic for securityguardtraininghq.com from the past 2 months:
The graph is very steady and the site has been consistently earning about $45-50 per day for the past couple of months on Adsense.
This is opposed to one of my newer niche sites that was doing really well, until the Penguin update hit. You can see this happening at the tail end of the month in the graph below:
This particular site, which was ranking at #3 for it's primary keyword, is now ranking at #60.
An obvious penalty.
Why did this happen?
Because of the very reason why Google said it would—a backlink profile that they didn't approve of, and it's funny that this happened when it did.
This was actually an experimental site that I had been working on along with one other experimental niche site that was targeting a keyword with similar search numbers and competition.
Here's how the experiment started and how it all went down:
I was contacted by a link building company—one that apparently followed the same sort of methodology that I outlined in The Backlinking Strategy That Works—except they did it faster with more parts and more levels.
They wanted me to link to their site, but I said I would only consider doing so if their service worked for me and if I was confident that it would help my audience.
I know a lot of my audience dislikes the backlinking process when building a niche site, so I thought this might be a good solution if it worked out, although I had my doubts. I needed to see results first, and I wanted to test their results against my own.
Within 3 weeks I had two sites (Site A & Site B), each targeting a different keyword with similar search and competition numbers.
I filled each site with 10 pages of content, with a scheduled an additional 10 pages of content to go out every 3 days, and then started the backlinking process for each, the company on Site A and myself on Site B.
Site A definitely saw more movement, faster. In about 25 days I started to see the rankings climb in Google, at which point it seemed to plateau for a while. Then, about a month later, it shot up and eventually the primary keyword hit #4 in Google. It started to pull in a lot of long tail keyword traffic as well, and within about 2.5 months, the site was averaging about 250-300 visitors a day and eventually climbed a tick to #3 in Google.
Site B took a lot longer to see any sort of significant movement. I was actually expecting things to happen a lot faster since I saw more immediate results with the same strategy in the niche site duel, but I kept at it. After about 2 months I started to get some significant long tail traffic and was ranking #20 for my primary keyword. Then, at 3 months, I was in the top 10 and seeing about 100-150 visitors a day, which was pretty good.
Both sites were cruisin', and then about 4 months into the experiment, the Penguin update hits.
I shared what happened to Site A above. Site B is below:
No huge drop or penalty.
As far as the experiment—I think it's safe to say that Google didn't really agree with what they were doing on Site A, or maybe just the frequency at which they were doing it.
I was happy to see that Site B did not take a hit, and since May it has actually has climbed a few spots in Google as well.
The major difference, I think, was that because I was doing the backlinking myself, it was more natural and I could make sure the direct links that were pointing to my site were made of truly authoritative links (like those from WordPress, Blogspot, Tumblr, and top article directories—which are more powerful now than ever, according to this forum post that I read), as opposed to sites in a network that may have been linking to several random sites in their system and were eventually considered spammy by Google, and possibly doing things too fast.
Now, if you're wondering about monetization on these sites, I actually used this opportunity to also experiment with promoting CPA offers (cost-per-acquisition), which promote products and offers listed on sites like Commission Junction, instead of creating an Adsense site.
Everything is strictly on a pay-per-lead type of model and I just wanted to try something new and different, but apparently it's obvious I still have a lot to learn, or maybe this just isn't my cup of tea.
In total, over the past 4 months, both sites earned about $180.00 combined. A lot of people make a killing with CPA leads, which is why I was happy to experiment.
That said, the earnings were not my primary concern—it was the backlinking, traffic and rankings that mattered to me. Does this mean that all link building services are bad?
Definitely not, but I have no experience with any others so I can't really come to any conclusions. The most important thing is to be cautious about how fast and what kind of links are pointing to your site.
And when I think about it, and the success of this blog, I never did any link building for it at all.
It took much longer to see any traction (over a year), but for the long-term, I think the “dominate the niche and become the ultimate resource for people looking for a solution” approach will always be better because you'll always pull natural links—you just have to be patient.
SEO is still relevant though, and the tricky part is understanding what kind of off-site SEO is acceptable. It's hard to say “never conduct any backlinking at all” because not only does some of it still work, some of it is actually accepted by Google.
For example, we all know how powerful guest posts are—but really that's a form of backlink profile manipulation when you think about it. So where is the line drawn?
It's hard to say, but there will always be one constant for a good long term, success site—a good quality site, which is what we should all strive for.
iPhone Application Updates
To keep this post at a reasonable length, I'll cover just one more important thing that happened in my business that had an obvious effect on my earnings in April.
My iPhone app business partner and I haven't released a new app in quite a while, but we've been updating some of our most successful applications and have seen great results.
Our income increased 47% for the month as a result of updating just a couple of our best applications. We did do a relatively small ad spend to increase our rankings and exposure in the app store, which helps us drive more downloads for a longer period of time.
For those of you in the App industry, if you don't have an existing audience to sell to, that exposure in the top 100 lists is extremely important. Keyword research is a bit of a mystery on the platform, so up and front exposure is always something to shoot for.
Of course, if you can land “app of the week” like our good friend Benny Hsu did, then you've struck gold. 🙂
Look out for an upcoming podcast (session #39) next week which is a very inspiring success story about someone consistently generating 5 figures a month from iPhone apps in a very targeted niche.
It should be a good one!
Now, let's get to the numbers for April…
Full Disclosure: Some of the items in the list below are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase through that link, I will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. Please understand that I have experience with all of these companies, and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.
Also, please note that a lot of these are figures from reports from each individual company for the previous month. It does not necessarily reflect the actual payment which, for some of the companies listed below, come 30 to 60 days later and may change because of potential refunds or corrections.
Note: Items with an empty difference percentage were not present on the previous month's income report. (Click here to read a typical monthly expense report which breaks down how my time and money is spent)
Major expenses this month include virtual assistants (one full-time, one part-time), hosting account for SPI (dedicated server), hosting for other websites, recurring payments for various tools, CPA (Certified Public Accountant) fees and advertising costs for iPhone applications.
Another amazing month!
What's crazy is that although a lot of the numbers shifted, the total gross amount was less than $100 off from last month.
And this isn't the first time this has happened either. Different income sources have good months and bad months, but it's the diversification of income streams that provide that overall stability.
I'm also happy to see that my non-SPI related earnings continue to hover at around $10,000 per month, which is great, but I wish there was more consistent growth. The recent changes with Google has definitely slowed a lot of my new developments, but it's reassuring to see many of my web properties that I have owned for a while continue to hold up strong.
I’ll be the first to admit that a significant portion of my total online income comes as a result of The Smart Passive Income Blog—mostly from the products that I recommend as an affiliate, which are products I’ve used or am extremely familiar with and have helped me in one way, shape or form.
I’m extremely fortunate to have the support of an amazing community here who often makes purchases through my affiliate links. Some people even go out of their way to make sure they do that, which means the world to me.
With this comes a great responsibility to the community that I know I have and will never take for granted – and as such I never promote just for the potential income that can come from an offer, even though those opportunities are definitely there.
I'm incredibly grateful for everything and I will continue to give back with valuable content and my experience in return.
Ready to learn about affiliate marketing?
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Things I Learned in April
—relying 100% on Google for anything—income, traffic, or even search results—is not a good idea. 😉
—people love and respond to stories. I've said this several times before, but stories are the most powerful form of marketing—they are what people remember and what inspire them to take action.
In April, I published the history of my first online business, in full detail, and it has garnered an amazing response. Since posting it, I've been getting several emails a day saying that it was that specific post that has given them the drive to either start something new on their own, or revisit an abandoned project, which is awesome.
I've never gotten a response like that from any sort of list post or how-to post, and when I think about my most successful posts on SPI—they are all wrapped around some kind of story.
Even the niche site duel series—although instructional, it's really the story of how I did things on my own.
and finally, it's the fact that as much as we always hear about the bad things and bad people out there, every once and a while a story crosses our path that shows there are good people in this world.
If you want to feel better about life 10 minutes from now, I recommend you watch Caine's Arcade. Check it out below:
In the beginning of June, I'll be in New York for Blog World Expo!
If you're going to the event, make sure to come find me (I'll be wearing this backpack), and in case you haven't bought your ticket yet, feel free to use discount code SPIBWE10 for 10% off your registration fee.
May is dedicated to making my (3) presentations as best as they can be.
Hope to see you there, and if you can't make it, I'll try to get a recording for you afterwards.
Cheers, and all the best!