Two year full-time travel blogging update: on the brink of failure

Two year full-time travel blogging update: on the brink of failure

01. May 2018: Making the really scary decision to be a full-time travel blogger
02. October 2018: 4 things I’ve learned
03. May 2019: Making good progress!
04. October 2019: At least I’m not dead yet
05. May 2020: On the brink of failure
06. October 2020: Wasn’t COVID-19 supposed to be over by now?

OK, well, maybe that title was a bit over-dramatic. The honest truth is that no matter how bad things get, I’m never going to quit doing this. Travel blogging started out as a hobby for me in 2011, and back then I never dreamed of making money (or a career) from it. However, after years of grinding, it eventually turned into a full-time thing in May of 2018. And now, thanks to COVID-19, I’m afraid that I’m right back to where I started. The SANspotter brand has been relegated back to “side project” status for the time being.

Oops. I’m being dramatic again. Despite the doom and gloom (which I’ll get into below) I’m still making a bit of money with this. As a matter fact, I’d be giggling with delight if I was making any money back in 2011 when I first started. But still – what I’m making now is not enough to pay the bills and it’s been forcing me to focus on other projects which are still generating revenue as normal. RIP SANspotter – for 2020 at least.

A brief summary of my decline in traffic

I’ve been doing business online since 2010, and I’ve never seen such a massive drop off in a single niche like this. I’ve been in niches which gradually lose popularity over time, but that generally occurs over many years and it’s easy to see the writing on the wall before things get ugly. however, the decline in traffic and revenue from the SANspotter thing came so quickly and so abruptly that I’m still feeling the shock from it.

The blog

Despite my blog getting less viewership and engagement than my YouTube channel, it’s the one asset I care for the most. Writing good travel content is extremely challenging, and after doing it for week after week (for years), I feel like the blog is an extension of my soul. I’ve poured so much time and energy into this website that it’s not so far-fetched to consider it my biological baby.

Anyway, long story short, traffic fell off dramatically just as the COVID-19 situation was starting to get serious in mid March. Here in May, almost 2 months later, it’s still not looking any better:

SANspotter daily sessions Q1 2020 daily sessions for Q1 2020. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
History of SANspotter blog traffic
Zooming out a bit, you can see why I’m so frustrated. This is chart showing monthly sessions since the beginning (2011), and…um…yeah.

Yeah, that’s ugly. As you can see, I was doing so well growing traffic over the years, and to see it suffer such a massive setback like this is disheartening to say the least.

The YouTube channel

When the crap started hitting the fan in early March, my YouTube channel seemed to be following the same downward trajectory as the blog. That stung badly as well, especially since it was the YouTube channel which was the fastest-growing asset in the entire SANspotter portfolio.

SANspotter channel views past 90 days
My YouTube views over the past 90 days. The spikes are the days I uploaded videos, but otherwise…the trend is flat.

The biggest take away from the chart above is the fact that I’m starting to see things leveling off. Viewership is holding steady and I am extremely grateful and relieved to see that.

A brief summary of my decline in revenue

With less viewership overall, it’s natural to us and that revenue is down across the board. It’s kind of like getting kicked square in the nuts immediately after getting slapped across the face.

The blog

I wasn’t making very much money with the blog before all this started, so it’s not like I took a very big hit there. The money that I was making came from a small number of display ads and some affiliate referrals.

The problem is that one of my biggest goals as a full time travel blogger was to reach the required traffic minimums to be accepted into a premium ad network. I was extremely close to reaching those levels prior to COVID-19, and I was hoping to be on a premium ad network by this time. It would’ve been a major bump in monthly revenue for me, which I was looking forward to since it would’ve allowed me to re-invest some of that money back into the brand to help it grow even more.

But now, it looks like those plans have been shelved until traffic recovers. And who knows when that’s going to be. A year from now? Two? Maybe three? So frustrating…

Tiger King I'm never going to financially recover from this

The YouTube channel

Even though it looks like I’m not losing views as much as I was, it’s not all peaches and cream. My ad revenue is down almost 90% from where I was just three months ago. I’m not making very much money with my videos right now.

SANspotter YouTube ad revenue
My YouTube ad revenue for the past 90 days. Poopy, to say the least.

Advertisers across the globe have slashed their budgets, and not only does that hurt Google, it hurts individual content creators such as myself. Did you see the news that Google’s parent company announced a massive decline in ad revenue? For a company of that size (and prominence), it’s scary sign of the overall situation in the online marketing world.

Anyway, considering the time and effort that I’m still putting into video creation, I’m actually losing money publishing content every week.

So. What the heck happened?

COVID-19 happened, that’s what. It’s the single reason for the drastic reduction in revenue and traffic across all my channels (this blog, the YouTube channel, social media, etc.). This pandemic has literally killed the travel industry, which affects me directly since I create airline reviews. Search volume for airline reviews on both YouTube and the Internet in general has fallen through the floor, and I’m taking the brunt of it.

I’ve also seen other travel bloggers who are more broad in the niche (covering things like destinations and travel tips) hurting quite badly as well.

As a matter fact, I was chatting with one particular blogger (one of the biggest out there) and he said that his overall revenue was down 80% despite a massive increase in traffic due to covering COVID-19 topics. That was especially troubling for him, since he has a staff of editors and writers and he ultimately had to let a few go.

Travel blogging is a labor of love at this point

If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog over the past several years, you’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t posted anything in over two weeks. Basically, I figure that since the kind of content that I produce (airline reviews) is not getting any traffic, what’s the point?

Of course I realize that traffic will eventually rebound, and it probably behooves me to get ahead of the ball and keep producing content so I’ll be better prepared for the recovery. However, I’ll be honest when I say that I’ve got very little motivation to write airline reviews at the moment. Especially when I could be working on other projects which actually generate revenue.

By now you’re probably thinking: “but Scott – why not write about COVID-19 content and how it’s affecting the travel industry?”

That’s a very good question, and something that I’ve considered doing. Other travel bloggers are reporting massive increases in traffic due to covering such topics, and if I was motivated, I’d do exactly that. However, I’ve decided against it for two reasons:

  1. I don’t particularly have any interest in regurgitating news. I’m hardly the person to be reporting factual information about health and disease topics anyway, so it’s just not a very good fit for my brand.
  2. My entrepreneurial philosophy centers around creating evergreen content. This means that every piece of content I publish should be relevant for many years to come. If I focus all my time and energy writing about how COVID-19 is affecting the travel industry, that content will a shelf life of six months to (maybe) one year. After that, it’ll fall into oblivion as the world recovers and all that time and effort will have been wasted.

What’s next?

My current activities are focused primarily on other projects outside of the SANspotter thing – but I’m still going to be publishing content here on the blog and on my YouTube channel as usual. I’ve worked too hard to simply throw it all away at this point, and on top of that, I’m not too blind to recognize that things really aren’t as bad as they seem.

You see, I’ve built an incredible network of friends, fans, followers, and supporters who are nothing short of amazing.

Building a successful brand is more than just focusing on traffic and revenue numbers. I never would’ve realized this if I hadn’t persisted with this whole SANspotter thing as hard as I have for the past nine years.

The friendships that I’ve built along the way are truly my most valuable asset, and that alone makes it worth it to keep plowing forward.

Thanks to everyone for your continued support! More importantly let’s hope that we’ll all be traveling again (somewhat freely) by the time I write my next update six months from now..

Comments (10)

  1. Jason B

    May 12, 2020
    • SANspotter

      May 13, 2020
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    May 24, 2020
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      May 24, 2020
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    May 24, 2020
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      May 26, 2020
  4. Paul

    June 10, 2020
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      June 11, 2020
      • Kevin

        August 12, 2020
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    September 14, 2020

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