Back in 2012 I started a small blog called Stream SEO where I wanted to document the journey of building websites and writing content to see if I could make the project work and start earning some passive income. The image below is a screenshot I took if my website which literally had 4-5 posts and a ton of ads in the sidebar as well as many social buttons at the top but 0 traffic and 0 comments…
That’s how most websites get started and unfortunately also how most websites stay before being forgotten. Being a blogger isn’t as easy as some others make it look like. If I had to guess I’d say 9 out of 10 blogs end up being closed and with their domains expired because it’s difficult to keep up writing new content when there’s nobody who reads it.
I think WordPress was in its 3.x version back then and it was a growing platform with tons of potential, but nowadays they control more than 30% of the market share and they’re very solid.
My original idea back in 2012 was simply to earn a couple hundred extra dollars to pay the rent or have extra money besides my regular 9 to 5 job I had years ago. After 1 year or blogging (give or take) I posted about reaching my first 20,000 page views and how Google rewarded people who worked constantly.
Some of that traffic came from blog comments, some from google and some from other blogs and blogger friends who were sharing a similar journey back in the day. A lot of them aren’t to be found online anymore, but you get the idea.
So, when I decided to check a few months ago my Jetpack stats and realized I had now more than 11,000 comments in this blog between 128 posts I was excited and quite impressed of my first baby project having so much engagement even if it had been a bit forgotten for the last couple years (I’ll explain more about that later).
Not only Stream SEO had more than 11,000 comments between 128 posts (85 comments per post on average) but it had also gone past 3 million page views a couple months ago and I just noticed it at the end of 2018!
Back in 2015 I remember how Stream SEO had gone past 1 million page views and I was planning to write a post but forgot about it later as I was busy with other businesses. But I’m not forgetting it again after reaching 3 million views because I want to change the way we manage Stream SEO so I’ve got a whole plan for my readers this year.
Stream SEO Evolution
Besides the old image you saw at the beginning of the article, Stream SEO went to almost 10 design transformations in the first years of being born. I was obviously focused on the wrong side of the business cause a new web design doesn’t matter without traffic, but I was happy changing and updating the theme and plugins every now and then several times per year.
In 2014 I had this theme from StudioPress and after blogging for a couple years I was starting to get more traffic and also my list was over 1,000 subscribers, so every time I wrote something I had a few comments as you can see below:
Later I realized I should put a lot of focus on my list and my content and in 2016 I started using a red/black design with focus on getting email subscribers as you can see below:
My list had over 6,000 subscribers by 2016 and every post I wrote (the best ones at least) had over 20 comments and growing. This was also the first time Stream SEO was making well over 4 figures per month on autopilot.
Yeah, you read that right.
It took me around 2 years to start making $1,000 per month and almost 3-4 years to start making $3,000+ per month in this blog. I had other web properties as well and other businesses doing fantastic (over 5 figures per month which I’ll explain below) but as far as organic traffic and this personal blog it took that long.
After that I decided to focus on creating content and we added a decent number of articles in 2016 and 2017, but not as much as we would love to because, again, I was focused on a few other businesses. 2018 went by and we merely published 4 blog posts… We’re going to change that in 2019 for the best!
This is the latest design which was just applied in 2019. I still use StudioPress and the Genesis Framework. I didn’t change it much in the last 2 years but after 7 years of being online I figured out it was time to have a proper logo and favicon for my website and take away the generic Genesis logo I have had since the beginning of times.
I’m still analyzing data and checking some stats to see if I’ll keep the sidebar or not. I like a more minimalistic approach focused on content so I might change a few things later but the color scheme and the logos are here to stay for a while.
Email is still super effective in 2019
As I mentioned back in 2015-2016 I had around 6,000 email subscribers and this site was generating 2-3k per month. I switched from Aweber to Convertkit and applied several techniques to increase my conversion rates and segment my readers into different funnels according to their interests. I can say this was a success as we’re getting a steady flow of new subscribers every day:
Overall, we have over 24,000 email subscribers in our Convertkit database although some of those are from other websites I own. However, a good chunk comes from Stream SEO and it increases every time we post new content.
At some point last year we already had around 40,000 subscribers but I started cleaning my email list every 6 months since 2017 and we delete a couple thousand of cold subscribers each time to keep our engagement and email rates high. Some subscribers are still active since 2013!
To put it on perspective, with Aweber I almost never cleaned my list and it’s not as easy to segment between multiple interests so my overall open rate was between 15% to 20%.
That number isn’t bad and it’s more or less above the average of the industry, however with Convertkit after cleaning our lists and segmenting them we have an open rate between 30% and 50%, which is pretty damn good.
I have another small website with a few thousand subscribers and we get over 60% open rate in that list. We’re very happy with our migration 🙂
This has also helped Stream SEO to make close to 5 figures every month!
Content and SEO are king
Stream SEO receives a good chunk of organic traffic from Google, Bing and other weird search engines every now and then.
Building links is a key part of this process as we have a lot of keywords ranked that allows us to receive between 1,500 to 2,000 page views per day. That’s close to 60,000 page views per month.
I have to admit we had higher traffic stats in 2017 when we published a ton of new posts but overall the traffic and income is steady and we’re reaching the same point again after doing some optimization on the site to get more traffic.
Building links organically can be super hard and we know links are the most important factor to get ranked in Google. In my case, the most linked posts are always reviews, case studies or tutorials in no particular order.
Posts that don’t fall in those categories have a very low amount of links or even 0 links but thanks to the overall domain authority a lot of them manage to get ranked well in the first or second page of Google.
I say content and SEO are both king because when you’re playing the white hat game with Google and building an authority site like this, great content is what gets you the link juice you need to rank.
I didn’t ask for a link but the content itself was worth to be linked:
Overall Ahrefs (the best keyword and SEO analysis tool in 2019) shows 711 referring domains and Domain Rank of 57 with more than 10 thousand keywords ranked overall.
Staying away from my blog and focusing on other businesses
Here comes the messy part of this article. I wasn’t sure about writing this but I figured I’d still do it to expose myself and make a commitment.
As I mentioned a couple times before and you can clearly see it if you’ve been a subscriber for a while, Stream SEO doesn’t have a ton of content written every month. Last year I only published 4 articles and half of them were guest posts.
That means I wrote 2 articles in a span of 12 months, or 1 article every 6 months on average.
Let that sink in…
My readers deserve better! You deserve better!
Was I just being lazy or did I have writers block?
Or am I living in the beach hanging out all the time now that Stream SEO makes thousands per month on autopilot? Nah, not really.
As I mentioned Stream SEO was not my main business because I had other projects going on which I started since 2014.
Please allow me to elaborate.
Back in 2013 I had a great project with some friends where we started running viral websites on Facebook. I have documented several versions of this strategy during the last few years but back then all you needed was a page with tons of Facebook fans and you could print money with Adsense or other ad networks.
Facebook ended up updating their algorithm and policies and it literally destroyed the business overnight. They cut the organic reach of our pages by almost 90%. Ouch!
As entrepreneurs, we adapted and started learning new strategies including paid ads to keep our websites running. I also documented some case studies about this back in 2014-2015. In fact, in 2019 we are still buying ads but not running viral sites anymore as we’ve learned to adapt and play with Facebook by following their rules.
This makes Facebook happy (we give them our money in exchange of ads) and we can keep steady businesses as well to avoid going bust overnight.
But thanks to this experience I started learning about paid traffic and put aside a bit my interest for organic traffic from search engines as I found paid traffic was easily scalable. It’s just addicting.
So, I eventually learned there are a ton more traffic sources where you can buy traffic and learn how to monetize it and in 2014 I started learning all that to adapt so my focus went completely there.
I even started a new blog where I document stuff about paid traffic and my marketing campaigns, although I don’t blog as much there either but you get the point.
While Stream SEO was making 4 figures per month, I managed to hit 5 and even 6 figures per month with paid traffic and even today a lot of my earnings come from paid traffic.
That’s why you noticed I barely published anything here. I was away learning the systems of a totally different world and making as much money as we could.
Nowadays I have systems and a small team that helps me with this process and we’re still buying a ton of traffic for other projects but now I can get back to work and dedicate a few hours per day to write awesome new content.
That’s the good news!
We also failed a lot of projects in 2017-2018 where we spent 4-5 figures and they eventually didn’t work. Don’t think for a second that everything I do works and prints money. That never happens. In fact, most of our projects have failed but we manage to do pretty well with the ones that end up working 🙂
For 2019 I have a ton of new posts coming including guides, case studies, reviews, stories and more.
User experience and page speed
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about buying traffic that would be A/B testing and optimization. User experience and page speed are very important especially when buying traffic as every dollar counts to increase your margins.
A well optimized blog can also get more page views and make more money (affiliate conversions) when receiving organic traffic. Matt Diggity wrote a great post about this in his blog.
Back to Stream SEO, since it was a bit forgotten for the last 18 months and we tested a lot of things during the first 6 months of 2017 to write guides and posts I can say the user experience wasn’t up to my standards.
I took this screenshot of the website load time and size 5 months ago:
This is the Pingdom Tools Page Speed Test (you can test it for free here) and it allows you to analyze the number of requests, page size and overall speed of your website from different parts of the world.
Just the homepage alone took 5 seconds to load from the USA. My VPS is located in the USA so other parts of the world were taking up to 7-8 seconds to load. Totally unacceptable.
Stream SEO has been hosted in different servers including shared, VPS and dedicated. Right now it’s hosted in an unmanaged VPS without cPanel and all that stuff that ends up slowing the server.
This VPS actually loads faster than most dedicated packages that are offered for well over $100 per month in different hosting companies and it costs less than $20 per month.
When I moved Stream SEO to this VPS I knew the load time was around 2 seconds, which wasn’t super fast but was pretty good considering a shared server gave me 4-6 seconds and a dedicated server from a company I won’t mention gave me a loading speed between 2-3 seconds (all tests done in the USA).
So, when I noticed my site was taking 5 seconds to load and some of my ranked articles with tons of text, images and content were taking 5-10 seconds to load I knew I had to do something because the user experience was horrible for my readers (thanks Google for not taking my rankings completely away!).
Google Page Insights said the average load time in India for some of my ranked posts was close to 30 seconds!
Google takes this measure from the feedback of many users while browsing in a simple smartphone on a mobile carrier connection. So obviously it would be very different when browsing in a top notch smartphone or computer with Wi-Fi. But India is one of my top 5 countries at Stream SEO and I just couldn’t leave this to happen.
I knew my VPS wasn’t the problem as it wasn’t that slow in 2017. This was just me being lazy for the last 18 months so I decided to analyze every element and request to start optimizing the site.
After an hour of checking and optimizing stuff here’s how fast the website loaded:
Alright! The website now loads in 1 second and I reduced the page size to half as well as the requests to 1/3 of what I had before.
Want to know what I did in 1 hour to reach this point?
I pretty much did what a lot of WordPress users recommend. I gave some maintenance to my site by cleaning up everything that you don’t need or don’t use anymore that only bloats your website and database.
I have heard those suggestions many times before, but because I was active in my blog it never had the chance to pile up as badly as it was last year. It only happened until I stopped caring about this blog that things started to go out of control and the site got super slow.
Here’s the complete list of things I did so you can check them on your site:
- I deleted a lot of plugins I wasn’t using anymore: I had a lot of plugins I either reviewed or tested for some features but somehow weren’t using anymore. I should have disabled and deleted them after that but I just got lazy.
- I deleted widgets with scripts that didn’t work anymore: I had a couple of scripts to measure stats that weren’t updated. One of them didn’t work at all and was preventing my site to load.
- I checked all of my links for redirections and non-secure links: Some internal links and scripts didn’t even have SSL but most companies already have SSL certificates and I updated them. Also, some of my internal links were redirecting to a www. or non SSL version of my website creating additional redirects
- I deleted some scripts from the header/footer: I had scripts for Facebook, Google Analytics, Google Ads and more. I deleted the ones I didn’t really use and just kept the most useful ones.
- I updated my theme: After almost 2 years of being used, this theme from StudioPress has had a few updates with better coding and faster performance.
While loading in 1 second was fine for me, that result was only for my homepage which isn’t as rich in content as many of the ranked articles.
I decided to check some of my top articles and those were still loading at 2+ seconds or even 3+ seconds when checking from Europe, Asia and Australia. I decided to check things again and learn a bit more about site speed optimization.
With the help of the WP-Rocket cache plugin, a fast free CDN and DNS service offered by Cloudflare and compressing my images both manually and with the help of Imagify I managed to shave a lot more and now Stream SEO loads under half a second 🙂
That’s super fast and definitely faster than most WordPress websites in the world. Even world class bloggers who pay hundreds of dollars per month for dedicated servers in well known companies like WPEngine sometimes struggle to achieve these kind of results.
As you can see I also managed to decrease my page size to less than 500KB and the number of requests to 46 (down from 200 initially).
The website now flies and my top ranked articles load in less than 2 seconds in Asia/Australia while loading under 1 second in Europe/America. They were taking 5-10 seconds to load before so you do the math 🙂
On the back end, I also stopped showing Google Adsense in this website, which I never liked much and just setup for a few months to split test and write a proper review of Ezoic, the machine learning company to optimize your ads revenue.
I still recommend Ezoic for anyone who wants to monetize their websites with Adsense and similar networks. It works great, but it’s just not the type of monetization I want behind Stream SEO even if it added several hundred dollars to my monthly revenue.
In the backend we also upgraded from PHP 7.0 to PHP 7.2 and now we’re preparing to move to PHP 7.3, which is considerably faster. This might sound very tech savvy for some of you but since WordPress has a PHP backend using the latest stable version usually gives you a good boost in performance as measured by my favorite semi-managed hosting service, Kinsta.
The problem with a lot of companies like GoDaddy, Bluehost, Hostgator and other similar companies is that they don’t really care much about performance and sometimes they offer very outdated PHP versions as well. Just to think of it, the latest PHP version is almost 5 times faster than the one available 5-6 years ago when Stream SEO had no traffic. Many websites still use PHP 5.x or lower versions!
Finally, I know a lot of people recommend not to put much attention to Google’s Page Speed metrics as they used to be way unreliable and you could get totally different results by testing the site several times in a row (plus weird recommendations to fix it) but Google recently updated their speed tool and now they rely completely on Lighthouse.
A lot of bloggers and webmasters want to score high in this tool especially since Google mentioned speed can be a ranking factor (plus a faster website gets you more page views, conversions and lower bounce rates). I’m sure links are way more important than SSL or speed, for example, but it’s always good to have a fast site as it also creates a better user experience overall.
After all the optimizations done to the website and due to the crazy madness of everyone talking about Google’s updated tool I went ahead and gave it a test. I must say I’m surprised with my Desktop score:
Yup, Stream SEO has a 100/100 score. Couldn’t ask for better in the eyes of Google.
In the other hand, the mobile score isn’t perfect but still quite good:
I remember a few months ago I checked my Google score and it was below 70 for desktop and below 40 or 50 for mobile.
What’s your score? Check it out here and let me know in the comments!
Anyways, as I’ve mentioned before, you shouldn’t check out this score a lot and get crazy over it. While it’s great to have a fast website, content and links and much more important. I just wanted to optimize it once and for all so I can focus solely on new content for 2019.
I did notice lower bounce rates and better rankings after all the optimization process so it might be worth a look if you have a free weekend.
Goals for 2019
So far, I’ve just explained the reasons why was lack of content and efforts at Stream SEO the last 18 months. Now it’s time to define some goals and commit with my readers:
While I’ve seen a lot of blogs die or simply fail during the last 7 years while Stream SEO is still alive, I have also seen blogs than are far more successful in the same niche just because they put the work and efforts into it.
While doing some market research I’ve seen bloggers than in the last 2 or 3 years have got much more traffic and rankings than Stream SEO and one thing they do pretty well is content. I have a list of more than 50 blog posts for 2019 and I plan to keep up with it. We’ll see how it goes, but it’s a commitment I’m doing publicly so you can “shame on me” later if I fail. This means I have to publish pretty much every week. Stay tuned for a lot of new articles, guides, case studies, reviews and the occasional existential chat.
As you can see, we have a ton of email subscribers but again, we could have triple of it if we kept publishing content. My plan is to get at least 25,000 subscribers for Stream SEO alone at the end of 2019. This means we have to double what I’ve achieved during 7 years, in just 1 year. Doing outreach and writing content should help with that.
I’m still not quite satisfied with the design but this will have to wait until I find some time to play with new themes and whether I decide to take out the sidebar or not. I’ll run some A/B tests as I prefer to take decisions based on data rather than following my own hearth. I’m not that naive anymore.
Guest posts and Interviews
I plan to get back doing interviews and guest posts in other related blogs. I have several friends in the industry and a lot of people know my blog even if they don’t know me. Time to do some outreach.
I try to avoid social media for my websites as I focus on organic traffic, but having so much experience with paid ads on Facebook and other networks I might be able to use that to my advantage at Stream SEO as well.
One of my other web properties has almost 10 thousand subscribers and 90% of them came from Facebook Ads. Even if that site hasn’t much organic traffic whenever I write a new post it reaches thousands of subscribers in a blink of an eye.
Courses or eBooks
I have never created a course or paid eBook for Stream SEO. 2019 could be the year I tackle this and see if it works. What do you think? Would you be interested in getting premium content from me? Please let me know in the comments.
Wrapping it up
That’s pretty much what I wanted to say about our goals for 2019. It’s impressive how 7 years ago this website didn’t exist and also impressive how 3 million views and time flies past my life. Back then I was trying to earn a couple hundred dollars online to have some extra money and nowadays I’m a full time affiliate marketeer with many projects and no time to try them all.
One thing I know for sure is 2019 is a year where I’ll make some changes and pivot my businesses to try new things. 2018 was great. Let’s make 2019 an excellent year.
Do you have any new plans for your websites or online businesses? Talk to you next week 🙂