It’s safe to say you’ve read hundreds, if not thousands, of articles about COVID, along with an economic recession during this year. Everybody has blogged about it from several points of view, including the struggles and performance issues it generates for webmasters and bloggers who make money from their online traffic.
I’m not going to mention that again because I prefer to focus on the positive side, and I think many businesses are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, whether we have a second wave or not (some countries already have).
However, it’s safe to say that quite a few things have happened in the last 6 months. And from a blogger/webmaster point of view, it pretty much comes down to the following pain-points:
- Lower CPMs generated from our ads
- Lower conversion rates from affiliate links or self-owned products as people try to save money or not overspend it on things they don’t need right now
- Lower traffic levels except for a few verticals which I’ll explain below
On the other hand, Google pushed a couple of updates during the pandemic that leveled off the traffic for a ton of websites, and Amazon also decided to cut commission rates for U.S. affiliates in the middle of the pandemic. And on top of that, the digital world is heading towards a cookie-less environment due to privacy issues. While smaller browsers such as Safari and Firefox have already done it, Chrome is also making big moves there.
This means more difficulties in tracking third-party cookies and potentially fewer commissions tracked for affiliates unless they catch up with the technology (which they should, but it always takes some time and some networks die in the process). And when all that happens, the economy collapses a bit for us, although I can say, we’re pretty happy as we have mostly always worked from home and we can avoid the suffering of moving from one paradigm (office) to another without issues.
That said, it’s now time to look at smarter and sustainable ways to future-proof your website and monetization models. Work on this during the final quarter of 2020 and you’ll be prepared for whatever comes next year.
Tip 1: Diversify your income and verticals
Going back to focusing on the positive, let’s check out how some verticals are doing at the moment.
Travel and anything travel-related is still doing pretty bad. I think this is a vertical that will keep suffering for a while as long as travel restrictions are in place and regulations in terms of crowds and the number of people allowed to be in one place are not relaxed. This could take at least a few months more.
In fact, here’s what SimilarWeb has detected in the past 30 days:
On the bright side, you can see the drop in the last 30 days isn’t as hard as it used to be 3-4 months ago. I’m really hoping for 2020 to be a good year for those niches.
In terms of websites about health and news, they keep growing and this is what can be expected:
Most blogs talking about COVID and anything related are probably enjoying added traffic levels, even if their CPMs are lower overall.
Here’s another interesting shot:
As you can see, e-commerce is growing slowly, and to be honest, this is one of those niches that did really well for a while during the pandemic as people stopped going out and started spending more on buying things online.
Amazon reported amazing sales during April, close to or better than Black Friday or Cyber Monday EVERY SINGLE DAY.
Obviously, this has slowed down a bit because there are also logistic constraints, shipping issues, or even inventories out-of-stock due to halted productions, but the eComm biz really enjoyed a good ride during the pandemic, propelling Jeff Bezos to new heights along with the stock market that had fallen drastically back in March.
See? Not everything is bad. If you had an eComm store you could have taken advantage of this, which is why it’s important to diversify your online income.
And finally, another vertical which did really well:
Online Streaming! Companies like Netflix soared as people had to stay at home and looked for alternatives to burn their time.
This is a vertical I rode strongly during March-May. I have a website about movies and it blew away all of my other sites in terms of traffic along with its earnings. Normally, it received around 2,000 visits per day, but it grew to 4,000, then 10,000, and I had a max peak of 45,000 visits per day back in April.
This is how the graph looks on a monthly basis:
This grew from 60,000 to 400,000 monthly views just because of the pandemic, while many of my other websites were having -30% or even worse traffic losses at the same time. That’s why it’s important to diversify your income.
Moral of the story- Never put your eggs in just 1 basket! Bloggers who have started taking proactive measures to bet on their content have not seen much loss. Many have added contextual ads to their ad stack and have witnessed a much lesser drop in their ad revenues.
As you can see, my traffic slowly went back to normal levels but it took a few months of tons of extra traffic and earnings to come back.
Tip 2: About privacy and third party cookies
As I mentioned above, browsers seem to be moving to block third-party cookies and this seems to be happening in the next 1-2 years. Instead of waiting until then to see your revenue drop, it’s better to understand what’s happening right now and be prepared.
Safari, for example, was supposed to block any third-party trackers, including Google Analytics, to avoid retargeting and those ads that follow you everywhere. But after some tests, it seems like they’re just going to show which domains are being tracked without blocking the tracking cookies or pixels, yet.
While I expect most ad networks to be ready for this change and somehow bypass this, it’s good to know there are some good alternatives already that don’t use third-party cookies and have been available for a while.
One example here would be contextual ads, which are completely related to the content of the page instead of relying on audience data and cookies/pixels. You’ve probably seen those ads before on many occasions.
They are available in some of the networks that I recommend, such as Media.net, and the CTR you see from those ads is usually 1.5 to 5x higher than regular ads without any context or without being retargeting ads. You’ve probably seen them as well if you use Google Adsense on your website.
Any of the networks with a great search-demand will have this type of ad and will give you great results as the CPMs for those didn’t fall as much as other types of advertising.
Just have a look at this graph by Media.net, where they show the expected % change in CPMs vs. the original plan (2020 without COVID):
Overall, CPMs fell by 16%. Obviously, some niches were hit harder and saw deeper lows, but if you look at the graph, podcasting and search barely had a drop during the pandemic and the CPMs are still very strong.
So, team up with a network that offers search ads or connects to a search engine or start a podcast and you’ll have a stable source of income during these hard times.
Display ads and other ad formats have seen lower CPMs during the pandemic.
Tip 3: Pivot your content strategy
Another great tip I can take away from webmasters that have stayed strong during the pandemic is the way they pivot or repurpose their content for 2020.
Instead of admitting defeat and pausing their writing activities, they keep writing like champions and acquiring links to rank, while everybody else is in savings mode. Once COVID is over, they’ll be super strong and will take positions out of sites that were abandoned during this year.
Not only that, but some websites have added a ton of content that people can process and consume while they’re working from home and limited from traveling. For example, if you had a fitness blog, you’d probably see a huge drop now that people stopped going to the gyms.
However, many bloggers started posting routines for home, without any equipment required. Other blogs started posting about health insurance, how to eat healthily while staying at home, or how to take care of your mental health and avoid anxiety.
Here are a few ideas for several niches you could use and write about during the last 4 months of the year:
Another example is how many blogs about outdoor activities started focusing on home improvement articles now that people can’t go out. Similarly, finance blogs started focusing on how to be frugal and manage your budgets during hard times.
For almost every niche, you could pivot your content and still get loads of traffic if you’re doing things correctly. Additionally, you’ll rank for new keywords you didn’t think of before, which will create added revenue in the future.
Tip 4: be patient and strong
Final tip, but more important than ever.
For bloggers and people who rely on organic traffic, one of the most difficult parts of the game is waiting until you start ranking and receiving traffic. Many people stop after a few months and abandon before the traffic starts pouring in. However, during this pandemic, you need to be more patient and stay strong.
Your traffic might have gone down and your earnings might have dipped. But when things go down, they tend to bounce back up after a while. Be consistent, keep creating content, promoting your stuff, acquiring things, and eventually, traffic will come. If you keep these efforts consistent, I’m sure many blogs will resurface in 2021.
The blogs that abandon ship right now will be defeated next year by webmasters who didn’t stop working due to this pandemic. And the same will happen for all of the physical businesses that survive after the pandemic. They’ll be back, stronger than ever, and with less competition.
So, which side do you want to be on when 2021 comes around?