I love the freedom of working for myself! Freedom has always been something that is SO important to me, and the notion of a 9-5 and having to ask permission to take a vacation – well, it never sat well with me! - Alison Andrews, SBI! member since 2009

My Best Month Ever: $5K+ in Sales in December (An SBI! Success Story)

My Best Month Ever: $5K+ in Sales in December (An SBI! Success Story)

By Jill Loeffler, sftourismtips.com

This month, I hit a huge milestone in my online business. I’m excited to report that I’ve reached the $5k+ sales mark already for December. For me, it’s a sign of great things to come. All of my current income is from affiliates and AdSense. I will expand into my own products in 2015.

I’ll be honest though, it hasn’t been easy. I started my San Francisco site in the summer of 2009. At the time, I was working full time for a large company and had very few hours and energy to devote to my site. I had little direction on where I wanted to take it. I was also too excited to get started to fully read the SBI! Action Guide.

As with many others, I was hit hard with both Panda and Penguin in 2011/2012. I was devastated, but determined to move forward. In the summer of 2012, I completely revamped the site, rewrote ALL the pages, and was excited to have a clean slate. In October of 2013, I implemented a site redesign.

Editor’s Note: A quick word about “Panda” and “Penguin” in case you only think of black and white animals when hearing those terms! 😉

Google’s success depends on the satisfaction of the searcher. In order to show them the most relevant results for every search term, Google constantly refines their search algorithms, getting better and better at delivering what people want. Most of the time, these changes go unnoticed. But every now and again, Google releases a major change and names it. “Panda” and “Penguin,” released in 2011 and 2012 respectively are two of these major changes.

What do these changes mean for website owners? More than ever, website owners must…

1) Publish content that’s original and delivers high-quality information, the answer to what the visitor seeks. In other words, provide a solution to a visitor’s problem, or help fulfill a visitor’s desire or need.

2) Encourage people to link to you by creating high-value content and promoting it through your social media platform(s) of choice. Think in terms of “link earning,” not “link building.” Deliberately setting out to “build” links used to work, but nowadays it is more likely to result in Google penalties.

SBI!’s philosophy has always been to “add value” and “keep it real,” which is what Google and other search engines want. In fact, the latest Panda 4.0 release resulted in an average 35% Google traffic gain for SBI! site owners.

 

When I first registered my site, I had a URL with lots of dashes (san-francisco-tourism-tips.com). This was the recommendation in 2009, but as the engines became more sophisticated, this recommendation changed. In January 2014, I used MoveIt! (one of SBI!’s many tools) to transfer my site to a new domain, sftourismtips.com. In February 2014, I lost almost all of my traffic and made around $150 in income!

I continued to stick it out though and fought hard to regain my traffic. I knew I might take a hit with a domain change, but it was the only option to me as branding was really difficult with my other URL. Plus, I knew I needed to get rid of the dashes at some point.

Now that you know a little about my story, I wanted to give you some ideas on what I did to get this far and where I’m headed in the next year.

My keys to success in 2014

  1. Built a Solid Business Plan: I’ve done this in previous years, but I became very serious about it in 2014. It keeps me focused on the highly profitable activities and allows me to say no as less important opportunities arise.
  1. Used Reporting: I use Google Analytics and the Click Through Reporting within SBI!’s Traffic Center to see what’s working and what’s not working. It provides me with the direction on what I need to change to build a stronger site. I use Google Analytics for overall page performance and to work on bounce rate issues. I use SBI!’s Click Through Reporting to see what sales links interest my visitors. The low performing links are removed or replaced.
  1. Listened to My Visitors: This is a great source of new content for me. If my visitors are asking the question, then it means there is an interest in that topic. I incorporate their ideas into my master page list. I also make adjustments based on their feedback.
  1. Increased Activity on Social Media: This is an area I was failing in prior to 2014. I was inconsistent and didn’t spend much time thinking through my posts. I now have a master spreadsheet where I create and track my posts. I also schedule my posts (using a variety of tools), so I don’t eat up too much time posting each day. I follow up with answers to questions frequently and work toward getting people to interact with my posts. I’ve also done quite a bit of reading to learn what’s working for others. I focus on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest. I keep experimenting with new ideas and also test out a new social media outlet once a quarter to see if I can leverage something new. Some of them work great (Trover, StumbleUpon), others haven’t worked well for me at all (We Heart It, Bubblews).
  1. Talked to Other Website Owners: This is the first year that I’ve talked to a few other website owners. It’s been fun talking to other owners of travel sites to learn more about what’s working for them. I received some great ideas through these discussions. I hope they benefited too!
  1. Kept My Content Fresh: With my travel site, I provide very specific and timely information. This means that I’m constantly monitoring and updating certain pages. Although this takes away from new page creation, I think it’s critical in the travel world. So many sites offer generic information and travelers want specifics. They want to know the specific dates a festival is occurring, not just a rough idea and/or the month that it typically occurs. I spend three to four full days at the end of the month preparing details for the upcoming month(s).

Where I’m headed in 2015

  1. Create My Own Products: This is an important growth area for me. I plan to create ebooks as well as a few other products.
  1. Network with Local Businesses: I will continue to meet with and network with local businesses. This provides me more insider knowledge of what they are doing, so I can share it with my visitors. This also gives my site exposure, resulting in additional visits and sales.
  1. Build More Content: My site is just under 500 pages right now. My plan is to continue to add more pages this year to expand my site. I spend quite a bit of time on each page, so I tend to not add as many pages as I’d like. However, I’ve learned my lesson that building pages quickly is not necessarily the key to success.
  1. Test New Marketing Ideas: I have a list of new marketing ideas I want to try this year. Some are more traditional and a few are non-traditional. Stay tuned for details as I test each one!
  1. Continue to Have Fun: As I write this, I know my sales will decrease in January and February. It’s the slow time of the year for me. However, if I keep working hard and stay focused, I know my site will continue to build throughout 2015 and beyond.

Even though it can be a rocky road having an online business, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I know my success is due to the wonderful education and support from SBI! and everyone in the forums! I look forward to the year ahead. I wish great success to all of you too and hope this post includes a few nuggets that will help you with your own business.

One final note… I ended up generating $6,600 by the end of the month (December 2014)!

Editor’s Note: There are so many great business lessons in your story, Jill! Thanks for sharing your SBI! review and congratulations on your online business success! It’s inspiring to see how you kept moving forward after the Panda and Penguin setbacks.

 

To build a profitable online business with SBI! like Jill did, all you need is an idea, persistence and a positive can-do attitude. Everything else (process, tools, guidance and support) you get with SBI!.

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  • Hundreds of the “Top 0.5%.” Every one of these SBI! businesses (hundreds of them) rank in the top 1 million active websites (out of approximately 200 million!). That’s all the more impressive because 1) we are such a small community and 2) many Top 0.5% sites are mid-sized or large companies.

Solopreneurs fail at astronomical rates. SBI! makes you 100x more likely to succeed (that’s not a typo!). It will never be easy, but we do make it way more doable.

Scan the wide variety of solopreneurs who are winning in real niches. Use it to get a feeling for what SBIers do, as well as to generate ideas. What do you know? Turn it into a business.

Jill Loeffler
Jill Loeffler started her site, www.sftourismtips.com, in July of 2009. After living in San Francisco for more than a decade, she wanted to share her passion about the city with other visitors. When she is not out exploring the streets of SF, Jill enjoys traveling around the world, sampling wine, running, reading, and spending time with her friends and family.

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