The crux from one year to the next is as good a time as any to evaluate your current position on the path, how you got there, and where you are going. I’m not much for new life beginnings being put off until some magical moment on New Year Day, but the yearly switch over in calendar year is a good psychological churning pot for making projections of where you want to be the next time the calender clicks up another notch, for actualizing goals, and providing a direction for ambition and determination — or lack there of.
At the beginning of 2011 Vagabondjourney.com was on fire. Our traffic was rising fast, we were included on all kinds of “top travel blogger” lists, and I projected that we would be getting 7,000 unique visitors per day by the end of the year.
I worked daily towards this goal, but did not come close.
At the beginning of 2012 we are bringing in around the same amount of traffic than the year before — though we’ve probably added 1,000+ articles, guides, and blog posts and put in 3,000 hours of work in the process. The site has plateaued, we are treading water, running on a treadmill: working hard to get ahead, but going nowhere.
Or are we?
2011 was the year of Panda and other Big G updates which drastically changed the face of the internet and the degree to which an independent webmaster like myself can compete in a climate that is growing ever more corporate and commercial. Thousands of independent sites were torched this past year, many self-employed webmasters watched their traffic levels (and income) plummet. Many went out of business, many had to move away from publishing their own sites to make a living, and many more were set to running of fumes as we click over into 2012.
2011 was the year the internet drastically changed: we went from one era to the next, the wild free for all days of youth for this thing called the world wide web are over — it has matured.
There was once a day when an individual like myself could make a website, work hard, publish good content, and compete with the array of corporate sites and brands. The internet was the “people’s” media. It still is, but it is becoming ever more difficult for an independent site to bring in traffic via search for high volume keywords. In 2011, the internet saw a line of distinction drawn between the pre-panda era and the post-panda era. The way people find content online, what they are exposed to and what they are not, changed drastically in 2011. This past year, the “brand” was giving a huge nod from the search engines to the top of the indexes, the Big G themselves took more of the top spots for their own vertical, and it became exponentially more difficult for publishers like myself to rank high and make a living.
According to a recent Optify study:
35+% of all search queries go to #1 ranked page.
50+% go to the top three.
Only a few percent of searches go beyond the first page of results.
To get traffic from the search engines you need to rank in the top three positions — or at the very least on the first page — for the terms being searched for. If you’re not, you won’t get the traffic. Competition for the top three spots for just about any high volume search is fierce, and the shift in preference towards branded sites is a huge blow to publishers like myself. Yes, search engines now have algorithms to detect “brands,” and this is now what Vagabond Journey must become.
The jagged, rough road for independent webmasters had hot coals thrown upon it in 2011, and walking it had become that much more difficult. The sites who make in to the end of this road will be fewer and fewer each year, as what was once a wide open road has tapered down to a barely existing footpath skirting the edge of a massive cliff. Many more of us are going to fall off before this year is out.
In one year the internet has been revolutionized, but the changes that took place are hardly visible to the lay user. Nobody is going to miss a page they never landed on, and this is the biggest problem: the public will not see the revolution in information dissemination that is taking place. In the bolstering of brands and big/ famous/ popular sites the independent voice is being trampled, but the movement is so subtle that nobody is going to hear our wails: the independent webmasters with something to say are dropping off the face of the earth (SERPs) and into oblivion. Unless you read SEO or other tech websites the impact of this revolution is shrouded in silence.
So at the beginning of 2012 I have a major decision to make:
A) Do I keep up the fight against ever increasing odds to continue making a living publishing Vagabondjourney.com?
B) Do I call it a good run, give myself a face lift, go to the other side, and focus on writing for big media websites for the nickles and dimes they throw out?
C) Do I drop off the face of the internet entirely and abscond into writing books?
The answer, perhaps, is all three. Option C is the end goal — it is the dream, it was always the main intent of writing — but I need to make a living in the meantime, and a successful book is often the best way to prop up a website, and it is far easier to get a book published if you can prove that you already have a large online following. Option B also holds the same parameters, as writing for the large websites serves to prop up the reputation/ traffic/ link profile of author’s individual sites, and, likewise, being able to show that you run a high traffic site is often an added incentive for editors to publish your submissions. If I intend to continue making a living as a writer, all three options are necessary.
That being said, Vagabondjourney.com got out of 2011 relatively unscathed. Search traffic is now proving to be 10X more difficult for us to get, but our progress plateaued rather than plummeted this past year. We were not among the winners of 2011, but we were not among the losers either. We are still a very high traffic site, ranked 66,500 in the world by Alexa, still bringing in nearly 100K visitors per month. We are still doing very well: our traffic has plateaued, yes, but we are still at the top of a very high plateau: truly not the worst place to be by any means.
2012 means putting together the three options outlined above to not only raise the profile of Vagabondjourney.com and raise traffic, but also to make a better and more respected living as a writer. 2012 will be a make it or break it year for this operation: I am prepared to finally step up to the plate — I’ve become a pretty bad ass coder in this past year — and see if I get a hit or strike out. 2004 was the year of my first blog post, I’ve been in this business for a long time, but this is the first year that I’m able to compete in terms of knowledge, experience, and, I hope, ability with all other independent online publishers (even those hiring professional coders and promotions firms). I have no more excuses, no cloak to hide under: this year I will be able to operate at full speed.
Accomplishments of 2011
2011 was a frustrating year as far as vagabondjourney.com is concerned — 2011 was a frustrating year as far as many webmasters are concerned. The plot line had been flipped, moves that were once successful in the past now get you nowhere, the giants that we’re up against have grown even larger and more powerful. I am not alone in my view of 2011, and this is not meant to complain, but to explain.
I began 2011 by proclaiming myself a business man, I declared that I would run my site as a business. I soon realized how difficult success would be. I kept at it and completed a major project: the first issue of Vagabond Explorer Magazine. I’m proud of the results, but looking at it from a dollars and cents vs. time ratio I am unsure if I came out on top. I am unsure about the future of this publication. Although thousands were downloaded, I was only able to sell around 100. A multi-authored/ professionally made magazine such as VEx needs $$$ to run, and not much of this was forthcoming — and turning the mag commercial would be against its core premise.
The plan for 2012
I aim to hire 15 additional writers in 2012. Vagabondjourney.com has been converted from a narrative travel site to a global project to chronicle the ebbs and flows of culture, news, and current events from people who have not only “been there,” but who live there as well. I am looking for authors with extensive knowledge in particular parts of the world as well as those who are able to cover various topics — such as minority peoples or environmental issues. I have 15 unfilled “beats.” I can no longer run the site as it now is by myself — this is too big for any person.
For those readers interested in the more narrative style blog pieces, I now have a personal blog at http://blog.vagabondjourney.com/. This is where I publish travel narratives and highly opinionated pieces.
I will also continue sharpening my technical skills throughout this year. An independent journalist now not only needs to know how to write but how to do video, audio, and run a website. I’ve already honed a few of these skills, but others I know are lacking. 2012 will see the first appearance of Vagabond Journey video as well as podcast shows, as well as a general move towards more multi-media articles.
2011 began on the beaches of Mexico, continued on to Oaxaca City then Mexico City, to New York, to Maine, then Iceland, Colombia, before ending in Mexico. My family has matured further in our travels, we continued working out our kinks and devising ways to move through the world better, cheaper, and more fulfilled. It has been a rough year though, I am not going to be one of those self-promoting asses who tries to sell family travel as being a glittery dream land. It’s not. Raising a family on the road while working full time and making a very limited income is challenging, there are ups and downs, but somehow the bottom line ends up tipped to the good. 2011 proved to be vastly more challenging than 2010, but we are learning and adapting, and, hopefully, the experience we gained will be put to good use in 2012.
This is a depressing end of the year report. Or, perhaps, “realistic” is a better word. I usually try to look upon the new year with a sheen of hope and a sneer of determination, but I know what a challenge 2012 is going to be. Fortunately, small odds of success and the ever looming prospect of failure is often the greatest motivators a person can have.
“Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.” – Anonymous Quote
“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
— W. Clement Stone