Disappointment with 1,110% Growth

By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Experience

If you read our first month’s review posts (Part 1 and Part 2) you’ll know that EveryDaydream Holiday is a travel entertainment startup – we craft a travel story so real it feels like your own endless vacation, and deliver it to your inbox five days a week.

We’ve also made a commitment to document the process of building this travel startup into a viable and thriving business, and to do so in the open.

Why we are sharing all of this information with you? Because we love articles that peer under the hood (open the kimono?) of other web businesses – and based on the outstanding feedback you sent us after our Month 1 posts, it seems like you do too.

Based on great feedback from swombat last month, we aim to make this month’s communication more directly useful to other startups: it’s still not “3 things we did that changed our business so you can too”, but we’re sharing our experience so you can learn from it rather than going alone yourself.

Our biggest lesson so far?

Write these posts for your business. We have learnt so much reviewing the data, so our advice is to do it for yourself (even if you don’t publish it).

Disappointment with Unique Visitors up 1,110.12%

We were “reasonably” happy with Month 1’s 919 unique visitors.

In Month 2 we had 11,121 unique visitors. Our disappointment comes from the fact that almost all of that traffic was focused on one article and one day.

EveryDaydream Holiday - Month 2 Traffic Data for our travel startup

EveryDaydream Holiday – Month 2 Traffic Data

The post that caused the spike was part two of last month’s analysis – which we affectionately call our “200 Hours Effort” post. It hit the front page of Hacker News just before midnight Sydney time (breakfast time in Silicon Valley) – and created an unbelievable day of excitement for us both. The highlight was being mentioned in the Wall Street Journal ‘Startup Must Reads’, mostly because our families have no idea what Hacker News is.

Even now, one month later, we’re still working through the great ideas and feedback we received from “200 Hours Effort” – on HN, Twitter, and by direct emails from fellow travel startups. Thank you all so much, and please feel free to keep coming with constructive criticism (or love notes!).

The problem, though, is that when you remove that one post, our site traffic was fairly steady. And since that one post is not our core product – it was about our business, not one of the amazing travel experiences we’ve published – it’s not something that will create a sustainable reputation in our target market.

This problem was exacerbated by the immediate consequences that a well-shared article has on a new site’s traffic – namely, that it gave us a temporary traffic boost. And we didn’t appreciate how temporary it was.

When we ignore the enormousness of the spike, you can see the minimal long term benefit we received.

When we ignore the enormousness of the spike, you can see the minimal long term benefit we received.

Here’s the same data, with the big spike removed. On close inspection you can see that, for the week afterwards, average traffic was at a level well above our previous averages. The primary change was a benefit in our Google rankings, with the resulting traffic increase. This was reflected in subscriber numbers – the immediate result of the big traffic day was a 50% increase in subscriber numbers, and we were now getting 2-3 subscribers a day – not earth-shattering, but a jump for us. However we treated both of those results as a new normal. They weren’t.

And so as a result, our focus shifted away from traffic generation to almost exclusively creating our daily content. And when both traffic and subscriber momentum dipped in the second half of the month, we weren’t prepared.

It’s fair to say that following this we had two down energy weeks – we’re living proof of what Marc Andreesen calls “incredible highs and unbelievable lows at whiplash speed”; and we’re definitely experiencing pg’s startup curve (which I’ve written about before).

We were unprepared for the dip, and our expectations were busted. We ended the month with some great raw numbers – traffic and subscribers way up; but not with the most important and intangible metric – momentum.

LESSONS WE’VE LEARNT (SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO)

  • When you’re a new site, one post well shared will have an immediate impact on your search engine experience
  • There will also be lingering benefits to your site-wide traffic, but these won’t last
  • Identify the fundamentals – for us, content, traffic, subscriber numbers and engagement – and never fall for the temptation to ignore one of these, even for a little while

WHAT NEXT FOR TRAFFIC?

Dow Jones Chart 1985 to 2009

Here’s a graph of the Dow Jones from 1985 to 2009. That small blip on the left hand side is the 1987 stock market crash. At the time, it was devastating – like, throw yourself out a window devastating. In hindsight, it’s so ‘small’ I usually have to draw people’s attention to it [I run events, some of which incorporate these charts, as part of my business coaching company].

Why the Stock Market analogy? Well our intent is to make that traffic spike, which currently dominates our landscape, as negligible in our graph as the 1987 crash is in this graph. Early in Month 3, we’re on our way – there are now other days that appear on the graph as something other than a blue line along the bottom. We want Month 3 to be larger, more consistent, and more engergising to us as founders.

CONTENT EXPERIENCE

I had to do some data dumping for analysis – you can skip these lists and go straight to the points below, but I thought it worthwhile sharing so other sites can have some comparable data about traffic.

Here is a top 5 list of our most engaging daily newsletters from this month – the metric we use to measure engagement is Opened Click Through Rate;

  1. Eat. Shop. Cruise? A surprising day in Hong Kong. (29.17%)
  2. Find the best view in Hong Kong. Twice. (23.81%)
  3. Minus 35° Celsius. Time for a swim (20.55%)
  4. Toasting Marshmallows over Lava (19.72%)
  5. Zen and the Art of Painting a Pavilion in Gold Leaf (18.60%)

Here’s a list of our top daily destination travel posts, by pageviews of all time;

  1. Toasting Marshmallows over Lava (1979)
  2. Houston, We Have No Problem (301)
  3. Find the best view in Hong Kong. Twice. (150)
  4. Parading the New Orleans Mardi Gras (147)
  5. Eat. Shop. Cruise? A surprising day in Hong Kong. (136)

And here are the top 5 posts as landing pages from search engine traffic

  1. Guatemala to Belize City Bus Ride (16)
  2. Teotihuacan Pyramid Tour, Mexico City (10)
  3. Toasting Marshmallows over Lava (8)
  4. Parading the New Orleans Mardi Gras (8)
  5. From Glico Neon to Geisha Style (6)

We were interested to see the similarities and the differences in these lists.

Volcanoes are Fun?

Volcanoes are Fun? Photo by Oisin Prendiville, CC License

We published 21 posts this month, and 10 are included in at least one of these lists. What do they have in common, and what sets them apart from the others (including our 5-state southern USA roadtrip)?

Well the data is small, so rather than drawing a conclusion let me put forward my hypothesis around this:

  • ‘Off the beaten track’ style content is rewarded.

We heard this in our pre-launch survey: when we asked “Which type of destinations do you want to see most”, 59% said ‘off the beaten track’ and 56% said ‘every country in the world’ (respondents could choose 3 options).

I believe this is being supported in our data – unusual destinations are being opened, shared externally, and we also rank higher for those less-popular (read: less-competitive) destination phrases.

The challenge is applying this to our ‘Calendar of Awesome’, which is now planned neatly in advance (see Revenue, below). This currently includes a proper trip through Europe via New York City – is Copenhagen going to be considered unusual enough to garner traffic? Is the global popularity of New York going to compensate for the lack of uniqueness that another ‘3 days in New York‘ article will conjure? Time – and the data created in that time – will tell.

And, of course, the old chestnut – what is off the beaten path is subjective. Osaka and Kyoto are exotic destinations … unless you live in Tokyo.

I want to touch briefly on community stuff and social media, as a driver for traffic and as a reward for producing engaging content. When you remove the “200 Hours Effort” post and just look at our core content, there really wasn’t much social data to speak of this month. This was a revelation to us exposed by this analysis, as we had thought social media was contributing more than it turns out it was! So far in Month 3, our traffic efforts have been focused on social media with a big impact.

(This is the perfect time to mention the weekly ‘Where in the World?’ quiz on our Facebook page, for example.)

LESSONS WE’VE LEARNT (SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO)

  • If you produce lots of content, it pays to examine the lots of data created.
  • Create hypotheses, not conclusions, and then test them. This data may look completely different next month.
  • Recognise the value of meta-posts (those about the business) for traffic – and recognise the difference in the traffic.

WHAT NEXT FOR CONTENT?

  • Next, we get to test the hypothesis about off the beaten track. We’re not yet ready to commit fully to only delivering on this – we may find that London and New York are engaging for completely different reasons.
  • Looking forward, there are a higher proportion of near-future locations that I’ve been to previously – we shall see if that helps me create better itineraries or more engaging prose / photos.
  • Creating some more meta-content, but with a greater focus on our target market. About 0.5% of the Hacker News readers last month ended up subscribing to our daily travel emails – we suspect that rate will be much higher if the traffic spikes come from a travel-related site, not Startup News.

REVENUE EXPERIENCE

Last month’s title hook was “How we Turned 200 Hours Effort Into Zero Revenue“. We can’t steal that again, because we’ve actually earned this month a whopping … $6.62.

Our first Amazon affiliate sale - the 21st Century equivalent to framing your first paycheque.

Our first Amazon affiliate sale – the 21st Century equivalent to framing your first paycheque.

  • All from Amazon affiliate fees
    (If you click this link and buy something we get a commission)
  • All (well, both) sales were initiated by the “200 Hours Effort” traffic spike; no purchases were travel related.

Our intent was for the Amazon affiliate program to be temporary (or, more specifically, for the Amazon ads on our homepage and emails to be temporary; specific product links might remain with affiliate codes). And here we are this month still featuring them, and having added World Nomads Travel Insurance to the mix (worth noting – that’s a genuine recommendation based on our personal experience using them).

We applied to a travel specific affiliate network, and were not accepted (based, we understand, on the age of our site). We have been accepted into Lonely Planet’s program, and will be rolling that out (final research going to plan) this month. (Again, we actually use and recommend Lonely Planet guides, and would do so regardless of the affiliate agreement.)

But affiliate advertising was never our business model, and work is underway behind the scenes to build our direct advertising program.

We believe there’s an opportunity connecting small businesses (like a local restaurant or boutique hotel) with travellers early in the travel inspiration process. It’s great for a restaurant owner to be on someone’s short list based on TripAdvisor ratings; but how much more powerful is it for them to be part of the reason someone is inspired to visit a destination?

Part of the delay in launching this program is ethical discussions between us as co-founders. This is becoming more difficult to resolve when you look at the business models for content-led businesses like The Atlantic and BuzzFeed. There, content as simply entertainment has seen examples of them opting not to distinguish between advertising from editorial.

As a content entertainment site, where do we sit in that spectrum? To what extent will we allow advertising to impact content?

More on that when decisions have been finalised, but it’s looking like a filter around improving the quality of our content and adding utility to the reader. EveryDaydream Holiday is not a site for your traditional ‘reach and frequency’ marketing dollars – nor are we going to feature Scientology Beach Resorts simply because we’ve been paid to do so.

I mentioned previously our ‘Calendar of Awesome’. This maps out our itinerary for the future – currently just over 3 months in advance (a goal identified in last month’s post, now met). A key benefit of this is being able to approach or respond to advertisers well in advance – creating time for conversation and personalisation.

(For returning readers who want to know, our content creation is not yet far ahead of our publishing schedule – a key risk for our daily email business model.)

LESSONS WE’VE LEARNT (SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO)

  • We knew, but in case you aren’t aware, that part of why affiliate programs make poor revenue models is the minimum thresholds that must be reached before they pay out. So while we’ve “made” $6.62, in reality we won’t see that money until we reach the $150 threshold with Amazon.
  • Put more time aside than you are currently planning to, to implement your revenue plans. Unless you’re well-funded and part of a land grab for customers, progress in this area is a key part of maintaining your energy and momentum.

WHAT NEXT FOR REVENUE?

  • We could do ‘more of the same’ – there’s definitely more we can do to integrate useful affiliate links into our content.
  • But we believe our opportunity remains with the larger-value direct advertising. Expect next month to see a specific page for Advertising with EveryDaydream Holiday and maybe (depending on speed of conversion) some data in the revenue section around sales in this sphere.
  • Content creation revenue (eg, producing an ebook from our detailed series of posts about New Zealand) remains part of our future plans – we create travel entertainment, why not find a way to package it such that people will see more value and purchase that?

Want to be involved?

  • We want your thoughts, and I’m sure other readers here and on Hacker News would benefit as well.
  • If you do “Love to Travel More Than You Love to Work”, consider subscribing to our free daily newsletter or Liking our Facebook page.
  • And if you have any specific questions about your business, and you think our experience might help, please let us know – my email is jacob@everydaydreamholiday.com.
  • Lastly, keep an eye out for part two, which will be a more thorough analysis of our email marketing efforts based not just on Month 2 but our first 50 email campaigns! (This link will go live when the article does.)

One Response to “Disappointment with 1,110% Growth”

  1. Erich Stauffer

    I read through the article and it seems your business model currently isn’t that much different from a blog or news site. Have you considered adding a little bit of custom software to try and add some value to this space? Let me explain.

    Lately I’ve been doing a little bit of research into interactive text games and I stumbled upon a whole genre of Interactive Fiction. In that context there are many ‘choose your own adventure’ type apps that I think might be neat to apply to your business.

    One example would be to turn your “off the beaten path” stories into some sort of Javascript app/wizard that helps people find a destination that suits their style of adventure. At the end of their discovery, they could have an opportunity to buy tickets or hotel reservations to that destination, of which you either sell direct or take an affiliate cut. In this way you are adding real value to travel seekers who truly don’t know where they want to go, but they know what they want to find.

    Hopefully that helps you in some way or at least helps you find your own new ideas.

    Cheers.

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