I know that this is an article that not many people will read (if any). But I will, next year – and if there’s one other person interested, here it is!
It also helps me keep track of things – of my progress, my successes and failures this year, of my plans and thoughts and everything.
So, there you have it: my 2020 year in review. A glimpse into my life and especially my business. Here is what I did right and what I did wrong and how this strange and hopefully unique year turned out to be for me.
I actually enjoyed reading my yearly report of 2019 and realizing that things can always change and not go as planned.
But 2020 was, for me, a pretty good year, a year of personal growth and change, a year where I finally managed to optimize my business and get things organized and, most importantly, to get rid of some projects that were becoming extremely stressful and replace them with things that bring more pleasure.
Sure, if you’re living entirely off your blogging business, you can’t always expect to do what you like, even though that’s ideal. But when the business side becomes so stressful and ends up sucking life out of you, it’s time to let go. You have options, fortunately.
With this small intro in mind, let’s find out more about my 2020, with its highs and lows.
Travel in 2020
This is going to be short! Ha!
We had VERY big plans for 2020: a booked trip to Szeged, Hungary in June (via AirBnb and managed to get a full refund), a booked 7-day long holiday at a 5-star all inclusive resort in Bulgaria ($2,000 that went down the drain as we got no refunds), and plans for a month-long trip through Romania, exploring some of its major cities which are great home bases for digital nomads.
However, things changed drastically starting February and we ended the year without any real travel: we didn’t leave the country and we haven’t really visited any other city as tourists as we wanted to fully protect ourselves from this virus.
We had a few day trips nearby – we went fishing and exploring a few places off the beaten path, but nothing notable. We decided to treat the “new normal” with respect and do everything we can to prevent getting sick.
However, life was made more bearable and enjoyable thanks to an unexpected thing that I decided to do:
Buying a village house
After spending a full month in lockdown in early 2020, stuck inside our apartment (my wife, my son and I), we realized how important it is to have a yard and the option to go out safely.
Initially, I was crazy enough to wish to go all in, without thinking, and buy a house in the city. Fortunately, I understood that they were way too expensive for our budget. Plus, no offers on the market really ticked all the boxes that we needed.
But we found an amazing village house instead, just some 30 minutes of driving away from our home.
The best part about it? It was fully furnished and move-in ready. The lady that lived there even had a nice vegetable garden planted and everything looked perfect.
So we bought that house in mid-June and actually moved and lived there until early October.
It was absolutely amazing! Having a huge yard for us to enjoy, for my son to explore and play in, was great. We also ate all those healthy vegetables, did a bit of farming and just relaxed. This helped keep us sane and also safe.
It was so good, that our son actually decided that it’s his favorite place on Earth so far. When we asked him where he wants to go next year, he said: “Our village house!”
We’re planning to repeat this as soon as the weather is better, hopefully late March or sometime in April. We don’t think that we’ll be doing a lot of travel next year either. So yeah… I’m not really a nomad – and still not mad!
Blogging business in 2020
It’s almost depressing if I am to compare the blogging revenue numbers in 2020 with those in 2019. Yes, last year was a very good one in terms of revenue and 2020 was the craziest year in recent history… but things still were still surprisingly bad.
I’ll get more in depth with the revenue part later on in my article, but for now I will say that it’s been much worse than I anticipated initially.
Fortunately, I’m still making enough to be able to live a decent life based on my blogging income alone and this is all that matters in the end. I’m working hard of turning things around and I hope I will be able to.
Major win: selling my blog for $55,000
The biggest decision that I made this year was that of selling my top money making blog for the amount listed above. It was a good riddance – but like most things I do, it was horrible timing.
But it had to be done.
I sold my blog back in September 2020 after trying to find the best way to tackle this for several month (maybe a year, actually).
You see… the blog that I sold was in the mobile gaming niche and when I started it back in 2013, it was a real passion project. It worked incredibly well, but it had recently turned into a stress machine.
I no longer had enough time or the actual desire to play the mobile games that I had to write about. I no longer liked it and it was destroying me. I had to do it, because it was the thing that was putting money on the table. But I hated it.
Because of this (and combined with some Google updates – especially the one in May 2020 which destroyed my site’s traffic), the revenue started to drop. I was already investing very little time in it and decided it’s best to let it go.
And $55,000 (before tax) is not a bad amount at all. I am certain that the blog wouldn’t have made this much money in the next 2 or 3 years and, even more importantly, it would’ve drained the life out of me.
Sure, if I think about the fact that the first time when I considered selling it, the blog got an initial valuation of around $200,000 (before traffic started to go down thanks to Google Core updates and me not publishing content on it), it doesn’t sound like a good deal.
But, when you’re selling a business – including a blog – past performance doesn’t matter at all. Plus, I had absolutely no interest in keeping the blog or working for it, so it would’ve gone down fast and not even earn me the $55k if I kept it.
This blog was an important part of my life, it was a passion project that not only I loved, but which also put me in contact with amazing people and helped me grow professionally and personally… but there was no point in holding onto something I no longer enjoyed. Or which, on the contrary, was actually becoming a nightmare to run.
So I still consider this a major win, despite the fact that the timing was absolutely horrible and delaying the sale only resulted in it having its valuation hammered.
The good thing is that it was a good deal for the buyers: even though I don’t have the exact numbers for them, I am sure it will become a very profitable purchase.
They started to do what was needed: which is post new content and take care of the website and it seems that traffic on the website has doubled since they purchased it. Now that’s a win-win situation!
Focusing on fewer projects
Not keeping all your eggs in the same basket is definitely a good idea. But I ended up diversifying too much – WAY too much.
Back in 2019, I was the proud owner and jack of all trades of 32 (!!!) blogs. Most of these were just time wasters for me as they were below par and generating no income.
At the beginning of 2020, I had managed to reduce the number to 19.
This year, I have managed to reduce the number of active blogs even further, down to 14 blogs that I own an manage, plus one that I launched with a friend and doesn’t really require much involvement.
But even though 14 is a lot better than 32, it’s still a bit too much for a single person to handle.
I also read a blogging expert’s advice (can’t remember who or the exact words), but he or she said something like this: if you can’t afford to outsource all work on one blog, it’s not yet time to start another.
And this is indeed true: trying to focus on 14 different projects, alone, is definitely bad. You can’t build 14 successful blogs, all by yourself, taking care of everything, simply because there isn’t enough time to do it all.
Heck, even one blog could be too much for one person to handle!
The problem is that I am now at a point where I find it very difficult to lower the number of blogs that I manage. I actually like all of the ones that I have and they are all generating at least some money (like $2 per month – no joke!)
So I have switched my approach a little bit: instead of sending even more blogs to the trash can, I plan to focus as much as possible on the ones that make real money and keep the rest for when I will generate enough income to afford bringing in people to manage them.
This might never happen, I know, but this is the best I can do and think of right now.
So I can say that I am actively focusing on 5 blogs – with the rest getting some attention whenever I have some free time or I just feel like working on them instead of others. This definitely works so far and I hope it will keep working.
Two of the ones I am not really focusing heavily on at the moment, but are not completely ignored, are par of my case study – make sure to check it out!
Changing hosts & themes
With site speed becoming so important these days, it was something that I had to do: start switching themes to faster ones, but most importantly – upgrade my hosting.
I’ve been exclusively with Dreamhost since I started blogging and even though they are a good host (with premium options too), I decided to try something else and I was extremely pleased with the results.
The main switch that I made (for just some of my blogs – the main ones) was getting over to BigScoots (affiliate link).
I absolutely love these guys – from instant support that is really helpful to the most important thing: page speed. The scores for my page speed tests (either via GT Metrix or PageSpeed Insights) have skyrocketed as soon as I switched hosts. That was everything that I wanted!
From simply changing hosts and doing no other changes, I managed to bring my Site Speed score up from ~50 on mobile to ~70, which is already a huge improvement:
I also decided to give my themes an upgrade. I managed to switch most of my sites over to Generatepress (I am using the Premium version which offers a bit more customization options) and simply changing the theme without changing the host improved my PageSpeed scores by at least 20 points.
But check out the results of both changing hosts and upgrading themes to really lightweight ones like Generatepress (same website as above):
You can easily see that I managed to improve my page speed scores by around 40 points by just switching hosts and changing themes – each of these steps accounting for a 20 point increase each.
You can actually see how the numbers improve with each change that I made, compared to the archived data (the one above) vs the current situation (“Lab data” at the bottom of each screenshot).
The truth is that nowadays most people visit websites on their mobile phones and most of the bells and whistles that your regular, old WordPress themes offer make absolutely no difference and are useless. So having a lightning fast theme is all that matters if you can’t afford to improve hosting as well.
And the best, most affordable option at the moment is Generatepress. (Note: This blog is still on a cheap, shared hosting plan, yet still getting decent PageSpeed scores thanks to the fast theme).
I also managed to get into Mediavine’s Trellis beta in late November and their theme is absolutely amazing. I will have a full review of it published soon – but trust me when I say that this is the absolute best WordPress theme for bloggers.
My pagespeed, on an overly optimized site (or so I thought) jumped straight from mid 70s to mid 90s. And it’s not just the score itself that improves: you can actually see and feel that your website is loading faster. This is definitely an amazing theme!
There are two reasons why I am not switching all my sites to Trellis right now:
- The theme is really expensive for the beginner blogger. Most of my blogs are not making enough money to afford switching over.
- It doesn’t have an autoload post feature, which is something that I really find useful on some of my blogs. They are reportedly working on adding this feature, so I will switch more sites over when that’s an option.
Doing the things that I enjoy
My working days are much more pleasant now – close to ideal, I would say.
Due to the fact that I sold my biggest blog – the one that caused so much stress – combined with the fact that I do own a fair share of blogs in various niches means that I have various options when it comes to working each day.
If I don’t feel like writing about travel, I can switch over to my kitchen blog. If that’s not something I want to do, I have my tech blog. Or my product review blog. Or my aquarium blog. You get the idea.
While I do focus on the main 5 blogs at the moment, I feel that I am finally doing something that I really enjoy. Which helps the overall mood and well being by a ton!
Dipping my toes into the Youtube waters
While I won’t go as far as saying that traditional blogging will be soon dead, I do agree with the fact that video is the future.
As a result, I decided to hop onto Youtube and start producing videos.
This is a really, really difficult thing for me. I don’t have any experience as a filmmaker, I have no experience with video editing so the entire process is really time consuming.
But I feel that this is something that has to be done and I plan to focus more energy on Youtube. Right now, things are moving extremely slow as the platform is already saturated, but since I feel that this is the future… I have no other option.
You can check out my YouTube channel at the Romania Experience Vlog – one where I talk about Romania and mix it a bit with daily life type of vlogs too. This is definitely something that I plan focusing more in the future.
The plan is to produce and publish 2 articles per month, each month, for the duration of 2021 and hopefully get the channel monetized before 2022 kicks in.
Bad (but fortunatelly small) investments in blogs
Since 2019 was such an amazing year for me, I decided to put some of the money I have earned to work for me, by doing what I knew: investing in blogs.
Apparently, I didn’t know that too well. Ha!
This resulted in me making some really poor investments (read: wasted money and time).
I spent $628 on a blog that I merged with an existing one, hoping to gain a boost of traffic for the latter. That didn’t really happen and even though I am making some money off the site that I bought, it will probably take more than 5 years at this rate to recoup my investment…
I also spent $2,500 on a larger blog that was supposed to make me around $60 per month, based on prior data. It only made $15 in November and $8 in December (which are actually considered good months), so it will be a long way getting those dollars back…
The worst thing about it is that this blog has 100+ articles that have to be completely rewritten because they are pure crap.
I actually wanted to buy this blog and merge it with my tech blog, but with such poor quality content, I thought it’ll do more harm than good. Lessons learned: always do proper due diligence before purchasing!
Blogging revenue in 2020
In terms of revenue, things were horrible if we are to compare with the numbers in 2019. In actual numbers, I actually made 48.82% less money in 2020 than I did in 2019. The worst decline was in September 2020, when I saw a whooping -67% decline in revenue compared to the previous year.
The year was saved in actual numbers by the sale of the blog, but I am not counting that in just yet because the plan is to put that money to work for me as an investment (or more) and not use them for my daily living.
Fortunately, based on my initial calculations, I did manage to grow my blogs enough to allow me to pay for the living expenses and maybe even save a tiny amount each month.
It’s still relatively early to be sure of this (you can’t be sure of anything in the world of blogging), but I feel encouraged. Before deciding to sell the main blog, the rest were not making enough money to pay for all my expenses, but they grew since and they are not at the limit.
Hopefully, having more time to invest in growing them will see them grow at least a bit more.
But overall, I can say that I am generally pleased with how things went income-wise. We’ll have more details on these below, but for such a crazy year as 2020 was, to be able to continue doing what I’ve been doing and still put food on the table was good enough for me.
It’s been much worse in other years, so hopefully my experience now will allow me to build a sustainable, solid income in 2021. I’m currently still some $1,000/month away of my income goal, but for 2021, I’ll be happy if I manage to cover all the monthly expenses and save at least 10% of my income.
Last year, I made some interesting calculations regarding some income numbers and I decided to do it again this year. Here are some important numbers for 2020 for all my blogs (no longer including values from the blog that I sold):
- Average revenue generated by each published article (since the blog’s creation): $39.38
- Highest average revenue on a blog: $236.46 / article
- Lowest average on a blog: $0.81 (hint: it’s NomadNotMad.com)
While the numbers don’t really mean a lot since they’re all over the place, they are all bigger than last year. This is mainly due to the fact that in 2020 I focused on editing and updating old content instead of writing new one.
Now, only if that $236 / article was on the blog where I have 1,000+ articles published…
Other blog numbers in 2020
1. Number of sessions for all my blogs: 3,969,587
While it is pretty impressive to know that almost 4 million people read articles that I wrote on my blogs, we can see that the numbers are not as impressive as last year when we had over 10 million sessions.
This is partly because my main website (the one I sold) recorded a massive drop in traffic. Also, I only counted its traffic until late August – which is when I sold it.
Without my old main blog, the traffic generated by all the others was just a bit over 1.5 million (1,512,000 sessions, to be precise). So this is basically the number that I have to beat in 2021.
2. Number of blogs that saw an increase in traffic compared to last year: 5
At the end of 2019, I had 8 blogs that had more traffic than in 2018.
Things are different in 2020, with just 5 blogs having more traffic than they did in 2019 (out of 10 tracked). I did not include here the site that I sold, not websites that are younger than 2 years old.
I can’t say that this is very surprising, since many of my blogs are related to travel and 2020 was horrible for this niche. Even better is the fact that three out of my top 5 blogs actually got more traffic: a 7% boost in one case, 85% in another and a 113% boost for the third blog. One lost 27% traffic compared to last year and the fifth is younger than 2 years.
So in terms of traffic, things look pretty good, all things considered. I am seeing some nice, constant growth in some cases and I hope that continues.
3. Income spread throughout all blogs
The numbers below don’t include the revenue generated by the main blog that I sold. And they are as follows:
47% of the money I made in 2020 came from one blog. The second placed delivered 26.57% of the income, while the third – 8.33%. The next three blogs generated 12.55% together, with the rest of around 5.5% being generated by 8 blogs.
This is somewhat better than last year, when my main blog was responsible for 80% of the generated income (but it was greater income as well).
Overall, I am very happy with how the numbers look. It’s absolutely normal to have 2-3 main blogs, responsible for most money. I just have to focus on those best performing ones and hopefully increase the actual amounts they make as well.
4. Number of articles published in 2020
This year, I focused heavily on updating old content – a process that I started last year. I had (and still have!) articles published back in 2013 and never updated since. I decided that this has to be fixed.
Also, updating old articles is usually easier than writing new ones. Sure… updating articles I wrote seven years ago is basically the same as writing a new one, but it’s something that has to be done.
This also seems to help a little bit in terms of rankings: both Google and visitors like to read up to date content. So no need in pushing hard for new articles, when the old ones are crap and not performing.
I updated at least 222 articles this year (but I haven’t tracked them all, so probably the real number is closer to 250).
I probably published around 100 new articles in total as well (mainly on the blog that I sold), meaning that this year I was extremely productive – but I usually am (not bragging!). Hopefully all this hard work will pay off sooner rather than later.
Personal life & growth
Things went relatively well in my personal life despite all the challenge that this year had for us.
The biggest win in my books is the fact that I finally managed to spend a lot more time with my son. Until 2020, I was spending minimal amounts of time with him and I hated that. But this year, I somehow managed to change that and we’re now spending at least a couple of hours (usually a lot more) together.
I also managed to stick to eating relatively healthy (although not optimal) and also keep stress away from my life for as much as possible.
I am working on becoming a better person and I am seeing improvements – although in some areas they are just minor. It takes time and a strong will to change the way you are and behave, especially when you’ve been doing it for your entire life.
But I am getting there and I fell that I am a much better person than I was last year. And this is all that matters – together with the “keep going” part. And I plan to keep on improving and getting better in 2021!
Other things to note
2020 was atypical. But strangely, due to all the restrictions, it was a good year for sorting out my life and especially my approach to business.
I had fewer distractions and more time to actually focus on my work, make plans and especially put them into practice.
Even though looking back at revenues, things don’t look well at all, I am still in an acceptable position right now and hopefully with regained focus and smart investment of my time, I will be able to grow a bit in 2021.
As for next year, from a non-business point of view, I don’t expect it to be much different than 2020, actually. The world won’t get back to being “normal” I think… even though it will start getting better in the summer.
This means that I am keeping my travel plans very low at the moment and focus on what matters the most: spending time with my family, improving on a personal level and focusing on growing my blogging business.