Q4 of 2020 was Swift Salary's best quarter to date in terms of revenue, but it wasn't perfect. Traffic ended off a bit shaky, my email list needs work, and I still have a lot more work, in general, to do around here.
But, I can't complain! I'm extremely grateful to end such a gloomy year off on a good note.
Stay tuned for all the details on my Q4 content, income, expenses, traffic, and more.
If you haven't already, here are my previous income reports from 2020:
- Q1 2020 Income Report (I made $5,280.71)
- Q2 2020 Income Report (I made $6,685.59)
- Q3 2020 Income Report (I made $12,427.31)
- Find my other reports here.
New Things That Happened in Q4
First off, let's look at the new content published in Q4:
- How to Spot Survey Scams & GPT Scams (in 10 Steps) – 5376 words
- How to Stay Safe on Paid Surveys and GPT Sites (10 Tips) – 3046 words
- Cointiply Review: Legit or Scam? (All You Need to Know) – 3857 words – mostly outsourced
- Surveytime Review: Legit or Scam? (All Qs Answered) – 2327 words – mostly outsourced
- Prolific Review: Worthwhile Surveys? (In-Depth Look) – 2906 words – mostly outsourced
- How to Invest as a Teenager: The Beginner’s Guide – 2704 words – guest post
- 20+ Best GPT Sites (Get Paid To Sites) + Tips and FAQs – 8439 words
- Free Income Tracker for Paid Surveys & GPT Sites/Apps – 1331 words – the spreadsheet for this actually took me a decent amount of time
- Total of 29,986 words published! (not including email content)
Based on the overall goal of trying to publish 4 new pieces of content per month, I fell short. But, if you look at the word count, that gives a bit more of an explanation as to why.
If I was simply publishing 1,500-word posts, I would have had over 19 posts published. But, I'm going for more in-depth guides as Google seems to prefer those.
That being said:
I've been realizing recently that editing eats up a lot of my time when creating content, especially for longer posts. I need to work on that.
Research is another time suck. Sometimes my writing flow gets broken when I think of something new to add to an article, then I go off on Google or Youtube to do research. I should instead finish as much writing as I can in one session, make notes of additional research/content opportunities, then go back and add those in later.
I'm still streamlining my content creation process! It's always a work in progress.
This last quarter I began experimenting with outsourcing content. I've had troubles with doing this in the past as I like to write and research most of the articles you see here.
I still like to have that, but I'm beginning to discover (and take advantage of) outsourcing opportunities that save me time and create BETTER content than I could (this is super important).
- I can't test every money-making site/app myself, but I want my reviews to be accurate. Someone who's actually used a site/app can write a much better review of it. It's like Brian Dean once said: “If you want an article on how to fix a toilet, hire a plumber, not a freelance writer.”
- Reviews are mostly factual based. I doubt many people care or notice a difference between reviews I write from scratch myself vs. reviews someone else writes which I edit. People just want the facts.
Once I knew my plan, I needed two things:
- A template for the review writers to follow
- Review writers with valid experience
For the template, I simply wrote a review myself (this Treasure Trooper review). The process gave me ideas on how to structure the template, what types of questions to ask, how to guide the writers, and more.
It's still a work in progress, but it's getting the job done, and it was quick.
Finding the writers was the real tough part. Not many GPT site or survey site users are chilling on freelance websites like Upwork. Luckily, I already knew of the perfect community to find people on: the /r/beermoney subreddit.
I'm still in the early phases of fine tuning this specific outsourcing process, but so far I'm happy with the content that's been produced. The only problem I've run into so far is that the articles I'm receiving from the review writers require quite a bit of editing + some writing and research from myself.
Once I have the system down efficiently though, you can expect a lot more high-quality reviews here!
I'll likely be adapting these methods to other review categories as well, think personal finance apps, online courses, cashback apps, and more.
Swift Saturday Newsletter Revival
As if I don't have enough content creation tasks on my plate each week, I decided to add another one this quarter:
The (now weekly) Swift Saturday newsletter.
For those unaware, Swift Saturday was a monthly newsletter that I used to send out on the first Saturday of every month. Instead of sending out new blog posts as they were released, I'd just recap them all in the letter.
Back in July though, I switched things up. My open rates had been hovering around 15%-20% and I wanted to try improving things, so I decided to re-test the “one blog post per email” approach again.
This worked out decently, with two main problems:
- The open rates varied quite a bit with some emails getting ~20% opens and others getting less than 10%.
- It felt a bit overly-promotional blasting my subscribers with emails about my new content every week. Being that I talk about a variety of personal finance subjects, each piece of content doesn't always appeal to every subscriber. I don't want to be “that guy” that clutters peoples inboxes with unwanted info.
That's why I decided to bring back the Swift Saturday newsletter in a weekly format.
Now keep in mind:
There's a lot of hype around newsletters right now. Everyone seems to be starting one.
So why did I hop on the hype train? Two reasons:
- Consistency – Sending out my email on the same day each week will (hopefully) create a routine with my readers so that they anticipate my email.
- Easy reading – My newsletter is setup to be clean and easy to skim. When you see something that interests you, then you can slow down and learn more about it.
- Variety – I've updated my newsletter format to include all 3 finance categories (make, manage, and multiply). This way, each reader should be able to get at least one valuable thing out of it each week.
Having a consistent weekly newsletter also gives me a place to curate and share other people's content, which makes consuming an unhealthy amount of personal finance content each week feel more productive.
Of course, this is just another experiment. It's not perfect or going insanely well yet either (more on my subscriber stats below).
Still, it's helping me learn more about my audience and improve my writing and researching skills.
Don't be afraid to try new things and adapt over time.
First Podcast Appearance
Speaking of new things, I'm really excited about this one!
Back in July I had an awesome chat with Josh Belk about entrepreneurship. Inn December, he invited me to be on Student Hustles, a new podcast that he co-hosts with his friend Brian Stovall.
In the episode we talk about making money, Swift Salary, freelancing, college, and more. Check it out here and be sure to subscribe to his show. I see a lot of good things coming from it in the near future!
Blog Income and Expenses for Q4 2020
All income and expenses are recorded in Canadian dollars. Income is based on money that has actually hit my bank account.
Income Breakdown: $15,988.05 Gross Profit
Here's a monthly breakdown:
- October: $5,534.27
- November: $4,627.02
- December: $5,826.76
Here's what I actually earned from:
- Affiliate Income ($7,740.28):
- Rakuten – $131.31
- Bookscouter – $2.59
- Mediavine – $6,892.19
This quarter I officially cracked $5,000/month average in revenue. That's absolutely bonkers.
I remember back when I had just started Swift Salary and was still working in the grocery store, a co-worker and I were talking about how much money we would be happy with making each month. My number was $5,000.
To actually hit that in revenue feels surreal.
Expense Breakdown: $2,696.41 Spent
- Deposit Photos – $182.40
- Bank Fees – $164.58
- Virtual Assistant – $792
- Writers – $744.68
- GSuite – $22.57
- Asset Cleanup Pro plugin – $62.18
- New office chair – $728
The writer expenses are all from reviews I outsourced, other than one that was an interview I paid for (coming soon).
* Total Net Profit: $13,946.84 *
Traffic Breakdown: 277,434 Pageviews
Compared to Q3, I had 33,672 less pageviews in Q4. That's a 10.8% decline.
Look at this sad chart of Q3 traffic vs. Q4 traffic:
As you can see, the decline started in November, but December is when I really got hit.
In fact, compared to October, December had 41% fewer pageviews. Every single page of mine is performing worse now than in October.
I think the recent December core update from Google played a big part in this decline. My site also saw a pretty big traffic dip last year around November due to a Google update.
Some interesting insights?
- My Qmee Review was previously ranking on the first page for the “Qmee” search term. I'm on the second or third page for that ranking now, but my position for the “Qmee review” search term has improved. Seems like it's getting tougher to rank for brand name keywords.
- I had a better overall average position in December vs. October, but fewer clicks and impressions. This seems to be due to lost keywords + lower rankings for higher volume keywords. I have gained some position on lower volume long-tail keywords though.
Here's my plan going forward:
- Keep publishing new content that's as helpful and in-depth as possible
- Take more action on updating my older pieces of content (this is something I've been procrastinating on for a while).
- Improve my site speed. I'm planning on implementing a better caching plugin and a CDN to try to improve my Google CWV scores. I've poured a lot of time into this already and seen improvements, but I still have a ways to go.
- Create an about page. This is another thing I've been procrastinating. I don't think it will have a big impact on my rankings, but it's something I should have on the site anyway. (Got this done now! Check it out here.)
That's really it. Nothing too drastic. I've been hit badly by Google updates in the past and freaking out trying to fix things is usually wasted effort. I'm already seeing my traffic level out a bit, so I'm going to keep an eye on it and stick to my strategy of providing high-quality content.
Email List: 4,413 Subscribers
I started October with 3,618 active subscribers and ended December with 4,413.
That's 795 new subscribers for the quarter and an average of 265 subscribers per month.
Compared to Q3, my email list growth saw a decline of ~39%.
This decline was mostly due to the traffic losses in November and December. November saw 463 fewer subscriber than October and December saw 178 fewer than November.
That's not the only problem though:
Since reviving the Swift Saturday newsletter, I've seen open rates as low as 8.5%, with 17.08% being my highest.
I'm not exactly sure what's causing the low open rates either (my emails seem to be delivering fine).
Here are some possible causes:
- Emails are landing in Gmails “Promotional” tab and people aren't seeing them
- My subject lines aren't enticing enough
- Saturday (or the specific time I'm sending the email on Saturday) isn't optimal
And here are my plans:
- Keep testing different subject lines
- Create a better welcome sequence for those who sign up for my list without joining a targeted opt-in.
- Test different sending times. I've tested between 10am-10:30am. Going to test other times to see if it makes any difference.
- Test different sending day. I don't want to do this, but I might have to change the day I send my newsletter. Saturday (and weekends in general) are known for low open rates. If I do make a change, I'll be moving the letter to Tuesday and morphing it with my money-tip Tuesday emails.
Goals for Q1 of 2021
- Send 12 Swift Saturday newsletters
- Publish reviews for all not-yet-reviewed sites from GPT sites guide – There are over 15 reviews that will need to be published. I'm working on an outsourcing system to make it possible.
- Implement FlyingPress and CDN and work on Core Web Vitals scores – I'm not sure how long this will take as I've never implemented a CDN before and the FlyingPress plugin is completely new to me. Also, testing multiple pages in Google Pagespeed Insights and making tweaks will take time.
- Update all posts with 2019/2020 in title to 2021 – This could take longer than it may first seem. It's not as simple as just updating the title. Many of my older posts haven't been updated in a long time, so I may find a lot of additional things to add as I go.
- Publish 6 founders in focus stories – I already have one ready and one in the works. Need to find two more founders to interview. If that's you, contact me! I'd love to feature anyone who makes money with a full-time business or side hustle. Doesn't matter if it's $100/month or $100,000+.
- Publish 6 guides – These are typically longer articles so they take more time and research to create.
Want to Start a Blog?
This income report only scratches the surface of what's possible when you own a content-based online business. It's by far my favorite way to make money online.
If you like the idea of learning, sharing knowledge, and creating content around a topic you're interested in, you might want to learn how to start a blog too.
If you're interested in learning how to start a blog, check out my free course:
The course doesn't just cover the techy stuff; it also covers how to actual pick a topic/niche, how to come up with content ideas, how to get readers, and most importantly, how to make money blogging.
See ya there!
2020 was a year that caused many to lose their jobs. I'm extremely fortunate to have had such a good year in terms of income.
I hope that the resources I've put together here (and in my emails) help others recover a bit. I still have a long way to go to turn this site into what I want it to be, so thanks for coming along for the journey.
If you're interested in seeing my entire 3rd year of blogging summed up into one report, read that here.
Have any questions about this quarter's blog income report? Leave a comment below!