Is It Keto: Month 7

April 3, 2019

One-Line Summary

A record month, but it’s time to give up.

Highlights

  • Is It Keto’s visits reached a record high of 11k pageviews.
  • Revenues reached a record high of $40.84 in affiliate income.
  • Despite this, Is It Keto didn’t satisfy its critical goals, so I’m putting it on the backburner.

Goal Grades

At the start of the month, I laid out some high-level goals. Because of Is It Keto’s slow growth, I declared these to be goals the site must meet or else I’d stop working on it.

Achieve $100 in revenue

  • Result: Earned $40.84 in revenue (59% below target)
  • Grade: C-

This was the site’s highest revenue month, almost doubling the previous record set in January. At this level of traffic, revenue levels seem to be smoothing out to a few dollars per week rather than isolated bursts on just two or three days for the entire month.

That said, $40 is small potatoes. It doesn’t even meet the goal I was trying to hit back in January when I began setting monthly revenue targets.

Receive links from two websites with a Moz Domain Authority of at least 40

  • Result: Got zero new links except for random spam domains (100% below target)
  • Grade: F

I made a longshot bet that other keto sites would link to me if I created interesting visualizations about keto recipes. Sadly, it didn’t pan out. Most sites didn’t respond to my inquiries, and the ones that did felt that their readers wouldn’t be interested.

Add 10 new pages for different foods

  • Result: Added 12 new food pages (20% above target)
  • Grade: A

In January and February, I set more aggressive goals for publishing new food articles (75 and 30, respectively). March’s target was deliberately conservative so that I could focus on strategies for increasing incoming links. This was a nice, easy goal, so I beat the target by a small amount.

Stats and Metrics

Amazon Affiliate Stats

Amazon Earnings - March 2019
Amazon affiliate earnings - March 2019
Metric February 2019 March 2019 Change
Total Earnings ~$11 $40.84 +$29.84 (+271%)
Clicks 371 236 -135 (-36%)
Conversion ??? 19.07% ???

Conversion rates have been promisingly high. I don’t have numbers for February due to my link tag screwup, but my January conversions were 23%. Both of these are substantially higher than on this blog, where conversion is around 3%. It seems like if users click the “Where to Buy” link on Is It Keto, they’re typically ready to make a purchase.

There was a precipitous drop in affiliate link clicks relative to February, but I suspect February’s numbers were not accurate. I tried to correct for the link confusion in February by correlating clicks against my Google Analytics data, but now I’m skeptical that Google Analytics recorded every click. It seems too suspicious that clicks dropped by 36% while pageviews increased by 34%.

Visitor Stats

Google Analytics screenshot
User sessions - April 2018 through March 2019
Metric February 2019 March 2019 Change
Unique Visitors 2,687 4,001 +1,314 (+49%)
Total Pageviews 8,500 11,431 +2,931 (+34%)
Referrals from organic search 1,998 3,362 +1,364 (+82%)
Referrals from Facebook 18 40 +22 (+97%)
Referrals from Twitter 307 325 +325 (+6%)

This was a great month for user visits in every category, but the growth came almost entirely from organic search. Unsurprisingly, Google dominated my referrals from organic search.

So much of Is It Keto’s success depends on how Google ranks me for a query like “is Metamucil keto?” If my article is the #1 result, that one page can bring in 1,000 visitors per month. If the article is in the #15 spot, I’ll only receive a handful of visitors.

SEO Stats

Google Search Console screenshot
Google Search Console - March 2019
Metric February 2019 March 2019 Change
Google-indexed pages 93 161 +68 (+73%)
Google indexed vs. excluded pages 65.0% 91.4% +26.4 (+40.6%)
Domain Authority (Moz) 10 9 -1
Linking Domains (Moz) 10 11 +1
Ranking Keywords (Moz) 99 448 +349 (+352%)

Google loved me in March! Almost every Is It Keto article is now in Google’s search index, and it ranked me higher in search results for many new terms. The number of keywords for which Is It Keto appears in the first page of results exploded from 99 in February to 448 in March.

In February, there were only two Is It Keto pages that appeared more than 500 times in Google search results. In March, that number increased to 18. Of those, 11 pages received 1,000 impressions or more.

I’m not sure why there was such a dramatic boost this month. It could be that there’s an age component to it, so my links are bubbling to the top of results as more users click. Or it could be that Google is ranking me more favorably as the breadth of my site has grown, so I’m a more trustworthy authority on the keto diet now that I’ve reached 173 articles.

Finances

Income/Expense February 2019 March 2019
Amazon Affiliate revenue $11 $41
Content writers -$893 -$425
Twitter manager -$144 -$96
Net Profit -$1,026 -$480

In winding down the site, I reduced the hours of my content writers and my Twitter manager. As a result, this was my lowest level of spending since I began focusing on the site in December.

Despite March being my highest revenue month, the costs highlight the tininess of my revenue. One of my writers charged $50/hr, so my entire month of income wouldn’t be enough to pay for a single hour of her time.

Biggest challenge: link building

Over the past few months, it’s become clear that Is It Keto’s primary source of growth is organic search. And for the site to rank well in search results, other reputable sites need to link to Is It Keto.

This presented a difficult challenge. Every page on Is It Keto is just an explanation of why a particular food is or is not keto. The Huffington Post is never going to get excited about my article on Lily’s Chocolate and do their own write-up about what how groundbreaking it is. There are big keto sites that presumably have an interest in keto content, but they don’t want to link to someone else’s explanations about which foods are keto.

I tried to think of what unique advantages I had over other keto sites. My one secret weapon was KetoHub, a keto recipe search tool I built in 2017. It scrapes keto recipes from the web into structured data:

Structured keto recipe data from KetoHub

My failed attempt at link building

My idea was to create compelling visualizations from my KeotHub data. And then once I had some examples, approach major keto sites and ask if they want to republish my charts. Or I could even create custom visualizations about the recipes on their specific site. In exchange, they just had to provide attribution in the form of a link back to Is It Keto.

To start out, I made a bubble cloud of how frequently different ingredients appear in keto recipes:

Bubble cloud of ingredient frequency in keto recipes

This was harder than I anticipated. I used D3.js, which is a powerful visualization library, but it’s also incredibly complex. I spent a week cobbling together bits of various tutorials in order to get that bubble cloud working.

I reached out to a few keto sites that I had spoken to in the past through KetoHub, but most of them ignored my message. The few that did respond seemed put off by my proposal. To them, it came across as yet another spammer with offers of, “I’ll pay you if you let me write a guest post on your blog and link to my shady website.”

My subsequent blog post was about artificial sweeteners, as they’re a contentious topic in the keto community. I showed how different sweeteners rise and fall in popularity over time:

Stacked area chart of artificial sweetener usage over time

This time, I used NVD3, a more user-friendly interface to D3 that my friend suggested. It was still a clunky process, but substantially easier than raw D3. I also decided to stick with more traditional visualizations like pie charts and line graphs. This sped up the process because staying within common scenarios meant there were plenty of examples.

With both blog posts published, I reached out to the remaining keto sites with a softer pitch. I offered to create visualizations that they could include on their website, but I left it vague about what I wanted from the deal.

The results were no better than my first wave of pitches. Most sites never answered. A couple sent noncommittal responses. Some of them misunderstood and thought I was just offering to create custom visualizations for them to enjoy privately and never publish on their site.

In the end, I wasn’t able to get any new links to Is It Keto.

Calling it quits

Now, I’m shelving the site. It’s a difficult decision because it has been growing consistently, and I’m sure I could get it to turn a profit if I kept working on it for another year. But of everything I could invest a year of effort into, I suspect this is not the one with the highest potential profit.

Fortunately, the site can run fine on its own, as it did for most of 2018. It just runs on AppEngine, so it will just chug along, and I never have to update any packages or reboot any servers.

My hope is that the site will grow organically as people click Is It Keto links in Google results. If the site makes it to the #1 spot on Google for more keywords, traffic could be 10-100x what it is today. If revenues grow to $500+ per month, then I’ll maybe pick it back up because that’s the point where I can hire people to expand it and still turn a profit.

In total, I spent about $4,500 on the site and earned only $76 in revenue so far. I doubt I’ll earn back my investment, but it could happen if growth continues at its current rate.

Wrap Up

What Got Done?

  • Published two blog posts experimenting with keto recipes and visualization
  • Reached out to eight major keto sites to see if they’d be interested in using my visualizations in exchange for attribution
    • No dice.
  • Wrote a tool to identify missing crosslinks in my pages
    • For example, it notifies me if an Is It Keto article mentions “lima beans” but doesn’t link to the dedicated lima beans article.
  • Added 12 new food pages

Lessons Learned

These are my takeaways from March, but I’ll probably do a full-length blog post about what high-level lessons I’ve learned from this project.

  • When it comes to data visualization, start simple.
    • It’s easier to generate something common like a line chart or bar graph than something exotic like a bubble cloud.
    • Simple charts prevent you from going too far down the rabbit hole of fiddling with visualization code.
  • D3.js is a powerful visualization library, but it’s too complex for quick, experimental visualizations.

Goals for April

Is It Keto is on hold, so my top goal is to resist the temptation to continue working on it or monitoring it closely. In addition, here are a couple other things I’d like to achieve in April:

  • Learn Vue.js, as I’ve officially given up on Angular after constant headaches.
  • Explore ideas for a new project that I can begin in May/June.
  • Get back to posting full-length blog articles because I’ve only published one in 2019.

Updated: