February 2020

Mount Emei

*Picture above: on top of the world at Emei Shan in Sichuan Province near Chengdu!

In February, the coronavirus (named COVID-19 by WHO) continued to spread around the world, resulting in more deaths and infections, and caused a global stock market meltdown (the worst week for US stock indices since the financial crisis in 2008).

Looking back, I’m glad that I cancelled my travel plans in Southeast Asia as this virus outbreak has truly turned into a global pandemic.

As such, I’ve spent much of my time last month preparing for the worst (stocking up on essential household items like food, medicine, toilet paper, rubbing alcohol, etc.).

I believe this coronavirus will, unfortunately, impact everyone on this planet in some way (either directly or indirectly). I hope you are preparing as well and please stay safe in the next few months!

Now, onto the business results for February 2020.

Key Metrics

  • Revenue: $633.33 (+14% MoM)
  • Sessions: 10,132 (-6% MoM)
  • Revenue per Thousand Sessions: $62.51 (+21% MoM)

Just over a year ago, I earned my very first commission from Amazon Associates for a total of $8.82 in February 2019. It’s been a long and exciting journey to watch earnings increase (and sometimes, also decrease) since making that first dollar ????.

This month, revenue increased MoM while sessions declined a bit (however, my website had about a day’s worth of downtime during a hosting migration to Siteground).

Overall, revenue increased due to:

  • Increased earnings from non-Amazon merchants (+26% MoM)
  • Increased earnings per click (EPC) at Amazon.com ($20.24, up 11% from $18.22)

As I explained in my latest annual report (which, if you have time, I highly recommend checking out), EPC is driven by 4 main factors:

  1. Click Through Rate: 24.5% (up from 21.8% last month)
  2. Conversion Rate: 16.2% (up from 11.8% last month)
  3. Average Order Size: $23.65 (down from $27.51 last month)
  4. Average Commission Rate: 5.3% (down from 5.6% last month)

*The figures above are from February 2020*

After looking at the numbers, it seems that CTR and CR increased dramatically from January levels. I’m particularly impressed with CR at 16.2% compared to the 2019 average of 9.5% (~60% increase).

These increases might reflect recent conversion rate optimization (CRO) initiatives including the use of Amazon Affiliate for WordPress (AAWP) to generate aesthetically-pleasing comparison tables and a renewed focus on content quality.

On the other hand, AOS and AOR both declined. I was surprised that average commission rates declined in February as I had been actively working to promote products in higher rate categories, including Beauty (6%) and Luxury Beauty (10%).

Overall, earnings increased this month due to higher profitability (revenue per thousand session) rather than organic traffic growth. Now that I’ve completed my hosting migration to Siteground, I can focus on content creation and SEO going forward.

Speaking of, I’ll quickly recap my thought process around this recent migration.

Managed WordPress Hosting

Generally, if you want to build a website or blog, you need two things:

  • A domain name: you pay a Registrar company to register “abcsite.com”
  • A hosting provider: you pay a Hosting company to host your website files

When I first started, I bought a cheap hosting plan from Bluehost ($255.96 for 3 years) which allowed me to host an unlimited number of websites. Of course, the tradeoff is that the overall performance was generally worse than more expensive packages.

Now that my website is receiving more traffic, it’s an appropriate time to upgrade the infrastructure to provide a better experience for both users (faster load times means fewer bounces) and search engines (speed is an SEO factor, albeit a smaller one, but it matters a lot for mobile search results where speed is more important).

My original upgrade choice was Kinsta. This company specializes in “managed WordPress hosting” which just means a more premium level of performance and service. Their starter plan starts at $30/month or $300/year (so about 3x more expensive than Bluehost).

However, after trying out their service for a few days, I was ultimately unhappy with the price-to-performance ratio. When I ran speed benchmarks, the performance was actually worse than before on GTMetrix, and after further optimizations (such as eliminating redundant plugins and configuring things to play nicely on Kinsta), the performance was still not where I wanted it to be.

After speaking to support, it seems that the bottleneck was the number of PHP workers that were available to execute PHP functions. Strangely (and I am by no means a technical expert), this meant I could not run common plugins like social sharing icons or external API requests to Amazon.com (required for mobile popover ads and Amazon Affiliate for WordPress).

This didn’t seem right given how much more I was paying for Kinsta’s premium hosting.

So my next step was to find an alternative hosting provider (or return to Bluehost). Long story short, I decided to use Siteground as it offered a better price-to-performance ratio than Kinsta. It’s actually very reasonably priced, even compared to what I paid for Bluehost. It cost me $5.95/month (promotional price) or $214.20 for 3 years so not too shabby there.

Unlike Bluehost, Siteground has pretty good performance features including the same bells-and-whistles as Kinsta (HTTP/2 and Apache/NGINX servers running on Google Cloud Platform data centers using LXD containers with server-level caching). Kinsta offers a premium DNS option and a content delivery network (CDN) through its partnership with KeyCDN while Siteground uses (from what I can tell) a standard DNS service but offers Cloudflare CDN with free Railgun included.

Overall, I found that my website performed better on GTMetrix with Siteground (I’m using their GrowBig plan) using the following plugin configuration:

  • WP Rocket: caching, minify HTML, minify/combine/defer JS and CSS (Siteground has a tool called SG Optimizer but I found that WP Rocket does a better job here)
  • Perfmatters: enable just about every feature, prefetch DNS for external requests
  • OMGF: serve fonts locally rather than fetching from Google’s servers
  • Imagify: compress images and serve in next-gen WebP formats

I’m happy with the performance for now but we’ll see how Siteground handles the increase in traffic as I create more content and generate more visits this year.

Next Steps

For the next few months, I will continue to create new content and upgrade older articles. I find that there’s more ROI in upgrading my highest traffic articles (mainly, Best X for Y types) so that’s what I’ll be focusing on for the next little while.

Stay safe, everyone! ????

To Flexibility and Freedom,

Tom

Mount Emei

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