Some recent traffic stats with a little bit of artistic interpretation for what the middle of March looked like.
How Not to Do SEO (Maybe?)
My biggest fear when purchasing IntroCave was that it somehow wasn't sustainable long term—that the strong organic traffic that drove most of the revenue would just evaporate one day and I'd be left holding a big honking website that wasn't making enough money to cover its hosting and loan costs. A $100k mistake.
That happened a few weeks ago.
I spent a long time thinking about the best metaphor to use for a crappy March before deciding on the train wreck, but here are a few of the rejects.
Most of my organic traffic comes from searches related to the term "intro maker" or some variant of that. It feels like that should be a closely guarded secret, but it should be fairly obvious looking at the home page (with Intro Maker plastered right in the top heading) or noticing that big "Intro Maker For YouTube" in the html title attributes on most of the pages. After watching the traffic slowly tick upwards for eight months, traffic fell off a cliff in the middle of March. Oddly enough, though, the panic hasn't really set in. As much as I was worried about this, I've been preparing for this since the ink dried on the purchase agreement.
I'm still pretty new to this whole marketing thing, so I thought it might be fun to run through what it seems like I'm doing right before taking a look at maybe what caused that traffic to drop.
What I Did Right (Maybe?)
At the time of purchase, something like 90% of my traffic was coming from organic search results related to "intro maker." I did a little sleuthing and found that intromaker.com was just a parked domain. As soon as I was sure the IntroCave side of the deal would close, I reached out and started negotiating to purchase that domain. The rough plan was to migrate IntroCave over to IntroMaker and 301 redirect everything once I'd owned the domain long enough to season it. As I've gotten more familiar with how IntroCave's customization system works, I've gotten more ambitious.
It should be possible to build a more general-purpose intro editor that's not so dependent on pre-built intro video templates. I think there's significant demand out there for a more DIY solution that's in between something completely pre-built like IntroCave and something with a steep learning curve like AfterEffects. With a long term goal in place and validation that there are actually a lot of people who want to make intro videos, my time horizon gets a lot longer. This is likely a years-long project. Due to that longer view, I'm less worried about recouping in the first couple of years (though it would still be nice!).
Keywords, Categories, and Descriptions
It was miserable work, but I went through all 100+ intro video templates on the site and rewrote every keyword, category, and description. Besides making my own internal search more useful, it also allows search engines to link directly to specific categories of intro videos instead of the massive list of everything on the main home page. Instead of all my organic traffic funneling through the home page, I wanted to diversify a bit and bring content in on deeper landing pages.
I started measuring stats for deeper landing pages in October of last year, where they made up about 25% of my search impressions and 10.5% of my incoming organic clicks. Those deeper clicks are down since the traffic drop as well, but they're now about 40% of search impressions and 35% of incoming clicks. The traffic dip could have been MUCH WORSE had I not put in that effort.
I know I've been talking about email marketing a lot in the last few months, but holy shit am I glad I haven't given up on it yet. I'm still getting a handle on how to measure it, but there are now lots of indicators that the newsletter is having a good effect on repeat traffic. Referral traffic is up (and the newsletter helps keep IntroCave top-of-mind for anyone writing about this space), direct traffic is up (as well as people searching "introcave" or "intro cave"), return traffic is up, direct email traffic is up. I don't know if I'll ever get to what I'd consider a "healthy" traffic mix (33% organic, 33% referral, 33% direct+email), but this organic traffic dip has provided a huge validation for all the work I've been putting in on email.
What I Did Wrong (Maybe?)
Bad Blogging? Part 1
Blogging is one of the most time-consuming parts of running IntroCave, so one of the experiments I've been trying is hiring out a few blog posts. I didn't go cheap here, either—I hired a writer with a good reputation off of Upwork. He did a few hours of keyword research and came back with 10-15 possible articles. I picked a few and he delivered them.
I don't think they'll win any writing awards, but he delivered what I asked for. They read like blog articles you find on websites all over the web... which is to say they have a lot of words and not a whole lot of actually interesting content. Shortly after posting the last one, I started getting random emails asking if people could post additional guest blogs on IntroCave. Did I trip some kind of bot detector? Some kind of "low-quality content welcome here" algorithm? Maybe whatever got me on their radar is the same thing the big G is looking at.
I'm not going to take them down (I can't say for certain that these blog posts caused any traffic drops), but I'm not sure I want to post any more of them for a while.
Bad Blogging? Part 2
Another perspective: the hired-out blog posts are relevant to the topic of running an intro maker. They're all generally about video production and making intro videos.
What if the problem isn't those posts, but posts like this one?
I like writing these behind-the-scenes posts, but just because I like writing them doesn't mean they're doing me any good. I used to post revenue stats back in my Flash game dev days, and I always had people telling me how much the appreciated that transparency. There's a pretty good argument to be made that I should be doing blog posts like this one on my personal site instead of here. If IntroCave is all about making intro videos, everything on this blog should be authored with that in mind. Motivation is a bitch, though, and my current calculus shows that writing these deep-look behind-the-scenes posts keeps me a lot more motivated to keep improving the business.
I'm a data nerd, so I like posting stats. It's just that the stats don't change a whole lot. I run the top videos of the month every month to include them in the newsletter, so I've fallen into the habit of including those in my monthly stat recaps for the blog as well. It's entirely possible that listing out the top keywords and videos every month tripped some kind of duplicate content checker. I think it's neat data to share (and the queries are easy to run), but for now, I think I'll hold off on posting any more "Top Intros" or "Top Search Term" lists on these blog posts.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about what I changed on the site, but there's a ton of stuff that's completely outside my view. Did I have some valuable links that disappeared? Did the keywords I had ranked with get more competitive? Maybe I didn't do anything! Maybe the other intro maker sites just did a better job. The previous owner was regularly posting links to Reddit and Twitter. I looked at the traffic coming from those and decided there wasn't enough ROI. Maybe those links weren't meant to drive traffic?
Enough Handwaving, How Bad Is It?
The Bad: average traffic and revenue so far in April are down about 60% from January's peak.
The Silver Lining: traffic and revenue have grown since taking over, so that's only down about 25% from when I purchased the site. That will eat a lot of profits, but I should still be well in the black for the time being. I'm still learning the ins and outs of marketing, and hopefully this is just a speed bump.