Updating our latest media brand 18 months and $289,000 later.

This article is a continuation of ours initial story about starting FinMasters and spending $477,924 on it, make sure you read this text first for context. Here’s an overview of what I’m going to discuss:

  • An update on what we’ve been up to over the last 18 months
  • Google and publishers
  • What went wrong? If anything? #

But why write it at all? There is a lot of misleading content out there about what it takes to build an online business, very little on this particular scale and even less about bad bets.

The FinMasters Path

The last message ended with these 2 scenarios:

  • Downscale and keep the loss to a minimum while hoping for some growth later.
  • Continue to double down on the good stuff and extend the timeline by another year, spending an additional $150,000 on the project.

The traffic looked like this:

It is not difficult to guess that we choose the second option. We’re continuing what we’ve been doing, working with the most reputable and experienced writers we can afford to hire, both for the web and our freemium reporter: and at the end of the year we were generating around $7,000 per month in affiliate income.

Due to a lack of authority, we were still struggling to get any traffic for general personal finance topics, so we decided to continue building our content library while introducing two new types of articles:

  1. Write the best research papers you can, e.g https://finmasters.com/consumer-debt-statistics/the best data available and the best presentation to differentiate ourselves.
  2. Fun, easier and cheaper to produce articles like: https://finmasters.com/weird-jobs-that-pay-well/, which would bring us short- and medium-term profits until we build authority. We decided to cooperate with an agency on those and edit them internally.

We also continued to invest in marketing, we started doing more PPC to promote our new research papers here is our traffic as of November 2022:

Financially, by the end of 2022, we were losing about $15,000 a month, but traffic was growing. In 2023, we continued with the same strategy, but it was more about execution, without trying a lot of new things. Milica, who managed the project, moved on to manage all our media projects.

We also acquired a smaller site at Flippa on a topic dear to my heart, logical fallacies: fallacyinlogic.com if you want to read more about fallacies: https://finmasters.com/logical-fallacy/.

Here’s what our costs looked like for 2023:

While traffic grew, our revenue did not. To continue growing more sustainably, we decided to experiment with display ads and join Raptive.

Just before joining Raptive we had our first “surprise”, Google HCU came and we lost about 30% traffic, 2 weeks later another update came and we lost another 30%, here is the chart again:

I was honestly surprised by the October update that hit almost all of our sites and it was something I haven’t seen in the last 13 years that Google specifically hit affiliate marketing sites regardless of their history and reputation. For E.g WPB Beginnerwhich is the oldest and largest WordPress website, based on Ahrefs also lost approximately 20% traffic.

Almost all of our affiliate income was gone and what we thought would be around $6,000 a month in ad revenue turned out to be $2,000. I was on my 3 month sabbatical and was a bit shocked thinking that I was not recognizing or accepting the new reality.

I think it took me maybe another 6 months to accept the new reality, for a while I just thought it was a temporary thing and things would turn around. The way I look at it now, maybe the situation 2-3 years ago is atypical in terms of how well we’re doing.

Before I get back to our story, let me share my answer to the question: does Google hate small publishers?

No, Google is just serving its users, employees and shareholders as always; it also aims to maintain search competitiveness against other information sources.

For a long time, Google had a lot of unique but incomplete content, with bloggers sharing random thoughts on their sites, comments, and forums, and promoting long-form content that summarizes that information in depth. But now they don’t need it anymore. This is because they already have too much similar content and AI can now efficiently digest and summarize a thousand unique points of view. What Google really needs now is to bring back the Internet of 15 years ago – forums, discussions and comments.

Now back to our story and what we decided to do next:

Focus on what you can control

Since we can only control our content and how users interact with it, we worked to create several data points to identify which articles need improvement. In addition to the bounce rate, we measure how many users and how long users browse if they click any resources or if they press the back button.

In addition, we run various user tests such as: https://www.codeinwp.com/blog/content-quality/to get more qualitative data on how we can improve UX on websites.

Based on this, we had our entire content team make a series of quick updates, especially making sure the intros are more useful for users.

While our content engagement numbers improved, traffic did not follow suit.

What should we do now?

Currently, as I write this, another major Google update is underway. Looks like we’re facing another -25% drop in traffic. However, given how far we have deviated from our original plans, this drop does not affect our current strategy much.

Our immediate plan is to keep our content library at a minimal level. Additionally, we are considering splitting the site in two, with our investment-focused content moving to the new site. This move should make it easier for us to establish a more niche brand, especially since we already own one optionsistics.com in this domain.

Overall, we will need to review our entire publishing approach, it is too early to tell what changes we will make.

What went wrong? If anything?

I believe that decisions should not only be judged in retrospect with bias. A good decision can lead to a bad outcome, but to me the process behind it is more important. It’s easy to call it a bad idea now considering we lost about 90% of our investment. However, to properly evaluate this, I would return to my original thesis.

“I win heads; I don’t lose a lot of tails.” This is the principle that guided my evaluation of this investment. I reasoned that by investing in quality content, even if we don’t get the desired return, the downside is limited, while the chance of significant upside is slim.

In retrospect, we are far from minimal losses. When I think about what could have been done differently, I realize that the biggest mistake was probably overconfidence. I relied too heavily on past success in our content business without adequately adapting to current market conditions.

A question I have been unable to ask myself for some time, especially as I get into the personal finance niche where there is a huge amount of content written: What are we bringing new and unique to what already exists? The answer is, frankly, very very little.

While I was aware that market dynamics would change, I underestimated the urgency and assumed the window of opportunity was wider than it was.

Facing past mistakes is not pleasant, and in the past I have often avoided it by not measuring our efforts at all. However, now that we’re doing it, there’s no reason not to take the opportunity to reflect.

For context, as I don’t want the post to sound like a complaint, we are still running a profitable company, we have not relied on external funding for this venture. FinMasters represents a significant, but not the largest, part of our investments, accounting for roughly 20%.

We’re always looking to win online businesses, if you’re interested, here’s how we’re different:

We come with a fair contract for both buyer and seller, no unnecessary restrictions and we are transparent about what the prices we usually pay are, they can still vary a lot, but for non-growing businesses it has returned 3-4x a year.

You won’t be dealing with a layer of assistants, you can email me directly at the address (email protected) and have an answer in a day. We can usually close in around 2 weeks. We don’t ask for a million things that we usually find on our own.

Some products will grow, some will stay as they are, and some will die, but in all cases we will try to find the best solution for existing users and do our best not to damage your work. I did.

So far, many people trust us with their projects and we are happy to provide references. We got products like PPOM, Multiple page generator, Options studies, imgbot.netand http://blog.cathy-moore.com. Usually people who want to move on to other things.

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