Transparency Report #12 – We’re Launching a New Blog + Why

Welcome to the 12th edition of the transparency report! In this series, I talk about everything going on here at CodeinWP (from a business point of view). I try to focus on the interesting stuff and the things that play an important role for our business growth. This means everything from the current goings-on, wins and loses, strategies, and etc. (Check out all previous reports here.) In this edition, I talk about what happened at CodeinWP in January 2016:

How SEO can land you a WordPress career

Story time.

Personal story time, to be more exact. If you don’t like those, feel free to scroll to the “Advertising your business online” part.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m relatively new to the WordPress community. Just around 4-5 years ago, my whole world was SEO.

I was extremely passionate about it. I created hundreds of small affiliate sites, and I did a lot of consulting gigs. Eventually, the consulting + SEO combo led me to creating CodeinWP. My initial goal was to rank for “PSD to WordPress.”

(At that time, I felt confident that I can cope with the WordPress part of the work, and partnered with Claudiu to take care of HTML/CSS. So this is how CodeinWP was born … through the magic of SEO and a neat idea to provide a “PSD to WordPress” service.)

SEO was both challenging and exciting. But after doing this for a while and playing the cat and mouse game with Google, I realized that it’s probably not something that I want to be a part of for the long haul.

Literally every week – and I mean every week – there was someone sharing their failure story with Google as the main villain. New algorithm updates, new manual actions, new penalties … all of those caused people to lose their SEO businesses literally overnight, and by the thousands.

I needed out.

I decided that I would rather spend my time building a brand, learning how to deliver real value to people, and thus build a business that is sustainable in the long run.

This is basically how I started what is now ThemeIsle.

Actually, I was so tired and pissed off at all that SEO stuff that I didn’t even bother to do any SEO for ThemeIsle. I had just about enough of worrying about H2’s and so-called “quality link building.”

Long story short, through the magic of time, a lot of marketing optimization and product work, here we are today. Over time, we’ve built a great team of dedicated people, we get 1,000+ sales every month, my email software tells me that we have 200,000+ people across all our lists, and most importantly, we have some of the most popular WordPress themes on the market.

But.

The ghost of SEO past has been lurking in the dark and trying to whisper some advice into my ear…

After 2 years of operating, I’ve finally noticed how awful ThemeIsle has been doing in the search engines. I mean, we’ve – I’ve – ignored soooo many things when it comes to our SEO. For instance:

  • the whole site had an awful category structure and no internal linking whatsoever,
  • the theme demos were set to noindex, which basically informed Google that they should ignore 1,000+ root domains linking to those demos,
  • some test pages (like “1 2 3 test hello world”) were still online,
  • there was a lot of duplicate content, and many more issues … just listing this here makes me cringe.

So, I finally contacted one of the leading Romanian SEO agencies, AgileMedia.com (where a very good friend of mine is in charge), and we’ve started a 6-month contract to work on the site’s SEO.

The first thing we’ve addressed was the poor category structure and the lack of internal links.

Originally, the URL structure for categories was something like: themeisle.com/downloads/category/free. This didn’t do much in terms of informing Google, or the visitors, what’s going on. We’ve changed that to a more descriptive setup: themeisle.com/wordpress-themes/business/

We’ve also updated the on-page structure and added some H1 and H2 tags to those category pages. We’ve put them close to the top of the page, to make things clearer for anyone coming to those pages directly from Google.

h2s

The internal link structure has also been updated. Right now, every category page links to the other categories, and every individual theme links to its assigned category. We’re monitoring the impact this has on the rankings / traffic, and looking for other on-page optimizations that can be done.

We’re already seeing 20% increase in organic traffic due to those seemingly simple fixes. And that’s despite the loss of around 200 visits / day from the main site since we redirected the documentation over to docs.themeisle.com (which is now getting 1,600 sessions / day). Read more about our docs here.

So the lesson is this (both for me and for you): Don’t spend too much time on SEO, there are more important things to do while building a business … but also do not ignore Google recommendations completely. There’s a range of small optimizations you can do without much hassle, and they can have a huge impact on your overall results.

Advertising your business online? Here’s what you should pay attention to

Okay, let’s start on a high note … banners are still not dead.

I know I know, “banners have much lower CTRs than X years ago” – you say. Maybe so, but oil prices have also dropped since 2012, yet there’s still enough oil tycoons around.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though banners have dropped in effectiveness, they still haven’t dropped to 0. Far from it.

For instance, we still get 2,000 clicks / week from our banner ads. And those clicks bring in roughly 110 conversions / week.

That being said, we also witness huge differences in the performance of individual banners. For example, it’s not uncommon to have a banner getting 10x the conversions of other banners. The important part to realize is that such huge of a difference can mean the success or failure of your whole campaign.

In other words, just because your current banners don’t perform well at the moment, doesn’t mean that you should abandon banner advertising altogether.

Let me give you an example.

Here’s the original banner we had over at Designrfix.com:

orig-ad

Here are two new variations:

var1

var2

Now the results:

  • The original: 281,047 impressions, 80 clicks = 0.03% CTR.
  • Variation 1: 123,349 impressions, 969 clicks = 0.79% CTR.
  • Variation 2: 120,941 impressions, 932 clicks = 0.77% CTR.

Going with variation 1 means improving the CTR by 2,500% over the original banner. That is huge!

But that’s not even the biggest change we’ve seen with tests like that.

Another example, this time from CSSAuthor.com. Version 1:

ver1

Version 2:

ver2

The results:

  • Version 1: 161760 impressions, 272 clicks = 0.17% CTR.
  • Version 2: 98007 impressions, 1935 clicks = 1.97% CTR.

Banners aren’t the end of the game for us. We also experiment with AdWords. Actually, we’ve been experimenting with AdWords for months now, but we’ve decided to ramp up those efforts. I hired a consultant to help us out. Hopefully, soon I will have some data to share here.

In the end, the lesson is this: No matter what advertising method you’re using, test things relentlessly. And more importantly, if your ad is failing, this doesn’t mean that the advertising method is failing … you’re just not good at it (yet).

Exploring new places to sell our themes

Have you ever been to Etsy.com? Probably so, but have you visited it to … buy WordPress themes?

Yeah, me neither.

So I was quite surprised to see that there are themes on Etsy making 500+ sales.

This got me thinking, and I decided to do a quick test.

This is the result, our Etsy listing of La Femme.

etsy-themeisle

The sales page looks kind of like a ThemeForest page, with a big image at the top and the details further down.

So far, we’re getting around 20 views / day and no sales.

But as I said just a couple of paragraphs earlier, “if your ad is failing, this doesn’t mean that the advertising method is failing, you’re just not good at it (yet),” so I guess we have no other choice than to continue testing this.

The first thing to do would be to work on the copy. Currently, the page only lists the main features of the theme, and then shares a quick installation how-to. There’s not much talk about the benefits, or why anyone would choose it over other themes. Surely a lot of room for improvement.

Okay, let’s cut this story here.

In the end, I encourage you to search for sales in unusual places. After all, Etsy is not known for their WordPress theme marketplace, yet some themes do really well over there.

We’ve got ourselves a new blog!

Yep, we have a new blog.

I think that the transparency report is the perfect occasion to soft launch it!

Introducing the ThemeIsle blog.

themeisle-blog

Granted, not much going on there yet – just 3 posts – but we’re planning to grow it alongside the main CodeinWP blog.

However! It’s not just a copy of the main blog. Here’s what’s different about it:

  • We want to help our first-time customers and users, so we’re going to publish something like “basic WordPress tutorials in plain English.” Think stuff like, “How to Install a WordPress Theme.”
  • In the same spirit, we’re going to cover niche-specific topics around WordPress. Example: “WordPress for Restaurants – How to Set Up Your Site.” We make our themes suitable for various different purposes, so I think that guides like that should make our customers’ lives easier.
  • Reviews. We’re also trying to make our themes compatible with different third-party plugins and tools, but it’s not always an easy thing to do. Some of the plugins out there, despite their popularity, are … well … poorly-made. So we simply feel that we need to educate users on what plugins/tools to use, and how they play along with our WordPress themes.

In summary, the ThemeIsle blog is going to be a more hands-on-deck kind of publication – focusing on content that is actionable and can benefit the reader right away.

If you’re interested, our first 3 posts:

Improving the product side of the business

As you can see, we try to improve our overall marketing and add/acquire new elements to our portfolio (like the ThemeIsle blog, or the Easy Content Types plugin last month), but we also make changes to our core products – the themes.

Namely:

  • We’re rethinking the theme landing pages. We want to showcase the features better, try out a new structure of the pages, and etc. We even tried using 99designs (part of our quest to find some new great designers).
  • Rethinking the demos of the themes (like Zerif, or Parallax One). We’re creating new sub-pages for the demos, and trying to showcase every feature of the themes through those sub-pages. The idea is to indeed show, and not just tell. We’re creating multiple demos to see what works best.
  • We created a new video presentation of Zerif! I think it’s turned out awesome, but feel free to tell me what you think:
  • We’re reaching out to some super talented designers (like Ashley from The Curio), and discussing new theme projects that would be unique in their presentation and purpose (we haven’t done much of that lately).
  • We’re releasing a new purchase history page and a new modal checkout, which should simplify the user experience on the site.
  • We’re working out a way to better showcase the power of my favorite plugin – Revive Old Post. We’re launching a new site that’s going to serve as the plugin’s demo:

revive-old-post-pro-site

I think that’s it! I surely spent a lot of time working on the business ever since I came back from my vacation trip. I’m averaging around 80 hours / week, and using this time to find a new perspective on the business and identify everything that needs improving in the coming months (some of which I listed above).

Oh, and on a personal note, I have my first podcasting experience behind me. 🙂

I was interviewed on the WP Innovator Podcast, Episode #11 – Running A WordPress Theme Business. Feel free to give it a listen, and let me know what you think. I hope it’s not going to end up being my only podcast appearance, and that you’re going to hear from me more often.

Revenue breakdown (Jan 1st – Feb 1st)

Here are the numbers for January (from our in-house tracking system):

rev-graph

Compared to last month, that’s a 14.9% increase. Things are starting to pick up after December … also known as Slow-cember in our sales reports (like I mentioned a month ago, December 25th was our worst day in months, with just 4 sales in total).

Here’s our current list of bestsellers (our Treasure Chest sales have picked up massively compared to last month; 77% increase):

bestsellers

Okay, that’s it for now. As always, thanks for reading and for supporting CodeinWP! Stay updated and get new reports delivered to you by subscribing here:

All edits and witty rewrites by Karol K.