Though I'm not a frequent poster here, I'm a frequent reader and have been very appreciative of all the thoughts, lessons learned and advice that you all share here on this board. It's in that spirit that I thought I'd share with you a recent decision I made to return to the regular workaday world, and some lessons I learned along the way.
I started building my site about 6 years ago after reading about AdSense in an article in the Washington Post, which detailed the success that publishers like SeatGuru.com and Podcast-Directory.com had had with their sites, as well as the well-known sites we all know, like Ask the Builder and Plenty of Fish.
It took several years -- and many months of days making in the single digits, I can remember the first day I made double digits with AdSense, woo-hoo! -- but eventually I was able to make enough money through my site to be comfortable. No details of course, but the site at its peak has made a six-figure income a couple of years.
Naturally, with success like that, I like many of you dreamed of quitting the day job to pursue working on the site full-time. I felt like I just couldn't give it enough of my time fitting it into the cracks here and there, that it wasn't all it could be if I had the time to focus on it every day. So, once it seemed to be making enough consistently every month for me to comfortably make the leap, I did.
I quit the 9-to-5 and plunged headfirst into working only on my site. Which was great, for a while at least. And then, I experienced the first of two site outages, one which lasted only a few hours but the other lasted more than 24 hours. It really rattled me, and woke me up to the fact that there are factors beyond my control that can totally wipe out my income from the site. Things got back on track after that, but that really gave my confidence a jolt.
The other, of course, is the Panda and Penguin updates Google has been making to their algorithms. Like (I suspect) many of you guys, I get probably 90% of my site traffic from visits from search. Yes, I know I should be developing an email list with a newsletter that would then be generating traffic, and yes I know I should be developing a blog that can get a wide subscription/RSS feed following, but honestly it takes all of my time just to update the content on the site. That's what I've been focused on, just building and improving the site's content over the years.
Well, to date (cross my fingers) I haven't been affected by the algorithm changes, but I no longer see them as something that would never affect me. After reading of Tim Carter's experience with his Ask the Builder site, that was yet another wake-up call.
The other big wake-up call has been the shift to mobile that's really undeniable at this point. Over the past year, traffic from desktop PCs to my site has grown around 4-5%; traffic from mobile devices, meanwhile, has grown 150%. It now accounts for virtually all of the traffic growth year-over-year from 2011. Trying to deny that a big fundamental shift is going on is like standing on the beach when a tidal wave is coming in, and thinking that refusing to acknowledge it will somehow make it go away.
I did a lot of soul-searching over the past few months and realized that, to ride the mobile wave, I was going to have to invest many hundreds of hours and perhaps thousands of dollars into re-designing my site for the mobile experience. I know that many of you are already on this path. But to me, I think I just found myself burned out on it after working on it already for several years, and I just decided that wasn't a path I wanted to go down anymore.
The other thing was that staying home all the time to work on my site, I really found that I'd narrowed my world in a BIG way. I really failed to appreciate how small my circle would become when I was no longer out circulating in the world every day -- it was a non-financial cost, but it's a very real one. After a while, because the site's been so successful, I've just been doing the same thing over and over with it, updating pages and adding new ones, but not really stretching or expanding my skills and knowledge. Because the site drove so much revenue, there wasn't the incentive to grow the way I should have been growing.
I know that to many of you this will sound like sour grapes. I hope it doesn't. I'm tremendously grateful to a company like Google for making something like AdSense possible -- it has truly changed my life, by enabling me to take great vacations, buy a new home, and take a chance on something I (thought, for a while) really wanted to do. But, life has changed and my priorities have changed with time, and so I think it's best if the site goes back to being a fun hobby and pastime, rather than the "main event" in my professional life.
I read a great quote in a book a while back, something to the effect that turning your hobby into your job is like marrying your mistress -- it creates an immediate vacancy in your life, and a big one. That, more or less, is what happened for me. So now I've returned to the working world and I'm really glad to be back. I'm among colleagues and am stimulated by the environment, plus I have the AdSense hobby on the side that I hope will continue for at least another 2 to 3 years.
If not, or if it all ends tomorrow thanks to an algo update, that's fine -- it's been a great ride. There are other mountains to climb.