In 2021 I published a post titled “Why I Gave Up Software Development To Be A Blogger” which discussed why I made the decision to give up my career in software development, to become a content creator/digital media business owner. It proved to be a great decision because:
- I always wanted to work for myself.
- It allowed me to spend more time with my young family.
- By focusing purely on my digital media business (instead of also working a full time job), I was able to grow it to a pretty good level.
By the middle of last year, I had five websites that together had almost 1.5 million published words and that brought in over 400,000 page views a month. It has been an awesome journey, one which has been rewarding and that I have been genuinely enjoying.
It might therefore seem a weird decision to have sold off four of my five websites over the last 6 months:
I sold two off via Empire Flippers, and two as private/direct deals. This blog post discusses why I did this, and what my plans are going forward.
The Pros & Cons Of The Digital Media World
‘Digital media’ can be a pretty broad area (covering everything from podcasts to e-book creation), although I mainly focused on building out content websites. In other words, I have (well, had) a series of .com websites that published helpful and useful information in the form of blog posts.
In some cases I also created YouTube and TikTok channels for the sites, along with social media profiles (such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook). My biggest website (Smart Home Point) also had a newsletter, where I emailed subscribers every few weeks with the latest news and updates from the smart home world.
What I Love/Loved About Digital Media
I have always enjoyed publishing information online to help other people, which is probably why I made a Warhammer 40K fan site called Tau Online all the way back in 2001. Knowing that your articles are helping people from across the world is a genuinely nice feeling, especially when you receive emails and comments thanking you for your work.
I also really liked being able to sit behind a screen and type out information, then have it automatically monetised with display adverts. While I’m a hard worker, I’m also sort of lazy – and so earning money via display ads always appealed to me! I could focus on what I’m good at (producing helpful content) and leave the ads automatically run – whether I’m online or not.
Every so often I would also get an article or video ‘go viral’, leading to a massive surge in readers or viewers. For example I produced a silly 20 second video that randomly had almost 30k likes:
I literally only spent 5 minutes a week on that Instagram channel, so it was pretty fun to see so much engagement with that one video. Over on one of my blogs, I also had an article get picked up by Google Discover and it received 10,000s of extra readers in just a few days:
It’s always fun and rewarding to see your work go viral.
Finally, the earning potential for a digital media business is much higher than being a software developer, for the same amount of work. Naturally it’s hard to directly compare the two because some digital media businesses fail (Vice Media just went bankrupt, for example) while if you make the next Facebook, you could become the next black-t-shirt-wearing billionaire.
But having worked in both industries, I think that for the same amount of work and effort you can make much more money from digital media than from being a software developer.
What I Disliked
Many digital media businesses are dependent on Google to some degree. Some sites get 90% or more of their traffic from Google, while others have really active newsletters and social channels and so then ‘only’ get 30-50% of their traffic from Google. However even in this latter case, they still massively depend on Google because their adverts are ultimately powered by Google AdX and their YouTube videos are also at the behest of Google’s every whim and algorithm change.
This means that many sites – including all of my own ones – are directly linked to a fairly volatile company who regularly kill off projects, and are currently in “panic mode” over AI and ChatGPT.
As a result, there is an inherent risk in this business model: namely, the risk that Google changes their search algorithms and you lose a bunch of traffic overnight. Due to this, a lot of industry advice has always been to have multiple websites to diversify risk. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, etc.
That’s why I ended up with 5 websites at the start of last year, and while there are benefits to having multiple websites, it’s impossible to personally produce content for all those sites. As a result, I inevitably had to hire freelancer writers to write for some of these sites. I worked with some brilliant writers over the years, and outsourcing content writing has a number of benefits:
- (Starting with the obvious) I was able to grow my business quicker than if I tried to do everything myself.
- Some writers will specialise in your website’s topic, and so they could produce much more accurate and helpful articles than I ever could for certain sites.
- It allowed me to focus more on the strategy of growing my sites, instead of spending all my time writing.
Having said that, while managing a team of writers (or anyone) can be rewarding, it also comes with some headaches. I found that I enjoyed working with just 1 or 2 writers and growing my sites a bit more slowly, instead of growing quickly but managing a larger team.
Finally, the rise of AI has been rapid and it has led to loads of discussions between bloggers about how this might impact their businesses. I’m a member of a few private blogging communities, and it’s certainly the most discussed topic over the past few months.
I personally think that the old business model of having a large number of sites, an even larger number of writers, and then pumping out dozens of written articles each week is slowly dying. In my opinion, AI means that individuality and personality will be the best approach for this industry going forward.
Why I Ultimately Decided to Scale Back From 5 Sites To Just 1
Because I found that I disliked managing a larger team of writers, I decided to sell a couple of my sites last year. In other words, I planned on scaling back from 5 to 3 websites. However while I was in the process of selling two of them, someone approached me out of the blue about one of my other websites – and so I ended up selling that site too.
Scaling back to 2 sites had a number of benefits:
- I had a much smaller team of writers to manage (the 3 sites I sold purely used outsourced writing).
- Selling 3 sites naturally had a financial upside (you often sell websites for 3-4 year’s worth of expected revenue).
- I had more free time to work on my remaining 2 sites, meaning that I could produce more content for them myself, and also drill into the analytics more to find more growth areas for them.
These 3 sales happened late in 2022, and after taking a break in December, I came back refreshed in January and started diving into the stats and analytics for my two remaining sites. I soon realised that if I wanted to really grow them into proper brands, it would be better to sell one of them – so that I could dedicate time to the other site.
This has become especially true to me over the last couple of months, because the rise of AI means that memorable brands (led by real people) will be the future for this industry. Yes, some sites have started pumping out thousands of AI-written articles and seen some success, but I don’t think their success will last.
Gen Z already relies on TikTok (not Google) for information. And in the Google IO 2023 conference, Google announced that they are ripping up the tried-and-tested Google search experience, to show results in a very different way.
While I decided to sell Smart Home Point a month before the Google IO conference, it was clear to me that Google would inevitably head in this direction. While Smart Home Point is a successful site and brand in the niche, and it is therefore very well positioned for the upcoming changes, I decided that I would better protect myself from all these upcoming changes by just focusing on a single website…
… and also rediscovering my love for software development!
Getting Back Into Software Development
When I scaled back to owning just 2 websites, I thought that I was balancing risk well my having one main site and one ‘backup’ site (that I could scale up if anything ever happened to my main site).
However due to Google’s many algorithm changes and the rise of AI, I instead decided that the best way for me to balance risk is to have one content website and something else which also makes money.
For me, this either means launching a SaaS tool, or maybe doing a bunch of research on one area of AI and then doing some AI-focused software contractor work in the future.
I’m not 100% sure yet, but I plan on dusting off my Python skills and playing around with a few SaaS ideas and AI projects that I have been considering for a while, and seeing where this takes me.
And that’s about it. I guess this blog post’s title isn’t 100% true because I will still be doing some blogging, but I certainly won’t be dedicating all my time to running a portfolio of content sites.
The last few years have been a really fun and rewarding journey, but I feel that my decision to sell most of my sites and balance risk by having one site and something else will prove to be a good one. We’ll see.