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The Day I Almost Lost My Blogging Business By Having Too Many Eggs in the One Basket

It was 17 December 2004 and my dream was falling apart, right before my eyes.

I had just celebrated the 2nd anniversary since I started to blog and I was on the tipping point of my part-time earnings becoming a full-time income.

I’d quit my only other employment to devote 100% of my time to blogging and had recently started ProBlogger to share what I knew about blogging for money. I had just been interviewed in a national paper about my business and all in all, I was pretty happy with how my dreams were progressing.

Then it happened. Most of my traffic disappeared, almost overnight.

I had been averaging 12,000 visitors per day to my main blog (a camera review blog that no longer exists) – around 80% of which came from great Google Search Engine rankings.

That level of traffic was enough to make a living from using the Google AdSense program (which accounted for 95% of my income).

I woke up on the morning of the 17th December 2004 to discover that my blog’s healthy Google rankings had disappeared overnight.

The result was that I was dropped to 2000 visitors a day (from nearly 14000) on my main blog and my other blogs lost even larger amounts of traffic.

Here’s how my traffic looked on my main blog at that time.

Statsdpb 1 2

Of course, with only a sixth of the traffic I previously had I also saw my income from AdSense take a similar tumble. Rather than a full time income, I was looking at earning enough money to call it a 1 day per week job.

I was devastated.

I was confused.

I was angry.

I was also deeply embarrassed.

Not only did my friends and family know that I’d quit my job to become a blogger… so did the world because I’d talked about it here on ProBlogger.

Falling from the rankings in Google was the single biggest challenge I faced as a blogger. I didn’t understand why it had happened and I came very close to giving up blogging altogether.

Thankfully I didn’t give up.

I’m glad I hung in there because just under 2 months later I began to rank in Google again and saw most of the traffic that I’d lost return. I’m also glad because that that really tough period taught me a lot about blogging, and about business.

The Biggest Lesson Learned: Diversification

That experience taught me many things but one of the biggest lessons was about diversification and becoming too dependant on any one area of a business.

Thankfully I learned this lesson very quickly. In this post (which I wrote 3 days after falling out of Google) I wrote about my mistake of having too many eggs in the one basket.

I was too reliant upon Google for traffic and too reliant upon AdSense for income.

Rather than see this challenge as something to stop me I decided to see it as a hurdle – something to get over that would make me stronger in the process.

I decided that I would not only keep blogging but that I was going to work hard to rebuild my blogging in a way that was less reliant upon any one source of traffic or income stream.

This mind-shift led to a range of decisions to diversify in the coming months and years.

It also led me to regularly ask a simple question that helps me avoid this problem again…

Is there a single thing that could kill my business right now?

I regularly ask myself this question (in fact our team discussed it the other day). By asking it on a regular basis I get a good sense for whether the balance in my business it out and whether I need to adjust my approach to spread the risk a little.

In a series of posts in the coming days, I’ll talk more about some of the areas I’ve diversified what I do to help with this but in the mean time, I’d love to hear your own reflections upon this.

Have you ever realised that you’re too reliant upon any one form of traffic or income stream? What have you done to diversify what you do?

Stay tuned for some suggestions on how to diversify your blogging to avoid having too many eggs in the one basket by subscribing to our RSS feed or to the ProBloggerPLUS newsletter below:

UPDATE: I’ve since followed this post up with a post looking at how I diversified traffic to my blog but do plan another couple of articles in this series in the coming weeks.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. kazi says:

    Nice post again Darren . Diversification is the one safety feature every endeavor must have in order to maintain sustainability .

  2. A) That must have been terrifying! (And I see that it was stomach-churning from following the link back to your post on it) And B) What a cliff hanger! I’ll be back for those suggestions. ;P

  3. I look forward to seeing how you diversified. But I totally understand. My number one traffic source is Google. It’s pretty scary how reliant my blog is on that. Although Pinterest is certainly catching up!

  4. Clinton says:

    A great reminder Darren. I too have been guilty of relying on Google to support my business and learned the hard way when my rankings dropped significantly after a Penguin update. Diversification is definitely the way to go!

  5. Chuck Frey says:

    Darren, I went through a similar crisis within the last year. In early 2012, I got into a joint venture with a European website with a similar editorial outlook to my InnovationTools.com – which, at the time, was the world’s largest website devoted to business innovation, creativity and brainstorming. In December of last year, the site’s owner got into financial difficulties and merged my site with his, taking mine offline – without my permission. A decade of sweat equity gone – overnight. Then in April, he abruptly severed our contract, owing me several thousand dollars. I had no funds to pursue him legally – just a painful lesson learned about how detailed contracts for JV REALLY need to be!

    If not for the fact that I had diversified my blogging into mind mapping/visual thinking and personal/career development, this disaster could have ruined me. Diversification is a necessary survival skill – you just never know what may happen to upset the status quo in this day and age!

  6. Adeel Sami says:

    Darren, its great seeing you going all the way up in the blogging industry all these long years!

    Everything is volatile and those who “stick” on the ground, win the crowd.

    A lot of success to you !

  7. Sher says:

    Darren, just a note to say I love how you write and have for a long time. I love the transparency and appreciate the generosity, of course. But more than that, I love that reading your posts is like having a friend share their experiences with me. (A friend with nearly 60,000 other friends.)

  8. Tejasvi Rana says:

    It seriously looks horrible! I too has a similar experience with my blogger blog last year.. I think it was due to one of the penguin update from Google.. At that moment it feels like you have lost everything you have..Thanks for your valuable tips Darren.. would try to diversify over time..

  9. Sam says:

    Darren, but you haven’t shared what was the cause of the drop in traffic and what was the reason you recovered back. Was it something like a dump in traffic because of Google’s algo change or was there a reason behind the scene? Please clarify.

    • Darren Rowse says:

      I’ve never been able to work it out Sam. I didn’t change anything on the site before it happened and it seemed to naturally right itself. All I can put it down to is that Google made an algorithm change and then readjusted it 6 weeks later. I know that a lot of others saw falls and rises in traffic around this time too so it was one of the big Google updates.

      • Shane Gibson says:

        With the latest updates to google (not really showing keywords in stats) and their tendency to change the game to not favour the little guy – it begs the question “Should we trust them or focus on them at all?” What’s the alternative? For me it’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc. but although Google doesn’t play fair we still just can’t ignore them.

        • Glad that it somehow corrects itself for your site, Darren. Unfortunately many other sites do not recover and it’s sad to be the little guys in the market. It does come as a wake up call for not trying to focus on SEO so much as if it’s the only thing in the world

          Can’t deny the amount of traffic it gives, though

  10. Andrea says:

    Wow. Lots to think about here for sure! I’m wondering, did you ever figure out what caused that dip?

  11. Akshit Sethi says:

    Rightly said Darren. Although, Search engine traffic is unmatched but it’s important to have traffic from other sources such as social media, referring websites etc as well.

    And I am Happy you didn’t gave up at that time. :)

  12. Such an important business lesson. I haven’t consciously diversified my business, but I find that my business has naturally diversified into online and offline streams.

    Although they are both small at the moment, they seem to balance each other out when the other goes quiet for a while. I think I may need to give it some more thought though if I want to make them into a full time income!

  13. Shamim says:

    The exact thing happened to me 1 year ago. Suddenly all of my site’s traffic dropped; I have been banned from Adsense and I was totally helpless. I was desperately finding new money making strategies and advertising sites.

    Yeah, its a nightmare when you find all of your eggs are broken and messed up in the corner of one basket.

  14. We have all had to learn the hard way when it comes to relying on google for traffic. Google is not he only source of traffic in town. There are other sources such as forums, yahoo answers etc that can bring quality traffic to your blog.

    Another lesson I have learned on income diversification is to go for recurring income affiliate products such as those that require membership with the monthly fees that entails. That way you are assured of some almost guaranteed future income.

  15. Joaquin says:

    Darren. Useful and sincere post. I’ am a beginner blogger. I think It is good idea working like consultant and our blogs are a showcase. I’ve read your books and my conclusion it is very hard working only as blogger. Regards.

  16. JJ Wong says:

    I was once facing the same issue with my blog too. From monthly visits of 40K drop till 16K on February 2013.
    Couldn’t figure out the real reason to the drop, but believe to be the update of Google Search engine that cause it.

    Now my traffic is growing stronger, but still, I’m very dependent on Google traffic & Google Adsense. There’s a risk there which I need to keep building my diversification.

    Never give up, Challenges make us stronger. :)

  17. I keep an eye on my stats with both Google Analytics and Stat Counter. Here’s the thing: my Stat Counter stats have really taken a dive this month. I was feeling down, til I checked Google Analytics and they’re still steadily climbing. What the!!! I wonder which one is telling the truth?

  18. Richard says:

    It could have been the beginnings of the ‘Nofollow Attribute For Links’ update that the major Search Engines agreed on in January 2005?

    http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2062985/Google-Yahoo-MSN-Unite-On-Support-For-Nofollow-Attribute-For-Links

    Here’s a list of some of the major algo changes from previous years:

    http://moz.com/google-algorithm-change#2004

  19. Daniel Lemes says:

    Hi Darren!

    I had a similar situation last year, and to be honest, haven’t recovered since then. I was thinking of leave my “main” job and work hard only in my two projects; the revenue wasn’t that good but enough to make me think of it.

    But Panda came and kicked me down. Today I have no much more than 1k visitors/day in my main site. And worst – having another job, I don’t have such time to diversify as I should, two sites are enough to overload me.

    But I’ll not give up so easily.

  20. Ash says:

    Hi Darren,

    Great post.

    “Is there a single thing that could kill my business right now?”

    Given that my blog hasn’t started monetising yet I should be asking myself each day “Is there a single thing that could GROW my business right now?”

    :-)

    I look forward to part 2 which outlines the diversification strategies

  21. Hii Darren,

    That must have been a very terrifying experience. Panda update did this to many bloggers last year. Though some have recovered successfully but many bloggers had to quit blogging just because they were too dependent on Google for their traffic.

    Every activity in the world needs balance. Blogging is no exception. No blogger should become too predicatble and over dependent on any one source for their traffic and earnings.

    Great tips, Darren. Your experience can help many newbie bloggers out there.

  22. William Beem says:

    I think we’ve all either been in that situation or known someone who faced the same problem. It’s not just blogging that has this concern. Millions of people have a day job – a single source of income – who are just one layoff away from financial disaster.

    I’ve been laid off twice. I’ve had financial success from my blog with affiliates who suddenly changed the rules, and then saw a rapid decline in my income.

    The sad truth is that some issues are completely out of our control. For example, I made a lot of money from Google’s Affiliate Network when they took over Nik Software. Then Google decided it didn’t want to run an affiliate network anymore and that income disappeared. I didn’t do anything wrong, but a good source of income just dried up. It happens.

    Now I have a day job. I’m re-structuring my blogging to diverse topics on different sites, each with multiple streams of income. The best I can do is the same thing you advised. Watch for a single point of failure, adjust for it, rinse and repeat.

  23. If your business starts when someone visits your website, I have a very simple view. There’s actually only a few ways people can arrive at your site.

    Directly
    Referral – Social
    Referral – Advertising
    Referral – Internal
    Referral – Other
    Search

    My approach is:

    If any one of those channels were to stop sending visitors tomorrow could kill my business, I’m in trouble and need to balance that equation.

    SEO was the first http://www.sitepoint.com/beware-of-becoming-search-dependent/ , but I think being socially or facebook dependant is just as evident these days. App or platform dependancy is probably right up there too.

  24. Matt YLBody says:

    I feel your pain. I’m going through the same exact thing right now. Hopefully it doesn’t go longer than your two months did.

  25. Aunt Clara says:

    In 12 years doing this, I have taken many a punches from Google. Some of the wounds were self-inflicted, most were the result of some Google update. I only end up getting better traffic than before, but sometimes it has taken me days, the worse of them it took me nearly half a year.

    Yeah, I too learned to diversify my income, the hard way.

  26. Trishan says:

    A timely post Darren as I look to up the tempo in my business. Right now around 70% of my traffic is from search and increasing. It also reminds me to diversify and develop my other blogs. But the problem I face is of procrastination and lack of time. Still plodding along!

  27. Julian says:

    The same thing happened to me last month. I didnt feel like writing any more

  28. Karina says:

    It is good to hear that even top people like you have gone through this that seems to be a recurrent story for bloggers and businesses in general.

  29. Thanks Dareen for sharing your experience with us. I totally agree with you, We should expand our blogging business in other niche too. And always should have other monetization options.

  30. Steve Faber says:

    Darren,

    Scary at the time, sure, but it helped make your business what it is today.

    I faced something like that when my blog Debt Free was permanently frozen in time on July 18th 2008, thanks to a MySQL corruption issue. At the time, it was one of the top 30 personal finance blogs in the world, with an Alexa Ranking of under 20K, and posts linked to by The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

    To your post title I’d add “and Not Protecting Those Eggs by Backing Up Everything (Including the Database)” At the time I didn’t realize the site was backed up regularly, but the database wasn’t.
    OOPS!

    In your case, you discovered why relying on a primary source of traffic is dangerous.
    To search engines, add
    - social media
    - guest posting (both you on other sites and others on yours)
    - article syndication
    - joint ventures
    - interviews (again, you being interviewed on other sites, and interviewing others on yours),
    - content sharing
    - book authoring
    - forums
    Search engines are still invaluable for helping exactly those looking for what your content’s about to find it, right when they’re looking, but you can get hosed by looking to them alone.

    A far as Adsese, I’ve made a pretty penny there, but really, if you’re monetizing your visitors properly, letting them go elsewhere for a dime or a dollar is shooting yourself in the foot.

  31. Glenys says:

    I agree that diversification is the key. But it can take some time to find the right balance between diversification and focus. In other words, spreading oneself too thinly can often become an issue as well.

    I’m trying to get into the mindset of seeing Google traffic as a bonus rather than a given, but as expressed by many others, SE rankings can be seductive.

  32. Sujit says:

    I had same problem with fall in google traffic. Since my traffic was lower, I could not search other options. Bing and yahoo are too rare search engines. Still trying to come up back in google.

  33. STB Media says:

    Thank you Darren for a nice post. It’s really close to me as I had the same problems some years ago when my traffic downed from 10k per day to 2K. That’s why I have created another websites with different traffic sources.

  34. Drewry says:

    This is a very inspiring post about never giving up with entrepreneurship, Darren. Not just I, but we, are all very proud of you that you hung in there and continued “doing the transformation work” of building up your business from humble beginnings. Isn’t it a good feeling to know you’re earning more than enough $ gUaP $ today to live off of, knowing you don’t have to work a day job anymore?

  35. Brin says:

    …”just under 2 months later I began to rank in Google again” – A really interesting question to answer would be why? Why did Google take you down in the rankings and then why did it put you back up again?

  36. Edson Hale says:

    It has been one had half years since I am blogging. During this journey I got this lesson several times at different blogs that one must not put all his eggs in one basket. But the way you communicated this message is awesome.
    Right now I don’t have much traffic on my blog to effectively monetize it. I just put Google Adsense and Affiliates but not yet earned any huge bucks. But I am damn sure sooner or later I will make it. I got this confidence from my one and half years blogging struggle.

  37. Thanks for this post. I’ve been saying the same thing for ages, it makes me SO NERVOUS when I see other bloggers who only make money from one income stream!

  38. In the recent Google algo update (Google did not confirm, mozcast shows high temperature though), my organic traffic dropped from 4,000 to 500 a day, which a quite a huge loss for me and the income. Don’t know what shall I do. Thinking of quitting the blogging idea and joining the family business.

  39. Marija says:

    The fact is that no matter how much you diversify, an exclusion from Google would still be devastating to your traffic, and hence to your prospects to attract advertisers, however, you did make sure to make money out of your blog and not directly from it, and that’s a good diversification. To have numerous websites is also a good diversification.

  40. Jim Wang says:

    I had a similar moment on my personal finance blog, Bargaineering, when something happened with the data centers (this was sometime in late-2005) and my site disappeared from Google search from Friday morning until Sunday afternoon. This was back before the days of publicly announced updates/refreshes and so I freaked out.

    Between Friday and Sunday I learned a ton about SEO, none of which helped me figure out what was wrong, and I still, looking back 8 years, point to that moment as the time I realized how important SEO was and how important it was to diversify traffic and income. The groundwork I put into place back then, which consisted of guest posting a lot to get more referral traffic, would ultimately help turn that that site into a powerhouse.

    Sometimes a little panic is a good thing :)

  41. Thanks for this post Darren.
    I have not reached that point yet where loosing traffic would hurt because I am still struggling to get it. But it will come.
    This is true in everything, we rely to heavily on a Job for security. Here one day and gone the next.
    I appreciate you sharing this because when I look at your blog and how great it is I never consider that everyday nightmares can happen to you.
    Thanks
    David

  42. This post really resonated with me Darren. So thank you! I had a similar experience to you when my bricks & mortar bookshop had to be closed due to the rapid growth of digital. I lost a house and a marriage in the process, in fact! A bitter lesson, but invaluable. Today (eight years later), I have a variety of income streams from online writing courses, online book sales, publishing & consulting as a book coach for a number of authors (which I love so much), and offering social media training & professional speaking. So, yes. I agree that it’s probably one of THE most valuable lessons one can have. You truly know how to hone in on the topics that resonate with people:-)

  43. Raubi says:

    I love hearing personal stories like this — especially when they are about learning something the hard way. Looking forward to seeing the tips on how to diversify.

  44. To me it is like a comapny.

    At first you should not diversify, but focus on what you do best and simple metrics. But as the company grows bigger and bigger, it has to rely on diversification to keep steady income as it cannot compete on all fronts. No matter how good the company is at doing what it does it will have natural dips in income because of environment and competitors’ unknown advantages.

  45. Asif says:

    Same thing happend to me few years ago, I was making a good amount of money and suddenly that system stopped and I had to work on other means to diversify my income.
    I am happy with the way things are going now.

  46. So, the main lesson we can learn from this post is diversification. There is a saying of Warren Buffet “Don’t pull all your eggs in one basket”.

    Btw, I also experienced same thing and i am rebuilding my blog.

  47. Syed Shah says:

    in the last 7 months I also faced almost similar things 2 times. In the first case I lost my an year old blog that was generating $25+ day, and the second time my another blog got slapped by penguin but Alhamdulillah I recovered 2nd lost just after 1st month. And now I started couple of new projects to put my money generating eggs in different baskets :)

  48. Cassie Witt says:

    Actually, I had something similar happen. It was not in blogging, though. It was a client source. Shortly after I was laid off two years ago, I decided to go out on my own. I had one client (which was my cash cow) that was going quite a ways to paying my bills every month. It wasn’t enough to sustain me, though, and I knew it. One of my old bosses from the company I had just left to join the company who laid me off after 4 months work, was now a partner in an online marketing company. I had a feeling that the company and my old boss, in general, would be a good source of client referrals for me. I was not wrong.

    Fast forward about six months. I had managed to score a couple of other steady clients, and some other on and off clients. I was making some headway towards being able to cover my bills and my groceries every month. I was comfortable. In fact, I was so comfortable, that I wasn’t looking anywhere else for money.

    Around that time, one of my steady clients (who wasn’t my cash cow but was paying me quite a bit) decided to drop my services. I was devastated. I remember wondering how I was going to survive that next month. How was I going to feed my family? It was then that I realized I had put all my eggs into one basket. That was the moment that I knew I had to start looking other places to build my business.

    The biggest lesson I learned: It’s too easy to get comfortable when something is working right. Even when it is, you should always look at other options.

  49. Terry says:

    Ummm… so why did you start losing all that traffic? What’s the reason that you dropped so heavily in Google search?

  50. Geo Jolly says:

    I am totally down and is in the same state that you have been. This post helped me to reflect a lot of things. Thanks a lot Darren for your great share. Loved it.