Trial and error, and a lot of persistence, is the recipe that helped Tom Blake build a successful blog. After a few failed entrepreneurial adventures, Tom launched his personal finance site, This Online World. And today he's bringing home $20,000 per month.
It most certainly didn't happen overnight, and Tom has had many realizations during his journey which have shaped his current and future strategies.
Keep reading to learn how Tom Blake expanded to multiple sources of income, his future growth plans, and how he's been able to thrive in a sector as competitive as personal finance.
How Tom Got His Start
I’m 25 years old and originally from a town just outside Toronto, Canada.
I’ve been blogging and freelance writing for the last four years. I actually went to college for psychology because I had no idea what I wanted to do. During that time, I landed an internship at an advertising agency where I ran Facebook and Google Ads for clients.
Diving into online advertising got me interested in making money online. So, over the course of college and after graduating, I kept on experimenting with different side hustle ideas. One of these side hustles was blogging, which eventually grew into my main income source and where I spend most of my work week.
Aside from school and work, I’ve always been interested in writing, sports, and traveling. These days, I work completely remotely and have spent time living in Florida, Dubai, Mexico, and Colombia.
Why and How Tom Blake Created His Blog
I actually started my blog, This Online World, as a bit of an experiment when I was in college.
At the time, I was trying out lots of online money-making ideas. I tried out Shopify dropshipping with a hunting gear store, an Etsy print-on-demand shop, and even launched an awful Amazon affiliate website about headphones.
While I managed to make a sale dropshipping, the store was a flop in the end and plus I was broke at the time, so spending money on Facebook ads was difficult.
I also made two sales for my Etsy shop but it didn’t go anywhere, and the Amazon affiliate website was just bad! In hindsight, I didn’t really know much about headphones, so I had no business writing reviews about them.
But one day, I stumbled across something called phone farming on Reddit.
This passive income idea basically involves installing reward apps on old phones to watch videos and slowly earn free gift cards and cash.
Many people online said I could make hundreds of dollars a month with a phone farm. But after growing my farm to 9 phones and struggling to clear $50 per month, I realized not everything you read online about side hustles is true!
So, I decided to create This Online World to document my phone farming experience and other online money-making ideas.
I also wanted to grow a blog into an income stream and document that journey with honest income reports, which I started out publishing monthly but have since switched to annual recaps.
Overall, it’s my goal for This Online World to be an honest and transparent resource for people looking to make more money and improve their finances.
His Site's Current Earnings
I started it in January of 2018. And currently, my site makes approximately $20,000 per month before expenses.
Over 50% of this revenue comes from running Mediavine ads. I get around 300,000 to 350,000 monthly pageviews as of late and I earn about $10,000 to $11,000 per month from Mediavine ads.
It took me about two years of blogging to get into Mediavine. At the time, Mediavine required 25,000 monthly sessions to apply. Now they require 50,000 monthly sessions, but I think this is possible within a year or two in many niches if you pump out content and focus on SEO.
That was my game plan for getting accepted anyway, and once I was close to 25,000 sessions, I started sharing links on Reddit and Quora way more that month to get the final traffic boost I needed.
I truly think the effort is worth it. Mediavine is honestly my favorite ad provider, and I hover around $38 to $40 RPM. I think my long-form content and being in the finance niche really helps out on that front.
I don’t use many video ads on my site because I don’t want to annoy readers too much. My ad settings are also fairly basic and not too aggressive, which just goes to show how much you can earn with a provider like Mediavine.
The other main revenue source for This Online World is affiliate income.
I don’t have many direct affiliate relationships which is something I’m trying to work on this year and moving forward. Instead, I use a variety of affiliate networks to promote various financial services, side hustle ideas, and money-making apps.
Here are some of my main affiliate networks and partners.
- Impact Radius: Where most of my revenue comes from. I promote companies like Fundrise and DoorDash here.
- Aragon Premium: This is an amazing finance-focused affiliate network.
- Max Bounty: This is great for promoting surveys, money apps, and financial products like loans. There are also thousands of offers for other blog niches, too.
All in all, this works out to around $20,000 per month. However, much of this growth is more recent, and the site has only been hitting five figures per month for the last 6-8 months or so.
Affiliate Income Breakdown and Expenses
As I mentioned, roughly 50-60% of income comes from ads at this point, and the rest comes from affiliate income. I haven’t had a sponsored post in about a year and a half, but this is also something I want to explore more of this year.
I’m considering doing brand outreach of some sort and sending a media kit to brands that would be a good fit for a sponsorship, or maybe working with a virtual assistant to find these sorts of sponsorship opportunities.
As for expenses, I host with BigScoots and don’t use anything too fancy in terms of tech, but I spend around $1,000 to $1,500 per month on content writing help and about $300 on miscellaneous things like a Pinterest VA.
Moving forwards I’m canceling Tailwind and my Pinterest marketing efforts and putting that money back into content writing. Pinterest’s algorithm changes have been brutal for bloggers, and I’m lucky if my account generates 50+ views on my blog in a day. When I consider the cost of Tailwind and a VA, this is hardly worth the investment.
Tom Blake’s SEO and Growth Strategies
Google and search engine traffic make up about 85% to 90% of my traffic. This means SEO is everything for my business.
My SEO strategy is to write long-form, quality content targeting low or medium-competition keywords.
And since I use SEMRush, this normally means keywords with a difficult score of 1 to 40 or so, although I manually check SERPs and the competition to see how difficult a keyword really seems before writing the content.
When I started blogging, I was trying to do everything at once for about two years. This meant pumping out content, guest posting, handling social media, and even hiring on Fiverr to help get more backlinks!
But after my blog plateaued at around 60,000 monthly readers for some time, I realized I was doing a poor job at many things instead of doing an excellent job at one to two things.
So, here is how my marketing strategy and growth goals have changed in the last two years.
Tom Blake's Top Marketing Strategy
My #1 marketing strategy is to pump out high-quality content that targets low or medium competition keywords I think I can rank for within 3 to 6 months.
As for keyword volume, even a few hundred monthly searches or 100 to 200 per month is often enough to justify writing an article in my mind.
Typically, I start with broad keywords or general ideas and then use the keyword difficulty score to filter for easy-to-rank-for keywords. And I also have a running list of competitors I monitor so I can poach their best blog post ideas and write better ones. This actually saves a massive amount of keyword research time as well.
Lately, I’ve also been including way more primary and secondary research in my content. This means I usually include a lot of YouTube content or reviews from sources like Reddit or other websites in my content.
I also test a lot of apps and services myself and write about my experience.
I think Google’s update targeting review and affiliate sites is sending a clear message that real, valuable advice is what matters.
So, aside from testing websites and apps myself, I usually include a lot of YouTube content or reviews from sources like Reddit or other websites in my content.
I think this is a nice SEO tip, and it’s also better for readers because it adds more perspectives to an article and some expert opinions.
And about one year ago, I basically started publishing a post every day or updating an old post to make it better. When I update posts, I usually try to:
- Update facts and figures to be more relevant
- Add in new content ideas that weren’t in the blog post before
- Add new affiliate links if possible
- Improve readability (rearrange content, change H2s and H3s, use more or less bolded text, add in tables, etc.)
When updating, I also check the keyword in the SERPs to see what my competitors are doing. To check what content they’ve added to similar blog posts and to see if there’s anything crucial that I’m missing.
I’ve largely stopped focusing on social media, and I haven’t guest posted in ages. I occasionally answer HARO pitches for links, but it’s all been about content for the last year or two.
His Unique Approach
I don’t think this is that unique, but I have definitely been attacking Quora and Reddit in the SERPs.
Finance is a very competitive niche, but even with recent Google updates hurting a lot of forum-style content, I can still sometimes find keywords that rank forums like Quora, Reddit, and other forums on page 1.
In this case, I almost always write an article targeting the keyword. I’ve done this in a lifestyle niche as well for a new site I’m building and it provides some nice, quick wins.
The same strategy applies if you find thin content on competitor blogs or lots of thin duplicate content on forum-like sites.
I’ve been fortunate and have been on the winning side of some previous updates after getting hit in 2020 by an algorithm update. But in the meantime, I’m trying to diversify my traffic by building my email list with Mailerlite.
List Building and YouTube
For building my list, I’m keeping things simple.
I have a free side hustle ebook that pops up on most of my content to capture emails, but I’m also trying to create more segmented subscriber lists now and more specialized freebies.
Recently, I made a free blogging SEO checklist that pops up on my blogging content, so I’m slowly increasing my subscriber growth and segmenting from day one.
I also launched a YouTube channel that now has around 13,500 subscribers. I started the channel in 2020, and while it’s not an incredible driver of traffic to the site, I think it helps with authority.
It’s also a nice $800 to $1,000 in passive income, and the description box is great for plugging my best affiliate articles and affiliate links (which is one main reason I think bloggers should invest in YouTube).
I’ve taken a step back from link building for the last year and a half, but I also plan on hitting HARO pitches and guest posting very hard in the coming weeks to get that back in action.
Link building isn’t an important aspect of my SEO strategy right now, which might sound crazy to some bloggers. However, I think it all boils back down to the “I’d rather do a few things super well than a lot of things poorly” lesson I learned.
Now that I’m outsourcing way more writing, I want to shift more of my attention to affiliate optimization and link building/PR outreach. I might hire someone to do this instead since they will have more knowledge than me, but I’m still currently undecided about this.
How Tom Blake Outsources Content Creation
As for outsourcing writing, I’ve found writers through word of mouth and referrals. I tried Textbroker and Fiverr in the past, but for personal finance content, the quality wasn’t quite high enough.
I usually send a writer a paid test article, and if it’s a good fit, I’ll keep sending Google Doc outlines that break down the article's target keywords with headers to include. Articles also have a rough word count and links to the competition to try and outrank so the writer has some context.
Right now, I’m publishing five days per week and then I spend time updating old blog posts on the weekend if I have extra free time.
I also think that writing the best possible content out there also attracts backlinks naturally. For competitive niches like personal finance, link building is definitely necessary to compete with the big players in the space and top keywords. But for now, I’ve put link building mostly on pause for the last year and a half with a plan to get back to it within a few months.
Achieving Current Revenue Levels
I’ve been blogging since 2018. When I started, I didn’t know anything about WordPress or SEO, and I made a lot of mistakes in my early days.
Because of this, it took a long time for my blog to get into Mediavine. I also didn’t make much money with affiliate marketing until my third year of blogging.
Here’s how the revenue has broken down for each year:
- Year One: $1,700
- And in Year Two: $7,000
- Then in Year Three: $22,000
- Then a massive jump in Year Four: $92,000
And now again another massive jump. If things hold up as they are currently for 2022, This Online World should clear $200,000 in 2022. But fingers crossed until then!
The main jump in revenue came from my traffic more than doubling following another Google algorithm update back in the summer of 2021.
But I’ve also gotten more aggressive with my affiliate link placements and just have way more offers to promote. Usually, I pepper-in some affiliate link call-outs after my intro on posts. I also add more CTAs near the end of my blog posts to remind people to sign-up for various products or services that were mentioned in the post.
And actually, I don’t have many widgets or eye-catching graphics to promote affiliate offers, or even tables. I know this is a massive weakness from a conversion rate optimization standpoint, so it’s also on the list to improve this year.
How Tom Blake Strategically Selects Keywords
I’ve gotten much smarter with targeting keywords with a high level of buyer intent.
For example, I have articles on topics like “What to do if you’re stuck on the DoorDash waitlist.” This is basically an article that’s for people who want to make money delivering for DoorDash but can’t because there aren’t any open job spots in their city.
In this article, I provide some tips for what drivers can do. But I also promote signing up for other food delivery apps like Instacart, which I’m an affiliate for.
These are readers who are clearly so close to signing up for DoorDash but can’t, so Instacart is an easy sell and converts great.
My tip for other bloggers is to think of purchase intent when you’re researching keywords as well since you can sometimes find some creative ways to plug your affiliate offers in.
Tom Blake's Traffic Stats
This Online World currently receives around 350,000 pageviews per month and 280,000 sessions. The site has been growing for the previous few months, so if it dips back down, I’m hoping it still stays in that 300,000 monthly pageview range where it’s consistently been the last few months.
Most of this is organic traffic from the United States, Canada, India, Australia, and the UK.
His Top 3 Tools
I don’t use a lot of software or tools to run my business, which is probably somewhat of a mistake. But I’m a bit of a slow adopter when it comes to technology and like to keep things simple.
That said, here are the three tools that are most useful for my business.
- SEMRush: This is my go-to keyword research tool. Honestly, SEMRush has been a complete game-changer for my blog, and I firmly believe the data this tool provides is worth the monthly price for bloggers.
- This is especially true if your blog is making money and you want to scale up content production and need to find dozens or hundreds of keywords to target.
- Google Sheets/Docs: It might sound simple, but I make all of my keyword tracking sheets in Google Sheets.
- I also have a Google Sheet content calendar that links out to Google Doc article outlines that I send to my small team of 3 freelance writers. I know a lot of people use Trello or Notion, which are both great tools, but I prefer to keep things simple.
- Facebook Groups: This isn’t exactly a tool, but various Facebook blogging groups have been incredibly useful for growing my site.
- For example, I’m a member of the FinCon Facebook group, which is basically a massive group of finance bloggers and companies. It’s groups like these where you can find guest posting opportunities, link swaps, new affiliate deals, or just network with other awesome bloggers to learn more. I definitely suggest other bloggers do some searching to find Facebook groups in their niches if possible!
Tom’s Greatest Challenges
I’ve found the technical aspect of WordPress very challenging. In fact, I still don’t know much about optimizing website speed, and if I have to tweak my CSS for whatever reason, it’s usually a struggle.
When I was in my early days of blogging, this used to stress me out so much. I changed WordPress themes, constantly tried editing my homepage, and was never quite satisfied with how my blog looked.
But here’s the thing: Spending all of this time worrying about site design and some other problems took so much time away from creating content and testing out proof of concept.
And when my blog started growing eventually and making money with Google AdSense and Monumetric, I paid a designer $500 to redesign my blog for me. Just like that, the problem was solved!
Key Takeaway from his Experience
I think the lesson I learned here is to know what your weaknesses are and to also understand how crucial they are for your business’s success.
Site speed and design are critical for blogging success in my opinion. But should you worry about it from day one when your website only has 10 articles?
In my opinion, that’s putting the cart before the horse a bit. Focus on great content and SEO, and work on fixing your weaknesses in the meantime or outsourcing the work to an expert who can.
The only exception here is if the challenge you’re facing completely halts or harms your business!
Tom's Most Important Accomplishment
When I started blogging, my goal was to document my progress of making money online and to show people what’s possible. I also wanted to grow my blog into an income stream after reading numerous Mediavine income reports from other bloggers.
I honestly never thought blogging full-time was possible. And honestly, I don’t know if I can pick a single identifiable accomplishment I’m most happy about with the blog.
I think what makes me happiest about This Online World is that it’s transparent. Income reports are honest. I also think my reviews are honest and provide good advice for readers, which is something I feel good about.
What Tom Blake Wishes He Knew Back Then
Once again, this question all boils back down to having more SEO knowledge.
I know so much more about on-page and off-page SEO now than when I started blogging. And honestly, knowing this sort of information from day one would have saved me so much time and reduced blog performance issues I had to deal with over the last few years.
For example, every article I write now targets a specific keyword. But I also have article templates to keep content consistent, interlinking strategies, and way more understanding of how to plug in affiliate offers.
My advice for new bloggers is to really invest more time from day one into SEO education. If you can learn how to properly organize your blog posts and how to target keywords, you’re going to get much faster results than if you try to piece things together as you go.
Granted, there’s something to be said for learning by doing. But when it comes to SEO, there’s a wealth of information online about how to grow blog traffic and follow SEO best practices, so I’d do as much reading as possible.
His Main Mistakes
The biggest mistake I made in growing my blog was not investing back into the business quickly enough.
For starters, I wasn’t using SEMRush until about 3 years into blogging. My keyword research consisted of spying on other bloggers, the Keywords Everywhere extension, and Google Keyword Planner.
But paying for the data SEMRush or tools like Ahrefs provides is a game-changer. Plus, you can always use the tool for a while and then cancel it after you have a database of keywords to target.
It also took me too long to outsource writing help.
Scaling a blog takes an incredible amount of content and work, so it’s hard to do it as a solo part-time person. But by investing in content, I can now focus on other tasks like more SEO research, affiliate optimization, and hopefully more link building.
Tom’s Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
My advice for other entrepreneurs who are building businesses right now is to focus on what the market is telling you to do.
Here’s a personal example: When I started blogging, I was writing about every niche in the personal finance space… Side hustles, investing, passive income, budgeting, you name it.
But out of all my content, it was the passive income and gig economy content that performed. However, it took me well over a year and a half to niche down further and focus on that content. It took even longer for me to do a content audit and to remove articles that made no sense for the site.
Find Out What's Working & Double Down On It
The lesson here is that readers and customers tell you what they want to see more of. Google does a great job of this as well for blogging.
So, even though it’s tempting to write about things that interest you, sometimes, you’re better off sticking to your core competencies instead. And if you’ve never done a content audit for your blog before and you have a lot of content, I definitely recommend doing one!
All you have to do is dig through your Google Analytics data for the past year, find content that doesn’t perform, and decide if it’s a good fit for the site or not. If it’s a good fit, think about how you can improve the content and update freshness to try and get some traffic. If it’s not a good fit for your brand, you can consider removing it.
I honestly think anyone can turn a blog into a decent side hustle or even a significant income source. Ultimately, it just requires learning SEO and writing great content consistently that adds value to people’s lives. The rest is just in the details!