How I Make $30,000 Per Month with a Blog I Started in College

This $30,000 Per Month Blog Was Launched By a College Student

Many people dream of location independence and earning a living from a blog. Tom Blake turned that dream into a reality with hard work and dedication to publishing honest, high-quality content related to side hustles.

In just over five years, Tom grew This Online World to reach $75,000 of monthly income at its peak. Like many other blogs and content-based websites, 2023 was a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs. After reaching new heights, the site experienced a significant drop in traffic from a Google update. Despite the setback, This Online World still brings in about $30,000 per month, and Tom is exploring new channels and strategies to grow and solidify the business.

In this interview, Tom shares all the details, both good and bad, plus his plan for moving forward.

Overview

Business Name: This Online World
Website URL: https://thisonlineworld.com
Founder: Tom Blake
Business Location: Online (Canada)
Year Started: 2018
Number of Employees/Contractors/Freelancers: 1 founder, 6 freelancers

How much revenue does This Online World generate?

The business has had a wild year for 2023. In 2022, This Online World made $272,000. In 2023, it’s on track to hit about $650,000. Most of this income came from Q2 and Q3, but my site was hit hard by Google HCU. It’s now making about $30,000 monthly, down from a high of about $60,000 to $75,000 monthly.

This Online World Affiliate Revenue
Affiliate revenue
This Online World Ad Revenue
Ad revenue

Of the $30,000 per month in Q4, 2023, 60-70% comes from affiliate income and the rest comes from Mediavine display ads. There is also some sponsorship income.

How much profit does the business earn?

My business is generally in the 85-90% margin range, so it’s currently making $25,000+ per month in profit. And this is one of the reasons I still love content sites.

My website has relatively low fixed costs in terms of hosting, plugins, and insurance. It’s about $250 to run the blog just from this standpoint. From there, I have a video editor freelancer and thumbnail designer for the YouTube channel, which works out to about $600 per month. I then outsource about $1,000 a month in content writing expenses to my team of writers.

The business is easy to dial up or down as well; it’s easy to order more or less content based on needs and profit goals.

Tell us about yourself and your business.

I started This Online World in 2018 while I was still in college. At the time, I was getting my undergrad in psychology and money was a bit tight. So, I decided to start trying out new side hustles like dropshipping, freelance writing, online surveys, and phone farming to make some side cash.

I quickly realized that there was a lot of inaccurate information online about these hustles, or straight up dishonest content. So, I started This Online World as a place to document my online income journey.

This was my first real blog, and I was pretty new to SEO and web development. In fact, I had only run a failed Amazon affiliate site a few months prior. But as I got an internship at a digital marketing agency in my second year, I began to learn more about online publishing and quietly worked on my blog alongside my internship and courses.

This Online World only made $1,700 in its entire first year. But the next year, it made about $7,000. Then it made $22,000. The big break came in my fourth year when my blog got into Mediavine and I really got into the swing of SEO and content production. I earned $92,000 that year, and 2022 was a breakout year when I finally went full-time near the end of the year and I made $272,000.

This Online World

How does your business make money?

Most of my income comes from Mediavine display ads and affiliate income. It used to mostly be a display ads website, but I have worked hard to diversify with more affiliate partnerships and better CRO efforts.

Affiliate income is now the majority of my income, which is nice to see. I promote a lot of survey sites, investing platforms, gig apps, and side hustle opportunities.

Sponsorship income is a new stream this year as well, and This Online World should earn about $15,000 this year in sponsored post and content placement income. This is a nice win since for the last 5+ years, this income has been almost non-existent.

This Online World’s YouTube channel has also been growing, but I keep that income in a separate bucket and don’t include it in my main blogging income. Gotta keep tax time complicated, right?

This Online World YouTube Revenue

I’m finally putting more effort into the channel and am publishing about 8 to 10 videos a month now instead of 3 or 4. This has helped me reach $100+ in AdSense revenue the last few days, so I’m hoping for a stronger year in 2024 for the channel.

What was your inspiration for starting the business?

My inspiration to start This Online World came after I tried out phone farming – a passive income hustle that involves using spare phones to earn income with video reward apps.

I had stumbled across a Reddit thread in 2018 that said people were making hundreds of dollars a month with their phone farms. So, logically, I bought 9 phones in the next couple months and set up my own farm from my college house.

Tom's Phone Farm
Tom’s phone farm

As it turns out, phone farming wasn’t a great side hustle, and the Reddit thread was highly misleading. I was only making about $25 to $40 a month with my farm, and the phones crashed all the time and were a lot of work.

So, I decided to start This Online World to provide honest side hustle information and outline my online income journey. I’ve tried to stick to this mission since then, publishing transparent income reports, building my blog in public, and giving honest reviews and insights into popular side hustles.

How and when did you launch the business?

I launched the blog in January 2018. I was still in college and was somewhat broke, so I stuck with a cheap domain name, a $45 WordPress theme, and beginner SiteGround hosting.

The site was hideous when it launched, but I didn’t care. In fact, I didn’t know anything about WordPress web design or SEO, so I didn’t even realize how having a difficult-to-navigate site could be an issue. But I was just excited to begin sharing my ideas and income online.

How much money did you invest to start the business?

I used my own money to start This Online World. Since it was under $200, this wasn’t too hard. And I actually got my blog into Google Adsense in its first few months and began making some Amazon affiliate income as well. So, within about six months, it was paying for itself and starting to make some grocery money on the side.

What was your first year in business like?

My first year of starting This Online World involved a lot of work and a lot of trial and error.

I was starting my second year of college, which meant a full class schedule. And after I completed my digital marketing internship, I kept working part-time for the company remotely. Finally, I was also working part-time at a Starbucks on campus.

I’ve never been a fan of school, much less homework, so I was content to scrape by with 60s while working at the digital marketing agency and my blog. Paying for tuition and growing my blog were much more important to me during this time, so I spent a lot of my free time working.

I think it was a pretty successful sort of bootstrap start. I kept costs low, learned a lot through my SEO and content creation mistakes, and didn’t spend money unnecessarily until I learned the ropes.

What strategies did you use to grow the business?

My blog really wasn’t a business for its first two years. When I began, I didn’t really have a business plan. I just wanted to blog and write about online income ideas and side hustles.

However, I eventually learned more about SEO and keyword research. The lightbulb moment for me came when I saw some Mediavine income reports where bloggers were making a full-time income from content sites. This is when I realized that excellent content driven by SEO and keyword research was the way forward.

From there, I began writing more keyword-driven posts that targeted low and medium-competition topics. I also niched down, dropping topics like digital marketing and SEO from my blog while focusing on money-making apps and sites.

This strategy worked, and my blog began to grow. I was still a noob at affiliate marketing, but at least my content was beginning to get traffic. I finally got into Mediavine in Q4 of my third year of blogging, and the stable display ad income was game-changing for my business.

Tell us about your team.

I’m the only full-time employee/owner of This Online World. There’s a team of 5-6 freelance writers who are awesome, and each writer specializes in a different sub-niche to help keep topics in a nice authoritative silo.

Aside from that, I’ve outsourced plugin updates and security. I also have a video editor and thumbnail designer for the YouTube channel.

Ultimately, this has kept costs down. It does mean that This Online World is somewhat owner-centric, but I’m alright with this for now. I just turned 27, and I’m happy to work hard at this business while scaling some side businesses and ideas of mine. 

Tom Blake skydiving
Tom Blake, Founder of This Online World

What are your future plans for the business?

I actually planned on selling This Online World in 2023 to exit and take more time to spend with family. I’ll admit, the wave of Google updates and the rise of AI has cooled off the market, so I’m content to hold for now.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have some massive plans, however!

For one, I’ve double-downed on video production and am already seeing huge gains there in terms of views and revenue. I’m also working to professionalize This Online World further by improving the website design in 2024. Furthermore, I’m working hard to grow the email list and to build a business that is less reliant on organic traffic.

The post-HCU world looks different. A diverse media mix is important to survive, but I’m up to the challenge and am already seeing some improvement in this department.

I plan on keeping margins high, however. I think it could be a mistake for independent content site owners to invest super heavily into more sites or more content without having diverse income streams. In other words, I want to take some money off the table and reinvest it into other areas while still investing enough to grow the business.

How do you market your business? 

The main way I market This Online World is through organic content marketing. We produce about 30 high-quality pieces of content a month while updating 50 to 75 pieces of content. This, alongside email marketing and YouTube traffic, are our main marketing channels.

Pinterest is a channel I’m looking to expand in 2024, as well as some paid media arbitrage.

What is your social media strategy? 

Social media has been a weakness for the business, with the exception of YouTube. One issue of content sites is that platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook can be hard to see a return with unless your niche can foster a lot of engagement.

I’m doubling down on YouTube since it’s already profitable and is scaling quickly. It also lends itself well to driving blog traffic and has been useful in landing sponsorships as well. Video content is only becoming more in demand, so I think YouTube is a great second channel.

Do you use email marketing? 

I currently use Mailerlite for my email list and have a list of 18,000 subscribers. The sign-up funnel is quite basic and relies on some free eBook pop-ups and grabs. There’s also an in-content grab now that has been performing well in recent tests.

As for emails we send, we try to provide readers with current money-saving news and tips as well as evergreen content. Once again, it’s our goal to create and share the most honest side hustle and make money online content possible, so we do the same via email.

Tom Blake
Tom Blake, Founder of This Online World

What is your strategy with paid advertising? 

Paid media arbitrage is one of my plans for 2024.

Do you target organic search traffic? 

I use Semrush for all of my keyword research needs, and the strategy of targeting longtail, low or medium competition keywords worked great over the last few years.

In this new HCU world, however, I’m putting a bit less effort into this. I’m currently testing more oldschool styles of blogging, and want to share more personal anecdotes and news with people. We’re also creating more multi-media-rich content, like having blog content with a pairing YouTube video to give our audience more choices and quality content.

Organic traffic is still an amazing tool. But in 2024, video content and redesigning the site to try and snag some Google Discover Traffic are two goals as well.

How did you make the transition from side hustle to full-time?

I’ve been a freelance writer and digital nomad for the last 3+ years. I’ve sort of always had a job or multiple freelance clients at a given point while running This Online World, which has meant some busy weeks.

In late 2022, I finally decided to go all-in on blogging since the business was making about $20,000 to $30,000 a month. This was the best decision I had made, and I wish I had made it sooner.

For other entrepreneurs, I think scaling your side hustle to match your day job is a good goal to set, or even 80% of your main income. If you can do this and you have an emergency fund saved up, you should have a nice safety net to go full-time.

What was the turning point when you knew your business was successful?

This Online World has seen year-over-year growth the last 5 years, which has been immensely rewarding and reassuring. But the real turning point came when the site got into Mediavine and began regularly having $200 to $300 days of display ad income.

It really felt surreal, especially during the periods when I was working a day job and This Online World was just chugging along with excellent growth.

How much traffic does your website receive, and what are your primary sources?

This Online World currently receives 300,000+ monthly readers. As for YouTube, we’re approaching 150,000 monthly viewers there. The main sources of our traffic are Google Search, YouTube search, YouTube browse and suggested, and then direct traffic.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned growing the business?

The main lesson I’ve learned in growing This Online World is to be very calculated in how you reinvest into a business.

I’ve been intentional in keeping This Online World a high-margin business. But this isn’t the only style of content site out there. Some sites pump out 10x the content we do, run paid ads, and have larger teams. But their margins are squeezed and they can’t pivot so easily in the face of updates or industry changes.

There’s nothing wrong with these differences. And I’d argue that these beefier sites can be easier to sell sometimes since they’re more structured in some sense.

However, business owners should know the sandbox they’re playing in. For me, I’ve been happy to keep This Online World high margin and to reinvest the earnings into content and website improvements where it makes sense. But I’m glad to have taken money off the table and to not double down into creating more sites like This Online World or to have expanded my portfolio significantly. I have some niche sites I’m slowly growing, but again, I haven’t poured money into them, which I’m happy about in the face of HCU.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

I think my largest challenge is one a lot of content site owners are now facing: the Google HCU world.

However, I’m confident in my business and team and our ability to diversify traffic and revenue. Quality content that’s marketed well works. I’m sure 2024 is going to involve more pivots, more video and email content, and paid media. But this is just the process of creating a more professional, well-rounded content and media business and isn’t the end of blogging.

What are some of your favorite books, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube channels?

I’ve been a huge fan of Niche Pursuits lately, especially since he’s covering topics like how Google treats bloggers and the state of the industry. Jacky Chou from Indexsy is also making some hilarious content on YouTube right now about SEO.

What motivates you to keep moving forward?

I’m motivated largely by money and by maintaining freedom. The last few years have been quite transformative, and I feel very lucky. I’ve been able to live and work from 6 different continents and 10+ countries while growing my business and being able to work the schedule I want to.

Tom Blake
Tom Blake, Founder of This Online World

I’m excited to continue growing this business and to maintain this freedom. Plus, the year ahead is full of exciting challenges and new opportunities in the space.

If you had to start from scratch, where would you begin?

If I had to start from scratch, I’d likely begin with YouTube and then create a content blog to support the channel or to funnel video traffic to. In other words, a similar combination to now, just more video-driven.

The viral potential of YouTube is really appealing. And I like that the search traffic on its platform, at least for me, seems much easier to claim.

If I didn’t go for this business model, I’d certainly try paid media buying for affiliate marketing and lead generation. But you need some capital to do this, so it’s a hard arbitrage business to start from scratch.

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