If you’re looking for some tips and thoughts on how to increase your blog traffic and earn more money, you’re going to get that in this post. If you want some honest thoughts from me about the state of ethical blogging, you’ll get that, too.
This was supposed to be just a fun little year-end round-up, to show you what you may have missed, or posts deserve a revisit. I also do these Top Ten lists every year because it’s always helpful for me to look back and refine my strategy for next year. Unfortunately, I was disappointed when I saw the results. I’ll explain why below.
First, I’ll explain my methodology. What I did was look in my Google Analytics for the posts that got the most traffic between January 1, 2018 and today. I excluded top posts that I wrote before 2018, to get at stuff I wrote this year that did really well.
So, here are the articles I wrote that got the most traffic in 2018:
My packing lists do quite well, especially for popular destinations that require a little bit of thought for what to pack: Hawaii, Tulum, Southeast Asia (and especially Bali), etc. San Miguel de Allende keeps getting named as one of the best cities in the world by Conde Nast Traveler, so people are booking tickets and then looking for guidance on what to pack, and I’m here to help them.
I enjoy doing these. I get a kick out of taking notes while I’m visiting a destination and then looking through my favorite ethical and sustainable brands for perfect recommendations. I have many, many more coming down the pipeline. I’m only up to Peru right now, and have the rest of South America, several European cities, India, and Southeast Asia to cover. Get ready for those!
In raw terms, the blog posts that perform the best on EcoCult are ones that perform well on SEO (search engine optimization). In other words, they’re posts that come up when a lot of people are Googling for an answer. And people who do internet searches love lists.
For the first few years of EcoCult, I really resisted listicles, which are articles that break information into chunks with numbers. “The 8 Best” or “4 Tips to” type stuff. I don’t find them particularly groundbreaking or fascinating to write…even though occasionally researching a listicle will lead me down a path to discovering something new. (Like: What the heck is acetate?) But honestly, I was being a journalistic snob. I would prefer to write essays that touch your soul and reveal a deeper truth about the world.
Why do listicles do so well? Because they are useful! They are the most efficient way of conveying information, especially when you just want to find a quality pair of eco-friendly jeans, or an ethically-made dress to wear to a wedding. They break down a vast universe of information into tidy little packets that you can peruse and explore at your liesure, comparing and contrasting, without feeling like you’re missing a better option that is floating around out there. I myself use listicles for research all the time, if I’m honest.
If I write an essay, I don’t know if it will do well. And if it doesn’t, I feel like I threw a bit of my heart out into a black emotionless void. But if I put together a listicle, it has a 75% chance of becoming a greatest hit. If it doesn’t, I don’t care. It’s just a listicle.
In fact, I went and look at my top performing posts for 2018 that were written during the entire lifespan of EcoCult, and eight of them are listicles. The others are an explainer on whether organic Natural American Spirit cigarettes are healthy (take a guess) and the fact that fashion is not, in fact, the second most polluting industry after oil.
Oh, and listicles also are a great way to earn through affiliate links. If you click on an affiliate link on EcoCult and then buy a product from that retailer, then I get a percentage of the sale. For brands that I are truly ethical and sustainable, and fit EcoCult aesthetically, but that aren’t part of any affiliate system, I’ll invite them to buy a spot in a listicle for a fee. I’m very confident that it’s a good deal for them. Because again, everyone loves listicles. In fact, listicles often do better than a whole brand profile, unless the business is doing something so special that they wouldn’t fit in a listicle.
Brands, are you listening? Your money is much better spent on getting into listicles than in asking for founder interviews.
7. What’s the Difference Between Green, Sustainable, Eco-Friendly, Ethical, Fair Trade, Clean, Organic, Non-Toxic, and Conscious?
I also had a sustainability term sheet sneak into the top 10, which surprised me! But I can see how all the vocabulary words would be confusing to a newbie. I like doing explainers – they exercise my mind, and I like knowing I’ve educated somebody on a topic I’m passionate about.
I didn’t mean to make drug posts a thing in 2018. But, whoops, that happened.
Usually I have one or two articles in the top 10 that teach readers something new and out of the ordinary. Last year it was why I wear fur and why I’m giving up on mineral sunscreen. The year before there were a lot of deep dives in the top 10 – more than I can list here without recreating the whole blog post! But this year, with all the traveling, I didn’t really have the mind space to do deep dives. For me, they require staying in on a Saturday with a glass of wine and a long Spotify playlist. I haven’t had a night in with a glass of wine since we left New York last December. (Side note: I think I’m ready to go back to New York City now.)
So instead, I talked about my experience doing psychedelics in Mexico, and not doing ayahuasca in Peru. My goal with both was basically harm reduction. I think psychedelics can be incredibly useful and wonderful things, but I want people who are googling for information on these topics to be well informed by a responsible and relatable human being before diving into something that can go wrong, especially if approached with the wrong mindset and in the wrong setting. I hope these articles have been useful to people. (I have had people message me asking where to get mushrooms in San Jose del Pacifico, and I just ignore them. I’m not going to be your digital drug hookup, stranger.)
Do I want to do listicles all the time? No. There is already a notable ethical fashion website out there that literally just does listicles, padded out with content they get influencers to produce for them for free in return for “exposure.” (Insider tip: the meager traffic driven back to bloggers that write for free doesn’t nearly make up for the amount of work entailed. Always ask for at least a nominal fee.)
That business model doesn’t appeal to me. And I didn’t get a degree in journalism to be a listicle writer. Granted, I try to make EcoCult’s guides and listicles a little smarter than average. I include an overview of the topic so that readers learn something. And I do more research and have higher standards than most blogs in terms of which brands I include. Most blogs just believe whatever brands say. I have my antennae up for greenwashing. I ask questions, I do research.
I’ve come to see listicles as necessary content that financially supports other content that feeds my soul. I won’t let them eat my blog. But you (or maybe just the internet) like them, and they drive traffic to good brands that I want to support, so they are here to stay.
And then, I did this roundup of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, and it blew all the other posts away in terms of traffic in a matter of days.
For Black Friday weekend, there are always some brands who go dark, and some influencers who tell us all not to shop. They say it’s too consumerist, and exploitative of sustainable and ethical brands. Obviously, I don’t agree. And not just because I earned money from this post.
The wild success of my post this year shows that the movement is growing, and people are more aware than ever. I think it’s wonderful that people are searching for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales that are from sustainable and ethical brands. They want to be a good citizen, but also, they want to get something nice for their mom without going over their budget. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Especially because I used to write about personal finance, and I respect the fact that some people want to be good consumers but also save for retirement, ya know?
There is something to be said for this shopping melee training consumers to always be looking for a discount. But we’re not talking about a Buy Four Get One Fast Fashion Tee sale. We’re talking about 25% off a timeless shift dress that was sewn in New York with organic cotton. My readers aren’t usually impulse shoppers – they think long and hard about each object they buy. If they’ve waited all year for a beautiful brand to go on sale so they can afford it, hoping that their size would still be left in November, then I won’t begrudge them a chance to feel beautiful.
Telling consumers that care about the environment that they are not allowed to partake in a sale because that makes them A Bad Consumer feels a little elitist to me, and out of touch. Yes, ethical and sustainable fashion has smaller margins than conventional fashion. But I trust that most sustainable and ethical brands are making the right choice for their business, and not discounting so much that they are losing money.
Bonus: Top Articles From Other Sources
I was curious to see the other ways that people find EcoCult articles, besides internet searches.
The second most popular page was actually EcoCult’s landing page. Which means I have repeat readers, which is fantastic! Most people from there go to the Fashion section, my shopping guide or About page.
Next I looked at social networks to see what kind of articles drew readers in. What follows is the top three for each, after removing the above articles that you’ve seen already.
A top referrer after search, Pinterest is nothing if not helpful for travelers. Here, readers liked The Perfect Packing List for Oaxaca, Mexico; The Best Artisan and Ethical Fashion Shops in San Miguel de Allende; and Where to Get Organic and Farm-to-Table Food in Oaxaca.
For Facebook, which drives about a third of the traffic of Pinterest, it’s built on curiosity. You were thrilled there’s an ethical alternative to Anthropologie, and were curious about what happened when I tried out solid beauty bars while traveling.
Instagram drove half the traffic of Facebook and it was advice for brands (how not to get burned by influencers, and to beware of traditional PR firms), and and the whole straw ban vs. people with disabilities controversy.
What’s in Store for 2019
Given everything I’ve learned from researching this post, Illich and I are going to start a travel blog where we write about doing psychedelics in various beautiful locations.
Just kidding! I’m probably going to write less about travel, and even more about sustainable fashion. I’m going to keep putting out useful ethical fashion listicles that are well-researched. I have a lot of packing lists and city shopping guides coming down the pipe from all the places we visited in 2018. But most of all, I want to do more sustainable/ethical fashion explainers. They’re my favorite, and you like them too.
So, is there anything you want me to write about in 2019? Let me know in the comments!