Welcome to my first month-in-review post! This is a really good excuse to share all sorts of stats, numbers, and plans for Indie Hackers with you guys, so I've been excited about writing it for weeks now. 😝
My hope is that you'll find the transparency really interesting, and that I'll get some great feedback and ideas from all of you in return. And I'm sure the process of writing this and examining the month will be helpful to me regardless. Here goes!
Growing Indie Hackers
The end of October marks almost 3 full months since Indie Hackers launched. I've spent the bulk of that time focused on one stat: growth. But it's not just growth for growth's sake!
On the contrary, I think that growing the site to reach as many people as possible is simply the most reliable path toward accomplishing my real goals: generating revenue for myself and having a positive impact on the community.
So how did things go in October? It turned out to be my biggest month yet!
The total came to 170,322 sessions (visits) from 89,837 unique visitors. I also had 299,330 pageviews. I think I posted on the forum that I wanted to see a 20% increase in traffic this month, and I hugely overshot that goal, more than tripling it. Wow!
Let's dive into the whys and hows.
Getting Multiple Submissions to the Top of Hacker News
Just like with August and September, I owe a huge percentage of my traffic to Hacker News (HN). Check out this chart of October's sessions on a daily basis to see just how much of a role HN submissions played:
The moderators on HN penalize sites like Indie Hackers that get shared a lot, so all of these stories fell off the front page faster than they otherwise would have. The fact that they did so well regardless means that people really enjoyed them, which is great since I started Indie Hackers with the HN audience in mind! 😘
It does make me a little nervous to rely so much on one source of traffic. I don't personally carry my eggs around in baskets, but I like to think that if I did, I'd use more than one. Okay, I definitely wouldn't, but you get my point.
HN isn't going away any time soon, but there's no guarantee my interviews will always be popular there. Next month I'll invest more time into finding alternative sources of traffic.
Focusing on Retention to Build a Sustainable Business
Indie Hackers is a content site, not a traditional SaaS business, but I still think in terms of retention and churn. The more repeat visitors I can get, the easier it is to build traffic, because it means I don't have to start over from zero every month:
My strategy is simple: I try to produce good content, and then I add ways for those who are interested to subscribe.
So far the most successful channel has been my weekly newsletter, where I share new interviews and talk about what else is going on with Indie Hackers. It has really great open (53.5%) and click (21.3%) rates, so it drives a good amount of traffic to the site every Thursday. In total, 3% of my sessions this month (5k of 170k) came from the newsletter.
Out of ~90,000 unique visitors to the site this month, 1,270 people subscribed to the newsletter, so that's about a 1.4% conversion rate. Halfway through the month I added a better call-to-action at the bottom of each interview prompting readers to subscribe, and that's worked out well. I might do something similar for the home page next month.
In addition to the newsletter, I've also been growing my Twitter audience, where I recently broke 1,100 followers on @csallen and 1,200 followers on @IndieHackers. My Facebook page, on the other hand, has 65 likes. And I'm not sure how many people subscribe via RSS, but it looks like 2k visitors came via Feedly and Panda during October.
It'd be great to see these numbers grow over time, because these are all channels that I control. My long-term goal is to get enough subscribers that I can drive HN-levels of traffic to Indie Hackers just by tweeting or sending the newsletter. I'm months and months away from that milestone, but I can dream, can't I?
Writing Blog Posts to Drive Traffic
I'm investing a significant amount of time and energy into documenting my journey with Indie Hackers. I wrote two posts in October (if you include this post), and I also added the timeline, which is a great way to see the milestones I'm hitting. I write very slowly, so these efforts are a big commitment on my part.
The blog got 4,773 pageviews this month, which is great compared to last month's 2,117 pageviews, but it's still pretty insignificant overall.
I don't expect my blogging efforts to pay off immediately, of course. I barely know anything about SEO yet, I've written only a tiny amount of content, and I've done very little to publicize it. But one thing I've found helpful in the short-term is that blogging gives me content to share through my other channels like Twitter and the newsletter. It's also great for getting people engaged on the forum.
Building a Community from Scratch
Like the blog, the Indie Hackers forum is another long shot that's not going to pay off immediately. I built the forum from scratch in September (a process I'll blog about in the future), and since then I've connected it to both the blog and the interviews as the backbone of their commenting systems.
Ideally the forum will become the hub of a thriving community of indie hackers who can help each other and visit the site on a regular basis, even when I haven't posted a new interview. So far, so good! The forum got 13,530 pageviews this month (4.52% of my total pageviews), up from 7,701 in September:
Over 400 people have signed up for the forum in the past 6 weeks. I see people making new posts and comments every day, and at this point it's probably my #1 channel for connecting with people in the community.
Similar to the blog, it's a great source of content for me to tweet about and include in my newsletter. But unlike the blog, I don't have to spend hours keeping it updated. 👌
Making Money from Sponsorships and Affiliate Links
Indie Hackers made $814 this month! Of that total, $750 came from sponsors and $64 came from Amazon's affiliate program. This is something I haven't talked about much, probably because I've been deprioritizing it in favor of all the growth-related tasks in my pipeline. 🙊
The affiliate links are really straightforward: Whenever someone mentions a book in their interview, I turn it into an Amazon affiliate link. I've been pretty lazy about this entire process, so only 8 interviews (out of 65) have any affiliate links in them at all, and only 2 of those interviews were from October. Regardless, in October these links got 974 clicks, and the money I made more than covers my server costs:
To find sponsors, I'm using a combination of Sponsorama and my own personal efforts. So far my personal efforts have been limited to sending out a request for sponsors in my weekly newsletter a couple times, but I've also heard that sending cold emails can go a long way.
I'm still experimenting with the model, but my gameplan going into the future is to find sponsors who fit the "indie hacker" profile themselves, conduct interviews with them, and charge based on how many clicks they get. Julian Shapiro suggested this approach to me, and I'm pretty excited to see how it works out in November! 👊
Goals for November
In November I want to keep prioritizing growth/content and posting 3-4 interviews each week. My goal is to hit 200,000 sessions.
I want to branch out to new marketing channels and online communities, like Reddit for example. Surprisingly, exactly zero tech blogs or other press have written about Indie Hackers, and that's something I'd like to change. My goal for next month is for 40,000 sessions to come from these alternatives to HN.
I just started tracking the hours I work (broken down by project, e.g. blogging, interviews, the forum, content marketing, etc), so next month I should have some really interesting charts and graphs to show you guys. My goal here is to stick with it and track my time every day. Hopefully at the end of the month I will have spent my time wisely on the things that matter most.
Finally, I won't set any specific revenue target this month, but I will try to add at least 2 sponsored interviews to the site and learn as much as I can from that process. I'll also make it a goal to add affiliate links to at least 4 interviews. December will probably be the first month where I really start focusing on revenue.
I can't wait to report back at the end of next month and let you know how things went! In the meantime, I'll be talking about my progress on Twitter, in the weekly newsletter, and on the timeline, so follow along to stay updated!
If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below! 🙌