Case Study: How This Mental Health Blog Can Make More Money (By Removing Banner Ads)

An in-depth look at a mental health blog called the Radical Transformation Project and how she can improve her site – and increase revenue by dropping banner ads.

For this case study, we’re going to look at a blog of one of my email subscribers. Her name is Faith and she runs a mental health blog called Radical Transformation Project.

She runs a personal blog on how to overcome depression and “kick ass”. 🙂 One thing I really appreciate about her blog is that she seems to be looking to deal with the issue without drugs. I appreciate that.

But, I’m here to talk about her blog – not her topic. Her stats are actually pretty good…

She reported a monthly traffic volume of 50,000 and an email list of 6,000 subscribers. Pretty good! A lot of her traffic appears to be coming in from Pinterest. She makes these really large post graphics that apparently do the deed on Pinterest.

In terms of revenue, she asked me not to give specifics and so I won’t. In terms of percentages, though, about 80% of her monthly revenue comes from affiliate marketing and the other 20% from the banner ads she has all over the place (which I’ll be addressing).

What She Is Doing Well

Faith’s monthly email list growth is quite good and it is because she is executing a very good strategy for building one’s list. Namely…

  • The placement of content upgrades right inside the blog content.
  • The actual lead magnets she’s offering are actually compelling.

As an example, one of her more popular posts (judging from the Pinterest share count) is Journal Writing Prompts For Depression and Anxiety. But, right in the middle of this post is this opt-in form:

It is literally just the content of her blog post, but packaged up in a useful way. Here’s another one in another post:

This is the most effective kind of opt-in strategy you can have on a blog. Combining this with her clear success with Pinterest and it is no wonder her email list is growing quite effectively.

The one thing I would do to improve this strategy is to begin using Thrive Leads in order to split-test different opt-in form setups within the content. Faith is using MailerLite for her email marketing and Thrive Leads does integrate with them. I think this would allow Faith to experiment with richer opt-in forms as well as test different setups to incrementally improve her opt-in rates.

Once people are on her list, they are getting an autoresponder series (which promotes an affiliate offer) as well as her weekly emails. I’m guessing that this is responsible for most of her revenue currently.

So, this is all great. I love to see people building their list so well!

Things I Would Change About Her Site

There are definitely some things I would change about her website with the goal of making it more user-friendly.

Her Logo

I can’t say I really understand this logo. It looks like paint splatter. It is also odd in that the text is literally faded out due to the splatter. Also, it is massively big! It does shrink down for mobile browsers, but the vertical height of the logo takes up about 40% of the screen.

Judgement of logos can be quite subjective. It is a matter of taste and I can’t really comment on taste. But, ideally, I would make two changes:

  • Make the text stand out from the paint splatter better so it isn’t covered up.
  • Reduce the height of the logo so it doesn’t take up so much valuable screen space.

Even though I don’t get the splatter pattern, I don’t think I’d recommend any change. It is part of her brand. Her images shared on Pinterest use the same pattern. It is consistent. This is good. So, I’d leave it as is! Just make those 2 simple changes.

Her Massive Pinterest Photos

Clearly these massive images are working and it appears to be her best traffic source. The issue I have with them is that they take up a massive amount of room in the blog post itself.

Some posts are different than others. Some posts (like this one) have the feature image which is so large it just smacks you in the eyeballs. Some show the image in a smaller format.

The issue is that is pushes the content itself way down the page. I’m looking at her site on a big 27-inch monitor and I have to scroll before I even begin to see the text of her blog post.

What I might recommend Faith do is look into using the Social Warfare plug-in rather than Sumo for her social share buttons. Social Warfare has a lot of great options, but most relevant here is the ability to define a specific image for Pinterest pins even if it isn’t displayed in the blog post.

When somebody goes to pin a blog post, it will pick up the Pinterest image. It gives you a lot of control over how the post appears on Pinterest even if it isn’t displayed in the main body of the blog post.

Switching to Social Warfare would allow Faith to clean up her blog posts substantially without losing any of that Pinterest love.

Banner Ad Overload

Faith’s ad revenue makes up only about 20% of her overall revenue, yet the ads on her site are overwhelming.

There are 2 big ads in the sidebar, 2 inside the blog content, and a big one that floats on the bottom. It is a lot of visual distraction for a fairly small amount of revenue. Plus, with the amount of traffic she gets, the small revenue percentage doesn’t justify it.

Truth is, banner ads are pretty much the worse method of blog monetization you can possibly muster up. It is a shame it is what everybody seems to think of first, but it is just really ineffective unless you are a major brand.

Personally, I would remove all the ads. I know this can be a bold move and it means losing some revenue. However, I have very little doubt that a little tweaking of the affiliate offers could easily make up that 20% of revenue. More on that below.

The Laundry List of Blog Tweaks

Let’s go rapid-fire style through some things I would change…

  • Get rid of the “Hotlines” menu option. Judging from the share counts, it isn’t a popular page of the site. However, removing it would allow the navigation menu to appear on one line rather than wrapping down. You want that search icon on the navbar, not floating on it’s own there.
  • Increase the site of the bio widget at the top of the sidebar. Bigger photos and larger font. And include a link to the About page.
  • I would put the Disclosure Policy on the bottom of the site, NOT at the top of every blog post. That’s prime real estate right there and it should be used to get them straight into your content.
  • Increase the size of your blog text. It is currently set to a very small 14px. I believe it should be 18px.
  • Blog sub-headlines need to be highlighted. Right now, it is just standard text which is centered. It needs to be “Heading 2” or “Heading 3” format.
  • The blog post text needs to be packaged differently. Currently, the paragraphs are very long and it is very unfriendly to read it. Reference this post on content packaging for how to improve it.
  • There are 2 “Related Posts” areas at the bottom of posts. Get rid of one.
  • There are 3 areas with social share buttons at the bottom of posts. Keep the Sumo ones (or replace with Social Warfare). Get rid of the Sharedaddy icons and the NextGen buttons at the very bottom. There is no need to run multiple social share plugins at the same time.
  • The 3-column footer is pretty useless and it seems you’re just throwing widgets in there for the sake of having something. I would simply remove the entire thing.
  • The Sumo contact form at the bottom of the site is, likewise, useless. Instead, I would have a contact page and link to it in your navigation.
  • The footer background color is ugly and the links are barely visible because of it. I would change the colors and ensure those links have much higher contrast so the reader can actually SEE the links there.
  • Likewise, the gray bar at the top of the site is useless as is. I would either get rid of it OR make it useful. Instead of the social media icons, I’d show a menu there with admin links that don’t need to appear in the main top navigation. Things like “About”, “Contact”, “Disclosure”. Also, change the color so it isn’t gray.
  • Get rid of the “Work With Us” page. Nobody uses it. A contact page would be more functional. See: How to Create A Contact Us Page That Invites Conversions and Generates Sales
  • Remove Disclosure Policy from the top nav.
  • In place of the banner ads in the sidebar, put an opt-in form with lead magnet.

Making More Money Despite Dropping The Banner Ads

I talked about the banner ad overload and how I would drop the ads. That’s what I would do. Obviously, it is Faith’s decision. 🙂

See, the ads are visual distraction. It hurts the reader experience. The goals of any advertiser are fundamentally different than your’s. You WANT people to pay attention to your content, join your list, etc. What THEY want is to distract your reader and get them to LEAVE YOUR SITE.

The goals are fundamentally different.

All that said, Faith is making a little bit of money with the ads. Not nearly enough to justify it (especially with her traffic figures), but it can be hard to walk away from revenue.

The answer is to increase revenue elsewhere so she won’t miss the ads.

One clear way to do that is simply to get more email subscribers. Faith is having pretty good results with affiliate marketing to her list, so the more people going onto the list the more money she can make. By utilizing Thrive Leads (or something similar), Faith can test different opt-ins within her content as well as test different opt-in offers in other sections of her site (like the sidebar, the footer, etc.) Instead of putting distractions in front of people (the ads), Faith would be offering value in exchange for email and building her most important business asset – HER LIST.

Another opportunity would be to simply lengthen her current autoresponder sequence so that it goes on longer and promotes additional offers over time.

Also, Faith should be looking at ways to increase her own product sales. She has a cookbook listed on Teachable which sells for $12. She didn’t report to me the sales on this, but I’m guessing she barely ever sells it. The presentation of this offer is way too concentrated on features (not benefits or emotions) and the copy is lacking.

The good news is she has an audience and a nice email list. So Faith has the resources to really get in there and find out what her market needs and wants. She needs to develop her customer avatar and put some work into crafting the right offer for them.

I fully cover how to do this in the Lab course, Offers That Convert.

Doing affiliate marketing is well and good, but ultimately I view it as a profit maximizer. To have a business built on a real solid foundation, one needs to have their own offers. I would challenge Faith to suspend any disbelief she might have that she couldn’t come up with a compelling offer for them… and simply give it a go. Offers That Convert walks one through it.

And I’m telling you… replacing that little bit of lost revenue from the ads would be easy. Plus, it would serve the audience. Ads never will.

Final Thoughts

Faith is doing fantastic.

Did I mention she just started this blog in January? (BTW, for future readers, this post is being written in October).

Faith should be very proud of herself for the results she has gotten in a relatively short period of time. An email list of 6,000 is nothing to sneeze at!

This post points out several opportunities for improvement for the Radical Transformation Project. Hope it was helpful for Faith and my other readers!

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