Livingprague Author – Me and My Website – A Brief Summary to Start
In June 1995 I finally got the chance to combine my interest in travelling with my occupation as a cellular engineer. After spending a year in Beijing I came back to Europe, arriving here on June 21st 1996. I freely admit that I knew nothing of Prague other than it had a reputation for being a beautiful city. It did not look beautiful as I was being driven over the cobblestoned road outside Sparta stadium in the pouring rain that day. I stayed in Prague a little over a year before leaving on another contract. I returned six months later to buy a house and have lived here since December 1997. I maintained a career in engineering until 2015 after which time I started Livingpraguetours. I’m now a professional Prague Tour Guide.
How Livingprague Has Evolved
In the year 2000 I first made a webpage on geocities.com using templates but, it never got any further than basic info. In 2001 I spent some time on virtualtourist.com which at the time allowed basic HTML programming to make the page more individual. As well as learning basic commands I took “Anthony’s HTML course” and that filled in the gaps. As I looked around for basic information on Prague I was disappointed to find no website actually gave you practical “how to…” information and certainly nobody was telling you how the ticket machines worked or how to use the “Park and Ride” etc.
In February 2002 I published three pages using classic “3-section” html code (top heading and side link bars with a separate main content area), the first was the “index” page, the second was “How to Eat Czech Food” and the third was “Getting Around”. In October 2002 the site was converted to use CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) which is recommended if a site goes over 20 pages or is likely to grow (CSS basically allows you to make changes to a single file which will affect text and colour on all site pages that reference that file).
In January 2003 I introduced PayPal onto the site as a means of off-setting the majority of the running costs. Later I registered my own personal domain and continued to run the site from there. From the original 3 pages it had now grown to about 50, many of which had info not on any guide printed or online. In July 2004 I started a major reconstruction of the site to reorganise it to include extra pages and began the preparation of the new look.
In 2014 at 24,000 visitors per month to the livingprague site I invested a few quid in a responsive upgrade to the site. It still stayed as html but now had a much beeter look when viewed by small screen devices. In this year Google Checkout finished.
In January 2016 with @32,000 visitors a month to the livingprague site I’d not added much new content basically because it was at the limit of what I could manage so I took the plunge and migrated to a WordPress design. I’d thought of having a hybrid site for some time and WP gave me three big reasons for going in that direction. 1) CMS, I’d always hardcoded pages which made them factually great but no good for adding things onto or common editing. 2) Pages, pages took the place of the original livingprague content allowing me to use additional pages for permanent content and posts for more “local life” content. 3) Interactivity, I’d never been happy with the lack of interactivity on the old site so with a variety of widgets and plugins I’ve looked to increase the contact that I have with people using the livingprague site.
By mid 2016 traffic had not increased so I began preparation of the new site. In January 2017 I cut over to a WordPress version. This means I have a hybrid site with most of the original pages now as landing pages and all the new stuff will be posts. By doing this I corrected an old search problem, introduced proper social sharing and following, introduced a much higher level of interactivity and ability to buy stuff and contact me. So what am I aiming for? To start with, to stay at the same traffic rate but get that traffic to do more, sales of physical items and services to increase, bounce rate to go down. Then as I add new content I expect the traffic to rise again.
Update for 2020: I’ve learned a lot about the use of plugins, site security, site speed and generally a load of stuff that I wasn’t really aware of back in 2016 so the next version of the site planned to launch in March 2020. Streamlined, all unnecessary plugins taken out. Basically built for speed loading and highest possible security.
Making Money Nuts and Bolts
So how do you make money from a non-commercial website. Let me pass on my experience as a “small earner”.
Well, livingprague is not a Prague Hotel booking service, I don’t rent cars or book tickets etc but I continually try to generate revenue where possible. Here are the popular ways I’ve found and their pros and cons:
I introduced “Google ads” onto livingprague in June 2006. Not all pages have them. Initially, several types of adverts existed but, I played around with different sizes/formats for boxed, unboxed, buttons and text adverts before finally settling on the smaller “mobile ad”, a “leaderboard” for the footer and a “330×250” for the right column and the “button ad” on most of the site. I’d never seen any image ads running until 2012 (I think text ads must have been more cost effective). As the monthly “unique visitor” rate went over 5000 and the livingprague Google page rank increased I was being approached by companies about advertising on the site but, I felt it was difficult to control. Google offered an opportunity to get reasonably targeted adverts onto the site with no hassles for me so I’ve decided to try it out. Pro – once setup it runs in the background and Google can pay direct to your bank. Con – You cannot promote the ads and the ad click percentage normally hovers around 3% so you must have at least 5000 unique visitors a month to get to the U$100 mark whereby you get a payment. 2020 Note: I now only use responsive ads.
Speculate to Accumulate
Take a look at Google Adwords. The deal is that you increase for site’s listing position by bidding on keywords. The idea is that you pay, for example, 5 cents for each “pay per click” and a person who arrives at your site through this method generates more revenue for you whilst they are on your site. Work out your budget and the search criteria that will bring more people per click to your site for the least amount of cost to you. Choose the time of day when you want your site to appear in the list i.e. if you are targeting the UK market then you want to know when most people are visiting your site i.e. links displayed at 3am in the morning in the UK don’t often get clicked on. Always go for “pay per click” and not “pay per view”. Google frequently offers “Freebies” on adwords i.e. £20 worth of ads. I normally activate these for livingprague campaigns and set the lowest bid available. It’ll run for a few months and send a few hundred people to my site.
A site pays me to link to them from one or more livingprague pages. PRO – easy to setup. CON – fixed payment rate based on the number of pages you link from and if you don’t generate enough traffic on the link the deal will end. Remember that Google analytics uses goals so the target site can see not only how much traffic they get but also if that traffic is buying their product or service. CON – bigger companies may not find it cost effective to pay you little money, smaller companies may not honour the deal so it’s best to get it paid up-front. Linking makes up about 20% of any revenue that the site makes.
No matter what you sell the bottom line is “how do you get paid?”. I setup a PayPal account early on. They charge a fairly high percentage for their service but, for a non-business user it’s one of the few options. In 2011 I introduced Google Checkout onto livingprague as well to give people a choice but that has since finished. PRO – Information based products are easier to sell for a profit and there’s a certain degree of consumer protection. CON – occasional bad customer but, I guess it comes with the territory so don’t commit too much. In 2014 Google Checkout finished so I introduced E-Junkie to host download files and Woo commerce to provide a cart. 2018 update: I have since removed E-Junkie after the last site upgrade as my theme included a wooCommerce cart. 2020 update. After a series of hacks on the site I decided to remove the WooCommerce functionality. I went back to downloads direct from the site and a PayPal cart system.
If only it were that simple. I tried the PayPal “donation” buttons for a year on livingprague and got a grand total of U$5. I still leave them in for the eBooks which are now FREE but I’m much more likely to get a customer who pays U$25 for something I sell for U$20 because they liked my site and it saved them time and money so, they add a bit more.
In May 2006 I decided to take a look at affiliations. I’d read quite a bit about the pros and cons of this i.e. you have to do all the promotion and then trust the affiliated company that it will pay you correctly but, a lot of hard work has gone into the site and I wanted to see what I could do to enhance the content. By February 2008 my list of affiliations numbered 3. I’m a bit choosy I guess. I first linked to Amazon on my guidebook page but in almost two years only one person ever bought a book through my page (according to the stats). So that leaves the main two that run from the accommodation section of the site. Originally, I used to affiliate with Trip Advisor (again, every now and then I would get a cheque in the post). I was familiar with the site and found it to be a useful resource for impartial descriptions of the hotel to back up my own assessment. I’ve now finished this based on their payment system i.e. cheque. I now look only at “direct payment” options. Secondly I affiliate with a local company in Prague for hotel booking services because they’ve been around for a while and offer a reliable service. I’m currently checking out another two options one for a hotel booking service and a second for flights. Both will work using a search form and not just a banner. I found that there are two tracking options 1) current session and 2) timed cookie. The deal with “current session” is that if they go through my site to the affiliate and buy things or click on adverts then I get a share of that revenue. “Timed cookie” works in more or less the same way but for example if a visitor turns off their PC and the next day goes back to the affiliate site directly i.e. not through my site then the cookie will show that they originally arrived via my site. In plain English “cookie affiliates earn more money”. PRO – share of any revenue but, check the percentage. PRO – runs in the background. PRO – up to you how much you promote the link. CON – payment by bank transfer is best but, not everybody offers it i.e. some like Trip Advisor insist on paying by cheque which can cost a lot to cash. CON – as with all affiliations and adverts, your visitor will be leaving your site when they click on the link. I found that if I provided good value that I could afford to send people off of the site for my primary activities. From 2010 to 2012 I concentrated on building relationships with local companies for restaurant booking, organised tours, accommodation and events. HotelsCombined was added in 2011 and gave my visitor the option to see the best price on offer but it did not make much for me. Proving “volume” is very important when taking this area forward. In 2014 I scaled back HotelsCombined and concentrated on Booking.com which I have been happy with. Lastly I introduced a local company for airport transfers which again I’ve been happy with so still after 10 years I’m only dealing with two or three companies as an affiliate.
In December 2006 I ditched my old statistics webpage (formerly Nedstat, it was bought out by webstats4u) when “pop ups” started appearing. I hate pop ups so, at a visit count of 142,447 and a monthly hit rate at 3000+ I removed the stats code from Nedstat from livingprague and put in the Google Analytics code instead. I’ve been very impressed by what information you can get even as a non-adword using webpage. The three greatest pieces of info I got from here were 1) how and where people arrived on the site (landing page). 2) Age group (demographics). 3) Languages. I’ve made decisions on where to put my spare time and effort on livingprague to make best use of knowing who is using it. In 2014 Google Analytics introduced the “Real-Time” section and I love it. I’ll have it running in the background as it shows the number of people using the site, where they are from, what pages they are looking at, how many pages they were looking at and keyword phrases used. I guess that you can buy expensive software that tells you this but as a freebie I find it fascinating. In early 2016 I introduced Google Analytics Event Tracking code onto livingprague mainly for “external link” monitoring.
If you use Google analytics then you’ll soon learn about bounce rate. The higher the figure then the worse it looks i.e. Google defines Bounce as the number of occasions where a visitor to the site does not go on to any other page after arriving. You can read a few things into that i.e. your content did not load correctly or was delayed, your content is crap or not valid for the visitor, your visitor was unable to go to another page due to a technical issue (nav problem), your visitor found what they wanted to know or your visitor clicked on an outgoing link. As livingprague is a big site with info on many different topics it’s not unusual to see people coming in on one page and spending time reading. By achieving a reasonably fast page loading time, making sure the content matches the search and allowing your visitor a clear navigation option then you’ll eliminate most of the cause of bounce. But there are always going to be the “little” pages that are not very popular that have a 100% bounce rate and that affects the Bounce rate of the overall site so it’s worth checking out why. That said, even when livingprague had a 75% average bounce rate, Google still kept me highly ranked so it does not seem that important for ranking etc.
In 2015 I introduced paid walking tours onto the site after setting up a booking system supported by EZTix. Their charge is about 5% of my revenue which I think is fair. In 2017 I moved all tour content onto the new domain at Livingpraguetours.com. Update: In 2017 I ended EZTix and went with Turitop. This is not because EZTix was in any way bad. It was just that I felt like I was paying for a mercedes when all I needed was a ford escort.