As your VPN website grows, so too will the importance of things you should track, check and record.
Here are some records I keep and checks I perform that you may also want to use when you start getting some visitor traffic under your belt.
The lessons I share below took me years to learn. You may not be immediately convinced of their value. Even if you do not embrace them now, I think you eventually will, so it’s good you are exposed to them.
The key to all of this is good data leads to good decisions.
Otherwise, you will be chasing your tail wondering why certain posts are crashing out and others are ascending and, hopefully, generating income for you.
It is also important to screen out lousy VPN affiliate programs that are ripping you off, not honouring their agreement with you, or not paying out fully or on time.
Keep Track of Visits, Conversions, Revenue and Profits
I use Google Sheets to track my most important data daily. Most of the data I track is from a combination of Google Analytics and my VPN affiliate partners’ web portals.
Each tab of my spreadsheet represents a month. Each row in a tab represents each day of the month.
The columns of my spreadsheet have changed over time but capture the data about the visitors, conversions and commissions generated by my site. I also have a column for expenses.
I find it helps to track and display the data in the same way as your website’s sale funnel works. In other words:
Visitors (Pageview sessions) > Affiliate link clicks (Goal conversions) > Commissions less Expenses (web hosting, freelancers, ads etc.)
The first data point is available in Google Analytics, the next two in your VPN affiliate program dashboards, and the last (expenses) in a variety of places including perhaps PayPal.
Tweak the spreadsheet for what works best for you. For example, instead of Pageviews as reported by Google Analytics, you might prefer Landing page sessions. Also, as your site and revenue streams diversify, you might add more columns to sub-divide (or vice versa combine) your affiliate partner data.
Good data leads to good decisions.
This data tracking also takes time. I now have it down to a science and it's a quick routine over morning coffee. It is certainly more productive than reading depressing news about world events I can do little about.
Every day, I check the following from the day before:
- in Google Analytics:
- Behaviour > Overview > Pageviews (overall and for my top posts)
- Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium (to see where traffic is coming from)
- if you use goal tracking, Conversions > Goals > Overview (to see which goals are converting for which affiliates and from which posts)
- if you run ads, Acquisition > Google Ads (to see whether your ads are working)
- in the dashboard of each major affiliate program:
- sales (including new versus recurring sales, if available)
- refunds from previous sales (which are also important to keep track of as they may indicate a problem)
Once a month is finished, I then transpose the monthly totals into a separate sheet with one month per row. This makes for quick and easy month-to-month comparisons.
Why did page views jump up so much compared to last month? Why were page visits up but commissions down?
Tracking data and spotting these kinds of trends or issues can really help you make good decisions and properly prioritize tasks that are competing for your precious limited time.
However, if you do find this data tracking is taking too much of your time (especially if it is at the expense of drafting and publishing new content), you can instead enter the data weekly or even monthly.
I like to do it daily to be able to quickly spot any problems. I don't want to discover a problem only at the end of the month if it’s costing me money!
For example, once my whole site went down and that was a terrible feeling. It took 2 days to get it back online and the damaging after effects lasted a couple of weeks after that. Had I only discovered the problem days later, the damage would have been much worse.
In addition, your accountant may thank you at tax time for keeping track of your site’s revenues, expenses and their sources in this way.
Keep a List or Journal of Important Events and Milestones
I also recommend that you keep a list or journal of important events and milestones related to your website.
At the start of your VPN blogger journey, you may simply combine this suggestion with the tracking spreadsheet above, by having a last column “Comments’ and noting there any important matters.
Example entries might include, “big updates to /xyz-vpn-review/ post”, “merged posts /xyz/ and /abc/”, “changed focus keyword of post /vpn-deal/ from X to Y”, “changed affiliate link in post /efg-vpn-review/ from X to Y” etc.
These comments can be invaluable in helping you piece together after-the-fact why a post or affiliate is doing well or poorly. They can also provide great lessons learned for the future.
Once your site gets a little bigger and your analysis a little deeper, you may want to keep a separate Google Doc which acts as a journal or diary. Insert a new heading for each post (start with your top 10 or 25) and record here your thoughts and actions related to it.
For example, if you notice something interesting in Google Search Console about a certain post, quickly open the document and record your thoughts even if you won’t be able to act on them for some time. In this way the document can also act to capture post-specific to do’s.
When the time comes to spruce up that post, the comments you have added under its heading can be golden. Once you make changes, describe them under the same heading adding the date they were implemented.
If commissions eventually jump up (or down) for that post, looking back on what you did can give you valuable insight for what to do (or not do) for other posts.
Keep a Master List of Your Blog Posts
When your website is new, this is not necessary. But before too long your site may have dozens of posts.
At a certain point, you should create an Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet to keep track of the “inventory” of your posts.
Each row of my spreadsheet contains a post’s URL.
The columns of the spreadsheet include:
- some vital Google Analytics stats such as 90-day Pageviews and Goal Conversions (if you track goals)
- some vital Google Search Console stats such as 90-day Clicks, Impressions, CTR and Position
- WordPress ID number (this is easy to discern when publishing or editing a post – just look at its URL in the editor – and can come in handy, for example, when manually setting the posts to include in a Post Grid or Related Content element)
- date first published
- date last updated
- focus keyword(s) / phrases
- meta description
- WordPress Category and Tag(s) assigned
- main VPN affiliate(s) related to the contents
- social media (where I indicate if/when I shared it on social media)
- general comments where I include suggestions for future improvements
For example, I now include and update the Google Analytics and Google Search Console vital statistics mentioned above only for my top performing posts, not all 200+ posts!
A spreadsheet is handy for all this information as it allows you to easily sort or filter data. For example, by quickly sorting the last updated column, I see which posts might be due for a sprucing up.
Have a Content Pipeline List
This is my running list of ideas for new VPN posts, often including the proposed page title, focus keyword and potential external links.
When thinking about new posts for your website, always ask, "OK, how would I make money from this particular post?"
If a post does not have money-making potential directly (for example, it won’t contain affiliate links), it should have indirect money-making potential.
Examples of posts with indirect money-making potential include posts linking to other internal content that do have affiliate links or that generate traffic “pushing” visitors toward such pages or have other calls to action that might help you make money later (for example, getting visitors to subscribe to an email newsletter).
Your Content Pipelines list can also be great if you eventually use freelancers to develop content. Copy/paste the requirements into an Upwork task and you are all set.
As your ideas get implemented, whether by you or freelancers, retain the text but show they are done by using a
strikethrough text effect and add the date completed. Having a to do list is essential, but it is sometimes also good to know what to do’s you have actually done and when.
Keep a Developer Pipeline Record Too
This is like the Content Pipeline above, but for all the non-content related stuff related to your website. In other words, the more “techie” stuff related to your website.
This includes things like: finding a better table plugin, checking why XYZ post loads so slowly, adding a different internal search engine, compressing images on ABC post, submitting posts ABC and XYZ to Google Search Console, etc.
This document helps you capture things as you spot them that need sorting when you don't have time to fix them right away. It’s a like a to do list for all the invisible stuff happening with your website.
This list can also be very handy if you start enlisting the help of a freelance developer.
Top Tip - Add the date to everything. One very good habit to get into early is to add the date to everything you do: something you write, a note you take, a hard copy you edit, etc.
Maintain a List of VPN Affiliate Links
Cloaking links is what the Pretty Links plugin does best. It takes an ugly external affiliate link and makes it pretty.
As you keep adding VPN affiliate partners to your portfolio, affiliate links can start to become unwieldy very quickly (especially if you also use channels – discussed below), so keep track of them all in a spreadsheet.
You should also occasionally “audit” these links to make sure they are working and that the partner landing pages are of a high-quality (both discussed below).
VPN affiliate partners often change their landing pages without notice and this can have a big impact on your commissions.
Having a dedicated list of your VPN affiliate links will help you organize and keep on top of these money-making links.
What Are Channels for Affiliate Links?
Channels can be powerful sources of information about your VPN affiliate links and commissions.
A channel is a way to identify a specific source of a click. For example, you may have a post containing 5 instances of the same affiliate link with the same landing page. Assigning a different channel to each link would let you pinpoint which clicks and commissions came from which specific link as differentiated by the channel appended to it.
For example, while it’s good to know that 10 commissions last month came from my post XYZ, it’s much more valuable to know that of those 10 commissions, 8 came from the big blue button near the start of the content, 1 from a link in the post’s concluding paragraph and another from an image about half way down the content.
If you are following my recommendation above and keeping a spreadsheet of your affiliate links (and their corresponding Pretty Link URLs), you can easily add channels to it too.
What to Do If Something Seems Wrong
Are your affiliate conversions or commissions suddenly nosediving unexpectedly?
First, don’t panic. Do not start implementing lots of changes or undoing any recent changes you made. Doing this will usually make things worse.
Don't assume what the problem is. Pause, research and reflect.
It might be a temporary blip (including a seasonal one) after which things will return to normal. If not, what has your research revealed?
- Are your related VPN affiliate links and the partner-side landing pages OK?
- Has a competitor bumped you down the Google search engine results pages?
- Has someone bettered you at your keywords?
- If you run ads, did someone start outbidding your VPN ad campaign keywords?
Check and re-check. Only then should you start implementing actions.
Important Reports to Produce
Once you are up and running and have a critical mass of posts (that could be 10 to 50+ posts depending on your website), start to produce these reports, but don't obsess about them.
Your gut instinct is important for running your business, but you should always be guided by sound data.
This means investing some time in gathering, saving and comparing data from your VPN website for better decision making. Here are the reports you need and how to generate them.
Google Search Console (GSC)
Assuming most of your traffic is from organic search, the keyword data in Google Search Console is very valuable.
GSC lets you see the actual keywords or phrases that people searched which brought them to your site. This can give you amazing insight into how to improve existing posts or which new VPN topics to write about.
Get familiar with Google Search Console because it has some amazing data. Best of all, it's free.
You can easily use GSC's information to help increase the rank of your posts and website overall in Google's search engine results.
Google Analytics (GA)
In contrast to Google Search Console, Google Analytics has no time limit on the amount of data it keeps. This means you can always generate the data you need and don’t need to capture it before it fades away.
GA’s Behaviour > Pages report is a good place to start. This information will tell you what your most popular posts are and whether people are landing on them (arriving to them) or coming via other posts on your site.
To see where your visitors are coming from, check GA’s Acquisition > Overview. Most traffic for new blogs will be organic search traffic but maybe you are lucky and already have a successful social media or pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaign strategy underway or are receiving traffic referred from backlinks on other sites (for example, from Reddit).
If you have implemented goal tracking on your site also look at Conversions > Goals and Conversions > Goal URLs. These tell you the posts on which visitors are most converting on any goals you have set up (for example, goals can be visitors clicking on affiliate links, liking/sharing a post, subscribing to a newsletter, placing an order, etc.).
I have already recommended that you track some key stats from Google Analytics in a spreadsheet.
Sometimes it is good to record Page Views and Goal Conversions for individual posts too. This is especially useful if a large portion of your visitors (and income) are from just a handful of posts.
If just starting out you do not have to adopt these habits from day one. But knowing about them can only help.
If you already have a VPN website up and running, these habits will help you stay on top of your business and help you spot issues to address.
Do you have any habits as a VPN affiliate that have really helped your business? Let the community know!
Anything else you would like to learn about being a VPN affiliate?
let us know in the comments below!