When Sara B. Hansen was busy at her day job as a journalist and editor at The Denver Post and The Des Moines Register, she was looking for a creative outlet.
As a dog owner her whole life, she decided to start a blog to share her experience: Dogs Best Life
. That was back in 2011.
These days, her blog has been garnering millions of pageviews and was earning up to $10k per month before the recent Google updates. Full disclosure: her site has been affected by the HCU like most people, and while it was pretty devastating, she’s not letting it deter her from working her way back!
Keep reading to find out:
More about Sara’s background
When she started the site
When she decided to make it a priority
How much she had been earning per month
Her main marketing strategy
Her approach to keyword research
How she creates content
Her favorite tools
Her biggest challenge
Her greatest accomplishment
Her main mistake
Her advice for other entrepreneurs
Meet Sara B. Hansen
My name is Sara and I’m a professional editor and writer with over 20 years of experience.
In 2011, I launched Dogs Best Life
, a website dedicated to helping dog owners with information on various topics such as health, training, grooming, and adoption.
I’m also the author of The Complete Guide to Cocker Spaniels. I have owned several dogs throughout my life, including Browning, a Labrador-beagle mix; Finley, a beagle-cocker spaniel mix; and Sydney, an Australian shepherd-corgi mix.
I now share my heart and home with Nutmeg, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
Why She Created Her Site
I spent most of my career working for newspapers and magazines, including editing roles at The Denver Post and The Des Moines Register.
I wanted a creative outlet and, since I’ve always loved dogs, I decided to launch Dogs Best Life. Initially, the online magazine was a passion project; I worked on it 10 hours or so per week.
I decided in 2019 to make the site a bigger priority for my time. Over the next few years, it started generating enough traffic and revenue to become a viable financial endeavor.
While traffic trended upward since the site’s launch in August 2011, the popularity of adopting dogs during the pandemic boosted traffic and ad revenue enough to make it profitable.
That trend has continued, and 2023 was on track to be the site’s best year for ad revenue (expected $80,000+ through a partnership with Mediavine).
Unfortunately, Google’s updates this fall have been problematic for the site (as has been the case for many niche websites). While the site averaged about 400,000 page views per month before the updates, that’s dropped to about 200,000.
How Much She’s Earning
The site was on track to make $80,000+ this year. It didn’t make significant revenue until 2019. It has always been a passion project, not a quick moneymaker.
I attribute the site’s ongoing popularity to the spike in dog adoptions during the pandemic. But pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is popular with Americans.
I work on my site approximately 15 to 25 hours per week.
As for traffic, the site generated 2.3 million pageviews in 2020, 4.9 million in 2021, and 4.2 million in 2022. It was on track for about 3 million pageviews in 2023.
Then, traffic took a tumble after the recent Google updates, but I’m sticking with the site and already starting to see a recovery.
Sara’s Top Marketing Strategy
My goal with the site has always been to provide high-quality, helpful information for dog owners. The fact that the site generates an income is a blessing.
Her Thoughts on SEO
SEO is critical to helping readers find the site and its content. We don’t write for SEO, but we always make sure the articles and headlines are maximized for search.
As for learning about SEO, because I worked on news websites, mainly when I was the breaking news editor at the Denver Post from 2014 to 2018, I learned on the job about SEO and how important it was to maximize your work to reach potential users.
The primary goal is to provide helpful information that is optimized for maximum reach.
I’ve been using Semrush for years. I started using its free tools and switched to the paid version in the spring of 2019.
At the time, the site had about 10,000 organic keywords helping drive traffic. We eventually climbed to 177,000 organic keywords at our peak in November 2022. We currently have about 60,000 organic keywords driving traffic to the site.
I used Semrush’s keyword magic tool and keyword gap tools to identify keywords we should include on the site, but I don’t let that be our only guide. I also trust my news judgment and am always searching for interesting article topics.
For example, I’m currently working on a massive dog breed guide that will serve as a cornerstone article for the site.
Sara’s Content Creation Process
My goal is to first, find interesting, timely, or helpful topics. Then, research them to ensure the articles provide the information readers need most. Last, optimize them to ensure they include search terms that will help bring readers to them.
To find the right topics, I use news judgment, keyword search, and keyword gap search.
For example, over the years, I’ve worked to add articles on multiple dog health issues, training issues, and dog breeds.
I publish at least 3-5 new articles weekly and continually refine and update existing articles. I don’t have a dedicated team, but I have occasionally used professional writers. We also regularly publish contributed articles from veterinarians, dog trainers, and other dog website owners.
As of November 2023, we have 1660 articles on the site.
Her Email Lists
I write a monthly newsletter. Readers can use a signup form on the site to get on the email list. I use MailChimp to manage my list of 980 people at present.
Her Go-To Tools
My favorite tools are as follows:
WordPress, as it’s the easiest content management system I’ve ever used. I recommend it highly, especially for people who have little web experience.
Semrush, as it is extremely helpful for identifying keywords and how best to develop them.
And Headline Studio, which is a great tool to ensure you’re writing the most compelling and SEO-friendly headline.
Her Biggest Challenge
In the early days, my main challenge was making time for the site in addition to working full-time.
Truthfully, the biggest challenge is Google itself.
Its updates this fall have been heartbreaking and incredibly frustrating. In many ways, I feel like I’m starting over.
The best thing I can do is continue to provide quality information to help dog owners.
Her Greatest Accomplishment
Building a successful website that helps dog owners, especially first-time dog owners, is my greatest accomplishment.
Being a dog owner is a lot of hard work.
You get unconditional love and lots of snuggles, but ensuring you have a healthy, well-behaved dog takes time and effort.
Too many people think training stops after completing a 6-to-8 week basic obedience course. In reality, training should be a lifelong project.
My goal with Dogs Best Life is to provide information to make creating a healthy, happy, well-behaved dog easier.
What She Wishes She Knew When She Started
When I got ready to launch the site, I bought a template.
Big mistake. Big, big mistake. It was glitchy and didn’t work. I ended up hiring a designer to rebuild it and make it work.
In retrospect, starting with the designer from the beginning would have been smarter and easier.
Her Main Mistake
My biggest mistake is not consistently updating content to keep it fresh and ensure it’s optimized.
Now I use Semrush’s tools to analyze our top 10 to 20 articles each month to look for opportunities to improve them.
Her Advice for Other Entrepreneurs
Now’s a challenging time to start a new website.
Some people might think the rise of AI would make it easier, but I believe it potentially poses threats to search and content generation that we don’t fully understand yet.
Focus on researching and writing quality content. Don’t expect to make money overnight.