One of my niches is the RV and outdoor travel industry. I didn’t yank this niche out of a hat; I work in it. I know it, and I like it.
I keep an Excel spreadsheet of other websites in my niche. A little Black Book, so to speak. One of those sites is RVandplaya.com, and it’s a fascinating example of what might be the best and worst of the blogging industry. Want to check it out with me?
(FYI, I’ve never so much as spoken with anyone associated with this website. These opinions are my own. And I might be wrong.)
I remember when RVandPlaya.com (Spanish for beach) was really just that: RVs and beaches! It was founded in 2017. Today, if you visit rvandplaya.com, there isn’t a beach in site (hehe, see what I did there?)
UX Falls Behind Advertising
Here’s what their navigation menu looked like on February 2nd, 2021 (courtesy of the Wayback Machine). It’s a simple header menu with category links to topics of interest like RV rentals, guides, and gifts. No ads; just user-friendly information.
Here’s what it looks like today. You won’t find the word “RV” anywhere in the menu. It’s a full-blown lifestyle website, where you can learn to change your oil, choose a wedding ring, book an Airbnb, and bake chicken thighs at 350 degrees – all in one place!
And yes, that’s a banner ad between their logo and their navigation menu (not good!). And a sticky footer ad below that. And two full-width hero ads below that. And sometimes a sticky video ad in the corner, too. Plus sidebar ads on posts.
Did you notice the logo changed, too? It morphed from a cute camper on a beach to a soulless geometric dogpile with the slogan, “Design your dream.”
“About Us” Becomes “About You”
Or consider their About Us page, what I consider to be the “soul” of a website. Here’s how it read on June 14, 2021:
“We wanted adventure (RV Lifestyle), freedom, and, more importantly, we wanted to see where we belonged in the world.
Nothing is as freeing as being on the beach (Playa), lacing your feet with the sand, having the water lap your legs and becoming one with nature.
We are Jessica & Mike, and we enjoy being at the center of nature’s most pleasurable place – the beach! If we could live on the beach and immerse ourselves in its incredibly freeing and powerful aura every day, we would!
The RV Lifestyle has always been our DREAM. We had a vision of living like a turtle with our home on our back, having all that we need with us and slowly moving down the road to see where it leads.
So, we planned to RV for about 12 months, we decided to follow our dream, quit our 9 to 5 jobs and sold all of our belongings, and took a leap of faith For $5,000.00 we bought a 1986 Roadtrek RV and spent another $1,800.00 to get it ready.
In June of 2017, we set out for our big adventure – a year on the road. The RV and Playa project was born…
It’s a decent write-up, right? It’s personal and inspiring. It’s written by real people. You feel like you could shake hands and drink a beer with these people.
But sometime in the latter half of 2021, RV and Playa expanded their staff. Jessica & Mike turned into Jessica & Mike + Marissa (finance) + Jeff (Mechanic) + Lindsey (Product Expert). Here’s what the About Page says today:
“We are a small team of adventurers and passionate consumer advocates.
Each month we help over 400,000 readers learn more about topics such as travel, finance, retail industry, and automotive care.
We are Jessica & Mike, and we enjoy being at the center of nature’s most pleasurable place. The BEACH!
We had a vision of living like a turtle with our home on our back, having all that we need with us, and slowly moving down the road to see where it leads.
In June 2017 we decided to follow our dream, quit our 9 to 5 jobs, and sold all of our belongings, and take a leap of faith.
RvandPlaya was primarily born out of frustration as we were finding it increasingly hard to find reliable, accurate, and in-depth answers to our questions.
Because of this, we set out to create RvandPlaya.com, a website dedicated to helping customers solve their consumer-related questions from a wide range of services, products, finance, and industries.
If you wish to learn more, please head over to the contact page, where you can get in touch with us directly.”
Not so personable now, is it? And the backstory has changed. The umbrella has gotten bigger. The website is no longer about living a life of adventure; it’s about the Orwellian idea of “consumer advocacy.”
Contact Page Has No Contact Form
Here’s the real kicker. Per their instructions, I visited their Contact Page, and there was nothing. No email, no phone number, no contact form. Just a polite blurb. I even tried visiting the page in three different web browsers, thinking I had a browser compatibility problem. Then I dove into the HTML code (see below) and confirmed: There’s no contact form on the page. It’s a dead end.
(And yet, I counted eight display ads!)
A Blog Feed Written for Robots?
Today, when I visited their Travel Guide category, here were the first blog posts in the feed:
- When Is Hurricane Season in Texas? (Read This First)
- When Is Hurricane Season in Florida (Gulf Coast, Keys)
- When Is Hurricane Season in Hawaii (All You Need to Know)
- When Is Hurricane Season in Mexico (All You Need to Know)
- Where to Buy Catalina Crunch Cereal? (Variety Pack Plus More)
- How Many Gallons in a 33.5-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
- How Many Gallons in a 500-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
- How Many Gallons in a 40-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
- How Many Gallons in a 10-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
- How Many Gallons in a 5-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
- How Many Gallons in a 50-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
- How Many Gallons in a 250-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
- How Many Gallons in a 420-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
- How Many Gallons in a 15-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
- How Many Gallons in a 100-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
- How Many Gallons in a 30-lb Propane Tank (Propane Tank Sizes)
Firstly, you will never convince me that you need 11 separate blog posts to tell somebody that liquid propane weighs 4.2 pounds per gallon. There, I just did it in 11 words.
Secondly, why is an article about Catalina Crunch cereal in the “Travel” category? I suspect somebody fat-fingered the WordPress category.
Thirdly, this blog feed reeks of SEO on steroids. Someone’s been crunching numbers on Ahrefs or Semrush, searching for the biggest searches with the lowest competition. And I’ll eat my hat if these articles aren’t being written with AI assistance or farmed out to freelance content writers scraping by at 3 cents per word.
Is RVandPlaya.com a Success – or Failure?
I said RVandPlaya.com might be an example of the best and worst of the blogging industry. Here’s what I mean:
Obviously, this site is making money. Five people are on staff. They claim 400,000 readers per month (probably 400,000 sessions or site visits) and 3 million happy readers. From what I can see, they have no newsletter or digital products, so they likely make all their money from advertising and affiliate marketing. Purely passive income. I suppose that’s a success story.
But how does an RV lifestyle site turn into a glorified Sears and Roebuck catalog? Well, here’s my speculation:
Amazon pays 3% commission on most physical goods. That’s not great, especially when so many Amazon products cost less than $20. You have to sell a lot of organic nipple butter and 24oz cocktail shaker bar sets to make much money.
You know what pays better? Diamonds. Jewelry. Bling. So RVandPlaya has advertisements for James Allen jewelry plastered everywhere, like a kid that lost their dog. James Allen pays 5% commission with a 30-day cookie and an average sale value of $6,500. You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out how the math plays out.
(Fun fact: Even if a website hides a post’s publish date, you can find both the published and modified dates in the HTML meta properties. It seems that RVandPlaya hasn’t published a new article in Travel Guides since October 2022, but the Jewelry category runs fresh up to March 2023.)
Does Cream Really Rise to the Top?
I can’t fault RVandPlaya.com. They’ve run the SEO playbook we’ve all been taught: Develop a following, expand your niche, delegate the content creation, monetize with passive income, then sit back and enjoy the beach. They did exactly what they were “supposed to.” And now I assume they’re raking it in.
But now I’m scrolling through the finished product … and I don’t really like it. I don’t trust it. How can one blog tell me truthfully how many amps can a 14-gauge wire handle AND whether artichokes are keto-friendly? My BS Geiger counter is clicking like mad.
Truthfully, I feel like I’m no longer a Reader; I’m just the next click, the next session, the next $0.02 for their CPM advertisements. I can’t help but wonder how firm their foundation is. Does the site have any intrinsic value, or just “Google value”? Would anyone ever bookmark this website? Has the site earned trust, or merely popularity?
Is this kind of success worth its price?