Our Report Card

Jonathan Clements

I TURN AGE 58 TODAY—and, a few days ago, HumbleDollar turned four. The good news: Only one of us is slowing down.

In 2020, HumbleDollar garnered 3.6 million pageviews, up from 2.6 million in 2019, 1.7 million in 2018 and 900,000 in 2017, which was our first year. Here’s a closer look at those numbers and what’s been happening here at HumbleDollar:

  • Earlier this week, I posted a list of the 20 most widely read articles from the past four years. If we ignore the traffic that goes to the three main navigation pages—the homepage, the main money guide page and the first articles page—those 20 articles have accounted for 9% of the site’s pageviews.

Some perspective on that number: Since HumbleDollar’s launch, the site has published around 1,300 articles, while our money guide runs to more than 500 web pages. Why have those 20 articles, which account for just 1% of the site’s pages, been so popular? In some cases, they enjoyed huge traffic because another, far larger website linked to the piece. I am, of course, grateful—but it does mean that a small but significant part of HumbleDollar’s success has hinged on the kindness of strangers with big online followings.

  • Every day, we publish at least one new article, so we’re putting out 30 or so pieces in a typical month. Yet, in the site’s stats, I regularly see the 80-20 rule brought to life. Just as 1% of the site’s pages has accounted for 9% of pageviews over the past four years, the same phenomenon occurs every month, with a few articles collecting a disproportionate share of the site’s traffic. If I were really smart, I would focus on publishing articles likely to get similar amounts of attention. But I am, alas, far from clairvoyant—and half the time I’m surprised by what proves popular.
  • During the stock market turmoil of early 2020, HumbleDollar often published two pieces a day, as we strove to help folks stay the course. You would think such market turmoil would be good for readership, right? Quite the opposite. It seems that, when the financial markets take our investments for a wild ride, we’d rather not look at our portfolios—and we’d rather not read about money.
  • Last year, more than 30 writers contributed articles to HumbleDollar. During the site’s four-year history, four writers have been notably prolific, with Adam Grossman at 172 articles, Dick Quinn at 94, Dennis Friedman at 72 and Kristine Hayes at 56. The site offers to pay contributors $50 per article, but many writers decline payment. In short, nobody’s getting rich working for HumbleDollar. Instead, the site’s writers are doing it because they have financial stories and insights they want to share, and which they hope will help others with their own financial journey.
  • Readers who post comments on HumbleDollar tend to be thoughtful and civil—a sharp contrast to the contentious cesspool found on so many sites, financial and otherwise. Yes, very occasionally, things spin out of control and I have to step in, but it’s only happened a few times over the past year.

Still, HumbleDollar’s comment section has two ongoing problems. First, many folks can’t figure out how to post comments. A refresher: You can either use your username and password from Facebook, Google (Gmail) or Twitter, or you can set up an account with Disqus, which provides the software we use for the comments section. To log in using any of those four methods, just click on the appropriate icon at the top of the comments section.

Second, I’ve noticed—as have some readers—that the comments directed at the site’s female writers tend to be more critical. I’m not sure what to do about this, but it concerns me, in part because I don’t want potential writers to be deterred.

  • While much of the site’s daily traffic goes toward new articles, the site’s backbone remains our comprehensive and continuously updated money guide. In addition to keeping the information fresh, we made some tweaks over the past year.

For instance, we introduced a new chapter devoted to basic financial questions, while also merging the saving and spending chapters. In the math chapter, we added a section explaining the difference between time-weighted and dollar-weighted returns. To the chapter devoted to big ideas, we added sections on present value and negative bonds. We also added two new sections to the great debates chapter, one on whether buying a home is a good idea and the other on the question of whether to invest or pay down debt.

  • More than 12,000 readers receive our free weekly newsletter, which goes out every Saturday morning. That number isn’t especially impressive, but your loyalty is: 65% or 66% of you open our newsletter every week, versus a 22% average for business and finance emails. Early last year, we also introduced a daily email that alerts readers to our latest articles.
  • In 2020, HumbleDollar received more than 600 donations. Those donations, coupled with a modest amount of advertising, are the site’s only two sources of revenue. The ads are served up by Google, with no input from me. Indeed, I don’t know in advance what ads will get displayed, which is a good thing, because it means there’s no way those ads could influence the stories we run.

To the best of my knowledge, no other financial website has our business model (if you can call it that). Unlike so many sites, we don’t accept sponsored articles or sponsored links. The latter involves linking to another site in return for payment. We also don’t have any affiliate marketing relationships, where we get a kickback if you click through to another site and open, say, a brokerage or credit card account. As smart consumers of financial information, I encourage you to ask how the sites you visit make money—because it could have a big influence on what you’re reading and what’s getting recommended.

I’ve come to think of HumbleDollar as a community—of writers who want to help others by sharing their stories, of readers who are drawn to the site by a common financial philosophy, and of donors who want to promote prudent money management. I may have launched this site, but it would be nothing without all of you. My profound thanks.

Jonathan Clements is the founder and editor of HumbleDollar. Follow him on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook. Jonathan’s most recent articles include What Money Can BuyTime Limited and Long Time Coming.

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