Last Updated on September 7, 2020 by Jeremy
In August 2020, I celebrated my 12th anniversary of starting my first professional blog. Sure, I've had hobby blogs and journals since I was a teenager (and have been building websites for fun for 20+ years too), but 2008 was the year I finally decided to do something with a specific focus.
It was a long process full of trial and error, but it took me ten years to the day to turn that blog (plus others) into a proper business that I could rely on for my full-time income. It has been off to the races ever since.
In this one, I wanted to take a moment to reflect and share ten things I wish I could've told myself when I started blogging. Had I incorporated many of the below thoughts into my site(s), I can only imagine what sort of position I'd be in today instead.
1. Your Niche Matters
While I hate speaking in absolutes, in blogging a big chunk of your potential success is tied to how you approach your niche. Being unique in a sea of thousands of bloggers in your field is often one of the biggest ways you can stand out and grow, and everything you do should work towards developing your brand as a perceived expert on your subject (if not the expert).
When I started my long-term travel blog in 2008, dozens of others were attempting to do the same. Now that field is probably in the thousands if not tens of thousands of bloggers. I really did myself no favors going into a general travel niche, and I've since fixed that mistake in many of my new niche blogs. It took a while, but I have adopted the view that I'd rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big one, and it has worked out wonderfully ever since.
- Learn more about current best practices on how to start a niche blog here!
2. Best Practices Really Do Help
There is no shortage of bad advice on the internet, and in blogging that is no different. But if someone who has been around the block a few times shares a tip, and especially if it is validated by many others in the form of a best practice, you may do well to listen. There is a reason why we all say SEO is important, urge new bloggers to launch on WordPress, and attempt to justify when and where it is best to spend money to grow. It is good to take these tips and push the boundaries to see what works for you, but ignoring many of them outright will likely get you nowhere.
I do have to admit that in 2008 blogging was still in its infancy and best practices didn't exist, but I also did not follow the pack in many best practice avenues as they developed (I didn't move to WordPress until year six!)- that was a lot of missed growth potential.
- Check out our best practice list when starting a new blog here!
3. Focus on Evergreen Content
When writing a new article, take a moment to stop and ask yourself if it will still be relevant in three months. What about three years? What about in ten years? If the answer isn't yes to all of those (okay, perhaps not ten years), you may want to stop and ask yourself why you're writing that article to begin with. If you're like me, you may come to find that article ideas without longevity simply are not worth the effort when it comes to building your blogging business.
Trust me, I really know this one.
I've more or less unpublished every article on my travel blog from my first long-term trip from 2010-2011 because, well, nothing I wrote was relevant even just a few years later. A good percentage of articles from my second long-term trip in 2013-2014 met the same fate.
The articles that have performed the best (for me at least) are those that are written in such a way that they can always be relevant (or easily updated to stay relevant- such as when quoting prices or operating hours). Not every blog will have an audience that is eager to read everything you do, week in and week out. Working on evergreen content is one way to ensure you get a continual stream of traffic to as many articles as possible over time.
- Case in point- some of my most popular evergreen articles have over 300,000 page views, are five years old, and get traffic every single day! The ones that are only relevant for a few weeks? Well, if they broke 1,000 I would've been quite surprised.
4. Your Blog Will Evolve
Most of us start our websites with a fairly clear vision in mind. We have an idea what our niche is going to be, we know what content we're going to write about, and we generally have a fairly clear direction in mind for the first year or two. From there, you better expect for things to go off the rails and allow your blog to evolve as needed.
Best practices change. Topics that readers are interested in following evolve. Your interest in your niche could change significantly as well.
Many bloggers find that their blog is more or less a living and breathing entity that changes as you do. If your blog doesn't look drastically different by the end of year two than it did on day one, I'd have some serious questions for you.
5. Advertise, Advertise, Advertise
Many bloggers take an “if you build it, they will come” mindset for blogging, but unless you have tens of thousands of friends and many eager mothers you're not going to get traffic simply by existing. The first comment on my travel blog happened this way, and it was by sheer luck more than anything (and I really still have no idea how the person found us). The next few thousand, well, those didn't come until much, much later after I took my blog to my intended audience.
This is accomplished via advertising, and many social networks make it easy for any blogger to get their content seen in front of their intended audience for as little as $1/day. These ads get your content seen, may possibly convert fans, and can cut years off the organic growth process you may otherwise see when simply waiting for it (if that were ever to come, that is- nothing is guaranteed).
Over the years I've tested and experimented with everything, and have spent nearly $20,000 in Facebook advertising alone. Excessive? Maybe. But most months I spend just between $100-$200 (my highest months were around $500), and I've made nearly $50,000 in income back in return from the traffic my pages have brought to my sites.
6. Success Doesn't Happen Over Night
My original goal for my travel blog was to make it become something before the end of my first long-term trip. That didn't happen. My next goal was to make it a thing after my second long-term trip. That also didn't happen. But along the way (and well after all of that), things changed to where I could make my blogging business be self-sustainable, and ultimately it took me 10 years (to the day) before I could quit my day job and do this full-time.
This highlights a significant issue in blogging in that it is a long game and that, for many, success doesn't happen overnight. In fact, I am not sure I can pinpoint a moment that was a definitive turning point for my blogs. One day they weren't anything, and the next (proverbially, at least), they were. I wasn't a topical expert, and then I was. As such, if you are blogging with a time limit that you must achieve X by Y date, well, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.
7. Stop Caring What Others Are Doing
Earlier in this one, I expressed a notion that following best practices is crucial to success. I stand by that statement if only because the number of wrong ways to blog (professionally, at least) exceedingly outnumber the tried-and-true right ways. Community-established best practices are called that for a reason- they often work.
But beyond best practices, it is often best to not care what other bloggers are doing on an individual level- especially those closest to you in your niche. In a field where standing out and being unique is part of the path to success, constantly comparing yourself to other bloggers is often less helpful from being inspired to do X, Y, or Z but instead is more mentally defeating.
Seeing someone else excel in ways you are not. Watching someone get business opportunities you do not. Watching someone else's traffic grow when yours is struggling. Getting hung up on these is exhausting, and it is best to narrow your focus to your own site, do whatever helps you get closer to your goals, and keep at it every single day. Blog envy is a very real thing, and hard to grow beyond, but is entirely worth it once you do.
8. Blogging is Incredibly Frustrating
I got into blogging because I wanted to share my travel stories with the world. But as I worked towards making my blog a business, I realized that simply taking photos and writing articles is only the start of all the work that is required to be successful. There is also SEO, social media marketing, advertising, working with PR firms and brands, computer programming, design work, editing and re-editing, and so, so much hustling. Writing is just one very small component of everything bloggers must do to succeed.
Big magazines and newspapers often have entire departments dedicated to each of these topics, and as a blogger you often are doing it as a team of one all while hoping to simply squeak out a meager living. There are many long hours, a lot of frustrations, and simply so many new skills you will have to learn if you want to succeed.
This brings me to the next point.
9. Blogging is Incredibly Rewarding
You can look at the previous point with terror, but you can also look at it in awe. Blogging help builds up a number of skills and is quite rewarding if you really take the dive down into learning all these topics.
If you would have told me ten years ago that I'd spend most of my days writing and working on back-end programming, I would've laughed at you (I was a chemical engineer, hated my composition classes, and got a D in computer programming- hah!). Now, this is the bulk of what I do, and I love it. Likewise, nothing really beats getting a comment or an email from a random reader who loved an article, found a new restaurant because of us, or got help on a topic when they needed it.
Those days make all of it worth it.
10. You Will Start More Blogs
If you would've asked me when I started blogging if I thought my travel blog could become a business, I would've said yes (well, I likely would've said hopefully). If you would've asked me if I'd launch more blogs later, I would probably have a look of terror at the prospect.
But here I am, now, 12 years later with five blogs running at the moment (and about five others I launched but ultimately decided to close along the way). My travel blog only contributes a small portion of my total income, and my big earner is a destination blog that has me firmly rooted in my favorite city. That was, well, unexpected.
I'm not alone in this matter too. Many, many bloggers have found success not on their first blog, but their second, third, or even fourth attempt. And you know what? There is no shame in that. My first blog was more or less a lesson in what not to do and it only achieved some degree of success because I was too damn stubborn to give up. Those lessons were applied to later blogs at the start, and I fully attribute that knowledge base as one of the reasons they've succeeded in a shorter time scale.
The point here is that most bloggers are on a journey in their skills, interests, and knowledge base. As these (and the industry at large) change, learning how to adapt and pivot is crucial- now more than ever.
While I certainly have far more things I wish I could tell my younger self when I started blogging, these ten points are some of the most important. So if you're just starting out on your blogging journey, take these to heart. I really wish I knew these when I first started.
Have you been blogging for a long time? What do you wish you could tell yourself at the start to change the trajectory of your sites? Comment below to share!