I’ve made a lot of mistakes with my first blog project. I’ve made 45$ with a 2.600$ investment. This is a story of my first blog’s ‘success’.
First blog mistakes are usually manifested through a lot of time wasted. Or money. Or both, in my case.
When you start a new blog there are usually two parallel processes happening.
Except for the excitement of a new journey, which blogging really is, there is this technical part of it which can be confusing at best. Think driving through the beautiful countryside with a GPS you don’t know how to use. You will get there eventually. Tired and not in the mood anymore.
- I want my domain name!
- Where to find that hosting?
- I also need that machine for word pressure! Yes! WordPress, right!
- My blog menu disappeared! It was there only yesterday!
- I didn’t make any money after two months of blogging. This doesn’t work.
And there is this second process which doesn’t help either.
I believe that in order to become a success of any level, the blog must have a strategy and systems in place. In the absence of a system to follow, you can try things on your own hoping for the best. The sweet confusion cycle begins:
- I just wrote my first blog post!
- Should I create an Instagram account now?
- Or to spend 100$ on Facebook ads. You know, to get some likes!
- I don’t know what to write about now?
- Is there anybody out there?
- I just got my first comment
- My 30th post and finally a first comment! The world is my playground!
- I didn’t make any money after nine months of blogging. This doesn’t work.
All you need to know about starting and running a successful blog is already available on the Internet. Few clever keywords in Google and the possibility of choice are screaming. While I do believe that Google reserved the first page for overachievers, there are just too many best blog advice out there. That’s where things can get messy. That’s where emotion leads our clicking habits. We choose to believe whatever seems convenient at the moment.
“Earn 5.000$ with your blog. From home. For 30 days. Click here!”
This makes perfect sense. Finally. It has to be the truth because it sounds realistic. I really need to get rid of debt for good. I can follow through for 30 days. Honey, where is my credit card?
Less salesy websites offer general success advice. Things like ‘How to set up your blog on Bluehost’ (in order to get an affiliate commission which is cool, but leaving you clueless after that. Not cool). Stuff like ‘Leverage SEO and invite [insert a number of visitors] in [imagine a time frame]’
It’s all about “How”. Very few sources addressed the success of the “Why” perspective. In order to know how to have 20.000 followers, one should know why in the first place.
Anyway, you won’t lose money. But you will not achieve much, more often than not.
It took me quite a long time and money to optimize processes and develop a system behind every new niche blog.
It’s a shame because ‘Blog as a Business’ can be one of the powerful business models of our age.
A model is available to anyone who is willing to put in the work for more than 30 days.
And like every successful business out there, your blog needs a system in place too. As your blog develops over time, it is just natural for processes to change too.
There is one worst thing that could happen than having a failed blog. Being ignorant about it. Not identifying problems. Not learning from mistakes.
But I did. I
researched and documented my mistakes. Tried again. Documented. Experimented
than documented again.
Let me share the first one:
Mistake Numero Uno: Monetisation First, Audience Never
All I need is another four backlinks and this post will start earning.Two months later and nothing happened.
Ok, seven backlinks more and I can finally get rid of debt this year.
I felt like I am stuck on the hamster wheel. The very same thing I wanted to get off in the first place.
I was convinced I did everything right. There was an expensive SEO course I enrolled in. I’ve read it over 3o times, literally. There is no way to fail this time.
This was back in late 2016 – Now I know it wasn’t about the course. It still is the best paid SEO content available on the Internet.
I was skipping the necessary steps. Simple as that.
I needed backlinks to start getting traffic. Not people, not the audience – but traffic. Free Google traffic. Which was everything but free.
There is no blog success without an audience. I wanted to monetize traffic, not the audience. You can’t monetize something that doesn’t exist. Traffic doesn’t care. It doesn’t know you, like you or trust you enough to click where you want them to. On the other hand, the audience does.
What should I have done differently?
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”Albert One & Only Einstein
The good thing is once you earn your audience there is no shortage of monetization options available. But you should follow that particular order. Audience and their trust first. Income as a by-product.
In order to build up your blog’s audience, you should create quality content. In order to create it, you need to know who are you helping with the content.
I wasn’t doing that. I wanted earnings without thinking of the audience.
You see, my idea for the niche came from chaos in my life. After a few years of freelancing, I wanted to level up. I needed a system, an office, and a strategy. Or at least I thought so.
There were five of us. I never really excelled in communication but this was different. There was some sort of multiplier effect of it on a day to day business. You need good communication skills in order for your team to produce successful client projects.
What I did is started researching about interpersonal and assertive communication, how to be a better listener in order to understand and learn how to be understood.
I started the blog researching and writing about interpersonal communication topics. Alright! Interpersonal communication is a pretty broad topic. I can’t recall anyone who may not be interested in the topic. I also can’t point to anyone who would be interested. Undefined and broad audience. Not good.
After the first few posts, I slightly drifted away in a meditation niche. How about some relationship advice? I am sure I didn’t have a pizza-related post.
The blog was lacking focus.
Using the same example of a burned freelancer, with just a few clever questions the whole process would stand a chance.
Please bear with me.
Who am I writing content for?
My content should be aimed at freelancer who would like to transform their business model into something larger than themselves. If I want to be more precise, I would go even deeper. I want my content to resonate with web designers who want to employ other designers and developers in order to offer web design services to high paying clients. The deeper I go with researching my audience and what keeps them awake, the more my content will resonate. It will make them engaged. That’s how you set a groundwork for good things to happen.
What kind of content should I create?
I will create content for every stage of my audience journey. I can choose to master one at a time. Here is an example. Our busy freelancer is going to need information about renting an office, office supplies, legal work. We can call it an awareness phase. Moving forward she will be interested to hear about best project management tools made solely for designers and developers. ‘How to hire your first developer’ will be a more interesting post than general advice about hiring a good employee. ‘Ultimate guide to pricing websites’ will be more valuable advice than how to price your freelancer services. It’s all geared towards my tribe of web designers. Everything they need to know and nothing they don’t. Every post will sound like it’s written for them. That’s because it is.
A huge difference.
Because of this, targeting becomes easier which makes paid advertising optimal and much cheaper. Best of all, I am building a mailing list with the content fans, not just random, general visitors. Other sad freelancers just love my content. It resonates with them. They trust me enough to input their email addresses in my little input fields in exchange for more awesome in-depth content. Post after post and you are building up an audience. The Engadget fans you can choose how to monetize. Whether is a display advertising, affiliate marketing or even your own services or digital products. Pick and choose. A sweet problem to have.
My second mistake is an easy one to make: Why Would I Network When SEO is there?
You can’t network when you don’t have an audience defined in the first place.
I wanted my blog to start earning with as less work involved as possible. With that being said, I didn’t want to waste time researching other bloggers or connecting with them.
I needed backlinks in order for my blog to get organic traffic from Google. The process of link building sounded dull and boring at the time, so I outsourced it. My next mistake is all about outsourcing went bad, so stay tuned.
What should I have done differently?
In a light of a new experience with networking, let me explain further.
Networking with other bloggers is the most natural and optimal way of making friends, getting advice, planning joint ventures, writing guest posts. Not to mention building links.
Just like in offline life, we all have installed need to connect with each other. To make meaningful contact and to nurture those relationships. It’s what life is all about. You can’t just call a stranger and ask for a favor of any kind. You can surely try but your success rate will be similar to any cold email campaign you may send in the past. Why would it be any difference in our online endeavors?
Don’t forget. Behind every single blog, there is a human being. Not a server or WordPress but a blogger. Yes some of them may be busier than the others but in the end, we all have similar drives.
For a new blogger, one has to be proactive. Let them know you exist. Find a way to offer something of value to other bloggers in your niche without expecting anything. (Keep your credit card in a wallet, I am thinking small sweet favors here). You will make friends eventually. And with a little help of your friends, that’s where the magic happens.
Same thing as you did with your audience. Give them your all. Don’t expect anything in return.
If you skipped defining your audience in the first place, this networking thing can become boring, because you don’t really care for other bloggers you have to connect with. For me, it is extremely important to start a blog in a niche I genuinely care about. You have to connect with bloggers with the same passion, same audience, similar problems, clever ideas and superb content you can learn from. It would be just natural to send an email with a friendly introduction without sounding salesy or begging for a link or share. You’re reaching out because you care about their content, that’s a good start. You are doing it because you want to, not because you need to.
Do I even have to say that it’s wrong thinking about bloggers in your niche as a competition? The Internet is way bigger than that. You should treat them as your colleagues. Your aim is to learn from each other and help each other down the road.
My third favorite mistake: Not building an Email List.
You can’t build a list without engaged visitors. You guessed it right, it’s something you can’t have without a defined audience.
Welcome to my favorite mistake. They say it’s a thing you don’t do you regret the most. I can picture myself in a hospital bed yelling at the tall doctor to “Shut Down this beeper machine off! I can’t take it anymore! I should have started building my email list way sooner.. arghttt. This life doesn’t make sense anymore”
Publishing pizza-related articles on a personal development blog is a joke compared to this one. What a great mistake to learn from!
There is some sort of compound effect in blogging. For better or worse. Once you skip defining audience but writing for the random visitor, whoever that may be, you really don’t need an email list. Furthermore, when you don’t care for networking, but waiting for SEO magic instead, it is only natural not to build an email list. Until the SEO kicks in. Which in my case was never.
It is all connected. Every single mistake is a playground for the next one, making it even worse. The other way around is also true. Every successful move and planned phase of your blog’s development is making easier for the next phase to be even more of a success.
What should I have done differently?
If you want your blog to become more than a journal and start making money, building an email list is a must. It is the fastest and most sustainable way of making money for a brand new blog.
After experimenting with affiliate marketing and AdSense, selling digital products to my email list is the model I am using exclusively now. Once they start to trust you with their email address, you made it. They allowed you to market to them.
And it’s a myth you need a huge email list. Instead of numbers, you should pay attention to valuable content to your audience. You should be more happy to have one engadget subscriber waiting for your next post that 50 of them slightly interested in what you are up to.
Depending on a niche and your efforts in marketing your content, you can expect to have a solid list of subscribers that you can market your digital product in a first 6 months of your brand new blog.
Your digital product can be anything really. An eBook with a price tag of 19$ or 99$ with some bundled content, or a full course on a topic which you can price anywhere from 150$ to 999$. Of course, you can offer your services too.
Keep in mind, we are talking about a brand new blog, without any SEO or advanced stuff for a new blogger. Without much traffic. With a quality audience research, we already set the ground for success before we even started writing a single post.
Last But Not The Least: Outsourcing as a Boss, When You Are Not
If you ask me, for any $100 expense that you can expect a $150 return, it should be called a business. But when you invest 2600$ with an 8$ return, it really is bad business.
I wanted my blog to work for me. Burned out from freelancing, I wanted a new lifestyle. It was only natural to spend some money in order to make some.
After I managed to produce an awesome content, I needed to market it.
While it may not be particularly clever to wait for the SEO of a new blog to work, my whole strategy was a waiting game. As you know, the more quality blogs link to your content, the faster you will climb in Google. Piece of cake! Loaded with sugar.
It sounded boring and I wasn’t really good at it. I will find someone on UpWork. Outsourcing!! (turning up the volume)
You see, link building was a mystery to me. There are good and bad links. So, good and bad link builders. What they have in common is they don’t provide no warranty whatsoever. Add Google rules on top of that. I mean, just Google it for a minute.
Don’t get me wrong. I put a lot of effort to find a link builder who would work on my blog whitehat way. In theory, I knew everything about it. I didn’t expect someone to glue my post on a first page overnight. To make a long and painful story short, it would take between $500 and $1.000 per month for a link builder. With no warranty of any kind.
Unsatisfied with ‘warranties’ I’ve got, I thought maybe finding contributors for big websites could work. The idea was to pay someone who already writes for Lifehack, HuffingtonPost or similar websites.
The Matrix Has Spoken!
Expect to pay anywhere between $100 to $1.000 for one backlink. One Backlink?
“You hear that Mr. Anderson?… That is the sound of inevitability.”
There was some kind of warranty after all.
At the time, I thought I needed 20 backlinks or so for my SEO optimized post to reach the heaven of the first page of Google. That would mean profit. Passive AdSense profit.
Later on, I discovered that competitor research tools are not made the same. So, instead of 20 backlinks, I needed at least 20 more. After 16 months of waiting and spending money, the post didn’t make more than 5$.
What should I have done differently?
It is somewhat easy for me to smile at it now.
Anyway. In order to successfully outsource link building, you need to nail the theory behind the process and accomplish it yourself. Whatever time it takes. Only then, break the process in smaller steps. And only then you outsource the smaller steps. Not the whole process.
Once you post a job for a link builder on UpWork you will receive a lot of applicants. If you know how link building works, in theory, you may choose a good freelancer for the job. From there, you are at the mercy of his processes.
What should you do is to supply your own process instead. This way you are the one in control. It is now about the link builder anymore but your tested and documented checklist of things to be done.
The best thing of all is once you broke the process in smaller steps, you actually don’t need to hire a freelancer anymore. Bear with me.
Depending on a niche or link building strategy we are after, we can break the boring and long link building process into smaller steps like these:
- Let’s find as many bloggers who may be interested in our content as we can. Also, we want to organize our findings (Prospecting)
- Let’s try to network with them, send clever and friendly emails introducing ourselves and our content. We will also want to follow up after a few days. (Outreach)
- Maybe we will need to produce some content. Maybe someone will let us write a guest post (Writing content)
Once you truly understand how Prospecting, Outreach or any of the phases really work you can simply document it as simple as you can for someone to follow. A checklist with a few screenshots will do wonders here. You have to do this only once.
This is where the magic begins. I was overjoyed.
Suddenly instead of a link builder, you can hire a VA. Someone who can follow the easy process. She doesn’t have to know anything about SEO or content marketing. With a cost of 5-8$ per hour you just made a system for link building.
Give them a test period and pay them well.
You are not paying for links anymore, you are paying VA to use the process. You have your own McDonalds. Some of the biggest SEO agencies around the world are working like this.
That’s how you have more time for creating awesome content. Your content marketing and SEO machine are automated, producing backlinks and traffic for you. And best of all, it is cheaper. Instead of paying 100$ or so for a link you are getting four or five for the price.
Summary: Importance of Blog Strategy
As you saw, with an upfront strategy and planning I would have a successful blog instead of time and money waster. There is no need for a shiny object syndrome when you know why and what is your next step.
It all starts with defining your audience. Who are they? What problems do they face? What keeps them awake at 3 am?
Only then I organize my content strategy.
A highly targeted content will transform your visitors into regular readers. It will give your authority and credibility so they will trust you with their email addresses.
From there it is your job to transform your readers into fans and nurture the relationship with more awesome content. In the end, you market your products. They believe you and adore your content so it makes much more sense to know more about the topic.
The product can be really anything. Think eBook “99 Vegan Recipes for Busy Moms” or “How to Communicate so Your Teams Listens” course.
Without SEO in an initial stage of new blog development. Just a clever upfront planning, your best content and genuine networking.
With the strategy like this, it makes running a blog a joyful journey. Money should come as a by-product of everything you have done for your audience and community.
It really sounds like a fulfilling business to run.
Let me hear your thoughts
They say that wise people learn from the mistakes of others. I’ve made mistakes but I wouldn’t change them for anything.
They made me realize that blogging is still one of the best business models in the world. You just need to know-how.
What do you think about my mistakes? I would like to hear your share of mistakes in the comments section. Let’s make fun out of it.