When you first start blogging, it seems like a piece of cake. Write a post, hit publish, wait for the traffic and money to start rolling in.
But any blogger knows that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In reality, creating regular content, staying on top of search engine optimization (SEO) and social media trends, and building community takes authenticity, a thick skin and a hefty dose of discipline.
Here are 11 pieces of advice from bloggers of all experience levels across various categories to help you succeed and grow during your journey.
Quality Storytelling Matters
“How successful your blog is doesn’t depend on how many posts you can churn out in a week,” said Sarah Harradine, a health and fitness blogger at That Squat Bot. “It’s the quality, and how you can utilize these posts in the future.”
For example, she says “you could post five articles in one week that were about your day or an event that are only relevant at the time of publishing and don’t receive any hits after the first week of going live. Or you could publish one highly researched, detailed piece that you can market on social media for years to come. The majority of my blog traffic comes from Pinterest and Google for evergreen posts that retain their relevance long after the publishing date.”
Food and travel writer Iris McCarthy started blogging as a hobby in 2011. It eventually blossomed into a full-fledged career with two book deals and numerous television appearances.
In her opinion, new bloggers should focus on producing awesome, quality content rather than making money.
For Joe Szynkowski of the UpWrite Group, storytelling is key to giving blog posts more legs, which is why he focuses so heavily on profiling people with great stories.
Optimize for SEO From the Beginning
“Among the many things I’ve learned from the eight-plus years I’ve been blogging, one thing in particular stands out: start writing SEO-friendly content from day one,” said Nicolas Martin, founder of Flea Market Insiders.
Martin adds: “Read and learn about SEO even before picking your blog’s appearance or writing your first post. And then make your landing page, posts, images, taxonomies, permalinks and so on SEO-friendly. SEO may sound like an unnecessary thing to add to the pile of work bloggers already have to do for their blog, but if your goal is to stand out from the crowd and eventually make a living out of your blog, SEO is key. There’s no shortcut, either. Forget about online SEO agencies that promise immediate results and focus instead on learning the basics of SEO.”
Digital marketing specialist Betsy McLeod has been professionally blogging for seven years. One strategy that works well for her involves continually optimizing old blog posts for the newest SEO practices. That approach, in addition to updating old posts in general, allowed her to increase company blog traffic by 375 percent.
She views this as a current trend, where high-performing bloggers provide a “last updated” date versus a “published on” date. Search engines are trying to make it easier for users to find all the information they need in one resource, so continually adding detail and length provides value, which can lead to a higher chance of ranking in results — and a higher chance of readers finding your blog in the first place.
“You can write the most fantastic things to share with the world, but if you don’t have the proper SEO in place, no one will see your work but your mom,” said Natalie Tannerof The Educational Tourist. “Learning how to get my writing out in front of a wider audience has been really valuable. Improving SEO is time consuming, but I’ve found tools to help me do more in less time.”
Prioritize in Order to Profit
“If you want to run a profitable blog, you have to know where to focus your time,” said vegetarian food blogger Elizabeth Thomson. “Find out where you’re making money, and spend the majority of your time there.”
She adds: “For me, traffic leads to revenue, and I get most of my traffic through search and Pinterest. When I’m not creating new content, I spend most of my time optimizing old posts for search traffic and creating images specifically for Pinterest. While I enjoy Twitter and Instagram, they’re not where I see sustained growth, so I only focus on them when I have time. It took me quite a few years to stop chasing after every opportunity, but I’ve learned that prioritizing has led to immense growth.”
Travel blogger Bino Chua started her blog as a hobby alongside her day job, and within five years of doing both, quickly learned how to balance content creation and opportunities to make money.
She eventually picked up affiliate marketing as a way to profit from her posts, and she’ll link to favorite accommodations and travel products to help pay for the site’s upkeep.
Pick a Niche
For Glen Allsopp, it’s all about finding your niche. He started blogging at age 16 and eventually sold that blog for five figures. He now blogs regularly at Detailed.
With his first blog, he focused on SEO and link-building, and with the next, he prioritized anxiety and self-improvement. Now, he writes about content marketing, and he says he’s built up a genuine following of tens of thousands of people as a result.
“Make sure you’re not trying to reach anyone and everyone with your writing,” said Allsopp. “Hone in on a specific niche, preferably a subset of that niche, and learn and share everything there is to know about that topic. You may think that you’re reaching fewer people because you go niche, but you shouldn’t look to build a blog with a general audience. You want an audience of people who are super interested in your topic so that every blog post you write will be relevant to them, rather than just the odd one or two.
He adds: “Another benefit to zoning-in on one particular topic is that when people ask around for experts on a subject, you’ll hopefully be the first person that comes to mind.”
Be Authentic About Your Passion
Rashelle Isip, who has been blogging about organization, time management and productivity since 2011, says you have to be passionate about your subject, since that’s what will keep you going through the inevitable ups and downs of building and running a blog.
Additionally, that passion will be felt by your readers, and lead to a genuine relationship or sense of community.
Blogger Megan DuBois feels the same way. She shares tips and tricks about Walt Disney World, primarily because she absolutely loves the topic and never gets bored.
“The most popular essays on my blog are the ones which I privately call my what was I thinking? essays,” said Karen Salmansohn, a best-selling self-improvement author with 1.3 million Facebook fans. “These are essays in which I tell personal stories about my life, which start off with me doing something truly embarrassing, then end with me growing and learning. The more I admit humiliation — followed by some growth spurt — the more people connect emotionally to me, and the more I give people hope that we’re all flawed humans and we all have hope for change and growth.”
She adds: “I used to think that keeping my essays short would boost readership. But if I’m writing something vulnerable from my heart, people don’t care about word count.”
Be Wary of Freebies and Public Relations Love
After a few years of blogging, Chua received press releases, media pitches and collaboration requests from public relations agencies. It was all new to her.
“What I’ve noticed is that PR folks have their own agenda — mainly, to serve their clients — so as bloggers, you’ll need to strike the right balance between what your readers would like to read on your blog as well as any opportunities you may have with PR practitioners,” she said. “A media invite may sound nice, but if the event doesn’t really fit your niche, it will hurt your blog’s readership in the long term.”
“Don’t give away your precious real estate reviewing low-dollar items for free,” said Kathy Haan, an online coach and blogger. “Make sure you’re working with brands that align with not only your core values, but also respect your time and effort. While not everyone has a big marketing budget, reviewing anything and everything just because you get it for free will jeopardize your standing with your readership.”
Consistency Eventually Leads to Success, But it’s Not Predictable
Adam Cole has been blogging every week for nearly 10 years about creativity and performance, and he’s paid close attention to what types of posts resonate with his subscribers.
Namely, he’s learned that he can’t predict what people are going to get excited about. Also, that people tend to respond negatively to engagement tricks and that he can be consistent without being repetitive.
“Sometimes I’ll post something I think will get all kinds of feedback, only to hear the crickets chirping,” said Cole. “Another day, I’ll put one out that doesn’t seem like much to me, and a number of folks will comment enthusiastically.”
He adds: ”I tried provocative headlines and other things to increase engagement, and the result was my most faithful subscribers started to complain. My best bet is to be myself day in and day out and people who love me will respond to that. I post weekly, but very occasionally it’s on a Monday instead of a Sunday. As long as I am consistent and reliable, my subscribers don’t mind.”
At digital marketing agency Get Found Madison, Eagan Heath is used to observing which posts are ranking well on Google and bringing in organic visitors. But he, too, knows it can’t always be predicted.
“The biggest lesson for me has been that you never know which posts will end up ranking well and bringing in the lion’s share of your traffic,” he said. “We’ve labored over posts that got no traction, and easily popped out the posts that now bring in the majority of our organic traffic. The commonly repeated advice to stay consistent directly serves this end, in that you have to have a lot of at bats before you get a home run.”
Separate Ideas From the Writing Task Itself
If you’re struggling with consistency, then try to separate the title or idea task from the writing task, says Dayne Shuda, who has been blogging since 2009.
“It can be very difficult to sit down in front of the computer and come up with an idea and then research and write it,” he said. “What I’ve found to work best is to set aside separate time to just brainstorm ideas. Create a list, think about the ideas and then prioritize the best ones on a schedule.”
He adds: “A common scenario may be that you write two posts a week. Every month, take two or three hours to brainstorm eight titles and get them on a schedule. And then when you have your scheduled writing time, you already have the idea and you’re off and running.”
Use Your Blog as an Online Resume
Blogger James Reeves uses his site to build client lists, get access to certain individuals or publications, and as a breeding ground for ideas that later transition to other creative opportunities.
“One time I wrote a blog about a company I wanted to do consulting work for, and then cold called a senior-level contact at the company and sent him the link,” he said. “A few weeks later, we had lunch that then turned into a small project and then that company became my client.”
He adds: “When I was blogging for Forbes.com, I knew I had a relatively large audience and used that to help my blogging, networking and professional growth. I once was able to get a press pass to an industry conference that usually costs several thousand dollars. In doing so, I got to meet and interview the CEO of the host organization. To get free access to the conference was great, but to spend quality time with a prominent thought leader was priceless. There were also many times where I used my library of blogs as building blocks for presentations.”
Nowadays, it’s fairly easy and cheap to make any website attractive and user-friendly.
“You can have a professional website created for less than $250,” said Christel Oerum, founder of Diabetes Strong. “Blogging has become so common that many web designers specialize in blogging websites. As long as you know what you want, a designer can create it for you for very little money.”
Use Social Media, But Remember Your Own Platforms
“The only things you own are your website and email list,” said Oerum. “Social media can and will change from one day to the next. If you rely on Facebook or Pinterest to drive the majority of your traffic, you are at the mercy of their algorithms and will, eventually, be forced to pay them to reach your audience.”
Therefore, any successful blogger knows how vital it is to always keep learning, says Lisa Chavis, who has been blogging for more than ten years with her partner.
“You must be flexible in this industry because platforms change, algorithms change, even people’s taste changes in how they want to process the information you share,” she said. “Keep learning because if you stay static, your blog will die and you won’t be effectively sharing your message with others.”
Community Is More Valuable Than Competition
“The number one thing I’ve learned is the power of networking with other bloggers,” said Robert Farrington, founder of The College Investor. “For the first two years of blogging, I really made no money, had no readers, and I’m surprised I kept at it. However, when I started connecting with other bloggers in my space, I started making traction.”
He adds: “It started simply, engaging on social media and via email. Eventually it was connecting in person and building friendships and mentorships. There really isn’t competition — there are so many readers and potential readers that it makes so much more sense to talk, communicate, share and collaborate. This helped grow my business and I’m sure I helped others grow theirs. The bottom line is that community is so much more valuable than competition.”