A lot of people commented on the introductory Part 1 that they’d like to see more in depth information about blogging, so here it is! If you’re not interested in blogging, we’ll see you later in the week. 🙂
Picking a Niche
When there are a lot of people blogging about the thing you want to blog about, the best ways to attract your people are pick a niche and be authentic to yourself. IO is an RV travel blog in general, but I write advice for those who are pre-retirement, on a budget, and single – that’s my niche.
When I started the blog over three years ago, I visited a lot of RV forums and read other people’s blogs and I took a hard look at the questions people were asking about RVing. Over and over again, I saw questions about how much money was needed, how people earn a living on the road, and is full-timing safe for a single person. This let me know that there was a need for more information about these subjects that wasn’t being met and thus an idea was born: As I went through the process of going full-timing myself, I’d write about my experience to help others who wanted to do the same thing.
On a related note, make sure the niche you focus on is something that is true to yourself. For instance, I wouldn’t have done well writing about full-timing with a family, because it’s not something I have experience in. People wouldn’t be as interested in reading about it because I’m not an authority figure in that field, my advice wouldn’t be trustworthy because I haven’t done it myself. Write about things you have personal experience with, and what sets you apart from other bloggers in your field.
Building a Following
I already gave quite a bit of advice about building a following in part 1, under the “Writing” and “Launch time” headings.
To recap, visitors who don’t have a personal interest in you aren’t going to be captivated by a simple travel journal entries or long exposes on your life unless you write it like a story and make it entertaining to read. In fact, it’s a simple truth in life that people are more concerned about themselves than anyone else, particularly a stranger, so the best way to gain a following is to focus your blog more on them than on you. Figure out what they’re having problems with, and give them the solution (knowledge posts), allow them to step inside your shoes and imagine what their life will be like when they’re in the position you are (story travelogues), write about the adversities you’ve faced getting to where you are, and how they can be overcome (inspirational posts). What it comes down to, is that you want your blog to be useful to them.
But the most useful blog in the world still won’t garner an audience if people don’t know it exists.
In the early stages of a blog, just as important as writing good content is something the blogging world at large likes to call hustling. No, not like hustling for money on a street corner. Hustling for an audience.
You won’t be getting very many search engine hits on your blog when you start out, existing traffic and age of the site plays a big part in how Google and other search engines rank their results. People who search for your blog name will find you, but those searching for something more generic like “RVing” are going to find the plethora of other blogs and sites out there about RVing that have been around longer and have more traffic. You increase your odds of being found through search engines when you have a niche, for example if I narrowed down the above search to “RVing in a Casita”, IO is more likely to show up in the first page of results. But I was lucky to get five hits a day from search engines my first few months blogging.
So where will you find your first followers? Look at where they’re currently hanging out on the internet and engage them there.
For an RV blog, that’s going to be other RV blogs, forums, sites, and online communities. Make a special effort to be active on ones that have a shared interest with what you’re blogging about. For instance, I made an effort to be active on various Casita forums, and at the RV.net forums I responded a lot on the “full-timing” related topics because I figured those people would be most interested in what I was doing over at IO.
One other thing. Most RV groups frown upon you advertising your website directly in discussions, it’s seen as crass. The best thing to do is put your blog in your signature, or profile depending on what kind of site it is, and then be helpful. Answer questions people ask on the community group and build a presence over time. If you show yourself to be useful, you’ll start getting clicks to your blog and those people will be more likely to stick around because you’ve already shown them through your activity in their community that you’re a good person and worth the time.
The other thing you can do initially to start getting people to come to your new blog is to write guest posts. There aren’t many RV bloggers out there that accept guest posts but some do. Look around and find ones that have common ground with what you write about on your own blog. You can also write articles for RV websites. A couple times I’ve even been asked for online interviews, and I also accept these offers as long as the site seems legit because it’s free publicity.
Just a couple notes here.
You don’t need to be an English guru to start a blog, but do use the spell-check, use correct punctuation, and pay attention to sentence and paragraph structure. Readers won’t be as strict about errors on a blog as they would be in a book, but you still want to make it clear enough that the reader doesn’t have to decipher what you’re trying to say.
And second, when you’re picking out fonts and a color scheme for your blog, don’t get so fancy with it that it becomes hard to read. Some people have trouble reading stylized fonts or colors that are too close to each other and are hard to distinguish, so to appeal to the widest group of people, keep the text areas on your site to highly contrasting colors and simpler fonts.
This is a subject that whole books have been written about, so I hope you understand that what I’m giving you here is just an overview based on my personal observations.
There are several different ways to make money from a blog.
You could put advertisements up, like the little square one at the bottom left corner of my site. I use Google Adsense, which seems to be the most popular right now, but you can find others out there that do the same thing. How it works is ads are automatically populated for that little square based on the viewer’s browsing history and the type of site the ad is on (so you’ll see RV related ads in there quite a bit). You make fractions of a penny for every site viewer you get, but the real money comes when someone clicks on the ad (whole pennies vs. fractions).
As you can guess, in order to make real money you need to have a lot of viewers, and a lot of clicks. I’ve had Adsense active for about six weeks now, and I’ve made about $20 on it so far. That’s not horrible – it’s enough to offset the $13 or so a month that IO costs to run – but it’s nothing to write home about. I average 1,000 to 1,200 hits a day on IO right now, so that gives you an idea of the size of my viewership vs. the return from ads.
Now, to increase your revenue you could put up more ads, but you need to be really careful with this. Most people don’t like ads, particularly if it makes your blog hard to read or if they’re placed in such a way that they can be clicked on by accident. Never sacrifice the integrity of the community you’re building on your blog to make money, it doesn’t end well. If you upset your readers, they won’t come back. Also never click on your own ads yourself, and don’t ask your friends to click on them repeatedly. Google has algorithms in place and if they detect funny play, your account gets suspended.
The second thing you can do to bring in money on your blog is through affiliate and sponsored links. IO is a part of Amazon.com’s affiliate program. When a reader buys something on Amazon after clicking on one of my links, I get a small portion of the purchase price and the reader doesn’t pay anything more.
Note that for this type of monetizing, the reader has to actually buy, not just click. It may sound like it’d be harder to make money through a blog from doing this, but actually the majority of my IO income is from Amazon affiliate sales. I think it works better for RV blogs than other types of blogs because full-timers don’t have a home town to go shopping in, and a lot of them buy from Amazon so they can get their purchase shipped to wherever they may be camping at the time.
Amazon is also not the only game in town. A lot of different companies and products have affiliate programs. To use another example that might be familiar, some RV bloggers advertise the Frugal Shunpiker’s boondocking guides. Why would they put an ad up for a product they didn’t make themselves? Because they likely get a commission for every sale that comes through their blog.
Just make sure when you’re putting advertising for various products and services on your blog that you’ve tested them yourself and know that they’re high quality. If you advertise an inferior product and your readers buy it because you say it’s worth it, and it’s not worth it, they’re going to get mad at you and stop following your blog. False advertising is a no no.
The third thing I do to bring in money on IO is put up a Donate button through Paypal. This works exactly like it sounds, it’s not a very predictable way of earning money, usually Christmas time is when you can expect the most. Just be tasteful in how your word your donate message, people tend to frown on beggars.
The last thing you can do to make money in a blog is make your own product or service to sell – ideally you want it to be related to the topics your blog is about so that your readers are more inclined to buy/pay for it. I’ve written two e-books that I sell through IO, The Little Guide To Dreaming Big and Solo Full-time RVing On A Budget, and both expand upon the topics I write about regularly on my blog for those who want a more thorough understanding of how to live deliberately and go full-timing before retirement.
This takes more effort than any other method I’ll write about, but the rewards are the highest in my opinion. For starters, you get the entire cost of the product or service unlike advertising other people’s products where you only get a portion, and second it’s very gratifying to know that you’ve put together something with your own hands that will help others.
And that’s a very important point to make. If you’re going to write a book or knit a hat or provide coaching, you have to do the very best job you possibly can and price it fairly. There are a lot of books out there, a lot of knit hats, and a lot of coaches. To stand out from the crowd you need your product or service to be as useful as you can make it, just like I told you at the beginning when it came to your blog in general.
In conclusion, you can make money from a blog but never ever let the focus of your blog stray from your readers. When it becomes all about making money, the quality of your posts goes down and you lose your authenticity, and your readers will notice this. It also becomes less fun for you to keep up with it and you might find yourself resenting having to write, it’s become just another job. If your goal is simply to make money, blogging is not the answer.
Be helpful, be inspiring, be entertaining…. be the best you can be. Your readers will love you for it, and they’ll tell their friends and your following will grow. You’ll grow as a person too, because contribution is a very important part of the formula for happiness. When you help others without expecting anything in return, you help yourself as a byproduct. I write at IO knowing that the majority of my readers will never buy my book, donate through Paypal, or use my Amazon link, and that’s okay. I get comments and e-mails from readers all the time thanking me for all the help IO has given them, and that’s the best payment of all.