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Can you believe it? The day is finally here that this blog turns 4 years old!
It wasn’t all that long ago that I was all pumped up after reading ProBlogger and decided to spend a whooping $58 to start this little blog. All I wanted at the time was to get a few of my ideas about money out there in the world for other people to check out and talk about.
Now, almost 450 posts later, here we are!
No matter what your traffic numbers or stats are, there’s always something to learn when it comes to building a better blog. Most blogs fail in their first year, and somehow this one has kept churning along for 4 years now. If nothing else it speaks incredible volumes about discipline and dedication.
I’ve got to say this has been a very turbulent year for me personally. But even though I beat cancer and took on eBook publishing as my latest attempt at creating passive income, I still managed to make several improvements to My Money Design that you probably didn’t even realize had happened.
Here’s what they were and hopefully you can use some of these for your own blogs.
What We Did Differently in Year 4 to Build a Better Blog:
Year 4 was all about how we can take My Money Design to the next level. I did a lot of reading, researching, and came up with a few worthy ideas for how to accomplish this.
So with that said, here’s what we did new.
1- Wrote bigger, better, longer and more focused pieces of content.
This was my #1 priority and change since last year.
I’ve been very inspired by my favorite blogs to write content that was:
- Useful to you (not just fun for me to talk about)
- Well researched and meaningful
- Extremely focused on the main theme of this blog – Finding financial freedom!
- At least 1,000 words long
Based on the number of comments and engagement, I’d say these new pieces of content have been much more worthwhile for you to read and enjoy.
Plus, in case you didn’t know, there are some good SEO benefit from longer, better posts. Longer posts that hold the readers’ attention helps to increase the time on page. It can also lead to decreased bounce rate and possibly more pageviews per visitor.
Lesson learned: As cliché as it may sound, content really is king. If you’re wondering how you can get more engagement out of your readers, try tailoring your posts in a way that will give the reader the absolute most amount of value. Make each post something they will want to bookmark and tell all their friends about later.
2- Stopped publishing those terrible sponsored posts.
You know them. You get emails about them. You hate them!
And year 4 was the year that they finally came to an end!
I’m talking of course about the decision to stop accepting those God-awful sponsored posts that random strangers always email us bloggers about.
My choice to stop was both the easiest and hardest thing I did all year.
It was a hard decision because of all the immediate lost income! At one time I was getting $150 to $200 per post and it was great. I remember not long after I said “no more” I got a swarm of offers that would have easily resulted in $1,000 in just one week! But I stuck to my guns and still said “no”.
On the flipside, denying sponsored posts was also a very easy decision because … well … they suck and no one really likes reading them. I simply knew it was just something I had to eventually stop doing. Most of those types of posts were terrible and likely caused more harm to my site than good. Who knows how many thousands of potential readers or subscribers I lost as a result of thinking that those posts were the standard of quality on this blog and thought “I’ll pass”.
Lesson learned: If you’re still in to accepting any-ole, crappy sponsored post on your own site just to make a few, quick hundred bucks, I encourage you to really think about what it’s doing to your blog long term. If you really want to work with the advertiser, try to find a way to incorporate the link into your writing so that it appears as natural and harmless as possible. But don’t settle for mediocrity. The short-term gain will simply not be worth interfering with your readers’ enjoyment!
3- Took down old, awful sponsored posts.
Not only did I ban those terrible sponsored posts from my site, but I also killed all the ones that I had previously published.
Every month when my “1-year” term was up with the advertiser, I removed the post entirely from my site. In many instances I didn’t even reach out to the advertiser to see if they wanted to renew because I just wanted the thin content to be gone.
In truth most of them added absolutely no value to the content of this blog, and I’m probably far better off pruning them from existence.
Again, with the SEO benefits, part of building a better blog is that you want to get rid of articles that do absolutely no good for your site. My biggest fear is that a reader would stumble upon one of my “good” posts and then next click on one of these terribly-written posts and then exit my blog. That would result in all kinds of bad metrics: Higher bounce rate, lower time on page, fewer number of pages visited, etc.
Buy getting rid of those posts, now the chances that a reader will likely hop from one good page to another is a lot more likely – exactly what I want to happen!
Lesson learned: Your blog is your portfolio. Let it shine with all the best work that you’ve done and are proud to put your name to. If you’ve got content on there that doesn’t fit with this goal, then you’re better off long-term pruning away the dead branches and removing articles of little or no value.
4- Relied less on keywords.
Okay … this one goes against SEO, but I don’t really care.
Really, my focus this past year has been more to just write to write. Period.
In the past I would spend a lot of time researching very specific keywords and trying to integrate them strategically into my posts. And to some extent I still do this, but NOT nearly anywhere as much as I used to.
I just want to write and share my thoughts as they are. No B.S.
Plus, with every passing Google algorithm update it seems as though the search engine giant relies less and less on on-page SEO like having some sort of exact match keyword count and more on the semantics you use naturally to describe the topic you’re writing about. Not only has then been confirmed by many of the larger SEO blogs, but also by my own humble research. Try it yourself! Type in any keyword of your choice, look at the top 10 Google results, and count how many times that exact match keyword appears within the content. I bet you’ll find that it’s almost hardly at all!
Not having to shoe-horn in an exact match keyword has made the writing process so much easier and way more fun. Now I can write as I feel and worry less about whether or not I’m hitting some sort of word quota.
Lesson learned: Don’t worry so much about trying to game the system. Though you can still target certain keywords (and you probably should), don’t try so hard to make your on-page SEO fit some sort of mold. Just write naturally! Not only will your readers enjoy it more, but Google is heading in that direction anyways.
5- Started an email campaign.
I don’t know why I waited so long to start up a proper weekly email campaign for MyMoneyDesign!
For years (out of laziness I guess …) I simply relied on the default Google Feedburner email service to send my readers an update every time I published something new. But after subscribing to a few of the bigger and more established blogs, it because clear to me that I was way below par!
A much, much better way to engage readers and really peak their interest would be to write a tailored email campaign that would get them to click on your latest post.
By doing this you not only help your blog out, but it’s also a good way to engage your readers and help build trust. There are some emails I get from some of the blogs that I subscribe to where I can’t wait to see what the next thing is they are going to email me about! In turn, I want to raise the same level of excitement for my readership as well.
Lesson learned: If you haven’t started an email campaign yet, then you are really shorting yourself and doing your readers a great disservice. You could be bringing back hundreds or even thousands of interested readers each and every week from this one simple action. Sign-up with a free service like MailChimp and invest a little time. Once you’ve got your readers coming back for more every week, you’ll be glad you did it.
6- Added a lead magnet.
Along the lines of not doing enough to build my email subscriber list and have an official email campaign, one of the big things I wanted to do and accomplished this year was to add a good “lead magnet” to the site.
For those of you who don’t know, a lead magnet is something you give away on your blog to help encourage visitors to subscribe. It might be a PDF of the “Top 10 Best … (whatever your niche)”, a short eBook, or even a helpful video series.
For years I’ve lacked in this area by simply having nothing more than an empty “Subscribe Here” widget on my sidebar. Not to inviting!
Adding a lead magnet helps to give your readers more value. It’s a simple way of saying “thanks for subscribing, now here is something useful for you in return”.
If you’re struggling to get your visitors to subscribe to your blog, think about “what’s in it for them”? Chances are that if the answer is nothing, then perhaps you need to change that.
Your giveaway doesn’t necessarily have to be long or extravagant. I’ve subscribed to blogs that have given away checklists or 3-4 page guides that were more valuable than full eBooks I’ve read. Remember that usefulness can be measured in more ways than one.
Lesson learned: If you want to build up your email list, put yourself in the “what’s in it for me” mindset of your readers and give something away of value for free. Earn that email address!
7- Got creative with self-promotion – HARO.
Even though I enjoyed all the new connections I made last year with my big guest post push, I wanted to try out something different this year to help better promote this blog. That’s why I tried HARO.
For anyone who’s never heard of this, HARO stands for “help a reporter out”. It’s a free service where everyday reporters and writers will send out questions they have for a piece they are writing. You, the friendly helper you are, answer their questions in hopes that they will use your response and mention your blog in their new article.
This strategy has been somewhat hit or miss. For about every 10 or so questions I respond to, I see one uptick in traffic. However when that does happen, it’s usually pretty significant. Plus it has really helped to increase my number of subscribers.
Lesson learned: HARO might be a good, alternative way for you to get links and promote your blog beyond just simply guest posting.
8- Took social media more seriously.
I’m not sure why but I’ve always struggled when it comes to social media. Maybe this is the old man in me talking, but it just seems like more of a chore than it is fun.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t excuse the HUGE opportunity I’m missing out on by not properly promoting my blog on the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
This year alone I’ve probably done more on those two sites than I have in the past 3 years of blogging prior.
Don’t underestimate how incredibly useful social media can be. There are entire websites where the majority of their traffic comes from places like Pinterest or Reddit. If you know how to engage these types of sites and can attract a following, then you can rely far less on SEO to get your word out.
Lesson learned: Social media can be a huge part of your “get traffic” strategy. Even if you don’t get much out it, spend at least an hour or so per week promoting your content. Once it starts to bring in more visitors, you’ll see how it can really be effective.
9- Re-wrote the “Start Here” page.
My “Start Here” page has been LONG overdue for a re-write.
It originally started out as a way for me to present the “best of” my posts to a first-time reader. Unfortunately, however, I got really lazy and never updated the page in over two years.
Finally this spring I was able to give it a major facelift and added in a whole new swarm of posts I thought were worthy of a first-time viewer.
On your own website, think about if new readers (or even the older ones) know where to go to find your biggest and best material. Chances are if they don’t, then you’re doing them as well as yourself a great disservice.
Lesson learned: Whether you call it a “Start Here” page, “Best of”, or whatever, make it easy on your readers to find your best works. And once you start one, remember to update it regularly with the most valuable stuff you’ve got.
My Blogging Goals for Year 5:
If I’m being really critical of myself, the first thing I can tell you about my blogging career so far is that I’m very disappointed that this site doesn’t already have a following of 1,000 visitors or more per day.
I know that may sound like a vanity metric, but it’s something I’ve been striving for this site to do for a very long time and still have yet to achieve.
When it comes to “making money” with MyMoneyDesign, I’m not all that concerned since I have other websites that do that for me. I look at MyMoneyDesign as more of a long-term investment in what I want to do as far becoming recognized in financial planning, publishing books, etc.
Plus … if I were to build up a truly bigger reader base, I’m sure the money would naturally follow through more Adsense and affiliate conversions.
So with that said, here are the things I’d like to focus on more as we head into Year 5 with this blog.
1- Continue to focus on content.
Just like I’ve emphasized all along in this article, I’m going to keep on focusing on creating things that people want to read as opposed to trying to get SEO points or anything like that. My goal will be to continue to generate posts that are more than 1,000 words long and about topics that my readers will find useful.
2- Continue to test social media outreach.
I don’t even begin to think I’ve scratched the surface when it comes to engaging my readers in social media. This is one area where I plan to invest some time learning, researching, and achieving by trial and error.
I know I’m missing out on a huge opportunity and don’t want to let it pass me on any further. Over the next year I plan to really experiment with different social avenues and see how we can use it to gain more visitors.
3- Use better and more memorable images.
Though it may sound like a small change, I’d really like to up my game when it comes to the use of featured images. Having funny or memorable images has been proven to get far more social media engagement than simply having a stock photo of a piggy bank or pile of dollar bills.
I’ve spent a little bit of time learning how to craft such images. Now I just need to make sure it’s on my checklist of things to do before I hit publish every time.
4- Update the Passive Income Ideas page.
Much like the “Start Here” page, it really would do me some good to breathe some new life into my passive income ideas page.
This page has largely remained the same ever since I first published it. Since then I’m sure I have lots of new articles and resources I could link to within it to make it a better place for people to find the inspiration they need for their next good money-making idea.
5- Remember to link more internally.
If you follow any of the big SEO experts, one thing they will tell you is to make sure that as you publish a new article to link to it within a few of your older articles. Though it may not be the most glorious thing to do after publishing an article, the strength of other pages could really help juice the new page in the search engines. So this is something I will need to remember to do more often.
6- Add a resources pages.
Over the years I’ve found so many cool tools and resources to help make blogging easier. As a courtesy to my fellow bloggers I really do need to make a resources page that captures all of these cool tricks in one place.
Though we didn’t make a million dollars this year or reach some phenomenal number of visitors like 100K per month, I do feel like the overall quality of this blog has really stepped up. We’re on a great path! And I want to continue to take it to new heights.
I’m very thankful for all the readers who check back every week to see what new things I have to say. Really, that’s what this whole blogging thing has been all about – making a difference in the lives of others and building connections with people I would have never otherwise met in normal life.
To all of you who read this blog, thank you – you make it what it is!
Readers – What’s been your biggest lessons in building a better blog? What tips or advice would you offer any new bloggers?
Images courtesy of swgn | Flickr and FreeDigitalPhotos.net
John @ Frugal Rules says
All great tips DJ and congrats on 4 years – This is one of my favorite posts of yours actually! I’m hitting year 3 next month and learning some similar things myself. A big thing that keeps coming back to me is remembering who it is I’m writing for, what they want/need and writing towards that end. Some of the things you’ve listed I’ve started recently and wonder what took me so long to start and others, like adding a lead magnet, are things I’ve put off way too long.
Thanks John. I constantly have to keep reminding myself who this blog is really for. However, once I put things back in perspective, it just creates a whole influx of inspiration for new posts.
Adam @ IWTRS says
Very useful stuff here. It is all very practical and logical, which begs the question, why am I not doing it already?? Haha. I am bookmarking this page for future reading as I cant possibly do all these things right now. I look forward to the day I can quit my day job and focus on improving my blog.
Thanks again for the tips! I especially like the HARO one. I never knew that even existed!
Thanks Adam and welcome to the blog. Yes, a lot of these things do seem like common sense; even as I go back and re-read them. But actually doing them takes discipline and time. My advice is don’t procrastinate – you’ll end up like me going 4 years before you do the basics.
Deets LaMoss says
Thanks MMD! After just hitting my first anniversary, I found your advice to be very useful. I didn’t know that most blogs fail after the first year, but it makes sense when you realize that you start running out of ideas for meaningful content. I am not a prolific poster, but almost all of my posts are original content written by me. I have two more years before I will hit my financial freedom goal, so I will keep the site going until at least then. From there, it may morph into a blog about life after financial freedom!
Thanks. Congrats on only being two years away from the financial freedom goal. That’s got to be a pretty incredible feeling. And I’m sure that will bring a ton of new inspiration for things to write about on your blog.
[email protected] says
Congrats on 4 years! That’s forever in blogging. It’s very cool to see how you’ve grown and changed to create growth and increase income. Here’s to the next one. Half a decade would have to be like hitting social security age in the real world.
Ha Ha – it’s like counting “cat years” for blogging.
Jason B says
Congrats on your 4 year bloggiversary. Can’t wait to see what you have in store for year 5.
Thanks Jason! I plan to keep them coming!
Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says
Congratulations MMD! 4 years are really something! I agree with you that blogs should be more personal and meaningful and cater to special needs of readers so that they keep coming back and numbers of readers are increasing.
Finding that balance of personal story, personality, and usefulness is not as easy of task as most people would think. Every time I think I’ve got it down, I realize I’ve got so much more to learn.
MMD, Awesome stuff and great advice. I always have loved your posts about improving traffic flow–because it seems to come from a real person rather than some super intelligent blog professional (hopefully that sounds like a compliment, because it is).
Anyway, I also need to up my social media game. I’m 11 months into blogging now, and I only last month finally started a twitter feed and facebook page–wayyy behind the curve on that.
I totally get what you’re saying on the “super intelligent blog professional” thing. There are a lot of big-name blogs I read and try to get advice from, and even I’m still like “what?” on some of their tips.
No worries on just getting around to starting your social media accounts. Fortunately this whole blogging thing is a go-at-your-own-pace game.
HARO sounds interesting. I checked it out very briefly and it requires your real name to sign up. Does it make your name public? Because I would like to give it a shot but can’t afford to actually be associated with my blog in real life.
I also have to get active on social media. I am on Reddit and I have a barely active Pinterest that needs some love. I need to get on Facebook and Twitter (I tried to sign up and had trouble getting a decent user name, so I gave up). I got to rectify that.
I have a lot of things on my blog that need to be added. A blogroll, book review page, disclosures page, and other stuff. Soon everything’s going to be up and ready to go, and I’ll have the #1 website on retail banking. Then, MMD, we’ll talk about the days when our blogs ONLY got 1000 unique visitors a day.
Keep up the great work on your blog and your niche sites. I’m liking what you’ve done with NS2, and I’d like you to build on NS3 as well. I read that site every now and then and always get a chuckle from your writing there.
And good luck getting good pics. I try to stay in public domain only, and it’s difficult to find quality pics without paying $15 for one.
Congrats on 4 great years of blogging. I’m sure the next 4 will blow it out of the water.
ARB–Angry Retail Banker
Quick question about the sponsored posts. Do you get a chance to proofread and send them back for editing before they go up? Because the idea of a sponsored post sounds great if you can do quality control and ensure that the content is up your blog’s standards. Same as with a guest post; I remember that you didn’t just accept the first bit of rambling I cursed your inbox with. Do you get a chance do the same with sponsored content?
Most of the time “no”. A lot of the people who want to smack their sponsored posts on your site simply are after your link juice and just want them to go up “as is” as quickly as possible. And they are horribly littered with low quality, thin content, grammar issues, etc. There are some instances where you can insist that you write the post; so that way you can keep the quality at a level within your control. But I’d say that this is more rare.
Thanks ARB! Yes, most of the reporters on HARO are looking to tag your real name with the advice you give. So if you want to remain anonymous, that probably wouldn’t be a good fit.