In case you were unaware, blogging is now a little more than twenty years old. In fact, if you’d started a blog back in 1997 when the word “weblog” was coined by Peter Merholz, you might be a millionaire by now.
Think about this: Huffington Post, which is technically a blog, makes a shade under $30,000. Not much, you say? What if I told you that was ONE DAY’S EARNINGS? Yup, HuffPo makes about a million bucks a month, which is why it is valued at about $22 million.
But that’s a high-profile blog, you counter. True, but even a site like Sizlopedia, which is a self-styled “Mostly Tech & Everything!” blog, makes a very respectable $118 a day. If you’re a one-man show that’s about a month’s pay at a decent job anywhere in the world.
But how did these blogs reach those numbers? It’s not accidental, mind you. Yes, there is sometimes the element of luck or timing working for you instead of against you, but the owners of these blogs have all followed more or less the same path to get to where they are now. Some of them decided to scale up dramatically since they began, or went in a new direction, but they all pretty much pursued these basics that I’m about to share with you.
So, without further ado, here are the 10 Things to Help Anyone Create a Million Dollar Blog – in no particular order:
Since Google will be your initial conduit for web traffic, you need to play nice with its algorithms. Not only must your content be of the highest quality (which we’ll come to in a bit), but it must be published on a regular basis. “Like clockwork” is the phrase that comes to mind. I don’t mean posting at 06:03 hrs every morning without fail, but since Google’s crawlers aren’t that smart, it does help if you maintain some level of consistency in when and how much you publish.
To prove that this is indeed the case, just stop posting for a few days and see what happens to your crawl stats on Google Search Analytics. The ideal volume of daily content is something you need to work out for yourself, but something has to keep coming out on a regular basis – even if it’s just two or three times a week when you’re first starting out.
#2: Content for Your Blog
There’s no rule about this because, obviously, nearly every type of content will have an audience that laps it up. Nevertheless, you need to be clear about what you’re delivering. If you’re into home improvement, for example, are you catering to interior decorators, contract remodelers or home owners?
Finding the right niche is hard work, but once you find something that works, work that niche till it hurts. The more you write about a particular topic, the more of an expert you’ll become – and the more your growing audience will appreciate it. Web traffic flocks to authority sites because they consider the content to be infallible; that isn’t necessarily true even in the case of sites like Wikipedia, but it’s how people behave on the web and you’re not going to change that.
As an example, take some of the sites that Gawker Media started before it was unceremoniously shut down on Monday 22nd August, 2016, 13 years after going live. Some of these sites have millions upon millions of viewers, like Jalopnik with 12.5M global unique visitors a month, or Gizmodo with 38.2M global uniques. That’s just uniques; total pageviews for Jalopnik are nearly 50 million a month, while for Gizmodo it’s twice that.
It might be a few years before your site reaches those numbers, but you don’t need that much to replace the income from a full-time job, as many successful bloggers will tell you.
The look of a blog is not nearly as important as the content. Take a look at sites like eBay and you’ll know what I mean. However, sites like eBay and Craigslist were set up in the 1990s, and they haven’t done any major overhaul because they most likely don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken. Artistic web design is a relatively new field compared to the Internet, so don’t blame them for something they weren’t aware of back then.
The thing is, you can’t use that excuse now. Today we have literally hundreds of thousands of design templates that you can simply “plug and play”, and even hiring a web designer to do a custom blog design isn’t as expensive as it used to be. Work for hire on sites like Upwork can get you a solid web designer for $10, $15 an hour, which means you’ll only be paying a few hundred dollars for an awesome-looking blog.
But, again, the content and functionality of the blog are far more important than how “pretty” it looks, so don’t lose focus. Our suggestion is to use about 15% to 20% of your total set-up budget towards getting your blog in shape, aesthetically speaking. The rest of it must necessarily go into creating superb content that can start getting you traffic and social engagement, which is something we’ll discuss in a bit.
Do you know why thousands of websites are penalized, de-indexed or outright banned by Google every year? There are several reasons, but one of the top reasons is duplicate content. Google hates plagiarism because it is trying to deliver the widest spread of unique content for every search term it gets from users – and duplicate content goes against the grain of that goal.
But you might have a valid argument when you say that most news sites report the same thing in different ways. You’re absolutely right, but the answer is right there in your argument: “different ways.” Not only must you see and report things as they are, but you have to add a new angle to it.
As a strong example, take the Sutherland Springs church shooting in November 2017. When first reporting the incident, most news sites pretty much had the same things to say: known details about the perpetrator, quotes from officials, interviews from survivors and those who knew the victims, and a few relevant pieces of information on mass shootings. There was nothing original in any of the reports, and yet each of them was a unique piece of its own.
That’s what I’m talking about. Even if you’re basically saying the same thing that others are, try to find your angle and point of focus to give your piece a uniqueness of its own. And don’t skimp on the research. Make sure your sources are accurate and that you’re not inadvertently slipping your own opinion in and presenting it as fact. Opinions are fair game, but your audience needs to know what’s factual and what’s subjective.
#5: The Right Tone
This is one of the most challenging things to achieve because you have no clue what your audience is going to like or dislike. Often, the best approach is to have a non-abrasive tone that sits well with the majority of web visitors. Naturally, the opposite can work really well, too, but go that route only if you’re dead sure that it’s what you want to be doing.
The first thing you need to understand – a thing that even most digital marketers and bloggers fail to understand – is that “voice” and “tone” are not synonymous; they are two completely different elements of content.
To understand this, let’s analogize using human speech. Your voice is the same no matter what you’re saying, but your tone will usually match the emotional need of the subject being discussed.
When you apply that to a blog it becomes easy to understand.
Your blog’s “voice” is what allows your audience to instantly recognize your style of branding. Just like everyone knows your physical voice and instantly recognizes that it’s you, your blog needs to have a voice that can be identified with. That voice might be authoritative, humorous, friendly, refined or anything else, but you must also know what it’s NOT. Just because your voice is authoritative, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s stuck-up or has a know-it-all element. And friendly doesn’t have to be chummy, like you’re talking to a high school buddy. Know your voice, and your audience will eventually start expecting and respecting that voice.
Tone, on the other hand, depends on the content and is very contextual. You can be angry about something in the same voice as being sad about something else. The voice remains the same, but the tone is dynamically matched to the content.
Show me the money! Often, the measure of a successful blog is how well it’s been monetized. That’s not always true, of course, but I’m talking to those of you who are interested in making money from blogging. You don’t have to, but it’s nice to see a fat e-check at the end of the month for your efforts.
There are obviously several ways to monetize your web and mobile traffic, and I’m not getting into the details of that. There are any number of resources to teach your that. What I’m talking about is how effective your monetization is.
To give you an example, if you have Google AdSense and Amazon banners on your site, you’ll need to dynamically tweak ad placements to find the mix that gives you the most clicks and conversions. You might dedicate some sidebar space for that, or a header/footer or even in-line. The idea is not to keep changing things around, but rather to make one change, observe the results for a few weeks, and then make the next change.
When you follow a systematic step-by-step method to refine your monetization capability, you’ll eventually land on a formula that works. You may not have the resources initially to play around that much, so it’s fine to just follow what Google or Amazon suggests. They’re good suggestions because they’re mutually beneficial – if it gets them clickthroughs then it puts cents and dollars into your bank account.
And don’t forget your mobile viewers. It’s much harder to monetize mobile traffic than it is to monetize web traffic simply because of the limited real estate available on a mobile device, but there are several great mobile advertisement platforms that can help optimize your clicks, conversions and earnings.
But all those monetization efforts will be for naught if you have to depend on new visitors all the time. This is where a site really starts to mature and your repeat visitors start to grow in relation to your new traffic.
Why do people come back to a blog? That’s because they understand the value of your site and have chosen to come back for more. Maybe they like the content or the style in which it’s written; or maybe they find your sense of humor appealing; or maybe they consider it fresh and unique; or perhaps they just find that the research is well-executed. Whatever that element is, you need to identify it (through comments, usually) and make use of it.
Engagement can happen directly on your site, but you also need to learn how to leverage social media to get even more of it. The best content is not only appreciated, but also shared. And when that sharing is prolific, what you have is viral content – the Holy Grail of content marketing.
To begin with, you’ll need your social accounts set up. You can use your personal ones but from experience we recommend that you have dedicated accounts for your blog. Make sure you’re posting something there every now and then. You’ll also need to be proactive about responding to comments about what you post, so allocate some time every few days towards that. It’s a very important part of the engagement process.
The reason engagement is so important is that loyalty is very expensive to achieve and very hard to maintain. If your blog were a physical product, engagement would mean customers who support your brand socially and keep coming back for more. It’s the same thing for a blog. The higher your engagement the better the chances that you’ll get a high conversion rate when you do newsletter sign-ups or start offering a subscription for a particular service or digital product.
Engagement is very important, so as much time as you spend on creating the best possible content, an equal amount needs to go towards keeping your customers happy.
In other words, relationship building. This is where you engage with other bloggers for mutual benefit and try to get high quality backlinks to your content. Great content will do that organically, but there’s no harm in giving the effort a boost by reaching out to other bloggers to exchange links or syndicate your content on their site (and vice versa).
The point of networking is to build mutually beneficial relationships wherever you can. If a blogger reaches out to pitch for a guest post and you’re assured of the quality, don’t make the mistake of refusing it. Good content is not cheap, so if you’re getting it in exchange for some traffic back to their site, why not?
There are two schools of thought that you should know about here. The old school believes that you should never link to a site that competes to rank for the same keywords you’re targeting. Forget that. You’re going to be citing authority sites anyway, so why not do it in a mutually beneficial manner if those site owners are willing to reach out to you? There’s enough web traffic to go around; it is not a finite thing that needs to be fought over.
A word of warning, though. Some companies offer guest posts and then insert a promotional link back to their product page without your permission. Be strict about not allowing that. You can offer them a sponsored post instead, and the rates go from $50 up to hundreds of dollars depending on how popular your site is. Make sure you’re not being taken for a ride and duped into giving away convertible traffic for free.
At times, a company’s digital marketing team will create an infographic that they then offer for you to use. In such cases, follow the thread of that infographic and see if it leads to a paid service. If it does, you should be getting a fair share as you would with a sponsored post.
By efficiency, we mean how fast your web pages load, how well your pages are organized and how easy it is to find a specific piece of content on your blog.
The stats around this are scary. Did you know that more than half (53%) of your mobile visitors will just click away to another site or click back to their search results if your page takes more than 3 seconds to load on their device? That was two years ago, and it’s only gotten worse since then.
Web visitors have come to expect speed and convenience as a matter of fact. Blame it on the “customer is king” phenomenon if you want, but the more you optimize your site for speed, efficiency and ease-of-use, the better it will serve you.
You’ll need to do the research on what cloud service provider to use, what content distribution network (CDN) service to use and so on, and you’ll need to spend a lot of time on analyzing the performance of your pages. But it’s well worth the effort. Most often, it will help you clean up your blog and get rid of the elements that take away from the real purpose of the blog, such as page clutter, wrong ad placements, too many calls-to-action and so on.
#10: The Quality of Your Blog
You might be wondering why quality is at the bottom of this list. Well, we told you it was in no particular order!
But kidding aside, we’ve brought quality in at this point because it depends on each one of the other things you need to do in order to create a successful blog. Quality is not easy to define. It is a fluid element, yet it sticks out like a sore thumb when it’s absent.
The kind of quality we’re talking about here is the whole visitor experience when someone lands on your blog. It’s the quality of the content, the quality of the layout, the right number of additional resources, the right number of calls to action, the quality of the images you use, the font you use and so many other things.
There’s no one single thing that you can do to dramatically improve the quality of that visitor experience, but it is the one thing you must aim for in everything you do. That’s how you achieve quality over the long term: by vetting everything you do on the blog against the question: “will this improve visitor experience?”
And voila! The unexpected bonus!
We’re going to briefly touch on the subject of search engine optimization, or SEO, but we’re not going to tell you what to do. There are thousands of experts and hundreds of thousands of so-called experts that can do that. We’re here to make you aware of a few truths about SEO and optimization in general.
Often one of the most controversial things to discuss, the benefits of SEO are highly dependent on what you do and how you do it. By “optimization”, if you mean well-researched content, an engaging style, high-quality link-building, click-worthy titles, social engagement and other things truly worth doing, then we’d say “time well spent.”
But if you’re thinking of “gaming the system” or going grey-to-black-hat on this, we caution you in the strongest way possible to stay away from all that. Good SEO must necessarily stem from the content itself, not be used as an attachment on top of the content to “make it look better for Google.”
Even SEO experts don’t get this right all that often, and I don’t blame them entirely. If you’ve got a client with shitty content that’s willing to pay good money to get ranked on Google’s SERPs, wouldn’t you be tempted to “take me money and run a-Venezuela” like Harry Belafonte crooning about Matilda?
That kind of SEO can only hurt you. Google is constantly tightening its content policies, and something acceptable today can be penalized next month. Don’t take chances with your blog. Just focus on the ten things we’ve outlined for you today and stay on the yellow brick road. Someday, you’ll be back in Kansas with a pot load of money and an online reputation to kill for.