Advice for new bloggers

Someone asked me last week what advice I have for new bloggers. In theory I have a lot, but let me focus most on content. Because without content, you don’t have a blog. Then we’ll touch on other subjects like SEO and monetization. But mostly, let’s talk content.

My best advice for new bloggers: Write evergreen content

advice for new bloggers
My advice for new bloggers, if you remember nothing else, is to write things that people will search for in six months, and write your ideas down. You’ll need them.

I started blogging in October 1999. And those who’ve been here a long time could tell you I changed my approach pretty dramatically in 2015. Prior to 2015, more often than not what I wrote about what a reaction to news that was happening that week, or even that day. The problem with that is it limits your audience. I won’t say no one wants to read what some rando has to say about the day’s events. But a rando like me really struggles to get more than about 200 readers with that approach. And it took me years to build that core following. That’s not worth your time. And writing something that 200 people read when it’s new, and that no one ever reads again isn’t worth your time either.

What is evergreen content?

I’ve heard this called a lot of things, from evergreen to long tail. But the idea is, you write things that will have interest for a long time. And the result is a pattern. I’ll write something, and it’ll get about 50 views in its first day. Yes, that may very well mean I may only have 50 people who visit this blog on a regular basis. It gets a handful of views over the next couple of weeks, then tails to nearly zero. And then, after a few months, once the search engines have indexed it and decided it’s good, I start getting a few views per day, consistently. A few months later it may ramp up a bit more. I’ve written a few things that get hundreds of views every day, and have been for years.

You won’t always predict shelf life correctly. About once a year, I write something that generates a lot of traffic for a couple of years, then fizzles out. And several times a year I’ll write something that I thought would generate a lot of traffic and it never does.

But overall this approach works well. I have single posts that get more content than my whole blog got in 2010, and that was with a decade’s worth of content. If there’s one piece of advice for new bloggers I wish someone had given me in 1999, this is it.

Planning blog material

Ideas are precious. Write them down. That’s my key piece of advice for new bloggers. There will be times you will have more ideas than you can write, and you might think that will last forever. I can tell you from experience it doesn’t. In my case, my period of having more ideas than I would ever need and not needing to write them down lasted about three years. Today, ideas that will have enough staying power to be worth writing don’t come to me easily, and I wish I’d written more of those ideas down back then.

So write them down, and mark them off when you write them. An idea may stay on that list a very long time before you write it, and that’s OK. One day in 2020 I dusted off an unfinished post from early 2015, reworked the approach a bit, added a few things I’d learned over the ensuing half decade, and ran it. I didn’t really know what to do with the idea in 2015, but it worked well enough in 2020 to be worth finishing and running.

Blogging in advance or on the fly

I always write in advance. That means I generally spend my Saturdays writing the next week’s worth of material. It’s my Saturday job, at this point. Some weeks I have to cut into Friday and Sunday too. But that’s more sustainable than writing the night before. I’ve done it that way, but it doesn’t work if ideas are scarce. Some weeks I don’t get a single idea for the next week until Thursday.

There was a time when I was able to keep a month’s worth of material queued up and scheduled. It wasn’t a month’s worth of good material. But when the system was working well, I had about three weeks of material that was of comparable quality to what I’d run the week before. And I had a fourth week’s worth of stuff that was good enough to run in an emergency. I’ve actually gone on hiatus a few times without anyone having any idea I had.

Plan out as much as you can and schedule it in advance. A week’s worth of content is probably sufficient. It makes things easier.

What makes a good idea for a blog post?

Any advice for new bloggers is useless without a source of ideas. Almost all of my good ideas came from search engines. I had a problem, I searched for an answer, and either didn’t find one or something was wrong with what I did find. So I wrote a better one, and eventually, traffic started showing up.

It’s pretty binary. Either someone’s going to be searching for your idea in six months, or they aren’t. If no one’s going to be searching for it in six months, you’re probably wasting your time. The only time I’ll write a blog post like that now is if it serves as a bridge between two other posts. If I have two successful blog posts, and I can write a third post that bridges between the two and covers ground neither of them do, I might go ahead and write it and link the three. But it’s not something I do often. I’d rather write something that can bridge existing content and bring in some traffic on its own.

There are lots of tools out there that will help you do keyword research, including giving you an estimate of how much traffic the keyword gets. It’s extremely hard to be competitive on things that get hundreds of views per day. I’ve had much better luck going after keywords that get modest amounts of traffic. After all, if I write 200 blog posts in a year, and each of them get 10 visits per day, that means 2,000 more visits per day next year.

How long does a blog post need to be?

If the top 10 search results for a given keyword are 2,000 words, I can’t write 300 words and expect to compete. I try to find the best page covering the subject at hand, then write something at least as long without losing focus. Search engines like it when you get to your point, and any elaboration you do afterward is relevant and helpful.

I’ve competed against 2,000-word tomes with shorter pieces that were focused. A good example is when I look for information and all I find is a thread on a forum. That thread might be crazy long, but on a forum there might only be one or two people who know what they’re talking about. The rest is fluff. I’ve also competed against blog posts written by content mills. Mine may be shorter but if I’m writing about something that reflects my professional experience and it shows, I can probably do better.

That said, my average blog post is probably 1,000 words these days. I’ll write 2,500 words when the subject calls for it, but I’m not convinced many people stay to read the whole thing when I do.

Can a new blogger get significant traffic and make money?

A new blogger can get traffic and make money. But my advice is to be patient. You may have an audience of zero for your first six months. But if you put your posts on Pinterest–yes, Pinterest–and do some SEO, then, yes, you can make some money. Early on you can expect to make $1.50-$2.00 per 1,000 visitors, and getting that first 1,000 visitors is a lot harder than getting the next thousand.

It takes some time. But if you have useful things to say, you can do this.

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