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My Blogging Journey: Past, Present, and Future
Like every other blogger on the planet (come on, you know it’s true), I’ve been busy this week writing my reflections about the past year and my vision for the year ahead.
Earlier this week, I wrote about running – what I learned in 2014 and a vision for what I hoped to achieve in 2015. And I promised that next up would be my thoughts on my blogging past, present, and future.
This post has been really challenging to write, and I’m not even sure why. I set out to share my personal blogging story, but as I was writing, I realized that so much of what I’ve learned could be helpful to other new bloggers. I’ve been trying to write about both things in the same post, but after 5 days and dozens of revisions, I just don’t think I can. So for now I’ll stick to reflecting about my 2014, and I’ll write a post specifically for new bloggers some other time.
So let’s start with the black and white – the stats. Mommy Runs It was just a baby blog when 2014 began. It was 5 months old and typically had fewer than 50 visitors a day – some days quite a bit fewer. Fewer…as in zero. That’s embarrassing to admit, but if you can’t share your secrets on the internet, then where can you share them, right?
Anyway. There were days when I was certain that there was a glitch in my Google Analytics. There just had to be. How could I be working this hard and only have that many people seeing my efforts?
My growth in 2014 was slow – frustratingly so at times, especially considering how much time I was putting into this blog. You know how they say that you should “work smarter, not harder?” Looking back, I can see that I was doing the exact opposite of that. I was working really hard at all the wrong things. I guess that’s how you learn (although, geez, I’m a slow learner).
I don’t want you to think that I’m a whiner though. (Even though I kind of am. But still.) So before I get into what I did wrong, let me share a few things that I got right in 2014:
1. I wrote some stuff that didn’t suck. Oddly enough, my top post of the year was The Perfect Pumpkin Bread Recipe. I say oddly because I’m about as far from a food blogger as you can get. (Ask my husband. Every time he hears the words, “I’m trying a new recipe tonight,” he knows that there’s a 50/50 chance that he’ll be eating canned soup for dinner.) Nonetheless, with a couple of well-timed keywords and a little StumbleUpon luck, I had more visitors to my blog on 10/29/14 than I did for the entire month of January. Go figure.
My pumpkin bread post had the most views, but it wasn’t actually what I’d call a popular post – not by a long shot. To me, a popular post is one that resonates with readers and creates genuine engagement. It isn’t the post with the most page-views – but it’s the type of post that makes me feel most true to myself. The kind of post that makes my heart happy.
It’s not surprising that your favorites were my favorites too, because they were the ones that just kind of flowed from my fingertips. People can tell, I think. No matter how cleverly you integrate a product or a sponsor into a blog post, people can tell when a post truly comes from the writer’s heart.
These were some of my favorite posts in 2014:
2. I received actual email from actual readers. For me, reader email is the brass ring of blogging. It means that I made a connection with a reader and (I think/hope) that I come across as being relatable and approachable. And it means that someone liked what I had to say enough to write and tell me so, or that someone respects my opinion enough to ask me a question.
Each time I get an email from a reader – and it’s only happened a handful of times – it makes my heart do a happy dance. If you’re a blog reader (and I assume you are, since you’re reading my BLOG and all), you should try it sometime. Send an email to your favorite blogger. Tell her that you appreciate what she has to say. Go ahead. Make her day.
3. I made it onto page 1 on Google! And not just when I Google my own name! If you go to Google and type in “3 Day Refresh” or “3 Day Refresh Reviews” – BAM! There I am, right there on page 1. (Sorry, Beachbody.) This would be exciting regardless, but I especially love that I’m getting a little bit of attention for a post that I loved writing and that was 100% authentic Sharon.
There were some other great moments too – like being selected as a ZOOMA Florida ambassador and as a member of the Rock’n’Blog team. I also had a post featured on BlogHer.com, I finally earned a little bit of income, and I had a huge (for me) surge in traffic during November and December, which finally got me to my page-views goal. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve come a long way too.
Of course, I’ve stumbled a lot along the way too. Here’s some of what I learned.
Blogging Lessons Learned in 2014
1. Post regularly and often. For a long time, I was publishing a new post maybe once a week, sometimes less. And then I would wonder, “Why is no one visiting my blog?” Well, duh – I’d had the same post up on my front page for 10 days. Why would anyone bother visiting if there was nothing new to read?
I’m looking at the numbers right now, and it’s just so obvious. From January – October, I published an average of 8 posts a month. In November, I published 23. Guess when my blog traffic suddenly doubled? November, of course. And it grew steadily in December too.
Takeaway: If I want more readers, I need to give them something to read.
2. Quality content really IS the most important thing. When I was a brand new blogger, I read tons of Facebook posts asking the same question: “How do I increase my traffic?” And inevitably, someone on the thread would answer with, “Publish quality content.” I hated this answer. I mean, obviously. But what’s the point of writing great stuff that no one was going to read? Couldn’t I produce quality posts AND focus on growing my audience and social media presence at the same time?
Unfortunately, I think the answer is no – at least for me. As I mentioned above, for the first 12+ months of this blog’s existence, I published an average of 8 posts a month. And while I like to think that every post was well-written, I didn’t have nearly enough “pillar” or “evergreen” content. Way too many product reviews and too few posts like this one. Product reviews and giveaways have a place on my blog, but they are simply not the kind of posts that turn a blog visitor into a blog reader. They’re just not.
Instead of spending my time writing meaningful blog posts, I was using those precious hours trying to increase my page-views and build my social media presence. I spent ridiculous amounts of time on social media – commenting, liking, sharing, pinning, retweeting – with the hope that other bloggers would reciprocate. But I was spinning my wheels. None of it created a significant increase in my traffic. NONE OF IT.
So what did end up working? Well, writing posts that people liked to read. Pillar content, not filler content. The posts that are (finally) bringing in organic traffic – well, there’s that good, quality content that the bloggers in the Facebook threads were talking about. I hate to admit it, but they were right. And for the last couple of months, organic search has accounted for nearly 50% of my total traffic.
I found this quote from The Bloggess, and I think she sums up exactly what I’m trying to say:
There are no real rules or magic potions. Blogging success is fleeting, fickle, and largely based on luck (much like everything else in the world). This might seem depressing, but in a way it’s rather freeing. It allows you to write for yourself instead of just following a set of rules someone else made for you. Find your own voice. Find your own rules. Find a way of measuring success that’s more about freedom and fulfillment rather than page-views and analytics. Page-views mean nothing a year later, but the words you’ve put together may stand and affect others for a lifetime.
Takeaway: Get off of Facebook and WRITE.
3. Streamline social media use. Some bloggers might disagree with me here. But the fact is that in December 2014, when my traffic was significantly higher than it’s ever been, I used social media much less than usual. And when I did use it in December, more often than not it was to interact with followers/readers, not to promote my blog. In other words, I stopped trying so dang hard, and my traffic increased. What gives?
Well, I’m not really sure. I know plenty of bloggers who will share a link to a blog post 20+ times in one day, and it seems to work well for them. But for me? I don’t know – it feels forced. I was a social media user long before I was a blogger, so self-promotion doesn’t feel natural – but sharing photos and anecdotes about my life does. And when it comes down to it, that’s the kind of blogger I want to be – a blogger who you check in on regularly because I feel kind of like a friend. Those are the kind of readers I want too.
Takeaway: Social media is for making friends, not “fans.”
4. Find a niche and stick with it. I consider myself to be a fitness blogger. More specifically, a running blogger. Even more specifically, a running mommy blogger. Why do I feel the need to label myself? Aren’t all bloggers basically the same, just with different topics to write about?
I used to think so. At first I joined every blogging group that I came across. If it said “blog,” I was in it. But I wound up being a tiny fish in a great, big ocean, and I kind of just got lost. I had a few blogging friends, but I didn’t have a tribe or a mentor or anyone to collaborate with.
Then one day it hit me. I was sharing content for every type of blogger under the sun – mommy bloggers, food bloggers, book review bloggers, giveaway bloggers, and even MLM and small business owners. And I realized that my target audience – runners, fitness enthusiasts, and/or parents, were not going to be interested in what I was sharing. I was diluting my brand and making myself less credible as a resource. And on top of that, the bloggers who were sharing my content had audiences that probably had zero interest in negative splits or ITBS. I was wasting my time.
It didn’t happen overnight, but I’m learning to make much better use of my time by sharing content with (and from) other bloggers in my niche – bloggers with readers who are likely to become my readers too. Sure, my tweet will be shared by 6 bloggers instead of 26. But those 6 bloggers have twitter followers who are FAR more likely to click on my link…and then maybe stay a while and click around the blog a bit more. At least that’s what we hope for. I’ve also found support, friendship, and a group of bloggers who actually care whether or not I succeed.
Takeaway: Sometimes it’s okay to be labeled.
Present and Future
Since this is a blog post and not an e-book, I’ll wrap it up here for now, and I’ll leave you with my vision for myself as a blogger in 2015.
This year, I’d like to:
- Write (and post) more often.
- Stick to an editorial calendar and not make myself crazy racing to finish a post every time I have a deadline.
- Reach out, take risks, and make more blogger friends.
- Reintroduce my dad as a guest blogger and share his content more consistently.
- Learn to say no more often.
- Create a media kit.
- Complete my (currently blank) “Start Here” and “Work With Me” pages.
It’s time to stick a fork in this baby – I’m done. And hungry. And I probably have time to fit in a run before the kids get home from school. Happy Friday!
Next up (if I’m brave enough) – A New Year’s Vision, Part 3: My Life
Bloggers – what are your blogging goals for 2015?