My blogging adventure started when I decided to study abroad in Japan through my university. It would be my first time out of the country and my first time traveling by myself. Unsurprisingly, I had a lot of questions was very disappointed by how few answers my university could provide. Knowing I couldn’t be the only one, I started a blog and documented the answers I managed to find on my own.
That study abroad experience changed my life. I found that I really enjoyed blogging about my experiences, so I decided to keep blogging even after I got back from Japan. My blog started as a way for my friends and family to keep up with me while I was away and for other people about to study abroad answer questions they might have. Now, it’s so much more, but it wasn’t easy getting here.
When I first started blogging, I had maybe a few page views a week, all of which were family or friends. As I began to realize that I really enjoyed blogging and wanted to turn this into something more, I began looking into ways that I could bring more readers to my site, and if I was lucky, maybe even make a little bit of money.
I started by making business social media accounts. On most social media websites, you can make a business account separate from your personal account. I started with Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Then it hit me that I really didn’t have any images that had the name of my website in it. I realized that I was going to have to jump into the world of branding, so I opened up my favorite image editor and got to work. At this point, I wasn’t ready to pay somebody to make professional logos for me because I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to invest that kind of money.
So, I got all of my social media accounts setup and got to work on uploading content. After uploading about half of my posts to pinterest, I realized that my photos didn’t look as big as some of the other photos that appeared on Pinterest. I also realized that my post titles and descriptions weren’t being added as they were in other posts. After some research, I realized that I needed to change my website settings in order to allow pinterest to capture the post title and description. The easiest way to do that was by adding the Yoast SEO plugin. As for the pictures, well it turns out that vertical images do WAY better on Pinterest than horizontal ones.
Facebook was also a learning experience. I created a Facebook page and immediately started adding posts. However, getting people to my Facebook page wasn’t easy. I invited a lot of my friends to like my Facebook page, but unfortunately I am part of a generation that deals with information overload. Lots of my friends get countless Facebook notifications a day, and very few take the time to read them all. An invitation to like my Facebook page was not very convincing. A few of my closer friends I reached out to and gave them a more personal invitation to like my page, but doing that for everyone would just be way to time consuming. Besides, if I wasn’t very close to that person, I was afraid that I might come off as a spammer.
When I first started blogging, much of my posts were more like journal entries, giving a detailed play-by-play of everything that I did on my trips. That kind of descriptive writing is great for journals, where you are writing in order to help yourself remember to enjoyable experience, but not so much for professional blogging. I didn’t realize that until I started reading the posts of other travel bloggers and realized that none of their posts were even remotely similar to the formatting and styling I had used. It hit me that very few people would find my writing style entertaining. I needed to liven it up and cut out some of the useless detail.
In line with my journal style writing, a lot of my posts consisted of only paragraphs, and all of my images were then at the bottom on the post for people to click through. With that style of writing, I wonder how many people made it to the end of the page to even realize I had put pictures there? Again, after looking at the posts of other travel bloggers, I realized that I needed to sprinkle pictures into my posts to help keep the reader’s attention.
After several notifications from Facebook encouraging me to promote one of the articles I had posted on my Facebook page, I eventually decided to do a promotional deal of my post “You will Never Be Japanese” where Facebook gave me $30 dollars worth of ad credit. I set the “Objective” to be more visitors to my site. For my audience, I selected people between 18-40 who lived in the United States and had an interest in Culture or Adventure Travel. As for budget, I used the ad credit provided by Facebook and selected to run the ad for three days.
At first, I was really happy with the ad. It allowed my Facebook post to reach a total of 6,198 people – 5,402 say the advertisement and the rest saw it from being shared by people. The post was shared by 2 people, liked by 22, brought 6 new likes to my overall Facebook page, and was clicked on 411 times. I had a total of 566 page views. (How much money did I earn in ad revenue during this time frame?) I figured that this wasn’t bad for three days. However, as I read through the comments on the Facebook post, I began to realize that maybe it hadn’t entirely reached the people I had intended to reach. At the end of the day, there were no new subscribers to my blog, and very few people had gone on to read other articles on my blog. Had my audience just not been interested in what I had to say? How do I find people who would be interested in what I have to say?
By this point, I found myself feeling pretty lost. I knew that growing my blog was going to be a major investment of time and money, and I was willing to make that commitment. However, I wanted to make sure that if I was going to invest that time and money, that my investments were going to be effective. I don’t want to spend $800 on Facebook ads and find that they were ineffective. So, I put my nose back to the books and started researching.
I started with a book called “Professional Blogging for Dummies.” Go ahead and laugh at the title (my boyfriend sure did), but I actually found this book quite useful. I would never call myself dumb (and I think that’s sometimes why people don’t think so highly about the “For Dummies” books) but I was definitely very new and very ignorant to the realm of blogging. This book provided a very in depth guide of how to setup a blog and turn it into a professional business. Most importantly, it was very easy to understand, and the author was careful to limit her use any jargon, and if she did use it, she provided and explanation.
As I was reading through the book, I used two different types of sticky notes. I used green sticky notes to represent “Task List” and yellow to represent “Additional Resources”. Anything with a green sticky note were steps that I could take to move forward with my blog. The yellow sticky notes were references to other material such as books or websites that might provide more information about a specific topic.
The other resource I used was Elite Blogging Academy. I didn’t take the course (if only because I wasn’t ready to invest that kind of money), but I definitely used all the free resources they offered.
I was particularly a fan of the blog planner. It helped me get out of the lost feeling by asking me specific, targeted questions that I could answer about myself and my blog. Those questions helped me set a goal and build a plan to reach that goal. It also had a way for me to measure progress towards that goal so I could determine how effective my plan was.
With the Professional Blogging for Dummies book and Elite Blogging Academy workbook under my belt. I felt ready to truly start tackling my blog and start building a plan. I started using the workbook, creating my set up for July 2017. At this point, it was already half way through July, but I think starting mid-month actually worked to my advantage. I had an idea of how my blog was already doing this month and gave me an idea of what my goals should be for the month.
From the green sticky notes I used in the Professional Blogging for Dummies book, I started building a list of all of the different things I eventually wanted to do with my blog. Some I could accomplish the next day, others wouldn’t be necessary until my blog was off and running, but I still wanted it written down so that one day later I would be able to revisit it.
I organized my task list into several categories: daily tasks, monthly reporting, site improvements, business related tasks, finance related tasks, and research/learning.
Daily tasks, obviously, was stuff that I wanted to do every day. This included things such as checking email, posting to Instagram (because at this point in time, I had talked about four different trips on my blog but none of those pictures were posted on Instagram and I didn’t want to bulk upload), responding to comments on social media, scroll through my RSS feed, etc. The daily tasks were things that would help me stay fresh not only on my own content, but also with what was going on with the rest of the community.
The monthly tasks were entirely focused on monitoring and reporting. Tasks included determining which post had the most views/visitors, which post had the most comments, which ads had the most clicks, etc. All of these tasks helped me asses the progress of my blog and whether or not I had achieved my monthly goals.
The other categories (site improvement, business related, etc) were all about improving the site itself, the way I ran the site, or my own knowledge. Tasks on this list included creating privacy and comment policies, analyzing competition, and going through Google’s Webmaster Academy.
The Elite Blog Academy workbook helped me prioritize all the tasks listed above so that I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks I had created (and trust me, there were a lot of them).
As I wrapped up creating my task list, I also began to do more research on social media marketing and other ways to improve my readership. I researched not only how to get readers to my site, but also how to make them stay.
At the time, I had a built in WordPress widget in my sidebar where users could sign up for my mailing list, meaning that they would receive an email every time I published a new article. The only subscriber to my mailing list was my mom (thanks mom!), so I knew that I needed to do something to encourage more people to sign up for my mailing list. However, I found it incredibly annoying when I went to other websites and got a big pop-up asking me to sign up for their mailing list. I think I was even more annoyed because I felt like the pop-up appeared in the middle of me reading something and interrupted the flow (I’m a fast reader and usually skim instead of read so I don’t like being slowed down by pop-ups). However, after doing some research, I found several plugins that I actually liked to handle this. My personal compromise was to have a much smaller pop-up in the corner, something that would catch the reader’s attention without blocking any text and interrupting their reading. Some plugins also offer features that will display a full-size pop-up, but only on exit intent (meaning that the user is about to navigate away from the page). I’ll be experimenting with these in order to determine which one I like best and provides the best results.
I also began to look into social media tracking tools such as Facebook Pixel. I also use the Pinterest equivalent (but can’t quite recall its name right now). These would allow me to better track users that visit my website, and allow me to narrow my audience selection when running ad campaigns on Pinterest or Facebook.
Along the social media lines, I also began looking into hashtags more. I had seen other people on Instagram adding a ridiculous number of hashtags to their posts, and began to wonder why they would do such a strange thing (because up until this point I knew hashtags were a thing but had never really used them). Then I discovered that people actually browse content by certain hashtags, and adding those hashtags to my posts could help get my content discovered. So then I started researching what hashtags I should be adding to my posts.I realize that the idea was to incorporate: physical location (#Na Pali Coast, #Kauai, #Hawaii), items in your picture (#Seacliffs), the mood of your picture (#breathtaking), and the activity you were doing (#boating).
BY HOW MUCH DID MY FOLLOWERS AND POST LIKE INCREASE AFTER I STARTED ADDING HASHTAGS?
Another common recommendation is to get involved in the community, this means connecting with readers and other bloggers. The best way to do this seemed to be making meaningful comments on other blogs. I don’t always finish everything on my daily task list, but one task I began to prioritize was commenting on another blog post. I didn’t comment just to comment. I only commented on a post if I felt I had something meaningful to say. Sometimes I had something meaningful to say about the very first post that I read. Sometimes, I don’t have anything meaningful to say about anything on my RSS feed, but that was okay because it forced me to go look for new reading sources and new people/groups to possibly connect with.
Of course, with all of my research into running an online business, a lot of ads I saw across the website were all related to online marketing. A lot of the ads seems to focus on growing my mailing, so I decided to do some further research into the importance of mailing lists and how I could possibly grow mine, because at the time, my mailing list consisted of two people, me and my mom (thanks for always being a great support mom!). I decided to install the WordPress plugin called “Hustle.” In the beginning I was very adimant against pop-ups. I didn’t care how effective people testified that there were. I hated getting pop ups when I was in the middle of reading a riveting article. So instead I decided to start with slide-ins. They were still technically pop-ups, but they would be off in a corner and wouldn’t cover up any article content.
Not long after that, I launched my second Facebook ad campaign. This time, I only budgeting $15 for three days. I believed I had learned my lesson from last time and added a lot more criteria for my audience, so hopefully I could reach more people who were actually interested in what I had to say. I believed that my last audience selection of “travel” and “culture” was probably too broad. This time, I selected the following criteria:
<<INSERT SELECTED CRITERIA>>
I think I ended up going from one extreme to the other. Sure, this time I only paid $15 for the ad (whereas last time I had a budget of $30 because that was what Facebook credited me). However, I felt like my results were even worse than the first ad campaign that I ran. This one was not shown to nearly as many people as the first campaign and I only received a handful of clicks.
<<INSERT DETAILED RESULTS OF THE CAMPAIGN>>
Now the hard part began. I had to figure out why the results differ as much as they did. Was it simply because I halved my budget? Had I targeted the wrong audience? Was my headline simply not as catching or interested as the first article I promoted? I was going to have to run a few more Facebook campaigns to get the answers I desired.
I also decided to try a new campaign approach, if only because it was handed to me. One of the first things I did, that I think many bloggers miss out on, is I made a business page on LinkedIn. Its my opinion that many people think of LinkedIn as being strictly business and forget that it’s still a social media platform. I have friends who scroll through their LinkedIn Feed as often as they scroll through their Facebook feed. Not too long after, LinkedIn sent me a promotion with a free $50 credit to launch my first campaign on LinkedIn, so I did. In an attempt to learn from my Facebook campaign, I aimed to go not too broad and not too narrow. I chose to target the following audiences:
<<INSESRT AD SETUP>>