Running a blog can be highly rewarding, but not every blog is successful.
You’ll read lots of great advice across the blogosphere (some of it here) about how to make your blog successful, but rarely do you read the bad news: that sometimes you’re best walking away, and starting again.
While walking away may be considered failure, a failed blog is actually a great learning experience. Jeremy Schoemaker, one of the smartest guys I’ve had the privilege of meeting wrote the other day that he’s failed more than he has achieved, and even with all the smarts in the world, he’s still failing today:
I am always amazed at how scared people are to fail. I fail all the time…. or at least what other people would consider to be failures. I would rather call them experiences.
Learning from your failures and trying until you find success is an amazing experience.
That doesn’t make failing easy. No one who has ever committed themselves to a blog ever finds it easy walking away. I can’t change your mindset, but I can provide advice on when you might quit your blog and what you can do to save it.
The number one mistake new bloggers make
Before we start talking doom and gloom, there’s one very important rule when it comes to blogging success that new or newer bloggers without fail nearly always make: the time equation.
It takes time to establish a blog. I’ve always put the figure at 6-9 months before you know whether it’s going to really work or not, based on the time it takes you to build links, traffic, a strong presence in Google, longtail content and more. Others, such as Jason Calacanis, CEO of Mahalo and founder of the Weblogs Inc blog network puts the figure at 2 years.
What ever the figure, getting 2 or 3 months in then walking away because you’re not making money is in most cases a mistake, because you usually can’t tell that early whether you’re blog will be truly successful. There are some pointers we’ll get to further into this post, but I’ll put it this way: it would have been easy to walk away from this site after 3 months, our figures, despite having a writing team were low and didn’t even come close to paying the bills. Month 4-6 we started to grow, and by month 7 we were really starting to deliver stats that paid the bills.
This advice applies to blogs that are being published to make money. If you’re writing a personal blog, traffic and revenue may mean nothing to you (it doesn’t with my personal blog) you would only really want to quit if you no longer enjoyed it, or it no longer served what ever purpose you had for it (might be promoting your business, sharing with friends etc…).
When to quit
Having said that it takes time to establish a blog, there’s no reason to flog a dead horse either. I know when I’ve written about growing The Inquisitr in the past, some expressed surprise that I considered 100,000 page views a month low, and some shared publicly and privately figures far lower again for their blogs.
A blog that does 1000 page views a month in its 2nd or 3rd month isn’t going to make it.
You should see some growth the longer you blog, although from month to month that may vary, for example The Inquisitr went backwards in its second month before starting to grow again.
Look for things like links in and Google search traffic. Even if your numbers are low, a potential growth marker is search traffic; the more you post, the more search traffic you might see. Links should be assessed on a similar basis; if you’re regularly getting links in, more people might find your content.
You need to establish early on how much traffic you need to reach maybe not for your goal, but a level that makes the site sustainable, be that relative to the time you put in going forward.
There’s no hard and fast rule on numbers. A site doing 10,000 page views a month in a high paying niche may be quite sustainable, but a site doing 100,000 page views in a low paying niche might not be.
Ultimately though, if you aren’t getting traffic, it’s time to quit, but if you are seeing some growth, see if you can hold out a bit longer. 6-9 months is the key.
If your blog is 12 months old and it’s not delivering, chances are that it won’t take off. There are exceptions: Jeremy Schoemaker run his personal blog for years before it became popular for example. My first blog, The Blog Herald, took nearly 2 years before I made more than $100 in a month from it and it really took off.
At this stage you have to make a judgment call: do you love what you’re doing and is money not that important? Some people can blog for years and hardly make a dime because the end goal isn’t money, but sharing. But if you’re in the business of making some money, can the skills you’ve learned be better used on another site, or a new site altogether?
Like the short term assessment, I can’t put a hard traffic figure on what’s good or bad here. You’ll know though, be it through revenue (lack there of), traffic or even engagement.
How to save your blog
If your blog isn’t going well, it’s a sure sign that you’re not breaking through to your target audience, or your content isn’t working in its niche.
That’s doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve done something wrong, but it is does mean that your competitors are doing more things right.
One way to reboot a blog is to give it a new look. We did a major overhaul of The Inquisitr in October, and it kick started a long period of growth for us.
Looks aren’t everything, but there’s more to this than aesthetics. A refresh should incorporate best practice SEO and layout techniques to drive new traffic, get those who visit to spend more time on the site, and to get people clicking on ads so that even if the traffic doesn’t shoot through the roof, your ad revenue starts to grow. There’s a lot of bad practice around with ads, and given you’re trying to make money, it’s one area that can make a difference.
One word of caution though: lots of people think they’re experts here, but few fully understand things like ways to improve SEO and even click through on ads. The best looking sites aren’t always the best delivering sites. A number of people heavily criticized our makeover, usually graphic designers, but they had no idea of what we were trying to achieve, and if I’d followed many of the criticisms we wouldn’t be where we are today, period.
You don’t have to spend money either to do this. There’s a wealth of knowledge freely available online, and the more you know, the better placed you’ll be. Even if you can’t do a big overhaul, sometimes even small tweaks can help a blog.
New ways of doing content
There’s always a fine line between quality and quantity, but if your blog isn’t working, it might be time to tweak the ratio. Study what your competitors are doing, then don’t copy it, but take the best bits and do your take on it. That might mean shorter, but more frequent posts (by short, posts should always be a minimum of 3 paragraphs in my opinion, with some exceptions), or that might mean doing lists or new styles of feature posts. List posts are very popular on some sites, although they’re highly time consuming in my experience. What have you got to lose? Try some new styles of content, see if some work; if you find some that do, keep on doing them!
There is a great market for specific niche blogs (b5media comes to mind), but they’re notoriously difficult to scale unless you’re a true expert in the field, and put a lot of effort into them.
Presuming you haven’t picked a name for you blog that locks you into a small niche, try going wider. Actually, scrub that, even if you have picked a name that locks you in, you can still go wide. Sites like TechCrunch and SiliconAlleyInsider do the occasional celebrity post now.
Going wider though doesn’t have to completely pollute your focus. Wide can be related, for example when TechCrunch started writing about Paris Hilton dating a MySpace founder, the link was the MySpace angle. You don’t have to go celebs, but it can be linked in.
The name of the game is scale. If going even a little bit wider helps with traffic, it subsidizes the core product; ultimately, do you want to have a pure, failed blog, or a well read blog that writes great content in a core area, and also writes about related content as well?
Admitting failure is never easy, and it’s harder when often you’ve put your heart and soul into creating your own blog. But ultimately, blogs fail. They say 90% of all small businesses fail within 10 years, blogs are no different. Learn from what went wrong, be prepared to make changes if you’re going to stick at it, and if you’re giving up on a blog, don’t give up blogging altogether. Remember that there are thousands of people every week starting blogs for the first time who are going to make the same mistakes, sometimes worse than you have. If anything, your experiences now give you an advantage in the future. Those who succeed share the same quality: they’ve all failed at various points along the way.