Reflections on a Decade of Blogging

I began blogging in 2009. 

Back then, things were so easy and, compared to what blogging looks like now, quaint.

I decided to start a blog on a whim. Back then there weren’t any instructions online. I started with Blogger and quickly moved to WordPress. I realized that Bluehost sucks and then moved to private hosting, which was even worse. I moved back to Bluehost because all the big names in blogging recommended it and then I realized there’s no need to settle for subpar webhosting. I made a few stops along the way but now my #1 is Lyrical Host.

Some of the biggest names in blogging and/or digital media – Refinery29, Hip2Save, Thrillist, to name a few – were contemporaries of mine.

One of the best opportunities of my life was consulting with American Express on the formation of a new credit card, the Zync Card, for young people. In retrospect, it was a card for millennials, but millennials weren’t yet a thing. I had this opportunity because I had a blog and they thought I was a good writer/representative of my niche. Today, I’d never be afforded the same opportunity because blogging now is all about the stats.

Some of the other awesome perks I’ve been afforded as a blogger include being flown out to NYC for a TJ Maxx shopping event, receiving a Sleep Number bed to review (and keep – it’s where I’m sitting right now, in fact), numerous complimentary hotel stays, testing out new technology, like the Microsoft Surface, before it was released to the public, and receiving more clothes and beauty products than I could ever use. Lately, as I’ve switched more to techy stuff and website design for small business owners, I’ve had the privilege of learning from and working with myriad female small business owners, as well as collaborating with some online companies I admire. While the “stuff” was nice, it was always just “stuff.” I’m happier now without the random boxes appearing at my door front as I work toward establishing more meaningful relationships.

In 10 years I published more than 15,000 pieces of content, but if I were to do it all over I’d have a much sparser posting schedule! Follower counts and engagement now seems more important than the content one can actually produce. 

I got into blogging so I could forge my own path. I wanted to create an object without having a “boss.” Sometime over the past decade, the almighty dollar became “boss” in the blogging realm. Collaborations stopped being as simple as “hey, we like you – let’s work together!” Now, myriad agencies exist to fill the gap between influencers and advertisers. I’ll be blunt: Some of them suck. Yet it’s become a reality that to work with an advertiser you have to submit pitches to these agencies. The agencies get more money for finding influencers than the influencers do for creating content. It’s a backward system.

When I started blogging, the only social media sites that existed were Facebook and Twitter. Facebook Pages still had reach and you could share your new posts and actually get traffic from them. It was annoying, but it was quick. Now, in addition to writing content and learning how to take quality photographs, bloggers are also marketers who need to know the basics of SEO, how to use Pinterest, create and engage with communities of followers on Instagram (feeds and stories!), Facebook Groups, and maybe even apps like Snapchat.

Straight up: Over the past decade, blogging has become 100% harder than it was when I started. 

And yet, all that negativity aside, I still love blogging, even if I’m not actually writing as much as I once was. ANYONE willing to put in the time and effort can become successful at blogging. I truly believe that. It’s not going to be easy, it may take years of work, and your definition of success may change over time, but anyone can become a blogger and make money at it.

If you’re starting a blog now, here’s my #1 piece of advice:

Be Yourself

Don’t follow the herd but don’t be overwhelmed if there are 20 people doing exactly what you do. The thing is, your audience is going to like you for the voice you bring to the discussion and because they appreciate your perspective. 

What works for one blogger may not work for you.

There’s no way of saying what will resonate with people, so your best bet is to just do you.

Learn the basics of search engine optimization.

People don’t read blogs like they once did. It can be hard to develop a steady readership. But if your blog posts regularly rank high in search engines then you’re always going to have a steady stream of traffic.

If you take anything from me as you begin or continue your blogging journey, it’s to learn the basics of search engine optimization. SEO is where it’s at and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t know how to write SEO-friendly blog posts that receive more organic web traffic.

Your blog is the only piece of property you “own.”

Instagram could shut down tomorrow. Pinterest could shut down tomorrow. Your blog will only shut down when you decide to call it a day. People are always trying to claim that blogging is “dead,” which is simply not true. Blogging is changing and it’s up to you to stay ahead of the trends, but I’d rather invest my time in a piece of property that’s mine instead of a platform that could disappear tomorrow. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be on other platforms as much as it is a reminder to always have a backup plan.

It’s OK to write without getting paid.

Seriously, nothing in the world annoys me more than people saying “free doesn’t pay the bills.” I’ve written about this before, but I want to reiterate: Write what you want to write, especially if nobody is paying you. Write for “free” or for love of writing to establish yourself. Companies aren’t going to invest in brand new bloggers. Show people what you can do before making demands. Nobody owes you anything simply because you decided to start a blog.

It’s OK to quit.

Most people who start blogs quit pretty quickly. Blogging is a lot of work and there’s absolutely no shame in realizing blogging isn’t for you. Because of this, however, I recommend starting a blog for free before spending a ton of money. Anyone who tells you that you need to invest in hosting or a camera or anything else is just flat out trying to earn an affiliate commission from you. Don’t start spending money until you’re certain you can keep up with a regular writing schedule. Then, if you decide it’s not for you, you’re not going to be out hundreds of dollars.

Design a profile of your ideal reader.

After you come up with a profile of your ideal reader, write posts that will appeal to said reader. (Here’s my tip: I have always been my own ideal reader. This makes it easier to write!)  I don’t necessarily believe you need to pick one niche and stick with it 100 percent, but the topics you write about should always be of interest to your reader.

Have fun.

Tune out the noise and don’t focus on what people think about you or your blog. As I said above, YOU DO YOU. Not everyone is going to like you and that’s OK.

Find the tribe that matches your vibe.

Blogging today versus a decade ago is like night and day. What hasn’t changed, though, is that there’s usually amazing camaraderie between bloggers. I love running into friends from when I was more enmeshed in the Chicago blogging scene. We went through it all together. Find people who understand what you’re going through because I promise you non-bloggers won’t understand.

The Roaring 20s

Can you believe we are heading into the 20s?! Time flies and things are always changing – especially online! I’ll be curious to see how things stand in another decade as we head into the thirties!