First of all, I have to say wow, and thank you to everyone who has taken an interest in what I’ve been doing for the past 9 months. Things move so fast on the internet, and I’ve progressed in a way that I never thought possible, at speeds that shocked me. I’ve had highs and lows, but overall, I can look back and be proud with what I’ve created.
What I’ve Learned
1 – Writing a blog is an excellent way of drawing attention towards yourself and your other work.
I originally started my blog last April because I put together a photography portfolio which I wanted to share with as many people as I could, but I wasn’t exactly showing up in Google yet. I thought that writing a blog would be a great way of putting together lots of content that was going to be seen by many people, and I could plug my photography as much as I wanted. This has been very successful, and thousands of people see my photos everyday, but as it turns out, I’ve changed directions with my photography.
I now mostly focus on my website, and I’m not actively looking for photography jobs at all (even though I know that I could easily find and complete them), because I know that if I put in enough effort now, I can be making a solid passive income in a year from now. I’ve already come a very long way, it would just be great to be in a position where I can really choose what I want to do for work.
2 – Keywords are key.
They really are. When I created my website, it was originally under my name, and no one knew what it was about. When you choose a name like ExpertPhotography, people immediately know what you’re talking about. I use keywords in all of my post titles, and I tag all of my posts. My tags actually show up in Google, rather than the posts themselves, quite often. A pet peeve for me is when people use what they think are keywords, such as ‘synergy’ and ‘intelligence’, when they’re not actually doing anything in terms of helping the reader understand what they’re about.
Using the right keywords, especially when it comes to attracting people to your blog posts, is absolutely essential. I often see really ambiguous titles like ‘What your feet have to do with business’ or something equally ridiculous, and on the rare occasion I open up a post like this, I struggle to find what it’s about, and end up closing it. Think to yourself, would this title rank well in Google. If it doesn’t, then lose it.
3 – Having someone who you can pay to do stuff for you, will save you time, and allow you to focus on what’s really important.
What I like to think is ‘what is my time worth?’. Then when a task arises, you work out whether it would cost less for someone else to do it for you, so that you can focus on something more important, or whether it’s worth your while doing it yourself. I could have spent a couple days struggling to come up with a rather pants looking logo, or I could just find someone to do it for me.
I’ve looked around, and the best person that I can find who can write content on my website, is me, so that’s what I should be focusing on. For Michael it’s slightly different. Sure, he writes excellent content that people love to read, but he also has other writers who will produce content that’s just as good. It makes more sense for him to hire writer who will do the work for him, and then that leaves him time to work on the big picture stuff. He can work on new products, and get involved in new business ventures, like he’s done with my website.
4 – Take your time and effort to cover the basics of your niche – Content is King.
Content really is king, and if you don’t have killer content, then you may as well not bother. I wrote some of my most popular content 9 months ago, which covers the basics of my niche, and that’s my ‘bread and butter’ content, so to speak. If you do it properly once, then you don’t have to do it again, and beginners in your niche will see how good it is and start to stick around. Write this content first because it will take time to be picked up by Google on a new site, and that’s what is going to help sustain your website.
5 – It’s better to excel in one niche, than to do alright in a few.
This is so important, as I found out when I was trying to grow my website. Like most people, I had trouble coming up with interesting and relevant content in my niche, and I started to get distracted by other niches, within my niche. So I might start covering advanced lighting as part of photography, but by doing so, I start to lose some of my readership. Stick to one thing, and do it well, then when you have an established following, and a good archive, then you can start to cover different content, while people can easily browse for what they’re looking for.
6 – Building a strong following is the first step.
I really wish I knew what I know now when I first started my blog. The following is one of the most important things you can build on, because posting to 3,600 Facebook fans 9 months ago would have had a dramatic difference on my growth. I did stupid things like not including the official Facebook like box on my blog because I thought it was ugly, when really, it was the most powerful thing I could include. I would place links at the bottom asking people to like my fan page, follow my Twitter and submit a photo, but I was asking them to always leave the page. The official Facebook like box doesn’t require that you leave the page at all, all the reader has to do is click like, and they become a fan. A strong Facebook following is key for most niches.
7 – Writing top lists help to earn you recognition from new readers and Google.
Oh boy does it. If you read my recent post on the best thing I ever did for my website, then you’ll be fully aware of what I’m talking about here. Nothing has helped me to grow my website the same way as a top list, because over a couple of days you can have 10,000 new visitors and 500 new fans. Top lists will open you up to the fan bases of the people/products/websites featured in them as they’re likely to share their listing with their followers. And what’s more is that Google has really started to notice the importance of social influence, so when people are sharing your content like this, they give you much more credibility and start to rank you higher, and that’s when things start to really pay off.
8 – Google takes a lot of notice to spikes in traffic, as well as people sharing your links across the internet.
This is basically what I said earlier, where Google will recognise people sharing your links, and start to rank you higher, the more pople share your content. It’s hard to know exactly what they will like, and what will be shared, but so long as you’re writing regular top lists, and excellent content, then you’ll do well. One thing I have noticed from my latest top list is that there has been no real increase in Google traffic, and I don’t know if less people have shared it (even though it brought record traffic), or I’m just past the point that Google stop caring. Either way, getting people to share your content when you’re first starting out if a great way to get Google to notice you.
9 – Google takes time.
I was just itching to get traffic from Google when I first started my website, but there’s actually not a lot that you can do to encourage it. I’ve had my ups and downs, and with the exception of the spikes in traffic from top-lists, Google has been entirely unpredictable. To be honest, there two main factors that have helped my results increase in the past few months, and that’s time, and number of posts. I have written a lot of content for my site now, over 125 posts, and it’s been 9 months since I started. I also have a fairly regular following for the site, and these are all things that Google values and gives you credibility for. I have no reason to start slowing down either, I’m going to continue to grow my website and keep up my writing, and I think that a year from now, I will have come a very long way.
10 – Google Analytics is the single greatest tool at my disposal.
I always knew there was a way of tracking visitors on my website, but I never quite knew the extent of Google Analytics. There has been countless times where I’ve gone into my GA and discovered something new about my website, whether it’s a new referrer, an increase in earnings, visitor locations, or spike in traffic. I’ve even set up alert for statistics such as Facebook, so that when I get 50% more visitors than the day before from Facebook, then I know to go and check out what my traffic is doing, and find out where they’ve come from. GA is simply just one of the tools that I can’t do without.
11 – Always use a reliable hosting.
Oh boy is this one important. I’ve had my website go down a couple of times, when it really shouldn’t have, all because my website couldn’t handle the traffic. I reckon that this alone has set my website back a couple of months. I had Adobe Photoshop share my like to 400,000 people on Facebook, and my site immediately went down for 45 minutes due to the strain. I still received a record number of visitors (at the time), but it would have been much much higher if it wasn’t for the downtime. It’s been down a couple of other times, but nothing too siginificant, and it managed to survive my latest influx of traffic. I recommend talking to your hosting company and make sure that it’s set up properly, because that can make all the difference.
12 – Social Media is incredibly important.
Facebook and Twitter have done so much good for my website over the past nine months, and they work in different ways. I use Twitter to find people in my niche who are interested in learning photography, and I do this by using Tweet Adder and following the followers of similar users. Then when they follow, I send them to my fan page or website, where they will hopefully become a fan. It’s the best form of free promotion that you can do for your website, and it can largely be automated if you know what you’re doing, so that you don’t even have to do anything.
13 – Good writing provides you with strong, regular and often unexpected referrers.
As I mentioned in my previous point, I received the recognition of a huge company, with a massive following, all because they managed to find what I had written and liked what I saw. The same thing has happened with StumbleUpon where particular posts become incredibly popular, one in particular provided me with about 7,000 hits in just two days. It’s my strong content that has proved to provide me with unexpected visitors, time and time again. If there’s one thing I pride myself on, it’s writing the best content that I can, and this just goes to show that it pays off.
14 – Linking throughout your website improves the readers time on site, pages per visit and the amount of ads that they click on.
Writing about this is kind of bitter/sweet, because it involves my favourite plugin, which I no longer use. The plugin is called SEO Smart Links, and it will add a link to every keyword, on every page, so long as you input in into the backend. The problem though was that it was massively slowing down the page load speed on my site, so I’ve had to remove it. I’m going to try it again at some point soon, but not until it’s been updated. To be honest, any plugin that changes so much on a single page is always going to slow down my website, so I’m not really hoping for much.
Instead I now add links where I deem them to be the most important, instead of just flooding my page with different links. I always try to recommend at least one other page for the reader to visit.
15 – Forums are an excellent way to find a larger audience.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the nature of internet forums, and the way people like to talk and act when they’re hidden behind anonymity, and this is the very reason I never wanted to join a forum in my niche. It wasn’t until I started to view the top referrers for my Google AdSense, that I realised the website that was linking to me from their homepage was providing me with the most amount of money. I immediately emailed them thanking them for the link, and I joined the forum.
It’s important to not just join a forum and flood people with your links for no reason, this will never end well. There was some suspicion anyway when I went into the ‘Introduce Yourself’ section, but as I was there to help out, and contributed without links too, I was able to gain credibility. What’s more is that I’ve found more fans through this website, and they’ve even shared my links for me. I noticed one day that I’d earned a lot more from my AdSense than usual, so I went to check where it was coming from and found that one of my links had been shared. Turns out someone had shared my link to try and help a beginner, this became a popular post, and a few hundred people clicked on it.
Find a small forum that’s still growing and join it.
16 – Better content doesn’t mean a more successful site.
Sad, but true. I have no doubt by the way my site is growing, that in the long run, my site will prove to be very successful, but it’s not grown as fast as some competitors. I say competitors, but I don’t really seem them as competitors, because there’s plenty of room for all of us in our niche. We just do our own thing, and so long as we’re not ripping each other off, there’s no reason why we can’t share the same fans. Sometimes it comes down to luck, sometimes it comes down to writing style, content, or fan base, but some website just grow faster than others. You can have the best content in the world, but if you’re not helping your website to grow, and dedicating the time that you should be, then you will soon see other people overtake you.
You shouldn’t let this bother you though, because this is a common occurrence, and if you let it get you down, then you really have been beaten. Don’t let it beat you, keep up your hard word, and stick with it.
17 – There will always be negative people on the internet.
For some reason, unknown to me, people like to share their negativity if they don’t like something. Even if there’s no reason for them to not like it. If I don’t like something on the internet, I don’t get worked up about it, I just close the link and explore one of the other billions of pages instead. Some people though like to leave a negative comment, and put down your hard work, and when you’re just starting out, this can really bother you if you let it.
Whether this is on a site like Reddit, where you’re submitted a link, or a comment on your website, if you blog for long enough, someone will leave something negative. It’s a shame really, but there’s not much you can do about it, so you just need to not let it bother you. On this site, and ExpertPhotography, we have to approve every comment before it goes on the site, so that we can check for spam and this sort of thing. Remember that it’s your site, and what you say goes, so don’t accept rubbish comments like that, just delete them, they’re unnecessary and have no place being on your page.
18 – Blogging spawns new ideas.
The great thing about working for yourself, on something of your own, is that you spend the whole time focused on you. When you start a blog, or at least when I started mine, the goal quickly becomes to make money. With that in mind, new ideas start to pop up in your head all the time, one idea leading to the next like a brainstorm. I’m fortunate enough to work on this website, which allows me plenty of opportunities to work on my own website and study what’s going on, so my site is always in mind. I’ve got some big plans for this year, much bigger than anything I would have had from following my previous career.
19 – It’s not about the number of visitors, it’s about the quality of visitors.
I’m a big fan of tracking and improving my quality of visitors because they’re actually a little bit more important than the number of visitors you receive. Now, this might not sound like it makes much sense, because we all ultimately want lots of different visitors to our website, but when we’re trying to grow our site, it’s the people that come back that matter. People who visit more than one page, or stay for longer than 30 seconds are the type of people that will eventually become fans and will possibly buy something when we come to sell it. Learn more about tracking and improving your quality of visitor here.
20 – People prefer a personal touch.
This actually surprised me a little bit, because I was conflicted when I started my website, and although I wanted more people to see my photography, I didn’t want to make my blog a personal thing. I’ve always known that if I want to sell my website one day, I have to sell it as the website, and not me, and if I’m the main image for the website, that just won’t work. That’s why I stepped back from including my name. But you’ll notice on here that a lot of the comments have ‘Hey Josh, thanks…’, and that’s because people recognise the person, and appreciate the personal touch. I like to sign off my posts, and sometime statuses, with my name, or at the very least the about the author section, because it’s easier for people to identify with a person, than it is a site, and that’s part of the reason that they like to keep coming back.
So from me, Josh Dunlop, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post.