After more than 10 years blogging, I have a pretty efficient work-flow for starting a new blog. Each time I begin a new project, I cut more and more bullshit out of the startup process, and hammer a further reduced set of tasks.
I had a couple of random successes early on, mostly due to hard work, and less due to precise strategy. When it comes to dialing in on a repeatable process, that's taken me a decade to do.
One More Cup of Coffee was a six figure blog in a short period of time, but it took me about 8 years to actually feel confident that I wouldn't just get hit with some kind of algorithm update and get wiped off the face of the earth.
It took me 3 years to achieve that same confidence in my next side project, started in 2015.
It took me 1 year with my most recent project, started in 2020.
That process of whittling down “what's going on” inside my business from 8 to 3 to 1, alongside talking to newbie bloggers daily and hearing about their worries means I have some good insight into what you should focus on as a new blogger, and what people are seriously wasting a lot of time worrying about.
In this article, I want to highlight the top 5 things you should stop wasting time on, and the #1 thing you should actually be doing to guarantee your success in this space.
1. Too Much Worry About Theme & Design
One of the first things I did when my blog started making money was to order some business cards that said CEO on them. I was a business owner, and I wanted to let everyone know about it. I had a vision of what it would look like to be a successful business owner. There was a cool factor to it.
I didn't realize that nobody actually cares if you own a business. After 3 or 4 business card design iterations and zero business cards given out, I figured out this was a waste of my time.
The same thing applies to complicated web design.
New people to the blogging space have a vision of what they want their site to look like. It'll be a massive hub of online information with complicated menu structures, moving widgets, animations, and all kinds of cool doo-dads that make it known – this is a cool website.
Actually, people just want to read your articles so they can get an answer to the question they just asked.
You can spend 100 hours or $10,000 dollars on web design, but without helpful information, your site won't make money. You can flip your web design in a day. You can't turn on the organic traffic spigot that fast. It takes time to build. Months. Years.
Plus, you can pay someone to design your blog down the road when you have a budget. A couple hundred bucks and you're done. Easy. cheap. You can't pay someone to send you organic traffic. I mean, you can buy traffic, but it's either super expensive ($1+ per click or more in Adwords), or a total scam like traffic exchanges.
I think part of the motivation for focusing on design is that it's what people understand already. They like a picture, or they don't like a picture. Simple. Learning the mechanics of how to write an article so it ranks in Google and then analyzing your results is much harder. It requires learning a completely new skill.
That's just speculation, and doesn't really matter much to the meaning of what I'm trying to get at here.
In the beginning, focusing on design is a waste of time. It's each and cheap to change down the road. A very basic design of white background, black text, and a small unique logo is good enough. No fancy stuff.
Content is what drives traffic. Traffic is what drives sales. Learn how to write content that ranks and sells.
2. Trying To Get The Perfect Image Alignment
This is an easy one to fix, but stop trying to get the perfect layout for each page you publish. The left/right alignment of photos is very old-school, looks ugly, and won't produce the results you want anyway.
Nowadays, there are so many different screen sizes, that whatever specific alignment you're trying to achieve on your own computer will not appear the same way on someone else's. Your 21-inch iMac is not the same as someone's 10-inch Chromebook.
Then there's mobile devices.
The way to fix this is to simply left-align text (default), then center-align your images. I make images large enough that they fill the entire blog space with a landscape arrangement. 1000px wide is enough for most default blog designs.
Sometimes I use portrait images for Pinterest-style images or when the specific thing I want to show requires a portrait sizing. Sometimes a full-width image is a little overkill in this case, since you may end up with an 800px wide image and 4000px tall image. In that case, I'll reduce the size a bit, but it just depends on what you're doing with the image.
There's more you can do with regards to image SEO specifically, but mainly I just want to make the point that you shouldn't spend too much time trying to get the perfect alignment of images.
3. Aiming For Money Before Traffic
Telling people to provide value to readers and not focus on making money is pretty basic advice you hear all the time, but unfortunately I have to throw my hat in ring and repeat it here. Hopefully I have some unique insight into this though.
Personally, I think the reason you need to stop focusing on earning money so much is twofold, and it's not just because it's “ethical”.
- You'll write more authentically, creating a better brand overall
- It helps set your long-term mindset for productivity & success
#1 is important because as your business grows, you'll start to look at past content you created and wonder what the hell you were thinking. The more authentic you are right now, the less editing you'll have to do later as you mature as a business owner.
People are smart and can tell when you're trying to hype something. Be honest. People will still buy stuff regardless. You don't need to add so much sauce.
#2 is more important. If you set a goal of making $10k/month, then every day you wake up you are a failure until you hit that mark. It could be years until you get there. That's a real shitty mindset to be in that whole time. It's how people get burned out in this space.
Instead, set yourself up for success and set a long term goal of consistent action. For example, set a goal of writing one high quality article per week for two years. That's 104 articles on your blog by the end of that time period.
Though you may not be making a full time income with just 104 articles, you could absolutely be generating some kind of money from that, and ready to take your business to the next level. Maybe even at some point during those two years, you get more efficient and confident in your writing and start doing two articles per week. Now you have something like 180 articles at the end of those two years.
Not only are you actually meeting your goals and getting positive feedback in your brain, you're actually doing the task you need to be doing to reach that $10k/month goal.
Saying I want to make money doesn't outline the steps needed to get there. Every day is just “I want more money”. It doesn't get results. Committing to actions over a period of time is a much more practical and real way to get the job done.
4. Doing Too Many Monetization Methods
In the world of business, it's better to do one thing incredibly rather than a bunch of things poorly, and that applies to blogging as well. There are a ton of ways to monetize a blog, and over time, you can experiment with them as you have time and interest.
To start though, just focus on one.
For example, if you're going to do email marketing, just do email marketing. Don't worry so much about getting affiliate links on your blog until your email list is profitable. If you're doing product reviews and adding affiliate links, don't add an email list right now.
It's easy to want to do everything. You CAN do everything. Running an online business is not like a brick and mortar business. It's absolutely possible to be a one-person show and make six figures alone in your bedroom.
Start small though. Especially if this is your first blog and first business. There's no rush. You're learning a lot of new stuff right now, and overwhelm leads to burnout. Burnout leads to quitting.
I focus exclusive on getting traffic to my blogs to monetize with affiliate links and display ads. Without huge amounts of traffic (10k/month+ visits) you won't make much from display ads, so don't worry about that. Just do affiliate links for a couple years and you'll be fine.
Don't start an email list. Don't create your own product. Don't start a forum. Don't start a (full time) YouTube channel (although it can help with traffic). Get good at one thing, then move onto the next.
5. Looking For Shortcuts
I'm including this one here because it's a trap I still fall into, even with a decade of blogging behind me. Wouldn't it be nice if there was some kind of shortcut. Some kind of recipe for success.
Even though I know how blogging works and have made some serious money in this space, I still have moments of doubt. I still look at what others are doing and think, “Wow, that looks way easier than what I'm doing! I'm struggling!”
What ends up happening though is that when I switch gears and try that stuff other people are doing, it ends up that there's more to the story and it's not as easy as it looks. I did this just a few years ago with Facebook ad arbitrage and display ads.
Wow! Easy! Just spin up some articles, send paid traffic to it, and split the difference for profits.
Nope. Cost me a lot of money. Sure, it works for some people, but you need to serious commit to that business model (see #4 above).
Most recently, everyone's been talking about this new SEO plugin which is supposed to analyze your competitors and help you craft the perfect article to outcompete for any keyword, in any niche. Sounds appealing. I looked into it. Decided against it to see how things would shake out.
Two years later, nobody's really talking about it or using it. It wasn't a magic solution. I'm glad I didn't waste the time to test it out and figure out what I already knew to be true.
This has been my experience: there will always be shortcuts. In the beginning, I was duped by obvious scam shortcuts like cheap traffic scams and link schemes. As a pro, I'm tempted by fancy plugins and automation tools. The details are different, but the concept is the same.
Realistically, the only thing that's worked consistently over the past decade was putting in the work, so I have to remind myself of that every time I'm tempted to cut corners.
My #1 Tip To Leaving Your Competition In The Dust
Who is you competition? It could be the people in your niche. It could be your peers who you want to outperform. It could be yourself if you are one of those psychos who just want to be a better person.
Whoever you see as your competition, there's really only one thing you can do to outcompete them:
BE MORE CONSISTENT.
Average people get tired. They take breaks. They say that they did good enough and they deserve a cheat day.
STELLAR PERFORMERS NEVER QUIT.
That means if you experience a failure, you get back up right away. If you experience a success, you double down and don't let off the gas. Keep going, every single day, no matter what, even if it's just a tiny little step forward.
Pretty exhausting, right? That's why you bake the success right into the formula. Don't commit to running 25 miles a day for the rest of your life. Commit to a daily 30-minute stroll around the block no matter what.
It's hard to psych yourself up for a daily Iron Man event. It's easy to talk yourself into a daily walk. Who covers more distance? Someone who runs a marathon once a year or someone who walks a mile a day (hint: a marathon is 26 miles).
When you set long term goals, be realistic about what you can commit to daily. How much time do you realistically have, so that you can move your business forward every day in some way? 20 minutes? 30 minutes? An hour? More is better, but be realistic. I think it's pretty reasonable for most people to say that if they want to start an online business they can commit an hour a day to it.
This long term commitment is how you permanently change your mindset and become a successful online business owner. You're no longer a tinkerer testing the waters. You are an entrepreneur.