Thinking of starting a blog?
Back in late 2017, my husband and I started a family travel blog. It didn’t just happen. It was more of a slow process of weighing pros and cons for months before we actually did it. We knew starting and running a blog involved some work. But what we weren’t prepared for was the sheer volume of work and some unexpected pitfalls we encountered along the way. Let me tell you what I have learned since starting blogging.
Blogging can be time-consuming
Is blogging time consuming? It can be. Blogging takes up a good chunk of my time. But I have a little bit of an obsession with making things perfect so maybe that’s why. Our blog is just a hobby and I love it, however there are parts of blogging that I find tedious. There is the writing (and rewriting) that takes time. There is photography (taking photos and editing them). Then there is the putting the blog post together. There is social media. There is Google ranking. And there is guest blogging and collabs. The list goes on and on. And for people who set up their blog as a business, there are even more things to consider, like affiliate links, clients and contracts, etc.
Blogging is multi-tasking
Before we started our blog I never thought it would be easy. But I definitely never thought it would be as hard as it actually is. What have been our biggest challenges? There are probably too many to list. When we first started, I thought the hard part would be to figure out how our WordPress theme worked. But as time went by, I learned all the other things that come with blogging.
We discovered that not only did we need to get better at writing and photography, but that there were many other skills we needed in order to run a blog. We discovered that we also needed to become marketers, webmasters, SEO specialists, savvy networking gurus and social media experts. We’re not there yet but we are learning. So you need to be curious and patient if you want your blog to stay afloat.
Blogging is sedentary
I bet you never thought about what goes on behind the scenes of a blog. Well, let me tell you what goes on. There’s a lot of sitting down. You’re sitting down to write, edit photos, put your post together, go on social media, network, email, read, edit, learn, rewrite, retweet, post … and learn SEO. Luckily for us, we’re a travel blog and we travel frequently. Otherwise, I’d become one with my computer chair.
Social Media can be a pain
Before we started the blog, I personally could only be found on Facebook. But for the sake of promoting the blog, PackYourBagsOrg now has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube. That sounds like a lot. And it is. Because each of these platforms is a ton of work. And each of these has its specific quirks.
After a few months of trying to manage all five social media, we are now mostly focusing on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Twitter has been my favourite platform to promote our blog. The interactions have seemed the most genuine and the discussions relevant. Also, it’s felt as if the follower growth has not been impeded by anyone. This is directly opposite to the feeling we get on Facebook and Instagram, where the newest algorithms seem to complicate natural human interactions. Basically, we have had to figure out what social media is best for us and to focus our efforts on what we found enjoyable and what brought us results (aka visits to our blog).
You have to get better at Photography
A picture is like a thousand words, as they say. People are drawn to beautiful imagery. So not only do you need to take good photos with good equipment but you also need to learn how to edit your photos. Long gone are the days of the professional photographer being king. Nowadays anyone with a decent smartphone and a good eye can compete. It doesn’t hurt to take a photography class.
Write what you know & write it well
I might have been pretty good at writing essays in college but Mr Google doesn’t care. Yes, you need to write naturally but you still have to write in such a way that you can be indexed and searchable on the Internet. This can be a stifling thought to digest. How can I be creative when I am constrained by algorithms?
So just to be safe, make sure you have a good SEO plugin (we use Yoast). It will guide you in the right direction. And perhaps take a blog writing course. There are plenty online. And do read other people’s blogs. Which bloggers do you admire? What makes them good writers? Study the best in the niche you are interested in blogging about. At the same time, the more you write, the better you will get. I now look at some of the first posts I ever wrote and I cringe. It’s a good idea to go back and rewrite some of your old material.
Standing out is a Herculean task
Do you know how many blogs are out there? I don’t know the number but Mr Google just told me that that are over 500 million blogs on the Internet. I don’t know if that’s accurate but ultimately it doesn’t matter. There are a lot of blogs out there. Too many to wrap our brains around. Is that bad? Yes and no.
First of all, what is your niche? Ours is travel and of course, there is huge competition in travel. Everyone loves to travel. So to compete for ranking high in travel is not easy. Should you despair? Definitely not. Just watch this video:
Know your Audience
You also need to figure out quickly who your audience is and what they want. Having said that, first and foremost you should write what is meaningful to you. If you are only concerned about what others want to hear but you are not interested in the topic, you will not enjoy writing it. If you are bored writing it, your readers will be bored reading it. So if you write about things you care about, you tend to write with more passion. And that passion will show and people will be drawn to your blog. Basically, write about what you care about. Your audience will come eventually. You will get your thousand fans.
Figure out what the focus of your blog is. It doesn’t have to be super narrow. People are not robots, we have many interests. But you should probably not spread yourself out too thinly either. Although crazier things have worked.
Find your Tribe
Blogging can feel like lonely business sometimes. So you need to find your tribe. I personally have joined several blogging support groups online. We learn from each other and we help each other out when we get stuck. There is help out there. You just need to look for it. Good places to find support are social media.
Spam bots swarm the Internet
Welcome to the Internet, the world of artificial intelligence and spam bots. Not only do you have to worry about bots on Instagram, now you also have to worry about spammers trying to link to your site. And guess who gets punished for the spammers’ bad behaviour? You do. That is, if you do nothing about it.
Most of the time, a website owner will know nothing about someone doing some nefarious things in the dark corners of the Internet in the name of your website. Not unless, you study SEO and figure out how to control who is linking to your site and why. I am just learning about this now. The good news is, you can control it. The bad news is, you have to spend time learning a skill you might not otherwise need. You can always outsource SEO to an expert. But that’s hard to justify with a hobby blog.
SEO is key
I am a beginner at SEO (search engine optimization) so I don’t have much wisdom to impart on this topic. Except that apparently if you can master this, you can free yourself from spending too much time on social media. At least to a point. There are tons of free SEO learning tools online.
You might ruffle some feathers
You might tick off some people during your blogging journey. In fact, you are bound to. If you write from the heart, if you dare expose something of your inner beliefs, someone is going to be offended. Our blog might mostly be about travel, but I also write about expat life and a couple of other topics. Even if you think you are writing not to offend anyone, you will still manage to do so. Why? Because that’s life. We are human. We disagree. You might think that everyone thinks the way you do, but your readers might come from a different culture or a different generation. And despite your best efforts, you will have offended someone. And that is OK. Just carry on.
Blogging is a great learning experience
You probably already figured out that you have to become an expert at at least ten things. I am not even close to being an expert but I do enjoy learning all these skills. At the very least, I am postponing dementia by forcing my brain to learn things I would not otherwise care to learn. But since I want our blog to succeed, you bet your bottom dollar, I am going to make an effort to figure these things out. Plus, I am stubborn as heck and a perfectionist. And I hate losing and not finishing things. So you know, the blog is here for awhile. At least until I can tame this beast.
Conclusion: It’s worth the effort
Despite all the work and obstacles in our way, I have found blogging to be very rewarding. I have met interesting people and I have learned a ton of new skills. It is something I am passionate about that is why I am pursuing it. It is a fun way to share our interests and lifestyle with the world. And I have always enjoyed reading and writing. I can’t think of anything more satisfying than creating something from nothing.
Do you have a blog? Or are you thinking of starting one? What challenges have you encountered along the way in your blogging journey? Let us know in the comments below.