Have you ever read that joke: I still think of the 1990s as being ten years ago? There are actually several versions of this joke, the 80s were 20 years ago; the 70s were 30 years ago…you get the idea. For many of us, the concept of measuring the decades around the start of the new millennium just evades us. Don't get me wrong, I know math and I know the 1990s were actually almost 30 years ago. Yet, whenever I see how old something really is, that's my instinct: “but it just came out like 10 years ago.” Blogging is one such thing.
The very first blog, unsurprisingly, wasn't even called a blog — it was a personal homepage and it was owned by a college student named Justin Hall. The process of logging thoughts on the web later evolved to a “web log” or “weblog” before eventually being shortened to “blog.” And you might even recognize some of the earliest blogging platforms, such as LiveJournal or MoveableType, or TypePad. Even then, blogging was more of a curiosity than anything else, done by only a few people. Then in 1999, Blogger emerged and blogging was brought out into the mainstream.
I started following Wil Wheaton back in the early 2000s. By that time, blogging was something geeks did — particularly introverted or socially awkward geeks. It was a running joke in movies. And, being a geek myself, I was instantly fascinated. And over the years I had tried to build and maintain several. My first attempt was a journal on learning religions, as a history and philosophy buff it made sense — and I find these things interesting. That journey ended soon after someone decided to accuse me of plagiarizing her site and threatening to come after me with a lawyer. I hadn't plagiarized, but I had no idea how to fight her on it, and the mention of a lawyer scared me. (Interestingly, her site is nowhere to be found, but that's probably a whole different story).
And when the notion of being able to make money blogging came about, I tried again. I had blogs on fiction writing, freelance writing, blogs dedicated to freelance sites, website development…one by one I tried all sorts. And some of them I did pretty well at. Nothing like the millionaire blogs you see today, and none of them as focused as this one here. But all in all I learned some pretty valuable tips. Tips that I was able to pass on to several of my clients over the years.
Tips that are no longer relevant….
You see, I started this blog back in 2013. And I did so using all the same tips I had learned all those years before. Little did I know how much had changed between 2004 and 2013. But through trial and error, I managed to trudge my way through the changes and building a blog I really enjoyed. In 2016, I invested in a Blogging Boot Camp, and I learned that not only had I not fully managed to learn all the differences between blogging in 2004 and blogging in 2013…but that even more changes had taken place between 2013 and 2016. Which means that many of the changes I had implemented were no longer even valid.
If you blogged in the past and have been thinking about getting back into it, here are some of the biggest changes you'll need to know.
The Basics Haven't Changed
The overall basic rules of blogging are still roughly the same. Watch your spelling and grammar, post consistently, don't jumble your paragraphs all together, and use an easy-to-read, pleasing layout. Some opinions have swayed away from avoiding the use of pictures or graphics so they wouldn't distract from your writing, to including graphics to give the reader a bit of a break between text.
And although methods may have changed, the reason behind them haven't. You still need good SEO so your blog can be found, you still need a strong marketing plan to drive traffic to your blog. People still need to buy things, and people still rely on the reviews and opinions of others to help them make up their minds about what to buy or from whom.
Search Engine Optimization
SEO used to depend primarily on keyword usage and links. And boy, were there a lot of crappy blog posts floating around then. If someone went into Google and typed in a search, where you ranked on the results list depended highly on how many times that keyword appeared in your text. And it didn't matter about the context or surrounding verbiage. So you would see these blog posts with paragraphs filled with broken sentences and lists of words. Today, most search engines rely on authority and credibility. They cater to the reader's experience while reading your website, rather than catering to you. Keywords and phrases are still important, but so is your writing and context. Google has to be sure that you are going to answer the question being asked before it ranks you, something that didn't happen before.
Having a Blog is no Longer Enough
Back in 2004, having a blog was enough to pique someone's interest to see what you were up to. A blog was little more than a journal. Today, people turn to blogs for news, tutorials, education, and entertainment. It's a thriving industry that requires discipline, marketing, and a real concept. There are millions of bloggers, many of whom are making a profit. You have to stand out, which means you have to have something to say. Aggregating content from other feeds or regurgitating the same facts from someone else won't help your cause. Take a look at all the movie bloggers, or fashion bloggers, or mom lifestyle bloggers — even within the same niche, they all have their own voice, their own story.
Your Audience is Different
People today are more savvy than they were in 2004. And more skeptical. In 2004, if you wrote an article on your blog about something, you were the expert. Today, there is a chance that another expert will write something on the same subject contradicting what you write. This means you have to work harder to win your audience's trust. Take, for example, social media automation. There are plenty of experts out there who will tell you that all such automation is bad. And there are other experts who will tell you some automation can be good. Even a choice such as which email marketing service provider to use for a newsletter can lead to dozens of blogs with dozens of opinions.
Additionally, bloggers are more sophisticated. Let's think back to the advice we used to hand out to new bloggers back in 2004. One way to gain traffic was to start commenting on other blogs. Well, who hasn't heard that by now? Is it still good advice? Yes. But if it's the only advice you're offering, no one is going to stick around to see what else you have to say. You have to be more sophisticated because your readers are going to be more sophisticated.
Mobile is Bigger
Back in 2004, cellphones were still relatively primitive. I mean, sure, they weren't the behemoths of yore, but most of them didn't have internet access, muchless web browsing. Today, most people do the majority of their web browsing from their cellphones. In fact, Google has determined that mobile traffic is so much more frequent and important than desktop traffic that they have actually made strides to rank sites that are mobile-friendly higher than other sites. Meaning that anything on your site that might detract from a visitor's experience while on mobile risks getting ranked lower.
Ads and Ad Revenue
In 2004, if you visited a blog, you were probably bombarded with ads. Flashy, obnoxious, annoying pieces of advertisement that made the page slow to load and horrible to try to read. I still remember blogs with these monstrosities in the header, zooming across the middle of the page lining the sidebar, right in the middle of the article, then again and the footer, and of course the popup. People would flood their pages in half a dozen ads hoping to make a few dollars every time someone visited. And to make matters worse, most of the time those ads had nothing to do with anything. It became so bad, two more industries were born to fight it — popup blockers and ad blockers.
Today, you can't just throw ads onto your site and try to run traffic through. Ads, just like your audience, have become more sophisticated. You can choose categories to match your content, you can choose targeted ads that match your audience's search histories, or you can forego the ads altogether and replace them with your own products.
Traffic Sources Are Endless
In 2004, you were reliant on two or three sources for traffic. Today, not only are more people on the Internet than ever before, but they are everywhere. Social media is a major highway when it comes to web traffic. Probably even more important than search engines. And there are so many of them, each used in a different way, that it's nearly impossible to master them all.
Determining your traffic strategy is one of the most important pieces of your overall marketing strategy. It's better to rock at six or seven channels than to have dead profiles at twelve channels.
Readership is Out, Tribes are In
In addition to everything else, building a readership is no longer enough. You have to learn how to build a relationship with your visitors, establish a trust, and turn them into a loyal following. The people who can't wait to see what you do next are the people who will recommend you to everyone they know. They'll share your posts and help drive traffic to you.
Blogging is no longer about keeping a journal online and sharing with a select few. Over the years, it has grown into a prestigious industry that doesn't show any signs of slowing down.