6 Mega Mistakes I Made as a Blogger
I’ve been writing and marketing online content for a long time — long enough to remember the pre-digital era when writers had to work for magazines, newspapers or PR departments to survive. I’ve been a freelancer and I’ve done the corporate-job thing, with titles ranging from specialist of such-and-such to chief something or other. That’s another way of saying I’ve done things big and small.
For the past year, I’ve been solely focused on my own ventures. At the one-year mark, it’s time to reflect on what’s working and what’s not. My first observation is that all my experience creating value for others has been good and bad. Good, because I think I can do anything and so opportunities don’t scare me. And bad, for the very same reason.
Confidence can be a fickle friend when you’re working for yourself. You try to move fast and get more done, convinced that your stellar work ethic and vast domain knowledge will lead you to the pot of gold.
But what if it doesn’t? And instead of moving towards the life you want, you end up breaking things, moving backwards instead of forwards? Maybe making decisions you wouldn’t dare make for a client or your boss. You justify it by thinking you’re being gutsy and taking bold steps. And there may be some truth to that. But there’s also truth to this: when it feels like you’re working harder and harder without seeing results, you’re really just making mistakes.
I can say it because I’ve done it. My most memorable mistakes are shared here. Hopefully you’ll get a good chuckle at my expense and also sidestep a few of your own epic fails.
Death by SaaS
I get hooked on functionality pretty easily. Like, my website needs to do X. Or I need to have reporting that says Y. Or, my personal favorite, this super-specialized SaaS widget will save me time and that justifies the cost, right?
Yeah, I was collecting SaaS subscriptions like they were rookie cards.
At one point, I was paying for four different social media tools plus SEMRush in support of a single website. My outlay on those things was in excess of $200 monthly, or $2,400 a year. If you’re profitable, that spend is four digits of income even after you discount it for taxes. If you’re not profitable, that SaaS expense might be the reason why.
Today, I pay about $20 total monthly for social media and SEO tools. I haven’t given up any functionality either, thanks to AppSumo.
AppSumo sells lifetime access to up-and-coming software products for a one-time fee. For example, I use MissingLettr for all my Twitter and Facebook posting and I paid just $49 one-time for that. My biggest AppSumo win is video maker Rocketium, which also cost me $49. It’s comparable to Lumen5 which’ll set you back $49/month.
Now all I need is a Tailwind competitor to show up on AppSumo. If that happens, I’ll drop them faster than you can spell SaaS.
That’s not to say everything on AppSumo is a dream. Some of the titles are pretty rough, like the web security plugin that completely broke my website a week after I installed it. Thankfully, I did get a refund through the “no questions asked” refund policy.
The point: don’t load up on SaaS products. They’ll strangle you.
Don’t Bow Down to Google
Google Tools are Not Always Better
Over time, I found myself using a bunch of Google tools — Gmail, GSuite, Adsense, Adwords, Google Voice to name a few. And I’m not sure why I was loading up on Google stuff, either. Maybe I thought it was what the cool kids did. Or maybe I thought Google would magically reward me for my loyalty with more traffic to my website.
Nope. Turns out it doesn’t work that way.
After a long and slow decline in my Google traffic, I became entrenched in a “I hate Google” mindset — something I’ve since named Google-anger. In the course of one month, I dumped Adsense for Mediavine, Gmail for Zohomail, Gsuite for Office (yes, Microsoft!) and Google Voice for Line2.
I even looked for an alternative to Google Analytics, but couldn’t find a suitable replacement.
The shining star of the great Google purge of 2018 turned out to be ZohoMail. It’s cheaper than Gmail with way more functionality. And it’s not irrelevant functionality, either. It’s rules, templates and integrations that save me tons of time, my most precious asset.
The point: Google stuff isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s just plain worse.
Amp: A Terrible, Expensive Distraction
My adventures in amp are possibly my biggest regret as a blogger. Truly. I launched an amp version of my website in 2016 and spent two years working more and making less.
An early mistake on my part was to use Amp for WP instead of the official Amp plugin. Amp for WP is an extraordinarily confusing piece of software that, for me, seemed to have a mind of its own. Things would randomly break, plugin conflicts would arise out of nowhere and an adjustment to certain settings would only work sometimes.
Meanwhile, my amp pages had terrible engagement stats and ad performance. The more amp traffic I got, the less money I made.
With some help from the folks at Mediavine, I rolled back all the amp pages last year. It turned out to be no small effort, thanks to some inexplicable issues with the Amp for WP plugin. But now I have a more engaged audience, better-performing ad inventory and fewer headaches.
The point: Just because Google says to do it doesn’t mean you should.
SEO is Not a Skill You Need to Learn
Since we’re on the Google topic, let’s talk about SEO. For years, I subscribed to a bunch of digital marketing newsletters to stay current on SEO best practices. I read all the articles, and did my best to implement all the stuff.
In hindsight, all that DIY SEO was an enormous waste of time and energy. You can spend all day studying up or all day implementing what you’ve learned. Either way, the result probably isn’t going to be life-changing search traffic. And you will have consumed energy that you could have put towards developing life-changing content for your audience.
The point: Don’t try to “do” SEO on your own. It’s way too much work with little reward. Keep your site well-organized and produce the best content you can.
Managing Your Own Ads Stinks
Several years ago, I had a now-defunct ad partner named Mode. The ad inventory performed OK, but I kept thinking it should be better.
So at one point, I cancelled the Mode contract and implemented Google Adsense on the site instead. Of course, this required a handful of Wordpress plugins to get it working the way I wanted. But even so, the revenue impact of the switch was positive.
Fast forward a few more years, and I’m fairly fed up with the time required to maintain all those ad-related plugins. Something was always broken, it seemed, and then I’d have to find a solution, a work-around or a new plugin with the same functionality.
Around the same time, I was struggling with declining ad revenue and Google-anger, thanks to amp and lackluster search traffic.
The Google-anger boiled over and I took all the Adsense ads off my site and deleted all those ad-related plugins. Though I was reluctant to go with an ad network due to a bad experience with Mode, I eventually opened an account with Mediavine. Turned out to be a fabulous decision, because I’m making more without all the maintenance responsibilities I had before. If something breaks, Mediavine fixes it.
The point: do what it takes to find an ad partner that makes you money and makes your life easier.
You Can’t Outwork the Job of Blogging
Even when blogging was a side-hustle for me, I operated under the assumption that I could out-work the job. If I accomplished more, checked more boxes on the to-do list, success would follow.
This is a dangerous thought pattern for bloggers because it’s a lie. There’s no possible way you can ride the busyness train to success. You’ll end up with gray hair, bags under your eyes and per-hour earnings that are well below the poverty level.
Today, I’m focused on working less while making more. Identify the things you’re best at and do those. Let the rest go. If Twitter isn’t your thing, just let it go. If Instagram takes up two hours a day and it’s producing no revenue for you, let it go.
It sounds simple, right? Except that it’s not, or wasn’t for me. I was hung up on the idea that working more and working harder would pay off. It doesn’t. Focusing on your productivity only kills your spirit when you repeatedly fail to complete the to-do list each and every day.
The point: Let the busyness go. Remember that you are a whole person — not just a blogger machine — and you bring value to the world in many ways. Your content and your decision-making will improve if you take care of yourself. I promise.
When I made this list of my big blogger mistakes, the count was actually 25. These are the first six. I figure I’ll stop here as you might be bored to tears. Let me know if you want to hear the rest of them. :)