Building a Better Blog: Money Doesn’t Matter

This seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? On a series on professional blogging on a personal finance site, I’m writing that money doesn’t matter? What gives?

The truth is that many people dream about becoming professional bloggers, but after blogging for a month, they peek at their AdSense account, see they’ve only earned $1.03, and they get very disheartened. They slow down their posting and move on to other things. A few months later, they see they’ve only earned $1.54 total and they abandon it entirely.

The problem is that they’re viewing their success by an unrealistic yardstick. In order to build up any significant amount of income on your site, you have to have readers. Once you have a lot of readers, money will start to drift in, but money simply won’t come without readers.

The real measure of a blog’s worth is its audience. There is no other measure of long-term success. Anyone that tells you otherwise is telling you a fairy tale to sell a product, likely an SEO tool.

Why is this so? Isn’t a measure of an item’s worth the amount of money it generates? Of course. I’ll use a simple analogy to explain. Your readership is much like the money you’ve invested over time; it’s the result of a lot of hard work and effort. Similarly, a blog’s income is the equivalent to the return on that investment. If you have a lot of money invested, you can expect a solid return on that money, right? But expecting great income from a blog with only a few readers is like putting ten dollars in a mutual fund and expecting to quickly become a millionaire.

In short, the income from your blog is pretty much the worst measure of success that you can have unless you’re near the top of the top blogs on Technorati. It’s similar to saying that you’re not a success because your investments only made $1 this year, but you only invested $10 to begin with.

Another wrinkle is that there is no strict relationship between readers and income outside of “more readers means more income”. There are countless variables in this relationship: total readers, propensity of readers to click on ads, value of your keywords, the current status of people participating in the advertising program, and so on.

What it comes down to is that you should measure your success based on your readership, not on your total income. The total income will come slowly, and it will vary; if you’re looking to get rich quick, you’ll never be successful blogging.

What metrics can you use for success, then? Here are a few good ones.

Google Analytics Sign up for Google Analytics to keep track of the visits and page views on your blog. It does a splendid job of showing you a wide diversity of angles on the visitors to your site, but two big measures of success are repeat visitors and pages per visitor. Whenever you can build increases on either one, your site is doing well.

Comment count Whenever people comment on your site, that means they’re taking an active interest in what you’re writing. Once they’ve reached the point of commenting, you’ve engaged them. Keep the conversation alive and you’ll do nothing but build up your investment in readers.

Feed readers Hook yourself up with Feedburner to keep track of your feed readers. Some people argue that people who read feeds are just gobbling your bandwidth, but the truth is that they are readers who are engaged enough with your site to incorporate it into their regular reading regimen. They’ll visit your individual posts and, even better, many feed readers are bloggers themselves who will link to you when you’re interesting.

Define your own success. No matter what you use to measure your site’s growth, be sure to set goals that are realistic. Don’t expect 80% week over week growth – it simply won’t happen over the long term. Instead, set your goals moderately and well in advance so that you have an achievable goal to work towards. For me, the goals involve page views and feed readers; if I can keep increasing these, I’m meeting my goals with The Simple Dollar.

Building a Better Blog is a month-long series at The Simple Dollar, outlining steps you can take to build a long-term healthy blog that will attract readers. Jump ahead to the next essay, Don’t Give Up, or back to the previous one, The Content Comes First.