I started this blog back in 2006 – which, WOW, kinda wish I hadn’t brought this up now, because, damn, that makes me feel old.
Aaaand, I kinda wish I hadn’t brought that up either, to be honest: because I can pretty much guarantee someone’s going to be offended by it, and want to call me out for ageism, or something else that blog readers of 2006 might have raised an eyebrow at, but probably wouldn’t have gone into all-out war over, the way people do today.
Which actually helps to prove the point of this post, really: the fact is, 2020 is very different from 2006, isn’t it?. The world is different. And, if you’re starting a blog in 2020, you have to think differently about it, too.
Here are a few of the things I’d do differently if I was starting a blog in 2020, rather than than back in the days when Sienna Miller was our biggest style icon, and everyone was quietly convinced that skinny jeans were just NEVER going to catch on…
I’d have a plan
Like many people at the time, I started my blog on a complete whim, using a free blogging platform, and the first theme I found. I had no real idea what I wanted to write about, who my audience might be, or what I wanted to get out of it, and I had no real plans to find out, either. Hey, I wonder why I’m not super-famous by now? I mean, seriously, though?
In my defence, this was long before blogging went “mainstream”, and before people started making careers out of it, too, but it still seems just a little bit short-sighted, knowing what I know now, so, if I was starting again from scratch, I’d take it much more seriously, and spend a bit of time on the planning stage, before even thinking about making the site live.
This would obviously require a huge amount of self-control, because I’m the kind of person who decides to do something and then wants it done, like, yesterday, but, on the plus side, at least it would give me an excuse to buy some new notebooks, and make lots of lists, so there’s that.
Seriously, though: gone are the days when you can realistically expect to start a blog in your lunch hour and make it up as you go along. (Well, I mean, you CAN… but you probably won’t get very far with it…), so, if you’re getting into blogging in 2020 (or later), my advice would be to take it seriously, and give it a LOT of thought.
If you want to turn it into a career, I’d even go so far as to suggest you sit down and put together a business plan, as well as thinking long and hard about things like marketing and branding. And if all of that sounds like too much effort, then I’d respectfully suggest that blogging might not be the right career for you after all…
I’d niche down
OK, here’s the bit where I go back on everything I’ve said in the past: well, sort of, anyway. I’ve always said in order to be successful, and I still stand by that to an extent: in my case, I know that trying to stick to a traditional niche (I get bored, basically, and either run out of steam altogether, or end up having to force myself to write about topics I’m just not interested in – which never works out well.), and that’s not something I can see changing.
With that said, however, while I’m not going to claim that a blog can’t possibly survive without a niche, I do have to acknowledge that, in today’s climate, it can be helpful to have one. The fact is, people like to know what to expect from a blog, and are more likely to follow or subscribe to one when they know every post is going to be relevant to them, rather than just some of them. I really wish this wasn’t the case, because I personally like to write about a range of different topics, but, of course, there are ways to do that while still being faithful to your “niche”.
In my case, I like to think my “niche” is my audience: I might not always stick to the same topic, but I DO always have a particular kind of person in mind who my content is targeted at, and that helps tie (almost) everything together. This works for me – up to a point – but it’s taken me a long time to work out who my target audience are, and to start tailoring my content to them, so, if I were starting over from scratch, this is definitely something I’d give much more thought to than the absolutely zero thought I gave it when I was starting out.
I’d make every post my absolute best work
Well, I’d try to, anyway. Back when I started my blog, social media wasn’t really a thing yet (Yes, I know, I’m ancient…), and the result was that people used to use their blogs to post the kind of things that, these days, you’d be much more likely to share on Twitter or Instagram Stories, than devote an entire blog post to.
I say, “An entire blog post”: when I go back through my blog archives, I’m frequently amazed at the kind of things I considered worthy of a blog post. Some of those early posts are literally just one line, linking to a news story I’d read, or something else; other times it might just be a single (tiny, blurry) photo, accompanied by a few words of a caption – or nothing at all.
At the time, there wasn’t anything wrong with that – it was what everyone was doing after all – but looking back now, it actually really annoys me that my blog archive is so filled with… well, crap, basically. I read something a few weeks ago about how you should write each post as if your blog’s success depends on it – because it does – and I totally agree. If nothing else, I’d like to one day be able to look back through my archive and feel proud of everything I’ve published, so, if I was starting over from scratch, I’d do my best to make sure everything I wrote was actually worth publishing in the first place: it would save me a lot of time going back over old posts and improving/redirecting them.
I’d concentrate on evergreen/useful content rather than posts that will date
Back in 2006, most blogs were a ‘personal diary’ style – by which I mean actual diaries, in which people basically just recorded what they did each day, in minute detail. At the time, that kind of content fulfilled a need, in that it satisfied (some) people’s curiosity about other people’s lives: these days, of course, we have social media for that, and, honestly, I’m not sure there’s a lot of room left in the blogosphere for sites which are purely diaries, or which contain a large amount of content that’s of no use to anyone other than the author.
This isn’t an argument for never writing personal posts, by the way:for instance, are out of date as soon as they’re published, and they’re not remotely “useful”, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing them, because, as well as being some of my favourite posts to write, they’re also fun for me to look back on – and that has to count for something, right?
You know what isn’t fun OR useful to look back on, though, even to me? Posts about dresses or shoes I liked ten years ago, but didn’t actually buy. Articles about a sale that happened in 2009. Outdated wish lists, and gift guides full of items that sold out years ago. Some of those posts might have been mildly interesting/useful at the time, but they’re now just sitting there in the archive, never being read, and serving no purpose whatsoever. And there are a LOT of posts that fall into that category.
At the time of writing, this blog contains well over 2,000 articles, but I’d estimate that less than 10% of those posts are viewed on anything like a regular basis – because they’re no longer relevant to anyone. Imagine if ALL of those 2,000+ posts were still being read every day, though? The difference it would make to my traffic and revenue would be huge: and while it’s obviously unrealistic to expect every single post to stand the test of time, and still be just as relevant today as it was a decade ago, if even 50% of the articles on the site fell into that category, it would still make a dramatic difference to me.
If I were starting over, then, I’d keep the personal posts, but I’d leave the product links and sale roundups for social media: it’s the best place for them, after all…
I’d start a mailing list
To be fair, I DO actually have a mailing list: it’s just not a very popular one, because all it does is notify subscribers that there’s a new post on the blog, and most people don’t need email to tell them that. While my mailing list isn’t particularly useful to me, though, when they’re used correctly, I know newsletters/email lists can be a really effective form of marketing, so, if I were starting over, I’d put a lot more time and effort into growing mine: probably by offering some kind of opt-in, or other inducement for people to actually sign up to it.
How would I do this? Damned if I know. This is a totally hypothetical ‘starting over’ scenario we’re entertaining here, though, so let’s just pretend I’d know what I was doing in it, yes?
I’d think in terms of brand rather than than simply blog
Finally, I talked a bit about this in my post on , but, while every blog is different, I personally feel like the era of being able to make a decent income just from blog advertising and sponsored posts is on the way out. These days, bloggers need to think about more than just blogging itself if they want to make a living from it, and that means thinking of your business as a brand, rather than simply a stand-alone blog, and looking at other ways to monetise your content.
For some, that could mean writing books (You’ll find mine, just FYI…), or selling other digital products, while, for others, it might mean working on projects that aren’t directly connected to blogging itself, but in which your blog is basically used as showcase for other services, or as a way for prospective clients to find you. There are endless possibilities, and, if I was starting a blog in 2020, I’d want to start thinking about them right from the very start, rather than relying on just one or two income streams, as I did at the very start of my blogging career.
Of course, the good thing about all of these points is that you don’t actually HAVE to be starting a blog this year in order to put them all into action: they’re all things I’m trying to do more of with my existing blog, so I might not be ‘starting over’ but my blog is still very much a work in progress: and probably always will be…