Why blogging about what you love is the key to long-term success

It’s true what they say. If you create a website solely for profit and don’t care about the subject matter it will be very difficult to make it into a viable long-term operation. Only by blogging about what you love can you create a blog which others will find interesting and you can enjoy running for the long term.

blogging about what you love

Things used to be a little bit different

First, a “back in the day” moment.

Over the years, I had literally hundreds of different websites. Some larger, most smaller. Back in the early 2000’s, topics were up for grabs and search engines were easy to manipulate. I confess: I was part of the big pseudo-SEO festival of the period. I even scored key phrases in some lucrative niches such as loans (and actually, lawns too, but that’s a different kind of niche and far less profitable in terms of Adwords bids 😉 ).

These weren’t negative experiences. Some of them generated an excellent ROI for the time invested in making them. I had a website about the thrillingly fascinating topic of DVD cases back at the time. It made hundreds of dollars a month from Adsense and Amazon. Making it was fun but creating content on a regular basis was impossible. It was the dullest thing ever. At least for me. I’m sure there are people out there who find the topic of DVD cases genuinely fascinating. I don’t know any of them but with more than 7 billion people on this planet, they must exist somewhere.

Blogging About What You Love Is No Longer Optional

Things have changed on the internet. It’s no longer about gaming search engines into sending you traffic. It’s about putting yourself forward – as an actual person – and delivering engaging content.

I’ve blogged about the what makes blogs so successful. The key elements setting actual blogs apart from general sites include having an real person at the helm and producing a constant stream of fresh relevant on-topic content.

And that only works if you write about things you care deeply about. Blogging about what you love is no longer a perk. It should be your key guideline and form the core of your strategic plan.

With that in mind, let’s look at the –

3 Key Benefits To Blogging About What You Love

1. Research becomes fun!

If you are passionate about soccer then you probably read websites and blogs about the game anyway. You do that because you enjoy expanding your knowledge and learning from others. Isn’t it awesome that you’re actually working while doing that? All it takes is getting organized, taking notes and bookmarking resources and you have the perfect background materials for writing your own fascinating post about the Euro 2016 Games!

2. Writing becomes fun!

And it shows. When you write about something you love, your passion shines through. When that happens, people listen. Just like when you talk with your friends about your favorite topic. Enthusiasm is catching and it can make your blog content more sticky. It’s hard to fake too. Blogging about what you love lends your style a degree of authenticity that can’t be achieved without passion.

3. Connecting with others becomes easier

Authenticity also makes it easier – and again, more fun – to connect with other bloggers. Leaving a comment on their latest blog post, you will probably go beyond the “thank you for your post” line because you truly will have something of value to contribute. It will also be easier to interact on Twitter, Pinterest or whatever social network is right for your niche. You are probably already following that topic there anyway and know who the industry leaders are. When your knowledge of a topic comes from the heart, it’s easier to reply, like and otherwise engage them. Which in return means you get better exposure and more traffic.

Blogging about things that I love

These days I focus on topics I enjoy. I’ve learned that researching and writing are my strong suits and so I focus on creating quality pages and posts on topics that engage my own interest.

My passions in life are pets and travel. Guess what? I currently have three websites about pets and two about travel. They cover different niches so they don’t compete with each other. Sometimes topics do align and when that happens, I try to give each blog its own unique flavor and perspective.

Oh, and I blog about blogging too! Right here!

So, no more “DVD Cases”?

Hmmm, I did say “most” of my websites, didn’t I? There are a couple of blogs that I manage which deal with topics that, shall we say, I am not entirely obsessed with. It’s much more of a challenge, let me tell you. Researching I can do. Writing I can also do, and I try to bring my own life experience and create my own “voice”. Connecting with others is a whole lot more difficult though.

They are part of my new “Blogging Re-launched” project which I talk about here. Will they be as successful as the other blogs? I guess only time will tell. For now, my advice to those of you who are considering blogging and wondering which niche to choose: Blogging about what you love is the way to go.

 

Developing sites on topics that interest me

It’s true what they say. If you create a website solely for profit and don’t care about the subject matter it will be very difficult to make it into a viable long-term operation.

Over the years, I ran literally hundreds of different websites. Some larger, most smaller. Back in the early 2000’s topics were up for grabs and search engines were easy to manipulate. I confess: I was part of the big pseudo-SEO festival of the period. I even scored key phrases in some lucrative niches such as loans (and actually, lawns too, but that’s a different kind of niche and far less profitable in terms of Adwords bids 😉 ).

These weren’t negative experiences. Some of them generated an excellent ROI for the time invested in making them. I had a website about the thrillingly fascinating topic of DVD cases back at the time. It made hundreds of dollars a month from Adsense and Amazon. Making it was fun but creating content on a regular basis was impossible. It was the dullest thing ever. At least for me. I’m sure there are people out there who find the topic of DVD cases genuinely interesting. I don’t know any of them but with more than 7 billion people on this planet, they must exist somewhere.

These days I focus on topics that I enjoy. I’ve learned that researching and writing are my strong suits and so I focus on creating quality blogs on topics that engage my own interest.

I think I know by now that my passions in life are pets and travel. They’re a terrible match together, by the way. They clash. I’m a responsible pet owner and when I travel, I need to know that my pets are in the best hands possible. That used to be possible in the past, when we lived near our extended family. It’s not longer the case. If I get a pet and we go out traveling, said pet will have to either stay home alone with daily visits from a pet sitter, or spend the duration of the time in a boarding facility. Our trips tend to be long, sometimes for months at a time, so no, I really prefer not to leave a pet without its loving owner for so long.

Which means right now, I’m pet-less. I crave having a companion animal to share my life with and I’m trying to get at least some of that longing and direct it into creating more websites about my favorite pets.

So, topics that I currently have websites on are cats and travel. What will the next big project be? I’m definitely toying with the idea of starting a website about parrots. I rescued a parrot a few months ago and fostered it for a whole week. I was not ready to adopt (for the reasons detailed above) so having failed to find its owners, I found it a good forever home. I fell in love though. And ever since then I’ve been researching and learning all I can about parrots. I figure, why not turn that into a website? Just like I do here, I can blog about the things I read and learn, along with my own insights and put them into good use for other people as well.

Hopefully, hookbilled birds is going to be a topic that will keep me interested for a long while. In a few years time, when my wanderlust subsides (or I get too old and frail for extensive travel), I can fulfill my other fantasy and share my life with cats and parrots! Until then, websites will be my only therapy for my cravings.

What’s up with this schema.org business?

Ok, yeah, I’ve been living under a rock for the past few years. Sue me (not really, please don’t! I’ve been sued before and it’s not at all fun).

These past few years I focused almost exclusively on creating quality content and managing an online community. I’m fortunate to have my main website on a platform where there are experts who handle everything related to SEO etc. They spared me having to follow Google’s antics for a few years which I was grateful for.

With a bit more time on my hands (thank you, Adderall! Love ya!) I’m resurrecting some old blogs and website. Which means getting re-acquainted with the Google Webmasters Tools which apparently is now called the Search Console.

And so, this week my mind is riddled with terms such as “rich snippets”, “structured data” and their evil source: Schema.org.

Let’s see what I got so far.

About six years ago, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft got together and decided the Internet is too big and it’s getting hard for them to figure it out. So, they are now asking webmasters to insert new code into web pages which should tell their search engines what specific pages, paragraphs or words mean.

They actually came up with an entire vocabulary for that and take pride in their search engines “understanding” concepts such as events, movies, books, stars and libraries. This vocabulary is listed in detail in a website set up for the purpose in Schema.org.

In that website, they give the following example –

<h1>Avatar</h1> tells the browser to display the text string “Avatar” in a heading 1 format. However, the HTML tag doesn’t give any information about what that text string means—”Avatar” could refer to the hugely successful 3D movie, or it could refer to a type of profile picture—and this can make it more difficult for search engines to intelligently display relevant content to a user.

Poor search engines. They can’t tell what the meaning of the word “avatar” is on our pages. We have to help them out by adding lines of code around the term. In this case –

<div itemscope itemtype="http://schema.org/Movie">

Oh, cool! Now Google can tell it’s a movie! Hooray! So much easier now.

Dear Google, have you lost your mind?

Wasn’t the whole point to make your search engine smart enough so it can tell whether the word “avatar” is used to describe a movie or a profile picture?

For decades Matt Cutts has been telling us webmasters to focus on the surfer. To keep our content interesting and relevant to human readers and let Google do the rest.  To avoid having any content in code that’s not available to the human surfer and doesn’t show up in the browser. The exception was things like image tags because reading the content of images was too hard at first. I was expecting even that to disappear in the future, now that search engines are learning to interpret images.

I’m getting a de-ja-vous. It’s like I’m back in the year 2000 now and need to start keyword stuffing all over again. Sure, it’s a whole new “markup language” and it’s around elements and not in the header but the concept is not all that different: Add words to your page which your users can’t see and search engines can.

And of course, Schema.org has become an “SEO thing” now. One of those things “SEO experts” can do for you, the owner and author of a quality content website. No longer will you be able to rank based on the quality of your content and not even based on the vote of confidence from others (i.e. genuine quality links).

Don’t get me wrong. I get that rich snippets are used for displaying information on search results. They’re relevant to some items, like events, products etc. and yes, ok, they can give those who search Google a better user experience. My problem is that they’re used to favor some websites over others merely because they look prettier on the SERP’s. Site A could be far better than Site B but it’s not displayed that nicely on the search results, so let’s serve the users with site B.

And we all know what the end result is. An arms race between webmasters to give Google what it wants. I’ve been reading more current posts saying how in 2016, only a fraction of web pages implement these tags yet these are the pages that make up about a third of the actual SERP’s. In other words, a pretty huge advantage.

We need Google traffic, there’s no going around it. Even if that means we need to put a LOT of time into something which has ZERO effect on the user experience on our website. After all, we’ll do whatever Google wants to get our site to rank higher. Pretty much to the point of (and possibly including) sacrificing a black goat at midnight.

So, now that I got this off my chest, I guess it’s time to head over to Schema.org and fire up  Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper. Time to add a bunch of pointless code to my pages. I guess it’s still less messy than slaughtering that goat, huh?

 

 

Hyphenated domains: Are they a total waste of money?

I just bought a domain name on Godaddy for a new project. I really love that phase of a project. Searching for a good domain always feels like a treasure hunt. And yes, you sometimes still do find treasures out there. But not often. Which calls for some tough decisions, such as whether or not to go with hyphenated domains.

hyphenated domains

It’s 2016 and keyword.com domains have been taken literally decades ago. Some of the owners actually develop their domains. Others just squat over them, charging exuberant sums from any interested party. Not really an option when all you want to do is start a new blog on something you’re interested in.

So, we’re talking about domains with at least two words in them.

Anything with “blog” as the second word is taken. Duh!  Most other cool words like “love”, “lover”, “fun”, “central” or “about” are long gone as well. Some are available though and my keyword (a type of pet) was available in several fairly tolerable combinations.

Why even consider hyphenated domains then?

Some combinations just don’t work well without a hyphen. Everyone knows that famous example Matt Cutts used, right? How Experts-Exchange has to be hyphenated or people will read it as Expert-Sex-Change. Ha, ha.

Does that mean Matt Cutts ever recommended hyphens in domain names? Not that I’m aware of. That video is all about URL structure and how Google reads words. The message was that hyphens are used as separators of words while underscores are not. Hardly relevant to domain names.

Some SEO experts claim that whether a domain is hyphenated or not should not really matter. Hmmm, I can see how in theory that could be the case. After all, why would anyone be penalized for a hyphen if everything else is ok. I am guessing that’s the case.

That said, how many popular websites do you know with hyphens in their domain names? I can’t really think of any, to be honest. The ones that have words like “blog” or “forums” in their domain name, for example, seem to avoid hyphens and do well without them.

Hyphenated domains used to be relevant

I still remember the time when hyphenated domain names were hugely popular. Back then, in the early Jurassic era, people used extreme SEO tactics to create and promote what was basically MFA (Made for Adsense with some Amazon thrown in that A for good measure 😉 ). I know because I had such sites myself. There was a time when this was a viable and productive way to make money online. I promise you, a decade ago nobody considered this spam or blackhat SEO. It used to be a legitimate way to optimize your blog or website for the search engines.

Then the bad guys took over and spammed Google like crazy with sites that had shitty content. And by shitty (pardon my French) I mean either illegal scraper sites or sites that can barely be considered to be in English – those produced by word jumbling algorithms. The first type (scrapers) are illegal. The second type should be.

Using software to mass produce these junk sites means their producers couldn’t care less about what their domain name sounds like to surfers. In an effort to SEO to the extreme, they used domain names that had 2, 3 or even 4 keywords. These were almost always hyphenated. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe the hyphenated ones were easy to find (so why waste time searching for non-hyphenated ones) or maybe they thought this was in fact better SEO.

The bottom line is: hyphenated domain names have become a trademark of junk websites. And if I can see that as a surfer, I am pretty sure Google sees it as well. After all, the whole point about the Google algorithm is that it tries to be as intelligent as a human being using the web.

So, are hyphenated domains always a bad idea?

Well, I will say that. I have very mature domain names that I use which are hyphenated and as far as I can tell they’re doing well on Google. You could say this proves that hyphens don’t matter but I suspect Google realizes that old websites – well over a decade old – were created in a different environment. Or it could be that they are mature enough for Google to realize they’re good sites despite the initial flag the hyphens may have raised. I still think a new website that starts out with hyphenated words could suffer.

Which is why – after some deliberation – I decided to go with a non-hyphenated domain name. I finally found the combination that works for me and will start working on the new project today (WordPress files being uploaded as I’m typing this!) Now, all I need to do is start working on some top notch content and hope for the best!

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate – that is the question

I just bought a domain name on Godaddy for a new project.

Searching for a good domain is kinda fun and always a challenge. It’s 2016 and your keyword.com domains have been taken literally decades ago. Some are being used, most are being squatted over with their owners demanding exuberant prices, often in the six-digit realm. Not really an option when all you want to do is start a new blog on something you’re interested in.

So, two words then.

Anything with “blog” as the second word is taken. Duh!  Most other cool words like “love”, “lover”, “fun”, “central” or “about” are long gone as well. Some are available though and my keyword (a type of pet) was available in several fairly tolerable combinations.

However, some of these combinations just don’t work well without a hyphen. Everyone knows that famous example Matt Cutts used, right? How Experts-Exchange has to be hyphenated or it can be read as Expert-Sex-Change. Ha, ha.

Does that mean Matt Cutts ever recommended hyphens in domain names? Not that I’m aware of. That video where that example was used is all about URL structure and how Google reads words and the message was that hyphens are used as separators of words while underscores are not. Hardly relevant to domain names.

Some SEO experts claim that whether a domain is hyphenated or not should not really matter. Hmmm, I can see how in theory that could be the case. After all, why would anyone be penalized for a hyphen if everything else is ok. I am guessing that’s the case.

That said, how many popular websites do you know with hyphens in their domain names? I can’t really think of any, to be honest. The ones that have words like “blog” or “forums” in their domain name, for example, seem to avoid hyphens and do well without them.

I still remember the time when hyphenated domain names were hugely popular because people used more extreme SEO tactics to create and promote what was basically MFA (Made for Adsense with some Amazon thrown in that A for good measure 😉 ). I know because I had such sites myself and there was a time when this was viable and productive way to make money online. I promise you, a decade ago this wasn’t even considered spam and it was neither spam nor blackhat SEO. Just a legitimate way to optimize your blog or website for the search engines.

Then the bad guys took over and spammed Google like crazy with sites that had shitty content. And by shitty (pardon my French) I mean either illegal scraper sites or sites that can barely be considered to be in English – those produced by word jumbling algorithms. The first type (scrapers) are illegal. The second type should be.

Using software to mass produce these junk sites means their producers couldn’t care less about what their domain name sounds like to surfers. In an effort to SEO to the extreme, their solution was to use domain names that had 2, 3 or even 4 keywords. These were almost always hyphenated. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe the hyphenated ones were easy to find (so why waste time searching for non-hyphenated ones) or maybe they thought this was in fact better SEO.

The bottom line is: hyphenated domain names have become a trademark of junk websites. And if I can see that as a surfer, I am pretty sure Google sees it as well. After all, the whole point about the Google algorithm is that it tries to be as intelligent as a human being using the web.

One point worth mentioning here. I have very mature domain names that I use which are hyphenated and as far as I can tell they’re doing well on Google. You could say this was proof that hyphens don’t matter but I suspect Google realizes that old websites, more than a decade old, were created in a different environment. Or it could be that they are mature enough for Google to have realized they’re good sites despite the initial flag the hyphens may have raised. I still think a new website that starts out with hyphenated words could suffer.

Which is why – after some deliberation – I decided to go with a non-hyphenated domain name.  That’s quite limiting though because too many combinations are difficult to read, especially if your main word is plural and ends with an S. Forget any second word that start with an H, for example.  Even with a singular form, any second word which begins with a vowel could be trouble. Or not, depending on the sound it creates.

I finally found my combination and will start working on the new project today (WordPress files being uploaded as I’m typing this!) Now, all I need to do is start working on some top notch content and hope for the best!

Should I buy a website through Flippa

I’ve been a webmistress for more than 16 years now. The sites I bought were few and far between. I don’t own any of them anymore. None of them made enough of a profit to register in my memory.

So, why buy a website at all? Good question. I currently have several websites. I enjoy working on them but I my real passion is and always has been starting new projects. It’s my ADHD, I think. I don’t do well with repetitive work and though I develop my sites with new internal projects (I love those!) I always have new sites at the back of my mind.

I am not doing this for the money. Yes, I make money through web publishing but for me it’s never been about the money per se. My motivation comes in part from wanting to share my thoughts and ideas with the world and making a difference and in part from enjoying the game.

So, where were we? Yes, new websites. Well, my preferred and usual method of operation is to start a new website (case in point, this is the first post in a new blog). I am not a typical “domain hunter” but I enjoy searching for domain names on Godaddy every now and again. It’s also good to get some practice in site publishing, some HTML, CSS, PHP-hacking or just installing WordPress. It’s good to get one’s hands into the mud every once in awhile 😉

That said, a brand new website can take a long while to take off. I don’t play dirty where it comes to site promotion. No buying links (and no selling them either, by the way). I’m not too crazy about social media promotion either. I’ve had mixed results with Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and at this point, I keep SM promotion to a minimum and reserve it to my larger more active websites. I don’t feel it’s a good suit for a new website.

The bottom line is, websites grow like snowballs. They start small and grow in increments. As they grow, the increments of growth grow along with them. It can be a long and frustrating period at first, when your traffic is growing by single digits a week…

So, I’m thinking this in itself is a good reason to buy a young – yet somewhat established – website. If I could find a webmaster who shares my way of thinking and working and if that person is simply a year into a similar project, on a topic I’m interested in, well… in that case, I’ll be happy to pay the realistic worth of said website. If they want to sell, that is.

Which brings me to Flippa. As I said, I’ve not a heavy-player where it comes to domain or website markets. I’ve been eyeing listings on Flippa for some time now and I even placed a few bids here and there. My passion wasn’t in them and I never won. That’s probably a good thing.

I’ve been reading today about buying websites on Flippa and apparently, scams abound. Now, mind, I am not after the “too good to be true” sites that are sold for X2 their alleged monthly revenue. I am too old and wise to fall for such obvious traps, thank you very much. My problem is, I have no idea of knowing whether the ones selling websites for a reasonable X12-X24 the monthly revenues aren’t just blowing up numbers to make even more off a scam. In which case, being scammed out of $12K is going to be so much more painful than being scammed out of$500, right?

Well, as I said, fortunately, I haven’t been tempted by any offer to the point of bidding in the $XXX range. Still checking there on a weekly basis though. In the meanwhile, I’ve been doing some reading and so I want to use this page/post as my bookmark with synopsis. I hope it can help others as well. I found tons of blog posts explaining how Flippa works and providing advice such as “create an account” and a walkthrough. Not too interesting. These three posts however did have some merit in them, for me at least –

How I Lost $650 Buying A Website On Flippa And How You Can Avoid It

In a nutshell : Dave Schneider from Ninja Outreach shares his experience of buying a website that “sells” social media followers. The seller included his “marketing strategies” yet Dave had zero success implementing them. The site tanked despite a lot of effort and some investment.  There are other insights from Dave and it’s an excellent blog post so I highly recommend reading it, especially if this a kind of website you consider buying (it’s not for me).

My take from this: Never agree to take a deal off Flippa. At the very least keep the ability to report a deal and/or leave feedback on a seller.

Website due diligence: How to avoid scams on Flippa?

In a nutshell: Blogger Jasom Dotnet shares the story of a website his company bought via Flippa. Within a day of Google Analytics data it was clear the traffic stated on the sale was 100% generated by bots. Bad bad scammers! Jasom offers a detailed report of everything that was suspicious, both in GA and in other aspects. He seems to know what he’s talking about and offers a service that evaluates sites for potential scams. It’s an interesting post and worth reading. Even if you don’t hire his services, there’s a lot of information you can get from the post itself.

My take from this: You can dispute a site sell within 72 hours and Flippa will get refund your money.

Flippa.com – Buying and Selling Websites/Domains

In a nutshell: Eric Borgos providing an overview of his experience with Flippa following more than 100 transactions. It’s an interesting “bird’s eye view” report with less drama and a down-to-earth approach. He’s managed to avoid scams but he does mention that once he took over, almost all of the sites were making half as much as they professed to have been making in the sale description.

My take from this: If you buy, keep your expectations low. The sellers may not be spammers, just overly “optimistic”.