HIKING & BACKPACKING NICHE, 5 YEARS IN, MAKING 95,000 PER YEAR
Q: First, tell us a little about you and your blog income journey –
when did you start, what do you blog about, how much time do you put into it etc. I understand that you’re not blogging about blogging, so talking about your income in specific numbers is something you might not do – but IF you’re willing to share how much you earn on average in a month, we’d LOVE to know.
A: I first started dabbling with blogging around 4-5 years ago. I was working a full-time job, had just gotten married, and was looking for ways to earn a little side income, and had heard that making money online with a blog was an actual “thing”.
One of the first blogs I started was in the “fitness” niche, and within about 10 months of working on it as a side project (maybe 10 hours per week), I had reached my first $5,000 month, all monetized with Amazon:
The problem was, at the time I was using some pretty shady SEO tactics to help my site rank higher in Google to get traffic back to my blog — things like buying backlinks on Fiverr (note: do NOT do this) and producing some pretty low-quality content.
At the time, back in 2014, Google wasn’t as smart as it is now, so you could get away with using these shady SEO techniques, and for a while, they worked …
Until they didn’t.
It took Google almost 15 months to catch on, but when they did, the dropped the hammer on my fitness blog and penalized my site:
Just like that, overnight, I went from making $5,000 per month to making zero.
All my traffic, all my earnings, gone.
The truth is, I deserved it. I was taking shortcuts with my SEO because it was the easy thing to do, but I wasn’t adding much value with the content I was producing, and the links I was “building” were mostly spam.
But this taught me an important lesson: SEO, when executed properly, was a powerful traffic generator that could earn me several thousand dollars per month.
So at the beginning of 2016, I decided to start again, from scratch, with a new blog — this time in the hiking & backpacking niche.
I went about building out this blog with an entirely new approach, namely producing high quality content and using legit SEO techniques (like guest posting) to help grow my traffic.
And by the end of its second year, I had grown this blog to more than $95,000 in revenue, all from the Amazon affiliate program:
And since I was using SEO for my traffic (as opposed to Pinterest), the income was mostly passive, and I was still only putting in about 10 hours per week, as I continued to work full time at my day job:
At the beginning of this year, I ended up selling this site, and I’ve started a brand new one in a different niche, and I’m hoping to see similar results 🙂
Q: Why do you think your blog is able to make money when so many others aren’t? What have you done differently?
A: I think a lot of mistakes new bloggers make is they don’t know their target audience and they don’t know how they’re going to monetize their blog.
They kind of just “start a blog” and write about topics that are all over the place and don’t really solve any problems that their audience is facing.
When I start a blog in a new niche, I make sure to study and validate the niche to make sure it’s profitable.
Things that I like to look for:
- Are there any other blogs in the same niche that are getting lots of traffic? (You can use SimilarWeb to get traffic estimates)
- If so, how strong is the competition? Is it made up of huge “authority” sites that I’ll have a hard time competing against, or is it mostly made up of other bloggers like myself, which provides a more even playing field?
- How are these blogs monetizing their traffic? Is it mostly display ads (which require a ton of traffic to monetize), or are they using a lot of affiliate marketing, or maybe even selling their own product?
If I’m evaluating a new niche to enter and I don’t see a lot of traffic opportunities, or I think the competition is too strong, or I don’t see a clear path forward to monetize, then I’ll pass and move on to analyzing a different niche.
But that’s only the first step. Just because you’ve identified a solid niche doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be able to make money.
For that, you need traffic … which leads nicely into your next question.
Q: What was your biggest hurdle to earning an income with your blog… and how did you overcome it?
A: I think the biggest hurdle any blogger faces is being able to drive targeted, organic traffic back to their blog.
Anyone can throw up a WordPress site, pump out some quality content, and share their content on social media and get indexed in Google, but being able to generate targeted traffic is always the biggest hurdle.
To me, you really only have two options when it comes to organic traffic.
Option #1: Pinterest
I’m the furthest thing from a Pinterest expert, so I’ll let others in this roundup offer advice on this topic.
My only thoughts on Pinterest, after seeing so many bloggers get their accounts banned, or their Pins stolen, or their traffic fall off the map, or BoardBooster getting shut down, is that you probably want to diversify traffic streams if 90% of your traffic is coming from Pinterest.
Option #2: SEO
There are really 4 main reasons I use SEO as my go-to traffic source:
Google traffic is extremely targeted — a visitor is actively looking for information and/or a solution to their problem
- Google traffic is largely passive — once you are ranking, you don’t have to do much “maintenance” to make that traffic stick (unlike Pinterest with a never-ending stream of active Pinning)
- Google traffic is mostly consistent — unlike Pinterest’s crazy algorithm changes, Google’s algorithm is much more consistent if you know what you’re doing
- Diversification! — if 100% of traffic comes from Pinterest, your blog’s traffic and business is completely dependent on their algorithm changes
If you want to learn more about how you can use SEO to grow your blog, feel free to check out my SEO For Bloggers post.
Learning how to do SEO for every blog I build has definitely helped me the most when it comes to helping clear that “traffic hurdle”.
Q: Can you share you best advice for how to make money with a blog?
A: Here’s an abbreviated 5-step process I like to follow:
- Identify a profitable niche that you’ll be able to compete in (both with your content quality, and your marketing)
- Understand everything you need to know about your target audience — their pain points, what they need help with, what they enjoy reading & sharing, what things they like buying
- Focus on creating exceptional quality content that helps your audience solve their problems (for example, here’s a piece of high quality content I created for my personal finance site)
- Pick one or two marketing strategies to drive targeted traffic back to your blog — for short term traffic, Pinterest is good; for long-term, more sustainable traffic, SEO is best
- Know how to monetize that traffic with your own product, an affiliate offer, or at the very least, display ads
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