Your blog is a financial investment and you should treat it as such. I know, that might be stretch to some - but I have 15 years worth of analytics for this very blog that shows what happens when you don’t.
I’ve always found it strange that those who are deeply involved in building the web don’t have any form of online presence. Most of that time I’ve thought of a website as a great advertisement that gives clients and employers a way of finding more out about you. It’s an inlet that search engines are going to index to send eyeballs your way. A landing page is all of these, but a blog is more than a billboard advertising skills for sale.
It’s only now, after some time learning about and practicing good financial principles I’ve realised a blog is more like a financial investment portfolio, like a pension or ISA. It requires regular, methodical investment to grow and compound to something greater than the sum of its parts over very long periods of time.
When I say investment, I’m not talking about spending actual money here - but dedication, effort and most importantly time. These comparisons can also be drawn between other content too, like videos but we are less likely to own the platform we publish with (say on youtube) so they could be withdrawn at a moments notice. The investment principles I’m talking about here are those I practice myself for passive investments.
Lets draw some parallels and define some terms - If we consider our blog the investment portfolio, the individual posts we add are the ways we make our investment into it. Our costs are that of creating them, mostly of time to come up with ideas, research, edit and publish them. I’m going to define our market as the types of subjects we might make posts about, so for me web development or business.
There are investment principles we can apply from investing based on my definitions above. These are preached by passive investors and well proven over the entire history of the stock market to work. Here I touch on 4 of them:
Make Regular Investments
Passive investing teaches that through regular investment in financial markets, we can benefit from the general upward trend that comes overall from stocks becoming more valuable long term. Sometimes markets may be down and therefore we benefit from the cheap price of an asset. We should invest anyway as this will yield bigger benefits to our assets overall. We should go against our emotions and do the opposite of what the herd is doing, even if in the short term it stings.
Here to draw a parallel with our blog we should produce blog content in times when the subject area (or market) we’re writing about might be booming or fallen out of favour for some reason. Through another investment of a post of equal size each month, we compound the value of our portfolio to visitors. If the subject matter comes back into vogue another month, we reap the benefits of having made an investment at a point when things were low.
A lot of this sort of behaviour is incredibly difficult when push comes to shove, because we have to work against what our emotions are telling us. The well behaved blogger invests regularly whatever the weather, whilst the less disciplined blogger won’t and their traffic will suffer as a result.
Be Prepared for the Long Term
Take a look at the above graph of searches for the Python programming language (a subject close to my own heart) shown by Google Trends since 2004. Whilst we can’t see exact numbers, we can clearly see that they’ve increased over time. It’s not a steady increase, but fluctuates quite a lot over the course of a year and slowly trends upward.
Early Python bloggers who have regularly written posts throughout this period get to reap the benefits since Python has grown in popularity. If however, we give up early on and perhaps take our site down because we see no interest in what we’re writing, we’ll never get to enjoy them.
Diversify Your Portfolio
A passive investor will invest within a fund or ETF that is well diversified, meaning it’s exposed to many different asset classes and locations. For me, I might diversify my blog by making posts about a variety of subjects in the web development space. Some months, Django might take my fancy, other months it may be Vue.js, DevOps or the minutiae of unit tests.
This seems counter to what good blogging practice might say, where we should “niche down” on a particular topic in order to become a authority on it. I’ve enjoyed seeing the popularity of certain articles over time and I think writing on a variety of subjects allows me to dig into analytics and understand what others are interested in.
Keep Your Costs Low
A passive investor wants to keep investment costs low by minimising their price and volume. This means long term their portfolio benefits from having more available for investment.
When cost is directly related to our time and effort as a writer, picking ideas that are easy for us to progress upon quickly minimises our cost of investment. In most cases, that will be subjects that are directly related to the work we’ve been doing in a particular period which we can draw on. We can also choose to speed up the process of writing, by choosing tools we’re very familiar with or taking time to make the time between coming up with an idea and delivering it to our site minimal.
Perform Regular Reviews
In order to respond changing markets, a passive investor will regularly adjust their portfolio as part of a review so it continues to be in line with their goals. This might be moving from one asset type to another, so their allocation is split according to how much risk they want to take. This is done regularly, although not as regularly as investments themselves - often advised at yearly intervals.
For a blogger, a review should take a look at their analytics to keep informed. Using this information, they can make changes to what posts they are writing (investments they’re making), responding to what their analytics are telling them. They may choose to change direction and write more about a particular subject area, or change their blogs direction completely. They can also modify the posts already written to be in line with this direction.
My Own Stats
I recently dug into my own blog stats from 2005-2020. My blog has existed from 2003 for almost 20 years now(!), though most of my mistakes can be seen over this earlier 15 year period.
NB: I’ve migrated away from Google Analytics now to Plausible.
Early on, I had little direction - I blogged about my personal life and the projects I was taking on at university.
I discovered that I saw a lot of interest in what I had to say around 2011/2012. I blogged a lot less than I had done in the past over that year (I’d recently become a dad for the first time), but two posts about nodejs in particular seemed to attract a lot of interest. In fact, they’ve counted toward almost 50% of visits to my site over those 15 years (!).
What with embarking with taking on full time contract work and having a growing family, the amount of tutorials I produced over the next few years took a big nosedive. I blogged more about products I was building (and never released). Things that probably weren’t that useful or interesting for others. Eventually, in 2019 I simply didn’t produce anything at all - ironically immediately after a post musing on my company purpose and pondering if I could make valuable contributions in education. You can see the number of visitors I have completely dries up after this point.
I realise that this is quite an esoteric post, but I found thinking about blogging in this way helpful. I’m just beginning to see the benefits of regularly making an effort to write about the work I’m doing - almost 20 years after having started. Hopefully this will encourage you to do so a little earlier than me.