What I Learned During My First Year Blogging
Portrait Taken in Milwaukee Wisconsin by Jessi Esselman

I debuted my alter ego, “The Wisconsinista,” last June after graduating from college and haven’t looked back since. To be fair, the title of this post is a little misleading – I’ve actually started blogs before, but eventually deleted them out of embarrassment. It’s harder than it looks to really put yourself out there! The Wisconsinista and all of its blogging glory, however, is here to stay.

Needless to say, I have learned so much about being a content creator since writing my first blog post. Now that I have more advanced understanding about what it means to manage a travel blog, I want to share what I’ve learned with you! While I’m far from being an expert, I’ve watched enough YouTube videos, researched enough hashtags, and learned enough HTML to have some insight on the topic for someone who didn’t major in marketing. Read on for my biggest takeaways from my first year as a content creator.

Photo by Dave Smith taken in Neenah Wisconsin

Treat Yourself Like a Public Figure

No, it doesn’t mean develop the ego of a celebrity like I did in the above photo. When you hit the “publish” button on your first blog post, you now have a product to market. No, you aren’t selling the contents of that blog post; you’re selling yourself as a reputable resource in your niche. Ethos is certainly not earned overnight, but you have to trust in yourself and your writing if you ever hope to earn the trust of others.

While you need to maintain a sense of humility in the beginning of your blogging career, posting your words and stories with confidence will help you to become a respected expert in your field in time. Listen to and learn from other, more experienced bloggers in your niche whenever you get the opportunity. Allowing yourself to be inspired by others will help you create your best work and develop meaningful networking relationships along the way.

Be aware that “putting yourself out there” can be a lot more difficult than it looks. Even when you are a clear “newbie” you have to promote your work just the same. Not everyone in your personal life will understand that this is a key part of achieving your goals, so be prepared to field a few snide questions and comments with grace like a respectable public figure would do.

At Rib Mountain State Park in Marathon County Wisconsin

Hone Your Niche & Brand

This is a constant process. I still reevaluate both a little bit every day and recommend that same practice for all bloggers. Your niche is the topic(s) you plan to become an expert in, while your brand is the way you market yourself as an expert in that niche.  I’ll explain a bit more about what each of these processes looks like for me:

My niche is currently travel and outdoor recreation with a focus in Wisconsin and the Midwest, as well as cozy cabin destinations. That’s a mouthful, right? This definition is is never written down explicitly (except for here), but is something I make sure every blog post I write is related to. If I find that a blog post I want to write does not relate, I ask myself whether I should actually publish that post or if I need to slightly shift to my niche.

My brand is The Wisconsinista and will remain such unless I ever decide to move out-of-state or completely change my niche. I seek to promote myself as a Wisconsin travel expert, so my brand’s name, writing, and photos should all work to provide that credibility. The colors I use for my brand are primarily rich natural hues and make for a natural (no pun intended) backdrop when people are reading my blog posts about life up north.

Women Hiking Wisconsin Participants at Harrington Beach State Park in Ozaukee County Wisconsin

Strive to Create a Community, not a Following

The digital marketing industry thrives off of numbers – you are going to become very familiar with the words metrics, insights, and analytics if you start to seriously pursue blogging. Despite this, creating a blog whose popularity and acclaim endures for a career requires a focus on quality over quantity.

Unlike retail websites, who value the quantity of purchases made on their site, a successful blog values readers and commenters. Creating a communal space for people to share and express their passion for your niche topic will help generate that meaningful connection and higher engagement. It might be a topic not everyone in the world is interested in (hello, Wisconsin travel), but everyone who is interested in that topic should want to spend time on your site.

Having a social media presence for your brand and can help you seek out members for your community and create additional spaces for them to engage. For example, the brand Knotty Girl was created as a community for swivel water skiers. Prior to this, swivel skiing was almost exclusively performed as a part of water ski shows. Now, it offered a place for swivel skiers to come together as a community. Its website offered instructional videos and a pro shop. Its social media promoted its new swivel ski school and competitions. Sure, most of the world is not interested in swivel skiing, but now everyone who is follows Knotty Girl.

Amy Heitman "You're Swell" Card from Lake Effect Co.

Your Content Has Value if You Make it Valuable

A lot of bloggers write guest articles on other blogs and websites for free. They might also write promotional posts for brands and accept only product as payment. You can do this if you want and, like paying tuition to write essays before you can get paid to write reports, this is a job that you will do better at with experience. It is important, however, that you craft each organically written post for your own blog to offer as much value as possible to your readers. This not only helps them, but helps you create a great portfolio that can be used to monetize your blog.

The only way that I have utilized my blog to make money so far is through sponsored posts. Either a brand will reach out to me about a partnership or I will reach out to them with a pitch to help promote a product or service of theirs through a sponsored blog post. If you have a lengthy portfolio of well-compiled blog posts in a niche this company creates products for, a partnership could be a great fit, as they will value the audience you can put their product in front of through sharing a sponsored post.

Note that if you write a sponsored post for a brand that does not align with your niche, the content of that post will be less valuable to your readers and could start to erode the credibility of the brand you worked hard to define. Just like companies only choose to sell a new product if it aligns with those it already sells (would a bookstore get a positive response from adding make-up to its shelves?), make sure the new “item in your store” adds value to the brand as a whole. Yes, this means turning down free stuff.

Approaching the 45x90 Geographical Marker in Marathon County Wisconsin

Just Start

You have to identify some things before you actually start your blog, including your blog’s name, niche, etc. Once you have those things solidified, just start. The world becomes increasingly saturated with blog content every day and while your story will always be unique and worth sharing, you can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond the sooner you put your name out there.

Your first blog posts will likely not be your best work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go back and update them later to add keywords, better pictures, or new formatting. Doing those things actually helps keep your SEO ranking for those pages higher, anyway. Just get started. No matter how much you know about the industry to start, you will learn so much more as your journey progresses.

Remember that there are bloggers are around you on the Internet in varying stages of their career; look to see what makes their blog unique and successful to find inspiration for your own success. There are also online communities and Facebook groups dedicated to helping new bloggers connect and grow. One that I like is Bloggers Supporting Bloggers!

What I Learned During My First Year Blogging Pinterest Pin

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I’ve been blogging for a few months now and needed this read. Thanks for sharing! I love how you focus on growing your community instead of followers. I hope to do so!

    1. Thanks for sharing! I’m glad to hear that it resonated with you. Best wishes growing your community and continuing to hone your niche!

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