Today, I have a great guest post to share from Steph from the Debt Free Family. She is sharing her blogging journey from the start until now, and how she built her traffic to 80,000 page views a month. Enjoy!
A little over a year ago, I decided to start a blog.
In that time, it’s grown from 0 visitors to over 80,000 page views a month. I’ve been able to go part time in my day job and I’m now earning more from my blog than I do at work which feels fantastic, and so I’m super excited to share with you how I did it!
Hi everyone, I’m Steph Addison, mum of 3, and I own Debt Free Family, where I write about anything to do with family finances, whether it’s savings, increasing your income or budgeting.
For the longest time, we never had any money.
There was never enough left towards the end of the month (or usually about half way through it!) and we spent way too many years not understanding why we were always broke.
Cars were financed, holidays went on credit cards (because how else would you pay, right?!) budgeting didn’t exist in our world and honestly…we didn’t give it a second thought.
My husband and I both worked full-time, struggled with the cost of childcare and generally lived paycheck to paycheck and yet we just thought this was how everyone lived!
Then, one Friday afternoon, my husband lost his job. His company had folded, the money was all gone, no one was getting paid that month (9 days before payday) and boom! just like that, we found ourselves in serious financial trouble.
Needless to say, we had no savings, and some pretty miserable weeks followed. When you find yourself down to one income with 3 kids to feed, bills that need to be paid and a mortgage you can’t afford, you find yourself looking for ways to bring in extra money, fast!
And so began my journey into the pretty amazing world of making money online.
Related content on growing a blog:
- 12 Free Resources To Grow Your Blog Fast
- How One Blogger Grew His Blog to Over 2 Million Visitors In A Year
- How we went from $0-$10,000/month blogging in less than a year
- The Daily, Weekly and Monthly Habits for Building a $100,000 Blog
Starting a blog
To start with, making money online for me meant taking surveys, selling on eBay and the odd bit of freelance writing through online platforms like Fiverr and Freelancer.
And to my amazement, they actually made money!
Some made more than others but put together they bought in some much needed cash…it wasn’t loads of money admittedly, but it was enough to keep my interest.
But there was one thing that kept coming up over and over again, I kept reading about how starting a blog could bring in some serious money!
So, I decided I’d start a blog and fill it with all the things I’d learnt about making money online.
I set it up, agonised over the logo and page design, spent countless hours changing fonts and colour schemes and spent many days writing content to fill my new site! I loved it! It looked perfect to me, but there was a problem…..no one read it!
Now believe me, I totally get the frustration of putting in work and so much time, on a site that barely anyone visits.
The one thing I did know how to do when I started Debt free family was to connect it to Google analytics, and I’d open the app countless times in a day to see if anyone had ‘found’ my site.
Occasionally there would be a few people in a day…and it was very exciting! But then I’d have days with no one visiting it and I’d be discouraged all over again.
So that’s what I want to talk about today on Michelle’s blog (which was honestly the biggest inspiration to me).
How I went from total newbie blogger to (still a newbie blogger!) making more money from my site than I do in my day job (and have been able to go part time at work) and getting over 80K page views per month, over 95% of which come organically, from Google.
Related: How To Start A Successful Blog In 10 Steps
Top tips I wish I’d known when I started out
Top things I wish I’d known when I started out. You can use them at any point of course, but I’d have grown a lot faster if I’d known them at the start!
My traffic went from the miniscule users Pinterest sent my way (never cracked Pinterest BTW!), to organic traffic in the tens of thousands.
I like to record my numbers at the end of every month so I can see them at a glance. The tips I’m talking about here compounded my traffic and as you can see, once they start to get going, they really get going!
You’ll notice that in June 2019, so about 2 months in, I had 155 organic sessions. Honestly, I have no idea how I even got that many, there was zero strategy behind it. I must have got lucky 🙂
So, here’s the things I wish I’d known when I started out:
You need to learn on-page SEO
If I could change one thing about my blogging journey, I’d have learnt on page SEO from day one, or possibly even started learning it before I even launched!
SEO changed my entire blog, turned it into a site that’s growing month on month, allowed me to reach premium ad agency Mediavine’s minimum monthly requirements and most importantly, start earning a real income from my blog!
This was a very exciting day in my blogging life!
Everything I’ve achieved with my blog is due to SEO. So how did I go about learning it?
Well, SEO is mentioned everywhere in ‘how to start a blog’ articles, you can’t escape it, although I did my best to ignore it until I got fed up with the lack of visitors!
I joined free SEO groups on Facebook (there are many!) but after a few months of taking free SEO courses, I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted or had been promised.
Eventually, another blogger put me onto Mike Pearsons ‘stupid simple SEO’ course. But it wasn’t free, so I thought and thought and thought some more and then decided I’d enrol in it and if this course didn’t work, I’d quit my blog, happy that I’d have at least tried it.
Folks, I’m thankful everyday for that course. What seemed like a lot of money to me now feels like a total bargain.
What did I learn that moved my site forward so much?
1. Keyword research.
I learned to write what people are searching Google for. Sounds basic, huh! Yet so many people write about what they’re interested in and without knowing how to know if it’s being searched for. If you’re looking to make money from your blog, you need to write about what people are looking for.
I now know how to assess a potential post topic, find the traffic volume and know if my site would be able to rank for it. The very first post I wrote after taking this course reached page 1 of Google within a week, and that’s because I picked a subject I knew my site could rank for, and I used keywords that didn’t have huge competition.
2. How to write a post for SEO.
I thought I knew how to write a post, of course I did! But there’s a way to layout and write your posts that optimises them for Google, encourages Google to use you for featured snippets and hugely increases your chances of being on page 1.
Every single post I write now follows the same structure, and I’m confident that after the post is finished, it’ll rank well.
3. Site design
Site design is important, but not that important. Everyone wants a nice looking site, sure, but there are better ways to spend your time than agonising over getting it perfect!
You can use your front page to help Google know what your site’s about, but if you don’t know what Googles looking for, it’s very hard to give it. I now know I spent far too much energy trying to get my site to look a certain way, and actually I undid most of the work I’d done after I learned how to do it properly 🙂
If you start off on the right footing, Google will know straight away who you are, what you do and rank you accordingly.
There’s a free email course that Mike offers, and then you can choose to take the full course after that if you want to.
If you ask me, learning SEO properly is the single best thing you could do for your blog, and the proofs in the numbers!
Get to love Google search console
After learning SEO, Google search console is my next best secret weapon in gaining traffic. I cannot stress enough how much I love this tool, I use it daily and have seen fantastic results from using it. It builds on the SEO you’ve done, and steers you literally right to where the best keywords you’re already ranking for can be improved so you come up earlier in the search results.
If you’re not familiar with Google search console, it can seem a little confusing, but get to know it and it’ll reward you with more traffic!
Here’s exactly what I do in the console most days:
- Log on and you’ll be shown a page that gives you an overview of your site stats.
- Scroll down slightly, and you’ll be able to change the time frame you want to see. I like ‘previous 28 days’ but you can pick any time frame you like. The aim here is to see where your pages are ranking and find those that could do with a boost
- Click on ‘pages’, and you’ll be shown a list of all your posts, starting with your most popular ones, descending downwards
- Pick a page you’d like to boost and then click on ‘queries’ (next to the pages tab)
- This shows you in descending order the top queries for that page. This is SUPER handy for seeing how people find you in Google.
- If the top search term for that post isn’t the title of your post you can change it along with the meta description, and you’ll rise in the search results.
- Still under queries, you can scroll through the keywords and if you find a term you haven’t written much about in your post but you’re ranking for, go back and add the term as an H2 title and write about it!
- Have a look at the number of ‘impressions’ your post is showing up for each keyword you’re ranking for. High impressions and low clicks are a great opportunity to add to your post and show up better in the search results
Content really is KING
So you’ve got an idea for a post and you’ve Googled it, you’re going ahead and you’re sure you can make this post rank.
The first thing I do? I look at the top 5 posts in the search results (because that’s where I want to be) and I see what’s in their posts that’s causing them to rank so high.
Then it’s pen and paper time. What might you look at?
- What are the top search results about?
- What does Google think the searcher wants to see when they type in the keyword? since we can’t change the Google algorithms, you need to be giving the searcher the results Google thinks they’re looking for
- Is there a word in the title that’s in all of the results?
Once you’re sure your post matches the user intent (basically, this means your post gives the user what Google thinks they’re looking for) you then need to go through the posts again and make a list of the H2 titles they’re using.
Are you including similar H2 titles?
Your post needs to be better than the top 5 in the search results and answer everything they do, and more.
Where do you find the ‘more’? Look at the ‘people also ask’ box Google shows you when you Google something.
These questions are directly linked to the search term you’re trying to rank for. Answer these questions in your post if you haven’t already.
Check the word count of your competitors posts and work out the average.
While you don’t want to be writing anything just to get your word count up, you should be making sure you’ve covered everything they have and more, which means your post will likely be longer than theirs are anyway.
Find a way to make your post more valuable to the user than what’s already out there.
DA matters, but backlinks matter more
I’d never heard of domain authority when I started out and by the time I’d learnt about it and knew what it was, I think Debt free family was about a DA 7, or something. It’s now 24.
I used to be totally hung up on the numbers and trying to find ways to increase it without annoying Google and getting a penalty for ‘black hat’ underhand tactics!
But…and I only really got to grips with this in the last few months, I still rank above huge competitors even with a much lower DA than they have.
You should know, Google doesn’t use DA as a ranking factor.
However, they do use backlinks as a ranking factor and (good) backlinks lead to a higher DA so it’s a loop, one leads to the other, you can’t get good backlinks without getting a higher DA.
So now, I ignore the actual DA numbers and focus on the backlinks that can give me exposure and are relevant to my blogging niche.
A funny thing happened when I started doing this: my traffic went up! Perhaps more relevant and intentional backlinks for the sake of the backlink, rather than the DA number was the reason?
While I can’t be 100% sure, I know it’s working for me!
There is one exception to not being too concerned about a competitors DA however, that I always take into account, and that’s when the competition is a Giant with a recognised brand name site. Those, I don’t compete with or even try to.
Be realistic about your expectations, you’re not going to steal traffic from these sites, and it’d be massively time consuming trying to.
There’s hundreds of thousands of non brand recognised sites you can compete with, better to go after them!
I’m still a newbie blogger. I have SO much to learn about the blogging world and everything that it entails.
Starting Debt free family has been a learning curve that’s been pretty steep in places, but has started to provide an income I used to read about, but never really believed could happen for me.
What’s my blog given me? I’ve been able to go part time at my day job and am now making more money from my blog each month than I’ve lost from work.
I get to spend hours more every week with my family, and have started to teach one of my daughters the basics for starting her own site, which is awesome!
But the best thing about it? I’m in control of where it goes.
I’m so excited to start building it up even more, adding more content and perhaps finally learning Pinterest 🙂
What questions do you have for Steph? How are you growing your blog?
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I was trying to decide which part of this article I liked the most so I could tell you about it but, honestly, IT’S ALL AWESOME.
I’ve been learning SEO and I feel like it’s a beast. Maybe I’m thinking too much…but maybe not. I’ll be reading your article over and over! Thanks!
Ahh, thank you so much, that’s such a nice thing to say. I’m so pleased you enjoyed it!
Teresa Stack Hunter says
I love this article and will refer back to it as I move toward better SEO. I am a former journalist and always believed premium writing is all that matters in gaining organic traffic.
This article highlights the importance of getting things done well from the start. Clearly there is more than just turning out solid content where SEO is concerned.
Thank you for the excellent push in the right direction, and the best to you moving forward.
Thank you so much! Solid content is by far the biggest factor in SEO, for me at least, but yes, theres many more components as well.
Good luck on your SEO journey 🙂
Jasper Stojanovski says
It’s great to see a finance blogger that built 95% of their traffic from Google. You gave some great tips that I don’t hear very often.
Consider buying createandgo.com’s Pinterest Traffic Avalanche course if you want to break into Pinterest!
Gotta love Google traffic!
I’ll have a look at that Pinterest course at some point, thank you!
Noemi Pino says
I am learning a lot from this especially the SEO parto, I am reading online and see what happen!
Hey! Good luck with your SEO!
Joan Whiteny says
Thank you Michelle for such a wonderful piece of content. There’s no way I can thank you enough, the tips you shared is one among the reasons I still blog today and they’re very powerful.
Carol Paino says
Hi Steph, I reached your post via a blogging course I am taking online through a local university. I love that you teach families how to be debt free, how to make more money and how to save. That info alone is priceless (pardon the pun). Your tips on how to blog effectively, using SEO and how to use Google Search Console, is absolutely top notch and such a time saver for those of us trying to learn about blogging, Google and attracting an audience. I’m a total newbie and what a dream it would be, to start making money someday by doing what I love; sharing info to try and help others. Thank you!
Hi Carole, Thanks for your comments and i’m so pleased you like the post. I had the same dream as you not very long ago so it’s totally possible and if i can do it anyone can! Good luck on your blogging journey, i’m sure you’ll nail it!
I’m a fellow blogger and former seo strategist for large companies. I have to say, you got it spot on with your advice. The only thing I would have added in the keyword/topic research is to analyze the Google’s SERP to help you craft titles. Study the top 10-20 results and try to come up with an angle that no one covered so far or outdo what has been done. Titles are immensely important to having a high click-through rate on your articles.
I have a Video games blog, how do I build relevant backlinks to it? [Can you explain in detail how you built niche relevant links to your own site]
Backlinks are something I’m not amazing at 🙂
The best I can tell you is to get in contact with other bloggers in your niche, perhaps guest post for them (although this is more about exposure than the link these days) and get yourself signed up for HARO. Do this regularly and people will naturally link to you where it’s appropriate to, and you’ll end up not having to go out and actually ‘get’ backlink, rather they’ll come to you!
Robert T says
This has been excellent advice and like you, I have always shied away for learning about SEO. After reading your article, it has changed my mind on the subject. Your information was very helpful. Thank you.
Really pleased you liked the post! SEO was 100% a game changer for me, if I hadn’t decided to learn it, I probably would have given up blogging all together. Good luck on your SEO journey!!
Kevin Payne says
Awesome Article, Steph! What’s your best strategies for getting backlinks?
Kent Probst says
The instructions for navigating Google search console are not correct and appear to old.