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19 Comments

Your Take: How Has Blogging Changed?

Credit: JD Hancock

Credit: JD Hancock

I’ve been blogging for nearly ten years and a lot has changed over the years. When I first learned about blogging, most people were playing around with hosted platforms like Xanga. WordPress had just been created but very few people knew about it. MovableType was actually the most well known blogging platform at the time. You had Weblogs, Inc., started by Jason Calacanis, being founded in September 2003 and Nick Denton’s Gawker Media founded in January 2003. AOL would acquired Weblogs, Inc. in October 2005 for a cool $25 million (reportedly). In the years since, many many blogs have been acquired for seven figures and there’s no question that blogging has graduated from a small time concern to big business.

So much has changed though and the strategy you need to use today is much different than ten years ago (or even five years ago). I know a lot of you guys have been blogging just as long, and the vast majority have been at it for many years, so you’ve seen a lot of the changes as well. Before I put out my opinion, I’d like to hear what you guys think because on Monday, I’m going to put out a post answering this very question.

So, how has blogging changed over the last ten years? I’ve already scheduled my post, I’m eager to hear what you guys think!

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Jim

In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog (Bargaineering.com) that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

19 responses to “Your Take: How Has Blogging Changed?”

  1. Michael says:

    One big way: There was a time when guest posts were actually guest posts. That is, “real” bloggers looking to get their name out in front of a like-minded audience. Now, 99% of the guest posts requests that you receive are for spammy, spun promotional crap from companies that are trying to build links. This is generally true even if the article is being offered through a 3rd party writer.

    Related: The growth of staff writing. Once again, there was time when the vast majority of blogs (at least in the finance space) were written by individuals with a story to tell. Now there’s a tendency to farm out the writing to so-called staff writers. I’m guilty of this myself on sites in the past, though I definitely prefer to read stuff from a consistent and known voice.

    • Jim says:

      Yeah, a lot of guest posts these days are strictly for linkbuilding. There are still good quality guest posts out there and one good thing is that bloggers are now aware of it.

      I don’t know how I feel about staff writing. I think that if you’re positioning yourself more like a media company/magazine, such as Wise Bread, then the staff writer route can work very well. If you want to connect on a personal level, as a blogger, then I think staff writing takes away from that.

      I used staff writers on Bargaineering in part because I wanted to get it into Google News. 🙂

      • Michael says:

        Is having multiple writers a requirement (or at least expectation) for getting into Google News? And did it work?

        • Jim says:

          Yes it was, you needed multiple writers and an author page that listed them all.

          No because you had to wait between applications and I applied at first when there was only one author. Then it became moot. 🙂

    • Matt Jabs says:

      Agreed. Now-a-days to have a successful, consistent, and long-lasting blog you almost have to employ staff writers. We do so on DIYNatural.com, but we work hard to ensure that each writer has a working passion for the topics.

  2. Matt Jabs says:

    I would say a lot has changed, but much has also remained the same. To have a successful blog you still have to stay up-to-date on SEO, care about your topic, care about your audience, write great content, and be consistent. One big change has been the shift from free themes, engines, and plugins to paid/supported, which I’m happy about because it helps make the industry (and my business) more solid and reliable. The market is also maturing, on both the publisher and advertiser end, which has helped weed out a lot of redundancy. Corporations saw the popularity of blogs and followed suit by creating their own – which never really take off as well because they tend to lack the personal touch – so blogs helped teach corporations to (at least attempt to) better connect with their customers. Another big change was the creation of a speculation market where companies buy up popular blogs, standardize them, and earn steady profits. This allowed many blog authors to sell for big bucks, which is cool, but that also starts to take away from the personal touch. So much more to say, but this will do for now.

    • Jim says:

      Yeah corporations are trying and unless it’s a small startup, like Mint back in the day, they usually don’t get it right because they lack the personal connection. It’s hard to make that connection when the person behind the keyboard is working for a paycheck, you know? That said, there are a few places that make it work.

      I think companies acquiring blogs is just a natural extension of how business operates. A lot of those blogs, Bargaineering included, generated a lot of cash flow/profits and companies wanted a piece of that. I think that sort of thing will still continue, though as search becomes more unreliable it’ll be harder to properly value those revenue streams.

  3. I think that the biggest change over the last 10 or so years has really been the growth of the industry. (or that we’re even calling it an industry at all) When you and I started, Jim, there were a handful of blogs in pretty much any niche (except the tech niches) and it was relatively easy to break into them. Now, starting a new blog is easy, but getting anywhere with it is difficult.

    That’s partly the responsibility of the spammy guest bloggers (I get 10’s a day), and all the people who jump in and accept them.

    I like to think of it as a gold rush. The early adopters have a much higher rate of success since they get the ability to pick their “mine”. The later comers generally have to pick from the dregs, with an occasional one getting a lucky hit.

    • Jim says:

      Yeah, there were so few blogs outside tech/gadgets, it was wide open. It was very much like a gold rush, the early folks can pick out a good spot, get established, and fend off newcomers on their turf (though I don’t know if that really happened all that much).

      Nowadays, I think you really need to be different to stand out if you want to get really big. You can still do well otherwise but it’s much harder and you almost have to outlast everyone else.

      • Yeah, there wasn’t much defending of territory at all. More the opposite. Many of the ones that had more established “claims” were helpful to others. Now, there’s just so much spammy stuff going on, it’s hard to be helpful because you don’t know just what it is your helping…

        • Jim says:

          I agree, it’s gotten to be a little messier for that reason. I think it’s great that we have a FINCON to help though. It’s hard to be a spammer, show up in person, and look legitimate.

  4. Miranda says:

    One of the things I’ve noticed is that you have to work much harder to get your content noticed. Back in the day, it was fairly easy. But now, with all the changes to algorithms, and the sheer numbers of people involved, you have to work hard to be noticed. Social media, mainstream mentions, and endless promotion. It’s one of the reasons that I mostly stick to staff writing. And for the staff writers, I’ve noticed that it’s possible to command higher rates. Now that blogging is seen as a more legitimate form of writing, more people are willing to pay for it.

    • Jim says:

      Good insight about staff writing, I agree that it’s seen as more valuable and so you can command higher rates. I think that’s a good thing.

      As for making your work stand out, it’s always going to be like that. It only gets harder and harder. There’s just so much competition for attention these days and that is why email is so important and creating a connection is so important.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Miranda!

  5. Ryan says:

    Many great comments. I’ve been blogging for over 7 years now, and everything mentioned above is true. I’ve primarily been a personal finance blogger, so my comments will be slanted toward that niche.

    I started on WordPress, using a free theme (that I broke many times). Now there are “design frameworks” like Thesis, Genesis, and several others. The amount of design customization available with a few clicks is light years ahead of what could be done to earlier themes. The functionality of WordPress (core) and the available plugins has also grown astronomically in the last few years. Blogging is now more user-friendly and easier than it ever has been — which leads me to another big change (as mentioned by Miranda).

    There is very little barrier to entry, and therefore it is much more difficult to stand out from the crowd. The community was much smaller when I started blogging, so it was easy to meet people, publish guest posts, share, make friends, etc. There may have been 50-100 personal finance bloggers in the US when I started. Now there are several thousand – enough to support an annual conference dedicated to personal finance blogging (I think between 400-500 people are expected this year). And this is just one niche. The number of blogs in other niches has expanded as well. There are tens of thousands of tech blogs, “make money online” blogs, travel, blogs, mommy blogs, etc.

    And of course, the business side of things has changed the industry as well. Enough that an entire series of posts could be written about the changes, especially when delving into things like compliance for credit cards or banking, companies creating their own products and services (Mint, Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, etc.), widgets and tools, etc.

    The industry continues to evolve, and I don’t think it will slow down any time soon. But it’s still a worthwhile endeavor if it’s something you enjoy.

    • Jim says:

      I was talking to Brandon Duncombe the other day (he’s the social media/content marketer/everything else for Bargaineering – not sure his exact title) and he told me Bargaineering was a total hack job. He was right though, it was a hack job. We didn’t have widgets in 2005, the sidebars were hard coded. The top nav was hard coded. Everything was hard coded (it was also faster, since it didn’t need to do another SELECT on the database).

      50-100? Wow, you are a youngin. 🙂

      I think each blogging community goes through a maturation process similar to what we’re seeing. Look at technology/gadget blogs and mommy/family blogs, you see the same patterns there as well.

  6. I was late to the blogging party and started about a year and a half ago. Even over that time, so much has changed with Google and just the pure volume of new blogs every day! I’m looking forward to reading your piece, because I’m sure I’ll be blown away by the change over a much longer period than my blogging existence.

  7. So much has changed in blogging that it’s hard to know where to start. I agree with everyone who has commented:
    – the blogging platforms themselves have matured and are easier to use
    – the algorithms for SEO have changed significantly and are harder to game (this isn’t a bad thing)
    – guest posts are impossible to accept when you aren’t asking the writer yourself (the email pitches are link-building schemes as you say)
    – it’s harder to be noticed because every niche is saturated

    One area that has changed in my community — I’m usually lumped in with mom bloggers even though I don’t write about my family or myself (another story) — is sponsored posts. In 2007 I attended BlogHer and a sponsor was promoting their model of paying bloggers to write about a product. There were quite a few hoops to jump through and payment started at $5. The bloggers weren’t up in arms about that though, they were infuriated that anyone would ever blog about a company and get paid for it. You read that right. It was the weirdest thing. Of course, now there are so many mom blogs that are *only* sponsored posts or review posts. There are also many, MANY more parent, coupon, review, and giveaway bloggers.

    In the earlier days of blogging it was easier to find a community that stuck together. Many times you became friends with each person in your community and you helped promote each other because you were actually talking to each via your blogs. Now people join Facebook groups for the sole intention of promotion. There may or may not be camaraderie there. It’s about having people comment and share links. I don’t have a problem with that, I’m just pointing out that the way communities are interacting is much different than they were.

    I also see fewer people entering the space for the sheer joy of blogging. Every day I’m asked how one can make money from blogging. People see a few bloggers explode quickly and think they’ll do that too. In my circles you can use Ree from The Pioneer Woman as an example. She’s a very savvy business woman and had a team in place to help her grow quickly. She approached her blog as a business and grew it as a business. It wasn’t an accident, but people sort of think she had this magical community and word spread organically. To some extent it did, but you can’t discount the intentional planning and strategy.

    • Jim says:

      Yeah, it’s certainly gotten more commercial. One thing I didn’t even think about was how in the beginning bloggers tried to act more like journalists (scoffing at paid posts, advertising, etc.) but that’s definitely gone away big time. I completely forgot about that. That’s not something people even think about anymore, that’s how far we’ve moved from it.

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