Alright, the time has come to write a post that I am super excited about. I started blogging in September 2020. I started this blog in October 2020, and at first, it was a mental health and apology blog. Things have changed, and I am trying to build something from scratch, something inspiring. I don't want “Borderpolar” to be just another blog. I want it to be the exciting story of someone turning things around in life, using all their weapons.
And I want it to inspire others to pursue their digital goals because the world has gone utterly nuts since the start of 2020. At least I am back to normal. Let's start this journey, and hopefully, it will provide as much value to your as I think it will. So, how do you become a successful blogger in 2021?
The passive income myth
Blogging, at its inception, has nothing to do with passive income. I can assure you that it's a full-time job, literally. If you aim for success, you need to work a lot, learn a lot and create a strong circle around you. The way I see it, in the type of blogging I am involved in, you need to have leadership qualities. You need to convince people that you know what you are talking about and your experience and knowledge are of real value.
So, initially, get ready for a ton of work. But if that is your calling in life, then it's even more amazing than a Ph.D. in Program Analysis. And, trust me, a Ph.D. is a super cool thing to do.
Choosing a Platform and Starting a Blog
When I started all this, I did not even consider Blogger, and I went straight to WordPress because I liked WordPress more after my experience with both. You can start with whatever you want, but I think WordPress is more well established.
So, mistake #1:
I went with WordPress.com instead of WordPress.org. That 300 euros for the business plan, because yes, I needed plugins. Meanwhile, WordPress.org would have cost me less than 100 euros per year, probably around 60 with a cheap hosting service. You can read more about this dumb decision in my post about the two services.
Advice #1: Go with WordPress.org, save your money for plugins or any other services.
I will not advise you about domain names, but typically hosting services will provide you with a free domain name. “Borderpolar” has nothing to with tech, but I think it's cool and unique, it battles mental illness taboos, and you could think of it as something at the bleeding edge of technology. You know, like “The Verge.”
Just make sure that whenever you make this decision, you might as well be choosing your business name.
Here are 10 big mistakes new bloggers make, before we go any further!
A cheap well-known hosting provider is Bluehost, recommended by many (because everyone is an affiliate), but personally, I plan on using Cloudways when I move to WordPress.org. It's a premium cloud hosting service, but pricier too, so I don't think someone that just starts should pay more than a few bucks per month for hosting unless you know for a fact that you are going to get a ton of traffic and you will have to upscale very soon. I did not expect to have to scale so much after just one year. But keep in mind that a premium host makes much more sense when you have 300,000 visits per month instead of 1,000.
If I had to recommend an ideal shared hosting option for beginner bloggers, it would be DreamHost, due to its 97-day money-back guarantee, compared to most other providers' 30-day money-back guarantees. Experiencing the cheapest hosting tier will allow you to understand why people pay more after some point and DreamHost actually has competitive prices without necessarily tying you to long-term plans. If you want to try managed WordPress hosting you can try its DreamPress plans, but in my mind, that's premature optimization, just like dedicated hosting. It's better to spend your money elsewhere, initially.
Write Excellent Content
Look, this is the more random and absurd advice I have ever read. Excellent content heavily depends on your industry or niche. So let's rephrase with something more straightforward. Satisfy user intent, after all, that's all the search engines care about. It is not a 2021 SEO trend, it was always there, but search engines are getting better at understanding content as they improve.
Let's see some examples:
- When users search for Coin Master free links and they go to my page, they want to click all the links and be gone. Flash is not around anymore, so these are mobile users. The page needs to load fast; they will get in, click the links and leave. User intent satisfied, and as a matter of fact, I don't have any other pages about Coin Master. I only have this one, because it brings a lot of traffic. Going even further, the only reason that page has so much text is that I want the search engine to understand what that page is about. The users want the links, so they need to be easily accessible.
- Things get much more challenging when you want the visitors/customers to stay on the blog. You need to alter the initial user intent. Case study #2: I have a page with promo codes for a game I am playing, AFK Arena. Contrary to Coin Master, this game does not release daily promo codes, more like once or twice a month. When visitors check that page, they don't see any new codes, and they want to leave. I don't want them to go. In the first few lines, I throw in recommendations of other articles I have written about AFK Arena. My goal is to reduce the bounce rate of such pages. To accomplish that, I create narratives. I link posts about the latest news and guides for the game or the game's best characters on such pages. These links draw attention.
Advice #2: In Google Analytics, you can check your top exit pages. Start experimenting with those pages, add clear recommendations of other posts in your blog, and convince the user to stay in your blog. You can also check the user flow and where visitors exit your website. If you streamline their experience and offer them something valuable to read, maybe they will stay and view more pages.
Analytics are vital in (almost) everything nowadays. There is nothing passive about becoming a successful blogger. Even the best content creators keep improving their content to reduce bounce rates, number of exits and increase user retention. Take advantage of analytics and find out what needs improvement in your narrative. Now, look at the bounce rate since November, when I turned Borderpolar to a tech blog. Bounce rate is an Internet marketing term used in web traffic analysis. It represents the percentage of visitors who enter the site and then leave rather than view other pages within the same site. Keep in mind that a high bounce rate is not necessarily a bad thing. Some pages are meant to have a high bounce rate, like the Coin Master links page I talked about earlier.
I think in this case, an image is a thousand words. A below 10% bounce rate is good enough for now. Try to keep your customers happy, retain them.
Gaining traffic or; Keyword research and on-page SEO
So you are a new blogger and want to start gaining traffic. Let me show why I couldn't gain traffic running a mental health blog. I will only show you two keywords, “bipolar disorder” and “bipolar disorder treatment”.
The ridiculous keyword difficulty for these keywords stems from the fact that you need to go against mental health giants like Mayo Clinic, Psychiatric Times, etc. Add to that my lack of expertise in the field.
Borderpolar Central, the mental health blog, died, long live Borderpolar, the tech blog.
Do you know which keywords are easy to rank for?
The ones that don't exist, or the ones that were just born. Enter, Apple M1. I knew that the new Macs of 2020 would have new processors, and as soon as they came out and there was barely any info about them, I started writing about the M1. Boom, first page on Google. That was unsustainable, but it brought a lot of traffic and backlink outreaches.
It was unsustainable because Goold rewards longevity, authority, and other metrics in which Borderpolar scores low — for now. So, in November, I gained a lot of traffic, and then I lost a lot of traffic. Right now, I am outside the top 100 results for “Apple M1 benchmarks” and 89th for “Apple M1 benchmark”.
Advice #3: Don't pick SEO fights you cannot win.
So which fights should you pick as a new blogger to win? And win fast. As a starting blogger, you need to focus on long-tail keywords. There are two reasons for that:
- Generally speaking, the competition for long-tail keywords is lower.
- Long-tail keywords clearly express user intent, so it's much easier to address it.
Let's see an example:
I really like this particular example from a seller's standpoint. First of all, lower search volume does not necessarily mean less traffic. As a seller, you may not stand a chance by simply going for “shoes” or “running shoes.” Those are highly competitive keywords.
Going even further, a long-tail keyword clearly demonstrates user intent. You now know that the visitor searches for “running shoes,” “men's running shoes,” “running shoes for flat feet men.” You know exactly what type of shoe you need to show them to maximize the possibility of converting a visitor to a buyer. This is where the money is, literally—user intent, perfectly satisfied.
Now let's see what I did in December.
Here is a long-tail keyword with very great difficulty. I started ranking for it on December the 12th. The interesting part about it is the “2020” part. I wrote a post where I kept mentioning that we are close to 2021 and “stay tuned for AFK arena codes 2021”. I made sure to start ranking for a keyword that was not there yet. And yes, it worked, and in the first days of 2021, I got my first featured snippet. Not only that, but I can also lower the difficulty with a month-to-month breakdown: “afk arena codes December 2020”, “afk arena codes January 2021”, etc.
Of course, this was unsustainable once again at the time. Now, do me a favor and search for “AFK arena codes 2021”, see for yourself where Borderpolar ranks. It ranks 4th among giants with 4.3m of traffic. Yes, I gain a significant amount of traffic from this, but it's not enough. But why is this important?
It's important because I can explain to new bloggers what to do to rank higher, create a community, and make it a successful one. One day, after a ton of work and a ton of backlinks, which will give this blog much higher authority, Borderpolar will be ranking easily first. Business is booming.
There are two aspects of search engine optimization, the on-page one and the off-page one. You can read more about off-page SEO in my post explaining what SEO is, in my post about backlinks, and in the post about getting started with link building (with trash backlinks for the most part).
When you start as a blogger, you have zero leverage in terms of off-page SEO. It's hard to buy backlinks unless you pay for them. And, of course, there is a lot more to off-page SEO than that.
Advice #4: If your pocket can handle it, buy backlinks. The ones that cost more than $1,000. Do this after you have put a lot of effort into your blog and are in for a treat. SEO experts don't talk about these strategies because they greatly reduce all other SEO tools' value. Don't get me wrong, SEO tools are still valuable. But everyone pays to get featured at some point, even SEO experts. You don't get the number #1 spot on Google with wishful thinking and good intentions. I don't have the money to buy backlinks, but I have asked the biggest tech blogs for backlinks, and instead, I received quotes for an article. Prices were in the thousands.
So, how do you handle on-page SEO? You can download the Yoast SEO free plugin. I recommend this one because it is considered the best one in the market and it probably is. Start with the free version. You can get the premium version from Yoast's website (this is not an affiliate link, but if Yoast ran an affiliate program, it would be. I highly recommend Yoast SEO).
If you combine Yoast with keyword research tools, you are good to go. Just start with keywords with low SEO difficulty, below 25 out of 100. Also, as I already explained, be opportunistic. If you are a tech blogger, start writing about upcoming hardware, e.g., Intel's 11th generation, the OnePlus 9 series, iPhone 13. Start ranking for upcoming stuff as soon as possible. Or, you know, promo codes.
I have already covered keyword research partially in my best SEO tools in the 2021 post. But I will write a complete guide about keyword research and make a YouTube video about it, so please subscribe to my channel.
In my opinion, there are three ways to do it:
- The free way is using Ubersuggest free, Keywords Everywhere, Google Keyword Planner, and Google Trends.
- The cheap way is using Ubersuggest paid ($29), Keywords Everywhere, Google Keyword Planner, and Google Trends. Ubersuggest is not perfect, but it's easy enough to use and beneficial with keyword ideas. The main problem is that its data is about 6 months old.
- The expensive way using one of SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz. All these are great tools, but I think SEMrush is the most complete among them, although Ahrefs probably delivers the best backlink audits. I think you can't go wrong with any of these tools, but I would place Moz in the third place in terms of value and user-friendliness. My understanding is that these tools provide data that are around 3 months old. Data is super expensive and, along with the other features they offer, makes these SEO suites super-expensive.
Focus on becoming a brand
I have discussed a lot the importance of backlinks. However, another significant factor shows Google that you are an authority directly related to your brand. According to SEMrush's ranking factors research study, the direct visits to a website/blog are the most important ranking factor. Just like when you type “facebook.com” or “google.com” and go straight to them, the more people that go straight to your blog without performing any search, the clearer it is to Google that you are a special entity, an authority in your niche. If people start coming directly to “metagameguides.com” for tech and gaming news, SEO advice, and reviews, then it starts becoming clear to Google that something of real value is happening here and that some unique expertise and value is offered.
There rest of the ranking factors:
1. Direct website visits
2. Time on site
3. Pages per session
4. Bounce rate
5. Total referring domains
6. Total backlinks
7. Total referring IPs
8. Total follow backlinks
9. Content length
10. Website security (HTTPS)
11. Total anchors
12. Keyword in anchor
13. Keyword in body
14. Keyword density
15. Keyword in title
16. Keyword in meta
17. Video on page
The first 9 ranking factors are the ones that will give you the biggest amount of trouble. I would like to address the idea of content length and the importance of long-form content, though. It is recommended that you should write around 2,000 words per post (at least). However, I would recommend that you look at the top 10 competitors for a keyword to estimate how many words you should aim for. Don't write extra stuff just to get more content in your posts.
For instance, while I think this post is of great value, some may find it very boring due to its length and increase my bounce rate or harm my blog's “time on site” metric. That's fine though, those who stay will understand the real value of such a post.
Now to satisfy the 17th factor on this list, here is a video by Ahrefs explaining ranking factors and how important each one is.
Maximize your exposure
When I say “maximize your exposure,” I mean the exposure you get from other traffic channels. Let me tell you about a traffic funnel that I had greatly underestimated. That is, RSS feeds. I thought they were dead, but they are not. Especially one of them, and it's totally free. It's follow. It is pretty much the replacement for Google's Feedburner nowadays, and you will find all the media outlet giants in there. I don't know how much traffic it brings me, but I will add some tags to check; however, Borderpolar's feed has 20 subscribers already, within a couple of weeks.
I have also added Borderpolar to Feedly and Feedio, but I don't have any subscribers yet, so I will update this post in the future and detail my experience in the next one. Speaking of RSS feeds, nowadays, everyone can be a Google News publisher. So, subscribe to it and add your RSS feed there, too (web locations don't work that well, make sure that you enrich your feed with post featured images, more on that soon). As you gain more authority, you can get a significant amount of traffic from Google News if you post news about your niche. Add the fact that you can fully monetize your content with ads if you have joined AdSense.
Ads and Affiliate programs
This is a vital part of blogging because you need the money to scale and make money you need to scale. There are three main sources of incoming initially, display ads and affiliate programs.
Let's start with ads.
We all know Google's AdSense. AdSense is the major player in advertising. It requires a blog to be at least 6 months old to apply for the program. However, they accepted me within 15 days of this blog's birth. Nice, but I don't why they accepted me.
Advice #5: Apply to AdSense; you may get lucky.
There is another massive player in the world of internet ads, and that is Media.net. Media.net has traffic requirements, so they have not accepted me (yet).
If you search online, you will find many ad networks that accept low-traffic blogs/websites. I tried most of them, and they made my website look really low-quality. So after I tried a lot of them, I stopped using them.
Advice #6: Don't sacrifice user experience and your blog's “feel” for one dollar per month.
Now let's see how AdSense works. In essence, AdSense and all these ad networks are advertising auctions. As a publisher, you place your website areas up for auction, and the advertisers bid to get a spot.
Here is the problem for us, though: Low traffic brings low bidders and low-quality ads. “Date a single mum,” “mature dating,”… That type. Sadly, these ads will ruin your click-through rate and your website's status.
But the more traffic you gain, the higher the bidding will be, and you will start getting better ads, which naturally will increase the click-through rate. My recommendation here is to start with AdSense auto-ads. Others will tell you that auto ads ruin your website's Core Web Vitals. They are right, but honestly, it's not that important when I'm writing this. Google won't start dropping a site's rank and lose money just because it uses AdSense.
AdSense auto-ads: Start with auto-ads and then start replacing them in key areas and posts and see if they do better. That's what I do. I check which posts have a lot of traffic, and I place in-article ads to them.
AdSense blocking controls: Blocking controls give you access to the categories of ads your blog/website displays. You can enable and disable specific categories. Let me show you an example.
As you can(?) see, some ad categories perform amazing, such as Autos & Vehicles. That's why I will be writing more and more about electric cars. It's the new trend, with Tesla stocks peaking and the rumors about Apple and Hyundai-Kia. But “Health,” “Jobs & Education”, “Beauty & Personal Care”, even “Apparel”, perform bad. You can block these categories, maybe not all at once, and see if you see improvements in your revenue.
However, don't disable too many categories at once. Fewer bidders will result in a lower cost per click (CPC).
Let's now see how “Borderpolar” did in January 2021 (spoiler alert: you won't be amazed).
Now, these numbers look lackluster, just 9.99 euros earned. But let's see a few things in detail. In November, I was clicking ads on my blog, thinking that Google can identify them. They can. But they also penalized me with limited ads for a few weeks. My page RPM went extremely high, along with my click-through rate, though. So these stats are diluted.
So the page Revenue-Per-Mille (RPM) dropped to 0,76 euros. But the past few I am at > 1,00 euro. Things are getting better. The click-through rate is at 0.57% now. But more importantly, you can see that the number of page views and ad impressions has exploded. The 420% and 457% growth rates are ridiculous and probably unsustainable. But at this pace, in a few months, my ad revenue will be significant.
I will be experimenting with auto ads and blocking controls and see if I can do even better.
If you decide to place ads manually, look at this great post by wpbeginner.
The first four ad sizes (medium rectangle (300×250), large rectangle (336×280), leaderboard (728×90), half Page aka large Skyscraper (300×600)) seem to perform really well and fit in most areas of blogs.
Advice #7: Don't go with low-quality ad networks. Be patient and experiment when you finally get into AdSense or Media net. Don't expect to become rich from passive ad income. That's not going to happen, at least in the short term.
Plans: When this blog hits 50,000 sessions/month and more than 60,000 page views, I will try to work with Mediavine, which will significantly boost Borderpolar's revenue. Two more options can boost revenue, Outbrain's Smartfeed and the Taboola feed. You can read about them in this NY Times article about the feeds these companies add to the bottom of posts. The biggest media websites work with these advertisers. That's where the money is in terms of ads. Outbrain does not work with Greek advertisers, but I have already reached Taboola's representative in Greece. Maximizing ad revenue can help you cover the costs of running a professional blog and even more.
Now, this is probably the most important source of revenue for bloggers. Please have a look at how many tools I use as a blogger.
- Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, SEMrush, Moz for my SEO adventures.
- Canva is an amazing graphic design tool for every content creator.
- WP Rocket for caching and speeding up your experience.
- Elementor Pro is my page-builder of choice.
- Astra Pro WordPress theme combined with Elementor Pro is the reason why you like this blog. If you don't, it's my fault as I am still mastering these tools.
- OneSignal push notifications, because push notifications matter (a lot).
- Imagify – to optimize images, works well with WP Rocket.
- Grammarly – because we all make mistakes.
- OptinMonster – because list building, leads, and conversions are everything (wait for my next post).
There are all industry-leading tools, and I pay for most of them (or use trial versions because I cannot afford them). So, of course, I will be an affiliate of products that make this blog successful.
So the key here is to become an authority figure, a brand, and an influencer. Then your recommendations will matter. Show that you are an expert on the field, with posts like this, expert reviews, and more. Does Anastasios Antoniadis seem like an expert?
Now let's move to the next step.
Expert reviews. There is the easy part like reviewing YouTube downloaders, YouTube converters, and more. Easy reviews but not really a great source of income.
So, where do you start?
First of all, I joined CJ, Awin, and ShareASale (part of Awin). These are big networks in the affiliate marketing field, and you will find a ton of advertisers to work with. There are either more options:
But remember expert honest reviews. For instance, I wrote a review about Ivacy VPN. It's a cheap VPN and a decent one, but it has its flaws, and yet it is the one I bought last year. There is no reason for me to make it look better than it is.
Right now, I'm reviewing ExpressVPN, arguably the best (and priciest) VPN provider out there. I am not part of the affiliate program for ExpressVPN yet. But I plan to review all VPNs. In return, I get a free month with them to use them and see how they perform. NordVPN is coming soon.
VPN Affiliate programs are a good start even for non-experts because many people buy VPN for streaming. But then you need to find stuff on which you are an expert. For instance, I will drop a huge review of the OnePlus 8 Pro, my own phone, in the next few weeks, and eventually, I hope I can become a smartphone reviewer and affiliate marketer. Also, a laptop reviewer and a camera reviewer. Yes, a computer scientist and photographer can be an expert in a lot of tech areas.
There are so many areas you can go for:
- VPN affiliate programs
- Website Affiliate Programs
- Hosting Affiliate Programs
- Travel Affiliate Programs
- Fashion Affiliate Programs
- Cryptocurrency Affiliate Programs
- Sports Affiliate Programs
- Gaming Affiliate Programs
- Fitness Affiliate Programs
- Beauty and Personal Care Affiliate Programs
- Finance Affiliate Programs
- Travel Affiliate Programs
- Music Affiliate Programs
There is a ton of them, but I can't list all of them. Instead, I will provide my suggestions in the future.
For example, I have also partnered with Kinguin (because while they are sketchy, I buy game keys from them and never had a problem) and ULT because they make really nice apparel for gamers. After all, this is a tech and gaming blog.
There are a ton of choices.
Advice #8: Become an affiliate with all major players in every Affiliate sector. Review all of them, show your expertise, and let the user/customer decide. You will be rewarded for your work anyway. That's how your earn the much-needed trust to succeed. It's up to you at the end of the day; if you deliver quality reviews, you will get results.
There is a lot more to be said about affiliate marketing, EPC, and commissions, but I will leave that for another post.
Since I write a lot about blogging and SEO, I hope to become an affiliate for most of the great Blogging and SEO tools. Not just because of the big revenue some of these tools bring, but because I like working with all of them.
Borderoplar's Google Analytics report
So how did Borderpolar do in January? Let's see.
Almost 6K users and 7.8K sessions are a good start. There is still a lot of fluctuation, and this is what I am working on. But notice what happened at the start of January. My SEO strategy put me on #1 on Google SERP on January 6th, and then I started dropping. So it's not just about excellent content. We all had the same AFK Arena codes. But I was better and smarter at SEO. They were better in terms of authority, so eventually, they caught up. But it's not a game they can win.
The growth rates are amazing, and the bounce rate is meager. So everything goes really well, but…
But backlinks… My backlink outreach is not going great. But I have started Greek bloggers and others with similar Domain Authority to mine, and if they are smart, they will jump on the ship. After all, Borderpolar is already higher than these blogs in terms of traffic, and soon the difference will be in orders of magnitude. Eventually, the same people who rejected me will end up asking for backlinks, and I will serve them with a big fat “L” in Shannon Sharpe fashion. And a price tag.
Building a Community
If there is one lesson to be learned by r/wallstreetbets and Gamestop, small fish in large numbers can go against the big dogs. Borderpolar will always be free of charge, and you will find information about all my strategies and partnerships here. There is only one thing I can ask in return. Social media shares and backlinks (if you are a blogger). Finally, if you see value in this post (if you won't check your eyesight):
- Subscribe to Borderpolar's newsletter.
- Follow Borderpolar on Twitter (for the latest tech news, SEO and blogging tips, and gaming codes and guides).
- Like Borderpolar's Facebook page.
- Subscribe to Borderpolar Tech on YouTube.
- Contact me @ borderpolar dot com @ gmail dot com
- Leave a comment. 🙂
There is a lot more to be said about how to have success as a blogger. Success is not something you can take for granted. But I think I can help your effort as I am becoming better and better at this. Are you inspired?
Advice #9: Don't start blogging to make money. Start because you are passionate about it. Because you want to communicate with others, build your own community and offer real value to others (and then make money as a result). But there is no reason for you not to start a blog, share your thoughts, and review products you love if you like writing about them.
That being said, I think I identified a guy that hired ghostwriters to review a ton of products, bought backlinks on big media outlets, and now makes millions by teaching people about blogging. There is also a company that owns a ton of tech blogs/websites with similar content. And then they tell you that blogging is saturated. Give me backlinks or traffic to buy them, and I will show you.