One thing nobody ever tells you is that running a website or blog is a long, never-ending marathon – you launch a site, and then start creating content until… forever? Heck, I started my first site nine years ago and am still learning, still growing, and still trying to figure out what’s next.
It’s been a while since I shared any content like this – I shared blogging lessons learned in 2019 and hopes for 2020 (ha!) as well as an SEO-focused list of tips in early 2021. I also share strategic takeaways in all of my Case Study updates, though they’re easy to miss if you don’t read those posts and site-specific if you do.
For that reason, it felt like the start of a new year was a good time to look at all the lessons I’ve learned from my various sites in the past year, and put them in one place. Below you’ll find five lessons I’ve learned (the hard way, as is my style!) and how they fit together into a strategy that you might recognize if you follow and try to reverse-engineer my sites and their varying successes.
Ready to start thinking about your strategy for 2023 based on my blogging lessons learned in 2022?
🎧 Want to listen instead? Check out the audio version on the Site School podcast!
1. It’s OK to Take A Break
I don’t know who needs to read this, but I’m sure you’re out there, and you just need someone to say it: it’s okay to take a break. It’s okay to fall out of love with the work you’re doing, to step back, to reevaluate, and to come up with a new plan later.
Being a blogger or website owner is a marathon on a hamster wheel – you can run forever and not get very far. Even harder, sometimes you do get far for a time, then stop moving forward and watch your traffic/business plateau. That was 2022 for me with several of my sites, and it made me realize that taking breaks is an essential part of how I (and you) can sustainably be a long-term creator.
So schedule a month off from posting – or start today; Google’s not going to penalize you for that, especially when you come back with better-quality content than ever before because your creative coffers are refilled.
How I learned this lesson: by checking in on my energy/passion for Space Tourism Guide, by scheduling a hiatus for Great Plains Travel Guide, and by pausing publishing on Jordan Traveler
How I’m applying this lesson in 2023: By working ahead to take off January and July from writing for Valerie & Valise, plus continuing to take breaks on other sites as needed for my interest and energy levels
How you can apply this lesson too: By scheduling breaks throughout the year now and working hard in between so you can truly unplug and recharge
2. Focus on EEAT
Once you’ve taken a break and are feeling ready to GO on your site in 2023, there should be one mantra in your mind: EEAT.
For those not familiar, EEAT is Google’s rubric for quality, which stands for:
Figuring out your own EEAT and leaning into it is A) the future of the internet and B) the best chance you have for succeeding with Google. You need to create a site that demonstrates EEAT to Google if you want your site to rank well and continue to grow, especially for newer sites. (Any sites started since ~2020 qualify as “new” in my mind.)
EEAT is what will prevent AI from taking over the internet; it’s what will keep readers coming back. If you ignore it, outsourcing all your content to non-experts and publishing content across various topics, Google is going to notice and stop rewarding you.
I’ve previously shared tips on building (E)EAT (before Google added the second E, but including tips for demonstrating “Experience”), and have shared episodes of the Site School podcast about EAT and EEAT. I also use columns of my BOSS spreadsheet to track whether articles are in-niche and other important stats.
How I learned this lesson: from all of my sites!
How you can apply this lesson too: by being hard on yourself to identify and only focus on EEAT for your site(s)
3. Master Internal Linking
While I don’t disregard the importance of good technical SEO, most bloggers and site owners are not doing anything so complex that they will encounter major technical SEO issues. Instead, I think people fall back on technical SEO issues (like site speed, schema, etc.) as red herrings instead of their content quality issues.
One area of technical SEO that I believe is increasingly pivotal for success, though, is internal linking. See, Google uses links to crawl and understand the relationship between pages (both on-site and off-site), and if you don’t link between related content, Google can’t find and understand it.
Everything on your site should be internally linked as much as makes sense – no post or page should be orphaned and unlinked from anything else on the site. It’s worth doing an internal linking audit to ensure you don’t have any orphaned pages. If you do, you either need to figure out how to get them linked (by adding links and/or by publishing new, related content that can link) or delete them.
Additionally, you should create your content strategy with internal linking in mind – never publish a new piece of content that you can’t link to/from existing content already on your site. If you just commit to this idea (and don’t worry about existing orphans/past internal linking), you’ll create a really cohesive map of content on your site that Google will be able to crawl, understand, and rank. (And the effect will be both easier and compounded if you’re also focusing on EEAT!)
How I learned this lesson: from success with Eat Like Bourdain
How I’m applying this lesson in 2023: by continuing my strategy with ELB; by mapping out internal linking content gaps on other sites to come up with new ideas
How you can apply this lesson too: by doing an internal link audit; by ensuring every new post is linking to and linked to at least three other posts on your site
4. Build Your Audience Off-Algorithm Too
I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: never build your business entirely on algorithms.
As site owners, almost everything we do depends on someone else’s algorithm: Google’s algorithm for ranking content, Meta’s algorithm for Facebook and Instagram, TikTok’s algorithm for the For You Page… our businesses exist at the whims of other people, which is a vulnerable place to be.
There is one place that still remains as a hold-out of non-algorithmic traffic: email.
If you aren’t building your email list and emailing them regularly (weekly!), you’re missing out on a small but important segment of insulating your business against the perpetual social media algorithm changes and now almost-weekly Google updates. (Seriously, it’s crazy how often they’re updating!)
If you run a travel blog, check out my new course, Travel Blogger’s Email Academy; I created this course in late 2022 to help travel bloggers design a real strategy for getting traffic and building a community through email.
How I learned this lesson: through years of testing email strategy on my main site, Valerie & Valise
How I’m applying this lesson in 2023: by focusing to build out email strategies for my other sites
How you can apply this lesson too: by enrolling in the Travel Blogger’s Email Academy and committing to weekly emails to your list
5. Diversify from Traffic-Based Income
Similar to my previous point, it’s important to think about your business holistically: too often, I see bloggers and site owners achieve success in one part of their business, and then go all-in on that strategy to the exclusion of others. This might look like creating tons of content just for ad revenue or affiliate income, or building up social media platforms to the exclusion of creating quality content. If you feel called out, I’m sorry, but you’ve built a vulnerability into your blog.
See, just like traffic is heavily affected by algorithms and you might take a real hit when algorithms change, so too it goes for traffic-based income – if all your income is directly proportional to your traffic, and your traffic goes away (because of an algorithm!), your income does too!
Instead, I’d challenge you to think of non-traffic-based income ideas for 2023. That might mean finally publishing your first eBook (or several once you get the hang of it!) or offering a service to your audience after asking them what they need. It could mean coming up with a product you can sell via Amazon/KDP or Etsy. Brainstorming products and services is both challenging and rewarding – especially when it results in income that doesn’t require you to optimize for an algorithm.
The sweet spot is finding a product or service you can sell via email; you bring people into your ecosystem through EEAT content, collect their email, send them high-value info via email, and then sell to them in email too. That’s a fully-integrated, stable business model!
How I learned this lesson: through many product/service ideas (and failures) on Valerie & Valise, as well as testing ideas on Eat Like Bourdain
How I’m applying this lesson in 2023: adding new products (particularly eBooks) to my sites as freebies (to encourage email signups) and sales opportunities
How you can apply this lesson too: by brainstorming then setting a deadline to try and create one new product or offer one new service to your audience in 2023
Putting it All Together for 2023
Aside from tip #1 on this list, you might notice that the rest of my suggestions for strategy in 2023 sort of fit together:
If you create quality content in line with EEAT (#2) and have a strong internal linking strategy (#3) to help Google find, understand, and rank your content, you can then get people to signup for your email list (#4), send them valuable emails, and eventually sell them products or services (#5). Putting it all together, you’ll have a really solid business by this time next year – one that both gets traffic from Google and is insulated a bit better from Google’s ever-changing algorithm. It’s one that will even allow you to take breaks (#1) to refill your creative coffers and get ready for an even bigger 2024!
Sounds good, right?
Have any questions about how to build your blogging or site strategy for 2023? Ask in the comments!