It’s hard to believe it, but I’ve been blogging for a decade now. Back in October, I crossed the 10-year mark with my first site, Valerie & Valise (here’s the case study update, too); I would never have guessed I’d still be pluggin’ away at this keyboard all these years later – or that it would be the primary income I earn and which supports my (growing!) family.
As you know, I love to take time throughout the year (at each site’s blogiversary and at the end of the calendar year) to reflect and look forward – this site is my little pet project for that! Both last year and in 2019, I shared some blogging lessons I learned and takeaways that might be helpful for fellow site owners; I like this as a tradition as it forces me to sit down and try to make sense of the chaos in my mind when I look back over a whole year and try to plan for another one in front of me.
I try and limit myself to just five lessons each year – and I try to see how they might also apply to you, a site owner like me. As you’ll see, this year’s lessons are quite different than last year’s and have a different tone. I think site owners as a whole feel a bit uncertain about our future (thanks to lesson #1), but I personally plan to continue focusing on my sites as my main project for the foreseeable future. I hope you’ll join me.
Ready to start thinking about your strategy for 2024 based on my blogging lessons learned in 2023?
(P.S. I tried to find images for this post and even attempted using AI to generate some but they turned out looking alien and weird. Sorry for the giant text post!)
1. The Only Constant is Change
I don’t even need to ask it anymore: almost every website owner I know has seen volatility in 2023 – if not in the past few months alone thanks to the – *deep breath* – Helpful Content Update, October Spam Update, October Core Update, November Core Update, and the final (announced) November Reviews Update (these will now run constantly). That’s nothing to say of the four major updates that ran in the first 8 months of the year!
It’s almost impossible to catch your breath and analyze the possible impacts of these updates before another one happens, which is really frustrating if only because I’m a data nerd and I like clean experiments!
I don’t foresee the pace of major changes slowing down in 2024, especially as Google is simultaneously working on things like Bard/Gemini and the Search Generative Experience as possible contenders to replace the traditional search results page we all know and love (okay, we usually hate it, especially after an update!).
How does one set a course in a storm like this? I guess the boat analogy is apt: you need to lower your sails a bit, take a stable stance, and be prepared for a lot of movement and course changes while still trying to maintain the general direction you want to go. What this means logistically is adjusting your content strategy and pace, managing your mental health, and understanding that your journey will not be (roughly) linear the way it may have been in the past.
Personally, I’m facing setbacks from the second half of 2023 for sure – especially on London on My Mind but maybe other sites too, just waiting to see how the December Traffic Bump looks – and will continue to adjust my strategy (sails) and course (goals) from there.
How I learned this lesson: All of my sites had turbulence this year! I just hope at least some of it is seasonal or geopolitical…
How I’m applying this lesson in 2024: I am downshifting and stepping back from several of my main sites to focus on my “breadwinner” (Valerie & Valise), my “problem child” (LOMM), and my mental health.
How you can apply this lesson too: Find a supportive community (like Site School!) to help give you good information and encouragement when the storms are at their worst.
2. Focus on EEAT & Hidden Gems
While almost everything has changed for Google in the past few months, I believe one constant has remained the same – and I don’t really trust any site owners who say they’re ignoring this part of their strategy, even if they are seeing success. Google has made it clear: we need to prove that we know what we’re talking about and have real experience. Otherwise, we risk being caught in the trap of getting labeled as “unhelpful” possibly AI-generated spam content. I think this is primarily what happened with LOMM this year.
For those not familiar, EEAT is Google’s rubric for quality, which stands for:
EEAT can’t be faked effectively – Google is getting continuously better at detecting true EEAT and not penalizing sites that have it. It’s what will prevent AI from taking over the internet, and 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 (while I think my writers for LOMM are experts, Google thinks otherwise, so we’re working hard on that!)
The other interesting tidbit that Google quietly dropped is that they’ve started to focus on surfacing what they call “hidden gems” – this is why you’re seeing so many forum sites showing up, since there are often really great little pieces of information on random pages of Reddit and TripAdvisor (especially in travel). My goal going forward is to focus on surfacing these hidden gems better than anyone else on the topics I cover – both through my EEAT and through good research/planning when I’m traveling.
How I learned this lesson: The hard way, by getting smacked hard on LOMM in the Helpful Content and October Core updates.
How I’m applying this lesson in 2024: Working across all sites to keep sending strong EEAT signals and hopefully recover LOMM.
How you can apply this lesson too: Read my tips on EEAT and make sure you’re doing them on every post and as part of your content strategy as a whole. Start thinking about where you can find hidden gems about your niche to experience them yourself (EEAT) and include them in your articles.
3. Stop Sleeping on Facebook
For years, I’ve been beating the drum of email as an alternative to being slaves to Google… To be honest, I think it’s really hard to take a website that is oriented around Google traffic and pivot it to relying more on email than just a few percent of your total traffic. (It is however not as hard to start a website/business that’s focused on email from day 1, if you’re starting something new – but more on that below.)
Let’s try a new recommendation this year, and I can’t really say this enough: if any part of your audience is on Facebook (and they probably are!), you need to be back on Facebook!
I refocused my efforts on Facebook in late 2022 for V&V and it was a huge move in the right direction for my brand, community, and business. I’ve been able to expand my reach/audience on social media (80k+ in a group and 25k on a page – way more than I could ever hope for on Instagram!), grow my email subscribers (by about 7k people since February), and even drive a decent amount of traffic (only about 3% of the total but that’s twice the proportion it was in 2022).
I put together two multi-lesson guides on the Site School Facebook group, all about Facebook Groups and Facebook Pages. I highly recommend checking them out and seeing if these strategies might work for you and your site this year.
How I learned this lesson: As mentioned, my Facebook Page and Alaska group on Facebook.
How I’m applying this lesson in 2024: Keep calm & carry on – for V&V at least. I’m also focusing on trying to do the same for sad, broken LOMM.
How you can apply this lesson too: Read the guides on the SS Facebook group and decide which strategies you want to try in 2024.
4. It’s Harder than Ever to “Start…”
As I look back on the last few years, I think it’s safe to say that 2023 might have been one of the hardest years to start a new website and see success… don’t believe the techbros running AI content farms claiming they’re making a ton of money in the first few months.
Google has gotten so skeptical of new sites – especially in light of those techbros pumping out literal garbage to spam the search results – that it’s very hard to see much progress early on. In fact, a few times a year there’s a thread in the Mediavine group about how long it takes to reach 100k pageviews after starting a new site. The general consensus is almost always somewhere between 8-18 months, depending on the niche and how much time you can devote to the site.
This isn’t meant to be discouraging, but rather to manage your expectations about what you can achieve and how long it will take in 2024. I I started a site on January 1st, I would expect it to be in the range of 10k-25k by year’s end, assuming it was a relatively low-competition topic and I could stay devoted to producing a healthy amount of content all year long.
Be honest with yourself and you’ll start off on a stronger foot for your mental health and the success of your site.
How I learned this lesson: No specific site taught me this one, as I haven’t started any new sites since 2021, but it’s mostly through observing the general landscape of site owners.
How I’m applying this lesson in 2024: If I do start the one new site I have in mind (and have been thinking about for years), it’s going to be one of my top 3 sites for at least six months – and that means clearing out space among my other sites, which is hard to do!
How you can apply this lesson too: Come up with a realistic content plan for the first year of running your site before you start, to ensure you’ve got a sense of the scope and dedication to see it through.
5. …So Keep What You Love in Mind
Part of why we do this whole website/social media thing is to gain more freedom and flexibility to work on the projects we care about, so I’m always a bit disheartened to hear about website owners starting 20 new sites to farm out the work and make loads of money. Don’t get me wrong, I really like having money and I want more of it (ideally without having to work really hard for it!), but I’m also motivated by more: a passion for the projects I choose to spend my time on, and a desire to help people through the information I share on.
It’s just that – as with almost all digital content creation projects right now – you need to be aware of the slog it’s likely to be to start seeing results, so it’s important to be slogging away at something you love. If you’re starting something new, especially if you’re walking away from another project as part of that process, be sure to spend time with yourself ensuring it’s something you really want to dedicate your time and energy to, something that fills you up. That will make the first few years of the project so much easier.
How I learned this lesson: Stepping back and towards some of my main sites, as well as the flop of D&D Community as I lost interest almost right away.
How I’m applying this lesson in 2024: Being very conscientious about starting a new site in 2024, while maintaining my existing projects.
How you can apply this lesson too: Give yourself the space and grace to consider your own interest/passion for a project even when you find a great opportunity (such as good keywords or a few other good content creators in that space).
Putting it All Together for 2024
Last year, all of the lessons I learned fit together nicely into a pretty cohesive strategy… this year, not quite so much. I think there are two general directions site owners will go in 2024:
- Keep on truckin’ (focus on the site(s) you already have)
- Try something new (start a new site or channel for one of your existing sites)
If you’re in the former bucket, lessons #1-#3 are for you. If in the latter, lessons #4 and #5 make more sense. You could absolutely do both, too – focus on the sites/projects you have and start something new. It’s really up to you, your goals, and what kind of work you love to do (okay, lesson #5 applies to everyone!).
Have any questions about how to build your blogging or site strategy for 2024? Ask in the comments!