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Why My First Blog Failed … and What You Can Learn from My Mistakes

This guest post is by Ali Luke of Aliventures.

Where do you hope blogging will take you?

I’m thrilled that blogging’s got me to where I am today—with a successful full-time business, a bunch of ebooks, a membership site, guest posts on major blogs, two speaker appearances at BlogWorld, and a published book Publishing E-Books For Dummies).

To other bloggers, it might look like I’ve been successful.

And I have definitely had my share of success … but, like every single blogger you can think of,I’ve also had my share of failures.

Today, I’m going to tell you about my very first blog. It failed … but I learned a huge amount from the experience.

Here’s how it happened, and what you can learn from my mistakes.

Where I began

Like most new bloggers, I had a day job when I started out. I wasn’t too happy in my day job, and for a while, I’d been thinking about ways to make money doing something I loved—writing.

I came across the idea of “pro-blogging” online—and promptly devoured most of ProBlogger’s archives. I was fired up with the idea of becoming a blogger, and immediately pictured a book deal and a six-figure income.

But I made three big mistakes…

Mistake #1: Too much of a focus on money

Instead of thinking up a topic I could write on for years and years, I chose one that I was sure would make money: healthy eating and weight loss.

This was back in late 2007, when the conventional blogging advice was to choose a niche – as narrow a niche as possible.

I named my blog The Office Diet (if you’re really curious, it’s still online—www.theofficediet.com) and focused on writing about healthy living for office workers. For me, this was too narrow a niche: I was starting to lose interest after a few months.

Learning point

Money matters—but so does love! Don’t just choose a blogging niche because you think it will be commercial … choose one that gives you room to grow.

You might even want to go for a blog title that gives you scope to shift and change your perspective, in case you start to lose interest in your initial topic.

Mistake #2: No real business plan

I was very keen to monetize my blog … but I didn’t have much idea of how to go about that. I’d been reading Steve Pavlina’s blog at the time, and he made most of his money through advertising, so I decided to go down the same route.

I signed up for Google AdSense, popped some ad units into my blog’s sidebar, and waited for the money to start coming in.

And waited.

And waited.

In the end, it took me eleven months of blogging—five times a week at first (I later dropped to three posts a week) before I got my very first check from Google.

Since then, I’ve become much more business-savvy. Instead of seeing my blog itself as something that will produce money, as if by magic, I’ve realised that I need to use my blog as a marketing tool to support my business.

Learning point

Blogs are a wonderful way to market and grow your business—through writing great content that draws people to your products or services.

Advertising can bring in some extra cash, but it’s not going to be a big revenue stream unless you have a massive blog. For most of us, it’s much easier to build a successful small business than to build a blog with hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

Mistake #3: No interaction with readers

When I began my blog, I decided to switch comments off. I’d seen some big bloggers do this due to being overwhelmed with comments—and I figured I might as well do it at the start. I was convinced that before long, I would have tons of traffic, and hundreds of people commenting on every post.

Looking back, I can’t quite believe I was so big-headed! Of course, my blog didn’t take off overnight … and I lost out on a potentially very useful resource: reader feedback.

Believe it or not, I managed to take this mistake even further. By this point, I’d realized that I was making just pennies with Google AdSense (partly due to my niche – weight loss ads don’t pay well – and I hadn’t thought to research this before starting the blog).

So, I launched an ebook.

It didn’t occur to me to ask my readers what they might want to read. I just wrote the ebook that I thought they needed.

Of course, it went down like carrot sticks at a chocolate-lovers’ convention. I made a few sales, but nothing like what I’d hoped for (even after I cut the price from $10 to just $4).

Learning point

Your readers are the lifeblood of your blog. Treasure their comments—especially in the early days of your blog. Seek their feedback when you’re deciding what to post about, and always survey them when you’re at the brainstorming stage of creating a product. You might well find that what they want is very different from what you thought they’d want!

As you can imagine, by this point, I’d become a bit disillusioned with my blog. I was struggling to come up with ideas for new posts, because I was losing interest in my topic.

I’d tried pitching a book idea, but (unsurprisingly) the publisher just wasn’t interested—my readership stats really weren’t impressive.

And, of course, I wasn’t making much money.

The blog had failed.

But … that’s not the full story. Because some very good things had come out of my blogging, despite all those mistakes I’d made.

This is what I’d managed to get right.

#1: Guest posting led to freelance blogging

I started guest posting very early in the life of my blog (about a month after launching it). By the luck of being in the right place at the right time, I landed two paid blogging gigs.

I managed to build on these to get more paying, regular writing work … and about nine months after launching that first blog, I quit my day job. My blog itself wasn’t making money, but my blogging for other people had resulted in a steady income.

While I had a bit of an advantage here over some bloggers – I have an English Literature degree, and I’ve always been a confident writer—I strongly believe that paid blogging is accessible to anyone with a good standard of English.

#2: Freelance blogging led to my first successful ebook

I found that people were very interested in how I got paid blogging work, so I wrote an ebook about that – and this one was much more successful. (I updated this ebook last year—if you’re interested, it’s The Blogger’s Guide to Freelancing.)

By this point, I was beginning to get a name for myself as someone who wrote about blogging and writing, which led to…

#3: My ebook led to my blog

In 2009, I launched a new blog, Aliventures. I already had the domain name, as Aliventures was the name of my business.

Of course, I made plenty of mistakes with that blog too – but I managed to apply all the things I’d learned from my first blog, The Office Diet, and from my second blog (that lasted all of a couple of months), which was called Alpha Student.

I was able to get readers much more quickly, plus I had lots of strong connections through guest posting and through Twitter.

Even better, I now write about topics that inspired me. To begin with, I focused on personal development, but then I switched my focus to writing, blogging and publishing. Because the blog had a brand-style name, Aliventures, rather than a keyword-rich name like The Office Diet, it was easy for me to make this shift.

And four years on from starting my very first “pro” blog, I finally got that book deal I’d been hoping for. My book Publishing E-Books For Dummies came out last month, and it’s wonderful to be an author for such a major brand.

What I want you to remember

This post has been very much about me, so I wanted to end with what’s important for you. If you don’t remember anything else from this post, remember this part:

It’s always frustrating when things don’t go as well as we’d like, and if you’re struggling to get more than a handful of readers, you might well be tempted to give up.

Don’t.

Even small successes count. If you only have ten people on your mailing list, or ten subscribers to your blog, that’s still ten people who are enjoying your writing. Imagine sitting at them with a table in a restaurant—it’s not such a small number!

And every time you step outside your comfort zone and try something new—from joining Twitter to writing your first guest post—you take a step that could lead to somewhere amazing.

Thomas Edison, who invented the lightbulb, didn’t get it right the first time. Or the tenth time, or even the hundredth time. But he didn’t give up. He said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Whether you’ve been blogging for a few days or a few years, you’ll have had some successes—even if, like many of mine, they were a bit unexpected! Even if you’ve made a few mistakes, you’ll have learned a huge amount.

Share your best blogging experiences with us in the comments, so we can all learn from one another, and celebrate our successes together.

Ali Luke is a writer and blogger from the UK. If you’d like to take your writing and blogging further, join her newsletter to access her library of free mini-ebooks, including Ten Powerful Ways to Make Your Blog Posts Stronger, Ten Easy Ways to Attract Readers to Your Blog … And Keep Them There and more!

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Comments

  1. Nanang says:

    thanks,.. i can learn from your Mistakes as experience !!:D

  2. Kevin says:

    I spent over a year trying to find something that I could enjoy writing about. I had more than one blog fail in that time. I’ve finally now managed to combine two things I love, technology and Internet marketing.

    I really liked your statement about how your blog is really a marketing tool. That’s how I’ve been approaching the design and implementation of my new blog. The goal for every visitor is to get them to sign up to my email list, and slowly but surely the pieces are coming into place.

    I really enjoyed your post. It’s both a cautionary tale and inspirational.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Thanks Kevin! Best of luck with your new blog — and congrats on finding a combination of two things you love. :-)

  3. Loved this post Ali, thanks so much for sharing both what did work, and especially, what didn’t!

    It’s so refreshing to hear about things someone tried that weren’t so successful, so that I can laugh at my own adventures with trying that same thing that also didn’t work. ; )

    Like the whole idea of earning any kind of decent income from throwing up Google ads. I thought of doing that, did some research, then decided it wasn’t for me, because I knew I was never going to build the kind of blog that gets enough of the right kind of traffic to make that worthwhile, nor did I want to.

    Probably one of my best blogging experiences was working on my previous food and wine blog — dormant for now because I’m up to my eyeballs in client work (thrilled about that!), but soon to be brought back to life once my schedule normalizes.

    I started that blog because I wanted an outlet for my abiding passion for all things food & wine & restaurants, and all the experiences that go along with those passions. And while I wrote from a place of passion, I also took it seriously, because I was hoping to make it a business at some point. So I took blogging and social media marketing courses, got super active in forums and so on, and then applied everything I learned to the blog. I didn’t end up making it a business, but like you, I learned so much in the process; there’s no way I would have the blog and business I have today (in a different niche — one that capitalizes on my past work experience and skills) if not for the wine blog experience.

    One of the best things about the food and wine blog was having winemakers who read my review of their wine on the blog email to thank me. The first time that happened I was surprised and overjoyed! And then when winemakers and winery PR people started sending me wine to review, I thought, whoa, this blogging about wine thing sure is a really fun little hobby! ; )

    Thanks for sharing your story, it shows how every experience can lead to success if you’ve got the right attitude.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Kimberly, thanks for sharing some of your story too! Getting sent wine to review sounds pretty awesome … I occasionally get books, but that’s not quite the same. ;-) Congrats on building a successful business — sounds like you have plenty of clients!

  4. cudjoe says:

    It is really amazing how we newbies in the blogging world wants things to happen overnight. We crave for six figure income in just months. Forgetting that the likes of Darren and yourself did not make things happen overnight.

  5. Ben Troy says:

    I like the idea that blogging is a real busines, A long term sucess blog should make visitors warm up more quickly and build strong authority relationship for the repeat visitors.

  6. Chris Austin says:

    Thanks for the advice and the willingness to share what went wrong as well as what should be done to succeed, always good to hear what to avoid and how to tamper expectations.
    The above mentioned blog is a group effort of five poets. We get page views but other than our own comments to each others posts, no one seems to be responding, very frustrating… we were hoping for a good call and response.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Chris, I hope you start getting some comments too … but I know it does take time. Statistically, only 1% of people who read a post will comment — sometimes people are shy to jump in. Could you create a post that specifically encouraged comments? Some blogs have “open threads” where they pose a question and encourage readers to leave their thoughts.

  7. Harshit S. says:

    Liked reading the article and your points sort of struck a chord with me as I also focused on making money more than improving the reader experience in the initial period.

  8. Great stuff Darren!

    Thanks for sharing your story, there is a lot to pull from it. I learned most recently, as you said in this post, blogging as a business is very difficult. If you blog to promote your business, things get much easier! The hardest part is setting up what kind of business you wish to start. I am currently writing an ebook as I want to sell informational products to help people.

    Thanks again!

  9. Hi Ali for 15 months i blogged and made only 100 dollars before finding out that the niche couldn’t be monetized in any way. I agree that we need interest. But i would rather go for profitable passions.

  10. D Thomas says:

    Keeping a name under which your brand can expand is a very good idea. Many people just use their own family names for the domain. When their interests change the name remains the same. [www.lileks.com comes to mind.]

    • Ali Luke says:

      Great point! In fact, I think it’s well worth registering your own name as a domain if it’s available, even if you don’t plan to blog there straight away.

  11. Fantastic post! Thank you.

    I’ve found that when I spend my time focusing on money, I lost track of everything else. When I focus on my readers and having fun, then everything falls right into place.

    I recently a few goals for my blog and was astounded by how quickly everything turned around for me. I’m looking forward to following your other recommendations.

    Kimberly

    • Ali Luke says:

      Thanks Kimbely, and best of luck with your blog! Focusing on readers — and setting goals — is always a great way forward.

  12. Rob says:

    I think planning is the key. If you plan to do an authority site, you should focus on keeping high quality content divided on the right categories and try to capture an email. then segment the list according to likes. that way you can bring the right news to the right segment. then you can monetize. Sounds easy but a lot of trial an error. Bu I agree sometimes success happens and you don’t know the variables. Frustrating it is at a times.

  13. jesper says:

    I like this blog post because it is not a get rich over night story. Sadly I think that most bloggers or affiliate marketers give up if they haven’t earned money within a half a year or less. I have been making websites for around 2 years and it is first within the last half year, I started to make money. So the moral of this blogpost must be. Keep moving on and learn from your mistakes.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Patience is definitely key … I think the sad thing is that we often get the impression that our favourite bloggers / marketers got there overnight. Often, there’s a whole behind-the-scenes story that we never see!

  14. Thanks for that very encouraging article.

    I love my blog but I have been on a roller coaster ride since I started it 18 months ago. I had NO idea what I was getting into. My son suggested I do it. He wanted to do the technical side of blogging and needed someone to start one. “What the heck,” I thought. I had NO IDEA. Both of us started out knowing pretty much nothing.

    We’ve come a long way, albeit slowly. I do like to keep track of the positive things that happen so they can encourage me when nothing seems to be happening.

    Right now I’m facing another learning curve. I’ve been approached by a company about advertising on my site. That’s a good thing but again, I know nothing. I’ve just been happily writing away and promoting on social media but now it’s time to start a new level. I’m a little scared. But there are a lot of resources out there, including this site, that I’m going to be spending a lot of time with in the coming weeks.

    But again, thank you so much for sharing your story and for your encouraging words.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Patty, best of luck! Keeping track of the positive things is a great move … I have a little book where I write down my achievements each month, and it’s fun to look back as the months and years go by. I can really see how far I’ve come (a great encouragement on the bad days).

  15. Dion says:

    Wonderful post! When looking back on those beginning days, I realize that I have come so far! Money was everything because I was a stay at home dad and I wanted to contribute more financially to the household, so my vision became diluted. I made a ton of mistakes, I misjudged my abilities, and I wasted a lot of time trying to be something that I was not. Four years in and I wouldn’t change any of that hard knocks learning for one moment of actually becoming the next “internet millionaire”. I’m more focused now, I’m helping people in a mighty way, and I’m earning a steady online income. I feel more savvy than the above average 9 to 5′er, I feel secure in the future of online income in general and I’m motivated to keep pushing this thing forward!

    • Ali Luke says:

      Dion, how great to hear about your success (and that you’re making a steady income now). I think it’s so easy to focus on the money to begin with — and I can completely sympathise with how you felt — but it’s funny that blogs often seem to get profitable when we take a step back from worrying about the money.

  16. Ehsan Ullah says:

    Thanks for sharing your mistakes Ali, Blogging is really a great way to make money, but It isn’t possible without hard work and a lot of time. This is the biggest mistake which most bloggers make, they only focus on making money which doesn’t let them work in smart way.

  17. I think it’s very important to realize what you said about the blog not being something that will just produce money.

    A blog is just a marketing tool. You don’t make money from a blog, unless you make millions from advertising (unlikely). Your blog is just a means by which you attract people to your real business, a product or service or whatever the case may be.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Exactly, Charles — I really like the way you put that here. People often get very caught up on “monetizing” a blog when it’s really better to begin the other way around … think of a business idea that a blog could support.

  18. Bryan Ring says:

    Wow Ali this is very inspirational! Some of things you mention here, I too have mentioned on my Lawn Care site in a post I wrote regarding “One Time Lawn Mowing”…

    Quote: “If you have lost the passion or love for your lawn mowing business don’t just hang it up or quit. Take a step back and start over, YES I said start over. Reevaluate your commitment to yourself, employees and customers.” ringlawncare.com

    I love your quote of TE, I have never heard it before, and giggled for roughly 10 minutes. I certainly am no writer or web designer, but do in fact use my sites to market my services…and yes success is what you make it, just as your life is.

    Thanks for sharing your outside the box view of you…most people cannot do that. Keep doing what you love, clearly you are great at it.

    • Ali Luke says:

      Thanks Bryan! really glad you enjoyed the post. I think taking a step back is so often a good idea in life, especially when we’re starting to feel a bit burned out.

  19. Thanks for this piece, I am encouraged by it. I just started blogging and it is not easy at all. I am passionate about entrepreneurship and personal development and this is what has formed the fulcrum of the posts I write. I am still learning a lot. This piece is just what I need to continue moving forward. Thanks once again Darren

  20. carol dunlop says:

    Thanks for the post and the Encouragement. I’ve been blogging for A awhile, really love it, but my husband keeps wanting to know where’s the money. Although I have gotten some paid Gigs, they aren’t steady, however I am not quitting, I see how I can make this into steady money and I’m always making tweaks which I can see asset slowly starting to show results

    • Ali Luke says:

      Keep at it, Carol! It takes time for the money to come in … and it’s great that you’re enjoying blogging in the meantime. Congratulations on the paying gigs, too! :-)

  21. Sean Supplee says:

    Some of my best reads are of reading of other failures. The reason? It’s much easier to learn from others mistakes then to go ahead and make them yourself. It saves you money and can make you money as well. I am always reworking things and trying to iron things out with what works and what does not.

  22. Hi Ali

    This is an interesting area of blog writing and I actually love the content. You are actually right about mistakes and failure…It is absolutely that we learn from mistakes and not everything we can be always right. I also got successful once I made my first mistake in blogging and I was happy about making a decision of being open with what made me fail. I’m really encouraged again. Thanks for sharing.

    Carla.

  23. Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences. I actually learnt from them!

  24. I am happy for you; glad that even after failing as a blogger you actually picked up the pieces and started all over again. I am glad you are able to come out and share your experience with us so that we can learn from your mistakes. I like the way you conclude on the subject matter. I will remember that. Thanks!

  25. I am happy for you; glad that even after failing as a blogger you actually picked up the pieces and started all over again. I am glad you are able to come out and share your experience with us so that we can learn from your mistakes. I like the way you conclude on the subject matter. I will remember that. Thanks!

  26. Shelby Roth says:

    This is a fascinating writing Ali. I love this so far it has really taught me a lot… We learn from mistakes and frustrating is also part of any write up and without you being frustrated sometimes, you cannot learn to achieve high and have a competition! I agree sometimes success happens and you don’t know the variables, it is time to aim high than what you expect… Thanks a lot for sharing.

    Shelby.

  27. Thanks ali for posting mistakes and learning strategies.These are very helpful to change my view on blogging.

  28. Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences. We actually learnt from these a lot. Our Team thanks you for this help, which help us to make a successful Web Blog.

    Regards,
    Rahul Sethi

  29. James says:

    Thank you for the honest advice and experiences, I’ll take these tips on-board as I start my first blog.

  30. Excellent post and perspective! My blog has a moderate following, which I’m very proud of, but I haven’t monetized the traffic nor do I have a real plan to do so. For me, writing is therapy and a good way to clear my head. That others enjoy my writing is just a bonus.

  31. Zane says:

    My First blog fails because i did not done any kind of Social Media marketing for those all posts. I just publish it and never did any kind of SEO or SMM.
    I would say that facebook shares play an important role.

    Thank you

  32. Josh says:

    Excellent post for beginners to the blogger world! I’ll admit that I made most of these mistakes when I first started blogging some four years ago. At that time, instead of focusing on making my first blog a good quality, entertaining blog, I took the the route I thought would bring in the Adsense dollars as quickly as possible. As a result, I ended up with some very poorly-written posts….most of which got little or no attention from either Google or a wider audience.

    If any new bloggers are reading this, just remember to write about that one thing that excites you and inspires you to write. Even if it doesn’t seem too “Google-worthy”, chances are there’s someone out there who wants to read what you’re writing about.

  33. Lisa says:

    I have just started my travel blog and what has helped me has been to take advantage of social media sites to promote the blog. I still have a very long way to go but I am already enjoying it so much. I have confidence in my writing and have received positive feedback from my readers. Thank you for the inspiration :)

  34. Taran says:

    Great post.Thanks for sharing your experience, this will help me lot.You have written such a great post, I will be waiting for more articles.