A little over a year ago I decided to start a blog. A personal finance blog. What an original idea, I thought. Little did I know there were already thousands of other personal finance blogs out there. Regardless, here I am today still moving forward and on the verge of my one year blogiversary.
Financial Pilgrimage was born on November 7, 2017. For weeks I thought about the perfect name for this blog. In my quest to find the perfect blog name I tried dozens of different names that included the word “journey”. Most of the domains were already taken.
Step away, try again, repeat. This went on for days.
Then I thought, what is that thing you use to find similar words? A thesaurus! It has been years since using a thesaurus.
Adventure, quest, odyssey, expedition, trek, outing, migration, pilgrimage….hmmm, pilgrimage.
Pilgrimage [pil-gruh-mij] – a journey, especially a long one, made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion
I liked it but the “act of religious devotion” threw me off a bit. However, the more I thought about it the more if felt right. After nearly 15 years of barely stepping foot in a church, my wife and I recently started to rediscover our faith. We were on a journey, both financially and in our faith. After sleeping on it for a night the decision was made to purchase the domain, financialpilgrimage.com.
One Year of Blogging
A few months before starting my blog I came across a quote. I can’t remember who it was from, but it was along the lines of “start building your audience three years before you really need to.” I’m not sure why, but that quote really resonated with me.
For years I had been consuming books, podcasts, and other personal finance related content. It felt like the right time to start producing content myself.
I didn’t know anything about website design, search engine optimization (SEO), digital marketing, or anything else related to blogging.
I started anyway. Even with a full-time job, family, and other obligations.
Blogging has been humbling. Coming up on a year, it still feels like most of what I write falls on deaf ears. There are only a certain number of hours per week that I can dedicate to this blog and have struggled at times to find where to best spend my time.
At first my time was dedicated to building my site. Then I started focusing on marketing and the community. During the last few months I’ve focused the majority of my time on content. All approaches have pros and cons though I feel like focusing on developing content is the best thing for me to be doing today.
With a wife and kids, a more than 40 hour per week job, and many other activities I’m only able to dedicate five to ten hours per week to this blog. I wish there was more time. Right now the blog isn’t a higher priority than my day job or family time, so if I want to sleep I’m giving it all the time I can. It usually takes me about five hours to write a post and publish. Therefore, my main focus has been producing content over marketing or improving my site.
I Still Don’t Have a Clue
Last week I republished an article for the first time. Even after a year of blogging I had to google “what’s the difference between updating and republishing a post”.
My thinking was that I’d tweak a few things and republish. As I went through to update the post, I was astonished at how poorly written it was. In some ways I was embarrassed, but in other ways it made me proud for how much my writing has improved. It can be difficult to feel like you’re making progress week to week, but looking over longer periods of time real progress can be seen.
During the past year I’ve learned how to optimize posts for SEO, modify my blog theme with CSS code, create pins for Pinterest, and build a small following on social media. With that being said, there is still so much to learn. I can’t tell you how many different email forms I’ve tried on my site, attempting to find the balance of noticeable but not intrusive. The reality is I still don’t really have a clue, but I’m doing my best to put one foot in front of the other.
After attending FinCon in September, I’ve been thinking about why I started a blog in the first place. The initial reason for starting this blog was to get all the ideas in my head out into the world and document our family’s journey to financial independence. As my site has evolved, I’ve realized that my true goal is to help others. More specifically, to help young families to pay down debt and live financially free.
You’ll notice this site is free of ads or affiliates. This blog is not about money; at least not right now. However, getting deeper into blogging has left me intrigued about the business side.
While making money isn’t the focus right now, growing my reach is a priority. How can I help young families pay down debt and live financially free if nobody reads my site? The first step is growing readers, the second is engaging readers, and the third is to help my readers make meaningful life-changing decisions with money.
My goal in year one of blogging was simple: stick with it. During the next few months, I’ll decide what my goals should be for 2019. I also plan to set a budget for 2019 to invest some money into my blog. This year the only money I’ve spent has been on my domain, WordPress account, and attending FinCon. Next year my spending may include a few courses and automation tools.
Year One Blogging Results
Honestly, I have no idea if my results through year one are good, bad, or average. Comparing myself to other similar blogs isn’t really helpful, so I’ve focused on trying to get a little bit better every month.
There are individuals who have gotten hundreds of thousands of views in their first year of blogging, and I’m sitting here pretty happy with my 11,000 views. Many of those views have come from features on Rockstar Finance, the Financial Diet, and other smaller curation sites. The fact that any site would feature something I wrote is humbling. That alone has been a huge success for me in year one.
In addition to focusing my limited blogging time to creating content, I’ve also focused on driving traffic through SEO and Pinterest. The results aren’t there yet, but I’m trying to be consistent.
In my first year of blogging I’ve had about 11,000 views on my site. I know that some bloggers get 11,000 or more views in a single day. Regardless, I’m proud of the upward trend. The large spikes in April and June were due to Rockstar Finance features.
Below is the list of referrers in 2018. I went from averaging about 500 views in months without a feature to about 1,000 over the past three months. I’ve also received 377 comments (assume about half are from me) since inception, indicating that many of the readers are engaged with the content.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
If there’s one area where there’s been steady but slow growth, it’s with SEO. A few days ago I had my first double digit SEO day. It was more exciting than expected. With each post I’m trying to do better keyword research and optimize my posts for SEO.
Most of what I’ve learned about SEO came from Grant at millennialmoney.com. I don’t know Grant personally and have barely interacted with him online. However, in November 2016 he created a post on the Rockstar Finance forums titled “Free SEO Help for Bloggers”. If you have access to the private blogging forums on Rockstar Finance, a quick search should turn up this thread. If you can’t find it, shoot me a note using the “Ask a Question” feature above and I’ll help you find it.
While Grant did not review my site specifically, he did review the sites of dozens of other bloggers. That thread alone allowed me to go from knowing nothing about SEO to at least having a clue. I’m convinced that thread was more useful than any SEO course I could have purchased.
As a thank you to Grant, the least I can do is make a quick plug for his new book coming out next year. Check out Financial Freedom: A Proven Path to All the Money You’ll Ever Need.
Anyway, my SEO growth is slow and the views are not many, but at least we’re headed in the right direction. I’ve had a total of 564 views from SEO with 63% coming in the past three months.
I’ll keep this short since I’ve barely seen any traffic from Pinterest. During the past two or three months I’ve been pinning somewhat regularly on Pinterest. Thus far, all of my pinning has been manual and I actively post on about 10 personal and group boards.
The challenge with Pinterest is the search algorithm seems to change often. Group boards used to be all the rage to drive traffic, but they don’t appear to be as successful as in the past. In general, finding the right strategy on Pinterest has been really confusing to me.
This is an area where I’m hoping consistency will lead to results down the line. This may be an area where I invest money next year in Pinterest courses and/or Tailwind in an attempt to generate traffic. If anyone has suggestions on a great course, please let me know in the comments.
My social media presence has only included Twitter (assuming you don’t consider Pinterest social media). Twitter is a great place to develop relationships with others, although it isn’t especially helpful at driving traffic to this site.
I have stayed off Facebook and Instagram mostly due to this being an anonymous blog. I know that Facebook ads and groups can be powerful for traffic generators and community builders, though being anonymous presents barriers to using Facebook.
As of now I have nearly 1,400 followers on Twitter. I’m not sure how that translates to growth for my blog. However, it is encouraging that there seems to be a regular stream of followers, especially more recently. Same as with traffic to my site, I’m trying to grow my twitter following slowly. There are tricks to getting followers faster (following then unfollowing) but I’d rather have followers who genuinely want to follow my account.
Most Popular Posts
Below are my most popular posts by views. What I’ve found is my most successful posts have been a balance of sharing a very personal story, combined with helpful advice.
- Three Funerals in Eight Days: Why Don’t We Live Life to the Fullest?
- Be Inspired to Leave a Legacy
- How Being a College Athlete Better Prepared Me for the Workforce
- Review of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University
- We Paid off the Mortgage: Our Debt Free Journey
Advice for New Bloggers
- My overall advice for anyone who is thinking about blogging is to just get started. Even if nobody reads what you write for a long time, just keep sharing your story until you find your audience.
- Get involved in your blogging community. Comment on their posts, share on social media, support others, and build a few close relationships. Blogging is tough, though going through it with others makes it easier.
- Find the balance of quality and consistency. Some people may be able to post three times per week and provide quality content. For others (like me), that isn’t realistic. I’ve found that posting once per week is the sweet spot for me.
- Focus on content in your first year of blogging. In a recent podcast, Pete at doyouevenblog.com suggested that new bloggers focus 75 percent of their time on content, with the remaining 25 percent focused on marketing and administration. As someone whose strategy has been all over the place, I agree with this suggestion. After all, your content is also your best marketing.
- Just keep pushing forward. I’ve thought many times about throwing in the towel. Blogging is a lot of hard work and it takes a long time to see progress. However, I’m confident that if I continue to produce quality content on a regular basis this site will make an impact on the lives of others. And that’s what it’s all about for me. I can’t wait to see how this blog helps young families get out of debt and live financially free.
Thank you for reading! If you are a blogger, I’d love to hear about your progress in your first year below in the comments.
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.