Over the past (roughly) two years, I've built up an awesome blogging business.
I run two niche sites, not including this one, which earn me a solid full-time income.
That's pretty cool!
But this year has been full of new challenges as my business continues to grow.
The biggest challenge: Growth gets harder and harder and slower and slower the more successful you become.
What do I mean? Here's the last 6 months of analytics on my biggest site:
Total flatline, despite adding SO much content and working on SO many improvements to the site.
What's going on? Why has the growth stalled in this particular area of my business?
Here are 4 reasons it gets harder and harder to grow a blog as it gets bigger and makes more money (and what you can do about it if you want to make $10,000 or more a month blogging).
Reason 1 - Algorithm updates
Some popular gurus claim that the way to steer clear of algorithm updates is to avoid doing shady link building. If you do that, they claim, you'll never have to worry!
Sadly, this is not true.
Google's big updates target all sorts of things, not just link building schemes.
And sometimes they don't "target" anything at all, rather they make complex adjustments to the way they interpret language which in turn shuffles their rankings around.
Sometimes the algorithms get better and you lose rankings you never deserved in the first place.
Sometimes they get worse and you have a legitimate gripe with the way things played out.
But either way, this stuff is almost entirely of our control.
You can build your sites the right way, do only whitehat link-building (or none at all), and still wake up one day down 25% of your traffic.
This is what happened to me this past March with one of the latest Google core updates.
This is just part of the lifecycle of a blog. It doesn't mean you can't rebuild and eventually come back better than ever, but at some point your metrics will stop going up and up and up every single month, in part due to the shifting search landscape.
What to do about it:
The best protection against a Google update (or any change to the online content landscape) is to diversify your traffic sources and potentially even your niches and sites.
I have two sites. One has plateaud mightily this year, but the other has grown substantially. (And thank God for that).
I've also invested in Pinterest marketing to reach new audiences outside of Google, to great effect.
(Head over to my blogging tools page to see how I use Tailwind for a steady stream of social traffic.)
I've also begun to explore and invest some time in email marketing and building an owned-audience.
Reason 2 - Competition
Gaining a number one ranking doesn't guarantee you evergreen traffic for life!
Maybe you operate in a small, relatively unknown niche and you dominate the SERPs because there aren't that many competitors.
Well, you can bet over a long enough period of time, a few will start to pop up, and they'll all be targeting you.
You'll start to lose rankings, or at least some of the market share you had carved out, just by nature of there being more options for searchers and consumers.
If you're in a competitive niche? It's downright guaranteed to happen.
Any sliver of success you find will be noticed by dozens of competitors, many of whom will try to undercut or outdo you using your own tactics.
It's not particularly hard to carve out a slice of business in any niche when you're first starting out, but to continue growing and scaling into a true force in the industry will bring you lots of unwanted attention.
One of the reasons it's hard to take a blog past the point where it makes a few thousand dollars a month is because, once you get to that point, competitors will constantly be cutting into your business.
(Here's an example of what used to be the top article on my sites. When I first wrote it almost two years ago, it was the only article on the topic and it brought in absurd traffic.
These days there are literally dozens just like it and I can only put so much effort into trying to rank and re-rank this one piece. See how it's just slowly fading away? Yeah... that happens.)
What to do about it:
Build a moat.
Once you've built up a certain level of traffic and income, it's wise to spend some time protecting it.
I used to be part of the "no link-building" crowd on it but I've changed my tune on that, because without getting links (which everyone hates doing), your business becomes EXTREMELY easy to steal.
Building some really good, high-quality links is a great way to build your moat.
You can also focus on creating types of content that aren't easy to replicate. Lately I've had a greater focus on in-depth, hands-on product or experience reviews that require a large investment of either time, money, or both.
I know some newbie with a basic Wordpress site can't rip it off just by writing more words than me.
However you choose to do it, definitely spend some time setting yourself apart from the competition. If you don't, it'll be really, really hard to overcome the eventual plateau that hits.
Reason 3 - Simple math
Part of the reason it's hard to grow an establish blog (or at least, it "seems" hard), comes down to the numbers.
When your tiny, little seedling of a blog gets 50 pageviews per month, then the next month gets 250, it feels amazing!
You just grew by a factor of 500%!
But when your site has dozens or maybe hundreds of articles, and gets tens or hundreds of thousands of pageviews per month (and makes good money), it's REALLY hard to see that kind of growth.
If you're able to add 200 extra pageviews in a month to that kind of blog, you'll barely feel it — an increase of maybe a quarter of a percent?
While it's still technically growth, it'll be relatively invisible in your data and it'll feel like you've completely stalled.
Plus, the growth is so small it's likely to be canceled out easily by seasonal trends or just pure luck.
Not to mention, some of the reasons on this list compound on each other.
If you're able to gain 200 pageviews per month from a post you write today, you could just as easily lose a couple hundred when a post you wrote a year ago slips a spot or two in the rankings.
What to do about it:
I believe to build a large and highly-profitable blogging business, you'll have to scale your operations up at some point.
It could mean:
- Hiring writers to publish more content
- Outsourcing Pinterest or other social media to experts who can grow your traffic
- Off-loading smaller more menial tasks to contractors or VAs so you can get more writing done
However you choose to do it, I'm becoming a believer that you'll almost always run into vicious plateaus until you can learn to scale and outsource certain aspects of this business.
(Or you just have exceptional levels of patience and grind, but even that might not be enough.)
(Read: One of my favorite tactics for scaling organic traffic)
Reason 4 - Affiliate program changes
Simply put, what amounts to a good revenue stream for you right now might not be quite as good this time next year.
Amazon routinely shuffles (read: cuts) commission rates in certain categories. Their big rate re-do in 2017 cost a lot of bloggers up to 40% of their revenue.
A big affiliate program I work with made me serious money last year during the summer months, but this year is only bringing about half that amount.
(In part, there's more competition and saturation in promoting these products. Plus, interest in the brand piqued last year and is a little less this year. This stuff happens.)
These changes are completely out of your control and can slightly reduce, or even devastate, your revenue almost completely out of nowhere.
Your blog might be humming along, growing beautifully, and something like this can totally undercut your income.
What to do about it:
Stay on top of trends in your industry and always be willing to explore or experiment with new revenue models.
I think the days of pure "Amazon affiliate sites" are, if not over, certainly dwindling.
Most successful sites I see use some combination of independent affiliate offers, Amazon, ads, info products, and more.
When one of your revenue streams takes a hit, in this model, you have others you can lean on to make up the difference.
For all these reasons above, the notion of "passive income," can be something of a misnomer.
I always like to say that blogging can be as passive or active as you want it to be at any given moment, but at some point you're going to have to buckle down and do some damn work.
It won't continue to grow and grow forever without you doing anything, and it certainly won't keep performing at it's peak level without your input.
That's not to say you can't take time off, let things sit and marinate, and step away to re-strategize. I do this all the time.
But it is a LOT of work if you want to take your site from NOTHING to making a few thousand dollars per month. And then, sadly, it's even MORE work to get it tot he next level and overcome the many plateaus sure to come your way.
I hope these ideas have helped if you're in this position, and let me know in the comments if you have any questions!
And if you're interested in building or growing your own successful blogging business, check out all of the tools for blogging I use to make it possible.