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In 2020, I sold my edtech startup, after a decade of grinding it out building multiple SaaS products with hardcore financial components, enterprise-grade backends and sophisticated sales engines. It was great! The end of an era characterised by endless nights of work and dogged effort.
I had never thought much of this blog thing… yet after a decade of work, it had become the bulk of the company’s value!
And then I took a step back, and realised that the real reason the acquirer was so deeply interested in buying our business had nothing to do with all this impressive, complicated stuff we had slaved away to build…
It was because of a simple little blog.
The tiniest piece of this company, the thing we’d put the least amount of time into, was the bulk of the reason for the acquisition interest.
The reasons for this were quite obvious:
- It had a ton of users, coming in every day to browse and read our content, with virtually no ongoing effort from us to make them do so.
- The revenue model was super straightforward – give businesses access to these users, and charge them for it.
I had never thought much of this blog thing. It had always been a means to an end. And yet after a decade of work, it had become the bulk of the company’s value! Initially, this was infuriating… Building that blog was so damned easy! What about all the heavy-duty B2B SaaS platforms and software we had built?!
And then it struck me: it was so damned easy. An easy business. That made a lot of money.
For most of us in the startup world, making a good living is not high on our priority list. It’s all about doing something crazy and ground-breaking or making a TON of money – one day. But never about making a good living. But as the grind continues, year after year, and you never get a chance to sit for a second and take a breath, the idea of a boring, stable income stream sounds increasingly refreshing.
And that’s the opportunity that blogging presents – a boring, stable income stream.
Blogging, in its simplest formulation, works like this:
- First, start a basic WordPress website. There are a million tutorials online on how to do that, and it’ll set you back no more than R500 upfront for a decent theme and maybe R50 a month to host the site.
- Second, pick a topic to build content around. There are better and worse topics to pick because some topics have been so heavily covered by so many sites that the competition is too high. You can use tools like AHREFS to figure out better and worse topics, but intuition and common sense are also helpful here. If you pick a more common topic, as I did with this great travel blog, then find a niche within that topic.
- Third, write a bunch of articles (10-20 to start with) on your chosen topic. This is a science, not an art, and doing it well is critical, so I’ve provided a brief outline of what makes good content at the end of this article.
- Fourth, build backlinks. This means getting other websites to add links from their websites to yours. There are tons of strategies to do this, and again I’ve provided my best tips at the end of this article. More backlinks to your site tell Google that other people that trust you and the content you have, so it helps all your content rank better.
- And lastly, run ads on your website. Tools like Google AdSense make this infinitely easier to get started, but it’s always better to contact companies that you think would be interested in advertising to your audiences and getting them to do deals with you directly (there’s a lot more money in doing it this way).
The key here is to rank for good keywords on Google Search.
If you have a food blog, then when someone types ‘best potjie recipe’ into Google, your goal is for your potjie recipe article to be the first search result. This only comes with #3 and #4 above – have great content and get lots of good backlinks. This is what Google uses to determine whether it should rank your articles for relevant keywords.
Do this well, and lots of people will end up on your website. Have lots of people on your website, and you have the potential to make lots of ad revenue.
It’s a simple business that adds real value to people’s lives. But it can be a bit boring.
Writing content can be an isolating, time-sucking endeavour for those of us with ADHD or caffeine addiction. You’ve got to figure your way through this, but I can suggest two things:
Outsource the heck out of it. At my startup, we had teams of up to 20 university students writing content for our website at a time! Students are young and always need money, so you can swing a good deal if you try hard enough.
Don’t just write. Make videos using tools like Loom, draw diagrams explaining stuff instead of writing thousands of words, embed Youtube videos, add links to useful tools, interview someone to add gravitas to the content. Make it fun for yourself – Google likes dynamic content with multimedia more anyway.
All of this makes for a great business, and a perfect side hustle. Something you can tackle with a few solid hours per week, forever. Something you can leverage other people to handle much of the hard work.
And I encourage you to try.
Okay, so that’s all I’ve got for you… A fool proof side hustle that will yield profits in direct correlation to the effort you put in. No luck. No waiting on some deal to come through. Just good old 20th century-style graft.
And, as promised, tips:
- The biggie: pick good keywords. Use tools like AHREFS and Google Keyword Planner to find keywords (like ‘best potjie recipe’) that people search a lot on Google, but for which there are not a lot of other websites competing. Volume high, competition low. It’s much easier to rank for low competition keywords than high competition ones, so don’t bother writing articles titled ‘Why Donald Trump Sucks’, because there are a million other articles on the same thing. Rather capture the 30 users each month who search for something a bit more obscure.
- Write it well. Generally, this means short-ish sentences, bullet points and numbered lists, good subheadings and paragraphs that aren’t 22 sentences long.
- Shoot for long guides and in-depth content, not the standard Top 10 blah blah blah. This adventure guide to my favourite place in the world is a good example.
- Links from bigger websites are better, but all backlinks count, especially in the beginning. If you know people who have websites, try to get one or two initial backlinks from them. BUT…
- Relevancy counts a lot more. For a food blog, having a backlink from your uncle’s motorised scooter factory website ain’t gonna do jack. It might even hurt your ranking. Rather write an article about the 5 best cafes in your city and get them to link to it from their cafe websites.
- Backlinks don’t just happen. You have to come up with good value propositions for people who have good, relevant websites, and then go out of your way to communicate with them and get them to add those links.
- Make the links themselves legit, don’t just chuck them in. Add a sentence at the end of an existing article that says something like “You can find more great potjie recipes at blogs like this one.” and link ‘great potjie recipes’ to your article, and ‘this one’ to your home page. It’s more natural and works a lot better for Google.
Featured image: Jason Basel, Founder and ex-CEO of EduOne, now FundiConnect (Supplied)