Being a professional blogger sounds like a dream job that requires little actual work and a whole lot of hanging out in the coffee shop down the road. For some, that is exactly the impression they give to anyone who asks how things are. What you don’t hear about are all the challenges facing bloggers, putting their careers and reputations at risk every day.
I’m what you might call a professional blogger. I write blog posts as the largest part of my daily job. I absolutely love what I do, though there are quite a few things that I wish I had known going in, including just how difficult it really is to get up and running as a newcomer to the blogosphere.
Here are some of the challenges facing professional bloggers today.
Bloggers Are Looked Down on in the World of Journalism
While many bloggers strive to be as impartial and transparent as possible, it does little to change how they are perceived by other media outlets. Being a blogger labels you as an amateur, despite the fact that many professional bloggers take every bit as much caution when approaching the story as a traditional journalist. In addition, many professional bloggers switch between blogging and other forms of journalism as their careers progress, making no real changes in how they work between the two.
A blog is a medium on which content is published on the Web. The fact that most blogs don’t have the backing of major corporations or physical publications tied to their content is largely irrelevant. Unfortunately, that matters little to the sentiment of old media.
I’m a blogger, and I get reminded of that every time I speak to someone from a traditional media outlet. Rarely do they link back to my blog posts when quoting me in a story, or even give credit to the blog as the source publication for their work. This is a courtesy mainstream media reserves for other media outlets, and blogs (even very profitable ones) have yet to receive recognition for the effort its staff puts in.
Blogging is Rarely Truly Profitable
There are millions of blogs on the Web. Yes, millions. The vast majority of them were started by single writers hoping to make their mark in the world of online media. Few know how to build an audience, and even fewer know how to turn a profit. That’s the same in any industry, though never before has one been so cheap and easy to enter into as this one.
Profits come in several different forms. You can work with an ad publisher such as Google AdSense to keep your site stocked with ads on a pay-per-click basis, or handle sales on your own and sell ads at a premium to companies that wish to gain attention through your blog’s traffic. Either way, making an actual profit is harder than it looks, and harder still when you don’t know how to go about it.
Finding a Viable Niche Means Limiting Yourself
Starting a blog about general topics is like reaching your hand in a haystack and pulling out the needle on the first try. It’s an uphill battle, and you’re up against established competition that is gaining ground every day.
The best chance a new blogger has is to capture a niche with better odds of profitability is by writing about very specific subjects. Instead of blogging about toys in general, you may find more success blogging about building blocks specifically. This will earn your site more rank when people search for building block toy reviews, and give you the edge of expertise in the subject over a generalist blog. Even with a niche, you’re still playing to a very large audience. This audience being large enough to get the bills paid, and put a little extra money in your pocket at the end of the month.
The problem with this is that it limits your ability to write about everything you might find interesting. You need to stick to your niche to be successful, and that can mean having to tie your own hands from time to time or spread your content out to multiple blogs to do so.
Output Demands are Higher
Some media outlets give a good writer a week to put together a comprehensive story. This time is spent researching, interviewing, and double-checking facts being presented in the piece. Bloggers generally have a much higher output ratio than this.
On a given day, most bloggers write 1-2 posts, with some topping in the 5-10 range. This is a major factor to consider between the mediums, and a necessary one to keep the average blog afloat. If a blog featured only one article per week, it would have very little traffic when compared to one that pushes seven or eight per day. This means having the staff to facilitate the output, editors to make sure quality is on par, and active community moderators to keep up with comments.
That isn’t to say that quality has to suffer for quantity, but it does happen in many cases. It means the demands on a professional blogger can be more timely, and the output level has to remain at full tilt year-round.
Ad Blockers, RSS Readers, Social Media, Copycats, Etc.
Most blogs count on ad revenue to make a profit. If users are employing ad blockers, they’re essentially becoming more of a cost to your business than an asset. While the profit from a single ad impression is generally very low, the addition of hundreds of other readers with the same mentality can cost the blog serious money in hosting with little to nothing coming in from ads. Essentially, it drains the blog’s profit-making ability in two ways.
Some RSS readers aggregate content in a way that makes it possible for readers to avoid visiting the site at all. In addition, it might strip ads out of the content, further reducing the profit potential of the blog itself. This doesn’t happen with all of them, but there are a few out there that employ this tactic.
Other blogs can also be counterproductive to your efforts. I can’t tell you how many emails I get every week alerting me to trackbacks from other blogs that turn out to be exact copies of articles I wrote. Those blogs gain page rank, enjoy profits, and get credit for something the original blogger put a lot of effort into.
Social media is a double-edged sword. While you can certainly use it to spread the word about your article, social media is much faster than bloggers at spreading the word about breaking news. Before you can write 300 words about a big announcement, social media has probably had thousands upon thousands of status updates already, spreading the word about everything you would want to tell your audience about in the first place.
Let’s not also forget the giant elephant in the room. Google has perhaps the largest impact on your site’s performance over any other external element out there. If Google doesn’t give your page rank for specific search terms, you’ll probably never be found by the majority of your potential audience.
Google makes or breaks blogs, and the algorithm by which it determines your ranking changes all the time. Panda, one of the best-known changes to hit the Google search world in recent years, killed several big blogs and greatly damaged countless others. SEO experts work tirelessly to combat these changes and maintain a site’s ability to hold a solid place in page rank for key terms. Unfortunately, these efforts are expensive and typically temporary.
I didn’t write this to scare anyone away from blogging. It’s arguably one of the most rewarding professions out there, and perhaps a cornerstone in the future of media. 10 years from now, something new will come along and potentially become the next blog, griping about how bloggers don’t respect it and grumbling about whatever search engine is most popular killing traffic by changing algorithms.
I’ve known several bloggers who have gone on to write for major media publications, earning a high level of respect among colleagues, and doing so thanks to the efforts they put in by blogging. Ultimately, it isn’t the name of your occupation that defines what you do, but the quality of your output and passion with which you get things done.
Perhaps that’s the biggest advantage to being a blogger. Being driven by passion isn’t just allowed, but encouraged.