9 Changes I Made When I Finally “Got Serious” About My Blog

Are you looking for blogging tips? Are you ready to take your blog seriously and use it to make money and land clients? It only took me 9 years (!!) and 2,000+ posts to figure this stuff. Read on and start doing these things now! #bloggingtips #selfemployment #onlinemarketing #onlinebusiness
Let’s begin by acknowledging that is it COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS that I’ve been blogging for almost nine years and it’s only now that I’ve, uh, started taking it seriously.

If you’ve been reading Yes & Yes for a while, you might have noticed a few changes over the last year. Longer, meatier posts. Free workbooks. More Facebook, less Twitter.

None of that was an accident! It was all super strategic because I’m taking this ish seriously now.

9 changes I made when I got serious about my blog

I started to think about SEO

For a long time, I thought SEO (search engine optimization) only applied to “other bloggers,” people who only wrote about one, specific topic. I thought it applied to tech bloggers or gluten-free food bloggers or small space interior design bloggers.

I effectively convinced myself that this tool – a tool that’s useful to pretty much everyone on the internet – was somehow not useful to me.

Spoiler alert! SEO helps everyone. If you want more people to find you + your stuff on the internet, you should learn how to make your stuff more Google-able.

I hired Kim Herrington to help me and her SEO witchery increased my monthly pageviews by 30,000 and helped me triple my ad revenue. I’ve installed and learned how to use the free plugin Yoast and now I can optimize my stuff on my own!

Related: Entry Level SEO Tips That Won’t Overwhelm You
Are you looking for blogging tips? Are you ready to take your blog seriously and use it to make money and land clients? It only took me 9 years (!!) and 2,000+ posts to figure this stuff. Click through and start doing these things now!

I started using Pinterest

Pinterest isn’t just for recipes and crafts and fashion! (I know, I’m as surprised as you are.) Really, Pinterest is a search engine and when you make your content Pinterest-friendly, you’re making it easier to find for its 110 million users. Even if you’re not using Pinterest, your readers and clients probably are.

I took Sarah Morgan’s Pinterest Powerhouse ecourse and went from getting 7% of my traffic from Pinterest to 52%!

I stopped publishing stuff that nobody responds to

Let me be honest, guys. My “editorial strategy” is mostly just “blog posts I would like to read.” I figure, if I’d like to read it, other people probably would, too!

And sometimes that works out really well; I think my True Story interview series is the most important work I do. But some of the other series I’ve published – Real Life Style Icon, Mornings In, Read // Eat, Network of Nice – well, nobody really seemed to care about. They didn’t get pinned, they didn’t get comments, and when I looked at them in my Feedly RSS feed, nobody was giving them gold stars there either.

I loved these series, but they took tons of time to put together and, well, I really wasn’t getting much out of it. I wasn’t making money off them, I wasn’t landing clients, they didn’t relate to a product I sold, and – most importantly – you guys didn’t really seem to be that into them.

So I quietly retired them and put my time and energy towards other things (I hope) you’ll like better.

I created content upgrades

We all know that ‘content upgrade’ is just a marketing jargon for ‘free sumthin sumthin that complements a blog post and entices you to sign up for my newsletter,’ right?

I spent most of December last year working with Elise Epp and Susannah Brinkley creating a jillion (read: 10) awesome workbooks for you guys. These workbooks cover many of the topics I write about: money, relationships, friendships, travel. Now, whenever I publish a blog post about one of these topics, I can link to the related workbook and land some new subscribers.

To really leverage all that hard work, I put all the workbooks in one place and called it my ‘Secret Library’ so you can access all my stuff at once, without signing up  a million times.

Not convinced? Content upgrades have helped me quadruple my list in. Quadruple! And if you’re not into ebooks or workbooks, that’s fine! Your content upgrades can be checklists, scripts, a video series, a video tutorial, or an audio download. You can download my ‘1-hour Money Multiplier’ content upgrade here

If you want to create some ebook content upgrades and a designer isn’t in your budget, the Canva ebook templates are beautiful.

Are you looking for blogging tips? Are you ready to take your blog seriously and use it to make money and land clients? It only took me 9 years (!!) and 2,000+ posts to figure this stuff. Click through and start doing these things now!

I wrote email sequences

‘Email sequences’ sound a little fancy and intimidating, don’t they? Really, they’re just a series of emails that help your subscribers get to know, like, and trust you. That’s not too scary, right?

A lot of us lure someone onto our email list with a lovely, shiny freebie. Then they don’t hear from us for another month and by then they’ve forgotten who we are and are slightly annoyed that we’re popping into their inboxes.

An email sequence solves that problem and you don’t need to reinvent the wheel or write tons of new stuff! I use ConvertKit because they make email sequences suuuuuper easy, even laying out the timing and content ideas for you.

Here’s an example:

1. Your reader signs up for your free workbook ‘How To Train Your Cat To Be Less Annoying.’

2. You send them that free workbook and tell them they can expect to hear from you over the next few weeks because you’ve got more helpful, cat-related insights to share. Annnnd you maybe encourage them to follow you on social media.

3. A few days later, you send them a shortened, edited version of an old blog post about cat behavior.

4. A few days after that, another old blog post that’s super helpful.

5. A few days after that, another old blog post … and maybe invite them to ‘reply’ with any questions.

You get the idea!

I paid for help + expertise

Here’s a fun fact about me: I’m not good at everything! You either? Welcome to the club. It’s called ‘Being Human.’

For a long time, I took a weird sort of pride in being 100% self-taught and figuring everything out by Googling and watching 7,459 Youtube tutorials by a million different people.

Let me be the first to tell you: That ish is time consuming. Yes, it’s free but it’s also exhausting and frustrating. This was the first year that I got really serious about asking for and getting help. Erin helps me with the nitty gritty of my blog. I took ecourses about Pinterest and webinars and video.

Ecourses can be expensive and it’s hard to know which ones are worth the money and right for you. One person’s game-changer is another person’s “meh.” I almost exclusively purchase ecourses from people I’ve been following for years, know in real life, or who walk their proverbial talk.

P.S. Would you like MY help and expertise? I’d love to chat!


I met up with internet friends in real life + had lots of honest conversations

In January, I convinced Kathleen, Sarah, Katie, and Kyla to rent a house in Mexico with me and talk about internet-ing. I can’t speak for the other ladies, but those four days changed my business.

In July, I met up with 10 formerly-internet-strangers-I-now-consider-friends in Portland. When I was in NYC this fall, I finally met Hillary in person after years of liking each other’s tweets. Next spring, I’m going to Portugal, Greece, and Romania and I hope to meet up with URL friends IRL.

Taking my online connections offline strengthens my friendships. When we’re face-to-face we can talk about things we can’t talk about over email. We can get vulnerable and emotionally intimate and share numbers and stats and even a bit of blogging gossip. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

I started to (at least try to) understand my analytics

Before I got serious about SEO, I’d opened my Google analytics account exactly twice: Once to set up and another time to open it, panic scream, and then close it.

Truthfully, I’m still only using about 5% of its capacity but I’ve got a super basic working knowledge of the dashboard. I can see that Twitter sends me almost no traffic, so I can let it go. I can see that this interview is still one of my most popular posts, so I can update it and make sure it’s properly optimized.

I can see my bounce rate, the countries where most of my readers live, and I can see how long people are spending on the site. Knowing these things helps me write better stuff and understand where to put my time and energy.

I realized just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean I can ignore it

If my professional life had a theme song, it’d be  “Get Over Yourself, Sarah (Yes, That Business Advice Applies To You).”

I spent yearrrrrs avoiding business practices that seemed dry, boring, overwhelming, or too ‘sales-y.’ I convinced myself that my blog and I were Special Snowflakes and that things that worked for everyone else? They surely wouldn’t work for us.

And honestly, I will never enjoy looking at my analytics or learning how to optimize content for  a new social media platform. But I love blogging and writing and talking to you guys about the things that are important to us. Sometimes being good at that and doing it effectively means doing a few boring things along the way.

Which is a trade off I’m happy to make.

But I want to hear from you! Did you get serious about your business or career recently? If you did, what tools/resources/books/classes helped you? Leave links in the comments!

P.S. Want help becoming self-employed, creating your first online course, or promoting your work in a way that doesn’t feel gross? I do 1:1 coaching about those things!

photos by jordan whitfield and hope house press // cc

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  1. Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

    SEO is something that I just started focusing on. I don’t know why I waited so long because it’s really not that hard!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I know! I just find anything with an acronym intimidating 😉

    • Kim Herrington

      SEO is my FAVE! Im a big believer in it making a big difference beyond traffic growth. If there’s anything I can do to help let me know, Michelle. I love your site and have an affinity for working with blogs I’ve read for a long time, like Sarah’s.

      • April Nicolae

        This article is so relatable! I was nodding along with you while you were talking about things that you realized applied to you.

        For me, that was licking in a morning routine as a habit. I’ve heard about morning routines, but I used to think that I didn’t really need one to set myself up for the day, because once I’m awake I’m ready to get to work. But after reading the 5 AM club by Robin Sharma, I developed a routine that works for me. The key was to incorporate uncommon and practical ideas, and to change it up to keep it interesting. I wrote an article about it over at my blog.

    • Henrietta

      Hi. I’m curious to know which ecourses helped you most? I’m trying to do the self martyrdom and struggling getting things off the ground. I am still stuck in the setup stage of my accounts. Thanks!

  2. Emily

    This is so helpful! Thanks so much for outlining a few of these things! I’m finding, myself which social media sites are sending the most traffic to my blog and which aren’t. Maybe time to let a few go…

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! Free up time and energy for more of what works (or for other non-blog-related things!)

  3. Rachel King

    “Once to set up and another time to open it, panic scream, and then close it.” — I relate to this IMMENSELY. Great post.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      So glad you found it helpful!

  4. Samantha Lee

    Thanks for this! I’ve recently started working towards really developing my blog and growing my readership. Will take any advice I can get! 😉

  5. Michelle

    I really like your idea about creating workbooks and linking to them in your blog posts. I’ve been considering creating an ebook or workbook but wasn’t sure where to start.

  6. Jacqueline

    Products for sale and products for free are my stumbling block. My free to do list and meeting notes tool has over 15,000 downloads, but they don’t convert to anything tangible for me. I’m definitely missing something.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Do you have an email sequence that connects those downloads to a product that you sell? Sometimes you have to create a very, very clear trail of bread crumbs 🙂

  7. Charmaine Ng

    Thank you for the helpful post. I’m just starting to get serious with blogging so I’m going to bookmark this. I still have a long way to go compared to you!

    – Charmaine

  8. Ksenija

    Thanks Sarah for helpful post. It does put some things in perspective for me when my blogging goals are in question. I absolutely can relate to the ‘special snowflake’ syndrome…

    What I find an insurmountable obstacle is SEO in cyrillic. I blog in cyrillic and for us Google is just a whole other ball. I have no idea where to begin… any tips perhaps?

  9. Sandra Pawula

    This is so inspiring! I’ve been blogging for 5+ years and only got serious this year too. I never started a real mailing list (aside from Feedburner) because I’m a special snowflake too. But I did this year! I also started on Pinterest in September, which is bringing more traffic to my blog (exciting) but I’m not yet seeing an increase in traffic yet. And, I just finished my second content upgrade today! I hope it will make a difference. Thanks for these great suggestions. I’m so happy for your success.

  10. Shannon

    Thoughts on optimizing Facebook? I far and away get the most traffic from there, but my follower numbers increase very slowly, if at all. I wish that Pinterest worked for me, but my content (mostly personal essays on parenting) doesn’t seem pinnable compared to the super-clickbaity parenting advice that does well on it.

  11. Vicki

    Really helpful post, as always! Thank you!

  12. Cristy

    Oh my goodness! I’m so surprised to hear that Mornings In/Real Life Style Icons/Eat-Read were not so popular or driving much traffic–I loved all of those! I’ve never recreated a recipe from Eat-Read, but I definitely love Mornings In, in the same way that I love and find fascinating the Cheapskate’s Guide to Traveling ___________. Inside look at things! Plus, Real Life Style Icons helped introduce me to new, current, interesting fashion bloggers.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      I know! I loved them, too! And when I talk to readers in person, they says they loved them … but that love was never reflected in traffic or comments :/
      I haven’t TOTALLY given up on Mornings In, but I’ve done most of the countries where it’s ‘easy’ to find English speakers. I’m totally open to doing more if I can find contributors!

  13. Rachel

    I found you through the Being Boss podcast and I just LOVE this space you’ve created. So informative, without having posts that take me an hour to read. And you’re FUNNY! My number 1 requirement for blog reading! This post made me cringe in agreement with everything you typed. There are so many things I ignore; so glad to know I’m not alone.

    Anyway, I’m so happy to have found you and thank you for all the content you share … can’t wait to continue reading!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, you’re so sweet to say so, Rachel! Welcome to the club! <3

  14. Nichole

    YES! 2017 is the year for me to “get serious” about my blog. SEO is definitely the biggest beast I need to tackle (mostly just ’cause it sounds so boooringggg) but it’s time I start paying attention to my “Google-ability.”

    Thanks for these tips, which I will definitely be bookmarking!

  15. Kate

    I am not usually a blog commenter at all, but I wanted to say I like this advice a lot, and it’s nice that you put it all in one place, because I couldn’t take notes while listening to your appearance on Being Boss, since I was listening to it while driving. Also, I love your blog, and have for some time, because it embodies so many of my secret desires that maybe someday I will act upon. (Of course, if I were really doing what you said in the podcast, I’d put a day on the calendar for some of these things and then do them. I’m getting there.)

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Kate, at the risk of sounding cheesy – you can do all this stuff! I’m not magic! You can do it!!!! <3

  16. Camila @ AdventitiousViolet

    Great post Sarah! I’ve definitely been inspired by your blog and am trying to be more serious about my blog and I’m working on some free resources as well as some products to start selling. That’s my goal of 2017! Thank you! 🙂 Also, I’d like to sign up to converkit, but can’t afford it for now, but every year I invest a little more in my blog and it pays of and it makes me happy!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Thanks so much, Camila! Yeah, ConvertKit is a bit expensive. Mailchimp is free up to 2,000 subscribers, I think!

  17. Megan

    I just started to get really really serious about my blog because we now need need the extra income. Before it was nice to have. Now we need it. I have been getting better with seo but I think I need to figure out more and how to get more views/pins on pinterest.

  18. Colleen

    Thanks for some great pointers! I started my blog (www.bakesandblunders.com) almost 3 months ago and it has definitely been a learning curve. Since I did a lot of research before I started (like reading this article), I felt fairly prepared. I’ve definitely learned a lot more since I started Bakes and Blunders than the months I spent researching blogging. Love these tips 🙂

  19. Mahi

    Stockholm is gorgeous! I see so many posts on Denmark and Norway but rarely ever any on Sweden. So thanks! I need a pic in front of that rainbow wall at the metro! But my favorite is def that Vasa ship!! By far! That is so freaking cool!!! <3

  20. spring

    And you’re FUNNY! My number 1 requirement for blog reading! This post made me cringe in agreement with everything you typed. There are so many things I ignore; so glad to know I’m not alone.

  21. Shilpa Gupte

    Hey, same here!
    I began blogging around 5 years ago, but took my blogging seriously only two years back. And, the SEO and Pinterest stuff–that’s something I began working on religiously only this January!
    But, now that I know where I want to go with my blog, and what I want to share on my blog, it feels wonderfully satisfying! 🙂

    I love your writing style, Sarah!

  22. Ghani Mengal

    Hey Sarah.

    Very nice story and so much to learn and inspire. And you know what, now I’m also thinking about taking it seriously.


  23. Brenda Nicholson

    I blogged for almost 12 years before paying attention to SEO because I didn’t understand it. Somehow in my deranged mind, if I don’t understand it, it’s OK to ignore it. Great advice! I will be checking it out and your blog as well, because I’m sure I can learn a lot there too!

  24. Melissa

    I’m super new to blogging and content creating, but this blog is actually super helpful. I love your idea about having a content upgrade and email sequencing for subscribers. I’ve even signed up for this on other pages.
    Thanks for the advice; love it!

  25. Emma Anderson

    This is so inspiring post !! It was really helpful.

  26. Alaia

    Oh my goodness, I really needed to read this. I’ve only recently gotten more serious about my blog and some of the things you used to do, I’m still doing. I’m definitely going to have to start making some changes and start focusing on some of the “boring” things.

  27. Grace

    This is just what I needed to hear. So hard to face the things that I don’t want to deal with, but it’s time to take that jump and stop ignoring them!

  28. Jared dela Cruz

    Hi Sarah. First of all, thank you for this amazing post. I would be remiss if I did not tell you at least that your blogging story is very inspiring. I myself have been hard at work blogging for months now, but I haven’t had any success yet. I’ve earned only a few dollars so far. I’m not quitting though. I’m in this for the long run. And every time I’m feeling too let down and too exhausted, posts and stories like yours give me renewed motivation to keep trying, learning, and growing. I’ve been blogging for months already, but it’s only now that I’m getting “serious”, at least I think so. I’m doubling, tripling my efforts now, and continuously learning from people who already made it big in the blogging world, people like you.

  29. Sandi Carter

    Hi Sarah, I am Sandi. I am in the process of starting a blog. I’m not even sure yet why I am doing it. There is just this weird pull in my chest that says “Do it!”. So after hours of my day job (I’m a high school teacher), I have put together a website that is not yet launched as I am in the process of writing my first few posts and researching how to make this happen. That is how I came across you. I honestly do not know anyone who is blogging. Your advice of making friends with others in the industry is a good point. I think that would be helpful and I will try to make time to comment on other’s posts and see what happens! P.S. I am from a small town outside of Portland and have traveled to many of the places you listed in your article. We already have a few things in common! I wish you the best with your blog- I may come knocking on your online door with questions! Thank you for a great post!

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