How to Simplify and Authentically Grow Your Blog Without Spending Money

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Blogging is now a viable career option and there are endless examples of bloggers who have monetised their site to the point where they can quit their 9-5 job and live the dream.

Consequently, the bloggosphere (blogisphere? blogosphere? There really should be some clarification on this) is filled with ‘Earning Reports’ (which I often ignore), along with a bajillion things that we should all be doing to optimise our traffic and increase engagement to our sites. I apparently need an email list, in which I should offer incentives. I should be part of an Instagram pod or tailwind tribe. I should be self-hosted and have a professionally designed site, I should have paid advertising across all of my social media. I should be building up my social media accounts by following and then unfollowing people.

Nonsense.

No wonder so many bloggers are feeling overwhelmed or disappointed with the fact that they haven’t been able to quit their job after blogging for two months. There’s so much conflicting information that many feel the need to do everything because they have seen that it works for someone else.

Unfortunately, anyone who knows me will tell you that, while I am not unintelligent by any means, I can be scatterbrained and incredibly lazy, combined with a heavy level of resistance to change and stubbornness. Essentially, if there is an easy way to do something that doesn’t involve moving lots of things around and/or paying for it, then THAT’s the way for me. I’m not self-hosted and I don’t belong to Instagram pods or tailwind tribes. I don’t have a targeted email list, nor do I have pop-ups. I’m in a small number of Facebook groups. I don’t post every day. I don’t follow hundreds and hundreds of blogs on WordPress – I think at my last count it was at about 250, but lots of those haven’t been active for quite some time. I don’t have plug-ins that aren’t already part of .com. I have a Bloglovin’ account but do absolutely nothing with it – it’s linked to share my posts and that’s it. My blog is not professionally designed. I made a one-off payment for my theme, and during the year I pay for three things: an annual payment for my premium account and domain name ($99), a monthly subscription to BoardBooster for Pinterest ($10), and unlimited wi-fi. Admittedly, I once paid Β£13.00 for Facebook advertising, only to receive nine extra views. NINE.

And yet, I have received nearly 750,000 views on Suzie Speaks. Of course, it isn’t in the same league as some of the big blogs that I see, but it’s enough to afford me a lifestyle that I could have only dreamed of a few years ago. There’s me, my blog and my social media accounts. I don’t have a Virtual Assistant or anyone else helping me. I write, post, promote, reply and repeat.

Of course, if blogging is a career goal, then numbers are important. I’m admittedly a stats obsessive. It’s a harsh statement to make, but Β it’s an unfortunate fact that you are more likely to be taken seriously if your numbers are high. However, high numbers of followers, particularly on social media don’t necessarily equate to high engagement.

For example: I have just 81 people following my StumbleUpon account, and have received several thousand views from SU since the start of the year. I have just over 3,400 followers on Pinterest, but have received over SIX times that in referrals since the beginning of January.

The key is to grow your following authentically is by keeping it simple, by engaging with others, establishing a genuine community, and above all, PUTTING THE TIME AND EFFORT IN. And for those who complain they don’t have time, I did a large amount of this when I was working full-time in a very stressful teaching job.

This is what I did.

Social Media Management

When it comes to social media, I have a Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Stumble Upon, Instagram and Flipboard account, all with apps that I have on my phone to give easy access to them wherever I am. However, I didn’t start off with all of those – I began with Facebook, then Twitter, then slowly added the others over a period of time.

I initially began by doing a bit of social media planning in advance.

As a large percentage of my following is American, I worked out that I should be promoting early for my British audience before they started work and late in the evening for the Americans to coincide when they would be finishing work on or their lunchtime.

On Twitter, I wrote down a list of popular hashtags and chats for each day of the week (along with times), along with a list of posts that are relevant to these. Tip: you can schedule tweets in advance by using tools like Hootsuite. I don’t use a scheduling app for Twitter – I like to tweet and then engage immediately with others and Hootsuite can’t predict trending hashtags which I use – but it is indeed a useful and time-saving resource. I also put my favourite bloggers into a list so that I could easily access their posts.

On Facebook, I wrote down a list of the days when the opportunity to share blog and social media links are allowed.

On Pinterest, I joined large group boards and noted their follower numbers, created a group board of my own, made a list of posts and topics for each board and then set up BoardBooster.

I then used this information to create a daily checklist in an effort to try and organise myself. Nothing big or fancy, just a simple black notebook in which I have a list of tasks that I tick off, along with the amount of views I receive on that day.

This is a very basic version of my checklist for my OWN BLOG on my social media (I’ve simplified it to avoid having to name every group and their numbers etc)

Tweet x3 with hashtags (which will vary depending on the day and are staggered)
Share post or image on Facebook page
Share post in Facebook group (which will vary depending on the day)
Share post to SU
Post image on Instagram
Flip five posts
Share post on Flipboard

I don’t have anything specific for my own blog on Pinterest as I already have BoardBooster set up – this will send out pins to targeted boards throughout the day and evening and is totally worth the $10 a month.

To do this via my apps takes about 10 minutes, and aside from BoardBooster I haven’t spent any money.

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Now, HERE’S where the work starts.

I reply to every single comment on my blog. I have set it so that comments have to be moderated and approved to appear, so I don’t approve anything until I have read and replied to them, even if it is to say a simple thank you. This may take minutes or even days if I have had a lot of comments, but I value the comments above anything else.

When I tweet a post out, I then share posts from others who are using the same hashtag.

I pin lots of posts from others into my various boards on Pinterest throughout the day.

If I have left a post in a Facebook group link-up, I comment on a post from someone else participating.

I will share posts from others on my blog in the form of a reblog – not every day, but I certainly do five or six a month.

I visit at least five blogs I follow every day on WordPress, leaving a meaningful comment. I can’t do more than that – I once tried to read as many as I could and I quickly became overwhelmed.

I reply to questions that other bloggers post in Facebook groups.

I stumble other bloggers posts every day.

On certain days, I participate in chats and link-ups on Twitter. For example, during my #SundayBlogShare link-up I spend several hours reading and retweeting the thousands of people that participate every week. I also host a link-up in my Facebook group.

I put a link to most of my social media accounts at the bottom of almost every blog post I publish, so that people who enjoy my posts will know where they can find me elsewhere online.

I do my best to TALK to people and establish connections. As a result, I have a core group of blog friends (some of whom I have known for years) that have been a huge support. I have met some of them in person, we send each other Christmas and birthday cards. If they have published a book, I want to help promote it. If they have written a killer blog post, I want to share it. Blogging is not just about YOUR blog posts – the more you share, the more likely you are to get back in return.

I DON’T follow and unfollow lots of people. I’ll unfollow if they haven’t posted in a while, consistently don’t engage with me over a long period of time or are suddenly writing things that don’t necessarily match my own views (ie. I suddenly see posts from them that are racist, sexist and homophobic). This sort of activity is one of the reasons why I am not a huge fan of Instagram, and I actually mentally blacklist bloggers who have repeatedly done this to me on Twitter. It’s a shady way to conduct yourself.

When adding up the amount of time I spend online every day, it can vary from an hour to three-four hours at the weekends, not including the amount of time it takes me to write a post and create a pinnable image. However, I can do lots of it while doing other things at the same time using my apps, and it’s totally worth it.

So, if you want to grow your blog without spending lots of money:

  • Choose a few things to focus on as a starting point. When you feel comfortable with what you’re doing, then you can add more.
  • Create and effectively use a targeted checklist.
  • Consistently engage with people because you enjoy reading their blogs, not because you want to boost your numbers.
  • Promote your posts daily across your social media.
  • Share lots of posts from others across your social media.
  • Use social media scheduling tools.
  • Be patient! You aren’t going to get anything simply by pressing the publish button!

What about you guys? Do you pay for advertising? What’s your most effective way of building your views?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks, my Pinterest page http://www.pinterest.com/suzie81speaks and my Instagram page http://www.instagram.com/suzie81speaks.

301 thoughts on “How to Simplify and Authentically Grow Your Blog Without Spending Money

  1. Always a great read, and its good to know that amazing blogs can come from just a little effort, a bit of writing talent and minimal outlay. Thanks for reminding us of that one more Suzanne x

  2. Gosh, I need you to keep rationalising things Suzie; I have a terrible habit of overthinking and overwhelming and yet, this post just scraps the peripheral stuff out and makes total sense. Kudos to you and your opening gambit about intelligence and scatterbrain is so me too lol

    In fact I may even have commented here before and if I have, my apologies, add forgetful to my profile!!

  3. Great post. I was like “WHAT” that you don’t self-host as I thought I had too when I bought domain name so also have BlueHost account. Now you have me thinking about stuff and reshuffling where I spend money/time. Thank you.

  4. Deae Suzie. I am so in debt to you for all the wonderful tips and ideas you have given me. I have once again read this post and everytime find sonething more I can do and use. You’re an inspiring lady and I thank you for sharing your knowledge so freely to others. 🌹🌹🌹

  5. As usual Susie, you offer all good commonsense answers . Thank you for posting and supporting those of us who struggle to deal with the technicalities an quirks of social media. It helps to keep us up with things we may miss and pushes us gently away from becoming part of social mediocrity Have a great #SundayBlogshare

  6. Thanks for sharing so many handy tips Suzie.I am trying out BoardBooster at the moment, and have finally worked out how to use it after already using up 3 of my free trial days in the dark!!!

  7. Suzie, I’m thrilled to have found your blog. I keep seeing so many posts about upgrading to WordPress.org, using Tailwind, doing this, doing that etc, and I have to admit I’m rather cynical with some things I read, especially these ‘income reports’ and gushing posts about how easy it is to increase traffic etc. I firmly believe that engagement is the way to increase any following across social media. I’ve been out of the ‘loop’ for a while now and have lots of catching up to do and many new things to learn (from when I first began blogging in 2012 and kind of fell off the blogosphere), and it’s refreshing to find another honest blogger providing such amazing content. Thank you!!

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