I am honored to interview Chris of Charger Outdoors. He and his partner took their blog from brand new, zero readers, to 300+ visitors per day in Charger Outdoors’ first month!
He has great insight into what makes a blog grow. As a new blogger he gives a unique perspective and shows what matters when starting out.
This interview is sprinkled with many gems. That I’ve even gleaned valuable information from my interview with Chris. Even if you are not a new blogger you will find huge benefit in reading his answers.
The questions that follow came from a few consistent readers of this blog to achieve the greatest effect. These readers are new bloggers, just getting started like many of you reading this. I know the answers that Chris gave will be beneficial to everyone.
If you could go back in time and tell your newbie blogging self one tip what would it be?
Write more content. I’m a firm believer that content marketing is one of the best ways to sell your brand. You can draw traffic from a variety of places, but if you can’t keep them, it’s pointless. Writing more content will increase the chances that an article will bind them to your site.
If you strategize your keywords, you can drum up all of your traffic through SEO, not needing to spend tons of time on social media. You can rely on what your target audience is searching for.
We launched with 15 published articles. I would have liked to have twice that. My biggest fear was that someone would read something on our site, like it, but have nothing else to read. Then, because they had no reason to stay, they would forget about the site completely, and we’d lose a reader.
How long did it take you to consider yourself successful?
I still don’t. We started our blog with the intent of developing an outdoor community. There are plenty of them out there, but we wanted one that catered to everyone, with the focus on getting people outdoors. As the site grows, we’re getting articles and stories from that community, spreading a wider depth of knowledge, and taking a lot of the content creation off of us.
Once I fine tune the systems in place, we build up a larger audience, and we start getting constant guest posts, I’ll feel like we’re successful.
In your opinion, what qualifies a blogger as successful?
It depends on what your goals are. Some people are trying to make money, some are trying to share knowledge, and others are just letting out some steam. I highly recommend doing a thorough brainstorm of what you want from your blog and then setting some achievable goals to get there. If you need a million dollars to feel like you’re successful, work on getting that first sale. The joy one dollar can bring you will be disproportionately high if that’s what you’re working towards.
I get equally excited with every subscriber to our email list as I do sale in our meager looking store. When our views reached over 400 in one day, I started churning out content like a maniac. These state might not matter to someone else, but they’re great for me.
In short, success in blogging is too subjective to be able to quantify. Whatever keeps you happy and working towards your goal is key.
How much time do you dedicate to your blog each week?
More time than my wife would like. I’m an officer in the US Army, so my work hours usually run from 5:00 am to 6:00ish pm.
This makes time in between my meetings key. I do a majority of the work on my phone and then I edit when I can sit at a computer. I’d say 10 to 15 hours a week, broken into small chunks throughout every day with more on the weekend.
As I finish tasks on our sites to-do list, the time spent working drops significantly, which means I can spend more time on writing content and marketing.
Do you carry the workload alone?
We’re a pair. My business partner and I write most of the content and I manage our website. We also have a few guest contributors that have sent in material we’ve used.
Asking friends if they’d write content is a great way to get some free help. Don’t expect it to be ready for the press or to show up fast, but you could get back some great material.
If you want a partner to blog with, make sure it’s someone with similar thoughts and ideas. You don’t want to contradict each other with your posts.
Also, your writing will evolve as you and your audience learn more about your niche, make sure a disagreement on the direction of the blog doesn’t destroy it.
How do you get people to your blog. How do you make people click your link!
There is a lot to this one, but ultimately, we rely on what I call “peer persuasion”. I call it that mainly because the term “bandwagon” is overused. This is a passive tactic that relies on our human desire to do what everyone else is doing.
We use free social media platforms to get our information out there and then work at getting people to share. Every time someone likes or shares a page, it appears on their feed. It’s the idea that you’re making a bunch of mini viral posts.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Each platform is very different and it’s taken a lot of time to see what works best for each site. Once I learned how to use hashtags better, our reach grew on Instagram and Twitter.
On FaceBook, it was building a fan base through reaching out to individuals. We asked everyone on our Friends list to Like the page. When they did, it showed up on their feed and we got more even more Likes.
Our last FaceBook post reached a few hundred people within hours and was shared more than five times. These might seem like small numbers, but having only run the blog for a month, I think it’s pretty good.
For graphics, do you worry about using something copyrighted?
We get all of our graphics from Pixabay.com and Unsplash.com. They have great, free content. You can use it for commercial purposes and you can add text to the images. Although attribution is recommended, it’s not required by the site.
We use Canva to design all of our graphics on the site. It’s a great program that’s free and allows us to have great continuity between images. I like to think we’ve developed a pretty good branding technique for our cover images.
What would you change if you could do it over again?
I wouldn’t change anything. A lot of people will hesitate to start because they want to learn as much as they can before tackling it. Don’t wait. Take action.
We set a date on the calendar that we’d launch. It was late January when we decided we were going to have at it, so we decided, on April 2, we were going live, no matter what.
That drove us harder in our preparation. The site went through phases, our niche shrinking, growing, and finally settling on what it is today.
We built all of our social media accounts ahead of time and tried to drum up as much attention as possible. I built ads, we started talking on forums. We got our friends to like and share everything.
When we launched, there were definitely things we wanted to fix, but we went with it. We’ve learned a lot, but we couldn’t have done any of it if we sat around, waiting for the perfect time.
What are your inspirations when you struggle?
I wish I could answer this better. I’ve learned, through my career in the military and my work towards other goals in life, that you just need to push forward.
I guess setting an example for my daughter would be what drives me the most. I want her to see that if you work hard and don’t get yourself down, you can accomplish whatever you set out to do.
How do you balance your blog with the other important things in your life?
Priority for my life starts with my family. I have a wife, a two year old daughter, and two Alaskan Huskies. I’m not sure which requires more attention, but I spend most of free time with them. Luckily, my niche is outdoors focused, so family adventures help my blog.
For work, I’m an officer in the US Army, so a large majority of my waking hours are spent away from home. When I get home, it’s family time until my daughter is asleep, then I’ll work on the site and talk with my wife. On weekends, I’ll wake up prior to my family so that I cram another article ahead of time.
I have to remind myself, sometimes, of the order of my priorities. I’ll get so excited with something for the blog that I won’t realize my wife has been talking to me until I’m supposed to respond, having no idea what she said. Taking time to back away from the site is key for that balance.
How do you pick which topic to write about when?
Because we have a lot of categories, we’re trying our best to fill out each one. I use a spreadsheet that displays the post type (top 10 list, aggregate content, review…), the category (hiking, fishing…), the vehicle (text, video…), and the call to action.
By mixing and matching these, it’s really easy to come up with some interesting content and almost never run out of ideas. You can spend ten minutes brainstorming a day, just by selecting a different category with the post type.
After I have the ideas, I’ll look at which category hasn’t had a post in a while. Another technique that got quite a few hits is to find an event or news story that fits your niche, and targeting those keywords.
When it was National Park Week, I wrote a brief summary of the National Park Services history. It’s still one of our biggest articles because of the amount of shares and likes it got.
How far in advance do you prepare a post?
This one is tricky. We launched with 15 posts. The furthest out we’ve been prepared was a week, but we’ve also jammed some articles together the day of. It all depends on how busy our schedules get.
The key is finding time to write on my phone or take notes on paper. Doing that, we usually stay a week ahead.
How much do you rely on social media? Do you spend money on it?
We use social media for everything. We have a spreadsheet to check boxes, ensuring that every post gets shared on each platform. We’re currently using FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest, and (sometimes) Instagram. I’ve spent $10 on a FaceBook advertisement to test the system, but we haven’t spent anything besides that.
Do you think the benefits of social media are worth your time/money?
The benefits are awesome. For free, you can share your content with an infinite amount of viewers. There’s so much potential built into each that it’s almost foolish not to give them a try. Some people are blessed with superb SEO skills to drive traffic, but for the rest of us, an easy and powerful technique is to crush social media.
Besides showing that you have content, it also provides proof that you’re active with members of the niche. It can build you some credibility or, at least, authority.
I didn’t find the FaceBook ad to be worth the money, but it was my first one and for all I know, I could have designed a second rate graphic. I won’t be sure until I try it again.
Is there a site or app you couldn’t blog without?
There are tons. The most essential is Evernote. When you couple it with some of their other apps, it becomes a force to be reckoned with. I have the Web Clipper extension in Chrome, Scannable, and Skitch. We organize all of our shareable notebooks with tags and reminders. It’s awesome.
For a calendar, I use Sunrise. I’m not sure if this will help everyone, but it let’s me track my regular schedule as well as our editorial calendar. It can grab due dates from other apps too, like Todoist and Evernote so that I can remain productive throughout the day.
Online, I use Grammarly and the Hemmingway App to check my work.
We host our WordPress page through BlueHost and have been pretty happy so far. We’ve gotten excellent customer support and use a lot of their products.
Do you have any tips or trade secrets you’d like to share?
If there’s something I’ve learned, it’s definitely not a secret. Everything I read online is free and everything I test out has been tested before in other niches.
I just started paying for a subscription to Digital Marketer and have been happy with the content, but haven’t had a chance to delve as deeply as I’d like.
The biggest tip I can give is to read and listen to as much as possible about managing a blog. Then do the same with your niche.
Chris is a partner of, and writer for, ChargerOutdoors.com. He’s an avid wilderness enthusiast, currently living in Phoenix City, AL and gets into the woods every chance he gets. He attended the University of Maine and graduated with a B.A. in English. Currently Chris is serving as an Infantry Officer in the United States Army.