It's time for another Grow Your Blog interview. This week, I'm talking with Marc from Vital Dollar, a blog about money and finances. Let's get to the interview.
On Vital Dollar, Marc shares advice on how to improve your financial situation by saving more of what you already have, and making more money. Additionally, Marc has been able to make over $1 million blogging. If you want to learn about ways you can make and save money, make sure you check out Vital Dollar.
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1. Tell us about yourself.
I live in Pennsylvania with my wife and our two kids (5 year old daughter and 3 year old son). I started a blog in 2007 as an attempt to get some clients for web design services, which was a part-time project on the side of my full-time job. That blog wound up growing pretty quickly, and in 2008 I left my job to pursue my own business full-time.
Since then I've had several different websites and blogs. I've taken the approach of building sites/blogs and then selling them after a few years once I'm ready to move on. There are pros and cons to selling a profitable website. The downside is you have to start over with another site, which can be challenging and intimidating. But selling is a great way to make a lump sum of money, and it's been key to helping me meet some of my own financial goals.
My most significant blogging sales are:
- In 2013 I sold a design blog for $500,000.
- In 2016 I sold a few photography blogs together for $500,000.
- In 2018 I sold another photography blog for $216,00.
My wife and I also had an Amazon FBA business for a couple of years, and we sold that in 2017.
This year I launched VitalDollar.com, which covers topics related to making and saving money. I've wanted to have a finance-related site for years to share some of the things I've learned, so I'm really excited to finally have the chance to pursue this project.
2. Why did you start blogging?
Initially, I started blogging because I wanted to find some clients for my web design services and I thought articles might give me a chance to get some visitors to my site. At the time I didn't really know what a blog was, but I had some experience with old-school article marketing where you would write an article and submit it to hundreds of article directories.
I did have some success with using the blog to find clients, but I found that I liked working on the blog a lot more than working with the clients. So after a few months, I shifted my focus and looked to build traffic to the blog and monetize it in other ways (like ad revenue and affiliate links).
3. What is your top source of traffic?
At Vital Dollar, Pinterest and Google search are almost exactly even right now as my top traffic sources. Google search has been the top source of traffic for most of my sites/blogs in the past.
4. What strategies did you use to make that your top traffic source?
My approach with Pinterest is to be active every day. In the past, I've done some automated and scheduled pinning, but right now I am doing everything manually (I'll probably shift to Tailwind at some point). I pin my own content as well as a lot of content from other blogs. To be honest, Pinterest isn't as good a source of traffic right now as it has been for some of my other blogs over the past few years.
A few years ago not very many bloggers were trying to get traffic from Pinterest, so it was pretty easy. Now there are hundreds of different Pinterest courses and it seems like every blogger is focusing on Pinterest, which means a lot more competition, and I have to be a lot more active on Pinterest to get results.
Over the years I've found search engine optimization to be the best way to consistently drive free traffic to a blog. It takes time to get results from Google, but it's a little more dependable than most other traffic sources. My approach has always been to focus on the basics for on-page optimization, like a title that includes your main keywords, and quality content that is easy to read.
I've never done a lot of link building, but if you focus on growing your profile and reputation over a period of time the links will come. It's also important to think about the types of content that your target audiences want from you, and if you're in a competitive niche also think about how you can put your own spin on the content to make it different and better than similar content at other blogs.
5. What is your favorite way to attract new readers?
My focus is to provide great content so when someone visits they'll want to subscribe to the email list. Email subscribers are obviously a lot more likely to become regular readers. I typically attract new readers through Google searches or social media and then hopefully a percentage of those visitors subscribe to the email list and keep coming back in the future.
6. What has been your most successful blog post? Why do you think it's appealing?
At Vital Dollar, my most successful post in terms of visitors has been an article on how my wife and I paid off our mortgage on our previous home in 4 years and then paid for our current home with cash. There are a lot of people looking for information about paying off a mortgage and although that post doesn't rank really high for any competitive keywords, it does get search traffic from a lot of different search phrases related to living without a mortgage.
7. How do you stay motivated as a blogger?
For me, the biggest motivation is my family. My wife worked before we had kids, but she's been a stay at home mom for almost six years. Knowing that I need to provide for my family is always enough to motivate me to keep pushing forward. Since my kids are young I know I still have many years of supporting them financially.
When I first got started with blogging, I think what really kept me motivated was the constant challenge for growth. I liked blogging when I first got started, but when I had my first taste of success, I really got hooked and committed myself to making a full-time income from it. Seeing results from my effort was fun and gave me the strength to keep going even though it meant sacrificing a lot of time to build a blog on the side of a full-time job.
8. We all make mistakes, what is your greatest mistake as a blogger?
With my first blog, I used a pen name, and I think that was a mistake. For the first several years I never used any name on my own blog, but when I would comment on other blogs or write a guest post I used a pen name because I didn't want my employer to come across my blog (even though it was totally unrelated to what I did for my job). I didn't really understand how many connections I would make with others through blogging, I just saw it as using a pen name for an article. I got connected to a lot of other bloggers in my niche, and of course, those connections grew over a period of time.
At some point, it becomes awkward when people don't know your real name. In a few cases, I was nervous about how someone would react when they found out I was using a pen name. I told the people I had gotten to know pretty well, and fortunately, it never wound up being an issue... most people actually thought it was kind of funny. But it definitely added a barrier to networking.
9. What is your favorite way to make money blogging and do you think it can work for everyone?
My favorite way to make money with a blog is to sell my own digital products. I've also done other things like ad sales, membership, promoting affiliate products, and a little bit with sponsored content. I'd say promoting products as an affiliate is probably the most universal monetization method that can work for just about any blogger. Having your own products gives you more flexibility and control, but creating products can also take a lot of time, so I don't think it's a great fit for everyone.
I currently don't have any of my own products for sale at Vital Dollar, but that is in my long-term plans for the site. Most of my experience selling digital products has been in the design and photography industries.
10. What are some of your favorite blogging tools or resources?
I typically use WordPress themes from Elegant Themes, and I use themes from Thrive Themes on some of my sites/blogs. For growing an email list, I use OptinMonster or Thrive Leads, depending on the site. I use ConvertKit for managing the email list, but I've also used and liked AWeber and GetResponse in the past. One of my favorite tools that I just started using this year is the headline analyzer from CoSchedule.
11. Are there any bloggers that inspire you?
Right now most of the blogs I follow cover topics related to finance or marketing. I'm inspired by J. Money from Budgets Are Sexy because I think he's done a great job of branding himself and his site and he manages to have a unique blog in a very crowded niche. I'm also inspired by Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks because I think he has a lot of great content on his site and I think the site is structured and optimized very well. I also have been following Jeff Proctor and Ben Huber of Dollar Sprout and Breaking the One Percent.
12. Do you have any additional advice for helping bloggers grow?
I think it's important to find what makes you unique so that you can stand out from other bloggers. A lot of the most successful bloggers are those who have been able to brand themselves and they become memorable because there is something unique about them. This also helps with attracting and growing a loyal audience that really cares about the content that you produce.
13. Can you share three fun facts about yourself?
#1. I love landscape photography and one of my goals is to visit all 59 U.S. National Parks in my lifetime. I have a long way to go.
#2. If you ask me my favorite things to do, one of the first things I would mention is sleeping. But I don't really sleep all that much. This year I've been getting up at 5:30 to try to get more time each day, and I don't set an alarm clock. I usually wake up on my own around 4:30 - 5:00 and lay in bed for a while.
#3. I'm not sure this is a "fun" fact, but pretty much none of my family or friends understand what I do for a living. My wife does, but she's probably the only one. I don't like talking about it, so if someone asks what I do for a living I say "internet marketing" and I try to change to subject quickly.
14. Can you share your products or any blog posts you would like us to check out?
I don't have any of my own products at Vital Dollar just yet, but I'd say the best posts to check out are my list of ways to make money.