How Blogging Has Changed from 2006 to 2016

27 September 2016 · 43 comments

Last week, I attended the sixth annual Fincon in San Diego. It was awesome. I love the financial blogging community. The people aren’t just colleagues, they’re friends. It makes me happy to see how sharing and supportive the community is, how we’re willing to help each other succeed.

That’s not always the case at blogging conferences. Many have a collective “scarcity mentality”. Not Fincon. At Fincon, there’s an “abundance mentality”, and that manifests itself in everyone being willing to help everyone else.

Note: I’m please to report that Money Boss, my latest project, won the Plutus Award for best new financial blog. Makes me grin from ear to ear, actually.

Because I’ve been dubbed the “grandfather of personal-finance blogging”, a lot of people ask me for advice. I’m always happy to help when I can. (My skills are dated, though. I haven’t run a site regularly since 2009, so I’m not current on things like SEO and social media and monetization.)

One question I get all the time is: “How has blogging changed in the decade between starting Get Rich Slowly and starting Money Boss?” To me, the biggest change is that people are more parsimonious with links.

SEO Killed Blogging

In the olden days, everybody linked to everybody else. (It’s that abundance mindset thing again, right?)

  • If my buddy wrote a good article, I linked to it.
  • If I found a piece about debt reduction that was better than mine, I linked to it.
  • If I thought something would be of use to my readers, I linked to it.
  • If I discovered an amazing new blog, I linked to it.

The rise of SEO seems to have destroyed this sort of sharing economy. Nowadays, bloggers are too worried about diluting the value of their links. Links, after all, are the currency of the web. A link to a post is like gold — especially when it comes from a high-value site. The game is to get as many links as possible to as many profitable pages as possible. And if you link out to other people, you make your own links worth less.

Or something like that.

Today in 2016, bloggers are far less likely to link out than they were in 2006. I’m talking an order of magnitude less. Maybe more.

That sucks.

In order for the web to be useful to readers, we have to help them find useful information. If we know where useful information is and we don’t share it, we’re doing a disservice to people who trust us. Where’s the good in that? I suppose it makes sense in some short-sighted way, but it’s not a good long-term plan.

This same problem manifests itself in reverse.

Money Before People

This morning, I posted in the private Fincon group asking for people to share one article they’d like me to link to. I’m setting up some automated social media stuff — because I suck at social media and need to make it automatic or I’ll never do it — and I wanted to spread the love. (Because I still operate like it’s 2006, not 2016.) I wanted to populate my social media queue with one article from each of my friends.

The responses I got disappointed me. Sure, some people pointed me to their best work. But many (most?) pointed me to profitable pages that they wanted to pimp more. Or SEO-laden articles that they wanted to give more “juice”. Instead of trying to make the web a better place by providing readers with quality content, a lot of people just saw an opportunity to get a quick link to make more money.

I hate that.

I don’t know the source of this switch. I don’t know why in 2016 we’re reluctant to link to others, and when we get a chance to have a link, we link to money not to content.

Honestly, the origin of the problem doesn’t matter. What matters is fixing it. That’s not something I can do alone, obviously. All I can do is call attention to it — and make sure I’m not perpetuating it. There’s no way I can convince other bloggers that they should link to other people more often and that they shouldn’t focus on money. All I can do is try to set an example.

Grandpa Remembers

Some people will say, “Yeah, but you made bank with Get Rich Slowly. Aren’t you being hypocritical?” No, I’m not.

  • At Get Rich Slowly, I threw links around like they were nothing. Readers loved it. Sure, they left my site. But they also came back because they knew I’d point them to good shit. (At Money Boss, I still throw links around like they’re nothing. I even have a blogroll in my sidebar. How quaint is that?)
  • At Get Rich Slowly, I didn’t write articles purely to pimp affiliate links. If I wrote about something and there was an affiliate program, I might join the program and make some money. Or I might not. But I certainly never altered the content to emphasize the money-making opportunity. (At Money Boss, I’m only just beginning to monetize — but selectively. Only if doing so helps my readers.)
  • At Get Rich Slowly, when somebody requested a link for a blog carnival (remember those?) or a roundup or anything else, I didn’t just give them a sales page. I gave them whatever I thought their readers would find most interesting and/or useful. Then it’s a win-win-win, right? A win for me, a win for the other blogger, and a win for the readers. (If I were to give a link to a sales page, it’s only a win for me.)

I didn’t get rich quick at GRS with a scarcity mindset. Jim didn’t get rich at Bargaineering with a scarcity mindset. Harlan didn’t get rich at Consumerism Commentary with a scarcity mindset. It wasn’t intentional, but we each operated with abundance mindsets and it helped all of us.

Long-Term Beats Short-Term

Look, I don’t mean to sound harsh. As I said at the beginning, I love my Fincon family. These people are awesome.

But I hate the trend in modern blogging to focus only on the short term. (And trust me, SEO is all about the short term. It’s sneetches in action.) I want bloggers to provide long-term value. A lot of times, that means making choices that aren’t optimized for the short term. And that’s okay.

When you write a blog, there’s always a balance between what’s best for you and what’s best for the readers. Finding that balance is key. It’s different for each person and for each blog. (But some things are fundamentally always reader-hostile. Pop-ups, for instance — I hate SumoMe.) Your job, as a blogger, is to be as reader-friendly as possible while still meeting your goals.

Back in Savannah, I had a sign above my desk: “Is this in the best interest of the reader?” It was meant to remind me to write high-quality content and not just fluff, but I think it applies to all aspects of creating for the web. Answering it honestly leads in the direction of an abundance mentality. Tha means thinking long term, not short.

1 Jim Wang September 27, 2016 at 11:40

A lot of things change over time and SEO is constantly changing — years ago, you could make an argument that linking out “diluted” the link equity on a particular page. Sure, maybe, who knows but one thing is certain: links are the currency of the web and if you’re unwilling to link out, how likely are you get links back? In the end, more links is better than fewer links. :)

Oh, and short term thinking is hardly restricted to blogging. :)

2 jdroth September 27, 2016 at 12:02

I hate short-term thinking everywhere. But I’m not immune to it. “What? Another beer? You bet! How about two?” Ugh.

3 Jim Wang September 27, 2016 at 12:12

Two is your limit??? :)

4 The Wealthy Accountant September 27, 2016 at 12:16

That was my thought, Jim. Only two?

5 El Nerdo October 28, 2016 at 10:49

it kicks you out of keto

drink whiskey instead

6 The Wealthy Accountant September 27, 2016 at 11:52

Awesome post, J.D. I didn’t read your stuff religiously back in the old days. Sorry. Wish I would have now.

I agree with your opinion about providing value to readers; if you don’t provide readers with value what are you blogging for?

Money is always a consideration. I was in the process of adding SumoMe to my blog and your advice here has changed my mind. I also hate the pop-ups so why do it to my readers.

I have always been liberal in my linking because I think it does help readers. The link always opens a new page so they can keep their spot on my page. I was unaware outbound links diluted the search engine’s view of a site. I’m still going to link. Sure beats repeating what the other guy said.

I don’t use much SEO, but have checked into it recently. I do like to comment on other blogs I find interesting and if they think my opinion is valid they might give me a look-see.

I really enjoyed the inside look on blogging over the years. Always look forward to your work.

7 jdroth September 27, 2016 at 13:42

Here’s another pet peeve: Making me scroll to get to the content. I’m visiting dozens of financial blogs today, and too many of them make me scroll past huge header images and Pinterest banners to get to the actual article. On one site, I had to scroll TWO pages…and I have a jumbo monitor! This is user-hostile.

8 Gwen @ Fiery Millennials September 27, 2016 at 13:54

Ugh I hate that with a burning passion. The worst ones I’ve found let you scroll down a bit and then yank you up back to the top. Just….. No.

9 Matt Warnert September 29, 2016 at 07:12

I hate that too. Also high on my list is the pop up that comes 2 to 5 seconds after you load a page asking if you’ve joined their newsletter.

10 Ms. Montana October 1, 2016 at 05:06

That I find so incredibly annoying. The pop up is bad enough, but at least let me read one article first! I literally don’t have time to read 2 sentences before you want to send me emails? If we are only 2 sentences into a conversation, I’m not yet ready to give you my phone number!

11 S.G. October 3, 2016 at 11:47

You just made me think of FI bloggers as pick up artists and I had to laugh out loud.

12 Ryan September 27, 2016 at 14:05

I’m reminded of a popular Zig Ziglar quote (which I may be paraphrasing):

“Help enough other people to achieve their goals, and you will achieve yours.”

This is true in many aspects of life, including blogging.

13 Gary Arndt September 27, 2016 at 14:09

I started my blog in October of 2006. Some things I’d add:

– Social media wasn’t a thing. Twitter and Facebook technically existed, but no one really cared too much about it.

– RSS subscribers were all the rage. Had to have a Feedburner widget.

– There were several blog directory/widgets that everyone plastered their site with (MyBlogLog, BlogCatalog, etc)

– There were a LOT fewer bloggers. I used to know almost all the travel bloggers. Now that is impossible.

14 jdroth September 27, 2016 at 14:18

Ah, the Feedburner widget. I have fond memories of mine. ;)

15 Larry Ludwig @ Investor Junkie September 27, 2016 at 14:45

Hey JD,

While with Google links are still pretty important they are downplaying this for the exact reasons you mention.

SEO aligns much more with a reader today because they measure things like: bounce rate, time on page, amounts of clicks within the site.

It is much more about the user experience. All of these items are much harder to game and makes you focus on what is the most critical – the content.

16 jdroth September 27, 2016 at 14:56

But see “amount of clicks” within the site discourages folks from linking out, right? It forces only internal links. And that’s a disservice to the reader.

Here’s what I believe: I believe that if bloggers (and other site creators) were to simply write in a natural way and connect to other sites in a natural way, all would be well. Instead, folks try to game the system. And when they do that, it causes problems for everyone.

I recently wrote a big-ass article for a well-known financial site. It was a quality piece. The article contained links to all sorts of places around the web, including some of my own articles, as supporting material. This supporting material was useful for readers who wanted to know more (and contained NO monetization). After I submitted the piece, I was told I could only include two outbound links. WTF? That’s bullshit. That’s a decision made from a short-term SEO perspective and not from a long-term “what’s best for the reader” perspective.

17 LennStar September 28, 2016 at 07:22

Link 1 to a page of your website with all the links and a short explanation WHY you think thats useful :D

18 Derek September 27, 2016 at 14:56

Thanks for the gut check.

Time to turn up the giving!!

-Derek

19 Justin September 27, 2016 at 17:45

I’m somewhat intentionally remaining ignorant about SEO. It seems to change often enough that what I do today might not be worth anything next month or next year (or actively hurt me!).

Instead, I focus on writing good quality interesting stuff that people might enjoy reading, or at least pick up a few educational tidbits before being bored to death and clicking away (ha ha).

I probably don’t link enough, but my usual method of developing a post (and I tend to do mostly 2000+ word posts but only 1-2x month) is to tweet/message out about “who has a good article on [X]”, then get maybe a half dozen responses, read all those, follow some links to a few more posts on the topic, then include at least several of the best of them in my own post. Standing on the shoulders of giants and all that!

I feel like I get more long term benefit out of sharing others’ work and networking with them even if I get a very slight deduction in some SEO ranking. I’d rather have 1 devoted reader that’s a fan than 10 inbound google search hits that click away after a page or two and never come back. Of course I’m not in the blogging game purely for money so removing that care certainly helps blog more authentically. :)

20 Physician On FIRE September 27, 2016 at 17:57

I’ve been blogging for all of 0.7 years. Sad to hear about the devolution over the last ten years. Maybe it’s the FIRE niche, but I haven’t seen as much of the crappiness you’ve described.

A couple weeks ago, Steve @ ThinkSaveRetire.com did just what you are doing — asked readers for their favorite post and tweeted it out several times. He also features a Friday Feast full of links to some of his favorite articles. Lacking originality, I do a Sunday Best that’s not exactly dissimilar. I’ve linked to MoneyBoss a couple times.

Mr. 1500 has run his 10 Question series for several years, inviting bloggers to litter the screen with links out to their own blog. A number of others, my unoriginal self included, have started similar series. Mr. 1500 was my first guest.

The White Coat Investor, who could see me as a competitor, asked me for a guest post when my blog was just getting started. You know, back in the early days when I was 0.2 years in.

I don’t pay a lot of attention to SEO, but I do what Wordpress and the included Yoast plugin ask for. I assign a few tags, a focus keywork, featured image, and I’ve started using the “Snippet Editor” to alter the Meta description. I have no idea if it helps, but it makes the post seem complete before I press publish.

I booked my ticket for FinCon17 in Dallas. Hope to see you all there!

-PoF

21 ESI Money September 27, 2016 at 20:01

Agree with you 100%.

If you have something in mind and need help, I have a couple blogs that could lend assistance. :)

22 Sandy September 27, 2016 at 21:07

And here I was thinking that this is why I’m a horrible financial blogger! I link to people and my social media (Twitter especially) is about 90% other articles that I love.

I don’t write that often, but when I do, I try to make sure that it’s a story that someone can relate to and learn from.

I’m horrible at SEO, so I don’t even try. I just write what’s in my head and hope that someone wants to read it. When I want to do other stuff, I hop onto Periscope and chat it out.

Along the same lines, I had a lot of disappointment with 1st year FinConers who were so focused on everything but what they’re writing. But maybe I’m turning into one of those “get off my lawn” people.

23 Rebecca September 28, 2016 at 04:50

I made a decision earlier this year that my blog is a hobby. It’s liberating to just put out content and helpful links without thinking about monetization or SEO.

24 LennStar September 28, 2016 at 07:28

Its a funny coincidence I think: A (in Germany the) blog about commons just had an article about a similar problem:
Different views of diversity. Like diversity of 2000 TV chanels (OMG) and e.g. 2000 different species in a small space (yeah!).
In this case a commercial that people just want to buy “a lemon” not 10 different sorts of lemons – made in the most known urban gardening project of Germany. Which took it as an affront, because they cherish diversity.

For me its just the same with links.

If you want to read it (and can German): https://commonsblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/zur-aldisierung-der-allmende/

25 TheHappyPhilosopher September 28, 2016 at 08:38

Always great to hear your perspective on things JD. I don’t have the mental bandwidth to think about SEO. I have enough trouble just writing articles without 17 grammatical errors. Actually I had no idea about this linking thing. I just linked when it felt appropriate. Oh well, I will continue to link because I want my readers to read the same awesome stuff I am.

PS: I’m sending you an e-mail with links to my 140 best articles. Please sprinkle them through your posts in the next week or two. Thanks.

Love,
The Happy Philosopher

26 jdroth September 28, 2016 at 12:53

Haha. I love that postscript. That’s hilarious.

27 Steve @ ThinkSaveRetire.com September 28, 2016 at 12:18

It all seems to be about money these days. Back in the day, I think more people blogged simply because they loved it. They had genuine interest in the topic that they blogged about. It was much more about community than making a buck. I do agree that blogging as a whole has changed significantly since that time.

I do believe, however, that the personal finance community is an example of how good natured bloggers can be. Some are better than others, of course, but when we blog about such a monumental goal like early retirement, people are more apt to support one another. That is what we see a lot here in the PF world. But it’s true, you’ll still see your fair share of people who are only looking for their next speaking engagement and getting recognized. That’s sad, but I suppose as our consumerist society continues to expand, the need for fame and publicity will always be there. Magazines tell us it’s important.

BTW, as Physician on Fire kindly said, I did do exactly what you tried to do with whatever Fincon group you posted at. It was a huge success. It was one of my most-commented-on blog posts ever. I think the difference is I posted the request on my web site, where the audience will most likely be bloggers…bloggers just like me. In a Fincon group, you’ll probably get people who’s “Career” is personal finance, and like you experienced, that is a world away from just being a humble little blogger.

Good topic!

28 Laura September 28, 2016 at 19:05

I like reading this different POV :) I was a fan “back then”. I’ve been strugging with all the advice for pop-ups, etc and my dislike of them personally – trying to find a happy medium and almost there? And, heh, writing my last post kept thinking that there really wasn’t an affiliate program for it, but it’s still what I wanted to write about. Think there is a link to an IRS pdf. Exciting.

29 Mr. Money Mustache September 29, 2016 at 09:49

I agree with all this too, which is how J.D. and I met in the first place (I was ranting about the general theme in a talk I gave at Fincon 2012 when I was a brand new blogger).

After 5 years of blogging, I still feel the same way:
– ignore SEO completely – waste of time.
– fuck Pop-ups of all types – if I ever get one, I never return to (or link to) that site whether it’s a big commercial site or a small blog.
– your email list may not matter (I don’t even know how many people subscribe to my blog via email, and I don’t send out emails other than the auto-send of new blog posts)
– I link to any blogs where the person has researched and presented a topic (related to financial independence in the context of living a better life), better than I have covered it. But not if they have pop-ups or $299 e-books for sale in the sidebar :-)

I think blogging works best if you think of yourself as sort of a combination of an undisciplined journalist and a book author. Do experiments and research, present your findings with some good pictures and jokes to go along with it, and see if anyone is interested. And only do it if you are having fun with it.

30 Ed September 30, 2016 at 10:48

Amen, MMM! Not a blogger personally and sometimes I wonder if the majority of the people reading finance blogs are just other finance bloggers who want to leave a comment so they can get a link to their own site. From an outside perspective, it sometimes seems like a massive circle jerk. Anyway, I really can’t understand why people would focus so much on SEO, Google stats, keywords, Twitter spamming, and banner ads when the proof in the pudding is that the most popular finance bloggers have turned out to be the ones who did the exact opposite.

31 Mr. FWP August 1, 2017 at 23:01

Like PoF, I’m new at this, but I love your post, JD, and adding value to readers is my goal. (I don’t even have ads at this point.) I’m in it for the long term, so I focus on the long term: sharing, linking, and hoping to add value to readers through stories, analysis, and ideas.

32 Chris September 29, 2016 at 13:00

Why don’t more people see the long term benefits? The other day I went to Ace Hardware. I needed bolts to mount a toilet. The sets they sold of two brass bolts were $4.99. Four-freakin-ninety nine for two bolts!! I looked around and everything was cheap imported crap at full retail. I got the feeling that the store just wants to squeeze every penny from me on this transaction. Well, they did. I bought my stuff and they probably got an extra $2-$3 from me over what I could have paid elsewhere. It worked… once. But I am not going back. It just left me with a bad feeling.

33 Ten Factorial Rocks October 1, 2016 at 03:44

JD, Learned a lot from this post. Thanks. I am new blogger, even newer than Physician on FIRE who commented above. I know nothing of SEO and wouldn’t even know how to use a widget to ‘maximize’ whatever shit the digital marketers talk about. I care about one thing and one thing only – which is quality content. That’s what I want to be known for in the blogging community. I am not against monetization but my poor web marketing skills mean that will remain far less important than building an intelligent and engaging readership base of like-minded individuals. You are a guru of blogging, and in Internet time, light years of experience ahead of me. I am learning from people like you and other experts – it’s refreshing to note that top quality content, which I care deeply about, is what ultimately matters.

34 Ms. Montana October 1, 2016 at 06:10

So I found this great post via Physician on Fire’s Sunday best. So in some way’s it’s still there. Just using my own content as an example, so many other bloggers tweet or RT, they share on Facebook, they list on their blogrolls, or on a weekly round up of favorites. Anytime I find useful stuff, I do the same. Sometimes I will post links in the comments.

I’ve never paid any attention to SEO. I was just watching an interview were the founder of copyblogger was saying that there really aren’t any hacks anymore because google has become so smart. Where google use to be like a 4 year old, that you would have to label things, and say the same key words over and over. Now it’s more like a 9 year old. It can understand metaphor, jokes, and more subtle meaning. The key is writing useful, valuable content that people will read, and share. Which by coincidence, is the kind of blog I want to have.

35 Jon @ Be Net Worthy October 1, 2016 at 06:15

JD, what a great post! I’ve only been blogging for a few months and it has been awesome. I love putting my stuff out there and have really connected with a great community of PF bloggers, which has been great.

On the other hand, I keep seeing people posting about how they made $1,000 in their first month or $10k their first year blogging, etc… And it makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong. I’ve been trying to focus on content and community building but the “pressure” from the money-making folks is kind of irritating.

This was good motivation to continue focusing on good content and participating in the community aspect of the PF blogging. That’s the fun part anyway!

36 S.G. October 3, 2016 at 12:04

Okay, JD, I get the idea but wth does SEO stand for? Lol. You TAFLAed me without defining your term.

As a long time reader and non-blogger I can say that your philosophy shines through. I have been observing the lot of you for a little while now and there is a reason you have remained my touchstone in this universe for as long as you have. When you focus on content and quality you build up a fan base. I get information from other places but I always appreciate your perspective, and part of that is how you tend to think about the reader and how you can entertain/educate them, not how you can make more money from them. In fact I hadn’t realized you sold GRS, but reflecting back recently I could see that when you sold it and it lost that feel that I lost interest.

37 Fritz@TheRetirementManifesto October 5, 2016 at 16:49

JD – GREAT article! YOU carry a big enough voice to potentially influence this! I’m with you all the way (my posts carry TONS of outbound links, and I don’t make any money from my blog, on purpose. I don’t want the “monetization” to influence my priorities in how I blog). Kindred soul, here.

38 ZJ Thorne October 7, 2016 at 22:10

I hate the demands for my email in those popups. I generally leave their sites without reading.

My blog is young, but it is primarily for me to learn how to get out of my enormous debt. I’m not looking to make a killing off of it. I just want to have a place to focus and to hold myself accountable. Sharing what other people have learned before me has been so useful for me. I assume it is useful for others.

I have no idea why on earth I would even need an email list. I, of course, get the notification that folks have subscribed to my blog, but I don’t even open them.

39 J. Money October 15, 2016 at 11:48

Remember Blogrolls???

Worst thing to disappear in my mind :( Was so nice to be able to see what others read and enjoyed – which was partially the reasoning behind Rockstar Finance (the ultimate blogroll! Haha…)

When I used to do blog coaching I had a hard rule that if you’re trying to start one just to make money I couldn’t work with you. I feel like if you’re heart’s not in it first (totally okay to make money with it as we all have been doing) but if the community/good word doesn’t come first then I just politely declined.

I’ve actually never seen a blog that started purely for money succeed, have you? All my favorites started out of the love of it or to hold themselves accountable or to just be around other like-minded people and THEN made money once it took off…

Anyways, great post :)

40 Kerry October 28, 2016 at 06:21

JD,

Your blogroll was one of the reasons I bookmarked your site. If you didn’t have a new post, I would check for updates from the other bloggers. And I never left your site disappointed! It was a positive feedback loop that reinforced a habit.

41 El Nerdo October 28, 2016 at 10:56

I’m a month late to join this discussion. So… I don’t know about old style blogs, but what about something like Lifehacker?

Kristing Wong has been doing a good job there in LH’s “Two Cents” sub-blog. Trent Hamm gets stuff published there on a regular basis. They used to republish GRS articles as well, back in the day.

No idea how they make money, but they do link to stuff they find around and throw in some comments (Trent does write full articles or gets it republished). I wonder if they get paid FOR promoting other publications. No idea. I like that site though. Good stuff all around.

42 Tyler February 24, 2017 at 10:32

JD, yours and Trent Hamm’s blogs were the first PF blogs added to my feed reader (remember those?) way back in 2007. I got bored with the space when many top bloggers moved on, but I’m stoked to find you again at Money Boss. Look forward to following along as I resurrrect my own blog after a long layoff.

43 Randall Willis June 25, 2017 at 12:03

Paradise, by Toni Morrison is a great novel with a never-to-be-forgotten opening sentence: “They shoot the white girl first.”

One does not know whom they are, one does not know why the white died first, or for that matter, why anyone was murdered. Her outstanding work will explain that in time. Brilliant opening.

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