Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Makes a Successful Hunting or Fishing Blog? Defining Success

Over at the Yak Angler, blogger Chris Payne recently posted an article called, "How to Write a Successful Fishing Blog."   It's full of really good advice under categories like, "Cross Promote," "Have Thick Skin," and "Write on a Schedule."  All of which are solid pointers for success.

But what is success?  I remember chatting with Mike Agneta (Troutrageous) and Owl Jones (currently of Owl Jones Art) around 2010-2011, sharing with them that a goal for my blog (the one you're reading) was for it to help line up other outdoor writing gigs, preferably paying ones.   I assumed that all bloggers wanted that, and was surprised when Mike said, "Ugh, why?" - he writes his blog to amuse himself - that's the goal.   Owl asked something like, "So let me get this straight, the goal is to write a bunch of stuff so you can a bunch more stuff?" Owl's blog at the time had a monetizing goal directly from content and ads.   He's a hilarious writer and he heard around 2005 that blogging could make you a lot of money.  And he has plenty of stories.

The point is that just the three of us similar aged fishing bloggers had completely different ideas of how to judge our blog's "success."  Let me tell you this - your blog will never be successful if you do not define what success is for you.

Success = achieving goals you define during a time period you define, while absorbing only "allowable" losses that you define.  Without that, tips from blogs like Chris Payne's are pretty useless - they each fall under the heading of "stuff I'll maybe do one day."  That's a misuse of the knowledge he shared - those tips are meant to be part to work toward a well-defined goal.  

 I started this blog in 2007 (almost 800 posts ago) after years of prodding by surfing and fishing buddies that I "should write for magazines!"  But the actual reason I started it was because I have had a blessed life full of amazing days in the mountains, the surf, the Carribean, and the prairies, to name a few, and I simply don't remember the details.  I can't.  It's a blessing.  And so, what were once pen-written "trip reports" became blog posts.  I wish I had started it 10 years earlier.   Between my work outdoors and my tendency to spend all or much of my free time outdoors, it was easy to create content - if I followed Chris Payne's advice and simply sat down and wrote it.

Blogs promote what's classically known as essay writing, and over time, I became a decent essayist. Around 2010, I changed my goals (my definition of success) and decided that through various pro staff deals, I could basically subsidize my outdoor habits.  I was sent all kinds of goodies in the mail, would use them, photograph myself using them, and blog about them.   Some turned out to be huge successes (my two posts on my Cooper AT3 tires have generated over 200,000 hits combined), while others didn't (organic pest control).   This required a lot of blog work, which annoyed my wife mightily, and then 2012 came.

Google got to thinking, as Google is wont to do, and they decided that ad revenue from blog domains wasn't significant, and conversely, search engine optimization for paying Google customers was in fact significant.   Suddenly, my posts and photos found themselves on page 4, page 7, and page 15 of various search results.  Monthly unique visits shrunk from nearly 20,000 to just under 3,000 in one month!   Comment responses stopped, and the number of people "liking" my social media pages dropped to near 0.    My immediate thought was that the gear manufacturers would lose interest in me mighty fast.  I was completely right. Around that time, the number of fishing and hunting blogs had exploded.   Some were run by people who could write better than me.  And back to Chris Payne's rules, the death knell was that some of the new blogs were run by folks who could dedicate a whole lot more time and energy to the craft....and are better writers and photographers.  Damn.

So where does that leave me....or you?  As a result of those changes, I decided to continue to use this blog to record my outdoor days, but also to attempt to use it as a trampoline to some new writing challenges.  I now pitch an article to a magazine about once a month.   Like most things in life, I experience 30 failures in a row over 2 months, and then 30 successes in a 12 hour period.  Even more exciting, I'm getting paid to write some of this stuff.  As a result, my writing keeps improving.  An even bigger accomplishment looms - my first novel, started in October 2013, sits at about 55,000 words (150 pages).  It's about 80% complete.   Will it ever see the light of day?  Who knows.  But with any luck, the writing will conclude in the first few months of 2015, and editing will begin.

A finished novel and a paid author.  For me, for 2015, that would make this blog a success.  I'll miss out on the free kayak from the manufacturer, and possibly the Toyota Truck field junket (once again), but that's all okay.

How will you define success?  How fast will you push yourself there?  

That's the question you need to begin with, before you make that first pro staff pitch or convince yourself that your New Zealand trip will pay for itself after the ad revenue comes in from your live blogging.   It's all possible - you just have to the goal in mind before you start.

Also, thanks to Chris Payne for having the stones to throw his idea out there for others (like me) to criticize.  It's easy to poke at others' ideas - far easier than it is to come up with our own.  I also highly recommend Chris' piece "Pro Staff Casualties," as it relates to this discussion of goals and success.

And as easy as it is to write a blog, 99% of web users still create no unique content aside from social media.  If you're doing it, and you enjoy it, keep doing it.  If you choose to make it up as you go along, you'll probably have a lot of fun - it may just be hard to know if you've "succeeded."

"Most of it was choices we never had to choose, the rest of it was luck but now we're out of that too." 
-Lucero, "What are You Willing to Lose?" 

1 comment:

Capitol Outdoors said...

This is great. Thanks!