Tips for the cycling blogger

Quite a few people ask about blogging in general. How do you make money? Is it realistic to have a career from blogging and writing for websites? Is blogging not a bit web 2.0?

I started building websites back in 2003 with Poetseers.org – a  non-commercial site on poetry. I found using certain keywords helped get more traffic and I enjoyed seeing the traffic grow. This was in the day when knowing how to edit a website was still a minority – almost exotic interest.

In 2006, I was working full time (teaching economics) but with a desire to spend less time working and more time cycling. So I set up some commercial websites with an idea to make money. Early sites included Economicshelp.org / Biographyonline.net, Cyclinginfo.co.uk, mortgageguideuk.co.uk, netwriting.co.uk, housingmarket.org.uk, uk-houseprices.co.uk. The majority of my commercial blogs failed and have now faded away.  It’s better to do one site well, than several with mediocrity.

In 2012/13, Google changed their algorithms, and cyclinginfo.co.uk saw a big drop in Google searches, so I gave up the site and started a new one – cyclinguphill.com (Ironically, cyclinguphill.com is a much better domain name, and I was lucky to get a good .com domain in 2013) My first post on Cycling Uphill was  26th September 2013 – Mow Cop – the Killer Mile – it helped from a blog point of view that in 2013 I won the national hill climb championship. It definitely helped get the new blog off the ground.

(BTW: My first ever cycling blog was on Richardpettinger.com in 2005/06. The blog was entitled “It’s all downhill from here” – which I thought quite amusing for the title of a cycling blog! I’ve lost most of the posts from that blog which is a shame because it had a write up from National Hill Climb Championship 2005. It now languishes in a moribund location, with broken CSS in a place no one can find.)

These days I make a good income from websites (primarily economics and biography). It means that I’ve been able to give up teaching completely and spend more time cycling and blogging. In terms of my cycling career, having more free time is a big factor in being able to do better. I couldn’t have achieved the same with a 40 hour a week full time job.

I don’t think any careers service would suggest blogging as a viable career, but I feel fortunate to do something I enjoy and make a living.

How to make money from websites / blogs

The way I make money, the first thing you need is high traffic. If you have a blog visited by 10 friends and family, it will make nothing. Economics and Biography both gain around 80,000 page views per day each. Cycling gets about 4,000 – 10,000 per day (depending on season). To get this kind of traffic, you need to work hard to build good content and attract visitors. Getting started is the hardest because you have to work hard with relatively low rewards. You need to reach a critical mass to get noticed by search results, then it becomes relatively easier. In my case, I was able to teach part-time, which gave time to build up websites.

Creating Useful content

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  • The most successful way to blog is to offer useful content that you can do better than anywhere else on the web. At Cycling Uphill, the most popular page is 100 Climbs I started the page for my own benefit to list all climbs on the web for easy reference; then I created small pages about each climb. If you find it useful, chances are there will be other people who find it useful too.
  • Writing articles on how to do something. Sometimes I write articles like “how to cycle uphill”. Often I write these to help learn myself – do a bit of research and create a good resource. When I started in 2006, there was less competition. (Cycling Weekly was slow off the mark to create a website). Nowadays there is much more competition so, if I write an article, I try to add something new / different perspective.
  • Personal views. When I first started cycle blogging, I didn’t particularly like writing about myself, but preferred the “how to cycle in a straight line” kind of thing. These days my blog has become more about personal cycling experiences. There are a few reasons for this.
    • The cycling blog makes only small percentage of income, so I see it more as hobby – than commercial enterprise. If I’m in the mood to try and increase earnings, I will write economics / new biography. If I want to blog for enjoyment, I will post on cycling. (if I have something interesting to say)
    • Because the cycling related internet is much more crowded these days, I’m not so keen to repeat what has already been stated. If you start off with personal experience – you feel, at least, you are adding something new.
    • From a writing perspective, it is an interesting challenge to write about a 30 mile training ride through the Cotswolds or a hill climb event. Posting photos and writing about a cycle ride also helps re-live the event.
    • When I do a race, I often read my own blog from previous years. Without planning, the blog has actually become quite a helpful training diary. This is one reason why I try and share – power figures, conditions, what worked – it is something that will help me in the future.
    • Sometimes when I have mechanical failure, I google e.g. “Trek Speed concept bars broken” and come across my own post I wrote last year, and which offers me no help at all! Just proving Google isn’t all powerful…
    • When I do a 100 mile TT, I will always now take a photo of bike, to see what bottle combinations / setup I used. It’s surprising how useful it is to take a photo of your bike used in particular races.

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Making money

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If I just blogged about my cycling career, it definitely wouldn’t be enough to make a living. Photos of Yorkshire Dales are nice, but it’s not the kind of post that will make any money. If I wanted to maximise income for cycling uphill, I would do more product reviews or articles, such as “best places to stay cycle touring in Yorkshire”.

For economics, the best way to make money is not “UK Inflation rises in Feb 2017” – which is soon out of date. But, a general article “Factors that cause inflation”. The later article is useful for ever (students googling their homework). The first article – you’re competing with news outlets and it’s soon out of date.

Monetising a site

Google Adsense. I put Google Adsense on websites at the edge and underneath a post. Let us say, approx 0.5% of viewers click on an ad, and you get say £0.20 per click. (you’re not supposed to share exact figures) This is why you need high traffic to make money from Adsense. Also, it depends on what the ad is about. If you get a click on ad about ‘Mortgages’ – it will probably pay more than a generic one about say “cycling singles” or whatever. However, my mortgage sites were failures because I just don’t have the passion to write about the best fixed rate mortgage deals.

On economics, I sell pdf economic revision guides. It’s nice to have income that doesn’t depend on the Google monolith.

On cycling, I make a commission of 2-5 % if someone clicks on a link to Wiggle / Evans and buys the product. If you view “Best road tyres”, and click on a Wiggle link and buy, I will earn 5% of the £30. I use Affiliate Window to manage these commission links

This is why it would be good to do more product reviews and add links. I did go through phase of asking for products from companies (or buying) and then reviewing. Recently I’ve done this less. I generally only review things I buy and use myself.

Developing a regular readership

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Although Cycling Uphill makes only a small percentage of income, it seems to have the biggest following of my websites. Quite a few people at races say they enjoy the blog, which is an encouragement to keep blogging in itself. People subscribe by email or perhaps manually visit. This is important for a successful blog. If Google sees real people like to follow you, it will tend to give higher search results than a blog which no one follows.

You don’t really make money from regular readers directly, the main benefit is getting natural links and better search results which occur indirectly. You’re more likely to make money – when people google ‘best winter road tyres’ and come to visit site and click on link. But, to get google search visitors, you need to make blog popular in the first place.

Also there comes a point where you’re happy to blog to offer something – not from a monetisation perspective. Even if I took away all monetisation at Cycling Uphill, I would still blog in a similar way.

Social Media

To say I make a living online, I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to social media. Everyone says if you want to build a blog – use Facebook, Twitter e.t.c. to develop a following. I’ve never used Facebook. I do have a Twitter account for cyclinginfo, but never really worked out how to use Twitter effectively. Essentially, I don’t want to spend time interacting on Twitter and could easily delete the account with no impact on blog.

I could probably increase traffic by spending more time on social media, but I don’t feel the need. If I write, I want to write on my own blogs – rather than give comments and content to other forums and Facebook e.t.c

Monetisation

I am aware there is a tension between making money and blogging for the sake of it. When I first started blogging, making money was often foremost in mind – I was keen to get an income to retire from teaching. After a few years, the pressure to make money in the short-term diminished so I worry less about doing blogs for profit, and write more just for the sake of it. In the long-term this probably helps the success of a blog. I also have a few blogs / places – Write Spirit, Tejvan.co.uk Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team – where I don’t have any ads and I run purely as a non-commercial site. It is a different kind of feeling. To be honest, in recent months, I have started to toy with the idea of taking away Google ads on Cycling Uphill.

When I started blogging, the goal was not to become very rich, but to have more time for cycling.  When you’re self-employed – you need discipline to keep working, but also you need discipline to stop yourself over-working. With a blog, there’s always more you can do – there’s always more money to be made. You need to be clear what is important – money or time?

Tips for blogging

This could be a huge book on its own, but I will simplify some essential parts

  • Decide purpose of blog – is it to make money or just for enjoyment or perhaps both?
  • If you want to grow a blog – write very useful, engaging content with other people in mind.
  • The most important thing is write and blog about something that you like and have something worthwhile to share. In 2007, I started a blog uk-remortgagequotes.co.uk – it lasted a few years then I deleted it. (for obvious reasons!)
  • If you do a post – do it well. It is better to have one really good page / post, than 10 short bitty posts.
  • Writing about your own cycling career is challenging. I never feel comfortable writing about my own injuries. I have to be conscious of preventing my blog becoming a personal complaint list. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to do. Though sharing injury can be useful, if combined with remedies to overcome e.t.c.
  • Something different. With my blog I try to write something different to what else is on the web. Also, you have to be yourself, and develop a ‘voice’ that people will either like or dislike.
  • Keep going. Many blogs fade away after the first year or two. To keep going for 10 years means you have to really enjoy it. Obviously if you can make money, you can treat it as job – which makes it much easier to keep going. The hard thing is to keep going, when you’re not really making much money, but hope to in the future.

 

3 Responses to Tips for the cycling blogger

  1. David Coleman February 4, 2017 at 3:54 pm #

    I remember hunting down some long-lost fragments of my early forays into blogging using web.archive.org.

    I managed to find your 2005 National Hill Climb Championships article:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20060228214200/http://www.richardpettinger.com/cycling/national-hill-climb-2005

    You should be able to navigate round your old blog from there.

    • tejvan February 4, 2017 at 4:47 pm #

      Thanks very much David. My blogs were much shorter in those days!

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