Sara Laughed

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As a blogger, I love reading about other people's blogs, and I even used to write blog traffic and behind-the-scenes reports. But because this isn't a blog-about-blogging, I eventually removed them and focused on what made this site come alive: posts about my life and experiences, as well as my recommendations and advice for other students.

However, as the popularity of this site has increased over time, I've gotten more and more emails from bloggers (and especially other college bloggers) asking for advice and insight into college blogging. So I thought I'd pull back the curtain and share my story and what I've learned.

My blog, Sara Laughed, is among the more popular and successful blogs in the college niche. Since moving to my own domain in July of 2014, I've reached 900,000 users and almost 2,000,000 page views. I'm no “blogging pro” by any means, but I'm happy with what I've accomplished, and for those of you who want to learn, I'm happy to share my story and advice. Welcome to College Blogging 101:

  1. My Blog Story [You're looking at it!]
  2. College Blogging Questions and Answers
  3. My Top Lessons and Advice for College Blogging [Coming soon!]

My Blog Story, the Long Version

This is my blog story with as much detail and statistical information as I remembered or felt comfortable sharing. If you don't need this much information, feel free to scroll down to the TL;DR short version at the bottom of this post!

Blog Beginnings: Feb 2012 – Jul 2014

My blog, Sara Laughed, started as a gap year travel blog and became a college blog after I began my undergraduate degree. It stayed a hobby blog for about two years, and then in the summer after my Sophomore year, I moved it over to a self-hosted domain with the help of my techie boyfriend.

My first header!

My first blog header, back when I was on Blogspot! I made this using Microsoft Word text boxes and a screenshot.

I made the choice to self-host not because I wanted to be a “professional blogger” but because I wanted the site itself to be a prettier and cleaner space. It wasn't with the intent to make money or gain followers, so much as with the desire to take myself more seriously and make something beautiful.

Stats:

  • Sara Laughed blog hits: During this period, I was averaging about 2-25 visits per day.
  • Sara Laughed social media: I had a personal Pinterest with around 200 followers. I did not have any other blog-related social media.

Taking Off: Aug 2014 – May 2015

A few weeks after I switched over to self-hosting, I wrote a post called “The Ultimate Guide to College Organization” on a whim. It was my first help-style post; I took the photos in my backyard and made a cover image using Microsoft Word and a screenshot! It didn't receive much of a response right away, but that didn't bother me; I just liked being able to share my interests online.

My first blog post pin!

This was my first help-style blog post. It breaks ALL the “rules” of Pinterest images: horizontal photo, no branding, and uncomfortable spacing.

That February, I made the choice to start taking my blog more seriously. I'd wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl, and I realized that my blog could be more than a creative outlet: it could also be a great way to connect with other writers and find an audience for my work. I started blogging more regularly (read: 1-3 times per week), and I applied to a blogging network for college students: the Her Campus Blogger Network (now renamed the InfluenceHer Collective). Around the same time, I had my first freelance piece accepted by a major site, Hello Giggles.

The blogging group came with a large group Pinterest board that targeted mostly college students, so I pinned my organization post from that summer. I was surprised to see it gain a few hundred pins that month (it has now been repinned around 33,000 times). For the first time, I realized that there was a strong interest in college content. In response, I started sharing my experiences and advice, pinning my articles on Pinterest after I published them. Traffic started to pick up, from 25 views per day to 100-200 views per day, and then 300-600.

Stats:

  • Sara Laughed blog hits: From August to January, I hit around 50-100 visits per day. From February to May, I was getting anywhere from 300 to 650 hits per day thanks to Pinterest.
  • Sara Laughed social media: I grew my Pinterest to around 1000 followers simply by being active. I had also set up an inactive Twitter and Facebook page by then, each with only a handful of followers.

Let's Get Professional: Jul 2015 – Sep 2015

That summer, I decided to put out my first blog product. Again, this honestly wasn't to make money; I wanted to put out an eBook because I had a lot of ideas to help students, and because I thought that having a product would make my site feel more “professional” to me. So I spent a few months writing an 80-page guide to college. Through a Facebook blogging group, I assembled a small launch team, and asked them to write a blog post about my book in exchange for promotion and the chance to win a $25 gift card to Amazon.

The eBook ended up doing moderately well; I marketed it for $8.95 and have sold 317 copies in a little under a year. I've read that self-published eBooks rarely sell more than 100 copies, so I'm very happy with this result!

Gumroad Sales

The sales for my first eBook. As you can see, there was a major spike right when I released on August first, and then a small spike with the new semester in January.

I set up affiliate links through Amazon that summer, which I used when recommending books or school supplies. I thought I would be able to make some small change with the program, and at first I did: I think I made $0.97 in my first month! But by the end of the summer, I had earned several hundred dollars through affiliate links, since people were doing a lot of their back-to-school shopping through my links.

That fall, I accepted my first compensated posts: two blog posts for an ethical clothing company I loved. I wasn't paid to write them, but instead received the reviewed products for free.

How to transition your summer clothes to Fall! - Sara Laughed

A photo from one of my first compensated posts. This is a dear friend of mine, Aili!

A few weeks later, I applied for a sponsored opportunity through the Her Campus Blogger Network, to write about College Fashion Week. They paid me to write about the event, and that was my first sponsored or paid post! I felt really lucky to be chosen, and I also loved that I was now able to make money doing something I already loved. For the first time, I began to see myself as a semi-professional blogger, and my blog as both an outlet and a job.

Stats:

  • Sara Laughed blog hits: From June to September, I averaged about 3,000 to 5,000 hits per day, mainly thanks to Pinterest, but also due to search engines and referral traffic from other blogs.
  • Sara Laughed social media: My Pinterest was at about 3,000 followers, and I had grown my Twitter and Facebook to around 200 followers each, in part thanks to the work of a lovely volunteer assistant. I also started posting on my inactive Instagram account, and grew that to around 300 followers.
  • Sara Laughed earnings: Combining affiliate links, sponsorships, and my eBook, I earned around $2,500 blogging that summer.

New Ventures: Oct 2015 – Jan 2016

That October, I needed to leave school for medical reasons, so I suddenly had more time on my hands. I decided to devote that time to blogging and something called Bible journaling, which I had been doing for a few months. I had written a few posts about Bible Journaling that had performed well on Pinterest, so I decided to set up a “challenge” for Advent, my favorite liturgical season.

I wrote a post, made a Facebook group, and was shocked when it blew up: I received around 800 requests to join the group in the first week. As the group continued to grow, I decided to turn the challenge calendar into a small book; so I wrote a guide and published it in eBook and print format that October.

Advent Illustrated - Sara Laughed

A photo from my Advent Illustrated book. This was taken my a 16-year-old photographer I knew from summer camp.

Because the group had grown so quickly, the book sold very well right off the bat: I sold around 600 eBooks and 400 print books. I also made a kids' version, which sold around 200 copies, and added extras like a playlist (special thanks to my dad) and a separate Advent Illustrated website (special thanks to my boyfriend) to amplify the experience.

That winter, I tried to keep Sara Laughed going while I devoted most of my time to my new Bible journaling venture, which I renamed Seasons Illustrated. I set up a separate site for Seasons Illustrated, as well as a few separate social media accounts. Thanks to the popularity of Seasons Illustrated, all my Sara Laughed social channels grew as well.

  • Sara Laughed blog hits: From October to January, I averaged about 2,000 to 9,000 hits per day, mainly thanks to Pinterest and the popularity of my Bible journaling Facebook group.
  • Sara Laughed social media: My Pinterest gained around 5,000 followers thanks to Seasons Illustrated, to 8,000 followers, and I grew my Twitter and Facebook to around 500 followers each. My Instagram was around 400 followers. I also had a flourishing Tumblr page with a few “viral” posts that ranged 10,000 to 100,000 notes.
  • Seasons Illustrated social media: The group hit 2,000 members by Christmas. The Instagram page for Seasons Illustrated reached about 800 followers during Advent, after which I didn't update it for a while.
  • Combined earnings: Combining affiliate links, sponsorships, and my eBooks and print books, I earned around $10,000 from October to January.

Sustaining the Surge: Feb 2015 – Jun 2015

I returned to college that January and suddenly had a lot less time to devote to blogging. I posted less often on both my sites, but managed to put out two new studies for Seasons Illustrated: one on Esther and one for Lent. They each sold around 200 copies, and I had free versions of both available online for those who couldn't afford the eBook. I also set up a Patreon where readers could receive all my Seasons Illustrated studies by pledging as little as $1 per month.

That January, my boyfriend was diagnosed with MS, and in a panic I accepted several sponsored posts in a matter of days. I felt as though, due to the new instability of our lives, it was necessary for me to keep up what I had earned that winter despite my waning traffic. I published four or five sponsored posts in a few months, ranging in compensation anywhere from $425 to $1,000 per sponsorship (at this time, I was getting around 280,000 page views per month). While I don't regret taking on any sponsored posts, I think I became uncomfortable with the amount of timing in between them; I now prefer to have around one sponsored post per month, if I can.

Traffic in Spring 2016

Over that semester, my daily traffic decreased even when I posted multiple times per week. That was to be expected: I normally see a rise in traffic before every new semester, so it was normal for my traffic to taper down.

  • Sara Laughed blog hits: From February to June, I averaged about 1,800 to 2,500 hits per day, mainly thanks to Pinterest and the popularity of my Facebook group.
  • Sara Laughed social media: My Pinterest is at 15,000 followers. Twitter is at 600 (as of today!), Facebook at 1,000, and Instagram at 800. My Tumblr is at 2,500 followers. I use Pinterest and Facebook most often to promote my posts.
  • Seasons Illustrated social media: The group is at 3,500 members as of June 2016. The Instagram page for Seasons Illustrated has over 1,000 followers.
  • Combined earnings: Combining affiliate links, sponsorships, and my eBooks and print books, I earned around $10,000 from February to June.

TL;DR: My Blog Story, the Short Version

I blogged as a hobby for a few years. About six months after moving to my own domain, I started taking blogging more seriously by posting multiple times per week and sharing on social media. I began monetizing through affiliate links, sponsored posts, and a handful of written products. In the 18 months since I started “taking blogging more seriously,” I've reached 900,000 readers and had almost 2,000,000 page views on Sara Laughed alone. Currently I'm getting around 85,000 monthly readers and 115,000 monthly page views.

Check out the rest of College Blogger 101:

  1. My Blog Story [You're looking at it!]
  2. College Blogging Questions and Answers
  3. My Top Lessons and Advice for College Blogging [Coming soon!]

23 Comments

  1. Reply

    Nicole @ Audaciously So

    July 1, 2016

    Your blog growth is really inspiring. Props to you for starting (and growing) such a successful blog/business!

    • Reply

      Sara

      July 1, 2016

      Thank you so much Nicole!

  2. Reply

    The Confused Millennial

    July 1, 2016

    This is such an awesome post! Your blog growth is inspiring. Congratulations, girl!

    • Reply

      Sara

      July 1, 2016

      Thank you! I definitely feel very lucky!

  3. Reply

    Amelie

    July 1, 2016

    This is so impressive, and inspiring! Major congrats to you for achieving all of this!

    Amelie | http://awanderersadventures.wordpress.com

  4. Reply

    Cristina Mandujano

    July 1, 2016

    So amazing how much you’ve grown! That is an amazing accomplishment 🙂

    X,
    Cristina
    cristinawashere.com

  5. Reply

    Kym @ Hello Kymberly Ann

    July 1, 2016

    Thanks for sharing your journey and in such detail! I love seeing how bloggers have grown over time, and it’s so inspiring as a new blogger! Congrats on your success!

    Kym | http:/hellokymberlyann.com

  6. Reply

    Greta Hollar

    July 1, 2016

    I love hearing people’s blog stories. Congrats on your success!

    Greta | http://www.gretahollar.com

  7. Reply

    Tori Moore

    July 1, 2016

    Wow this is awesome! So inspiring! Reason to keep going forward even when you feel discouraged!

    Tori
    mooretori.com

  8. Reply

    The Swirl

    July 1, 2016

    wow! You should be so proud of what you’ve accomplished! I love reading stories like this!

    xo, Gabby
    theswirlblog.com

  9. Reply

    Audrey Stowe

    July 1, 2016

    this was so interesting to read!!! wow, you go girl!!! That’s so awesome about your ebooks and blog. You should be so proud!

  10. Reply

    Alix Maza

    July 1, 2016

    Such an inspiration!! I too started blogging as a hobby and want to turn it into a small business!!

    Alix | http://www.apintsizedlife.com

  11. Reply

    Mae-Mae Han

    July 1, 2016

    Very interesting! I can’t wait for the next parts of the series

    OurJourneyinJournals.blogspot.com

  12. Reply

    Candice Nikeia

    July 2, 2016

    I love that you made a Facebook group that blew up! I have been thinking of doing the SAME! Now I am inspired! Great post!

    xoxo, Candice
    http://www.candicenikeia.com

  13. Reply

    Alex

    July 2, 2016

    This is so awesome! Congrats on your success!!

  14. Reply

    Miss ALK

    July 3, 2016

    This is such an inspiring post!! I definitely need be utilizing Pinterest more for my blog and you might have inspired me to do that!

    xoxo A
    http://www.southernbelleintraining.com

  15. Reply

    Kayleigh

    July 3, 2016

    Love seeing your journey! Congrats!
    http://www.kayleighskloset.com

  16. Reply

    Amy

    July 3, 2016

    Such a great story and love hearing about your growth! Wishing you lots of luck for your blog’s future!

    xoxo

    Amy | Pastel N Pink

  17. Reply

    Cindy Fessler

    July 5, 2016

    Very valuable and helpful information. Congratulations on your blog success.

  18. Reply

    M Q

    July 6, 2016

    This is so impressive. I’m looking to expand my blog but not sure how!

  19. Reply

    Pick Your Beau

    July 7, 2016

    This was so cool to read! It’s always fascinating to watch blogs grow and I love hearing the back stories behind them.

    Pick Your Beau

  20. Reply

    Bailey

    July 8, 2016

    Wow, I am so impressed! I started blogging in college, but haven’t really taken off until lately!

  21. Reply

    Amanda @ Truly Yours, A.

    July 11, 2016

    These numbers are amazing! Congrats on all your success and good luck on future endeavors!

    Xoxo,
    Amanda
    trulyyoursa.com

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