Sara Laughed

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Hi all! Welcome to Part 2 of my College Blogger 101 series: College Blogger Q&A.While I had originally planned for this Q&A to be Part 3, I ended up switching parts 2 and 3 so that my college blogger advice can be last. I got these questions by asking around in a few blogger Facebook groups as to what they'd like to ask or know from a blogger like me. These are the answers I gave them in those groups, and also the answers I give when asked these or similar questions via email. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask me in the comments!

Check out the rest of College Blogger 101 here:

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

How did you get there?

Great question! You can read my blog story here.

How long did it take you to reach this success?

I've been blogging for four and a half years, but have really only actively focused on growing my blog for the last 18 months or so.

Was growth organic or did you implement specific strategies all along the road to increase traffic and income?

A little of both. I lucked out with a few posts going small-scale viral (read: around 150,000 shares), but I also put a ton of work into:

  • Posting regularly
  • Having crisp and recognizable graphics
  • Having a well-functioning site with extra features like a printable library
  • Creating downloads for posts

The strategies for increasing my blog traffic didn't feel like work to me because I love blogging, but it was still definitely intentional effort. The strategies for growing my social media felt a lot more like work because there are only a few social media sites that I really love; the others are less fun to maintain and grow. My social stats are still pretty low compared to my readership size!

How much time a day do you spend on your blog?

Totally depends. Sometimes 1 hour. Sometimes 15 hours. It really depends on whether or not I'm personally obsessed with my blog and blogging at that moment; while a lot of truly professional bloggers have a daily blogging schedule, I still let my whims and interests dictate a big chunk of what I do online. Yesterday I spent about 8 hours on this blog; the day before that, none.

Where has the most traffic come from?

Definitely Pinterest! Here's a breakdown of my traffic, according to Google Analytics:

  1. Social media referrals (60%): Pinterest is most popular by far, then Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.
  2. Direct referrals (27%): Someone typing the link into their browser, or copy/pasting the link.
  3. Organic search (10%): I used Yoast SEO to get some of my posts to the first page of Google search results.
  4. Referral posts (3%): Another college blogger linking to my page in an article of hers.

How much effort do you put into SEO?

I add an SEO term to all my posts and use Yoast SEO to help me out. Once a post has gained traction (a month or two later), I go back and add or edit it to improve it, and will sometimes also tweak the SEO term depending on how it's performing. This method has gotten me to the first Google result for around 5-10 searches, and the first page for many more. But honestly, it only takes me a few minutes per month; it's not a major concerted effort on my part.

Side note: I only do this for my “help” posts (The Ultimate Guide to…) not my personal posts.

What is your most successful way to make money? Products? Sponsored posts? Ads?

Products for sure, and then affiliate links. I don't do sidebar ads because they distract from my content; I selectively do sponsored posts, but because I do them rarely, they're not a huge earner for me.

Products are also really fun to create; I love writing, so putting together books and eBooks for my readers has been really rewarding to me. Affiliate links are great because I'm just mentioning a product I love, and I occasionally make some spare change off of the mention if the product appeals to someone else.

What are your favorite tools/networks?

My favorite network is the InfluenceHer Collective, because it's the only network I've come across that is primarily for young or college-aged women. Whatever your blog niche is, find a network that caters specifically to that age group or niche. You'll make great friends and come across awesome opportunities.

As for my favorite tools – what a great question! Here are my answers as of right now:

For graphics:

  • Photoshop for making graphics for posts. I have the whole Adobe Creative Cloud on a student membership. I also often use Indesign, Illustrator, and Lightroom for printables, graphics, or photos for posts.
  • Canva for putting together a quick or small graphic (I use Canva to make my section dividers on longer posts, for example).
  • CreativeMarket for buying graphic elements, if you want to design your own logo or printables. I go here to buy fonts and graphics.
  • Photo subscription services:
    • Free: Pexels is great! A lot of photographers submit their photos there for exposure, so you can get some beautiful photographs to use in your blog posts for free. Free.
    • Lifestyle: Death to the Stock Photo releases free and paid monthly photo packs in different themes. Paid subscribers can also search their library. I love the quality of these photos, but because there isn't an overarching theme, it can be hard to find exactly what you want. $15/mo.
    • Feminine: Haute Chocolate has lots of great, feminine stock photos in a clean and bright style. These are really nice if you're running a girly lifestyle blog. $15/mo.
    • Faith-oriented: My favorite is Lighstock. Beautiful, non-cheesy photos of people of all backgrounds. Different plans ranging $15/mo and up.

In terms of plugins and services:

  • I use the Essential Grid (printable library and any grids on the site), Magic Action Box (for the sign-up form at the bottom of my posts), and Mailchimp for WP (for the email sign-up in my sidebar) plugins to style extras on my site. I can recommend all of them, but they're not necessities!
  • I go back and forth on using a social media scheduler, but if that's for-sure your thing, I recommend CoSchedule. It's easy to use and has a free trial to get you started.

In terms of tech:

  • Laptop/desktop and wifi. If you don't have this, your local library may.
  • Camera. I have an eight-year-old DSLR, but I also sometimes use my iPhone.
  • Reflector for “fancier” shots. I got an inexpensive 3-option reflector for around $20 on Amazon.

What investments have you made that were worth it?

I cannot stress this enough: if you don't want to take photos, pay for photos. Don't just take them from the internet! You can get sued if you do this (read one blogger's story here).

The same goes for graphics and themes: don't be afraid to spend money on making your site beautiful. I wouldn't spend thousands or even hundreds of dollars early on. My current site runs on a $50 theme, hosting of a few dollars a month, and a logo that I made myself using elements from Creative Market.

In terms of classes or services, the only blogging course I've really loved was List Surge by Melyssa Griffin. It's very detailed and helpful, with tons of ideas and guidance for implementing her suggestions. My email list went from 800 to 2,200 in around 3 months.

How do you get sponsored? I have such a hard time pitching!

I apply through networks! I'm in a few: InfluenceHer Collective, CleverGirls, and Social Fabric.

Pitching can certainly be hard. If applying through a network, I base my application essays on this outline:

  1. Why I was drawn to this opportunity (“I've always used [brand] water bottles,” or “I really care about keeping my home clean, so I knew that a collaboration with [brand] would be a great fit.”
  2. About me, my blog, and my readers. (“I'm a 22-year-old college senior with a popular college lifestyle blog. My readers are generally aged [x-xy], [gender] and interested in [a, b, c].”) You can get the reader info through Google Analytics!
  3. My idea for the post. (“I'd love to write a post on my evening routine, featuring [product].”)
  4. Why I think it would go over well with my readers + a little bragging. (“My readers respond well to [type of] posts, and they also do great on social media: my most recent post on this topic was shared 1,000 times on Pinterest and Facebook!”)
  5. Thanks and well wishes. (“Thank you for considering me, and I look forward to hearing from you!”)

How do your obligations at school influence the time you schedule for blog work?

When it comes to balancing school and blog, I ALWAYS prioritize academics, because I can do blogging at any time, but college only comes around now (for all I know). I give blogging around the same amount of time/effort/energy as I do my extracurriculars or jobs, and I see and treat it as a job, which helps me feel better about putting work into it.

Check out the rest of College Blogger 101:

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

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    Alysha // Study Break Down

    July 5, 2016

    Thanks so much for writing this post! It’s definitely interesting to see how other bloggers implement certain things and how others juggle blogging and school commitments!
    Alysha | Study Break Down

  2. Reply

    Kristen T.

    July 12, 2016

    Good and interesting post Sara. Even though I’m not in college nor do I have a blog I find your little tidbits of advice and knowledge so interesting. Plus I just enjoy reading about stuff you are doing and interested in. I always happy when a new post appears. Keep on keeping on.
    ♥️ KDT

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