How Blogging Has Changed from 2006 to 2016

by J.D. Roth

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?)

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.

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.

Updated: 27 September 2016

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