Blogs about WordPress are a dime a dozen.
The likes of WP Mayor, WinningWP, WPKube, and WPBeginner have been around for over a decade and continue to provide the world with WordPress news, tutorials, and reviews.
Others have cropped up all over the place, whether it’s a hosting or product company investing in their own blog or someone taking on a new venture.
That being said, their quality, intentions, and ability to last vary drastically.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking more and more about this, taking notes as I go.
This post sums up what I think of the current situation and where it’s heading.
The following article is my personal opinion based on my involvement in the WordPress community since 2014. It may not reflect the opinion of everyone involved with the WP Mayor project.
The public opinion
I recently posted a Twitter poll asking about the future of independent, self-funded blogs like this one to see how people perceive their future. Have a look at the tweet below and share your opinion.
The majority of people see value in our blogs and believe that their voice is needed, while some aren’t sure. A few believe that they have no future.
One reason I heard for the latter is that with larger companies taking over the top 5 spots in the SERPs for most valuable keywords, the value of independent sites will decline quickly.
It’s a valid concern, but keep reading to understand why that may not be the case.
Competition is ever-increasing
As I’ve mentioned in the introduction, the number of blogs created to publish tutorials and reviews about WordPress is ever-increasing.
Some have gotten involved in the community and are getting traction, while others are relying on sleazy tactics to grow quickly. I’ve shared a few examples on Twitter in the past, but there are far more in my inbox archive.
That’s not to mention the blogs of larger product and hosting companies that have come alive in the past few years.
Look at the likes of Kinsta, Elegant Themes, and so on. Their blogs are now constantly publishing quality content that is usually helpful and ranks well.
These blogs are now “competing” directly with the “original” WordPress blogs in terms of search rankings, but in most cases, they have the benefit of larger budgets and bigger teams.
SEO appears to be one of the main recession-proof marketing techniques that these online businesses are focusing on.
In my personal experience, the people behind most of these blogs are still very friendly and cooperative. We often chat and find ways to help each other out, showing that the community aspect is still alive.
That can’t be said for all blogs though. Some make it incredibly difficult to work with them, often outright refusing potential collaborations or expecting the world in return for a small favor.
Integrity and content quality aren’t always the goal
In the past few weeks, I got more involved with WP Mayor again, so I’ve also been looking at similar blogs to see what else I can learn.
From low-quality content with poor structure to purely promotional lists where the recommendations are simply laughable, I’ve come across a lot of shoddy work.
It’s the responsibility of every publisher to be honest with their audience, and in some cases, we’re not doing enough as creators.
Unfortunately, most casual readers don’t know the difference between a genuine recommendation and one purely based on monetary value.
WP Mayor has not been an exception to this rule either. I’m constantly finding ways that we can be doing things better and we’re adapting with time.
At the end of the day, the creator of every piece of content is responsible for providing honest recommendations based on an educated and unbiased opinion.
Too many blogs are basing their recommendations on who pays the most. We haven’t been excluded from these accusations in the past, but we pride ourselves on our honesty and stand by what we say and do.
We have rejected many approaches to be listed and mentioned across our content in return for payment, and I know a few other bloggers that proudly do the same.
That’s not to say that our blog is not monetized and we haven’t done some form of this in the past. The difference is that we’re learning from our shortcomings and finding more responsible ways to keep our doors open. You can read more about how and why we do that further down and on our Disclosure page.
Actions speak louder than words
We’ve seen the topic of a blog’s intentions discussed a number of times.
There are people that produce content with a genuine goal of helping their readers understand a problem and find the best solution for it based on personal experience or real-world testing.
I know a few creators who have done this successfully for many years and I admire their commitment to the cause. The likes of WinningWP and its founder, Brin Wilson, come to mind immediately.
But then there are those that only push out the type of content that will benefit their pockets. I’ve already shared an example in the tweet above and there are many more like it from the same parent company, but unfortunately, other blogs are following suit thinking that it’s the best way to succeed.
Notice I said “push out” and not “publish”, because most of the time, these blogs seem to work more like a production line rather than a publishing house.
Unfortunately, search engines don’t differentiate well enough between the two yet, so the ones who end up unknowingly suffering are the end users – our readers – those who we are here to help in the first place.
Let’s not kid ourselves, money is always a factor
No matter how genuine your intentions may be, none of us are here to do all this work for free. It’s simply not sustainable.
Whether it’s a blog, a podcast, or a product, doing everything for free is a noble gesture that isn’t realistic.
We’ve seen this with others that have come and gone over the years. It sounds great in theory, but you simply cannot sustain it and your followers will eventually suffer the consequences. There may be one-off exceptions, but there’s often a caveat to that situation.
A monetization strategy is vital. Whether it’s through sponsorship, affiliate marketing, donations, or otherwise, you need something to sustain you.
You may be happy with enough funds to keep a passion project going, but if you’re running a business, you’re always looking to make it profitable.
Whether you place that profitability ahead of everything else is up to you.
How do blogs like WP Mayor fund themselves?
Without a source of funds, WP Mayor and similar blogs will not survive.
How we fund ourselves is something I’ve thought about a lot. Our disclosure explains how we currently support ourselves, but you can read below to learn more.
We have been bootstrapped since day one. Despite the fact that our team also develops and sells plugins, WP Mayor has always been run as its own entity, not taking on any funds from our products.
We write about our own products from time to time, and we do recommend them where it’s relevant, but that’s it. WP Mayor is not here to just be a promotional platform for our products.
You may have seen others recommending their own products in completely irrelevant articles and listicles just for the backlink and traffic value, but that’s not us.
Maybe their readers are not aware that they’re being manipulated, but that’s when your decision to deceive others starts to hurt your reputation. Whether that ever impacts your business or not is unclear, but it’s not something I ever want to find out for myself.
Most blogs are based on generating affiliate revenue on a consistent basis. That means that their ability to rank on search engines and build an engaged audience will determine their success.
Some of the blogs I mentioned early on focus solely on affiliate revenue. They have done this successfully for many years and continue to do so today. They have succeeded where others have failed simply because they remain true to themselves.
WP Mayor also generates revenue from affiliate partnerships. We have done so since the early days and always base our recommendations on our past experiences. I talk about this in more detail a few paragraphs down.
Paid services and sponsorships
Others, including ourselves, sell services targeted at businesses within the relevant industry.
We have been doing this for many years, building a reputation for providing quality feedback and a return on investment. Sometimes, our services lead to new relationships that continue to flourish for many years.
Some blogs have only turned to this strategy in the past couple of years.
This may be because they see it as a way to fund the growth of a new blog in the first few months, which can work if done right, or it’s being used as a way to improve their profitability with the goal of lasting longer.
Most of the services on offer across blogs are pretty much the same.
Reviews, website sponsorships, and newsletter sponsorships. It takes some creativity to stand out.
Others sell backlinks and post inclusions which I’m not such a fan of. It is something we’ve done in the past (within limits and disclosing what we do) but we’ve moved away from that model over time.
Sponsorships are common across quite a few blogs. By placing ads across our website, we support the production of more content, generate more traffic, and in turn provide more value to the sponsor.
We have two types of sponsorship at WP Mayor; website and newsletter sponsorships.
Thankfully, many members of the WordPress community have seen enough value in us over the years to show their support for the work we do.
“Write about us and we’ll give you a commission”
No thanks. Not unless we know your product and believe in it enough to put our name behind it.
This is a question that ends up in our inbox every week, but it ends up in the trash pretty quickly.
Nowadays, we work in a simple way that guarantees that our recommendations are based on first-hand experience. That’s not cheap to do, but our years of experience help in the process.
Having been involved with WordPress for over a decade, from running an agency to building products, we have used and tested hundreds of plugins and services, so our recommendations are based on years of real-world use and testing.
With newer products and services, or those that we have not yet had a need for, we start off by reviewing them.
In most cases, that’s done through our analysis service (Grow) since it helps us fund the research, testing, writing, and publication processes while providing valuable feedback to the owner.
Every published analysis is free of affiliate links since the goal of this service is to provide both the product owner and the reader with an honest and unbiased opinion.
If we manage to do that and the product continues to be improved in the following years, we look at more ways that we can support their growth.
Sometimes it’s an affiliate partnership but other times it’s based on the connections that we build with the product owners.
I’m glad to say that this has also helped us build some great personal relationships over the years.
Investments in SEO take time to prove themselves
SEO investments are never guaranteed and their return depends on many factors.
Help yourself by investing your money wisely in people that are trustworthy and recommended, with a proven track record.
Although they may not guarantee results, you’re far more likely to succeed by investing in people and not ideas.
Find trusted names in your space and reach out with a clear explanation of what you do and an honest explanation of what you need from them.
We know all about the time factor in SEO. New articles can take months to start picking up traction, so it’s a process that requires patience.
If you don’t have any experience with blogging, reach out to friends who do or find an agency that can help you out. I’ve personally had a very good experience with Alex Denning and his team at Ellipsis, so that’s an easy recommendation for me to make.
Niching down and standing out
One way to grow and rank quicker is to niche down.
Find a niche within a niche, and then focus on how you can help the people within it.
Your audience may be smaller to start out, but it will help you build topical authority (which Google loves) as well as traction.
The competition to rank is typically easier since larger publications may not have an interest in something with such a small reach, so your chances of getting to the top of the rankings are better.
Aside from that, do work that stands out from the crowd. This is a lot easier said than done, especially when a niche is already overcrowded, so it may take time to figure out.
Keeping an authentic voice and engaging with your audience will help you find that one thing that makes you unique.
Blogs are not exempt from the acquisition spree
Over the past couple of years, acquisitions have been almost a weekly occurrence and blogs haven’t been excluded.
Recently we saw the sale of WPLift on Flippa. I don’t know who the new owners are but it was brought to my attention that a few strange backlinks have started to appear in some of its posts’ approved comments, so we’ll see where it goes next.
At WP Mayor, we have been approached a number of times by interested buyers, but we’ve never been interested in selling. We still believe in the value that we provide and will continue to work on it for as long as we humanly can.
Does that mean that WP Mayor will never be sold? You never know.
A few years back I had written a personal blog post titled “Never say never” (it’s no longer online), and I still apply that philosophy today. We don’t know what will happen in the future, but for the time being, our goal is to continue providing value to the community as an independent voice.
What does the future hold?
WP Mayor soon celebrates its 12th birthday. That’s a huge milestone for us.
Keeping a blog like WP Mayor going for twelve years with a small independent and self-funded team is a feat that we are very proud of.
In the past few months, I’ve gotten more involved with the blog having spent the past 2 to 3 years focused on our product businesses.
The more time I spend with the blog, the more I fall back in love with it.
That’s not to say that it’s always smooth sailing. From finding outdated content to negative SEO attacks, there’s always something to keep you on your toes.
But the change has been a welcome one.
I still see plenty of work to be done in this space and I do hope that more blog owners take responsibility for their actions and step up to do the right thing.
Again, this isn’t some noble cause of mine – at the end of the day, we’re a business like any other – but doing the right thing and being profitable are not mutually exclusive.
For the time being, I’m looking forward to working with more link-minded people and building a sustainable business that will continue to support WordPress users for many years to come.
If you feel the same way, reach out in the comments below or message me on Twitter.