we've learned

Our Blogging Philosophy // Lessons Learned in Writing About Our Next Life

we’d love your input to help us make this blog the best it can be. today we’re sharing what we’ve learned about blogging, but we’d love your perspective on how we can keep growing as writers. please leave your thoughts in the comments! 

since this little blog of ours is getting some recognition right now, it feels like a good time to share how we approach blogging, and what we’ve found that’s (apparently) working. we are always striving to grow and improve, so this is a point-in-time list reflecting what we currently try to live and write by:

Lessons Learned in Blogging About Our Next Life // blogging, SEO, blog content, traffic, engagement, visitors

tell the truth, and don’t curate. this is directive number one for us. as we shared in our recent “about series” post, we started this blog fundamentally for us, and we want it to be a truthful chronicle of our journey to early retirement, and beyond. we want to be able to read it decades from now, and remember what this time was like, and there’d be no point in distorting the facts if the goal is to hang onto the memories. it’s why we’ve shared stories on our bad money decisions, and talk about how we’re prepaying the mortgage even though, on paper, it’s better to invest that money. (those make the best stories, anyway!) but the harder thing not to do is the modern phenomenon known as curation. just as it’s tempting to post only the beautiful moments, with the perfect filters, on instagram, it’s tempting to show only the best parts of ourselves on the blog, or do what we can to look cool on here. we try hard to just be us, and to show it all — the successes, the struggles, the questions. our most honest post ever, why the urgency, got such a positive response that it gave us the courage to keep sharing our true selves, even if we can’t, you know, share our actual names or faces. (but that will come in time! and, we admit it, we’re completely guilty of curation on instagram.) ;-)

don’t pretend to be experts. this is also a big one for us. a lot of bloggers in the space have read up on personal finance, and are quite educated on the subject. but we still feel uncomfortable when people write “do this” or “don’t do this,” especially if they aren’t specifically certified or trained in finance, sometimes even then. what we try to do instead, is just talk about what’s working for us or what we’ve learned. but we’d never tell you to do the same thing, because we could actually be doing something really stupid that’s just seeming to work because of dumb luck. the closest we’ve ever come to giving advice was in our paying ourselves first post.

pay attention to the craft of writing. we try hard to write well, and spend real time writing and editing (most of) our posts. we strive to get better, and will often re-read old posts to think about how we could have made them clearer, more interesting or more lively. and some posts stay in the hopper for weeks or months, until we can get our thoughts clear enough to publish. writing, like any skill, is something you get better at with practice. practice has taught us that we feel best about our writing when we treat each post like a story we’re telling a good friend, not someone we’re trying to impress.

always respond to comments. though we started this blog for ourselves, it’s not an exaggeration to say that we now blog for you guys. your comments make our day, and we especially love when the comments morph into real discussion. you take the time to write something, and it’s truly the least we can do to respond. plus, comments help us get to know each other, and over time we’ve gotten to feel like we’ve gotten to know many of you, which is the very best part of blogging.

aim for engagement, not traffic. while it’s lovely to see spikes in traffic, like when we’ve been featured on rockstar finance, that’s not what we’re after, because traffic is a one-way transaction. we want our readers to feel engaged with us, so that the interaction goes both ways. we pose questions for y’all to answer, because we really want to know what you think, and we respond to keep that conversation going. right now we’re seeing comments from about one in nine visitors, some days as many as one in five, which just floors us. when others bloggers have linked to us, the number of visitors we’ve gotten from them has shown us that they’re in a totally different league in terms of traffic. but often we’ll see that those same folks who get lots of eyeballs don’t get many comments. we’d rather have the smaller traffic numbers but feel like we’re having a real conversation with you and getting to know you. (and consider this a nudge — if you haven’t commented, please join in the fun! we’d like to know you too!) ;-)

support other bloggers, especially the new ones. one of our favorite things about the pf space is that there’s far less of a competitive vibe than there is among other blog topics. there seems to be a natural inclination among this crowd to support new folks, but it’s worth saying anyway. we do our best to read and comment on new blogs, old blogs and everything in between, to share great posts on our twitter feed, and to link to other bloggers’ posts that spurred our thinking on something. we’ve gotten major boosts from big deal bloggers like blonde on a budget (who, for some unknown reason, included us on her blogroll when we were still in our blog infancy), frugalwoods and rockstar finance, and it’s the least we can do to pay it forward for other bloggers. we haven’t been great about follow friday mentions on twitter, but we’re going to strive to be better, to give shoutouts to new blogs we’ve discovered.

promote, but don’t overdo it. we want to keep this great conversation going, and that can only happen if you know to come check out our posts. so we share each post on twitter a few times in hopes that it will lure you over. but we leave it at that. nothing makes us crazier on twitter than bloggers who fill up a hootsuite or buffer queue with an endless stream of recycled old posts, but then never actually interact in the space. it makes us wonder: are you a person, or a robot? because we have no interest in interacting with robots. we do three or four tweets on each post, and then the rest of the time we use twitter as a conversation vehicle. it’s probably the best vehicle there is for getting to connect with you guys for real. if you’re a blogger and you’re not using twitter, we recommend you get on there! (click here to follow us on twitter.) follow lots of people and respond to lots of posts to engage with people and get the hang of it.

use descriptive titles. we started out this blog using pithy little titles that had some mystery to them. and we quickly learned that, when people shared those posts on social media, the meaning was lost, and others had no reason to want to click on them. so we started giving our posts longer, more descriptive titles that gave a reader a better sense of why they want to click on that post. we also started using capital letters (gasp!) in the titles, again for the sake of looking right on twitter.

listen to blogging advice, and ignore blogging advice. for sure, if you blog, you’ve read lots of posts espousing advice (“post every day!” “post only when you have a great post in you!” “use lots of photos!” “let your writing be the star!”). we’ve found that we feel best about what we’re doing when we follow some of that advice but ignore the bulk of it. we try to keep a regular schedule of always posting on mondays and wednesdays, with the occasional friday thrown in, which is a definite blogging “do.” another blogging “do” is to use lots of pictures in all posts — clearly we don’t do that. we think that will change once we are no longer anonymous, but for now, we know we are limiting our audience to people willing to read, especially since virtually all of our posts contain more than 1000 words. we’re at peace with that, because we know there’s no pleasing everyone. those who want to skim a few quick bullets will find other great blogs to fill that need for them.

what rules do you blog by? any lessons we should add to our list? anything you think we should be doing that we’re not currently doing? or anything we should do less of? we’d love the feedback! have a great weekend, you guys!

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41 replies »

  1. I’ve been following pretty well the same rules…I think they are all very good. I too have learned the lesson about titles – they really do need to be descriptive. A good summary – thanks for posting it.

  2. I think these are absolutely wonderful rules/lessons! I feel as if I am continuously learning more about the blogsphere (it will officially be one year since I started in October)! I attempt to follow some of the guidelines, but at times I attempt to build my blog organically. I know some advice would say this will not work, but balancing my full time job, spending time with people, and having additional obligations towards health & volunteering prevent me from spending too much time with my blog. To me it seems different methods work for everyone. I’ve followed bloggers that started when I did, and have already quit their 9-5 job to work full time on their blog (I’m definitely not in that spot)! My blog has allowed me to incorporate structure, exercise writing, and open my world to more opportunities & people I never thought I would ever get a chance to experience! It’s a slow growth process, but I’m enjoying every minute of it. :) Enjoy your weekend!

    • Thanks, Alyssa! It’s great to hear about your evolution as a blogger. And don’t let the fact that others are blogging full-time discourage you! All of our all-time favorite blogs took a long time to develop into big deal blogs, but in the process they developed a real, authentic voice, and a unique take on things that set them apart. Oftentimes those who find success quickly don’t have a chance to really find their own path, and burn out quickly. Have a wonderful Labor Day!

  3. Hey ONL,

    For the most part, we just do what feels right. While we do follow the same guidelines that you do for the majority of our blog posts, I can’t necessarily say that they are “rules”, per se. We have a Monday, Wednesday and Friday posting schedule, but every once in a while I’ll burn a post on Saturday for the weekend readers. I just like to try new things and see what works.

    I’m definitely doing more and more photos now with the new look and feel to the blog. I like colors, so it works for us.

    Regarding blogging advice, I definitely agree – it’s like fitness advice. People mean well, but they also don’t know your goals, and very often the advice that you’re given is just fundamentally WRONG on its face. Other times, it’s wrong just in your situation. And a few times, it might just be right…but unfortunately, that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. :)

    • You guys have been posting up a storm lately! Not sure how you find the time! Couldn’t agree more with you, that we all have to find our own way. Enjoy NYC!

  4. I have no clout to be able to give blogging advice. But I love yours. And I think the age-old “do you” is probably the best advice there is. If we do our blogs the same, we’re cutting ourselves out of them. Some people write longer with no caps. That’s great. Some people use all caps and write short posts (or scream them, I suppose). Fine. I’m sure there’s a readership for that, too. :) We’re just doing us over here. And, as we’ve said before, we love the love you share in the community.

  5. My main rule is to respond to every comment on my blog, that isn’t trying to sell me cheap NFL jerseys :) This is important to me because people are taking the time to read my stories and comment, so I really like engaging the audience there to show I’m appreciative. Other than that, I’d say I tone down my blog as to not offend anyone. In real life I drop a lot more f-bombs than the zero I do in my blog :) As the real point is sharing my story so that others can learn from my mistakes and take advantage of where I went the right path. Lastly, I try to be as transparent as possible. It’s hard taking personal fitness advice from someone who is overweight, so why would anyone listen to my stories if I wasn’t at least somewhat transparent.

    • Those sound like great rules to live by — funny that you tone it down! Some bloggers manage to get away with swearing, but that will never be us. :-) Have a great weekend!

  6. When it comes to advice, I don’t think I have any to offer. Everyone is the expert of his or her own experience, so what works for me might not work for everyone else. I try not to sound authoritarian in my posts. :) Hope you have a great weekend, too!!

    • There’s lots we can all learn from what you guys are doing — like just this week paying attention to our water usage for the first time! (We try to conserve, but had never actually looked at the numbers.) But love that you offer your experiences and don’t boss us all around. :-)

  7. I always love reading your posts and am amazed how you continually churn out insightful stories one after another.

    We initially had a regular posting schedule, but that has gone to hell lately. It’s tough to find time to write, especially with the kids starting up school. By the time we get them in bed, we’re exhausted. Hopefully we can get some interesting stuff out soon!

    • I can’t imagine trying to blog with kids in the house! You have the world’s biggest responsibility right there. We love your posts, so don’t stress about whether you’re able to stay on a schedule. And thanks for your sweet comment — that means a lot! Hope you guys have a great Labor Day! :-)

  8. Yeah, those are pretty much the same rules we go by. The promotion thing is tough because being new to twitter, I’m still trying to figure out wtf to do there. I’ve followed some people that tweet everything it seems, and it gets annoying, so I try to retweet things I read, like, or agree with. That’s when I actually remember to check twitter, as it’s not quite in my brain pattern of something else to check, update, and post on. :)
    Like you said, it’s not about traffic but more engagement, right?
    Would it be nice to have more followers, I guess, sure, if people like what we’re writing. I’d take more comments and interactions over more followers anyday though. I’ve also noticed over the past year, that when people try to monetize a blog, the character of it seems to change and the posts may still be good reads, but not much to comment on.
    Anyway, I like your blog and content, and while I can’t keep up with you on the amount of posts, I do enjoy reading them anytime there’s a new one. So, keep it up and keep ’em coming, although you should totally lay off this weekend, and just enjoy yourselves! Hahahaha

    • We’ve definitely been laying off things this weekend, per your good advice! :-) Agree with you on monetized posts, too. We’re not above ads one day, but right now like knowing that every single thing on the page is something we put there. As for Twitter, don’t even worry about posting, other than making sure your new posts get a tweet. Just start following people and replying to their tweets. Use it more for conversation, and don’t worry about finding content to share. Then, you’ll quickly get the hang of it and figure out what works for your own brain pattern. :-) Hope you guys are having a fab long weekend!

  9. I’ve been enjoying your journey and think your writing is spot on. I share many of your posts with my friends. The points you make are all valid and good. Best of luck on your Next Life.

  10. You have great advice on blogging, and I enjoy your blog! I started mine to return to sharing; this time on a personal level vs my previous work-related blog. A second goal is to improve my writing – your point number 3. I can personally attest to the benefits of Twitter. My PLN as a teacher was greatly enhanced by my Twitter interactions, and I hope to return. The difference today is that my life is pretty full and to keep it simple, I am slowly, very slowly, returning to blogging. Thanks for sharing with us!

    • Hi Lisa — Thanks for commenting! It’s great that you find that blogging is helping your writing, and find Twitter helpful. Take your time, and don’t blogging create stress in your life — it should be an outlet, not a source of stress! :-) Hope you’re having a great Labor Day weekend!

  11. Also curious on your decision to require commenters to log in with their WordPress, Twitter or Facebook account. Do you feel this limits those who might comment? I had to look up my Twitter account because it has been a while since I used it, as I mentioned above.

    • We require some form of login because we don’t want the floods of spam that can happen with no front door of any sort. But I’ll see if there’s a less onerous option…

  12. Awesome lessons! I totally agree with being real – there’s no sense in hiding who you are or blogging like you are someone else – eventually the real you will come out or you won’t be able to continue writing.

    Your point about engagement vs. traffic is great too – too many people focus on getting loads of traffic and making money from their blogs. To me this is the wrong approach. You should blog because you love it, and because you want to engage, interact, and share your thoughts. I personally love to debate and get others’ perspectives. The moment you start writing or doing anything for the sole purpose of profit or traffic, is the moment you lose your genuineness

    I’m a bit of a wild guy – I tend to write about and do whatever I’m interested in, with the hope that it will help someone else change in some way, shape, or form by reading it. So one lesson I’d add is write for you first, then others second. If you’re not enjoying it – it won’t last.

    The one thing I will disagree with is your thought on Buffer and Hootsuite. One my absolute FAVORITE things to do is share articles that I come across that I think others will find valuable. My 3 goals on Twitter are to share those types of articles, share my articles for those who haven’t seen them, and connect with and meet new people. A few times a month I’ll use the message feature to just reach out, introduce myself, and say hi to new people. It’s fun!

    Great post :)

    • Glad you enjoyed this list, Chris. And totally agree with your addition — writing for yourself first. As for Buffer and Hootsuite, we aren’t opposed to them at all, per se. We’re opposed to people tweeting 20 times a day with just links to their old posts, and no actual commentary or interaction. I definitely wouldn’t say that’s how you’re using those tools! Hope you’re having a great long weekend!

  13. Seems like you’re already doing what works for you. I’ve tried to post on a schedule and did great last month, but once blogging starts to feel like an obligation I back off and take a breather. Keep up the great posts and I know down the road you’ll be able to share more about yourselves.

  14. When you’re not telling others what to do but they are still inspired to do better after reading your blog, you must be doing something right. :)

    Great set of ‘rules’ you have here. I live by most of these too, especially the one about not pretending to be experts. I don’t think I’ll ever have the confidence to tell other people what to do (or not do). I can only write about my experiences, which other people might find helpful or informative. I guess it’s different for everyone because we are trying to achieve different goals from our blogs, to begin with.

    You guys are doing a great job – it’s never quiet here! I hope you’re enjoying your weekend, it’s already Monday in a few hours for me. :/

    • Thanks, J! :-) So true that we all have different goals for our blogs — some are just looking for conversation and connections, while others are hoping to make a living writing theirs, and a million other possible goals.

      We’re having a great long weekend here with some visiting friends. Hope you have a great week to come! :-)

  15. This is a great list. I feel I can apply some of the rules to my own blogging.

    I like the idea that you are for engagement, not traffic.

    One of the things I like on blogs is a sort of series on how to start to invest, or how to master a FIRE issue. (I am working on one myself).
    As mentioned above, it depends on the WHY you have the blog: That should drive what you post and what you ignore

  16. I really like your thought about writing for your selves and wanting to be able to read it decades from now and remember what the time was like. It’s like a photograph, with words, and would be really useful.

    • We’ve blogged about other topics, and have enjoyed having that chronicle to look back on. So yeah, we’re excited to have this narrative “photo album” to help us remember our poor, old working stiff days. :-)

  17. Noticed something possibly new and definitely exciting in your Twitter bio and wasn’t sure I’d seen you announce it yet. I’m not on Twitter so I thought I’d find a quiet corner of your blog… Congratulations! Looks like you’ll be doing more writing soon?

  18. I’m a new reader. I hope its ok to comment on an old post. I really appreciate the structure of your blog. I like how the whole things flows – since I’m coming in 3 years behind I’m reading some of the posts in order but also following links from post to post as the subject interests me. It really works. Thanks!

    PS. Can’t wait for your adventure podcast!