It was December 2020. The infamous terrible year was wrapping up and I had just gotten a solid offer for $250,000 for my personal adamtheautomator.com (ATA) blog. I couldn’t believe it. This little personal blog of mine I had started seven years ago was worth 1/4 of a million dollars!
After excitedly notifying my wife, Miranda, I started shopping around. I went to various website marketplaces and spoke to many people to understand if that price was on par with the market. It turns out, it was low! My blog was actually worth $500,000!
Talk about being floored. Never had I imagined a personal blog I had started as a simple way to share tips and tricks on a computer scripting language called PowerShell could turn into such a valuable asset.
I had no strategy or no concrete purpose in starting that blog. I just started. I had once run a blog and made some decent money from it so I knew it was possible. I just had no idea how or even if I wanted to get there. I just knew I was excited about writing on a topic and I wanted to share some ways I was making my job easier.
This is the story of how I built, what is now, a six-figure, how-to, informational blog (and brand) known as Adam the Automator. I hope this post motivates and inspires you to build a successful blog. But know that this is my story and my story alone. Everyone follows a different journey to get where they want to go. If you’re just starting, pick the knowledge nuggets out and learn from my mistakes. Blaze your own path.
Table of Contents
ATA Blog 1.0: Community and Promotion
The best way to outline the ATA blog’s journey is to break it down into two rough phases; before creating a growth strategy and after I’m calling version 1.0 and 2.0.
Version 1.0 of the ATA blog, as you’ll learn, is all about community involvement and accidental promotion. Version 1.0 started in 2014. These are the times of sporadic blog publishing, no-thinking promotion, and good luck. The 1.0 times were when the ATA blog was along for the ride.
Version 2.0, on the other hand, is when things get serious. Starting in 2018, the ATA blog at version 2.0 was drastically changed. By this time, a smoldering fire was in place that just needed some gasoline poured on it.
The likes of Version 2.0 included keyword research, a strategic publishing plan, required SEO efforts, hiring help and onboarding new writers to really ignite the ATA blog.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Start with a Passion
Around 2013, I was working in a full-time role as an IT consultant. At the time, I was in charge of managing various Windows computers on a client network. I had always been a big fan of automation and would try to automate or write scripts to automate various parts of my job.
If you’d like to read the entire history of what would ultimately lead up to Adam the Automator, check out the article: Six-Figure Blogger: An Unlikely Success Story.
During my stint in that IT consultant position, I discovered a computer scripting language called PowerShell. Created by Microsoft, PowerShell is an intuitive scripting language that allows you to piece together various IT systems to make your IT job easier. For some reason, I loved it.Never start a blog on a topic you aren’t interested in. You’ll fall and you’ll be miserable trying to prevent it from failing. If you don’t enjoy the topic, you’ll hate every minute of it.
I loved it so much, I decided to start writing about it. After creating a simple WordPress blog, I’d create blog posts covering what I was working with at my job at the time. One day it’d outline how to create an Active Directory user, the next a post on linking two systems together, and the next a simple explanation of how a command worked.
I enjoyed writing. I considered it as an extension to a job I already enjoyed doing.If you have a job you don’t quite care for, consider starting a blog around a hobby. What do you enjoy doing? Do you think others would like to do the same?
The content, at first, was completely random with no regard to any kind of “content strategy” or direction. I was just writing about topics I found interesting. I had no direction but I was putting words on proverbial paper which eventually would find its way into Google and in front of readers.
I got lucky. It just so happened the content I was writing about was being actively searched for online. Your topic may be different. If in doubt, plug in a few keywords in a free keyword tracker to see how much search volume the keywords are getting.
Keyword research is an entirely different subject you’ll eventually need to get a handle on but when you’re first starting out, I don’t recommend spending a ton of time on it which is why I’m not even linking to an article here.
Decide How Deep You Want to Go
If you perform a Google query for ‘how to start a blog’ or ‘how to make money blogging’, chances are you’re not going to find anything about a pie-in-the-sky concept like a community. Most likely, you’re going to read about keyword research, SEO, and social media promotion.
At this point, I was at a crossroads. Should I just focus on building a blog, staying in a bubble and just interacting with my readers over blog comments or become more involved? I chose the latter.
At first, I didn’t choose to build a blog that would eventually support me and my family. In fact, it was just a place to dump random ideas. I wanted to be involved. I wanted to talk to people, to discuss new ideas on things I’m interested in and to just be a geek on tech stuff!
I had no intention of ‘building a six-figure blog’ or ‘making money online’; my motivations were deeper than that. Sure, making some money would be nice but I was more interested in learning more about PowerShell!
Your motivations may be different. Some people like a topic but they don’t like a topic as much as I did. If your idea of a fun Friday night isn’t writing on your blog, it’s OK; you’re perfectly normal unlike how I was.
Early on, it’s important to think about what you want.
- Do you want to be an anonymous content writer?
- Would you like to tell personal stories on your blog?
- Do you want to become your blog?
- Are you comfortable branching outside of your blog on social media?
- Do you want to represent your blog in person at conferences? Local group presentations?
Depending on your personality, interest-level in your blog topic and goals will dictate how deep you should go with your topic.
Although you probably can be successful being an anonymous writer grinding out content day after day, over time, it’s going to get old. Plus, readers connect with people; not blogs. Although you might not want to completely brand yourself to your blog like I did (more on that later), you should bring yourself into your blog to some degree.
We’re human; we enjoy social interaction (some more than others). At some point, you’ll probably want to talk in the first person and share your personal thoughts and stories. And you should!Decide on how involved you want to be in your niche. The more you enjoy the topic, the deeper you’ll want to go and the better off you’ll be.
Join a Community
Since I was all into my niche, I went all in. In hindsight, I informally joined a community of like-minded individuals.
Shortly after starting my blog, I dusted off my old 2009 Twitter account with a few dozen tweets and began replying to people talking about PowerShell. I started connecting with people.
I chose to use my personal Twitter account (@adbertram) instead of creating a new account. In hindsight, I probably should have created a separate account to separate business from personal a bit better.
At that time, I was also answering questions on several forums such as powershell.org, stackoverflow.com, Reddit and more. As I learned more about my topic, I was excited to help others and learn more about PowerShell also.
Little did I realize, all of this connecting I’d do would be like marketing over time. As people would see my ugly mug and username pop up all over the place, they begin to associate me with my niche. I was unknowingly starting to build a personal brand.
I was part of a community; a community of like-minded professionals each geeking out over a particular topic. In addition to my online presence, I’d also participate in user groups, speak at a conference every now and then and seemingly pop up from everywhere someone mentioned the word ‘PowerShell’.Make yourself appear like you’re everywhere and help people in every corner online and offline. Getting involved with a community of like-minded people in your niche is key if you want to build not only a blog but a reputation and long-term business.
Get Paid to Learn (and Promote your Blog)
Looking back, one of the most important pieces of the successful blog puzzle was writing articles on related sites. Starting in 2014, I needed another income stream. ATA wasn’t making any money and my job was paying just about enough to get by.
I know I enjoyed writing about PowerShell and related technologies but knew I couldn’t monetize ATA yet. So I started writing articles on other sites for cash and still do to this day in some fashion.
Overall, I’ve contributed to over 50 different publications ranging from guest posts on little-known blogs, well-known media publications including a handful of print magazines.
90% of the sites paid me to write articles for them. After all, I needed the cash! I’d write articles for free where I could but, at the time, our family needed the extra money.
While I thought I was just busy writing one-off articles that’d pay me and I’d never see value again, I was absolutely wrong. I was not only generating quick cash but building authority not only in the eyes of readers but also for Google.Whenever you write for just about any publication, they’ll always request a byline. The byline is your headshot, bio, social media links, and a link to your website.
Writing for media publications granted me many privileges I didn’t think of at the time:
- I’d get paid a few hundred dollars for each article
- I’d leverage their SEO on their high-authority sites putting my content front and center and building my authority
- I’d get at least one do-follow link to my blog for every article I’d write from a high-authority site
I’d go on to repeat this (and still do to this day) to both generate another income stream and continue to build my authority.
Side note: I wrote an eBook called Teach Me: How to Write How-To Technical Articles that Make Money that covers many of the tactics I used to find opportunities and write for these publications.
Starting as a freelance writer back in 2014 was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made to help me build authority in my niche and bring more traffic to my ATA blog.
Find a Mentor
My dad and my dad’s dad were the types of guys that needed no one’s help. They’d figure it out themselves, dammit! This is where I came from and it shows.
I’ve always been an independent person diving in headfirst and just figuring it out along the way. I treated my blog and my online persona the same way. I’d have an idea, jump in the deep end of the pool and figure out how to swim while trying not to drown. It’s in my DNA.
Being an independent SOB, I can still ask for help on occasion and learn from the giants that came before me.
During my time in the community, I’ve gotten to meet many different people. In 2014, I specifically started conversing with a select group of people in my community that ultimately helped my carer (and the ATA blog) accelerate much faster than I could have done it alone.
I’d play the role of the hang-around while chatting and trying to learn from those more experienced in where I wanted to go.
I specifically want to call out these people below. These, along with many others, acted as mentors to me along the way especially early on. These people helped me realize a full-time job wasn’t the only option. They taught me how to write content, how to build online courses and how to market ATA.Find others who you look up to. Look for successful individuals in your niche and get to know them. Help them in any way you can. Meet them at conferences. Put yourself in front of them (not in a creepy way). Network!
Over time, you might begin to connect with these people and perhaps even work on joint projects together. They may not only help you grow your blog by teaching you but may also showcase your blog to their audience too!
ATA Blog 2.0: Let’s Get Serious
You’re now staring at the year 2018 and version 2.0 of the ATA blog has begun. I know. It’s been a rough few years. We’re now four whole years into the ATA blog without ever associating the five-letter word, money, to the ATA blog.
We haven’t talked about strategy, keyword research, SEO or even writing better content. The ATA blog, up to this point, has just been a passenger in the career of Adam Bertram.
One day in 2018, I was chatting with my wife, Miranda about the blog. I had told her I noticed some of the posts I had written were doing pretty well in Google. She knew I had run a previous blog before this and made a little money with ads so she said I should focus more on it.
I agreed and ATA 2.0 started. I started actually focusing on ATA for once for real. Although I was still publishing posts occasionally prior to 2018, I had no vision, no strategy, and frankly didn’t pay a lot of attention to it.
It’s time to put the ATA blog in the driver’s seat and see how fast this bad boy can run with version 2.0!
Quality Content IS King
One of the first matters of business to attend to was deciding what kind of content I would write on the blog going forward. Should I focus more on tech news? Continue to write informational content or perhaps product reviews? The choice was clear to me; more information!
I enjoy writing how-to posts that tell a story. I like writing how-to blog posts that are scenario-based and treat them more like a mini-course than a blog post. I’d hang myself in a week if forced to writing product reviews, posts focused on affiliate revenue, or having to keep up with the latest tech news.Write what you enjoy. Your side hustle shouldn’t feel like a job!
My audience is technical and appreciates the problem/solution approach my posts convey. It’s a win-win!
At this point, I knew I needed to buckle down and get serious about content. I had already been writing on the blog, as a freelance writer, and in the middle of writing a book but I still treated the blog content as just fun. That was about to change.
Rather than treating the ATA blog as a hobby, I started treating it as a business. I started treating it like it should have been all along; as a business that would eventually generate income.
Gone were the days of randomly posting a tiny tutorial which was basically just a code sample. I’d now focus on teaching; on building a narrative around each post. An ATA post would be a work of art and not just an afterthought.
Whenever someone says ‘write quality content’, people tend to agree but immediately ask “Well, what, exactly, is quality content?”. Great question! Hard answer and one I can’t go into much detail in this post. But, I promise you’ll see a ton of information on writing better content on this blog!
Get in the Writing Habit
One of the most important actions I took when starting to take ATA seriously was forming a writing habit. Previously, I would write a post when I felt like it. No more. Now, I was going to write a post at least once/week and make it a habit!
Google (and your readers) love a constant stream of new content and I set out to give it to them. Every week, I’d write a new post and treat it as a serious job. If I couldn’t think of a topic, I’d go out to other blogs, scour forums, and QA sites for questions my audience was asking about.
No matter what, I published at least one post/week; no excuses!
Promote your Blog on Social Media
Another big push with ATA 2.0 was promotion. I was determined to let the world see I was starting to focus on quality content on a regular basis.
I was seeing constant organic growth in Google but I wanted to share my work with my community so I turned to social media, Twitter to be more specific.
Over the years, I would always point people to my blog for the content I write and Twitter to connect with me. I can’t recall my Twitter follower count in 2018-2019 but I’d guess it was around 4-5,000.
To share my posts on Twitter, I installed a WordPress plugin to automatically send a tweet every time a post was published. I didn’t think about it at all; it just happened. Now regardless if a potential reader subscribed to my RSS feed and missed a post or just missed the post completely and followed me on Twitter, they’d see the new post.Automate as much as possible. Automatically tweeting a blog post is an easy way to share blog content. Think about other ways you can promote your content automatically, just don’t get spammy!
Tread Lightly with Self-PromotionAlthough you may be excited to share your content with the world, the world may not be ready to hear it. Tread lightly!
Promotion has already been a difficult aspect of growing a blog for me. I hate SPAM as much as the next person and having someone call you a SPAMmer does hurt a bit. But, learn from my mistakes!
When I started getting serious (and to this day), I always promote my posts in as many ways as possible. One of those methods is through forums. I’ll try to find as many forums as possible and announce a new blog post where it makes sense. Some people don’t appreciate this.
I plan on having more content on how to approach promoting your content but for now, just remember to not announce a blog post out of the blue. If a forum member asks a question, answer it with a great answer, and only if it fits, add a link to your blog.
Always err on the side of less promotion in forums.
Finally Generating Some Money!
If you’re thinking about writing on a blog, chances are you’ve heard it’s possible to make money from blogging. It’s true! But generating income with a blog is not an easy task.
It was an entire five years of periodic blogging, freelance writing, user group and conference presentations, online courses, and more that I started trying to monetize my blog. The blog was already generating a sizable amount of traffic; now was just a matter of figuring out how to make it a money machine.
From the get-go, I wanted to build the ATA blog as an information-only blog. I did not want to focus on affiliate sales, lots of sponsors, or other kinds of monetization. I wanted to provide pure information to readers without selling anything.
The only way I know of how to make money without actually selling anything is through display advertising.
Like many blogger newbies, I applied for and was approved with Google’s Adsense program. It was exciting starting to earn money from ads! I’ll never forget the first time I ever made money with display advertising back with my first blog.
After scouring blogs and YouTube, I somehow came across a few ad services called Ezoic, MediaVine, and AdThrive.Learn like crazy! Make time to watch free YouTube videos, read blogs (like this one), and consume as much material as you can. Decide which approach makes sense and implement it!
Implementing Ezoic Ads
Once I got tired of making peanuts with AdSense and learned about Ezoic and other “premium” ad networks, I jumped at the chance. Luckily, I already had the minimum requirement of 10,000 visits/month so I signed up.
After some initial trouble getting things set up (they make you change your DNS provider), I was off and running. Once I moved the blog over to Ezoic, my revenue shot up dramatically! I can’t remember exactly how much but it was easily 50x!
I was so excited! My blog was finally taking off!
Moving to AdThrive
After more research, I began learning more about ad network and came to the conclusion that I’d like to try AdThrive. I had heard nothing but good things about this company and the premiums they paid. Going right to their application though, I ran into a sticking point. I needed more traffic!
AdThrive is notoriously picky with the publishers they accept. One of their major requirements for new bloggers is the 100,000 page views/month number. That seems like a lot to a new blogger and it is!
I was disappointed but motivated to increase traffic even more!
A few months later, I finally hit the required 100,000 page views/month number so I applied…and got rejected. AdThrive requires that you hit 100,000 page views/month consistently to accept you. Talk about picky!
No problem. Off to generate more traffic for the blog!
Two months later, I apply again……and get rejected again. What could be wrong? I had the traffic numbers! Apparently, AdThrive gets their advertisers’ buy-in on new sites and not enough advertisers wanted to place their ads on the ATA blog. This was a major blow!
Forget AdThrive! I was making $4K/month with Ezoic and that was just fine! For now.
As I continued to write better content, post more often and work on promoting the ATA blog, AdThrive came up again somehow. AdThrive? Not them again! This company must be good if all I hear about is AdThrive online.
Screw it. I’ll apply again. By this time, I had close to 200,000 page views/month. They’ve got to accept me. Look at my traffic, AdThrive!
I apply and wait…
I was accepted! I’m not sure what had changed but in late 2020, I was finally accepted and still run AdThrive ads to this day. You can see why in the below screenshot.
I can’t speak any better about AdThrive. They not only crushed Ezoic in revenue but they handle everything related to display ads on the ATA blog; even competitors’ ads! Their customer support is phenomenal too.
If you can get to consistent 100,000 page views/month, going to AdThrive is a no-brainer.
Pour Some Gas on the Fire with Friends!
As I was chugging along publishing my one post/week and slowly noticing traffic grow, I decided to get a little help from my friends.
Because of my involvement for years in a tech community, I knew a lot of people and a lot of people knew me. These people were readers of my blog already but could just as easily be contributors! Soon, the ATA Friends program was born.
After reaching out to my Twitter followers, I quickly had a few writers ready to begin writing on my blog. In return, I was willing to help them become better writers through teaching and editing, paying them, and giving them a platform that could bring in more traffic to their writing than if they started their own blog.
As of this writing, the ATA Friends program has spawned 252 ATA blog posts! How long would it take you to write 252 posts?Recruit writers from your own community to help grow your blog and begin building a community. Never hire general content-writers just because they’re cheap and available. No one knows your kind of content better than your own audience.
If you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed! You’ve just walked through the journey of my ATA blog from:
- Idea to the current day
- Fun side hobby to serious business
- One writer to 42
- 0 to 359 posts
- $0/month to $14K/month in display advertising (and growing)
I’ve learned so much over these years. If I had to do it all again, here’s 10 things that I’d do:
- Treat the blog as a business from day one. Know it’s value and potential as soon as possible.
- Never start a blog for the money. You’ll quit before you make a dime.
- Consider a blog a long-term investment that will pay off down the road.
- Never try to “sell” anything to anyone. Instead, just help people. Answer questions, provide them with resources that get them to where they want to go.
- Find a mentor or partner. It’s possible to start in an industry by yourself and be successful but it’s going to be a lot harder if you don’t make friends.
- Join a community; don’t just become a blogger. This is exactly what I did and I’d do it again. I’ve helped so many people over the years that feels better than you know. They’ve returned the favor by reading my blog, watching my courses, buying my books, and more. I appreciate a community more than you know.
- Find like-minded people to help you grow your blog and community.
- Grow your social media following and email list. Have a way to reach out to your audience and ask them what they want, how they feel, and how they can help you, and vice versa.
- Get in a habit of writing every day or week. Make content creation an intentional and consistent effort.
- Focus on writing better first rather than “building a blog”. Solid writing skills apply to much more than a blog. Become a better writer. Know how to explain concepts with simplicity and clarity. Write quality content that not only explains but entertains.
This single post is almost 5,000 words long and doesn’t begin to cover everything that went into building the ATA blog to where it is today. If you’re just starting a blog today (as I am with this blog), we’ve got a journey ahead of us.
Don’t attempt to follow my path; I did a lot of things wrong! Learn from my mistakes, take what I’ve learned, and use it to shortcut your own journey. Even though it took me nearly eight years to build a six-figure blog doesn’t, by any means, mean you can’t do it much faster.
Good luck with your blog and online business. May you skip my mistakes, copy my successes and build a successful blog in no time!