Growing a Blog as a Passion Project
What is a passion project?
A passion project is something you're doing because - you guessed it - you're passionate about it for its own sake. Some people will approach blogging as more of a means to an end, whether that be income, generating attention for a product or service that you're marketing, or growing web presence for some other purpose. A blogging passion project is more likely to be focused on expressing yourself and forming genuine connections with like-minded people, and perhaps speaking out about a cause that matters to you. It's the real human connections that make it most meaningful.
There are plenty of articles out there on growing a blog that take a business approach to it. Throughout my blogging evolution I've read some of these articles and found suggestions that just didn't feel like quite the right fit for my passion project. This article comes from what I've learned along the way in building my mental health blog. The focus is on growing connections rather than numbers.
Engage with others
If you're blogging about something you're passionate about, you'll want to find your tribe. Find their blogs, and engage with them. Pay attention to the people commenting on their blogs, and engage with them too. Genuinely connecting with your community is going to give you the most rewarding experience and it will help others to find your blog and become equally engaged with it.
Publish at a sustainable pace
Publishing new content frequently makes your blog look more attractive to search engines, and will bring more traffic to your blog. However, for a passion project I would suggest that it's far more helpful to find a pace that feels right for you and is likely to be sustainable. You don't want to get burnt out by posting frequently and then go through an extended period of not publishing at all. I recommend publishing less often but consistently, and your regular readers will appreciate the predictability.
Include some evergreen content
Evergreen content stays relevant long after it's first published. Obviously diary-style posts of what you've been up to that day aren't going to be particularly relevant , but aside from that, it can be hard to say starting off what kind of content is going to remain popular within your particular area of interest.
What I noticed after I'd been blogging for a while was that certain older posts would keep turning up in my notifications because someone had "liked" or commented on them. That's evergreen. From my perspective, a passionate project blog is all about writing about what you're interested in. By identifying your evergreen ideas based on feedback on what you've already written, you're sticking with topics that you care about and giving your readers more of what they've already expressed interest in.
There's no need to try to make most of your posts evergreen. Just try to make sure you're throwing in some content that doesn't have an expiry date to give you a well-rounded blog.
Build on others' ideas
Obviously plagiarism is a bad thing, so what do I mean by building on people's ideas? Chances are, you'll start to connect with other bloggers who are passionate about the same topics you are. You may read someone else's post and think hey, I've got some ideas about that!
How, then, to do it in a good way? Begin your post with a shout-out, e.g. "I got the idea for this post from Joe at Joe's Blog", and include a link to that post. Then make sure you're putting your own spin on the topic rather than just talking about the same things Joe covered.
Approaching it this way shows that you are engaged in the blogging community, and that you like to recognize other bloggers. Other people will notice when you do that kind of thing consistently, and it builds up good blogging karma.
Make it easy for people to follow you
This is a simple one. Don't make it hard for people to follow you. Look at your actual blog site rather than just the editor that your blogging platform shows you. It should be immediately clear to your readers when they land on your page how they can follow your blog.
People are inclined to take the path of least resistance. If they have to hunt around to find a way to follow you, there is a strong possibility that they will give up. This isn't a strategy that will bring new people to your blog, but it will decrease the chance that they'll never come back.
Search engine optimization
For a passion project blogger, reading about search engine optimization (SEO) can seem daunting and rather forced and artificial. Still, there are ways to go about it that will feel fairly natural and help attract new like-minded people. In the early days of your blog, not many people will find you via search engine but as your blog grows more people so will your search engines traffic. Incorporating SEO strategies early on is far easier than going back later and trying to add things in.
Links are attractive to search engines, and also make for a better experience for your readers, so they make a good focal area. There are three basic kinds of links that we'll discuss.
Internal links are those that link from one part of your site to another, including links from one blog post to another. These show search engines that your site is will structured and organized, and will help your readers to find similar content. When you've written a new post, have a look through and see if any of the points made are things you've written about before that your readers might be interested in referring to. Add a link wherever you find one of these natural connections.
External links are links you've made on your site pointing to content on another site. In an earlier section we covered doing a shout-out to other bloggers. This is a great way of doing some external links, and this will be useful for your readers. Search engines tend to like links to major authoritative sites. Say you're blogging about a health condition, and you used WebMD to look up some information for your post. WebMD is a popular site, so search engines will like you linking to that kind of content, plus it lets your readers know where they can go for more information on the topic.
Backlinks, or inbound links, are links on other websites that connect to your site. Because you can't control these and they're solely dependent on other people wanting to link to your site, these are search engine gold. Your blogging community can be a great potential source of backlinks. Guest posting can be a good way to go about this.
Make your blog easy to read
Funky fonts and cool background colours might make your site more interesting at first glance, but if they're making your posts less readable you run the risk that your readers will just give up. Make sure you're checking out your website rather than just the editor on your blogging platform, so you know exactly what your readers are seeing.
If your spelling is bad, spell-check your posts. If your grammar is atrocious, use a tool like Grammarly. Even if these things don't seem important to you, they may be important to your readers. You want them to be paying attention to what you're writing about, not the typos every second word and total lack of punctuation.
A large block of uninterrupted text is hard to read. I have given up on reading otherwise interesting content because I just couldn't follow it. Break your text up into shorter paragraphs, and insert some images as well.
Your readers are your guests, and you want to make it easy and comfortable for them to settle in and read a while, as this improves the likelihood of further engagement. Try to be as considerate a host as you can.
Connect outside your blog
Think about doing guest posts on other blogs, or submitting work to larger sites within your niche that accept individual stories. This helps to connect with your community, and it will likely bring new people to your blog.
Look for online communities in your area of interest on different social media platform. Depending on what your passion project is and how connected you want it to be with the rest of your life, you may want to start up separate social media accounts that are devoted wholly to your passion project. This can be an excellent way to meet like-minded people and enrich your blogging experience.
The key with any passion project is to do what works for you. If you read an article telling you that you should be doing x, y, and z, but none of those feel right to you, go with that feeling. If things feel forced to you when it comes to growth strategies, chances are those same things will feel forced to other members of your community that are interacting with your blog.
It's easy to get distracted by stats, but those really aren't a very good metric for a passion project. If you focus instead on finding new people that care about the same things you do, that should help to keep you on course.
Questions & Answers
If you have many things you are passionate about, how can you make your blog interesting without it seeming fractured and disorganized?
Using categories and tags can make it easier for readers to find things. You can create pages for each major area of interest that serves as a sort of directory or hub for all of your content on that topic. Internal linking can also help maintain cohesiveness among different topic areas. I've seen some bloggers devote particular days of the week to different areas of passion, which helps to give readers a more consistent experience.