Lessons Learned After a Year of Blogging About Ghost
How to Install Ghost launched on the same day that Ghost was made public, Oct. 14, 2013. In the past year, we have learned so many things about blogging, writing, and creating a business. Andy and I both live on the more practical/problem solver side of life rather than the creative. This made some things very easy, but plenty of others very hard.
One of our first big decisions was on what our website would look like. We picked a super basic template and decided, you know what, who cares what it would looks like, all that matters is the content and we started writing. In reality we chose this because we are both horrible designers, but I think this ended up being one of our best decisions.
Content Before Design
I think a lot of people decide they are going to start a blog or online business and the first thing they start working on is what their site should look like. They spend hours mulling over themes and layout trying to get their site just right. The Twitter feed has to be in the right column, the footer has to have x amount of links in it, etc. I believe so much time is spent in this area because it allows you to stay in this creative mode dreaming of this big idea before really diving deep into the content and getting to see if the idea will really work or not.
As many, many, many other blogs will tell you, content is what makes or breaks your site, and I truly believe that. Sure, having your twitter embedded and some fancy graphics might help people to stay a little longer or be more engaged, but if your content sucks, then people won't come back.
At the time of writing this article, this site is still in its bare bones framework that was setup when we first started. I would venture to say that this is one of the worst looking sites out there. It is pretty boring, has no colors what so ever, and is just responsive enough just to get by. I definitely think this has turned some people away who click through and immediately leave, but the content is usually good enough to keep people around. We are currently half way in switching this blog over to Ghost and our new design, which hopefully will increase customer retention and clicks to other articles, but really the content is what is driving people here and not the colors and shapes.
Buying Ghost for Beginners
In April, 2014, we were approached by the owner of Ghost for Beginners about potentially buying his site. The website then was averaging about 200 sessions and 400 page views a day. At that time, it was similar statistics to All About Ghost, and about half of what How to Install Ghost was getting. Andy and I had many many discussions about it and decided to move forward despite already being a little overwhelmed running 3 different sites about Ghost (All Ghost Themes being the 3rd).
The reason we decided to move forward was because it made sense for our skill set, and fit perfectly into the brand we were trying to create. We already had the super basic install site (How to Install Ghost), the more developer/sysadmin geared site (All About Ghost), and the theme site (All Ghost Themes). What we needed was something for beginners. We bought the site for $450.
Once we took over the site on April 28th, we spent about 2 months creating our vision for the site, redesigning, switching to Ghost, removing about 1/3 of the content, and re-writing every single article. We tried to make it the perfect site for someone to come in knowing nothing and get all the information they would need. Ghost for Beginners is now getting around 300 sessions and 750 page views a day. While this is not exactly big numbers, for the size of the Ghost community currently, we could not be more excited.
We have been asked by some other sites if we were interested in purchasing, and have been tempted, but they did not really fit into what we were looking for. I think this is crucial before making any purchase. Make sure you know what your plan is and how it will fit into the brand you are trying to create.
Honestly, making money is something that I would say we are pretty bad at. Between our sites, we are getting around 60k page views a month. At this moment in time, we have $793 sitting in our business bank account. Andy and I have never taken a penny from what we have made. When we first started, we were getting about 8 DigitalOcean referrals a day ($80 if they stayed with DigitalOcean for 2 months). We thought this was going to be how we would make our money, but, as many other sites saw the potential in Ghost, this started to slowly slip as Google got saturated with howto's for Ghost and DigitalOcean. Most of How to Install Ghost's biggest traffic days were from those first few months Ghost was made public, but now there are so many sites out there with similar content, we lose a lot of the potential traffic.
Our goal is, and always has been to provide as much high quality and free content as possible. I believe that this will pay off in the end. We have some products in the pipeline that I will talk about in the Future section, and are hoping they go well. If they do not, like many other ideas of ours that have failed, we will learn from it and apply it to how we move forward.
Working with a Partner
When we first started, (not even sure if Andy knows this :P) (I do now that I proofread this article) I was extremely nervous about getting involved business wise with Andy. We became best friends in late high school, and everything I had always heard was that partnerships never work out and someone always gets screwed and they hate each other afterward. While I do think this can easily happen, I think there are steps you can take to make things better.
Andy and I had a lot of talks when How to Install Ghost started to really take off and make money about how we wanted to continue. We created a partnership agreement together and signed to help keep each of us accountable. I think this is crucial to make sure each person knows their role. Set up how many hours a week you expect to work, what you think each persons role is, etc. Get it all written down so that each of you have a clear understanding about what your roles are.
Make sure that the person you are getting involved with has a similar work ethic to you. Andy and I both value our family and friends time, so there are definitely times when I am working on a Saturday and Andy is out doing something, or vice versa. In the end, we both know that we are each going to get our work done and put the time in. If you are unsure of your partners work ethic, I think it could end up destroying the business when one person feels like they are doing all the work.
Playing to each others strengths is another key aspect. My personality is to finish tasks quickly and then move onto the next thing. It is hard for me to work on one thing for a long extended period of time because I just burn out. I either have to break up large tasks into small ones so it feels like I am finishing things, or keep switching between what I am doing. Andy on the other hand is a total grinder. You can give him a task and he will grind through it until it is completely done and he is 100% sure that it is correct. This works great for us because we can both kind of bring each other to the middle. One area of this is that I am always thinking of these new things I want to do. It is pretty ridiculous how many different ideas and URL's I have showed Andy that I wanted to pursue. If I was running this by myself, who knows how many different half finished websites I would have. At the same time, if it was just him running our business, we might not have as many sites as we do. He helps to keep me focused on the tasks at hand, while I also help to stretch him to new areas. This works out really well for us.
Writing content is another way that we can play to each others strengths. He is better at finding the smallest errors, and grinding on problems that then turn into articles. I am a bit better at making content easier to understand. For example, a lot of the Ghost for Beginners content I wrote as it appeals to the person who needs a full clear understand on whats going on, while a lot of the using Ghost with git, or managing static files alongside Ghost, Andy wrote. We can each play the other role, which helps to balance out times when someone is busy, but it has helped us have better content and get it out more quickly to do what we do best.
Over the next year, we have many plans on what we want to do alongside Ghost. First and foremost, we want to get this site on Ghost so it can actually look nice, and we can use the platform that we write about. We have also written a book with Kezz Bracey that should be in print in the next month or so. This has been a long time coming, but we are very excited for it! We have also finished creating the content for a Ghost for Beginners eBook that we plan to have out soon. We will be publishing through Amazon and can't wait to get that info into people's hands who we may not be reaching now.
We do plan to continue to post content to all of our sites and grow alongside the Ghost community. We are hoping to re-launch our Ghost QA site that would help to serve as a question and answer platform for anything about Ghost. We tried this once before but it just didn't have the traction or the right platform. We will most likely be launching with either Discourse or NodeBB and think that it could go great alongside the Ghost forum to people get some help and answers.
I wanted to personally thank you all for spending time and using any of our sites as a resource. I love this community and think that it is one of the best communities of any software platform. I have learned so much personally from being a part of the Ghost community and while I would be lying if I didn't say that someday I hope that these sites can be a source of income, I love the feeling of just knowing that we have helped and are helping people find and use something to reach their goals.
Thank you all and I can't wait to see what the next year of Ghost looks like :).
David Balderston and Andy Boutte