Blogging and SEO: How Debbie Bounced Back from Financial Ruin.
Debbie Gartner has a blog called The Flooring Girl, which I’m going to let her introduce. We’re also going to talk about her other big superpower – her work and coaching in SEO.
Today, I’m going to ask her 2000 questions on how she got started in blogging and how she got to where she is today. She has a lot of value to offer!
Debbie, go ahead and introduce yourself.
Sure. I originally started The Flooring Girl in 2011.
At the time, I had a local flooring business. I’d go to people’s homes and consult with them on what flooring they should use. It was actually one of my customers that inspired the name – their little girls came up with the name when I was at the front door: “Mom, Dad, it’s The Flooring Girl!”
The purpose of my blog initially was not to monetize, but rather to market my local flooring business.
I had started learning about blogging and SEO in 2010, and between 2010 and 2012, I did a real deep dive to learn about that, simply trying to get local flooring customers to find me.
At one point, the phone started ringing off the hook with leads and people wanting to do appointments with me, which was pretty cool. Then, things sped up some more – I had to set up a second phone number, so the locals could call my assistant for an appointment, and the people in the rest of the US called me.
So you started the blogging and SEO just for education first, and then secondly, to get more clients locally.
Right. To find my business.
It was just a marketing method, and I had no idea at the time that you could even monetize a blog. And a few years later, someone mentioned that I could monetize it, because I was getting a lot of traffic.
I didn’t really listen at the time, but then years later, around 2015, I started listening to people like Pat Flynn and his podcast, and I realized that there’s something there.
And then the end of 2016, my life fell apart.
I found myself in a huge amount of debt, and in short, I no longer had a flooring business. I wasn’t allowed to do flooring for two years, so I had to figure out how to pick up the pieces.
In debt, without a source of income, living just outside New York City in a very expensive place, and I had to just figure out what to do.
Thankfully all those podcasts were playing in my head, and I knew, okay, there might be something I could do with the blog. I think at the time I had maybe 120,000 or 150,000 page views a month.
Was there a turning point to go from local to having this snowballing audience?
It was just good content, SEO optimized, because that’s what I was learning how to do, and I figured that if I did that, I would get the local people too, and the local people would call me because I’d put my location at the top.
It was really a game changer for my store, back then. Things had gotten tough here back in the other recession that we had, so I had to figure out how to market better.
So I decided to do a blog. And then, after a while, people were reading the blog. They weren’t just finding me, they were reading my content, and then they would from there call me. The job was pretty much sold before I even arrived.
I was just head and shoulders above the the competition, and I could write and communicate what I wanted to say, so they knew that I was trustworthy.
They knew that I knew what I was talking about, so I wasn’t just some decorator coming in, but I was a combination of someone who had decorating skills and someone who really knew the ins and outs of flooring, so I could advise people on what to buy based on their particular situation.
So, something else that made you successful was that unique perspective of someone who actually cares about the topic.
Right. Right. Exactly.
Also I translated everything into layman’s terms. When I started my flooring business, I had no clue about hardwood flooring. Because I knew so little, I had to learn it from the perspective of a beginner.
There’s some people who would go through what you went through in 2016 and just crumble. Is there any advice you can give on how you were able to get in solution mode and take action?
That’s a good question.
It’s hard to answer, and I will tell you, in all honesty, I probably did crumble.
I cried for like two months, because I didn’t know what I was going to do at all. But, at the same time, it was one of those sink or swim moments. I had no choice.
I didn’t want to lose my house, I’d invested so much money in it already at that point. I’m lucky that my parents are still around – if worst came to worst, I would not be homeless, but I did not want to lose everything.
It was devastating when the whole thing happened.
It was the very end of 2016, right around the holidays, and it was awful. All I was doing was trying to close down my business and stop the bills from coming in.
There were marketing programs and other things that I had prepaid, rent to pay, and I had to get out of the place. I had no idea what the heck I was going to do.
But other people were successful with their blogs and making money. I previously heard all these success stories in various different areas, so I figured, well, if other people have done it, I can do it too. Since I already knew blogging and SEO, I had a head start on the hard part. I already had a blog, too.
But, I didn’t know how to monetize it, and all my stuff was set up for the wrong thing.
All of my blogging and SEO had been with the purpose of trying to get people locally to call me, but not to get them to buy something online that I could make money from somehow. I had to learn all of the monetization stuff.
Thankfully, I knew that it takes a long time, so I needed a stop gap plan. I knew how to do blogging and SEO, I knew how to blog, so I decided to offer some services there
So I just started networking with people I knew. I found some people (and probably some people felt bad for me) who allowed me to do some work for them.
I also realized that because I live in a high cost of living area, I couldn’t get away with making $2000 or even $5,000 a month – I’d be out of my house.
So when I had three weeks worth of savings, I decided to take on another part-time job.
I went to a painter I knew, and basically begged him for a job. This was the end of January or something like that, and in New York it snows in January. People don’t want contractors in their house, but I begged him. He told me that he didn’t need any help – nobody does flooring or painting or anything in home decor in the winter.
But then, the next day he called me and then said, “I know I told you I don’t need anybody, but I know that you’re really good with color and with the customer, so I’m willing to give this a shot.”
It was for commission only, so if I didn’t sell anything, I didn’t make anything, so that was kind of hard. But at least I had some money coming in the door.
And I think, fairly quickly, within maybe three months or so, I was making around $4,000 a month from the freelance blogging and SEO work. And the painting job was probably $2,000 a month, so there was that.
So you stacked your income early on – knowing that this blogging and SEO thing is the end goal and you were willing to do that hard work now for the payoff later.
Yes, just trying to figure out how to survive – how not to lose my house.
I did have faith that it would be okay later, but it was really, really hard. I knew it was going to take a while to figure out.
So, I needed a stopgap to buy me time. I don’t really like freelancing, but I had to do freelancing so I could pay my bills. That way, I could buy time for my blog to age and for those new articles to make money.
Then, in parallel, I tried to learn how to monetize my blog.
I turned on ads, and worked on affiliate income.
So, the articles that I was writing before everything fell apart were with the intent to try to get people to call me, if they happen to live here, for advice on their floors.
But then when I had to monetize, I had to think about blogging and SEO differently.
I had to think more about buyer intent words, to attract people who will go and buy something. So I had to change my thinking with that. I was really still just buying time, because I believed eventually, in three to four years, that my blog will be making money. I just needed to pay the bills and start chiseling away at this huge amount of debt that I had, which at the time felt impossible.
It was $238,000 in debt. I couldn’t see how I would ever get that paid off before I die, so I told myself a lie in order to fix my head. I told myself that I only had $68,000 in debt, and I need to pay that off in four or five years because there was a deadline.
$238,000 sounded so impossible, and every time I thought about it, I started to hyperventilate. I’d stress myself out, and then I couldn’t work. So I said, okay, I’m just going to cut this off and this is my first goal. Get this $68,000 paid off.
I love that. That’s such a good mindset tip: what’s believable? What can I actually process? That’s awesome.
So, after 11 months you started getting better at affiliate marketing, so what did that look like? Can you tell us a little bit about what you learned that really made a difference?
Well, in October, the painter I was working for closed the doors. So, I no longer had that second job. That was another blow. I was panicked, trying to figure out how to make up that money and make more.
The painting company had struggling a little bit going into the colder months, so I had started to write a couple of blog posts, but it was kind of too late. I had to just make it happen, or I would, again, lose my home. And I then started working on blogging and SEO about painting, because by then I had learned a lot about it.
Then the affiliate marketing started to kick in, so the money really started to come in.
In November I made about $3,300; that was a big jump to me at the time from about $2,000. The blogging and SEO was working.
And then I learned something else new, and I joined another program, and everything was inching up a little bit.
Then, December came and I made $4,100! That was amazing, because my goal was to hit $10,000 by the last month.
At some point I said, oh, maybe $5,000 is more realistic, but I didn’t believe I would actually come close. And then in January I made a little bit more. I made, I think it was $4,400, and then in February I made $6,300. These are all net numbers, profit.
That $6,300 is from ads and affiliates?
Right, the combination. At the beginning, the ads were the majority of my income, but my goal was to change the tide and make the affiliate money be the majority.
So every month that went on. They ended up crisscrossing on the charts and that’s when everything started to kick in. I probably made at least $1,000 on just Amazon in November.
And then I got it. Rinse and repeat. Find a different topic that’s similar and do that and SEO it and do the same sort of thing, so I just started create more and more of those posts.
As that happened, I got more traffic, I made more money from that traffic, both from Amazon and from the ads. And oh, I started to learn Pinterest too at the time, that was growing as well, so it’s kind of like all these things were stacking on top of each other, so that’s how it happened there, I guess.
I think that’s really important to point out. In order to rank for things for SEO, you do end up feeling a bit repetitive, because while it works, you need to do again with a different variation.
So what advice would you give yourself if you were starting over?
The advice I’d probably give myself is don’t worry – it’s all going to be okay.
If only I could have seen into the future! Obviously, I got all that debt paid off. I got it paid off in three and a half years, which completely surprised me.
This thing became a snowball essentially, and the more I paid off, the easier it was to pay it off because I had less collecting interest.
So now my blogging and SEO makes really, really good money, well over $20,000 a month. I’ve been doing that for 30 months now if I actually hit that again this month. I would have loved to have known that.
Sometimes knowing that kind of thing, you might not work as hard. For me, though, I worked really hard in general, so taking some of the stress out of there would have actually helped, so I would have been more productive.
What advice do you have for new people?
Focus on SEO as soon as you can, ideally from day one, but no later than day 30.
SEO is what works for me, so is the key to my success, and it was even before I was monetizing my blog.
And it’s really not that hard. A lot of new bloggers think it’s really hard, but as long as you start to understand the logic and how to do it, it becomes the same thing, a rinse and repeat. So when you have SEO traffic, you make so much more money.
You make more from ads. You make way more from affiliate marketing, probably on my regular site, probably 95% comes from the SEO, and then the next would be from email, and then a teensy bit from social media, which is not important for affiliate marketing.
So blogging and SEO is where it’s at, and SEO is way less work.
It is so much more straightforward, but over time it becomes cumulative and adds up, so I would focus on that, really seriously from day one, or at the latest day 30, and then everything else around that should be, how do I drive more SEO traffic?
Then Pinterest. I did very well on that. I used to get around 200,000 pages views a month. BUT those page views weren’t worth nearly as much, and they were a lot more work. Pinterest was still useful to me, though, because it would drive my new posts to page one faster. It was a means to get SEO faster, not the end objective of getting Pinterest traffic.
Also, I obviously started this whole thing on a shoestring budget, so it can be done, but I will also say if I invested a little bit more money at the beginning, I would’ve been successful a lot sooner.
I did not appreciate that at the beginning, because I was basically counting pennies sort of thing. Then I realized over time that these little courses really helped me. Usually, I got back that investment in less than a month, so that would be something else I would tell people and my old self too.
I love that you used freelancing to stack your short-term income plus the part-time job. I encourage bloggers to that do all the time.
Yes, it’s so important. It really reduces the stress. When I had some freelancing clients, I was working with them for a long time, so it was steady income.
Once I knew I was at least making $4,000 a month, I could breathe, and then stress levels went down and then I could write. That frees up your mind, as opposed to being worried every single minute of every single day, wondering, “How am I going to pay the credit card? How am I going to pay the mortgage?”
Knowing that something is coming in, it frees up your mind.
I love that. Did you have anything else you want to add? And tell us where we can find you online.
You can find me online at theflooringgirl.com.
Also, if you text freeseo, just one word, on your phone to 44222, you can get my free SEO course.
And then people can join my newsletter from there. I do publish my monthly income reports every month, so a lot of people like to see that. I’m a little bit more detailed than other people. Everything’s in there, like what all the affiliates actually are, not just here’s how much I made in affiliate marketing.
And I include the cost as well, so people can see then the net profit.
NEED MORE SUPPORT?
If you’d like some help growing your blog into a business, let’s chat: AlisonReeves.Co/strategy-call