How Facebook Helped Turn a $55K Hobby Blog Into a Multi-Million Dollar Business

Looking to grow your blog or website? You’ll likely hear the following:

Get as many social shares as possible!

It’s good advice. On our website, The Penny Hoarder, we focus on writing posts that put more money in our readers’ pockets -- whether it’s sharing high-paying work-from-home job opportunities, free food deals or personal stories of others who have paid off large debts.

We want to help as many readers as possible achieve their financial goals… and it doesn’t hurt that more readers directly translates to more revenue for us.

Five years ago, The Penny Hoarder pulled in $55,000. Last year, our company revenue was nearly $8 million.

This site has morphed from a one-man show to a fully operational brick-and-mortar office in sunny St. Petersburg, Florida, staffed with 40 employees. It took a lot of readers -- and a lot of social shares -- to make that happen.

But the way we’ve achieved that shareability is not exactly what you’d expect. While most people tend to think the key to virality is being everywhere, we’ve found success by doing things a bit differently.

Ubiquity and Virality are Not the Same Thing

It may seem like having a presence -- and therefore the potential to go viral -- on every social channel is the best approach to achieve pageviews. But, in fact, trying to be everywhere at once can actually hurt your business.

Counterintuitively, one of the keys to our company’s growth has been narrowing the focus and scope of our marketing campaigns.

Now, I’m not saying you should straight-up ignore valuable channels for growth or the hot new way people are discovering information. Staying on top of what’s new is one of the most important pieces of a digital business.

But it makes more sense to really crack one or two social channels than to take a shot at every single platform that floats by.

This is particularly true if you’re nurturing a new business -- you don’t have the wherewithal to be everywhere when you’re still figuring out what and who you are as a company. Plus, the internet is a rapidly-changing marketplace… who knows if that hot new social channel will flourish or flop?

Find Your Channels -- and Dive in Deep

So how do you figure out where to focus your efforts?

Particularly when it comes to social campaigns, the first step is to figure out which channel is the best avenue for your specific product.

At The Penny Hoarder, we’re active on Pinterest and Instagram, because our biggest groups of readers -- including Millennials and stay-at-home moms -- hang out there.

But, our presence is largest on Facebook because that’s where we’ve put most of our focus -- and it’s where we spend most of our advertising dollars, too.

It took a while to nail down where to focus; I’ve actually been in the game long enough that Facebook wasn’t yet a key player when I launched the site. Originally, I tried to figure out the secret to networks like Digg and StumbleUpon, and even Delicious… which you may remember as del.icio.us, if you’ve been in it for the long haul, too.

We chose Facebook because we’re trying to help people make and save more money. And, well, everyone’s on Facebook. All the time.

In addition to its sheer volume of users, Facebook’s a strong engine for referral traffic for us; those website visitors help us make money. That combination makes it the right place for us to be.

While Facebook works for us, you’ll want to do your own digging to figure out exactly which social channel works best for your business. After all, you know your product best.

Why Focus is So Important for a Digital Business

By focusing on one channel, we were able to invest a great amount of time, energy and money into our content marketing there. This means we promote our work on a few very effective social networks, rather than scattering our limited energy across multitudes of only moderately effective channels.

But because you will invest so heavily in your chosen social strategy (at least, you will if you’re smart), it’s doubly important to put in the research beforehand -- and continually in real-time.

Today, we test content before it runs to ensure that every published piece gets the highest engagement, catapulting our total performance to new heights. We use a tool called Naytev that allows us to A/B test and optimize our content.

Sometimes this means not every piece of content we create gets shared on Facebook. And that’s OK.

Another important note to that point: No matter where you focus, content marketing is a two-way street.

The fact that so many of our readers come to us via Facebook has been a huge part of the evolution of the site. Because so many people use Facebook on their phones, the vast majority of our readership engages our content via mobile browser or app.

In response, we’ve streamlined and optimized our content and advertising experience for mobile -- from increasing white space in posts for better readability on a small screen to publishing Facebook Instant Articles (now open to all publishers!).

Our focus on growing a community on Facebook, ability to tailor what we offer for the specific audience we’ve garnered and commitment to reinvesting our profits were all key to the exponential growth of our website and our company. And as we continue to grow this year, we’ll keep leaning heavily on that focus.

Do we want as many social shares as possible? Sure. But if we can keep our focus, we’ll be much more successful in reaching that goal.

Kyle Taylor is the founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder, one of the largest personal finance websites with 10+ million monthly readers. In 2016, the Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder the 32nd fastest-growing private company and the #1 fastest-growing media company in the United States.

startup lifeKyle Taylor