Welcome to our latest interview with a great money blogger!
As always, our questions are in bold italics and the interviewee’s responses follow in black.
With that said, let’s get started…
Determining Strategy and Overview
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your site.
I’m Robert Farrington, the founder of The College Investor. I launched the blog in 2009 while I was finishing up my last quarter of college. I was that student that was in the back row of class with my laptop open, always reading and exploring. I would read financial blogs and sites like Yahoo! Finance, and I had the crazy idea to start my own blog to share my own thoughts about investing.
It started as a hobby around something I was passionate about, and it has grown steadily from there.
What is your Unique Selling Proposition?
I’m trying to inspire millennials to get out of student loan debt and start investing as early as possible.
What is your elevator pitch?
We have some of the best resources for navigating the complexities of student loan debt – from understanding repayment options to finding student loan forgiveness programs. From there, we share some of the best strategies for balancing investing and building wealth with getting out of debt.
“Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. He who understands it earns it….he who doesn’t, pays it” – Albert Einstein
If we can encourage people to start investing early (even in high school or earlier), it can go a long way towards building wealth at an early age.
Who is your target reader?
Our target reader in a broad sense is millennials. However, we really do attract a lot of readers who have student loan debt and are looking to change their circumstances and move their net worth from negative to positive.
What special skills, experiences, knowledge, etc. do you bring to your blog?
What really started this blog was my passion and my experience. I started helping my dad do my taxes at 13. I’d been passionate about earning money, side hustling, and investing for as long as I can remember. So all of these experiences really gave me stories to help me tell on my site.
Then, after college, I experienced repaying my own student loan debt. I graduated with about $43,000 in student loans, and worked hard to pay it off in about 3 years. I did this through working a day job and having multiple side hustles (including the blog). One of my early posts was about my challenges dealing with my student loan servicer – a problem that resonated with a lot of readers. After receiving a ton of comments and great feedback, I started incorporating more and more about student loans into my content.
Over time, it helped shape the clear message and content pillars we have today.
What are your general goals and strategies for the next couple of years?
Generally, I want to continue to grow the website and continue to help people get out from student loan debt to start investing. Student loans are a growing problem in America, and so the more people I can impact and help, the better.
With that being said, we just wrapped up my first Student Loan Debt Movement. I had a huge goal of educating and inspiring readers to eliminate $1,000,000 of student loan debt in March 2018, and we achieved it. This was inspiring to me and likely something I’m going to continue.
Designing a Great Site
How did you come up with the name of your site?
It was all about where I was at when I started the blog. I was in college, and I was going to write about investing. Now we clearly write more than just about investing, but I also think that most readers don’t care about what your name is. Honestly, 90%+ of readers come from social or search – and they are searching for topics or headlines. So, if you have great content, I think your domain name/website name matters less and less.
Do you have a site summary statement/tagline? If so, what is it?
Get out of student loan debt and start investing and building wealth for the future.
What do you like about the design of your site?
I’ve had several iterations of designs over the years. Currently, I view my website as a magazine. It’s not about me. Nobody really cares about me. They want the answers to their questions or help with their situation. They want shortcuts, tools, tactics, etc. They enjoy stories, but the stories better have a lesson.
As such, I really focus on the content. I’ve minimized myself on the site and tried to bring the content to the front – as that’s what people are looking for.
Are you active on social media? If so, please give us details on how you use your main selections.
I try to be very active on social media, but it can be a challenge to get my readers to engage on it. It’s easy to get other bloggers to engage, but as much as I love the blogging community, my goal is to really impact “regular folks”.
Here’s my general thoughts around social media:
- Twitter: Becoming less and less relevant for traffic. However, it’s great to share general thoughts and respond to comments. I do push out content about every 4 hours on Twitter.
- Facebook: This has been our number one traffic source for a long time. The trick with Facebook is you have to have shareable content. Shareable content gets comments, shares, and overall more traction.
- YouTube: We have been growing our video presence and trying to create one video per week. Our videos complement our blog posts.
- Pinterest: Pinterest has been a great traffic source for years. We create pinnable images for all of our content. Pinterest is a search engine, and there are lots of people using it. I want to ensure that my content is there and being found.
- Instagram: Instagram has been a growing channel for us, especially around Instagram stories. It can be hard to create visual content for personal finance, but I’ve found people enjoy seeing some of the behind the scenes stuff.
Developing Awesome, Sharable Content
What are the main topics you cover and why?
My main verticals for content are student loans, investing, and earning more money.
This came to be due to my own story and philosophy on money. I’m in the “earn your way to your money goals” camp – versus the frugal mindset camp. While I strongly believe in budgeting and not living beyond your means, I think that most people have more power to achieve their financial goals by earning more money.
So, the first goal is conquering student loan debt. Beyond all the resources around student loan debt we have, I think that earning more money can be a fantastic tool for getting out of debt faster.
When it comes to investing, the same thing applies. While you need to cover the basics like a 401k/403b, if you can earn more and contribute it to your investments, you can really start to get ahead faster.
What topics don’t you cover and why?
Honestly, there isn’t much we don’t cover. I’ll talk about anything from investing in cryptocurrency to the best CD rates. A lot of our content comes from reader questions and ideas spurred by reader interactions – so I really love writing about things that may excite our readers. Even if it answers just one person’s question, that’s a win.
Also, I’ve really taken on the approach of “I’m not your mother”. If I’m writing about something I disagree with, I make it clear up front with something like “I don’t think you should be doing this…but I’m not your mother and I know you won’t listen to me, so here’s how to do it right if you go down this path…”.
What guidelines do you use for the length and frequency of posts and why?
Right now I’m publishing about 5 times per week. Every day Monday through Friday. My average post is about 2,000 with some notable exceptions in both directions.
My general guideline is simple: is this the best content on this topic? Does it answer every question? Is there something I could do to make it better? And then I try to frame my content around that.
Can you give us three posts of yours that you would you say are Rockstar content (with a brief explanation of each)?
1. How Honest Financial Advisors Should Disclose Their Fees – This post is one of my favorite articles from the last year. It’s a reader case study where we break down his portfolio and analyze how much it’s costing him in fees. I also tell his story of what his financial advisor says, and prove that there’s a better/cheaper way. At the end, I break down what you can do to ensure that your financial advisor is being transparent with fees, and I give the tools you can use to analyze your portfolio.
2. Everything You Need To Know About Student Loan Consolidation – This is a fun one because you might think that student loan consolidation is simple and not really anything more to say on the topic. But did you know that student loan consolidation is the number one student loan scam? Or that there can be huge problems if you consolidate incorrectly? Or the constant confusion around student loan consolidation and student loan refinancing. This huge guide covers everything you need to know, in a digestible way, with tools and resources along the way.
3. How To Get Started Investing In Your 20s After College – When I talk about creating content that answers those questions, here you go. This guide was in response to a reader question, and it checks all my boxes for great content. It has a little story, it has expert opinions, and it has tools and resources. If you’re in your 20s, you can literally follow this post and it will walk you through exactly how to get started investing. I reference this article for reader questions all the time and it gets a very positive response.
What have been your past sources of traffic? How did you develop them and how successful has each been?
The bulk of our traffic comes from organic search, with the remainder coming from social media, paid social, our newsletter and existing readers.
My thoughts around this are pretty simple: create the best content you can and promote it. When you attract people to your content, try to keep the ones that want to stay around (i.e. list, push notification, social, etc.). When you have them around, promote them the best content that matches what they are looking for.
It’s not easy, but it all starts with great content. If you don’t have that, you can’t expect people to want to visit your site.
What are you doing to grow traffic now and in the future?
Once again, it all centers around great content. I know the “rule” is spend 20% of your time creating content and 80% of your time promoting content. I’d like to be a better promoter, and I’m shifting more time to that over the year.
Deliver Revenue and Profit
Does your blog make money?
Yes, our site makes money.
If so, how does it make money?
We earn our revenue through a variety of channels:
- Affiliate Advertising: This is where we are paid by advertisers when a user signs up for their product or service. Affiliate commissions vary depending on the product or service, and can range anywhere from $0.25 to $500 or more per sign up.
- Display Advertising: This is “traditional” banner advertising found on the sidebar and in-content on the website.
- Sponsored Content And Brand Partnerships: This is where we work directly with a brand for a flat fee in exchange for content. For example, companies like H&R Block will directly partner with us to promote their content, above and beyond affiliate advertising.
- Product Sales: We sell products like eBooks, online course, and tutorials.
- Consulting: Given our reputation in the millennial money space, brands ask for our time and compensate us accordingly for our opinions on their products, services, marketing strategy, and more.
Are you trying to have the blog make more and if so, what are you doing in that effort?
One of my challenges is that I started my site in 2009, well before I learned anything about making money online. I really didn’t even start making money on my blog until 2011 – almost 2 years after I started. Fast forward to today, and I there are tools and partners that didn’t even exist when I started blogging. As such, I’m really trying to optimize and improve our existing content to make more and be more relevant to readers.
What are your future plans for the blog?
To continue to create top quality content, and promote it better to the appropriate target audience.
Tell us something about yourself that you haven’t mentioned on your blog.
I haven’t mentioned this on the blog, even though many in the community do know, that my blog has enabled me to become financially independent at an early age. So, what was once a side hustle has become my main gig, and doesn’t really consume much more time than it did when it was just a side hustle.
What is one bit of advice you would give to someone who is just starting a blog?
The key to blogging is simple – great content, created consistently, and promoted appropriately. It starts with great content – is whatever you’re writing the best on the topic. Don’t think about yourself, think about the reader and what you want them to get out of it.
Then, you have to be consistent. I recommend new bloggers start writing 3x per week, for 1 year. If you can achieve that level of consistency, you will be successful. Furthermore, you’ll have passed up 99% of others who’ve started and fizzled out. Once again, think about this from a reader perspective. You will lose people if they love something, but then have nothing to come back to.
Finally, you have to promote it. Network with other bloggers. Get on social media. Go to conferences in your niche. If you don’t promote it, people won’t find you!
Name your favorite blog, other than your own, that you read the most.
I really enjoy reading Financial Samurai. Sam consistently creates top quality content, that’s engaging to read. He also typically has a tool or something transformational that you’ll get as a reader. It really checks all my boxes for Rockstar Content.
What is your best piece of money advice?
AND. The word AND. You can invest AND pay down debt. You can budget AND earn more money. You can work a day job AND side hustle. Some call this financial balance, but it’s more than balance. It’s about remembering that you can do multiple things, try multiple strategies, and tackle financial problems in multiple ways.