There is a LOT of information out there on the internet.
If you have an important question, this is both really good news and really bad news. The good news is that you can definitely find an answer. The bad news is that it’s hard to know whether that answer is any good.
The truth is that anyone can put up a website and start writing their opinions. You can do it for free in less than 5 minutes.
And the other truth is that not everyone with a website has the same motivations. People start blogs for all kinds of different reasons, but those reasons aren’t always apparent when you land on their site. And to me, the motivation behind the blog matters a lot in terms of whether you can trust the information it’s providing.
I knew nothing about this before I started my own blog, but I’ve learned a lot in the last 19 months. And today I’d like to tell you about the 6 different types of financial bloggers that I’ve come across, and the main motivation that drives each of them. My hope is that this helps you understand a little bit more about what you find out there online so that you can be a little more informed when deciding whether the advice is right for you.
Keep in mind that these categories are not mutually exclusive. A blogger can absolutely fit into multiple categories, and most probably do. But from my experience, they usually fit more into one category than any of the others.
So here they are: the 6 types of financial bloggers and the main motivation behind each.
Main motivation: Document their personal journey to learn more about money.
These are the people who start blogs mainly because they have something big they want to learn or achieve and their blog is a way to hold themselves accountable, share their experiences, and connect with other people on similar journeys.
You’ll see people start blogs because they want to pay off their debt, learn how to invest, hold themselves to a budget, and any other financial goal you can think of.
These are some of my favorite blogs to read. These aren’t experts, just normal people trying to learn something new and having the same kinds of struggles that we all do. And we get to hear all about their successes, their failures, their questions and the unique ways in which they approach their problems.
I love these blogs because they’re human. I get to learn, but I also get to know a person. That’s fun.
Main motivation: Make money through some kind of advertising on their website.
This is something I was really clueless about until I started blogging.
There are three main ways (that I know of) that bloggers can make money through advertising:
- Traditional ads – This is probably what you’re most familiar with. There are little advertisements all over the internet, and when you view or click one of them the website that showed it to you will get a small payment. It’s the same way advertising has been done for years.
- Sponsored posts – These are blog posts that look exactly the same as any other blog post, but somewhere in the post there’s a link that someone paid for. I get these requests all the time from companies who want a little publicity. Some of them are legit, but most of them are pretty scammy. Just know that not all blog posts are written purely out of a desire to help you. Technically these kinds of posts are supposed to be clearly labeled as sponsored posts, but in my experience that only happens sporadically.
- Affiliate sales – A lot of companies will pay commissions to anyone who can help them sell their products. A common one is Amazon. You can sign up as an Amazon affiliate, recommend a book or other product on your website, and if someone clicks your link and buys the thing you get a commission. This can be done in a way that’s helpful to everyone, and I will occasionally include affiliate links on my own site when it’s for a product or service I use myself and find valuable. The main thing to know here is that a lot of the product “review” articles you find online are really more like marketing copy designed to get you to click on a link, buy a product, and generate a commission for the author in the process. I find this to be especially true for most of the online credit card reviews (which pay a nice commission).
Main motivation: Direct you to a product or service that the site owner is selling.
A lot of companies have blogs simply because it’s a good marketing tool. The more quality articles you can post on your website, the more likely it is for someone random to find you, find you helpful, and end up purchasing your product or service.
I certainly fall at least partially into this category myself. While this blog started purely as a way for me to provide helpful information to other new parents (and still serves primarily that purpose), the truth is that it now also serves as a way for me to reach potential clients.
Marketers know that helping someone is the first step to gaining trust, and that trust is a powerful sales tactic. A blog can be a great way to build that trust.
Main motivation: Generate traffic by writing attention-grabbing articles about current events.
Most of the major finance sites fall into this category (CNBC, Wall Street Journal, etc.). Anyone commenting on what the stock market is doing, or what they think of the Government’s latest policies falls into this category.
By constantly writing articles about whatever’s currently in the news, they can generate a lot of traffic and use that traffic primarily to sell advertisements (as far as I can tell).
Some of these articles can be great, like when you get something that clearly explains new tax rules or updates to student loan repayment options.
But a lot of them are simply meant to generate clicks or they talk about “news” that’s irrelevant to your personal financial situation. Personal finance is largely a long-term process, not something that should constantly be shifting based on the news of the day. What the stock market is doing right now has no bearing on your long-term financial plans.
Main motivation: Further our understanding of all kinds of financial topics.
There are a lot of people who spend their days researching money and how it works in the same way that people might research historical events or try to find the cure for a certain disease. Many of them write about their findings, either in journal articles or on blogs.
These can be great, and I learn a lot from reading these kinds of articles. But they can also be pretty complicated, use a lot of industry jargon, and they’re primarily aimed at professionals and other academics. Still, it’s great that so much of this information is out in public!
Main motivation: Help a specific type of person solve a specific type of problem.
Helpers start their blogs with a specific person in mind. They can picture that person: what they look like, how they dress, who they’re friends with and what they’re into. They know that person’s specific problems and questions and their main goal is to help that person get the answers they need.
They know that whatever other purpose their blog serves (whether it’s marketing a product or service, selling ads, or whatever), first and foremost they have to think of that specific person and what he or she would want to read about next. What question is most pressing to him right now? That’s the next blog post.
I recently wrote about 6 first steps to starting a business you love and Step #2 was “Be helpful”. It was #2 only because #1 was choosing something you love, but to me it’s the most important part of running a successful business, blog or anything else that requires an audience.
If you can find someone whose primary goal is to be helpful, you can probably have a little more confidence that their opinions are worth listening to.