Interview with Michael Bely – I feel a great privilege to publish expert’s interview series on HiBlogging. I strongly believe that this practice can get more strategic ideas and lessons to my readers. Learning from the experience is always great that too, grasping ideas from experts.
Interview with Michael Bely
In today’s interview series, we have Michael Bely from Research As A Hobby (RAAH). I get it; you may not be familiar with Michael Bely. Hence, I thought of introducing him to you. Incidentally, I have got a chance to check out his blog. Great astonishment! It’s all about hosting. He must be ingenious to contribute such meticulous articles helping online users to choose their best hosting server.
Let’s get started. I am damn sure you will astonish to check out his blog articles and this exciting interview.
1. To begin with, please tell us more about your, RAAH and your blogging experience.
Thanks for reaching out to me. I’m absolutely not a blogging celebrity, at least yet LOL. And this interview thing is something new to me. On my blog, I don’t share personal stuff. And this interview let me be much more like a human online. Thanks for this new experience!
You are asking about me first. Okay. I will keep it short. Although, if you like a longer story, don’t hesitate to let me know (while saying that I look very official, and I’m handing you over my visit card). Kidding 🙂 Alright. Never mind. Focus! (speaking to myself).
They say people love stories. Let’s check it now with my little one 🙂 If my story keeps you unblinking for at least three seconds, I’ll give you a high five! Agreed? Hey, did I see you blinking right now? 😉
Okay, I started a blog in 2013. It was my first attempt to go online with my personal project. Before that, I had been working full time for eight and a half years as a programmer, a data analyst, and a project manager in a software development company. It was a success but after some time I got bored and too stressed at the same time.
So I quit my job. I could afford to quit it. I wanted to stop doing what I was tired of. And I wanted to try something new.
And I did try something new. It was lots of skydiving, mountaineering, stock market and educating myself – I love learning! For a few years, I had been enjoying my life like never before. But everything ends and I had to shift my priorities a bit. I started earning money again since I could not afford living like before any longer LOL. Then, I decided to go a freelance way at that time. Also, I successfully worked as a translator and data analyst for a number of years then.
I started ResearchAsAHobby.com blog in 2013 when I realized I was itching to share my thoughts on whatever interests me and keep them for future reference. At that particular moment of time, I was interested in self-education in marketing. And, like everyone else who is just starting a blog, I encountered an overwhelming flow of voices in the web trying to persuade me to buy different products and services for my blog.
Having had the experience as an analyst, I could easily spot how allusive and deceptive most of the products are. Take for example the first thing that every website owner needs – hosting. Just simple research let me see that most of the popular hosts are not worth the money they cost.
And I wrote a couple of small articles about that on my blog.
I built no links, did not promote the website in any way. Just wrote a couple of articles and simply left them. And all of a sudden the articles got an impressive love from Google. People started reading those few articles and following my hosting advice. I felt like I was a new light in the world of darkness! People did need me.
Very soon I earned my first million dollars.
Kidding. After a couple of months, Google ditched me. And I became like anyone else starting a website. No visits expect bots. But that early short-lasting success was enough to confirm to myself that what I did was in demand on this topic. Also, looking back from now I think that first success was the last breath of that old-time-great-internet when you could earn money with literally one-pagers.
Later I could replicate a similarly easy success with a number of other projects in absolutely a different niche. And additional building links with my own PBN, which is a private blogging network, made one of my projects successful for a couple of years. While working on my PBN I used more than one hundred hosts and got a huge experience as a shared hosting client. And I could share it with my readers.
After a break, I got back to my blogging hobby project and continued adding articles and tutorials there. The articles were not only about hosting, but also about the things that do-it-yourself website owners need. I did not go for a number of blog posts. Instead, I aimed for a very high quality of the content that you can hardly find on other blogs. Also, in many ways, I’ve been writing articles to myself. I still refer to my materials when I need them now and then.
I think that was quite a long introduction 🙂
Yeah, by the way, you also mentioned Raah. Raah is a fictional guy, my alter-ego. He helps me to look at things from multiple perspectives. My analytical approach benefits greatly from this technique.
2. There are plenty of blogs that deal with various hosting services. How RAAH differs from all. What’s the inspiration behind your research and detailed reviews?
Oh, I guess you are asking not about my friend Raah, but about my blog. Okay 🙂
You know, I don’t really bother how different my website is compared to others. It goes like this. Say, I need to solve a problem or find an answer to a question. And if I can’t find a clear, a satisfactory or a full answer by googling, I have to start my own research. When I finish the research, I publish a new article. And this makes my blog automatically unique.
The reasoning behind making research about hosting services was the fact that most hosting review sites are just like a tabloid magazine with ads of all hosts which offer the biggest affiliate commissions. As it turns out many of such hosts are not worth the money the clients pay them. My idea was to get rid of that marketing fluff and this way help the people who hear my voice to save money and nerves.
Another thing that drives me forward is getting to the core of it. I mean diving in the matter as deep as I can to find the answer. And then, I just feel happy when I finish the research being exhausted. It’s like returning home after a mountaineering expedition which lasts for weeks. It gives me a specific masochistic pleasure. As a result, my readers can benefit my findings that I’ve discovered with my efforts.
But at the same time, I wish I could kill that perfectionist in myself because this approach takes too much time. Blogging in many ways is not a scientific work. Blogging is more about emotions and lots of content. Also, to feed people with emotions you need to deliver more frequently. My approach to blogging on RAAH is different.
Also, quite often I get inspiration from my readers. When they let me know what questions they have I see what research I could do to give benefit to even more readers.
3. How many blogs you do have? And, on what servers you have hosted all those?
Now I have just one blog which is RAAH. I host it on a shared hosting server managed by EuroVPS. I chose it back in 2013 when I worked on multiple projects with target audiences in different parts of the world. The host used to have an affiliate program that let me earn enough credits that I can still use for hosting my website with it.
My other projects connected with the PBN that I mentioned earlier stopped being profitable some time ago. And since I did not enjoy doing them as a hobby, I dropped them. I hosted my blog network with lots of different shared hosting companies.
4. I could notice even some rare hosting names you have been reviewing? How successful they are for promotions?
During my PBN experiments, I spotted a number of hosts which proved to be much better compared to other small guys I had been using. Also, their more affordable prices make them attractive compared to bigger guys.
These years I’ve been keeping on watching some of them and the hosts continued thriving delivering a high-quality of service.
Besides, there are some smaller guys which are focusing on a specific category of users. For example, web designers or agencies. They are also quite rare names if we compare them to the hosting market leaders.
From a financial gain point of view, the small guys are not bringing me as much affiliate income as some bigger well-known guys. Some hosts that I recommend bring me no cookies at all for years.
In any case, small hosts have their advantages for users. I keep an eye on a fuller spectrum of hosting. I promote different kinds of hosts as long as they keep high-quality standards for themselves and as long as they are worth the price.
My principle is to recommend the right hosting to a person, not the only hosts that work best for me in terms of affiliate commissions. Some people don’t need bigger hosts. In some cases, a smaller hosting company is a more comfortable option. Also, in some cases, people need to feel a particular spirit of hosting, and a big brand hosting maybe not the best fit then. It’s like not everyone is happy with what Walmart or Amazon can offer. Someone loves specialized stores, boutiques or family shops.
After all, as regards my hosting recommendations, it does not really matter whether a host is small or big, a rare name or a well-known brand. If I personally make sure that a host is great, then I recommend it. Otherwise, if a host is not worth its money or simply is not great, I don’t recommend it. Personal attitude and responsibility to my hosting recommendations are the parts of the spirit of my blog.
5. I would say, Michael, is a silent blogger. But, how you could be successful online without being much popular among the community like others? (By the way, I don’t mean you are not a big fish ☺). You have your own way, anyway.
Haha, it’s true, I’m not a big fish. Speaking metaphorically, I don’t feel like a fish at all. I feel more like a scuba diver. I explore the sea and share my findings with my comparatively small audience. It grows slowly and steadily, but still too far from calling it a successful business.
From a financial point of view, my blog is no more than a hobby that brings some pocket money, but it’s not enough to pay all the bills for a living. I give out much more to my readers for now than I get in return in terms of money.
At the same time, like any hobby, it brings me some joy and satisfaction. If I did not enjoy it, I would not have kept it for so long.
Also, I see my blog as a very long business investment. I understand that going slowly is a very risky strategy in our world which changes too rapidly. But as long I enjoy it, why not doing it? 🙂
6. Known from you that, you are spending more on hosting for monitoring services to offer reliable reviews and feedback to your readers. How do you manage such huge expenses and what are all the sources you have monetized your blog?
The expenses are not so huge actually. Currently, the direct costs are hundreds of dollars, not thousands per month. And all the direct costs connected with maintaining my website and preparing my researches are covered with the income I generate from my blog. And even some extra money is left on a top of that as a rewarding prize 🙂
The only monetization I have used on my website is affiliate links to the hosts and a limited number of other website-related products and services.
There are other potential ways of monetization which I could easily take advantage of using my website with practically no efforts. First of all, publishing paid or sponsored content. I have been getting such offers now and then. But I don’t accept anything like that. It’s not interesting to me and it will harm my blog.
Other ways of monetization that I consider require a bigger audience than I currently have.
7. What do you feel the typical hosting mistakes that even experts would commit?
If we talk about hosting clients, then both newbies and experts can be mistaken at their expectations. But experts can realize it quickly and move on. Newbies get stuck and suffer for months or even years.
Also, newbies are simply very vulnerable to a marketing fluff. Whereas experts can fail at handling the risks. For example, any hosting can fail. This is just how the technical world works. Also, technical support is people, and people do make mistakes. Even the best professionals do make mistakes sometimes. There’s no 100% uptime or absolutely reliable backup service. Technical support may also fail badly one day. This is just a matter of probability. If users underestimate this risk, they can screw up one day.
8. What’s your opinion about choosing the right hosting for start-ups? It should be money or performance focused?
Start-ups should be focused on achieving their goals with minimum expenses. Apart from money and performance, there are other important factors to consider such as quality of technical support, available tools, web security, and backup infrastructure, etc.
But if are limiting the factors to just two – money versus performance, then there’s a simple solution. Put as much money on the table as you can without suffering. And then see if the available hosting options satisfy your performance requirements. If the performance is good enough for you, then congratulations! You’ve got the host with no suffering 🙂 And if you need more performance for your needs, add more money.
It’s not rocket science, but in many ways, it’s a hard choice because of uncertainty about performance. You don’t know whether this host is faster than others. To help to solve this problem, I’ve been monitoring the performance of several shared hosts in a 24/7/365 manner since 2016. It allows me to understand not only the current state of the monitored hosting servers and the performance stability during a long period of time, but it also gives comparison benchmarks to estimate the performance of other shared hosts.
9. Explain a few words about EuroVPS, even I don’t have many ideas about it.
It’s a comparatively small host with servers based in Europe, Netherlands. It mostly focuses on managed VPS clients but has a shared hosting section too. The host follows a very conservative client expansion policy.
Being a beginner in a hosting world in 2013, I used some techniques to choose a host. Everyone can learn from how I did it.
I chose this host initially for my multiple projects for my audience mainly in Europe, and also in the USA and Asia. The European data center was a great option for that.
Also, when choosing the host at that time I wanted not just a nice balance between performance, support, price, etc. I also wanted to feel comfortable. At that time a small hosting like that was the option I wanted. It was my very first hosting. I stumbled upon this hosting recommendation, analyzed the host and liked it.
By the way, every host has its spirit. You can get the spirit of a particular hosting when you get acquainted with the hosting website, contact their sales support, read clients’ reviews, read the company’s blog and so on. I liked the spirit of this host.
10. How reliable the free offerings from hosting providers like free SSL, free CDN, free migration or anything? Should we consider all these while buying a web hosting or it’s all about convincing the users?
The reliability of such offerings depends on hosting and the offerings themselves.
For example, free SSL offering is absolutely fine. Moreover, I expect hosts to offer free SSL.
As regards a free CDN, it depends. If it’s a high-end managed hosting, then the CDN’s price is already included in a hosting price. Many shared hosts also advertise a free CDN. But in fact, the hosts mean they offer a convenient interface to connect to a free Cloudflare CDN plan. In fact, you can use a free Cloudflare CDN plan with any hosting. It just takes ten minutes more. So this is more like a convincing trick then.
You also mentioned free migration. I’d say this is one of the most attractive options for users who are switching hosts. The reliability of this service depends on hosting. In most cases, it goes smoothly. And if a hosting offers free migration, it’s a good chance for a client to avoid doing this technical job or spending money on hiring anyone for that.
By the way, I’d also mention a free domain. I suggest not taking advantage of this freebie. The point is that the hosting and the domain registrar should be better different companies. This is safer for your online property and will help you avoid the headache in case of one day you will need to switch the host as soon as possible.
11. When coming to your blog promotions, do you use any SEO tools? Are your articles are more keyword-focused?
I have Yoast SEO plugin installed. But I don’t really stress much about keywords, their density, etc. Although I really like Readability analysis in there. I tend to overcomplicate the sentences. And the Flesch Reading Easy index which is calculated by the plugin gives me some motivation to review my article to simplify it.
12. How do you generate backlinks these days?
I decided to go absolutely no-artificial-link-building strategy with my blog. All links to my website are natural. People link to a number of my articles now and then because they find value in my content. I played a lot with building backlinks on my other projects. But SEO game was the part of those projects’ strategy.
13. How about content creation & marketing strategy (rarely I could see your content online)? Also, being detailed articles, you publish only minimum posts, once in a while.
I believed that the strategy “write and the readers will come” was worth trying considering I input a lot of value in my content. Partly this strategy did work. But the problem is that I don’t have much content yet. Just a bit more than a hundred blog posts. Good news is that most articles are so-called “cornerstone” pieces of content.
For example, if anyone contacts me for advice or with a question, I definitely know which article on my website I would suggest reading in addition to my reply. If there’s no such an article, I decide if it’s worth creating one. Also, one of the criteria what article I should write is my interest. If I think I will enjoy writing it, then I write it. It’s my hobby indeed!
It’s true that I publish not a lot of posts. Just two blog posts a month to be precise. One of them is a hosting performance contest report. And the other one is usually a tutorial or an article about some issue I have researched.
This way makes me feel comfortable. I don’t want to be overstressed with a tight schedule of posting frequent posts. I prefer keeping it in an enjoyable way. Besides, although my blog is the only website I have now, it’s not the only thing I do in my life.
Also, I don’t promote my content in any way. It may sound strange and counterproductive. Like “Hey! You should network!” and “‘Write it and forget it’ is a bad strategy!” Well, it’s true. On the one hand, I should input some efforts on outreaching, guest-posting, etc. But on the other hand, every time I think why not researching this or that interesting issue instead 🙂 LOL
At the same time, for example, you contacted me for this question interview and I thought why not, it may be fun!
14. What do you consider as the primary source of driving organic traffic to RAAH?
According to Google Analytics, 70-75% of my traffic goes from Google. The rest is direct visits, social networks, and others. It’s interesting that half of the new visitors get to my website via just three articles. They say that Pareto’s principle is 20% of resources bring 80% of results. In my blogging experience, it turns out that 2% of resources brings me 50% of traffic.
15. Your recommended hosting for start-ups, image or video based sites, & big e-commerce sites specifically? Or any particular hosting service has better solutions for all these?
Okay, let’s do it on by one.
You say start-ups. Good. Start-ups can be different.
If we are talking about blogging startups, then shared hosting is the way to go. If the price is the first concern, then there are very affordable hosts which provide high-quality service for their price. In this segment, I like comparatively small hosts. For example, one of the hosts that I currently recommend is HawkHost.
If the budget of a blogging start-up is more than a bare minimum, I’d suggest looking at the SiteGround’s StartUp plan. This is a very solid choice. It’s a large company with great and friendly support. It is the best and still affordable option out there that I can suggest for beginners considering its discount price for the first billing period which can be up to 3 years.
There are also great hosts I can recommend in between and beyond these two options. For example, if you intend to build a website with a heavy multipurpose theme or you are heavily using a page builder, then I’d suggest a more expensive hosting plan which provides more server resources. For instance, SiteGround and GeekStorage offer powerful shared hosting plans.
If we are talking about software development start-ups, then reliable cloud hosting providers with convenient infrastructure for developers such as Digital Ocean are the winners because of the affordable pricing.
Image sites. The main concern is the disk space and the number of nodes. Even so-called unlimited hosts do have their limits. You need to see the Terms of Service of the hosts for more details. In many cases, an unlimited shared hosting plan or a plan with a generous disk quota is fine to go as a start. Basically, the same recommendation goes for a blogging start-up. Besides, using a CDN (even a free Cloudflare plan with Cache-Everything rule enabled) is a good idea for speed optimization because of images.
Video-based sites. If your videos are actually hosted on free video hosting platforms such as Youtube, Vimeo, etc, then you don’t need any special hosting for videos. Choose a host by other criteria for hosting your website. Depending on your requirements (traffic, disk storage, software used, your budget, etc) it can be anything from an affordable shared hosting like the hosts I mentioned earlier to a fully managed hosting such as LiquidWeb or Kinsta.
Big E-commerce sites: Kinsta, Liquidweb are superb and flexible options.
16. Your valuable tips to my fellow readers for successful blogging.
Before all, answer to yourself what successful blogging means to you.
Let’s assume it means making as much money with your blog as you need.
My tips will be useful for those who are not as successful bloggers as they want to be or who is just starting out. Since I have experience in both full-time job and freelancing, as well as running my web start-ups, I have seen it from different perspectives. And have something to say.
You’d better enjoy blogging. And I mean not enjoy making money blogging. But the blogging itself. More often than not it will take much more time for you to succeed than you thought.
Consequently, while you are blogging with no or little financial return you need to have enough money to pay your living expenses. A part-time job or freelancing may work great. If you have savings, it’s also a good feeling of safety that will make your life less stressful on your way to your blogging success.
Cut your living costs. And get ready to live a modest life for as long as it will be required.
My tips above may sound harsh so some of you. But this is a true side of the things. I know most people are looking for inspiration instead. It reminds me of my mountaineering experience. You could get inspiration by watching photos and videos, talking to your excited climber friends, reading awesome mountaineering books and blogs. But at the same time, you need to know that this requires lots of continuous and regular work and that you need adequate thinking. Without it, you are dead before you succeed.
Without inspiration, you can’t start going to your goals, you can’t keep going towards it. Indeed, without inspiration, you can’t achieve your goals. Find what inspires you. But without adequate thinking, there are huge chances that you will fail. You need to keep in mind both of these opposite sides.
I have a friend Raah who reminds me of the opposite side when I forget about it. Find your own trick that will work in a similar way.
Hope we all had an interesting interview with Michael Bely. We must thank him for the most in-depth responses. I would say he is a master in dealing with hosting services. For any hosting server related clarifications, you must run through his valuable posts. Also, he is readily available to respond to your queries in the comments section below.
Michael, Thanks for your detailed insights helping our readers to understand about their hosting needs and solutions in a better way.