We recently interviewed Josh Hinton, a “retired” merchant mariner who set up an online blog with GoDaddy, one of the most popular website builders in the market.
Josh set up Merchant Mariner Guide to provide a resource he wished he had when sailing and now offers advice and guidance to sailors trying to find their feet. We discussed everything from what it’s like juggling life and running a blog to monitoring a website’s performance.
Read on to learn more about Merchant Mariner Guide…
“I am watching my average ranking, daily clicks, and impressions all climb.”
“I started sailing in the summer of 2017, and during that time I was lost. The labyrinth of rules, certifications, medical examinations, paperwork, and documents required to get anywhere close to a merchant vessel completely overwhelmed me. I asked the port agent thousands of questions and I am genuinely lucky he was patient and helpful. I believe the seeds of my business were planted at that time.
I felt like there needed to be a guide or resource online that helps sailors navigate (pun intended) the myriad of rules and regulations they would inevitably encounter as they embarked on their career as merchant mariners. I started the website in February of this year , so it is still very young but growing steadily.
Considering the business is still very nascent, I would say it needs more time to determine how it will develop. I know that this has been a wonderful learning experience for me and a crash course in SEO. I have tried my best to implement SEO best practices to try and fight my way to the top of the SERP with some very well-established competitors with much stronger DRs. It’s a very rewarding experience to watch the rankings of my articles climb over time as Google starts to recognize my site as an authority on the subject.”
An Online Resource
“I believe what separates my business from my competitors is the focus on informing merchant mariners and those who want to be merchant mariners about their responsibilities, options, and recommendations for things like tools, gear, and even what to do on shore leave. From the beginning, I have tried to think about what resource I would like to have that would answer all the questions I have as a merchant mariner, whether that is how do I scale this recipe for my crew size, where do I get a sim card in Singapore, or how often do I need to revalidate my Basic Safety Training?
“I currently spend about one hour a day during the week working on the site. The main reason for this is because this is more of a side hustle/hobby for me. In the beginning, I put a lot of time into the site, trying to get a large volume of content so Google would start to see my site’s authority on the subject of professional sailing. Over time, I have scaled back my workload to three main pillars: content creation, updating, and link building.
I try to publish three to four articles a week (sometimes more, sometimes less), update three to four, and do some form of link-building activity daily.
My content output is a little scattershot at the moment. Being new to SEO and blogging means there are a lot of unknown unknowns – I don’t know what I should know. So, as I learn, I realize errors I’ve made that I need to go back and correct.
As far as a content strategy goes, I have tried to cover all the main topics related to merchant mariners: the different jobs, employers, documents, medical requirements, sailor’s unions, gear and equipment, and shore leave. All of these areas are expansive and I have not honed in on a strategy to actively cover all of it.
I am guilty of “shiny object syndrome” so I will work in an area that has my attention for a while and then shift to another one gradually or even abruptly if it grabs me. There are so many areas of my site that I want to work on that I don’t have the time to fully develop. The two sections of the site that I believe are the most unique are the Galley section and the Shore Leave section. Consequently, these are the two that are the most difficult to develop. They are the least likely to succeed in Google, but I believe they offer the most value to my target demographic.
So, there is a balance of trying to do keyword research and write about things that draw in traffic and creating useful content for people that I hope to reach in the long run through other forms of distribution, such as social media.”
The Support of a Crew
“I have asked trusted shipmates to weigh in on articles I am not an expert in. I am a steward on the ship so anything deck, engine, or officer related is outside my expertise. I have requested assistance from professionals that I’m friends with from sailing to verify information.
Other than that, I have built the site myself with the help of GoDaddy’s website builder. I have leveraged AI, specifically ChatGPT, Bard, Claude, and Midjorney to assist in the writing, brainstorming, and keyword research. I try to blend AI and human-written content and then verify that it is accurate and helpful. I also use Canva for different design elements.”
Using Social Media To Grow
“I think every blogger initially throws a bunch of stuff on the wall and sees what sticks. I believe social media will play an ever-increasing role in the blog’s success but it takes time. I will continue to publish my recipes on Pinterest and tweet about certain blog posts. I have a subreddit as well where I publish links to my articles.
I believe social media is important because relying solely on Google is not always the best strategy, especially with SGE [Search Generative Experience] and the proliferation of AI and the ever-changing landscape of internet search.”
“I think the biggest challenge is the competition in the niche. The well-established websites in the niche will be difficult to compete with going forward.
The thing that bothers me about my competitors, and I know it bothers others as well, is when you visit these sites you’re bombarded with advertisements and you don’t know where the advertisement ends and the content begins. By the time you find the relevant information you’re looking for, a pop-up redirects you to an email request for a free newsletter and you spend the next minute looking for the tiny “X” at the top of the screen. By the time you get back to the content you were looking for, a video pops up in the corner with something completely unrelated – and I think you get my drift.
I believe one of the reasons Google’s SGE will be successful is because sites have bombarded their readers with ads at the expense of their user experience. I will avoid using advertising on my site through the common advertisement platforms because I think it is intrusive and takes away from the user experience.
I have a growing list of affiliate partners and my own “slop chest” – that is my current form of monetization. I want to recommend good quality products my readers need and if they want to support my site I am forever grateful.”
“I track my performance through Google Search Console. I also track my Pinterest pins and social posts through the platform’s internal analytics.
I am still in the growth stage of my blog, but I have started to see steady growth and my daily organic search is growing steadily. The numbers are very small at the moment but the rate of growth is promising. One of my favorite elements of SEO is the similarity it has with planting seeds. We make little changes to our site and don’t see the effects for a month or two. I am watching my average ranking, daily clicks, and impressions all climb.
When I first started tracking my site on GSC, it wasn’t receiving any traffic. I remember the first click on GSC made me so excited. I currently live outside of the US which is my target demographic, and I didn’t know how to search by country. So, for a day or two, I was very excited about my first click. Then I realized I could search by country and when I did I noticed the click was from the country I am currently living in. About a week later, I got my first true organic search click on my site. That was a very proud moment.
One day, when I really felt like giving up, I randomly looked at my Amazon Affiliate Account and earned 0.81 cents from a sale. That is another very proud moment for me. A proof of concept that revitalized my efforts. Now every time I check GSC and see the number of clicks increase, it’s encouraging.”
“I wanted to learn more about SEO, give back to an industry that radically changed my life, and – if I’m lucky – make a little money along the way.
I felt like a website was a good central location, like a foundational pillar, to launch a brand.
GoDaddy was the path of least resistance. I felt overwhelmed by the labyrinth of plugins and themes on WordPress, and I just wanted to start sharing information as quickly and as easily as possible. The more I listened and read about the personal experiences of other website owners, I realized there were too many unknown unknowns in the world of SEO. I wanted to share the information I had without worrying about the technical complexities. This was a way for me to learn them slowly but still be able to share information online.
I chose the Basic plan. If the site grows and requires more features, I will consider upgrading – but, for now, it is serving its purpose.”
Learning About SEO
“The more I learn about SEO, the more I learn some of the built-in simplicities are also built-in limiters. I would like to be able to work “under the hood” of the blog post, using HTML to install banners for different advertisements for my affiliate partners. There are other optimization elements that you can’t adjust yourself, such as the H2 of individual blog posts, for example.”
Growing a Website
“I want to believe that I can scale the business without changing platforms. Considering the primary aim of the business is to provide helpful information for merchant mariners and those aspiring to become them, I believe GoDaddy can be a good partner to facilitate that. I will expand my products to include digital products that I want to sell on other platforms and I am always trying to expand my reach on social media to create different avenues for growth.”
Merchant Mariner Guide Gallery
“Just start! I thought about doing this for years. The old saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is right now”. I wish I had started the moment I set sail for the first time, sharing the things I learned along the way. Especially the more I learn about SEO and how websites age like red wine.
Focus on something you know and understand and enjoy researching.
It takes a lot of time and effort to provide thorough content. You need to enjoy the subject and bring a unique perspective to the subject to truly add value to the internet.”
“So many plans, not enough time. I’ve had to temper my workload with the site lately – I recently became a dad and my son is so much more fun to focus on than my laptop. I try to do something on my site every day though.
My goals are to update all my articles to the most recent format that I’ve implemented and develop some galley-related digital products, such as cookbooks and order guides. I have some ambitious goals, such as developing an AI trained on all relevant Merchant Mariner documents that can easily answer people’s questions related to sailing. I guess something like that will eliminate the need for my website, but I think AI language models are here to stay but they need to be trained on specific data sets with less unnecessary information so that they can be accurate.”