Why did you originally build CSS-Tricks?

Beer money.

The first post¹ on CSS-Tricks was on July 4th, 2007. Not my first website, but probably in the first 10 or so. CSS-Tricks was originally supposed to be part of a network of sites that were all designed to be essentially self-help on a niche topic.

That network (nothing official, just a bunch of sites all spun up by me) was centered about helping people with problems related to Adobe software. I did it with a friend of mine, Jeff Penman, who at the time was working for a company that Adobe outsourced to do phone support. So I figured he’d have all the best info for what the most commonly-asked questions were. The websites would essentially be SEO-fodder for people with those questions. We’d put Google Adsense on the sites, and ideally, we’d make at least beer money. These sites were named like photoshop-help.com and illustrator-help.com and the like. We probably did 5 or 6 of them.

It was all SEO fodder. Or really just any sort of traffic fodder. See I was really into the idea of a blog making money. We gotta be able to make like $25 a week or something, right? There was always this attractive and spine-tingling feeling: what if it did way better than that? I was into reading about how successful a blog could be. I remember reading ProBlogger.com by Darren Rowse, where he’d write about his other blog Digital Photography School and how much money it earned. Maybe we could make a site earn $25 a day! Double down on the well-performing sites and ditch the low-performing sites. This dude was making some $20k a month on his sites, apparently. That’s eye-opening money. If we make a tiny slice of that we’d be over the moon.

At the time I wrote that I had graduated college a few years back. I was working at jobs I didn’t hate but didn’t love, all in Digital Prepress. At least it was in computers, but it wasn’t building websites like I wanted to be doing. I’m a lifelong computer nerd, so I was getting the computering I wanted to be doing in recreationally. Building websites for my band and silly other go-nowhere entrepreneurial ideas. I had plenty of time for side projects.

All those Adobe-help sites? None of the sites in that network did all that great. I think we maybe hit that beer money threshold, but for the amount of work it was, it wasn’t worth it. Not to mention neither of us was exactly passionate about helping people with Adobe software problems. It didn’t help that ultimately heard from Adobe’s legal team about the site names and had to take the sites down entirely.

One of the sites on this little network though I called css-tricks.com. I thought I could do the same thing, except for CSS advice and things I was learning there. SEO fodder for web design. That, I was passionate about. I was learning so much about building websites! And it was awesome! At first, it was easily the least successful of the sites, but I liked it the most. I completely stopped caring if it made money or not in those early days. It was just fun. The most rewarding part was when I first started getting comments and getting any attention at all from other blogs in the web community. That engagement is mighty addictive.

So I just kept doing it for another 15 years.


¹ Kinda old school tactic, but honestly still functional and in some situations something you might still do today. Nice.