25 things I wish I’d known when I started blogging

October 19, 200955 Comments
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Next month will be a milestone for me – I’ve been blogging now for around two years, and over that time I have to say I’ve learned a bucket load about how content works online, and indeed how content marketing can drive traffic to a website. I’ve watched my own site grow, and enjoyed every second of it, obsessing over the minute details of traffic peaks and troughs, and analysed the traffic and the impact of social media – in a variety of different ways. This post summarises what I feel I’ve learned in those years and how you can apply the things I’ve learned to your own site and strategy to succeed.

1). Content doesn’t matter. Promotion matters

Build it and they will come. Write it and they will flock. Um. Nope. ‘Fraid it doesn’t work like that. You’ll get tired of waiting for traffic to trickle through to your site with  that mentality. Growing a content site on the long tail is a slow and lonely process, and it’s no wonder there are so many newbie bloggers that quit in the first year after not seeing results. You have to get out there and pimp your best stuff to succeed.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?

If you have great content, and no one is reading it will it generate traffic?

2). Find out where the competition is.

competition

image by jayhem

Research on the web using websites like BlogCatalog or MyBloglog to find similar sites.  You can find out who else is writing inside your niche,  and decide if they are delivering content that is similar enough to your own to be considered a competitor; or different enough to be considered a link partner.

Once you’ve created a decent list its trivial to use tools like PostRank or SEMRush to work out what sort of content and/or keywords they are ranking on.  This gives you a basic feel for the sort of thing which is working for them, and indeed what is hot, and what is not.

To find out where they are getting links from, Yahoo Site explorer gives a good overview. Alot of people are still using Google’s link: operator – but this is pretty much dead in the water and no where near as accurate. Analyse your competitors sites and see if there appears to be any low hanging fruit or places where you could get a link also. Build relationships with the link partners – as there may be potential for mutal benefit. With many bloggers now having Twitter accounts this is a great way of tapping into their thoughts and feelings before approaching them.

3). Get your basic seo in order before you do anything.

It’s easy to forget the simple stuff at the outset. On page seo is relatively straightforward, but getting this right at the outset is important, remember that it will be a nightmare to change URL structure down the line, as the most of your links will be lost from around the web if you have to change it. There are plenty of SEO plugins and Marketing plugins for WordPress out there that can help you on your way.

4). People will scrape your content. Embrace it for links.

I’ve made a rule for myself on this site. Don’t publish any articles without at least one backlink to another article elsewhere on this site. This means that if some scumbag does come along and copypaste, firstly I’ll know about it, as the link will either show up in my statistics package, or better again, it’ll pingback to me.  Same story applies for images. In some cases you’ll have the offender over a barrel and can leverage this for a link.

You can use .htaccess to either serve a different image (with a copyright infringement message) – or to display a message asking them to contact you for permission. *Kerching*. All you have to do is provide the image for free, and ask for attribution. It’ll cost you nothing, and increase your traffic.

5). Images create impact. Don’t forget them.

creative

Yes, well written content helps, but supplement with some impactful images and you’ll double the chances (at least) of getting shared by others. Flickr is a great place to find images that are of professional quality. Looking for some impactful images? Use advanced search to search Creative Commons – then sort by most interesting. You can find some wonderful impactful images easily in this way.

6). Exposure, Popularity and Authority matters online

Quickest way to gain authority is via other websites. Period. Even large sites need guest content, and their audience will follow your bio link back to your own website and become subscribers if the content is good enough.

If you are able to build authority everything will fall very quickly into place when you launch any new venture. It’s the reason David Airey was able to build the subscribers on Logo Design love from 0 to over 15 thousand readers in 2 years. It’s the same reason Darren Rowse was able to take Twitip from 0 to nearly 32 thousand subscribers – in one year and 8 months.

Whilst both these guys built up their authority from scratch with their first site, they were able to very quickly scale up other ventures using their existing profile online, and their loyal readers followed them across to their other sites. Love your readers, and they’ll love you back.

7). List posts work – even if they are flakey

List posts are shared more frequently than other types of content. They are easier to consume than paragraph laden prose, and deliver a promise of what is in store for the visitor right from the get go. Bloggers are competiting for visitors attention everytime we hit the publish button, and people are attracted to lists like bees to honey. The down side of list posts is that in the majority they don’t deliver knowledge – instead going with the pretty pictures plus links approach.

This recent post is what I personally consider to be one of the worst pieces of content on my site. Where’s the value? There’s nothing in that post that can’t be found with a five minute google search. It was a guest post, I added the screenshots to it within about ten minutes AND I published at the weekend thinking there’s nothing special about it. I very nearly refused to publish it point blank.

But….I didn’t

It went viral, hit the front page of the Delicious home page, was tweeted 188 times, and has made its way into my popular posts sidebar. If that didn’t prove to me that list posts work, I don’t know what will.  It also taught me that you don’t always know what will work and what won’t.

8). Its ok to link out.

link-love

image by dawnzy58

Linking out is ok. Even if your content isn’t 100%, one of the best ways of getting out there is to link out. 5 links out = 5 new visitors if the webmasters you are linking to check their statistics as religiously as I do. They may even leave comments, adding value to your content. Being a closed book that never interacts with other parts of the web is a sure way to remain an island online. Linking out to good sources when you are starting out also helps to build trust with your visitors, as it reinforces that you know how to spot quality material. That trust can then be built upon with your own content.

9). Comments = Community

Community starts with your blog comments. People expect you to respond to them, and either thank them for commenting or answer their questions. Doing so will increase their loyalty to you, and in some case turn them into a subscriber. You have to work hard to continue to build a sense of community around your site in order to benefit from user generated content. It’s the same reason I started a forum.

10). People want to consume content quicker

As I’ve already mentioned, you are competiting for people’s attention with your content. If there’s one service online that proves the point, its Twitter. Making your content easier to consume via email, or by supplementing it with a Twitter feed is a must to aid with this growing trend online.  Summarising the content in your first paragraph before you launch into the main content also helps people decide what to read, and increases the usability of your site.

Headings separate logical parts of your post, and increases the likelihood people will get to the end of your post. Ruthlessly editing your posts, and cutting them down to the bare minimum is also a must.

11). Popular content equals links

viral-content

Content sharing is the new first step in obtaining links. The social web has provided the mechanisms for sharing content with others. The more something gets shared, the more chance it has of hitting the front page of sites such as Digg or Delicious and ultimately obtaining backlinks. From my own experience Twitter has on numerous occasions been the place viral content gets its first push, which in turn spreads to other social networks.

If you’ve got an audience / lots of subscribers already, this is well and good. Chances are loads of people will pick up on your post, and share it with their buddies. If on the other hand you are a relative no-body – i.e. me – you have to get other influencers to do the sharing for you before it gets any significant traffic. Which leads me to my next point.

12). Websites don’t give links. People give links.

Relationships, relationships, relationships. Building them with people is a sure fire way of obtaining links and traffic.  Finding others within the same niche as yourself and providing content which tickles their fancies will result in backlinks to your site. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly via the sharing of your content with other people. Building relationships with influencers on Twitter can help you get in front of a much larger audience and if you can manage to do so, the content you write has a much better chance of going viral.

13). Participate in forums

Forums are the water cooler of the web. People hang out in forums to meet people, chat and more importantly get help / opinion. I have a few forums that I frequent and ask / answer questions at. They are an absolute goldmine for bloggers because they often help spark post ideas. If you find the same questions being asked over and over again there’s a opportunity to craft  a comprehensive blog post on your site, and link to the answer on the forum. The other benefit of forums are the relatioships and authority that can be built within.

14). Most people have no idea what RSS is

If you do ask people to use RSS, you’d better be in a tech related niche, or explain it throughly somewhere on your site. The majority of people will respond much better to the words “email updates” rather “subscribe via rss”  – as subscriptions generally require monetary payment (offline).

15). Social media is not a silver bullet

magic-wand

image by fredcavazza

Social media has been sold by many as some magic bullet for businesses that will somehow increase their business threefold online, and leave them with untold riches. Granted if done right, it can lead to increased exposure, but it’s not a silver bullet. Social media is hard work.

Its slower than some forms of promotion, and requires dedication to build trust and brand BEFORE you can sell to that audience.  Setting up a Twitter account, a blog and a Facebook profile is about 1% of what social media is all about. Having a paintbrush doesn’t make you an artist – It’s what you do ON those platforms that matters – and for it to provide any real value you need to know what content goes where and how to build an audience within each of those platforms.

16). Give away your best content

Guest posting, and giving away your best content is about the greatest thing you can do for your exposure. Think of it like you would giving a talk at a prestigious seminar. When you start off blogging, you are pretty much talking in an empty room – to yourself. Guest posting gets your voice heard by a room full of people; the bigger the audience, the more chance that they’ll come to listen to you the next time that you talk in YOUR room.

17). You have to niche.

If you’ve got a weird interest. There’s a home for you online. If you are into linkbait – there’s a niche home  for you online.

One word of warning. Pick too small a niche, and you’ll run out of things to say. Pick too large a niche, and you’ll just be another blog. For example – if you start a blog about cars, only write about classic cars or super cars. If you run a mommy blog, concentrate on parenthood advice. If you run a tech blog, make it specific to the local economy. You get the idea. Small is beautiful and allows you to focus your efforts on being the best on the web at what you do.

18). Some niche’s are more profitable than others

love-or-money

image by totifruity15

Yep, when deciding on what you want to write about, you should spare a thought for where marketing dollars are spent online. Travel niche’s are hot, as is anything medical related. The highest paid keyword in the US for Google Adsense is Mesothelioma – and sells for around £99 a click. This is why spammers target you for links, and you’ll see it in WordPress comments all the time. Getting to the top of Google for keywords like this equals serious moolah. Newbie with a spam problem? Akismet FTW.

19). Design matters.

People make decisions about you the minute they land on your site. It takes them 0.05 seconds to work out if your site is visually appealing or not. If you site looks unprofessional, opinions will be formed about the quality of your workmanship, the professionalism of your business, and the content you create. Design equates to trust.

20). Email marketing can drive a shed load of traffic.

Email marketing is worthwhile, and can drive traffic to your site. Start collecting email address from your site visitors as soon as you can. If you’d rather just use your blog as an email marketing engine – feedburner can let you do that easily.

If you’ve got a good baseline of content on different topics, you may want to use the inbuilt feature of wordpress which splits your RSS up into different sections. Running each of these through Google Feedburner can create email newsletters for each of the topics you post about on your blog, which may appeal to certain audiences. You could even use it within your offline marketing material to allow prospects to signup to different segments of your business units.

21). Crafting great titles takes time.

spend-time-titles

image by amanky

If the early bird gets the worm, then the best title gets the click. Repeat that mantra after me. :o) – you should be spending time brainstorming what your post titles are going to be, and thinking about whether ranking for keywords contained within the title is likely to bring traffic in it’s own right. A good rule of thumb is to not sacrifice a great blog post title for keywords, but if you can blend them in seamlessly – that’s great.

22). Never ever launch great content at the weekend

Traffic traditionally takes a dip at the weekends online. People go home, spend time with their families and generally aren’t interested in browsing the web. It’s generally only the hardcore geeks who are still writing blog posts at the weekend.  It makes sense to wait until “business traffic” returns to the web before launching your best content, it will have a much better chance of going viral if you do so. With the majority of social bookmarking algorithms being tilted towards the “speed” something is being shared at, it makes sense to wait until your audience is at full strength, i.e. mid week.

23). Learn how to using Google Analytics inside out.

Google Analytics gives great insight into your visitors – it also lets you work out some extra bits and pieces through the use of advanced segmentation reports. Just the other day I was able to see what my traffic would look like if I lost some of my biggest referrers. It’s also great at seeing market share grow by direct brand searches. Google have plenty of material available online if you want to become an Expert.

24). Twitter is worth it.

twitter-is

image by respres

I have to admit – I didn’t get it at first – it seems like a waste of time, and narcissitic. I was wrong. Twitter is great for finding and engaging with the local community, and is also great at getting your site in front of an audience. It’s very nature encourages viral and word of mouth marketing and on more than one occasion has been the reason behind some of my content gaining momentum before going viral.

25). Follow up posts solidify Google positions

This is a bit of SEO advice. If you’ve managed to rank on a particular keyword and want to help ensure you stay at the top – write a follow up post, and link through to the original. I’ve done this before to create indented results in the SERP’s – which in some cases puts me at number one and two for some searches – and helps to solidify positions.


Overall I’ve learnt many things over the course, but I can honestly say that blogging works for traffic and business. You just have to know how to harness its power to get its maximum potential.

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About the Author ()

Paul is a regular 30 year old web bloke / programmer with a penchant for online marketing. This blog is a personal outlet, with an eclectic mix of articles.

Comments (55)

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  1. Great blog post.

    I would add a 26th. Show real leadership in your blog. It may cause controversy but when people read and resonate with new ideas in a blog the viral effects are amazing. Stating the obvious or the well known is not leading. Leading is not the same as managing. Leading is about expressing ideas on how things might be, could be and should be improved.

  2. Erez says:

    Thanks for the great tips. I’m just starting by blog and your advices will definitely come handy.
    1 question though – by linking out do you mean in-text links or blogroll?

  3. Roger says:

    Great article, thank you!

  4. Paul Anthony says:

    Hi Guys,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    @Erez – I meant in text links – these will attract more attention than a link in the sidebar..as they are commonly deep links. Sidebar links are seen once, and generally forgotten, whereas in blog post links create a pingback.

  5. David says:

    Congrats on the milestone. Truly a great article as well.. never thought to add a link in a article that links somewhere else on my site. Thanks for the tip.

  6. Matt says:

    Sorry, Don’t agree with the first one.

  7. Great tips. :D I strongly agree with #25 Follow up posts to solidify Google positions is a great SEO factor. :D

  8. Suneel says:

    An excellent article. The words are simple but the impact they create is nothing shot of magic. Correct the 2nd point. It should be ‘Competition IS’ not ARE ;)

  9. Really useful blog post. I have been blogging for about 3 months now and found everything you said to ring true.

  10. Really useful post. I’ve only been blogging for 3 months now, and found many things to ring true – especially the use of Twitter.

  11. Carl Hansell says:

    Thanks so much! I will be starting to blog myself very soon so this couldn’t have been posted at a better time. I am definitely glad to know these 25 before I actually do start!

  12. sl studio says:

    Wow, hey thanks a lot for the tips. I’m on the process of researching and brainstorming a blog for my site and your tips do make a lot of sense. Thanks again!

  13. Vijay says:

    One of my friend gave a heads-up for this article of yours. Its soooooper coool. I loved your tips. Its worth to lot of aspiring bloggers like me :-)

    Thanks again.

    Cheers’
    Vijay

  14. David Airey says:

    Hey Paul. There’s a steep learning curve when you start a blog with no prior info or advice. But in some respects I’m glad knew very little way back when. I made mistakes for myself, and when that happens, you’re unlikely to make them twice. That said, in many other respects, it would’ve been great to know more! ;)

  15. Natasha says:

    Thanks for the great tips!

  16. I tell my clients you need good content AND good marketing. You’ve got to be a total package in the competitive blogging space. And speak specifically to your niche. The more targeted you are, the better.

    Cheers.

  17. Found this article through Stufftotweet.com – must say I understand why it’s popular. Some excellent tips here that I’ll be sharing with my followers.

    I totally agree with 21). Crafting great titles takes time…

    Yes, it’s one step that shouldn’t be rushed!

  18. Miles says:

    very useful posts

  19. Hassan says:

    I have a finance related blog and i m trying to apply all the techniques written above. But could u plz tell me abt some forums related to my niche? Or how to increase th pr of my blog? Do visit my blog and comment it.
    Thnaks

  20. Phil Miller says:

    Wow excellent points. I agree with the first one to the point that Content does matter but promotion matters equally if not slightly more. the web is a huge empty room unless you can get someone to stop in. If you don’t promote your site the room will always be empty. If they get there and the content sucks, you’ll never see them again and your room will be empty again.

  21. elliott says:

    very nice post. i appreciate the work that went into this

  22. Lars says:

    Good points and a really great post! I started http://www.tripwiremagazine.com nearly a year ago and I have been through many of the thoughts I believe you have before writing this post. Overall I agree on most of your “thing” that would have been nice to know up front and sharing your experience with people starting to blog is great.

    Posting often is key also in weekends as it normally takes (at least for me) a few days before a good regular post hits popularity on delicious, twitter and stumbleupon. I have found that posting to community links that are found on many design and development blogs are very effective. It allows you to keep your work on your own site and still get it exposed to a lot of relevant people (at least if you write for that audience) . Having a community link service also generates traffic (i get like 25-75 posts this way every day ) and you can use the content provided by visitors for posts with link collections.
    Keep up the good work!

  23. Alexis Ceule says:

    Nice ideas… I don’t agree with #1 at all… and would you please change #2 to read “Find out where the competition is.” Not “are”. lol… It’s kill’n me to read that. Love the links you provided. Niiiiice.

  24. edfredned says:

    Excellent article. I’d like to add something that I’m sure you didn’t mean to overlook about #5 (considering what you wrote in #4). When you go to Flickr and find an image you want to use, you must contact the image owner and get permission. Often times that artist, photographer or designer will allow you to use it for free as long as you credit them and link to their site.

    Otherwise you may get into trouble violating someone’s copyright.

  25. Paul Anthony says:

    @David – thanks very much – appreciate the comment
    @Matt – I can give countless examples of where promotion made the difference. But you do need great content to start with, I think maybe I’ve failed to articulate this.
    @Suneel – sorted out now. Must buy myself a grammar book.
    @Chad @Carl @sl studio @Vijay- thanks for the comments
    @David – thats a very good point. Learning from mistakes is important, but knowing what to expect helps also.
    @Natasha – you are most welcome. :o)
    @SEOCopywriter – I couldn’t agree more.
    @Joel @Miles – thanks guys
    @Hassan – Google is your friend.
    @Phil @elliot – Cheers Gents!
    @Alexis – sorted out…eventually..
    @edfredned – I may actually add that in. Lots of people pinch without permission.

  26. Great advice! Thanks so much for the info and more importantly, sharing your experiences!

  27. Steve Howe says:

    Thank you for sharing….great tips!

  28. MissMikelah says:

    This was great! But I think even if someone told all these things they’re definitely things you learn as you go. A lot of people think blogging is easy, but it takes time to really build an audience, so you have to be in it for the long haul…even when you get discourage. #1 is definitely true.

  29. Steve Rook says:

    Great article. Makes me realize I have just scratched the surface.

  30. These tips are great. Your advice gives a new blogger a real chance at succeeding, without wasting the countless hours that you and I have spent to learn these things. Thanks for sharing!

  31. I appreciate you for one particular point you said
    “Never ever launch great content at the weekend”
    Awesome. I agree with this.

    And email marketing “Yes it is a forgotten traditional technique”

  32. Sidharth says:

    Thanks for this amazing article … something related and may interest visitors here …

    A Beginner’s Guide: Essential web technologies to leap you forward …
    http://decode10.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/a-beginners-guide-essential-web-technologies-to-leap-you-forward/

    Sidharth.

  33. One of the things I decided to focus on when I started my blog this week is that I will have photos in all my posts! There is nothing more boring than a block of text.

  34. Jonny says:

    Another great post. What your post highlights is that building a site takes a great
    amount of time and effort. Writing great content and then sitting back and waiting for
    traffic and incoming links isn’t how it works in the real world. Content and presentation
    does matter but promotion is essential.

  35. thansk paul for the tips. It’s really help me out!

  36. Great blog entry. I started blogging just recently and I found these tips extremely useful. I’m especially going to start implementing tip #4 into my blogs. I’m glad I stumbled upon your site. Good job!

  37. Doglike says:

    Great blog!
    Thanks for your tips!

    You will make it, definitely!

  38. Frank Falke says:

    hey Friend , i love with ur site. LOL Please come to my blog

  39. scorpy says:

    i stumbled here searching for some facebook tutorials and continued reading and have started to love your blog.

    i like this post very very much – this is sure going to help me and people like me who have are new to blogging a lot – wish you all the best for your wonderful (and helpful) blog thanks for this great post.

  40. Paul Anthony says:

    Scorpy – aww shucks. You are really too kind, but thanks for the compliments. Always goes a long way to know someone enjoys your posts, and does serve as motivation to keep them coming. Thanks again – Paul.

  41. Foarte bune informatile, pe care le-am citi de la voi de pe blog.

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