Revised February 17, 2017
After writing 60+ additional blog posts since October, I find these lessons even more important today than back then.
In Taekwondo, students are taught they must perform each kick at least 1,000 times before they can safely say they have learned the kick perfectly.
I’m not sure I craft “perfect” blog posts even after writing 1,000 of them—but I’ve certainly learned a few things.
(For the record: I wrote 440 posts on the Blogger-based WebMarketCentral blog between 2005 and 2010, and have now published 560 posts here on Webbiquity. Hence, 440+560=1,000. It’s true there have been guest posts published here, but those have been balanced out by posts I’ve written for other blogs.)
Here are a dozen things I’ve learned and observations I’ve drawn from writing 1,000 blog posts.
1) Persistence is essential.
The New York Times reported back in 2009 that 95% of blogs are abandoned, and there’s little evidence that state has changed much since then. Of course, a steady stream of crappy content won’t attract a large or loyal readership. Quality matters. And it takes time for a new blog to build an audience; blogging is not for those who crave instant gratification.
But blogging success is impossible without regular posting. Marketers who blog consistently are far more likely to see positive ROI and generate significantly more leads. So while persistence alone won’t guarantee blogging success, it will at least put you in the top 5% of all those who aspire to it.
2) Persistence requires discipline.
In any serious pursuit, success is rarely achieved by “winging it.” Top athletes work out on a regular schedule. The best musicians practice on a regular schedule. Similarly, writing high-quality blog content on a consistent basis requires writing on a regular schedule.
That said, there’s no magic formula—do whatever works best for you. Set aside a certain number of hours each morning to write. Or right after lunch. Or every evening. Or, if your blog is more of a part-time endeavor, a couple of hours every Saturday morning. Do whatever works best for you. But do it consistently.
3) Discipline requires passion.
Writing well is hard work. If your heart isn’t in it, it becomes a chore. At that point, your blog becomes easy to put it off…and ends up among the 95%.
But writing about something you care about, something you’d think about a lot even if you weren’t blogging, some topical area or subject that fascinates you endlessly, doesn’t feet like a chore. It’s work, sure, but the kind of work that absorbs you, that gets you into a flow state.
Write about things you really care about. Your passion will come through in your writing, making it much more likely to attract and hold an audience. And it will seem much less like work.
4) It’s not (just) about lead gen or sales—it’s about relationships.
To be sure, a thoughtfully written business blog can generate leads (and sales). In my consulting days, I attracted new clients through this blog, and I worked with companies that generated some pretty respectable lead gen and conversion rate figures through blogging.
But focusing too much on generating leads (writing about your products and services rather than trying to be truly helpful) can backfire. Provide value first. Other good things will follow.
And the primary benefit I’ve realized (as have many others) from this blog is the relationships I’ve established and built over the years—some of which have led to business opportunities, all of which have led, at the very least, to interesting conversations. Without Webbiquity, I’d never have had the chance to get to know amazing people like Cheryl Burgess, Michael Brenner, Shelly Kramer, TJ McCue, Lisa Buyer, Randy Fougere, Carla Johnson, Andrew M. Smith, Marissa Pick (my “adopted cousin”), Tony Karrer (my co-founder at the B2B Marketing Zone), Judy Bellem, Brian Carroll, Meghan Biro, Kent Huffman, Jennifer Kane, Patrick Strother, Wendy Marx, Aric Hanson, Angie Schottmuller, Lee Odden, or Mykl Roventine.
5) Be grateful for your readers.
Like the philosophical conundrum of the tree falling in the forest, a blog needs readers in order to “make a sound.” The ultimate value of a blog—as an ecommerce vehicle, a lead gen platform, an advertising-driven content site, or even a mere exercise in vanity—is determined by the quality and size of its audience.
Work to understand who these people are, and why they take time out of their very busy days to read your musings. Treat them well. Don’t bombard them with spam, pop-ups, or low-grade filler posts. Strive to make every entry worth your time to write, and worth their time to read.
6) Be active on social media.
Granted, this advice is about as surprising and controversial as “eat more fruits and vegetables” at this point, but social media benefits blogging in so-o-o-o many ways. According to Forbes, 92% of marketers say social media is important for their business, and social media drives about a third of all referral traffic—or 5% to 15% of total traffic for the typical blog. It helps you build a network of other bloggers and readers interested in your industry or topic area.
It helps you attract guest writers to your blog and generate opportunities to guest-post elsewhere. It helps earn high-quality links to your blog. It gets you quoted and cited. It gets you invited to contribute to “expert” blog roundups. It helps you win awards and recognition. It’s a phenomenal source for content curation. It helps keep you connected and informed.
7) It helps (a lot) to recognize others.
As you conduct research for your blog posts and expand your social media networks, you’ll likely find there are certain individuals whose content you read, comment on, link to, and/or quote on a regular basis. Because it’s remarkable.
It’s good manners (as well as, in the long run, good for growing your social and search traffic) to mention those individuals by name in your posts and updates. These experts can also serve as go-to sources for “expert round-up” type blog posts. People like seeing their names pop up. Which is why posts like 95 Experts Reveal Best SEO Tools by Robbie Richards generate a lot of shares and a lot of blog visits.
You may also want to recognize your best sources, and more broadly the top experts in your industry or topic area, specifically in list posts on occasion. Done thoughtfully, these posts can attract significant readership over an extended period of time. For example, the #Nifty50 Women in Technology post here—a collaboration with Cheryl Burgess of Blue Focus Marketing—remains one of the 10 most-read Webbiquity posts of all time. It was still drawing dozens of visits per day several months after publication.
8) You don’t have to write everything yourself.
Though your blog should always reflect your passion, it doesn’t have to be limited to your words alone. Curating content in expert round up or best-of posts saves some of the time and effort of writing original content while also keeping your blog fresh by mixing things up a bit. For example, this roundup of guides to beautiful and effective website design is one of the most popular posts here in the last three years.
Another useful approach is to publish guest posts and let people know how to contribute to your blog. You can also reach out to bloggers you admire (see lessons #4 and #7 above) and invite them to write for your blog. Offer to cross post (you write something for their blog, they write something for you to publish) in order to reach a new audience.
9) Keep it positive; most people are chill.
This is as true online as in real life. Of course, some people aren’t. But blogging and social media are no place to settle scores or expose bad actors.
If you’ve got a mother, grandmother, or great grandmother of a certain age, you may have heard from her at one time or another the admonition “if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” (Or alternatively: “Keep your words short and sweet—in case you have to eat them later.”)
That’s even more important on the web. In real life, harsh words may be forgotten over time. Online, they live forever, potentially reflecting as badly on you as on your target. Be generous in praising those who deserve it. Trust that the universe, or karma, or some greater power will deal with those who deserve otherwise.
10) Avoid unnecessary controversy.
Unless you actually write a purely political or personal blog, avoid commenting about candidates for office or emotionally charged social issues. There’s no upside for business bloggers. You won’t pick up any new business, but you will risk alienating current and potential future customers.
Now, that does not mean you should avoid writing about controversies specific to your industry. Taking a stand on a disputed matter within your business area, such as whether or not it’s possible to measure the ROI of social media, is an opportunity to stand out and to demonstrate your expertise.
11) Analytics are important—but use them the right way.
Google Analytics provides a treasure trove of website visitor data, for free. But it supplies so much information, it can be easy to get distracted by superficial metrics. For example, expert roundups (as noted above) tend to be powerful traffic drivers. But relying too heavily on them could erode a blog’s unique value over time. Here are three key measures to watch.
Visitor quality. Look beyond which posts simply draw the most traffic to determine which provide the most value, in terms of average time spent and (lowest) bounce rate. If you track conversions (e.g., ebook downloads), it’s vital to understand what types of posts are most effective at compelling your readers to take action.
Traffic sources. Watching the trends in how visitors find your blog helps optimize each tactic. Organic search is the top source of traffic for most blogs; use tools like the Yoast SEO plugin and Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) to keep SEO efforts on track. Referring sites and social media are also important sources. Use analytics trend data to help tune your timing and tactics.
Data quality. Though Google Analytics is valuable, it’s not perfect “out of the box.” It logs every visit to your site, even those that provide no value or insight. Use filters and segments to exclude data about visits from spammy referral sites, random bots, and aspiring hackers, so you can focus on analyzing the visits that matter.
12) Be careful with syndication.
Syndicating your content—republishing it elsewhere on popular multi-author sites—can be great way to increase exposure to your writing. But it can also kill your SEO. In theory, you can retain “credit” with Google and other search engines by using a rel canonical tag in each of your posts. But syndication sites don’t have to respect these, and some will strip them out—and replace your tags with their own.
What to do? First, decide for yourself if increased exposure to your content is worth losing some search traffic. Generally, the answer is generally “no” for corporate blogs and “yes” for solo consultants, but there’s no hard and fast rule. If you decide the increased exposure is worthwhile, here are three tactics to consider:
- Evaluate the content syndication sites you’re considering by looking at their source code to see if they honor the original authors’ rel canonical tags. Note that even if the answer is “no,” the increased exposure may be worth the potential loss of search traffic. But it’s at least good to know.
- Syndicate your content selectively (if possible). You may choose to syndicate timely content (e.g., “Five Things to Know About Google’s Latest Algorithm Update”) but not evergreen content that’s likely to draw more search traffic over time (e.g., “The Complete History of Google Algorithm Updates”).
- Look into content curation sites like B2B Marketing Zone and Social Media Informer, which can help increase exposure to your content without risking your search traffic (since they publish only a a small snippet of your content but send visitors to your site for the full post). These are more selective than some syndication sites, but if your writing is professional-grade and fits the site topically, they’re an option worth looking into.
Those are a dozen of the lessons I’ve learned from writing 1,000 blog posts (and life in general). Looking forward to whatever lessons come next.