In every craft or trade there are certain guidelines that aren’t necessarily law but will absolutely speed up the journey to success and make for a more efficient, high quality outcome. Blogging and content marketing are no different.
Applying the right business concepts to your blog from the start and incorporating a few theoretical blogging essentials, like habits, practices, and approaches, will catapult your blog to profits and success faster than any other addition.
The art and practice of blogging is a beautiful, evolving, and messy beast that requires information and borrowed techniques from a large smattering of knowledge domains. The following is a list of things to remember and valuable concepts that have contributed significantly to my own blogging success. Though these ideas don’t fit into anywhere else in this manual, they’re still very valuable – so, they’re here.
Each concept assists us in staying focused on what matters and dismissing what doesn’t. When the noise of “to do lists” and tasks gets loud and we’re in a dark tunnel of creation wherein our start point and endpoint are no longer visible, remembering these ideas will help you stay on the right track and doing what matters for your goals.
In this section, we’ll review a handful of important business concepts and ideas essential to blogging that if adhered to will help you avoid the bumps, bruises, and wasting of energy that many bloggers before you learned the hard way.
CONCEPTS AND IDEAS FOR SUCCESSFUL BLOGGING
- Choosing Yourself is essential
- Stay focused on 80/20: Do what creates the most results for you, avoid what doesn’t
- Adapt and Pivot Constantly: In content, audience, marketing, and monetization
- Always plant seeds that require little time, and little effort first
- Nourish and tend to projects that prove themselves, ignore those that don’t
- You can always return to improve later, but starting quickly and efficiently is essential
- Focus on long term outcomes over short term gains, and understand which actions lead to short/long term outcomes.
- You will need one, healthy channel to connect with tribes. Cultivate the health of that “relationship”
- Once your processes are established, trust the process
- Don’t fall prey to doing what everyone else does, just because they do it
- Assess routinely. Repeat what works, eliminate what doesn’t, experiment based on your gut**
- Knowing your why**
- “The One Thing” and knowing your “one thing”**
- The lean startup method**
- The last hour principle**
“CHOOSING YOURSELF” IS ESSENTIAL
In the world of print media filled with large players, stacked and intense hierarchies, plenty of bosses and even more screens that work had to pass through, the organization had to choose you as a writer. The organization had to approve your resume, approve your experience, hire you, and then place you.
In this “new world” wherein self-publishing takes advantage of the same opportunities as the big players, we no longer need an editor to choose us, validate us, and sign off on our work.
However, we do need to choose ourselves.
This is a valuable lesson from Seth Godin’s teachings, and one of the most valuable business concepts around for bloggers, hustlers, and entrepreneurs that will definitely blaze parts of their path to success alone.
Choosing yourself means, upfront, deciding that you are capable of taking on this journey, you are skilled enough to learn and adapt as you need to in order to achieve the objectives, mission, and overall success you have in mind. You must be confident that, with the right research, diligent work, and consistency, you can put out content as good as or better than what that editor would require from you.
You don’t need that editor to choose you as a writer, and as a publisher.
You can choose yourself, to build your own platform, to write your own content, to share that valuable content with the world.
But the first step is to not wait for someone else to choose you, and not wait for anyone else to give you permission.
The first step is choosing yourself.
Do this before you do anything else.
For more on “Choosing Yourself” read this post from Seth Godin
KEEP THE 80/20 PRINCIPLE IN MIND: DO WHAT CREATES RESULTS FOR YOU, AVOID WHAT DOESN’T
The “80/20” idea relates to the Pareto Principle or “the law of the vital few” derived from Italian economist Vilifredo Pareto’s research showing that roughly 80% of effects (and successes) come from 20% of the causes.
In blogging, this means that of everything you could do on your blog, only 20% of the tasks you could perform will produce 80% of your success. By vigilantly focusing and dedicating effort to the tasks that you know produce results, and eliminate those that don’t deliver results you can see, you will build and run your blog more quickly and more efficiently, without wasting time or energy
Unfortunately, many bloggers get caught up in the hype of what they think will lead to success. Ads. Posting on Instagram. Managing a Facebook group. Investing in costly products. For most bloggers, all of this is done without question whether the investments of time, energy, and money are contributing to their success, and by how much.
How to put this into action: Maintain a record of tasks that you perform on your blog, such as keyword research, writing, posting to different digital marketing channels, guest post outreach, purchasing specific tools, and everything else involved.
Then, routinely (once a month at minimum) review everything you are doing and try to find whether or not it is showing measurable results such as an increase in readers, improvement in SERP rankings, affiliate commissions or benefit delivering improvements to your site.
If something works, repeat it and do more of it for as long as added effort produces added benefit.
If something isn’t contributing to the success you want, vigilantly eliminate it.
Repeatedly and consistently perform the handful of tasks you know will lead to success based on your experience, and the experience of those that have success in the areas you wish to emulate
The 80/20 rule will be great in practice, but until you have enough experience and time trusting the process, you won’t know if a tactic is not working, or if it just needs more time. To get you started, use these recommendations of what to do and what to avoid based on what contributed to my own success and to the success of other professional bloggers as well as the mistakes that delayed that success.
What to Always Do (for starters):
- Start the content creation process with SEO Keyword Research, only writing articles around low competition keywords
- Do invest in Pinterest Marketing
- Cultivate relationships with “tribes” for digital marketing on Reddit, Quora, and other forums, keeping in mind their engagement standards and rules
- Seek out opportunities to guest post that are a mutually beneficial fit
What to Avoid:
- Instagram (Unless you already have 10k followers with high engagement)
- Facebook and Facebook Groups (Unless you have 10k followers)
- Other “Social” Platforms
- Avoid wasting time on “share threads” for Pinterest, Facebook, or any other social media unless you are seeking initial shares for content to jumpstart SERP and Pinterest performance
ADAPT AND PIVOT CONSTANTLY: IN CONTENT, AUDIENCE, MARKETING, AND MONETIZATION
Blogging follow trends and innovations within the technology industry, publishing industry, popular culture and more, all of which make the process of blogging and what generates success in blogging an everchanging target.
If you enter blogging with the plan to do things one way indefinitely, you may succeed in the short term, but industry changes in the long run will leave you behind.
Blogging started as journaling, heavily unformatted “weblogging” which was simply the domain of jotting down thoughts with no clue of how to monetize.
With the rise of mobile, an ever more connected society, the decline of print media, and the rise of digital media, blogs began to move to the forefront as entertaining, consumable media ready for the digital age. With major publications moving from print to digital, the standard of what makes “good digital content” changed, evolved, and improved. Today, thanks to that pressure, blogs are no longer “unformatted digital diaries” but varying degrees of true, digital, publications, formatted for peak user experience, designed to be as engaging as your favorite magazines, curated in a professional way that helps them compete and rank (within Google and your email inbox) with the largest recognized publications on the planet.
My own travel site ranks in Google right next to Conde Nast Traveler’s results, GQ’s results, and more, and goes to the same reader inboxes.
That adaptation – maturing and becoming more refined as a publication – was a requirement for blogs to grow, survive, and thrive with readers.
Outside of style and design, technological evolution, the digital economy, and the availability of digital infrastructure (monetization channels, marketing channels, software) has heavily influenced how blogs grow, the standard of what is a “good blog”, and which blogs survive.
THE MAJOR EVOLUTIONS FOR BLOGGING
- Monetization channels
- Design and UX – more refinement, mobile first, site speed
- Content – engagement, accuracy
- Marketing, reach
THE EVOLUTION OF MONETIZATION IN BLOGGING
In the early 2000’s, many blogs made money by selling outbound links from their site, until a Google update penalized this practice, eliminating how many blogs earned money – outside of selling their own products.
Since then, bloggers have adapted through unstructured monetization practices (sponsored posts, curated ads, own products) to heavily automated and structured monetization practices of current (affiliate marketing/linking, programmatic ads).
Even more, many bloggers are pushing further into the information age by focusing on delivering premium information products – such as courses, and virtual summits – as their primary monetization strategy. Though these monetization strategies are lucrative and are creating most of 6 and 7 figure bloggers out there, the internet is cluttered with courses and info products which some argue is turning into an economic bubble waiting to be popped.
Most bloggers that clung to selling links, manually placed ads, and outdated information products absolutely saw profits decline and likely did not survive. Those that adapted captured the opportunity of new and evolving markets.
Whether or not courses, virtual summits, programmatic ads, and affiliate marketing are here to stay is debatable.
What is not debatable is change, and that if a blog wishes to survive and succeed, the blogger will need to recognize and adapt to those changes.
EVOLVING DESIGN AND UX – MORE REFINEMENT, MOBILE FIRST, SITE SPEED
If you’re able to find a snapshot of a site from 2005 the first thing you’ll likely notice is the appalling design, which destroys the user experience. No matter how good, how useful, or how engaging the writing is, the crudeness of the site will likely prevent you from enjoying the “user experience”. Herein lies another major area in which blogs will evolve, and you will need to follow (or lead) to succeed – design and user experience.
Compare that crude site to amateur blogs of today and the difference is vast. Thanks to free, open source, and cheap platforms (such as WordPress, Wix, and Blogger) and plug & play themes that nearly automate the design process, having a clean, well designed site is not only easy, it is required as a start point. Now, please understand that your site does not need to be “DaVinci level artistic” but merely needs to meet the current standards of design and UX so that users will focus on your content without being distracted by the outdatedness of your site.
In the chapters that follow, we will discuss how to use the best and cheapest tools available (WordPress, WordPress themes, and Canva) to create a well-designed site, so don’t worry. For now, simply understand that User Experience (UX) and design is an evolving area that you will need to be aware of and occasionally update your site accordingly.
Within the UX and design area, you will specifically need to pay attention to these aspects:
- General Design
- Color Palette and Branding
- Site Flow
- Site Speed
- Mobile Experience
Even if you are not a designer, you are likely able to point out good and bad designs. Elements such as use of white space, contrast, balance in composition, proportion, hierarchy, pattern, flow, and a handful of other contributing elements we rarely recognize create eye pleasing experiences. However, even how these elements are acceptably combined changes over time. Look at cars, furniture, and posters from the 50’s, the 70’s, and today. You’ll noticed that most are “well designed” but not all fit with the design trends of today.
For your blog to continually thrive, you will want to update it for the design trends of the moment. Yearly or once every two years is enough to stay abreast of trends and keep an updated user experience.
Not sure where to start?
Major app developers have their own standards for design. For a roundabout introduction, search for the latest Google or Apple app design guide for inspiration on how to start putting together your own digital assets if you can’t hire a designer.
Additionally, research the color palette and how designers’ pair and avoid pairing colors. This knowledge will not only help in creating your website, but also when creating content for visual search engines – like Pinterest and Google images.
No one likes waiting, and this is becoming more so the case as we move further into the information age. The days of waiting a minute for a webpage to load are far gone. With such impatient readers (I’m definitely one of them) staying on the trend of maintaining the fastest site speed possible is absolutely necessary.
In late 2018, Google began taking page speed into account when ranking pages for keyword search results. In my own sites, I saw traffic increases of ~50% within a month for my fastest pages, and a drop of ~50% for my slowest pages, with all of those performance changes sticking to this day. This heavy focus by Google (the primary source of many blogs’ traffic) translates to a need to optimize your site for speed, just as much as design.
This issue of site speed becomes more complicated when we take into account how most new bloggers bloat their sites with too many plugins, the wrong plugins, and oversized pictures, which all slow everything down much more than you think.
Stack this problem with the fact that more than half of users’ access blogs from their mobile devices with naturally slower connectivity making page speed even lower.
What’s the takeaway?
The speed at which your site loads matters heavily, for your users, and for your search traffic.
Continually work to increase the speed of your site by:
- Choosing a lightweight, fast theme
- Minimizing the number of plugins installed on your site (ideally less than 10)
- Only use fast, lightweight plugins, and remove plugins that aren’t
- Compress and optimize all images uploaded to your site, aiming for under 100kb for most pictures
- Use script minification and caching plugins to speed up your site
- Use the Google Page speed insights tool to test how fast your page is and find the places you need to optimize
- Consider using third party speed services, such as a CDN or Ezoic’s Sitespeed Accelerator
With technological advancements, 5G on the horizon, and newer, better (not necessarily faster) software coming out daily, what makes a site “fast” today or what is considered fast, may not be fast tomorrow. However, you will still need to maintain a fast site through all of the changes. Do this by routinely (every 6 months) benchmarking your blog’s speed against Google’s recommended standards, then adapting accordingly.
Confused yet? Don’t worry, this was simply an introduction to the things you need to know. In the SEO Fundamentals section we’ll walk you through checking and optimizing your site’s speed quickly, and easily
Once upon a time, we all wandered the web via huge, bulky desktops.
Then, laptops came along and we took our digital lives around the house, to coffee shops, and beyond
These days, mobile is everything. For most people, their lives are tethered to and lived through smartphones.
More than half of traffic to blogs will happen on mobile devices – meaning – if the experience isn’t optimized for mobile devices, more than half of your readers will have a horrible experience and not come back.
In that transition from laptop to mobile, so many things change creating several requirements we need respond to:
- Incorporating responsive site design that adjusts size and formatting to the smaller screens of mobile devices.
- Writing content that is shorter, more digestible, and can be consumed while waiting in line, or waiting for a friend
- Optimizing content and site speed as to maintain a fast experience on smaller devices
- Design the elements that help users “flow” through content – menus, internal links, banners, and popups – to be conducive to smaller screens
- Ensuring monetization strategies – affiliate marketing, ads – are conducive to the mobile experience
These are a handful of the requirements of the moment to maintain a good experience during the continue rise of mobile experiences over laptop/desktop experiences.
To ensure you’re staying abreast of the changes in mobile, simply browse your own site on a smartphone or tablet every so often. Anytime you notice an element of your site’s experience that is lagging behind your competitors and the leaders address it before the trend leaves you behind.
ALWAYS PLANT SMALL SEEDS (AND PERFORM TASKS) THAT REQUIRE LITTLE TIME, AND LITTLE EFFORT, FIRST
If a project can be done in 15 mins on a one-time basis and adds value, do it immediately. Don’t put it off for routine tasks that go on for hours or days as you are delaying the success of your site
Examples of Small Tasks that Create Big Results
- Creating site opt-ins
- Creating quick (1 hour) lead magnets
- Improving site speed
- Validating SEO keywords before writing
- Performing benchmarking research (against competitor content ranking in Google) before writing
- Framing articles before writing
- Adding internal links to your posts
- Adding trackable affiliate marketing links to monetize your posts in a trackable way
- Viewing the performance metrics of your top 20 posts weekly to see what has gone up or down and why
WATER AND TEND TO PROJECTS THAT PROVE THEMSELVES
In line with the 80/20 rule, if you notice that something is working for your site performance, audience, or monetization, keep doing it.
Some examples of tending to proven projects and tasks include:
- Writing within a topic that Google is recognizing your authority
- Sharing content within a channel/tribe wherein readers are giving you positive feedback and thanking you for your content
- Continuing to monetize with affiliate partners that are showing good sales and commissions
- Interacting in blogger support groups that continually share novel, useful information and alert you of coming changes
REMEMBER YOU CAN ALWAYS RETURN TO IMPROVE LATER, BUT STARTING QUICKLY AND EFFICIENTLY IS ESSENTIAL
Do not believe that every post, page, or project has to be perfect, as “perfect is the enemy of good”. Simply do the work diligently and when you have reached a natural finishing point, publish it. Do not obsess for hours aiming to make everything absolutely perfect and correct. Deliver good quality, but don’t require yourself to deliver perfection.
The beauty of blog posts is that you can always update them. You can always clean them up, tune them to recent SEO performance and keywords, and re-share them. If an article is performing in your top 20, you can set aside a day to bolster content, improve formatting, and add value to the reader…later on.
For those posts that are imperfect, not of significant value, or don’t attract tons of views, it is ok. These “lesser posts” are all part of the creative process and will sink below your naturally better content. They won’t damage your reputation beyond repair or break your site, so don’t feel the need to make everything perfect.
Put in the time to do good, consistently high-quality work on the current project, when it is done publish it and deliver it, and then move on.
Don’t waste time chasing perfection. Do realize you can always go back and improve content.
FOCUS ON LONG TERM OUTCOMES OVER SHORT TERM GAINS, AND UNDERSTAND WHICH ACTIONS LEAD TO SHORT/LONG TERM OUTCOMES.
If you pay for ads, you will likely get traffic, but you’ll sacrifice valuable money that could go into much needed tools for your site in the long term.
You could spend hours posting on Facebook and Instagram to gain likes and shares, but know that the algorithm will cause this traffic to dwindle within a week.
You can spend hours on “share threads” wherein other users will share your content in exchange for sharing there’s but know the effects and results won’t even show up in your traffic metrics a week later
On the other hand,
You could invest those hours into learning SEO and applying it to your site. It takes up to 9 months for SEO traffic to max out, but the traffic can continue for years and this is how most major blogs grow traffic.
You could invest the time sharing into understanding Pinterest, developing a strategy, and understanding Pinterest automating tools that can lead to massive amounts of traffic that takes months to takeoff but can continue for years.
You can give up after a year of not seeing fame and fortune from your blog, disheartened and disgruntled, or go in understanding that with dedication, consistency, and a will to adapt, you can build a blog with full time income and enduring traffic in two years. Very rarely any less.
The point is that you will be presented with plenty of opportunities for how to approach working on and growing your blog. Many opportunities that focus on the short term may seem exciting, but will not lead to long term success. Many opportunities that lead to long term success require consistency, diligence, hard work, and staying focused in seemingly failure ridden times.
Don’t get caught up in the short term. Focus on the long term.
YOU WILL NEED ONE, HEALTHY CHANNEL TO CONNECT WITH TRIBES. CULTIVATE THE HEALTH OF THAT “RELATIONSHIP”
“Digital marketing”, “social media marketing”, and “content marketing” are all pretty buzz words that can be picked apart a hundred different ways to describe one thing – attracting people to build relationships with and starting a conversation.
The easiest, most genuine, and most valuable way to approach building traffic to your site is by connecting with tribes that align with your niche and subniches, building genuine, mutually beneficial relationships with them, and eventually sharing content that adds value to their lives. This is a foolproof way to “market” your blog, as few people will refuse a gift that has genuine value for them.
The best places to find these tribes are in already existing forums, where in depth conversations take place. These can be forums on smaller sites, forums on larger sites like reddit, or clustered under topics with in question-answer forums such as Quora.
Invest the time into understanding and connecting with the tribe that relates to your subniche and you’ll have an eager audience in waiting.
ONCE ESTABLISHED, TRUST THE PROCESS
Trust the Process. Once you’ve written enough content to see a small smattering of results (e.g. readers), once you’ve shared your content within tribes enough to tell which tribes generate traffic, and once you’ve seen enough of your content rank to see what Google likes from you, trust that.
The process of blogging, and the path to success, will be a path filled with repetition, repeating these things over and over that work consistently. As the blogosphere changes, your audience grows, and your skill grows, you will adapt your processes to be more efficient and effective.
Until then, simply trust that you doing the right thing and continuing doing it until measurable, visible feedback shows you how to do something differently or better.
Along the path between startup and success, trust the process and just keep going.
KNOWING YOUR WHY: DEFINING YOUR BRAND USING THE “THE GOLDEN CIRCLE” ASKING WHY, WHAT, & HOW
There are countless exercises that can be done to define a brand, but we will use the “Why, What, how?” approach broached by Simon Sinek.
In this approach we will first ask you to think on the “why” of your blog, its purpose, and why it exists.
Second, we’ll think on what you aim to achieve.
Finally, we’ll think on how you aim to achieve it.
Whereas most brands and blogs explain “what” they do and “what” they offer, this can be informative but it tends to be very functional. Very logical.
Our goal in starting with your purpose, your why, and your reason, and then explaining the value your blog delivers to the user based on that purpose is to strike an emotional chord with your readers. In approaching your readers this way, they not only feel commonality with you and affinity for your brand, but that they also feel connected to your brand and rapport for your brand. We aim to activate their emotions first, not their brains, and ultimately connect on a visceral level.
STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR BLOG’S “WHY” AND YOUR BLOG’S PURPOSE
Determine why you will create this blog and why you will do what you do for your reader’s by asking yourself the following questions:
- What is your purpose?
- What is the purpose of your blog?
- What is your cause?
- What is your belief?
- Why does your blog exist?
By defining and communicating the passion behind your “why” you can better connect with your readers on a deeper, emotional level.
For instance, on our travel site “A Brother Abroad”, the why is clearly stated as follows…
“[…because] we believe that traveling adventurously is an exciting, enriching experience that helps us grow and that everyone should experience…”
This why communicates the driving idea behind all of the content on the travel site, and the passion that drives us to produce it. This why hits on emotional level, deeply, in a place difficult to express in words. That is what we aim for with our why.
STEP 2: DEFINE YOUR HOW, YOUR ASSETS, YOUR STRENGTHS THAT EMPOWER YOUR BLOG’S MISSION, AND HOW YOU WILL DELIVER VALUE TO YOUR READERS
Next, describe how your approach leads to the “what” and the value (which you will define in step 3) that you deliver to your readers. You can explain this how by describing your unique assets and strengths or simply stating your methods.
To arrive at your “how”, ask yourself the following questions:
- How does your blog or brand express its passion?
- What are the unique assets and strength that your blog, writing, and information bring? (e.g., knowledge, an artistic approach, etc.)
- How does your blog deliver content differently than any other blog within your niche (e.g., humorous, informative, engaging, casual, etc.)?
- What unique skills do you bring to your blog that will be used to accomplish its mission?
Continuing with the example of A Brother Abroad…
Why:Because we believe that traveling adventurously is an exciting, enriching experience that helps us grow and that everyone should experience…
How: We aim to inspire and empower travelers to adventure further, to uncommon destinations for uncommon experiences, with small budgets and only two weeks a year.
In the example of A Brother Abroad, our “why” is because we believe everyone should experiences of travel, “how” we serve and express that passion is by writing to empower the travel.
STEP 3: DEFINE WHAT VALUE YOU DELIVER (PRODUCTS, SERVICES, ETC.) THAT SERVE YOUR “WHY” BY ACCOMPLISHING YOUR “HOW”
Now that you’ve define your passion (your “why”) and described how you serve and express your passion (your “how”), it is time to share your what you deliver, your products or services, that bring value to the customer (your “what”)
To define your what, ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the major products and services you deliver?
- How are those major products and services delivered in a way unique from the competition’s approach?
Finishing with the example of A Brother Abroad.
Why:because we believe that traveling adventurously is an exciting, enriching experience that helps us grow and that everyone should experience…
How: We aim to inspire and empower travelers to adventure further, to uncommon destinations for uncommon experiences, with small budgets and only two weeks a year.
What: By writing stories and guides of far off destinations that empower adventure travel, with any experience level and on any budget
This approach to defining your brand was presented in Simon Sinek’s TED talk on “the Golden Circle” and how brands connect with potential customers on an emotional level. As a result of the “Why, What, How” approach, brands with the same talent, technology, organization, and resources as their competitors are able to outperform those same competitors in the market (think Apple vs. Dell)
A prime example of how the golden circle can be applied is with Apple. Simon Sinek gave this example onstage during the TED Talk. We have summarized it below to help as you brainstorm your own “Why, What, How”.
Simon Sinek’s Example of Apple’s “Why, How, What”
- Why: In everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently
- How: The Way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautiful, easy to use, and user friendly
- What: Which leads us to make great computers
ASSESS ROUTINELY. REPEAT WHAT WORKS, ELIMINATE WHAT DOESN’T, EXPERIMENT BASED ON YOUR GUT (**)
“THE ONE THING” AND KNOWING YOUR “ONE THING”**
(Info coming soon…)
THE LEAN STARTUP METHOD**
(Info coming soon…)
THE LAST HOUR PRINCIPLE**
(Info coming soon…)