In 2006 my business partner and I were running an Internet marketing agency called ACS. We were looking for new channels that would not only drive us more clients, but would also create additional revenue streams.
After brainstorming for a while we decided that I should start blogging. Our logic behind starting a blog about Internet marketing was that it would help brand myself as an Internet marketing expert, which would help us bring in more clients.
In addition to that we thought that if we could build a large enough blog about Internet marketing, we could then make additional money by selling ads.
The problems I faced as a newbie blogger
My first blog was called Pronet Advertising, which revolved around Internet marketing. Within the first week of starting the blog, I ran into a few problems:
- I couldn’t write well – I had issues from grammar to spelling (which I still probably have).
- Content – it was easy for me to come up with topics to write on, but it was hard for me to come up with good topics to write on.
- Lack of time – I was running a company and going to college full time, so naturally I wasn’t able to blog frequently or write in depth posts.
After realizing the major roadblocks I was facing, my business partner and I started tackling our problems one by one.
- Lucky for me, my sister is good at correcting grammar and spelling errors, so she decided to correct my blog posts.
- During this time there was a popular blogging community called 9rules that was filled with a ton of great bloggers. So I started reading some of the blogs in the network, which helped me come up with good content ideas.
- Because I didn’t have much time my business partner helped me write a lot of my blog posts during the first few months of my blogging career. Without his help, I would have never came up with catchy headlines and stories like “Got Crunched”.
The traffic-building era
Although I was able to solve a lot of the problems that I faced as a newbie blogger, I ran into a major roadblock.
ACS wasn’t getting more leads through Pronet Advertising.
After digging around and talking with a few other Internet marketing bloggers, I learned that it could take months if not a year before the blog starts producing measurable results.
But, because I was impatient, I naturally started to look for solutions that would reduce the time before I saw measurable results. And the obvious one that stood out at me was to drive more traffic to my blog.
During this time social media sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, and Delicious had millions of eyeballs. So what I started to do is tailor my content so that not only would it provide value to potential customers, but it would also do well on these social sites.
Within a few weeks my content started to reach the homepage of sites like Digg and I was able to drive thousands of visitors to Pronet Advertising. And after I did this a few dozen times the blog started to get noticed and client leads started to increase.
My first big lesson
Pronet Advertising was taking off like a wild fire and the blog started to reach new heights. Within a short period of time thousands of people were reading the blog on a daily basis and Technorati dubbed it as one of the top 100 blogs on the web.
But instead of this helping ACS, it actually started to hurt the agency.
Having a company blog on a separate domain can create brand confusion. What we should have done is added a blog to the ACS site, instead of starting one on a separate domain. This way people wouldn’t see Pronet Advertising and ACS as two separate companies.
And once the blog started to take off I started being classified as an Internet marketing expert. This made it so that people got to know me and my personal brand, but they didn’t get to know my company. And at the end of the day if you create a company that is revolved around an individual’s brand, it will never be worth as much.
Sadly these problems weren’t easily solvable for my business partner and me, which is why we were never able to fully tackle them. We tried things like branding the blog to look like the company website and even mentioned our company throughout the blog. But people were still confused.
My second big lesson
The next big lesson I learned was that more leads doesn’t always mean a good thing for a company. Yes we did want more clients, but we didn’t want to take on companies that could only afford to pay us $100 a month. We were looking for clients that could pay $20,000 a month.
The main reason we were getting bad leads at the time was that my content had shifted to be more tailored for social media users (Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon) instead of potential clients.
To solve this I started to write blog posts that had the full intention of calling out companies so that they would become a client.
For example, a company by the name of Riya (now known as Like.com) was generating a significant amount of buzz throughout the blogosphere. They had raised millions of dollars and people seemed to love them.
What I did was write a blog post about their company. But instead of praising them and talking about how great the company was, I took the approach of pointing out the mistakes they were making.
Now my goal wasn’t to be harmful to Riya or anyone else, but instead my goal was to show Riya and other companies what they shouldn’t be doing.
Within the first few hours of the blog post being published on Pronet Advertising I received a phone call. Munjal Shah, the owner of Riya, wanted to discuss what I had written. Although he wasn’t a fan of how I called out his company, he wanted to hire ACS to fix the things I pointed out.
What I learned from the Riya experience is that you have to really think about what you are writing for. If your goal is to get clients then it is better have one qualified person visit your blog every day then a million random people.
After realizing this I continued to copy what I did with Riya and I blogged about other companies such as Yahoo Answers. Although I got Yahoo’s attention, I wasn’t able to lock them in as a client like I was with Riya.
At the end of the day, it is a numbers game. You won’t be successful all of the time, but as long as you are writing blog posts that are geared around your potential customers, you can be successful.
Leveraging other blogs
Once I realized that calling companies out on a blog was an effective way to gain more clients, I decided to take things one-step further so that I could increase my visibility.
My blog was about Internet marketing so naturally I knew how to get more traffic to blogs. What I decided to do was to reach out to influential bloggers and help them out with their Internet marketing efforts for free.
By doing this I was able to get blogs like TechCrunch to link to my blog on every page of their site to my consulting company (they now link to Quick Sprout). Not only did this help drive more client leads, but it also helped build up ACS’s reputation because we were now working with well-known brands.
In addition to that we always jumped on every PR opportunity that would benefit the company. For example, Jason Calacanis wrote a blog post on how SEO was bullshit, so I challenged him that I could increase his traffic.
And after I increased his traffic, my company started to generate buzz throughout the blogosphere and quite a few web 2.0 companies signed on as clients.
My big realization
Although things were going well with Pronet Advertising, I realized that I wasn’t happy about blogging on Internet marketing. And because I wasn’t happy writing about Internet marketing the content quality started to drastically decrease.
For a while I took a blogging hiatus and did a bit of soul searching. I realized that I enjoyed helping entrepreneurs, so I decided to start a new blog called Quick Sprout.
Quick Sprout never really had the volume of content Pronet Advertising had, but the content quality was much higher. The reason being was that I enjoyed helping entrepreneurs.
Building a community
If you fast-forward a few years later, Quick Sprout is roughly the same size as Pronet Advertising was during its peak, even though I never really leveraged social media sites.
Plus, if you compare the community stats (number of comments), Quick Sprout is 12 times more popular than Pronet Advertising. And for me, this is the most important stat to track because it shows that you care about what I am writing.
What I have learned about blogging through Quick Sprout is that you should write high quality content and the most important thing you need to do if you own a blog is interact with your readers.
Every time someone emails you, you need to respond back. And every time someone comments, you need to reply back.
By caring about your readers you won’t necessarily build the most popular blog on the web, but you will build a loyal following.
And with a loyal following brings many more potential doors for you to open. For example, if I want to monetize Quick Sprout through a means other than ads, I could launch a Quick Sprout entrepreneur-training course.
On the other hand, I could have never done that on Pronet Advertising because I didn’t have a loyal following.
If you are going to blog, do it because you have something you want to share. Don’t just blog for the money, but do it because you have a passion for it.
If you are a passionate blogger you are more likely to create a successful blog, which will lead to many monetization avenues. If you worry about monetizing your blog from day 1, you probably won’t make much money.