I don’t like bragging, but I have to say I’m a pretty good blogger. It’s not because I am smart or anything like that, it’s actually because I screwed up one too many times. After starting four blogs and making hundreds of mistakes over seven years, eventually you are bound to figure out what to do and what not to do.
I just wish someone told me all of this before I started my first blog. Here are 11 things you should know before starting your first blog:
You need to be social
When I started blogging, I hoped that I would get a ton of traffic through search engines because all of the other popular blogs got a lot of Google love. The reality is you won’t get too much traffic from Google because your blog is new…it takes years before your search engine traffic kicks in.
If you are willing to spend money, you can buy traffic from StumbleUpon ads or Facebook ads, but if you aren’t, you’ll have to focus on building your social media profiles. This means you’ll have to spend time participating in the community, befriending other people, sharing stories and even messaging other users.
As you go through this process, don’t put all of your time and energy into one social media site because sometimes even the popular sites die down. I made my first blog, Pronet Advertising, popular by consistently getting on the front page of Digg. Today, however, Digg isn’t popular. You have to diversify your social media traffic.
Once you build up your social media profiles, you can make almost any blog popular. For example, my business partner and I were able to get the Crazy Egg blog to over 100,000 visitors a month in less than one year. We did this by promoting the blog content on our social profiles.
Consistency is the key to growth
I never realized consistency was important until it affected my traffic…in a negative way. Sometimes, I used to write a blog each week, while other times I would write five blog posts a week. It wasn’t until June 2009 that I realized that not being consistent can hurt your traffic.
Back in May 2009, I used to blog five times a month, and my traffic stats were 45,237 visitors a month.
When I slowed down on my blogging, my traffic tanked to 35,786 visitors a month.
I had to blog consistently for three months to get back to my May traffic numbers. This just goes to show that you need to blog on a consistent basis, or else your traffic won’t grow on a regular basis.
For that reason, you better love what you are blogging about, or you won’t have the will power to blog on a consistent basis.
What goes online, stays online
When I first started blogging, I used to create mediocre content. My content did all right from a traffic standpoint because I was good at leveraging social media.
Over time, I got lazy and the quality of my content continually decreased. This prompted a handful of people to email me and tell me how I sucked. To make matters worse, a few bloggers even blogged about how my content sucked.
Your brand is everything, and I hope you don’t have to go through what I went through. Treat it like gold and do whatever you can to protect it. Make sure every piece of content you put out on the web is a masterpiece because if you screw up once, it will be on the web forever.
I was able to recover my brand over time, but I did lose a few consulting clients during that time period, which hurt my income.
It’s all in the list
I’ve said it time and time again, the best traffic source for your blog is through emails. I used to be a big believer that RSS traffic was the best form of traffic, but over time people stopped using their feed readers, which is why Google shut theirs down.
So, why should you collect emails? Take Quick Sprout, for example. Emails make up 13.91% of my overall traffic; they drive 41% of my comments; and email subscribers are 3.9 times more likely to share the content via the social web.
And it’s not just with Quick Sprout…we see similar stats from our email list on our KISSmetrics blog.
If you want to start collecting emails from your blog, follow the steps in this blog post.
Blogging isn’t free
I started blogging years ago because I thought it was an affordable way to drive more business to my startup. And although it’s effective, it isn’t too affordable. Sure it’s cheaper than most marketing strategies, but it still costs a lot of money to do it right.
Let me explain…
If you just want to create a personal blog, you can do so for free through WordPress.com. And if you want to host a blog on your own server with your own domain name, you can do so for under $50 a year.
But if you are trying to make money from your blog, you will have to spend money to make it. Here are a few things that you will end up spending money on:
- Unique design – you don’t want to use a generic theme if you plan on monetizing your blog.
- Custom development – there aren’t plugins for everything you need. It costs money to have a developer create unique email collection modules or make an ad that scrolls with the user.
- A/B testing – if you want to maximize your revenue, you will have to A/B test your call to actions and monetization methods. If you don’t have the skill set to do this, you’ll have to spend money hiring consultants.
- Social media marketing – sometimes to get more social love, you have to spend money. Every once in a while, I spend money paying consultants to help me boost my StumbleUpon or even Facebook traffic.
The above bullet points are just some examples of expenses you will incur. You can spread out your expenses over time and figure out how to do things on a budget, but don’t expect to create a great blog for free. If you don’t invest in your blog, it won’t grow as fast.
It took me years before I spent money on blogging, and I wish I did it sooner as Quick Sprout would have been much larger. Here are my expenses for Quick Sprout last month:
- Hosting – $750 (I use Akamai as my CDN, which adds up fast)
- Design – $7,700 (I am releasing an Advanced Guide to Content Marketing at the end of this month, similar to the Advanced Guide to SEO)
- Writers – $3,000 (I had a writer help me edit and correct the Advanced Guide to Content Marketing…it’s over 40,000 words)
- Coding – $3,500 (I needed to hire someone to code the Advanced Guide to Content Marketing)
- Time management – $4,000 (I have an assistant because it saves me 2 to 3 hours a day. I can then put those 2 to 3 hours towards blogging and responding to comments.)
- Emails – $731 (my SendGrid and Aweber bills add up)
- Plugin development – $4500 (I’m creating a WordPress plugin that will help me collect more emails on Quick Sprout and get more social media traffic.)
I have a ton of small expenses as well, but the ones above are the major ones. They add up to $24,181, which just covers one month worth of expenses. It may seem like a lot of my expenses are one-time, but it’s very rare that I spend less than $20,000 a month on Quick Sprout.
I don’t mind the expenses, but I just wanted to let you know that you have to spend money to do things right. Without spending money, it’s rare that you can create a blog with a big audience.
It’s easy to get new traffic, but hard to retain it
If you look at the image below, you’ll notice that Quick Sprout received 441,676 visits and 340,176 unique visitors over the last 30 days.
Out of all of those visitors, can you guess how many are returning visitors? 31%.
In the past, I had only 18% of my visitors as repeat visitors, but over time I’ve been able to increase the number. I wish I had focused on that earlier because my traffic would have been much higher if I had focused on it years ago.
Here’s how you can retain your visitors:
- Survey them – learn what they want and provide it to them. I use Qualaroo and Survey Monkey to figure out what you wanted to read, and then I write it.
- Build a community – if you can make your readers feel part of something, they’ll be more likely to come back. This is the main reason I focus so hard on improving the number of comments on Quick Sprout and why I try to respond to every email I get from you.
- Collect emails – as I mentioned above, you should collect emails. It’s one of the best ways to increase your repeat visitor count.
Strike while the iron is hot
There’s always going to be a new method of content marketing that is hot…you just have to leverage it before everyone else. It doesn’t matter what your blog is on; you can always make boring topics fun to read…you just have to get creative.
When you find one of these hot ideas, keep leveraging them until they die down.
With KISSmetrics, we realized that infographics were going to be hot, so we decided to create one every single week. We ended up cranking out 47 infographics, which generated 2,512,596 visits from 41,142 backlinks, 41,359 tweets and 20,859 likes.
I tried creating infographics on Quick Sprout, but I was too late. By the time I got into it, they were already played out, they didn’t get as many social shares, nor did they drive as much traffic as they did for KISSmetrics.
Another example is The Oatmeal. The founder of that site, Matt, realized that quizzes and comics where popular, so he created a site that only contained quizzes and comics. Again, that strategy is played out so if you want to boost your traffic you’ll have to come up with a different one.
If you find a hot content idea, keep milking it until it lasts…because sooner or later it will get played out just like everything else does.
Content length affects traffic
I didn’t realize content length affects traffic until I started to write really detailed posts. It wasn’t because I was trying to game Google or any social site, but it was because I wanted to write content that helps you. And I couldn’t figure out how to do that without writing really detailed content.
The beautiful part about writing detailed content is that it ranks higher on Google. If you look at the results page on page one of Google, each site on average will have at least 2000 words of content. That just shows that Google really sees content as king.
Just make sure you don’t fill your posts with fluff to reach the 2,000 word content. Always write for users and never for search engines. It just happens that people prefer detailed content with actionable steps, and it’s hard to do that in a few hundred words.
Write your posts in a conversational manner
People prefer conversations over lectures. That’s why you never fall asleep when you have a conversation with your friends, but you would fall asleep in your high school lecture.
I never used to write in a conversational manner, but when I did, my time on site increased by 22.7%. And when I ran a Crazy Egg heatmap, I noticed that people used to scroll more than before.
You can make your content more conversational by:
- Using the words “you” and “I”- these are two words that are common in conversations. By using them, you will be talking to your readers instead of at them.
- Use line breaks – don’t make your paragraphs go on forever. Not only will that make your blog harder to read, but it will make your content feel more like a lecture than a conversation.
- Italicize words – have you noticed that I italicize words and phrases throughout each of my blog posts? I especially do it when I am asking you a question or answer one. It helps keep you engaged because it makes certain parts seem more like a conversation.
- Don’t be too formal – conversations are friendly and not formal. Don’t write your posts as if you are writing an essay.
Design is marketing
I always felt that design was important, but I never nit-picked every little thing. Why? Because I felt that my design was better than the average blog’s out there. This, however, created frustration among my readers with certain things such as lack of abilityto find the popular posts on Quick Sprout.
Eventually, I was able to please you once I fine-tuned my design.
As you already know, being average isn’t good enough. You need to be the best! And to be the best, you need an awesome design…not a mediocre one. You need one that drives traffic to your money pages, that boosts your conversion rate and, most importantly, that makes the content easy to read.
The size of your font, typography and even spacing are all little things that are part of your design. Those elements can have a big impact on whether your content is going to be read by someone.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have an attractive design because you can then submit it to the CSS galleries, which usually can drive 500 to 3,000 visitors to your website, assuming you submit your site to at least 10 galleries.
When I started my first blog, all I cared about is how many visitors I had and how I could convert those visitors into customers. I never really cared about my readers.
These days, I don’t focus on visitor count or even revenue; instead, I judge how well I am doing by the following parameters:
- The number of comments – usually when you leave a comment, you are asking a question. I then respond back as I love helping you and other people.
- The numbers of emails – just like comments, most of the emails I receive are from you asking for help. I enjoy responding to you and others as it brings a smile to my face.
These days, I do make money, and lot more than I used to when I first started blogging, but money is a side effect of solving problems and helping people. If I had to put a dollar value on my responses to comments and emails, I probably would be in red. But how could you put a price on helping people?
Sure, by helping people I’m gaining a ton of good karma points, which probably helps me, but I wouldn’t trade helping you for any sum of money.
With your blog, don’t just focus on traffic and revenue. Focus on helping people too as the rest will come once you help out enough people.
Hopefully, you can avoid the mistakes I made when I first started blogging. I would hate for you to repeat my mistakes as they hindered my growth.
If you want to make your blog popular, focus on solving one problem at a time. It’s going to be too hard to implement all of the tactics above…but if you focus on them individually, eventually you’ll conquer them all.
So, what other blogging mistakes should you avoid?