So, let me guess.
When you started blogging, you probably plunked your butt down in a chair, rifled out some thoughts on your trusty keyboard, and punched “Publish,” right?
After all, that’s what blogging is about. It’s the place where you write, and the world gathers to listen.
It’s supposed to be simple. It’s supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be fun.
But is it?
For most of us, it’s weeks or even months later that we discover the deception:
Anyone can start a blog, but the real test is getting readers
As anyone who’s been blogging for more than a few months knows, getting readers is complicated. Getting readers is hard. And for the first few months at least, getting readers is certainly not fun.
Most people get fed up and quit. Others, like you, scour the web for answers.
Either way, it’s frustrating, because you can’t figure out what to do first.
So, for our very first post here at Smart Blogger, that’s what I decided to talk about. Let’s start by inoculating you against some of the most common mistakes.
Dumb mistake #1: Betting the bank on SEO
Makes sense, right?
If no one can find your blog, you need to focus on increasing your search engine rankings. After all, that’s where people go to look for information.
So, you buy some tools to tell you which keywords you need to target. You stuff those keywords into your headlines. You improve the keyword density of your posts. If you’re really sophisticated, you might even change your content architecture to give greater weight to certain pages.
And then you sit back, waiting for Google to send you a flood of traffic.
Only nothing happens. Sure, maybe you rank for a few uncompetitive terms, but for the terms that really matter, you’re still stuck on page 14 where no one can find you.
Because you misunderstand how SEO works.
Nobody knows for sure how the Google algorithm decides your rankings, but any bona fide SEO expert will tell you keywords are only a tiny part of it. The biggest, most important factor is the number of links from trusted sources.
You can optimize your site perfectly, but if you’re not getting any links from the authorities in your niche, nothing you can do will raise your ranking. Yes, you can follow black hat strategies to cheat the system, but for the most part, those strategies fail to work after a few months, causing your traffic to vanish, and in many cases, they can even get you banned from Google forever.
For beginning bloggers, SEO is largely a waste of time.
Dumb mistake #2: Thinking valuable content is enough
This is what Brian Clark refers to as Kevin Costner Syndrome (KCS).
The idea is simple:
Just focus on delivering value. Carefully craft every powerful word and write articles with valuable information, genuinely try to help people, and be patient. Sooner or later, everyone will discover how awesome you are.
In other words, “Build it and they will come,” the phrase immortalized by the 1989 film Field of Dreams. It sounds great, but there’s only one problem:
It doesn’t work.
Yes, you should write great content. Yes, you should try to help people. Yes, you should be patient.
But if that’s all you do, you’ll have the greatest site no one has ever heard of.
The web is so active these days that valuable information goes unnoticed all the time. It’s like sitting in a stadium full of people and whispering the secret of life. You could be the first person on planet Earth to figure it out, but if no one can hear you, it doesn’t matter.
You also have to ask yourself:
If people could hear you, would they really care?
As any parent with a teenager knows, sometimes nobody cares how wise you are. What’s valuable to you looks like foolishness to them, and so really you’re just wasting your breath.
The bottom line:
Delivering value sounds nice, but it’s overly simplistic. Don’t get caught in the trap.
Dumb mistake #3: Telling stories about your life
You would think this one would work too.
People love stories. Just look at how popular movies and books and television are. The stories they tell captivate millions.
Surely, it should work on your blog too. No, you don’t have a movie or book or television show about your life, but you can start a blog and start talking about what’s happened to you and what you’ve learned.
Well, you can, but that doesn’t mean anyone will read it.
The harsh truth is that most of us overestimate how interesting our lives are. Yes, you have a story, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good story.
A good rule of thumb?
If it involves near-death experiences, explosions, naked people, or making millions of dollars, it’s got a shot at being a good story. If it doesn’t, probably not.
Also, storytelling is a skill, and it takes years to master. I’ve studied it for more than a decade, and I’m still just barely passable at it. When I first published my story, I had been working on the post for over two years. I spent more than 20 hours on that one draft.
Even if you do have a good story, chances are you will suck at telling it. Yes, you should work at getting better at storytelling, but don’t count on it lifting your blog out of obscurity. At least, not at first.
Dumb mistake #4: Wasting time redesigning your blog
When I used to do blog reviews at Copyblogger, the first question everyone used to ask me is, “So… how is my design?”
Here’s what’s probably going through your mind:
Someone stumbles across your blog. They take one look at your blog design, decide you’re a fool with no idea what you’re talking about, and decide to leave.
So, until you improve your design, publishing new content is a waste of time. You need to find a great designer to create a custom WordPress theme for you, and then you can get back to business.
Is that about right?
Well, here’s some good news:
For the most part, readers are oblivious to your design. If your content is impossible to read, then sure, that’s bad, but as long as they can find the navigation, and your content is legible, they’ll stick around and give you a chance.
Great design is really more important when it comes to converting visitors to subscribers, which we’ll talk about later, but if you’re waiting until you can get a custom WordPress theme to launch your blog, then you’re just procrastinating.
Dumb mistake #5: Writing every day
Can I be honest for a second?
This strategy irritates me more than all the rest combined. What’s worse, it’s evangelized by some of the biggest bloggers on the web who are unintentionally leading beginners astray.
In a popular blogger’s mind, it works like this:
They get more traffic by writing more often, so therefore you should get more traffic by writing more often. It’s the whole philosophy of modeling the masters.
The problem is, popular bloggers and beginning bloggers are in fundamentally different situations. Let’s do some simple math, and I’ll show you what I mean:
A popular blogger might have 50,000 subscribers. Out of those 50,000 subscribers, let’s say 10,000 read any given post. If you’re writing once per week, you get 10,000 visitors per week, not counting social sharing. If you write twice per week, you get 20,000 visitors per week.
It’s a big increase, and so for popular bloggers, writing more often makes sense. Beginning bloggers have totally different numbers though.
Let’s say you have 100 subscribers. Out of those 100 subscribers, 20 read any given post. If you’re writing once per week, you get 20 visitors, not counting social sharing. If you write twice per week, you get 40 visitors.
Yes, you’re doubling the traffic, but it’s only 20 freaking visitors! It’s nothing. At that rate, you’ll be like 840 years old before your blog is popular.
If you want your blog to grow fast, you need to expand your readership exponentially, and posting more often isn’t going to do it for you. The math doesn’t work.
Dumb mistake #6: Splitting your focus between your blog and Twitter or Facebook
And again, the problem is math.
Many popular bloggers have tens of thousands of followers and fans, and so when they share a post, they have a huge audience waiting to help them spread the word. If you’re a beginner, on the other hand, chances are you have your mother, a few aunts and uncles, and maybe a small group of friends paying attention to you, and devoted as they may be, there simply aren’t enough of them to get your post much traffic.
So, doesn’t that mean you should invest time into growing your audience on Twitter and Facebook?
You see, the biggest problem beginning bloggers suffer from is a lack of time. You’re working full-time, taking care of your family, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, and blogging is just something you squeeze in when you can. If you try to add Facebook and Twitter into the mix, you’re just setting yourself up for failure.
The best strategy for most people is to choose one platform and focus exclusively on that platform until you have at least a few thousand people following you. Any platform will work, but if you want to be a blogger, then just focus on your blog and let everything else build organically over time.
The worst thing you can do though is get distracted and try to do everything at once. That’s just insane.
Dumb mistake #7: Waiting for your traffic to snowball
And last but not least, we have the biggest misconception of them all:
The so-called “snowball effect.”
The idea is that it’s perfectly normal to get only a little bit of traffic when your blog is new. With every new post you write, your audience will grow a little bit larger, similar to the way a snowball grows when rolling down a hill.
So, you have to stay persistent. Sure, your traffic numbers may be pitiful now, but over a period of years, the compounding growth will result in a massive audience.
It’s an alluring philosophy because it justifies your lack of results. You don’t have to feel bad about how no one reads your blog. You just have to keep going, and eventually it will all pay off.
But you know what?
I’ve coached over 500 individual bloggers, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that the blogs that become popular grow fast. Usually, they are at a few hundred visitors per day within a month or two, and they are receiving a few thousand visitors per day before the end of the first year.
If you’re not getting that kind of traffic, it’s not because you need to be patient. It’s because you’re doing something wrong.
And if you ever want your blog to be popular, you desperately need to change your strategy.
So, what strategy works for launching a blog?
Well, I’ll tell you what’s worked for me and the bloggers I’ve coached.
It’s not jumping headfirst into your blog and hoping things turn out all right. It’s not exhausting yourself by pumping out pages after pages of content no one reads. It’s not wearing a necklace made from chicken bones, smearing yourself with Chinese herbs, and jumping up and down on one leg underneath a full moon.
In fact, it’s not about doing anything at all.
It’s about listening.
You see, the primary reason blogs fail isn’t because their content is bad or their keywords are poorly optimized or popular bloggers are ignoring them. It’s because they are publishing what they want to say and not thinking for a moment about what anyone wants to read.
If you’re writing about a topic lots of people want to know more about, you can do almost everything wrong, and your blog will grow anyway. The opposite is also true. If you’re the only person in the world who cares about your topic, then you can do everything right, and your blog will stagnate and die.
Yes, traffic tactics are important, but they in no way compare to understanding what’s going on in the minds of readers. The greater your understanding, the greater your traffic will be.
So listen to them, for God sakes.
Email readers who comment on your blog and ask them what they would like to hear more about. Call them on the phone. Schedule a Q&A call, and stay on the line with them for an hour, answering questions.
If you don’t have any readers yet, go outside your blog.
Read the comments on popular blogs in your niche. Listen to what people are saying on Twitter. Attend the Q&A calls and webinars and other authorities are holding, and write down the questions people ask.
And then look for patterns. Almost always, you’ll find one or two questions everyone is asking over and over again, and it never seems to stop.
That’s what you need to be writing about. You don’t have to guess. If you listen, your audience will tell you every single time.
If you’re smart, you’ll never stop listening. In fact, the larger your blog becomes, the easier it is to get distracted, and so the more intently you have to listen.
Which brings us to the point of this post…
Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling
For several weeks now, I’ve worried about this post.
This blog is launching with the most fanfare of maybe any blog in history. Before even writing the first post, it’s gotten over 13,000 email subscribers, and over the past few months, I’ve received literally thousands of emails from readers.
What could I possibly write that would be worthy of that kind of buzz?
I had lots of ideas, but none of them seemed quite right, and a few days ago, I realized why:
This blog isn’t about me. It’s about you.
It’s about your struggle to be heard.
It’s about your desire to become an authority in your niche.
It’s about your questions and me doing everything I can to answer them.
And if I want to be true to my own strategy, then the only appropriate way to begin is by listening.
So, I want you to do three things:
- If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
- Share this post using the buttons on the left. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
- Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help
I’ll read the comments. I’ll think about them. I’ll plan the entire future of this blog around them.
Over the coming months and years, I don’t just want to give you a few juicy tidbits of information about how to grow a popular blog. I don’t just want to entertain you with stories from my life. I don’t just want to persuade you to persevere.
All of those things are fine and dandy, but they’re not enough. My real goal is simple:
I want to turn your life upside down.
I want to meet you exactly where you are, right now, and give you the exact information you need to get immediate results. The only metric I really and truly care about is your success, because if I can help you, and we work together to spread the word, then I believe traffic, monetizing your blog, and all of those other things will take care of themselves.
So, tell me where you are.
Tell me where you’re struggling.
Tell me how I can help.
And then strap yourself in.
Because you and me, my friend?
We’re going places. Fast.