15 important lessons learned blogging from a blogging pro

Vinay’s note: Blogging is no easy task, even though good bloggers can make it look easy. The fact is showing up at your computer consistently with fresh ideas involves hard work and a lot more than just content creation. In this post, Danny Flood shares 15 important lessons learned blogging the hard way from his first year and a half of doing so.

Vinay asked me to write a guest post for WP Curve, and knowing his high standards for quality content, I’ve decided to hold nothing back.

This piece shares the most important lessons I’ve learned as a result of a year and a half of blogging: my most popular pieces of content, my best distribution channels, and the most important lessons I’ve learned for generating revenue.

I also discuss the reason why most bloggers fail and why so many who are still going are missing out on so many of the biggest and best opportunities (and what to do instead).

If you don’t know me, my name is Danny Flood and I’m the founder of OpenWorld. I’m also crowdfunding for a digital magazine which I’m launching this year. I’ve been blogging for about a year and a half, publishing more than 150+ mostly long-form articles. During that time, I’ve also published 5 books and run a successful podcast.

Before this business, I ran a digital marketing agency for 5 years. I’ve also been “location independent” since 2009, having visited or lived in over 30 countries, dabbling in all kinds of ways to make money online.

I started OpenWorld in February of 2014 to the sound of crickets – in April 2014, only 938 people visited my blog. One year later, in April of 2015, that number had increased to 16,610 (primarily from social media).

In this post, I share how I’ve managed and grown this content business solo, important lessons learned, and where we plan to go from here.

With the intro aside, let’s get right into it.

My most popular post

lessons learned blogging

Far and away, the most successful post I wrote in 2015 was my “Top 30 Adventurers Under 30” article. I’d done some other compilation posts in the past, and had some success with them, such as my post “Escape the Rat Race: 15 Location-Independent Experts Share How they Work and Travel.”

But nothing ever came close to my Top 30 Adventurers Under 30 list.

I came up with the idea for the post one day while swimming in the pool at my condo. I thought, “Hmmm, my 30th birthday is just a few months away.” Then I started to think about how cool it would be if I could be featured on a list of Top 30 Under 30. I’d never make it on to Forbes’ list, but I’ve accomplished a lot travel-wise, and I’d feel honored if those accomplishments should be recognized.

Since there was no existing list, I decided to create my own. And I reasoned, if I felt this way, and wanted to receive acknowledgment for my travel accomplishments before 30, surely others would feel the same!

And I was right. I began to put the word out on social media and Reddit that I was doing the first ever “Top 30 Adventurers Under 30” list and people were excited and eager to submit themselves (or a friend) for consideration.

I received around 100 applications and picked the 30 most impressive. I gave less priority to self-nominations, and first priority to adventurers who were nominated by a third-party.

Once the post went live, I received more than 200+ shares on Facebook and my blog traffic tripled over the previous month’s amount.

What I learned is that you really need to excite people with your content. And nothing excites people more than playing up their own ego. If you can make them look like a superstar, but do it in a credible and legitimate way, it makes them well up with butterflies inside.

What I learned is that you really need to excite people with your content. Click To Tweet

I also received good brand exposure as a result of creating this list and creating my own designation. As the purveyor of this list, OpenWorld magazine was recognized as an authoritative source in this area. It also introduced a bunch of new people to our brand that had never heard of it before.

I think there’s a great opportunity to do more as there aren’t too many credible and authoritative brands out there that distinguish and acknowledge top adventurers for their achievements.

There are a couple out there – such as the Most Traveled People list – but there are plenty of other adventurers, like young people, who are living out other exciting adventures besides just checking off UN World Heritage Sites, or just dropping one foot in a territory and leaving.

So I think there’s a great opportunity to do more in this area as there is a huge void still waiting to be filled. I think that’s also another lesson: if there’s something missing in your niche, you can be the first to create content for it.

If there’s something missing in your niche, you can be the first to create content for it. Click To Tweet

Lessons:

1. Successful content ideas can parallel entrepreneurship and business ideas (successful new businesses address a need that no one else in the market is yet, or improve on existing ideas, or apply them to new markets).

2. My advice, if you’re looking to do a compilation post, is to come up with some really cool idea or concept first. Something unique. There are far too many boring compilation posts that poll the opinions of a bunch of bloggers. When I see these generic lists, I immediately think that it was a shameless attempt by the blog owner to draw in traffic.

But if you have some really cool, interesting idea and build your compilation article around that, then you’ve hit a home run. It’s worth putting in the time to brainstorm and engage the grey matter.

3. People love to share and back content that reinforces their identity – especially when that identity brings them greater prestige, acceptance and social proof from their social circle.

Focus on influencers, not traffic

I’ve learned that web traffic is a rather fickle metric, yet it’s the one that most bloggers seem to prioritize more than anything.

When you blog, you don’t necessarily have to create a content-driven business. You can also create a product-oriented business. I’ve only ever had one advertiser, and they paid me to record a podcast together and tell the story of how they set up their business.

I think that if you approach blogging using the traditional model, you are setting yourself up on a hamster wheel. You’re under too much pressure to generate a massive amount of pageviews, and you have to continually push out new content and write a lot of dumb articles stuffed with keywords just to rank in search engines.

I focus on writing one really high quality article per week, and by writing great content, we attract the attention of influential people. The connections I make with the influencers – both other bloggers, website owners, and people I interview for my podcast – have proven to be much more profitable than the random visitors I have to my website.

It’s far more valuable to build these important connections – which often lead to very profitable business opportunities – than to worry about your blog traffic numbers. Traffic can be an incredibly fickle metric. I’ve heard one marketer (Gary Bencivenga) say that website HITS = “How Idiots Track Success.”

Since I published my “Top 30 Adventurers” post, my traffic has been steadily decreasing by a small amount each month. However, my revenue has never been higher. My blog traffic is half of what it was the month I posted that article, and yet business is exploding and I have more opportunities and am accomplishing more this month than I have in the past year.

I’m creating revenue-generating products and services on other platforms besides my blog – Amazon, Udemy, Gumroad, Vayable, Clarity, and so on.

Amazon wired me $1800 last month. 2 weeks ago, a guy sent me several hundred dollars for consulting. Last week, I picked up 2 new consulting clients through Clarity.FM. I also hosted a paid self-publishing webinar for authors, which we sold out.

And these could all be considered side hustles. I still have my bread and butter freelancing projects as well as a productized PR service. The point is: what fuels these initiatives is relationship building with the right people, and the content aids my efforts. Traffic, for me, is a secondary consideration when I have access to the influencers (and the people they reach).

And part of the formula is leveraging my blog to create a product-driven business, rather than create a content-driven blog focused on churning out SEO articles, driving high traffic volume, and advertising.

The way I look at a product-oriented business is that it’s like a Chessboard. Your pawns are your lead sources – these are low price or free items that you put out for maximum exposure and visibility. Then you have your knights – higher priced packages such as my freelancing product on Gumroad. Then you have bishops, which are like consulting sessions. The rook might be a group coaching.

The cool thing is that you can control how many pieces you want to put on the board – there is no limit. And instead of you playing against your customers, you’re actually helping them to win. You’re helping them get the checkmate – whatever it may be – so that they dramatically improve their life.

Instead of you playing against your customers, you’re actually helping them to win. Click To Tweet

Lessons:

1. Too many bloggers and owners make the mistake of prioritizing web traffic over other metrics of the business… and miss out on easier, low-hanging fruit.

2. If you’ve reached a certain traffic level but still aren’t making the money you want with your blog, it’s time to take a step back and look for indirect opportunities. A blog can be so much more than a place to direct traffic to – especially when the conversion rates of random web visitors are so low.

3. In my opinion, creating a product-facing blog is far better way to blog and create content than to focus exclusively on pageviews and traffic (the way a content-driven business does). The focus here is on putting out high quality content, delivering value, and nurturing the right connections.

My 2 favorite distribution channels in 2015 – and how I’ve leveraged them

Just like Dan, I’m a big fan of building leverage (and automation, when applicable) into my blogging and marketing processes.

However, I don’t find it appealing to always be chasing after the newest shiny objects or being on the latest photo sharing site or needing all these different apps to manage my life and my work. I have a maxim that I live by that the simplest solution is always best. If presented with 2 choices, take the simplest option.

All of us have different strengths, and only you know what yours are, so focus on that. For me, 2 traffic sources which I rely on heavily are Facebook and Reddit. They are the ones that I prefer.

Facebook

With Facebook, it’s really important to make sure that your posts are getting seen. Many bloggers have complained that Facebook has “nerfed” their algorithm so that their posts are only reaching a tiny portion of their audience, and its true.

Based on what I’ve seen from Facebook’s algorithm, a big key to getting wider distribution of your posts is to accumulate likes immediately after posting. The best way to accomplish wider reach is to set up extra accounts with any other e-mail addresses you might own. I have five extra Facebook accounts so that I can like my posts after I publish them on my main account. This helps to give each post a chance, so that it starts to accumulate likes organically.

If you don’t get enough likes immediately after posting, there’s a good chance no one will see your post and it won’t make any impact whatsoever. So this step is very important.

Edgar (meetedgar.com) is an automated solution for batching and scheduling social media posts across Facebook and other platforms and is something that I’m planning to integrate in to my workflow soon.

Another important thing to make sure of is that your posts don’t compete with one another. If you post too frequently, one of your posts may get visibility but the other will be seen by no one. That’s why I try to make it a rule to wait at least 12 hours after one post before making a new one. Posts will naturally drop down the newsfeed as they expire in age… so have a fresh one ready when the old one drops. If you post too frequently, your posts will be competing with one another for real estate in the newsfeed.

I always try to make my posts early in the morning or late in the evening. That way I can reach the bulk of my followers, who are concentrated in Asia and the US (morning in Asia is evening in the US, and vice versa). If I post while my audience is asleep, then I’m missing the opportunity to reach them.

Boosting posts

I used to boost my posts (to reach my own fans) often, but if you boost posts simply to reach your own fans and/or get likes (and the rare click to your blog), then I think it’s a waste of money.

I did, however, find good value in boosting posts for testing purposes. When you boost a post, Facebook shows you some nice analytics to see how well your boosted post is performing. That means you can easily see which posts people engage with most, and get an idea as to which of your content is performing best.

Every time I boosted a post, I considered each its own advertisement and took a keen interest to what engagement would be like. I discovered from fairly eye-opening results.

social media examples

Here’s screenshots from 4 different posts I boosted – 2 “Hack” articles on the left, and a general travel-related article and podcast on the right.

Each time I boosted a “Hack” article, it would draw the most clicks to my site, by far, on Facebook. There would be a disproportionate amount of of Clicks (Blue) to Likes (Red).

Meanwhile, “travel porn” or general “feel good” articles drew more likes, but far fewer clicks. As you can see, the red bar is far bigger than the blue bar, in the 2 boosted posts to the right.

It was the results of these tests which prompted the current direction of my books. I realized that people were really interested in learning about “hacks” – actionable tactics that few know about to work smarter, not harder – or “life hacks” that make their life better.

Since I ran these tests, I’ve written 4 books that offer “hacks” – 2 books with a focus on business hacks (“Hack E-mail” and “Hack Upwork”), and 2 that focus on life hacks (“Hack Your Mind” and “Hack Sleep”).

Content that merely entertains might generate a quick buzz in the eye of the viewer, but the audience doesn’t prioritize actually consuming the content. People want to be led to more happiness, more money, more respect, more love, and so on.

And the second (and perhaps more important) lesson: study the feedback of your readers to guide the direction of your content and products. Make it a habit to test your content and your titles to find out what most people are interested in and engage with most.

It’s a mess to guess.

It’s a mess to guess. Click To Tweet

Facebook groups

Facebook groups have been an important source of traffic for my new blog posts and podcasts (as well as existing articles).

From just 2 or 3 minutes of work posting my articles to niche groups, I usually see an extra 300 – 400 targeted (!) visitors per day.

These readers are really engaged, and often reach out to me through direct messages. The owner of the one of the top 5 biggest travel blogs in the world cold e-mailed me asking to be a guest on my podcast after she found my content through one of these groups.

Lessons:

1. Facebook fan and business pages are not worth it for driving traffic to your site due to their dramatically reduced reach. Boosting each post for the sake of just getting clicks to your site drains you of hard-earned dollars.

2. However, boosted posts are, in my opinion, the best way to test content ideas and headlines. Don’t look for how many Likes a post receives – check to see how many clicks you get. If you see a high number of clicks, tailor your content strategy to produce more of that. In my case, “hacks” performed exceptionally well, so I wrote more content sharing hacks and began to produce books focused on different life and business hacks.

3. Give your content a chance. Accumulate Likes on posts immediately after you post them, so the post gets a wider reach. And don’t let your posts compete with one another – try to allow a 12 hour window between posts, and post when your audience is most active.

4. Facebook groups have supplanted fan pages in importance. These are your best bet for finding targeted, engaged audiences for your content. But don’t simply spam these groups with a link to your blog post – you’ll be tuned out or risk tempting the admin’s wrath. Contribute to the discussion, and always give value.

Reddit

Reddit is a 900-lb gorilla when it comes to traffic. And it really is as easy as pasting your link into a subreddit (a particular group centered on a specific topic) and writing a description. Except… it isn’t.

Reddit hates self-promotion, but they love posts that appear altruistic and give value / do a service for the community. Most people who go to Reddit hoping to get easy blog traffic go for the wrong reason, and therefore have a bad experience.

I love Reddit because it’s a really a great testing ground for your content. Your friends and other bloggers aren’t going to give you an objective view of the articles you post. Bloggers always put out positivity, and your friends on social media will hold back critiquing your work because of your friendship.

But Reddit doesn’t care. Your brand and your relationships don’t enter the picture. The moment you submit your content to a subreddit, the content lives or dies by its own merit. Your content stands on its own and faces 3 possible outcomes:

  1. It’s loved, upvoted, eagerly consumed and commented on
  2. It’s ignored
  3. It’s reviled or possibly removed by a moderator

To create content that’s loved and well-received, you first have to choose the right subreddit. Before you write your post, think about where you’ll promote it. Which niches will appreciate the article the most?

Once you find the right subreddit, make sure to read the rules in the right sidebar. Some subreddits allow links to be posted, some do not. Many subreddits require you to generate some karma first before posting (you can do this by leaving informed comments on other people’s posts). Some subreddits will automatically delete your post if you haven’t commented or posted in the subreddit previously.

Once you’ve read the rules and are ready, submit your content. Make sure that you’re submitting your absolute best piece of content – NO SEO articles, NO short articles of 500 – 700 words. Post content that’s worthy of Medium.com. Your content has to kick butt. Take this post you’re reading now as an example – it’s over 3,000 words and there are takeaways in every single section. I’ve also included screenshots.

Once you’ve got a great piece of content ready, the next step is to write a great headline. The longer your headline is, the better, because it will fill up more space and attract more attention. Write the headline / position the content so that you are an altruistic benefactor who has endeavored to provide real value to your niche. Humility works too – sometimes I’ll add “Feedback welcomed” to the end of my headline.

Here are some examples of headlines and content that I’ve posted which have done very well:

reddit example 3 - lessons learned blogging

reddit example 2 - lessons learned blogging

reddit example 1 - lessons learned blogging

reddit example - lessons learned blogging

You can see in these examples that I’m being descriptive about the benefits of each post. I’m also throwing in other things like “Pics included,” as well as encouraging people to comment and interact with the post.

You can get tens of thousands of extra visitors from Reddit each month, but it’s important not to post links to your own content too often or you’ll risk the wrath of the gods. I’ve started a group with other Redditors where we help share each other’s content, rather than simply pasting links to our own site.

Lessons:

1. Reddit can be a huge source of traffic. But like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. Don’t show up simply hoping for blog traffic. Get involved in the discussions. Give value.

2. Reddit is perhaps the best place in the world to hone your content creation and headline writing skills. Reddit is an objective audience: your content and headline survives, thrives, or dies on its own merits. Reddit doesn’t care about your brand, and they certainly don’t care about you. But they do care about your content – if its excellent and relevant to its audience.

3. Reddit loves long, detailed, descriptive, interesting and novel content. Redditors roll their eyes at anything generic or rehashed – and they will lash out to voice their displeasure. But this is the way your content creation strategy should be.

Why bloggers fail

I’ve worked really hard on my blog over the last year and a half. I didn’t get into this with the hope of generating revenues, and as mentioned earlier, only once did I ever have any advertising income or any direct income from my blog during that time.

The reason I worked so hard is because I really enjoyed it. I was so invested in the topic, so eager to share my experiences that to know people read my work and enjoyed it, and were applying the lessons to their own lives was the greatest reward.

This probably doesn’t sound sexy and likely not what you want to hear. But you will not be able to succeed at blogging (or any online business venture, such as podcasting) if you start for the wrong reasons. If the foundation is flimsy, the venture will not last. You need to have a strong “reason why” for what you do – something that has nothing to do with earning money.

This strong “reason why” will motivate you to perform at a high level which almost always yields eventual results. The more effort you put into your blog and/or online business, the more freedom it will reward you with. Look at it as a long-term investment and create something that you both love and can feel proud of.

Also, I think an important key in any online business venture is to discover and capitalize on secondary and tertiary benefits to the things you do.

For example, most people would turn to Facebook and Reddit solely for 1 reason – to generate traffic. But in this article, I pointed out an additional benefit of each: using these platforms as testing grounds to see how your content performs (Facebook with its analytics, and Reddit with its upvote system).

Publishing a book on Amazon provides a variety of benefits besides royalties: it provides a great way to build your list and positions you as an authority so that you can charge higher rates, sign up new clients easier, and gain easy access to the press and more publicity for your brand.

I really think the key to success is to work hard to put yourself out there across various platforms so that the opportunities can find you. Then all you have to do is accept them when they arrive.

If you follow this approach and the lessons in this article, and give it time, you’ll find yourself swimming in opportunities (and income), and wake up each day ready to work because you love what you do.

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