246: 9 Ways to Accelerate the Growth of Your Blog

Darren: Good morning and welcome to episode 246 of the ProBlogger podcast. My name is Darren Rowse and I’m the blogger behind problogger.com. A blog, podcast, event, job board, series of ebooks, and courses, all designed to help you to start an amazing blog to grow the audience on their blog, to create great content, and to build some profit around that blog as well. You can learn more about what we do at ProBlogger at problogger.com.

In today’s episode, I want to share with you a recording of a talk I gave this year at Social Media Marketing World. A great event run by Mike Stelzner and his team from Social Media Examiner. This talk is one that I got a lot of positive feedback on. In fact, I don’t think I’ve have so much positive feedback on a talk at Social Media Marketing World as I’ve received both at the event this year and since the event. I’ve got permission from Mike and his team, who’ve kindly allowed me to republish it here on the podcast in its entirety.

The title of the talk is Nine Things I knew About Blogging that will Accelerate the Growth of your Blog. It’s nine things that really–today, as I look back over at the last 16 years, have been really responsible for most of the growth in my blogging. These are things that I think people that are just starting out with blogging will learn a lot from but also those of you who are along the way who wanna be the best in growth in your blogging someway. Some of these are more relevant to beginners than others. Others are a little bit more advanced. I hope there’s something for everyone in this.

Now, the other thing I should say is that you’re gonna hear me touch on a few things that I have talked about in other podcasts–of late and also in the past. There will be a little bit of repeat in this for some of you but I’m hoping that by hearing all nine things together, you’ll see how some of them fit together. I would love to hear what you think about this keynote, if you’ve got any comments, if you’ve got any thoughts on it, anything you wanna add, any questions you have, feel free to ask me either on Facebook group or over on the show notes as well.

The other thing I will say about the show notes is that, I’ve also put the slides from this talk. you may actually find the slides useful as I go through this talk. It’s probably ideal to have them with you. I’ll put them up as a slideshare over at problogger.com/podcast/246. That’s where you can get the slides, episode 246 over on problogger.com/podcast. There’s also, in the slides, free download links mentioned to some worksheets, some guides that we’ve put together for you. You will see in the slides a link into our member’s area which is brand new and in that we have a variety of worksheets and guides that you can grab but those mentioned in the slides but also some extra ones as well.

If you wanna check out those, you’ll see a link in the slides and in the show notes but also you can find them by going to problogger.com/members and that’s a new area that we’ve set-up on ProBlogger, it’s completely free. It allows you just to download some of those guides and we do hope to add more of those in as well. Find all that at problogger.com/podcast/246.

Lastly, just a really quick mention, this episode is brought to you by Success Incubator–an event that I’m running with some good friends this year in Orlando. If you enjoy today’s podcast, it will give you a feel for what we do at that event because I do some teaching every year at that event, and we also do a little bit of masterminding as well. It’s in September 24th and 25th in Orlando. All the details are linked to on today’s show notes or you can go to problogger.com/success.

Alright, after I’ve said all that, I’m gonna just hit play on this week’s recording from my talk, and at the end I’ll come back and I’ll share my quote of the week and give you some further listening as well. One last little thing, it does get a little echoey in the recording, I hope you forgive me for that, and give you a bit of a feel for being at a live event. I’ll see what I can do with the recording and see if I can get rid of a little bit of that echo but please, do bear with me on that one. Hope you enjoy my talk from Social Media Marketing World.

Mike: Our speaker today, of course, is the amazing Darren Rowse. When I started as a blogger back in 2009, he was one of those guys that I wanted to be when I grow up.

If you don’t know who he is, he’s the founder of problogger.com. He’s also the founder of Digital Photography School, he has a conference of his own. Without wasting any more of his precious and valuable time, he’s got a lot to give you, please welcome Darren Rowse to the stage.

Darren: Thank you for that beautiful introduction. You can come with me everywhere. I want to talk today about things that are going to accelerate the growth of your blog. I’ve changed my title slightly for those of you who have already noticed it. I’m giving you nine ways to accelerate the growth of your blog because I’ve only got 45 minutes, if you want the 10th one, come and talk to me in the hall afterwards and I’ll make something up.

The other thing I’ve changed is this word “accelerate.” I think I used the word shortcuts in my talk, and I did that because Mike said, “You really need to get your title in today, Darren,” I just came up with that one. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that shortcuts kind of give the indication that you can skip over bits of the journey. I’m a big believer that you need to really build the foundations first, and so I’ve moved towards this acceleration idea.

If you’ve been reading ProBlogger, or listening to the podcast, or you’ve come to one of our events, you’ll know I talk a lot about the pillars of problogging, and these are the things that you really need to be doing day to day, these are the things that you can’t skip over.

I want to put these things out front before I get into my nine accelerants because they are so important. They’re not the sexiest things in the world to talk about because they’re just no-brainers, but I really want to emphasize them because everything I say in this session builds upon these four thing.

Great blogs, profitable blogs, no matter what profit means to you builds on great content on you taking the initiative to drive traffic to your own blog, you taking ownership over the building of engagement with your readers and monetization.

Most bloggers, when they start out, kind of instinctively know that they need to create content. That’s what a blog is about, but a lot of bloggers start out thinking that if they just do good enough content, the traffic will appear, the engagement will happen and opportunities to make money will land in their lap.

The reality couldn’t be further from that. You need to take ownership and be working on a daily basis in each of these four areas. It’s the accumulation of the little things that you do in these four areas that build a profitable blog.

I want to put that out front and say you can’t shortcut these things. These are things you need to be working on regularly. It doesn’t need to be daily, but regularly; you need to be building in these four areas.

Having said those things, I want to talk about these nine things that have helped me to accelerate the growth of my blogs over the years, things I wish I knew back in 2002 when I started out and I hope that that will help you in your journey as well.

A few of these are mindset-type things and some of them are a little bit more tactical. I hope they kind of meet different ones of you at different parts in your journey.

The other thing I’ll say is that most of these things really relate well to podcasting and video creation. If you are in those spaces, apply these to that. The first thing is the thing I talk about every time I speak these days, and that is understanding your audience. The more you understand about your audience, the more you know them, the better position you’re in to serve them and the faster your blog will grow.

I started blogging in 2002. This is a picture of my first blog. It’s really ugly. It’s the only blog I ever designed myself. It took me months to get to that stage and then I realized I needed to find someone who knew something about blog design. It really was a blog that served me. It was a fun hobby. It was a place where I could express myself. It was a place where I could have a creative outlet and talk about the things that interested me.

That’s why I started blogging. I started because I just wanted to talk out loud about these things that interested me and it served me. Then, about two weeks into my blogging journey, I realized that, accidentally, I was also serving other people because I started to get these emails from people saying, “That’s really interesting. That really helped me. Thank you for writing that.” At first, I was like, “Well, that’s weird. I didn’t really write these for anyone else. I was just expressing myself,” but I realized there was this opportunity there to serve other people.

I remember the day I got my first comment from someone who wasn’t my mom and that was kind of a weird experience, and I realized that when he left this comment, I got his email address. I thought, “Maybe I’m supposed to email the people who comment,” and so I sent him an email. I basically said, “Thanks for your comment. Who are you? I’d love to know a little bit more about you.”

That was one of the best things that I ever did because he responded and he said, “I’ve left hundreds of comments and no one’s ever emailed me so thanks for that. This is who I am,” and he introduced himself to me and we began to have this conversation.

I decided to do that anytime anyone left me a comment for the first two years of my blog, I emailed every single commenter personally. That was one of the best things that I ever did because it built engagement and built a relationship but, most of all, it helped me to understand who my readers were.

I began in those two years to see patterns in my readers, and this idea of who my reader was began to form. What I realized is that the more I got to know who my reader was, the better position I was in to write content that would impact them as much as it would impact me.

This thing began to happen as my blog began to grow. I realized the more I understood about who was reading, the better position I was in to drive traffic to my blog, to build engagement on my blog and then, later on when I began to monetize, I was in a great position to be able to monetize as well, because I knew my readers’ needs and I could find ways to meet those needs through the products that I created.

One of the best things I ever did when I started my main blog today, Digital Photography School, is to create avatars, one of the best things that you can do. You probably already got one in your head, but I think there’s something really profound about getting it down on paper or getting it down in writing, because it will cement in your mind who is reading your blog.

You’ll also begin to picture these people, all these hypothetical people, as you write your content, and your content will come across in a more personal way as well.

My first avatars were pretty light, they had demographics, where they hung out online, how they spent their money as it pertained to my topic, the questions that they had, the felt needs that they had. Gradually over time, I began to deepen my avatars. I began to tap into some underlying things that were really powerful to understand about my readers.

I really would encourage you to particularly look out for these things. Firstly, look out for the pain of your readers. It sounds really negative, but it’s very important. Understand their needs, not just the questions they have, their felt needs, but their real needs. Over time, you’ll begin to see that behind their questions are deeper things.

On ProBlogger, we get a lot of questions about blogging and technical things, but one of the things I’ve learned about ProBlogger readers is that a lot of them are actually really fearful.

I’ve had three people this morning come up and say, “I used to have a blog, but I can’t get over fear. It’s stopping me from blogging,” and so we write a lot about fear on ProBlogger because that’s the real need and our readers really respond to that. Understanding these deeper things that are holding them back are really important.

The other things you want to look out for are the gains that they’re looking for: What are their aspirations? What are their dreams? Where do they want to be? What are their goals? Unlock these types of things and it will infect your content.

You’ll create content that’s not just about your topic, but it’s meaningful your readers. I was really fascinated to hear Mike talk so much this morning about meaningful interactions with people because it’s exactly what I’m about with blogging. The more you understand about your reader, the better position you’re in to be meaningful to them.

I’ve got some worksheets for you. Don’t feel under any pressure to grab these at all. If you want to answer worksheets to help you work through creating avatars, it’s there. I’ll show you this link again at the end as well. The second thing that’s really connected to this first is understand not only who’s reading your blog, but how you can potentially transform their life, which sounds very grand and aspirational, but is a very powerful thing.

What I’ve learned over the years is that great content leaves a mark on the people who read it, or listen to it, or view it. Your content should transform your reader’s life in some way. It doesn’t have to be in a big way; it could just be that you put a smile on their face because you entertained them or it could be that you informed them of the latest news. It could be that you gave them a sense of belonging. It could be that they’re suddenly feeling all motivated in some way.

There’s a variety of ways that you can be transformational with your content. As soon as you begin to understand what the transformation is that you can bring, you’ll begin to see that your content will be transformed as well.

Again, a really simple exercise you can do is to grab a piece of paper, on one side, write down a few characteristics of your reader when they arrive on your side. This essentially is the avatar that I was just talking about.

This is just great to know in and of itself, but the second part is even more powerful: Create an aftershot. Who will your reader be after they’ve left your blog? Even if after one visit, who do you want them to be? How do you want to have changed them? Who do you want your reader to have been after a year of traveling with you? How do you want their life to be different? Understanding that transformation will impact all of the pillars that I was talking about before.

On Digital Photography School, it’s really simple. We are going to take people from being in automatic mode with their amazing camera, to having full creative control of that camera. Simply understanding that gives me ideas for content, but it also gives me a way to promote my blog as well, and to drive traffic to it. It’s so much easier to drive traffic if you promote using the transformation rather than your topic.

Don’t ever say, “I have a blog about photography.” “I have a blog that takes people from automatic mode to having creative control of their cameras.” People will want to read that blog if you talk about the transformation. The topic in and of itself isn’t really that attractive, so talk about the transformation.

Understanding this transformation will give you all kinds of ideas of how you can engage with your audience as well, what questions can you ask them to build engagement. It will also help you with monetization.

The third thing I want to talk about that ties really in with what Mike was talking about earlier, and this is something that will escalate the growth of your blog, maybe not so much in terms of the numbers in your Google Analytics, but in terms of the profitability and the outcomes that you want.

Engaged traffic is exponentially more powerful than just traffic of any kind. What I’d encourage you to do, and this will grow your blog so much faster is to focus not so much upon getting eyeballs, but on actually getting engagement with the heart of your readers.

I learned this the hard way. When I started blogging, I just wanted anyone to read my blog, my mom, my wife, my friends, pretty much anyone. The way that I got them to do that was just send lots of emails to my friends. That didn’t last so long because my friends got annoyed with it. Now, I began to look at other ways of doing that, leaving comments on other blogs. I left comments on every blog that I ever knew.

Gradually over time, I began to see that there were these other sites. There was a site back in the day called Digg. Does anyone remember Digg? It’s like Reddit and you could get your content voted up onto the front page.

I remember one day my content got onto the front page of Digg and I had 150,000 visitors in two hours. I was ecstatic. I was like, “This is going to change my blog. I’m going to start making money. I’m going to become well-known. I’m going to get a book deal,” all those dreams. I had all of the dreams.

I very quickly realized that it didn’t lead to anything that was good at all. It crashed my server and the only people who showed up, those 150,000 people, were teenage snarky boys. They left negative comments and they destroyed the community on my blog. I realized that, one, I want the right readers but, two, I want readers who want to engage. I learned the hard way that eyeballs make you feel good in the short term, but they don’t actually lead to sustainable growth in the long term.

I focus very much upon not the eyeball and getting lots of traffic, get the right reader. Lots of benefits of building this kind of engagement on your blog, which I won’t go through, but it really will help you to grow your blog. Particularly if you’re looking to monetize in some way, no matter what type of monetization you want to do, it will be enhanced my engagement.

Advertisers want to advertise on blogs that have engagement. You’ll sell your products so much more if you’ve got engagement. You’ll be able to monetize the engagement itself using masterminds or membership areas. Engagement is where it’s at.

A lot of people used to say, “Content is king.” I actually think community is king and content, so it certainly goes alongside it. If you can get this community particularly in this day where the algorithms are really looking for engagement, it’s where you should be acting.

How do you get this engagement? The first thing I’ll tell you is, if you want engagement, you need to be engaging. You need to show up. You need to take the lead in that. People will respond to you being generous and being engaging.

Some of the ways that you can do this outside of your blog, apart from writing in an engaging style, and that’s where it really needs to start. At the moment, I think live video continues to be a place where you can build that kind of engagement.

I don’t get hundreds of thousands of people viewing my live videos; I get a few hundred people at a time who view my live videos, but I know those people are much more likely to show up tomorrow and leave a comment on my blog.

Those people are much more likely to share my content on their social media platforms. Those people are much more likely to sign up for my newsletter list to get my opt-ins and eventually to buy one of my products. I see their names pop up all the time. Live video is very powerful.

Groups continue to work for us at the moment. I’m really wary about when this will end; Facebook, particularly, changing their algorithms all the time. While they’re working, they should be surfing that life.

The podcast. I’ve met so many people already at this conference who’ve come up and said things like, “I feel like I know you,” or, “Can we go on walks together every week?” Someone came up the other day and said, “We have a shower together once a week?”

People spend time with you and even though the podcast is not interactive at all, it’s a very personal medium and it builds engagement. It builds this sense that people know you, which is a really important thing, so include that there as well.

Meetups and events are probably the best thing that I do in terms of getting to know my audience, whilst you can’t get all of your audience to them, that will really build advocates for your brand and so any way that you can meet people in real life is important as well.

The last thing I’ll talk about in a moment is challenges. They’ve been very important for us. This is something I did last year on the way home from social media marketing world. I’ve got a 25-hour commute to get home. I was like, “How can I fill up these 25 hours?” so I got onto my Facebook group and I said, “I’m going to ask every question you ask me over the next 25 hours.” I was sitting in airports a lot of that time.

Our Facebook group only had about 800 members at the time, so it wasn’t a big community, but 200 of them showed up and asked a question over that time. It was fascinating to see how spending that 24-hour period with my readers really grew the engagement of that little community.

It was really fascinating to see that most of the action actually happened when I was in the air and didn’t have WiFi. My community showed up and answered each other’s questions more than I answered their questions. This illustrates that point: If you’re willing to be engaging, your community will take your lead and they will be engaging, too, not just with you but with each other. That’s where real community happens.

The last thing I’ll tell you about engagement is this idea of know, like, and trust. Who has heard that quote? People do business with those that they know, like, and trust. You will hear that quote at least three times over the next two days. People use that quote all the time at this conference.

Here’s the thing about know, like, and trust: It’s a two-way thing and people will know, like, and trust you so much faster if you show that you know them, and you show up, and spend time with them, and show that you like them, and that you trust them by being vulnerable with them as well. That’s just an example of that. In that 25 hours, my readers began to realize that I wasn’t just there to get them to know, like, and trust me. I actually wanted to interact with them.

The fourth thing I want to talk about is a little bit more strategic, and that is design. I’ve already shown you that I’m not a great designer, so I can’t give you any tips on colors, or fonts. The thing I’ll say about design is, increasingly, our design is about trying to meet our readers where they’re at. You know a lot about your readers just simply by looking at where they came from? Did they come from Google? Or an email? Or social media?  Whether they’ve been on your site before? What part of the site they’re on?

These things are things that we know and we get these data, so we should be reflecting this on our design. Some of the things we’ve been trying to do on ProBlogger are to try and create a design that really meets our readers where they’re at to show that we know them and to show that we want to help transform them.

In the old days, it was all about trying to get people to view more about content, just any of our content. Today, it’s more about communicating the journey and trying to show our readers where they’re at.

If you’ve got a ProBlogger now on the front page, right down the bottom of the front page, we have this heading, “I need help, too.”

Underneath that, there’s these eight icons. The eight icons represent pain and the gains of our readers. We’ve identified, over the years, that our readers have eight main reasons they come to ProBlogger. They want to learn to start a blog, they want more traffic, they want to make more money, they want to be more productive with their time, they want to understand the tools, these are the basic things that they come looking for information on. Everywhere on the site, we greet them with an invitation to get help in one of these areas. This is to demonstrate that we know who our readers are, to communicate, “We know your pain.”

Instead of directing them to a category page, we direct them to what we call a portal page. On these portal pages, we’ve curated an experience for our readers. We greet them with a video where I communicate that I, too, have this pain or I, too, want this gain and I’ve had experience in that. Then, we’ve curated some content underneath that, both blog posts and podcasts, that take them through solutions to that pain.

I know that if I get you to this portal page, you will stay on our site for at least three times longer than the average of our site. You’ll view quite considerably more pages, you’ll sign up to our newsletter, much more likely, you’ll connect with us on Facebook more likely as well. Eventually, you’ll buy one of our products as well.

Getting people to a page where you demonstrate you know your reader and you meet them with content that’s where they’re at is very powerful. Traditionally, if people come to a blog, the chances of them finding content that meets their pain is pretty small because the latest content that you’ve got is highlighted to them. If that content doesn’t meet their pain immediately, they’ll bounce away, so we’re trying to meet people where they’re at.

Another thing that we do on the front page of ProBlogger is greet different readers differently. If you’ve never been to ProBlogger before, you’ll get this greeting. It’s all about the transformation. This is what we’re in the business of doing. We want to take you from here to here and we’d love to connect with you.

If you’ve been to our site before and you’ve got a cookie from us, we don’t want to show you this because you already know about ProBlogger. We want to show you this, and this is, “Welcome back,” and, “Here’s the posts you’ve missed since last time you were there.” This is a very simple way to customize the experience of your reader. It’s thinking in your design about how you can meet different readers based upon what you know about them.

The fifth thing I want to talk about is challenges. Since 2004, when I started ProBlogger, I can see that there have been spikes of activity over those years: spikes in traffic, spikes in engagement and spike to profit as well. I can track all those spikes back to challenges that I’ve run on the side. The first challenge I ran on ProBlogger was back in 2005 and I did it completely by accident.

One night, I was lying in bed at 2:00 AM thinking about my blog as I often do, and I couldn’t go to sleep. I had idea: “I want to start 31-day series of content on my blog,” and every day after these 31 days, I want to give people a little bit of teaching and then give people a little bit of homework to do, something practical that they could do. I thought this was going to be a teaching series.

I launched it the next day. I had no idea what the 31 days were going to be, so I had to make it up on the spot and it took off. The first post I did was the biggest pose I’d ever written, and people joined in this challenge. They didn’t see it just as a teaching experience; they actually saw it as an engagement experience. They wanted to join this event that I was running. I called it 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. They saw it as an event and I was, “Okay. I’ll make it an event,” and so I started to make it more engaging. I said, “At the end of every day, come back and show us what you did,” and readers began to check out what each other were doing and these conversations were opening up.

The second year I did it, we added a forum to it and we added an opt-in, so we sent out emails along the way as well. Every time we ran it, it was the biggest traffic we’d ever had, the biggest engagement we’d ever had.

At the end of 2009 when I did it, my readers said, “Hey, we really would love it if you could create a PDF version of this.” Some of them were saying, “We’ll pay you for it,” and I was like, “How much will you pay me for it?”

They were like, “$15 or $20,” and I was like, “No you wouldn’t pay that,” and they were like, “Yes, we will.” I was like, “Hey, let’s test this,” so I created the ebook and I put it on sale, thinking maybe it would sell $100 or so because all of the content was already on the blog for free. I mean, who’s going to buy something that’s already there for free? About 10,000 people bought that in the first year so I was like, “Okay. These challenges can actually be monetized as well.” People will take this free information, but if you re-package it into something that they can use again and again, that’s useful in an ongoing way, that’ll be great.

The other cool thing about this is that other groups of bloggers that I don’t even know about buy the book together and run through the challenge together. They’re running their own challenges. You give them the format, they will take and run it as well.

You can do challenges in other mediums. This is a challenge I ran on the podcast a year or so ago, seven days of writing challenges. It really took off and it led to a lot of growth in the podcast.

This is another challenge we did earlier this year. We launched this as a course. It’s a free course on how to start a blog and it’s the type of course you could do anytime, but we launched it as a challenge and we took several thousand bloggers through this challenge together. This, really, is one of the best things that we’ve done in the last year or so. Challenges are very powerful. There’s lots of benefits of running a challenge on your blog.

Again, for those of you interested in monetization, you can monetize these in a number of ways. Firstly, you could run a free challenge and then do an upsell at the end of that. Our starter blog course is free, but we’ll be selling our 31 Days to Build a Better Course, which is coming out soon at the end of that to people. You can monetize it with sponsorships so, “Here’s a free challenge that you can participate in. It’s presented by this brand,” and you can charge for that.

You can do affiliate marketing during it. In our starter blog course, we had about 6000 people go through that. We know, on average, that we make about $6 per participant in that through affiliate stuff that we do. We promote servers and web press tools along the way. We disclose all of those so our readers know that they’re helping us as well. The other way that you can do it is to sell the challenge, and that’s what we did with 31 Days to Build A Better Blog, the ebook.

There’s a variety of ways that you can use challenges to actually build a business as well but, for me, the challenge is really exciting because it helps you to get to know your reader better.

At the end of our Starter Blog challenge, we’ve got thousands of bloggers now who are engaged with our brand. We just help them to start a blog and they’re really grateful for that. That “know, like and trust” has really grown as a result of them spending a month with us working on achieving something. We’re actually helping them in a tangible way.

The sixth thing I want to talk about is collaborations. Collaborations are probably one of the most powerful things I’ve done to grow my blog. Blogging is a juggle. Every blogger in the room knows what that juggle is, to create content, to build engagement, to drive traffic, to maintain all the social media accounts, to keep WordPress up to date and all the plugins. It’s just making me stressed just listing these things off. They’re balls in the air and it’s so hard to keep all those balls in the air.

The thing I’ve learned over the years is that it’s a lot easier to keep balls in the air and more balls in the air when you actually juggle with other people. There’s a variety of ways you can do this. You could outsource, you could hire a team but most bloggers don’t have the resources to do that. The best way to do it is to find win-win ways of working together with other bloggers, other content creators.

I did this very early on in my blogging. I showed you my blog design before. I realized that I needed to find someone who knew about blog design, so I found someone who was willing to design my blog for free if I did some work for them. I did some writing for them. I drove some traffic to their business as well. It was a collaboration where we exchanged services. Pretty much in every one of the pillars that I’ve talked about before, there are opportunities to collaborate.

When it comes to content as bloggers, I think we should be collaborating more. Yes, I know a lot of just post for each other, but why don’t we create content together? YouTubers do it all the time. It’s so normal for two YouTubers to come together to create a video together and then they repost that onto their own channels. Why don’t we do that more as bloggers? People co-author books. People co-author articles in mainstream media.

I published almost 19,000 articles on my two main blogs, and two of them have been co-authored posts. I think we could be working together more to collaborate in content. There’s a whole heap of ways that we could also collaborate in driving traffic to one another, to build engagement. Why does every blogger have to have their own Facebook group? Why don’t bloggers join together to create Facebook groups together and come up with win-win ways of building collaborations around that?

When it comes to monetization, I particularly think there’s opportunities to collaborate. Back in 2009, I created this ebook. It’s the first ebook I’d ever created and it was basically a rehash of a lot of articles that I’d already written on Digital Photography School. It almost killed me. It killed me to create this ebook. Even though it was already republished content and it was mainly all written, just the design of it, the editing of it, the proofreading of it, the putting-it-together, almost killed me. It took me five or six months to get this ebook together.

I knew I should do it. I’ve been procrastinating. I finally did it. I launched it, wondering if anyone would buy it. We sold about $70,000 worth of copies of it in the first 10 days. I suddenly realized that maybe I should do more ebooks but I didn’t want to go through that process again of having to create another ebook so I began to look for ways of getting others involved in this process.

I reached out to one of the authors on our site who had been writing some articles for us and I said, “Hey, Neil, would you be interested in writing an ebook? We’ve got the traffic. We’ve got the shopping cart system now. We can do customer service, we can bring that side of things, but I can’t write another ebook. I don’t have the time. Would you do it?” and he was like, “Yes, sure. No problem.”

Three weeks later, he’d written an ebook that took me five months. It was completely from scratch. He was just a great writer and, when we put it on sale, it did better than our first one. He wrote another one a few months later, and another one, and another one. We’ve got 30 ebooks now on our sites and I have not written any of them. These are all collaborations. We’ve got six courses. We’ve got Lightroom Presets. We’ve got Printables. All of them have been collaborations, every single one.

In that time since 2009, maybe I would’ve written another five or six ebooks on this site, but we’ve got all of this suite of products now. Yes, we share the revenue and sometimes it sucks to think, “We’re only getting 50%,” but it’s actually really exciting that we’ve also opened up revenue streams for all these other people as well. An ebook writer the other day emailed me and said, “You just helped us to buy our first house,” so it’s really great to be a part of that process as well. He’s also helped us to buy a house, too, which is nice, too.

As I look at all the income that we earn, these are the main income streams on my blogs. I’m happy to talk about income streams after this session. Almost all of them are actually collaborations. There’s only one that’s not out of all of those. Really, think beyond you when it comes to monetizing your blog. It’s one of the most powerful ways to build profit around your blog. I’m not just talking here about monetizing through affiliate products; I actually think business-to-business. You could be collaborating with others in your industry to create things together and find win-win- solutions. I’ve got a podcast on that that goes into a little bit more depth if you do want to listen to a bit more on that topic.

Ever-growing content, I was talking to someone just earlier about this. This is one of the best things that I ever did. I completely agree with Tim Farris on this. One of the most labor-efficient ways to grow your blog readership but also engagement as well is to focus on creating ever-growing content. Ever-growing content is content that doesn’t date as fast as other content. This is my first commercial blog. It’s actually a photography blog that I had before Digital Photography School.

It was a news and reviews site, and I did two types of posts. There were news posts and reviews. The news posts would do really well for three days after I write them. “Here’s a new camera! It’s exciting! Canon’s got this new camera,” and then no one would want to know about that post three days later because it’s old news. To create a blog that’s purely news, you need to create a lot of content every day. That’s why some of these gadget sites publish 20 or 30 articles a day because they just need to pump out lots of content to keep the traffic coming.

The other type of content I did on this site were reviews of cameras, and these were a bit more ever-growing. You’d write a review of a brand new camera today, people will be interested in that review for about a year until Canon brings out the next model that supersedes the last one. That taught me how powerful ever-growing content was. I was able to track how much our news articles could make us through ads versus how much our review posts would make us through ads. The review posts were 10 times as much in terms of the earnings.

I began to wonder, “What would happen if I had even more ever-growing content in this particular space of photography? What would that look like?” and that, of course, chained into Digital Photography School where we teach people how to use cameras because the basics of how to use a camera haven’t changed since I was in Year 10 at high school when I was using film camera. Aperture is still aperture. Shutter speed is still shutter speed. How to hold a camera hasn’t changed that much. There certainly are aspects of photography that have changed but the basic things haven’t changed so I decided to start writing a site that was more about this type of content, content that wouldn’t date as much.

Now, we still do some news-y type posts. I thought it’d be interesting to show you a couple of case studies on different types of posts. This is a news-y type of post, a post we wrote three years ago on Adobe’s new version of Lightroom. You can see there the Google Analytics. It did quite well for the first week of this post. I think Day One had about 3,000 visitors. Over the first couple of weeks of this post, we had about 11,200 visitors to it.

Over the last three years, we’ve added another 18,000 viewers. It really has not worked for us very much. In fact, at the moment, it’s getting one viewer per month, and they just happen to stumble upon it or maybe it’s me checking out whether it’s still alive. It’s not really working for us at all. It took the writer about an hour to write it and a little bit of editing but it really hasn’t worked for us.

This is another post that we wrote two weeks later, and it’s on a topic that we get questions on from time to time and we continue to get questions on. It’s more ever-growing in nature. Now, this isn’t the most spectacular post. You can see that the pattern there in the first couple of weeks was very similar. It had about 16,000 visitors to it over the first two or three weeks but since that time, it’s had 42,000 visitors to it. You can see there are some little extra spikes along the journey, and these are times that we’ve re-shared it.

This is the beauty of ever-growing content: You write it three years ago, I can share this again on our Facebook page today and our readers will go, “Thanks. That’s really good.” If I re-shared that news post about Lightroom, people would go, “Why are you sharing this? This is three years old.” Ever-growing content allows you so share it. Other people are sharing it, too. The other thing is if you drill into that graph even more, you’ll see that 40 people every day view this post from Google. Those 40 people don’t sound like much but, 365 days a year, that begins to add up over time. We’ve got 8,000 posts on our site now, too, and if they’re all getting 40 visitors a day, that adds up over time as well.

Alongside that, occasionally, you do a post that actually adds up even bigger. This is one of those posts. I wrote it in 2007. It didn’t really start that spectacularly. It had about 100 visits a day because that site was really small at the time, but this one’s actually grown in how much traffic it gets over time. It’s had over 40 million people view it since that time. It took me two hours to write it back then, and this post is working for us today and continues to earn us revenue from advertising but also brings in subscribers to our blog because we have opt-ins associated with that as well. Then, we’re able to sell to those people down the track.

This is the power of ever-growing content, all those 8,000 posts with visitors and this one that gets about 3,000 visitors a day still today that begins to add up over time. This is why you begin to see the acceleration of your blog. The more archives you have that are ever-growing, it really does pay off. It doesn’t happen overnight but it grows over time.

The second last thing I want to talk about is maintaining your archives, and this is particularly important if you go down this route of ever-growing content. This is a major trend that I’m seeing that’s not being talked about at the moment amongst bloggers. They’re spending more time doing this. Your archives are an asset. I’m just showing you that there’s gold in your archives. You’re probably all thinking about a post that just still gets traffic today. That post is an asset and potentially is an income-generating asset.

Here’s the thing: Your assets depreciate and I bet you your archives are depreciating right now. I dare you. Go back to the first post you ever wrote. What are you going to do? You will cringe. I guarantee it. We all do. We all cringe, and that’s because your archives are depreciating. It doesn’t look as good anymore because we used to use these tiny little thumbnails and sometimes their images are broken. We have these call-to-actions that don’t go anywhere anymore because that social network doesn’t actually exist anymore. “Share on MySpace,” and all of those types of things going on.

There’s broken links there. Your writing has improved since then. You used to write in a very naïve kind of way. You used to make all these assumptions. You used to format those posts differently. Maybe you didn’t use headlines and it was just a long line of text. Your archives are depreciating. They’re looking dated. They probably have information in them that needs to be updated as well. Why don’t we maintain them? If you maintain your archives, you can actually reverse that trend.

I’m just showing you an example of that. That ISO post that’s had 40-something million people? I’ve updated that every six months since 2007. It’s better now than it was when I started. It’s my goal to continue to improve the way it looks, the way it reads and the information in it. I want it to be the best article that I can, and that’s why it’s growing. This is something that’s happening more and more. We maintain all of our assets because we know there are consequences in the future if we don’t.

This is what I’m noticing: A lot of bloggers are doing it. They’re actually publishing lists. A lot of the big bloggers don’t publish anywhere near as much new content as they used to, and that’s because they’re publishing better content when they’re publishing new content. It’s deeper content. It’s longer-form content in many cases, but they’re also putting more of the effort into up-keeping their archives because there’s better return in up-keeping and improving their archives than there is in creating lots of new posts.

Particularly if you’ve been blogging for five or six years, you’ve probably written about everything there is to write about on your topic. There’s probably not a lot of new stuff to write but you can be improving those old archives and even republishing them and re-sharing them as well. There’s lots of benefits of up-keeping your archives but the challenge I have for you is to really start to build that into your editorial strategy. Identify the old posts that have done well, the best posts–the ones that have had a lot of traffic in particular, start with those–and anything that’s underperformed in the past.

I’m not going to go through these individually but these are some of the things that you can do to improve your content–and, yes, you can grab these slides later to work through these. The thing I would encourage you to do particularly is to give your old content the cringe test. I challenge you: Every day, look at one of your old posts. That means, over the year, you’ll have looked at 365 posts. Some of those old posts will be fine; you won’t cringe. They’re probably good. If you cringe, you need to update it. It’s really important to do that. Then, build that into your calendar. Most bloggers have a calendar. I publish new content on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Why don’t you update content on Tuesday and Thursday? Actually, make that a part of your system of creating content.

The last thing I want to talk about just for a moment or two is be really careful about where you go, and this is particularly relevant as we go into this conference. You’re going to come home from this conference feeling overwhelmed by all the things you could do. You’re probably already feeling it. Mike’s talk talked about a few things this morning. He’s talking about bots.

Should we be doing bots? Should we be doing Facebook, Instagram? Snapchat, I don’t think so. There’s lots of different things that you can be doing there and where should you be spending your time. I just want to give you three pieces of advice on that. Firstly, focus on what is converting for you already. A lot of people come to a conference like this and say, “I’m going to give up blogging to get into Instagram stories.” I’ve seen people do this. I’ve seen bloggers give up wanting to get onto Twitter, to Instagram, to Facebook.

All the ones who just jump onto Facebook are all coming back to me and going, “I wish I kept blogging.” Focus on what is working for you now. The new stuff that’s coming up all the time, maybe it’s something you should be focusing your time on, but you should be spending most of your time on what is actually working for you and for others in the industry now. For me, the thing that is working the best for me is search engine optimization. Search sends me over half of my traffic. Facebook sends me 8% of my traffic, and that’s my number one social source. Why do I spend three hours a day on Facebook? Why, when search is converting so much more? Search isn’t going away.

The second biggest driver of traffic for me is email. I send my own avalanche of traffic every week. We sent a newsletter last night. I know today will be our biggest day of traffic. Why aren’t I spending more time on that? Focus on what is working. Yes, there’s all this new cool stuff around at the moment. Spend some time on that. Learn to see whether that might convert for you, but spend more time on the things that are working for you today.

The second thing: Focus on what you have more control over. You don’t own Facebook. You’re building their asset. You don’t own Instagram. You’re building their asset. Build your asset, your podcast, your blog, your email list. Now, you don’t have complete control over your email list because Google’s now getting in the middle of that and filtering some of your emails into little different inboxes and things, but you still have those email addresses which you can use in different contexts as well.

Build your assets. Focus on these things. Yes, experiment in these other things as well, but here’s the thing that you should be doing with social media, in my opinion: Leverage them while they last. Ride the waves of these new things that come. Bots might be the new thing that’s going to last for the next year or two until the marketers all destroy it, but ride that wave while it’s lasting and then be ready to pivot into something new.

Gary V. is really big on this. He talks about this quite a bit. If you watch his trajectory over the last three or four years, he’s jumped from platform, to platform, to platform. Now, what he’s doing is building his own platform a lot more. He’s trying to get people to join his community, to get on his email list. Yes, use these things but use them to build your asset. They’re not a long-term plan in my opinion.

Thank you for coming. You can grab these slides and a few resources that we’ve put together that are relevant for this session. I’m going to be here for the next two days. I’ll stand out there for all of it. If you’ve got questions that last that long, I’m happy to chat to you and take any of your questions out in a whole way because I need to get a newspaper in here. Thanks so much.


I hope you enjoyed today’s recording. Again, thank you to the team at Social Media Marketing World for allowing us to use this talk. It’s a great conference. If you do wanna head to a conference next year check it out. I’ll link to them in the show notes today. Not sure whether I’ll be there or not next year but I have been for the last four-five years, so it’s highly likely that I will.

My quote of the week, something I started last week. I’ve got two or three for you and they’re all on the theme of acceleration or growing your business. These are things that might balance out some of what I taught today.

The first one’s from Joel Barker, “Speed is only useful if you are running in the right direction.” For me, that’s a reminder that goals are so important. It’s well and good to grow your business, to grow traffic to accelerate your growth in some ways. But unless you’re clear on the goals that you have, you’re accelerating you, you’re getting faster in the growth of the business for no real ultimate goal, I guess. You could be ending up just going fast in the wrong direction. Get those goals down first.

Second quote from Andy Rooney, “Everyone wants to live at the top of the mountain but all the happiness and growth occurs while you are climbing it.” This is something I think is really relevant for a lot of bloggers because a lot of bloggers I know have this goals that I wanna be a full time blogger, a goal that they wanna get a book deal, or a goal that they wanna be doing something with their blog, and opening up opportunities with their blog. it’s great to have those goals but the reality is that the goal doesn’t bring happiness itself. It can be a momentous occasion but enjoy the ride to the goal as well. That’s what I’ve certainly fanned over the years. The goal itself is important but the journey is really rich as well. I encourage you to pause along the way, don’t be obsessed with growth, but actually enjoy the little wins that you have along the way. Enjoy the friendships that are merged from it. Enjoy the opportunities that you have to change your readers’ lives as well.

Last quote that is from Julia Margaret Cameron, “Growth is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, reassessing, and regrouping.” If you’re at the point in your business where you’re current plateauing in your traffic a little bit, I hope that some of what you’ve heard today will help in that. But also know that it’s natural to have periods of intense growth but also periods where things feel like they’re slowing down, and even where they’re going backwards. Those times are really great opportunity to assess how things are going, to analyze where previous growth has come from, and to look around and see what others are doing to perhaps try something new as well. It’s completely natural to have those times where things fall flat, where things go backwards, that is part of the process. Don’t give up. Keep pushing forward.

Hope you have found those quote useful. I’ll include them over on the show notes today as well. I look forward to chatting with you next week.

Actually, I will also just say that over on the show notes as well, I do link to some of the further listening on the nine things that I mentioned in today’s podcast as well. There’s plenty there to dig into if any of those nine things really pick your interest. go a little bit deeper on them by listening to one of those podcasts. Again, today’s show notes including the slides, our links to those worksheets, link to those quotes, all of the links, all of the things, you can find them at problogger.com/podcast/246.

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