For me, blogging is more than a way to codify the insight I gather as I travel the world, it’s also a great way for me to create opportunities for myself.
As a traveler, it’s a way for me to introduce myself to new people and get offered a place to stay (either with CouchSurfing or in person).
As a professional, it displays my skill with the English language and some aspects of marketing.
And personally, it gives me the opportunity to earn an income.
I figure the last reason is the most tempting reason to blog for most folks.
And while I’m hardly world-famous, my blog – by the numbers – is a relative success, with over 16,000 visitors coming from around the globe in a 30 day period towards the end of 2014.
Most bloggers I know, including my past self, would love to have that kind of traction.
But it’s decidedly uncommon, and it’s only going to get harder as time goes by.
According to the numbers, there are over 152 million blogs (and that was in 2013), and millions of blog posts published every day.
Less than 1 million blogs get over 1,000 visitors per month.
That means that only 0.5% of bloggers are cracking 1,000 visitors per month – and that’s not going to be enough for most bloggers to stick with it, make the impact they want, or turn their passion into a business.
The rest of these blogs are – from a traffic and revenue standpoint – failures.
The sad thing is that amongst this 99.5%, there are a ton of bloggers who worked really hard, pumping out great content day in and day out, only to burn out, get discouraged, and finally quit when they realized their work wasn’t paying off.
They watched as other blogs they followed grew and profited, and wondered where they went wrong.
Maybe that person is you.
And the big, burning question you want answered is WHY?
Why do most blogs fail? And how do the select few who beat the rather stark odds do it?
I’ve identified 7 reasons most blogs fail. These are the things derailing the majority of novice and intermediate bloggers.
More importantly, I’ve also outlined strategies for beating the odds and joining the lucky half-percent that “make it” in the universe of content creation.
With over 100 trillion pages on the web, and over 152 million blogs, the odds are immediately against anyone who wants to make inroads into blogging.
And anyone who tells you there’s room for everyone who tries hard is full of shit.
When you started your blog you were full of energy and passion. You did try hard. So did many others. Effort wasn’t the decisive factor.
Let’s get a good look at the reality, because it will help us understand the enormity of the task at hand.
The average person reads between 5-10 blogs. Which means that the average blog is read by 5-10 people. If you consider all the blogs that get millions of readers gracing their pages, that means there are a lot of blogs out there that get almost no attention.
Another way to look at this is: There is a finite amount of human attention to be divvied up. 7 billion people, each with 24 hours a day.
That’s the ceiling. As of 2014, not all of that time is spent online, and even if it was, it STILL wouldn’t be possible for every blog to get boatloads of attention.
You may be familiar with the 80/20 rule of distribution: It’s a mathematical pattern where 80% of the results come from 20% of the inputs. So, for instance, 20% of the websites get 80% of the traffic – though actually it’s probably more like the 99/1 rule for web traffic.
This is also known as a “long tail” distribution, and looks something like this:
My website is right around the 1,000,000 mark on Alexa.com, a website which ranks the world’s top websites – and I just started averaging 100 visitors a day this month (July 2014).
That means my blog is in the top 0.5% of all blogs on the planet. That’s how skewed the attention distribution is! For all the talk about the power of the “long tail” and every artistic individual being able to carve out their little space in it, it’s still only the top performers who will have any meaningful success.
(Though I highly recommend Chris Anderson’s book “The Long Tail” for more delicious data)
Hate to say it, but if your goals are lots of followers and lots of profits, then it is a contest – one that most people must necessarily lose.
Can you earn dollars and cents for 100 or 1000 visitors a month?
Sure. But if you value your time at all, then you may want to consider a job as a farmer in Ethopia as a step up the economic ladder.
[yellowbox]What it means: If you want to succeed you can’t just “wing it.” You need to learn what successful writers do to become a success.[/yellowbox]
Working longer and harder is not the answer. Remember: All the other folks in the long tail with you are trying to work longer and harder too.
Initially I didn’t really think of this as a bloggers issue, but then I though about my network and realized I know a ton of would-be bloggers who don’t even spend their writing time creating content (or promoting) their own website.
That’s right. Lots of bloggers…aren’t blogging.
As a gung-ho newbie, writing for article websites such as HubPages, InfoBarrel and Squidoo is a great way to get started because these sites have an established authority.
You can start getting traffic and earning money without learning too many marketing skills. Back when I wrote for InfoBarrel, I made money in my first week, and ramped that up to hundereds of dollars a month and 10,000+ visitors within 100 days.
Now, the website Bubblews has an even friendlier revenue share model: Pay per view/like/share (about $0.01), so you can make your first cents in a matter of minutes of signing up. (Read my brutally honest and in-depth review of their platform HERE)
However, as a lot of writers find out, there seems to be a rather low ceiling on earning with this strategy. The fraction of a percent that do make decent money skew the image we get of the true potential of writing for these sites.
They have a ton of weaknesses:
[YellowBox]The Alternative: If you’re going to be publishing articles on the web, do so primarily on your own website. That way you keep the rights to your content, you get to keep all the profit, and you’ll get honest feedback about whether your strategy works or not.[/yellowbox]
Plus: Access to [Google] analytics data, the ability to build an email/subscriber list, and no worries about getting slammed by Google because of what another person publishes.
I recently read an article titled “How to succeed as a writer if you’re not an expert at anything.” Lots of blogging-about-blogging websites seem to support this idea. Maybe because they need prospective writers to believe it in order to sell blogging books, blogging classes, and blogging webinars and seminars.
I’d say the statistics tell a different story.
Most writers don’t make much money online – even the relatively talented ones. Refer to the mathematical reality again if need be. In this field, not being good at anything is a recipe for disaster.
Most writers are mediocre at a handful of things and excel at very little. Most content is other people’s content rehashed and repackaged. “Me too” blogging in action.
But readers don’t like the taste of re-fried genericism and they can smell the boring from a mile away. If you want to stand out and join the
20% 0.2% who do succeed, then exceptional is the minimum quality standard.
What is exceptional you ask? Let me show you:
In 2011, Luminita Saviuc wrote an article called “15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy.” The post got over 1 million social media shares and landed her all sorts of media offers. The post was a fairly run-of-the-mill list post, featuring a heading with 2-3 sentences describing it, then the next. She did include quotes of famous people which were a nice touch.
This sort of post has basically become the standard for the “advice” industry. If you go to MarcAndAngel.com, which is the most popular blog of this type run by just one – okay two – people, you’ll see that Every. Single. Freakin’. Post is of this variety.
They are firmly entrenched in first place, with plenty of copycats in the wings. If you wanted to join the upper echelons of advice blogging, you would have to do better.
Then, in a moment of serendipity, I stumbled across this, basically a duplicate of Luminita’s post from 2011, only with even less content, on the sometimes-shockingly popular website MindBodyGreen:
I cut off the intro and conclusion, but you probably get the point.
I feel badly about outing some well meaning writer who probably loves helping people and has the best intentions in the world.
Someone who is trying to climb the ranks of blogging stardom with the same thing everyone else is doing: the bare minimum. It makes for a great case study so we can all learn (feel free to point out the flaws in my style – I ain’t perfect either!)
Why was the moment so serendipitous? Because the very same day I published this post, a 5,800 word monster post that completely dominates the other two in terms of length, content, structure, visuals, and practical, actionable advice.
At this zoom, displaying 2 sections at once, I’d have to repeat this 7 times for you to see it all.
It is now the authoritative resource on this topic. 99.9% of writers will look at that and hang up their pens and pencils, because it’s just too much damn work to compete with.
But it’s the only way to succeed. Look at the stats again. You’ve gotta be in the top 1% and more. Authoritative resources that people want to read, want to share, want to come back to time and again are the way to exit the “long tail” and reach up-up-up into the treetops where the succulent, untapped, golden fruits of profit hang.
Fortunately, there are a ton of resources around the web that can help you produce content like a rock star.
There are so many possible activities a blogger can do that I think turning them all into a bullet list might be hazardous to my health.
Research, content writing, guest posting, commenting on other blogs, updating social media, writing an email to our list, tweaking our website, and checking our opt-in rates only scratch the surface.
The sheer volume of choice and the uncertainty that results can turn a day of work into a procrastination party where we check email, then our stats, then our social media accounts, then email again…
Whereas experienced and successful bloggers tend to know what the highest and best use of their time is and simply get more done, day in and day out, than wannabe blogging sensations do. They know how to manage themselves, their workflow, and their time to get the most out of their work day, and they are consistent executors.
Fortunately, getting more done is a learnable skill that largely revolves around how we organize our lifestyle.
For beginners who don’t have any strategy for themselves or their blogging efforts, the mental loop looks something like this:
SomeGuy has launched his website EasyInternetBillions.com to teach other marketers how to make billions of dollars with their blogging business. He’s had 287 visitors so far. He’s not exactly sure what to do next, so after checking his email one last time he writes another article about effective blog commenting strategies. Or he reverts to any other activity that’s easy, familiar, and comfortable.
If you’re not seeing the results you want – and statistically that’s likely, then continuing to do the exact same things that have got you to this point aren’t a formula for success. It’s said insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, but I’d call that futility.
If we want different results, we’re going to have to experiment with a bunch of new tactics.
Which brings us to the second half of the reasons most bloggers fail – the concrete tactics that we need to execute in order to grow our blogging business.
Derek Halpern from Social Triggers has an elegant idea about content creation versus content marketing: If you write a post that is of use to the 100 people that come to your website, doesn’t it make much more sense to get that same content in front of 1,000 or 10,000 or even 100,000 more eyes than it is to write another piece for 100 people?
And he recommends that writers spend ~4 hours marketing their work for every hour they spend writing (Perfect 80/20 in practice).
There are a few writers that can churn out fresh content every day – or close to it (MarksDailyApple.com, ZenHabits.net). But to have the luxury to do so you need to either be a success already, not care about building your blog, or have some miracle alignment of factors come into play such as being discovered, getting excellent search engine rankings for a popular phrase, be able to pay someone to do your writing, or be damn stubborn the way few others can.
For most mere mortals, content creation alone is not a success strategy.
There’s an important additional psychological factor at play, which Derek discusses on his site: How it’s hard to stick to any activity (diets, blogging, waking up early) if we’re not getting some sort of positive feedback. All the more reason to promote what you have and bring new readers in.
If you find the marketing aspect of writing tedious, confusing, boring, or otherwise not worth your while, then you either need to reexamine if this is something you truly want to pursue as a career-esque endeavor, or you’ve got to find a way to make it more enjoyable.
That is why marketing should be a priority.
I don’t have too many strong recommendations, because most marketing advice falls into the black hole of mediocrity we discussed earlier. The most relevant and actionable I have found which I can attest to are:
As nice as it is to log into Google Analytics and see 1,000 new visitors arrived at your site while you slept, traffic is not the goal.
In fact, this sort of vanity traffic can distract us from the fact that we’re actually not making any progress on the business side of our writing adventure.
Traffic needs to be converted into a subscriber list – a group of people interested in what you have to say, that want to hear from you and eventually either buy your stuff or take your recommendations.
The old adage “the money is in the list” is great for affiliates for AWeber and other email marketing platforms – but it happens to be true.
If I launched a product tomorrow, the random traffic flowing through my page might stumble across it, sure, but my email list would surely see it because I could tell them directly. Plus – they’re the people who most likely want to know – as they asked to receive my emails.
Even if you’re not a savvy email marketer and you don’t know how to structure a clever, high-conversion campaign, the fact that you’re starting your list building activities now puts you ahead of many other writers, and will let you learn over time.
When it comes to managing your email marketing campaigns, I recommend:
MailChimp: It’s free (up to 500 subscribers)! Huzzah! So no worries about wasting $20 a month on something that’s not earning profits for you.
AWeber: No affiliate link here – as I don’t currently use it, but when I stop using my current provider (a complex membership management service) because I need better data – AWeber will be my choice. Affordable, reliable, and reasonably user friendly for my fellow technophobics. I’ve used it on projects in the past and it’s mercifully user-friendy.
Chances are, when you first start out trying to build a subscriber list, you won’t get very many opt ins.But it’s time to start.
If you have been at it a while, then check out Brian Dean’s article 17 Insanely Actionable List Building Strategies for some intermediate tactics.
But here are some simple starter tactics anyone can implement in mere minutes to improve their conversion rates:
1) Put a glowing testimonial below the sign in box.
In my opinion, this is even stronger social proof than the “join 329,547 readers” messages we always see, because it gives a concrete reason why I should care. And it’s less of a cliche.
If you already have a massive number of subscribers it’s worth testing, but for beginners, one glowing testimonial will make a nice difference.
Don’t have a testimonial? You must know at least 1 person who would be willing to say something nice about you. Send them an email right now and ask (that’s what I did!)
2) Put a “Learn More” link for those uncertain users.
When you make your “pitch” for your newsletter, include a link to a page where users can learn more – I use my about page (see point #4 below as to why).
For some strange reason, people are more likely to take any action when provided with a choice – and giving them an alternative to opt-in in will actually increase the number of signups you get!
3) Change the “Submit” or “Sign Up” text to something more exciting.
People don’t actually want your newsletter, they want some tangible benefit. Now, your button can’t give them that benefit, but it can create a different vibe than “get your daily email.” Mine is “Hit It!” Other ideas are: “Let’s Go”, “I’m In!”, and “Get Started.”
2) Put 2-3 opt in boxes on your About page
For most sites this is the 2nd most visited page after the homepage. It’s a perfect place to get extra subscribers. I get 10-20% of my opt-ins from my About page, depending on the traffic source.
Learned this one from who else, but Derek Halpern.
5) Use a pop-up?
I find them annoying, so I’m giving this a lukewarm recommendation because while they work – and work quite well, I think in many cases it diminishes user experience too much. You be the judge.
6) Offer a freebook – or don’t (strategically)
Most blogs offer a free bribe of some sort to entice people to sign up.
The problem is, most people have seen these offers so many times that they don’t care about your 10 page report. However, if you’re offering something for free, some percentage of your visitors are bound to be enticed, assuming it’s not completely irrelevant. (Think: “10 page report on the discrepancies between escalator speed and escalator handrail speed.” Boring!)
I take a different approach. I point out that I’m not going to bribe my readers with a freebie. It sort of implies that we both understand the marketing game, and I’m showing respect by not trying to sucker them in to accepting a poisoned apple.
Then, on the inside, I offer them a bunch of free content that wasn’t advertised at all. Always over-deliver on your promises!
I can’t help but laugh when I see questions on forums like “why can’t I make money online – what am I doing wrong – haaaaalp me!”
I understand it, as I’ve been there too, but there usually one fatal flaw that all writers have to deal with at some point (and the sooner, the better).
They have no product.
So, until you have a product (or an affiliate product you can truly vouch for) – there’s no sense asking why you’re not making more money.
And really, if you’re just starting out – make it easy on yourself.
Finding an affiliate product that has a track record of producing results is a much better starting point than trying to build a product when you have no experience.
For instance, Pat Flynn from SmartPassiveIncome.com makes something like $50k a month promoting BlueHost. Craziness!
When you build your subscriber list, as outlined above, and you produce a ton of great content, you won’t be able to avoid getting useful feedback as to what your reader’s biggest problems, hopes, and fears are.
Especially if you ask. My first email pointedly asks readers, “What’s your biggest challenge right now?” You can do one better by asking what the challenge is about (“What’s your biggest challenge with weight loss right now?”)
Not everyone answers of course, but the ones that do are probably a good indicator of the most pressing concerns held by your small-but-growing community.
Marketers like Jon Morrow and Lee McIntyre think that starting with a high-end “service” product (1-on-1 teaching for example) is the best way to start for a number of reasons:
You don’t have to go overboard promoting yourself, but you can occasionally let your audience know you have something available.
On the flip side, it’s okay to go the Facebook/Youtube route and build up a large fan base first – in some ways that makes selecting a product easier, after all, by having a mass of followers it’s easy to see what content is a home run and what content falls flat.
However, the sooner we come to grips with the fact that we have to make an offer in order to make sales and therefore be in business, the better.
1) Make Money Blogging by Jon Morrow from BoostBlogTraffic.com
2) Guilt-Free Guide To Earning an Honest Buck From Your Blog – also by Jon Morrow
These 7 strategies have a lot of meat to them, so take your time and chew thoroughly. You don’t have to apply it all at once, but you DO have to apply it! Start with whatever jumped out at you the most and keep working through the list (you might wanna bookmark it for future reference).