I started my first blog in August, 2005 mostly to learn how the medium worked. My e-Strategy Content Marketing blog gave me a place to share my thoughts about online marketing. It has since gone through many redesigns and changed focus a handful of times, but I publish it to this day.
During the 10 years since I published that first blog, I’ve started 10 more blogs; some of which are still active, others, not so much:
- e-Strategy Trends – This is a daily blog to which I post marketing-related statistics and trends.
- BeyondSocialMediaShow.com – This is where I host my weekly marketing podcast.
- eStrategy.tv – This was intended to host marketing-related videos but it has kind of fallen by the wayside.
- Audiolicious.tv – I occasionally post to this blog about music marketing-related topics.
- TwinCitiesMinnesotaBlog.com – I started this blog shortly after my first blog because local blogging was a bigger thing back then than it is now. I still post occasionally here but I’m toying with turning it into a multi-author blog.
- Videolicious.tv – I started this blog to keep me abreast on the latest online video trends but I haven’t published to this blog in years.
- Photogralicio.us – I started this to motivate me to improve my photography skills. I take a ton of photos but I just don’t post any here anymore.
- MinnesotaVikingsChat.com – I used to blog weekly about the best team in the NFL and even hosted a weekly Vikings podcast for a while but, sadly, I don’t have time for this anymore.
- MinnesotaTouchFootball.com – I play a lot of touch football. I created this blog simply to get found in search by Minnesotans who want to play touch football so I can always have enough people to play with.
- DavidErickson.Tumblr.com – I started this to learn the ins and outs of Tumblr but since connected it to my Instagram account to cross-post photos whenever I update my Instagram.
I’ve also created, updated and maintained numerous blogs on behalf of clients. So there are my blogging credentials.
During my years of blogging, I’ve learned a few things. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share 10 lessons I’ve learned along the way before the year comes to a close.
1) Don’t Panic. Someone’s Been Through This Before
You’ve created a blog. You’ve learned all the basic functions of your blog. You’ve published some posts. You’re feeling pretty good about things.
So now you want to customize your blog beyond the standard features, so you start installing some plugins to add new features. You start activating them, excited at the thought of the cool new features your blog will soon be sportin’ when all of a sudden, POW! You’re site is displaying the dreaded 500 internal error message.
What tha?!? Arrrg!
You can’t see your blog. You can’t even log in to see what went wrong. All you get is that loathsome Internal Server Error message. You get that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach and you begin to panic.
Don’t. Take a deep breath.
Someone, somewhere, has likely run into the same problem.
Fire up Google and frame your search query as if you were explaining your situation to IT: “My blog is getting an Internal Server Error message after I installed the Super Amazing Plugin.” You will probably find that someone else has had the same problem, asked for help online, and received answers that either solved the problem or at least will point you in the right direction.
2) How To Be A Stand-Up Online Citizen
After you’ve exhausted the goodwill of your family and friends politely reading your blog because they feel obligated, you’ll start to feel the need to expand your audience. So you find some online communities and start posting links to your blog posts, practically begging people to read your beautifully-crafted thoughts.
Well, begging for readers feels kind of sad and pathetic and spamming online forums doesn’t prove very effective, anyway.
Thankfully, a kindly moderator sets you straight by explaining how to be a solid contributor to the forum. Contribute to the discussions, he says. Share other people’s content you find interesting. Answer questions other members pose. Only after you’ve established your credibility can you start sharing your own stuff. Only after you’ve established your credibility will anyone pay attention to you.
3) Traffic, Analytics & Online Behavior
You eventually learn how to behave online and that proper behavior wins you some fans here, some fans there, and before too long, you’ve got what can credibly be called a small readership.
When your audience diversifies beyond your friends and family, you naturally start paying closer attention to these people you don’t know but who are interested in what you have to say. That leads you to a desire to learn about online analytics.
The first place you start is your blog traffic. Back in the day, that required analyzing web server log files in a spreadsheet, line by line. Kinda tedious but quite fascinating.
These days, of course, we have Google Analytics and the like to do the heavy lifting for us. Which allows us to focus on who is visiting our site, what content they are paying attention to, and what prompts them to contact us or download something from our site.
You start paying attention to where your traffic is coming from:
- What search terms are people are using to find my content?
- Is my participation in online communities paying off in terms of new subscribers?
- Is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest sending me more traffic?
Understanding where your traffic is coming from leads you to pay attention to how people behave when they are at those sources of traffic. And that leads to a better understanding of how to use those channels yourself; how to write headlines that people click on from Twitter, how to optimize images to get Repins from Pinterest; what topics are sending you the most traffic from search engines.
4) How Advertising Works
Your confidence continues to grow along with the small readership you’ve built for your blog and that confidence fuels larger ambitions. How do you get more readers?
Naturally, your thoughts turn to advertising as a tactic that might help expand your audience. From your experience analyzing your blog’s traffic, you have a familiarity with how people find content through search engines, so you open up an AdWords account and begin to dabble in search engine advertising. You read up on the topic, watch some video tutorials, attend a webinar or three on the subject, and learn some tricks of the trade.
The modest success you enjoy with your search advertising efforts leads you to think of how you can offset the costs of your ads. That, of course, leads to the idea of monetizing your blog by hosting ads yourself.
You open an AdSense account, paste in your code, and voila! Now you start paying attention to how online advertising works from the publisher’s perspective.
You start experimenting with social advertising by spending $5 a day with Facebook ads and that teaches you how to narrowly target your ads to very specific audiences. You learn what works and what doesn’t and how to improve the performance of your ads.
5) How To Establish Expertise & Influence
Your passion for your topic comes through in your blog posts and it is indeed that passion that makes your blog enjoyable to read. It is clear to your readers that you love discussing your topic.
It is also clear to your readers that you are a media omnivore for the topic about which you blog. You reference other blogs on the topic. You cite articles about the topic. You include relevant photos and videos and tweets in your posts. You share third-party resources about your topic.
Your readers depend on your as an invaluable resource and as an efficient source for staying on top of the topic about which you blog.
That is the point at which you become an expert. And because you’ve explored the major social channels as a means through which you can reach like-minded people, you’re becoming known as an expert through those channels as well.
Soon enough, you might be asked to write a guest post for a related blog. Or be invited to speak on a panel about your topic. Or you may get an inquiry from a reporter looking for a quote from an expert.
Congratulations, you are now an influencer!
6) How To Pitch Influencers
Now that you are an influencer, you’ll start to get a lot of emails from people pitching you, The Influencer.
At first you’ll be flattered. Then you’ll get used to it. Then you’ll start to get really annoyed.
Why? Because it will become clear that most of the people pitching you will not have taken the time to learn even the basics about what you discuss on your blog.
You may have expressed an interest in astronomy recently on Twitter but that’s not what you blog about, so, no, you’ll pass on sharing the attached infographic about space exploration on your foodie blog!
You will learn a lot about how not to pitch influencers from all the horrible pitches you are subject to. But also, being an influencer yourself, you’ll understand what influencers want. Typically, to expand their influence. Which means growing their audience. Which means expanding their reach.
As a result, you’ll be better prepared than most to successfully pitch an influencers should you want one for, say, an interview for your own blog.
7) Media Relations
All of the above contributes to your understanding of the dynamics of the media.
You understand what it takes to create compelling content (and therefore what journalists need out of their content). You understand how content works online, so you also understand that a reporter not only wants her stories read but wants them to be shared, as well.
Having done interviews yourself, you know a good quote when you hear one so you’re also careful to give reporters good quotes they can use.
You understand how advertising works and therefore know the importance of pageviews and time on page to drive advertising revenue, so you can think of content you can offer journalists that help achieve those ends.
Because you know how to pitch influencers without annoying them, you also know how to pitch media effectively.
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8) Passion & Dedication
I started my first blog because I am passionate about and dedicated to my profession. So when blogging began to take hold, I had to learn about it and what better way to learn about blogging than to actually blog?
Many of my other blogs were begun as a result of a passion for the topic and a desire to learn more. Starting a blog about a particular topic would provide plenty of motivation to learn that topic, I figured. I started some blogs simply because of my love for the subject matter.
But maintaining a blog over the course of years, that requires dedication and discipline. And if you don’t have the passion for the subject of your blog, you’re never going to be able to maintain that dedication to it for it to be a success over the long haul.
That’s why my test for the longest time when someone told me they wanted to start a blog was to try and convince them not to.
And if they persisted, I’d still try to persuade them not to.
And if they brought it up again, I’d point out all the downsides.
And if they still insisted they wanted to blog, then I’d knew they’d have the passion to be successful.
9) How To Be Arrogant
I no longer try to convince people not to blog. It is, after all, kinda mean.
While actively trying to discourage people from blogging will tend to identify people who are really driven to blog, actively encouraging people to blog requires more effort, more patience, and can be far more rewarding in the end.
The main objection I hear when I recommend blogging to people who hadn’t considered it is: “Why would anyone be interested in what I have to say?” That thought never entered my mind when I started blogging, so I suspect you need to have or develop a bit of an arrogant streak to succeed at blogging.
Rather than wondering whether anyone would be interested in what you have to say, you need to adopt the Of Course People Would Be Interested In My Opinion! attitude. You need to have enough arrogance to allow unwarranted criticism to slide off your back. Once you start spouting your opinion in public, there will be no shortage of critics.
10) How To Be Humble
But your arrogant streak should not be so strong that you can’t recognize when you’ve made a mistake and be willing to admit it. Nor should your arrogant streak be so strong that you cannot consider alternate, equally valid points of view that may differ from yours.
People will challenge your opinions. If assume those challenges are well-intentioned and approach them as an opportunity to learn and improve, then more often than not, they’ll be just that.
Blogging As A Professional Development Tool
I can’t say enough about the benefits I’ve gained from blogging, not the least of which are the professional skills and insights I’ve gained along the way. The practice of blogging encompasses all of the disciplines that are required to excel at modern communications, so I cannot recommend it enough for anyone in the communications fields.
It also happens to be a superb marketing tool for both individuals and organizations.
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