Developing Your Craft as a Blogger

Whether it’s your bread and butter, a side project, or something you do for fun, creating a blog and maintaining it demands some kind of commitment from you. Bloggers have a responsibility toward their readership to hone their skills and their knowledge so they can provide good information and good insight.

So how do you become a better blogger?

Know Your Stuff

Your readers look to you for what you know or what you’ve experienced. So if your blog is about European travel, have you indeed traveled to Europe? If you review books in your blog, then you should have read each book that you’ve reviewed at least once. You might say, “Well, duh! Obviously!” Well, yes it is obvious. It’s so basic that you really should have it covered, but you’d be surprised how often this is overlooked, intentionally or unintentionally. Anyway, the point is, do try to achieve a certain level of expertise in your blog’s subject matter, and do your due diligence and keep yourself updated on new developments. 

Sharpen your Writing Skills

We don’t mean that you should become some sort of grammar snob, nobody likes that either, but let’s face it, blogging is about using words to communicate ideas. In fact, language is a building block of thought. So you’ve got to have those blocks down pat if you want to build anything. Grammar isn’t about following arbitrary rules, rather, it is about effective and efficient communication. Besides, you owe it to your readers to communicate well. Wouldn’t you want them to have a good experience in your blog? Nothing causes a headache quite like reading incoherent gibberish.

So brush up the grammar and composition lessons from your school days. Keep a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style handy. Build your vocabulary so that your use of words is correct and precise.

Practice. Tweeting would teach you valuable editing skills and help you appreciate economy in the use of words. Keeping a journal won’t just help you develop your skills as a writer, it’s good for you as a person to immortalize certain memories and verbalize thoughts and feelings.

Cultivate Your Curiosity

You can’t write if you have nothing to write about. Keep learning. When you stop learning, you stagnate. No matter how much you know, there’s always more to it.

And don’t just limit yourself to your own field. Take an interest in other things and develop new passions, and you’ll find it amazing how one hobby or interest enriches another.

Sign up for workshops — whether they be for writing, pottery, or wine tasting. Procure books. Attend talks. Take copious notes and make it a practice to revisit them after some time; detaching yourself for a while allows the new knowledge to marinate in the mind, which gives rise to new insights.

Have Your Own Voice

As a blogger, you wouldn’t want to simply regurgitate what you see and hear or read about. Put your own spin on it when you write. Share your reflections and reactions; have a point of view, an opinion. Think of yourself as a newspaper columnist rather than a beat reporter.

Your blog is an extension of yourself. It reflects who you are and what you stand for. So put something of yourself in it, so when your readers come, they find you.

The Butterfly Growth Model

butterfly growthPhoto by Unhindered by Talent

With the benefit of hindsight, I feel confident making a statement that you don’t hear often. There is no one-size fits all strategy to grow your blog or website.

More specifically, the kind of work you do must depend on how far your blog or website has already grown to be effective.

I call this idea the ‘Butterfly Growth Model’ because, like a butterfly, your growth will move through two major stages. Each stage of growth needs to correspond with a very different promotion strategy. I’ll outline the secret to this model here.

The two stages

From a layman’s perspective, the two major growth stages of a butterfly are 1) chrysalis and 2) butterfly.

The metaphor describes my own experiences growing my blog over the last six months or so.

The chrysalis stage will be a familiar experience for anyone who has or is growing a blog or website without leverage.

It’s not surprising that it’s tricky: your audience finds you through links, social media and search engines, but your audience is also largely responsible for creating this traffic.

In other words, you can’t get an audience without an audience! In the beginning, you must inevitably function as a promotional army of one, laying down links to your blog like railroad track.

In a matter of days, or weeks, or months or years, your blog or website will enter the second stage of growth: the butterfly stage.

You’ll know you’ve entered this stage when visitors tumble in and your subscribe count climbs incrementally even when you’re no longer self-promoting. You’ve developed an established audience who share the burden of promotion for you.

Some of you will identify yourselves as part of the chrysalis stage, when you’re really at movement number two. Your audience could share the burden of promotion alone, but you don’t let them. You’ve been pursuing the first growth method for so long that you don’t know anything else.

I discovered that my blog was in the ‘butterfly’ stage by accident. For a period I found myself too busy to guest-post, leave comments elsewhere or pitch links to popular blogs.

I stopped self-promotion completely. Despite that, readers continued to link and vote for the content, and new visitors and subscribers continued to trickle in at about the same rate they were arriving when I was spending hours on promotion.

There is a point when you realize that your audience no longer needs you to make things happen.

Retrospectively, I think a chrysalis becomes a butterfly much earlier than most of us realize. I’m talking a few hundred subscribers, rather than a few thousand. Some of you may already be there, even though you don’t know it.

Which stage are you?

Here are the criteria that I would apply to the two stages:


  1. Fewer than 500 subscribers. I don’t include daily traffic as a criteria because it’s not a good indication of how engaged your audience is. Good SEO, for example, does not guarantee good content. Just look at the results for a search on ‘Make Money Online’…
  2. Trouble getting more than a few comments on your posts.

What you should be doing

Owners of a chrysalis stage blog or website should be dividing their time evenly between value-packed content and off-blog promotion. Here’s what I would suggest:

  • Comment a few times on other blogs in your niche to demonstrate your knowledge and attract the notice of the blog’s owner. I don’t think even chrysalis blogs and websites should pursue a comments for traffic strategy. The rewards aren’t in proportion to the time spent.
  • Guest-post as much as possible on the most popular blogs in your niche. You do this for visibility, profile and traffic.
  • Create value-packed content and pitch your best links to popular blogs in your niche.
  • Make friends and connections on your social media profile of choice.

You’ll grow fastest in this stage if you’re your own biggest fan. While it’s possible to grow without these methods (possibly by skipping straight to butterfly growth), I truly don’t believe you’ll grow as quickly in the beginning stages.

Having said that, part of using the chrysalis model effectively is knowing when to stop. Once you move into the butterfly model, it’s time to hand over promotional duties to your audience and concentrate on the things that make them passionate about you.

My criteria for the next stage:


  1. More than 500 subscribers.

While I practiced chrysalis growth until about December and 2,000+ subscribers, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made was failing to start earlier. A lot earlier.

In fact, I’m suggesting that you should start butterfly growth once you hit about 500 subscribers.

This is the point where you acknowledge that your audience is more influential than you are. Give them great, value-packed content and they will champion it with or without you.

What you should be doing

It’s possible to grow a blog or website at an astronomical rate with only one element: value-packed content.

But only once you’ve entered the butterfly stage. Value-packed content won’t stand for much if nobody sees it.

Great content + an engaged audience = all the things that grow a blog or website. Links, social media votes and search engine traffic. You don’t need anything else.

Pitching links to popular blogs is still worth the time because it only takes a few minutes to do so — work potentially resulting in hundreds of visits.

At this point, guest-posting needs to be carefully evaluated. If you’re already well-known in your niche, guest posting will only build your profile to a limited extent.

You might get dozens of click-throughs, but social media could send the same post hundreds of visitors if it appeared on your own blog.

The key difference is this: the traffic you get from guest-posts will be highly targeted if you’re writing on another blog in your niche. The traffic you get from social media is not nearly as well targeted.

I’d suggest only guest-posting on highly-trafficked, highly-targeted blogs, and not doing the same blog more than once a month.

However, Dosh Dosh’s recent milestone of hitting 10,000 subscribers without ever guest-posting shows that this strategy isn’t a prerequisite for success in the butterfly stage. Great content on your own blog is.

The chrysalis stage work you did on a social media profile should be enough to have developed a cluster of readers who actively use social media and will regularly vote for your articles.

From what I’ve observed, having an amicable relationship with a top Digger or other social media power-user is invaluable, but it’s something I’ve never chased and now that I have it, I don’t really know how to use it.

In other words, I can’t provide much advice on this particular point because I’m still stumbling my way through it.

Changing your perspective

This discussion begs a fundamental question: could a butterfly stage blog or website grow quickly without any kind of off-blog promotion? I think so.

In fact, I’d suggest that if you divert the time you’d usually spend on off-blog promotional methods into creating value-packed content, you’ll receive more links and traffic than you could have created yourself.

My overall argument is this: if your blog has 500 or more subscribers, let your audience take charge of what they do best — supporting and championing you.

As a blogger, focus your energies on providing the value which creates a passionate audience who want to spread the word about you.

Stop talking about yourself and give other people a reason to talk about you.

Like it or Not, You’re a Marketer

All Marketers Are Liars From the cover of All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin

If you run a blog or website you can learn a lot from the world’s marketing mavericks. Even if you’re not making any money (or intending to).

You can unlock these lessons by making a mental switch.

  • Blog or website = product.
  • You = marketer.
  • Customers = readers.
  • Instead of buying the product, you want readers to consume it (to read what you write).

With these easy substitutions in place the new marketers have plenty to teach us. In this post, I want to share some of the key lessons I’ve learned from Seth Godin in particular.

Why going viral is more powerful than word of mouth

For some time I understood ‘viral’ to be a catchier way of saying ‘word of mouth’. I’ve even said as much on this blog, and for that I apologize (proof that I’m still learning as much as anyone else is). Here’s Seth Godin on why viral marketing is not the same as word of mouth.

I found his explanation a little dense, so I want to illustrate it with an example from my day-to-day life.

I discovered a fantastic restaurant in the CBD closest to where I live. They have huge, delicious gourmet pizzas big enough to make two people feel full for a very reasonable price.

After going there to have dinner with my mother, I was determined to introduce my friends to the restaurant’s wonders. I must have raved about it to five friends now. That’s word of mouth marketing.

Why isn’t it viral marketing? Because as far as I know none of the people I’ve told have taken the next step and visited the restaurant (I think they’re waiting for me to take them!).

For viral marketing to take place, they’d have to visit and then go one step further: tell more friends, who would tell their friends, and so on. That’s viral marketing.

Word of mouth marketing happens at the individual level. An individual experiences something and tells others about it.

Viral marketing is collective: an individual experiences something, tells five others. Those five others tell five friends… and on it goes.

For that reason, viral marketing is infinitely more powerful than word of mouth. You want your content, or the idea behind your site, to go viral. It will mean you need to spend less time pushing your own stuff because other people will do it for you.

How much is a reader really worth?

“The true, current value of any one customer is a function of the customer’s future purchases, across all the product lines, brands, and services offered by you.”

– Seth Godin, Permission Marketing: Turning Into Friends and Friends Into Customers, p. 69.

Let’s flip this quote around.

“The true, current value of any one reader is a function of the reader’s future engagement, contributions, links, votes and recommendations across all the content you offer.”

This helps us to think of individual readers differently. We might no longer feel that it’s wise not to read comments, to ignore emails that are ‘too hard’, or to break promises when they become inconvenient.

The importance of being remarkable

Seth Godin outlines ten short points to help you be remarkable. It’s a nice read, but you might wonder how it applies to what we do.

If you’re not unique, you’ll always be constrained by the success of those you’re imitating. Sometimes it can be tempting to try and achieve success by numbers: this site is successful, so if I do what they’re doing, I’ll be successful too.

In fact, this is a guaranteed way to cripple your route to success from the outset.

If you’re providing the same things that those bigger than you provide, readers will always choose the authority over the unproven imitator.

Uniqueness alone is not the same as being remarkable. Remarkable innovation needs to satisfy a demand which hasn’t been met yet, or solve a problem better than anyone else. Is your content remarkable?

Interruptions vs. Interactions

Seth Godin teaches that interaction is far more powerful than interruption. For this reason, the What Would Seth Godin Do? WordPress plugin has always puzzled me.

I think it’s exactly what Seth Godin wouldn’t do (though correct me if I’m wrong — I’m no expert).

The plug-in creates a box-out on your blog or website that only new visitors can see. The text within the box urges the visitor to subscribe to your feed or email updates, before they’ve had a chance to work out if they like your content or not.

If there’s no pre-existing relationship of trust and good faith before you try to get the visitor to do something, it’s an interruption, not an interaction.

For the plug-in to be worthy of its name it would pop-up after the third or fourth visit from a particular IP address. Once there’s a pre-existing relationship, your offer becomes an interaction.

This is why I always advocate that new sites start without advertising. When there’s no pre-existing relationship, ads are an interruption.

When you’ve established a relationship with a network of people who like you and your content, ads start to become more like interactions.

Ask yourself: is what I’m doing an interaction, or an interruption?

The next step

The aim of this post isn’t to archive every lesson new marketers can teach bloggers. There are too many. What’s revelatory for me will be ho-hum for you. Besides, they said it better.

The key to interpreting new marketing advice is worth repeating.

  • Blog or website = product.
  • You = marketer.
  • Customers = readers.
  • Instead of buying the product, you want readers to consume it (to read what you write).

With those switches in mind, I’d recommend going to your local library and borrowing some Seth Godin.

His blog is one of my favorites, and works a lot like a serialized book. NorthxEast reader engtech recommends Made to Stick, too.

You won’t be able to use every piece of advice given, but some of it will be a revelation.

What Popular Bloggers Got Wrong – And How You Can Get it Right

blogging problemsPhoto by 416style

I am always the first person to advocate studying blogs you admire to learn their techniques. I’ve dedicated a lot of time to spreading the word about blogs that are doing things right, and how you can emulate them.

But in this post, I want to talk about how we can learn what no to do from the evolution of popular blogs.

Because they’ve learned from their mistakes, we have the opportunity to learn without ever having to make the same mistake they did. I’ll show you how, here.

This set of stages shows how the business-side of many popular blogs has evolved over time:

Stage 1

Begins with fixation on advertising income. Provides the initial excitement of earning some income for blogging. Then the blogger realizes it scales poorly: most blogs reach a natural ‘growth cap’ where traffic begins to plateau at its maximum level.

Without more traffic, advertising income can’t keep growing. It’s also inconsistent – a Google pagerank reshuffle or the loss of a major advertiser throws the blogger’s earnings into disarray.

Ad-blindness decreases the return you can provide to advertisers. So, the blogger moves on to stage two.

Stage 2

Focus shifts to affiliate income. By the time Stage 2 is reached, the blogger has developed a large audience of fans who trust what he or she says.

The blogger begins to experiment with affiliate recommendations and is surprised by the results. The blog’s earnings begin to increase again. This is a long stage for many blogs, as the negative effects can take some time to manifest themselves.

Eventually, affiliate sales slowly drop, and some readers become disenchanted with the blogger. There is only so much selling they can take.

Earnings are still good, but no longer growing. The blogger begins to wonder what would happen if they sold their own work, instead of someone else’s.

Stage 3

The blogger begins to sell their own work through the blog: freelance services like consulting, design or public speaking, or products they’ve created, like eBooks and online courses.

These sell much better than affiliate products, because the readers are already fans of the blogger, and the blogger keeps 100% of the earnings.

While selling these services and products is highly profitable, it’s also much more rewarding than selling other people’s products through advertising and affiliate marketing.

Stage 4

Selling services and products is so much more effective and rewarding than advertising and affiliate marketing that the blogger scales back significantly on their stage 1 (advertising) and stage 2 (affiliate marketing) efforts.

Many blogs remove all advertising and no longer sell any products other than their own. They know their efforts are better spent creating and selling their own products and services. Many wish they had focused on creating the ideal conditions for this from the beginning.

There are several blogs I follow – and you may follow too – that are just beginning to enter, or are already in Stage 4 at the moment.

Yaro Starak, someone whose business strongly illustrates the transition across four stages, recently wrote that he would be scaling back on affiliate marketing pitches, suggesting that “If you’re focusing too much on selling, then you’re slowly destroying your business because you’re destroying trust.”

Copyblogger also evolved through the four stages I outlined, and now no longer displays any advertising for products not released through the blog.

Darren Rowse was recently floored by the success of a $72,000 eBook launch and is focusing much more on his own products than affiliate marketing and advertising, once the core of his business.

I could fill this post with other examples, but these are just a few you may know. Blogs that once based their core business model around stage 1 (advertising) and stage 2 (affiliates) can’t shift away fast enough.

The ‘mistake’ I mentioned in the introduction to this post is that they poured so much time and effort into stage 1 and 2 methods in the first place, and didn’t make the switch earlier.

Of course, this kind of ‘mistake’ isn’t a real mistake or failure, it’s part of the learning process inherent in running a business.

We keep trying new things until we find the one that works, and sometimes we dedicate too much time and too many resources to the wrong strategy.

Why this is important

If you’re a relatively new blogger, or still don’t believe you’ve met your goals for the success of your blog, you’re actually at an advantage.

You can follow the example of the popular bloggers, but skip the wrong turns.

You don’t have to spend months wrestling with AdSense, Clickbank and Amazon referrals without real rewards before making the leap into Stage 3 – selling your own services and products.

In the time other bloggers spend pitching affiliate products to their readers and expending the trust they accrued, you could take a different path – growing trust slowly and surely over time by providing great value and treating readers with respect.

Over time, you allow that trust to flourish until you’re ready to share the services and products you’ve created for your readers.

In many ways, the trust your readers have in you is like a stock portfolio. Expend it as soon as you get it and you will probably lose trust over time.

Hold on to it over months, or even a year or two, and it will grow, and grow, and grow. By the time you’re ready to launch your ‘Stage 4′ business you will be a mile ahead of others who sunk time and effort into stage 1 and 2 only to later decide it wasn’t the right path for them.

If you feel like you’re currently stuck in stage 1 or 2, consider moving on to the next stage now. Switch your focus away from advertising and affiliate marketing and towards growing trust will be rewarded in the long-run.

If you’re yet to experiment with any kind of monetization, you’re also in a strong position – you have the choice to get it right from the start.

Which stage are you in? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

Top 5 Tips For Success in a Crowded Niche

succeeding a crowded nichePhoto by a4gpa

Unless you’re blogging about Mexican Walking Fish (who’ve been trained to fight in the Greco-Roman Wrestling style) you can bet that your niche is pretty crowded.

If you’re blogging about personal finance, technology, blogging or making money online, the sheer number of peers and competitors can make standing out seem impossible.

While many have argued that blogging in a crowded niche makes things unnecessarily difficult, I disagree.

Sure, being the first blog to cater to the needs of an under-served audience is very useful, but few under-served niches remain.

Let’s deal with reality. Most niches are crowded. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

In this post, I’ll explain how you can leverage a crowded niche for maximum benefit.

Your peers provide a platform

Being alone (or almost alone) in a niche can be hard. Without peers blogging on the same topics, you have to search harder for places to guest-post and think outside the box when sourcing out your target audience.

If there are few other blogs on your topic — or no good ones — where do you comment? Who do you pitch links to?

While the success of your on-blog efforts will be magnified (because you’re the only one doing them), your off-blog promotional activities will be tougher than usual.

When you’re trying to establish an audience and subscriber base, off-blog promotion is perhaps more important than your on-blog efforts. An under-served niche can actually be pretty tough to exist in.

When blogging in a crowded niche, your peers provide a platform to launch from. Your target audience is reading other blogs in your niche, so that’s where you can try to attract them: by commenting, guest-posting, pitching links or becoming a contributing writer.

A crowded niche indicates a strong demand

If no-one is doing quality blogging on a particular topic, it might be because the target audience for such a topic is incredibly small. An empty niche does not automatically indicate an under-served niche.

A crowded niche indicates that it’s serving an audience hungry for information. If you think about your own behavior, you might find that you’re subscribed to a number of blogs in the same niche.

A crowded niche is a death-trap if readers are only ever going to subscribe to one blog in that niche, but that’s simply not the case. Some do, but a lot don’t.

Now with more links!

Ever noticed that most of the blogs in the Technorati Top 100 exist in crowded niches?

Technorati is about links, and crowded niches are ideal for getting links. Intelligent bloggers will make sure to link out only to things that are relevant to their target audience.

If you’re the only person catering to your target audience, there’s nobody around to link to you. If you share a target audience with a lot of blogs, it means that a lot of blogs have the potential to send a link your way.

Tips for success in a crowded niche

1. Make connections — a crowded niche is full of peers with skills you might not have. Starting an email dialogue with another blogger can lead to co-operation and mutual benefit in future. Bloggers in empty niches don’t have this luxury.

2. Crowded niche = crowded audience — with so many voices trying to be heard it can be a little overwhelming. You can stand out in a crowded niche by providing something radically different to everyone else or by filling gaps that other peers aren’t covering. Shouting louder won’t work. Developing a unique voice is essential.

3. Find your audience — other blogs in your niche are places where potential readers hang out. There’s no neuroscience involved — you don’t need to puzzle out where they’re hiding. They’re right in front of you. Not having to search out your target audience is a luxury many bloggers in a crowded niche don’t appreciate. Every time you guest-post, comment or get a link, you’re building doorways for potential readers to move through.

4. Learn from your peers — other successful blogs in your niche give you a blueprint to follow. By studying them, you can see what your target audience likes, and what it doesn’t like. If you’re blogging in an empty niche you’ll need to learn everything from scratch.

5. Benchmark yourself against your peers — there’s nothing like other runners in a race to make you run faster. When trying to become popular in a crowded niche, you need to edge ahead of already established blogs. To do that, you need to match the level of usefulness they provide (and then some). Competition breeds excellence.

How do you try to succeed in a crowded niche?