On January 11th my humble little blog celebrated its very first birthday. But rather than publish some lame/self congratulatory post, I’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of my buddy Tad, and use the occasion to embark upon a little reflection. Infants are sponges for information in their first few years of life, and as a blogging infant I’ve certainly learned A LOT. So today I thought I’d share the five most important lessons of the past 12 months…
Lesson 1 – Momentum disappears damn quickly
In the final quarter of 2008, my life was largely pre-occupied with personal matters such as my recent engagement and the all important end of year holidays. As a result my publishing frequency and external social media participation dropped dramatically. What surprised me was just how quickly my blog lost momentum. Momentum is perhaps one of the most underrated characteristics of blogging success. In my case, I had spent 9 months building momentum by:
- Frequently publishing new material
- Networking regularly in my preferred online communities – Sphinn & StumbleUpon
- Commenting regularly on other blogs
- Frequently contributing guest posts to prominent third party blogs
- Participating in the occasional external interview
I suspected my efforts had bought me some well deserved time off. Apparently not! In the blogosphere it seems that out of sight means out of mind (even if it’s just for a few days…). Within weeks of reducing my participation I’d noticed dramatic drops in traffic, subscriber engagement, reader interaction (comments) and social media support. The loss of momentum was cumulative as the period of inactivity extended, to the point where it become a virtual ghost town in December.
Yeesh… can’t a guy take a break…?
Lesson 2 – It’s not all about the traffic
Like most bloggers I spent most of my first year obsessing over traffic levels. I’d check my stats every morning and eagerly anticipate the traffic spike after I published a new post. I even developed a split personality. But if my time off in late 2008 taught me nothing else, it was that traffic ain’t everything. With my publishing frequency at just 25% of my most active output, traffic plunged:
Eeep!! While it wasn’t unexpected, my heart broke and my ego was crushed. With reduced productivity and output, I expected my subscriber numbers to follow. But they didn’t. In fact, subscriber growth continued at almost exactly the same rate as when I was most at my most active:
Amazingly, the final quarter of 2008 saw the steepest growth in subscriber numbers of the year. I don’t really have a good explanation of how or why this occurred (aside from a backlog of good content…?), but it did make one thing abundantly clear. While traffic may be good for the ego, if visitors don’t convert to subscribers, it serves no great purpose .
Lesson 3 – Personal blogging doesn’t make you a social media expert
Earlier this year a smart young buck by the name of Julian Cole put together a list of the top 100 Australian marketing blogs. It replicates the Ad Age structure by using traffic ranking signals to rank Aussie blogs. I was fortunate enough to come in at number 11 on the list. Hooray for me. Some would say that makes me a social media expert. To that I say… “bah”!
Certainly I have an idea of how to build and promote a personal blog. And based on that knowledge the agency I work for began to involve me more heavily in client projects with an element of social media. But what I increasingly found was that very few of the tactics I used to build my blog were applicable to the corporate environment. Amongst other things issues such as time frames, ROI, resourcing, legalities and management hesitancy rendered many of the tactics I’d used redundant. My personal blogging experience still held some value, but its applicability was limited.
Rather than say any more, I recommend you watch what Brian Chappell has to say on the matter (not the highest quality vid but the message is poignant):
Lesson 4 – Networking is forever…
It wasn’t long into my blogging adventures that I realised I needed to develop a personal network. Indeed, I created my very own process to build a network of influential friends and peers. And what do you know… it worked. But having successfully created my personal network, I sat back and enjoyed the spoils (mainly in the form of social media support). I thought the job was done. It clearly wasn’t.
At the time that I published my post on how to build an influential network I came under criticism from people who thought the approach was akin to ass kissing.
“If you want to devote your life and time to kissing up, go right ahead. You might get a kiss or two back. But that kiss will be worthless in a little while when the ‘top dogs’ you kissed up to yesterday disappear tomorrow.”
I’ll never agree with the ass kissing argument, but boy did the crux of the comment turn out to be true. Months later, and for various reasons, many members of my posse have significantly reduced their participation in my chosen social networks. And as a result, the support I was generating slowly dwindled away. Rather than continuing to proactively play the networking game, I became lax. My bad…
Let 09 be the year of resourceful networking!
Lesson 5 – Guest blogging rocks
If you’ve read this blog for a while you’d know I’m a huge advocate of guest blogging. In the middle of last year I launched a guest blogging ‘world tour’, during which I contributed to a range of prominent industry blogs including SEO Scoop (twice), Huomah, Techipedia, SEO 2.0 (twice), TheVanBlog & Social Desire (twice).
Initially I was a little nervous about ‘giving my traffic away’. I hadn’t quite conquered the traffic obsession just yet. But I soon learned better. Throughout the year, my biggest subscriber jumps always came after a popular guest post was published. I was sacrificing traffic, but gaining subscribers. And what’s more important to the long term growth of your blog…? I think Tad summed it up perfectly below (aside from the whole ‘sought after’ bit…):
“You can’t really measure reputation. By now you are one of the most sought after writers in the industry. I doubt that a few more visitors to your blog would have the same effect.”
With that in mind I’m planning a second world tour starting as of February ’09. First cab off the rank will be Steven’s blog, because I’ve given him lame broken promises for guest posts over the past few months. Sorry buddy! For everyone else, if you want your blog to be part of the tour in 09, feel free to drop me a line.
What’s with all the negativity dude?
You may have noticed that 4 of the 5 lessons focus on things that I haven’t done particularly well. That’s not to say there haven’t been positives, because there have been plenty (many of which I have written about). Hell… if there weren’t any positives I doubt I’d still be going. But I think our greatest lessons come from our mistakes… and I know that has certainly been the case for me in my first year of blogging. Hopefully my mistakes will help others to learn.
The challenge now is to take decisive actions from those lessons in order to build a better blog in 09. Because as Einstein would say – insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results…