The 5 most important lessons from my first year of blogging

by James Duthie on January 12, 2009

easter.jpgOn 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:

  1. Frequently publishing new material
  2. Networking regularly in my preferred online communities – Sphinn & StumbleUpon
  3. Commenting regularly on other blogs
  4. Frequently contributing guest posts to prominent third party blogs
  5. 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

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

John Sullivan January 12, 2009 at 10:57 am

Congrats James I’m actually coming up on a year in March. There’s definitely a honeymoon in blogging. I would write about the ” one way blogger” and be disappointed in all the luv I was throwing out there and my mind was playing all kinds of tricks on me. I thought blogging would be some huge LUV feast and finally woke up to that reality. So instead of looking to change something that is impossible I changed my attitude and try my best to avoid spewing negative hateful stuff and bide my time. I’m fortunate to be making great money right now and it’s sad when you really thought that WE clicked
2009 I’m focusing on quality I rather have one steak then 20 hamburgers as they say. Meaning I always challenge people/bloggers to Bring IT :)
PS when your a nobody that’s difficult Well the most well known blogger in the world was once not to long ago a nobody.2009 is going to be brutal for all the HOTSHOTS what do they really have to offer? Nada and it’s all good.
Best wishes in 2009
Stumbled and thanks for stopping BY appreciate it

Pete January 12, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Congrats James… Those are some very important lessons – many of which I’ve learnt the hard way – my blog lost it’s momentum a few months back when I went on holidays and I’ve been trying to plan an action-packed fireworks-and-party-cracker return now that we’re in the new year… so far the only thing that I’ve managed to perfect within these last couple of weeks is a PhD in procrastination. Thanks for the tips and inspiration to get back into the social media sphere… and keep up the great articles :)

Tad Chef January 12, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Congratulations! Amazing how fast such a year disappears. One year is already a significant time frame for a blogger. So by now you’re an experienced blogger.

I noticed the momentum issue too and also the social media support dwindling due to several factors but you have to remember that after a while a blog must work on its own based on a solid subscriber (supporter) base.
You can’t always hang out n social media. Also your content has a value on its own too and people you never heard of will discover it too. You just have to get the word out from time to time. You can’t do everything yourself anyways.

Dawn Wentworth January 12, 2009 at 4:19 pm

I have been a personal blogger for .. well lets just say longer then a year and still learned several points from your post. Thank you for taking the time to share your reflections with the rest of us. It is a very helpful post for me right now as I am feeling stagnate in my blogging efforts (even on a personal blog level) and this helps to put it in perspective and hopefully on track in a better direction.

Heather January 12, 2009 at 4:59 pm

I’m a pretty new blogger, and I also enjoyed this post. I recently started writing for a third-party blog, like you mention. I participate in carnivals. And I’m learning about the whole social network thing. But it hadn’t occurred to me how commenting on other blogs actually helps.

I mean, I’ve seen it in action, I see visitor referrals coming from other blogs where I know I’ve only commented. I just never consciously thought of it that way. DUH.

So, I’m doing it right now! lol…

Dave January 12, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Yo ho Duthie boy… so we’re back in the game are we? Nice see you back to the machine…. looking forward more mahem and good times. Congrats on the anniversary, now get writing dammit!!

Corvida January 12, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Congrats on getting through your first year!

You make some great points in this post James that a lot of bloggers have probably went through. You also got me thinking about a couple of things. I smell a post coming on and a linkback to you! :D

Nathan Bush January 12, 2009 at 11:29 pm

Nice one James. Amazing how the ‘social’ element has such a massive effect on the success of your blog. Would be interested to know if you place a higher value on the social networking or the blog content for making a successful blog?

Steven Bradley January 13, 2009 at 12:50 am

Good to see you back James. I’be had my own loss of momentum lately due mostly to purcahsing a new condo. Still struggling to get the momentum back.

Congrats on the anniversary. Looking forward to many more.

lucio dias ribeiro January 13, 2009 at 1:40 am

Veni, vidi, vici!!!

James Duthie January 13, 2009 at 3:36 am

Well this is nice isn’t it. It seems I’ve got some loyal readers out there after all. At least that’s what I’ll choose to believe. It has nothing at all to do with the link drop from Search Engine Guide… :) Thanks everyone for your support and comments. Individual responses below:

@ John – I’m not ready to give up on mutual networking just yet. This post has generated a fair amount of love, so I’m reinvigorated for now.

@ Pete – I’ve still got Site Most in my reader and have been waiting for you to get back on the blogging train. Looking forward to seeing the fireworks show.

@ Tad – Agree with you completely. Indeed, I wish I could step away from SM at times to focus more on content. But the reality is that I haven’t achieved as much as you in my first year. I don’t quite have the subscriber base to provide unmitigated support. Maybe in another year’s time…

@ Dawn – Motivation is an ongoing struggle for most of us… particularly when we don’t generate a meaningful income through blogging. Glad this post helped a little to build yours.

@ Heather – Sounds like you’re on the right track with guest posting, commenting and blog carnivals. Can;t say I’ve ever done the carnivals, so you’re one step ahead of me.

@ Dave – Back with a vengeance my bruva. Miss me…?

@ Corvida – Glad I could inspire some thinking on you behalf. And of course, a backlink is always welcome! :)

@ Nathan – Excellent question! It’s sort of like the chicken and egg scenario. But one thing I will say is that it should all start with your content. If you’re not putting the time into content, the network serves little purpose. But of course, without the network your great content will go unnoticed. I split the two 50/50 in my first year because you really need both.

@ Steven – There’s been quite a few of us in the same boat. Buying a property is one of the most time consuming things you’ll ever do, so your excuse is much better than mine. And that promised guest post isn’t that far away.

@ Lucio – Not quite… but hopefully on the right track.

Brian January 13, 2009 at 6:02 am

Thanks for the mention James.

Goodluck with the next year.

Blog momentum can be a great thing. Here is to 2009!

didier January 14, 2009 at 10:08 am

Digital is no longer the “under dog” of the marketing world ,
campaigns and strategies are now built around digital media with digital media becoming the
centre piece of any activity, so a digital agency really needs to work at that strategic level with their clients-Didier grossemy

Duncan January 14, 2009 at 11:39 pm

Hey James. Thanks for the summary of your blogging year! As you say traffic isn’t everything. After a two break I’m reminded that blogging isn’t everything either!

I’ve been blogging for 5 years and have found that after a while you build up what you might call long tail posts that just keep bringing the traffic in – enough to cope with momentary lapses in blogging. But I’ve also found that the search engines are watching to see if your site is fresh. If they get the impression that you’re not active they stop calling by. When I’m getting ready for a break I plan for a reduced but regular number of advanced posts just to keep the momentum. I’m looking at contracting guest bloggers as a way around the dip as well.

Greg January 15, 2009 at 2:18 am

Hi James, was reading that your traffic had dropped of so came by to give you a boost… only one hit on the counter but everything helps right? More of a moral support thing I guess, keep going. You have a new subscriber.

Zac Martin January 24, 2009 at 11:14 am

Congratulations and very interesting post. My first birthday a couple of months ago was one of those lame self congratulatory posts, but I found these insights very relatable. Here’s to another year!

Andrew Dever January 28, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Excellent post!

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.

spot on.

Dave February 6, 2009 at 3:27 am

Blogging is like going to the gym. Consistency brings great results. Keeping working those guns!

The Sharper Image Review June 22, 2009 at 4:04 pm

It reads like you had an informative first year of blogging. Wow And nothing about Twitter. Good for you :-D

kwiaty online March 31, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Hello! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website? I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I’ve had problems with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

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