All You Need to Know About Blogging

01 June 2013 · 21 comments

Note: Recently, I’ve been coaching Kim as she prepares to launch her own website. Doing so reminds of a lesson I try to preach to all new bloggers: Content is king. Here’s an article I wrote on the subject for a now-defunct blog about blogging back in March 2007.

I have a friend who’s starting a niche personal finance blog. He’s very interested in the subject, and knowledgeable, and I think he could make it an interesting site.

When the idea first came to him a few months ago, he approached me. “How do I make this a successful blog?” he asked.

“Post lots of good content,” I told him.

“Yeah,” he said. “But what else?”

“There is no ‘what else’,” I said. Actually, I ranted and raved about how too many people focus on things that aren’t important and don’t bother to spend time on the content, but essentially it all amounted to “there is no ‘what else’”.

My friend went away for a few weeks to work on his site. When I talked to him again he told me, “I’ve switched from WordPress to Drupal. Do you think that’ll make a difference?”

“It’ll make no difference at all,” I said. “Readers don’t care what weblog tool you use. All they care about is the content.”

“Yeah, but Drupal offers so many more features,” he said. I just shook my head.

About a month ago, he launched his site. He posted an introductory article. “Looks good,” I said.

“Can you point people to the site?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I said. “You don’t have any content.”

Meanwhile he put up some Google ads and some Amazon ads. He posted a single link to another article at a big news site. I talked to him a couple of weeks later. “Nobody’s coming to my site,” he told me. “Not a single person has clicked on an ad.”

“That’s because there’s nothing there,” I told him.

“What do you mean?” he said. “I spent a lot of time creating the layout and putting up the ads.”

“You need to focus on content,” I told him.

So he wrote another article. It was moderately interesting, but it was all in one h-u-g-e paragraph. There’s been nothing new posted to the site since then. The site layout has changed a half-dozen times, though, as my friend tries to make it as pretty as possible.

He IMed me last night. “Nobody’s coming to the site,” he said.

“It needs content,” I told him.

“I don’t have time,” he said. “I’m so busy.” I pointed out that he wasn’t too busy to party with friends. He wasn’t too busy to play soccer. He wasn’t too busy to tinker with the layout. These are all fine things, but none of them have anything to do with getting readers. “Can’t you point people to my site?” he asked.

“Maybe in a couple of months,” I said. “Maybe once you have some content.”

This concept has been beat into the ground a thousand times before, but it’s the single most important factor in creating a successful weblog: To gain readers, you must publish quality content on a regular basis. Sure, readers like a pretty site. Sure, it would be nice if there were ads for them to click on. But all of this is secondary. All that really matters is the content.

That, my friends, is all that you ever need to know about blogging.

Note: In the six years since I wrote this article, a new distraction has reared its ugly head: Search Engine Optimization. New bloggers will spend dozens of hours focused on SEO instead of doing the one thing that matters most: creating content. When people ask me what I do for SEO, I tell the truth: Nothing. My motto is: “The best SEO is an article that people want to link to.” It’s the truth.
1 Catherine June 2, 2013 at 04:31

I love this post! On my blog I never worry aboyt seo. I want people to find my posts because they enjoy and share among themselves not because google pointed them there. Good posts speak for themselves. I blog because I love it not for monitization. I staff write (seo usually) because it helps pay the bills.

2 Carole June 2, 2013 at 05:53

As a blog reader, I agree with your premise that content is everything. I don’t think that pictures replace content either, although a few enrich the post. Whenever a blogger announces a new format is coming, I know that there will be an attractive way of presenting less new material and more recycling of old material.

3 Andrew Snyder June 2, 2013 at 08:24

I would only add that a robust comment section is a big help. Of course, that too is dependent upon the quality of the original content.

4 Mrs. PoP @ Planting Our Pennies June 2, 2013 at 08:58

Nice to know that what’s true 6 years ago still seems to be true today. I think I’d also add that the definition of success of a blog seems to be pretty narrowly interpreted sometimes (for your friend – clicking on adds). We get very few readers clicking on the limited ads on our posts, and we’re totally good with that because our own definition of successful blogging changes the longer we blog. It’s become much more about personal development and being part of ongoing discussions than generating ad clicks.

5 Holly Wolf June 2, 2013 at 09:04

Great point about content. Another important point is to understand that you have a variety of readers with different tastes. Interesting tidbits, behind the scenes information may seem unappealing to you but to the reader–it’s great content.

One size doesn’t fit all…..any more than one book suits all readers.

6 Michael June 2, 2013 at 12:00

Yes, you most definitely need quality content. But if you’re going to build a sizable audience, you also need a fair amount of luck. Or connections. There’s a ton of great content out there that nobody knows about.

7 CashRebel June 2, 2013 at 12:29

For a while I was concerned that I wasn’t focusing enough on layout, ads, or sri. It was wonderful when I finally realized that that stuff hardly matters. Its like a super expensive golf club. Sure it will help Tiger Woods get a little bit better, but for you and me, it’d make more sense to just get started with a loaner set of clubs and focus on playing a good game.

8 Christopher Dungeon June 2, 2013 at 13:58

Great post, JD. Makes 100% sense. I actually threw out a couple posts last week because they added zero value. They were me just blabbing, but today I sat down and added 3 quality ones.

I’ve been following you since 2008 and this is my first post. Your simplistic viewpoint on life and finances has really changed my everything. Got out of debt and stopped spending money just to spend money. Thanks for your work – you are really changing lives!

9 Romanian June 3, 2013 at 02:42

Nice story and it’s interesting to see that things haven’t changed that much since 2007. It is indeed true that if you have great content (combined, possibly, with a great topic), people will start coming. Like I did here. You posted great content, I read, I liked, and now you have a new subscriber. So it’s clearly a strategy that works! :)

10 Abby June 3, 2013 at 08:10

This is great advice. After almost a year of blogging, I finally realized that I didn’t have to post every single day or even every week. It was life changing. Now I spend more time writing high quality posts instead of filling my blog with so-so/boring stuff. I’ve found that people will actually comment on the good stuff, which is cool! Plus now I have more time to surf around and comment on great posts by my favorite bloggers–like this one!

11 Tyler Karaszewski June 3, 2013 at 10:57

This is why I don’t really blog. The sort of article I want to write is too time-consuming (sorry, self-link to example) to do often enough to keep people coming back regularly, with too small of an audience to really be self-sustaining.

That’s fine, blogging isn’t what I do for a living, and most of the time, there’s other ways I’d rather spend my free time.

(now watch this comment get marked as spam for containing more than one link.)

12 Jethro June 3, 2013 at 14:54

Ditto what Tyler said.

I lost my own [small] readership due to Facebook and my own laziness in posting (it’s easier to just post a short blurb on FB). I have recently tried to update more often, but the main readers are friends and family who don’t have FB — so it is often personal photos, sometimes a restaurant review or a general rant about something.

I have the writing skills to do better, but I just can’t clear my mind long enough to sit down and really produce some decent content. Besides, there’s already one good writer in the family… so I’ll just let JD do the blogging. :-)

13 Kathleen, Frugal Portland June 3, 2013 at 15:20

Can you point me to Kim’s website? She is AWESOME and I bet she’s a good writer, too!

14 Jen Patterson June 3, 2013 at 21:07

This makes a ton of sense. Writing about things that are truly engaging and that you genuinely care about is where it’s at. Even if lots of people don’t find your blog, if only one person is connected and inspired by your writing that is more important than getting clicks on advertisements.

15 retirebyforty June 4, 2013 at 08:50

Thanks for posting this. It’s all about the content.
Sites with good content will rise up and do well over time.
People who starts out trying to make money will be disappointed with how much time it takes. I’m sure most bloggers make about a nickle an hour over their first year.

16 maria@moneyprinciple June 5, 2013 at 14:44

Thanks for this article and for making me feel better. Tonight, I have been feeling a bit down about the whole blogging thing and have been asking myself whether I am not doing some important part of blogging right – beyond writing this is. I’ll listen to you and stop getting distracted :).

17 Chett Daniel June 13, 2013 at 08:06

I completely agree with everything you wrote J.D. Do you feel how you craft the content makes a difference in how people find you?

It’s good to see you have a blog outside of GRS. I stopped visiting the site sometime ago and didn’t realize you began another blog. I’m subscribing now.

18 Donna Freedman June 16, 2013 at 23:14

*****Caution: Mini-rant ahead.*****
Could we stop calling it “content” and call it what it is? WRITING.
“Content” is sterile, neutral, fungible. (“Gotta plug some content in because I can’t miss a day! Doesn’t matter what, just throw some content on there!”)
Why not think of it as writing, rather than cubes of print? If you think of it as a chore — content to be cranked out — then you aren’t fully engaged with it. And if you aren’t engaged, it won’t be engaging.
Post good writing. Write good postings. Have fun with it. Have a day off if you need it. Take the work seriously — but don’t ever take YOURSELF too seriously.
*****End of rant. Sorry ’bout that. But I’m tossing these ideas around because I’ll be discussing this very subject at FinCon13. See you there.*****

19 Misty July 6, 2013 at 20:12

Somehow came across of video of your talk at WDS. What’s even more amazing is that your talk captured my attention for the full 40 minutes. The things you say have come a critical time for you and this post in particular is a great reminder, too. You are direct and confident. I’m a new fan.

20 Ryan @ Digital Photography Hobbyist December 12, 2013 at 15:43

Such a simple rule, but we (myself included) always seem to make it much more complicated than it is. I often get distracted by looking at my competition or finding the next plugin rather than just sitting down and pounding out articles that are worth reading.

21 Emenike Emmanuel June 5, 2014 at 06:25

I believe you. Content is king. I’ve had many people visit and revisit my blog, not because I have good design but because my content is great and I tag rightly. 90% of my traffic came from the search engine.

All You Need to Know About Blogging

19 July 2009

This article was orginally published at Meta Best Blog Win on 09 March 2007.

I have a friend who is starting a niche personal finance blog. He’s very interested in the subject, and knowledgeable, and I think he could make it an interesting site.

When the idea first came to him a few months ago, he approached me. “How do I make this a successful blog?” he asked.

“Post lots of good content,” I told him.

“Yeah,” he said. “But what else?”

“There is no ‘what else’,” I said. Actually, I ranted and raved about how too many people focus on things that aren’t important and don’t bother to spend time on the content, but essentially it all amounted to “there is no ‘what else'”.

My friend went away for a few weeks to work on his site. When I talked to him again he told me, “I’ve switched from WordPress to Drupal. Do you think that’ll make a difference?”

“It’ll make no difference at all,” I said. “Readers don’t care what weblog tool you use. All they care about is the content.”

“Yeah, but Drupal offers so many more features,” he said. I just shook my head.

About a month ago, he launched his site. He posted an introductory article. “Looks good,” I said.

“Can you point people to the site?” he asked.

“Not yet,” I said. “You don’t have any content.”

Meanwhile he put up some Google ads and some Amazon ads. He posted a single link to another article at a big news site. I talked to him a couple weeks later. “Nobody’s coming to my site,” he told me. “Not a single person has clicked on an ad.”

“That’s because there’s nothing there,” I told him.

“What do you mean?” he said. “I spent a lot of time creating the layout and putting up the ads.”

“You need to focus on content,” I told him.

So he wrote another article. It was moderately interesting, but it was all in one h-u-g-e paragraph. That was on February 21st. There’s been nothing new posted to the site since then. The site layout has changed a half-dozen times, though, as my friend looks to make it as pretty as possible.

He IMed me last night. “Nobody’s coming to the site,” he said.

“It needs content,” I told him.

“I don’t have time,” he said. “I’m so busy.” I pointed out that he wasn’t too busy to party with friends. He wasn’t too busy to play soccer. He wasn’t too busy to tinker with the layout. These are all fine things, but none of them have anything to do with getting readers. “Can’t you point people to my site?” he asked.

“Maybe in a couple months,” I said. “Maybe once you have some content.”

This concept has been beat into the ground a thousand times before, but it’s the single most important factor in creating a successful weblog: To gain readers, you must publish quality content on a regular basis. Sure, readers like a pretty site. Sure, it would be nice if there were ads for them to click on. But all of this is secondary. All that really matters is the content.

That, my friends, is all that you ever need to know about blogging.

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