Everything I've learned in 10 years of Blogging
I’m 21, but I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years.
I grew up doing this.
What I’ve written on the internet has reached millions of people. Most of what I’ve written is in Italian, but I was also quite successful when writing in english. My Quora profile, reached 400k people in three months.
Through blogging I had the opportunity to travel the world, getting free tickets to all the biggest music festivals (Ultra, Tomorrowland.. you name it), getting promos from the Majors and interviewing my favorite artists.
Here are the numbers of my first blog EDMnews.it these are the only ones I could find as my other domains expired 😅
Eventually as I didn’t have time to blog anymore and my personal interests moved away from EDM the website got assimilated into This is EDM which was a Google News source and had more than 100k pageviews a month.
It was because of my Wordpress websites that I was pushed towards learning how to code. Without blogging, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
I find that it’s still among the best ways to get your message out there and meet interesting people.
👘 I’m now opening up the kimono.
Here’s all I know about Blogging:
- No one has time to read your article, write the first lines like they’re a TLDR.
- The design of your site is irrelevant.
- To start out you don’t need any software.
- Define your audience.
- Figure out where your audience is.
- For SEO don’t write short articles (>2000 words)
- One well researched article is better than a lot of mediocre content
- Spend half of the time writing, half promoting.
- Spend 50% of the writing time actually writing, the rest tweaking, reading and illustrating. Details are important.
- Spill all your secrets. Don’t be worried about the fact that you’ll run out of content, you won’t.
- There are no rules, slowly craft your unique style.
- Go back in your old posts and link them to newer ones.
- Start a Newsletter.
- Do what everyone else is afraid to do.
- Reach out to people asking for things or offering tips.
Carefully crafting something timeless that really penetrates your readers minds is hard, but worth it.
Most of the time when you read something you already know everything.
10% of the time things are different, you feel like a switch turns on in your head and suddenly see things differently.
When I find content that makes me feel this way I’ll refresh the page of the website every day to check if I missed something new.
I feel hooked, like an addict.
This is what we’re going for.. getting unsolicited messages like:
“This was illuminating, it opened up a world of possibilities in my mind.”
“I’ve always thought this, but didn’t have the courage to write it down, thanks for doing it.”
“Your words made me finally what’s the big deal about X, thanks”
Let’s dive in and learn how to make this happen.
🕵️♂️ The Audience
The first step when starting out a blog is figuring out who’s your audience. Most people I know skip this step, but it’s essential. It’s easy to blurt out some words and share them on your social media.
It’s much harder to create articles that resonate with the people you want to reach.
To explain how to do this I’ll show you how I’m doing it right now for this personal blog.
Up until now I used this blog to help me think, but for the new year I decided to treat it more seriously.
What is my goal?
This is my personal blog.
The fact that it’s a “personal” blog doesn’t mean that it’s about me.
In fact it means its about what I can offer to you.
My first practical tip is related to this:
Your about page in your blog has to be about how you can help and what people can expect from you. Then eventually about you..
But let’s be honest, no one gives a shit about you, or me.
What is my audience?
If you’re starting a blog for your company you have to see who your customers generally are, or which customers would be your ideal audience and cater to them.
Here’s a description of who my realistic reader:
Your name is Vincent, you are a 30yo generalist from France, you don’t work long hours for your day job. You’ve spent some time working remotely, but are now stable in the US. You’ve started more projects than you can count, and some were successful. You’re interested in anything that is not ordinary and you are a contrarian by nature. You don’t shy away from an argument and never get offended. You aren’t really interested in retiring, you’re more interested in experimenting than anything else. Some people perceive you as a bit of a dick you couldn’t care less.
Once you defined your audience you have
to figure out if it’s large enough.
Come on, it’s the internet, don’t worry about it it’s big enough.
In fact if it seems big enough for you, I’d consider to niche down.
📌 The name
Next step is to pick a name, it’s not important, just make sure it’s something you like and that it’s not too generic or impossible to remember. Don’t spend more than a day on this and once you find a name sleep at least one night over it before settling for it.
In my case I picked my name Ferruccio as the domain name, because my name is extremely rare and I already owned the domain ferrucc.io.
The downside is that Americans have no clue on how to say it, but I’m okay with this. It’s certainly easier to remember than certain Indian names (🧐 talking about you Chamath Palihapitiya).
💅 The Style
The styling of your blog, as in how it looks doesn’t really count too much at the beginning.
Your writing style on the other hand makes all the difference.
Depending on who your audience is, you have to adjust the tone of your conversation.
For example as I picked someone much older and experienced then me as a target audience it would make no sense if I had a “know it all” tone. My audience isn’t native english speakers so I won’t be complicating my language and I’ll limit my vocabulary in an effort to be as clear and accessible as possible.
If you really want to make something unique one thing you can do is have custom illustrations in your style. Having a coherent style for illustrations in your blog can be something that makes people remember about you.
Other than big corporate blogs Wait But Why does this very well.
If you are bad at drawing learn how to use something like Sketch or Figma.
I’m still coming up with a design style for the illustrations on this website, but I think it’s going to be something like this:
I’m a little obsessed with design, but illustrations are only one of the things you can do to stand out.
If you are a coder you can try and make your posts interactive with small programs inside of them or interactive visualizations.
A great example of this is Neal Agarawall’s blog Neal.fun. Look at this lottery simulator he made, that visually explains you why gambling is a bad idea:
Another example is this blockchain simulator (in Italian) I created as a promotional product for an Italian cryptocurrency blog I created a while back and grew to 10k uniques in a month. I was also creating unique illustrations for that one.
If you don’t have any of the above skills either learn them by doing or feel free to keep everything simple sticking with text content. To prove the point that you don’t need to do any of these things here are some ugly blogs with great content:
Here’s how the Gwern blog looks like:
It’s not really important to have any illustrations, but the fact that I can make them and express my messages visually helps me stand out.
So find something unique you can do, and add it to your site! An idea that requires no particular skills for example is to add an audio version of your posts.
📝 The Writing Process
After having figured out all the basics for your blog you’re ready to jump to the writing part.
The best way to do this is to Brainstorm a couple of Titles that your audience and ideally also you find interesting and start writing.
The title doesn’t really have to describe what the content of the article is.
A good way to pick titles is using the content from “The First Hundred Million” which is a book from the 1920s by Julius Haldeman.
Obviously your article can’t be completely off topic, but your goal with it has to be to captivate and inform.
Depending on where your target audience hangs out you also have to figure out how your articles should be. For instance if your target readers are on a subreddit you can write posts in the 700-800 word range.
If you want to be successful on search engines though you might want to make your content much longer.
Here’s some data that shows the ideal word count:
As you can see articles in the >1000 words range get much more shares than shorter content. Over the 3000 words mark looks like the reward for (word count)/(shares) starts to decrease, but there are no strict rules, do how you see fit.
What you can’t ignore is that longer content clearly correlates to more organic traffic:
So my suggestions if you want your blog to grow is to write long content.
Although keep in mind that this correlation could also be due to external factors. Maybe to write longer articles on average more research is required, ensuring a higher quality of content and thus more shares.
If you have no clue on how to write a blog post you can run a search for articles you like targeted to the audience and deconstruct them trying to figure out a recurring theme or template structure you can follow.
Your blog posts are going to be a personal thing so I don’t think I can give other suggestions that can help you.
On the other hand if you are starting a company blog a good tip is to write content related to what your product does.
For example my friends at Boxy Suite make Google Apps that are native apps for Mac OS.
They also recently decided to start a blog for their company to attract more customers.
In their case the goal of the blog is to be found by Gmail power users. So their blog posts will be content like:
“10 Gmail shortcuts to maximize productivity”
“The best Chrome extensions for Gmail”
At the beginning of your posts sometimes it’s also a good idea to qualify yourself as an expert, showing some context on why you’re talking about something and why people should listen to you.
This is something you can do and that can help in many cases, but it doesn’t mean you have to do this
🔨 Fixing your Drafts
Once you finished writing wait for a day and start reading everything you wrote fixing typos, trimming out useless words.
If a sentence doesn’t add any value remove it. If a sentence is too long split it up.
To improve readability highlight important words with bold and italics.
Sometimes it’s also good practice to have a couple of short paragraphs that lead to a longer one, like I just did here. Avoid long sentences and long paragraphs, they’re not easy on the eyes of the reader and will cause people to scroll through your content.
Once you’ve finished your post. Sleep another night over it.
Post it the next day.
If you feel sick at reading it the n-th time you’ve likely done a great job.
🌎 Promote your Work
As you identified your audience, you also know where your audience hangs out.
Repost your article on the platforms that allow it, like Medium and subreddits in your niche.
Share your content on Social Media and even text it to the friends you have that might care about it.
Another must, is to collect emails of your readers. If someone gets on your website and leaves, they’ll likely never come back, unless you manage to get your hands on their email.
An email is important because it gives you direct contact with people and reduces the impact on your audience of any algorithm change by large media companies or social media.
Also start reaching out to people with blogs similar to yours and pitch them guest posts.
Guest posts are a great opportunity to tap in wider audiences and gain backlinks to your website.
Tips from my friends:
As I want to make this article the best resource out there on blogging I decided to reach out to some people I admire.
Here are some awesome tips from my friends:
Pat Walls of Starter Story
19,470 uniques in November 2018 on Starter Story
I don’t do any keyword research. Most of my content is interviews, so I have other people write the content. This allows me to make much more of it because I don’t have to do all of the hard work of writing. Most of my work is to make sure the content is good and work with the writer to make it better. I promote mainly on Reddit and social media. On Reddit I post “case studies” that are mostly reposts of my blog content to a subreddit as a self post.
The fact that my content has a recurring format is a double edged sword.
👍 It allowed me to systemize the content creation process.
👎 It also hurts my growth though as people get tired of the same format.
Hugo Di Francesco of Code with Hugo
0-12k Unique users/month in 7 months
Doing ads isn’t bad, as long as there’s nothing you can do instead of them.
Basing everything around ads will make you focus purely on volume, not quality of traffic. The issue with trying for a “let’s get another 100,000 users on the site” is that, 100,000 is harder than 10 or 100.
If you’ve got anything to sell, sell it, an advertiser paying you means they value the attention more than whatever amount of money they’re spending (never mind all the wasted $$ in middlemen and fees).
Value your audiences attention, get the ad money but use it as a crutch until you’ve got better things to offer.
Ethan of Code The Web
Create a mailing list
When somebody comes to your blog, it’s quite unlikely that they’ll come back regularly. Unless you start an email list! Make sure to put a subscribe form on your blog right from the start. You can also incentivize people to join by offering some special content in a small PDF.
With Code The Web, I eventually realized that people who signed up didn’t just want to be notified of new articles, they wanted to learn to code. So I changed up the format and turned it into a weekly email with 5-10 links to web development tutorials. I would include a few of my old articles, as well as a link up the top to my latest article. It took more effort, but my email list started growing much faster after that change. I also launched it on Product Hunt and got about 500 sign-ups (I still get a few from there every week!)
Having an email list is not only good for engagement, but it can also help a lot if you decide to look for sponsors in the future!
Connect personally with readers
This is an important (and often overlooked) aspect of running a blog. Remember to appear like a real human – in your articles, emails, and interactions. Every time a new person signed up to my email list, I would send them an email inviting them to introduce themselves and ask me any questions. I ended up helping a lot of people via email!! This makes your readers much more loyal, and gives you a first-hand look at your audience. It also got me some great feedback, a lot of which I could use as testimonials! Things like:
“Thanks for putting in the time to create something useful. Content creators are what makes this society better, especially when they share the fruit of their labour for free.”
“I had a really hard time understanding and wrapping my head around it all. I understood somewhat. But not confidently enough until I came across your explanations. Thanks to you, I feel like I finally understand it and the concepts aren’t as foreign as I once thought. I’m now encouraged that I can stick it out and grasp more concepts along the way!”
“I hope that you can continue to create amazing, easy to understand content for a very long time”
Have massive idea brainstorms
Before I even wrote my first article on Code The Web, I did a massive brainstorm. I set a goal to write down 60 blog post ideas (!) by the end of the day. And it was hard!! I tried to completely remove any mental filter, and only judged which ones were good or bad once I had them down.
I’ve made sure that the number never gets below 50. I also made it a habit to write ideas down the idea on that page as soon as they randomly popped into my head. I got to over 100!! Having a massive list of blog post ideas really helps with motivation. Not knowing what to write about can be really scary, and is another mental barrier between you and writing that blog post. For extra motivation, you can also assign each idea a date and then you have a schedule to stick to! If you skip one week, you’re going to have to re-shuffle all the other weeks 😅😜
Start with the headings
This tip is related to actually writing your blog posts. Starting with a blank screen can often seem very overwhelming. In fact, it can actually lead to procrastination or writer’s block! To combat this, I always start by writing down the headings that I want to have in an article. This gives me an overview of how I want the article to flow, and also gives me a plan so I’m less likely to give up or not know what to write next! In fact, I used that very technique when writing this ;)
Blogging helps you learn
KP of KP
>1000 posts written over the years - 18k unique users a year on his new blog
Make sure you use momentum as a hack for consistency. Create a simple routine with a clear recurring cue. My cue was “8:30am” every day and the hack I used was to “open my laptop and type 1 complete sentence. Since this was such an achievable goal, it became so easy to stick with the habit. Of course, I wrote way more than 1 sentence but it’s a great way to start.
Why ads are a bad idea
An ad on your website means the following.
Someone through a platform (that generally keeps 50% of the money) is paying 2x what it’s giving to you to promote a product.
These people aren’t dumb, they’re doing it because they’re expecting a return on investment. To my knowledge they’ve been doing it for more than 30 years and still haven’t stopped.
This means that these ads are effective even if they’re poorly targeted and sold at what seems to you as an inflated price.
So my suggestion here is simple. You know your reader better than any advertiser, so sell them something you know they want.
I talked about this with Hugo Di Francesco of Code with Hugo and he told me that for him on most of his site ads make sense.
Here’s why: “Advertisers took on the risk. I de-risked the user interaction. I make money without having to build trust and sell something”.
The thing is the writer of an article that you found useful, surely has more trust than an advertiser.
In fact after talking with Hugo, we realised together that his strategy works well on posts that aren’t related to things he’s selling.
On posts that are related to things he’s selling, instead of a generic ad, he fills that space with an ad for himself.
There aren’t any rules in blogging.
You can take some cues from what I learned over the years, or ignore everything and do things your own way.
In fact if you’re breaking the rules email me a link to your posts. I’m constantly looking for inspiration and fascinated by people that change the rules and still get results.
If you’re not getting results, reread this post and figure out what you’re doing wrong.