I’ve read blogs so successful they’ve paid for a house. I’ve read blogs so profitable they earn my yearly salary in a month. I’ve read blogs so popular the writer makes over $1000 a day, whether he chooses to work or not.
Of course, the above blogs need a “Results Not Typical” disclaimer. Although they are hands down the leaders of the pack around the blogosphere, it took considerable time, effort, and experimentation for their respective writers to reach their current blogging level. Generally speaking, the average blog amounts to considerably less notoriety.
I’d like to imagine that LifeReboot is on its way to becoming a hugely successful blog. I don’t know that it ever will. What I do know is that I’ve struggled with various obstacles, both technical and personal, since my blog’s debut in 2007. Consequently, I’ve learned about the first five “Levels of Blogging” through firsthand experience:
Level 0 – What Blog?
The first level isn’t really a level at all — it’s a phenomenon. You start your new blog with a bang. You publish the best First Post ever written. Proud of your creation, you share the link with your friends, family, and then proceed to promote it using social bookmarking sites. You quickly learn that nobody cares.
Most blogs can’t advance beyond this stage. Level 0 is where you have an idea for a blog, but it goes nowhere. You sign up for an account on a blogging site, choose some inside joke as the title for it, and then write a post about what you ate for breakfast today. Within a month you’ve posted an article reviewing a new CD from some obscure band, a tale of what you did some drunken Friday night (photos included), and have even modified the answers to make your own “25 Things” type of copy-posta nonsense from one of your friend’s Facebook pages.
The Problem: Your blog is ordinary.
The majority of people don’t care about how you spend your time, unless you’re doing something fascinating. Blogs with wildly varying personal entries get lost in the abundance of other blogs just like it.
The reason so many blogs are alike is because the typical new blogger will default to writing about himself. It’s a consequence of experiencing our varied lives through a single perspective — our own perspective. As a result, the majority of new blogs seem like “just another online diary” and are often dismissed by their potential audience.
In a sentence, Level 0 is the abandoned blog. You created it on a whim, felt excited about it for a month, but then stopped writing once you realized nobody was paying attention.
The Truth: On average, it takes 33 months for a new blog to become popular. (Yes, that’s thirty-three months.) The reason it takes so long is because of the high number of new blogs created daily, and the fact that the vast majority of them are reflections of one another.
The best advice I can give to help progress beyond Level 0 create a “niche” blog. That is, create a blog with a clearly defined purpose.
Whatever you choose, your blog should be focused enough that it has the potential to draw in a consistent audience interested in that particular topic. At the same time, it should not be so specific that you pigeonhole yourself into writing only a few articles before you run out of ideas for new content.
Most importantly, your blogging niche must be something you’re interested in. In all likelihood, you and your blog will be alone together for a while — so choose a topic that you’re passionate about. Know that successful bloggers don’t blog because it might eventually make them rich — they blog because they’re in love with what they’re writing about.
Level 1 – Holy Crap, Your First Dollar!
Level 1 is about recognition, regardless of how fleeting or seemingly insignificant the moment is. If you don’t plan to monetize your blog, then the dollar won’t apply — but the excitement still does.
Maybe it’s your first subscriber. Perhaps it’s your first incoming link from another blog. It could be your first invitation to write a guest post on another blog in the same niche.
Whatever the case, Level 1 tends to be the first compliment from someone other than your mom. A reader leaves a donation in your tip jar. A stranger sends you an email saying “Thank you,” with a story about how you helped inspire them to finally do something that’s important to them. A subscriber writes a review about what sets your blog above the rest.
For me, Level 1 came in the form of praise from another budding writer. Danielle Gibbings wrote a small post encouraging me to keep writing, and sent me a $10 donation.
Although it was well over two years ago since she did this, I haven’t forgotten it. I captured the moment by including her short post among the 10 Articles That Changed My Life. As described in the article, “Danielle’s supportive attitude helped me more than she’ll ever know. She helped me build confidence in my decision to pursue writing, and caused me to realize how I was finally on the right track.”
Level 2 – Your First Traffic Spike Murders Your Blog
A “Pillar Article” is a popular article that causes new visitors to discover your site years after you first wrote it.
Pillar articles start off like any normal blog post. You write a draft, edit it for a few days, and publish it. You feed it to the Internet Machine through a social bookmarking site like Reddit or Digg. You go about your business.
When you check your stats later that day, you’re shocked to see that instead of the typical less-than-one-hundred visitors, your site has been visited by THOUSANDS of people. Furthermore, you’ve earned over $100 through Google AdSense alone! You’re ecstatic! You’re walking on air! You’re … unable to view your blog!?
It’s broke. Anyone trying to visit your blog either times out or sees an embarrassing error message like “Account Disabled — Bandwidth Quota Exceeded.” You’re missing out on thousands of potential visitors every hour, because your blog host can’t handle the traffic spike.
It’s called the Reddit effect (or the Digg effect, or the Slashdot effect, or whatever you nerds want to call it):
- A popular website finds and links to your blog post.
- Internet addicts and bored worker drones around the world who tirelessly pass the time by searching for “What’s New” online start spreading the link around the web.
- The incoming traffic to your blog snowballs until it breaks.
Put another way, your post “went viral.”
If you’re like me, you started out on an inexpensive shared web host that costs $10/month or less. Although cheap hosts sometimes boast unlimited bandwidth usage, if you actually use a lot of bandwidth that noticeably affects web server performance, they will shut off your service in the interest of their other customers.
When it first happened to me, I was mad. My host didn’t offer much assistance, stating some crap about server load from my domain, and left my service shut off for the day. I got out of the house and walked around downtown with some friends, but I was only there physically — my mind was concentrating on the mass amounts of lost readership, lost advertising revenue, and lost progress resulting from my cheap choice of web host.
I changed web hosts a few times. No matter which host I used, if I managed to write a pillar article that went viral, the resulting traffic would destroy my site. I believed that in order to survive the Reddit effect, I needed to invest in dedicated hosting.
The bills for dedicated hosting were just ridiculous. After a few months of overpaying for my blog, I learned about server-side caching. The reason my database-driven website was going down was because it generated each page on the fly with every request, and the back-end couldn’t handle large traffic spikes. It was poor design resulting from ignorance. I did some research, implemented caching, and moved back to an affordable web host. Long story short, if you’re powering your blog with WordPress, be sure to use WP-Cache.
Level 3 – You F**king Suck Cheap C1al1s!
Every time you publish a pillar article, you’ll be introducing tens of thousands of people to your blog. A small percentage of these new readers will be interested enough to become subscribers, so that they’ll receive future blog updates. A considerably larger percentage of readers want to tell you that you suck, leave Spam messages in your comments, or even plagiarize your content.
When people visit your site for the first time, they don’t actually read what you wrote. They skim it to see if it’s worth their time. Consequently, they only read what they consider important, pull things out of context, miss the message, misinterpret the tone, and only hear what they want to hear.
Most people then move on to some other website never to return. However, you’ll occasionally manage to piss someone off enough that they’ll leave a hateful comment. I think it makes them feel better about having wasted their time reading your blog.
It’s impossible to prevent audience negativity, because writing is subject to interpretation.
People often tell me that my writing style is whiny.
People often tell me that I’m wrong.
People often tell me that I suck, that I have no sense, and that I should stop writing altogether.
These negative people are “Haters.” Unlike Spam, which gets deleted automatically, comments left by Haters remain on my blog. I won’t censor them. Even if I disagree with their comments, I feel like Haters are allowed to voice their own opinion, and can argue with me if they want to.
In addition to the Haters, you also get Spammers. At the time of this writing, I’ve published 129 original articles on LifeReboot. My “Total Spam Caught” count is nearly 23,000. That’s almost 180 bits of Spam for every single thing I’ve written — over ten times more than the amount of legitimate comments left by actual readers!
If that isn’t difficult enough to combat, you’ll also find people stealing your content. It’ll happen more and more frequently as your blog gains popularity. I suppose the thinking goes something like: “This blog publishes popular articles. If I copy them to my blog, then maybe my blog will become popular too.”
Although some people ask permission to republish your content, most of them don’t. The majority of blogs copying content are automated processes that republish a portion of your original content onto a Spam blog (“Splog”), and then link to your article to create a pingback/trackback. The objective is to have the first comment following a pillar article be a link to a blog full of advertisements, so that the Splog owner might tap into some of the popular blog’s traffic.
Level 3 is about unavoidable enemies. The simple fact is, you can’t please everybody. Attempting to please everybody on the Internet is impossible because the Internet is full of jerks.
Get some thick skin. Let the Haters, Spammers, and Plagiarizers do their worst — but don’t let them boo you off the stage. Remember that you have Fans too!
Fans will thank you for your efforts. Fans will contact you for advice. Fans will invite you to write a guest post on their blog, or ask you to publish their guest post on yours. Fans will include you in Top 50 lists, recommend you for interviews, or ask you to contribute to an eBook. Trust me, the response from your Fans will help you ignore everyone else.
Level 4 – Free Stuff from Strangers
I have a small stack of Personal Development books in my office, all sent to me free of charge. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but it went something like this:
- A publicist contacted me about a new book in my niche.
- They asked me if I’d be interested in reading it.
- I said yes, and so they sent me a free copy.
After that, my contact information must have been added to a list somewhere, because similar offers from other publicists rained down on me. Even though I decline most of the free book offers nowadays, I’m still receiving books faster than I can read them — and I still haven’t published a single review for any of these books.
Level 4 is about being considered a media contact. Or being considered a professional. Or being taken seriously enough for professionals to invest money in you. It may not be the most significant level, but free stuff is always a bonus.
Level 5 and Beyond
Until recently, anybody that I had ever met in real life knew me before they knew about my blog. This changed when I met Scott Brills, who knew about LifeReboot before meeting me in person.
Scott contacted me saying “Hey I’ve been reading your blog for a while. Where exactly in Michigan do you live? If we’re close we should grab drinks!”
So that’s what we did. We downed some beers, shared a few plates of Japanese food, and shot the shit for a few hours. It felt cool to meet someone new, knowing that my blog was responsible for us meeting at all.
Scott, since I figure you’ll read this, here’s some link love: mSeven – Scott’s Web Design Company and The Mongol Rally Guys – A blog about Scott’s experience in a charity rally from London to Mongolia.
Level 5 is an advanced level of recognition. It’s certainly not celebrity status, but it’s damn cool how my blog is helping me expand my social network, and allowing me to create contacts with accomplished people.
So what Blogging Levels come next? Maybe someone will recognize me in the street from my blog photos. Maybe a company will contact me about sponsoring LifeReboot! Or maybe someone will contact me with a BOOK DEAL! Maybe … I’m being a bit silly.
I guess the point is that you won’t know what the next level is until you’ve experienced it. What I’ve written above is the path that my blog has taken me. Your path as a blogger may differ, or it may be remarkably similar.
What I’m certain of, though, is that every successful blogger who has built their blog into a money-making machine, or a stepping-stone to success, or a one-way ticket to celebrity status, started at Level 0.
You’ve got to start somewhere. In the blogosphere, you start with a first post nobody cares about, with no fans.
If you’re truly interested in what you’re writing about, you’ll stick with it.
Stick with it, and more people will start paying attention.
Eventually, you’ll advance beyond Level 0, and start to discover your own levels.
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