A Simple Process for Creating a Popular Blog
As a web professional, standing out and becoming competitive is getting harder and harder. The reality is that excellent skills — which were a competitive advantage not so long ago — are merely an entry requirement now.
What can you do to stand out in the sea of competition?
Start a blog.
Why Web Professionals Should Blog
I used to be skeptical about the value of maintaining a blog. I used to think blogging was a waste of time. My thinking was: the time you spend blogging could be better spent on getting more projects and doing paid work.
However, over the last year, I’ve interviewed a few people who are well-known in the design and development community — including Jacob Cass, Chris Coyier, Sacha Greif, and Chris Spooner — and as a result, I’ve changed my opinion about blogging.
All of the people I’ve interviewed have popular blogs. A pattern soon became clear to me: Having a blog can help boost a career in design and development.
Below are the three major benefits of having a popular blog.
Your Name Becomes Recognized in the Community
People rarely become well-known in a community simply because they do amazing work for clients.
Skilled designers, for example, are plentiful. Creating a great design directly benefits the designer and her client, but not her colleagues.
Skilled designers who do become well-known tend to offer a massive amount of value to their fellow designers by sharing what they have learned from all of that client work.
Web designer and author Louis Lazaris discusses this observation by using a popular blog, CSS-Tricks, as a talking point (with my highlights):
"CSS-Tricks is another good example of a blog that started out as nothing, and has grown into a thriving, collaborative community. It’s founder and curator, Chris Coyier, certainly couldn’t have predicted how much that website would grow. And I’m sure we could come up with additional examples of websites that went from zero to hero in a relatively short time. Why did they become successful? Because they published what they learned."
Think of all of the designers you admire. How many of them do you know because they do great work for clients, and how many do you know because they write valuable articles and tutorials?
You Won’t Need to Chase Clients Because They Will Find You
The biggest headache for freelancers is figuring out how to get more clients. Chasing after people who might be interested in hiring you is exhausting and frustrating.
Wouldn’t it be much more awesome if clients approached you instead?
Chris Spooner shares his experience in this subject (with my highlights):
"Over the years as exposure to my blog has grown, the number of people seeing my design work has also increased. This has helped me build a name for myself as a designer and as a result I’ve landed lots of cool design projects from people who have discovered me thanks to one of my tutorials or articles."
And Jacob Cass shares his insights on the matter:
"My blog is, and has been, the base platform for me to grow as a designer. It allows me to share my thoughts, insights and learn from others as well as provides a place to share my work, bring in clients, and make some passive income too. My blog and website is the backbone of my business."
Getting a constant stream of offers for high-quality work is entirely possible when you have a popular blog.
It makes sense that when your exposure and credibility increase because of your blog, the number and quality of work offers you get also goes up (along with your income).
If you’re in this for the long haul, then lay the foundation by building a popular blog.
You Can Generate Passive Income
Whether you are a freelancer or with an agency, unexpected things happen. Sorry for being such a downer, but you never know when you might lose your clients or your job, when you might get sick and be unable to work, when you have to take time off to take care of a family member, and so forth.
You need to make yourself as financially secure as possible and one of the best ways to increase your financial stability is to diversify your earnings between active and passive income — in this case, between client work and sales of your own products online.
This way, even if you have to stop working, at least some money would be coming in, which is a huge help in times of need.
Sacha Greif explains:
"[...] in general, having a source of passive income is important. It’s a must-have for me, because if you’re freelancer, you don’t have much job security. It’s hard to plan for the future without a safety net of some sort. Also, if you’re taking a holiday, or just stopping work for a couple of months, it’s nice to have an additional source of income that keeps going, even if it’s very small, even if it’s a few hundred dollars a month. At least it can cover your food bill or your rent, you know."
You don’t need a popular blog to generate passive income, but it sure makes it easier. The biggest challenge for most skilled web professionals is not in creating a product that can generate passive income, but in marketing and selling it, because even if people need your product, they can’t buy it if they don’t know it exists. A blog is a good way to make people aware of your product.
A General Process for Creating a Blog Destined for Success
Despite what self-help gurus tell you, hard work and persistence are not the only ingredients to success. You have to work hard and be persistent with the right things.
What are those right things? What should you focus on at the start of your blogging journey?
Step 1: Post to Your Blog Regularly
When starting out, you don’t need to post often because no one is reading your blog yet.
Your main focus at this stage of the process is to expand your readership. This early phase also gives you a chance to practice writing blog posts without the pressure of hundreds of thousands of people giving you an endless source of self-doubt.
Post to your blog a few times a month. Perhaps start with something manageable, like 2 to 4 posts a month. Instead of quantity, focus on quality.
Write original content. You can’t expect to get the attention of people by publishing the same old heard-it-a-hundred-times-before material.
You don’t have to publish completely unique ideas, but at least differentiate yourself by presenting a unique angle and using an interesting voice. Otherwise, people might stumble upon your blog but will forget it five minutes later.
Write valuable content. If you want to build a popular blog, then remember that it’s not about you. It’s about your readers. Your writing must be relevant to the people you want to connect with. Your blog posts must provide your readers with value.
If a blog post of yours helps someone, that someone will come back for more. He might even tell a friend or two. That’s how successful blogs start.
Step 2: Guest Post on High-traffic Blogs in Your Niche
The single most effective way to expand your blog’s readership is by guest-posting on other blogs.
You’ll get the exposure you need and you’ll be able to attract new visitors to your site.
How do you get your blog posts published on already-popular blogs? Below are a few tips.
Do your homework. Learn about the blogs you want to guest-post on. Again, it’s not about you. It’s about the readers — and, in this case, the editors of the websites you want to get published on. Don’t annoy the editor by sending emails that show you haven’t spent a couple of minutes reading their website.
Write an excellent blog post. Don’t expect low-quality, bottom-of-the-barrel blog posts — posts you don’t even want to publish on your own blog — to get published on someone else’s blog. Editors are busy people and they get a ton of guest-posting requests every day. You’ll have to really impress them to get published. Spending eight hours on a high-quality blog post that gets published is far better than spending two hours on a mediocre blog post that gets rejected.
Proofread your blog post. No matter how good you are at writing, you are going to make mistakes. That’s because when you are in the process of writing blog posts, you are more focused on expressing your ideas, not on your grammar. Spend a lot of time proofreading your posts.
Don’t be careless, especially with guest posts, because when the busy editor of a big blog sees a mistake in the first paragraph, they’ll just click delete and move on with their day.
Step 3: Convert Visitors into Email Subscribers
The number of pageviews your blog gets isn’t the most important metric. You have to not only attract website visitors, you also need to convert them into loyal readers.
Your best bet is to attract visitors by guest-posting on other websites and then inviting them to subscribe to your email list. Once a person subscribes to your email list, you will have a line of communication with them in the future.
But nowadays people are bombarded with email opt-in forms. This makes it difficult to build an email list because people are less willing to subscribe to them.
How can you optimize your website to get email subscribers?
Tweak your blog’s design to make it less distracting. People are more likely to take action when they are presented with a single option.
A website cluttered with ads, Twitter and Facebook feeds, and other widgets will get fewer email subscribers.
If your priority is to build an email list, you will need to remove all the things that steal attention away from that objective.
Put opt-in forms in the right places. Put an opt-in form below every blog post, on top of the sidebar, and on your "About" page. These are good places to have email sign-up forms on because readers at these parts of your blog are probably more engaged and interested in your writing.
Step 4: Rinse and Repeat
Consistency is key. This process won’t bring you results if you only do it once.
Each time you publish a guest post on a popular blog, you will see a significant spike in traffic. That spike is temporary, but with each wave of traffic, your overall traffic and your email list will steadily grow.
Don’t stop after two or three guest posts. Keep pushing.
I won’t lie to you and say that this is all there is to building a popular blog. You will need to learn many subtleties along the way through experience and via trial and error.
However, these general steps are enough to get you started on the right path without wasting months stumbling in the dark.
The process is not rocket science, but to get the results you want, you will have to put in a lot of time and energy into doing the right things. This is a long-term project. Your blog probably won’t get you much attention in the first six months, or get you serious clients in the first year, or make you passive income in two years.
And there is no guarantee that your efforts will get you the results you expect. But others before you have done it and they have succeeded. It’s your turn to shine.