Article by Jerry Low
Geek dad, SEO data junkie, investor, and founder of Web Hosting Secret Revealed. Jerry has been building Internet assets and making money online since 2004. He loves mindless doodling and trying new food.
Update notes: Article originally published on May 2014. Facts checked and expired site links were removed on May 2019.
If you could turn back time, what are the things you would teach yourself before starting a blog? The question kept bugging me when I was writing a post about my own mistake in blogging.
Curious. I did a survey and asked bloggers what are the things they wish to know before starting their first blog. The response I got was overwhelming. And I got a huge variety of answers – some are very common, and some are totally out of my imagination. All in all, the survey was an interesting project and I learned a lot from others’ experience.
In this post – I’m going to talk about the one thing that I wish to know before starting Web Hosting Secret Revealed (WHSR). A mistake that almost drove me out of blogging business in 2012. Next, I’ll share with you some of the best answers I’ve got from the survey.
The one thing that I wish I knew before I start this blog is… (drum roll please) Email list matters.
I never bother to start a newsletter program or email marketing campaign or whatsoever throughout the past 6 years. I thought email is for MLM marketers; we geeks hack growth via SEO and smart SMM tactics.
Call me arrogant. Or lazy. Or naive. Or all three combined. Email was just not going to be my thing.
(Email is still not likely my thing at this point of writing but at least I am learning and trying nowadays.)
On April 2012, Google launched their first Penguin algorithm update. This site, Web Hosting Secret Revealed, was hurt badly. Site traffics and revenue dropped more than 70% overnight. Just day before Penguin update I was running a blog with more than 80,000 visitors per month. And the numbers dropped to less than 600/day out of sudden.
At that point, I was paying writers $70 – $100/post. And I had more than 10 co-bloggers and writers in my team.
To make things worse, people stopped using feed readers over time. RSS referrals was heading south since 2011 and Google Readers were shut down in July 2013.
WebHostingSecretRevealed.com (the old site) went from 30,000+ to 800,000 on Alexa Ranking gradually. Eventually, I had to lay off all but one of my writers.
A big, fat, email list that I would have built during the good 2,500-visitors-per-day time.
Things could turn out very different. I would have a group of loyal and willing readers to read and share the articles. I would have an audience to promote exclusive deals I got from a new hosting provider. I would have drawn sufficient traffics and make enough money to keep things moving. And, I would have kept most of my writers’ job.
Truth is, social media hypes and search engine rankings can come and go. Unless you have a way to reach and communicate with your audience directly (email!), your blog will never have a steady stream of traffics (and income).
There’s a reason why the first marketing question Jeff Goins got from his publisher was “How big is your email list?“. Because email is still the most effective way to reach your audience online.
Email Marketing has one problem, it’s not as shiny and sexy as Social Media.
Fortunately, that’s the only problem because when it comes to comparing them as marketing vehicles and return-on-investment, Email is by far the most effective way of directly affecting your bottom line and actually growing your business.
– Francisco Rosales, SocialMouths.com
And I am not alone.
According to my survey, not collecting emails seems to be a very common blogging mistake.
There were a few key mistakes I made when I started blogging for my first company.
For one, we didn’t collect our blog visitors’ email.
I can’t tell you how much better our blog is doing now that we actually have blog subscribers. Each time I write a post instead of being released to no readers, it immediately has a willing and ready audience to enjoy and share the post. This has increased our conversions and increased traffic to our site. Besides, our blog subscribers are more engaged with our brand than the typical blog visitors.
– Ashli, Joppar.com
Building an email list should be one of the first things you do when you start a blog.
I think the #1 blogging mistake I made from the get-go was to not build an email list right from day 1.
I mean, you spend all that time and effort perfecting your blog posts, being social on social media, and marketing your blog – but what happens once you’ve hooked a new reader? Usually, they’ll read a few of your posts and leave. Building an email list helps in user retention, allowing you toget in touch with interested, targeted readers over and over.
The way I use email marketing in top10zen.com is by constantly updating my readers about new content on the website. I make sure not to send too many emails, and only when I know they’ll be interested.
Today, email traffic makes up about 15% of my overall traffic to the website. It really has been spectacular.
By the way, I use Mailchimp for email marketing. Their free version is good for up to 2000 subscribers.
– Edan Barak, Top 10 Zen
I am not a guru in email marketing but here’s what I have done so far. If you were just starting out, I thought you could make use of my experience.
I am using
GetResponse MailChimp right now. It’s not perfect but it’s so far one of the best I have tried. You can compare MailChimp with Constant Contact (another service I like) in Timothy’s article here.
First impression is always important – work hard to draft your very first message.
And hola, you are set to start collecting emails.
There are, of course, other things need to be done in email marketing, such as create and offer an incentive to attract more signups. But to start collecting emails, these 3 steps are all it takes.
Moving on, it’s time to check out some of the best answers I have got from my survey. I have hand-picked 12 in total – one were mentioned above (Edan’s) and here are another 11 of them. There is gold buried in those words so make sure you dig deep enough and learn from these words.
To everyone that participated in this survey: A huge, huge THANK YOU! Thanks for your time and effort in writing back. And I am sorry for unable to publish every response I received – there are just too many of them (and many were quite similar).
There are a dozen of them, but here are 3 most important things I wish I knew before I started blogging:
When I first started blogging, I didn’t follow a blogging schedule. Sometimes, I used to write a post each month, while other times I would write five to ten blog posts a week. I did not realize how important it was until it wiped out 50% of my traffic.
If you want to become a successful blogger, you have to be original and consistence with your blogging routine.
With my first site (Technshare.com), I did a lot of things to make it success. But I never spend any money on content and website design, I did it all the work by myself. But now that I look back, I think I would have made a lot more money, if I had spend just 20% of what I was earning back on the site.
With WPKube, I have been spending at least half of what I am earning from the site on getting quality content. As the site grows, I will also be spending money on releasing freebies such as themes and plugins.
Another point I would like to add that, it is always good to focus on your strengths, instead of trying to do all by yourself, you should focus on doing what you are good at.
3. Helping other People
Blogging is not all about money, when I first started I focused on generating traffic and money.
These days, I focus more on generating quality content and helping other people. I also try to reply to every single comment and email I get through wpkube.
– Devesh Sharma, WP Kube
Perfection is a bloggers best friend and worst enemy – I’m a perfectionist by nature, that’s how I’ve always been and there are elements of that which can be an amazing asset.
It can provide a path to creating a ground breaking blog, but the downside is that it can also paralyze you and stop you from progressing at all. In fact in the past I’ve spent months planning a launch only to end up just putting a blog live and ignoring most of my plan just to stop myself from over analysing every little detail. There is a balance to be had because if you ignore the plan you have put in place then you can hinder your blogs growth.
Finding balance is the key.
– Adam Connell, Blogging Wizard
P/S: Adam just published a similar post recently – 15 things I wish I had known before I started blogging – a very good read in my opinion. Go check out.
I wish I would have had the foresight to build a community for my blog and not simply rely on Google for inbound traffic. I co-own a sports blog network of 9 sites, and collectively our sites have averaged around 35,000 visits per month over the past 6 years. Without a developed community of regular readers, however, our sites have been unable to withstand many of the major Google algorithm adjustments. Instead of simply riding the Google wave and being dependent upon Google for nearly all of our traffic, we should have invested more time in building a community of readers that really wanted to consume our content.
Basically, we should have done inbound marketing to our blog as if Google didn’t exist, and we should have been more active participants in community sites (forums, other blogs, etc) to help build up our brand recognition. That way, if/when our Google ‘bubble’ burst, we still would have had a regular base of traffic to rebuild upon.
– Jonathan Bentz, Netrepid
1. It takes a while before anyone reads or comments on your blog. It’s just the nature of the internet that less than 0.5 percent comment.The important thing is to keep posting quality content.
2. before anything else, you need to really think about what your goals from blogging are, who you are blogging to and what topics you will cover. Write down your Content Guideline and Post Guideline and keep it at hand. You’ll need to refer to this to ensure you have a consistent, focused tone over time.
– Heidi Nazarudin, The Successful Style
My biggest mistakes when starting my blog were:
Blogging about things my audience didn’t care about. Blogging about things from relationship woes that should’ve stayed private, to business when no one in my immediate audience cared about either sucked.
Choosing a uncommon, hard to remember or spell domain name. It was bad for growing an audience.
Changing blog titles and topic frequently. I just couldn’t figure it out, and neither could those who tried to keep up.
No consistent blog marketing program. I wrote and shared links in the signature line of my emails and sent one or two emails using a list service. Social didn’t exist just yet so I was just left to casually telling people about the blog, placing articles on other sites, and relying on my handy email footer.
Those are the top few things I really didn’t know I was doing wrong and at this juncture, while I blog, design, navigation, categorizing, tagging, SEO and so many other things can be improved, but I have done okay growing readership and driving traffic to my business.
– Jasmine Powers, Ambitious Diva Lifestyle
What I wish I was told when I first started blogging is less is more. It is easier to increase over time than to have to decrease your posts.
When I first started blogging, I wanted to post blogs every day. It became overwhelming and then we tried to pull back the frequency, but it seemed like our numbers suffered. We have increased back to five times a week and have bounced back.
My advice: Start out by posting once or twice a week and you can always increase as needed. There are many successful blogs that only post once a week and then there are those that post 3 to 5. You have to find what frequency works for you. It is all about consistency.
– Chris Loney, The Besty List
The biggest mistake I see people making is not using a blogging platform that can be ported to something bigger later. If all of your content is locked up in a proprietary blog platform and your site grows you will be faced with either manually moving over all of your content or paying for an expensive migration. If you start on WordPress or even Blogger you can easily move to a bigger WordPress blog — with all the ads, ecommerce, responsive and bells and whistles you can think of and have you posts automatically update to your new site.
You should also make sure to buy your own domain name and host your blog yourself (instead of setting up something on WordPress.com or Tumblr). Again, if your blog really takes off and you want to move to the next level, but you have to change your web address you can lose a lot of momentum and historical data.
My point-of-view comes from a web design and development firm that has helped many clients move from other systems to WordPress — not just hobby blogs, but business blogs up to and including national and international companies.
– Amber Sawaya, Sawaya Consulting
There were a few key mistakes I made when I started blogging for my first company. Here are a few:
*We didn’t collect our blog visitors’ email.*
I can’t tell you how much better our blog is doing now that we actually have blog subscribers. Each time I write a post instead of being released to no readers, it immediately has a willing and ready audience to enjoy and share the post. This has increased our conversions and increased traffic to our site. Besides,our blog subscribers are more engaged with our brand than the typical blog visitors.
*We didn’t focus on conversions during blogging. *
When I use to write for our old business blog, I just wrote what I liked. Whatever I felt like talking about that day I wrote it. Things have changed. I do research before I write anything. I do research on what my target audience wants to know about and write that. I also try to focus on topics that can actually convert, not just bring traffic. Since we do blog for business, we don’t depend solely on visitors (even this helps increase conversions). We need traffic from people that can be customers.
*We didn’t have consistency. *
If you followed our old businesses’ blog you didn’t know when the next post was coming. It could have been the next day or one month later. It was all over the place and it didn’t help us get repeat visitors. Now, we send out posts once a week, typically on Tuesday and our blog subscribers know (and love) this.
– Ashli, Joppar.com
I’ve been blogging since 2005 and the answer to your question is easy.
FEEDING THE TROLLS – Biggest mistake ever.
On my blog homosexual activists would come over and leave insults, death threats, mocking comments all because I simply wrote a blog post asking someone to pray for someone who struggled with same sex attraction.
My career was threatened as a therapist and these same homosexual activists filed false reports to the Board of Behavioral Sciences simply because I believe homosexuals can change.
Facts don’t matter to this trolling crowd, and as a result, I ended up laying aside my career that I worked over 15 years for, because this crowd successfully bullied the leaders in the field of mental health counseling to not include those of us who know homosexuals can change.
I no longer have that blog up because it was hacked by these same type of destructive human beings largely from the homosexual activist community.
– Stacy Lynn Harp, Coaching with Heart
I have made a ton of mistakes when I first started blogging 5 years ago, but I have learned from them and now share my experience with others. My very first website I created was about the Kindle eReader. I chose this niche because of the traffic potential (at the time it was receiving over 2 million searches a month on Google). I thought that I could create a blog and send traffic to the website and try to earn some affiliate commissions. The reason why this project failed was because I was not an expert in this niche. I did not own a Kindle, and I did not know anything about them. Thus, it was very hard to share my experiences and reviews about the product. My second mistake was that I was not passionate about the topic of eReaders. Thus, I did not have any desire to take the time to learn
about this product.
Since then, I have learned to find a topic or niche that I am truly passionate about learning, writing, and sharing to other people.
– Anthony Tran, Marketing Access Pass
Some of the most common blogging mistakes that we see are technical issues related to content management systems but also with the process of selecting and formulating topics to blog about.
With WordPress, we usually see a lot of duplicate content issues that typically happen when a blog post is accessible from different URLs. Duplicate content pages compete among themselves to rank, making it harder to even compete with others.
Consider preventing search engines from crawling and indexing duplicate content by either disallowing folders or using META robots for pages/folders such as /tag/, /archive/, /author/, /page/, etc. and pick the one best URL that is most suitable to be indexed by search engines.
Another pitfalls of blogging is to produce content that is neither in demand nor worded in a way that attracts maximum search traffic. This is why it’s also important when brainstorming on blog post titles and headers to perform a brief keyword research with tools like Google and Bing’s Keyword Planners to assess the search volume for specific topics and what keywords are more likely to drive traffic to your post.
– Romain Damery, Path Interactive
Now, over to you.
Do you have a blog? What are the things that you wish to know before starting your first blog? And, what did you learn from your mistakes? Tell us on Twitter!