How a Blog Went From Zero to AdAge 100 in Nine Months

The success of {grow} has been stranger than science fiction and a wonderful surprise.  In less than nine months, it’s rocketed up the charts from being unranked to as high as 65 on the Ad Age list of global marketing blogs.

My friend Adam Vincenzini recently asked me to describe the keys to this success. I’m not sure I can — which I understand is a wholly unacceptable answer! But I can certainly describe what I have LEARNED.

First you should understand that the Ad Age list is not necessarily a reflection on the quality or even the popularity of a blog, including mine.

Blog alchemy

The list is comprised of five individual scores which together create a somewhat controversial alchemy of algorithms. Only one of these five scores is tangentially associated with reader engagement as expressed by number of tweets, comments, etc.  If rated only on engagement, my blog would be in the top 25 of all marketing blogs … thanks to YOU!

The Power 150 ranking is also highly dependent on historical back links, directory submissions and other SEO blogging devices.  That puts a new blogger at a permanent disadvantage. Older blogs will probably always be at the top of the list no matter how hard anybody works on their blog in the future.

A very real example of this — there is one blog in the Top 100 that has not been updated for two years!   Based on this strange scoring system, I would guess top guns like Chris Brogan or Copyblogger could never write a post again and still not drop out of the Top 10! I think it would be more fair to have some sort of running average based on the last 12 months.

But however flawed the system may be, it is the most noteworthy and prestigious system around.   And I also think it passes the “sniff” test — if you look at the blogs at the top, I think most professionals would concur that yes, they reflect some of the best blogs out there. So, I’m honored to be part of it.

A different path for {grow}

I have not followed a typical path to success that you might read about on Problogger or TopRank because I simply don’t have the time and energy to pay attention to keywords, backlinks, and self-promotion.  I have literally spent ZERO time worrying about SEO.  For better or worse, I just write.

This attention to content and personal respect for my readers may be the thing that has helped power the blog.  In fact, I have evidence to suggest that traffic from search engines only results in “tourists,” not really anybody who becomes a contributor to the community.  I find that authentically engaging on Facebook, Twitter, and the comment section is a much more effective way to build a real audience instead of just blog traffic.  There is no SEO short-cut to success. You have to create value one reader at a time.

I can offer four core values I try to demonstrate with every post:

1)  Content that is “RITE” Relevant, Interesting, Timely and Entertaining. I try to write a blog post that only I could write.  In the end that’s the only competitive advantage each of us has.

2) I honor my audience. Anybody who spends their time reading and commenting on my blog deserves my care and attention.  I try to reply to each comment and if I can’t answer something succinctly, I invite the commenter to call me. I have provided employment, recommendations, guest posts, personal advice and much more to my readers because they have become my friends.

3) Humility. On most blogs the comments are far better than the original post because the world is filled with people smarter than me — people who are amazing in their own way. I love that. I respect that. I thrive on that diversity. So many bloggers write with this air of self-righteousness or a trumped-up voice of indignation.  Who am I?  A conversation starter, nothing more.

4) Consistency. I don’t consider blogging an after-thought.  It’s difficult to be consistent but it has to be a priority.  I have a family, a career and charitable projects. To make a blog achieve its full potential, you have to work like hell.

Where does it go from here?

I question whether {grow} can sustain its place in the Top 100, let alone move up any further. The primary reason — there is only a handful of blogs at that level written by one person instead of an organization. As the blogosphere gets more crowded, it will be tougher to compete as a solo artist when everybody else is playing with a back-up band!  But who knows? I’ve been wrong plenty of times — as you well know!

This would be a good time to say THANK YOU.  Blogging is the best part of my job thanks to your comments, tweets, and amazing support!  I think this is the best blog community on the social web! Thank you for being so very generous to me and loyal to the community.

Any way, that’s the best I can do as far as what drives the success of {grow}.   It’s an unorthodox approach, but maybe it can work for you too?  What do you think?

Note: After I published this post, Debra Andrews of Marketri pointed out that some people might infer that I have only been blogging for nine months. I began blogging in April, 2009 and was unranked for a year (until April, 2010).  So from the time I was a “zero” on the list of more than 1,000 blogs until the time I was in the Top 100, it was nine months. I wanted to clarify this point and thank Debra for pointing this out! Sorry if I was unclear.

All posts

  • We love the bands, but we also love solo artists who rock. So let’s not affirm any negative expectations!

    -RG

  • Anonymous

    Congratulations Mark, glad to be part of your {grow} authentically informed community ; )

  • Nancy Davis

    This is exactly what I needed to read today! Thank you so much for posting Mark.

  • Oh you caught me! : )

    I think the important thing is, I am totally at peace with whatever comes down the line because I’m doing my best, having fun, and have made so many wonderful connections through the blog — including you!

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  • Mark,
    Congrats on the honor! I love to see those that are honest, talented and motivated get recognized. Seeing those who honker down and put out great content and encourage original thought…those are my kind of bloggers. Way to go!

  • Congrats dude…and who cares if you can sustain some made up rank by some made up list. Its nice to be recognized but whats important is that we like you and we read you…so there 🙂

  • Cool. Glad it lifted your spirits Nancy : )

  • You made my day. What a nice compliment. Thanks Karen!

  • Thanks!

  • Agree 100 percent. I’m cool with whatever happens. Nothing really surprises me any more Dino!

  • Anonymous

    MArk,

    Congrats on your growth and success. Look forward to chatting with you about this during our interview later this week.

  • Mark,

    I am so glad to be part of your journey and success. I have been here since I can remember and your writing and dedication and clever photo editing always amaze me. Your authenticity in writing and dedication to connect with people never fail to amaze me.

    Thank you for the friendship and continuous support guiding me to the right path. Appreciate it.

    Aaron
    P.S: You should be in the top 50 😛 in 3 months time. Ad Age please read this 😛

  • Congrats, but THIS is the one that impresses me even more: http://www.junta42.com/community/top-42-content-marketing-blogs.aspx (the entry at #7)

  • Congrats. Richly deserved. And you’ll keep moving up. Stay consistent and focused. It’s just a matter of time.

  • Oh man. My blogging hero. See the guy above me folks? He’s the man. A fellow solo artist too! : )

  • Actually I agree. Thanks for pointing that out Trey. Being judged by my content marketing peers and being placed 7 on THAT list? Wow. That was amazing. That really meant a lot to me. And look forward to seeing you SOON sir!

  • I assure you that I learn more from you than you learn from me. You have a big heart and your passion and hard work while being a student are an inspiration. Thank you for being such a long-time and loyal reader Aaron!

  • Can’t wait for that interview! Love to learn from smart people like you! Best part of the social web.

  • This is a great blueprint for those of us who traverse a different path. I love your core values, and that you’ve found success going at it in a way that is comfortable for you, because it is we, your readers, who benefit.

    I have only managed to retain one “rule” about writing for my own blog, and it typically supercedes all the other bits of received wisdom – I only hit publish when and if I have something I am proud of. For those of us who don’t get paid on “traffic,” it’s the clearest north star we have.

    Kudos, Mark!

  • That trajectory took off once I started bugging you here right? 8)

    In all seriousness Mark congrats it is well deserved. You combine a few things of importance. You have credibility from your work experience. You write about smart engaging topics. You take time to respond to your commenters and even participate in other smart people’s blogs as part of a bigger community. You really care about other people’s success not just your own which often many individual self branded rockstars don’t always do. And you keep your sense of humor.

    Speaking of have you upgraded your home to those Scottish style urinals yet?

  • Congrats Mark! The fact that you have done so well without the use of artificial “leverage” like SEO and the like is a true testament to you and your followers. Keep doing what you are doing, the way you are doing it and GROW will continue its upward trajectory. What I like most about what you do is that you say what you are thinking, not what is “needed” to just build a following. That’s what keeps everyone coming back and engaging.

  • That is a great philosophy Tom. One of those times i wish i had a “do-over” on writing the original post! Much appreciated!

  • I have to second what Dino Dogan said. Although personally I have the goal to crack the top 50 some point in the near future, and see if I can take on the big guns, it’s not worth it if the people who are reading your information would really care less.

    Keep on keepin’ on Mark, you’re doing an awesome thing over here at Grow. (And the once an a while debates are always fun)

    Josh Muirhead

  • Mark W Schaefer

    Thanks Josh. Look forward to getting to know you.

  • That means a lot Steve. Certainly you were a founding member of the {grow} community! Probably wouldn’t be here today without your support and encouragement! Thanks!

  • Thanks for your very kind words Howie. My wife won’t me put in those urinals. I’m thinking of putting an additions on the house though. Might try to sneak that one by her. Thanks!

  • “Thank You” for sharing your insight, experience, thoughts and understanding that conversation builders like you help us all to {grow.} Marketing is all about finding and using the right tools to communicate using an unique voice. Congratulations – I am proud to join the list of your loyal readers!

    April E. Simons

  • Seriously Mark. Blow that picture up and frame it. It would be an amazing conversation piece. It is actually a kind of artistic shot. Like you captured yester-year. The urinals at McSorley’s pub in NYC the oldest pub there are not quite as picturesque but unique none the less.

  • That is so very nice of you to say April. Thanks. I look forward to getting to know you!

  • I’m so glad to hear this is going well Mark. You’re fast becoming a blogging rock star !!
    Seriously, I think the one thing I miss from your piece is what this has meant for you from a business point of view. With so much talk of the value to businesses of blogging I’m curious to hear your personal take on this.

  • Wow, congratulations….I know I found you several months ago and really love reading what you have to say.

    This says it all pretty well…

    So many bloggers write with this air of self-righteousness or a trumped-up voice of indignation. Who am I? A conversation starter, nothing more.

    You just have a style of writing that I like ……you realize we are all here to learn from each other and are open to hearing others point of view.

    Thanks for that!

  • Inspiring post once again Mark – I love how focusing on your community’s needs, interaction, feedback, and building strong relationships is how you’ve developed your blogging success. It seems so much more intimate than robotic SEO strategies.

    I can definitely hang with you for a while : )

    Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    Blogs are not afterthoughts, great words Mark. I think some bloggers out there make it look like they just pen down a few ideas in 10 minutes and voila! a great post. For some reason I never believed this.
    Good blogging takes work and dedication.
    As Dino says who cares about the AdAge list? You know you made it there, you can do it whenever you feel like it, it might be your goal in the coming year, no big deal.

    I am not sure we look for content generated by teams of bloggers. I think a unique voice will always have its appeal. THANK you for writing.

  • Three points:

    1. Ad Age needs to sort out its algorhythms, however authoritative it is currently. It CANNOT be right that defunct blogs can make the top 150, let alone the top 100. It’s nuts and you’re not the only Power Blogger highlighting this flaw. If the Power list loses credibility, that will damage everyone in it.

    2. Your badge says you are #70 but you say #65. Come on Schaefer, which is it? 🙂

    3. As a reader, I predict you will be fine in relation to the big blogging organisations, like Giga Om. Yes, there’s only one of you but if you’re brimming with originality and ideas – and you’re prepared to write five, six or seven posts a week – then who cares how many individuals are contributing to your site? I only want to read one blog from your site a day, not the 10 or 15 you get at some blogs.

    As ever, it’s been a pleasure dropping by.

    M

  • 1. Agree.
    2. It fluctuates every day. It can vary +/- 12 points in a single day. So you caught me on a bad day!
    3. I think I average 3.5 posts a week. That’s about all I can handle and all my readers can stand. I’m also cognizant of overloading people.

    Thanks for the great comments Michael!

  • Thanks for your kind words and support John. There are some advantages to being a solo blogger. For one, you know what you’re getting and you know who’s responding! Thankfully, I have no shortage of blog ideas. In fact I have far too many, so the well will not be dry for the foreseeable future as long as the time is there to do a quality job!

  • I think the blogs that intentionally load up keywords stick out and generally suck. Think about it this way. The most popular keywords are the most popular because everybody is using them. So you are writing the same damn blog post that everybody else is writing. I just don’t see how you can build a lasting and interesting contribution with that kind of a position. great to hear from you Mark !

  • It means so much to me that you get that. As a blogger I get a lot of comments but not a lot of feedback and there is a big difference. Thanks for taking the time to give me the feedback on the style of the blog. Also, I see that you have become a regular around here. Thank you!! I look forward to getting to know you.

  • That is an excellent question Jon. And a difficult question because I hate writing about myself. I realize that people appreciate it when I lift the covers and reveal insights into my life and business but it is just so awkward for me to do that. I will take your advice and think about that post on business benefits if I can figure out a way to do it in a way that doesn’t come across as “What an ass — he’s just talking about himself.” : )

  • Anonymous

    Congrats Mark! Ever since I have discovered your blog you managed to keep my attention and I look forward to more blog posts.

  • Anonymous

    Mark, I don’t do it often enough, but when I find my way to the blogosphere, {grow} is always the first blog I visit. The Ad Age ranking is an amazing tribute and it’s due, in large part, to exactly what you suggest: you provide thoughtful, engaging content that makes us think and *want* to engage; you engage with your readers in a meaningful way and, in fact, sometimes go out of your way to do so; you are humble to the ‘nth degree in a space where humble people are few and far between; and you are consistent both in the volume of work you post and in the quality. The ranking is an enormous accomplishment of which you should be very proud. I hope you’re beaming today — please take a moment to appreciate it — it’s awesome and you deserve it.

  • Anonymous

    Bravo!

    As a musician and songwriter I have always likened blogging (which I also do a lot of) to writing songs. To be successful in writing songs you write for yourself, from the heart. If you find an audience – terrific. But sitting down to write a HIT! – Not right. Full stop.

    Keep up the string of hits my friend!

  • Happy for my first real Twitter friend and mentor. Glad to see it happen for you, Mark.

  • Thanks my dear!

  • Didn’t you used to be the artist formerly known as “Mose?” Now you’re “The Mose?” I’m so jealous. I wish I had an artistic moniker like that. The Shafe. No. How about “Cher?” I just made that up. Has a nice ring to it.

  • Many thanks for you loyal readership Claude!

  • Thanks — another one of the {grow} community pioneers!

  • Fair point Mark. I’m uncomfortable with that sort of thing myself. But I’m curious to know whether you feel the success of your blog has had a knock on effect other than just extending your reach online. Bottom line, do you think from your experience businesses really benefit from blogging?

  • Congrats Mark, I have given up looking at the calculus required to crack the 150. Well done, bravo, well deserved sir!

  • That’s yet another reason I don’t crank out 4-5 posts a week; I can’t. Sure I can fire off a decent draft in a half hour.. but it takes a lot more editing, tweaking, linking, etc. to get it publish ready, per Mark’s #1 and writing with my own voice.

  • Feeling good about yourself, ain’t ya?! 😉 Congrats well deserved Mark. For me it’s your #2 reason, respecting the audience, those that got you here. That seals the deal, to me that is one of the best parts, being really social.

    I just had this conversation elsewhere, about replying to blog comments. What does it say about a blogger who can’t/won’t make the time to reply, even with a quick “thanks”, you know? You not only reply, you respond to pings and trackbacks, you RT, you comment on other blogs, really – hate to over use the word but alas – engage with us, which is great. Except that dodgy urinal guy, not sure about him. FWIW.

  • I agree with you about not worrying about SEO: keywords etc. Optimize for the reader, not the bot! Let the search engines optimize themselves, why should we do it for them? And yes, if you rely on search traffic, as many sites do, for the majority of their traffic, that’s a failure. Search traffic is fly by night traffic, not worth much at all.

  • Mark I just recently stumbled upon your blog and I have loved every post. You deserve the honor. Thanks so much for the 4 key points you mentioned on what have got you to this point. I look forward to many more of your posts sir. Thank you!

  • Thank you sir. Welcome aboard.

  • SEO is a war that changes every day and even if you win I see little gain, at least based on my stats. Even when a post goes “viral” there is little if any change in the number of blog subscribers. A data point of one : ) Thanks Tom.

  • Glad to see Howie has many other nicknames, including “dodgy urinal guy.” Thanks Davina. Always a joy to see you in the comment section!

  • I actually had a CPA try to figure out the algorithm. Thought it would make a good blog post or maybe i could sell my secrets. She couldn’t crack the code. So … just write i guess! : )

    Thanks Kneale!

  • The direct business benefit from blogging has been profound and it is escalating. It would be a legitimate blog post. I’ll work on it at your request. Your personal word valet at your service my friend!

  • No problem…just no getting cocky on us now with your major award and all. 😉

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  • Mark,
    Congratulations! I think you’ll survive as a solo artist! I like this: “I try to write a blog post that only I could write. In the end that’s the only competitive advantage each of us has.” Isn’t that the beauty of blogging – you get to be yourself! What could be more fun?
    Lori

  • Much appreciated Lori! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to pass this along!

  • Congrats on the 65 position. Some great tips in the article too, thanks.

  • Thanks Marta!

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