What does it take to start a blog these days?

content tsunami

The blogging life used to be so easy.

Just five years ago, a blog was still a novelty and if you started one, you would probably occupy a niche in your industry. But since then, the world has conspired to make blogging very difficult …

“Content marketing” also means “content overload,” — this is a crowded and noisy field for newcomers.

The dynamic world of search engines and SEO has made it complicated for bloggers to become discovered.

New entertainment alternatives and social media distractions have probably challenged blogging’s role as the king of content.

Even technology like smartphones has made blog consumption, sharing, and commenting more difficult.

What’s a blogger to do?

That’s the question Tom Webster and I tackle in our latest Marketing Companion Podcast. We explore the topics of:

  • The challenge of information density
  • The entertainment edge – Next big thing for blogging?
  • Expertise and the content saturation index
  • Content quality, optimization, or both?
  • The most important blog metric … perhaps the only one?
  • How much time should you put into promotion versus content quality?

This is a fascinating topic and we cover a lot of ground in just 30 minutes! I think you’ll love the podcast and hope you’ll also leave a comment below.

Can’t wait to listen? Of course you can’t! Well here it is right now!

There are several blog posts referenced in this podcast so here are some handy links if you want more depth on this subject:

From Mark: How the physics of social media is killing your marketing strategy

From Tom: When Content Marketing stops working

From Marcus Sheridan: A discussion of <a ” href=”http://www.thesaleslion.com/long-take-business-blog-grow-big-success/” target=”_blank”>Content Saturation Index

Other Ways to Listen to the Podcast:

All posts

  • Very ‘Entertaining’ episode. Completely agree regarding the need for passion and enthusiasm in what you write about. Too many larger sites that publish multiple articles per day are obviously just going for quantity over quality.

    Some of the article on the biggest sites in the world are complete rubbish, they’re short, don’t say anything new and are simply published for the sake of publishing content. Yet because the sites are so big, they have the most followers that share that content (for the sake of sharing), they dominate SERP’s they continue to be successful.

    The most difficult thing now vs 5 years ago is producing completely unique content, most people usually go for a ‘new take’ on an old subject, I know I have.

    I think you are right when you say that quality will win and part of that quality is uniqueness.

  • Let’s hope so, Barry. I think everyone would win in that scenario. When you think about it, the heart of Google’s survival will be the ability to identify truly great content.

  • Alice Ackerman, MD,

    Phenomenal podcast, Mark and Tom. I am always surprised to hear or see you mention me and my attempts at blogging and engagement in social media. You have also stimulated me to get passionate again about blogging. I have been on a hiatus as our organizational website platform moved to Drupal, and for some reason my WP interface failed. This has made posting, approving and responding to comments incredibly difficult, and after a few months I have kind of “given up” while waiting for the interface to be fixed.

    So, if I were starting from scratch, I would want to be sure that it was “easy, ” Not only for folks to post comments, but for yourself to write your posts, insert photos and videos or other media, and to manage the blog from the road. Very little of my social media activity happens when I am physically in my office. So dealing with a highly secure firewall can be challenging. When I am in my office it limits the kind of content I can import from the net or even sites I can visit, and when I am on the road, it limits the functionality of my mobile devices. There should not be operational issues that stand in the way of creating and posting the content you want to post, and making it look the way you want it to work.

    Thanks for reminding me why I blog. The story of the ONE parent who was actually listening is profound. And the fact that I have had folks write to me to ask where my posts are, since they have found them “inspiring, and motivational, has certainly helped me to see that I provide some value. The institution has recognized this as well, and is trying to make the process work for me.

    Seems it has been so long since I have left a comment that I had to register for Discus all over again. But I have not stopped reading. Take care my friend.

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  • Chris Stephens

    Hi Mark. I just (yes it’s true) discovered your blog and really enjoyed the podcast. It’s interesting to hear two veterans’ views on starting from scratch and I can’t help but think that growing a portfolio of quality will be increasingly valuable down the road. Lets hope that Google (and Facebook, Twitter, etc.) all continue to innovate on filtering quality over quantity.

  • Yay! So good to hear from you and happy to hear you will be blogging again!

  • I truly believe that Chris. I think the “portfolio” will matter. It has to, right?

    Welcome to the community and thanks for taking the time to comment!

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  • Great podcast, Mark and Tom. Enjoyed this one very much as someone who’s just started to blog this year in two saturated niches (social media and design).

    Mark, you mentioned your reward for producing great content is in the comments section. That’s the exact reason that I (and so many others, I’m sure) keep coming back. There are few places online to get direct, personal access to the brightest minds in marketing for FREE. So thank you for that.

    Appreciate the long-term perspective in creating a portfolio of quality content. Makes sense. Would also love to hear more from both of you in a follow up post or podcast about short-term strategies for gaining exposure (especially for newer bloggers with a small audience).

    Until then, back to work. 🙂

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  • Chris Stephens

    Thanks Mark.

    And with regards to the idea of the Portfolio and your next post on marketing education – at least when you leave design schools, you leave with a portfolio. I don’t think that’s really true with marketing programs?

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  • You should. That portfolio would include work and results from internships and relevant work experience.

  • Alright, I’ve got to jump in on this one, Mark. Not because I don’t love you or don’t think you’re absolutely brilliant, but I do think you’re totally wrong on one point.

    And now that we have the mandatory vitriolic, hyper-emotional internet reply intro out of the way, let’s get serious 🙂

    I think the SEO vs. Passionate/Quality content juxtaposition you have in your mind is a completely false dichotomy. If I’m over stating your position, I apologize. I’ve just heard you riff on it several times lately and the way you present the situation always grinds me the wrong way.

    I believe we are not looking at an either or situation. Like anything in life, this is a “both, and” situation.

    You not only need extremely passionate and high quality content that adds a ton of value to your readers lives, but you also need to do everything you can to make it as visible as possible to the most amount of potential readers and prospects. Yes, I do believe that means at least some rudimentary SEO optimization. But it doesn’t stop there. You also need to network at a very high level to gain visibility. You need to work overtime to build the trust of your readership. And, most importantly, you need to deliver waaaaay more than anyone thinks is reasonable or even sane to give away for free. You also need to understand know how to strategically “undercover market” your content, products and personal brand in a way that people don’t see you as a non-stop hypy “look at me” Me Monster. And the list goes on and on.

    But specifically to the point about SEO vs. Passionate Content. Like the ever-popular Old El Paso meme concludes, “Why not both?”

    I’m the content strategist/editor of our corporate blog at Drillinginfo (info.drillinginfo.com/di-blog). My new writers always ask the same question, “James, I’m not a blogger. What should I write about?” My reply is always the same, “I don’t want to give you a topic. I want you to write about something you are truly passionate about. Something that demonstrates your expertise and that is really interesting to you.” We then talk about the projects they are working on and brainstorm based on the stories and ideas we throw back and forth. Once we settle on a general area of interest, I tell them to just write their copy in Word document and send it to me. Don’t worry about the title or formatting or subheads or anything. Just write your passion and expertise and I’ll do the rest.

    Then when they send me the copy, I read it over a few times and begin to formulate ideas as far as strong keywords that would resonate with the relevant audience, i.e., the ones they would search for in Google. For instance, a Geologist might search, “best reservoir”, while a landman might search, “prime acreage” and an international operator looking to get into a new market might search “Brazil oil and gas.”

    I then do the research to figure out the best combination of words to use and construct a catchy title around the keyword. I also slide it in an h2 tag, sneak it in the first sentence and use it maybe once or two more times throughout the post. Of course, I also dig for appropriate supporting links, eye catching pictures and do everything else necessary to polish it for prime time.

    In the end, more often than not we come up with an outstanding piece of content that not only fully demonstrates the author’s passion and expertise, but also gets the most clicks when shared on social and, most importantly, gives us the highest dose of SEO juice we can get. As a result, when you look at our analytics, our organic search results go in a straight line up and to the right from the moment we started blogging.

    This process especially paid off when I wrote my “50 Top Oil & Gas People on Twitter” post a couple months back. I wrote the post and used listly for the embed function. My initial thought was to call it, “The Top 50 Oil & Gas People on Twitter” because (clearly) that was the most obvious title. But after entering “Top 50 Oil & Gas” into Google’s adwords tool, I discovered zero people search that term, even on a broad search (which they did away with, which is a topic for another rant). However, when I entered “top oil and gas”, I discovered over 12,000 people a month, a large portion of which are no doubt within my target market, search the phrase. I immediately shifted the 50 to the front to target “top oil and gas.” I’m now the first result when you’re signed into G+ and above the fold, usually floating between the 2nd and 4th spot, if you’re not signed in. That post continues to drive traffic and opt-ins to our list, as well as back links from around the world.

    Given all of this, I’m proud to say we crossed 1,000 blog subscribers in just under 3 months. I feel that’s significant growth, given the hyper-niche B2B oil and gas intelligence space we’re operating in.

    Stepping back for a moment, I see your point and aggravation with people who take a purely 100% SEO approach. That is, they do a bunch of keyword research up front, compile a list of 100-200 target terms/phrases and write within a box that completely stifles their creativity and passion.

    I totally get that. It’s a terrible strategy and it should give anyone looking to grow a dynamic/engaged community pause. Ultimately, the content you generate from that list is not going to be YOU. It will a cheap curated version of you based upon what you think Google will like, instead of what will serve your audience. That sounds like a wonderful recipe for disaster. Or at the very least, flash-in-the-pan success followed by rapid burnout once you grow tired of the content prison camp you have built for yourself.

    But, I really don’t think it’s “blog as art and passion” vs. “blog as robotic writing for search engines.” Because in the end, you really can have it both ways, as long as you have the right attitude and proper execution. Which means starting with passion, purpose and the ultimate goal of serving audience, and then working your way back from there. That has been my strategy at Drillinginfo and it’s worked out pretty darn well, as SME recently documented, if you will excuse my brief #humblebrag.

    http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/three-steps-to-becoming-a-thought-leader-in-your-industry/

    At any rate, love the podcast and love the quality of the conversation you and Silky Smooth Mr. Webster are bringing to the table. Whenever I open Downcast and see a new episode, I have to admit I sort of feel like a kid whose Dad just brought him a new bicycle home.

    Which brings me to my last point – sponsorship. Given Tom’s incredibly smooth textured voice, there must be at least one Peanut Butter sponsor out there willing to pick y’all up. I mean, think about it – that Mommy Blogger niche is a veritable goldmine! Y’all will no doubt become instant millionaires if you can find a way to tap that that market 🙂

    p.s. Always remember kids, “It’s not spam if you’re adding value.” (TM)

  • Really good idea Sarah. Perhaps would be a better blog post than podcast. I’ll put it in the queue.

  • James, thanks for this remarkable comment. I am so pleased that you took me on and spoke your mind. It’s probably one of my favorite comments ever.

    I don’t think we’re really that far apart. A little context:

    I’m a teacher. What I have found is that if you teach quality + SEO/keywords. eventually many people forget about quality and obsess with keywords. It can be an intoxicating game. So I tend to focus mostly on quality.

    If you and I were having this conversation three years ago, it would have a much different tone. Fact is, you didn’t really have to focus on quality if you had sharp SEO skills. You could win the search game and put out bot posts.

    This is a fact. You could win without exceptional content. But that is changing and I would like to think it will be changing even more, Many of the tactics that were deemed a “best practice” would be a Google disaster now. So we can accurately say that “quality” is moving up in importance and has utterly transformed the SEO world. If I emphasized SEO to my students two years ago, and they were still using those techniques, they would be toast.

    Two years ago, if you placed a quality-emphasis blog against an SEO-emphasis blog, who would be ahead now? Many people have had to go back and REMOVE the SEO procedures they had in their content during that time, while building a quality portfolio would still be paying off. In fact, most SEO people have changed their tune to “quality.”

    What should we expect for the NEXT two years? A resurgence of SEO tactics or even more emphasis on quality? Where should you place your bet? What should I emphasize in my teaching? My bet is on quality and that is where my writing will be too.

    I have been banging the quality drum since the beginning and I think history will prove that I am correct. I think the future will prove me correct too.

    My final point in terms of context, is that I am DELUGED by emails from SEO spammers. To you, I may seem extreme because you seem to have a pretty balanced view of the world. But from my perspective, I sometimes feel like the lone voice of reason out here against the sheer number of others pumping out a message of SEO tricks.

    I have no rational data at hand but my sense is that for every one person like you, there are a hundred charlatans promising a quick SEO fix. Last year the president of a large and well known SEO firm told me about how he hires hundreds of people to fake their identities to try to build false connections to bloggers that will lead to back links. I had that happen to me. Some guy totally faked his entire presence, including his name to befriend me and do a guest post for me. He had fooled at least three other bloggers that I know. Finally, the guy who was ghost writing for the dude blew the whistle. He could not stand the deception any more. I felt humiliated and betrayed.

    So if I seem to pound the drum for quality, there is a good reason behind it. It is the truth. It is real. It is constant. It is the future of search and will win in the end.

    I do believe the topic of “discoverability” is key and it sounds like you are approaching your blog marketing in a sensible and ethical way so congratulations and ke[p up the good work. And thanks again for the amazing discussion. I hope you’ll respond to what I’ve said here.

  • Guest

    Thanks so much for your reply Mark. Knowing the thousands of comments you’ve gotten over the years (or even the past few weeks), it was very humbling to read your generous response.

    Learning the context certainly helps me understand your perspective. Between students who turn your curriculum into a non-stop game of keyword roulette and the deluge of hucksters that no-doubt flood your inbox, it’s clear your worldview on the issue is battle-tested.

    And I can see the great value in teaching principles over tactics. As Marcus Sheridan said on his most recent podcast, the tools and tactics will always change, but principles and people never will. The principles that built enthusiastic communities around content have been the same since cave men drew hunting stories on stone walls.

    However, I can’t help but continue to push back and challenge you to at least nuance your language and perspective, even if only slightly. Plenty of people look to you for guidance, leadership and ideas on how to build and grow an online audience (businessesgrow is the name of the blog, after all). And I fear that those who come to you without years of time-tested tactical experience might just think if they write with passion and pump out awesome content, everything else will fall into place.

    But that’s simply not true.

    Case in point, my good friend Taylor Marshall. Unless you’re a devout Catholic that watches EWTN, listens to Catholic speakers and actively seeks opportunities to grow in the faith, you’ve probably never heard of him. But he is a somewhat known speaker in certain circles. He also happens to attend my Church – Mater Dei in Irving, Texas if you ever want to stop by 😉

    When I first saw Taylor at Mass, I was a little shocked and then excited. He had over 9,000 Twitter followers at the time, a very respected blog and an engaged community. I thought we’d sit down, talk shop and maybe I could pick up some insights into what he was doing and how he got to where he was. But it turns out he actually had no clue what he was doing. He was running a really ugly old version of blogspot and didn’t understand anything about Calls-to-Action, SEO, email list building, and so much more. He was just a philosopher and theologian with a great voice and writing style that had started blogging very early on because he enjoyed it. Yet the growth of his community/readership in no way reflected the quality of his content.

    So we sat down in January and I promptly set about telling him how ugly his baby was and how to fix it. I taught him about the importance of building an email list, how to produce “bribes” to drive subscriptions, how to get his readers engaged in the comments section, the best ways to promote his content in social, how to model the success of other internet marketers and, of course, SEO. Long story short, he doubled his traffic in a month and hasn’t looked back. His list has tripled, or maybe even quadrupled since then and to his great astonishment he is going to cross the 10,000 email mark any day. I also encouraged (read: demanded) he migrate to a self-hosted WordPress site. He chose to go with Standard Theme and his traffic keeps climbing.

    Most recently, he launched a podcast and after only 3 shows, he already has over 4,000 downloads with an impressive array of 5 star reviews. On top of it all, he is about to launch a membership site called “The New Saint Thomas Institute” where he will offer a new course each month complete with video, course notes, MP3 downloads, a monthly live Q&A, etc. And it will only cost $25/month. In other words, his community will have access to graduate level theology and philosophy courses for about 2% of what it would cost for those same courses at a major Catholic institution. Obviously, it’s a no-brainer.

    By the way, you can find him at http://taylormarshall.com/

    I share his story because it’s a perfect example that demonstrates how amazing, high-quality content is not the whole or only answer. Granted it is the foundation and cornerstone of his fantastic growth over the past 8 months. But, had we never met, he would still be plodding along producing outstanding content and getting the same old lackluster results for who knows how many years.

    Certainly, I am not saying you should become MOZ and break down the latest and greatest with every update of Google’s algorithm. That’s not what I’m looking for when consume your content, and I suspect the rest of your community would say the same.

    However, I am only saying that, much like analogies, platitudes limp. Yes, there is truth to the statement, “In the end, quality wins.” However, there is also truth to the statement, “Hendrick Motorsports makes the highest quality racecar parts in the world, and you need a quality car to take home the checkered flag.” But if you spend all of your time crafting amazing parts and never actually assemble a car, you’re going to have a heck of a time winning races. In the same way, if you focus 100% of your time and energy on producing high quality content without building out the full strategy you need to attract, grow, sustain and ultimately monetize your platform (which includes some basic understanding of SEO), then your results will more than likely meander.

    Granted, your approach has worked for you and that’s wonderful. However, I think setting people up to believe they can reproduce Mark Schaefer’s results by only focusing on high-quality content is setting them up for failure. Because what works for your audience won’t necessarily work for my audience. And what works for my audience won’t necessarily work for the next person who comes after me.

    This reminds me of something you said during the panel discussion on the main stage of Social Media Marketing World. You said when you started, you wanted to be Chris Brogan. But you didn’t really start to grow your audience until you realized you can’t be Brogan and that you needed to find your own unique voice and perspective, and deliver that to the world. In the same way, I fear people who are starting out thinking they want to be the next Mark Schaefer might hear your messages about quality, quality, quality and ultimately give up if their traffic and audience is languishing after several years of producing great content. Because, as we saw in Taylor’s example, it wasn’t until he put the rest of the pieces of the puzzle in place that he really started to grow.

    So, instead of saying, “Meh, SEO, shemsheo. Quality is King!” I think a better approach is, “In the end, quality wins. You won’t get anywhere online without high-quality, enthusiastic and engaging content. That is my passion and that is my expertise. If you’re looking for thoughts on SEO, there are a handful of people out there doing it right, like MOZ, Pat Flynn and Marcus Sheridan. But my passion and purpose is to help you understand that, tactics aside, quality content is the engine that will drive your success.”

    Granted, it’s a nuanced approach in a world where people are searching for dogmatic answers. But, while I absolutely love dogma in my religion, I think the rest of life’s answers are usually somewhere in the gray space between both extremes of the pendulum. As the old latin phrase goes, “Virtus stat in medio.” – “Virtue stands in the middle.”

  • Thanks so much for your reply Mark. Knowing the thousands of comments you’ve gotten over the years (or even the past few weeks), it was very humbling to read your generous response.

    Learning the context certainly helps me understand your perspective. Between students who turn your curriculum into a non-stop game of keyword roulette and the deluge of hucksters that no-doubt flood your inbox, it’s clear your worldview on the issue is battle-tested.

    And I can see the great value in teaching principles over tactics. As Marcus Sheridan said on his most recent podcast, the tools and tactics will always change, but principles and people will never change. The principles that built enthusiastic communities around content have been the same since cave men drew hunting stories on stone walls.

    However, I can’t help but continue to push back and challenge you to at least nuance your language and perspective, even if only slightly. Plenty of people look to you for guidance, leadership and ideas on how to build and grow an online audience (businessesgrow is the name of the blog, after all). And I fear that those who come to you without years of time-tested tactical experience might just think if they write with passion and pump out awesome content, everything else will fall into place.

    But that’s simply not true.

    Case in point, my good friend Taylor Marshall. Unless you’re a devout Catholic that watches EWTN, listens to Catholic speakers and actively seeks opportunities to grow in the faith, you’ve probably never heard of him. But he is a somewhat known speaker in certain circles. He also happens to attend my Church – Mater Dei in Irving, Texas if you ever want to stop by 😉

    When I first saw Taylor at Mass, I was a little shocked and then excited. He had over 9,000 Twitter followers at the time, a very respected blog and an engaged community. I thought we’d sit down, talk shop and maybe I could pick up some insights into what he was doing and how he got to where he was. But it turns out he actually had no clue what he was doing. He was running a really ugly old version of blogspot and didn’t understand anything about Calls-to-Action, SEO, email list building, and so much more. He was just a philosopher and theologian with a great voice and writing style that had started blogging very early on because he enjoyed it. Yet the growth of his community/readership in no way reflected the quality of his content.

    So we sat down in January and I promptly set about telling him how ugly his baby was and how to fix it. I taught him about the importance of building an email list, how to produce “bribes” to drive subscriptions, how to get his readers engaged in the comments section, the best ways to promote his content in social, how to model the success of other internet marketers and, of course, SEO. Long story short, he doubled his traffic in a month and hasn’t looked back. His list has tripled, or maybe even quadrupled since then and to his great astonishment he is going to cross the 10,000 mark any day. I also encouraged (read: demanded) he migrate to a self-hosted WordPress site. He chose to go with Standard Theme and his traffic keeps climbing.

    Most recently, he launched a podcast and after only 3 shows, he already has over 4,000 downloads with an impressive array of 5 star reviews. On top of it all, he is about to launch a membership site called “The New Saint Thomas Institute” where he will offer a new course each month complete with video, course notes, MP3 downloads, a monthly live Q&A, etc. And it will only cost $25/month. In other words, his community will have access to graduate level theology and philosophy courses for about 2% of what it would cost for those same courses at a major Catholic institution. Obviously, it’s a no-brainer.

    By the way, you can find him at http://taylormarshall.com/

    I share his story because it’s a perfect example that demonstrates how amazing, high-quality content is not the whole or only answer. Granted it is the foundation and cornerstone of his fantastic growth over the past 8 months. But, had we never met, he would still be plodding along producing outstanding content and getting the same old lackluster results for who knows how many years.

    Certainly, I am not saying you should become MOZ and break down the latest and greatest with every update of Google’s algorithm. That’s not what I’m looking for when consume your content, and I suspect the rest of your community would say the same.

    However, I am only saying that, much like analogies, platitudes limp. Yes, there is truth to the statement, “In the end, quality wins.” However, there is also truth to the statement, “Hendrick Motorsports makes the highest quality racecar parts in the world, and you need a quality car to take home the checkered flag.” However, if you spend all of your time crafting amazing parts and never actually assemble a car, you’re going to have a heck of a time winning races. In the same way, if you focus 100% of your time and energy on producing high quality content without building out the full strategy you need to attract, grow, sustain and ultimately monetize your platform (which includes some basic understanding of SEO), then your results will more than likely meander.

    Granted, this approach has worked for you and that’s wonderful. However, I think setting people up to believe they can reproduce Mark Schaefer’s results by only focusing on high-quality content is setting them up for failure. Because what works for your audience won’t necessarily work for my audience. And what works for my audience won’t necessarily work for the next person who comes after me.

    This reminds me of something you said during the panel discussion on the main stage of Social Media Marketing World. You said when you started, you wanted to be Chris Brogan. But you didn’t really start to grow your audience until you realized you can’t be Brogan and that you needed to find your own unique voice and perspective and deliver that to the world. In the same way, I fear people who are starting out thinking they want to be the next Mark Schaefer might hear your messages about quality, quality, quality and ultimately give up if their traffic and audience is languishing after several years of producing great content. Because, as we saw in Taylor’s example, it wasn’t until he put the rest of the pieces of the puzzle in place that he really started to grow.

    So, instead of saying, “Meh, SEO, shemsheo. Quality is King!” I think a better approach is, “In the end, quality wins. You won’t get anywhere online without high-quality, enthusiastic and engaging content. That is my passion and that is my expertise. If you’re looking for thoughts on SEO, there are a handful of people out there doing it right, like MOZ, Pat Flynn and Marcus Sheridan. But my passion and purpose is to help you understand that, tactics aside, quality content is the engine that will drive your success.”

    Granted, it’s a nuanced approach in a world where people are searching for dogmatic answers. But, while I absolutely love dogma in my religion, I think the rest of life’s answers are usually somewhere in the gray space between both extremes of the pendulum. As the old latin phrase goes, “Virtus stat in medio.” – “Virtue stands in the middle.”

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  • Shellsween

    Really enjoyed this, thank you!

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