7 Lessons from 7 Years of Blogging

Filed in Blogging, MY BEST POSTS by Matt McGee on April 20, 2013 18 Comments

This blog turned seven years old on Thursday.

It began on April 18, 2006 with a poorly-optimized and completely forgettable blog post that I titled not after a U2 song, but after a Rolling Stones song: Start Me Up.

That same day, I posted a second article — about the blogroll I used to maintain. Another lame blog post. In fact, if you want to see the lamest blog launch in publishing history, just look at the eight articles I posted in April 2006. You’ll see a guy who knew he was talking to a brick wall.

I’d like to think that things have gotten a little better since then and, even though I’ve never done a birthday blog post before, I felt compelled this year. This was supposed to post on the 18th — Thursday — but the events in Boston kept me glued to the television and I didn’t finish it. So, seven years and two days later, here are seven things I’ve learned from seven years of blogging.*

What 7 Years of Blogging Has Taught Me

1.) Blogging is hard.

My friend Ed Reese has made this line one of his mottos, and he’s right. It’s tough. It’s tough getting started (what do I write about?) … it’s tough to attract comments and conversation (you won’t get any for 6-12 months) … it’s tough to keep a blog going for years (what else is there to write about?) … it’s just tough.

(By the way, I was raised on this motto: Nothing worthwhile in life ever comes easy. Blogging can be very worthwhile.)

When I speak to small business owners about the benefits of blogging, I make sure to emphasize that blogging is a serious commitment — and that it’s okay to say “we’re not quite ready right now.”

2.) There’s no substitute for passion.

I’ve been writing about small business marketing now for seven years. I can’t imagine keeping a blog alive that long if I didn’t love the topic.

I had a blog about pro and college sports teams in the Pacific Northwest. I love pro and college sports, but didn’t have the passion to keep that blogging going for seven years.

I had a blog about hyperlocal blogging that stayed alive for about two years before the passion ran out.

I’ve shut down many blogs over the years; the ones that are still alive are the ones where my passion is.

3.) Inspiration comes in cycles.

You will have weeks and months where you have more ideas to write about than time in the day, and other weeks and months when you have no idea what to write about whatsoever.

You must … must … find a way to collect and save all of your ideas, even if it’s just a great headline that comes to mind, a sentence, an analogy, whatever. You’ll need these ideas eventually. (A lot of folks use editorial calendars for storing ideas and scheduling posts. I also just store a lot of ideas as drafts in WordPress.)

empty-class

4.) Nobody’s gonna read your blog for a couple months.

Remember those lame posts I did early on? No big deal. No one knew about my blog. No one was reading. Unless you’re planning some huge press junket to announce that you’ve launched a blog for your small business, no one’s gonna read your blog at first, either. You’ll be talking to an empty classroom.

So just write and publish and develop a habit that will last. That’s what counts the most in the beginning. Don’t add pressure on yourself by thinking anyone will read what you post on day one. There’s no pressure there. But there is pressure in the next lesson…

5.) Trying to make money adds pressure.

I think the first time I put ads on this blog, it was affiliate ads for a site that offered free business magazines. Then I think I put Google ads on the site. Neither amounted to more than lunch money, but earning a buck was never the point.

Then when more people discovered this blog, companies started wanting to advertise. I decided to accept ads probably 3-4 years ago and it’s been extremely educational to play the role of a publisher with advertisers.

One of the main lessons I’ve learned is that you can’t stop blogging because you’re tired or out of ideas — not when you have advertiser(s) that are paying for visibility and expecting your blog to send them traffic.

Since I find myself with less time for blogging, I won’t be accepting paid ads on this blog when the current advertiser — Local Market Launch — contract ends in a couple months. I’ll switch to Google ads, in all likelihood. Because I can’t promise future advertisers that my blogging will be consistent enough to make ads worth their while.

6.) Always remember who you’re writing for.

speaking-audience-200pxThis is really important to me. I sometimes write articles that my SEO/marketing peers criticize as too basic, too simple or too repetitive. They’ve been reading SEO blogs for years and they bitch on Twitter or somewhere else about seeing basic or regurgitated content on so many blogs, and there’s nothing new out there, and life sucks, and stop blogging if you don’t have anything new to say, yadda-yadda-yadda … and I just want to tell them:

In seven years, I haven’t written a single word for you.

This blog is for small business owners. Nobody else. If that’s you, you’re my audience. Thank you.

I’m surrounded by small business owners: my wife, sister, and most of my friends have their own businesses. I speak with small business owners when I go do Local U workshops. I speak with them when I attend local events a few times every year, and when I go to real estate gatherings with my wife.

I write what I think small business owners should read, not what the SEO industry is looking for. And sometimes it may seem basic or repetitive to someone who’s been doing SEO for a couple years, but it’s not repetitive or boring to the people I’m writing for.

When you know your audience, you’ll find it easier to come up with things to write about. So before you start, decide who you’re writing for. And never forget.

7.) Blogging is great.

Nevermind the SEO benefits. Nevermind the traffic and leads.

The process of taking something from idea to article, creating something that helps others (while it also helps you build trust and authority) is an absolute joy once you get the hang of it. And if you don’t quit too soon, you will get the hang of it. In less than seven years.

And you’ll love it. Trust me. I speak from experience.

* I’ve actually been blogging for more than seven years. My first blog — the one about sports — was launched in 2004.

(Stock images via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Comments (18)

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  1. This post hit home Matt. Your passion about your subjects has always been easy to spot. I’ve always admired it. Happy blog birthday!

  2. Phil Rozek says:

    I think you said in one post that you “don’t try to hit it out of the park every time.” Well, judging from all the beaning incidents and angry tailgaters in the parking lot outside the stadium, you sure fooled me :)

    Already looking forward to “10 Lessons from 10 Years.”

    Happy Blog Birthday, Matt!

  3. Matt, hi – please disregard the earlier comment – the formatting was whack, dude.

    Thank you! It’s great to hear a seasoned, renowned blogger like you come out and say it:

    “Blogging is Hard”

    I’ve been blogging professionally (as in, for others) for a couple of years, now. And I felt your pain (and mine, I guess) through the poignancy of each of the points.

    Webmasters, Jeez.
    - They expect their site to be on Page 1 after a fortnight of engaging your services.
    - If it’s not, they’re on to their SEO guy to find out why.
    - The SEO guy then tries to tell you how to write (which often rips the heart and passion out of the blog).
    - Then when it eventually comes to a toss up, the SEO guy always gets the extra budget, the copywriter gets the bad rap.

    I think (hope) that with the heightened awareness of G+, the role of (SEO) copywriter will begin to take preference; if not, become at least as recognised to a webmaster as their SEO.

    Quality copywriters will begin to be able to earn a living without having to constantly answer to three or four people from the same company and not have to work 60 hours a week to make ends meet.

    Yes, there’ll always be the need for onsite SEO. There will always be the need for a certain amount of SEO within the content itself and its on-page format. And that topic is the responsibility of the copywriter to remain well-versed in.

    But a quality G+ Page will eventually tell Google all it needs to know about a company’s content and how it’s received by its audience.

    Boy, I’m so going to ‘Scoop’ this article and link back to it in my writing services page (PR1).

    Thanks, Matt, for an awesome article. And a very happy 7th Birthday – hope it’s lucky for you & here’s to the next 7!

  4. I loved the post and if I had to pick a favorite point I think I would pick number 6. It is so easy to get caught up in the SEO of a post, and everything else that goes into writing a blog that we really do need to remind ourselves to think about the audience.
    I am a real estate agent in Phoenix AZ (a very crowded place on Google), and I think that a-lot of the real estate blog posts sound the same because we, as agents, are thinking about lead generating instead of the client.

  5. Matt McGee says:

    Just wanted to say THANKS for the kind words. Wasn’t sure if this would resonate with anyone but very happy that it seems to have done so.

  6. Julie Harris says:

    To stay long in a job or in a career, you should be motivated enough. Same thing with blogging, your interest and passion might take you to 7 years or longer. Like the one I have read above, right Matt? :)

  7. Justin says:

    I’m in the process of setting up a blog for my business so this hit the nail on the head. Keeping the focus on readers and hanging in there are my takeaways. Thanks for the inspiration!

  8. Victorino says:

    Firstly, congrats for your seven years of experience in blogging! I agree with all those lessons, especially the making money pressure thing. In my years of blogging experience, I have learned that we need to have a deep motivation and unending passion for blogging. Money cannot motivate us alone as there are things which are more important than money, such as the privilege to inspire and help people and the opportunity to build our own reputation.

  9. I think #6 is critical. I’ve seen so many business blogs that do nothing but announce their latest product launch milestones or new partnerships or PR events. Who are they writing for? Journalists? Certainly not for their actual customers who, in most cases, just want to know “what can you do for me today?” And it’s remarkably hard to get such marketing departments to change their minds.

    I hope I can get going in less than 7 years, too. Thanks, Matt.

  10. Rich Miller says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I always subscribed to the KISS method, Keep It Simple Stupid!

  11. hamayon says:

    truly said “blogging is hard”, 2 years back when I step in world of blogging I was thinking that making money through blogging is simple. But then I had made many blogs and then shut them down, but I had also learnt a lot and now writing for many other blogs too. Now I have made a decision about my own blog. make it, stick to it, don’t leave it alone ;) , in the end fruit will be mine and so far its working good.

  12. I’ve only been blogging for about a year. Being the Chief Technology Officer, who writes code, it was quite a jump to writing about technology for small business, but I’m getting there. You’re right blogging is hard. Trying to get your small business clients to understand that when they’re all excited to get started it even harder.

    • Matt McGee says:

      That’s a good point, Christine. Enthusiasm is great and can lead to big things, but it also means you hit the wall harder when things start to get tough. Gotta find a balance between energy/enthusiasm and being realistic, I suppose.

  13. Sherry says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. I still remember the months of blogging without ever even having anybody see it! But boy, the benefits sure pay off in the end. I think patience is the number one thing I learned from blogging. I love it!

  14. Thanks for the message. I used to blog but gave up. I’m reconsidering it after hearing you speak in Philly. Maybe 7 years from now I can honor my achievement.

  15. Brittany J says:

    I think the thing I like most about this post is that you are being honest. You write for a specific group of people, and continue to do so. One thing that stuck out to me is #3. Ideas are one of the most important things we have, and if we don’t get those ideas down somewhere, we could forget them. One thing I like to do before I write is just take some time everyday to come up with some new ideas. I make a list of everything that I can think of, then I start writing from that list of ideas. Most of the time my ideas are just small, simple things that I come up with. I find this helps me out a lot!

  16. I hear what you say about you have to have a passion. Its that whats keep on putting out the thughts and the articles.
    I also liked your point that SEO people bitch and moan that its all regurgetated.. well there is a new crop of newbees every day.. and to them it isnt new. They want that stuff. No point in havig in depth discussions about the fine points of SEO if you still come to grips with insalling wordpress

    and something you mntion… this is your blog.. anout your passions.. if a reader isnt enjoying the content.. then dont worry.. its not for them..!

    Jayne

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