Do The Work, or Quit Blogging

You just read a click-bait title. I apologize for that.

Before you run away, dear valued reader (see what I did there?), here’s my thesis:

A person should not blog or publish on the Internet (not all publishers are bloggers) if they are blogging to fulfill a perceived “need”. If they are doing it for reputation, links, or anything else, blogging is a wasted effort. Blogging or publishing works when you do it because you cannot help but write and publish.

Barry Adams recently wrote a post on State of Search entitled Can The SEO Industry Embrace Longform Content? Within that post, Barry talks about why internet marketers, and specifically SEOs, are not set up to write longform content because of the current mindset, which includes in Barry’s stereotype:

  • Lack of time
  • Lack of monetary compensation
  • Short term thinking is a good thing for SEOs
  • SEOs chase hypes, not substance
  • We’re not journalists
  • The Internet favors short content

I’m not going to respond to each of these at length here. But to me, all of these are nothing more than excuses.

SEOs don’t lack time – most don’t make time. SEOs don’t lack for monetary compensation – priorities are other places than writing (and you prioritize what you love/care about). SEOs are short term thinkers – to their detriment, because the tactics they beat to death don’t last. SEOs chase hype – once again, to their detriment because there is a lack of deep thinking, which goes back to the previous point. We’re not journalists – true, but most of us are experts. The Internet favors short content – really? I and many others disagree: (source):

We’ve tried to work longer on stories for greater impact, and publish fewer quick-takes that we know you can consume elsewhere. We’re actually publishing, on average, roughly one-third fewer posts on Salon than we were a year ago (from 848 to 572 in December; 943 to 602 in January). So: 33 percent fewer posts; 40 percent greater traffic. It sounds simple, maybe obvious, but: We’ve gone back to our primary mission and have been focusing on originality. And it’s working.

Wordstream (source):

If You’re Not A Writer, Don’t Write

This is a strong statement, but I think I’m going to stand by it. Part of the reason why I have put off writing this piece for so long is because I like to encourage people to write, since I love to write. There is nothing worse, though, than someone who writes because they feel like they should write, and not because they want to write. Barry’s points of lack of time, lack of compensation, and lack of being a journalist are never a factor for someone who loves to write.

I remember talking about this with Rand one time over email about blogging. I commented that I don’t feel like I have a choice but to write – writing is in me. Writing is how I get my thoughts out of my head (I’m definitely an extroverted sharer, as talked about in this post from Will Critchlow), and Rand is the same way. Writer’s can’t help but write.

Writing should inspire you. Here is a quote from Brian Clark (CopyBlogger) that sums up my thoughts about it:

“If I had to spend my day building links the way you guys do, I’d shoot myself. I have to be able to create content. To me, it’s like cold calling. I just built websites and the leads came to me. It’s a team building exercise, just like any other discipline. Everyone has their roles. Writers have their own roles, and you can’t underpay them anymore.”

That is the attitude of a writer. Writers take into account all of the following questions:

  • Will this build affinity with my readers?
  • Will my readers share this content?
  • Will someone finding this post without context for who I am get value from this post?
  • Have I provided the level of detail that the title requires?

Of course, not every post is going to meet all of these, and not every post should. But if this is a mindset shift for you, think long and hard about whether or not you should write.

Is It Helpful/Lasting?

I was recently looking for resources about broken link building. I went to Google and conducted a search for [broken link building resources]. Then I searched for [scale broken linkbuilding]. For a lot of these searches, the articles that I clicked on, that appeared to be helpful from their title and meta description, were about 500-700 words of fluff that offered nothing useful to me. Most could be summarized into:

  • Find websites
  • Find the broken links on the site
  • Email and ask them to change the link

That kind of content is unhelpful. Some of you may be saying “But they did their job! They got you to the page!” They did their job as an SEO to get the page ranking perhaps, but they failed as a writer in my opinion. The posts had nothing of value to them. I skimmed through, realized that nothing was useful, and left. I don’t even remember the sites. Why are you writing unless it’s to build a brand/site, sell a product, or build loyalty/readership?

All of these posts were also just lists, with 5 points, and a paragraph of text. What happened to people learning from posts like What Kind of Content Gets Links in 2012:

If you’re reading this post and you haven’t even thought about the type of content that is going to earn links or increased engagement, you’re probably not a very good marketer and you’re probably not a very good writer. There, I said it.

Change Your Style

If your posts are not receiving engagement from your audience, as measured by social love or time on site, you probably need to change your tactics to better suit your audience. I’m not saying that you need to have a different writing voice (diversity in voice online is part of what makes it great), but tweaks to the format of your writing can make a huge difference.

Writing online should be both able to be skimmed by a reader as well as digested deeper. And few people online (at least passive readers who come across your site via search instead of subscribing) want to read a wall of text.

Imagine if I wrote The Future of The Visual Web, which looks like this:

And instead had this:

“Just look at the growth of Pinterest over the past year, which is really just images:. It has grown from 2 million to 25 million users since November 2011.

Some other examples of visual content are:

  • Fab
  • Etsy
  • Uncrate
  • TheVerge

TheVerge’s organic traffic has skyrocketed recently too, by the way.”

That’s the text in that section of the post, but because images were included, you were able to get a true idea of what I was talking about instead of seeing a list. Most blogging today is lazy blogging. Do the work.

Put In Time, but Publish As Ready

Blogging is a lot of hard work, believe me. I have been writing on this site for almost 2 years and trying to publish about two posts per week. When I had myself under that pressure though, of trying to keep to a content calendar of publishing every Tuesday and Thursday, I ended up releasing content that was not as good as it could have been, simply because I felt like I needed to publish, like my readers would care if I didn’t write.

Check out this traffic graph, before and after I was publishing twice a week:

Vary Your Content Types

One of the interesting parts of being a marketer and a blogger is that you know the types of content that work on the Internet.

Another interesting note is that different kinds of content can do equally well. For example, all of these types can do well in the right place:

  • Short content (look at Seth Godin)
  • Longform content (look at the #longreads Twitter stream)
  • Presentations (look at Slideshare)
  • Infographics ( exists for a reason)
  • Video (WBF, Youtube, Vimeo)

Many marketers recently have lamented that they are seeing longform posts for the sake of writing longform posts. This is a trap of being a short-sighted marketer and a writer – you will start to fit your writing into other formats just because you think that doing so will get you more readers. The unfortunate part is that sometimes this is true, for a short amount of time.

I want to encourage all of you to think about how you are packaging your content, and how it is being displayed. If all you do is blog, you’re not leveraging all of the channels that you could use to build an audience of engagers.

My latest favorite example of someone branching outside of their comfort zone of blogging and embracing a new medium is Dan Shure, who has started his NoBoard Friday series to share his thoughts, but in a different format:

Hire An Editor

My final point, if you still want to write, is to write a lot. Write all the time. Commit to writing 200 words a day. If you’re going to get better at your craft, you have to practice. There is a reason why people say that it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert (that’s from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, which I highly recommend). But as Seth Godin so well puts it:

You win when you become the best in the world, however ‘best’ and ‘world’ are defined by your market. In many mature markets, it takes 10,000 hours of preparation to win because most people give up after 5,000 hours. That’s the only magic thing about 10k… it’s a hard number to reach, so most people bail.

But remember that no one knows everything, so please do us all a favor and ask someone who you know will give you tough feedback to read your post before it’s published. We do this at Distilled (with an internal Quality email group) so that every post or external communication is edited for at least grammar, and content when it is needed.

My most popular posts on this site were all looked at by at least one person before they were published. Moz edits all of the posts that go on their site (either the main blog or YOUmoz) for grammar and punctuation. If you care about the quality of your writing, get a trusted friend to edit your work.

If you don’t care about the quality of your writing – stop writing.

28 thoughts on “Do The Work, or Quit Blogging

  1. Couldn’t agree more. Blogging for blogging’s sake can often be more detrimental than productive. I’m not saying that you have to be a journalist to be able to write an article but you should have a writing style that appeals to your audience and knowledge to back it up.


    1. With all due respect, the article was too long, and I agree with what you disagree: Internet , ans so do the readers, like shorter posts. Also, I picked up an anger underlining your argument regarding that everybody now can write whatever, whatever – the platform is there for all of us. Let the market decide who deserve to be read or not, kinda of a natural selection. What you say, in so many words, is the old “editor pick” style who “recommend” what’s worth reading or not….just a personal view and opinion as a reader….

      1. Thanks for the comment, Alexandra, and I appreciate you disagreeing, but I’d love for you to make an argument against mine – I’d love you to defend that the Internet loves short content. I think I made a pretty good argument against that. What’s your argument for it?

  2. This was a totally enjoyable article to read John.

    And I must say, that you’re right because when I do write because of a compulsion I write much better but when I’m writing for ‘other purposes’, well I just don’t feel it the same.

  3. Jon, it feels wrong to write such a short comment, when you’ve clearly put a lot of effort into this post. However, its a wonderful summation of why so many ‘content creators’ will remain bottom-feeders until they decide to write something inherently interesting and engaging. Good work.

  4. Great post. It’s great to hear things like this to get people motivated to spending more time making great stuff. The only thing I would change (personally) is the first heading that says, “If you’re not a writer, don’t write” with something more along the lines of, “If you’re not passionate about writing, don’t write.” I know I’m not the best blogger and my writing skills are probably lacking in some ways, but I feel like I learn more and get better each time I write.

    So, while I wouldn’t consider myself a writer, per se, I do enjoy making great stuff and writing about things I come across (however few and far between those posts may be).

    1. Thanks Vince. I struggled with how to phrase that part. I want to encourage people to write. What I was getting at with the “you’re a writer” part includes passion for it. If you have passion, you can always learn the skills. If you don’t have passion for it though, it’ll show through as your content will be flat.

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  5. Great post John!

    I am not sure if you read
    Although I am more of a in person type of blogger or lack there of, it’s an interesting point on how content/time/blogs can be focused on a one to one or a one to many.

    “Two hours spent being useful to one person who wants to ‘pick my brain’ is two hours I’d rather spend making something that could be useful to the whole world (including that one person).” -Derek Sivers.

  6. Excellent thoughts, John. I’ve been thinking about this very thing a lot lately. I can only write when I get fired up about a subject, when I see a need.

    I recently spoke with a colleague about how much “link bait” content there is out there that isn’t really relevant for the audience it’s trying to attract or that it would attract. It might get you a link, it might help with rankings, but it won’t help with conversions–which should be a bigger goal than rankings alone. Otherwise, why would we write meta descriptions to encourage people to click, or write calls-to-action?

    I find the concept and the data behind long form content fascinating. I DO NOT read long posts. Not to say that all long reads are this way, but many of them are unnecessarily long-winded. I favor concise writing.

    I actually had a chat about this over Twitter with Elisa Gabbert at Wordstream. Long reads may get a lot of shares and engagement because they generate trust, but how many people actually read the entire thing? How many people comprehend what they are reading? It’s curious to me because it’s the opposite of how I read myself.

    I do have to disagree with you on one point however. I think writing for reputation is acceptable so long as you are trying to build a brand.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Paige. I guess we do disagree on that final point. I think that content comes first, and with talent and skill and passion then the reputation comes. I’ve never seen something good come out of someone starting to blog because they want to build a brand/reputation. They’re the ones that stop writing about 3 months in.

      1. I started a blog because I thought I should build my reputation as a blogger, then I spend a lot of months not writing because that goal didn’t motivate me.

        That said, when I did feel inspired to write I very much enjoyed the process of putting together, editing and taking advice on the piece I produced, resulting in the ‘Trust Threshold’ piece I published last week, which seems to have been well-received.

        Hopefully I am similarly inspired more regularly in future, because forcing it holds no genuine appeal for me.

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  9. I like the post John but you’ve got to cut some slack for people starting off. I know its a cut throat blogging world out there (feels throat carefully) but sometimes the blogging in the initial days is part of the learning experience.

    I know for sure. I have a rich repository of awful blog posts on my site that I am gradually either rewriting or redirecting. Like you mention they were written with all the wrong intentions. I should be finished 2014.

    I like all your points though especially that of getting someone to edit. Will you be my editor – joke – serious will you be my editor – joke 2 –

    We all tend to sit pounding out blog posts and some of them are mediocre (not as bad as some of our comments though on blog posts!!) I find that as you come to a point the mouse starts straying to publish.

    I wrote an SEOMOZ post on this a way back under kdaly100 (no link dont worry) about Sweating the Small Stuff was the title but I am a beilever in mixing short with long.

    Keep the faith great blog etc etc etc…

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