I wrote the following advice when I hit my ten year anniversary as a content creator.
By this point people where calling me an ‘OG’ and a ‘pioneer’ in the blogging industry. It was nice to hear, but I certainly wasn’t ready to retire!
The one thing that time gives you is perspective. I’ve seen so many changes.
When I started writing articles, YouTube was just about to have its first video uploaded. Facebook didn’t exist, and mobile phones were not the dominate tool for creating content as they are today.
The Fundamentals Never Change
Despite all the changes, new platforms, new technology, new hardware — the fundamentals have not changed.
Creators still tell stories, we’re all trying to grow our audiences and how you sell products and services still relies on the same fundamental concepts (things like social proof, authenticity, community, deadlines and discounts still work).
It all comes down to what drives a human being to make choices, and that has not changed and likely never will unless we evolve into something markedly different to what we are now. Money, status, sex, power, health, security, pain avoidance, the pursuit of pleasure – these are things that motivate us.
Over the years I’ve studied business through a university degree, books, courses and read countless blog posts, websites, listened to podcasts and watched films and videos. I’ve reached millions of people with my content and made millions of dollars from the businesses I’ve grown using my content.
Everything comes back to learning about people, figuring out what makes them tick and then using your understanding of their psychology to present your offer as the best-tailored solution for them.
Technology Always Changes
What does change, is the playing field you operate in and the tools you use to present your content and convince people to buy.
From newspapers, magazines, direct mail and trade journals, to radio, television, movies, and today the world wide web, social media and mobile applications – everything changes.
Competition changes too, leaders come and go, big companies rise up and then fade into history.
The tools you use to reach people constantly change and you always have new options, more than you can probably keep up with.
If however you understand the fundamentals, you realize that your core values stay consistent. How you present your value and what distribution formats you use to deliver it to people, fluctuates based on what is working best at any given time.
This is a really important point, because if your business is based on a technology, that means it has a shelf-life.
If you want sustainability, you need to get the fundamentals rock solid, and keep your distribution and presentation fluid and dynamic.
Trends Never Last
My friend Gideon Shalwick showed me some interesting graphs on Google Trends.
While the data is far from conclusive, I did find this particular graph interesting, which shows the popularity for the phrase “blogging” over ten years.
The peaks were in 2005, which is when I started this blog you are reading now, and 2008, when I had my successful blog training product, Becomeablogger.com, which Gideon and I co-created. We made over a million dollars in revenue with that business, which is pretty incredible for two guys living in Australia with no employees.
In short, much of my early career as a writer and content creator was helped along by the blogging trend.
Looking at successful people I know in my industry, you can track their initial success to a particular trend — a wave of popularity or demand they rode to build a business.
John Lee Dumas rode the trend of Podcasting. When Perry Marshall was at the peak of his fame, he was riding the Google AdWords trend. When Facebook advertising was new and trending, I can remember hearing more and more about Amy Porterfield, who initially rode that wave, then later rode the ‘course creator’ wave as a teacher.
Other trends I have seen rise and sometimes fade (and sometimes rise again), include YouTube, e-commerce, social media (each new platform is a trend in itself), affiliate marketing, CPA advertising, social bookmarking (Digg), email newsletters, SAAS, buying and selling websites, and so on.
I bet you know a few experts, past or present, who are known because they teach or have experience in one of these platforms and technologies.
Topics are also trends you can ride as a content creator, for example writing about crypto, artificial intelligence, smartphones, electric cars, reality television, politics, travel and fashion.
The one constant with trends is they do not last. They are always based on a new technique or technology and follow an interest cycle.
Human beings, by their nature, move on to something different, new and perceived as better (and often ACTUALLY better). If you are attached to any one trend, you are doomed if you don’t adjust and keep up with the times.
However, if you have your fundamentals clear, you can take what you know and apply it to each trend, ideally just before it peaks, so you can ride the wave all the way. You can also pivot to new topics and technologies, changing focus to a more popular or lucrative trend that you are ready to go after.
What Does This Mean For Content Writers?
Blogging is not trending upwards as it once was, but that doesn’t mean it has died. It’s just not the cool kid on the block anymore.
While the technology that lets you run a blog changes constantly, the act of blogging is a form of publishing. Publishing hasn’t fundamentally changed since the printing press was invented. We all write words that others read, just like the article you are reading now.
A blog is a website. Until the internet changes so much that we do not use websites as a publishing platform, a blog will remain a viable option. That is of course until a better publishing platform replaces it, which will happen eventually.
Today the largest search engines are Google and YouTube. If you want to show up for search results in YouTube, you have to publish videos there, following their rules and structure. Writers however, still get to publish their articles on their own blogs and websites, which then rank in Google.
To put it simply, being a content creator still works today, in fact in many ways it’s better and easier today than it ever was.
That being said, being a ‘blogger’ has changed a lot since I started, and I think it’s vital you understand the sometimes harsh reality you face if you want to use your writing as a way to grow an online business…
13 Stark Realities Bloggers Face Today
Here are the most important changes and what you need to do about them, if you expect to make money from a blog based business in today’s online business environment.
1. Just Having A Blog Is Not Enough
The fact that you have a blog is not a big deal. It used to be something special, a reason in and of itself for you to attract attention. It meant you were cutting edge and had something special to offer.
Today you are just another blogger and there are millions more doing the same thing.
2. You Better Have A Good Story To Tell
When I started blogging writing out “tips” and “advice” was enough. I figured out early the more case study stories I included with my articles the better my blog did.
Today a good story is mandatory. Just doing advice and tips and repeating the standard information is not enough. You need to do something special, so you can report back something special, which makes you special (and thus worth paying attention to).
3. Your Audience Is Sophisticated So Meet Them Where They Are
Standard information doesn’t work because your market has become more sophisticated. They know the basics, they understand all the normal advice because they’ve read it on ten other blogs, newsletters and social media feeds.
You have to stay one step ahead of your audience and give them information that is not available elsewhere.
For example, when I told people to “leave comments on blogs” as a means to get traffic to your blog, it was good enough advice in 2006 for people to share it. Today, everyone has heard that advice before. I need to offer more sophisticated ideas if I want to make an impact.
4. Bloggers Are Doing A Better Job Of Everything
Today the standard of blogging has risen across the board. Blog designs are better, content is better, audio quality is high, and online video is fast catching up with TV for production value.
Content substance will always come first, but engagement increases with polished presentation.
Google tells us engagement is important when it comes to ranking sites in their search engine. They assume your content is better if people stay longer and consume more of it, hence you are rewarded with more free traffic.
Even if you have brilliant ideas, if people do not engage with them because they are difficult to consume or locate, you won’t gain traction.
5. Quality Competition Exists In All Top Category Markets
Blogging is not new. Chances are your industry already has many bloggers in it, and likely a handful of established leaders who command a lion-share of audience attention.
Gone are the days when you can start a blog about a broad general category and expect to become a leader, unless you have some pretty amazing stories to tell.
Choosing a niche within a niche is no longer good advice – it’s mandatory for success. You simply can’t compete if your subject category is broad because you can’t provide enough quality information – there is too much to cover.
Be the best at one unique thing and you stand a chance.
6. If You Don’t Offer All Modalities Of Content You Lose Audience Share
I’ve been saying this since 2006 (and struggling to follow my own advice since then too!), but it’s even more important today because people have choices.
If you don’t offer words in text, audio and video, you are missing out on large chunks of audience.
It’s even more important now because people have options.
There is someone on YouTube covering the same subjects as you. There’s a podcast out there that covers what you cover too. If a person visits your blog and you only have written words, and they prefer video, they are going to invest their limited attention span on the YouTube channel, not on your blog.
This wasn’t a problem years ago because there just weren’t quality solutions in all modalities. Today there are, so you either match exactly what a person wants or they go somewhere else.
7. Loyalty Matters: If You Don’t Have A Community No One Cares
You only have a small chance to grab someone’s attention, ideally with brilliant ideas, shared with powerful case study stories, in their preferred modality of learning.
If you do this part right, you earn their attention. This is the doorway for them to become a member of your community.
Once that trust is established, loyalty kicks in. A person’s ego gets involved and they start to see you as an extension of themselves, someone they care about and believe in. That’s powerful.
There’s a reason why certain creators have cult followings. The people who follow them identify with more than just the content they provide. They like, trust and care about you like a friend.
Friends – your peer group – elicit a strong persuasive force, one of the strongest there is over us human beings. Your blog can have the same effect, but only if you have a community who love you.
8. Audiences Size Is A Magnitude Greater
The entire size of the internet has increased and it’s still growing. Your potential audience reach is massive compared to just a few years ago.
In 2004 when I first started blogging, Darren Rowse had 3,000 RSS subscribers to his Problogger blog, the largest following at the time in my industry.
We used to measure web audience size in thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands and now millions and even billions for some pieces of content. You can see where this is going…
The internet is now the biggest communication channel there is, surpassing the previous leader, television.
9. Traffic Sources Are Abundant
Just as there are so many more people online today, there are more ways to reach those people.
When I started online the Web was made up of websites, newsgroups, forums and email newsletters. Eventually audio became available and easy enough to add to your website. Then blogs hit. Podcasting and YouTube were next, followed closely by social media.
Fast forward today and there are literally hundreds of thousands of different types of websites, including all kinds of social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snap, Tiktok, LinkedIn, etc), audio distribution channels (iTunes, Spotify), and advertising platforms (Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Retargeting Ads, Email Ads, YouTube Ads, etc).
Your challenge today is picking your battles. You can’t do it all, so choosing what to focus on is more important than being everywhere.
10. Your Positioning Is Even More Critical
With so much abundance and competition, you only have one chance to secure attention – figure out a very clear and powerful position and fortify it.
You need to operate within a niche within a niche, but you also have to position yourself in that space because you won’t be the only one there.
Positioning and coming up with a Unique Selling Proposition is about making yourself appear like the only option a certain group of people have to solve a certain problem. This is more important now than it ever was.
11. Content In And Of Itself Is Not Enough
Publishing amazing things is not enough anymore. Today you need a reliable and sustainable distribution mechanism to share your content, otherwise your brilliant piece of work will be lost in the ocean of all those other brilliant content pieces from other people.
Your distribution channel may be a significant social media presence, or the attention of influential people who will partner with you and share your content, or a large email newsletter, or a budget to spend on paid advertising.
Ideally it will be a combination of these things, but they all take time to develop.
Marketing has always been important, but the “noise” online has increased so much that there is literally no attention unless you smack people in the head multiple times with what you offer using multiple channels.
Unless you have a means to amplify your message, your content won’t be heard.
12. Conversion Counts More Than Traffic
This is a hard lesson for content creators to learn. You have to change your focus away from content creator to conversion expert.
Just being a good writer, podcaster or video producer who attracts a lot of attention is not going to lead to a sustainable business. Conversion is more important.
Moving people from visitors, to subscribers to buyers and then loyal big spending community members is how you sustain success.
If you don’t counterbalance your ratio of effort away from producing free content, to instead how to convert and sell, you won’t make money and you will burn out.
13. Spend More Time Serving Existing Customers, Less On Attracting New Ones
Content creators are often too focused on attracting new audience and not serving your existing audience to a deeper level.
Today, unless you are already a leader with a massive following, which most people are not, you are only going to profit by going deep.
Why invest all your energy producing amazing value for the people who never spend money on your business and who complain when you ask them to buy something?
A small group of the really big content creators make it rich selling low priced merch or digital products, or from ads or sponsored content. They have such huge followings that they sell enough of their $20 shirt or ebook that they don’t have to do anything more.
This is not a common scenario, nor is it the smart model to emulate.
If you have millions of visitors per month, you have volume, enough that small purchases or advertising share can pay the bills…
However, do you truly comprehend how hard you have to work to reach millions of visitors per month?
On top of hard work, your timing has to be amazing too, catching the crest of that trend wave just as it starts to rise.
Often leading high-traffic blogs have owners who work incredibly hard, or have massive teams who produce the content to keep the machine running. They also started at just the right time to become a leader of a trend.
Unfortunately, other people blindly follow them, not realizing it’s the wrong model to replicate. You will never have the traffic volume required to make it work and you will forever produce free content hoping that one day you will make it.
If you follow these models today, you have a massive job ahead of you. It’s just not the smartest choice for most people. It takes more work, is harder to sustain, you need the right timing, and ultimately is not nearly as well leveraged.
None Of This Is New
The list of challenges and conditions bloggers face that I stated in this article might be confronting, but it’s not a new situation.
All industries go through this development cycle, growing in size, becoming incredibly crowded, resulting in fragmentation.
Those who adapt and narrow their focus can survive – and even thrive.
Today as a content-powered business owner you have to become better at serving a smaller group of people you know very well, who you work with a whole lot closer than ever before.