Our blog just hit 1000 posts, here’s what we’ve learned (that we didn’t kinda already know)
One thousand blog posts is, for many, small potatoes.
For us however, that fourth digit represents a hard-fought milestone, a destination at which we’re proud to say we’ve arrived considering the long, meandering, and sometimes backwards 44-month long journey to get here. One thousand is thus for us, so much greater than the number itself.
It’s the sum of hundreds of small tests and decisions leap-frogging giant changes; hundreds of whimsical, “what if” ideas bumping horns with data-approved topics and headlines; hundreds of people sharing thousands of hours of ideating, writing, editing, promoting, sharing, analyzing, correcting. In a way, as a result of running one thousand blog posts, we’ve probably learned about ten thousand tiny things — but we’ve also learned that we’re no closer to being able to predict the behaviors of a diverse, human readership.
People aren’t really predictable, and they’re not really all that similar either, so if there’s some magic elixir out there that promises to satisfy everyone’s needs and convert like 80% of your visitors, no we haven’t found it, and no I wouldn’t recommend drinking it if you do find it.
But here’s the great thing about that: people definitely don’t assume you’ll satisfy all their needs all the time anyway. If they support you, it’s because they like supporting you being you. If you have a blog, or you manage your company’s blog, it’s a really great opportunity to talk to the world like a human talks, and assure your community that when they come to your site, you’re allowing them to read like a human reads — which is to say that they don’t expect to predict everything about you either.
At Soundfly (and oh by the way, I’m talking about our music education blog, Flypaper), we make online musical courses that feature personal 1-on-1 coaching from professional Mentors, and we learned a long time ago that everyone has their own needs, experience, and goals, that can’t really be addressed in single-serving videos and lessons. We’re lucky to be able to see the human on the other side of our product who’s using it every single day, because our company is about communicating to them personally.
With that in mind, and before I share a few other things we’ve learned on the long road to four digits, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the single most important thing your blog should be, is a way to talk directly to the humans that use your product or support whatever else you do.
1. We’re all looking for solutions to our problems, but a blog is still just a blog.
When we started Flypaper, it wasn’t because we thought it would solve all of our problems, it was to solve the one problem of not having a very big email list. But after a while, when traffic to the blog started to eclipse and then dwarf traffic to the main site, we got a little taste of thinking,“maybe this thing can actually solve all of our problems!”
We started optimizing articles towards selling our product. Traffic to Flypaper kept increasing, so we optimized basically everything. Except nobody who spent time reading the articles then visited the site to buy courses. Our readers were, big surprise, just coming to read an article, and were curious about who we were.
After a while we realized that the people who stuck around, did so because they liked who we were and what we had to say, and were eager for more, not really because they wanted to be sold something. But because we kept making things they liked and giving them those things, they eventually raised their hands to ask if they could buy something. Do the thing you promise you’re going to do (i.e. make every “blog” article a great “article” article), then hand your visitors a business card so they can come back whenever they want.
2. Nobody really wants to read a temporal drip of product updates, I’m sorry.
The world of digital content is already bloated, sunburnt, and in a crummy mood. The internet doesn’t need another product update announcement.
Okay, some daily users of your product might actually want that, but keep it off the blog. People want to read about people—use the power of your team and the diversity of stories therein to humanize the product and the company via your blog. Your team is an endless well of great ideas, unique perspectives, and interesting things you’ve learned by doing, interesting things they know that nobody else knows, and that’s a well of content that I’m sure is not going to dry up any time soon.
Share the most interesting thing you have on deck today, the thing that makes someone on your team go, “woah.” Keep doing that as often as your available team-hours will allow, and build an audience, then segment that audience into those that want micro-updates to the product, and those who don’t.
3. Pay others to share your space, don’t sell your space to share it with others.
Over the years, we’ve been approached by a handful of companies offering us money for advertorial placements or to insert ads in our articles. For a young company struggling to make sales and a publication that to this day, remains a total loss leader, I’ll admit it’s been tempting. It still is.
And while I can’t advise you on what’s best for your blog, I can say with confidence that I’m glad we never took that money. Our blog tells our story, unclouded by the floating debris of some other company’s weird germs, and that means not selling our space, but paying others to join it.
We love paying authors to help us write our story, because our voice is a multiplicity of voices coming together to educate, inspire, and help one discover new things. In months that feature more writers contributing to our blog, we see higher traffic and a higher percentage of new visitors to the site.
I’m not saying not to partner or share content with other outlets. My point is that, well firstly, there are other ways to share the community you’ve built that don’t involve trying to sell your readers other people’s junk. And secondly, a reader’s trust is a very flimsy ceramic object on your mantle; if you pick it up to move it around the room too many times, it’s probably going to break. Ads are dipping your fingers in Crisco before picking it up each time.
4. Share every win.
When Flypaper made it to our first one million unique pageviews, we thanked everyone that ever contributed to our blog. Later that year, we threw a party and invited whoever could make it out to New York City to come join. The following year, after nearly tripling the total traffic to the site, we threw a mock black-tie award show called “The Flypies” in our office as a show of thanks and sent it around to everyone (and posted it to the blog of course). And we had a whopping good time with it, too.
Why does this matter? Our 70-some-odd writers all live in different cities, they’re at different stages of their careers, they like different things. It doesn’t always feel like a team—but sharing milestones does. And the more your writers feel like they’re part of an awesome team accomplishing awesome things, the more genuine buy-in you’ll get from them.
As an editor, it’s also important to convey, honestly and frequently, how much you value your writers’ work and input. Ask for their opinion on what they think is working, tell them how much you liked their last piece, share their work with other professionals, and share every win.
5. There’s no such thing as “too much copy-editing.”
Asses are saved day in and day out because someone other than you caught that one factual error or grammatical whoopsy-daisy that would’ve blown your credibility right out the tailpipe. Hire a copy editor.
Sure, skimming is fine. Skim these sub-headings all you want, we don’t mind as long as you make it all the way down the page and we get to count that full-page scroll towards our reader data! But if you actually want people to stop and read what’s in each section, we’ve found that it sometimes helps to have sub-headings that don’t make any sense at all. After all, you’re still reading this.
7. Trolls are your next great contributors.
There are a lot of people out there with strong opinions and sharp tongues, and they can be super annoying, but those opinions might make for some very entertaining reading! (Just proceed with caution, the shadow-dwelling creatures of the internet can be an unforgiving lot.)
When we stopped arguing our point-of-view with the trolls in our comment section, and started engaging with interest in what these people had to say, we unearthed an enormous bank of talent just waiting to be invited over to our side. We’d say, “that’s a really interesting take, we hadn’t thought of that. If you ever want to write on this subject, we pay for content. Email us your ideas!”
It’s okay for you to offer your sourest commenters the ultimate challenge of trollhood, to put their money where their mouth is. More often then not, being invited to participate in your project is what they really want in the first place.
In the end, your blog is a daily motor powering a reputation-mobile. Like a motor, it needs to be running on clean, consistent oil, it needs constant upkeep, and it needs to rest every now and then. But if you take care of your motor, it’ll get you where you need to go.
Now here’s a photo of me writing an email wearing a wolf hat. Hit me up if you like the hat.