What I’ve learned from 3 months of blogging

Written by Verne on October 4th, 2007

I’ve had the pleasure of running this blog for just about 3 months now, and as cliche as this sounds, it’s grown beyond any expectations I’ve ever had. As some of you may have noticed, this last month has been met with a slower posting rate, yet, to my surprise, my RSS subscriber counter has continued to grow with each passing day. To put things in perspective, on September 1, I had approximately 12 RSS readers. A few days ago, on October 1, I reached an new high of 40 RSS readers. I’ve posted my RSS trackrecord below.

creative briefing FeedBurner RSS statistics

This blog is far too young to tell what the count increase is due to, but it certainly challenges many big bloggers’ theories of needing to blog at least once everyday in order to build readership. Tim Ferriss’ school of thought seems more appropriate in this case. Whatever the case may be, I’m happy to have everyone here, and I hope to see the number continue to grow!

Likewise, over the past 3 months I’ve continued to grow as a blogger as well. I mentioned sometime before that the great thing about blogging is that it’s very forgiving. And because this has been mostly a touch-and-go experience, I’ve had my fair share of hits and misses. So in light of this blog’s recent 3-month milestone, I thought I would share with everyone a few things I’ve learned along the way.

In no particular order:

  1. Don’t monetize too quickly. I was, like many new to the blogosphere, ambitious to try my hand at monetizing this site. What I found out quickly was that my efforts to optimize ad placements took away attention from writing, and that this effort was not worth the measly returns it was generating. It’s true what they say – build up traffic and readership first, and then slowly ease in the money-makers, if you choose to at all. I think this blog is still far too young to fully monetize so expect to have any tactics kept at a minimum for the time being.
     
  2. Refine who you’re writing for. Over the course of the first month of writing, this blog underwent a lot of changes, one of which was the target audience. It wasn’t so much changed as it was narrowed down from all creatively-intrigued individuals to specifically creatively-inspired entrepreneurs and freelancers. I felt like refining the audience I was writing to helped me focus my thoughts and ideas, and made my posts more enjoyable for more of my readers.
     
  3. Being active in related communities helps drive traffic. This was probably one of the key ways I was able to attract new readers to this site. Staying active by regularly commenting on blogs and posting on forums that share a similar interest helps to spread awareness of your work. For me, Freelance Switch (both the blog and the forums) and Young Go Getter are still among my favourite places to leave my 2 cents, with other sites like David Airey‘s and Graphic Design Blog sharing the same list. Of course, remember to keep your contibutions meaningful and avoid posting for the sake of posting.
     
  4. Make friends. A nice side-effect of being active in certain communities is that you get to meet new people that also share your interests. This is great not only because it opens up new channels of insight, but because it expands the network of contacts that can help you grow your blog (through things like guest blogging, link sharing, etc).
     
  5. Submit your good stuff. I’m not just referring to social media sites (though you should do those too). Many sites do weekly or monthly summaries of great content on the web, so keep your eyes peeled for call-outs and don’t be afraid to send in your best work. Having my post on 5 ways to better manage your team virtually featured on Freelance Switch did wonders for my traffic for weeks. And then to have it get picked up again on Life Hack just continued the wave. Having a first-hand referral from a big site gives you tons of credibility, so if you think you’ve got something good in your hands, send ‘er in!
     
  6. Don’t overpromote a third party product. Even if you truly believe in it yourelf. Let its benefits speak for itself. I’ll just leave it at that.
     
  7. Trackbacks divert traffic from great posts to yours. Read a really good post? Write about it and reference it through a trackback. Whether you’re writing specifically about the post, or are borrowing a thought from it to support your own, sending a trackback lets the site owner know you’re writing about something similar and better yet, lets their audience know where they can get more good stuff. If you’ve already written something similar in the past, sometimes a well-positioned comment with a link to your article will do the trick as well.
     
  8. Thoughtless forwards result in thoughtless readers. By thoughtless forwards I mean posts that simply share something interesting you’ve found somewhere else (i.e. an interesting article or site) without any thought of your own added in. And by thoughtless readers I mean readers that leave no comments because they have no thought on the topic (because you haven’t encouraged them to think about anything). An example of this is my post on I Heart Art. Really interesting work, but I didn’t bother to leave my own thoughts, and thus, neither did readers. My post on an inspiring company culture is another example (two in a row! that was not a good week…).
     
  9. Readers seem to enjoy personal (but relevant) stories. I say this because my most popular posts (that is, the posts that have the most comments) are those that surround how I do something or what I’m doing. My series on Project: Home Office has collectively generated the most amount of interaction thus far (thank you to everyone for your ideas and suggestions… I’m sorry that I’ve fallen behind on this project!), with other posts like 5 ways to better manage your team virtually and 7 ways to not get a job not too far behind and also sharing that same “this is how I do it…” theme. I suppose my perspective is one of the truly unique things to this blog, as should yours be to your blog. So the lesson is, offer your personal insight rather than just another objective report.
     
  10. Take advantage of a linkback. If you’ve been fortunate enough to get some link love from another site that’s sending mounds of traffic to you, take advantage of it. Write a post welcoming the new visitors and give them a reason to stick around by linking to some of your best material. When I was featured on Freelancer Focus and had my article picked up by Life Hack (both happened on the same day), I made the mistake of writing a post that simply shared the wonderful news. New visitors arriving probably found no value in the post that occupied that valuable real estate at the top of the page and moved on. Lesson learned.
      
  11. Jump on the topics that are time-sensitive. There were a few instances where I had a great post idea that depended on some breaking news. However, I never committed myself to sitting down and punching out the posts before the relevancy of the topics expired. The 2007 MTV VMA‘s splash page color scheme presented some interesting similarities to the student campaign I led last year for a year-end gala, which was also loosely based on some other award show theme.. I swear I had a witty comment ready but by the time I got around to writing, the creative had already been taken down. I also missed out on reviewing some site redesigns, including that of Young Go GetterJohn Chow dot Com, and most recently Freelance Switch.
     
  12. Blogging is an escape for me, not a hobby (yet). The number one reason why my posting rate slowed down throughout September is that I’ve become less busy. Yes, as unintuitive as that sounds, it’s true. I can remember the long days of August hunched over a textbook with client work flooding through my inbox and a strong urge to escape it all through this wonderful blog. Now, as a full-time entrepreneur, I have a lot more free time (though the line between free time and work time has seriously blurred), and while I’m coming across tons of new things to blog about, I haven’t felt the urgency to ‘get away’ and blog for a while. Maybe because there’s nothing to really get away from. It’s the sad consequence of enjoying what I do. In any case, I still enjoy writing, and though the posting rate has dropped a bit, I will continue to invade your RSS readers as regularly as I can.

You live, you blog, you learn. It’s been a great 3 months and I’m glad to see the site where it is today. There’s still much more that I’d like to do with this blog, so I’ll do my best to buckle down and commit to some of them. I definitely want to do some guest blogging and of course open the field up to more guest bloggers. You may even see a contest in the near future. ;)

So that wraps up this long-winded September/3-month briefing. As always, if you have suggestions for improvements, or if you want to share some blogging lessons of your own, leave a comment. If you want to help support the growth of this blog, subscribe to the RSS feed.

And just to follow my own prescription, here are some links to other articles you may find interesting:

5 Responses

  • Satish

    Congrats on the milestones and the learnings. That’s what blogging is all about, and I’m glad to see you’re continued efforts have resulted in positive growth (versus, heh, my own).

  • ERB Tech » Blog Archive » Lessons After 3 Months of Blogging

    [...] Author Verne Ho of Creative Briefing wrote about What He Learned from 3 Months of Blogging [...]

  • EB

    Greetings,

    I posted about your article on my blog – ERB Tech – and I said that I could not remember where I found your RSS feed from, but I just did: it was from Freelance Switch.

    I re-read your article and caught that the second time through.

    Keep up the good work and I made sure to Digg your story. I hope you see a lot more traffic in the near future.

    - EB

  • Verne

    Satish – it’s time to make that leap to WP and start creating some milestones of your own!

    EB – I’m glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for the trackback and Digg! I love FSw for the very reason that it sometimes connects and engages people in the randomest ways.

    It’d be great to hear about some of your hits and misses too! I think collectively we all have a lot to learn from each other as a community.

  • EB

    Verne – Definitely. If the final sentence was directed at me! :-)

    I will be monitoring your posts as the entrepreneurial and blogging content is what I’m most interested in.

    Personally I’m trying to get my own web design business off the ground while also monetizing my blog and exploring a handful of other income streams.

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