What I Learned From Building 5 Popular Blogs

by Derek Halpern · 55 comments

Over the last 6.5 years, I’ve built blogs in 5 different industries…

…From gossip, to fashion and makeup, to self-help, to the DIYthemes blog, and to Social Triggers.

And throughout the process of building those blogs, I’ve learned these important lessons.

#1 Make Sure Your Domain Name Is Easy to Remember

A few years back, I launched a blog that wrote articles about various self-help style topics.

Originally I launched it as a test. At that point, I only ran blogs about newsy stuff, whereas that blog was about teaching. So I wanted to know if I could do it.

The answer was yes. And I was able to kickstart the growth of that blog quickly by leveraging many of the same techniques I used to grow a news style websites.

The problem was this: the domain was HORRIBLE. It sounded like a major insurance company, and people almost NEVER remembered it.

Every time I’d tell a friend my domain, they’d either mispronounce my domain, misspell it, or just have no idea how to find my website without googling my name.

If you’re struggling with your domain name, there’s a simple cure. THere’s a book called POP! by Sam Horn, and it’s all about coming up with great names (not domain names, but brand names).

#2 Don’t Waste Your Time On Tasks That Don’t Pull In Readers and Revenue

Back when I started blogging, the idea of a “theme framework” didn’t exist.

So, when I wanted to change my font, or the color of my font, or add a sidebar, or anything like that, I’d have to struggle with CSS and PHP.

And before you knew it, instead of writing articles and promoting articles—the two most important things you can do as someone with a blog—I wasted an entire night messing with code.

Here’s what’s funny:

Nine times out of ten, the stuff I spent time tweaking was a big waste of time. It was my way of procrastinating from doing the work that I should have been doing.

What’s the cure? Get Thesis, and let Thesis do all of the heavy lifting for you.

#3 You Don’t Need To Update Your Blog Daily

No joke… that was a HUGE realization for me.

Back in 2007, I ran a gossip site, and I had to update that site several times each day.

I figured, the more content I’d create, the more search engine rankings I’d earn, and the more rankings I’d earn, the more traffic I’d get.

And that worked… back then.

But was the content great? Did the content really deserve to rank in search engines?

Probably not.

And worse, after doing it for about 2 years, I got so burnt out that I walked away from a wildly profitable blog to take a job at a Fortune 100 company.

But then I started experimenting with how often I updated blogs. I realized that you could pull in a ton of traffic by focusing on highly unique and long-form content.

Not only did people like long form content, search engines did too.

That was a revelation because back then people thought that blog posts had to be short, but it turned out that it didn’t. Longer blog posts actually performed extremely well.

What’s the cure? Focus on creating your best content always. And then spend time promoting that content.

#4 Live and Die By Your Email List

By now you know I’m a zealot for email marketing. Ever wonder why?

I’ll tell you why…

I made a huge mistake. When I was running my entertainment site, I received millions of hits in a month.

And instead of trying to convert those people into loyal subscribers… that would continue to read my site forever… I converted them into ad clicks and ad impressions.

I sacrificed user experience to make money in the short term.

And yea, I made a ton of money. But as that site began to lose search engine rankings, traffic dropped.

And as traffic dropped, I started realizing that unique hits meant nothing.

What really matters is how many people want to read every single piece of content you write.

What’s the best way to stay in touch with people who want to read your content?

The email account. People check their email, almost daily. People also rarely change their email.

And unless email dies (which will never happen), once you get an email, you get to keep it forever… or until that person unsubscribes.

In the end though, you’re in much more control with an email list and that’s why I focus on that first and foremost.

What’s the cure? Build your email list. Starting right now. Use a Feature Box, and high converting optin forms.

Now I Pass It To You…

What have you learned from blogging?

Any tough lessons?

Share it in the comments.

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

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{ 55 comments }

Ryan Shell

Blogging lesson: don’t give your product, or your audience, away to big brands just for the sake of working with them.

@RyanShell

Melanie

This is great advice, Ryan.

I’ve taken a hit financially, simply because I’m not willing to send my audience to charlatans in the weight loss industry.

Ryan Shell

Glad to see you making smart business decisions Melanie.

@RyanShell

Scott Wyden Kivowitz

Simplicity – no fancy hover bars. Just the necessary social sharing buttons. That will increase engagement.

George Featherstone

I really like #3. At the end of the year 12 epic posts (one a month) or 52 really good posts (one a week) will do a whole lot more for you than 365 posts of pure swill. Now if I could just build my email list…

Love your stuff Derek! Keep it coming!

Sean Mal

Right; I’m also not a fan of 365 posts just to have it. When I write a post is when I have something of value to say. I hope it pays off!! :)

Sean Davis

I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to tell the difference between what advice matters and what doesn’t. In fact, I’m still learning.

One thing I always look for now is credibility. Nice blog designs tend to add to people’s credibility when they don’t always deserve it. Likewise, affiliation plays a part too. I think that because a guy is friends with a particular A-Lister, they must have the best advice.

Negative.

learn to separate the fluff from the knowledge early on. That’s a lesson all bloggers need to learn, in my opinion.

Gregory Ciotti

Absolutely, no bigger time saver than from learning from those who actually know, and being able to determine if someone is worth listening to is critical.

Chris

Don’t be afraid to do something new, and focus on quality over quantity so that you can always help people!

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

Excellent!

Jared Kimball

Building an email list is crucial for any business online to succeed these days.

People are obsessed with Facebook fans and Twitter Followers, but Facebook and Twitter make all the rules on their sites…if they want to cut you off they can easily do it with the click of a mouse.

Asking people to join your email list isn’t spammy…as long as you deliver good content and help your subscribers out. You can’t sell to them all the time.

Good post Derek

Kenneth Benjamin @WisdomWebsite

Great tips as always, Derek.

How about always remembering what the purpose of your blog is.

If it is simply to have people read it, great, but most often it’s about attracting customers in one form or another. Always write with your customer in mind. Solve their problem and you’ll solve yours, too.

Gillian

Thanks Derek for reminding us about the importance of building our email lists.

Tamal

Derek you outlined some very useful points in blogging. The long articles helped me a lot building the foundation of my blog and also getting long term traffic. These posts does takes time and work but after that the extra work is worth it.

Nathalie Lussier

Yes! I think there’s so much information out there already, there’s no need to bombard people with tons of short posts. If you can put more value into a long post, and post less frequently, your people will love you for it.

And amen on the email, building an email list is so crucial.

Melanie

Definitely got my name wrong. I mean, it’s okay, but it doesn’t pass ‘the telephone test’, which annoys me. But, it’s too late to do anything with it now. I rank too well to ditch this domain.

I’ve learned my lesson, though. My new product name (yet to be released) is much better, and easy to remember, and spell.

Good post, Derek.

Mick Dickinson

I, too, chose a name that fails the telephone test (and one that gets confused with a .com alternative. Nasty).

But I chose to persevere because the name is memorable, has traction and ranks OK — and I don’t do much business by telephone!

cheers

Mick

Michelle DeMarco

So many people in my industry don’t understand blogging or list building. This is a great article pointing out why it is so important and I also really like what you said about having quality articles, not necessarily quantity…
Thanks!

fas

Very well said, I have picked up this line to post it on my work desk – “Focus on creating your best content always. And then spend time promoting that content. “

Brian Duvall

Thanks for the great advice. Here’s a couple more tips your readers may appreciate:
1. Don’t put a huge honkin’ Facebook button on your blog that sucks your traffic away. Instead, integrate content syndication into your blog so that when you publish your content is automatically shared on your social media sites as an excerpt with a link back to your full article on your blog. For example: the “Like Us On Facebook” button at the top of this article sends you directly to Facebook where you can get distracted with your wall posts and chatting with friends… no more chance for converting to a subscriber.

2. Give people a really strong incentive to opt-in to your email list. A weak offer like “Get email updates (it’s free),” probably won’t convert very well since most people are already inundated with email everyday. A better offer would be something like a special report or case study that would appeal to your audience as having real value. In fact… you need to say what the value is if you want people to actually value it. For example: “Get the Top 10 Traffic Getting, List Building Lessons I Learned From Building 5 Popular Blogs With More Than 1 Million Readers!” A $47 value is yours FREE. Simply enter your name and email below.

Hope you find that useful.
Cheers,

Charles

Brian,

How many of those $47.00 value FREEBIES did you EVER think were worth more than 1 millisecond of your time?

Sean Mal

Brian,
As I understand Derek is a minimalist so that’s why he’s not doing the ebook offer to keep it simple. And about social media integration…good advice but people have their own way to do it.

Cheers,
Sean

Mr. G

I learned that AdSense is a waste of time and effort, that SEO and statistics should not be that important in your day and that teaching something to people is what makes them come back.

Sadly, I figured all that very late. Gladly, I made the necessary changes and I started to see results. (“Better late than never”,right?)

Rob Dares

Thanks Derek
I agree and would add that you need to spend some time considering your niche, or subject matter of your blog. You need to ensure there is a large enough audience for your niche. It is ok to have a small audience but it reduces your opportunities to sell something, and more readers mean more comments, social sharing etc.

david

good post Derek. just curious though, instead of walking away from your wildly popular blog and going to work for a fortune 100 company – why didn’t you just hire someone to post to your blog as much as you were previously, That would free up your time and you would not have had to give up a revenue source?

I was just wondering about that question when I read your post. Thanks in advance, should you choose to respond.

Kimberly

As @david asks; why would you walk away from a profitable blog when it would be so easy to have someone else post?

Thanks again for sharing the feature box codes a few months ago; they make all the difference!

Josh Pangan

I agree, sometimes it’s hard to get away from adding widgets, plugins, etc and stay focused on the real content and attributes of the site visitors are really looking for.

Pat Bloomfield

Another key thing your story tells us, is that it’s OK to fail as long as you keep bouncing back :-)

Great tips Derek.

Laura Upcott

I finally figured out how to get some email subscribers! Thanks to your great articles and video blogs and webinars, Derek. Your advice is pure gold.

Tim Frisch

Really good advice, I’ve been doing SEO for 14 years have neglected email marketing, not a good idea. Thanks for the tips!

Keller Coleman

Awesome advice I will write more content then blog less. Thanks for the wonderful tips you shared in this blog. In fact I love seeing the email I receive from you, because I know it will be jammed packed with tips. God bless you.

Trung Nguyen

I really love your #3, we don’t need update our blog daily :) that thing makes me feel better when I can’t update my blog regularly.

Ari Wahyudi

My lesson is: You don’t blog for search engines, so keep posting useful thing for your readers.

LilyNrman

Wow, really thanks for this article. I always be your loyal subscriber because your contents really inspires me! What should I do now is promoting my content. I update my blog quite frequent but forget to promote it. Because my problem is, spending some time promoting the content really use much energy. I should have focus on it for now.

Giles

This piece of writing reeks of a blogging veteran’s knowledge and experience. Blogging so far has taught me that having too many ads on your blog can end up revolting your readers. Publishing articles with invaluable information or serving your readers should be the primary purpose of your blog. If you can do this, although it may take some time, you blog will begin bringing you some income.

sajan elanthoor

Excellent Man, that’s why whenever I’ve notified about your new posts, I suddenly find time to read it regardless how much busy I’m on that time, because I know you’ve always some awesome content to share. Keep up the good work.

Leeann

Great post Derek. In addition to great content, I would add ensuring you have good grammar and good flow.

Jan

Don’t over-design the masthead.

It took me days to figure out that my beautifully designed, colorful blog header was actually cannibalizing the blog’s editorial, visual content. It made my blog look like aunt Sue’s patchwork class.

Check out classic media: mastheads are mostly monochrome and often consist out of type only, maybe with some symbols thrown in.

Don’t get all wild about your new blog concept, and overdo the masthead. Let content be the star.

Alda

Hi Derek, thanks for all the great posts and info. One question: when you’re discussing email lists, do you make a distinction between paid email managers like Aweber and MailChimp and, say, Feedburner? I know you can’t use Feedburner to send out emails directly, but do you find it as effective, or less effective? I ask because I know a lot of people (like me) balk at having to provide a snail mail address in each email (like the paid services require) but want to build a list nevertheless. Would love to have your thoughts. Thanks.

deepak sharma

ask the one who dont know the name of your blog that how difiicult ur domain is .. because u can’t judge that thing itself … ur listening that name every minute … :D

Chiranjeev

Really Great point you caught through this post. These are the very important thing of any popular blog. Thanks for sharing it.

Navin Kunwar

Now i think i should stop using feedburner and start using aweber or getresponce. btw awesome post. :)

Gregory Ciotti

You should, Feedburner clicks are pitiful in comparison to email opens from a newsletter. Get on it!

Edwin Soler

Speak to the heart, share your story. My biggest traffic day to date to my blog was a story a I shared about my little son in day care. It struck a BIG chord with my audience. Sharing personal experiences shows you are willing to be vulnerable and transparent. Something few poeple will do today, especially when they “hide” behind a computer screen. Great post Derek!

Edwin Soler

Suggestion: Derek, I have seen blogs that give the option that says something like “see follow up posts in your email” or something like that. Have yo considered or experimented with this before? I rarely use it but when something this interesting is posted and a lot of feed back is coming through, like the ones in this post, it would be great to see other peoples posts and see what ideas they have without having to come back to the post numerous times. Just something to think about. Thanks.

Mason disick

Sometimes updating the blogs is a real sense, because Google panda rollout every month.

Warren Kuan

Great one!
I guess if one have good & quality content but a hard-to-remember Domain Name, it’s equal to NOTHING quality :)

Lynn

Question: When you build your email list, it follows that you have to send your list email messages. What would you put in your messages? Is that when you start selling them things, or do you just expand on your blog post topics?

Sachin

Best tips Derek, I was also in delusion that we need to create content everyday to get search engine love and to feed the search engine spiders; I was wrong. Creating mailing list is also a good way to get traffic and loyal visitors. Thanks for sharing ideas.

jezza101

Of course the advice is bang on (#2), but as a hobby blogger who enjoys the building and design part of running sites there is no way I’ll be giving it up to write and promote content!

I used to work for a well known UK website / blog (7 figure yearly turnover £) that had over a million email subscribers, and whilst email was clearly a big revenue stream, it only accounted for about 15% of the profit mix. By far the biggest profit generator was organic and PPC search traffic.

Don’t get me wrong, they are definitely something to consider, but if anyone starting out is worried because they don’t want to go down that route then know that plenty of business thrive in other ways.

Some of the biggest blogs on the web have no mailing list at all.

Tommy Walker

I’ve learned… listen to Derek Halpern.

Ron Davis

One thing I try to remember is to respect your audience. They give you their time to read what you write, so use their time wisely by not wasting it on something that isn’t your best effort.

Raj

the #1 tip which really rocks is choosing a brand-able domain name.. as it is the major factor which helps us in being successful.. the chances of getting returned visitors who have interest in your niche is very high for these cases…

Jonny Rowntree

Two of the points you make in this article grabbed my attention. I read something a while back which recommended purchasing all the TLDs available which match your primary domain name so that you don’t leak traffic. However, as you have written in this article, if you have a name such as my own which has a variation of different spellings, should I consider buying the domains which are spelt differently?

Tip #3 also caught my attention. In the past I’ve updated my blog everyday, stuck to a schedule of posting on different days and posting only when I feel like it. However, if you post only when you feel like it and start to have gaps in your posts, I find I lose visitors compared to where I post a couple of times per week.

To combat this, you should always test which will help you get comfortable with your audience and know when they choose to read your content. You can then publish content when they ready to read it.

Kiefer

Users should know how to let other people know that this blog exist and this author creates amazing content and there should be a subscription form so they can stay informed. Content is king but what the heck? How to provide good content? follow big content kings and you’ll get what i’m saying!