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Ask HN: Is a blog clever marketing or just a waste of time?
154 points by p0d 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 73 comments
I am one guy with a web app which makes $14k per year. Is having a blog alongside my website clever marketing or just a waste of my time?



There isn't one answer. Just as there isn't for having a social media presence.

The main reason to start a blog should be having something interesting to say, on a regular basis; something that appeals to your market. A message that either converts into sales or (if a service) converts into an impression you know what you're talking about.

The SEO benefit isn't automatic. Just having more pages about something on your website doesn't turn into positive SERP. It only helps if people in your industry share it around, discuss it. And that not only depends on the quality of your message but also how "bloggy" your audience is.

I have clients whose market is furiously corporate and they insist on blogging. It's just such a dry topic, there's nothing but a "we're a real company" benefit, and even that isn't obvious.

And that leads to the biggest issue here. It's often not easy to see if you're wasting your time. It's easy to throw terms like "sunk cost fallacy" around but it really applies here. Plus there is auxiliary value from blogging, some people enjoy writing.

But if your time is finite and not worthless, focus on finding an audience that directly feeds into your bottom line.


I'll add that I agree with the others re: bad blogs.

A blog that sees little activity or insight does more harm than good. One that misjudges the customer would also do harm. A corporate client doesn't want to read about the results of the weekly office water pistol fight.


Company blogs with badly written articles about something completely unrelated to the business are just great.


Your blog is one of the best sources to get new traffic for your app. Search content marketing if you're not doing it already. I knew a client who go at least 20 signups per day using a blog post that ranked #1 on Google.

Of course your content has to be amazing and needs a few backlinks from industry leaders or authority sites. Also the most important part of your blog post is the bottom section where you have your call to action to convert the reader into a subscriber, so don't ever use a generic click here type CTA.

E.g. If your blog post is about 10 ways to lose weight, then add a resource box below which says "It's time to get started, download this FREE time-line pdf I prepared for you which helped me and 1000 members of this website lose over 10 lbs in 22 days" and bam.. there you have a new signup!

P.S. Goes without saying but you must give good advice. You have to win their trust, the article, the pdf must give them what they're searching for (give them 80% and remaining 20% after payment).


It doesn't have to be a blog, but agree that SEO is a huge benefit of done correctly.

Blogs that look stale or infrequently updated have a negative buying effect for me.

But create a couple SEO pages like a How To guide, FAQs, etc. and it's a short term investment with long term benefits.


Yeah but how much did your client pay to get that ranking, now many years of blogging, etc. You have to take into account all the people who also tried but failed. One successful example does not prove it's worthwhile.


It can really depend on the niche. For some niches, it's basically as simple as "write an article, and you'll be #1". For others, it's a case of "more money than you'll earn in your lifetime is spent each year fighting for this spot"

Obviously, though, the rewards in the former are far lower. But, it certainly means it's worth trying one article to see how big the rewards are. Basically just search like a user would, and see if the results are satisfying. If none are, then it should be straightforward to rank #1 or near the top.


No, but one example proves it can be done. As the other answer to your post, it depends what niche as to how hard it's going to be. But aren't they both like setting up your business in the first place? Loads of businesses fail. Doesn't mean it can't be done. But the barriers to success are much greater to send a rocket to Mars than they are to develop WordPress websites.


Blogging is basically just content marketing, which has been proven to work when done well. It is also one of the cheapest ways to market if you have a little time each week to invest into it. I know of at least 10 companies and/or individuals who have used this strategy to build an audience and start selling one product or another with great success and a very limited initial budget.

You are right that one (or ten) success example(s) doesn't prove that this strategy works, but similarly neither does one (or many) failure(s). It depends on the quality of the articles, the audience, and many of other factors, just like paid advertising depends on various factors like where the ad is, what audience you target, cost, etc.

What I can say with certainty is that there are definitely markets where you can get to the front page of Google within a year by just writing a few quality articles every month. You don't have to pay money, use spammy backlink tactics, or anything like that. Whether OP's audience is one of those is unclear, but it seems that he knows his audience reasonably well if he is making $$ from them, so chances are he could get a positive ROI on a blog if he gave it the proper attention.


The best perspective for an inbound marketing blog I got is to simply help people and solve their problems. It doesn't even have to use your app tbh, because you'll start generating the goodwill, trust, and traffic this way.


Exactly this, and it works even if you know what the company's intention is by hosting a blog. I'm pretty hostile towards email marketing companies but came away with a positive impression of one such company after reading their blog. They legitimately helped me optimize some of my marketing strats for free.


Thanks. You’ve inspired me to stick with it.


As someone who has gotten some decent traffic out of articles: you may find that a "blog" isn't necessarily worthwhile, but that producing 10-20 high quality articles is. Especially since articles can often double as a high quality FAQ, lowering your customer support requirements.

Good blogs basically serve the same role, they generate a lot of posts which could be effective standalone articles.


Glad I could help. But I would like to caution you that it does require quite a lot of commitment and time.

You can't treat your blog posts any less and try to be done with it in one evening and then forget about it (it won't show in Google or generate traffic or signups yet most people think of blogging that way only).

Sometimes you may have to spend days researching / writing an article, graphics and PDF while spending $500 on your graphics, editing, proof-reading, etc. It requires the same type of effort you would put in creating a product.

Then the outreach is the worst part where you have to convince other people in your niche to add your articles as a resource (Brian Dean has some great advice on this btw).


You can pay someone to write blog posts. And $500 for 1000-2000 word posts is a fair price.


There are 2 main strategies imo.

1. A blog that makes you a thought leader. People will like you, check out what you're doing, and perhaps start using your app. This is the typical way to go for b2b, or if you have a big ego :) Another pro is that if you change your app, you still (may) have your readership.

2. A blog that extends the content of your app. This fundamentally is a set of landing pages that improve your SEO. One common strategy is to talk about problems that people may have, and that your app solves. Whether you want or not to be too explicit about your app it's a matter of tastes.


Format 3. "Problem I had while running my business, and my solution." Engineering blog posts are very popular on HN or /r/programming. Marketing, growth or product development might do better shared on Twitter or LinkedIn.

People read it because the solution is interesting to them, but get exposed to your business as a consequence. CandyJapan's posts on dealing with credit card fraud were how I found out about their service, for instance: https://www.candyjapan.com/behind-the-scenes/how-i-got-credi...


As an example, less than a day after my comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16612536

"I'm doing ____. Recently I encountered an issue: ____. I've solved it by ____ and as a result ____."


> A blog that makes you a thought leader

I keep hearing that, but... Has anyone here actually seen it working?

Not nitpicking, just looking for actual examples to learn from.


The list is practically endless:

Joel on Software, patio11, DHH, Seth Godin, Tim Ferris, countless SEO blogs, and so on in increasing order of cringiness.

It is the whole modern melting of personality/advice/authority/promotion .

Some are really sincere some are really good at faking it.


OK, thank you.

For these guys the blogging seems nearly a full-time job though. I wonder if it's realistic to get there with a small slice of time.


Keep in mind there is a whole spectrum of what constitutes thought leadership. Several times, I've had clients say, "Last night I was looking for X and I found a great article on it. Turns out it was something you wrote!"

Another organization was going through their contracting process with me. One of their managers later told me that when they Googled for my name they were blown away by the size of my online footprint. Most of that was simply 10 years of blogging a few times each month about whatever topics I was finding interesting.

Also based on my blogging, I've had fairly well-known companies interview me for their blogs or webinars while using descriptions like "one of the worlds leading experts in X." This was all based on years of blogging on the topic.

Another great way to be viewed as a thought leader is to write a short book. Imagine you are looking at hiring two candidates that both look good, but when you search for their names you find that one has a book for sale at Amazon on a topic of interest to your company. It is a very strong way to market one's expertise.


It also helps a lot, in my experience as both a reader and a writer, to have something unique or unusual to say. Most people do not and consequently don't get readers and often waste a lot of time in the process.

I'm admittedly in a somewhat unusual position, though, because I contribute to a blog about grant writing (http://www.seliger.com/blog) and basically no one else has anything useful or interesting to say about the topic. I exaggerate, but only slightly.

I don't know how well blogging works for others, but I do feel like I've seen a lot of people and companies with really lame blogs and I have to think, "Is that really doing anything for you?" I'd be curious to see anyone with data on this subject, especially because I'm not even real sure what "data" would look like in this case.


excellent way to put this.


Don't: "Have a blog."

Do: Answer highly relevant, frequently asked questions in such a way that people will either find you through a search engine or impulsively share your content.


> Answer highly relevant, frequently asked questions in such a way that people will either find you through a search engine or impulsively share your content.

This is excellent advice for anyone starting an online business.

People new to running an online business too often neglect the approach you suggest. And yet, it is much better than trying to get lots of upvotes for a 'launch' on Product Hunt, Hacker News, and Reddit.

The problem is, producing good content doesn't give an immediate thrill. It takes time and persistence to see the payoff.


A lot of blog articles out there = fluffy content on topics tangentially related to the product or service.

Instead of blog articles per se, I'd recommend creating high value resource articles on topics people who'd benefit from your app may search for. For example, if you offer a goal progress app, people with interest may search for resources on 'long-term strategies to boost productivity that you won't give up after a few days'.

High value = it should provide a comprehensive breakdown of the topic and cover points the top ranking articles on the same topic don't. This will boost your article's search rankings and help it attract more backlinks and social shares.

You can also offer a PDF download of the resource in exchange for an email address so you can nurture these leads.

Examples of these resource articles:

[1] https://mailshake.com/masterclass/find-email-addresses/

[2] https://artofemails.com/sales-follow-up


Disclaimer: I do content marketing consulting and used to own an agency that did same.

Don't think of it as a blog. See it as your own media platform. Whose only purpose is to broadcast information that drives sales.

It is also an always-ready salesperson who never sleeps and can be trained to overcome any objection to close sales.

A properly managed blog is definitely worth your time. However, the content must be clearly integrated with your marketing and advertising.

The best type of content? Anything that helps current users better use your product. Tutorials, guides, docs, videos, etc. The second best is content that shows how your product solves a specific problem.

You don't need to limit yourself to one blog either. A multi-outlet approach works really well and typically helps corner a market.


Yes, both! Just make sure you don't enjoy writing it, or you might actually achieve something worthwhile.


>Is having a blog alongside my website clever marketing or just a waste of my time?

I used to blog all the time, but that was back when blogs were just a way for people to communicate things they were interested in, not primarily a means of marketing. Just do it - if you enjoy it, keep doing it, if you don't, stop.

Chances are if it's just for marketing purposes, and unless you care enough and are at least a decent enough writer to be engaging, then it's not going to get a lot of readers anyway, because you won't be writing anything worth reading.

So to me, the question you should be asking yourself isn't whether it would be a clever way to market the app, but whether or not you want to blog.


One of the things i use to evaluate a company's legitimacy and ability to succeed is their ability to be a thought leader through content marketing and influencing. Not just blogging...but a mix of blogging, youtube videos/tutorials, meetups etc...and above all else actually be an influencer with that content. meaning lots of people subscribe and share that stuff.

That being said, blogging is just a medium to show the world what you know and how good you are at teaching others as well. If you don't know anything and don't have anything valuable to share, then your blog will probably be a 'waste of time'.


It probably depends on your product.

The more expensive your service is, the more you'll probably need to offer proof that it's worth the price. If your service is going to cost me a one time purchase price of $1, I'm going to buy it regardless of what you say. If it's going to cost me $499/month, I'm going to research the heck out of it, which would probably include reading your blog and/or the best parts of your site to find the information I need.

The harder your product is to use, because somethings are just complicated no how simple you try to make them, you'll need an efficient way to educate your customers. One use for a blog is to have a place where you can tell stories about people using your product. "How Susie solved use getp0d.com to double her income" or "Using getp0d.com as a CRM for your motel's reservations". You can use a blog as a place to put any ol' random thought you have until there's a better place to put said thought. My company's old blog was mostly for making it sound like my services my be worth what the price I quoted you.


When I'm working with tech companies, the most frustrating concept is whether to blog. On one hand, the blogging zealots think blogging is this panacea and want to spend all of their time blogging about fun but ultimately irrelevant topics that generate traffic (e.g., "Why I Hate Ruby!" when they're selling software to banking execs). Or on the other hand, the curmudgeons are cynical about blogging because they "tried it once and it didn't work." The best advice I've received is every startup should try blogging at least once, but measure the results. Not just visits to your site or sign-ups from tire-kickers on P.H. who want to test your onboarding strategies. Did the blog post yield paying customers? If not, try another marketing strategy, but measure it too.


Blog is always the best way to get leads whether you are a business owner or a developer/other professional, provided you love writing.

I use my blog to promote my skills and for last couple of years my site and blog helped me to earn some good contracts/gigs. Even my current job is due to my blog which someone read and contacted me.

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Here's a blog post for my startup:

https://blog.projectpiglet.com/2018/03/refer-friend-using-st...

I provide value to someone else, while also advertising my product. This gave me net 1 user last month. At lets say $10 / month, that's $120 / year. If I can get 12 people a year (1 per month) to register. Year one I'll have made $780 ($120 + $110 + $100 + ....).

I personally try to do at least one post a week, and some have a lot of success, some none. The value comes from then marketing that post and ever improving what people from your niche want to read. You can only convert people who read the post.

My example would be a failure (in my case), but it builds financially. As you advertise and get people coming to your stuff, more people typically come. They then tell their friends, share my posts, etc. You only need two or three big posts a year to get you tens to hundreds of users At once.


I think it depends on how you use it. I look at app blogs for very specific things: roadmap posts, changelogs, bug reports filed and fixed, etc. I like knowing that the devs of various apps I use are not only active, but willing to make changes public. If you already have a user forum, you probably don't need a blog; assuming you have one specific pinned news thread that you keep up to date. If you don't you're misusing your forum.

If you can include a series of user guides for various topics related to your app, or prove (preferably with visual examples) how your app provides a solution to some issue or whatnot, then your blog will have value. If you already have a wiki or a forum, you probably don't need a blog.

If you think you have something worth sharing that's important to others outside the specific niche your app fills but tangential to it, go for it; but you'd probably be better off on Facebook or Twitter.


It depends on your customers. If your potential customers are likely to be interested in reading things around the problem you are solving then maybe. But as others have mentioned, it needs to be "content first". If the content isn't good and just a thin excuse to talk about your product, it won't work.

I've been doing basic content marketing for my service (https://medium.com/revenuecat-blog) and it is my #1 source of new signups.

I have a lot of expertise in the subject. It is a wide domain with lots of adjacent problems I can write about. And, it is something that people search for and read about. All these together has made it worthwhile.

That said, it is very time consuming. I try to average one post a week but a good post that is worth publishing takes me probably 5-10 hours of work between research, drafting, proofing, and promoting. This is time taken away from product development, so you need to consider the ROI.


Thanks. You raise a good point. My solution is not sexy and I’m not sure people would want to read around it. I’ll add that to my list of pros and cons.


Not really a waste of time if you have any news to share about your product. Not everything you post needs to be a great article, it can be an interesting feature you added or some details about a nontrivial change. If you have the blog and the news on the same channel (e.g. on the same RSS feed, etc), it'll presumably be likelier that the nice, detailed, intriguing actual blog posts will be seen by much more people, and you won't need to write too many of them to get people to read/backlink your blog posts.

My main mode for following anything online is to add a news RSS feed or a commits RSS feed if applicable to my feedreader. IDK how many people do it like me though, I guess, depending on the product, often the bulk of the customers will be using the prominent social media instead. Nevertheless having it there for the important news and the occasional blog post should not be that big of a waste of time.


I use mine (which also goes out as an email) to consolidate the things I’m working on in my mind.

The benefit to me is I write reflectively on what I’ve learnt, the benefit to my audience is that it positions me as an expert (you only need to be one day ahead of someone to be an expert).

I do post daily though.

I also really enjoy writing, without that it would be a chore.


Remember that PR/marketing is about spending time with the public in order to be seen. Blogging is one of many ways to get attention. But maybe your time is better spent on something else then blogging ? Think of something that might be news-worthy. It doesn't even need to have anything to do with your product.


The fact that you’re asking shows me that it is a waste of your time for you. You can’t fake/brute force your way to a great blog. Unless you’re really into writing it, it’s not going to be enjoyable to write or read.

You can get some value out of it, but odds are you’ll be frustrated and hate doing it.


That’s maybe a little too black and white but I hear what you are saying Paul. If I just see it as means to an end I may be missing the point. Point taken.


I personally love writing but don't have the time for a real blog. If you want to add content but not be strapped into regular updates, well written articles added to your site never need to be labeled as such.

For example I decided to write once every 6 weeks to my mailing list this year (I hate more than that, so I'm not sending what I wouldn't accept to receive). Once I have a few built up, I will then add them to my site and not hesitate to rewrite the content if I have feedback to integrate.

I think you need an internal metric for regularity or your content writing will just slip away from you and won't happen.


This is a good perspective. We have been conditioned to think of content marketing as only one thing, regularity. But since most posters agree that one great article can pull all the business, it might be worth asking whether we should be going for one big article versus the steady stream approach.

I think I would prefer the one big article, every month or so, to the pressure to put out "something" every week...


I think most people on HN are paid for their expertise. You don't garner much respect by pushing fluff. So most of us should err (heavily imo) on the side of too few rather than too many articles. I am also B2B, and no professional wants a cluttered inbox.


Blogging also allows you to commit information / concepts / marketing about your product into written form. I've found this extends my understanding, gives me more ideas, is a source of feedback and this written information can be reused for other things at a later date.


Done right, a blog is a very cheap and powerful marketing tool.

As @superasn has mentioned, 1 huge win (again if done right) is you can keep getting recurring signups / new users if 1 or more of your blog posts ranks on top for keywords relating to your web app / product offering.

I've successfully grown a blog to over 100K monthly visitors in less than 6 months, all using organic SEO techniques. Too bad I didn't (still don't) have a product to market on that blog. It ranks on 1st page for several tech related keywords, incl. a couple related to apple and steve jobs.

What's your web app / domain? Without knowing much about it, I can't give you domain / topic specific advise. My email is in bio if you wanna chat more.


Is having a blog alongside my website clever marketing or just a waste of my time?

The only real way to know is to try it and see if it works.

I will note that you can pay for writing. You typically give someone a topic to write about and maybe a link to include or some key words. There are people who do this as freelancers and there are services that do this.

It doesn't completely get you off the hook, but it can reduce the workload involved. If it makes more money than it costs you, it can be well worth it.

Edit: You also might be interested in reading this:

http://www.doreenmicheletraylor.com/2018/02/actionable-conte...


If you want to acquire users from google search its absolutely required that you have fresh and frequently updated content with links from other reputable sources to even be considered to be displayed on a search result.

If you don't care about acquiring users from search as you have other means then yes a blog may be a complete waste of time.

If your site already has some crawl-able content and your already receiving some traffic from google, rather than create a blog your time is probably better spent doing the following:

creating more content pages to help google understand your site

creating a sitemap

decreasing the load time of your site

spend money on google ads

get high quality back links


If you want to acquire users from Google search you can always just run paid ads too. Much easier than writing evergreen content.


Another strategy (I can't find the post, but HN regular mbuckbee evangelizes this) is to create small free tools / indexes to get inbound traffic. They might be small byproducts you made while creating your business.

Examples: AWS in plain english, foragoodstrftime.com, everytimezone.com, the various 'awesome' lists, etc. I've personally thought about writing batch scripts for dumb little tasks. Books that lead into your business are also common.

Make it something your audience will value. Then the general idea then is you can share it to your mailing list (i.e. in amy hoy parlance an 'ebomb').


Sure, if you have a successful blog there's no better way to get traffic than free traffic! But, look at how many people are successful with it. What like less than 1%? I don't know what the figures are but I know it's really really low. The vast majority will fail to attract any meaningful amount of traffic. Someone correct me if i'm wrong, I wish i was.


Hey! An engineering blog is one of the things that could push me over the edge in a decision between two otherwise equal projects or products. Not to mention how helpful your posts could be to others, just describing your technology problems and how you have overcome them. If you have the time for it, there's nothing but good that could come out of it.


I have done a decent amount of marketing for several companies, I've been a data scientist and now I'm a software engineer. I am currently trying to get traffic to my side project http://www.careerminer.co I have tried:

email marketing, social media posting, reddit posts / sub reddit comments

My last job I worked at a lending company and we would spend like $10,000 on a direct mail campaign and it would result in like 50 website sessions. We kinda shot down blogging and content SEO stuff as to vague with unpredictable results and the few blog posts we did had like 10 sessions. We focused on email marketing, cold calling, paid ads and direct mail. We would spend like $50 per session on paid ads.

But heres the kicker.

Before the company stopped operations we decided to give content SEO one last shot, we went after long tail keyword content pages, stuff like "what is a good apr" we saw our competitors doing this. All our previous blog posts were like "mini profile : meet joe blogs founder of joes coffee" which never really generated much traffic, it was way to specific and people just don't google that.

Its been a year and I still have access to GA. I looked at it and those long tail keywords pages that we went after are absolutely crushing it like one is generating 1000 new users every month (which I know is still not huge but for a small lending company (boring) its huge) and here is the double kicker, we got a text broker https://www.textbroker.com/ to write each post for like $50. So 1000 a month recurring for $50 or like 1 session for $50. Its just crazy.

I listened to https://www.indiehackers.com/podcast/038-dawson-whitfield-of....

>So our first like five months, our growth was 100% fueled, apart from Indie Hackers, by AdWords. We would spend $1.00 to acquire a customer and about four days later, we would get a $1.10

>Now-a-days about 55% of our new users come from organic SEO, we've really pushed hard on that

I feel like this has been my experience with so many companies and friends. But agree with the general sentiment that if you don't have a really clear strategy, keywords, topics etc it will be a "waste of time".


It depends upon how you write your blog. If you're focusing on helping your users, you're probably doing it wrong. Here's a detailed guide on how the pro bloggers do it: https://taprun.com/content/


Really depends on the topic and if you're able to write something that will be interesting for readers... or not


It's worth it for developer marketing. People are constantly googling for anything that solves their problem, so if you can post useful solutions that tie into your product, preferably with some soft of freemium hook, its great.

I have no idea how often people google specific keywords in other verticals, so ymmv.


Let's say you double your revenue via your blog. Do you feel like the time you'd spend writing content is worth more or less than $14k? (Obviously you can hope you'd more than 2x your revenue, but unless you already have a massive following, I think you have to be conservative)


AFAIK, John Sonmez ( simpleprogrammer.com ) made his career jump to the multi-million-dollar status starting with his blog. So, i would look into it seriously.


To be honest, lately it seems platform hosted blogs are better option (such as medium and wp.com) rather than host-your-own. Mostly because there is already some traffic on those platforms


That wouldn't provide any SEO benefits for his website, which I imagine is one of the primary goals.

Medium is good if you care only about having your articles read.

Your own website is good if you want to boost your website's Google rank.


It is great if you keep it up-to-date but can be a liability if you let it languish - many times when I see new releases on something but their blog is from 2014 it sorta looks bad.


It, of course, depends on how well you use it. If you develop a good marketing plan, which you should have, and execute it well, it will be time and effort well-spent.


The book Traction : A Startup Guide to Getting Customers was pretty good at explaining an all encompassing framework for asking and answering this kind of question.


not trying to be "that guy" but the answer to your questions is "it depends"... distribution strategies vary by market. but Normally with Niche and Technology products. (Won't leave you hanging without an example: Basecamp's main source of marketing is their blog and social media, but as a comparison Cintas (CTAS/NASDAQ) does very little blogging)


Do you enjoy writing? Are you decent at it? If you answer no to either of those questions, you might be in for a struggle.


I enjoy it and write ok. I reckon I’m pretty slow though. I have this bad habit of re-reading what I have written too often.


Both; After certain stage people expect your product to stick/comply to your words in your blog;


for a mobile app: absolutely not worth while

for a product like a “food supplement”: yes, totally

the model is: right something useful which will get very relevant traffic via google, and be able to convert this traffic immediately to money


...but first, learn how to right.


It depends


Is it really that hard to blog every week or two about something interesting and related?




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