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What I learned in ten years of blogging (ferrucc.io)
356 points by 0xferruccio 58 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 162 comments



I find this article meh. I've been blogging for something like 15 years so here's my take:

* If you've been wanting to blog, stop pissing around, open a blog on wordpress.com and start writing. That's my first advice to anyone. Don't waste time on the technicalities, just write. You can move your blog to another platform later.

* Be regular. This is hard. I fail this rule most of the time. But a successful blog is a blog that's been going on for ages. I've posted 461 posts since 2013 on www.cryptologie.net and that's why it is working well.

* Do not look for perfect posts. You are not writing a book. A blog is to share knowledge in a quick way, or to share what's on your mind. No hesitation, once you have something, publish it. People might call you out for saying something wrong, fine, that's free publicity and you'll have learned something new.

* Mix short posts with long posts. It's impossible to keep writing high quality content and long blog posts. So write small ones from times to times to fill in between better blog posts. This is what make people keep going on your blog. It's like a facebook news feed, it needs to have something every time people check it.

* Write on trendy subjects. What did you learn recently that could be helpful to other people? What did you have trouble to learn because there was no good resource on the subject? You could be that resource. What is google trend saying? Are there any trendy topics in your field? What are people talking about recently?


I think your advice is great, but I also disagree that the article is meh. I've been blogging for about 10 years, and my blog won a Webby award and a W3 writing award. I don't say that to brag, just to add credibility that other people think my blog is worthwhile.

Anyway, I agree with almost everything the article says, and there are some things in there that are not obvious to people who are just starting out, which I think puts it well above meh.

But, the one thing I disagree with is his first step when writing a blog post: brainstorm titles. I started that way, but I found I almost always changed the title and sometimes even change what the post is all about by the end.

I generally start with an idea instead of a title; then write down what I know about it; then I put those thoughts in an order that I can use to tell a story; then I research to confirm what I think I know is indeed factual. That is where it becomes interesting.

Sometimes I'm completely wrong, and the story becomes that -- the truth is often more interesting than the assumptions. Sometimes I discover things about what I knew that are more interesting than the original idea. Sometimes what I knew is true and I just back it up with facts and the idea alone was interesting enough to begin with. Lastly, sometimes it's complete shit and I shelf it until the time feels right or I find a new approach to the subject.


You should totally link your blog. You can do so in your bio if want to avoid mentioning it here.


hmm.. from OP:

I’m 21, but I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years.

I grew up doing this.

What I’ve written on the internet has reached millions of people. Most of what I’ve written is in Italian, but I was also quite successful when writing in english. My Quora profile, reached 400k people in three months.

i feel like these are reasonable qualifications to give blogging advice. Your advice sounds good, but are you speaking from experience or is it just something that makes sense to you? what exactly do you find meh about his advice and why?


> i feel like these are reasonable qualifications to give blogging advice.

I don’t. As a 21 year old, 21 year olds are terrible at giving advice. There’s also the successful-bias problem, where you think you’re successful because of whatever you did, and that there aren’t other ways.


As a 21 year old, 21 year olds are terrible at giving advice

this is a generality. You omitted the next sentence where experience / results were presented. I would ignore most 21 year olds advice about snowboarding, but i would listen to everything Shaun White had to say at 15.

There’s also the successful-bias problem, where you think you’re successful because of whatever you did, and that there aren’t other ways

another generality (perhaps you're talking about survivor bias). in any case, these are general statements that may be true statistically but unless you tie them to the context of OP there is little relevance to this discussion


>year olds advice about snowboarding, but i would listen to everything Shaun White had to say at 15.

You missed the point. Young people, especially extremely talented ones, are terrible at giving advice. They don’t have nearly enough experience to recognize biases and will give out worthless platitudes like “always practice 6 hours a day” when the real key to their success is mastering some fundamental technique at a young age that they don’t even understand.

It’s like chefs that recite recipes with “a pinch of X”, “a splash of Y”, and “a sprinkling of Z”. This is completely useless to amateurs and is only marginally useful to professionals that might be able to deconstruct how the ingredients interact to get precise ratios.


Would you rather take advice from a 31 year old who has been blogging for 1 year? Or take advice from a 21 year old who has been blogging for 10 years?

Experience is experience.


That's a lopsided comparison but the thirtysomething is judged by the same ruler you are, while a teen has lots of space left to make horrible mistakes you wouldn't survive.


So as you're 21 your advice on not listening 21 year olds is terrible. But then I'm 21 too, so this is recursively bad


Absolutely. I meant no disrespect — you’ve surely done more than I in this space. I just recognize, however generally, how terrible those in our age group are at looking at everything objectively, no matter how intelligent or successful. You may have incredible blogging experience, but life experience colors all subjects. A lot of advice you gave, from promoting, to design, and even the defining of an audience, is what worked for you and how you like to run your blog, not blogging as a whole.

An example: some people (like myself) really really care about blog design — it’s why I enjoyed looking at yours! I also like plaintext design and other stuff, but my point is I care. Your audience might not, considering how you defined it, but another audience might! Another example is the newsletter: you & your audience might like one, but Daring Fireball doesn’t have one and I like that aspect of the that blog.

So again, with all due respect, even your own points are contradictory. You didn’t look at blogging objectively — only what worked for you. Which is fine! Thanks for the advice. And please ignore mine — I’m 21. But hopefully you get my point.


Didn't mean to be disrespectful either, I was joking.

I think that blogging is kind of like painting, coding, entrepreneurship or any other creative activity. Everybody that makes it starts giving contradictory advice on what worked for them, which is all good. As an individual your job is to make your own decisions. Having a lot of advices to pick from can help a lot in my opinion

BTW You seem like an interesting person, hit me up!


>i feel like these are reasonable qualifications to give blogging advice.

You're assuming equivalent intents. The OP's advice is good if your goal is maximize the size of your audience. Many people (and I suspect more likely in this crowd), the goal is to generate interesting and meaningful conversation. You do need some threshold of views for this, but beyond that threshold, a larger audience is not of benefit. And a really large audience becomes a liability - the conversation becomes less meaningful very quickly.


It's fairly basic qualifications. It's not difficult to reach millions of reads over 10 years, that should take less than a hundred questions or articles. Possibly a lot less back then when commercial content was less prevalent and Facebook/Quora/StackOverflow were in their infancy.

If you have a stackoverflow account with at least 500 points, click your user profile and check out the "people reached" metric in the top right corner. Prepare to be amazed.


I had the same impression as you, so I looked at the parent’s blog at www.cryptologie.net. It’s quite good, and in my mind does everything OP suggests!


Yeah and the blue background and font also annoying. But he is not American, so maybe it works better for him and his readers.

TBH, there are few tips or rules. I have seen successful blogs that employ virtually every kind of format and style. Some that follow all the rules an others that break them all. First-mover advantage seems to be important. I'm sure the first person to blog about Bitcoin did well, but the 284th guy? Probably not so much.


> the blue background and font also annoying

Using a blue background with white text used to be an "easy reading mode" in Microsoft Word (with a simple checkbox to enable it). So, I wonder if there is some research behind this color scheme.


Believe WordPerfect for DOS was the original white on blue. Might have something to do with lowering the contrast from white/grey on black in a 16 color scheme, although blue wouldn't be my first choice. Probably chosen due to its stronghold in lawyer's offices.


The blue background is a big rip off from one of my favourite blogs: http://tonsky.me/


Agree on everything you said, except for two points, which imo are a personal choice.

Look at waitbutwhy.com and julian.com they don't write about stuff they find on google trends and don't post regularly, yet they're among the best blogs out there


Yeah, that was more of a "how to get popular" or "what to write on". If you're already in a good niche, write about your niche. If you're already popular, write about whatever you want.


Sound advice for an amateur blog (aka not a blog made up by a company or a PR machine).


>If you've been wanting to blog, stop pissing around, open a blog on wordpress.com and start writing. That's my first advice to anyone. Don't waste time on the technicalities, just write. You can move your blog to another platform later.

Terrible advice. If your blog proves popular, it'll be impossible for you to move away without losing your position in search engines. Lock-in.


I think that's reasonable advice, it's one of the easiest platforms to get started on and to migrate off. Also Wordpress.com allows you to add a domain, meaning that if you change your blog platform, you have the same urls, and the same search engine links... Not locked in at all...


Their pricing is insane, if you want a custom theme or to install a plugin (which is something you will need) you're looking at 25€ per month and you have to pay year by year (300€ upfront).

Starting with a cheap shared hosting is a no-brainer.


They have a truckload of great themes that are free and usable on the free plan.

It's true that plugins are not available except on the business plan, however the most common plugins are already embedded out of the box, you don't have to set them up. It's a great experience as far as not having to manage wordpress. An apprentice blogger absolutely does NOT need any additional plugin.

The pricing is both insane and cheap. I looked into upgrading and alternatives after my blog had above 100k visitors and almost 1 TB of traffic in a month. Believe it or not, there was nothing else cheaper.


The point is not to focus on a theme. Just get a wordpress and focus on the content. Then write.

The point is to write.


If you are successful enough to need a custom domain, you can certainly afford it.


Not true. You just have to pay wordpress to get a custom domain. That will conserve all the links.


You are not going to get popular overnight.


One well researched article is better than a lot of mediocre content

I remember similar advice on patio11 (Patrick McKenzie) blog that i really took to heart. something along the lines of "it's better to have a few laser polished articles, than a ton of content". so to this date i start writing posts and quit half way through to keep only my favorite ideas up there..

there is another camp i.e. Seth Godin who write a short post every day, and that could work too perhaps. but i think most people would be better off with the advice in OPs post


I started a website in 2005 that is still in operation today. We started out posting 1-2 articles per week, I had a lot of spare time then. But that rate was unsustainable with our small team and small budget, and we reached a point of burnout, and had to decide whether to slow down or shut down. After a hiatus to mentally recuperate, we opted to continue writing, though publishing less often and digging deeper into the stories.

The results of this change of format are mixed. On the one hand, it now feels like quite an accomplishment when we wrap up research, writing, fact-checking, recording (podcast version), sound design, illustrations, etc. And most readers/listeners seem happier than ever with the quality of the content. But on the other hand, our rankings in Google have fallen considerably to sites that post frequent, low-effort content. The gatekeepers seem to prefer the pap.

Additionally, there are a minority of readers/listeners who are outright hostile about our reduced output. Just as an example, I received this via email a few days ago:

You are the laziest website on the internet. If I was to succumb to your nag messages and give you money, you would just waste it. This isn't really a real website, and it has no reason to exist. Give up and shut down. A website isn't worth visiting if it looks the same every 6 months someone visits. Just put a bullet it in already and end its pain. You failed. Just call time-of-death, already. Or, whatever, die slowly of cancer... It's not like your life amounts to anything...

So, while I agree that deeper content is "better", it has its drawbacks.


It's tough to win the "I hope you die of cancer" demographic regardless of your actions, so why bother trying?

(I have particular interest in this because geeks often cite them as the rationale for why not to price aggressively, because they complain about prices at every price point, including free.)


many years ago in a an online disagreement someone wished testicular cancer upon me, which was flattering, because if he really wished ill upon me he would have hoped for something that is far worse like stomach cancer (few survive that).


It just tells you about demographic- that is, this is a person for whom orchiectomy is a fate worse than certain death.


My first reaction was, "wow, what an unbelievably terrible message to get about something you've invested time, effort and emotion into." That's a terrible message to receive and I'm sorry you have to deal with that level of hostility.

My next reaction was that those types of people exist and feel entitled to access content/entertainment. This should not be a deterrent from continuing to produce what you're already doing. If it is sustainable and you enjoy doing it, I hope you continue to.


What makes it worse is that the "nag" the sender refers to is our call for donations, which we use quite sparingly. It is only shown to readers after they have viewed 5 articles, and again at 10, 15, and so on....unless they click the "no" button, which mutes it for some time. So this is a person who has read at least 5 of our articles, and to me that means that they must be enjoying our work; why else would they keep reading after 1 or 2? Yet they go out of their way to deliver vitriol because they would prefer it if we published more often. It's quite odd.

Anyway, thanks.


I think it's the same entitlement mentality that leads to "I want to use my ad blocker but I also hate your paywall." Yeah, I get annoyed by ads too, which is why I pay a few subscriptions.

The New York Times concluded years ago that those people would never pay you anyway, so why bother giving them access?


>so why bother giving them access? //

Doing things for "exposure" is somewhat of a meme nowadays, but it can work. That's why people let Google past their paywalls. Mileage varies a lot of course.

One issue for a large media outlet is maintaining standing, cutting off all access to those who won't/can't pay means you're no longer the go to place for news (or whatever), that can have wider consequences.


I know it's hard, but I wouldn't worry about such comments. Those are clearly not about you, and about some other suffering that person is going through. It doesn't relate to your site at all.

I've gotten some angry comments on my blog but I've ignored them, and they go away. When you reach a large audience, there's always going to be some portion that is disturbed. That's just how the world is.


I would be so tempted to write back something like, "You deserve to live free of that kind of anger. If my website makes you that upset, please stop looking at it. I suggest incinerating your computer and stapling your eyes shut to ensure that it never happens again. Life is too short for anything else."

That would probably only bait the troll into doing something worse, though.

I wonder if it would be helpful/cathartic to have a central repository of hate mail that everyone could share their "fan" letters to.


You cannot rationalize with someone who is irrational.


Your comment on stapling their eyes shut made my day.


I'm deeply sorry, that you have to read those disgusting words in your mailbox. To be honest, it even hurts me.

There are tons of people like this, I observe this behavior more and more these days. Go and talk to a random youtuber/twitch streamer how much hate they have to deal with for their "free" content.

I once thought its the German culture (doing business and earning money is almost a nono-thing in Germany and makes you an easy target), but I guess some humans are just like that...


Google definitely prefers regular content over high depth, lengthier stuff. Honestly, I suspect all sites and services with algorithms do, there's a reason popular YouTube channels tend to have a very consistent schedule.

But hey, if you're writing more detailed content, then that's something I'm happy to see as a reader. The constant push for speed above everything else is exactly why so much content online is poorly researched and barely fact checked, and Google favouring quickly written stuff is likely a good reason why the media has fallen so far recently; everything's about trying to beat the curve on search engine results and social media sites.

Kudos for not going the same way.


Idea: a site that collects all the deep dive articles and groups them by topics/tags.

Why? Because when you are out researching the next piece, someone else's article is being read.

That way you build an audience.

Wait, you say. I don't want my content on someone else's platform?

That's okay, the "platform" just links back to the long form content. It can even have ratings, which are even more important in long form content.


The problems with rating systems for content is they can often lead to brigading to suppress/promote content. At which point, you're on an infinite whack-a-mole marathon to curb that sort of behavior.


That's a good point, but what about a rating system that isn't directly user generated? Imagine that information on the number of times an article/content is viewed, and the length of time that content is viewed was used to generate a rating for that piece of content. There could probably be other indirect factors for "content weight" that could go into the rating.


You've invented the "YouTube Algorithm". (because it's one monolithic thing, right?)

No one has ever taken issue with the YouTube Algorithm before.


One notable result is that content gets padded to extract the longest possible attention, so now that 10s fix for an issue takes 2 minutes to find.

Not a problem platforms care about, probably helps them, sucks for users though -- it becomes 'how bad can we make things and still have people use our service'.


I would prefer manual curation. That doesn't scale, I know. But for people to learn to do it efficiently together, they need to learn to do it individually first. And only, after we scaled it with humans, we could begin to think how to automate anything.


This already sort of happens. Many larger sites, places like HuffPo or TechCrunch, accept contributions from outside contributors. You get paid a tiny bit, and then you get to link back to your own site, so you get a little marketing juice too.

A platform would be interesting too, but it’d be hard to curate without all the standard race to the bottom tactics that people would use to exploit your page rank.

In some sense, you can’t avoid the need to commit to a brand and a voice. So the way to achieve what you want is by federating with other brands and voices, not dumping into an anonymous platform.


You've perfectly described Reddit.


That's email seems oddly targeted towards an insecurity that most trolls wouldn't bother poking at, and seems needlessly harsh to boot.

If this email is authentic, I suggest disregarding it. I know it's easier said than done, but, some people will never be happy. Invest your time and emotional bandwidth on causes that matter to you, or otherwise aren't lost.


Rationally I understand that people such as this sender are not representative; most individuals who bother to contact us have only kind and/or constructive things to say. But over the years these isolated haters have dumped a lot of their bile onto me, and it's hard to resist the corrosion indefinitely.

That being said, posting that nasty email here is part of my strategy for maintaining a rational view of it. It's less destructive out in the light.


Is anyone selling “hate mail as a service” yet? Because if there is a market for fake love (like-farms etc), surely there must be a market for fake hate. Maybe it’s just my misplaced faith in humanity, but couldn’t this sort of unreasonable hate be a product of dirty commercial tactics from your competitors?


The simpler explanation is the person is just in a bad mood. I know the internet can put me in a frustrated place where I get upset for silly reasons.


there are some dirty tricks like creating link-farms that link to a competitors’ website to hurt their rankings


Holy crap what a horrible email.


This is not how you get a successful blog.

Look at popular blogs, and when I say popular blogs I mean blogs where people keep on checking your posts, participate regularly in conversations, etc. They are all highly active.

On the other side, blogs that post rarely AND that are famous are very rare. People tend to forget about them. Note that a post that buzzes thanks to a link on HN or reddit doesn't make it a popular blog.


This is true.

If you run your blog like a business, as in you have a real need for growth and to turn a profit, you will need to pump out content on a regular basis.


>If you run your blog like a business

That is a big "if" though. A lot of blogs don't try to be businesses. Personally, I use my personal blog to write about things I'm interested in writing about whether it's hobby-related stuff or technology. About a year ago I was thinking about starting a separate travel and food blog I was going to be more serious about and quickly realized I really couldn't be bothered.

If you're going to run a blog as a business, you also probably need to have a clear area of focus and I'm just not interested in doing that. A lot of my tech stuff also ends up running in other places these days where it gets better readership anyway.


if you're taking advice on blogging, it's to have a successful blog. Otherwise why would you be taking advice? Just write whenever you want and whatever you want.


Well, Daring Fireball hardly writes 1-2 posts a month (and usually small), and yet..


Daring Fireball is an outlier and a holdover from another era.

For every Daring Fireball, there are 100 blogs neither you nor I have probably heard of that are profitable businesses.


That's not true at all. He writes several posts a day.

https://daringfireball.net/


That's no true at all. Where did you get that?

He averages about 5 posts a month, and has months where he writes 1 post:

https://daringfireball.net/archive/


Click the RSS feed or the homepage. The archive is only to essays. The more frequent link summaries keep his audience engaged between essays.


I think you can still have a high-activity blog that publishes infrequently, if you're able to get them to sign up for email notifications.

I don't know if people really check blog websites daily anymore. Stuff like news, sports, Reddit/FB/IG are an exception; people expect there to be updated content daily.


There is something to be said about writing begets writing. Long thoughtful posts are great, but those take time and often do not get finished. The more someone posts, the easier it gets to post. Then the more they'll post, and so on.

I think John Gruber does a pretty good job at https://daringfireball.net where he posts shorter stuff mixed in with longer out articles. I think I heard him say once his goal was to get someone to check his site once or twice/week.


Seth Godin is an interesting example. Do you know if he started publishing one short post a day before he became famous or after? I guess once you have name recognition, then different set of rules apply.

One another example is backlinko's Brian Dean. He writes really long articles and doesn't post often (but updates his older articles when relevant). He too seems to be doing very well


it was almost certainly after he was famous and i have no idea how successful his blog is. but he seems to think it's been great for him according to last interview i heard him on Tim Ferriss

as another example Casey Neistad said that his vlog took off after he decided to produce content daily.


It depends on your competition and your chosen keywords.

For most niches, it makes sense to write around 6-15 long articles (>6000 words) and then a bunch of 500 word articles that lead to the big article - most of the time a guide (you're doing on-page SEO and target long tail keywords with those small articles).

But people like Brian from Backlinko also show other ways. Strategies like Backlinko's depend on the backlink structure (he writes about it here [1]). If you try to do it without caring about the backlink structure (you certainly should, too), the way I've described is the most economic (basically a hybrid solution).

[1]: https://backlinko.com/skyscraper-technique-2-0


Like most things, it almost certainly depends. It's easy to get into a mode where you allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good and hardly ever publish anything because it's not just right.

(And, half the time when you do publish that perfect piece, it lands with a thud because others apparently didn't think it was as great as you did. I've had pieces I've tossed off in a few hours get tons of traction while other pieces I've spent a few days polishing don't attract readers at all.)

On the other hand, I wouldn't counsel putting out a lot of crappy 500 word posts even if you don't have anything fresh to say.


> Spend 50% of the writing time actually writing, the rest tweaking, reading and illustrating. Details are important.

I find this true not just of blog posts, but any time I've done formal writing at all. There is an immense gulf in quality between writing that has gone through even just one heavy edit/revision process and writing that never has.

I've recently been encouraging my technical co-workers to expend more time on not-code, such as documentation, tutorials, plans, postmortems, internal RFCs, carefully worded PR/commit comments, etc. One challenge is that people sometimes think that when they "finish" a piece of writing, they're done. Unless you've been iteratively revising pieces of it in smaller chunks, I think you're really only halfway there.


This is good stuff. I blog for fun and I agree with almost everything here, especially the stuff about advertising. I am not against advertising in general but putting ads on your page is an acknowledgment that you care more about money than writing what you want. There is nothing morally wrong with this, but it turns a hobby into a job.

Lastly, I encourage everyone to publish blogs or articles. Each blog post on an independent site is a blow against the content farms and social media giants that control so much of the discourse these days.


I like the current trend of being able to support e.g. bloggers (or youtubers, or whoever) via Patreon; I do believe there should be multiple providers of the same service because right now Patreon has too much influence / mindspace, but it's a good alternative for advertisement - not as scummy, and much more reliable. $1 / month / fan is nice. I follow one youtuber (and not the annoying screamy meme type) who seems to have 13.000 Patrons.


I wish there was a way to do it with microtransactions though. I am never going to commit to yet-another-sub-that-I-will-forget-to-cancel-for-months, but I’d like to throw a couple of £ towards an individual post that I randomly find on the web.


That's what Ko-fi is for.

https://ko-fi.com/


Looks cool! I've joined and will keep an eye out for it in places I visit.


I agree with your last sentence about "each independent blog post". But you must realize that hosting content isn't free. If you want a blog that doesn't end with .wordpress.com or blogspot.com, you'll have to pay.

Otherwise, you publish on Medium, which IMO is just as bad in terms of handing over your IP to content farms.


Medium is only marginally better than Facebook but there is little wrong with a wordpress or blogspot blog so long as you are prepared to accept their limitations and the fact you are giving up some control over how your content is used.

I host my blog on a Digital Ocean droplet with a total cost of $90 spread out over 12 months. I realize that not everyone has disposable income or the time but this is a very cheap hobby even with the massive overkill of a whole droplet. And this is not even the cheapest way to host, you can get much cheaper shared hosting for almost free for smaller static sites.


Github pages? (Rather steep learning curve though)


Eh, none of this really matters unless you actually care whether or not anyone is reading your content. I've been blogging random thoughts and assorted happenings in my life since 2002, and it's all out there on the public interwebz, but I write for an audience of one - me. If any poor soul happens to stumble across it, then that's their bad luck.


This is interesting. If you're not writing for anyone except yourself, then why post it online? Why not just use a journal or an audio diary?


Not OP: I tend to blog tech fixes I found to make them more visible, I'm not really writing for an audience, but just recognising that there may be value in it and so ensuring that such value can be extracted. As much as anything it's a journal for me.


I document my fixes on Stack Overflow, then put a comment with a link to the answer in the code.

It is remarkably convenient, high Google ranking, with zero technical maintenance and seemingly permanent.

Sometimes better solutions are given by other people.

I have even found my own past comments when googling for solutions!


Yes, I've found I use StackOverflow sites mostly now rather than blogging things.


I just started writing a kind of emotional diary public on the web. I'm not linking to it anywhere (though it's not really hard to find), and I write it in my native language (not a good proposition if looking for exposure).

The simple explanation for this is that I'm more keen to keep stuff if they're on the internet. Otherwise, they will just rot in my home directory and get thrown out on next reinstall in a couple of years.

It's also a good emotional exercise. Am I really up to the task of releasing my inner thoughts publicly, even though nobody is likely to read it? The thing that made me start it was this challenge from Neil Gaiman.

>The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself...That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.


For SEO don’t write short articles (>2000 words)

Just more vague tips that maybe worked for him and won't for most. i have several articles on my own blog/website that are over 4000 words and all original content. Want to guess how much search engine traffic they get? Z-e-r-o


There are numerous factors that go into why or why not a page gets traffic. The ~2000 words is a rule of thumb, and not at all a decisive factor.

- Have any other websites linked back to your content? 'Backlink' volume is a quality signal for search engines.

- Is your blog about a specific topic, or does it cover multiple different topics? A niche-specific website will get better ranking than a website that covers multiple topics.

- Is you website mobile-friendly? I have seen dev blogs that area clearly not responsive. Search engines can detect that and will ding you accordingly.

- Have you tried to promote your content? On Twitter, on message boards, on HN, anything?

- Is your content structured to be search engine friendly? Some devs build blogs in React, or some other framework, where the HTML is dynamically generated, leaving your page source looking like a framework template, with no content shown. A search crawler won't know there's any content there.


I have the opposite “problem”: my posts get weird traffic because of higher rankings than they would deserve. One thing I noticed is that titles matter: a “how to do X” is more likely to emerge than clever puns or artistic sentences - which is typically what one tends to use after writing longer essays.


Yeah. People here like to complain about "clickbait" but that's what headlines are--and they were long before there was such a thing as a click. I write for a number of different websites and headlines (which the editor often writes or changes) are pretty much always very direct and self-explanatory. By and large, headlines (especially online) aren't the place for clever but obscure literary references.


"Clickbait" headlines are those that misrepresent the content, not just things that catch your eye. Headlines are designed to get you to read the content, but when the headlines are misleading the content is a waste of time to read, similar to a fish biting a worm only to get caught, hence "bait".


It works. The content should be SEO-optimized, though (it isn't "normal" content, it targets certain keywords). Your domain ranking, on-page SEO, link structure, even title formatting and other stuff is also relevant.

As someone who has 50k+ views per month on one site I know a thing or two about this.

I also write a personal blog where I don't do SEO and only get around 300 views per month. I could optimize that, but I just write about things that I find interesting (without doing keyword research, doing A/B tests, ...).


This is not 2001. On-page optimization does not work that well anymore. I know how to rank pages but the problem is it is too expensive and time consuming to be worthwhile. You need a lot of quality links and high domain name authority.


There are many things that still work.

High DA and quality links are a necessity, but I have people in my network who make 100k profit per month with a lot of sites that have DA17-25 (pretty weak) and some backlinks (around 30 per site, although there are some strong ones). They usually analyze the content of their competitors and write articles that are simply +500 words longer. You wouldn't believe what's still possible today, although I agree that it doesn't work for main keywords.

It's cumbersome (analyzing niches, competitors, finding long tail keywords, organizing content writers), but it still works.

Disclaimer: I don't sell online courses or something. I know that I may sound like a fraud, but it's simply a network of the best SEO people in Germany. I only know 4-5 people who earn this amount of money passively, so they're the 0.0001%


That sounds like a full time job of finding, editing and optimizing niche content. I'd consider that a fair job.

It's very far from the practice a long time ago of creating hundreds of domains linking to each other to get the top page, filled with placeholders and tags.


Personally, I think giving numbers (like 0-12k/month in 7 months) is useless if it is not put in some context.

Several times I googled what should be expected amount of visits to see if I am doing ok or not. Result? It is kinda disheartening to see that after pouring a lot of love, getting rather nice feedback about articles etc, you see that you are getting e.g. 2k visits a month, while someone states that is "should be about 1k visits... a day". And you put some effort into marketing your content!

Thing is, if you look at the amount of searches of the topics you cover, you might find that the person who posted such advice caters to 20x as large audience as you, so that 2k/month might be a really good result! But to see that, you have to put the numbers in some context instead of looking at the absolute numbers. If we applied this to e.g. youtubers we could conclude, that random gameplay streamer does a several times better job than a science channel author.


100% agree. I run a network of very focused blogs with small but targeted audiences. Each blog may only have 3,000 views per month, but it's serving a city with 10,000 people, so we've captured 1/3 of the market for the entire city. And everyone who views the site is local. But I still hear companies balking at our advertising rates complaining that the CPM (cost per thousand views) is way too high.

At the average $2.80 CPM, we'd make $9 per month. In a city of 10,000 people, what would get more attention: a cheap Google ad, or your name sitting at the top of the only digital media outlet in the city? That's worth a $10 CPM, I think.

It's about the percentage of the market captured, not raw view numbers.


Try keyword research tools like https://kwfinder.com and others to get a feeling for the search volume and competition for a specific keyword.


I started writing (aka blogging) in 2002, on Blogger with a custom commenting plugin developed by an indie Russian developer. Movable Type was the in-thing before finally settling down on WordPress.

During the early hay-days, my site witnessed million visitors monthly and boasted of Google PageRank of 8. If I can recollect, I'm sure the Alexa Rank was also in one of the top 100 or 1000 for a pretty good amount of time. There were advertisers willing pay good dollars that the site easily earned few thousands each month. There was No YouTube, No Twitter, No Facebook, No Github. My free and open source "downloads" would choke the servers and (mt) would gladly host at a good discount to handle hundreds of GBs of download each month.

I used to write anything and everything that fancied me. Readers "Digg" it and many other aggregators love reposting the articles, and the site won enough awards that I stopped adding "badges" to my site.

But then, I learned more, realized that many of my articles are shallow and pretty much stopped writing. If I pick up a topic, I research and saw that many have written about it, then I just don't write. I write once a while, sometimes lengthy and personal opinions. Traffic has dropped so much that my current blog is grandfathered by WPEngine on a free tier, shielded by CloudFlare and is just surviving.

Here is what I believe one should do;

* Pick a niche but don't be afraid to go wide once a while.

* Ok to go short (Seth Godin style) or lengthy journalistic style writing.

* If it is a personal blog, be personal.

* Have a content strategy, plan and just write.

* Learn to re-purpose content. Your YouTube video can become a Podcast audio, the transcripts can become a blog post, interesting text/quotes from your post can be fodder for your social media.

* Keep Writing.


> The design of your site is irrelevant.

But it helps if the font is legible in all media.

Good, straightforward advice, better than many similar articles.

Personally, in my blog, I only write what I like.

I also do what he says about editing and linking old articles.


Any blog IMO should have a minimalist design. You want to draw attention to the content and present it as plainly and with as little visual clutter as possible.

Some people want to use their blog as a kind of interactive CV but that should be treated as a separate project, as it will just introduce more clutter.


> Any blog IMO should have a minimalist design. You want to draw attention to the content and present it as plainly and with as little visual clutter as possible.

There is a German blog who hit "minimalist" rather well. http://blog.fefe.de/

Tbh, I prefer this kind of representation not just when it comes to blogs. Hackernews is another great example for "less is more".


yeah i feel like "design is irrelevant" probably still doesn't mean it can be offensive to look at :)

i take it to mean, don't worry about going crazy with hiring a PR firm to give you beautiful look/feel and/or some unique functionality


What's the best way to hear from your audience? Comments on the blog (e.g. disqus), or Twitter? Managing spam is such a burden that hosting your own feedback facility is risky.


I turned off comments and allow people to contact me through Twitter or email.

That seems to be such a high barrier to entry that the contact I do receive is almost always because someone disagrees strongly or because they are very thankful for something they learned.

In either case, it stops pointless crap like 'first'.


Just out of interest, how active was your blog? (hits/day?)

I don't have a commenting feature on my blog - partly because I haven't gotten around to setting it up yet, partly because I'm worried about potential spam. But I would like to get some feedback from my readers, so that's a bit of a conundrum...


I built a Disqus like commenting system, where you can configure manual review of [the first X posts a new person posts at your blog]. If they write say 5 make-sense interesting things, hopefully thereafter it's ok to auto approve their subsequent posts. — How does this affect (if at all) how you feel about spam? (Here it is: https://www.talkyard.io/blog-comments )

If you think someone might become a spammer, and is just posting "I like it" and "Wow great" comments to get past any first-comments manual reviews, then you can mark that user as a possible threat, and forever get notifieid about his/her posts (before they're made visible).


That looks good! However, I already had my sights set on Isso (https://posativ.org/isso/). My static site generator coleslaw (https://github.com/kingcons/coleslaw) already offers a plugin for this, so it is a more natural choice...


Coleslaw seems to have many nice features. Hadn't heard about it before


I'm not 100% sure. Before I turned of analytics I was getting somewhere between around 16k-20k uniques per month. I don't know the accuracy on that, one was Google analytics, one as server based but filtering out the bots, so perhaps caught a few blocking the trackers (like I do TBH).

That was nearly 7 months ago I guess? Looking in Webmaster search console it says I had 15.5k clicks and 237k impressions last 28 days (compared to 17k/297k 7 months ago), so maybe there are less visitors now. Not sure.

I might turn the analytics back on at some point to find out!


Both?

Most successful blogs and news sites I've seen tend to have multiple ways for their audience to contact them. Usually comments for posts plus accounts on various major social media sites and some sort of chat feature (for gaming sites nowadays it's often Discord, though it could be a forum, or Slack or IRC).

Of course, you then have to strike a balance between getting setup on every platform under the sun (and spreading yourself too thin) or putting all your eggs in basket (and depending too heavily on traffic from a single source or platform). But yeah, there are usually multiple ways for people to contact successful blog authors.


I guess it mostly depends on your audience and traffic. I've blogged about different ways to handle user feedback [0] (in the context of static sites). If you don't like to self-host comments, there are many third-party or off-site alternatives. For a developer blog, you might even use something like GitHub issues.

[0] https://darekkay.com/blog/static-site-comments/


Alternatively [I blog as a form of self-documenting, under the term blogumentation](https://www.jvt.me/posts/2017/06/25/blogumentation/). My audience is me. Sometimes my audience will be my colleagues, or strangers on the Internet, but it's always written for me first!


I thought I read somewhere that ads make a blog seem more authoritative so I disagree about not having ads.


I don't know about 'authoritative', but ads do seem to hurt. The existing experimental and quasi-experimental literature shows very bad effects on user behavior:

1. "Measuring Consumer Sensitivity to Audio Advertising: A Field Experiment on Pandora Internet Radio", Huang et al 2018: https://davidreiley.com/papers/PandoraListenerDemandCurve.pd... [experimental]

2."The Effect of Ad Blocking on [Firefox] User Engagement with the Web", Miroglio et al 2018: https://research.mozilla.org/files/2018/04/The-Effect-of-Ad-... [quasi]

3. and my own A/B test: https://www.gwern.net/Ads [experimental]


I think it depends on the audience. Looking at your blog I can see how ads may not work as well. My blog is focused more on dining out, shopping etc where viewers think nothing of ads and I think they would even think it weird if there weren’t ads.


You could say that about both Pandora (radio is expected to have ads) and Mozilla's general Internet sampling frame (the Internet is expected to have ads), but they still find a large average harm.


My site is focused on shopping and dining out therefore I don’t think the conclusions in those papers apply in my case. The audio interruptions noted in the Pandora test are far more intrusive than in-page display ads. If I used interstitials then I would agree.


I really question that. I can't believe that in this day and age anyone thinks that having AdSense on a blog site is some indicator of superior quality. And affiliate links at least raise the possibility of conflicts of interest.

Way back when I experimented with ads and links but I came to the conclusion that the money was pretty trivial in the scheme of things and it took away from the otherwise non-commercial nature of my site.


Firstly my readers would have no idea what Adsense even is. But if they see accompanying ads like Swarovski, Nordstrom, local restaurant, then yes, I believe it would positively impact their impression on an intuitive level. If they actively thought about it then no. I can see how it wouldn’t appeal to other sites though.


Some very useful tips in there. Especially the first one: "No one has time to read your article, write the first lines like they’re a TLDR." Not a good idea for fiction! but it's essential to save a reader's time. If the main topic is buried 3-4 paragraphs down, I've already left.

Note that this one person is getting significant attention writing about a specialized topic (EDM). That probably characterizes most blogs that attract much attention.

A few people managed to be 'generalists' in the early days (e.g. Kottke), but you're probably better off trying to find a congregation that feels under-represented online and is looking for a home. (It's not a blog, but, e.g., deviantart.)


There's also a technical reason for writing the TLDR up top. When a web crawler indexes a page for search results, they capture a snippet of the first <p> tags that follow the <h1> of the title. That snippet is what is shown on the results page, and really is what determines whether a user wants to click the link shown by the search engine.


Don't meta descriptions usually do this? I've never seen people use the post content as their meta description, at least not when they've got access to something like Yoast or the SEO Framework or what not.


> No one has time to read your article, write the first lines like they’re a TLDR.

So true!

> For SEO don’t write short articles (>2000 words)

So sad!


Sad and annoying. Top Google results are very likely to include long articles that ramble on and on and never get to the point, in the name of "optimization". Search Engine Optimization is Reader Experience Pessimization.


I look forward to the day that a recipe doesn't come with a life story prepended to it.


With video advertising, sites have started to optimize for length of stay on the page rather than hits and I hate it.

The recipe format was perfected in the middle ages - a simple list of ingredients and a description of the steps required. But the sites that capture the first page of search results for even the simplest recipe are all designed to keep you on the page long enough for the video ads to play through.

Listen up idiots, if I like your recipe I will be on your page for minutes figuring out how to follow it and will return every time I want to make the meal. Your stats will be favorable - no need to bother me with how your dead granny used to make roast beef sandwiches or whatever.

Just another way that advertising kills everything it touches.


So, I have a question: I'm seeing lots of videos on social media that are very long. They're cute or funny or amazing or something, but they seem like they are artificially long, like they are trying to keep me in the act of viewing them. If they aren't an advertisement themselves, then why is this the trend? What is the reward for engaging a viewer in a sight gag for several minutes? Are they gaming the ad companies by padding some "average view time" or something?

It sure smells like shenanigans, I'm just not sure why.


I don't know about FB, but Youtube videos can only be monetized if they're a minimum of 10 minutes long. That's why videos by 'Youtubers' can be so painful to watch; they are trying to stretch out 2 minutes of content into 10, and it's obvious.


You won't even get to see the recipe if there isn't something about the dead granny sandwiches in there. It will be forever hidden into the 300th page of search results.


And often then at the end the recipe is junk! Click bait world in action. Valuable content is drowned out and click bait gets promoted.


I thought this was just a "natural" trend for advertising or something, I didn't realize it was a SEO thing.

I've been noticing more and more that every time I'm looking for a recipe, I end up with a blog post the size of a novella as the first few results.


Recipe pages are long because Google penalizes sites with "high bounce rate", i.e. where the user opened the page, didn't interact with it (clicked a link, scrolled x% of the screen) and left, or clicked Back.

A recipe blog post where you can simply copy/paste the recipe into your notes app is going to receive a bad SEO grade.

That's why so much of the Internet feels so 'corporate' or make so many seemingly 'WTF' choices. They are optimizing around a monetization and growth strategy, not for your experience as a user.


> Recipe pages are long because Google penalizes sites with "high bounce rate", i.e. where the user opened the page, didn't interact with it (clicked a link, scrolled x% of the screen) and left, or clicked Back. A recipe blog post where you can simply copy/paste the recipe into your notes app is going to receive a bad SEO grade.

Do many people actually copy-paste recipes? I usually open a recipe page and keep it open until I'm done with the dish). If I like the result I may copy the recipe.


Is that a feature or a byproduct? It doesn't make sense to me on the surface that a larger text would be linked to more necessarily.

The length of a text doesn't seem like it would factor into the outcome of the page ranking unless I'm missing something.

How would you determine what is a "good" or "bad" article, given a reader's preferences rather than one that simply gets associated most regularly with a search query?


As I understand it, Google (and others?) rank pages higher if the time spent on them is high. Long text takes longer to read, so it's a way to increase that metric.

Another explanation I've seen is for ranking longer texts higher is that longer text is assumed to be of higher quality because it's more content/took more work to produce/whatever.

Whatever the reason, this leads to the rambling articles I mentioned, which seems to be a trend even for cases when the actual useful content is short.


Such is the logic but, in reality, a long-winded article is just as likely to have folks heading for the back button in no time at all?


Yes, in practice the user will either get angry for having to dig for the useful stuff or simply give up.


Yup like those recipe pages where there's 4 paragraphs and photos unrelated to the recipe and then a box with the recipe at the bottom of the page.


OP here, I think this is a consequence of choosing bad KPIs (like time spent on page) to define what should rank higher.

In my experience the best approach to deal with this is the TLDR on top idea, so the Reader experience stays good and then going deep into the topic for the curious ones and the SEO juice


It's a workaround, but I think the real problem, as you mention, is search engines using time spent on page as a proxy metric for "this page is useful", which in many situations just isn't the case.


I'm conflicted about the notion that "no one has time to read your article." That says more about dilapidation of reading culture than the fact that length of a text is necessarily bad. I see it happening to me and I don't read something not because it is valueless on its own but because there is simply too much else outside of it drawing on my attention.

If there's more and more pressure to say less, eventually you'll say nothing. If you say everything, nobody will read it unless they have eyes set on your work.

Most people seem to be trained to write an expository piece in a classical model of assert a premise => provide an argument => yield a conclusion. They're not used to putting the conclusion where the premise should be sort of like an abstract.


Imagine that you're searching for a solution to a Javascript issue, and you see two search results. One has the answer and links to a working Codepen, and the other provides some conceptual information and links you to MDN documentation so you can figure the answer out for yourself.

Which one are you going to read first? If you picked the first one, does that indicate a dilapidation in reading ability, or that you needed an answer, and the first option provided the best one?


Honestly, if you've written a coding article which doesn't have any code in it, you've probably messed up somewhere along the line. Generally, I'd say it's expected that anything programming related likely has at least a few code samples and a few demos to test out, otherwise its usefulness is rather limited.


> dilapidation of reading culture

Surely we read more than we ever did? Surely more people a literate than ever before?

Certainly we didn't read much television...

My friends that are dyslexic or illiterate have learnt to read in their 30s and 40s because of the internet.


That long articles are necessary to rank in Google is a myth. https://twitter.com/mnlfrgr/status/1074653395997388800


2000 words has never been the SEO optimal or standard length for articles. I've been involved in SEO for many, many years, 500 was always the standard.


Interesting. I know 500 was the standard. But my understanding is that the big Google updates (Panda et al) put paid to that model in favour of the "authority site" model, hence you're supposed to rank better for longer content.

I wonder if it only applies to new blogs though? Perhaps if you have good DA/PA/TTF metrics already then it doesn't actually matter about your content length.


Didn't know that! Great advice, I think that the origin of this might be in the fact that longer content is generally more researched and thus ranks better


Yeah, that is possible. However, correlation != causation ;)


With all due respect, one single article ranking #1 in Google hardly constitutes proof, or turns the argument into a myth.

I am genuinely interested in the answer to this though. The idea that the article has to be longer/more detailed than the competition makes total sense.


I would need to see a citation for this. I work with digital marketing folks a lot, who are well-versed in things like SEO, and the general trend seems is toward shorter and more frequent content. That's not to say that I don't write a longer piece when the content warrants it, but for written articles/blogs/etc. 800-1000 words seems to be fairly common. Certainly there's also something of a trend from giveaway long books to 25-50 page ones.


This seems like one of those things that will reverse itself. Once a measure is known to its subjects it becomes worthless. (That's not my idea but I'm too lazy to look up the source right now.) If enough people write long articles just for SEO, the algorithm will change and they might actually find themselves penalized. Then there will be lots of whining from folks who thought they could profit by prioritizing SEO over quality and by treating SEO as a one-time-solvable problem.


"Start a Newsletter."

why?


To promote new content to an already-converted audience.

Compare the site engagement of users who willingly gave you their email address, to a user who landed on your page from a search query, browsed it and left the site. What are the chances that that user will remember the name of the site and make a return visit? Your page could have been one of 10 he looked at to get an answer to his question.


Newsletters can work for a very targeted topic that has an audience that it equally targeted on that same topic, e.g. AWS.

But there's real email fatigue out there. I know some folks who are reasonably well-known in the tech space who have tried newsletters at various times but gave up (as did I) because people generally just don't want another weekly or biweekly email. (And even if they give up their email address, they mostly don't open or read.)

It's too bad in a way because a newsletter is a nice format for short form topical news and commentary on articles in a way that blog posts really aren't.


I’m 21, but I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years.

wtf..mindblown.. His IQ must be off the charts. no wonder he is so successful.


I wrote short stories and video game reviews for the kids section of my local newspaper when I was 10-12yo. When I was older (13-18) I switched to writing about music. My IQ, not that I've tried to measure it, is probably very average. I was a kid and I just wanted to write.


Livejournal was full of bloggers that got started as teenagers. These days the cutting edge is video, but internet text culture is not going away.




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