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this is (not) how you start a blog

Marketing Hyperdrive
this is (not) how you start a blog
By Mike Allton • Issue #17 • View online
One of my most successful blog posts ever was entitled How Not To Use Google+ and in it I shared a number of things that people were doing wrong on the platform at the time. As a relatively new social network, Google+ was already popular and had developed it’s own micro-culture, complete with norms and morays. The unwritten rules by which even newcomers were expected to live by.
Now I don’t know about you, but often I find myself anxious about new situations. I worry that I might say or do the wrong thing simply because I don’t know any better. This is why it’s great to have friends and groups who can fail and communicate right alongside you when trying new networks like Clubhouse or new techniques like podcasting.
On today’s episode of Marketing Hyperdrive, I’m going to walk alongside you and help you avoid some mistakes… some unwritten rules… as it applies to blogging and content marketing. In fact, I’m going to share with you five key mistakes to avoid which are going to save you time and help you achieve success with your blog that much faster, whether you’ve been blogging for years, or are just getting started.
When was the last time you went on a road trip?
Chances are, you were prepared better than I. A number of years ago, before smart phones… ok, many, many years ago… I took off from Ohio and drove all day to Toronto, Canada. While I had hotel reservations and an idea of where I was going, I brought no maps and no food. I basically had no real plan – I hadn’t even considered what would happen when I got to the border!
While most of the trip turned out fine, I distinctly recall getting to the Toronto metro area and having no real idea how to get to my hotel. I’d reserved a room at the Hyatt downtown, and I didn’t even know what exit to take from the highway. I ended up having to stop for directions multiple times and wasted a tremendous amount of time, after already spending a whole day driving.
Never again.
In addition to having Google Maps readily available to avoid any future lack of directions, I also bring snacks and drinks and review the route in advance.
I make a plan.
Blogging is a Road Trip. When you first start your blog, you’re beginning a journey that might last months or even years. While you cannot predict what you’re going to see and do along the way, there are definitely false starts, wrong turns, and misguided decisions that you can make.
But here’s the good news.
I’ve already made at least half of these mistakes for you! I’ve always said that the thing my audience gets to benefit from the most is my past, and not necessarily because of my successes. If I’m able to save you a few minutes here or there, or even potentially prevent you from making a mistake that would cause you to have to make time-consuming, backtracking changes in a year’s time, that’s valuable.
So today I’m going to run through five of the key mistakes that either I’ve personally made, or I’ve watched others make, when it comes to blogging and content marketing. Some of these may be more applicable to the traditional blogger, while others may have more impact on a business using a blog for content marketing. Either way, I think you’ll come away from these next ten or fifteen minutes armed with some piece of advice that will help you.
Let’s get started.
Mistake #1 – Using A Free Platform
If you’ve never read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries, I highly recommend it. While it’s intended for business owners, particularly SaaS models, who want to vette and launch their business idea as swiftly as possible, the principles Ries lays out are applicable to any business, marketing plan, idea… heck, even your personal life.
In short, Ries teaches you to take your idea and map out its strengths and weaknesses, then create a plan for testing your idea with and on other people as fast as possible. This is referred to as your Minimum Viable Product, or MVP.
For instance, suppose you wanted to design, build and sell a new invention. Rather than going through the trouble of actually designing and building a prototype, Ries would argue that you should build a simple webpage that describes the invention, show it to people in your target audience, and find out what they think. All of that feedback would be recorded and reviewed and then you’d act accordingly, either moving forward, pivoting, or scrapping the idea entirely.
The process is designed, not to sell as quickly or as cheaply as possible, but rather to learn as fast as possible so that you can iterate and improve in an agile way.
When new businesses or bloggers apply this principle to their blog, whether intentionally or not, they think that the way to create an MVP is to use a free blogging platform like Medium. However, there’s nothing within the Lean Startup framework which suggests there should be no investment. To the contrary, in fact! A successful lean startup still requires minimum manpower and time and resources.
The Lean Startup method also encourages taking actions that can be iterated and built on, and that’s the crux of the issue with a free platform.
If you’re using Medium or some other free site, you have extremely limited control over how that site and experience looks and works. You can publish content, of course, but you cannot brand the experience, add calls to action in the sidebar or footer, or designate preferred actions you want your audience to take by editing the top navigation. In other words, it’s just a place to read your posts.
And if the plan is to start with a free platform and then, if things take off, migrate to a real blog and website, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. When you move a piece of content from one URL to another, you essentially start over. All of the history and all of the search engine awareness that article might have garnered while it was on Medium is now gone.
The ideal approach using the Lean Startup methodology would be to test your blog content by writing it in Google Docs and sharing the posts as PDFs directly with people you’ve identified as representing your ideal audience. Ask them to read a few articles and then ask them directly what they thought about the content. Did they have the reaction or takeaways you hoped they would? If not, consider why that was and adjust accordingly. And if so, then it’s time to buy a domain and build a simple WordPress blog so that you can start publishing content where it belongs.
Mistake #2 – Monetizing With Ads Immediately
There are many ways and methods to make money and earn revenue online through blogging. If you’re selling services or products through your website, then you may be employing content marketing to help your site rank in search, help educate your target audience, and help them come to a buying decision.
If, however, your goal is to earn revenue directly from your content, then you may be looking for sponsored articles, paid partnerships, digital downloads to sell, or even advertising. Because it takes time to build enough content and traffic to attract paid sponsorships and partnerships, and it only takes a few minutes to sign up for a Google Ads account and paste in some code, new bloggers are often attracted to idea of display ads.
I mean, I get it. I’ve tested display ads many times on my properties and am currently testing display ads yet again on The concept is incredibly attractive. Write and publish blog posts, bring in traffic, and let Google serve up ads to those people based on what they’ve already expressed interest in and watch as the clicks and cash roll in.
There are two, ah… caveats to this approach.
The first is that it only works if your site is bringing in traffic. In fact, one might argue that it’s only worthwhile if your site is bringing in a lot of traffic. This will vary by industry, of course, as some topics you might blog about may be better suited to more lucrative advertising or more affluent readers, but on the whole, you can only expect to earn pennies to the click. Thousands of visitors a day and hundreds of clicks to your ads may only earn you a few dollars.
That’s hardly enough to live on.
The second, deeper, concern, is with Google. The search engine’s purpose is to answer people’s questions by serving them the best possible websites and search results. Google is using hundreds of factors to judge and rank your site and if you only have two blog posts, yet your website is riddled with display ads, the quality of your content will be highly suspect. Search engines will assume, rightly, that your only intent is to sell ad clicks and will not rank your site well.
The solution, therefore, is to hold off on adding display ads to your site until you’ve established your search engine rankings and have begun to drive significant levels of traffic. There’s no right or wrong answer here, other than to avoid rushing into ads for as long as possible. Which means, if that’s your planned source of revenue, you’re going to need to be patient and have an alternative source of revenue initially.
Mistake #3 – Writing About Random Things
You may have heard me tell this story before.
When I first started blogging in 2007, I was doing website development and so I blogged about online marketing topics. And I also blogged about anything I thought might be helpful and of interest to business owners. That included email signatures, office furniture… even live-blogging the Apple 3GS release.
The problem was that those articles had exactly nothing to do with what I was trying to sell through the associated website – design and web development services. If by chance I happened to bring in a reader to an article about office furniture (I didn’t), the best scenario one could hope for from such a reader was that they would purchase a piece of furniture (which I wasn’t selling), which means those articles were a waste of time.
Even when I came to this realization… sadly, it took years… and I narrowed my focus to online marketing, it still wasn’t enough. I launched The Social Media Hat in 2011…
…wow… just writing that out reminded that it’s been ten years! That just sunk in a bit.
Anyways, when I launched The Social Media Hat it was definitely a true blog, as I wasn’t yet selling any products or services, and it was ostensibly focused on social media marketing. And yet I also wrote about blogging and email and search engine optimization. And anything else online marketing related. Yes, I hadn’t yet learned my lesson!
It really wasn’t until 2018 when I had published an article on how to start a blog a year earlier, one that I absolutely knew should be a top-ranked result, and found that it wasn’t. It had barely cracked the top 100. And when I dug deeper I found that I’d written nearly 100 articles on blogging and none of them were getting traffic. I had articles on Facebook getting hundreds of views a day, but no one came to The Social Media Hat for advice on blogging, even though I’d already established my reputation and expertise as a blogger. I’d been named one of the Top Ten Social Media bloggers by Social Media Examiner two years in a row!
The problem was that Google didn’t know that. Or rather, Google didn’t naturally associate The Social Media Hat as a website with content about blogging.
So I bought and migrated all 100 articles about blogging and content marketing to that new site. Within weeks, the content on the new site was getting hundreds of views a day… what all of those articles in total had been getting in a month previously. The migration also helped The Social Media Hat as the removal of those articles helped focus the remaining content on the topics that mattered to that domain.
I share all of this because I’m often asked by would-be bloggers whether it is OK to talk about two of their different passions on the same blog. They’re interested in both box turtles and in home decor. And every time I tell them no, don’t waste your time writing about both of those topics and publishing the articles to the same site. Maintain two blogs if you must, but do not merge topics that are unrelated.
Mistake #4 – Writing At Random Times
One of the interesting aspects of search engines is that they don’t particularly care how often you publish content. They’re certainly looking to see when the last time you published was, but frequency isn’t a ranking factor because from a search perspective, your audience doesn’t care.
If you Google what to feed box turtles, all you’re interested in is the answer. You simply don’t care when the last time that author published or how often, right?
So if you’re creating content that is educational in nature, a publishing schedule only matters if you need it, personally, to keep you motivated and accountable. Some people require deadlines to get anything done, and that’s ok. But otherwise, you can publish every day or twice a week or three times a month… it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t have to be at the same time.
However, there are two notable exceptions to this approach.
First, while your publishing frequency might not matter to search engines, how fast you crank out excellent content does impact how quickly you achieve your traffic and income goals, whatever they might be.
Let me explain.
Assume for a moment that you’re starting a brand new blog from scratch on box turtles and you eventually want to rank very well for hobbyists and new pet owners so that you can earn revenue from ads and affiliate recommendations. Google doesn’t care how often you blog, only what you write about and how much excellent content there is. In fact, studies have shown that, on average, you need to have 50 articles in your archive before Google will begin to identify you and your blog as an authority on your topic and begin to rank all of your content higher.
Which means, the faster you publish excellent content, the faster you’ll see exponential increases in search engine ranking, traffic and sales. So your goals should have an impact on your publishing frequency.
Second, if you are not creating purely educational content… if you’re writing thought leadership or opinion or perhaps newsjacking articles, then you’re writing less for search and more for a captive audience. In this instance, publishing whenever you feel like it is not optimal.
Imagine if, back in the ’90’s when Friends was airing on NBC, instead of every single Thursday night, the new episode would drop at a random time on a random day. You’d never know when to expect the latest thirty minutes of Ross and Rachel, and there would never have been a Must See TV night in America.
That’s exactly what you want to do for your audience. They may not put in their diary that they can expect your latest article every Wednesday, but they will certainly be more receptive when your content does come as they will have been expecting it.
My blog is the same way. I’ve been writing for over a decade and I’ve never had a publishing schedule because most of my content was educational in nature and followed a plan, which we’re going to talk about in a moment. On occasion I’d churn out a newsjacking piece that was timely but since I had already established an audience for my educational content, they were receptive. Yet it was Google that was always rewarding me the most.
Yet when I started to consider what Marketing Hyperdrive might look like, I knew it had to be different. There’s certainly an educational aspect to this series, but what started as a newsletter and quickly expanded to articles and a podcast is more aptly described as thought leadership. Each week I’m sharing what I think about some aspect of marketing and allowing you to consider whether you agree or not.
If I were to publish this whenever I felt like it, it wouldn’t achieve success. I certainly wouldn’t have many email or podcast subscribers who are specifically looking forward to each new Sunday episode.
Which means it’s likely that you, too, need to determine a set schedule for publishing and then commit to it.
Mistake #5 – Writing Without A Plan
Finally, we need to talk about that most critical aspect of your blogging road trip – your route to your destination.
In other words, your plan.
It is absolutely OK if you’re writing just write at this point. We all need practice and time to hone our skills, and often it’s impossible to even make a plan until we have a better idea of what we’re doing.
For instance, every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I take full responsibility for our main family dinners. I can pull together terrific holiday menus and handle the entire table groaning with platters and food with exactly zero assistance. It’s part of my gift to the family every year and, more importantly, I can do it because I’m practiced. I’ve been brining and roasting delicious turkeys since 1999 and the menus have gotten more and more elaborate every year since.
But note that I do in fact build a menu. I decide what dishes I want to serve, review the recipes to purchase all the required ingredients, and determine my schedule the day of the meal so that everything is prepared and comes together on time. In fact, if I didn’t do that, the entire dinner would be ruined since my turkey needs to be thawed two days in advance and brined the night before. You can’t rush a turkey!
You can wing, if you pardon the pun, some of your content. But if you blog week after week without an ultimate goal in mind, you’re trusting your success to blind luck.
Instead, I teach a technique where you take the time up front to research what your target audience is interested in, align those interests and pain points with solutions you offer, then build a structure of content sufficient to rank well for those search terms.
It’s called a Content Pyramid, and it’s one of the core tenets of my blogging and content marketing training bootcamp at
You see, it’s highly unlikely that a single piece of content you write on a particular topic will achieve a #1 ranking in Google search. But… if you craft thirteen pieces of content that are structured and linked the right away, all designed to funnel search traffic up to that most important post, the top of the pyramid, where you have the perfect solution waiting for those readers… they’ll trust you and be eager to hand over their credit card at that point.
We’ll be talking more about blogging for long term results and revenue in the coming weeks, particularly as I update and add to my bootcamp’s training videos. In the meantime, if you want to get a head-start on your content marketing and grab access to my training for a third of what it will cost when I re-release it, check out

YODA’S TEMPLE /Opportunities to learn and train
Why Asking Questions Is Good For Your Brand And Your Career
This fun piece from Goldie Chan for Forbes explores why asking questions can be so beneficial to you, both personally and professionally. Read More
Instagram Strategies for B2B & Real Estate
Doubtless as a B2B professional you’ve struggled a bit with how to leverage Instagram. I mean, is your audience even really using that platform? Well of course they are, and in this interview with Jenn Herman, you’ll learn how to proceed. Read More
Wanna Produce Live Shows?
Have you ever thought about taking your live streaming production skills on the road, so to speak, and getting paid to help other brands and businesses use live video? The Remote Live Producer economy has begun and in this first incredible episode of a new series, Showrunner, Stephanie Liu sets the table for you to start producing shows of your own. Watch Now
Live Shopping: From Buyers To Browsers
This upcoming interview with Helen Lam will help you learn how to leverage Live Shopping to drive sales. RSVP
Grow Your Channel Faster With A Virtual Assistant
This upcoming show will help you see the value and purpose for utilizing a VA! RSVP
HAN & CHEWIE’S SHIP /Fun collaboration and partnerships
Win Free Coaching!
While this is a contest for you to win free coaching, I’m filing it under “Collaboration” because it’s a pretty cool example. At Agorapulse we’re kicking off a monthly giveaway that features nearly a dozen social media marketing experts and the winner gets two free coaching sessions with one or two of these folks! Imagine getting to sit with Jay Baer or Kim Garst or Jenn Herman for an hour. Think about what you might learn from Stephanie Liu if you could pick her brain. Whether you choose them or Amanda Robinson, Troy Sandidge, Yvonne Heimann, Neal Schaffer, Amy & Caitlin or Andrew & Pete, the choice is yours, if you win. And the entire contest is made possible through collaboration! Learn More & Enter To Win
PALPATINE’S ROTUNDA /Interesting events and meetings
Upcoming Events & Speaking Engagements
WATTO’S JUNK /Trinkets and spare parts that might be just what you needed
Marketing Training & Support For Just $5 A Month
What if you had not one… not two… but four brilliant marketers on speed dial? How helpful would be if you could pose a question on virtually any marketing topic and get a variety of perspectives within moments?
That’s what the 360 Marketing Squad gives you… access to Jenn Herman, Stephanie Liu, Amanda Robinson and Mike Allton for just pennies a day. Sign yourself up here:
One More Thing…
I meant it when I said I was working on updating my Blogging Bootcamp and that the price will go up. In addition to the ten original modules that I am in the process of re-recording (they were originally broadcast live into a Facebook Group and going forward, will be available on Thinkific), I will be adding over a dozen supplemental modules covering everything from publishing schedules to crafting brilliant titles to finding your voice. When that launches next month, it’ll be at least $297, the original price, perhaps more. I’ve got a bit of market research and homework to do there. In the meantime, the current version is still on sale for just $97 and all students will be upgraded to the new version when it’s released. You get lifetime access to the materials and my support group. So you just might want to nab that while you can. Totally up to you. =>
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Mike Allton

Marketing insights. Personal revelations. Humour and hubris from Mike Allton, author, speaker and writer.

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