It seems to me that bloggers, especially when they’re starting out, have a hunger for two types of advice:
- The how-to, step-by-step guides towards fame and glory
- The case study, the “I’ve Earned $XXXXXX in 5 seconds” or the “I’ve got a billion new email subscribers in 10 days.”
There are two big problems with reading about what made other bloggers successful:
1. We often think correlation is the same as causality
Looking back at my almost nine years as a full-time blogger, I can say that I have succeeded because of my passion, consistency, and my simple and concise writing style.
Also, looking back, I can tell you that I’ve failed because I didn’t care much for headlines, introductions, or properly building relationships with my readers.
But, you see, while looking in the rearview mirror does offer us a much clearer vision of what happened, it’s still subject to a number of cognitive biases. The hindsight bias makes me think that, yeah, it was so obvious all along, when, in fact, I had no idea what I was doing.
The advice I give, the advice anyone gives, is flavored by the so-called confirmation bias.
Even when writing about our firsthand experiences, we tend to gravitate towards an often irrational explanation of what happened and why.
And, in order to provide value to our readers, we often deliberately neglect the importance of luck, or being part of the first wave on a platform, or just knowing the right people who can help you build an audience.
For instance, one of my first articles ever, way back in June 2012, went viral because one person decided to share it with their Twitter following of over half a million people.
Most people aren’t that lucky, and while, yes, I can certainly say that it wasn’t the only contributing factor to my success as a blogger, in choosing to ignore this element almost everything else I write becomes but speculation.
If I choose to ignore one of the factors, all the others lose their importance. Maybe, maybe not…
Something to ponder about.
2. It depends…
One of the most popular questions (and one that I get asked a lot these days) is, “How often should I post?”
The honest answer is, “it depends…”
It depends on the length of your articles, on the complexity of the ideas you share, the words you use, and the audience you have. It depends on how engaged that audience is, where they live, and how often they visit your blog.
This is the only truthful answer to all the questions that are worth answering.
How long should an article be?
How should I network?
Look, what works for me, might not work for you. A lot of people have a handful of articles that generate 99% of their traffic.
In my case, it doesn’t work like that. My most recent articles generate most of my traffic. My mind tells me this is because I post quite frequently. Maybe it’s got to do with the fact that my articles are relatively short, or that I haven’t had an article go viral for over a year or so.
Who knows, right?
How about the least-controversial and most common advice ever given: “Write quality content.”
Here’s when that doesn’t apply: when you are a master at networking.
Content isn’t king. The thing you enjoy doing most is king. Whether it’s networking, interviewing other bloggers, writing short articles, or writing long articles, or whatever.
Headlines are important, but I managed to build one of the most popular blogs on WordPress.com by writing hundreds of one-word headlines.
As long as you understand the above, it’s fine — and even beneficial — to read the advice and tips and strategies that others share on the web.
We all need this kind of information, so we can create a proper framework that allows us to set realistic goals.
But you shouldn’t allow these “rules” to act as prisons, to use someone else’s framework to cage your creative genius.
Ultimately, blogging is an art.
Half the time, we have no idea what we’re doing.
Yes, you get a sense of what works, what doesn’t, and what type of content your readers most like to consume, but the truth is that half the time, we’re all surprised because some article resonates with a lot of people.
You should always be trying lots of things and getting ideas from everywhere, but you should also try to come up with your own solutions to your most difficult creative problems.
A lot of aspiring bloggers are looking for some shortcuts to success. Some of these ideas might work for you, most won’t.
What you do get out of it is a sense of what’s possible. It motivates you, it inspires you to take action.
I don’t believe that some 5-minute read comprised of 7–8–11 steps is going to help anyone become a successful blogger.
But it does inspire a lot of people to take action. Today. That’s the thing. It gets them to sit at their desks and punch those damn keys for a few hours at a time.
So, when you’re reading stories from and about extremely successful bloggers, keep in mind that the most valuable part isn’t in the rules or frameworks or strategies that are being shared, but in letting yourself be inspired to do the work.
So, yeah, all the blogging advice is wrong, because we often don’t know what we did when something’s good.
A lot of the process takes place on a level below our consciousness, so we don’t know what we do, we just know that it works. Until it doesn’t, of course.
Trust that part of your mind, let it guide you. It kind of knows a lot more about the type of content you should share than all the blogging experts combined.
A grain of salt is one of the most useful tools one can have when it comes to reading the advice of others, especially the most successful among us.