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A Glimpse Behind the Scenes of Successful Blogs

Duck FeetAfter my recent post on the pressures of blogging I had some great feedback from PreBloggers (those thinking of starting up) thanking me and those who commented for giving a more realistic view of blogging.

One of the pictures that comes to mind of my own experience of blogging is that it can look to the outsider like blogging is a rather effortless endeavor – like a swan or ducks gliding gracefully across a lake. However under the surface we all know that swans and ducks do anything but glide – they paddle furiously.

My experience of blogging is that it’s anything but a gracious glide – however when I chat to some readers I get the impression that they think I lie in bed in the mornings – quickly write a post over a cup of coffee and a piece of toast – and then don’t look at the blog again until the next day.

So as a service to PreBloggers I thought it might be a worthwhile thing to compile a list of the tasks that bloggers do busily ‘under the surface’ that their readers are not aware of.

Let me kick off the list with a few – but I’d love to hear other suggestions in comments:

  • Posting Posts
  • Researching Posts
  • Moderating Spam Comments
  • Dealing with Comment Trolls
  • Responding to Comments
  • Responding to Emails from Readers
  • Following what others blogs in the niche write
  • Following what mainstream media is writing on the niche
  • Commenting on other blogs
  • Administering Servers
  • Renewing Domain Names
  • Marketing/Branding the blog
  • Chasing up spam blogs stealing content
  • Promoting posts to other relevant bloggers
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Blog Design
  • Monitoring Blog Stats and Metrics
  • Testing monetization strategies
  • Administering payments, banking cheques, invoicing advertisers
  • Networking with other bloggers via IM or email

OK – I got a little carried away and kicked us off with a few more than a few – however I’d love to see what readers add to the list in comments below!

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Deb says:

    It’s great list so don’t sweat the length. I see a couple I need to crank up. I would add occasionally doing a self-check to see if you love your own content (or niche).

  2. I can add that many of us also have to be our own designers and webmasters. I hire out the highly technical stuff back end stuff, but I do most of the template tweaks, image creation and design.

    Fun, but time consuming.

  3. Theda K. says:

    Darren,

    I’m still a “preblogger,” so I have nothing to add to the list (yet). But thanks for letting us know how much goes on behind the scenes. This helps put my growth (the fact that it’s kind of slow) in perspective. I can’t expect to be an overnight success, and even if I am, there’ll be a lot of work that goes into maintaining that success.

    Great list! Now I don’t feel like I’ve been working harder than I should to get my blog off the ground! I may not have been working enough, actually.

  4. People never get to see the posts I throw way. Sometimes you have a great idea for a blog post, you start off all excited and make a note to reward yourself with a double chocolate muffin when you finish. Halfway through your post you realise it’s a non starter or you just can’t get to the crux of the matter.

    You have to walk away and start a new post, it’s not failure it’s being able to detect when you have a bad idea.

    When it happens I reward myself with the double chocolate muffin for having stopped a bad idea going public.

    The point being, not every idea you have should make it to your readers and people never see that.

  5. al says:

    Upgrading blog engine maybe included in administering servers, thats my reason why I use wordpress.com, to avoid maintenance but when new plugin comes up. I change my mind :-)

  6. KCLau says:

    Doing research of other website ordering review

  7. Now please go through each one and describe in detail, step-by-step.

    Just kidding.

    Kind of.

  8. ianternet says:

    “to the outsider like blogging is a rather effortless endeavor”

    this is true, because I did not want to blog about anything I just wanted to create a site let it get traffic focus on other aspect and then after research and reading and testing I found blogging to be very popular among users, because its unique to the reader

  9. Hey, Darren, I’m with you! You actually hit on the same thing I wrote on with my post Don’t Forget to Duck”

    What most people see as effortless success is actually only the “above the waterline” stuff. There’s a world of activities going on below the surface they either don’t know about or choose to ignore.

    But that makes me wonder about Daniel’s Face-Off feature. Your answer was actually much more revealing than most!

    Love the picture! Perfect illustration.

  10. JuliaXxX says:

    Checking Income Earned – Daily
    Checking on (Blog Software updates – applies only to self installed softwares like wordpress or … )
    Checking on Plugins Updates – This is a daily must :) at least for me
    Checking for Duplicate Content – If somebody stole my post :) ( hate that when people don’t ask !

    Thats about it with the stuff you said .

  11. I agree with you Darren. You (and a bunch of other bloggers) inspired me to start blogging. I myself have faced many ups and downs. There are so many people around blogging on diverse topics that it is damn hard to SURVIVE!!

  12. tanya says:

    Here’s one: tweaking the blog – never ending.

    I cannot over emphasize the time it takes to research and write posts. I don’t know about other people, but it would be interesting to see how long most people take to write 1 blog post. Each review I write costs me 1 hour in time.

    My new blog with workout playlists – easily 3 hours to come up with the list of songs, another 1 hour to find a suitable image, compile the playlist on ITunes and write the post. And I try for 2 playlists a week. All with a full time job. I can’t even begin to imagine how people with work and family manage their time.

  13. NGeN says:

    Most of the times it takes more than these steps to make a blog work.
    anyways its fun when you are interested in it. :)

  14. MInTheGap says:

    I find that I spend a whole of time tinkering with the theme and trying new plugins. Researching plugins with potential and actually implementing can soak up a lot of time.

  15. David Hobby says:

    Darren-

    Thank you for posting this. There is, indeed, a lot that happens inside the sausage factory, and I do not think people understand the work involved from the outside.

    To your list I would add: The surprising amount of time I spend “thinking” about what I am doing/going to do/didn’t do WRT Strobist.

    The midshare that a blog commands is formidable.

    -David Hobby

  16. David Hobby says:

    Oops. Brain fart. Above should read “mindshare.” not “midshare.”

  17. Chase Roper says:

    Damn.

    I’m doing about half of that list. I better it into gear. Thanks for this post!

  18. Planning, too. It just takes time to plan ahead and envision where you want to take your blog in the next six months or year, for example. There’s a lot more thinking involved in blogging than people might … think.

    Thanks for starting the list, Darren!

  19. Rebecca says:

    I don’t even do about a quarter of the things you’ve listed (like taking checks to the bank and all that ;)). The rest of it I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to do it more efficiently so that I can spend more time writing and editing posts.

    The biggest time-waster for me is searching the web for someone who has already explained what I want to say or for a picture to illustrate a concept. Nearly every time, that time would have been better spent just sitting at the keyboard getting my thoughts out in an organized manner or taking my own picture.

  20. Rehuel says:

    One important point to keep in mind when being a PreBlogger, is that, unless you have an filthy rich uncle/parent/wife who can support you, you will need do something else on the side to pay the bills.

    As you mentioned in earlier posts, don’t expect reasonable income within the first year. Practice shows that it can take up to 2-3 years to make decent income with your blog. So in the mean time, this list of activities is just the part related to your blog. There is also a (equally long or longer) list of activities that are related to your other income generator.

    And then there’s still factor “spending quality time” with yourself and/or loved ones. So just lying back in bed and expect to become a ProBlogger won’t cut it.

    And it’s your mindset that will determine if you will really make it, because we are what we think (read this in an article about rich getting richer and poor getting poorer, but can’t remember the link).

  21. I echo what Rehuel points out. Maintaining some sort of balance between blogging, the day job and family commitments in addition to giving yourself some quality “goofing off” time is part of the equation as well. Even if you knock of the day job issue if you are lucky enough to be blogging full time the other two issues are important.

  22. JennDZ says:

    That is so ture! I get a lot of flack sometimes for sitting at my computer for endless hours posting and commenting on toher blogs – but that is what we call networking! It is just as important as writing a post – if you don’t make contacts, no one will ever read those posts!

  23. JennDZ says:

    That is so ture! I get a lot of flack sometimes for sitting at my computer for endless hours posting and commenting on other blogs – but that is what we call networking! It is just as important as writing a post – if you don’t make contacts, no one will ever read those posts!

  24. Editing and revising posts. I spend as much time reworking content before it goes live as I do creating my first drafts. But then, I’m an editor.

  25. Lori says:

    I get a alot of slack from my husband about blogging. He thinks I’m just sittin’ here playin’ around or something but most of the hours are researching something..whether it’s what to write my post about or trying to learn some html so my blog will be better. There are so many bloggers that inspire me but I want to have my own ideas and that takes even more dedication.

  26. Matt Wardman says:

    Darren – superb list. I’d make two points:

    1 – The things to focus on are dependent on what stage you are at in blogging. A new blogger does not need to worry about testing monetisation strategies, for example.
    2 – A good way to find out the essential tasks is to read some (say, 25) of the ads on the Problogger jobs board.

    I like the duck/swan analogy. My analogy is that PreBloggers are sitting on the edge of the swimming pool. Pro-Bloggers are swimming around. You swallow a lot of water and take a lot of practice to get from one to the other.

    I wrote a quick response, which has turned itself into a large pillar article, and made me miss my tea: 21 Top Tips for Starting a Successful Blog” here:

    http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/2007/05/23/21-top-tips-for-starting-a-successful-blog-from-matt-wardman/

  27. Dave Zatz says:

    A broader question might be: What IS a *successful* blog?

    As far as my blog goes, it’s a lifestyle and helps feed my career in digital media and consumer electronics. If I’m awake and near a computer (and I almost always am), then I’m “working.” I can’t underemphasize the importance of networking (wetware) in blogging, as in any other career. It’s good to have friends.

  28. Janet says:

    Since I write a food blog, I would also have to add to your list….finding/creating new recipes, cooking the food, deciding which recipes were good enough to post (although sometimes its funny to post a flop), taking photos (hundreds), editing photos, eating the food, and going to the gym to work off all the extra calories!

  29. Katie Baird says:

    Lori & JenDZ, I totally relate!

    When I first started working in web development my kids were little and I had a new husband. I think they were highly suspicious of my time spent at my computer as they personally saw nothing productive resulting.

    Once that business began to turn a profit, I got less ribbing from them, but because it’s so intangible to people who do not spend time online, it just looks like time wasted.

    To the list I would like to add the creation of the art that graces the pages. Creative tools like Photoshop and Illustrator or looking through clip art catalogs are fun activities just like blogging, and can eat up WAAAYYYY too much time. The price of creativity!

  30. Mads says:

    So basically when we look at what serious blogging takes in terms of effort it resembles that of good traditional journalism. Nothing new or innovative under the sun there – just some old virtues put to new life.

  31. Matt Jones says:

    What about using social sites? That probably comes under marketing/branding a blog

  32. Danilo says:

    Very nice post indeed to mention that serious bloggers are not just people that just site around and write for 20 minutes a day.

    First, choosing a platform is really interesting. There are so many to choose from, Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, Blogger… And then, tweaking it, adding functionalities, plug-ins, color, design… It is quite a challenge and this happens even before the first word is typed.

    Of course, content is king but the platform serving it is very important as well.

  33. JuliaxXx says:

    Deleting comments

    Especially from bloggers that followed rules :)

    Am I right Darren ?

  34. The thing that I have noticed as a newbie is the steep learning curve at the beginning. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what is or isn’t working on my blog, mostly technical at the moment. Discovering something on another blog and trying to figure out if it would be worthwhile on mine. Going back to find out why something isn’t linking or working and why.

    So writing posts is a learning curve on its own but at first there is just a lot of trouble shooting and tech stuff to get straight. And just when you think you have something figured out you find out it’s passe or something better is out there.

    Because of all this I am imagining stages of development and right now I am in the figuring out what I’m doing stage and not worrying about how many hits I’m getting…just hoping that if I get to the point where I have readers I will have learned enough to keep them interested.

  35. Andrew Boyd says:

    Darren,

    thanks for the advice. I’d also like to thank Lyndon – I need to remember that the posts that I throw away are as important as the posts that I keep – and that it is OK to throw away lightweight or inconsistent posts.

    And Lori – I hear you – I get a bit of grief from my other half about spending too much time on afterwork work and on my blogs.

    An observation: what I love about this blog as a community is that we don’t have to bring ego into the comments – we know that Darren is one of the greats, so people just talk without pretence. There are other blogs where this happens too – Wendy’s eMoms is one of them. I read a lot of other blogs-on-blogging where this is not the case, and the contrast is pretty noticeable now that I’ve thought about it. Interesting idea for a future post perhaps :)

    Cheers, Andrew

  36. 60 in 3 says:

    Most of my time as a blogger just starting out is spend on reading other people’s blogs. I think of it as both research and advertising, but it easily eats up two to three hours a day.

  37. That’s true; I didn’t know blogging requires this much effort prior to getting involved in a team of my colleagues to start Healthy Life’s’ just for pass time recreation. Where we aim to provide non professional advice for Healthy Life as a social work.

    Being paramedics we thought it would be quite easy for us to keep posting usefull resources related to the theme. But after two weeks, I can realize that we sharply had to follow most of those painful steps.

    Blogging is really time consuming and painful task specially if you are intended to do it for social cause. Even for a professional blogger with the aim to generate some income, I have learnt in these weeks that it is a long way to go (a few years) as one of comment above states too.

    Anyway being a pre-blogger I have learnt those steps and our site Healthy Life’s’ is up now for last three weeks and we want some of you (pro-bloggers) to have a look at and leave a few comments for improvement if have got some time.

  38. Daniel says:

    I think its important for pre-bloggers to realize this doesn’t happen over night. Creating new content is a full time job in itself. Focusing on SEO is part of my daily tasks also. Any free time I do have I spend it researching my niche, which is actually work also. The way I see it blogging is more work than the average 9-5 because it requires you to not only do physical labor, but it requires you to think also.

  39. Karen says:

    Darren, you mean you don’t blog in bed after all?

  40. My observation of successful bloggers is that they are all disciplined bloggers. They do everything you put on your list but stay disciplined and committed to the process, the growth, and creativity of their blog(s) over time. It’s easy enough to blog consistently over 3-6 months but can you maintain that level over 2-5 years? I think, many people drop off from the Pro blogging level because they realize just how much discipline is required over time to get to and stay at the top of your game.

  41. Darren Rowse says:

    Karen – not every day :-)

  42. shaz says:

    My experience of blogging so far has been ok. the links building is definatly the hard side of the job. I enjoy writing posts, i try to write one per day. i used to get worried that id run out of ideas but not after i sat down for about 15 mins the other day and wrote out 4 sides of lined a4 paper all with post titles on, great stuff Darren.

  43. Leon says:

    It’s planning ahead, and finding content that not everyone else has already given the lowdown on, it’s being creative, content is everything. It takes initive and the ability to determine where things are going, and will go.

  44. Sean Kelly says:

    Great list, Darren.
    Though you forgot all the time you spend explaining to normal people what a “blog” is, what “blogging” is, and then trying to gracefully change subjects once you realize their eyes have glazed over.

  45. Zack Kushner says:

    and for those of us who blog for hire;
    don’t forget — dealing with editors / management.
    this takes up a surprisingly large amount of time and is just as important as making your readers happy.

    i would expect this also translates somewhat to dealing with advertisers, but i have no experience there.

    (nice to meet you last night, darren)

  46. Angela says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for a list I can print out to show DH and prove I’m not sitting here on my duff playing with my puter 20/7. ;-)

  47. Trula says:

    This is a very good list Darren. it’s so true, even on the days I don’t post on my blogs or only one one or two of them I still do lots of work behind the scenes. I’ve been casually blogging about this and that for 5 years but only recently decided to focus and set my blog(s) to particular topics and get them functioning as monetized web resources.

    On the commenting on other people’s blogs…how do you all do it? I hate to do ‘drive-by’ postings but otherwise I get caught up reading other blogs and spend hours commenting when I need to be working on my own blogs or off-line projects. and what about frequency, should I be commenting daily or has anybody found twice a week to be beneficial.

  48. Jeff Barson says:

    It’s all in the archives. You’re going to have to put up 200 posts before you find a voice and get enough pages that your snowball starts to grow.

  49. Here’s something you can add to the list that can be really draining and seriously lacking the fun: posting about things you don’t want to. My blog is about TV & Film news so I have to write about American Idol, especially with the finale being tonight, so I *have* to write about it. I *have* to watch it…

    I *hate* this show. The post about the winner tonight drained the fun out of me more than anything else does related to blogging.

  50. Buensancho says:

    Also reviewing plans for tomorrow’s work and warm up (again) that coffee… where did I put it?…

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