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Teach, or Your Blog Will Die

This guest post is by Martyn Chamberlin of Two Hour Blogger.

What separates your blog from thousands of others in your niche? What are you doing that’s different? Why would people prefer your blog over others?

Like most writers, that question may make you freeze for a minute. You can feel your insides going numb. Your face starts turning green.

What’s different about you? Man. You can’t think of anything right off the bat. You’ve lived with yourself for a long time, and you’re used to it. You can’t imagine what makes you different from everyone else. You’re just an average guy.

After thinking for a bit, you come up with this answer:

The only thing that distinguishes you from everyone else is your personality. It’s your most valuable asset. There’s nobody else quite like you. If you write with personality, people will listen to what you have to say.

This makes sense. You begin feeling better. All you have to do is relax and be you, and everything will be okay.

But there’s a problem: nobody cares about who you are.

Everybody’s unique

There are millions of bloggers, and every one of them has a personality. Sure, your personality will separate you from other people, but that’s not enough. Everybody’s unique. So if you want people to read your blog, you’re going to have to have more than just personality.

This is a huge blow to the ego. It’s very hard to accept. By nature, you imagine that people value what you have to say. You’re more important than they are, and they recognize that.

I see this happen all the time in the visual arts. An amateur artist thinks their self-taught, self-expressive painting is every bit the masterpiece of a Rembrandt or Bierstadt. The artist refuses to study formal technique because he or she is afraid it’ll ruin his or her “touch”—the artistic personality.

Teach, or die

There’s one thing your blog can’t live without. And that’s teaching.

Nobody cares who you are, but they love to surf the Internet and learn things. If you’re giving away useful content that creates value for others, they’ll start showing interest in you.

People care about you in as much as you help them.

It’s tough to learn, but it’s true. People have the same ego problem you have. Learn to harness that, and you’ll start getting attention. The main purpose of blogging is to give your audience information they didn’t know. If your blog doesn’t teach, it won’t survive.

  • Decide what your blog is all about.
  • Choose very specific topics within that niche
  • Write thorough, two-hour posts that explore these topics, one at a time.
  • Publish consistently. Don’t publish something unless it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. This means you’ll either be deleting a lot of drafts, or you’ll be spending entire days revising your content.

As you do this, don’t worry about how you come across to others. Don’t put on a front. Just teach. And teach with passion. If you have a personality, it’ll start showing naturally.

Picture that starving artist. After a few years’ frustration, he or she decides they need formal training after all. They take workshops from today’s masters. Eventually, their technique improves and they paint professionally. Does the artist still have a unique, personal style? Sure. But this time, it’s professional.

True, some of the artist’s original “touch” is gone. But looking back, he or she realizes that they’ve mistaken “touch” for awkward unprofessionalism. Now, the artist’s glad he or she lost that touch. It was horrible.

If your blog is going to live, you’re going to have to teach. If all you ever do is be personable, it’s going to die. Teach or die. It’s your choice. Your blog can live without you, but it can’t live without teaching.

Do you teach on your blog? How important is learning for your readers?

Martyn Chamberlin is an entrepreneur who blogs about copywriting and digital marketing at Two Hour Blogger. You can catch more on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. Tremendous advice! This is something I’ve said for a long time now. All you have to do is think about which blogs you read and enjoy. It’s always the ones you can learn from. With that in mind, it should be obvious that if you want people to follow your blog, you need to teach them.

    You blog is a product. Plain and simple. If a product isn’t useful, you wouldn’t buy it, right? Therefore, you NEED to make your blog useful. Teaching people is the best way of doing this.

  2. Dan Perez says:

    Martyn,
    Not sure that I’m buying your doom & gloom approach to blogging. I agree that people don’t care who you are, they want either to learn something OR to be entertained. If you really think people are searching the internet only to learn something, you might want to check some of the absurd youtube videos that have several million views. People are looking for pastimes. There are many successful blogs that teach nothing at all but whose content will hold your attention, make you laugh, or even cry.

    Moreover, your starving artist observation is laughable. There is a difference between someone who is truly a great artist and one who thinks he is. There is also a difference between the good artist who can effectively market/promote himself and the great artist who has no idea. No amount of professional art instruction is gonna change that. James Cameron, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and many others never went to film school so nuff said on that, yes?

    And that’s the problem with “blogging” today. It’s not about letting your gift for expressing yourself on paper, it’s about SEO, buzzwords, attention-grabbing titles…and rules. So many rules. Do this, don’t do that. That’s the reason why there are so many lame blogs out there saying (or teaching) the same dang thing – everybody’s following the rules, they’re afraid to color outside the lines. We want advertising banners on our blogs and we want to make a living blogging and we want to be able to proudly post our feedburner subscriber counts on our blogs. Maybe somebody should just come out and say that only a teeny-weeny percentage of bloggers end up making money on their blogs and even fewer still actually make a living blogging. But why spoil all the fun?

    Nice try.

    • Darren Rowse says:

      thanks for the comment Dan. I agree with some of what you say – the ‘teach or die’ approach isn’t for everyone in my opinion. People do go online for so much more than learning.

      Some go on to be entertained, others to find belonging/community, others to keep up with the latest news and trends etc.

      I also agree on the ‘rules’ front – I think many people ‘teach’ blogging as a blueprint or a set of rules/systems that you just need to follow to succeed. The reality is that many blogs that ‘make it’ stand out in some way and forge their own direction whether that be in a distinct author’s voice, a new take on an old topic etc. There’s some kind of ‘mojo’ that many successful bloggers have that it’s very hard to teach people.

      In terms of how many make money blogging – you’re spot on again. Most don’t make anything or only make enough for a coffee a day (or week). We’ve done numerous polls here on ProBlogger that show that and I think people starting out need to have that emphasized (I’ve tried to do that many times on ProBlogger with ‘reality check’ type posts.

      Thanks for bringing some balance and insights to this discussion.

    • Hey Dan,

      Thanks for disagreeing! I’ll never grow if everyone just praises me. :)

      It’s true, a lot of people just want a good laugh, and go online to find it. But you don’t want them to be your audience, because they won’t buy anything. Don’t forget Johnny Truant!

      I’ve actually been painting in oils for 4 years. I’ve sold over 25 originals, and I gotta tell you, it takes two steps to succeed. First, you have to be a great artist, and second, you have to be a great marketer. Many a painting has lost a competition because the artist was self-taught and lacked vital knowledge that’s only aquired with professional instruction. But I agree with you, a horrible painter that understands marketing often does better than a genius artist who can’t market. That’s sad to see in a way.

      You’re right, professional blogging has a lot of rules. If you’re going to be a professional writer, you have to follow the marketing guidelines that have been around since Aristotle. The good thing about blogging is, you don’t have to follow the rules if you don’t feel like it. Of course, don’t complain if nobody reads your stuff. :-)

      • Dan Perez says:

        Young Mr. Chamberlin,
        It’s funny how you talk about “rules” and “guidelines” – this coming from a painter, no less; someone who calls himself an artist (I can hear Picasso rolling over in his grave). For every painting that has lost a competition because the artist was self-taught, there is another painting by a self-taught artist that wiped the floor with the competition. The same rule applies to blogs that follow all the rules and still don’t get any readers, yes? You really can’t be that naive, can you? I’d hope not.

        As for “marketing guidelines that have been around since Aristotle”, I’m gonna just leave that one alone and chalk it up to the fact that you’ve probably only been around the block once (maybe twice) and have developed your sense of marketing wisdom from the blogs of today (a large percentage of which publish nonsense).

        I will agree with your last statement: “The good thing about blogging is, you don’t have to follow the rules if you don’t feel like it.” Thank God for that.

        • As a former film school graduate I’d have to agree that so many rules and guidelines for how things should be done feels restrictive – often I thought I’d been much better off if I hadn’t gone, that I would have been more creative. Though, admittedly some rules existed for a reason – rule of thirds for better composition, editing on movement to hide the cuts and so on. As it turns out it doesn’t really matter now because I’ve basically given up on that career and moved on to other things. With blogging some rules are there for the same reason – to help you come up with something that looks good – but there others that should be respectively ignored in order to maintain your creativity. Often it’s better to know nothing, other than what’s really important, and just feel your way through the rest.

    • Danny Brown says:

      Dan,

      While I agree with many of your points, I’d strongly disagree with this point:

      “And that’s the problem with “blogging” today. It’s not about letting your gift for expressing yourself on paper, it’s about SEO, buzzwords, attention-grabbing titles…and rules. So many rules.”

      Sure, there are bloggers that justa care about the above. But then there are many more that don’t give a crap about how to work SEO, or game Google, or learn headline copywriting.

      To these people, it’s all about the pureness of sharing ideas and thoughts and encouraging further discussion in the comments.

      And that’s the great thing about blogging (or anything online). You don’t need to read anything you don’t want – you can vote with your eyeballs.

      Read the blogs you want to read and stop complaining about the blogs others want to read. Everyone has a different audience. What might be crap for you might be gold for someone else, and vice versa. Which, at the end of the day, is all that really matters, no?

      • Dan Perez says:

        So, Mr. Brown, where are the blog posts that illustrate that you should just share the pureness of your ideas? How you should not give a crap about SEO? Funny, how I never come across those types of posts. It’s posts like these that I see daily. Posts that tell you how you should blog and what you should blog about…or die(!).

        These types of posts are the ones that confuse the hell out of those people who decide to start a blog. Gives them all these silly rules instead of just encouraging them to express themselves; to be proud of what they’ve written. Let’s talk more about finding an audience for your blog then about how to write one.

        As for “complaining about the blogs others want to read”, I find that a little surprising coming from you as I’ve seen you do that yourself many times (PVSM?). Perhaps, you’ve suddenly had a change of heart? Well, the way I see it, that’s another great thing about social media – if I want to call out a post for being weak, then I can do so. If one can’t take criticism, maybe one shouldn’t blog, yes?

        Still love you :)

        • Danny Brown says:

          Hey there Dan,

          I don’t have an exhaustive list (I leave that to the A-listers that know every inch of the Internet) ;-)

          But three of the blogs I read that clearly just write for their passion include:

          http://princesstweep.com/

          http://justkickinit.ca

          http://littleblogofhappiness.blogspot.com/

          There aren’t a lot of examples on these blogs where the writer cares a jot about SEO, but just writes for the hell of it.

          I definitely haven’t had any change of heart, but I’d rather put more focus on promoting the stuff I like as opposed to coming down on stuff I dislike. Most of the blogs that are crud won’t change, because the author is too vain. So I’d rather promote the new and up-and-coming, and if enough do this, we might just swing the pendulum.

          Still rather fond of you too. ;-)

      • Funny, Danny. Regardless of what kind of blog you have, learning headline copy never did anybody any harm, and failing to do so has often resulted in posts with absolute dynamite content with horrible Twitter CTR because the headline copy fails, resulting in like, zero attention.

        In other words, if you’re a blogger, I think you should need to know how to write headlines.

        Unless you don’t want anybody to read your blog.

        Make sense?

        • Danny Brown says:

          Makes perfect sense, mate. But at the same time, not every blogger is on Twitter. Not every blogger cares about headlines and social sharing. Many just blog as a release valve and don’t really care how many people see their content.

          Headlines are great if you want to be a great headline writer; but too many bloggers spend too long working up a great headline, and then the content fails to live up to the premise. And that’s way more “dangerous” to a blogger than not having a scene-stealing headline. ;-)

          • Danny, if a blogger doesn’t care if anybody reads his blog or not … what’s he doing reading Problogger? :)

            Well, you certainly have to deliver the goods in the body. I absolutely agree on that. But don’t forget, back in David Ogilvy’s day, 80% of readers didn’t get past the headline. Now with the Internet, that statistic is probably even worse. Good content deserves a good headline. That can’t be stressed too much.

  3. Great article. Agree with you. People like to learn the things from the expert.

  4. I would really like to know what Darren Rowse thinks of Ryan Deiss’s decision that “blogging is dead!”

    What do you think?! I would really like to know from one of the most admirable and money-making bloggers out there.

  5. jezza101 says:

    I found the opening question about “what makes you different” interesting.

    When I look at Martyn’s blog I find the same old posts about writing headlines, landing pages, the often repeated and somewhat meaningless cliches of “knowing your audience” and “having something to say”. I’m not trying to be a Smart Alec, I just want to make the point that there are so many blogs that teach the same thing. Over and over and over again.

    Is this really what makes them different? So I’m not sure the post really answers the question.

    I know it’s a taboo topic on blogs that encourage blogging but is it the case that once you pass a certain level of quality it doesn’t really matter if you are different or not and actually your ability to market, and in many cases just doing it first, are what really count?

  6. I do teach on my blog, but it is somewhat disguised. I see it more as empowerment. Awakening my readers to the possibilities they have within their reach to make positive change to their life.
    I do agree that many read blogs for different reasons, but looking for change, looking for something to make a difference in their lives is one of those reasons.
    great post!
    Bernice
    Figuring out the latest Facebook changes

  7. I’m not sure about ‘teaching’ so much as informing – the vast majority of blogs do that at the very least.

    I will take issue with the bullet points in your piece however – while i accept that the money-making blogs have to follow this strategy, niche blogging is certainly not for everyone, and I supect that it would put off a lot of people if they felt that was their only route to success. Personally, my blog while having a general theme isn’t afraid to stray into other areas from time to time, but then I’m not in this game to make money, I simply wanted to have a creative outlet for my writing and photography…

  8. gneesham says:

    Its true that teaching will attract more users to your blog. I will use a resource again and again, if I find useful information on it. The downside is that your giving information away for free. I think its best to find a happy medium. Matt Cutt’s blog will sometimes talk about technical aspects of his job while at other times his posts are much more to do with his day to day life and personality. I think you have to have both for a blog to be interesting.

  9. Great blog and very valuable.

    Even when you think you have something to say and communicate it is a valuable lesson that there must be something to learn and to teach others.

    I also think that getting a conversation going about a blog is valuable so your potential classroom adds value as well.

  10. Nico Julius says:

    I’m not sure if there are rules to describe how to make a successful blog. Yes, there are some guidelines, but it all depends from so much factors. In my case, it’s all about trial and error: I try something and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I try to understand why one article has a lot of readers, and another one has not. I try to learn from that, and then I try again.

    I think you have to give some value to your readers. But what is value? If you’re looking for fun, then a funny video can be value. If you want to learn about blogging, then this site has value for you.

    It is a fact that there are a lot of articles of bloggers who tell how to make money and so on. I can honestly say I don’t make money of my blogs directly. But thanks to one of my blogs, I sell more websites. And in a couple of weeks, I’m going to give a training session about WordPress for a company, also thanks to one of my blogs. So I’m a happy man :-).

    But making money isn’t my first priority. I like to share my experiences about building websites, and blogging is an easy way to share those experiences. If I should do it for the money… well then I should better make some more websites for others :-). But blogging is a hobby and I love it!

  11. Elton Sites says:

    Post lessons and tips in your blog. Post How-to’s and more and more people will come and visit your blog to read those posts. This is what we all, the more you help, the more you will be blessed.

  12. Chana says:

    Martyn–

    There were a lot of problematic things with your post, but let’s look at the parts that bugged me the most:

    “Like most writers, that question may make you freeze for a minute. You can feel your insides going numb. Your face starts turning green.”

    Okay–you’ve lost me already with this paragraph. Because you’re assuming that your reader is a.) an idiot who has no ready answer to the question “what makes my blog different,” and b.) is a person whose insides turn numb when faced with this question. The only things that make my guts freeze are G-d forbid a family member in an accident or something equally terrible. It’s insulting that you think I–your reader–am that much of an airhead.

    “What’s different about you? Man. You can’t think of anything right off the bat. You’ve lived with yourself for a long time, and you’re used to it. You can’t imagine what makes you different from everyone else. You’re just an average guy.”

    Thanks for the vote of confidence. Is it possible that your reader DOES know why s/he’s different from others?

    “After thinking for a bit, you come up with this answer:

    The only thing that distinguishes you from everyone else is your personality.”

    ARE YOU FOR REAL? If you really think that, then man, your blog is in trouble.

    Please consider the fact that there are a lot of people in this world who have interesting things to say, who have a lot of depth, and who might possibly be repelled by your hyperbolic, insulting, un-nuanced posting style.

    Just sayin’.

  13. Marcie says:

    I think teaching is going to take my blog to new heights. Right now, I share resources on select topics on the South Side of Chicago, but I’m going to expand the information this year.

  14. zammax says:

    Interesting, I totally agree with you.. I think by teaching we learn more lessons because we have to search for and get enough information before providing it to the readers..

  15. darkduck says:

    What is about “learn and teach”? I run my blog as a learning curve in the area which is more or less Terra Incognita for me. So, will I have any success in there?

  16. Hi Martyn,

    Fantastic advice. So true, people are always searching for ways to do different things. Learning is an ongoing process.

    That explains why the “How-to” posts are so popular. I use them a lot and they attract a lot of traffic, comments and shares.

    Thanks for sharing, Martyn.

    All the best,
    Mavis

  17. Kyle Logue says:

    It’s always funny to hear people asking me what my product is on my blog. The product is the blog. I’m using it to attract visitors and to teach! Great article!

  18. Teaching gives your blog creditability and build more Interest witch in turn can mean more sales

  19. Al says:

    It’s so true!!!

    When I started my kinda fashion & beauty blog 3 months ago I was just posting things I liked, photos and my own drawings and sketches. I still didn’t know which path my blog should have taken and that reflected on my content (and the number of visitors)

    Now I started to really talk about what I like: I accompany my drawings with beauty tips, reviews, styling advices and shopping choices… And I really see the difference!! I enjoy it much more, but what is most important is that also my readers do!!

    Now that I read this post I’ll surely keep on this path! Thanks for sharing your insights with us!!

    Al

    -The Red Dot-

  20. Martyn, where is the boundary between giving engaging and interesting content and dull lecturing? I am asking because I have been a professor, instructor and consultant for some 30 plus years. I found that the art is in connecting with what matters to your audience, almost like topic bridging, but it goes deeper. I think you are saying that if you are genuinely sharing and teaching about what is close to your heart, you will attract your audience to you .. Somewhat the opposite or mirror image of niche marketing. Be your niche first.

  21. Dota Be says:

    Agree, have or haven’t blog we must teach!, i’m newbie in making money at blogging. Thanks for the tips

  22. Mightee says:

    Great article. Agree with you. People like to learn the things from the expert… :)

  23. Buck Inspire says:

    Enjoyed your article. Didn’t realize it was such a controversial topic. But isn’t that also one of the “rules”? Be controversial? Not sure if this was your intent off the bat, but it sure turned out that way. Pleasant surprise or was this all planned? :)

  24. Jerrick Yeoh says:

    That true that mostly people use blog to teach others and providing solution to certain issues. Even you provide issues and no solution , people also will not interest to study more about your blog. Before you teach , make sure that you are professional enough, expert enough, confidence that you able to help others to solve it.
    But able to solve doesn’t mean you able to teach. Teach someone need to be step by step, need to be know the problem well, need to have an accurate methods to solve the issue.