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The “On Fire” Blogging Success Formula [Case Study]

This guest post is by Stephen Guise of Deep Existence.

It was July, 2011. My personal development blog, Deep Existence, was flying high. Every new post I published would get at least 20-30 comments and a good number of social shares. Not world-class blogger numbers, but pretty good for a young blog (five months) and with solid forward momentum.

Later that month, a spider bit me, and a chain of health problems ensued. I also got a full-time job. Between the two distractions, Deep Existence wound up being mostly ignored for the next seven months.

When I was ready to jump back in, I figured I just needed to post consistently again to reignite the community.

Wrong. So wrong.

No matter how fantastic I thought a post was or how many hours I spent researching and crafting it, the response to my blog was tepid at best—not even close to the “good old days.”

Even when I revamped the site to be more attractive (including a pricey new logo), and initiated a consistent one-post-per-week schedule, it didn’t matter. Finally, I understood why.

Quality can’t fend for itself

If anyone tells you that great content attracts readers, they’re fibbing. There is false information out there that says if your content is good enough, people will come.

I will dispel that myth with a simple, hypothetical example. Let’s compare ProBlogger to Papa Joe’s blog.

  • ProBlogger: Thousands of people are visiting, sharing articles, and commenting every day.
  • Papa Joe’s blog: A few dozen people per day find his articles, and notice that they are not commented on or shared.

Now imagine if exactly the same, high quality article was posted on these two sites. The ProBlogger article would go viral. Papa Joe’s article might be tweeted once (by him).

And what if the next 300 articles were duplicated in the same way on both blogs over the next year? The results would stay mostly the same. Papa Joe would be ignored as ProBlogger soared.

The difference is that ProBlogger is sensitive to quality (a good thing) because this blog has high exposure and a favorable perception. But Papa Joe’s article quality doesn’t matter much. Visitors don’t know who Papa Joe is and he sure doesn’t seem popular, so his content will get an unfair docking. And yet, his articles are amazing. Poor Papa.

The blogging success formula

My blog fell from success to failure, and then I failed to return it to success. Through this process, I discovered the false belief that continues to circle in the blogosphere today: that quality content is good enough.

Even if you have a decent number of readers, it’s not enough.

There’s a reason this article isn’t on my blog. I am Papa Joe right now. The quality of my content has remained high, but people forgot I existed when I took a lengthy leave of absence. This is fascinating, considering that by then I had more subscribers and traffic than ever before.

In hindsight, I noticed something interesting about how my blog became popular the first time. The response to my articles was directly related to my activity outside my blog. And as I gained greater exposure, the perception of Deep Existence changed for the better, and people began to give my content a fair chance (and they liked it).

The perception shift was critical, but it grew rather methodically with my consistent exposure—just like a fire as it’s just getting started. But before too long, the flames were building upon themselves. So even when I stopped seeking exposure, the fire was strong enough to be sustained by quality articles.

But a fire without fuel dies, as did mine.

I stopped writing, and the fire faded lower and lower until Deep Existence was just a firepit of cold ashes. Months later, I began to add firewood—quality content—to the cold ash pit, but there was no flame to consume it. I needed a spark.

So here I am, striking the flint once again. Does anyone have a lighter?

  1. Use sparks of blog exposure to…
  2. Ignite the flames of improved perception.
  3. Build firewood made of quality content to keep your blog on fire!

Has this formula of blogging success matched your experience?

Stephen Guise exists in real life and on twitter. He is now a doubleblogger™ at Deep Existence – Personal Development’s Deep End and Irrational Humor – Moderately Good Website. Stephen speaks in 3rd person fluently.

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Comments

  1. Monisima says:

    I think you bring up a very important point. Good content is not enough. Marketing effort has to equal content effort, or nothing will happen at all. Thank you for sharing and lending me this perspective on blogging:)

    • Hi Monisima!

      I would say in the beginning stages of a blog, the marketing effort should actually exceed the content effort – maybe 80/20. Of course, this is assuming you have enough “bedrock” content and pillar articles. But you’d do just fine with a 50/50 split. Most people go 90% content and less than 10% marketing, because they want to write – not market themselves! This was me for sure, but I’ve learned that in the end, I would like more people to see my writing, so I mustn’t hide from the world.

      Thanks for your thoughts, Monisima.

  2. Ben Norman says:

    What really starts to hurt is when you find popular blogs posting less than fantastic content and it’s still getting thousands of views, retweets etc.

    30 comments after 5 months seems like great numbers to me, if you can do it once I see no reason why you can’t again. Good luck!

    • david says:

      Hi Ben, I have noticed this too. This fact seems to validate that content is not the main necessary ingredient. I think it is like fame, some people have it, but there are others without that could be equally talented.

      It’s an interesting phenomenon that I don’t quite understand.

  3. Joy D. says:

    This is such a fascinating article as I stepped away from blogging to finish two degrees and continue my full time job. Now I am back with more energy but less interest. I was just mulling over what made my other blog, 2 years ago more successful and you hit HEAD ON!

    You are not alone in this and I wish you the best of luck!

  4. I agree with you Monisima. :)

  5. Ocha Nix says:

    Stephen, This is quite interesting. It reminds me of the thought that if a tree in the desert falls and nobody is around, does it make a sound. We all know it sends out sound waves but there has to be a receiving body to hear it. If we are to cut down trees or write blog posts, we have to be sure we have them fall in populated areas in order for the wood to burst into flames.

  6. Kevin says:

    I know your pain. I’ve put out a few posts that I thought were masterpieces only to find that nobody cared. When I started up my personal blog I started doing things to get traffic to my blog, and now I have more comments than ever and more traffic as well.

    What types of things are you doing to get your blog up and running (was this blog post one of them)?

    • Kevin, that is my worst experience with blogging so far – pouring everything I have into a post only to see it go unnoticed. As you suspected, this guest post is definitely the type of thing I do to get the blog back going strong. It’s how I grew it initially.

  7. david says:

    Hi Stephen, great writing style. I like it. I am super interested to find out if you can still reignite your blog and how that will go for you.

    I believe you are correct when you say quality content is not enough. There are too many people spreading and believing in that rumor and as you said, it is not true.

    And this is not just an online thing. Think about how many quality but unknown bands you have heard. They will never get popular of famous but a really famous one may not have the musical skills that the unknown one has. It is very interesting and it exists both offline and online.

    Thanks for this post Stephen, good luck with your blog

    • David, thank you for your kind words. Isn’t it amazing how the world operates? Kim Kardashian has done nothing important, and yet she is famous, while the guy who invented a groundbreaking piece of technology is unknown. With each passing day, it seems like marketing runs the world. There’s a lot of competition for people’s attention these days, and it’s possible for the very best to go unnoticed.

  8. Anastasia says:

    I wonder what the blog exposure would be. Any advice on that?

    • Guest posting like I just did, commenting like you just did, posting on relevant forums with your website in your signature. Generally, it’s sharing something valuable in another location with more eyes. The traffic that comes from this strategy is quality traffic, because the reason for their visit to your website is an interest in you and what you have to say.

      My blog’s initial rise to popularity was purely through guest posting.

      • Cheryl says:

        To be truthful, lately I have been so focused on content and developing my writing style that the idea of guest posting fell by the wayside. However today will be my first guest post and though it is not a big blog, it is bigger than my own. Thanks for the inspiration, it will be of great importance in the coming month!

  9. Ehsan says:

    Really interesting formula, I like your point on this post.
    Thanks for the great post.

  10. Amrit Hallan says:

    Hello Stephen. A very sincere, straightforward blog post and I am sure every semi successful blogger will relate to it. You’re right: the mere fact that you publish quality content doesn’t mean your blog is going to succeed. This is where content marketing comes in. And marketing doesn’t just mean spending money on advertising, it means spreading your influence by constantly (“constantly” is the keyword here) interacting on other forums and blogs, including social networking websites. It means making contacts and maintaining them. And as you have rightfully done, publish your content on other known blogs (you have written for Problogger). And now I’m heading to your blog to leave a comment :-)

  11. Pat Thomas says:

    Great info for a new blogger but old writer.

  12. Allen says:

    Thanks for the post,

    Another way I get free traffic to my sites is by joining peoples Blogger Blog’s. all you have to do is Google: .blogspot.com and you will see a ton of them, just join as many as you can and people will click on your little picture. I’m getting most of my traffic from http://iendorse.blogspot.com right now. Not sure if this is very “ethical” but it works!

  13. Chirag says:

    Agreed.. But one should update regularly to hold on readers!
    Keep them in loop and write what they want to read.

    Interesting article, thanks for sharing..

  14. Dave says:

    Although I can’t say I’m attracting anywhere close to 20 comments per post, I would say that I’m definitely on my way with a somewhat similar approach. My “offline” interaction has truly been offline, working the local art shows and similar events. Hopefully it will translate to more exposure. My blog is just shy of two months old now, and it’s gaining in popularity, just not quite at the speed I was hoping. I’ll keep plugging away though.

    • I like your idea of “offline” interaction. I’ve been thinking of this as a great way to personalize marketing. If people can meet you, then you’re not just “another website.”

  15. pcl says:

    Great info for a new blogger but old writer.

  16. Dana Wilson says:

    Thanks for giving us the suggested breakdown on marketing vs. writing. It is quite time-consuming to build active readership when beginnining a blog, especially for a solopreneur wearing many hats.

  17. As much as I hate to admit it, you’re right: great blog posts, by themselves, don’t bring in readers.

    And when you work hard to write posts worth reading, you want readers.

    I’ve noticed, since I’ve started leaving regular, thoughtful comments on other people’s blogs, more people are visiting mine. It’s mutually beneficial.

  18. Lisa says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Beginner bloggers are constantly told that content is king but nobody ever shares that marketing and traffic are your lifeline.

  19. I have heard that “if you build it they will come” isn’t true. And that has been my experience as well. I’ve been blogging at homemakersdaily for a year now and I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I work really hard at writing quality articles that speak to the needs of my target audience. I don’t share anything that I don’t know is correct. I don’t provide any recipe I haven’t made. I try really, really hard to never write articles that leave the reader saying: “Wow. That was a waste of my time.” But after all that effort, my numbers did not go up like I expected.

    About six months ago I started working hard at the social network part of it. I try to spend time every day devoting myself to facebook, twitter, and commenting, and I’m in the process of learning how to use google plus. My daily plan is to spend time learning, maintaining my site, writing and commenting.

    I really just want to write but it doesn’t work that way. I had no idea when I started that there was going to be so much extra stuff I had to do.

    Thanks for the article. You’re absolutely right. And good luck getting your site back up to speed.