Monkey Abroad

A blog about living in China and eating Chinese food. Videos, stories, photos, advice, and teaching ESL.

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The Dirty Truth About Blogging

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As a blogger you’ve gotta ask yourself: Who’s actually reading my work? Arguably the most rewarding aspect of blogging is building an audience. I mean, unless others are reading your blog, then it’s just an online diary (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But assuming you want to build an audience, what does it take?

“Successful” blogging: the dirty truth

Okay, success is a relative term. Some bloggers have tens of thousands of followers and make a full-time living from their blogs. For these folks, anything short of “success” means financial struggle. Others blog solely for fun, as a hobby. These carefree types are happy writing all day long whether they have an audience or not.

For the sake of this article, I’ll equate a “successful” blogger as one with a large audience whose blog provides them with a decent income.

The not-so-obvious truth about blogging is that, while the internet is a public sphere, it’s outrageously difficult to become a public figure. You can publish jaw-dropping articles, videos and photos every day, but the fact is, they won’t ever be seen unless you know how to build an audience.

Imagine that you’re the greatest artist in the world. You paint stunningly beautiful landscapes and portraits, but keep all of your paintings locked up in your garage. Obviously, you’ll never get discovered if you keep your work hidden. Posting an article online and hoping for an audience to magically appear is equal to painting in your garage and hoping for a renowned art critic to break into your home. The odds are about the same that you’ll get “discovered.”

Good writers are a dime-a-dozen, but what separates talented bloggers from “successful” bloggers isn’t talent, creativity or juicy content. It’s marketing, research and networking. If you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing. So how do you build your blog’s audience effectively for free?

In today’s hyper-competitive, media-driven society, a successful blogger is an excellent networker. If you’re the most authentic, captivating writer on the planet, but don’t network correctly, your only audience will be your family and a few close friends.

On the flip side, if you’re a great networker and marketer, but your writing sucks, word will just spread faster that your writing is garbage. No doubt, a successful blogger must first be an adept story-teller, writer, photographer or videographer, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Bangkok flower

Networking: the dirty truth

Gaining an audience is all about networking. But before you can network, you’ve got to do a ton of research. Find the most successful bloggers out there and you’ll see that they’re tightly knit with all the other top bloggers in their niche. They feed off of each other’s success.

For example: I’m writing a blog about life in Thailand. How do I get a huge flood of readers to come to my blog? Ironically, to get more readers, I need to stop writing and start networking with the people who have the biggest blogs about life in Thailand.

Once I make friends with said bloggers, they’ll hopefully suggest my website to their tens of thousands of followers and a wave of referral traffic will hit my blog. Just like that, my website has received more traffic in one day than it’s received all year. The best part: All of those thousands of referred readers are already interested in my niche, so if I’m lucky, they’ll subscribe and stay tuned for more.

It sounds easy, but unless you’ve got a blog worth sharing, you won’t receive any love from the big dogs.

How do I network with other bloggers?

Networking isn’t easy. You can’t just click around the web trying to find coattails to grab onto. Spend time reading, watching and listening to successful bloggers in your niche. Read until your eyes hurt, listen until your ears bleed and watch videos until your eyes fall out of their sockets. You can’t spell network without work!

The best way to network with other bloggers is to leave insightful, thought-provoking comments in the blogs that strike a chord with you. Scroll down to the comments section and say something clever. Whatever you do, don’t just leave the shallow “Great post!” comment with a link-back to your blog. That’s a big turnoff. Say something so outrageously head-turning that the author of that blog has no choice but to contact you.

Admittedly, if you’re anything like me, you would rather produce content than read/watch it. The dirty truth about blogging is that, in order to build an audience, most of your initial energy should be focused on other people’s blogs, not your own.

I’m a very competitive person. When I started blogging, I perceived successful bloggers in my niche as competitors. Don’t make that mistake. If you want to build an audience, you’ve got to understand that bloggers are your best friends.

Ask yourself: What exactly is the purpose of my blog? To make this easy, I’ll break all blogs into two categories: personal & business. If you have aspirations to grow your audience and even produce an income, you need to know the difference between the two.

Personal blogging: the dirty truth

Anybody can write a personal blog. The web is saturated with them. Some of these blogs are crafted with beautifully written prose, edited carefully and published purposefully. But ultimately, most personal blogs bring in very few readers beyond family and close friends.

A majority of personal bloggers are fly by nights. They write once, maybe a few times, then give up once they realize that nobody cares to read their work. This isn’t the way to build an audience.

It’s possible to become a “successful” personal blogger, but you’ve got better odds dethroning Justin Bieber as the king of kiddy pop. All I’m saying is, don’t expect to have a decent following if you’re a personal blogger, unless you’re already a celebrity. In that case, the masses will follow your verbal vomit no matter what, e.g. Twitter.

Business blogging: the dirty truth

While most business blogs lack the personality and flare of personal blogs, they have what 99.9% of personal blogs lack: value. In other words, they have something to offer to the reader. These blogs have far more potential to build a large audience than the personal variety. As a result, it’s possible to make money with a business blog.

Search Google for anything you’re passionate about. Chances are, you’re going to click on a value-driven business blog or website that’s producing ad revenue. Google sifts through the web’s “crap” and places value-driven articles at the top of the search results based on monetary factors (marketing), page rank and domain authority. Basically, Google can tell what’s valuable to readers and what isn’t.

Creating value is the most important thing to a business blogger, but value isn’t easy to produce. In the case of a business travel blogger, it requires travel, research, knowledge and editorial skill. For example:

Valuable: A travel blogger writing a detailed hotel review that also lists the top restaurants in the area with detailed menu suggestions.

Not valuable: A travel blogger writing about their wild night in Bangkok. They’re just sharing a hilarious story, which is great, but it leaves the reader asking: what’s in it for me?

Is Monkey Abroad a business blog or a personal blog?

monkey abroad

Well, it’s both.

When I started Monkey Abroad, I received a ton of positive feedback from my family and friends telling me how much they enjoyed my writing, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted to reach people beyond my personal sphere. To accomplish that goal, I realized that I needed to change the direction of my blog from personal to business.

So I networked a bit, marketed and worked on my site’s SEO. In other words, I worked on all the shit behind the curtain of my site. Alongside those audience-building strategies, I changed my writing to be more reader-focused. Consequently, I built a reasonable audience beyond my family, friends and neighbors.

My goal is to build my audience, but I recognize that the world of blogging for business is frighteningly labor-intensive. I’ll hopefully continue gaining readers by producing more value-driven content, but I want to have fun while I do it.

Every blogger’s dream is to grow their audience simply by producing great content, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. That’s the dirty truth about blogging. Building an audience is not about pleasure and creative expression. It’s about hard work and dedication behind the scenes. Once you’ve built an audience, it’s a whole different story.

The dirty truth about blogging

The purpose of this article is to lift a veil and show you what goes on behind the scenes of a blog. Building an audience isn’t easy, but if you’re like me and you want more eyes to see your blog, you’ve gotta be willing to do a lot of grunt work. At the end of the day, I get pleasure from blogging and that’s why I do it. If you’re a blogger, I hope you get pleasure from it too. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Author: Kevin Cook

I post stories, videos, advice and photos about living abroad in Asia. I also eat bananas.

5 Comments

  1. I’ve passed this very helpful blog along to a “senior” who is interested in building an audience for his blogs. The whole world of building an audience in the blog world is new to him. You hit the nail on the head. It’s grinding work.

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  3. Useful advice, I think I fall into the ‘mainly family and friends’ reading my blog category but, as I intended it to be an info update of my doings while abroad (I am living and working in Malaysia for a year) to all I left back home, I will count it as successful! Also as my first blog, done on limited and variable internet access/ camera quality I think that it is pretty good. Success depends on category and I think you should expand on your category of people who write because they love it, to people who write because they love it and feel proud of what they have done. Any piece of work you are proud of is a success, even if it is just a well written diary. I’m sure everyone wants people to read and love their blog but, like you said, it is unlikely for a diary type blog to strike a chord with many. Although, as Beiber HAS been dethroned (in a spectacular way) maybe there is hope ;)

    From a first-timers perspective, blog writing is easier than I though, you got it right saying the audience is the clincher. I would also advise looking around for better blogging websites to join rather than choosing the first on a Google search (as I did), I have endless problems with photographs and formatting on my website.

    • Eliza,
      If you blog because you enjoy blogging, then you are successful. Your blog looks great, btw. I notice you are using blog.com. I would recommend to any of my readers to use WordPress. It is the blogging platform I use and I have no complaints.
      Beiber may have been dethroned, but he’ll be back. You just wait!

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