I can still remember my first blog. I created it on Blogger.com in the fall of 2004, shortly after it got acquired by Google. Ironically, the blog was about making money online.
Virtually every year since, someone has publicly proclaimed blogging as “dead.” Yet here I am, a few million words later (I never managed to figure out the exact number), writing on pretty much the same topic…
I guess it stuck.
Blogging is still relevant in 2023. 77% of Internet users continue to read blogs, and they see them as some of the most trustworthy sources of information on the web.
That doesn’t mean it’s stayed the same, though.
Myopic Content Is a Thing of Blogging’s Past
For example, nobody cares about personal blogs with myopic posts in the likes of “What I Think About X” or “I Cooked Y Last Evening.” That kind of content moved years ago to Facebook and Instagram. (Lately, it’s been moving away from them and toward TikTok, but that’s another story.)
Whether big-brand marketers want to admit it or not, the same applies to corporate blogs and their press release-style “Acme Company Opens X Offices and Y Positions” content. Seriously, nobody reads this sh*t. Nobody cares. So don’t waste your time creating it.
Content is an investment and, if you want to get any returns from it, you need to be smart about it. Don’t worry; we’ll get to a few ideas for how you can do that further down in this post.
A Modern Blog Is Here to Teach and Troubleshoot
Can blogging *finally* be declared dead, then?
After all, that’s something that celebrity marketers and YouTube clickbaiters have been obnoxiously going on and on about for years.
But, in a highly Darwinian way, blogging has shape-shifted.
According to popup tool OptinMonster, 77% of Internet users continue to read blogs.
In fact, they consider blogs as their fifth most trustworthy source of information online, which should tell you something. They spend 3x more time reading blog posts than they do checking their email inbox.
Before, we bookmarked, read, and commented on blogs to entertain ourselves and feel connected to others. For better or worse, that function was taken over by 60-second shorts on YouTube and three-minute videos in TikTok.
As a general rule of thumb, present-day blogs serve a different function: to teach and troubleshoot. The most-visited, best-monetized blogs churn out tens to hundreds of posts per year that solve problems, share how-to’s, and answer questions.
Take Own the Yard, a blog dedicated to teaching its readers gardening. With 600+ posts and an audience of 10,000 visitors/day, this blog makes thousands of dollars per month from display ads and affiliate sales (I know because it’s a public case study; check out its income report).
Or Swim University, an ad-free blog for hot tub and swimming pool owners that gets 1,000,000 visitors/month and generates $30,000/month of revenue for its owner, Matt Giovanisci, who monetizes it by selling courses.
Income School, which teaches others how to replace their full-time income with passive income from blogs and YouTube channels, has a whole portfolio of publicly disclosed websites, focusing on content that Internet users are searching for Google.
The longer the content, the better, OptinMonster reports. Bloggers who write articles of 2,000 words or longer “are far more likely to achieve strong results,” whether that’s traffic, conversion rates, or revenue.
Social Media Is No Longer the Top Traffic Source
Facebook, at least before got oversaturated with pages and ads, it was a crazy good traffic source in the 2010s. At the time, I co-owned a news site, and one of my partners had a bunch of Facebook pages with more than 2,000,000 likes in total.
It only took one post on a page with 300,000 likes to get thousands of engaged users to visit our site—and advertisers were outbidding one another to show their banners to our readers.
Today, we’d be lucky if we can get a few hundred visitors, and that’s on a good day! Organic reach at Facebook is still on the decline and, to reach your own audience, you need to sponsor your own posts.
A similar thing has been happening to Pinterest—a social network that, for a long time, served as a major source of traffic for bloggers with a mostly female audience—when they started rolling out out algorithm updates aimed at retaining users on their platform.
Economists call this The Law of Diminishing Returns. Eventually, a social network will get saturated with so many posts, tweets, photos, or videos that content creators will have to invest more effort into reaching fewer people (at least organically).
Organic Traffic From Google Is King (For Now)
Today, the typical blog gets most of its traffic organically from Google.
Conventional blogging wisdom says that if you’ve written a post that meets the searcher’s intent and given it at least a year to rank, you’d be on the first page of Google’s results pages on that topic.
Of course, that would only be true if you did thorough research and published a post that’s arguably better than those of your competitors. What it means for a post to be “better” will depend on the searcher’s intent.
For example, someone looking for a review of a lawnmower they’re thinking of buying will want a post written either by A) an expert reviewer of lawnmowers who’s tested that product and knows what they’re talking about or B) an amateur owner who honestly talks about its pros and cons.
In contrast, a Statistics student who struggles to understand the difference between the mode and the mean will probably search for “mode vs mean in statistics” and expect to get an easy-to-understand, to-the-point answer with examples.
Whether you’re into mowing lawns or solving statistics problems, the chances are that your audience is asking Google about many of the things that you take for granted. And that they may not be getting the best answers…
An Email List Is Almost a Must-Have
The risks of relying solely on organic traffic from Google are many:
- Your blog could get hit in an algorithm update, of which there’s almost one per month lately;
- Competitors could eat away at your rankings by reverse-engineering your top pages in an SEO tool like Ubersuggest, and writing a better article than yours;
- You could step on someone’s feet and have to deal with a negative SEO attack pointed at your blog, disavowing hundreds of backlinks and hoping that it stays afloat despite the “unnatural links.”
To de-risk, some bloggers start an email newsletter, slowly but surely building up an email list of thousands of recurring readers.
Though an email list could never replace the amount of organic traffic you can get when Google likes your site, it would at least act as a cushion if your site gets impacted, buying you time to try to resolve the penalty.
Plus, if you decide to sell your blog, having thousands of engaged subscribers who can’t wait to open and read your emails every week could give it a higher valuation, so, at the end of the day, you would get more money in the bank for your work.
Make Your Posts Compact and Skimmable
Partly thanks to phones, tablets, and smartwatches, partly thanks to social media, the web isn’t what it used to be a decade or so ago.
People’s attention spans have been in continuous decline. Today, as reported by Time magazine, most of us are blessed with the attention span of a goldfish.
Unsurprisingly, 43% of readers skim blog posts. I don’t have statistically significant data to prove it but, if you ask me, that number is way higher in reality—especially on websites that haven’t been designed for readability and conversion rate-optimized.
To the extent that, when looking for a guide on which products to buy, some users will search “best X for Y” in Google and skim through a blog post or two, making a decision within seconds and clicking on the easiest to find button or link that sends them to Amazon.
Skimming, in case you’re not really familiar with the term, is when you glance over and quickly scroll through a piece of content as you look for clues on the key takeaways.
All of this is necessitating that we bloggers create no-fluff, media-rich content that helps our readers get smarter or make the right choice while keeping them engaged from start to finish.
Readers Don’t Share or Comment as Much
Here’s something that I’ve been noticing on all of my blogs, regardless of age, niche, or traffic: on most posts, keeping the conversation going has become Mission:Impossible!
You can make your social sharing buttons as appealing as you can, add calls to action to encourage people to spread the love… but the reality is that very few of them—if any—will hit that “Share” button on most social networks (for the time being, Pinterest continues to be the exception).
If you had a popular blog, keeping up with comments was virtually an impossible task. Some bloggers had to hire a Virtual Assistant just to keep up with the questions they’d get from their readers. Nowadays, the comments section is like Sahara: nobody wants to be there.
This means that, unless you’re okay getting no feedback from your visitors whatsoever, you need to come up with new ways to interact with them. My favorite is the free Helpful plugin, which allows them to vote individual pieces of content up or down, telling you why they did it anonymously.
AI Copywriting Assistants Are Changing the Game
Lately, everyone has been talking about AI copywriting assistants, and for a good reason: some of these tools, like Jarvis and Rytr, can spew out copy on command almost as good as that of a human writer.
While far from reliable when it comes to facts and figures, AI writers have proven to be indispensable for generating catchy titles, coming up with meta descriptions, and spinning angles for your blog posts’ intros, conclusions, and the can’t-go-without fluff in-between.
Whether AI will, some day, replace copywriters is one of those questions that no one can answer for sure (unless they’ve also come up with a way to travel to the future). Yet it’s hard to argue against the statement that these tools will likely have a profound impact on the business of content creation online.