About four years ago, I quit blogging.
It wasn't anything dramatic. I didn't get drunk, delete my blog in a fit of rage, and tell everyone on twitter to go to hell (although I've been tempted).
No, I just kind of walked away. I stopped posting, let the blog go stale, and then canceled the hosting account.
The best way I know to describe is it was a kind of "learned helplessness."
I wrote lots of great content, but no one linked to it. I optimized for search engines, but I couldn't find my site anywhere in the first 100 pages. I tried submitting my posts to social bookmarking sites like Digg.com, but I couldn't pick up a single vote.
Eventually, you just get fed up, you know?
You do everything popular bloggers tell you to do, but it doesn't work, and so you feel like, "What's the point?" Obviously, you're doing something wrong, but you have no idea what it is.
And so you quit.
At Copyblogger, I've called it the glass ceiling of the blogosphere. If you do everything people tell you to do, you can get up to about 100 visitors a day, but then it's like you hit an invisible wall, and you can't go any further.
For me, it didn't just happen once. It happened three times in two separate niches. At first, I thought it was just the topic, but then when the same exact thing happened to me with a different topic, I knew something else was up.
And the honest truth?
I never figured it out. Big, fancy pants "traffic genius" Jon Morrow couldn't put two and two together.
After about six months of licking my wounds and thinking about it, I finally decided to hire Chris Garrett (co-author of the Problogger book) to look at everything and tell me what I was doing wrong.
Here's what he told me:
Nobody knows who you are.
At first, I didn't get it. I said, "Yeah, but isn't that the point of publishing great content? You write lots of great stuff, and then the word spreads, and popular bloggers find out about you?"
"No," he said. "Popular bloggers find out about who you are, and THEN they read your content, and THEN they link to you. Connections come first. Great content comes second."
You see, I had it backwards.
I thought great content led to connections, but really, it's the other way around. Feeling like an idiot, I decided to give it a shot.
I wrote about the same topics. My writing didn't improve at all. I promoted my posts in exactly the same way.
The only difference was I made some friends with popular bloggers first, and then I asked them to help me promote it. Here's what happened:
Within one month, I was averaging 1000 visitors a day from StumbleUpon, Delicious, and Digg. Why? Because I got to know Brian Clark, and he connected me with social media power users who promoted my posts.
I got nominated for the Best Business/Money Blog in the world. Guess who was on the nomination committee? Yep: Chris Garrett. I'd love to think it was a coincidence, but I know it's not.
I got linked to by Lifehacker, one of the most popular blogs in the world. How? Brian introduced me to Tamar Weinberg, who wrote for Lifehacker at the time, and I wrote posts I knew she would be interested in.
One thing led to another until, nowadays, I know almost everybody.
The Power of Connections
Sure, I've improved as a writer since then, but what really makes it possible to get so much traffic is all of the connections I've picked up over the years. Recently, I helped a consulting client launch a new blog, and we picked up something like 200,000 unique visitors within two months, starting from nothing.
I'm not saying great content is superfluous. It's not. You just need connections before it matters.
The cool thing?
Guest blogging helps you get both
Everyday, popular bloggers wake up with tens of thousands of readers hungry for something insightful, fresh, and amazing, and they have to keep them supplied. Privately, we call it "Feeding the content beast."
And so what's the one thing you can offer them that they'll always be interested in?
They don't just want them. They need them. And if you can become a reliable provider, most will want to get to know you and do everything they can to help you, including introduce you to other powerful people.
Also, your content gets better the longer you write for them.
For the past three years, I've written for Copyblogger, and Brian Clark has edited my posts and given me feedback. Do you think that helped my writing? You betcha.
I go through my posts word for word, line by line and look closely at what he changed. It's taught me more about writing than a degree in English Literature.
The coolest part is the price. For three years now, I've been mentored by one of the best writers in the world, and it didn't cost me a dime. In fact, he paid me.
Of course, you might say, "Well, that's easy for you to do. You're in the blogging niche where there are tons of huge blogs. In my niche, there aren't any big blogs to write for, so obviously this won't work for me."
But listen to this:
My first popular blog was about lessons I learned from investing in real estate. Guess how many popular real estate investing blogs there are? Zero. If you don't believe me, Google it. The closest big niche is personal finance, and I didn't write for any of those blogs either (although I should have).
The truth is, it doesn't matter. You're targeting readers, not topics. I wrote for Copyblogger because most bloggers are interested in learning how to make more money. The same thing for Brazen Careerist. Your career is a big part of your income, and so I wanted those people.
You can do the same thing for any niche. I've had students who focused on drawing stick figures, vegetarian fitness, and even a blog about nothing but tomatoes. We found related popular blogs for all of them.
You can do this.
If you've been struggling, it isn't because you're a bad blogger. It's because you're trying to do it all by yourself.
Getting your blog going isn't about learning yet another traffic strategy. It's about surrounding yourself with powerful people who can support you, and the best way I know to do that is guest blogging.
Granted, maybe you're stuck in the whole "learned helplessness" phase, and you can’t believe it'll work for you. If that's the case, here's the deal:
I'm probably going to regret this, but if you're wondering whether guest blogging will work for your topic, leave me a comment below, and I'll take a look at your blog. Try to keep it as short as you can (no more than three paragraphs, please), telling me what your blog is about, who your readers are, and what you're hoping to accomplish.
If you'll do that, then I'll do for you what Chris Garrett did for me: I'll personally respond back to you and give you some ideas. Free charge.
Well then, what are you waiting for? Get started writing that comment! :-)