Why I Quit Blogging (and What to Do If You're Struggling)

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.

How?

Connections.

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?

Guest posts.

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.

The point?

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.

Fair enough?

Well then, what are you waiting for? Get started writing that comment! :-)

Amazingly, we are at over 2,500 comments now, and we've been able to answer every one of 'em. It's a lot of work, of course, and I've considered closing the comment form, but everyone seems to be getting a lot out of this, so instead, I've handed over the answering duties to my Assistant Instructor Marsha Stopa. You'll be able to get a much faster response from her, and she knows this stuff just as well as I do. So, have at it! Marsha is waiting for ya. :-)

2,687 Comments

  1. Jennifer Ammoscato
    Aug 19, 2014 @ 12:29:11

    Hi! What a generous offer! I write a weekly general lifestyle blog post in the conversational style of The Bloggess (with less swearing cause my mom reads it :) My goal is to raise my profile as a funny writer to engage a chick lit readership. My website reflects what I consider to be my brand.
    I started the blog this year. I use Share-a-holic to reach out to the usual suspects (Pocket, Digg, etc). Growth is nonexistent. I'm considering adding a pop-up sign-up form for it and putting a preview of the blog post on the home page of my site. I am on Twitter (2200 followers) and FB. I'm blogging into a vacuum right now.
    I know success is about making connections. It's finding them that's the key. Any help you can offer would be most appreciated!

    Reply

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  4. Afton
    Aug 12, 2014 @ 14:46:43

    Wow, this post is so relatable. That "100 visitors glass wall" is exactly where I'm at right now, but have never heard anyone put into words before. Thank you for that! I have not done much guest posting, mostly due to finding that people in my general niche are surprisingly against my micro-niche. I still haven't quite figured out why. There's some kind of prejudice against it, perhaps?

    Anyway, the offer of help got me really excited, so thank you very much! That's incredibly generous of you Jon, and now Marsha. You're awesome.

    My blog is about Gluten Free Makeup. It's very much a micro-niche in the overall niche of gluten free. However, more and more people are realizing that gluten free makeup is a real thing that really matters. I share information, write reviews and most of all publish a free list of truly gluten free companies through my email list.

    My readers are people who use makeup, are probably already gluten free and may have had or be having skin problems that they have trouble explaining the cause of. Some people learn through me that gluten in their makeup may be affecting them, others simply have their suspicions or full-fledged beliefs validated through me.

    I want this site to actually make part-time pay for me. I spend enough time on it that it should, at least. I would love to take my fairly active readership and make it more active. Increase my social shares and comments. I know people are reading, but I don't think enough are interacting.

    If you have any other thoughts, I would be more than happy to hear them. But most of all, thank you so much for the offer of help! I deeply appreciate it.

    Reply

    • Marsha Stopa
      Aug 18, 2014 @ 11:27:18

      Afton,

      Interesting topic.

      It's very important for you to determine where your likely readers hang out online. Yes, the gluten-free blogs and sites are the obvious targets, but you need to look beyond the obvious to the larger niche of personal development, within which health and fitness is a niche.

      Use Alltop.com to find the top personal development blogs, and begin researching them to see which ones cover health and nutrition and accept guest posts. Read at least the top 10 posts on each blog and especially the comments to give you a solid understanding of what the audience is interested in.

      I would also search out the top bloggers in the paleo and primal niches. Both groups are gluten free because they eliminate all grains and are very conscious of eating organic and controlling unwanted substances in their diet. They may be much more open.

      I don't think there's any prejudice. It's likely one of two things: The bloggers you're approaching need to be educated on the real health risks of gluten in makeup or your approach isn't effective. My guess is it's a combination of both.

      Most bloggers on micro-niches are so passionate about their topic they tend to come across like a charging white knight on his steed, lance aimed for the jugular: "You WILL listen to me!" And, if you have any alliance with commercial product companies, they can get skittish.

      This lack of education can be both good and bad news. Bad news because you do have to educate them before they'll accept your message as real, and good news because you can leverage all the "surprise" marketing tactics to your advantage. Consider a few surprise headlines:
      The Unknown Ingredient in Your Makeup that is Sabotaging your Gluten Free Diet
      What Makeup Manufacturers Don't Want You to Know

      I suggest you take your time to build relationships with the gluten-free, paleo and primal bloggers by sharing their posts regularly and making insightful (but not pushy) comments on their blogs. Be very low key. Look for common ground. Then send them an email in a few months that says you think their readers would be interested in learning how to control an overlooked source of gluten.

      It looks almost all your posts are product reviews. That's not going to sit well with most bloggers. I would also add at least a half dozen purely educational posts to educate people about the ingredients, processes etc. You have the perfect opportunity to write the "ultimate guide" post on this little known topic. Make it long, full of links to medical sources and the most comprehensive resource online.

      Write the educational post while you build your relationships. Then as those bloggers recognize you, ask them to share your ultimate guide. That's also the kind of post that the search engines will like. :-)

      Take your time, educate and build relationships. You'll get there.

      Best of luck,
      Marsha

      Reply

  5. Viola
    Aug 08, 2014 @ 13:27:30

    Thanks Marsha for agreeing to give feedback on blogs whose owners comment here. Your feedback appears to be helpful for a significant number of commentators and I'm looking forward to hearing from you. And thanks Jon for the insight in your blog post that connections come before content (which is significantly important too.)

    I) My blog is about how to identify potential learning moments in the ordinary course of a child's life and helping parents turn those moments into meaning learning for and bonding with their children.
    II) I target working moms
    III) I hope to earn a part-time income from this in 2015. Would you give me an idea which may be more profitable for my niche? Info products? Coaching? Advertising? Etc

    Any other feedback about my blog will be appreciated as well.

    Thank you once again. :)

    Reply

    • Marsha Stopa
      Aug 11, 2014 @ 11:30:09

      Hi Viola,

      Congrats on some insightful posts. It looks like you understand your topic well.

      A few questions and comments:

      -What do working moms most worry about relative to their child's development? My *guess* is that they are worried they won't be around to do the right things at the right time and they feel guilty. If you can offer a solution to that fear, you might have a viable product. Read Jon's post here: http://www.copyblogger.com/jons-confession/ That should get you thinking.

      Then, you have to figure out what's the best way for your audience to consume that product -- audio MP3s they listen to on their phone while commuting, with a transcript to check later (I'm guessing.) What you need to do is think like a working mom in your audience and work backward. Get out of your head about your topics and think like a potential customer.

      Also, I strongly suggest you tweak your theme. Your headline font is almost impossible to read. It's pretty and trendy, but very very hard on the eyes. I also suggest widening your post column. It's so narrow it's creating a long skinny "gutter" of text (old newspaper term) that is hard to read. No one will scroll down that far. There are wonderful new themes out there now that will do justice to your work. Check out http://elegantthemes.com (non aff link.)

      I hope that's helpful. You have some insightful and useful information on your site.
      Marsha

      Reply

      • Viola
        Aug 11, 2014 @ 13:24:37

        Dear Marsha,

        Thank you for your clear directions forward and your encouraging affirmations. For relatively new bloggers like me who are unsure and lack confidence, your comments are like a light shining in my darkness.

        Thank you for taking the time to go through my blog and reading them (despite the bad layout, heh)

        May your light shine more and more brightly for the people and businesses you serve.

      • Viola
        Aug 11, 2014 @ 13:45:50

        Apologies, just 1 more slightly off-topic question:

        I have been blogging behind a pen-name (mainly so that I don't bring the mummy wars that erupt in private whatsapp chats with my mummy friends into my blog.)

        Is it advisable to blog as a business behind a pen-name?

      • Marsha Stopa
        Aug 12, 2014 @ 13:43:17

        It's generally not a problem to use a pen name. It's better if you create an online persona, rather than a business name. For instance, Johnny B. Truant is a pen name, and he's changed his blog and businesses a few times the last several years.

  6. Laurie
    Aug 07, 2014 @ 18:11:41

    Wow--great article Jon and wonderful response Jon and Marsha! I've learned a lot just from reading through some of them. And I am in awe of the generosity that is here.
    I have been doing a regular blog feature called Friday Focus for over to years. It's focus is on personal/spiritual development, learning about attitude, connecting with the inner teacher, how to deepen your focus, how to align your outer life with your inner guidance and related topics. These all relate to the big picture of how to live life more fully and realize one's potential. I would appreciate your insight in how to take this to the next level! What is missing? And do I have the right tone for guest blogging?

    Thank you, thank you!
    Laurie

    Reply

    • Marsha Stopa
      Aug 11, 2014 @ 11:15:52

      Laurie,

      Congrats for staying with it for so long. So, what have you learned? What do your readers respond to? What has resonated with them? You should have some analytics -- especially number of comments -- to give you a sense.

      A few observations and suggestions: (Warning -- the Queen of Tough Love now speaking.)

      -Your topics are generally abstract and conceptual, which is the nature of spiritual topics. The problem is that few people have the ability to translate those abstract concepts into concrete actions with tangible benefits. You're giving them the actions but you're leaving out the benefits. HUGE mistake, which is why you typically get only one or two comments on most posts. Readers can't easily see the value in their own life.
      -You're focused on the process instead of the benefits. This tracks from the same reasoning above. Yes, I get that the process is what makes things change, but for people who haven't experienced the results of the process yet, it all sounds nice to do but they don't have the time. They move on.
      -You're writing about yourself first, the reader second. This is a common mistake of new bloggers. We figure that since we're all the same, what worked in my life should work in your life, so I know better. Wrong. The harsh fact is that feels like Mom or Dad lecturing, rather than someone having genuine empathy for my problem and connecting without trying to fix me. Shift to connecting with the reader's problem or worry first, writing about them, and just a wee bit about you.
      -I challenge you to write one month's of posts without using the words "I" or "me." This will help: http://www.copyblogger.com/the-two-most-important-words-in-blogging/

      Do you have the right tone? Almost. Your writing is clear and concise, but not very conversational or personal. I feel like I'm being talked at. (See note about writing about yourself above.) You'll need much more empathy and connection with the readers to guest post successfully.

      Also, I see you're on WordPress, but this looks like an older theme design. To be honest, you can do much better. Your blog feels constrained and rigid, out of sync with your topic.

      Spirituality is a huge and growing topic within the personal development niche, the largest blogging niche right now. You have the fundamental skills to do well, but you will have to up your game to make it worth the effort.

      This is a pretty harsh critique, but the truth is, since you've been at this for two years you have what it takes and I'd love to see you do well.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Namaste,
      Marsha

      Reply

      • Laurie
        Aug 11, 2014 @ 13:10:56

        Hi Marsha---Yes, indeed it is all very helpful--tough love notwithstanding! I've been using Headway for my theme, but I have been feeling like it's time to change.
        I'm confused since I never use I or me in the Friday Focus posts. I'm very focused on that. But I really get your point about the benefits to the reader. They need to be spelled out more directly.
        Thank you for the depth of what you have offered!
        Laurie

      • Marsha Stopa
        Aug 12, 2014 @ 13:59:22

        Laurie,

        Sorry about that. I skimmed both your blog and your Friday Focus so I may have gotten them confused.

        You're a very deep thinker. I enjoy that in a writer, but to be honest, I think you're jumping in too deep too fast for your readers.
        They don't wake up thinking about these deep topics the way you are presenting them. Yes, they are worried about how their life will change (for example) when they get married, take a new job or have a baby, but the worries swirling in their heads are more tangible. "Will I still be able to meet the girls for drinks on Thursday nights? Can I still take my zumba class? Will I be able to go hunting with the guys when I want?"

        There are VOLUMES of advice and information in your Friday articles -- maybe too much for people to take in, especially if this way of thinking is new to them. You might consider focusing on only a couple key points and really working with the emotional impact of each point, so clearly and with such empathy that your readers feel you are reading their minds. Take a look at how Jon does this: http://boostblogtraffic.com/quit-your-job/ (Just one example.)

        I hope that's more helpful.

        Marsha

      • Laurie
        Aug 13, 2014 @ 19:44:57

        Hi Marsha,

        I couldn't find a reply button to your second comment but I wanted to thank you for your time to get back to me--- and the clarity in your words. Very helpful indeed.

        Laurie

  7. muscle fast
    Aug 06, 2014 @ 11:08:08

    Hi there! Quick question that's entirely off topic.

    Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly?
    My web site looks weird when viewing from my iphone 4.
    I'm trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to resolve this issue.
    If you have any recommendations, please share.
    Appreciate it!

    Reply

    • Colin Fox
      Aug 06, 2014 @ 12:58:25

      Hey muscle fast, you need a mobile responsive theme or someone who can code for mobile.

      Assuming you're using WordPress, I use DIY Themes -Thesis.

      It's completely customisable and there's tutorials and a forum for getting
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      Hope that helped?

      Regards,

      Col.

      Reply

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