Question: What’s the key to successful blogging?
Anil Dash: The key to successful blogging is some good friends. I remember reading a fellow, John Gruber, who is a friend of mine on Daring Fireball. They were thinking obsessions and passion were two necessary items, and I think a lot of my favorite blogs have those things. Somebody loves something irrationally beyond the point of all sanity, and just wants to own that topic. When somebody has that kind of passion for what they love, it can be interesting to you even if you otherwise wouldn’t have been interested in the topic.
I think that is really fascinating, so some of the single subject blogs that I’ve seen are amazing. I saw one the other day—it was just about album covers from back in the old vinal days. They took record covers, they cover one at a time, and they talked about who the photographer was, who the art director was, what the impact of that album cover was. It can be about a record that I’ve never heard, and maybe even a group I’ve never even heard of, and they can tell a story about this album cover and what it meant to them and why it’s important. That’s mesmerizing to me. I think those are the great, truly great blogs—somebody has a passion beyond all rationality, and is so excited about it that you can’t help but be excited too.
It’s a little bit of a bittersweet thing that the blogs people discover first are essentially news or pop culture or sports which are things that we’ve had in media for years. Those are good, they are fine. I read them and I think they are important, but it’s always that personal blog that is somebody is telling you about their passion, their hobby, their area of expertise, the thing that they know better than anybody else in the world. Those people are the best bloggers in the world to me.
Question: What specific steps can a blogger take to boost his or her traffic?
Anil Dash: A lot of times people think getting your company or your individual ideas visible on the web involves a lot of tricks. There’s a whole industry called search engine optimization or SEO a lot of it is legitimate. People were doing consulting on trying to get information discoverable in the web, and a lot of it is snake oil.
People feel like Google is this angry volcano monster, and maybe if we throw a goat in there it will help. They just have no idea whether what they’re doing has any science behind it at all. And as it turns out, the fundamental principles are really, really easy. If you want to get a message out on the web effectively, frequently update your content—a blog is great for this. I’m biased because I love blogging, but like any kind of system that lets you frequently update your content, it is going to make sure your information is current, that it’s up to date and it’s also going to let people know that you’re committed to communicating with them over time.
Frequently updating content, and is has to be well-written, well-designed, well-presented. Those sound like little things, but the way information looks and how readable and discoverable it is makes a big difference as to whether people want to share it, and all of the search engines or audio systems people use to discover content are built around links. Whether it’s people sharing a link in Facebook or posting a link on their blog, that’s the currency by which people discover things on the web and you earn a link. It’s not the kind of thing where you should be paying somebody to post links to what you do. You earn a link by having something compelling and unique that people feel like they want to share.
The last part is building a relationship. The best way to get a really big site to link to your content or to get somebody who has a lot of reach help amplify your message on the web is to build a relationship with them that is real. Think about what they want, not just when you are asking them to do you a favor and reciprocate, but when they’ve created something that’s worth sharing, share what they do as well.
If you follow these principles of updating frequently, having something that is worth reading, having it be well presented, and build relationships with others that want to amplify your message, you don’t need to worry about any of the tricks for the search engines or anything else—everything flows from there. I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve been writing a lot lately, I’ve been in the blogs for 10 years, and people have said, “Oh gosh. You get a lot of links and people. You rank first in Google for your name.”
Those things happen because you have built up a reputation and relationships over time that people want to honor by amplifying your message for you.
Question: It is possible to make money from a blog?
Anil Dash: Yeah. I’ve had the privilege to work with a lot of the best bloggers in the world, and they’re all making money one way or another. They have advertising on the side; they use blogging to get speaking gigs or for people to pay for them to consult. It’s not always direct, but every door that I have ever had opened in my entire career happened because of my blog. I could trace back every dollar I’ve ever earned to my blogs, certainly, because I’ve been blogging.
I think you encounter two different people. Those who think that the thing they did to generate social value isn’t necessarily where they get the direct dollars from, and people that have information that is super valuable, and people would pay to subscribe to their blog.
So I think there’s a lot of different paths to it. What you have to think about is total earnings versus total effort, and recognize that they will always correspond one on one. That’s true in the entire economy.
I think you look at Chris Anderson’s writing FREE, the fellows that are writing Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics; there’s a lot of these ideas that are being covered that are saying you can create a lot of value for it “here”, maybe not get direct compensation for it, and get a lot of reward over “here.” Just make sure you know how that flow happens, but it doesn’t have to be one-to-one exchange, in that where you put in the most effort is where you get the most reward.
Recorded on: July 17 2009