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Notes from the Blog With Pip vs Darren Rowse Q & A

Last year we were lucky enough to have an hour-long chat with Problogger Darren Rowse in one of our Blog With Pip groups. Here’s the highlights from that evening. There are some real gems in the chat thread transcript below.

There’s been a lot of discussion amongst our group about how often we should blog when just starting out. Do you have any views on this, Darren?

Darren: I think there’s a case for different frequencies depending upon the length of your posts, your topic/s and how much time and energy you have. Having said that, regularity is key. There are certainly some benefits of posting more than less but quality shouldn’t be sacrificed for quantity. Here’s a post on that topic that fleshes it out more –http://www.problogger.net/…/how-many-posts-should-a… (promise I wont post links in every answer!)

I’d like to ask you about what surprises you about blogging now. Not so much ‘trends’ but what you didn’t expect/anticipate.

Darren: What didn’t I expect, I think it’s the opportunities that come along. In the early days my surprises were that people I didn’t know were reading, now it’s the fun opportunities to meet new people, make a little money, and have great experiences. I’m also surprised the ride has lasted so long to be honest!

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I am wondering about the best way to engage non bloggers and keep them coming back? Is it unrealistic to expect lots of ‘followers’ or are we at the hands of the Social Media gods?

Re engaging non bloggers. This is an interesting one, in the early days of all my blogs the biggest segment of the audience were always bloggers. I guess people read blogs to build their network, promote themselves and connect with others like them. Bursting out of that bubble can be tough – however I guess it’s partly about longevity and posting about stuff that ‘real people’ want to know. For my photography blog it was about putting myself in the shoes of family and friends and trying to imagine what kind of content would help them and the questions that they’d ask and writing about that rather than the stuff other bloggers would want to know.

Re : on how realistic it is to get lots of followers…. tricky one. Most bloggers don’t end up with millions of followers… but I guess some do. The thing I’d say is that you may not NEED heaps of followers to build something significant. I guess it depends upon your goals but I know bloggers with modest readerships who do pretty well from their blogs.

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What about post length? I’ve read posts that are like war and peace, and others that are just a couple of lines… is there a guide?

Re post length. Here’s what I always say to my writers. “write as many words as you need to use to be useful… and then stop writing.”  It really also comes down to your style and perhaps also your readers and what they’re responding to. I tend to write mainly 500-1000 word posts but have posted 50 word posts that have done well and a few ‘mega’ posts that were up over 5000 words!  Actually, lately I’ve found our longer posts do best. I wonder if that’s because they stand out from a lot of the ‘fluff’ that is being published online at the moment.

Darren, I follow you on twitter and noticed that you post on Linkedin. Do you think it’s important to be across a range of social media platforms?

I’ve been experimenting a bit with Linkedin lately. I’m still not sure about it but it does seem to have had good engagement. They have recently moved to allow you to ‘publish’ longer form content there. If your audience is business related then I think it probably makes sense to use it. 

My answer to ‘which social network’ is best really comes down to who your audience is and where they are engaging most. 

Lastly, I’d prefer to engage on 1-2 networks really well than all of them poorly.

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Hi Darren, thinking about how long “the ride lasted” – do you think the tide is turning? Has it all peaked and we missed the boat?

No, I don’t think the ride is anywhere near over. In fact I think this space is just getting going. Things are changing and will evolve, but publishing online is only going to grow IMHO.

I would love to know which Australian blogs you think are doing GOOD THINGS. And which blogs are your must reads personally

One of my favorite blogs at the moment is Carryology – http://www.carryology.com/ – great content, interesting topics and useful to me.

What was it like for you as a new blogger? What was your blog like and how much time did you spend on it say…per week?

I started blogging in November 2002. Most blogs back then were ‘personal’. They were seen as ‘online diaries’. Not many people were writing about ‘niches’.  So my blog was personal and covered 20 or so topics/categories. I would try to post daily but many of my posts were very short. I probably spend 20 minutes minimum on it most days but some nights would work for a few hours on it and engaging on other blogs. Mainly it was something I did on lunch breaks, evenings or got up early to do though.

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How do you feel when hitting the ‘publish’ button after all this time? I’m feeling rather terrified!

Actually I still get scared when I hit publish. It’s usually a mix of fear and excitement/anticipation!

I very much agree with you on the future of online publishing. I think that traditional publishing and media is struggling and online publishing, in all its forms, is stepping up to fill that space. So my question is, where do you see this caper heading 2,5 even 15 years from now?

I’m not sure about 15 years but I think we’ll continue to see sites using a mix of media (video, image, podcasts etc). Whether we still call them ‘blogs’ I’m not sure but for me it’ll continue to be about the ‘useful’ blogs being the most successful. 

Mainstream media will probably make plays on buying more blogs and starting there own but the personal blogger will still be able to stand out – they’re nimble, not hampered by legal teams and will be interesting to people.

I’m wondering what you think about having a really broad range of topics on the one blog? I’m setting up a ‘simple technology’ blog, but think I will need to keep any personal interest writing separate. Or should I let people subscribe to different categories?

Great question. There’s no right and wrong answer to that BUT I would normally say to people that if your varied topics all relate to a similar kind of person then they’ll probably work side by side. 

In that case your blog isn’t about a niche topic but is for a niche demographic, which I think can work quite well. Similar to a magazine like…. New Idea (not that I read it)… covers fashion, gossip, horiscopes… (that may be a bad example!)

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I’m wondering about blogs that blend business/personal. Is it ok to include personal stuff, and how much is too much? My expertise is in food writing/editing, but I also post about general life stuff from time to time…

I think a bit of a blend can work well. I guess it is something to monitor your readers reaction to a little but I think most people like to know about the person behind the blog – story telling, a few photos etc can help personalise it a lot.

Sometimes I don’t understand why people don’t leave comments on your blog. How do you know if people like what you are talking about? Should people leave comments? I once heard a stat that it’s pretty normal for less than 1% of people to comment on blogs. I guess some people just don’t like to engage. For me it’s about writing in an engaging tone, asking questions, being willing to respond to comments and trying things like polls, competitions etc to ‘train’ your readers to engage a little.

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How do you deal with negative comments? Do you treat blogging as your job so perhaps can shrug things off as ‘locos out there’ or take it personally and try to reason/explain…?

Negative comments, emails, tweets etc… they have the power to stop us in our tracks and stop us creating if we let them. I could talk on this for ages but a few thoughts:

1. ask if there’s any validity or if you can improve as a result of the ‘feedback’

2. respond politely – I usually find killing with kindness works

3. let others respond for you – the community often puts people in their place

4. if it’s going round in circles, try to take it offline or out of the public eye (this stops the attention seekers)

5. try to move on and dwell on the positive responses that you’re probably also getting (and probably getting much more of).

Don’t let it stop you creating – ever!

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I have loved those posts of yours over the years that have shed light on your income split between all the things you do and the one that stood out the most was the time you realised you needed to be creating your own products. Are you still thinking this way? Do you recommend a stream of own-products as a great way to monetise the blog? I think this was the same time you realised the importance of keeping your newsletter going…

 Yes, I think creating your own products is important where you can. I don’t know if the ‘working with brands’ thing has the longevity that many think it will so I’d be looking to create products to sell!

From reading your blog and Vanessa’s, I’ve guessed that you work from home, and have people who support you who are based in other locations. What tools to you can you recommend to manage a team who may not be located in the same workspace as you?

Yep, I work at home. Most of our team are Melbourne based so we meet Friday mornings together. The rest of the week we use Skype, basecamp and dropbox for a lot of what we do (and wordpress of course).

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How natural was the progression from the personal blog to the Pro Blogger event? Did you have a plan or did it just grew…?

There were many steps along the way. From my personal blog I started a few ‘niche’ focused blogs once readers started to tell me that they found the varied topics a bit much for them. That was when I started to monetize also.  Then came Problogger.net and out of that came the opportunities for ‘real life events’. 

It was all really very much an evolution and many of the steps came as small little ones that grew into bigger things. PBEVENT was just going to be for 12 people around a board room table… but I was surprised by the demand the first year when 100 people wanted to come 

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How do you maintain your passion for blogging? When it went from hobby, to slowly becoming your business, what was that transition like? Remind us HOW LONG IT TAKES.

It does come and go a little as the challenges life throws at you comes and goes. But I guess it comes down to doing stuff that you love and feeding what gives you energy.  The transition from hobby to business took me 3-4 years to get full time (ish). It was slow, although it was a lot of fun too.

I was just wondering what you consider to be the biggest challenges you face when blogging and what you consider to be the most rewarding aspects for you personally?

Challenges: there have been many. I think a big one is that I’m not trained in business, so that transition was tricky as I just loved ‘content’ and ‘community’ – but wasn’t so great at monetizing. 

Rewards: there are many. Paying our mortgage by writing about what I’d talk to mates about for free is pretty cool. But the best thing of all is when you meet someone at a conference or event and they quietly tell you about something you wrote that helped change their life in some way (big or small). That for me is what it’s all about!

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I am wondering if you have any golden rules for your blog? For example my golden rule I made myself when I started blogging was that I wasn’t gonna blog just to put up a post, I would only blog if I felt I had something to say /share. Do have any golden rules or guides you set yourself?

I have many little ‘mantras’ and golden rules 

1. be useful (every post needs to be useful to someone other than me in some way)

2. Inspire, inform, interaction – all my posts need to do at least one of these

They’re two of my main ones.

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Which 3 PROBLOGGER posts would you recommend new bloggers read?!

Ummmm. Tough one. 

1. http://www.problogger.net/…/01/25/becoming-a-problogger/ (my story, although it needs updating)

2. http://www.problogger.net/…/09/12-blogging-income-streams/ (explains how I make money)

3. http://www.problogger.net/…/how-to-craft-a-blog-post…/ (this was a 10 part series on writing content)

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I get emails from wordpress beginner and many seem to imply that you only have about a second or so to catch people’s attention-then even if you do they will probably skim most of the rest at best-what is your opinion?

Yes, you only have a second or two when a new reader hits your site to make an impression. This is why really taking time over your ‘title’, your ‘opening line’ and adding visuals (images) is really important. People decided if they’ll actually read based upon those things!

Can you explain how the (relatively new) Problogger community works?

ProBlogger.com is a paid membership community. It’s recently reclaunched. Members get 2 webinars a month (training), a private community area, some wordpress plugins that my team developed for my blog and some discounts we arrange with blog tool providers. It’s been a lot of fun.

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You said you weren’t convinced that ‘working with brands’ will have the longevity that some think it will. Have you worked with brands in the past and if so, what were your experiences in working with brands like?

 I’ve not done heaps with brands other than them advertising on my sites with traditional ads. Although I did a partnership with Tourism Queensland a few years ago that went well.

Has someone already asked about how to figure out what to charge when you’re asked to do some work for someone else?

Good question on what to charge. I don’t have a real answer on that as it depends on your niche. I always advise making friends with other bloggers in your niche to ask. Although many other bloggers have published rates on their ‘advertise with us’ pages.

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I’m sure you’ve found this extra useful!
More super-useful blogging know-how from Darren here.

 

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