Anyone can start a blog; but to generate income from it, you’ll need more than just writing skills. My guest today will tell you how you can build a profitable blog from scratch.
This week we are joined by Ryan Robinson, a writer, part-time entrepreneur, and content marketing consultant. In this episode, you’ll learn how to grow your blog with guest posting, finding your authentic writing voice, and scaling it with freelance writers.
Listen to the episode:
- The biggest misconception in blogging
- Will blog still exist 5 to 10 years from now?
- Why the term “passive income” is bullsh*t
- How guest posting can help you grow your blog
- Ryan’s recent mistake that made him “punished” by Google
- How to find your own blogging “voice”
- How to work and find freelance writers to help you scale
- Top 3 questions that Ryan ask his new email subscribers
- What Ryan thinks marketers should learn in the next 5,10, and 50 years
- The Side Hustle Project
- Creative Live
- Ramit Sethi
- Derek Halpern
- Lewis Howes
- Mark Manson
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
- Fast Company
- F*ck Overnight Success: 3 Ways to Patiently Grow a Profitable Side Project
- Neil Patel
- Ryan Levesque
- Ask Method
- Guest Blogging 101: How to Guest Blog Post (for SEO and Traffic) in 2020
- Brian Dean
- Ryan’s Twitter
Louis: All right. Bonjour bonjour! And welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com, the no fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host Louis Grenier. In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to build a blog on the site and generate traffic and income from it. It’s not a get-rich-quick type of episode. I promise you it’s going to take way longer than you think it is and it’s going to be way more difficult than you think it is. My guest today is a writer, part-time entrepreneur and a content marketing consultant. He worked with a lot of Fortune 500 companies and top startups like, you probably know LinkedIn, you probably know Google out of the all ready he’s worked for them. He’s developed a business on the side and has now more than 400,000 monthly readers on his blog. He also has a podcast called the Side Hustle Project.
Louis: So that’s why I think he’s one of the best people to talk about this very topic with me. So Ryan Robinson welcome.
Ryan: Hey, thanks for having me.
Louis: You’re very welcome. So let’s raise for everyone, right? As I said in the intro, it’s not a get-rich-quick type of episode, right?
Ryan: Absolutely not. It’s a get-rich-slowly I would say or get moderately decent income slowly as a six year journey.
Louis: That’s the best promise we can make, right? To be non shady, non aggressive. You’re unlikely to make a shit ton of money and it’s likely going to take a long time. And just to be clear as well, I think a lot of people listening are not necessarily on their own and they don’t necessarily want to do their own side project. They might be part of a bigger company, they might want to develop their blog further, they might want to restart their Ontario blog strategy because it’s not going anywhere. And I think this episode should be quite helpful for them as well, right?
Louis: So before we dive into that, tell me, you’ve been talking about this for a long time, you mentioned six years you’ve been doing it yourself. What are the biggest misconceptions that are there in term of blogging, writing on a blog, publishing blog posts and whatnot?
Ryan: I do think the biggest misconception is that it’s easy and let’s break up what easy means, right? Because we have easy to create content, we have easy to get readers and we have easy to monetize and those are kind of the three big buckets of blogging for me, is the content creation, actually getting people into your site and then actually monetizing it somehow and I would say that none of those three things are easy. I came into blogging for myself by being a content marketer for other startups for five years leading up to really taking my own blog seriously. My journey was being paid as a content marketer to build my skills and better position myself to get success with my own blog too. So I think it’s really kind of this story of investing and building the right skills, laying the foundation slowly and doing the things that I learned were working at my day job over on my personal blog too. So I kind of have that unique context where I’m starting.
Louis: And just to be clear, so you were in a content marketing position before you started the blog or was it at the same time? What was the timeline there?
Ryan: It was more or less the same time. I first registered my domain name 10 years ago and for the first few years it was this dumb tumbler blog of lifestyle, fashion nothing like what it looks like today. And I really didn’t pivot to my current iteration of a blog that’s kind of about marketing, side projects, blogging until about six years ago. So that’s kind of what I would say is my true starting point and at that point in time I had just landed a job working at CreativeLive, which is an online education company, they have got thousands of classes and I was getting to work with their business catalog of content, working with cool instructors who came through people like Ramit Sethi, Derek Halpern, Lewis Howes, a lot of big names in the online business space, I guess you could say.
Ryan: And I was working with them to create content and basically just drive traffic to their class pages. So I got to learn a lot about, even my own specific industry from these people, which is cool.
Louis: Yeah. So you’ve developed those skills by working with them, having a full time job and you were writing the blog posts on your own, developing the blog on your own, right?
Ryan: Exactly. Yeah. And I got this cool relationship with my boss, I want to say. It was very important at the time too to be very clear about what my side project is, what I want to do, here are kind of the guidelines too. I don’t want to work on this while I’m at work, I won’t use company property. Establishing those guidelines was really important for me.
Louis: Another aspect of this podcast and everyone who’s a marketer, as an idea I would say, is the fact that those episode are meant to be listened to now, but also hopefully in five or 10 years it should still be relevant, right? And I’ve read a few times before, any other topic in marketing world anyway, that is blogging dead and everyone’s going to start listening to fucking podcast now and stop reading blog posts so where do you think this is going? The blog as a format. Do you feel it’s going to be replaced by anything in 10 years? If someone listens to that in 2029 are they not going to understand what a blog even is? What are your views on this?
Ryan: I don’t think it’s going to be replaced. I think that maybe the biggest change that could come to blogging is that people will be doing a much more broad diversity of content mediums, delivering their content instead of just written contents in podcast form, in video form and written form all in one. And if you want to look at someone who I think is a great example of this, I’m personally not there yet, where I want to be as far as how many videos I’m doing alongside written concept, but Mark Manson, the writer of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, amazing book by the way, but on his blog he takes all of his best posts and he does an audio version of that, where he’s reading the article essentially and there’s a little play button at the top of the article. And so I think that’s a great example of where I envision a lot of content marketing and blogging going in the future, is that accessibility, giving people more options and a more diverse way to consume your content is a major trend.
Ryan: And I think also it’s important to say that Google owns YouTube. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world and what I’ve noticed a lot recently, we’re in late summer 2019 here, whenever I record a YouTube video on the exact same topic that I just published a written post about on my blog and then embed that video within my written blog post. I noticed that that video gets a lot more views first of all, because my blog gets readers, and because of that the video will rise in YouTube, organic search rankings. And then I’m convinced there’s some sort of connection behind the scenes too where both Google and YouTube want to reward that behavior of relinking to YouTube from your website and vice versa.
Ryan: So I’m very convinced that that’s going to be a future direction, video being more and more hot. We’re in the middle of a podcast revolution too, where that’s coming back. People love consuming content in a more passive way than just sitting down, buckling your seatbelt and reading a 10,000 word article. I don’t think that that’s the best way to deliver the absolute most impact to people. So I’d say yeah, diversifying content mediums.
Louis: Yeah. And to go back to what you said, maybe in 10 years time YouTube is going to be replaced by something else and maybe Google is going to be taken down and turn into pieces to make sure that they don’t maybe become a massive monopoly like they are right now. So we never know, but the principle of what you’re saying, in the sense that we are curious creatures, we are getting busier, we have a lot of technology in our hands and now with smart phones and it looks like mediums or formats that are a bit more interactive are going to take over more and more and that’s what people are looking for. More personalization, more voice, more audio, more video.
Louis: So again, what we’re seeing here is those trends aren’t going to keep going on because it’s based on people’s behavior and their psychology, not just based on best practices that are relevant in 2019 and not after that. So I want to come back to the question I asked you before maybe you have another thing you want to share. Apart from being easy, what would say the second biggest misconception around blogging or content marketing you see out there?
Ryan: I mean, easy is obviously the biggest one. I think another angle that you could take with content marketing is that a lot of people think that you can jump into it and create a full business, right? So this is more speaking to the people who are wanting to launch their own side projects. For me it took six years of momentum really to get to a point where I’ve created a true business out of blogging. You look at people who are influencers on Instagram or have been in blogging for 10 years, 15 years, right? The exception is very few and far between somebody who can build a real true business around a blog. So I personally took the approach of the past five years this basically just being a supplement to my income and a way for me to open up the door and do other freelance projects.
Ryan: So I kind of came from this background of doing lots of freelance work and for the longest time my blog was really just lead generation for my freelance business until more passive sources of income slowly began to pick up and I learned and I observed and I saw what was working for other people too. So that’s really the two biggest ones I would say.
Louis: And you mentioned the P word there, passive income, right?
Ryan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: I’m going to tell you my point of view of passive income and you just tell me what you think but I think it’s one of the worst fucking two worlds out there because it implies it is passive, which is not, as you said, you are testament to that six fucking years working on the side, on top of your full time job. I mean that takes commitment, it’s 72 fucking months. That’s more than 2,300 fucking days of working on that on the side without-
Ryan: And it’s still not passive today.
Louis: … Right, exactly.
Ryan: So much work still goes into it.
Louis: Like passive income, fuck this. I think as an idea I wish we could stop talking about it because it gives some bad rep to what it actually takes to make money in this day and age and to build a decent business. I just wanted to say that because, as you know, I’m very opinionated so just wanted to mention that because, yeah don’t expect this to work passively. You need to maintain your stuff, you need to rewrite some articles, you need to keep promoting them, you need to repurpose them, republish them, reach out to people, interview, I mean there’s no passivity in making money online nowadays. So you started to mention this, which I think is quite interesting. Your personal story, right? You went from zero to 400, 500,000 monthly readers on your blog.
Louis: Now, this episode, I don’t want it necessarily to be how you’ve done it and having this survivorship bias where, let’s copy everything you’ve done because it’s going to work for me because you might be one survey survivor out of 1000 who tried and we might not know why it worked, instead what would be interesting to hear from you is really from your perspective now, what do you think people listening right now, whether they have a project to do a side project with their blog or they are working in a company and their blog is not working, what do you think are the steps required to have a decent chance of making it work? From your perspective based on the mistakes you made and the lessons you’ve learnt. So why don’t we start with again, maybe you need to take one particular example to explain your steps, but again, this concept of, I want to launch a blog or at least I have a blog that is not working, whether it’s a company or personal blog. What is step one? What do you advise to do?
Ryan: This would be based on trying a lot of shit over the past six years, I would eliminate 90% of what I’ve tried. The number one thing that I would recommend doing, and this is what I do today, this is what I focus most of my time on today, is guest posting. So I try and approach the content creation rule as more of an 80-20 approach for me. So I want to spend 20% of my time creating the content for my blog and that sets a pretty high bar because now most of what I publish tends to be 5,000 words or more in length. So that alone takes a long period of time for me, usually two or three days of writing, right? Getting, coming back to it with fresh eyes, editing images, videos putting together a post that large takes a lot of time. And I take the approach of saying, “All right, whatever that amount of time was,” Call it 10 hours, “That’s going to be my 20%.”
Ryan: Now, I want to spend 80% of my time, right? So 40 more hours, promoting this article and the best vehicle for promotion of an article today, for me at least, is guest blogging and that’s going to be reaching out to other sites that have a high domain authority, they’re relevant to my niche, which tends to be blogging, content marketing and then pitching them on accepting a guest posts from me or having established relationships. You want to talk about the advantage of doing this for six years, is that I now know a lot of people in this space and so I can reach out and ping someone at a blog, like AWeber or add this something in the marketing space and say, “Hey, would you be up for another guest posts from me?”
Ryan: And the benefits of the guest posting obviously, are tending to be referral traffic so you can get some readers from those other sites that have larger audiences back to your own blog. And you can get some of those people to join your email list or take other actions on your site, to download an app, whatever that may be. But really what I’m talking about as the number one win from guest blogging, is getting high quality natural links by doing guest posts on other sites. That way you point back to your article you just published and that’s a positive SEO side effect of guest blogging.
Ryan: So that’s what I’m investing essentially all of my promotion time in. I don’t do Facebook ads, I don’t really spend a lot of time trying to create a social media movement around new articles I publish. I’m investing pretty much everything in guest blogging right now.
Louis: And so to deconstruct that a bit there are two things, right? The first one is, creating relationship with people, building relationships with people. Getting them to publish your content is a good way to build relationship. From experiences or what I can see is that traffic from referral, from these guest posts, is kind of not as much as you would actually hope, you don’t have that many people clicking on links, right?
Louis: Let’s be honest with each other, even if you have a shit on a volume on this traffic. So what it seems to boil down to is really using guest post as a segue to get links, as a segue to tell Google, “Listen, this article is good because people are linking-
Louis: … to it.” Right? And so we’ve talked about that-
Ryan: That’s the primary benefit.
Louis: … we’ve talked about that and SEO quite a lot on this podcast as a way to think about it longterm as well, there is still no better way for Google to understand the value of a page than the links they’d get, right? And that’s the issue I think they are facing, they wish they could replace it with something else they can’t fucking do-
Ryan: It is unfortunate I will say.
Louis: … Right? Because this the only currency, right? They could judge it by, how long do people stay on the page, they are already using that a bit. They can try to make it as good as a user experience as possible, but it still works and it’s unlikely that it will change in the next two, five years, that getting links is actually the number one currency to get your posts being found. So if I’m understanding what you’re saying right, and please correct me if I’m wrong, guest post for you is really a way to get some good links from good domains back to the posts you want to write for?
Ryan: Right. And the ultimate goal is boosting your own organic search rankings as a result of getting all those links, right? Because the referral traffic is very few and far between. I contribute to some publications like Forbes, Business Insider, Fast Company and let’s say I write for one of those sites a week. It’s maybe once every two months that I’ll see any sort of meaningful surge in traffic, meaningful being a couple hundred people over a couple of days once the post goes live so it’s really just kind of a trickle. It does build up over time if you can publish some truly great guest posts or publication column pieces that end up ranking well themselves and they can kind of funnel people from Google to Forbes to your blog.
Ryan: And then there’s a big waterfall drop-off effect to that, to where no matter what, you’re very, very rarely going to see a lot of referral traffic from guest posting. So yeah, primarily for a SEO benefit.
Louis: And I want to come back to one site I mean, you mentioned Forbes so I just want to make a small comment on this, right? Maybe in five years, 10 years, Forbes are going to get their shit together again and publish very high quality content all the time, but let’s be honest as well, it’s a bit of a shit show at the moment, right? This site, it’s getting worse, isn’t it?
Ryan: I think as the floodgates of new contributors open, they’ve taken tons of new writers over the past couple of years. So yeah, it gets, I’d say steadily lower quality on all the publications. I mean, I’d say I feel that way about most… Fast Company I actually really, really like still and I feel like they publish high quality content consistently, but they have a different model, right? With them, whenever I publish something, I have to pitch an editor individually on every single story, they review the pitch with me, they work with me on an outline, they thoroughly edit and make something a better article than what I turn into them. So it’s a different editorial process than with Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc, they all have their own CMS behind the scenes for writers. You just pop in, publish more or less what they want. They have quality control, I’m air quoting, that checks some of this stuff out after it goes live though, which means there’s sort of a lesser chance that something actually happens.
Louis: I wouldn’t be surprised I mean, I’m making a bet here, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google to start to seriously penalize those sites in the future because it’s getting-
Louis: … ridiculous so a lot of companies now, like independent companies who are doing content marketing quite well in their own field seem to produce really good articles and if you pitch to them instead, they tend to have editors in place, they tend to have better guidelines in place and it might be more beneficial for you in the long term, right? anyway, so guest posting, I actually was hoping that you’d mentioned something else first, right? Because I know you’ve talked about this. Let’s say you get to work with a company that has almost no organic traffic on their blog, it’s not working out, right? Why don’t you say that one of the key reason is that are positioning or the way their blog is not targeting or in particular therefore it’s not… Do you think that the first step really to get their shit together should be actually positioning the blog properly so that it stands out?
Ryan: Yeah, I think definitely picking a very clear niche and knowing who your audience is a major part before you even really get started in publishing content because you can be creating something so generic that it doesn’t resonate with anyone. And recently I’ve kind of been slapped in the face with my own experience on my blog lately. I kind of have this broad range of content on my site, ranging from side projects, entrepreneurship, business advice, content marketing, blogging, productivity, call it 10 bucket categories, right? I got slapped by Google this summer with kind of a major drop in traffic from a recent algorithm update they pushed that is favoring niche websites.
Ryan: I lost some search rankings on a couple of topics basically because I think my blog was viewed as a generalist site versus, looking at the rankings that fell down and some of the competitors that replaced my rankings, those sites had a of couple hundred articles about this specific, topic A let’s call it. So for me that was a really big lesson and I’m shifting gears to focusing on just one niche with my site moving forward and I’ve seen working with lots of different client companies over the years too, for example with Close the CRM company, they publish literally only stuff about sales on their blog and they have seen no dip in traffic this year because their content is all about sales. And Google says, “Hey, this site is an expert at sales.”
Ryan: And so I think there’s a lot to be said about Google’s EAT, was it, Authoritativeness Trustworthiness, I forget what the E stands for, but it’s basically-
Ryan: … kind of, Expertise, there we go. It’s a measure of how expert you are within your niche and how trustworthy that your site possibly can be. That was a major lesson I think for me, but I would say that’s a lesson that any bloggers can take away today, is that if you’re basically going 100% down one specific niche, you’re going to just create a more meaningful experience for the people that do come to your blog versus if you’re talking about productivity one day and then marketing on the other day. I’m sure there might be some overlap in there, but you’re not going to create a loyal readership of people who are excited to come to you for this one or two specific things.
Louis: So how would you advise people to go about it because finding a particular topic is one thing, right? But it maybe not enough to actually have a voice that sends out because, I mean, no disrespect to anyone listening, but any idiot can pick a topic, right? Any idiot can pick sales or marketing or fucking passive income if they want to as a topic. It’s hardly going to make them stand out given the size of the niche, right? So what is your advice to go-
Louis: … further and say, “Okay, we have something that is quite unique there if we manage to have our own voice and do proper SEO, we might get somewhere.”
Ryan: Well, the first thing is that you have to actually fucking care about it otherwise you’re going to get so damn bored trying to come up with blog post ideas that have proven traffic a demand. People can read through what I think thin content is or content that’s kind of bullshitty, not coming from a place of, “I have done this or I care enough about this to go out and research and interview other people in the niche who maybe have the experience that I don’t have in order to bolster a particular point within an article.” So if you approach your content as a journalistic standpoint, I think that’s what I try and strive to do, and I would never choose a niche to blog about that I don’t personally have an interest in because there are always going to be days where I’m tired or not feeling super motivated, but I have an internal deadline for pushing out an article I want to push out and if I don’t have that actual genuine interest in the content topic itself, like I find that whenever I’ve tried doing that, I pushed the publish date out for another week and then another week and another week after that.
Ryan: And then I’ve had this realization of, “Oh shit, I’m never going to publish this because it feels hard.” I don’t find a connection to the content topics. And so it’s a lesson that I wouldn’t say I’m immune to, myself I’ve learned it the hard way, but for now I would say, yeah, if you aren’t creating content on topics that you actually care about yourself, you’re never going to truly make it in the longterm over the course of years. I think you can have little spikes of success, but it’s not going to be a sustainable business in my opinion. You can do all the right things like keyword research, keyword analysis, guest blogging to build links doing all these things will prop you up I think in the short term. But it’s just going to take a lot more than just the tactics to sustain something over the long haul.
Louis: Yeah, I’m glad you answer it this way I mean, you’re a testament to that six years, I think we’ve interviewed Tommy Griffith from clickminded.com and same thing inside business. He ran it for seven fucking years before living. And my podcasts has been almost three years at this stage, but yeah, if I didn’t care enough about marketing, I would have stopped a long time ago publishing one episode every fucking week without fail. When you’re down, when you’re burned out a bit, when you have no time, when it’s six o’clock in the evening you have to interview a new guest. What it takes is this passion for giving a shit for the subject, right?
Louis: And maybe we should go down one rabbit hole further, one hole even deeper. How do you then find out what you give a shit about because I know that some people are not quite close to buddies, right? So what do you advise to do on this?
Ryan: I mean, honestly I think this journey can be different for everyone so I want to caveat that. You only have a set number of things that you can spend your time on in life, right? So if you’re at work and you don’t like your job, look at why you don’t like your job. Is it your boss that sucks? Is it the exact role you’re doing or is it the subject matter itself, like if you work at an online education company, do you care about online education, right? Is that something that you’re actually interested in yourself? So us to try and pinpoint I’d say, starting with work, right? Because you spend, what? A 30-year life at work, pinpoint what you do and do not like about your job. Is there an industry sort of within there that you do like, but I would say also look at how you spend your time, how you spend your money, what are the things that you go out of your way to do on vacation, if you go to baseball games every weekend that you have an opportunity to. Is there a way to create some sort of blog around baseball related topics?
Ryan: I would just sort of start by trying to take an objective look at what you care about personally and it doesn’t need to be an obvious connection to how you’re going to make money from that website today, I don’t think that’s the point of the activity of just starting to find what your topic could be. It’s going to happen more organically or grow over time eventually, right? But yeah, I would just start with hobbies, how you want to spend your time, what are the things you do on vacation? That’s kind of where I’ve gone at myself, just enjoying when I have free time writing for my blog. Ideally it’d be without some sort of keyword phrase in mind already, but I now try and take the approach of thinking about gaps in my current content. It’s not where I was when I started, but when I first started I was sort of going through, “What do I like talking about, what are the questions that people ask me because they feel I could be an expert resource at.” And looking at my own experience as well. So I think lots of different angles you could sort of take to answering this question. There’s no Bulletproof right answer on how to find that for yourself but I think those are some of the ways that I would start at least.
Louis: Yeah. From my perspective, what worked in the past was to look at what energizes me the most, so in term of what are the things that they start to do at the end of it, am I energized than at the start, right? And the contrary to that, what are the things that when I start to do, I’m energized and then at the end I’m not is usually a good sign of something that I’ve not really should settle down on and that’s tough, right? That’s tough to find that and it takes years to figure it out. I suppose some people never figure that out and so it’s okay if you’re feeling lost right now.
Louis: If you’re like late in your 20s or even 30s or forties, takes time to figure things out, but you need to be in tune with yourself a bit more. One thing I keep repeating on episodes that actually work, for people, is this asking your friends and colleagues about it? What do they think you’re the best in the world at? What do you think are your top strength? And you’ll get clarity from them quite a lot because they see you from the perspective of outside of the own self, which could be helpful, right?
Ryan: Yeah, and looking at my own story, for example too, the first real post I published on my blog was an answer to a question that people kept asking me. During college I had this side business built around this product intend to called the iStash. It was an iPhone look alike, hide your anything device, discretely designed to carry cigarette-shaped objects, let’s say, into music festivals, things like that. That business kind of imploded, failed, ended up losing a little bit of money on it. But after that experience, because I actually did something, I actually tried to build a business, all of my friends who were interested in business wanted to talk about business. how I found the manufacturer in China, how I got distributors to sell in smoke shops in California.
Ryan: So I got all these kinds of very interesting questions just because of the experience that I have. And that was kind of the foundation of my first pieces of content were answering those real questions people were asking me. Again, I think that goes to the core to of what your friends and families think of you or think you’re good at, what their sort of observations or overview. That can be a good starting point.
Louis: Yeah. I’m glad you mentioned that as well. So we’ve talked about two things, the guest posting, we’ve also talked about finding a niche and also I think on the side, even though I’m not sure we will have time to talk about it in more detail, this SEO research in term of what are people actually searching for, what do they have in their head, what problems or questions that they Google and then finding ways to write about that. So we interviewed people on this podcast before on this so I don’t think we should go into more detail. What I’m actually interested in talking to you more about, and we can consider it to be step three I would say, I think it’s one of the best kept secrets online in a sense, I don’t know if many listeners know that this is what happens a lot on big blogs and big sites. The fact that actually a lot of the people altering the blog posts are actually not the writers of the blog posts, right? Which would be called a ghostwriting or whatnot.
Louis: So I was actually, a few years ago, super fucking nave. I thought that everyone altering their own blog, yeah, I know you’re laughing at me, most of the people altering their blog posts would actually write the fucking thing. It’s not true, right? You can go quite close to having your own voice and to have someone write it for you and really sound like it’s to you. So tell me more about this concept of having freelance writers to help you scale.
Ryan: Yeah, this is something that I think a lot of people are very surprised by, and it always kind of blows my mind because I’ve been in this as an insider for so long. But yeah, I’ve used ghost writers on my own content for really let’s say the past year, occasionally here and there I would do it before hand, but for the first, at least four years, five years of my blog, I was truly writing everything myself. I would have editors help me, but in growing my blog to the point that I’ve got it today, I see the need for publishing a hell of a lot more content way more than I could write for myself, especially as I had a full-time job up until earlier this summer.
Ryan: So yeah, I’ve taken the opposite approach of instead of using editors, I now outsource what I like to call first drafts. So I’ll work with a writer to say, “Hey, here’s the title of the article I want to do. Here’s what I was thinking would be a rough outline, everything that we should cover. And then here are some examples of other articles already out there on this topic so you can see what the main points are, what we should be hitting.” And then from there I kind of set them loose. I say, “Hey, ask me any questions you got them as you’re going.” But I basically send my writers out to create a two-thousand, three-thousand word first draft of an article.
Ryan: That’s when I usually step in after they deliver that first draft unless it kind of misses the mark big time, I’ll hop in by making it more in-depth, adding my own examples, injecting my own voice, doing screenshots from the back end of my sites that kind of support examples, things like that. I guess what I publish is kind of an amalgamation of myself and another writer nowadays, but it’s something where I wouldn’t be able to scale my content creation without going this approach.
Ryan: So it’s kind of been like this. I guess you could call it a necessary evil although I don’t feel bad about it because I don’t feel like I’m trying to mislead readers in any sentence. I think it’s just kind of the natural evolution of growing a website essentially beyond myself. And you’ll start to see when a lot of bloggers get, let’s say big, they start to refer, in their content, with more of the proverbial, we or us, instead of the, I, me kind of approach and that’s when you definitely know there’s kind of a shift towards someone who has a team behind the scenes. Though don’t be fooled, Neil Patel does not write all of his content himself. He’s got-
Louis: I was-
Ryan: … an army.
Louis: … I was sure you’d mentioned that because that’s a typical example, right? And-
Ryan: He’s a pro.
Louis: … Yeah, he’s a pro. I wouldn’t think it’s shady either, right? And here’s why, as long as you control, I think the narrative, as you said, the outline, the overlying goal, as long as you control the reason why I’m going to write this and as long as you’re retaining your voice. So one thing that I like to do for this use cases is actually recording because I prefer to speak than write. I’d actually record my thought on a full outline and just keep it a hundred percent natural and then having someone else writing it at least it feels rough for me and be me editing it to make sure it sounds like me. I mean, we talked about, just 10 minutes ago, about focusing on your strength and what energizes you, writing, I fucking hate it. I don’t like it.
Louis: So I much rather rant in front of the microphone for 15 minutes, I have no problem doing that, right? So I think you need to make peace with it. If you know that blogging is a channel that you want to use but you don’t like writing, it sounds like, if you have budget for it, having freelance writer to help you out as long as you control the narrative and they are able to have your voice and that you look at the blog post before it’s published to make sure it sounds okay and it sounds like you then I don’t see anything shady. Where I think the shadiness starts to appear is when whoever owns the blog has no fucking control whatsoever in term of what is being posted for them and it just sounds so fucking different from who they are. Something very odd and grammatically incorrect and all of that.
Ryan: Yeah. If you don’t have any sort of personal like fire to say, “Hey, this is the topic that we need to write about. This is the angle I want to have. These are the main points I want to have.” If you’re doing that approach to ghost writing, then I think it’s a little more inauthentic and I think also over time people will kind of see through that sort of stuff. I have a lot of respect for Neil, for the type of business that he’s been able to build and he’s amazingly good at building that type of content business, right? He’s done a lot of seriously impressive shit, but I think a lot of his content doesn’t really necessarily feel or sound like him anymore.
Ryan: I think some of his early stuff, he definitely clearly wrote himself, but if you’ve been following him for five or 10 years, you can kind of chart a course where the volume of content went through the roof, but it doesn’t feel as much of like a fire, right? I feel like when you’re reading something that someone wrote with true passion, they’re not just being paid a couple of hundred bucks to bringing out a couple thousand words. It’s a very different experience as a reader.
Louis: Yeah. This fire is intangible. It’s really difficult to understand what you mean unless you write the difference but as you said, inserting your own thought and thought process into it, your own experiences, accurate screenshots, using one liners that show your emotions and ranting like what we’re doing right now. It doesn’t have to be fucking perfect SEO, optimized 100% of the time, fuck this, at the end of the day we are humans-
Louis: … and you need to write like you talk to a certain extent. So how would you advise folks to actually find good writers who can capture your voice and who actually understand this concept?
Ryan: It’s definitely not easy. The best writers that I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with are people that I was either introduced to, so I got to meet them through different work projects I was doing or a coworker knew them. But essentially the best writers I’ve been able to work with are people that I’ve worked with and written for, very well-funded startups. So they’re not people that I can afford to have writing all the time for me. I kind of got to be really choosy about, “All right, this is a really comprehensive topic. It’s going to be high value for me. I’ll see a return within six to 12 months on it.” So yes I can afford to pay this really good writer, 1000 bucks or 1500 bucks, whatever it may be. So if you want to go for quality, which is what I recommend, I think it’s best to ask for referrals.
Ryan: I have had some success with posting on the ProBlogger Job board. I was actually really surprised in the level of quality for some of the pitches that came through. It’s so high volume I think I got maybe 150 applications for people who wanted to write for me and I ended up testing out, say 10 of the people, and of the 10, I found two that I still currently write with. But that took a shit load of time and efforts and me doing this really time intensive process of like outlining an article with each of them, getting a first draft, really truly reading it, when I go through the process of editing seeing if it’s something that I can actually publish.
Ryan: So it’s very time intensive I would say, to find good writers, especially when you go to the job boards. I think ProBlogger is probably my favorite, I guess. you could say. Aside from referrals, I’ll always ask for referrals first and there’s tons of good Facebook groups and Slack groups out there too where talented writers hang out. But I also like to kind of look at the sites that I want to be published on and see who some of those writers are, who’ve done guest posts for those sites. And then kind of just go down the rabbit hole of, you’re reading their personal blogs or checking out some of the other stuff they’ve written.
Ryan: So yeah, I’d say the overarching theme here is that it takes a lot of time.
Louis: Yeah, it’s a bitch. It takes time, but I think it’s worth it if you know how to really control the flow and the angle. So as you said, you need to make sure you have a good angle, you need to make sure you work on a clear outline, which is basically the skeleton of the article, right? The story fits, feels like you. You need to make sure they understand your tone of voice, you need to send them examples, if possible, of articles you’ve written and podcast episodes you’ve been on to or YouTube videos or whatever else or conference talks and then you need to look at, if possible, what I think worked really well for me in the past was really this audio style outline where they can’t really go wrong in terms of the tone because I’m actually going through the article. That worked for me and then as you said, finally looking for four writers that you actually read stuff from and actually getting in touch to see what are their rates.
Louis: But yeah, it’s not cheap, right? And if you get something-
Ryan: No, and it shouldn’t be.
Louis: … like 50. Yeah, $50 an article or whatnot, fucking run, right? It’s not going to be viable for you, right?
Ryan: Yeah. It’ll always be too good to be true when writers tell you that it’ll cost 50 bucks or 100 bucks to write something that’s a couple thousand words. You’re just going to spend more time editing it than you would’ve spent writing it yourself. So I think it’s very worthwhile to hire writers who command a premium price because they deliver a premium product. So do your homework, look at their actual work samples and don’t be afraid to actually spend a meaningful amount of money for something that you’re hoping to get a financial return on yourself one day.
Louis: On the topic of things that are not super known from the wider public, beside this very topic, is there anything else that springs to mind, anything that you think most listeners listening to this right now might not know that is valuable?
Ryan: Another thing I’d want to highlight, we did touch on it earlier, backlinks being the biggest signal for Google to see what kind of content is authoritative. I want to really highlight this because it’s something that cannot be understated. I’ve seen so many sites out recently that are honestly producing pretty shit quality but have a team of a fuck load of people who just build backlinks all the time and they’re still being rewarded for that approach. I think that is something that Google wants to get rid of and do away with. Since their search algorithm has been around, they’ve known it’s a problem because that’s how they try and favor websites but it’s still working today. It’s priced still going to be working for the next two to five years, so tastefully building as many high quality backlinks as you can through doing actual genuine content not just paying for links or buying expired domains to redirect to your website.
Ryan: There’s a lot of sort of tacticky, shady shit out there that I do see working really well today for reasons unbeknownst to me, but I think that that’s not a future proof way-
Ryan: … to grow your site. I think guest blogging is pretty much the only, let’s call it semi-authentic way to get quality backlinks to your sites. If you look at Google’s actual guidelines on this kind of stuff, they technically kind of discourage something like guest blogging even when it’s for the purpose of link building. But I think that that’s the only future proof way to do it because a lot of these sites that are propped up by a shitload of just crazy links that they’ve bought or expired domains they have acquired that kind of stuff I think is going to go away hopefully-
Ryan: … within the next five.
Louis: I hope so. And you wouldn’t believe the dark fucking businesses out there setting you back links from 80 domains authority like the popularity of a domain. You can buy backlinks from 50 quid, a hundred quid. I mean it’s fucking insane. As you said, there’s also teams of people reaching out to other blog and say, “Hey, you’ve written about this topic. Can you write, can you blink to me instead?” What I found to work to be working, I think even if Google consider backlinks to be less of a signal in the future that works still is, if you have a good fucking article in the first place, right? And a good angle or something worth sharing and you reach out to friends of yours and say, “Hey, check it out. What do you think?” Or reach out to people you’ve mentioned in the post, you might get a few fucking backlinks out of it.
Louis: So to talk just about my small example and small world, I get good backlinks from episodes when people like the episode and they just share it on a blog and say, “Oh yeah, check it out and whatever.” So I would get five, 10, 15 referring domains back to the page. And honestly for most topics, sometimes it’s enough to rank for it even if it’s just an episode page, it doesn’t have any good content on it it’s just a transcript. So I guess the core of it is going back to what we said about niche and positioning.
Louis: If you have something to say, if you have fire in her belly about it, if you’re never going to be tired about this fucking topic and if you care enough to write good shit, yes it’s will required for you to promote it and reach out to folks and whatnot, but you are going to have more chance to get links and therefore to rank and to be shown to Google, right?
Ryan: Yeah. And you’re going to be energized to write that extra guest post or send those extra 10 outreach emails that requires to get a yes for a guest post. I think it’s all about energizing, finding those things that you’re actually motivated to do.
Louis: I know another thing that you’re pretty big into is very mainly so when folks land on your site, the first thing they see is your face. The second thing they see is the email obtained form, right?
Ryan: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Louis: So you make it quite obvious that what you want from people at the end of the day, if they’re really into it, they can subscribe to your blog. Part of your blog posts as well is you insert a lot of forms into your blog post to making sure that people can subscribe. So I know that this is something that a lot of people talk about, you need to build an email list everyone says that. Why do you think it’s the case? Why do you build an email list on your side?
Ryan: I mean I’m still pretty early on as far as what you would consider monetizing an email list. It’s not really something that I’ve been an expert at, making money from my email list. I’ve just been sort of in this very long six year phase of building a relationship with the readers on my email list. And I think that that’s the approach that honestly lends to the best kind of relationship with subscribers on your email list, people on your blog. I get tons of content ideas from people on my email list, I’ll send surveys out and see like, “Hey, what do you want to hear from me on?” And occasionally say once a year, once every two years looking at my real track record that’ll turn into some sort of paid product, like a course or something like that.
Ryan: But I don’t do like affiliate to my email list. I personally don’t like slimy salespeople or people that are sending a shitload of emails promoting their product at all times. Within seven days of joining the list, you get a drip series of pitches on why you should buy this course. I’m personally kind of averse to that sort of selling stuff so I really use my email list as a place to kind of fuel the content to build a genuine relationship with my readers.
Ryan: And you’ll see on a lot of my blog posts, as soon as I send out an email about something new, I’ll get 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 sometimes even a couple of hundred comments within the first few days of something even going up. So it’s kind of a way for me to just gauge the potential popularity of a topic to occasionally validate product ideas, but it’s not something I’ve been super thoughtful about monetizing mainly because I don’t love when I’m hardcore sold by other people. So I kind of have this approach of just letting people know about new content that gets published and within the content then I’ll have other types of calls to action, free templates, free downloadable resources, the occasional paid course too when there’s a natural connection to the topics at hand.
Louis: So you say you sent a survey to your list, which I completely agree with you. I do that even if I have 1% or 2% of the size of your list, I still have people listening do subscribe and I do like to send a few questions sometimes. So what would be, you mentioned one, but what would be your top three questions you’d like to ask people?
Ryan: Well, one is definitely kind of geared towards content ideas for myself. That’s the one selfish question I like to ask, but the other one is honestly I like to hear what kinds of businesses people are launching themselves who are on my blog. I have such a wide range of people that come to my site, freelancers, marketers, bloggers, side hustlers that one of the big questions for me is how would you categorize your business? Those are kind of the four big buckets that I’ll ask people to check off. Side hustler, marketer, freelancer, blogger, and actually giving people a form field to tell me about their business they’re working on, link to their websites.
Ryan: Those are the kinds of things that I find really meaningful to read and gather really interesting insights to about the types of people that are coming by, what they’re interested in, what they’re motivated by. And yeah, the final question is, why. I’m really curious about the why behind people’s businesses. So what you want to start, why and then how I can help with more content.
Louis: Yeah. What you’re doing seems a bit like what a Ryan Levesque talk about in his, ASK Method book, which is quite good I think it’s quite qualitative. So it teaches people to put in different buckets, what they want to achieve and then you seem to layer that with some sort of a psychographic element of, why did they give a shit? Why did they want to build a side hustle. And the difference of why can actually turn your marketing into a different buckets as well. If someone wants to start a side hustle to be a fucking millionaire, invest in someone who wants to start a side hustle to sustain himself or herself. I suspect that different articles may make them happier than others, right? So interesting to-
Louis: … know that. I think I’ve quizzed you enough on these step by step. We’ve talked about a few topics, I’m glad you mentioned a few things that are usually not really mentioned in the world of blogging, so thanks for going through that with me. On the back of that, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?
Ryan: I think by far, the best skill that I would recommend is, and this might be a surprising one, but I think video production would be the number one skill that I would recommend, that I wish I was better at today. Everything from the ability to outline what a good video could be. Not scripting something because I think that scripted stuff turns out pretty shitty because it’s obviously that you’re reading something.
Ryan: But I think if you can get train yourself to get good at outlining what a video should cover, pull in relevant examples to support each point and put together a cohesive narrative for a five minute, 10 minute YouTube video, edit that together. That’s a pretty useful skill set for marketers today. Learning to code is always going to be useful but I think that videos kind of becoming the next big wave that I’m seeing a lot of content marketers being rewarded for. So if you can very affordably do that yourself and do it quickly, that’s a crazy useful skill.
Louis: Nice one. I don’t think it’s been mentioned once, so that’s interesting to hear that from you and I would concur as well. I wish I had time to do YouTube videos. I have a lot of shit to says as you may notice, but yeah, it is time consuming. As I was in your position, working full-time, having that as a side project. It’s something that I will do for sure, but don’t have time right now-
Louis: … on the back of that, what are the top three resources you’d recommend listeners today? Could be blog posts, could be articles, webinars, podcasts, conferences, YouTube channels or whatever.
Ryan: You mean you mean specific places to go and learn more or content mediums to create in yourself?
Louis: I mean to learn more. What are the resources you’d really recommend that you keep coming back to yourself, that you really love, that you’ll recommend to our listeners?
Ryan: Yeah, I do have one self plug I would give. I recently published my own personal guide to guest blogging and it’s ridiculously long. I’m working on putting it into video format, audio format and an e-book for people to read offline, I’m taking my own advice here a little bit, so it’ll happen soon hold me accountable for that. But honestly I spend so much time using Ahrefs, which I’m sure the marketers out there are familiar with A-H-R-E-F-S.com. Their blog is ridiculously helpful. You want to talk about a company that’s amazing at video. Also, their YouTube channel is freaking ridiculous.
Ryan: They produce such good content very regularly. So I would just check them out for both, as an example of someone who is doing content amazingly well and what their actual content covers. I think they’re very good from the SEO technical marketing standpoints. And I mean I’m in this world myself right now with SEO. Brian Dean also is someone who, backlinko.com, is someone who I follow religiously, might set his blog as my homepage one of these days just because I read it so oftenly. But yeah, that’s what I’d recommend.
Louis: Nice. Yeah. And Thanks for the ploy because usually guests are too nice that they don’t want to mention their stuff and I’m like, “Come on, it’s okay. You’ve been talking for 50 minutes, 55 minutes giving good value. Feel free that’s what it is for.” And I can see now your strategy is really trying to, not mimic, but using the learnings from Backlinks in term of the skyscraper technique and then all those long form of content. So nice to see the connection between those two things. So Ryan, you’ve been pleasure to talk to. Thanks for sharing your secrets at least things that are not talked about that much in this blogging world. Where can listeners connect with you and learn more from you?
Ryan: Yeah, thanks for having me. Everything can be found at my home base royrob.com, R-O-Y-R-O-B.com. I’m always super accessible to emails, an easy way to reach me I’m just Ryan at royrob.com.
Louis: Fabulous. Thanks so much.
Ryan: Thank you.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.