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If you learn to write, you can change your life.

The corpse was so well-preserved that they thought it was fresh.

6th of May, 1950, Denmark.

Local workers found a man completely submerged in peat, arranged in a fetal position. They named him the Tollund Man.

On his head was a cap. Around his waist, a belt. There was a leather noose around his neck. Apart from that, he was naked.

Following a forensic examination, scientists discovered 40 different grains in his stomach: his last meal.

This grisly trail of clues led to widespread public pondering.

Why was he naked? What’s with the mixed-grain porridge? And why did he have to die?

Some evidence gave conclusive answers: he died in the 4th century BC. He was roughly 40 years old.

But other theories emerged, too. That the man was a farmer who had been executed to appease the gods. The grains in his stomach were part of the sacrifice, to encourage crops to grow.

Or maybe he was just a wandering nudist in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We’ll never truly know.

But, as humans, we’ll continue to project stories on absolutely everything. Research consistently shows that, from activating language centers to releasing organic chemicals such as oxytocin, our brains love storytelling.

The Tollund Man couldn’t be a random corpse. We had to give him a name, a history, a life. Stories. They move people. And moving people is magical.

The secret of moving crowds from your couch

I first realized the power of storytelling back in 2014. From my little desk in my little room from the middle of nowhere, I was publishing stories that generated more traffic than by those companies with an army of writers.

It was true. Writing was the most radical thing you could do without spending any money. My stories were traveling the world while I slept, searching for opportunities on my behalf.

“If you can’t code, write books and blogs, record videos and podcasts. Media travels and earns while you sleep. It searches the world for opportunities for you.” Naval Ravikant

Seeing how words moved people was powerful. Reaching masses from my little desk felt good. But somewhere underneath that blog was a little secret that changed my writing forever.

I first found the secret between the lines of a random blog post I read in 2013. Rereading it over and over again didn’t help. I had to pick up my coat and go for a long walk to digest what I had just discovered.

That secret taught me most of what I know about writing, even though I wasn’t a native English speaker and lacked confidence in my skills.

And it forms the core of our storytelling strategy at Growth Supply today.

The raw horsepower of The Single Line

The simple secret I had uncovered came from poet Charles Bukowski. It contained just six words:

“The secret is in the line.”

I remember rushing back home on that January day to write down every single thought Bukowski’s advice had inspired during my walk. Later that day, I studied a few other posts on the same topic.

Even today, every time I see someone write an article with complicated, jargon-filled lines, I remember the following notes I took from those blogs:

What is the primary purpose of any piece of writing you publish online?
– To get what you’ve written read.

So, what’s the primary purpose of your headline, your graphics, your fonts, and every other part of the content?
– To get the first sentence read.

And the purpose of the first sentence?
– To get the second sentence read.

This may sound simplistic. Or maybe even confusing.

But the secret is in the line. If no one reads, all is lost.

The key to getting someone to read is taking it one sentence at a time, ensuring your readers are so compelled by that sentence that they want to read the next.

You won’t be able to pull this off all the time. Hell, you won’t even pull it off most of the time. But if you keep the raw horsepower of The Single Line in your mind as you work, you might make something good enough to be read and shared … maybe even shared widely.

This is foundational because even if you employ every BS “content distribution” trick and tip in the book, if your writing is bad, it won’t get you anywhere.

Write well. Line by line.

The Single Line approach changed my writing, and eventually, my life.

It enabled me to build two businesses in today’s overly crowded content industry. But it wouldn’t have had the same impact had I not questioned why it mattered.

The Single Line mentality matters

I outlined the core pillars of building a storytelling strategy in How we got 11.3 million pageviews without the growth hacking BS. And in a recent essay, I shared why I think effective writing is lean, clean, and easy to read.

But none of those insights matter unless you sit down alone with your thoughts to type words on a blank page, one line at a time.

The secret hides in those silent seconds where you realize you need to connect your monkey mind to the blank page in front of you. This is the reality where there is no background music. It’s in those very silent moments that you admit no productivity tool or fancy writing app can save you from getting your mind to focus on that empty screen.

To paraphrase David McCullough’s beautiful words:

To write is to think, and to write well is to think well.

Writing and thinking well, line by line, isn’t easy. But if you remember The Single Line mentality as you work, you might bring together something so good that it connects with people in exactly the ways they need.

It begins by respecting your craft. It requires treating your words carefully. In a world where you are just one boring line away from losing people, focusing on one line at a time helps you keep the audience in mind.

Take the lazy intros you see in the majority of me-too articles published on the Internet today — they all follow the pattern below:

Have you ever felt lonely after having binged on chocolates? I’m sure you can relate! We’ve all been there, right? I know. You are not alone! In this post, I’ll teach you how to stop binging and make you insanely successful at not binging!

Instead of arrogantly assuming the reader should relate or begging for her attention, why not craft your story, one line at a time, so readers are so compelled by that line that they want to read the next?

Getting people to read your story, long-form essay, or blog post gives you a few priceless minutes to make an in-depth, intellectual connection with anyone, anywhere in the world.

“If words weren’t quite so easy to produce, it’s possible that people would treat them — and maybe each other — with a little more care.” — Markham Heid

The words you put out in the wild have the power to move the masses.

Treat your words with care.

Keep The Single Line in mind as you craft your own Tollund Man story.

If you learn to write, you can change your life. The secret is in the line.

Write to express, not to impress

“Thesaurus carpet-bombings and long-winded sentences are commonly mistaken for fine writing because they feel authoritative and intellectual. But they’re just masks; effective writing is lean, clean, and easy to read.” — Gregory Ciotti

Ciotti adds that the root of the problem lies in our desire to impress.

He’s probably right. I wasted the first two years of my blogging journey trying to impress my audience even though I wasn’t a native English speaker.

I learned most of my English in high school. And if you’ve ever taken a high school English class, you probably had to meet those word counts on papers. Add to that the pressure to satisfy your teacher’s demands by adding extra adjectives to “enrich your writing.”

Sophisticated writing is good writing, I learned from those academics.

Applying complex high school writing to Internet blogging didn’t work, though. I’m not sure how many posts I deleted during those two years, but I was never going to be a writer. Blaming my teachers didn’t help, nor did imposter syndrome or playing the victim of not being an English native.

On the positive side, such negative self-talk elicited a lot of questions. And by 2015, I had some answers. In How I got 6.2 million pageviews, I shared my biggest lesson from those failed blogging attempts:

“Keep your writing as simple as possible. Let the real writers blow our minds. Meanwhile, we’ll try to get our message across as clearly as possible.”

Write to express, not to impress, I learned from the Internet.

You may not consider yourself a “writer,” but to strengthen your writing, you don’t have to be. Good writing shouldn’t be reserved for English majors or professional authors.

My writing is still nowhere near perfect, but over the years, I’ve been bookmarking a collection of practical tricks to sharpen it.

The following list has been significantly useful in my journey to building two businesses in today’s content world. Hopefully, these tips will help you as much as they have helped me.

1. Turn prepositional phrases into adjectives

When a prepositional phrase (they often start with “in” or “of”) describes the noun before it, try turning it into a one-word adjective instead.

No: CEOs in the tech sector

Yes: Tech CEOs

2. Avoid the passive voice

While the passive voice adds words to sentences, it also distances readers from what’s happening. Use the active voice whenever you can for crisper, more concise writing.

No: I was given a raise by my boss.

Yes: My boss gave me a raise.

3. Replace adverbs with strong verbs

Adverbs, which add detail to verbs, can often be replaced with a single, stronger verb. Since verbs are the “engine” of your writing, choose powerful and accurate ones instead of tacking “-ly” words on to dull verbs.

No: The child cried loudly.

Yes: The child screamed.

4. Delete “that” when you can

Unnecessary “thats” are like fat in a sentence. They just clutter your writing, and nine times out of ten, you can cut them. A useful resource is here if you want to learn more.

No: I hope that my colleagues enjoy my presentation.

Yes: I hope my colleagues enjoy my presentation.

5. Think twice about intensifiers

Using an intensifier like “very,” “really,” “truly,” or “extremely” is often a sign you just need to choose a better adjective.

No: It’s extremely cold outside.

Yes: It’s freezing outside.

6. Eliminate conjunctions

If you’re using two adjectives to describe a noun, you can often cut out conjunctions and use a comma instead.

No: The long and crowded flight exhausted the flight attendants.

Yes: The long, crowded flight exhausted the flight attendants.

7. Don’t start sentences with “there”

Starting a sentence with “there” isn’t just wordy. It also buries the real meat of the sentence. Instead of beginning with “there,” try flipping the sentence around and starting with a noun.

No: There is a common thought among the students that school days should be shorter.

Yes: The students think school days should be shorter.

8. Swap nouns for verbs

Many times, writers unnecessarily water down sentences by using phrases that could be single words. Nouns in place of verbs are one example.

No: I made a decision to exercise daily.

Yes: I decided to exercise daily.

9. Cut wordy phrases

Wordy phrases don’t accomplish anything except bulking up your word count and distracting readers from the point. Exchange the multi-word phrases below with the following simpler, less clunky alternatives.

  • In order to / to
  • Due to the fact that / because
  • On account of / because
  • In the event that / if
  • A large number of / many
  • The vast majority of / most
  • In spite of the fact that / although
  • In most cases/ usually
  • With regard to / regarding
  • At the present / now
  • During the course of / during
  • After the fact/ afterward
  • In terms of / in or for
  • In the midst of / amidst
  • So as to / to
  • In advance of / before
  • After the fact / after

No: In order to use their time more effectively, the employees worked through lunch.

Yes: To use their time more effectively, the employees worked through lunch.

10. Avoid adjective strings

If you have to use more than two adjectives to describe something, you should probably choose one stronger adjective instead. Not only will the description be more concise; it will probably be more accurate.

No: The customers are happy and excited about today’s product launch.

Yes: The customers are thrilled about today’s product launch.

11. Don’t use noun strings

More than three nouns in a row breeds confusion for readers — plus, a cluster of nouns technically makes the first two nouns into adjectives. Delete unessential words or introduce a preposition to clarify the meaning.

No: Company vacation rollover policy

Yes: Company policy on vacation rollover

12. Use positive description, not negative

Instead of wasting words describing what something isn’t, describe what it is instead. Your writing will seem both more confident and concise.

No: The living room lacks sunlight.

Yes: The living room is dark.

13. Replace “to be” verbs

If you’re using a verb like “is” or “are,” experiment with putting stronger verbs in their place. “To be” verbs sound lifeless and flat, and they don’t show any action.

No: The parent and teenager are in a state of disagreement about the curfew.

Yes: The parent and teenager disagree on the curfew.

14. Opt for common words

If you’re not writing a scientific study or a legal document, you can probably simplify your language. Choose simple, easy-to-understand words whenever possible.

No: My core competency relates to getting buy-in from all stakeholders.

Yes: I like to ensure that everyone agrees.

15. Avoid definitions

Do you have to define something you write? Chances are, you should just choose a less confusing word. The same principle applies on the sentence level. If you have to add an additional sentence to clarify an idea (typically, writers use “in other words”), cut the first sentence altogether.

No: My emotions got the best of me. In other words, I was angry.

Yes: I was angry.

16. Nix “currently”

“Am,” “are,” and “is” imply “right now,” so using “currently” can make a sentence redundant.

No: I’m currently in a great mood.
Yes:
I’m in a great mood.

17. Skip relative pronouns

Relative pronouns like “that” or “who” modify nouns, which means you can typically swap them out for adjectives.

No: The family searched for houses that had four bedrooms.

Yes: The family searched for four-bedroom houses.

18. Reconsider “make”

Another common offender in wordiness: “make + adjective,” which writers often use in place of a verb that says the same thing more effectively. Verbs should always convey action.

No: Calcium makes the bones stronger.

Yes: Calcium strengthens the bones.

//

Ciotti is right. Thesaurus carpet-bombings and long-winded sentences are just masks; effective writing is lean, clean, and easy to read.

Write to express, not to impress.

How we got 11.3 million pageviews without the growth hacking bullshit

“Once you publish a blog post, you have to email as many influencers as possible,” he tells the guy next to him, “and ask them to share it on their social media.”

I know I should mind my own business and stop listening to their conversation. But overhearing strangers in coworking spaces is always more interesting than staring at my screen all day long.

“Start your email with a sentence that flatters them. Maybe just pretend you care about something they published.” He adds, “You’ll also need software to track if they open your emails so you can send them follow-up emails later.”

So you can keep spamming them, I want to walk up to them and correct him. But I don’t judge him. We marketers love to destroy beautiful things.

Want to ruin something? Give it to us. Take influencer… social media… email… LinkedIn… we’ll add the word “marketing” next to each one and before long the world will be sick of our spammy tactics.

The word “content” isn’t any exception. In a recent essay, Intercom’s editor John Collins explains why they dropped the term “content marketing”:

“Combine ‘content’ with ‘marketing’ and you further undermine what you’re creating. The phrase suggests the entire point of the exercise is marketing. But if you focus on publishing great content, you’ll actually need to do minimal marketing to attract people to your product.”

Collins goes on to highlight that the term “content” itself is also problematic.

And he is right: “content” does commodify the core of what we do. But we all continue to use the word for want of a better catch-all phrase for our articles, books, and podcasts.

But do we have a better alternative?

‘Storytelling’ as a growth engine

11.3 million.

That’s the number of pageviews the “content” we created for our clients got over the last nine months.

People want me to talk about growth hacks or loopholes we found with Facebook ads. But our formula comes down to one thing we believe does a healthier job of capturing what we do: storytelling.

We discovered that if we focus on storytelling and worry little about the marketing part, the compound return that kicks in at around the fourth to the sixth month is simply mind-blowing.

We spend long hours, often a few days, on a single story.

Growth begins with words. Stories, they move people. And moving people is magical for building a business on your own terms, without worrying about competition.

The reason is simple: People don’t desire products. They desire feelings that products give them.

And storytelling is an incredible tool that acknowledges such distinction, a tool so few people are capable of using or understand the true potential of.

Getting people to read your story, a long-form essay, or a blog post, gives you those few priceless minutes to make an in-depth, intellectual connection with anyone around the world.

The readers of your stories in return start giving you their trust, one story at a time. And trust over time equals power.

We call this power “compound growth” which, after a few months of consistent storytelling, turns into your unstoppable in-house growth engine.

I explained the “compound growth” concept in detail in another essay so I’ll cut it short here.

But enough with the returns or benefits of storytelling.

Let’s get to some serious stuff.

How to move the masses

Building your own storytelling engine isn’t rocket science. And the truth is you don’t actually need to hire agencies like us to build one.

In a world where the majority spend their days on growth hacks and blame the algorithms when things don’t go well, focusing on the storytelling part easily gets you among the top 1 percent.

I want to share three building blocks we go through with each of our clients, which I hope will help you kick off your own storytelling strategy.

Let’s begin with high-level decisions.

1. Define your core narrative

“Over 90% of tech company content continue to be egocentric, focused on them (products, capabilities, company) instead of the customer (and the benefits that their solutions enable).” — Gartner

Before blaming those 90 percent for publishing selfish content, let’s consider a few best-in-class others that do quite the opposite:

  • Intercom’s blog doesn’t talk about its chatbot products; its content instead focuses on how to make business personal again.
  • JotForm doesn’t hard-sell its audience on its online forms — forms are boring and there are dozens of identical online form competitors. Their content instead helps organizations become more productive.

Unlike egocentric brands, the above examples tell stories beyond themselves. And they demonstrate what we call the “core narrative,” which is the first step to building your storytelling strategy.

Your core narrative is what you sell beyond your product. It’s the broad idea behind your otherwise selfish brand.

Defining a core narrative helps you to tell stories beyond yourself and still sell your product without shoving your product down people’s throats.

And every brand has a good narrative to sell — I mean, tell.

Got a product you think isn’t sexy enough? You can still craft a narrative.

The full-service storage company Clutter doesn’t hard-sell its boring storage services. It talks about delivering piece of mind.

The same could go for an accounting company. Why not talk about freedom instead?

In his by now legendary memo, Slack’s founder Stewart Butterfield highlights how selling a bigger idea beyond their group chat product could help them define a new market, instead of battling it out in a large market with dozens of incumbents:

“What we are selling is not the software product because there are just not many buyers for this software product. That’s why what we’re selling is organizational transformation. The software just happens to be the part we’re able to build and ship.”

Defining your core narrative guides every other content decision.

Content teams that otherwise run around like headless chickens finally receive a clear direction for what slogans to write on their homepage, how to craft their otherwise hard-selling marketing newsletters, etc.

You can think of your core narrative also as your “adjacent possible.” As Article Group’s Steve Bryant highlights:

“The point of an awareness strategy is not to capture dollars by selling a thing, it is to capture attention by selling an idea adjacent to that thingBy capturing attention with ideas you own that idea. By owning the idea, you own the audience. By owning the audience you can tell the audience what to pay attention to, and thereby define the marketplace. That is a long-term play. But that is the power of an awareness strategy, and thus the power of content.”

This doesn’t mean you should never publish about yourself, though.

As a business, you will obviously have content about your product launches, case studies, or company announcements. Indeed, Intercom often publishes about its feature releases; so does Basecamp.

That’s why it’s critical to break down your core narrative into tiers. You can think of your tiers as categories your stories will cover — they help you to turn such high-level narrative into an actionable content plan.

And your tiers can have a varying dose of “you” — from a tier that covers product-related topics (more about you) to one that solves your audience’s other, broader problems (nothing about you).

In other words, when brought together, the portfolio of your tiers should bring together the pieces of your core narrative.

But how you balance your tiers heavily depends on your content goal, which brings us to the next building block:

2. Define your ultimate goal

It’s easy for us to sit here and criticize content teams that publish ego-centric content.

But we should remember they spend most of their time inside the business. Add to that the pressure to convert website visitors into sales.

Yes, content does eventually lead to sales. But tying content directly to sales is a tricky business.

This doesn’t mean thinking of conversions is bad; after all, you need to pay the bills if you are in business.

And things like SEO, ads or webinars work great when people have a clear problem to be solved, i.e., when they know they need a solution.

But how about other market conditions where building even some “awareness” is challenging, never mind the conversion? Will those aggressive conversion strategies or ego-centric content work? Think of markets where…

  • people don’t even know they need a particular product/solution,
  • or markets where there are too many identical competitors, which is becoming the new normal in an increasing number of industries.

Such big-picture realization is crucial. “That’s when brands, who know they SHOULD be doing content, start wondering whether now is the time to start,” notes Steve Bryant:

“The challenge is that most brands aren’t good at awareness. A brand is a selfish thing. It was born as an idea about itself, it raised money talking about itself, it sells product talking about itself. It rightly and correctly does SEO and programmatic advertising and targeted banner ads and webinars and cold calls and feature releases and press releases about itself. But this is why brands aren’t good at telling stories beyond themselves. A brand wants people to aspire to its product. To a brand, their product is the customer’s goal.”

If you keep believing your product is your customer’s only goal, you’ll keep talking only about yourself.

But shifting such thinking isn’t easy. And it requires having a few of the following ingredients in place:

  • Expectations of your top management: Do you have a deep buy-in from decision-makers within your organization? Do they understand how content works and how long it actually takes to reap the benefits of compound returns? Or are they in it to make some sales overnight?
  • Runway/resources: What’s your runway? The fewer the resources/months you have left, the more pressure is likely to be put on content. More pressure then increases the risk of doing some dangerous things to your audience, e.g., locking them up in landing pages or driving them crazy with those aggressive popups.
  • Market dynamics: Do people in your industry know they need a particular solution so they seek out content, say, on Google? Is your market overly crowded with identical competitors? As mentioned earlier, such big-picture analysis can be key for defining and balancing your tiers (e.g., SEO content vs. big stories).
  • Growth stage: At what stage is your business? Content does take a long time. If you are at an early stage or haven’t even found a product/market fit, then getting into the storytelling game is probably not for you.

Your answers to these questions will shape your goal. They’ll explain the difference between an aggressive publisher and a smart one who know your audience isn’t a moron.

3. In the content game, your writing is your product

  • Define your high-level goal.
  • Build your core narrative. Break it down into tiers.
  • Come up with individual story ideas under each tier.

These are all fun steps.

But they mean nothing until you do one thing:

Sit down alone with your thoughts to type words on a blank page.

Doing the thing isn’t easy. You’ll often end up doing everything related to the thing in order to postpone doing the thing. This is where spending too much time on the “marketing” part can become addictive.

But eventually, you’ll have to face the reality that, in the most cluttered marketplace in history, your writing is your product.

If we borrow Sam Altman’s legendary “product” quote and apply it to “content”:

If you want people to pay attention to you someday, you have to eventually write so good that people will recommend it to their friends — in fact, so good that they want to be the first one to recommend it to their friends for the implied good taste. No growth hack or brilliant content promotion idea can save you long term if you don’t have a sufficiently good writing. So if you’re trying to grow your traction around a mediocre writing, fix it now. Don’t try to avoid the problem by writing lazy listicles or looking for aggressive tactics. And if you’re just starting out, take the time to write stories your audience loves, no matter how long it takes.

Take the time, no matter how long it takes. This is one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned over the last years.

Writing a compelling story isn’t easy to pull off all the time.

It takes hours, often days, to bring together a compelling argument, organize your thoughts, and solve a series of logic problems about the order of ideas.

When storytelling is done well, though, time proves it was worth all the effort; that one powerful story leaves an impact that a dozen listicles can’t even get close to.

That’s the difference between a clickbait article that goes viral and a story that is authentic and real.

Growth begins with words. Stories, they move people. And moving people is good for business.

How to Start a Blog

I will publish an article only when I have something important to say.

That’s what I reminded myself every time the egocentric ‘me’ wanted to publish more often and be the center of attention.

It wasn’t easy to resist.

As I watched new personal brands gain popularity on a growing platform like Medium, it felt like I was about to miss a train I would never catch again.

I constantly felt the pressure to publish more — after all, I had to make use of all those followers.

The conflict never stopped.

On one hand, the personal brand ‘me’ couldn’t let go of his ego and wanted to spend more time publishing content on my personal Medium blog.

But the freelancer ‘me’ had bills to pay and work to do.

And I realised early on that spending all your time blogging or building a personal brand wasn’t the only way to make a living on the internet.

After all, most of my blogger friends were broke and busy giving-giving-giving so they could ask for a sale one day in the future.

I realised I could step off this personal brand stage and make a silent living behind the scenes — by getting my hands dirty growing the blogs of my clients instead.

Somehow, it worked.

The more I focused on helping my startup clients to grow, the more firsthand lessons I learned.

And every time I learned something through that experience, I logged on to Medium and published a new story.

To date, I’ve published 15 essays since I joined Medium. That’s one article almost every two months:

The relationship between how often you publish and how much traction you get is an interesting concept. But more on that in a minute.

Let’s start with the bigger picture.

If you’ve worked with enough clients, you’ve probably heard more than one of them religiously say, “We HAVE TO start a blog.”

But do you really have to blog in the first place?

Answering this question is crucial as it also helps you understand what type of growth you can get from content and how fast that growth will be.

1. Should you really start a blog?

Some people will try to scare you about how cluttered the world of blogging is today, but only a few will mention what’s probably the best thing about content: the slow and compound return.

That’s likely because not everyone has the patience or guts to do the hard work necessary to see what happens when you keep up with publishing after a few months.

Content is a long game and it isn’t for those who quickly lose their interest and jump on the next ‘killer growth hack’ to ‘skyrocket’ their growth by ‘286%’.

Even if they wanted to stick with it, their mindset often is geared towards finding hacks or shortcuts. Little do they know that if they put the same amount of effort into storytelling, they would never need any of that.

Take Inside Intercom, the blog of one of the fastest-growing startups today.

When sharing lessons from scaling their blog over the last four years, Intercom’s legendary editor John Collins summarises content’s slow return like this:

“Kicking off a content generating machine doesn’t pay back instantly… Even if your first few articles are smash hits, you won’t benefit immediately, and you won’t be able to measure how much value you’ve created in the short term.
Remember, unless you are selling ads on your blog, it’s not just about page views.”

What’s your goal?

Are you looking for smash hits or are you here to deliver consistent value, build trust and long-term relationships, and create awareness?

If you blog to play the long game, you may watch some of your articles go viral down the road.
But if you blog to go viral, you might watch your entire blog go down the hole.

And the real magic of content happens when this slow return takes the form of a compound one — one that grows thanks to the incremental gains it earns along the way, even if you started small.

FROM SLOW TO COMPOUND RETURN

It’s possible to categorise content in many ways, but there are two categories any blogger should take note of:

  • 1. Evergreen content: Content that is as valuable today as it will be in the future. In other words, articles that will always remain interesting for your audience.
  • 2. Temporal content: Content that is relevant just for a limited time, e.g., a post that covers Apple’s launch event or the solar eclipse.

To achieve compound return, should you publish evergreen or temporal content?

In his outstanding analysis, Tomasz Tunguz suggests that marketers publish more evergreen than temporal content if they are after compound return:

“While it may not generate long term returns, temporal content keeps blogs fresh.
But to benefit from the compounding effects of content marketing, marketers should actively invest in building evergreen content that keeps contributing to traffic growth, building the company’s brand and eventually generating sales.”

Below is an example from one of my past clients when we shifted to publishing only high-quality evergreen articles:

But depending on many factors such as your niche or competition, the steepness and timing of the compound return differ.

Here is another example from one of my recent clients, Appster, where we found a sweet niche with publishing long-form evergreen pieces:

2. How often shall I publish?

We love to share advice but we often neglect to warn people about one thing:

What works for others won’t always work for you. And what works for you today won’t always work tomorrow.

Those who cut their teeth in the early years of the Web, when 500-word blog posts could win you fame and fortune, will tell you that you could easily get thousands of page views and subscribers just by blogging consistently.

But before religiously following their advice and flooding your blog with me-too articles, try rephrasing “How often shall I publish?” to:

“How often am I able to bring together a QUALITY article?”

Every day?

  • Publishing quality content every single day is no easy feat, especially if you don’t get others to ghostwrite for you.
  • Marketing legend Seth Godin publishes every single day and he knows what it takes to deliver such quality consistently. That’s why he doesn’t spend time managing his Twitter account even though he has +620K followers there. Instead of being mediocre at both, he’ll tell you how, early in his career, he chose to be really good at blogging and gave up on Twitter.
  • Things change if you’ve got the resources, though. Thanks to its army of writers, Hubspot publishes several times a day.

A few times a week?

  • You can always start with your bare minimum and scale up your publishing frequency later. It took Intercom four years to go up to being able to publish QUALITY content five times a week.
  • But sometimes increasing frequency will mean a drop in the quality. The Buffer team decided to go down from publishing fives times a week to two times a week after they found that their standards were dropping.

A few times a month?

  • Just because others publish a few times a week doesn’t mean you have to.
  • One of today’s top startups, Ahrefs, focuses entirely on quality and publishes only a few times a month. According to their marketing head Tim Soulo, this strategy has been their number one growth driver to date.

Once every few months?

  • Backlinko’s Brian Dean publishes almost once every two months and it made him one of the top players in the SEO game today.
  • For my personal blog, I can bring together a post I’m happy with only once every few months, yet I couldn’t have asked for a better strategy to bring me a constant stream of freelance clients.

Publishing often is easy. Publishing quality content isn’t.

Yet delivering top-notch quality remains the most powerful way to cut through today’s cluttered webspace.

Instead of copying what worked for others, start by determining how often you are able to bring together a QUALITY piece.

You can always scale up or down depending on how your audience and market respond.

And unless you have an army of writers, make sure to consider what other things you need to be good at instead of being mediocre at everything.

3. How long should my articles be?

With Appster, we’ve been testing publishing long-form posts on my Medium publication, The Startup.

And this lengthy approach has helped us to quickly go from a few hundred visitors in May to almost +150K monthly Medium readers in August.

Those like us who found success with long-form posts will advise you to go heavy on the length, but don’t often mention the worrying percentage of people who never read your content to the end.

How long should your articles be? Try rephrasing this question to:

How long does it take me to get to the heart of my topic and leave an impact?

Here is a blog post from Godin that is only four words, excluding the title:

And when comparing length vs. density, Godin adds:

“… if you seek to make a difference, shorter isn’t what’s important: Dense is.
Density is difficult to create. Too much and you’re boring. Not enough and you’re boring.
The formula is simple to describe: make it compelling, then deliver impact. Repeat.
Your speech can be two hours long if you can keep this up. And if you can’t, make it shorter!
Long isn’t the problem. Boring is.
If someone cares, they’ll stick around. If they don’t care, they don’t matter to you anyway.”

It takes M.G. Siegler roughly 500 words to get his point across. How long does it take you to get to the heart of your topic and deliver impact?

If someone cares, they’ll stick around. If they don’t care, they don’t matter to you anyway.

4. Where shall I blog?

In The Truth About Blogging, I wrote 1,573 words to compare blogging on a self-hosted blog with blogging on a platform such as Medium, Quora, or LinkedIn.

Choosing whether to publish on your own WordPress blog or on Medium is not a zero-sum game. The nice thing is, you can blog on both.

Very few people know I also have a WordPress blog and publish my articles on it first.

This way, while my WordPress blog gets all the SEO traffic, I use Medium’s built-in audience to take advantage of additional traffic sources and grow my email subscribers so I can take them home if Medium decides to close shop one day.

Here is how I blog both on my WordPress blog and Medium, and do the same for all my clients:

  • As soon as you publish your article on your WordPress blog, submit it to Google and Bing to ensure search engines index it.
  • You can then cross-post to Medium either using Medium’s WP plugin or the import feature. Both options will make sure your Medium story has a ‘canonical tag’ that will link back to your WP version so Google won’t punish your site for duplicate content.
  • Once done, I send all my subscribers and followers to the Medium version of my stories, not the WP.
  • The reason I do this is because I try to drive as much initial traffic as I can to Medium since it heavily increases your chances of unlocking new Medium traffic channels: rising up on featured tag pages, getting featured by Medium staff, ending up in more newsletters sent by Medium are a few examples. This multiplier effect is what makes this platform so powerful.
  • If you need more Medium-specific help, I listed some actionable tips to grow your Medium blog in a previous post here.

But while cross-posting to Medium is smooth, many platforms like Quora or LinkedIn don’t allow canonical tags.

As a solution, some people wait for a few days before cross-posting just to make sure Google indexes their WP version, and others cross-post only parts or slightly tweaked versions of their work to make it look like a brand-new post.

5. What do I do with the traffic?

Page views can easily become a vanity metric if you don’t have a goal or are not clear on what to do with that traffic.

Turning your blog traffic into followers or subscribers is great, but reconnecting with them to let them know about your next article is getting increasingly difficult.

Though we like to call subscribers or followers as ‘assets we’ve full control over’, the gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook continue to update their algorithms to decide what we all see.

As a result, the organic reach on social networks like Facebook keeps hitting record low rates and an increasing number of email campaigns now end up in the Gmail spam folder.

An alternative way to make sure your content actually reaches your audience is to spend a few bucks on retargeting ads. Thanks to new startups such as Pixelme, it is now possible to build a retargeting audience on third-party sites like Medium.

Cutting through the clutter of today

Content is a long game and the rules of the game have changed significantly over the last years.

In Collins’ words, it’s no longer enough to be just “doing content”:

“The tired old practises of soliciting guest bloggers with zero bar for quality, releasing “ultimate guides”, and “top 10 quotes” don’t work well.
It’s not an area where “average content” will work well, and to that end optimistic or aggressive content calendars usually lead to mediocrity with no return.”

Before flooding the world with another me-too blog post, reconsider your balance between quantity and quality. It can make a huge difference.

And in this new era of content, delivering quality is only one tiny step to building an audience — because we don’t own our audience.

As Meghan K. Anderson perfectly puts it: “Regular monthly visitors, big subscriber lists, well-trodden conversion paths give us the illusion that we own the attention of our audience — but it is only an illusion.”

In the most cluttered marketplace in history, readers’ attention is fleeting and it is our job as writers to constantly earn our audience’s attention and trust.

The Future of Startup Marketing

the growth hacking myth

When I decided to start freelancing for startups, people kept advising me to always ask for the client’s budget right at the very beginning.

So I asked.

“Hey man, oh yeah, thanks for asking. Well, as you know we are a startup and we don’t have a budget yet but we’ll give you a lot of exposure.”

A lot of exposure? What does that really mean?

While I was spending the early days of my freelancing journey sending out pissed-off emails to free riders, I noticed those free riders were at least being honest.

I’ve seen clients disappear without paying right after I sent them the final project files, while some others pretended to be upset so they could still disappear with the files.

According to some close friends, the reason I couldn’t make freelancing work was obvious:

“Stop wasting your time trying to target desperate entrepreneurs and startups. Go offer your marketing services to big companies with deep pockets instead. Entrepreneurs are broke and they don’t even know what they want. They are the worst clients ever.”

I never managed to find a corporate client “with deep pockets,” whatever that really meant. But I decided to start approaching startups that I knew had raised at least some funding, instead of targeting the so-called “broke entrepreneurs”.

I also figured the founders of these just-funded startups still had to build their in-house teams so they would be open to getting some freelancer help down the road.

But getting paid wasn’t the only trouble with serving startups.

Every time I approached these clients telling them I could help with marketing or growth, I was treated as a magician who was expected to bring phenomenal growth overnight.

Some religiously believed their growth had to be similar to those hyper-growth startups like Slack and a few were sharing example stories such as how Airbnb achieved spectacular growth by growth hacking Craigslist.

slack-strong-growth

Having such sudden and crazy growth expectations wasn’t entirely the fault of those founders, though. It was the new trend in town:

Growth hacker in. Marketer out.

The first decade of the 2000s in tech were the days when being a marketer was still cool. There were no words like “hacker”, “startup”, or “growth” attached to it.

And when someone asked about what we did, our answer was pretty simple: marketing.

Then in 2010, Sean Ellis appeared on the tech scene and coined the term “growth hacker”.

sean ellis

His insanely popular “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup” essay had something bold to say about startup marketers:

“…Rather than hiring a VP Marketing … I recommend hiring or appointing a growth hacker. A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.”

Soon the term was everywhere and many influencers were helping it spread further. According to Neil Patel, growth was the sun that a growth hacker revolved around and the marketers didn’t revolve around that sun in the same way:

“Of course, traditional marketers care about growth too, but not to the same extent.”

While some people had difficulty understanding the hype around the “growth hacker”, the term was too cool to ignore.

I was one of those many marketers who were rushing to update their Twitter bios by changing their job titles from the boring “marketer” to the new, cool “growth hacker”.

It was also when the word “hustler” was just starting to become popular. So we were now both “growth hackers” and “hustlers”, and we were boosting our egos every time we told people how busy we were growing the hack out of startups.

growth-hacker-magician

While most of the growth-hacking advice contained invaluable lessons, we the marketers managed to ruin things yet again. With the excuse of hacking our way through, some of us started to employ heavily aggressive and spammy tactics.

Using tactics like Twitter follow-for-follows, spammy email pop-ups, black-hat SEO backlinks purchased for $5 on Fiverr, auto-favouriting tweets, or Instagram like-for-likes were enough to call ourselves growth hackers.

And the last few years have seen numerous examples of failed spammy tactics and sparked a huge discussion that questioned if growth hacking was bullshit or ethical, or whether throwing away your integrity was worth a few extra clicks.

While I understand the critics, I fully trust it wasn’t the intention of Sean Ellis or his followers, whose insights helped many startups grow. He probably had no idea to what extent the world would misinterpret his term and confuse it with employing nonsense hacks.

After all, it’s fair to say that many of those shortcut tactics actually worked.

The cycle is always pretty straightforward:

  • A tactic starts to work great.
  • Others (Hello, marketers. Oh wait, hello, growth hackers) notice it’s working great.
  • More people adopt the tactic.
  • The tactic soon becomes fatigued, typically by the time someone writes a blog post to brag about how they grew their startup by 345 percent without spending a single penny on marketing.

While we’re too busy milking each tactic for all it’s worth, the consumer isn’t a moron. Her BS-detectors are getting better and she’s becoming smarter than ever before at ignoring our old-school tricks.

“Hey, but I’m sure my audience pays me attention,” you try convincing yourself. But recent research suggests that the average human attention span of people is now shorter than that of a goldfish.

And the moment you hope to get some search traffic, you realise there are now businesses dedicated to ensuring your content never makes it to the front page of Google.

Come on. Let’s not even talk about the millions of blog posts published every day, the ever-rising shopping cart abandonment rates, or the percentage of people who never read your content to the end.

internet-live-stats

But enough with these depressing stats, because I’m not writing this essay to add yet another point to the growth-hacking debate or to talk about the first-world problems I had when freelancing for startups.

Instead I want to highlight a few points on what all the clutter and sad stats might actually mean for the future, especially for those of us who are spending their days and nights trying to grow a startup on a journey full of ups and downs.

The Future of Startup Marketing

    • Not only that, but giant gatekeepers such as social networks continue to declare one war after another against those shortcutters. Google is now moving more email campaigns to spam folders than ever before and they just announced they’ll be starting to punish sites with annoying pop-ups.

    • The slippery road of chasing such “get rich quick” hacks matter also for the type of audience you might want to build for your business. By engaging in those short-term tactics, we only attract customers who have short-term goals, and frustrate other people whose trust we lose.
    • Envisioning the future of startup marketing begins exactly at this moment, when you realise the cost of playing the long game is actually not any higher than following the shorter path which takes you only so far. In the most cluttered marketplace in history where ad blockers are now topping app stores and people are getting better at ignoring us than ever before, playing the long game thus requires reconsidering the way we ask for a sale:

    • To cut through the clutter of today, best-selling author Jay Baer suggests your marketing should be so good that people would gladly pay for it if they were asked. Marketing today is defined by how useful it is to your customers. And the bar for what’s useful has risen substantially, so substantially that it’s getting increasingly difficult to impress your audience. Take the marketing we do at Crew as an example. Despite having a blog with over a million annual readers, a series of popular podcasts, and tons of useful side projects that attract quite a few million monthly visitors, we’re still struggling to impress even our most loyal audience. We’re constantly reminded that if we quit creating extreme value, they might as well quit sticking with us as they’re surrounded with many other awesome options. Applying Jim Rohn’s advice, we realise the secret to growing a startup is to find a way to do more for your audience than any other startup is doing.
    • And when the bar to impress people is so high, instead of trying to create value on their own, a growing number of startups now form strategic alliances together, such as Product Hunt teaming up with Amazon or Crew with Designer News.
    • Of course, there are many other ways to deliver extreme value. When growing the top of your funnel is getting increasingly expensive, many startups are finally recognising the importance of retention over acquisition. They focus on word-of-mouth-driven growth strategies, mostly by delighting their existing users and setting Net Promoter Score – ‘the one number you need to grow’ as many refer to it – as a company-wide metric. Slack is probably the best-in-class example when it comes to relentlessly focusing on customer experience.

Growth doesn’t come from reading a bunch of growth-hacking articles or applying a set of universal tactics just because they worked for another random startup. And it isn’t necessarily a job reserved only for the growth hackers many love to call magicians.

Rather, growth starts with the very first line of your code and needs a great product that your full team works hard to improve, day by day, one baby step at a time. Growth is thus everyone’s job, not just marketing’s.

And growth often happens to those who are here to stay and start a business they hope will last forever; those who believe in the power of consistency while the majority find it boring and don’t have the patience or vision for it.

Growth doesn’t happen overnight.

Retention > Acquisition

3,520,934
That’s the number of blog posts written today.

5,740,000,000
That’s the number of Google searches per day.

782,651,327
That’s the number of tweets sent today.

investing in growth before having retentionThat’s the million-billion stats planet we live in.

And in that million-billion stats world, some strange things have been happening in the marketing arena.

An interesting piece of news came from an unexpected startup last month.

Buffer, a company considered one of the leaders in social media, announced that they had been failing on social media.

The introduction to their shocking announcement was brutally honest:

“We as a Buffer marketing team — working on a product that helps people succeed on social media — have yet to figure out how to get things working on Facebook (especially), Twitter, Pinterest, and more.”

Buffer has had the reputation of being completely transparent, from making their salaries public to showing consumers exactly where their money goes. Still, it was probably not an easy decision to share failure news in public.

Indeed, you could sense it in Kevan Lee’s hesitant words:

“… I’m a bit scared to publish: We’ve Been Failing on Social Media for the Past 2 Years,” he tweeted.

It didn’t take long before the article hit my newsfeed being shared by many marketing people I follow.

Was it time someone finally took the courage to say out loud the things we have been scared to confess?

So many people were joining the Buffer discussion.

While many were admitting their social traffic was also record low, some industry experts including Rand Fishkin were expressing opinions about why Buffer might have lost half of their social referral traffic.

Buffer wasn’t the first one to bring this up though. In parallel, some other influencers seemed to have been sharing similar thoughts over the last year.

Is this the social media fatigue everyone has been talking about?

Have we reached a moment where we can no longer stand the idea of ‘liking’ yet another marathon or baby picture of our friends?

Maybe we’ve developed a magical eye skill to scan tweets without engaging with them. The truth is:

Social reach is just one side of the story

We are starting to see content saturation in many forms. The concept of information overload isn’t new, it’s just getting intense. Steve Rubel called it “attention crash” eight years ago.

And in his popular “Content Shock” post last year, best-selling author Mark Schaefer told us content marketing might not be a sustainable strategy.

He suggested we were about to reach a point where content production would intersect our human capacity to consume it. And it would become uneconomical to produce content afterwards.

content-attention-shock

While some argued that there would be no content shock, a strong part of Schaefer’s thesis relied on the assumption that each human has a physiological, inviolable limit to the amount of content they can consume.

And that limit would create a ceiling beyond which our messages would receive little or no attention from the audience.

Indeed, a very recent study conducted by Moz and Buzzsumo analysed 1 million articles and found that the great majority of content got little material response: 50% of the content received 2 or fewer Facebook interactions (shares, likes, or comments) and 75% showed no external links.

Is this the beginning of a new era we might soon call “#ConsumerTakeOver”?

An era where consumers finally take control and react by ignoring our messages.

An era where they start muting the noise, blocking ads, and cleaning up their cluttered newsfeed by un-liking pages, ignoring tweets, or unsubscribing from newsletters.

blocking noise in attention war

The truth is most of us got it wrong. We religiously followed the advice of experts to publish content consistently and flooded the world with ‘me-too’ blog posts.

“The thing is, a lot of these experts cut their teeth in the early years of the Web, when 500-word blog posts could win you fame and fortune,” says MarketingProf’s Puranjay.

We scheduled 12 tweets per day just because they told us it was OK to tweet every two hours. We confused self-promotion with self-expression and found aggressive ways to increase the number of our followers and page views.

And along the way, we forgot about her, the consumer. We forgot she was the reason we started our businesses in the first place.

The Engagement Magic

And the trouble with focusing on growth before you have retention

David Ogilvy, the father of advertising as the world called him, warned us 52 years ago not to underestimate the power of consumers:

“The consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.”

In today’s modern world of gender equality, he would probably rephrase it to “he/she is your spouse.” But his inspiring words make it pretty clear that we shouldn’t take any consumer for granted or insult their intelligence.

The rules of the game in the online space are changing like never before.

In a world where consumers become increasingly selective over what they consume, retention is emerging as a key factor that differentiates the successful from those who fail.

renting users

Retention is the most important factor in traction and growth according to many, including Brian Balfour, VP Growth at Hubspot. Tarun Mitra highlights its importance by noting:

“If you invest in growth before you have retention, you’re renting users, not acquiring them.”

We might have thousands of users, followers, or customers. But how many of them are true fans?

How many of them read every single article we publish or click on every single tweet we send? How many of them actually pay attention to our company newsletters?

Instead of trying to attract more eyeballs in an unquenchable thirst for never-ending growth, we need to pause and learn to engage the audience we already have.

Tribe

COMMUNITY

True Fans

While most of us were busy flooding people’s newsfeeds with posts and tweets, few others got it right from the very beginning.

They were smart enough to realise that even just five engaged true fans were more valuable than five thousands followers.

I’m talking about those who knew that the secret to success was to find a way to do more for others than anyone else is doing. They are the ones who have been building a community of true fans by engaging them through extreme value creation.

true-fansKevin Kelly’s principle of 1,000 True Fans suggests that a creator (such as an artist, musician, photographer…) needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living. In his words, a true fan is:

“someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing… They have a Google Alert set for your name… They come to your openings… They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.”

But let’s make three things crystal clear about audience engagement:

1. Engaged ≠ True fan

Kelly’s true fans principle relies on the assumption that each true fan spends $100 per year to help the creator make a living. This economical contribution is what differentiates true fans from others.

This is also where we get confused the most. We think that if we keep giving and creating value for people, they will all give back and buy whatever we are selling when we ask them in the future.

true fan

Though businesses exist to make a profit, we need to understand the subtle difference between an engaged person and a true fan. Just because someone engaged with or showed interest in, say, your tweet, product, or newsletter doesn’t mean she or he will purchase anything you produce.

2. The power of an invisible audience

Your tweet or article didn’t get the attention you think it deserved? Not enough retweets or shares? Well, here is some good news. Your audience might be way bigger than you think.

A joint study by Stanford and Facebook found that your actual audience size is four times larger per post than you think. Your invisible audience, or the ‘quiet observers’, might also have some friends who might be your future fans.

Amanda Palmer highlights the fact that the relationship building between the creator and fan is not just in one direction, but in many. Mike Masnick calls it “the artist giving to fans, the fans giving to artists and, beyond that, the fans giving to other fans and artists giving to other artists.”

3. There is no right way to engage an audience

There is so much to learn from those who have built a community of true fans by engaging their audiences. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Find a unique voice: Paul Jarvis calls his true fans his “rat people” and is famous for using a sharp sense of sarcasm to engage his tribe.
  • Take accessibility to the next level and be available: Justin Jackson, a guy crazy about making stuff, has built a community of makers on a Slack channel called “Product People Club.” While some influencers make themselves available even on a 1-on-1 Slack chat, others engage their tribes by being responsive on Twitter or offering AMAs, products, live chats, feedback sessions…
  • Make few people feel special: “Make your first 100 users feel like thought leaders,” recommends Erik Torenberg, explaining how they leveraged community to grow Product Hunt. Giving exclusive access to only a few people or sending gifts are some possible ways.
  • Help customers get better at what they do: According to Helpscout’s Gregory Ciotti, “Nobody wants to be a camera expert — they want to be a great photographer. Success means helping customers become better at what they do.” Startups like Helpscout or Buffer delight their audiences by publishing top-notch content that improves the businesses of their customers.
  • Identify a niche and build a community around it: Instead of employing traditional marketing tactics, Hubspot’s co-founder Dharmesh Shah coined a brand new term nine years ago: ‘inbound marketing’. This not only boosted the awareness of Hubspot but also gave birth to one of today’s most popular community websites inbound.org. The same happened when Sean Ellis built a community of people passionate about growth on growthhackers.com, after he coined ‘growth hacking’.
  • Use side project marketing to create extreme value: In a world where blogging takes ages and ads no longer work, I tried to explain in my latest post how side project marketing can be an alternative growth machine. levels.io is yet another serial maker who has built a community of digital nomads by launching tools, from Nomad List to Nomad Trips.

How many of your followers are your true fans? What are you doing to engage them?

It’s always nice to talk about fancy metrics or growth hacking terms like A/B tests and DAUs. But when it comes to growth, how many of us set a qualitative target such as “Delighting your tribe”?

Content shock may or may not arrive, but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fix what we already know hasn’t been working.

Your customer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.

And it looks like it’s finally her turn to teach us how to do this engagement thing right.

Medium vs Self-Hosted Blog

“Look, I am not telling you not to write on Medium, OK? You can give it a try. I am just saying you’ll regret it big time for not having blogged on your website. Do you know why?”

Self-hosted blog vs Medium
Without waiting for my answer, he opened an article on his computer and started reading the following sections out loud:

“It’s called digital sharecropping, and it means you’re building your business on someone else’s land.”

“In this case, on Medium’s land,” he added, “Medium is your landlord and it’s the same as creating content on Facebook or Google!” He was getting louder again:

“Anyone can create content on sites like Facebook, but that content effectively belongs to Facebook. The more content we create for free, the more valuable Facebook becomes. We do the work, they reap the profit. The landlord has all the control. If he decides to get rid of you, you lose your livelihood.”

I had been trying to blog for months but every time I tried to blog, I ended up doing everything except blogging.

Indeed, my blogging journey started a few years ago after discovering all those famous blogs that help you to learn how to blog. I read thousands of articles from the likes of Quicksprout, Copyblogger, Hubspot, Moz, Michael Hyatt, Kissmetrics, Chris Brogan, Problogger, etc.

I set up my WordPress website and purchased shared hosting on Hostgator. And I spent days and nights customising my WordPress plugins.

I even went on to god knows how many blogs and left comments without even reading any of their articles. I made sure, however, to come back and check whether the moderator had approved my comment so that I would get the backlink.

I did everything…

…everything except blogging.

I didn’t do ‘the thing,’ but I did everything related to the thing in order to postpone doing the thing.

When I finally got frustrated and reached my limit, I started writing my first article and when it was time, I wrote my first headline:

“5 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Increase Twitter Followers by 278%”

With only 112 Twitter followers at the time, I was trying to give Twitter tips to my non-existent audience with a title idea I stole from one of those top blogs.

All those top blogs I used to read were teaching me how to be a great blogger and to find my unique voice. Instead, I was copying those blogs and selling other people all the tactics I’d learned from them.

I noticed I wasn’t alone, however. We were thousands of people trying to sell each other all the same things we learned from the same top blogs.

This was the thing Alberto insisted on not understanding.

We were doing everything except blogging.

Blogging Journey

On August 25, 2013, a few months before meeting Alberto in Rome on that warm spring day, I discovered Medium.

And three days later, I received the following email from the platform:

blogging on self-hosted websites

The last sentence of Medium’s email seemed to know what I was suffering the most from:

“There’s nothing to set up or customize.”

It was a call to stop wasting time customizing the look of my website, buying hosting or trying to optimize a blog that didn’t even have a single article on it.

On April 11, 2014, I typed my first story on Medium and finally hit the “publish” button.

Starting a Blog on Your Own Website vs Writing on Medium

I shared some of my learnings and my Medium stats in my last article, How I Got 6.2 Million Pageviews and 144,920 Followers. Since then, a lot of people have emailed to ask why I chose Medium, so I wanted to share more insights.

Here are few things you might have to give up if you choose Medium:

    • Medium branding dominates: Though the platform is beautiful, the Medium look and feel might overshadow the customized branding you could otherwise have on your own website. You will hear people saying, “Oh, I read that article but I didn’t know it was you. All Medium articles look the same to me.”
    • Not everybody understands how the site works and apparently, not everyone puts in the effort to. On a recent trip to Australia, I was asked by a designer from a leading creative agency, “OK, but how do you get read on Medium? Is it like Product Hunt, where people upvote you?”
    • However, your readership depends heavily on how much people understand the site. To get read by other people or to end up on ‘Top Stories,’ you need your readers to click on the ‘Recommend’ button. Even a great writer whose audience doesn’t understand the site could get no traction.
    • Content discovery is still not at its best.

  • Simplified stats: If your blog will rely on revenue streams like advertising, you will need to track detailed analytics and Medium’s stats page won’t give all you want.
  • SEO: Obviously, on a platform you don’t own, along with control you also lose some SEO benefits.

I drafted this article a few months ago and back then the above list of disadvantages of writing on Medium was much longer. However, I have to admit that Medium is listening and improving a lot.

Here are few reasons why I write on Medium instead of on my own website:

WHY MEDIUM?

1. We love to call ourselves…
…entrepreneurs, but when it comes to getting things done, we often confuse taking action with making too many plans and perfecting things. Before writing even a single article, we make plans for a blog that nobody may ever read. Medium is a great platform to quickly test your writing skills instead of wasting time perfecting the look of your website.

Medium is the MVP of your blog.

2. While people on Google are…
…in a search mood or on Facebook in a browsing mood, people on Medium are in a reading mood. Some people are so much in the reading mood that it shocks you to see them commenting on, highlighting, or recommending all of your articles in a row.

3. People look for ‘answers’…
…on Quora, ‘pictures’ on Instagram, ‘videos’ on YouTube, and ‘slides’ on Slideshare. With (mobile) centralization conquering the world, Medium is on its way to becoming the all-in-one equivalent for ‘articles’.

4. Medium is growing…
…and so is the traffic you get from the site. The percentage of referral traffic my Medium articles receive from Medium.com and the Medium app has gone up from 2.3 percent to 26.8 percent over the last year. I was already late to the Twitter train and now seems to be the best time to jump on the Medium one. (For instance, below are the top referrers of my last Medium article.)

medium stats

5. People here…
…have a great taste, and it puts a weird pressure on you to double-check your writings and make sure what you publish is your personal best. This helps you improve the quality of your articles. (Don’t worry, you will always think your articles suck.)

6. And when you write for…
…those people instead of machines, you end up dominating search engine results. Maybe the best SEO is when you don’t know it’s SEO. (P.S., apparently the http://medium.com domain is gaining authority in the eyes of Google. As a result, your articles obviously benefit from that juice. Also, with more reach comes more social shares.)

7. Then there are those other benefits:

  • Built-in audience: There are guys like me who spend hours on Medium and constantly look for stuff to read. I just finished reading three articles from three strangers: one was tagged with ‘entrepreneur’ (a tag I am following on Medium), the other was recommended by a friend, and the last one was published in a publication I follow.
  • Whatever you write looks beautiful. Medium’s distraction-free editor is ‘what you see is what you get’ (WYSIWYG) so you don’t have to click on the ‘Preview’ button to see how your article will look when you publish it.
  • Medium servers work for you for free and load even your image-heavy articles within a second. (Priceless when your article goes viral.)

Obviously, choosing whether to write on your own platform or to blog on Medium is not a zero-sum game. Both have their awesome and sucky sides.

You can always give Medium a try or you can also publish your essays first on your own website and cross-post them on Medium after few days.

No matter where you blog, just type. And Medium is a great place to test your writing skills on a built-in audience before making plans for a blog nobody may ever read.

After two years of blogging on Medium, I finally feel ready to experiment with growing my audience on my blog here.