Darren Rowse, Founder, ProBlogger
The Secrets of a 6-Figure Blogger
The internet marketing scene is not known for its groundedness nor humility. Often it’s as bombastic and self-inflated as a rap battle.
That’s why it’s such a pleasant surprise that Darren Rowse, one of the world’s most successful bloggers, is so… normal. His down-to-earth nature is only the first thing that will surprise you. The second surprise helps explain his grounded demeanor, as Rowse is a former church minister who spent several months working abroad, even living in slums.
The third is likely his nationality—Rowse isn’t from Silicon Valley, or even the United States, as many assume. Rather, he hails from Melbourne, down in the southeastern corner of Australia.
But along the journey, he got into blogging, first about his religion and experiences, and gradually finding his current niches. Rowse now has two active blogs. ProBlogger has been the internet’s go-to place for everything blog-related for 12 years now, landing on multiple best of lists. And his second active blog, Digital Photography School, has long been the darling of photographers worldwide. Both of these blogs boast readerships so large—Rowse says the latter alone is pulling in up to 5 million readers a month—they put national media outlets to shame.
In the words of Ron Burgundy, he’s kind of a big deal.
But Darren Rowse doesn’t come off like an entrepreneurial rock star, nor bear the trappings of fame or success. He’s a self-confessed introvert, pragmatic and levelheaded. Noteworthy, considering his achievements over the years.
Long ago, before podcasts, before Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter, the internet was dominated by blogs. Chances are, if you haven’t already attempted writing a blog, you’ve at least thought that maybe you should. But before every second person decided to set up a space to blog about their special interests, however mundane, Darren Rowse was there.
Despite blogs being familiar terrain to us now, Rowse planted his flag deep into blogging soil before any of us knew it was a thing. He’s become one of the world’s authorities on blogging, to the point where he made the Forbes Web Celebrity list in 2007.
ProBlogger and Digital Photography School draw up to 100,000 page views a day and rake in over $20,000 in total ad revenue a month. His success was such that in 2008, Rowse co-authored the book ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six Figure Income (now in its third edition). And no, you didn’t read that title wrong. Rowse has been making a six-figure income from blogs for a solid 10 years, a real achievement even among experts.
So how does one go about doing this? The beginning of Rowse’s story is not so different from anyone else’s. He confesses to not knowing what he wanted to do at or after school, however he admits to always nursing an entrepreneurial streak. (He created his first business at age 11, clipping pictures of Brooke Shields from his mother’s magazines to sell to his classmates in elementary school). Rowse’s journey from personal blog to mega-business happened in small incremental steps, and he chalks up much of his success to luck. “A complete fluke really,” he says.
He confesses that 2002 was the perfect time to start a blog. At the time, Rowse had been working as a minister in churches in Melbourne for years. One day, a friend shot him an email saying, Check out this blog. Those four words changed Rowse’s life.
“I didn’t really know what a blog was,” he confesses. That led him to dabble. His first blog was a personal journal, yet was not unsuccessful. “It was just me talking about spirituality and post-modernism and movies and politics, but for some reason, people read it.”
During the following year, it grew to a point where it was being read by tens of thousands of people around the world. Yet in the early days, it was never about money. It was simply an interest that he sacrificed time to. “Back then, I didn’t even suspect it could be a job,” he says. “No one was blogging for money.”
His CV makes for an entertaining read, a track record of someone who is part philosopher-theologian, part marketing guru. Rowse studied marketing in college, but dropped out before he graduated. He was always passionate about issues of poverty and justice, compelling him to study theology.
It wasn’t merely a passing interest. As a youth worker and a minister, he lived in an AIDS hospice in a Bangkok slum for several months in his 20s. It was Rowse’s desire to share these disparate interests with the world that lead to his foray into blogging. To best illustrate his transition from part-time blogger to internet superstar, we’ve taken each major blog he ran since the early days and broken down his approach to each.
LIVING ROOM (2002)
This was Rowse’s first major blog. At the time, he was working in a church called The Living Room, which was meeting in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. “Part of that blog was to document that journey,” Rowse says. He wrote on politics, religion, and more general cultural observations. Rowse assures us the move to full-time blogging was not overnight.
“It was a gradual process,” he explains. Blogging became a one-day-per-week job, and over the following year it became two days a week and then three. “Then I convinced my wife that I was going to be a full-time blogger. I began to niche down into particular topics rather than just write a general blog about life. I began to blog about photography and then later about blogging itself.”
DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY BLOG (2003)
This was Rowse’s first experiment with a “niche” blog, and it published on the Living Room domain. “It was a horrible mistake really,” he says, laughing. “It was terrible for branding to have a photography blog and blog about a church [on the same domain], but I did it. That was the first blog I started to monetize and it was a blog about reviewing cameras and I aggregated reviews that other people were doing of cameras from around the web.”
He launched this project around the time he was starting to transition from a part-time blogger into a full-time blogger. Rowse intended it as a record to document what he was learning. “No one else was talking about making money from blogs, and it was almost controversial. So it was a hopeful way of connecting with other people doing something similar.”
DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY SCHOOL (2007)
While running ProBlogger, Rowse reasoned that he wanted to have more of a tips-related blog about photography. “Photography was one of my hobbies and my friends came to me and asked me questions about it all the time.” He started Digital Photography School in response to the demand.
One of Rowse’s key skills is his capacity for adapting, for fine-tuning every success and failure, and responding by tailoring his outputs to market demands. Every blogging experiment has been an iteration of something that carried him closer to the heart of his audience. “If you’re doing the same thing today that you were last year, you may be in a rut.”
The hare and the tortoise metaphor come to mind when investigating the growth figures of Rowse’s blogs. ProBlogger was off to an early sprint versus the steady crawl of Digital Photography School. But despite some peaks and valleys, Rowse’s blogs have sustained upward growth for more than 10 years.
“My goal when I started making money from the blogs was never to hit a certain figure, but to keep the trend building upwards,” he says. “Every month I wanted to be 10% higher in traffic than the month before.”
Blogs grow in different ways, Rowse explains. “ProBlogger exploded,” he says. “As soon as I announced I was making six figures blogging, it went crazy and became a bit of a sensation.”
He describes the growth of Digital Photography School as being much slower, but now it attracts around 4 million to 5 million readers per month. And ProBlogger’s readership? “Maybe a tenth of that,” he says. “It’s nowhere near as big in terms of numbers.” The tortoise wins again.
For people ready to plunge into the blogging world, Rowse shares one piece of advice he regards most useful:
“Choose something that is meaningful to you, because if you’re going to be at this for 10 years, you need to be able to get through those tough times when you feel like you’ve said everything already, or you feel like people aren’t engaging with you yet. You need to be doing something that’s meaningful to you, that’s also meaningful to other people and that has the potential to change their lives in some way.”
But just being a prolific writer and aggregator of content isn’t enough, he assures us; much of your success will come down to good old-fashioned luck. “You’ve got to position yourself for luck to happen to you,” Rowse advises.
“Part of that is about pushing doors open, experimenting constantly, looking for those little sparks of opportunity that come your way,” he says. “That’s been a big part of my story. As I look back over the last 13 or so years, nothing big has ever happened to me out of the blue. It’s always started as an idea that’s kept me awake at night or just something that someone said in conversation that gives me an idea that won’t go away.”
Now, every night before going to sleep Rowse has a routine that guides his strategy. He asks himself two things: What did he do that day that gave him energy, and what did he do that day that gave other people energy?
“When other people get energy by what gives you energy,” he says, “they’re golden moments. And that’s what you need to invest your time into. If you can find the intersection between what you know and what the world needs, that’s a meaningful thing and that’s going to hopefully be a profitable thing as well. I didn’t come up with that,” he says with a modest laugh. “I read that somewhere.”
YOU’RE 5 STEPS AWAY FROM BLOGGING BRILLIANCE…
You’re starting a business, and you’re trying to drive traffic. You want to get more leads, sales, and profits. So you start a blog. What next? Blogging grandmaster Darren Rowse shares the essentials for getting started.
1. KNOW YOUR READER
The first step is to think about who your reader is, and then think about how you want to change your reader with your content. Consider what is interesting to them.
2. CREATE CONTENT TO SOLVE PROBLEMS
What are their pain points? Create content that’s going to eliminate pain in the lives of those you want to read your blog. Solve problems, fix needs, touch on those sorts of fears and dreams people have. Do that on a white board. Plan what you need to teach them that will get them from point A to point B. Those become your blog posts. Plan a content production schedule based on that.
3. PUSH IT ACTIVELY
If you’re just starting out, it’s really important not to have a “build it and they will come” mentality, because readers won’t come no matter how good it is. You need to be pushing it out there. The only thing that we do for every single post is push it out to our social networks. We use Co-Schedule for putting things onto Twitter and onto Facebook.
4. NETWORK DELIBERATELY
Identify the top three bloggers in your niche, the top three Instagrammers, the top three podcasters, the top three Twitter users, the top three Facebook pages. Come up a with a list of the most influential people in your particular topic and then ask yourself, “How can I build a useful presence on those blogs, on those Facebook pages, in those podcasts?” They’re the places you should be adding value, and solving problems for people. That then gets you on the radar on those influencers, and opportunities come for guest posting, and they might share your content as well.
5. USE SEO BEST PRACTICES, BUT DON’T OVERDO IT
Understand the basics of SEO, but don’t let that determine what you write. I don’t do anything to manipulate search results. I’m just trying to be a good citizen of the web and produce the best content that I can because, ultimately, what Google is trying to put at the top of their results is great content. Spend most of your time creating great content because it tends to look after itself.
- The secrets behind effective content marketing and how it can improve your business
- How to understand who your reader is and what kind of content they’re looking for
- Why you need to network and the best way to do it
- What the best practices for SEO are
- The key to growing a business beyond yourself
Full Transcript of Podcast with Darren Rowse
Nathan: Hello and welcome to another episode of the “Foundr Podcast.” I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to share your earbuds with me and your attention. I know there are a lot of podcasts out there, I know there’s a lot of noise out there in this space, and I really just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time and choosing, you know, “Foundr” as a resource to help you level up as an entrepreneur in “Foundr.”
My name’s Nathan Chan. I’m the CEO and host of the “Foundr Podcast.” And, today, you’re in for a treat. I’m speaking to the godfather of blogging. His name is Darren Rowse. If you do have a start-up, you do have a business, and you’re not utilizing content marketing to get more traffic to draw, you know, to build your business, then you’re missing out. And this guy is one of the best in the world at it. He runs a company called Digital Photography School. It’s one of the top photography blogs in the world, generates millions upon millions of visitors, and he also runs a very, very, very successful blog called ProBlogger. Darren is actually a fellow Melburnian and we connected about a year or so ago when he asked me to speak at his event, ProBlogger, and…incredible event, you know. He’s a master of content. He knows what’s up.
And I just picked his brain on what it takes to build and grow a successful content-based business. But, also, if you wanna start a blog, if you wanna create content, I’m gonna get into some of this stuff. He really details it very, very well. He’s an incredible teacher as well and he’s been at this for a very long time. That’s why I call him the godfather of blogging. All right, guys, if you are enjoying these episodes, please, please, please do take the time to leave us a review on iTunes, or Stitcher, or SoundCloud, wherever you’re listening to this, and please do share this with a friend or 2 or 3 or maybe even 10. It depends on many entrepreneurs startup friends that you have, but please do share this around. It helps more than you can imagine. All right, guys, that’s it from me. I hope you’re having a fantastic day wherever you are around the world. Now, let’s jump into the show.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Darren.
Darren: No problem. It’s great to be chatting again.
Nathan: Yeah, it’s awesome. So the first question I ask everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job?
Darren: Wow. It was an accident. A complete fluke, really. I’d been working as a youth worker and as a minister in churches for years. And, one day, a friend shot me an email just saying, “Check out this blog.” And I didn’t really know what a blog was. It was back in 2002. And so I clicked the link to find out what a blog was, really. And within an hour or two, I knew I wanted to start one but I had no inkling that it would be anything more than a fleeting hobby because I didn’t have a habit of sticking to things for too long. I have a long string of half-finished projects in my life.
And so I started a blog that day, a couple hours later, with no technical background or no idea what I was doing. If I’d thought any more about it, I’d probably wouldn’t have done it because it would have all seen too hard, but I started it back in 2002. And it was just a personal journal where it was just me talking about, you know, spirituality and post-modernism and movies and politics. But, for some reason, people read it. And I…it was bizarre on that first few weeks of, you know, the strangers leaving comments on my thoughts and I’m like, “Okay, this is kind of interesting.” And it quickly became a bit of an obsession, became a bit of an addiction, I think.
And over time, over that next year, it grew to a point where it was being read by tens of thousands of people around the world and I…it started to cost me money. And, really, the reason I started to monetize it was just to try and pay, you know, make it break even. And so I put some ads on it with Google Adsense ads, and it made a few dollars a day. And I kind of got to the point where I was breaking even, I was able to pay for my dial-up internet, get off the broadband, I typed my computer. And it became a part-time job, you know, a day a week and I was able to give up some of the work that I was doing.
And, gradually, over the next year or so, it became two days a week and then three days a week and then I convinced my wife that I was gonna be a full-time blogger and she agreed that I should give up the rest of the work that I was doing. And I finished some study around that time too and I made the leap to full time along the way starting other blogs as well. So I began to niche down into particular topics rather than just write a general blog about life. I began to blog about photography, and then later, about blogging itself.
Nathan: So, what was this first blog called?
Darren: The first blog was called Living Room and it was… I was working in a church, as I said before, and we were involved in a little group called the Living Room which was meeting in, you know, sort of northern suburbs of Melbourne. And so part of that blog was to document that journey. So it started off. I guess if you had to give it a niche, it would have been spirituality. Yeah, so that’s what that first blog was. It doesn’t exist anymore because I let the domain go accidentally. I made that big horrible mistake back then.
Nathan: What was the domain?
Darren: livingroom.org.au. So it was a…yeah.
Nathan: Oh, wow. It was a good one.
Darren: Yeah, it was a good one. Someone’s squatting it now and it’s all gone. So, sad.
Nathan: Okay, wow. And so you started Living Room, then you slowly made that transition from, you know, part-time to full-time blogger, and at what point did you start Digital Photography School and ProBlogger?
Darren: Yeah. So the first niche sort of blog I started was a blog called Digital Photography Blog which was on that Living Room domain. So it was a horrible mistake, really. Terrible for branding to have photography blog on a blog about a church, but I did it. And one of the advantages of doing it was that it ranked pretty well in Google pretty quickly because it kind of borrowed some of the link juice from that other side. And so that was the first blog I started to monetize and it was a blog about reviewing cameras. And I aggregated reviews that other people were doing of cameras from around the web particularly digital photography cameras, and that was the first monetized blog I started.
But it wasn’t the most satisfying blog to create. I was essentially aggregating what other people were doing and I didn’t have an ongoing relationship with my readers. People were just coming to research which camera they should buy and then I disappeared and it didn’t come back for two years until I bought the next one. And so all the time I had that blog, I thought, “You know, I really would love to have more of a tips related blog about photography because photography is one of my hobbies and my friends come to me and ask me questions about it all the time.” So I started Digital Photography School I think in 2007 as a…basically to document the answers to those questions I was being asked, and closed down that other blog even though it was making $100,000 a year, it was a bit of a risk, and focus my energy on DPS, Digital Photography School.
ProBlogger started a bit earlier, that was 2004. And that was about the time I was starting to transition from a part-time blogger into a full-time blogger and I was kind of at that cusp of going full-time. And so I began, basically, there just to document what I was learning. No one else was talking about making money from blogs back then. I was almost controversial. And so it was a bit of a hopeful way of connecting with other people who were doing that as well and it turned out there were a few other people starting to do it around that time too. And we swapped ideas and learned from each other.
Nathan: I see. And so you started ProBlogger in 2000…
Nathan: 2004, okay. So you’ve been running ProBlogger for over 10 years and DPS for over 10 years. So, wow, that’s a long time.
Darren: Yeah. It feels like a very long time in internet years, I think.
Nathan: Yeah, okay, well. So I guess… You know, take us through like just between those 10 years. What has been, you know, the highlights? Has it..because blogging has, you know, risen in terms of popularity and more and more people are using the internet and reading blogs and using Google. Like, how has things gone? Has it been just like an upward trend just constantly or has it been up and down?
Darren: Look, it has been a little up and down. I fell out of Google rankings at one Christmas 10 or so years ago. And so that was a big down just after a gun full-time. I had to go and get a part-time job. But apart from that, it’s been upward most of the time. And my goal, when I started making money from the blogs, was never to hit a certain amount, but it was always to keep the trend…trending upwards. And so I always had this goal that every month I wanted to be 10% higher in traffic than the month before.
I didn’t always hit that but I knew if I could keep that sort of 10%, 20% growth every month, that exponential growth would kick in at some point and it would speed up. And that’s, certainly, what happened to a point. There is a point where you begin to plateau a bit. Now, most blogs do. And for me, it was, you know, three or four years in it. Began to plateau a little bit on both of my blogs. But that’s when you begin to consolidate and, you know, think about studying, you know, side projects, and…yeah, there’s other things you can do at that point to keep the monetary growth going. I guess, the income growing.
And, certainly, it’s been a real transition. You know, as I look at both of those main blogs, ProBlogger and DPS, they grew in very different ways. ProBlogger exploded. As soon as I announced I was making six figures of blogging, it went crazy and became, you know, a bit of a sensation and almost a bit controversial which helped in some ways, whereas Digital Photography School, it was very slowly, you know, day-by-day growth. There was no tipping point. There was no day where I…you know, it suddenly went big. And so I think both ways can really, you know, do well for you.
Nathan: So are you able to give some numbers and metrics of how far you’ve taken both DPS and ProBlogger just for, I guess, some clarity for the audience?
Darren: Yeah, sure. I don’t actually know the numbers on ProBlogger at the moment. I’d have to look that up. But Digital Photography School, it goes up and down from month to month depending on…it’s a bit seasonal. But around four million up to five million people per month for Digital Photography School. And ProBloggers, you know, maybe a tenth of that. It’s nowhere near as big in terms of numbers. There’s obviously a lot more people with digital cameras than blogs and bloggers tend to need that type of resource for their first two or three years, and then they don’t come as much because they’re on their own feet or they’ve given up. So whereas photography, you can…there’s always something to learn, there’s always something new happening in that space. Some people…we find our readers tend to stick around for a lot longer on Digital Photography School as well. Yeah. So income and traffic on both are…you know, it’s about a tenth on ProBlogger to Digital Photography School.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. Because, you know…it’s interesting because, you know, the first time I heard about ProBlogger was, you know, when I…around the time I started “Foundr.” And I never knew that you from Australia. I always assumed that you were from America. And I know you told me you get this all the time. And I remember one of my friends saying, you know, like, “The blogosphere is actually in Melbourne.” Like, “That’s where Darren Rowse lives.” And I was like, “Wow.” So, you know, you are, like, kind of known as like the OG, you know, original blogger that started the blogosphere where there’s all these other guys that have kind of sprung up from reading your stuff. How does that compute for you knowing that there’s all these new people springing up essentially staying relevant?
Darren: Yeah. I’ll look at…I mean I don’t know that I would consider myself in those terms.
Nathan: You’re a modest guy.
Darren: But I, well, I mean I love meeting people who say I read you in the early days and now on full-time and that I hear that all the time. And that’s I think, perhaps, because I do live in Australia. I don’t hear that as much as perhaps it’s happened. And when I go to the States, I hear it all the time and it just blows me away. I get quite emotional thinking about all the people whose lives have been changed by something I’ve written, which is fantastic. Look, it is a challenge to keep writing about the same topic for that length of period and coming up with fresh ways to talk about it and to stay engaged with that topic. There’s been periods where it’s been hard to keep going particularly with ProBlogger. Yeah, but it’s…I think it’s hearing those stories that’s kept me going. And so one of the tips I always give people is to choose a topic that is meaningful to you because if you’re gonna be at this for 10 years, and you probably need to be to get to a point where it’ll be significant in terms of income, you need to be able to get through those tough times where you feel like you’ve said everything already or you feel like people aren’t engaging with you yet. You need to be doing something that’s meaningful to you and that’s meaningful to other people as well and has the potential to change their lives in some way. I’m big believer in doing stuff that changes people. And if you can do that, it will help you to get through those humps that feel tough or that are tough.
Nathan: Yeah, because that’s really where the real gold’s at, right?
Darren: For sure. It’s…if you can find the intersection point between what you know and what the world needs, that’s a meaningful thing and that’s going to hopefully be a profitable thing as well. I didn’t come up with that, I read that somewhere else. I’m not sure where it was. But, yeah.
Nathan: Yeah. Because I remember actually you were talking about…you know, before we caught up, I said I watched one of your talks at I think it was Infusionso…no, HubSpot.
Darren: HubSpot, yeah.
Nathan: HubSpot, yeah. And you were talking about the breakthroughs. Can you tell us about it? Because I felt that’s really fascinating.
Darren: Okay. So that talk was all about being lucky. And it was, you know, seven things that you can do to kind of be…I guess, position yourself for lucky things to happen to you. And, you know, I’m a big believer in, you know, doing things that are meaningful. I think that was one thing, doing things that drive you. But being a learner, I think, was one of them as well. I can’t remember them all of the time from my head. But I’m, you know, a big believer that, you know, you’ve got to position yourself for good things to happen to you and for luck to happen to you. And, you know, part of that’s about pushing doors open, experimenting all the time, looking for those little sparks of opportunity that come your way. And that’s been a big part of my story as I look back over the last 13 or so years.
Nothing big has ever happened to me out of the blue. It’s always started as something tiny, it’s always started as an idea that’s keeping me awake at night, or just something that someone says in conversation that gives me an idea that won’t go away. And it’s about paying attention to those things that give you energy. Doing experiments around those things. So, you know, and having a blog is the perfect way to do an experiment, to put a post out there, and to watch what happens as a result of you putting your idea out there. And when other people get energy by what gives you energy, they’re the golden moments and that’s what you need to invest your time into. So I’m a big believer in, you know, learning as much as you can, sucking in as much information as you can, and paying attention to what gives you energy and experimenting around that.
Nathan: Yeah, I know…it’s funny to say that because I was just thinking, like, when we started that Instagram course, the reason that we started an Instagram course, and I never even thought we’d get into, you know, the online education space in terms of video courses as I was because we wrote a blog post about Instagram, and that just exploded. And that’s still to this day the most successful blog post on our site because we just, you know, really went in depth and just…people just were blown away by it. And then I also said, “Well, guys, would you be interested in the course on how to do some of this stuff?” And, yeah, it just really took off. So, yeah, a blog is a really great place to run experiments and tests.
Darren: Yeah, for sure. And, you know, my best-selling product was an e-book, “31 Days To Build a Better Blog,” and that started at 2:00 a.m. one night, an idea that wouldn’t go away. And I got up and wrote at saying I’m gonna start these free series tomorrow if you want to…if there’s enough interest in it. I woke up the next morning, there was energy coming back to me and I ran it. And then I ran it the next year, I ran at the next year because the interest grew and it turned into an e-book which turned into a second e-book which turned into a series of podcasts. And it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. But it all started by paying attention to that little idea and then watching to see what happened as a result of it. The same thing is true for many of the products that we’ve created on Digital Photography School. We always are analyzing how articles, how our tutorials are going over. And if one takes off, it turns into, you know, a follow-up and then we begin to do some surveys and testing around whether people might be interested in that type of product. And then eventually, hopefully, it’ll become either a course or an e-book or something else.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. Interesting. You know, I have to ask the question, I don’t know if you have ever been asked this much before, but I was talking to a mutual friend, Dan Norris, the other day and he was talking…you know, we were talking about eventually maybe selling your company and stuff like that and he said, like, you know…because I’ve always thought I’d never want to sell Foundr. But he said a realistic way to look at it is, you know, eventually your business will be sold or will go bankrupt and, you know, you’ve been having these blogs, having a ton of success for a very long time, a lot of people are now over-familiar with your work. I’m wondering have you had many offers for either of the blogs and why have you kept going with them? Have you ever got bored?
Darren: I’ve definitely had offers along the way. Not…it’s certainly not every year. There’s been a handful of them over the 13 years. I’ve always said, no, partly because the price was just falling apart. You know, you get fishing expeditions and people, you know, giving lowball offers. There’s been a couple of times where they’ve been very good offers but I felt like it was a lot more upside in terms of the business that I could see I could grow it further. ProBlogger would, I think, would be harder to sell because it’s more of a personal brand. It’s more of a Darren blog even though I don’t blog anywhere near as much as I used to and we do have a lot of other writers on it, whereas Digital Photography School, I’ve never put my name front and center. It’s not a Darren blog at all. In fact, I don’t…probably I’ve written three or four posts in the last year on it, and the whole team running it now, and it’s quite independent. And so that would be easier to sell. And I guess in the back of my mind, I would like to sell it eventually but at the…in the meantime, it’s enjoyable. And because I’ve got a team involved now, I don’t feel like it’s sucking energy away from my life because other people are kind of investing their creative thoughts into it. If I’d had to write off that blog the whole time, I probably would be a bit more burnt out on that topic.
Nathan: Okay, interesting. Yeah, because that’s actually something a mentor said to me as well. Like, you know, “You think that you never wanna sell your business but I promise you one day you’ll want to.” Like, you know, and Dolf might come around so I had to ask that question. So I wanna delve, you know, let’s switch things out. I wanna delve a little bit deeper around, you know, I guess just blogging basics. Like, what are some things that people can learn? Like, if you have a startup that you’re running, you know, or if you wanna start a lifestyle business, you know, why should people be blogging? What are some things people should be doing? How often should be people be blogging? You know, just run us through like what you recommend to people usually, Darren.
Darren: Yeah, sure. I guess it…there’s different types of blogs and that’s probably one of the first things you need to ponder. It’s…you know, what’s the goal of the blog? Is it…is the blog going to make money? And, you know, my blog started out, I ran advertising on them, That’s how they made money. And so the blog itself made money, whereas other people would start a blog to support an existing business that they already have and use a blog more for content marketing to build their profile, to build their brand, and to drive people to that business. So there’s that distinction that you need to make there. And so, really, the answer to that will determine how you wanna build that blog.
Nathan: Okay. All right. Let’s just go down one pathway. Let’s go down the pathway of, like, someone’s starting a business. They know what the business is about, you know, they’re trying to drive traffic, you know, they want to get more leads, sales, followers, and profit.
Darren: Sure. Yeah. So if you want to use the blog to support a business and not make money directly, you need to think about ultimately what you want your readers to do and it’s probably to buy your product or to hire you. And so you want to start creating content on a regular basis. That’s going to be the first step in that journey. And so positioning yourself, thinking about the customer that you want to have, I guess, and what is interesting to them. What are their pain points? I’m a big believer in writing content and creating content that’s going to eliminate pain in the life of those you want to read your blog and solve problems, fixed needs, and touch on those sort of fears that people have, dreams that people have as well.
And so you want to be really thinking about who your reader is first, and then think about how you wanna change your reader with your content. And so this is an exercise that I do on my blogs all the time whether…no matter what type of blog you have. Where is your reader when they come to you? What are their problems and needs? And where do you want them to be as a result of reading your blog? Do that on a whiteboard, put a line between them,and once you’ve got that point A and point B, you can begin to fill in the gaps. What do they need to know? What do you need to teach them that will get them from point A to point B? And those become your blog points in your blog posts.
And so for me on Digital Photography School where my readers come, they’re in automatic mode. They’ve got these great cameras, they don’t know how to use them. They’re taking average photos. I want them to…that’s where they are. I want them to have full creative control of their cameras, that’s point B. And so I know that if I want to get them from one point to the other, they need to learn about things like aperture and shutter speed, how to hold a camera, all these basic things. And so I did this exercise when I started Digital Photography School and I came up with about 200 things that they needed to know to have full creative control of their cameras. And so that was my first year’s content.
So that’s just a really simple exercise that you can do that will help you to create content that’s actually gonna change people’s lives in some way. It may only be a small way, it may not be, you know, solving poverty or, you know, changing the world in that way, but if you’re changing people in some way, they’ll actually come back and they’re gonna tell other people about it. And I think that’s a really big way to build a successful blog. Yeah. So, you know, creating content that takes people on that journey.
The other type of content you want to think about is shareable content. And you don’t wanna just do shareable content, you don’t want to just do funny things or infographics or…because that kind of content that shareable content can be a lot bit light and fluffy. It doesn’t need to change people as much, but you don’t wanna sprinkle it in. And so for Digital Photography School, we realized that our readers really responded to when we did a post that was 20 images on a certain topic. You know, beautiful gorgeous images. Our readers responded to humor. They responded to anytime we mentioned Canon versus Nikon. They started to debate. Those type of pieces of content got shared a lot. So a good place to go and find that type of content for your particular topic is BuzzSumo.
Nathan: Yes, BuzzSumo. That’s killer. It’s expensive but you can use a free version which is awesome.
Darren: So you just type in your topic and it will show you the most shared pieces of content on that topic and that they’re the type of pieces of content you want to sprinkle amidst the other cornerstone content that you create. So that shareable content often gets the eyeball, and then you can pull people from it into your cornerstone content that builds credibility. And if you wanna convince someone to become a customer of yours, you need to build that credibility. You need to show that you know what you’re talking about. So don’t just do light and fluffy stuff.
Nathan: Like listicles.
Darren: You don’t want to just do the listicles although they can be powerful but what I find…
Nathan: You like the listicles?
Darren: I like listicles but I always…some of my best listicles are actually lists with links to my cornerstone content. So here’s 10 things you need to know about blogging, and then if you want to learn more about each of these 10 things, there’s a link into a 2,000-word article on that topic. So you get to share with the list but you get the conversion, the loyal reader, because they work through some of that further reading and they’re like, “Wow, they know what they’re talking about. I need to subscribe.” So, really, think about that type of content, mix it up, but always be driving people deeper into your blog to the content that’s going to change their life in some way.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. All right. This is awesome. This is…you’re really telling some good wisdom here, Darren. I’m loving it.
Darren: Oh, cool.
Nathan: So I have a few other questions, you know. You know, one, and this is something that I’ve been thinking about with the Foundr team, is we’re producing brilliant content right now. We produce maybe three blog posts a week and these are, like, in-depth life-changing pieces and we’re really, you know, tackling certain things and they’re really, really useful pieces that we’re tackling. But the next question is, and this is something I raced in my team was, like, “Guys, we’re producing epic content, killer content, but we’re not doing anything around promotion besides, you know, having our automated systems promoted through Twitter, promoted through Facebook.” Do you guys have a process when you produce a piece of content around promoting it? Because content production is only half the work, right?
Darren: Yeah, for sure. Look, killer content is great and it will get shared if you’ve already got readers. But if you’re just starting out and you don’t have any readers, you need to do the sharing, you need to seed that content yourself. And so you’re probably at a point where it’s gonna have benefits if you’re promoting it but you’ve already got the readers who are gonna do that for you to some extent. So if you’re just starting out, yeah, I think it’s really important to get off your blog, to not just have a “build it and they will come” mentality because they won’t just come no matter how good it is. You need to be pushing it out there.
A really simple thing you can do is to grab a piece of paper or open a document and identify the top three bloggers in your niche, the top three Instagrammers, the top three podcasters, the top three Twitter users, the top three Facebook pages. Come up with a list of the most influential people in your particular topic. And then ask yourself, “How can I build a useful presence on those blogs, on those Facebook pages, in those podcasts?” They’re the places you should be hanging out adding value. Not just promoting your stuff, but actually solving problems for people who are also hanging out there. That gets you on the radar of those types of people, you know, that then opportunities come for guest-posting, for being interviewed on podcasts, for engaging on their Facebook page, and them sharing your content as well.
That’s what I did when I started out and it really worked very well. So, you know, don’t see other people who are doing what you’re doing as competitors. Actually, see them as potential friends who, you know, might be collaborators and that you can help and that they can help you as well. But we don’t have a system as such for promoting pieces of content. For me, it’s more of a case-by-case situation. If we produce a great piece of content, I’m not just pushing it out to every single person I know, I’m thinking about who has readers who would benefit from that piece of content and I might email that person.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. So you’re doing direct outreach for every single post.
Darren: Not every single post, but the ones that I see a real connection with. The only thing that we do do for every single post is, I guess, push it out to our social networks. We use CoSchedule for, you know, putting things on to Twitter and onto Facebook at certain intervals. So after we publish them…but, yeah. Apart from that, it’s a bit more case-by-case and, really, just trying to be useful to the blogosphere in my particular niche as well, you know, by participating in Twitter chats or, you know, just engaging on other people’s Facebook pages and that type of thing.
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Also, you know how you said not to view people as competitors and more collaborators, this is a big thing for people. I know that in, like, you know, our space, online business, online entrepreneurship, startup, whatever, this is fine. But what if you had, like, you’re in a different niche, do you think that this is relevant for every single niche not to view other people as competitors and view them as potential collaborators?
Darren: I think it is relevant for every niche, but it also I think depends on how people treat you as well.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s true.
Darren: So you can’t treat someone as a collaborator who’s not wanting to collaborate.
Nathan: Yeah, of course. Yeah.
Darren: That doesn’t mean you need to get fiercely competitive. For me, that just means I move on and maybe find someone who is, I think in most industries that I’ve had anything to do with as usually, in networking groups and people who are willing to collaborate, who are willing to engage and work together. You know, I can think of offline, you know, business networks that I’ve been a part of in the past. And, yes, there’s always selfish motivations there and, you know, that’s, I guess, just part of who we are. As people, we want to further ourselves to some degree, but I think there’s always people who are really genuinely open to working together. And as long as it can be a win-win interaction, yeah, I think that definitely that should be your starting point, is looking for that type of relationship.
Nathan: Okay, awesome. And when it comes to SEO, and this is a big thing and I don’t want to go too deep into it, but what are your thoughts, overriding thoughts? Do you…like, obviously, you guys worry about it now but if someone’s starting out, do they need to worry about it? Do they just use, like, a plugin like Yoast and make sure they get the green circle? Like, what’s your take?
Darren: Yeah. So I’ve not really changed in my approach to SEO at all. I think you should understand the basics, understand…you know, think about key words as you’re writing, but not let that determine what you write. I think I generally would write a piece of content and then as I am getting ready to publish it, in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about, “You know, what would people be searching for on Google to find this type of content?” And that might impact the title that I have and some of the keywords that I use in subheadings along the way. But I don’t build links, I don’t do anything to manipulate search results in a sort of black hat or even a grey hat sort of way. I’m just trying to be a good citizen of the web and produce the best content that I can because I know, ultimately, that’s what Google is trying to put at the top of their results, is great content.
And having said that, there certainly are problems as your blog grows and as you change, you know, permalink structures and, you know, you change plugins and that type of thing. Things break on your site and that can get you in trouble with Google as well. And so right at the moment, we’re actually doing a bit of an SEO audit. I’ve had someone come in to give us some advice on it because I don’t know enough. And he’s found broken things, he’s found duplicate content across the site. And so, occasionally, I think it’s probably worth doing a bit of an audit and getting someone in to help you. But in the early days, I’d just be focusing as much as you can on…understand the basics but spend most of your time creating great content because it tends to look after itself. If you produce that great content and you’re promoting it, you will eventually get some links coming in and that’s probably the best thing you can do.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. Awesome. And when it comes to guest-posting versus posting on your own blog, what’s your thoughts on that? Like, when you’re first starting out? Like, I know a great story is what the guys did at Buffer with…where the co-founder is Leo. He just went crazy. When they first launched, his goal was to post, like, a guest blog post on like 200 different sites in a year or something, and he did that. What’s your thoughts on guest blog posting? Is it’s still very powerful, relevant? I know…I think you guys worry about guest posting much yourselves, do you?
Darren: Yeah, we don’t do a whole heap of posting on other people’s blogs. We do accept the occasion of one on our own if it’s good quality content. Guest-posting used to be really good for SEO. That has gone or at least has reduced in how good it is, but I think it’s great for building a brand, building a profile. And I’ve seen many bloggers do what the Buffer guys did. I think of Leo Babauta from a blog called Zen Habits.
Nathan: He’s the best. He’s awesome.
Darren: Back in the day, he would do these bursts of guest posting. So he didn’t do it all year but for a month, he would have…he would be everywhere for that month. You know, he’d be on Copyblogger, on ProBlogger, on, you know, 10 other blogs. Then he would disappear from guest posting and just focus on his own blog. And I actually think that’s probably a good way to do it, is to, you know, have this intense burst where suddenly you’d about as everywhere. “Who is this guy?” And you want to check him out. And then just go back to working on your own. And he would do that. I reckon probably once or twice a year and you have these months where he’d just produce insane amounts of content for other blogs. And then he’d just focus on his own blog and writing his own books and that type of thing. I know other bloggers who just say, “I’m gonna do two a month.” And so they just trickle it out over time. But I just suspect if you have those intense bursts, particularly if you’re tackling a particular niche and you’re on every big blog in that niche, that’s probably a good way to go.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s a really good call. So, yeah. Okay. Well, look, I’m curious, you know, once you’re generating traffic and, you know, you’re building a relationship with your audience and people are actually coming back to your blog. They don’t just read it once, they might come back. You know, what’s next? How do you get people to buy a product? Because this is a thing that I think some people get caught with. They just get stuck in just the creation of the content and the free stuff and they feel, you know…like, some people don’t like to sell and this is something I went through myself, Darren, where I wasn’t always comfortable selling. It was kind of like a process that I needed to go through all the time.
Darren: Sure. Yeah. Look, it’s exactly the same. I mean my first monetization was not selling at all. It was just advertising on my blog, and I still do that. And we still have ads running on our blogs on Digital Photography School, I should say. The other type of monetization I did in the early days was affiliate marketing. And it was fairly gentle, initially. It was just mentioning books on Amazon and earning you a few cents for a conversion there per thing. But I think affiliate marketing is probably a good way.
And if you’re feeling uncomfortable with selling and you don’t yet have the confidence to produce a product or you don’t even really quite know what product you might want to create yet, affiliate marketing, I think, is a great way to, one, learn how to sell. Two, test what products work or what…whether e-books work or whether courses work or to test price points and to test the topics of content as well. And so on Digital Photography School, before I created any product of my own, I had already promoted probably about seven or eight different e-books, a number of courses, some software. And I’d worked out that my readers responded well to e-books, and they were willing to pay about $20 a product, and that there were certain topics of e-books that they really responded well to and others they didn’t.
So I knew what product to create based upon what I’d already promoted. And, I guess, the other benefit of promoting a product as an affiliate is that you’ve got money coming in without having to create anything of your own. So you can do that while you’re investing your time into creating your own product. The other benefit is that it gets your readers used to the selling process. And that can be hard on some blogs. If you haven’t sold anything and you’ve built this audience and then suddenly you start shoving a product down their throat, you know, you might wanna warm them up a little bit to the idea of being sold to.
So I think affiliate marketing is probably a good starting place both to learn what to create but also to learn about selling on your blog and get used to that in different ways. Yeah. So that’s how I started out. And then the first product I created was largely repurposed content, so a content that I’d already published on my blog. It was content that I already knew my readers had engaged with well. And then I added some extra content into that e-book. So it was largely republished, updated, reordered, and a little bit of new stuff. And I was skeptical as to whether my readers would buy something that I’d already published on the blog, but they really responded very well to it, both on ProBlogger and Digital Photography School.
Darren: Why? I think because I delivered so much value over the past that some of my readers just wanted to say thank you, some of them wanted that information in a more logically ordered up-to-date fashion. So “31 Days To Build a Better Blog” was probably a good example of that. We publish these 31 blog posts. But if you wanted to find them all on the blog, you had to do searches and you had to follow links, and people just wanted it in one solid PDF so that they could own it and so that they could have it. These days we generally don’t publish too much repurpose content in our e-books. We write them from scratch. But I think it’s a good starting place, and it’s certainly easier to write an e-book, for example, if you’ve already got some of the content written as well. We were very transparent that we told our readers what they were buying. It was already on the blog, and they responded very well to that.
Nathan: Okay. All right. Interesting. And what if you have a product but you don’t feel comfortable selling but you’re building your blog? What should that sales process look like, you think?
Darren: I think probably the best thing to do is to build some sort of an opt-in into your email list that is gonna take them a step towards that product in some way. So we haven’t done too many opt-ins over the years, but we’re starting to do them now. And our opt-ins are trying to solve a problem for people in the first 10 or so minutes after they get that opt-in. And that solves a part of their big problem that you’ll solve with the product itself. And so you wanna take people on the journey and start bringing about the, you know, small changes that hint at the bigger changes that you wanna bring. And I think if you have had a positive impact upon someone before you start selling to them, they’re much more open to being sold to as well. And I guess that’s why our e-books worked in the early days. It’s that we had already brought about some change in people’s lives. And so they were open to being sold to in that way.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. Interesting. And, you know, when it comes to the emails, I know this is a beast of a topic, but do you have a recommended suggestion? Three emails, two emails, you know, objection handling, you know, why you should choose a product like…what is your…
Darren: Sure. Yeah, we do. We do…usually, our products are launched with a four email campaign over five weeks. So we would start with an email that introduces the product, introduces the offer that we have. Either a bonus offer or a discount. And, you know, I know discounting is controversial. Some people would like to do it, some people would not. We find some combination of a bonus and the discount does work well with our audience and so we tend to do that.
The second email sometimes will be…in fact, we’re sending one tonight. It’s our second email and our new e-book, and it’ll be a testimonial email, very much based upon social proof, what people are saying about it helping them to decide whether, you know, they wanna do that. And we usually, in that second email, emphasize the fact that we have a money back guarantee so there’s, you know, an element of no risk there. And we’re very good with giving them, you know, full money-back if people don’t find the product useful.
Third email, sometimes we have a break in the third week and then do two more after that. Sometimes we go straight into a third. And it’s…it all changed from campaign to campaign. But, quite often, it’s a competition that we might run around the product that we’re creating. Sometimes it will be an upsell type thing. If a lot of people have bought it, we might offer a bundle option at that point.
And then the last email, generally, is a last chance type email, grab it before it’s gone. It does vary a bit but, generally, they’re the type of elements that we’re including in our different campaigns. Objections, we try and address in the sales page. And we try and test that as much as possible and have frequently asked questions about this product section on it, on most of our sales pages that try to address some of those. And we know some of the objections people have just to the fact that it’s an e-book, for instance, or some of the questions that they’re going to ask. We try and remove those questions from their minds on the sales page. And, occasionally, in the first email, we might include a few of those sort of trigger ones that we know will be hot for people.
Nathan: Okay, awesome. Yeah, that’s great. That’s a great little format. Awesome. Okay, we’re gonna switch gears and work towards wrapping up. One thing I will mention, though, is I’ve consistently found amazing talent on the ProBlogger job site. Like, this was a recommendation that Neil Patel told me and it is just an absolute beast. Like, you guys attract some amazing quality writers. So I just have to say that, like, it’s really impressive. Like, I know now if we wanna find anyone around content stuff, I will just put a post on the ProBlogger job board and we’ll find someone amazing. Like, it’s really powerful.
Darren: It’s remarkable. We…first, out of that very impulsively quite a few years ago, now, I don’t actually know when, and it’s a great one. It’s a great passive income for us. But, too, it’s fantastic for us. Well, we’re looking for writers as well. We advertise semi-regularly too. It’s amazing, you know. And often depends on the quality of your job and what you’re willing to pay if that…yeah, it’s amazing. It’s been…I’ve got mine. We’re actually in the process of updating it at the moment. So I suspect by the time this interview goes live, there’ll be a new version and expanded on what it is.
Nathan: Darren, you know, I just have to mention that if you are looking for great writers and this kind of brings me to our next piece is, you know, something that you would be very good at is analyzing good writers and trying to work out good people to work with in terms of writing. Just, you know, three maybe things you look for in terms of a good writer that you could take away.
Darren: Yeah, it’s an interesting one. Well, I mean some people just have it. And it’s one of those…it’s mojo. It’s just like, “Wow.” You know that…you just know. It’s in its…their first line. You’re just like, “Wow.” They just have it and that’s hard to teach. I think a lot of it, for me, is about understanding the reader. And, you know, I’ve said it three or four times, but, you know, changing people’s life in some way. I’ve been genuinely interested in that. I think…I was just doing a podcast yesterday on this. It’s about putting yourself in a position where you understand the pain or the problem and you feel the problem in the pain of your reader. I think if you can put yourself in that position… So, for me, one of the things I’ve been doing lately is periscoping quite a bit. And the reason I’m doing that is that it puts me in a conversation with my readers. I actually love blab even more. I don’t know if you’ve done many blabs but…
Nathan: Yeah, it’s awesome. [crosstalk 00:47:19]
Darren: When you have conversations with your readers and they ask you those questions and you can feel the emotion behind their questions, I find that my best writing happens just after either a blab or just after I come back from our conference. And I’ve had personal conversations with people and I write out of what I heard from them. Sounds a bit sadomasochistic that you want to hear people’s pain all the time caps. But I think if you can write from that place, that’s great.
You know, then there’s a whole heap of other technical things like, you know, great titles.I think it’s really important to have a title that’s gonna lead people to read that first line. A hook at the start that gets in touch with people’s…that problem that you’re writing about, that you’re writing to solve, you’ve got to give people a reason to read and promise something to them in that opening paragraph.
So present the need that you’re gonna tackle, promise something to them, “By the end of this article, I’m going to teach you this.” And then clear… I love articles that clearly lead me through a process that have been very logically ordered. I don’t just like random tips. I want things that build upon the things that have already been written and that takes time to craft that type of article, but…yeah. It’s the same with presentations at a conference. I love hearing people work through a process and lead people through a talk.
Nathan: A journey.
Darren: A journey. Yeah, journey is a big thing about it. And, you know, then there’s other things. If we’ve got people pitching for guest posts, I love people who are willing to promote that content to their social networks. I love people who are willing to engage in the comment section with their audience. It’s amazing how many people guest-post on our blog and then never show up to respond to comments and to answer the questions.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s really rude.
Darren: Yeah, people would go that extra mile with the promotion of the content and the commenting on the content. That to me is what we will have back again and again as an offer as many times as they want to write for us.
Nathan: Yeah, okay. Awesome. Well, look, that was really insightful. Thank you, Darren. So two more questions. One, what is your favorite blog, out of curiosity? And, two, where is the best place people can find?
Darren: Favorite blog. Oh gosh, it changes every day, really. I’m probably more into podcasts at the moment.
Nathan: Okay, favorite podcast.
Darren: And, again, they’re not really related to the topics that I write about but, you know, Invisibilia, Cereal, you know all those, NPR, [crosstalk 00:50:04]. I could listen to them all day and sometimes do. One of my favorite blogs is a little blog called Carryology. It’s a blog about bags and, you know, backpacks. And I’ve got a bit of a thing for bags.
Nathan: Oh, wow. Okay, interesting.
Darren: Even more so than my wife does. So that’s pretty cool. So that’s cool. And what was the other question?
Nathan: Best place people can find you?
Darren: Oh, best place. problogger.com is…we’re moving a lot of our stuff from problogger.net which we had in the early days over to .com. So the podcasts there now…information about our events, the blog will be there, by the time this goes live, the job boards will be there, and I guess all our social media profiles. We’re on Facebook and Twitter as well. If you just search for ProBlogger in those places, you’ll find them.
Nathan: Awesome. Well, look, this is amazing chat, Darren. So thank you so much for your time. I really, really appreciate it.
Darren: You’re welcome. It’s been great to chat with you again.
Nathan: The “Foundr Podcast” has come to a close but it’s not time to sleep. It’s time to hustle. Download the Richard Branson issue of “Foundr Magazine” for free right now by visiting foundrmag.com/branson. Again, that’s an absolutely free download of the Richard Branson issue of “Foundr Magazine” containing an exclusive interview with the man himself. It’s only available at foundrmag.com/branson. So download it now and we’ll see you next time on the “Foundr Podcast.”
Key Resources From Our Interview With Darren Rowse
- Follow Darren Rowse on Twitter
- Checkout ProBlogger
- Connect with Darren Rowse on Linkedin
- Like ProBlogger on Facebook