Posted on Jun 30, 2012 in On Blogging

I’ve been meaning to write about the course I’m teaching, but I’ve been so busy, I keep putting it off.

Why another blogging course?

I have had this growing feeling over the years that the kind of blogging advice that’s available out there – either for free on places like problogger.net or copyblogger.com or at a price like mediabistro, matadoru, travel blog success, and I think there are others… they don’t really match the kind of blogging that I do, and the things that I focus on.  That’s not to say that they do a bad job, it’s just that I think they give bloggers what they want to hear: easy tips to increase traffic and make money (with the exception of Matador U which teaches travel writing, not specifically travel blogging although they have a brief section on that).

There’s a couple of really big things that make a difference in blogging:

  • Your writing
  • Your photography
  • Your story

That’s it.  Of course some of the most popular blogs have figured out ways around having those things, and not everyone is strong in every area.  The blogs who eschew writing, photography and story in favor of metrics, pumping up traffic, gimmicks, buying traffic/social media likes and “gaming” things like stumbleupon and SEO (which you can’t even do anymore, by the way, they’ve gotten too savvy) have found some success, and sometimes have even become the highest trafficked site in their niche.  For a moment.

I won’t name names, but I’ve seen bloggers use these techniques only to be on a never ending treadmill of having to constantly “work the system”.  If there’s a change in Google’s ratings, like Panda or Penguin, their traffic plummets.  If Stumble or Digg or Reddit or some other easy to game social media site (at one time anyway) change their policies, their traffic plummets.

To top it off, it’s only traffic.  It’s not readership.  It’s a numbers game.  Try to sell these people something.  Try to get them to really engage.  It’s impossible.  They are phantom readers, people who bounced in on the latest viral link and never came back.  It’s chasing the Traffic Dragon and it never ends.

What’s harder, but ultimately where you build a stable, long lasting and financially successful blog, is when you build slower because you spend 90% of your time on writing, photography and story and only 10% on promotion.  Very specific, smart, targeted promotion that is really more like introducing yourself to the world than forcing your content down their throats.

Even Facebook and Twitter are changing.  Pinterest is a closed loop (meaning the majority of the traffic stays on their site not yours).  Same with Youtube.  Google+ too.  The next big thing hasn’t happened and everyone is being very slow to realize that starting a blog today, blasting your content on 10 different social media site and buddying up with other bloggers is just not going ot work.  It did work.  Four years ago.  Maybe even two years ago.  But the internet has moved on.

What’s the big thing now?

Story.  Curation.  Growing a small but loyal following.  Using your site as a platform to other projects.  Kickstarter.  Content.  Content.  Content.

Anyone can take a good photo.  More and more people can write.  Blogs with a story that hooks people in win, not because of your catchy titles or SEO keywords, but because real people, the ones who don’t comment and never go on Facebook, come back to their favorite sites every once in a while to see what happened to you.  That’s the majority of most personal bloggers’ audiences and we ignore them in favor of tech savvy readers who make their voices heard by social-sharing our stuff, but they are a tiny minority.  You need to court your silent audience.

How can you know what they want if they never comment?

You can’t.

That’s why I wrote this course, because there are several things I wanted to talk about and I wanted to create a space for people to do the work that’s necessary to build a stronger blog.  By getting feedback from other other bloggers.

What’s in the course?

I have over 60 articles on blogging as craft, the business of blogging, how to write a long term narrative over multiple months or years.  How to improve your photography.  How to grow your audience.  The opportunties outside of blogging.  At last count it was over 54,000 words (a novel-sized amount of content).

That’s all well and good, and I think my experience is probably really helpful for people.  But the part I’m most proud of is the workshop nature of the course.

Every week we have one challenge that we post to the group and get feedback about.  It might be a specific writing topic or photography or video or practicing giving critiques to each other.  I even give a prize to the person everyone votes did the best job, for a little extra motivation.  These aren’t academic excerises either, these are all intended to be part of what you’re creating for your blog.  You can skip them, if you want, but seeing other people’s work and interpretation may help you think about your own work differently.

Once a month I do a writing critique session where we all post something we haven’t published yet and give each other feedback.  The “winner” is the person who everyone votes gave the best and most helpful feedback.  It’s not just about receiving crits, it’s also about learning how to give meaningful advice to your peers.

I offer video critiques of your blog, where I show what I’m looking at on your site and talk through all the ways you can improve.  You can also see other people’s critiques.

I give away free premium themes from two different providers.  I also give away a copy of “Getting out of Auto” a photogrpahy ebook that is probably the best source available anywhere to learn how to take professional photos for beginners.

Your silent audience won’t tell you what they liked or didn’t like, they just vote by leaving or staying.  Your web traffic stats are impossible to get this kind of feedback from (‘oh they spent 6 minutes on this article, is that because they were staring out the window or reading my post?’).  Writers and photographers critique each other’s work all the time.  It’s how you get better.

There’s a new article (sometimes more) posted each week as well.  I take votes on what to cover, so if you’re dying to know more about an aspect of advertising or how to pick a new theme or where to start on video, I will write that post.  It means the content is constantly evolving to meet the group’s needs.

There’s also a private facebook group and there’s a fantastic dynamic in there.  It’s a great place to ask any question or to just see what other people are working on.

The course is self-paced, because I know we’re all busy.

And I priced it at the industry-lowest price point of $29/mo.  There isn’t a more affordable course out there, and for what you get (video crit of your site, my responses to questions, a community, weekly challenges with prizes, free themes (which cost more than $29 alone!) and a free photography ebook: $10) you’re getting more than your money’s worth.  I’d make it free, but it would actually lower the quality of the conversation, because that payment invites serious bloggers.

I write this course because I’ve been answering emails about this stuff for years.  I’d write 2,000 word responses to one person and then poof, another email would come from some else asking the same thing.  It felt like a one-way conversation! I wanted a way to write about the things that I love and what makes blogging a joy for me, and be able to have this conversation with other like-minded folks.

By the way, I happen to write about travel, but this isn’t just for travel blogs.  In fact, I’m not sure that’s even what I’m writing anymore.  Maybe I’m a lifestyle blogger.  The course is geared for anyone who writes story-based blogs.

Can I be immodest for a moment? I think this is the best blogging course available, anywhere.  I really love how it turned out.

I’d also love it if you’d join me.  Go to blogbrilliantly.com to read more.