Lee Odden

How I Started Blogging. What’s Your Story?

While today’s online media are abuzz with the latest and greatest social media tactics and tools, for many of us that have been around a little while, it was blogging that started our social media careers.

It’s funny to think that in 2002 a type of site called “blog” came up on my radar as a possible marketing tool. At the time, many blogs were personal diaries posted anonymously or by people with a little tech savvy and plenty of opinion. Writing personal thoughts on a public web site was absolutely the last thing I would ever consider doing.  However, it was a curious thing and I started a few blogs anonymously to see what it was like. Unfortunately, the excercise was so foreign, poorly executed and without feedback, that I deleted them.

In mid 2003 I began looking for online content outside of forums and started reading several SEO blogs including Search Engine Blog (Peter Da Vanzo), Search Blog (John Battelle) and Search Engine Lowdown (Andy Beal). Interestingly, only Search Blog remains what it was.

In December 2003 after using Blogger.com as a group blog software for a few collaboration projects I finally decided to start a blog under the  blogspot.com domain for TopRank Online Marketing, which by then, had been in business about 2 years.

As you can see from my “Hello World” post in Dec 2003, I had humble goals to post news and information related to online marketing.  We had a web site that pulled in a lot of search traffic, why would we need a blog? The reason was simply to see what blogging could do to get the word out about our expertise and to share information.  Blogging was very new territory and there wasn’t anyone to demonstrate best practices, so I set out to find what those were while sharing links, news and resources.

I suspect there are a good number of companies that treat other social media services the same way, whether it’s Twitter, Foursquare or building a social mobile app. It’s new territory and they want to find out whether those applications or sites would make sense in their marketing mix. The problem with that perspective is that it’s about the most inefficient and unproductive way to go about finding the right online marketing channels for a business.

The biggest mistake I made 6 plus years ago when I started blogging was not creating a strategy. As a marketer, I knew better than to chase a tactic, but I had no idea at the time how much of an impact blogging would have on our business. In other words, despite a lack of strategy, we were able to use our marketing savvy, curiosity and interest in connecting with the online marketing community to achieve many of the goals we set out to reach in our business. It just took a lot longer without that strategic plan.

Companies starting down the path of becoming more social in their culture to better connect with customers and to realize the marketing, PR, and customer service benefits from social media participation don’t need to waste that time.  Doing the homework of researching customers, setting goals and developing a strategy are essential steps towards a successful social media marketing experience.

Back to why I started blogging. The SEO community was a lot smaller in 2003 and 2004. Writing a post about anything to do with search engine optimization would be noticed and commented on by the small number of SEO bloggers. There were plenty of cross links and “hat tips” (whatever happened to those?) and openly shared opinions. Blogging even made a number of SEOs very popular, very quickly.

Blogging to get popular is the goal for some people and there certainly is some relationship between notoriety, awareness and credibility with the ability to attract sales.  The key (for me at least) is that creating awareness of oneself is simply a proxy to gaining visibility for your business. It’s not a goal in itself.  As a result, Ive been open about using visibility to help others and make connections.

The turning point for me in blogging was due in part to learning to liveblog at conferences.  Steve Hall of AdRants provided my first opportunity to liveblog at a ad:tech event  – an absolutely humbling experience for anyone that isn’t a natural writer. I met people like Frank Gruber and David Berkowitz at that event  in 2004.  I did some liveblogging for Barry Schwartz and Search Engine Roundtable after that which also provided great exposure and connections. Matt McGowan brought even more exposure opportunity by having Online Marketing Blog as a media sponsor for SES conferences. There’s a huge list of people that have been very helpful over the years, especially our longtime readers.

Since then we’ve published a lot of content and provided a lot of insight into holistic SEO and online marketing topics. During that time I think the most important thing I’ve learned is to find your voice and stick to it. Don’t try to be what you’re not. It simply doesn’t resonate with readers or with the goals you’ve likely set.

Whether it’s blogging or other types of content and networking, I think the real value from online publishing in a social context is of course,  being social.  Blogging has been a great experience in terms of developing relationships with people I would have never connected with otherwise. It has definitely served as a platform for making connections in the industry that have led directly and indirectly, to a lot of new business.

I started blogging personally as an experiment and found a process and strategy along the way that has helped grow our business and the online marketing/sales performance of many of our clients.  Long time blogging provides ample opportunity to make and learn from mistakes. Blogging also allows us to continue to be a resource while sharing our expertise with potential customers, partners and employees.

We’ll be going through yet another evolution with Online Marketing Blog in the next month or two and I wonder about the experiences of our readers that also blog:

If you’re a blogger, why did you start? What’s your blogging story? Did you start as an experiment? Did you start with a strategy? What was your biggest mistake? What have you learned?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.

Comments

  1. Lee, I created my first blog in December 2005. It was a Blogger blog. I only did it so I could reply to someone else’s blog. After posting my comment I felt stupid, having a blog with no content.

    I guess I’ve overcome that feeling since then.

    Nice article. I feel like I’ve always known about you, but have no idea of when I first started reading TopRankBlog. It’s been on my list of places to check every morning for years.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. arikhanson says:

    Funny–I started blogging a few years ago purely as an experiment. I started family blog. For us, it was a great way to keep in touch with far-flung family members and keep them updated on our kids' lives. But, for me, it was a purposeful way to try out some new tools and get smarter about new tools. After about two months, my professional rants were working their way into the family blog. It was clear, I needed to branch out, so I started the Communications Conversations blog.

    Really, I just had these rants and I had to get them out 😉 But, over those first few months, I learned a ton thanks to smart people like David Mullen, Shannon Paul and Mack Collier. Whether they know it or not, these folks played a critical role in my development as a blogger. And, I feel like I'm still learning every day from people like your colleague, Adam Singer. And, I don't see that changing anytime soon.

    Thanks for the post, Lee.

    @arikhanson

  3. Lee,

    I started to blog as a way to figure out exactly if, when, and how to implement a blog for my workplace. I figured I need an understanding of the tools, experiment with me writing, and the figure out how to best utilize the tool for communication. There really wasn't much strategy to it other than thinking, “I wonder if anyone will actually read this” and trying to figure out how to make that happen to generate discussion through feedback. I think my biggest mistake was in not sticking with one platform. I started with a free WP blog then transitioned to Blogger. In the end it worked out because I can now discuss with colleagues the difference between them (and other platforms) through research.

    I have learned that as a tool, a blog is great way to help foster community when it works in tandem with other communication channels for an organization. And personally, I really enjoy having a place where I can share ideas, strategies, and professional tactics within my industry.

    Thanks for making me think this morning.

    @vedo

    • Thanks Richie – it seems there is a theme to the notion of blogging as an experiment. I agree with you that a blog works well or even best when used in tandem with other communication channels. I think your blogging story is consistent with many others, thank you for sharing your experiences.

  4. I suppose I am what you would consider a “company blogger” though the position fell into my lap completely by accident. I was finishing my master's degree in English and working part time for a local gift company. They asked me to start up a blog because I was the most experienced writer they had working for them. It started out very simple, with lots of exclamation points because I was just plain excited to have a job that involved writing:)

    Now, our blog is used as a more in depth view of the people who work for us. In fact, I learn something new about my coworkers every day because they seem to open up in ways that can only be done when blogging. You don't have a clue who's going to read what you wrote, but that can be a completely freeing experience, too. Now, be it retroactively, I am going back and doing some reading and researching, hoping to start my own blog for my own writing. It's odd how that whole process took hold.

    Thanks for this post! It was a nice few minutes of reflection for me this morning!

    • Hey Cassi, excitement is good! (couldn't resist). I sense that curiosity has a lot to do with long term blogging vs marketing or other explicit commercial purposes. Thank you for sharing your blogging story! 🙂

  5. I started blogging in 2005 when I was discovering art as a hobby. I felt like I was cluttering up the Yahoo group if I told everyone everything so started only posting highlights there and writing in more detail on my blog, where others could visit me if they wanted to.

    Blogging led to being thrilled I was writing again. Art and blogging together led to being interested in online marketing and business. That led to getting an MBA. And more blogging. Currently I keep a personal blog, a blog on thinking towards the whole, and a blog on industrial content marketing.

    I'm looking forward to the someday when I can align my day job (currently as a product development chemist, willing to change) with my online activities. The division I work for has a blog, but it's customer oriented (as it should be) and I don't have access to the information and people I need during the day to write for it. I'm contemplating a proposal to change that, but there's such a disconnect between my two worlds that it's a bit nerve-wracking.

    • Wow Beth, that's an impressive amount of blogging. Interesting journey you've had from art to business 🙂 Could you start a blog on your own and use it as part of your proposal? A test case maybe?

  6. Lee, what a great post. Makes me reflect on my own goals.

    I started blogging because I felt the need to share knowledge. I had quit my e-business some months before that and slowly began to realize all the things I could have done better. The things that could have made that business more successful. I started to blog about what I learned, hoping to help others in the same situation.

    I really had no clue about blogging, no business goals, nothing. In fact, I am still learning and making changes on a daily basis. I discovered my niche and formed a strategy by doing. I looked at my analytics data, noticed trends, focused on those in my articles, etc. My strategy developed over time.

    My blog made me realize my big passion, and my talent. It made me realize that I should make my passion my work. So I did… which is probably why I am such a big fan of blogging!

    • Elija, I've heard the need to share as a reason for blogging many times. You're in good company. We've had similar journey's it seems: “I discovered my niche and formed a strategy by doing.” Congratulations on making your passion your work!

  7. I started blogging a couple years ago on blogger. DEFINITELY didn't start with a strategy, I have no idea what to do. Like a lot of people, I was just building up a bit of traffic when I realized that I really needed my own domain name. At that time I switched to wordpress.

    These days I'm thinking a bit more strategically (just started a new blog). The biggest thing I've learned is that blogging doesn't come easy (for me at least), but it's worth it :).

  8. I started while still working full-time – almost 4 years ago now.

    I've always thought that if I worked as hard as I did in the corporate world on my own business – I could make it work.

    And someone at work said to me why don't you write a book on Management (my corporate background) and sell it – on-line.

    I started to investigate and got quickly excited. I knew I could write the book due to my experience and I naively believed the hype and thought I'll make millions on-line by selling the book and retire.

    I created a blog, a free management guide to start building my own customer list and then my management book.

    I did this in the evenings while staying away from home in hotels.

    I finished the sales page and launched — expecting hundreds to sell.

    I sold about 5 in the first week.

    I learned so much. I created 2 more products in the personal development arena.

    So now I had a variety of products to sell and my knowledge of making money on-line was growing.

    I invested thousands of dollars in my education.

    So I decided to get into blogging full-time and offer blogging services. I was lucky as some of my existing customers wanted my blogging services.

    I left the corporate world just over a year ago and now work full-time running my blogging business…and I love every minute!

    Andrew

  9. Nice to know about your ways of blogging, and it is also great to get others experiences in Blogging; I did a lot and placed myself in the field of technical writer for blogs news rather than just blog owner, my experiences were quiet different from yours…

  10. I started in order to find out what this “blogging” thing was all about and as a way to do something useful with all the business ideas I had as my wife was sick of hearing about them!

  11. I guess from following paris hilton on twitter LOL

  12. When we went for our round the world trip we wanted to stay in touch with family and friends back home and share with them what we were up to.
    We put up a blog, and two years later we decided to carry on blogging about travels since we're so passionate about it and really enjoy blogging about it!

  13. UshaSliva says:

    I started blogging out of boredom, but it soon took off from there and now I've had to cut back on some of my blogs as there's simply no time to manage them all.

  14. nirvanacanada says:

    I started blogging as my professional career. I am related with online marketing, so blogging is part of my job.
    internet marketing Vancouver

  15. I have heard about blogging in early 2000s. However, I was not interested back then.

    In 2005 or perhaps earlier, I started researching on how to make money.

    It was during this journey where I learned that blogging is not only about personal but can also be used for business purpose.

    My purpose for blogging is to share quality contents on internet marketing and business to my readers. I truly would like give my readers the best possible content whether it is from me or even from other bloggers.

    That is why the part where you mentioned about researching customers is very important so do setting goals and having a strategic plan.

    I will always put myself into the shoes of the buyers or visitors before I create posts. I will try to feel them and imagine what would they looking for or what they want or need immedieately that they don't have the luxury of time of researching more about the topic or product that they are interested.

    That is all for now. Good posts. Thanks

  16. I didn’t start blogging till’ late. Was an active forum poster and also had over 10 forums myself. When the blogging craze started I just didn’t want to be “yet another one who’s following the herd”. So I totally ignored the phenomenon.

    Then, almost 3 years ago I started my Romanian blog and realized it’s kinda interesting being able to share so many ideas. I am a prominent blogger in my country and after a while I started the blog that bears my name too, this time for the “international” public.

    I have enjoyed blogging for some years now and believe I won’t stop too soon.

    • Ramona, I think that's a big piece of it – enjoyment. There a lot of people that lose focus or don't have a feedback mechanism to stay motivated. Then again, blogging isn't for everyone either. Glad you've found it enjoyable.

  17. darren123web says:

    I think I just love to talk and share my opinion while reading what others think – we're all social animals – and blogging, or writing online is just another medium to express your views.

    Sharing opinions and learning from others is where blogging seems to be strongest, it's a great format.

    • “Share opinions and learning from others” you've really summed up the spirit of blogging Darren.

      • darren123web says:

        Yes – the web, and blogging in particular has produced the largest, most freely accessible body of information. I've learned so much – I'd need an entire library – scratch that, my local library or even university library wouldn't have all the specific information I need for work. And then websites and blogs make that information so quick to find via search (sometimes!).

        It's a platform without compare. I can find, in minutes, the information on train times to London from Bournemouth, or on the latest CSS3 techniques. My library doesn't stand a chance!

        D

  18. I just recently started blogging. I definitely started this process as a way to promote my three businesses, but I also believed that I had a lot of expertise about the printing and marketing business. However, I am getting to the point where starting my weekly blog is getting harder and harder. I do like it when I meet someone in the Phoenix market who said that they read my last blog posting and that it made them think a little about their own business. Lee, keep up the good work, I enjoy your posts.

    • Thanks Stephen. Long term blogging can be tough unless you can develop a system to generate new ideas and instigate conversation with the posts. Look at keywords in your analytics and social conversations in your industry if relevant and you can get a lot of great ideas. Crowdsourcing content is also a great way to mix up your content and keep things interesting.

  19. I started blogging in January 2009, but I didn’t really commit to it until February of 2010. That was when I decided to publish one post EVERY SINGLE DAY regardless of how insane my life gets. Did I start with a strategy? No, not really. I do have a built-in community of local moms who get together and talk health, recipes, parenting, etc., though, so my overall goal was just to share my experiences in hopes that they’d be helpful to other moms looking to be more natural / organic in their approach.

    What I’ve learned is that it’s nearly impossible to grow beyond my automatic audience without building relationships and by commenting on other people’s blogs. It’s very time consuming, but blogging should REALLY be more about engaging each other on the important topics and less about gaming the system. At least, that’s my mommy blogger point of view.

  20. Interesting entry. Few weeks ago i read another article named “Should you get a blog?” – http://www.wisercafe.com/blogging-rss/should-you-get-a-blog-5515/ . I have a blog since 2004, but there are plenty of people still wondering if they should make a blog or not. I talked to many people, and most of them are afraid that once they have a blog, they will start sharing personal info over the internet, that they will cross the personal line without knowing.

  21. I started blogging several years ago because it was there. I had a lot of writings on voice that I had done over the years and I was fascinated by the ability to connect with so many like-minded people across the globe. Just recently, I began taking it seriously, using other social media tools and applying info I learn from blogs such as this terrific site. I've seen immediate and measurable results that have really jumpstarted a new way of looking at my business and what I can do with it. It's been fascinating to meet people, but I've also been honored to be accepted by the community. The growth of my business has happened as a result of networking, just as in f2f, but bigger. How cool is that? And it has expanded my ideas about where to go with my business and how to share it with more people as well as how I can share what others have to offer, which has always been important to me. As a natural born networker, I feel like I've found a new home!

    • What a great blogging story Kate! Blogs and social media in general facilitate and complement word of mouth and offline networking, in my opinion. Your story is a great example of that.

  22. tonyfelt says:

    I began to blog very recently and have found it to be very useful. I recently found Yacht Exports; a company that shipped a yacht for me to Europe and did an amazing job. All thanks to blogging.

  23. mynetsohbet says:

    thank oyu

  24. maureencrisp says:

    i am a children's writer and I was told to start a blog by another children's writer so I could have a searchable presence on the web. So two years ago I started a blog. I didn't want to talk about myself or my family so I decided that I would learn in public tips on author marketing as it pertained to children's writers. Each week I research the web and gather great content which I share with my writing community in a weekly blog post.
    Over the last two years I have learned that great links are the key to keeping my followers. Lurkers come up to you at events and introduce themselves…that was funny, two at the same time a couple of weeks ago at a friends book launch which turned into a larger group discussion in the corner about my current blog post content.
    You never know how far reaching your blog post can go. People pass on my blog links to small business owners…which is not my target audience but the principles are similar.
    I have become a Go To person in my writing community in my country (which makes me laugh quietly -what do I know…) something that completely surprised me.
    Thanks for your blog. I have popped in from time to time and directed people to your blog often and this is the first time the lurker has commented.

    • Thank you for telling your blogging story Maureen! Congratulations, it is indeed amazing what sharing opinions, ideas and information can do to raise your visibility. And help others.

  25. onlinemarketingservices says:

    I think in recent times if you have business to have a blog is essential. Been visiting yesterday Internet World exhibition in London. In one of the seminars called “SEO Viagra” Simon Turnbull said: “You must must must have a blog if you thinking about business”.
    Also the blogs if used right are a great and cheap way for SEO.

  26. Not everything is difficult.but you afraid.there are so many things in our daily life .I believe you can do very well

  27. rmt99e says:

    My first blog was for personal use. Next I started using blogs to create niche specific sites that created advertising revenue. Now I use blogging platforms to implement websites

  28. Blogging has become a way of the world in the IT Sales world. It's truly amazing just how few people grasp the concept of the new way of doing business. Sadly, they will be left behind as the “old school” dinosaurs move into retirement and beyond.

  29. InetMarketingWS says:

    Well i am strongly related to internet business industry mostly one year already. Started at top level from day 1 with skills in finance/negotiations/etc but with very small understanding of internet business. I was enjoying doing biz in the net , more and more digg into operations , got real understanding of my sub industry / etc. Only 2 weeks ago i started making own blog. My motives are to test different practices of SEO, systemize my knowledges, find partners for future projects and so on. Enjoy!

  30. Thanks for your excellent article on blogging. I'm just starting out in the blogging review arena and very much enjoy reading information like yours.

    Thanks.

  31. I enjoyed this article. I got my start on blogging because I became so tired of repeating myself so much LOL!