Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently (tweet this).
~ Henry Ford
In my experience, a lot of people are under the impression that once you’ve “made it” as an entrepreneur (whatever that means), you stop making mistakes.
Well, I certainly haven’t. I’m probably making as many mistakes these days as I ever did. Fortunately, I’ve also had some success along the way to balance things out.
I don’t see failure as the enemy. Failure usually offers up huge learning opportunities. Furthermore, rarely is any failure a true “failure” in the literal sense of the word.
The failed project I am going to discuss in this post provides one such example of how beneficial failure can be. It has taught me an enormous amount and (to an extent) defined the direction of a major future project of mine. I for one am bizarrely happy that I was victim to such “failure.” Read on to find out why!
Recapping the One Hour Authority Site Project
The One Hour Authority Site Project was launched on 14th September 2012. At the center of the project was my authority site: Free Online Dating Advice.
It was originally intended as an experiment in producing content specifically for low-competition keywords in the hope of ranking for them without any backlinking necessary. When that experiment failed I decided to turn the site into a blog in the “traditional” sense, with a unique design, social media profiles and content that was more “bloggy.”
With a custom design and nearly 100 high-quality posts published, I consider Free Online Dating Advice a fantastic resource for anyone interested in online dating.
Not including this post I have written ten updates on the project here on LWB:
- Introducing the One Hour Authority Site Project
- How I Chose a Niche for My Authority Site
- My Authority Site’s SEO Optimized Setup
- Keyword Research and Competition Analysis for my Authority Site
- The Three Stages of My Authority Site’s Development
- How I Create SEO Optimized Content for My Authority Site
- Organic Search Engine Optimization: How I’m Doing It
- My Authority Site’s Content Marketing Strategy Revealed
- My Authority Site Revealed (Plus a Job Offer!)
- The One Hour Authority Site Project: My Make or Break Strategy
As you will see if you read through those posts, just about every aspect of my approach to the project has been documented in detail.
Just a few days ago, I decided to call time on the project. There were a number of reasons as to why I made this decision, but Free Online Dating is no longer an ongoing concern for me. I’m moving on.
In the twelve months or so that the project was ongoing, I learned a huge amount — mostly about what not to do when creating authority sites / blogs. Now I want to share those lessons with you.
1. Forget Google
I’m going to be frank about this: I am sick of talking about Google. Until I feel the need to feature another rant about search engine optimization, you are not likely to hear me talking about Google again.
Why? Because Google is unpredictable and still remarkably unsophisticated.
Glen Allsopp of ViperChill has recently written a bunch of posts on how Google still serves up low-quality results on the first page for popular keywords. To be honest, I do not have the inclination to keep up with the schemes of black hat scammers — especially when the efficacy of such schemes can shift from one day to the next.
But webmasters are not only fighting the scammers and spammers when attempting to rank — they’re also competing with bigger brands and budgets (regardless of the quality of the information on hand).
Consider for example the top five results on Google for the keyword “online dating advice”:
On the face of it you could argue that these results are reasonable — they are all relevant articles published by well-known brands. But there’s more than meets the eye.
First of all, each of the above pages links to an article on a site that is not specifically related to online dating. It’s just one article. In fact, to call some of them “articles” is a stretch: Channel 4′s page is made up of nothing more than a collection of online dating tips totalling just 450 words.
So where does my site — with nearly 100 articles featuring online dating advice from experienced online daters — feature in the SERPs for the keyword “online dating advice”? Let’s see…
There it is! Ranked 104th, below awesome articles like top online dating tips men women and lazer-focused websites such as Romance Online Dating Sex Advice Horoscope.
I believe that in terms of both quantity and quality, my site should be on the top spot for the keyword “online dating advice”. I have worked hard to make sure that the content is informative, helpful and actionable. When a good friend of mine told me last week that she has started online dating, I didn’t hesitate to recommend it to her because I believe in what I have created.
Yet Google clearly disagrees. And I can see why by their parameters — the domain is less than a year old and there aren’t many backlinks pointing to the site. I’m not arguing against that. But I am arguing that Google consistently fails to rank the best content in the right places. And I’ve got no interest in playing their game.
Here’s how I see it: Google rankings come last. You create a great website, you work your ass off to get it in front of people, they start to link to it, and in time you get rankings in Google. At no point do you make a concerted effort to rank, but it will happen naturally. To engage in a focused effort to rank in Google above all other marketing strategies is to create an exercise in temporary success or total futility.
2. Only Write About What Other People Are Writing/Talking About
Online dating has come a long way in the past decade or so. It’s transformed from a closet interest into a mainstream activity. It is far less of a taboo than it was.
However, it is still something of a taboo. Although online dating is now a huge industry, you won’t find many high-quality online dating blogs out there. I would rank mine easily amongst the best, and thats with just ~100 articles published over twelve months or so.
However, competing with no one can be a bad thing. You see, bloggers typically thrive on reciprocation (not in the black hat Google sense, but in a real, organic sense). On LWB I’ll find an awesome blog post and link to it. Someone else will come across a post on LWB and link to it. These links spread across the web, then people browse from one blog to the next and stick to those that they like. It’s an effective system.
But if few people are actually talking about a topic (such as online dating), this “recycling” simply doesn’t happen.
Just do a quick search for “online dating blog” or even “dating blog” and you’ll see how woefully underserved the niche is. Far from this being an opportunity, it makes building an audience pretty damn hard. Unless you’re an SEO whizz and can rank for some decent keywords (let’s not go there again), your next obvious avenue is to reach out and network with other bloggers. If there aren’t any (or only a handful of questionable quality), you’re screwed.
I made a few connections in the dating/online dating niche and even had a couple of guest posts published. Those two guest posts sent me a grand total of nine visitors.
Furthermore, articles on online dating are not the kind of things that people will be keen to share. I said that online dating is less of a taboo, but it is definitely still taboo to an extent. While most people will admit that they are online dating, they’re not going to advertise it by sharing articles on online dating. If you want to build a successful blog, it helps if people actually want to share your content.
3. Be Exclusive
The common curse of the newbie blogger is to create a blog for everyone.
The best (or worst, depending upon your outlook) examples I see of this are those blogs that touch upon a number of broad topics. For example, a recent reader asked me to critique their blog on “Spirituality, Productivity and Personal Development.” What a confusing mess of topics.
In reality, successful bloggers should not only focus on a specific topic, but focus on a specific subset of people interested in that topic. To be vague in your approach is to melt into the background.
I made this mistake with Free Online Dating Advice. I didn’t make an online dating blog for men in their 30s or single mothers — I made an online dating blog for everyone. Because it was for everyone, it had a far smaller chance of resonating with anyone.
I’m showing how it should be done with my new blog, Healthy Enough. Here are some notes I have made relating to my target reader:
I got really specific with this — Healthy Enough is for a very particular type of person.
This will be to my benefit, as the above type of person will feel like the blog was made for him when he lands on it.
I’d like to make something clear though: being exclusive does not mean that you literally have to exclude everyone but your target audience. In an ideal world I would like everyone to love my blog, but that is not possible. So I’ve focused down on a subset, but in doing so, I will also be appealing to plenty of other people (both men and women) for whom the subject matter will still resonate with.
By targeting a specific type of person you include them wholly. However, you also include many other people partially — and that can be enough. For instance, a 25-year-old woman could match many of the above aspects of my target reader, and as such could still be interested in the blog.
This will result in a core audience of highly engaged visitors, surrounded by a much larger group of partially engaged visitors. Anyone else will bounce off your site, which is exactly what you want.
4. Create High Quality Content, Then Share It Liberally
The web is saturated with content. That means one thing: if you are going to make any kind of noise, you need to publish only your best content, then make sure that plenty of people see it.
If that means posting once per fortnight (or even less frequently) rather than twice per week, so be it.
Not bad for a blog’s second post, right? It did so well because it was such a compelling post (bravo, Billy).
To go back to Healthy Enough again, that’s why at the time of writing I haven’t published a third blog post, despite my last post having been published eight days ago. I’m working on a post that requires a lot of research and a lot of work, and I’ll only publish it when I’m confident that people will get a lot of value out of it. Then I’ll spend the subsequent week sending it to everyone and anyone who I think could benefit from it or would be interested by it.
Derek Halpern put it really well in a recent article on Social Triggers:
If you spend time writing a piece of content, and that content only gets 1,000 readers, chances are there are one million other people in the world who can benefit from what you wrote.
Why, then, would you spend more time creating content when you already have something that your ideal customers can benefit from?
It’s smarter to find another 10,000 people to consume what you’ve already created as opposed to creating more [content].
Or, in other words, create content 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created.
Derek’s nailed it. If you truly spend four times as long promoting a piece of content as you did writing it, success is all but guaranteed (on the assumption that your content is suitably compelling).
5. Have a Striking Personality
Speaking of Derek, if you’re familiar with Social Triggers, you’ll know that he is a frank and (dare I say it) rather brash character. It works well for him, as it has for many others: Johnny B. Truant, Ashley Ambirge, Dave Navarro, et al.
I’m not saying you should be frank and brash, but you should be something. To blog without character is to serve up lifeless and uninspiring content. Even if you provide compelling content, if it reads like a college essay, the masses are unlikely to engage with it.
This is as much about clarifying who your target reader is as it is about not being afraid to be yourself. You’ll need to combine both pieces of the equation in order to create characterful content.
Let’s look yet again at Healthy Enough. The second post I wrote was 10 Ways You Know You Should Be a Healthy Enough Reader, and it pulled no punches.
The featured image and first line of the post is in itself enough to turn plenty of people off:
However, there are a group of people who will resonate with my (admittedly immature and slightly off the wall) personality. If you like pulling stupid faces, toilet humor and Family Guy (oh, and being healthy enough), you’ll love the blog. If you hate those things, you’ll hate the blog.
Dividing opinion with a strong character is part and parcel of building a successful blog. Leaving Work Behind has become a popular on the blog in part because I have always been utterly honest and forthcoming about both my success and my failures. I have promoted a personality of utter honesty and transparency (one that is rare in the “make money online” niche) and people have appreciated that. However, I’ve also published my fair share of forthright posts that not everyone agree with (such as this).
In short, don’t be afraid to piss a few people off. Just make sure that you’re also resonating with a bunch of other people.
So What Next?
In a beautiful stroke of irony, the day I finally decided to call it a day on Free Online Dating Advice was also the day when a new article on the blog hit the front page of Reddit, bringing in a few hundred visitors:
However, that changed nothing. A blip of low-quality traffic wasn’t going to transform FODA’s fortunes.
At the time of writing I have a further nine posts (i.e. nine weeks’ worth) scheduled, so the site will actually rumble on for a while yet. After that, new content will cease and the site will be dormant.
I’m not going to do anything rash like shut it down — for those few people who actually come across the site, I hope they get a great deal of value from it. The published content is the result of a lot of hard work and I believe that it can help anyone interested in the world of online dating. But unless something drastic happens, FODA as an active project is over for good.
Healthy Enough has now taken FODA’s place as my active non-LWB project and I am seriously excited about its prospects. I feel like after just over two years of blogging, I am really starting to get a handle on what is really needed to create a highly successful blog. Most of what I have done with Leaving Work Behind has been trial and error — Healthy Enough is my opportunity to start from scratch and apply all of my experience from the very beginning.
If you have any questions or comments relating to my lessons learned from a failed authority site project, please do not hesitate to leave them in the comments section below!