The first blog post I ever wrote was some time in 2008. Though I can roughly pinpoint the date, I have no idea whatsoever what that post was about.
At the time I was running an ecommerce company dedicated to luxury pet accessories. Yes, really. It was called The Pet Extraordinarium. Again, yes really. It was the brainchild of my wife and I, and we were doing well until the small matter of a global financial meltdown wiped out the hopes of a generation. But that’s another story.
In the mid 2000s, blogging hit the mainstream. It had exploded over the previous few years, and communications professionals were becoming more and more interested in the medium as a marketing tactic. That’s how I came to it; blogging about topics related to pets in a bid to shill cat collars and dog beds. I remember being amazed when one post I wrote about a dog that was supposedly starved in the name of of “modern art” went viral.
Around that time I also blogged as a cat. ‘The Jake Files’ was my attempt to ingratiate myself with an online community of cat lovers who, for some reason still alien to me, insisted on writing in the voice of their pets. It was in the days when forums were big and blog posts written by cats created chat. What a time to be alive.
(You want the ‘mistake’ thing I referenced in the title, don’t you? I’m getting to that. But it’s important you understand the background.)
Blogging with an End Goal
When The Pet Extraordinarium went to the great kennel in the sky and I returned to agency life, I established a blog for the company and had the job of encouraging others to contribute. Thus began a particular challenge that would last another five years or so before I eventually established my own consultancy; that of endless badgering of agency staff to ‘please, please write your one allocated blog post of the month by such-and-such date, please?’
My own blogging journey really took off around nine months after I established that first agency medium. With the realisation that that particular agency did not hold the key to all my professional hopes and dreams, I set about putting a plan in place to get another job. And in order to do so, I started a blog of my own to showcase my thoughts and opinions on digital, social media and public relations matters.
This very blog you are reading now has its genesis in those first posts. It’s been through four incarnations since 2009, but all of the posts I’ve written have followed me across Blogger and Tumblr and WordPress and whatever the blog has been called down the years.
So you’d think that with nine years’ and over 500 blog posts behind me I’d have this entire thing nailed, wouldn’t you?
To an extent, I do. I write for people not for search engines. I write what I feel passionate about at the time, not about keywords. I write with a distinctive voice and am just ‘me’, rather than trying to be something or someone I’m not. And that has served me extremely well.
But there is one thing I got wrong from day one and that, even as I write this, I’m still getting wrong. I have never focused on building my email subscription list. Never.
This was, and still is, a huge mistake. Massive.
The Value of Blogging
This mistake stems from the fact that my blog grew very organically. I started writing to help me get a job, and once I’d achieved that I carried on because what I was writing was getting a great reaction. Beyond that, some of my posts were syndicated to other platforms and I started getting invited to do other stuff, like writing guest posts and speaking at events.
I realised very early the value of blogging, but I had a very laissez faire attitude towards it. I never had any sort of end goal in mind. Or any goal at all, if I’m honest. And so things like actively encouraging my readers to subscribe, using sign up forms properly or even pop-ups never bothered me. I knew I should do them but…meh…
At the end of 2014 I established my own consultancy. I needed clients, and without them my wife and three young kids would have starved. Which wouldn’t have been the ideal outcome.
All of the blogging and time I’d spent building a community on social networks around the blog paid off. For the first couple of years of my business, about 90% of my work came from people who already knew me as a result of all the time I’d spent publishing my thoughts and opinions. My new website started to rise up the Google SERPs, driven by fresh blog content.
But that masked an issue that only became apparent early in 2017.
Subscribers Are Important Not For Readers
In February last year I launched Digital Download, a new type of conference for PR and comms professionals focused on collaborative learning. I eagerly emailed my subscribers and stood back with a huge grin on my face awaiting the deluge of demand for tickets.
Deluge: an overwhelming flood. Trickle: a small flow. One of those nouns is more accurate than the other.
It was only around this time that it really struck me how much of a clanger I’d made when it came to building my email subscriber list. The average open rate of marketing emails in the public relations industry is 20.21% according to Mailchimp. The average click-through rate is just 1.63%. The average website conversion rate is somewhere south of 2%.
Work the maths of that lot and to sell 50 tickets through email alone I’d need a list of about 15,000 people. I have nowhere near that many people on my email list.
Not. Even. Close.
Now the fact is that Digital Download and all of the subsequent events I’ve held since have by and large sold out. The emails I send are value-led not sales-led, so the open rates and click-through rates are much higher than the average, besides which an email campaign needs repetition not one single hit.
And again, the blog has played a huge role. Inbound marketing combined with Facebook remarketing to those who read my ramblings has proven very successful.
I’m not relying on email to sell tickets. But life would be so much easier if I’d put the effort in nine years ago and consistently fed my email list. I’d find it easier to promote The Autumn Sessions for instance (you really need to check them out, by the way, as they’re bloody awesome). And I’d have more organic enquiries for consultancy.
Don’t Make the Same Mistake
As I referenced above, I am still making this mistake to this very day. Did you notice the subscriber pop up on this post? No, that’s because there isn’t one. Do you feel compelled to sign up due to the strategically placed subscription form? No, because I’ve still not sorted that out.
If I think of the tens or hundreds of thousands of people who’ve read my stuff down the years and compare that to the size of my subscriber list, it’s a real face palm moment. If I ever manage to complete the build of the new website I’ve been working on for the last few months, I’ll address this, but it’ll still be a massive missed opportunity.
I’ve never chased subscribers. It’s not why I started writing or why I’ve continued to do so for a decade. But if you’re blogging now or are starting to write, make sure you do. Because even if, like me, you don’t have an end goal in mind just now and are writing just to get your voice into the world, one day you might want that email list.
Don’t make the same mistake I did.